Monday, December 20, 2010

Ask. Tell. It's cool.

No, really. It's cool.

Nicely done.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Life in These United States

Remember Bradley Manning?

No? He's the enlisted serviceman who was at the front of that other Wikileaks scandal, way back in May. Did you know that he's been incarcerated ever since? In fact, he's what the Army calls a "Maximum Custody Detainee," and he's been kept in "intensive solitary confinement" ever since.

This Glenn Greenwald article does a pretty good job of explaining (since, evidently, it needs to be explained) why it might not be a good idea to keep a person alone in a room 23 hours a day without allowing him so much as a pillow or the right to exercise. Especially a person who hasn't been convicted of anything. And is 22 years old.

Now, much of the world considers that level of solitary confinement a form of torture. Greenwald links to an Atul Gawande article you might have read last year that makes that case. (I remember reading it - scared the hell out of me then, and turns my blood cold now.)

To recap what's going on, if you'd like a summary: an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army is alleged (but not convicted, it bears repeating) to have borne witness to a vast swath of classified documents revealing what appears to be a long long list of illegal and often horrific misdeeds on the part of the country he was serving. He then, according to the allegation, shared that documented evidence with the press in the form of the dreaded Wikileaks. Once the leak was traced back to him, he did not get a public hearing or trial (or even a private military hearing, as far as I know, though presumably one is pending) but rather was put into a brig in Kuwait for two months under the aforementioned brutal conditions (if you're not convinced of their brutality, please do read the Gawande article) before being transferred to a brig in Virginia. Where he remains. Under the same conditions.

Those conditions are perhaps not as extreme as those in the prison in Guantanamo Bay, or unacknowledged sites worldwide (well, unacknowledged except in memos like the ones leaked by Private Manning), although those prisons contain people accused of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against the United States. That is to say, that's who we think those facilities contain - many of those prisoners haven't even been charged with anything, much less convicted.

Meanwhile, the President has been doing his darndest to extend a tax cut to the richest percent of American wage earners to the tune of 700 billion+ over the next couple years and calling it a victory because unemployment benefits might be extended. And standing idly by while the TSA sexes up security procedures in airports (yup, I kind of agree with the righties on this one - though I won't pretend it makes sense to me how the naked scanner is such a huge violation of civil rights while extraordinary rendition and warrantless, probable-cause-free stop-and-frisk city police procedures [for instance] are a-ok). And the job situation, well, that's not really a lot better. And, oh yeah, the war. And all those things that the leaks revealed presumably go on, business-as-usual.

Well, Mr. President, I'm just gonna come right out and say it: I'm not ok with this.

I know you have to work with Congress, that you don't have power simply to dictate policy (and I wouldn't want you to). I know you are brilliant, way smarter than I am; and charismatic, and persuasive, and an expert on Constitutional Law, and knowledgeable about how things work in domestic and international policy. But... I don't know what you're doing. I keep thinking you must have something up your sleeve, some ingenious plan that will be revealed over time. I keep waiting for you to pull that rabbit out of the hat.

But I can't wait forever.

And I guess I may as well remind you (and my Senators and Congressmen, and especially that ridiculous Governor) that I don't owe you my undying loyalty. Or even my vote. No one does.

Friday, December 10, 2010

30 Years On

It's two days too late for this to be a timely post, but I stumbled on this and wanted to share it with you.

“Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back and rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash...”

—Howard Cosell announces the death of John Lennon during Monday Night Football, December 8, 1980.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Glancing Back

Well, this one's behind the times...

Full spread included: pumpkin lentil soup (Joe); those collards drying up above (Cory & I); cranberry bread (Eric & Shirin); brussels sprouts (Deborah); quinoa (non) stuffing (Cory & I); bakery-fresh chardonnay bread (Eric & Shirin); cranberry sauce (Sherin); sweet potato rounds (Deborah); potato & onion casserole (Eric & Shirin); soy-sauce-and-honey-glazed turkey & gravy (Cory & I); cookies (Joe) and pumpkin mousse (Sherin) for dessert. And a bunch of stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting. Oh - and beer, wine and cider brought by all and sundry!

Oh, and here are Eric and Shirin, sitting pretty. There will be a player-to-be-named-later playing for that team come the new year! Mazel Tov, guys!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Arts (Non) Profiteers

I guess that this viddy has been sweeping the internets in a wildfire-like rage. Have a view:

So you think you can non-profit? Be ready for lots of conversations like this. Lots.

You don't help sick African Children? That sounds like bad business practice. You should contact Gatorade.

This video comes via the good people at xtranormal. I think they're good. Or anyway, I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary yet. And I haven't used their service, but my understanding of it is that you go to their site once you've set up an account, pick character icons and a background, and input dialogue that you've composed (no fair putting in the "Are you talking to me?" monologue) and it will generate an animated scene. Pretty nifty.

There are some really good ones out there, including this one that struck a particular nerve for me in it's spot-on account of the ever-so-useful You should be on Broadway "advice."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Have you been following the most recent WikiScandal? I don't see how you can have completely avoided it.

Hand wringing, back-pedaling, and finger pointing all join up in the great new dance of the body parts.

Thanks (once again) to Mike Daisey for drawing my attention to this Slate article by Jack Shafer. Worth a peek.

"...the history of scandal in America is the history of institutions and individuals routinely surpassing our darkest assumptions of their perfidy."

It's a messy world. Worth holding the mirror up to it once in a while, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are “The Advertisers” and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

F*ck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” — Banksy

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Being thankful for friends is one of the most fundamental forms of gratitude for me; my family of friends is an amazing source of support, and I can't believe how lucky I am to have them.

Family family is also something to be thankful for; mine dealt with a rough event last week, and have been going through a lot in general, but all are well, thankfully. Please send good mojo as they swing through another transition.

Health is one of those things it's important to keep in your conscious gratitude too - it's all too easy to take it for granted until it slips. I write this as I fight off a cold with a carving knife and a machete.

Last night I finally went down the rabbit hole to the world of fancy phones. And now I know what makes those birds so angry...

Kanye's new record may not be quite as good as all the hype, but it's pretty effin' good.

If you have a taste for theater, you should go see Mistakes Were Made at the Barrow Street. Seriously, it works on a bunch of levels, is funny as hell, and you won't see better acting very often than you'll get from Michael Shannon.

I'm thankful I live in New York. And New Jersey.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Video Shoot

Remember Mel & El? From celebrations past?

Well these days, in addition to their monthly residency at Comix, they are shooting a Web Series about their ongoing musical attempts to save the world from tedium and stupidity. It's an uphill battle.

I started a full day yesterday by shooting a scene for one of their episodes. Without wanting to give away too much (these episodes are full of surprises) I'll say that I play an extremely high-powered doctor in high society. Yes, you should quake in my presence.

Well, in addition to my line (yes - line, singular. But that one line contains multitudes.) we engaged in some improvisation. Some of which went really well. But at one point we had an exchange that went something like this...

C: So what hospital do you work at?
Me: Grey's
B: (Supressing a laugh) Grey's??
C: Nice hospital...
Me: I mean Grace. Seattle Grace.
C: Oh yes, I've heard of that one.
B: You had some trouble there recently.
Me: Umm...
C: A pretty bad shoot up, I heard.
Me: Uhhhhh...
C: I guess you weren't there for that.
B: (supresses another laugh)
Me: Oh right. That. Yes. No. I wasn't there when that happened. They called me in to help with the aftermath.
C: I heard there's a fiery lady there who really stirs things up.
Me: ??
C: A black doctor, I think.
Me: Oh, yes. Chandra... something.
B: (cracks up)
C: (looks at me like I fell off the short bus for remedial

Ok, ok. This was a rehearsal, not a real take. So no harm, no foul. And, as I wrote, some of our other improvisation went quite well, and I think they may keep some of it.

But still... It was a little embarassing.

And I have actually watched Grey's Anatomy for the last couple seasons. I was thinking of Chandra Wilson, who is the actor who plays the doctor that C was referring to. Which is a thing I do (more real dialogue from my life - watching an episode last night: "Wait, who is Hunt?" Cory: "Owen. Head of Trauma." Me: "Right! Sandra Oh's husband.")

But the lesson here is - be ready for an improv at all times. If there's a camera around, it could be rolling. And once you've signed that release, they can use whatever you give them.

By the way, click here to check out Mel & El's Kickstarter campaign! It's a fun read, with lots of good video links, whether or not you can donate. (But of course I think you should give generously...)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Heaven, More Details

Getting tired of Paris? Hope not. Remember what Samuel Johnson said of London: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life..." I figure that can be said about Paris too. (Not to belabor the Paris/London connection, but it's been bouncing around for centuries, after all.)

Still, we're on the home stretch as far as blogification of our visit. Today, we'll touch on a couple more churches.

On Sunday morning, we went to Mass at Saint-Sulpice. The second largest church in Paris (after you-know-what) it was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, damaged during the Revolution, and restored by a team that included Eugene Delacroix. It also has some renown as the spot where Charles Baudelaire and the Marquis de Sade (that famously observant Catholic) were baptised, and where Victor Hugo was married (hmm... I'd have thought it'd have been you-know-what for him). And a couple scenes of The Da Vinci Codetake place there, if that's your thing.

But we went there for the organ.

I'm not a total organ geek, but I'm getting there. And St. Sulpice is a pretty good place to get started on that track. The instrument itself was built by Aristide Cavaille-Coll and is considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the world (well, the world of pipe organs, anyway). The St. Sulpice organ is singular not just for its immensity but also for its versatility: the variety and scope of the sounds and timbres that can be produced by its 5 keyboards and 100+ stops allows the organ to be equally at home with the music of its native Romantic era and with Classical or Baroque music, and more than capable of handling Modern compositions as well.

Since Cavaille-Coll completed construction on the organ in 1862, there have been only 6 principal organists (including an entire century from 1870-1971 during which only 2, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré, held the post). Equally amazing is the fact that since the earliest organ was used at a church on this site, going back to some time in the 1500s, there have been only 16 principal organists.

These days, the title is held by Daniel Roth, who plays for two Masses each Sunday, and gives a 20-30 minute concert in the time between them. We went to the early service (but missed most of the prelude music because we were across the street having coffee) and stayed for the concert, natch. If you're really hardcore, you can go up to the organ loft for the second Mass and watch Daniel in action; we chose not to go that route, but it was a phenomenal experience, both musically and religious/theatrically.

I didn't take photos that day, so I'll let you hunt down images of l'eglise on your own if you like.

The next day (among other things) we paid a visit to Sainte-Chappelle. I've already mentioned that we caught a piano concert there on Friday evening; but this visit took some persistence to get past an overeager security guy. (But that's another box of wine.) It was also during the day, so we got to see the stained glass in all its glory.

The Rose Window

Here's the thing with Sainte-Chappelle: it's unbelievable. As in, it nearly defies belief. The facts about this church fall into the "truth is way stranger than fiction" category.

The Holy Family going to Nazareth

It's not that large. It really is 'just' a stone chapel (compared to, say, the Cathedral across the Île) though a very royal one, and an architectural and artistic wonder. The sanctuary walls are completely covered with stained glass: panels telling virtually every story from the bible, and a few "Go France!" type messages tucked in along the way.

This is some of the best of this kind of glass in the world; it's under restoration (which takes a long time, as you can imagine) and it's kind of tough to shoot, so have mercy on your humble photographer.

Knights and Pilgrims, doing their thing

Remember how long it took them to build Notre Dame? Couple hundred years. Know how many years it took to build this place? Fewer than 10. Thousands of panels of stained glass and all, and before the dawn of the 14th Century.

Priests and Sages discussing the design of the Girl Scout logo

The king in question was (Saint) Louis IX, who was one-of-a-kind: a peculiar mix of devout and suggestible. He loved the Church, loved the Pope, loved Jesus. LOVED them. Kind of went to crazytown in his enthusiasm, and spent vast fortunes on things like the "true" Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore at the Crucifixion, according to the account. Vast. Fortunes. Louis spent 135,000 livres (French currency of the era) in 1239 on that crown, convinced of its authenticity by Emporer Balwin II of Byzantium, who not coincidentally was also the guy who sold it to him. The king also bought a bunch of other relics, including a "Piece of the True Cross" (I know, I know) and over the next few years started construction on this church to house them all, dedicated to the glory of God, the Church, and France.

One of Herod's servants beheading John the Baptist, and wishing it was Louis IX

By the middle of 1248, the church was finished at a total cost of 40,000 livres. That's less than a third of the cost of the True Crown of Thorns to you and me, but still a princely sum. Well, kingly, in this case.

A bizarre initiation ritual for a Holy Roman Fraternity

All snarkiness aside, Sainte-Chappelle is a stunning place. And after all, Louis IX is far from the only head of state in history with a gullible streak. [I'll pause to let you reflect on that a moment...] And if you're going to misuse the public coffer, there are worse things you could do than build an incredibly gorgeous structure devoted to a supremely artistic account of religious texts and local history.

I'll leave you with a shot I took of the ceiling of the upper chapel. Placed the camera on the floor and set the remote timer so it could be perfectly still for a long exposure.

Wasn't counting on the surprise guest, but I'll call it a happy accident.

Monday, November 08, 2010

America (as seen in court)

1944: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Igor Stravinsky.

Well, almost: Stravinsky was not arrested in Boston for writing an unconventional arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner, as online mythology would have it. However, his version of the National Anthem was Banned in Boston on the logic that he was "tampering with public property."

This mugshot, often conflated with the Anthem incident, would seem actually to be from some kind of visa application process. How he got banged up? That's a story I don't know, but would love to hear...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010


At risk of beating a proverbial dead horse: please vote tomorrow, y'all.

By way of encouragement, I'll just remind you that it's the simplest and most direct form of participation in a democracy, even one as lopsided and, well, semi-fictional as the one currently operating in the U.S.A. Oh, and you may want to remind your friends in other parts of the country to vote. (That would be the second most direct form of participation.)

And since we're here, I may as well link to a Frank Rich piece from the Times last weekend.

Karl Rove outed the Republican elites’ contempt for Tea Partiers in the campaign’s final stretch. Much as Barack Obama thought he was safe soliloquizing about angry white Middle Americans clinging to “guns or religion” at a San Francisco fund-raiser in 2008, so Rove now parades his disdain for the same constituency when speaking to the European press.

Now, that makes me insane. Not because it shines a light on politicians' hypocrisy (I consider that to be pretty much a constant). The thing that scratches my blackboard is that he refers to Obama 'soliloquizing' to those patrons, when everyone knows that a soliloquy happens when you're alone. This offends me as an actor even more than as an activist. Obama wasn't in soliloquy mode; he was addressing a crowd. You really are pretty safe soliloquizing, no matter what you say, unless maybe the room is bugged, or your uncle is hiding behind a curtain. That's the whole point of a soliloquy. Maybe not everyone knows that, but one person who really really should know is the guy who used to be the f*$king DRAMA CRITIC FOR THE NEW YORK F*#KING TIMES. That drives me out of my mind.


Back to the matter at hand, I will close with another useful illustration from Mr. Rich's otherwise worthwhile op-ed, which I do suggest you read.

For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s.

Hope that all of you who went to D.C. for the rally had a great time! Go out there and vote, won't you please?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Heaven is in the Details

Well, you knew this day was coming. This was a pretty churchy trip, and eventually we made it to the most famous Church of them all. (Well, other than that one in Rome.)

Notre Dame de Paris. Nearly 200 years in the making, many hundreds more as a gothic inspiration.

They say that heaven is in the details. Lately, I've taken that to mean that if you want to get to the crux of the thing, anything, look closer. See the big picture, sure, but keep looking until you see the things that go into it.

I would say that that approach works particularly well at a place like this cathedral. It has survived the Hugenots, the Revolution(s), Napoleon, the Commune, the Nazis and, well, just hundreds and hundreds of years. And it is Massive.

And awe-inspiring.

And ornate.

And see, just in these few images so far - the details start to emerge and tell a story that has more impact than what happens if you just go and get overwhelmed by this Big Huge Obligation of a Church. You notice the way the vast Rose window works from the outside, and you see the light pouring through it from the inside. You take in the Holy Mother ("Notre Dame" refers to her, after all) with her baby, flanked by angels in the front window. You might take a look at some of the other 36 (!) representations of her in and around the Cathedral. You look at the other figures sculpted into and onto the edifice.

And then you climb up to the top.

The way that happens is that you climb a bunch of stairs and then they make you wait in a holding area (which also serves as a gift shop, of course! They wouldn't want you to miss a chance to buy stuff.) until enough time has passed that some of the people already up there have gone back down, then you climb a whole BIG bunch of more stairs. We positioned ourselves so that we were at the front of the line when they opened up the door, so we wouldn't get caught behind any slowpokes, and Cory took the opportunity to charge up those steps. She seriously was on a mission. By the time we were about halfway up, it was she and I and one other guy who decided to keep up with us, and the rest of our group was way back behind.

And of course once we made it, Paris was there to greet us.

Sacre Coeur through the fog.

And the gargoyles were, if anything, even more amazing than I'd imagined.

Those of you who know your Gothic architecture (I, of course, am now an expert on Gothic architecture, having read at least two online articles and a few tourbook entries) realize that most of these guys are actually chimeras, rather than gargoyles (which are only properly so called when they function as water spouts) and that they were added as part of a 19th Century renovation.

What's incredible to me is how many individual treatments there are - each with its own character and, again, its depth of detail. This one may be the most famous, situated to greet you as you emerge from the stairs, and having been so often referenced in other art works. (Including, my nephew was quick to point out, The Simpsons.)

So many characters, each one unique. These are all full color photos, by the way (though that teaser from the earlier post was a B&W)

Now that you're fully involved in attending to details, you're surely wondering something along the lines of "Hey... wait a minute! If this was such a gray day, what's up with that blue sky and those cottony nuages in the establishing shot for this entry?"
Well, you caught me. We did stop by the Cathedral on two separate days. on Saturday, when it was bright and sunny, we took in the outside, and strolled through the sanctuary (that's also why the colors in the stained glass are so vibrant.) On the day we went to the top, Paris was muted by clouds.
Here are a few 'true gargoyles' from both days, with their functions as drain spouts still active.

One other thing before I go. Compare this last shot with the other two images of the most iconic chimera in this series (we'll call him "Moe") See how he changes depending on the light, on the juxtaposition with the other figures, or with the horizon and Sacre Coeur.

It's a pretty nifty world. Look closer.