Friday, March 19, 2004

From the AP wires:

Group: China shuts down internet blogs

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Christopher Bodeen

March 19, 2004  |  SHANGHAI, China (AP) -- China has shut down a pair of Web sites that were free-ranging user forums known as blogs, stepping up government attempts to control political discussion on the Internet, a media watchdog group reported even as one site reappeared Friday.

However, a note Friday on the page of the second site,, said it was still closed due to content problems.

"Because individual postings contained forbidden content, the server is temporarily down. We will seek a speedy resolution to the problem,'' said a message on the site's Web page.

The other site, identified by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders as, said its page had shut down for "server upgrading'' but made no mention of any forced closure due the content. It appeared to be restored on Friday.

China has enthusiastically promoted use of the Internet for commercial applications, but battles to prevent it becoming a forum for criticism of the Communist Party. A special team of police monitors Web sites and chat rooms for sensitive content, and sites are told to censor themselves or face penalties.

In addition, at least 54 people have been jailed for posting essays or other content deemed subversive online. Rights groups say the arrests point to a worrying new abuse of the country's loosely defined subversion and state secrecy laws.

Blogs, online diaries in which users post their thoughts for others to read, have become hugely popular among China's roughly 80 million Internet users.

While some postings appear to be oblique criticisms of the government or calls to action against censorship, blogs haven't previously been noted as a source of anti-government activity. had hosted more than 15,000 individual blogs, according to Reporters Without Borders. It said the site was closed on March 11 for ``allowing a letter to be posted that was critical of the government.'' No details were given and it didn't say what political factors allegedly prompted the closure of

"After closing Web sites and discussion forums, the Chinese authorities are now targeting blogs, one of the last outlets for expression still open to Internet-users,'' the group said in a statement faxed to journalists.

... So wait... why do Big Macs bring democracy again?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

IWOALUTC Part 2: Shameless Self-Promotion

(For part one, click here.)

“So, based on his sales-pitch, do you think I should go see your show?”

The woman was in her mid thirties to early forties, blonde, attractive, Swedish or Norwegian, definitely not Danish and clearly having some fun at my expense. The above comment was directed at Demos, associate producer of FYB as the two of them had just watched me try to parry every different reason this woman (who I’ll just call The Blonde) had given me as to why she wouldn’t want to see the show. The Blonde’s reasons included that it was too serious, that it was too funny, that it wasn’t intellectual enough, that she wasn’t Danish, that I wasn’t Danish, and that we weren’t doing it with Scandinavian actors. My responses included that it was a comedy, that it was a comedy based on serious issues that asked Great Big Questions, that it had at its core a real existentialist soul (the Danes being the parents of Existentialism), that anyone from anywhere could relate to the play as it was set in an apartment building not a country, that I had been to Denmark on a research/travel grant and had been studying the culture and the country thoroughly to prepare, and that we had avoided casting native Scandinavians due to the aforementioned universality issues, but that I had asked a Norwegian friend of mine to do the show but unfortunately he is otherwise engaged.

She smiled, playfully, turned to Demos and asked about my sales pitch. My heart sank into my shoes, and I tried to keep my smile from going with it. I turned to Demos, dipped my voice into the gravely “aren’t I a funny little Jew like Jon Stewart” range and asked, “yeah, Demos, would I be FIRED if you were The Donald?” one of the worst jokes I’ve ever told. But hey, she took a post card.

Welcome to the world of shameless self-promotion.

This past weekend, the FYB producing team set up a table at Nordic Expo, a small trade show of Scandinavian-American artists. I got a two hour window sitting at our table using lovely postcards, placards with information about the show, brochures, mailing list forms etc. in the gym of the MLK Jr. High School over by Lincoln Center to try to promote the show.

Tabling next to us was another US premier of Playwright-and-Play, this one is Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse's "Night Sings Its Songs". NSIS had a large staff of producers, all of whom were about my age and enthusiastic, nice and gracious. They also had an iBook playing a continuous loop of a Norwegian News Segment about their US production, featuring their director. Their other clear advantage was that over half of them actually spoke fluent Norwegian! They even had a little service bell they rang whenever a Norwegian came by their table to summon a Norwegian speaker to help them.

Add into this the fact that not one Dane (or Icelander or Fin, actually) materialized during my two hour slot, and you’ll understand why we went into furious sales mode. Demos walked around the room confronting people at random saying “I haven’t seen you at our table yet! Let me introduce you to the director of the show!” and gregariously tugging hapless Swedees over to the FYB station. And thank god for Demos! As a director, I get incredibly queasy around self-promotion. It feels, well, honestly, it often feels degrading. Something about the frustration of begging for the table scraps of an off-off-Broadway audience coupled with how people get treated whenever they’re selling something.

It reminded me of my several brief stints doing phone surveys for an optometry trade magazine. I called people who subscribed to the magazine in order to gather the information that they rely on in the magazine’s monthly surveys, but no one wanted to talk to me. Similarly, I’m at a small trade show with a very specific demographic of art-seekers, and I still get looked at like I’m a leper for wanting to get people interested in my art.

And, to be honest about an ugly little internal conflict, there’s a part of me that feels like I shouldn’t have to do this because, well, “I’m the artist, goddamnit!”. I think artists (especially in the performing arts) are somehow taught that business tasks are for the plebes and we shouldn’t sully our dainty little hands with them. Actually, it goes beyond that, it’s almost like if you’re good at self-promotion, at business, at talking about yourself in a way that makes people want to see your work, you are somehow less legitimate as an artist. Shouldn’t, like your art speak for itself? Shouldn’t you toil in obscurity until sheer objective quality launches you into the Olympus of the Art Gods?

There are a lot of problems with this mentality. First of all, no matter how good you are at self-promotion you’ll still be toiling in relative obscurity for a long time, if not forever. The mentality also keeps artists of all kinds from developing the necessary skills to create opportunities for them to be artistic, and this kind of creation may very well be the most creative act we ever commit on a regular basis. In other words: I need to get over myself. Fast. This is a big lesson I feel every director needs to learn and relearn with every show: no matter what, the play is more important than your ego. This is true in terms of serving/interpreting the text, and it is also true in terms of what you do to get the play done and get an audience in front of it.

So how to resolve this conflict? I don’t know if it can be resolved, honestly. The only solution I’ve found is to force myself to talk about the show all the time, to anyone, bartenders, book-store clerks, dog kennel workers, my partner Mary, and you people out there watching in the blogosphere. I mean, I care about this play deeply, it’s the most high-profile project I’ve ever done, and I’ve worked on it for two years. Isn’t that worth swallowing my pride and telling The Blonde whatever it is she wants to hear? I think it’s in AA where they say you have to fake it until you feel it. I’m trying the same thing here: faking that I like talking about myself, that I’m good at it, and that I’m hot shit in the hopes that one day all of that will come true. And low and behold, it gets a little bit easier every time.

PS: We’re getting a little bit of attention here at Parabasis from the gracious George Hunka, Venal Scene and Laura Axelrod. Thanks, folks, I’ll try to keep it interesting for ya!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

It's raining posts!

Sorry to post three times in like 15 minutes, but whatever.

Just wanted to let you know that over at the minority office of House Government Reform, Rep. Henry Waxman has prepared a rather interesting little catalogue. It contains a culling of misleading statments the Bush administration made about Iraq. From the website:

"This database identifies 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by these five officials [President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice] in 125 public appearances in the time leading up to and after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq...All of the statements in the database were drawn from speeches, press conferences and briefings, interviews, written statements, and testimony by the five officials."

It's a pretty awesome settling of accounts. Go check it out, you can read the Bush Administration's many deceptions, catalogued by topic, with explainations as to how they are misleading.

Nice to see the Democrats gettin' fiesty again!

In Which Our Author Lifts Up The Curtain Part 1: Prologue

One thing I’ve neglected to mention over here at Parabasis is that I am starting rehearsals this week for First You're Born, a play that will open in April. As a kind of fun little experiment, I thought I’d take some time throughout the next couple of weeks and try to open the secret little box of playmaking process. I’m guessing there are plenty of people out there who don’t really know what goes into making a play, and it’ll provide me with a good venue to crystallize my thoughts about the show.

The play I’m directing is the US premier of both the text itself and the playwright, Line Knutzon, one of Denmark’s most popular playwrights. You’ll probably hear a lot about Danish theater as I continue my thoughts on saving American Theater, but suffice it to say for now that theater matters more over there than it does here. Knutzon is partially responsible for this by being one of the main playwrights of one of the first theater companies on the ground in the Danish theater revival of the last twenty years. First You’re Born is her most popular play.

I directed a reading of FYB about two years ago and one protracted rights negotiation, several plays and a trip to Denmark later, I start rehearsal on Friday.

Assembling the cast has so far proven the most difficult part. Auditions, for actors, are sheer torture. One actor once described them to me as “ripping open your ribcage and inviting some people to pour rubbing alcohol on your internal organs. Or perhaps pee on you.” I try to make them as much fun as possible, but that doesn’t stop the mixture of guilt and torpor from setting in. Of the people who auditioned for us over the past 9 months, at least 25% of them were either friends or people I’d worked with before. All but two of the cast members are people I went to College with. Of the three people who were on the short list for the main character, one of them was one of my closest friends. Having to look at who is best for the part not who you like the best as a person is a nerve wracking experience, and I hope they’ve all forgiven me.

In the past two weeks, I’ve recast one part and lost both my stage manager and costume designer to other commitments. The actress I lost to a movie, the costume designer I lost to scheduling commitments and the stage manager I lost to gainful employment. You can probably see that money is the common denominator in all three drop-outs. This type of thing is common in theater, especially when you’re paying people little to no money. Art is a business, and when people need money, it’s hard to fault them for moving on to other opportunities.

The stage manager is possibly the most essential and hardest to find person in a theater process. Their responsiblities include serving as the liason between the rehearsal room and the technical staff, making sure union rules are enforced, acting as the advocate for the actors within the process, running the whole show once it is in production, keeping track of pretty much everything having to do with the show, etc. It's a hard job, and very few people can do it well. An even smaller percentage want to do it at all. An even more miniscule group will do it for the kind of peanuts that off-off Broadway pays.

So… fully cast but sans stage manager and costume designer, I’ll step into the rehearsal room on Friday night, trying to live in that moment and organize a new group of people to bring Knutzon’s words to life as powerfully as possible.

Spain-- my reaction to the reaction

I haven’t written on Spain because… well… what the hell do I know about Spain? But having surveyed the media coverage, I can at least do some meta-opining on the story about the story.

And, because I think this is where most of the people in this country get their news, I wanted to focus on TV coverage, which has been its usually ridiculous self. Two examples of the “liberal media bias”:

-- The Daily Show unironically (but humorously) called the ouster of the Popular party a victory for Al Qaeda, and then added that the Socialists weren’t democratic… I suppose because it’s still the Cold War. Or something.

-- Anyway, flipping channels to MSNBC, we have Robert Kagan, listed simply as a “terrorism expert”, claiming that this vote showed that Europe had clearly decided (or was deciding) that the best way to fight terrorism was not to engage in it. All of this simply because the Socialist party are no friends to Bush and are against the Iraq war and occupation. For those of you who don’t know Robert Kagan, he is the cofounder of the Project for the New American Century along with such other neoconmen as William Kristol. His career in public service was spent working only under Republicans, and he has been one of the most outspoken and unrepentant advocates of the war in Iraq. Dressing up a right-wing theorist as a non-partisan “terrorism expert” is slopy journalism at best and willfull deception at worst.

I don’t pretend for one second to know what was going on in Spain psychologically over the past seventy-two hours, and anyone who does has a bridge to sell you. I will say that very little mention has been made in the TV news that some of this could possibly be a reaction against the Spanish government diverting anti-terror resources to the Iraq war and then immediately blaming the attacks on the Basque nationalists. To find that crackpot idea, you have to go to the blogosphere.

And, to continue flying in the face of the TV consensus, the new Spanish government is already proving that you can be against the Iraq war and serious about fighting Al Qaeda. They’re already convening a meeting of European governments so that information on terrorists can be better shared between states. In the meantime, they’re issuing an ultimatum to President Bush: cede authority to the UN or Spanish troops are going home. Both of these actions are concrete steps to help fight global terrorism, something which the war in Iraq is clearly a distraction from.

So we have two trends to watch out for-- voters waking up on the other side of the Atlantic and realizing that the Iraq canard has made them less safe, and the TV news media in America continuing to unquestioningly portray the Iraq adventure as part of the larger War on Terrror, a heroic mission that has made us safer and brought Democracy to Babylon. What I worry about is how much more the latter trend will be the important one come November.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Quick Note:

After Islamic extremists have their bile-filled fun blowing up innocent civilians, some gang of hate mongers hit the airwaves frothing at the mouth about the fact that Arabs and Muslims aren’t condemning the latest round of violence. I could go on a huge rant about how racist the double standard is, how xenophobic we’ve become etc. etc. and so forth, but instead I’ll just say, the next time you’re confronted with that kind of bullshit, you can just direct whoever is saying it here . And then you call tell them to shove one of these you know where.

Break out the booze!

Parabasis just got its first mention in another blog! Of course, that was because I got all uppity in Everything is Ruined's comments section and John Paul (EIR’s superb writer-in-residence and fellow Vassar alum) felt a need to respond at length.

I like John Paul a lot, and I find his blog well argued, well reasoned, and informative, so being responded to publicly by him is a bit of a compliment. And in general I think he makes some great points (go read his response here, he does a good job of summarizing the points he’s responding to from my original post).

I will also say that quite frankly, I get very emotional around gay rights issues. The GLBT movement was the first political movement I was ever involved in (at the tender age of 12) thanks to a theater production I was cast in at the time. Within a couple of months of starting rehearsals, I was wearing political pins at school, marching in the Walk Without Fear, and being hauled into the Principal’s office by the guidance counselor for talking about “Gay issues” too much in class.

Anyway, eventually I marched in the Clinton-Gore first Inaugural parade under the banner of the AIDS quilt. I love-signed to Al Gore and he love-signed back from behind the bulletproof glass. I always remembered that moment as the GLBT community routinely got very little from Democrats for their support, votes, advocacy and passion.

This is why I hold Kerry’s feet to fire on this issue, and why his equivocation is probably so repellent to me. The Democratic party needs to show leadership on this issue, publicly, if we are ever going to change the culture and, in general, they’re not.

I would say as an aside that when I first heard Kerry say that he'd support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage as long as it allowed for civil unions it was completely ambiguous as to whether he was talking about federal or state, and it was several days before he resolved the confusion. Also, I called the Kerry NY office immediately afterwards. I was told that John Kerry would never say anything like that and, once I sent them the link to the quote, I was never e-mailed or called back to explain what he meant or what they meant by saying he'd never say that. I think this is a pretty good sign of why Kerry's a bad choice for President (Even his staff don't know which way he'll come down on an issue!) but oh well.

Anyway, now to respond to a few of John Paul’s points that I disagree with:
“It is wimpy, and yet ideologically consistent to say "no" to a federal amendment and "okay" to a state amendment. A federal amendment means no state can make up its mind, discussion is over. States have already made their own decisions in this area, and the people of Massachusetts can decide whether or not they like their legislators restricting gay marriage. Kerry can't tell them that they can't make that decision.”

I feel there’s a bit of slippery logic going on here. Of course Kerry can’t tell them they can’t amend the Constitution. That would demonstrate an immense ignorance vis-à-vis the democratic process. What he could say, however, is that he doesn’t think it’s a very good idea. My problem with Kerry is that he’s against gay marriage, and for writing his opinion on gay marriage into the founding document of the state of Massachusetts. That’s more than wimpy. If he were to elaborate on his civil unions position and say that homosexual couples should be extend the enormous rights and privileges of heterosexual couples, it would be different. Essentially what Kerry did was dodge to the right, lending his tacit support to bigotry while paying lip service to equal rights. Personally, I find it revolting.

“Do you think the people of Grenada, Mississippi will EVER let a gay marriage happen without a hitch? If you were gay, would you want to get married in Grenada? Hell--if you were a black man, would you want to marry a white woman in Grenada and then walk down the street holding hands? You can't even do that in some Chicago suburbs or neighborhoods of New York City…. Elections and legislation don't transform the culture--they are the end result of cultural transformations.”

This is essentially an update of the old Oscar Wilde fallacy—“we can’t desegregate schools because the black kids’ll get beat up!”. I guess I still belong a little to firmly to the whole “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” club. Our fear of homophobia/gaybashing is just about the worst reason to stop us from using the law to improve the lives of oppressed people, because otherwise, the culture will never change. As to who transforms what when why and how, I think a lot of it is chicken and egg, and making sweeping historical statements is risky but I will say that I believe that the government can and should be used as an instrument of social change.

“I'm also aware that many Americans do not think like me, and I live in a democracy, so there you have it.”

No, you don’t. Democracy is not an excuse for coddling institutionalized bigotry. One has a right to their bigotry, and even a right to express that bigotry nonviolently, but our government very specifically does not have a right to its bigotry.

To be fair, with the “elections” line and the “democracy” line I think what JP was getting at is that one of the downsides in a democracy like ours is that change is very slow to occur, and that may be the price you pay for living with the American system. I agree, the Constitutional system essentially sets up an enormous system of stagnation and attrition, but it has added bonuses like cheques and balances which are supposed to keep anything too crazy from happening. Where we disagree is on what we expect from our elected officials. There’s a balance between leading the American people and representing the American people that politicians need to strike. I think JP probably feels that in this world, politicians are more representatives, and I want them to show a little more leadership.

I think JP and I also handle our cognitive dissonance a little bit differently. We both deal with having the following sentences floating around our heads: "I support equal rights for gays and their relationships", "John Kerry does not support equal rights for gays and their relationships", "I am going to work hard to make sure John Kerry gets elected President". There's a lot of ways to resolve that. The first is that John Kerry is so obviously better than his opponent on this (or really, any) issue that we can comfortably settle for him. From there we diverge-- as you can tell from our different ways of relating to the gay marriage issue.

But if I’m mischaracterizing anything he said, I hope he’ll correct me.