Letter from Los Angeles
November 2008
© 2008 Joel

Dear Readers,

I am so glad to be back on your screens; so much has happened since last we met.

I’m going back to a newsletter every six weeks. The southern California weather is too beautiful to sit home and write in, and I don’t want to wear out my welcome with you. The main reason is that it takes me a couple of extra weeks to select the topics and to digest what’s been happening prior to putting it down in readable form.

I’ve got little to say about the economic crisis because I know no more than you do and because just about everything has already been said about a $700 billion plus “rescue” package, the prospect of a new global economic order and no certain outcome or end in sight.

The words of Nancy Reagan’s mother, of all people, ring true. She was known to tell her little girl, “You’ve got to eat an acre of dirt before you die.” Our acre of dirt will almost certainly involve good people getting hurt and overcompensated wretches and fools getting massive assistance so the rest of us can survive, so grab a bag of clothespins or hold your nose.

Extra, Extra: A Scoop!

Although I don’t have permission to name names, I’ve learned from one who knows that a long retired Republican U.S. Senator and a family that bears one of most recognizable Republican names in America have voted for Obama, and not McCain.

Pick of the Letter

  • The 2008 Election and....
  • Third Term Bloomberg
  • Proposition Hate
  • Billy Elliot, Gypsy and Religulous Reviews
  • Our Nation’s Current State

The 2008 Election and Mrs. Marshall

You can almost hear a collective “Ahhhhhh!!!!” in our country and around the world because, after eight unimaginably surreal years, the United States is heading, possibly careening, toward political normalcy.

The Democratic victory bodes well for our land indeed. I only regret that the crowds came between the president elect and myself. I think if Barack Obama and I met one on one over tea, I would find much in that serious, pragmatic and creative liberal that reminds me of somebody I know very, very well.

Twentieth century military and diplomatic giant Gen. George Marshall once said of his legendary reserve that he saved his emotions for Mrs. Marshall. As I lack the gene that would make me susceptible to hero worship, I could never get into the Obama swoon. The otherwise analytical Jeffrey Rosen wrote this past January, “There’s now a standard greeting when reporters at Obama rallies meet each other: ‘When did you fall for him?’ we ask each other. ‘Have you fallen all the way?’”

I think I, too, shall save my emotions for Mrs. Marshall.

The 2008 Election and The Art(iface) of Leadership

Effective leadership, they’re telling us, requires giving inspirational talks and staging endearing moments, in other words, salesmanship and the skills of the stage. I’m going to reveal a vulnerability. Want me on board? Try reasoned analysis, realities and facts. Give me warm heart, cold head.

The 2008 Election and No More Compulsory Catastrophizing Over Bush

A most welcome consequence of the Democratic victory will be that we won’t have to exchange as many “Ain’t it awfuls?” as we have these long eight years. Not content with my expressions of utter disagreement with and dislike of the man, his policies and his team, friends have chastised me for refusing to call the President an idiot or a monkey, and for failing to acknowledge that by his hand the entire human experience has been ruined. I guess I didn’t get the emotions right there either.

The 2008 Election and The Young (At Heart)

Those voters, younger ones especially, who have put all their fantasies about a U.S. without lobbyists, titans of business, soldiers and sailors, automobiles, Republicans, teachers unions or a selfish motive may be in for a shock. In this real of all real worlds, I was startled that as recently as September, 2008, only one quarter of Democrats polled “expressed doubts Obama can bring about the change they want.” Put those fortune cookie slogans aside.

The 2008 Election and A Changed Country

How I wish! Have American hearts and minds really been changed in a lasting way, or will we continue to hop to whichever political party, candidate or programs we believe benefits our individual lives right now? After even two successful Clinton administrations a heck of a lot of people rejected Al Gore. So whether there has been a seismic shift or another four to eight year respite between Republican wins remains to be seen.

My fondest wish is for a moderately liberal America coalesced around the two major political parties in a way that neither is controlled by its radical, and ultimately self destructive, fringe, and in which previously disenfranchised voices can be heard. I fear that primary elections, mass mobilization born of instant communication, and fear of constituents’ wrath will continue to place the loudest voices with the largest passions at the head of the parade.

Blaming Blooming Bloomberg

New York’s City Council has sensibly reversed the two term limit on its mayors, all but guaranteeing Michael Bloomberg a third and final term. This action makes sense, but given, because of his war chest the Mayor will run virtually unopposed, democratic it ain’t. Had His Honor stipulated that the third term option begin with his successor I might have been more impressed.

Proposition HATE

Well, we’ve lived to see an African American elected President of the United States. I am especially thrilled about how black American children are going to feel about themselves, their country and their prospects in life.

Nothing can erase the gruesome reality of the black American past, although I believe kindness, integration, heartfelt expressions of apology and utter acceptance can go a long, long way. One also has to agree with Bill Cosby about African Americans getting off the self pity track and acting like responsible women, children and men.

Black American churches have long been their communities’ cement . On Nov. 4, 2008, when 70% of African American voters in California stood in favor of amending the State’s Constitution to forbid same sex marriage, and over Barack Obama’s objections (!), we sadly learned of the black pulpit’s darker side.

History repeats. New York’s early Protestant elite dumped on the newcomer Irish and Italians who dumped on the Eastern Europeans and Jews who were perceived, mostly wrongly, as dumping on the blacks in New York City’s government, society and schools.

It seems a majority of African American Californians have followed the example of hate inspired bigots who have dogged their past. Although lesbians and gays have come farther than I could ever have dreamed, our well funded and, thank goodness, ever shrinking supply of enemies continues to inflict harm. And the epithet “faggot” has not yet been banished along with “nigger” and “kike” to the vocabulary of shame.

The 70% were not alone in promoting or falling for a campaign of such lies as kindergarten children being required to view pornographic films should same sex marriage prevail. For this the State’s Mormons also deserve a well earned bow.

I have long advocated that the best politics is decent politics, but does anyone doubt, to borrow a line from How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying that what remains is to decide what we’re going to do, and who we’re going to do it to.

While we wait for our opponents to see the light (some will!) or to simply evaporate as nature takes its inevitable course, I envision an effort to repeal state constitutional bans on same sex marriage based on expanding our support and, more controversially, driving the bullies out of town.

  1. First and always, in every venue imaginable from home, to church to job, emphasize fairness, fairness, fairness. This job is for all of us, gay and straight. San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected official, was a persistent and persuasive advocate of our recognition and rights (Be sure to see Sean Penn’s movie “Milk,” which will be reviewed next letter, to learn what ultimately happened to Harvey, who did it and what subsequently happened to him) We could surely use a Harvey Milk now.
  2. Praise and assist our friends in the heterosexual African American community and urge them to organize their own made for t.v. protests to highlight their difference from neighbors who deny even the presence of gays and HIV in their midst.
  3. Remember the young. They are, by and large, on our side. Lloyd and I have added some delightful very young heterosexual people to our collection of friends.
  4. Do not stand on perfect manners because Mormon Elders speak softly and comb their hair. Fuzzy little squirrels are but a variety of rat. If you see a white shirt with a name tag and black back pack approach you on the street, which isn’t likely because they mostly prey on the vulnerable, tell them you don’t listen to homophobic bigots and say so loudly enough so others nearby can hear. Tolerating the intolerant isn’t a kindness. Don’t be afraid to take sides.
  5. Legal challenges, of course, which is why the Lambda Legal Defense Fund figures largely in our wills.
  6. The best defense is a strenuous offense. One reader has suggested that religious institutions that deprive other Americans of their civil liberties, as the proponents of Proposition 8 clearly have, be deprived of their tax free status. Make ‘em spend their money to defend their own civil rights and bleed the bigots dry.
  7. Look to tomorrow, which Annie tells us “is only a day away.” When African Americans feel good enough about themselves to grow hearts and ignore or depose their fool pastors, we will welcome their participation in righting the tremendous wrong they have done.

Winning the contest for legalized same sex marriage will not be enough. This brand of bigot will only find new targets for their spite filled crusades. Through inspired example, education and patience, or by the cruelest kind of politics, and to me it matters little which, those who mobilize power to deprive fellow humans of their civil liberties or equal protection under the laws need to be more than marginalized. As author and former New York Times writer Chris Hedges suggests, we should consider amending constitutions to put a stop to them.

Silly Billy Elliot

Any reader who has seen the British movie Billy Elliot about the boy ballet dancer, will remember it fondly. Anyone who buys a ticket for the British imported musical by the same name currently playing on Broadway will have wasted their money and time.

The house lights dim, and an approximately two and a half foot high blond boy comes out to remind the audience in an exaggerated working class British accent to unwrap their candies and turn off their phones. He then waves his arms to the opening musical notes and encourages the curtain to rise with impatient motions of his hands. As the evening wears on, and it does wear on, we see that this urchin plays no character and has no discernible purpose but to run willy nilly around the stage. Next, an opening number sung by the miners is a pale imitation of something out of Les Miz.

Grandma, played by the otherwise excellent Carole Shelley, has been transformed by some shrewd calculation from her loving if dotty presence in the film to a British musical hall character who leads an Ethel Merman blockbuster number in the middle of Act I.

The Dad, who tries to keep his family together despite the recent death of his wife, participation in a Margaret Thatcher era miner’s strike punctuated by police violence, and his bafflement at a son who “fancies ballee,” is played by a Gregory Jbara who understands how to get easy laughs far better than establishing a character; in fact the entire production is saturated in shtick that would be well done without. Jbara and the others are not helped by the most forgettable lyrics I have been punished by in a long time.

All of that is merely prelude to the evening’s central crime. When Billy receives his letter of acceptance to the Royal Ballet School, which in the movie tears your heart out, he plays a trick on the family and for a few minutes pretends he was rejected. So much for that emotional impact. And the final scene finds Billy leaving town for London with, mysteriously, no family coming to wish him “goodbye,” and as he pauses to kiss his little transvestite friend farewell, Cut! Curtain! The End! Fini!

The film’s unforgettable conclusion showing the adult Billy preparing to dance Swan Lake at the Royal Ballet with his grown up gay buddy and his brother and dad cheering him on, has been deleted by the musical’s writer Lee Hall, the gigantic talent, or so I thought, who also wrote the film. The boy and the adult Billy do meet in a fantasy ballet sequence at the beginning of the second act in which Billy is hooked to Peter Pan wires and spun around at the top of the stage like a ceiling fan.

Two remarkable exceptions to this sorry adaptation are Elton John’s snappy score and the talent of the boy we saw, who alternates with two others, dance the title part. Trent Kowalik earned his bravos big time.

If only that were all. Following their bows, each and every member of the cast, miners, cops, grandma and all, returned in tutus to do a ridiculous dance that reminded the audience, “This entire evening was a freaking joke.”

Patti Lupone’s Gypsy

At Gypsy, I was amply rewarded for gamely trying another Broadway musical after what happened at Billy Elliot two nights before.

Patti Lupone was the best of the seven Madam Rose’s I have seen on Broadway, with the possible exception of The Merm herself. (Ethel Merman played Rose in the original Broadway production which opened in 1959) Lupone got the coarse, self centered, frightening cruelty of Gypsy Rose Lee’s and June Havoc’s real life stage mother from hell, Rose Hovick, just right.

She was helped by the best portrayal of grown June we have seen. Leigh Ann Larkin’s June is justifiably mad as hell over what mother did to her young life and her relationship with her sister Louise. Laura Benati’s Louise also grows up to become something of a chip off the old monster’s block.

The production’s near perfection was marred in a couple of ways. Ms Benati’s acting, which involves too much making faces, is not up to her touching singing skill. Boyd Gaines’ Herbie was alternately refreshingly believable, then punctuated with such out of character stage business as banging his head on a table in comic frustration to get an easy laugh, which is not the stuff of the Tony Award he received. And why– why?– in recent productions of this excellent show do the strippers have to be sixty-something half senile cartoons? The oldest in the original was forty and she did just fine.

One other disconcerting touch was the very end, when Gypsy and Rose go off to a party after Mama’s eleven o’clock meltdown, “Rose’s Turn.” Properly, show’s end finds Rose and her daughter walking away arm in arm having come to some sort of peace with each other, if not with their individual selves. Here, Gypsy exits laughing and alone, as Rose performs a kind of Norma Desmond gesture to an electric sign that spells her name, an eye catching ending that says little.

Still, the book, the music, the dancing, the humor and the heartbreak, and again, the magnificent Ms. Lupone, makes Gypsy worth seeing again and again and again.

Religulous

Now we all know that comedian Bill Maher followed his father’s Catholic faith until the age of thirteen and that his still living Jewish mother is as much a character as he.

Maher’s holding people of faith to the fire is fair game, but the concentration on religious violence and the various loonies who were interviewed was perhaps not. Constructive mainstream believers and clerics–I love the ones who express doubt– were excluded, and, like a Michael Moore movie, hyperbole and flamboyance trumped a balanced report, though balance was not Maher’s aim. The frequent profanity, and this from Joel who thinks and dreams in Profane, seemed to serve no point.

Still, If the people in Religulous weren’t so scary they’d be funny, yet they were so funny they’ve got me good and scared.

Our Nation’s Current State

“Our nation is in trouble on two fronts. The American dream is under siege at home, and America’s leadership in the world has been weakened. Middle-class and low-income Americans are hurting–with incomes declining, job losses, poverty and inequality rising, mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt increasing, health care coverage disappearing, and a very big spike in the cost of food, utilities and gasoline.

“And our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation, by a perilous dependence on imported oil, by a severely burdened military, by backsliding on global nonproliferation and arms control agreements, and by a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe.”

Like this summary? Barack Obama’s? Joe Biden’s? Guess again. These words were uttered by Bill Clinton at this past August’s Democratic National Convention.

Upcoming Topics, and See You in 2009!

  • Obama’s appointments and beginnings
  • Our Schools: Not Forgotten by Me
  • Senior(s) Matter(s)
  • The Economy
  • Mental Health and Productive Living
  • South Pacific
  • How To Argue with a Republican, or a Liberal
  • Gertrude Stein’s Take on the Dangers of Life ,and Thoughts Inspired by the Death of a Wonderful Friend

Archive 2008