Saturday, April 03, 2004


Will Saletan has a really interesting piece in Slate about “flip-flopping” and Bush’s credibility. It’s a fresh counterargument to the charge that Bush levels against everybody who critiques him and it’s a lot better than “Bush is a flip-flopper too!”. Basically the theory goes like this: The Bush Administration are con artists. What they do is convince you to support an idea of theirs for a specific reason, and then quickly pulling a fast one. When you cry foul, they point out that they have your support for their policy on record (be it a vote, a quote or a… smote?) and call you a flip-flopper. Saletan draws on a vast web of examples: Democrats’ support of No Child Left Behind, tax cuts, the war etc. Richard Clarke’s 2002 confidential congressional testimony, John DiIulio’s fall out over faith based initiatives etc. Or, as Saletan puts it: “Once you vote with Bush, serve in his cabinet, or spin for him in a classified briefing, you're trapped. If you change your mind, he'll dredge up your friendly vote or testimony and use it to discredit you. That's what he's doing now to all the politicians at home and abroad who fell for his exaggerations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction”. It’s an interesting Grand Unifying Theory of the evolution of anti-Bush sentiment amongst the centrist political class.

I find it pretty convincing, except for one key paragraph:

“That's how Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt got whiplash. They supported tax cuts in 2001 when Bush challenged them to give back some of the surplus. Then the surplus vanished, Bush demanded more tax cuts, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001. Then the administration withheld money for it, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported the Patriot Act after 9/11 when Bush urged them to trust law enforcement. Then the Justice Department took liberties with its new powers, and they decided they'd been conned. They voted for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq after the administration promised to use the resolution as leverage toward U.N. action, reserving unilateral war as a last resort. Then Bush ditched the United Nations and went to war, and they decided they'd been conned.”

Honestly, I can’t help but think that a lot of this is simply buying Democratic party spin when Kerry-Edwards-Gephardt really should’ve known better. There’s a whole bunch of questions begged by this paragraph. If Kerry-Edwards-Gephardt believed the resolution was meant to encourage multilateral action, why were there no demands in the resolution that Bush seek cooperation? The Bush administration and the Republican party have never been able to play well with others, so why trust them to do so now? What evidence, other than K-E-G’s claims, do we have that the Bush administration ever made them this promise anyway? Are they so naïve to accept a vague and off-the-record handshake? Why would K-E-G trust the Bush administration after he had so routinely lied to them over the past few years? When has the Justice Department even not taken liberties with its powers? Isn’t that why the Constitution exists in the first place?

In other words, I’m pretty sure that K-E-G did the politically expedient thing. They pretty much said so on the talk shows and, after all, wasn’t it Tom Dashcle who wanted to “move on” from the gravest issue facing this nation (whether or not we should go to war) and go back to promising seniors that their entitlements were secure? And let us not forget that Kerry re-embraced the war when it became politically helpful by saying that if Dean were President, Hussein would still be in power. Besides, what kind of defense does Kerry have for his post-9/11 voting record? “Hi. This is John Kerry. I know I supported the very policies I’m criticizing but… well, I kinda… um… trusting. And innocent. And easily duped. Vote for me. I have integrity, I’m not a flip-flopper, I’m just monstrously gullible.”

Let me reiterate here that at the end that we absolutely have to have to have to get rid of Bush, he is bad for this country and, more importantly, an absolute disaster for this world. We have to get someone else elected who is to the left of Bush, and the person with the best chance of doing that right now is John Kerry. We could’ve also done a lot worse: John Kerry has a consistent (especially pre-9/11) liberal voting record. He is not totally in the pocket of the DLC. He is very intelligent, cares about the details of the issue, and is slowly learning how to engage the American People. We also have to work hard to get a Democratic Congress and Senate so that they can start to turn back some of the great harm done to us during this administration. But none of that is going to happen if the Democrats are so scared of losing that they forget who they are and where they come from. They should remember: they lost the 2002 congressional races in a very dramatic fashion by trying to play it safe. It’s time to take risks, and it’s time to be decisive.

By the way: still haven’t seen John Kerry anywhere. Maybe we should stop giving him money until he comes out of hiding. I know he’s having shoulder surgery, but isn’t there some surrogate he could put on Crossfire. Or maybe it’s the infighting. I don’t know. But if you go over to Talking Points Memo, you will see what is perhaps the least-inspiring web ad ever trying to convince you to give money to Kerry. I mean, what kind of a slogan is “The choice couldn’t be clearer: elect a new President… or re-elect the current one”.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Coffee Wars

In my neighborhood are many many fine places to get coffee. My personal favorite is Boerum Hill Food Company, which proudly serves Peet’s Coffee, the deliciously strong San Francisco Treat. Anyway, with all of these independent coffeehouses (and coffeehouse-bakeries) it just really takes me aback that there is a Starbucks a block away from four good coffee places in my neighborhood. Let me revise that: four MUCH BETTER coffee places in my neighborhood.

I went into Starbucks and got some coffee for the first time in about a year and you know what? It’s no good. The latte tasted like hot milk, I was corrected for asking for a medium, and everything was overpriced. I really do not understand why in New York City of all places, which has plenty of coffee, people go to Starbucks. It’s crap. I’m sorry, people, but it’s expensive mediocre product. The beans themselves are okay, but no one there seems to know how to make coffee. I know I’m not the only one who has this problem.

Which is just a really long-winded introduction to this which my Cousin Drew sent me in the mail today.

I promise I’ll get back to blogging about culture and politics and such, but I thought this link above is funny. I’m just trying to spread some joy into our dark, dark lives

Lies, Damn Lies and that Liberal Media

According to Reuters (and reprinted in this morning’s Times about fifteen minutes ago) the US economy created roughly 308,000 jobs this past month. This is great news, and I congratulate the 308,000 people who are no longer unemployed, and offer my condolences to the roughly 1.8 million out there who still can’t find work. The Bush administration is probably breathing a small sigh of relief as they see these job numbers, after all, almost every other economic indicator is doing well (home ownership? up up up! Productivity? The hightest ever!) so having a robust job market is good for them and good for their reelection chances.

Except, wait a minute, we don’t have a robust job market. We have one good month. One month of jobs growth is not, as Reuters would have you believe, “a decisive break out of a long slump” in job losses. It's only a month. Consistent high job additions would be a decisive break. So, if it happens for the next two months, then we can start talking about how great the news is.

There are some additional problems, of course. First of all, as the article itself mentions that “a long-hoped for rise in manufacturing jobs did not appear”, which means the sector we talk about the most on the news is not recovering. Second, there are roughly 120,000 new workers every month graduating into the work force needing jobs, so in any job report, 120,000 of those jobs are needed simply to break even. We’re still up this month, but by the considerably smaller figure of 288,000 jobs.

Then there is the larger issue: what kind of jobs are people getting? For example, the retail sector accounted for 47,000 of the 308,000 jobs. Retail tends to be low wage, benefitless, part time work. Certainly there are people who need the money, and let’s not look a gift horse in the you-know-where, but still. If good jobs (ones that pay well and offer benefits, regardless of what kind of work you do) are vanishing and bad jobs (low wage no benefits no union) are cropping up in their stead, this is not a good thing. And furthermore, it offers less comfort to the Bush administration. If you are one of the often-profiled ex-tech types who is now working at Starbucks, are you going to be thinking “great, the Bush administration created this job for me! Their economics plan must be working!” or are you thinking “I’m forced to work at Starbucks when I used to make $80,000 a year plus stock options. I hate this economy and I hate this President”.

Don’t forget, of all the jobs to disappear under Bush’s watch, only 20% of them went overseas. The rest simply don’t exist anymore, and while productivity remains obscenely high, they aren’t likely to be resurrected either. Not to mention that we're in more debt than we've ever been, and once jobs start getting added, interest rates go up. What's going to happen when the birds come home to that particular roost?

All of these are some good reasons why Twain wrote his famous line: “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”.

What I want to know is... why is Reuters repeating Bush spin instead of spending some time noting that this welcome news is not quite as welcome as the White House would like it to be?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Just a quick thought...

I've been listening to a little bit of Air America, and you know what? I'm really, really glad that it's out there and I really like Franken et al, but I don't think I like the tone and temper of talk radio at all.

Yesterday's O'Franken Factor dealt with, amongst other things, a comedy sketch involving locking Ann Coulter (played by Bebe Newirth) in a closet and letting her go crazy. Kind of funny, but maybe a bit too vitriolic for my tastes. And then we had today's, when someone asked a question Franken didn't like and he refused to even answer it or consider it. After this he went on for a long long time taunting Rush about his drug addiction.

This is all well and good, it's the milieu of talk radio but my question is, is this the level we really want to stoop to? How is this any different from the Right Wing's Talk Radio, just with the names switched around to the other ends of the sentences? I think Franken is a really funny, really intersting comedian, but honestly, this kind of almost completely devoid of real content framing of the issues in increasingly dogmatic ways might help the Democratic Party win elections, but on some level, is bad for democracy, liberalism, discourse and apple pie.

In which I get schooled and also bitch about Thomas Friedman

I am a doofus. Simply put, as Bloom County would put it, I am a “goofus doofus”.

The Doctoroff quote is an April Fool’s Day joke. I got it as an e-mail forward late at night after meetings and rehearsals have kept me exhausted for days and I fell for it. Let this be a lesson to you bloggers, restraint is good. Don’t post when you’re half asleep. I’m keeping the post up, because I think the substantive points about the stadium are worth it, and I don’t want to hide from my mistakes. So now every time you quote me, you can write “Isaac Butler, who fell for a very obvious April Fool’s Day joke, says X Y and furthermore Z”.

That being said, what I wanted to write briefly about Thomas Friedman.

Thomas Friedman has a new op/ed piece out today, this one about India and China taking jobs that normally would’ve gone to Mexico.

Suffice it to say, my Thomas Friedman axe gets a lot of grinding lately. Here are some of my problems: he’s a lazy writer, he often seems to be manufacturing quotes from people in poor countries who agree with him, he has a particular worldview (unshakeable, it seems) that he gives us as objective reality, he really should no better about globalization and the Palestinians and he’s often little more than a sloganeer. Instead of arguing passionately about how to frame an issue, he often goes: “this is because of what I call the three Letters: the X the Y and the Z”. After this, he’ll explain each of them and when he’s finally boiled down a complex (and potentially unresolvable issue) to two-to-three categories, you’ll find that there’s only one way to interpret the situation: however he wants it interpreted.

Anyway, my categorization thing is not my beef today. Nor is the smelliness of his anecdotes. There’s a lot of problems with this article, but because I’m a little bit tired today, I think I’ll just simply focus on the facts laid out in the article.

The main factual issue: While listing why India and China are whomping Mexico in the global capitalism market, he lets this one out: “While China and India each send tens of thousands of students to be educated abroad every year in science and engineering, particularly in the U.S., Mexico sends just 10,000.” Not in and of itself factually wrong. Simply very very misleading. The population of Mexico is roughly 1/10th that of India’s and slightly less than 1/10th that of China’s. So if they are sending 10,000 people abroad from Mexico, and China and India are sending tens (i.e. under a hundred) of thousands of people abroad, than Mexico actually has the comparative edge in percentage of population educated abroad in science and engineering. In other words, this isn’t the problem, Tom, nor is the level of education more than a red herring here. The problem is that this level of education doesn’t matter. You just spent the last few weeks in India, now famous for it’s call centers. You don’t need a college education to work at a call center providing bad 24 hour customer service to people. Nor do you need to be an engineer to be shown how to assemble computer chips under threat of violence in China.

There is also Friedman’s restatement of the fallacy that Democracy breeds global Capitalism and vice versa. As authors like Naomi Klein have argued quite persuasively, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Friedman lumps in opening Mexico’s energy to foreign investment with reforming its judiciary. The first will help foreign companies make money, and may allow money to flow to the government’s coffers, but there is no guarantee that this will help Mexico substantially. Just look at Nigeria, where the government executed a Nobel prize winning playwright to make life easier for foreign energy companies. Second is the idea that reforming the judiciary will help Mexico make money. This is clearly a fallacy. Just look at, for example, Singapore, which has done very well for itself financially but still remains a heavily regulated, quasi-authoritarian shadow of a Democracy.

The idea that Democracy and Global Capitalism are somehow chemically bonded is the main fallacy in the selling of globalization. They often have very little to do with each other. In fact, the inclusion of China with it’s always low labor costs undermines democratic reform in countries reliant on global capitalism all over the globe.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Little Bit of Upkeep

Added Dan Trujillo's quite entertaining blog to my list, and Parabasis is now listed on a few directories.

I would only ask this of you, dear readers: if there's a blog on the links list you haven't read, please click on one of them and try something new!

This One's For You, Dan (and Tia and Carl)

I have a friend who is busy at work trying to stop a stadium from being built on the West Side of Manhattan, and two friends busy at work trying to stop a stadium from being built in Downtown Brooklyn. Hopefully, they’ll agree to guest blog on this site and share some of their much-better-researched reasons than mine for why these stadiums are a bad idea. They include that our tax dollars will go to subsidize massive private industry that will never return on the City’s investment, that once a stadium or two crop up in this already greatly overcrowded city, there’s very little you can do with public space (like, oh I dunno, maybe some affordable housing and a park or two would be nice).

There are many other issues, including the abusive eminent domain statutes, the uselessness of seven skyscrapers in Brooklyn when we don’t need any more office space, the West Side Stadium being built against the explicit wishes of the residents and elected representatives of the area etc. etc. and so forth. Some good arguments are laid out here, in this New York Times Op-Ed from yesterday.

Simply put, land is a very valuable resource in New York City, and just giving it over to developers while trying to minimize democratic process is not only bad for the long terms interests of the City, but smacks disturbingly of later-years Robert Moses, strong-arming his way to the ruination of the Bronx and the destruction of the glorious original Penn Station. Can anyone truly say that architecture is better off in Manhattan because of the modernist monstrosity that now attaches to Madison Square Garden like a leech fresh from a suckle? Does anyone think the Cross Bronx Expressway has increased the quality of life in the Bronx or made driving in New York City any easier?

(oh and PS: we can’t afford textbooks, Bloomie, the arts are struggling to afford space to work, there are more homeless in the Subway every week, we don’t have affordable health care and rent is out of control. Do you really think we have the kind of money to spend on this stuff?)

Anyway, this is what was going though my mind when I opened my weekly Time Out New York, and saw a three-question interview with Daniel Doctoroff. Doctoroff is the Deputy Mayor whom Bloomberg specifically brought in to get a West Side Stadium and bring the Olympics here to New York. TONY asks him “what ese have you got in the works?” His answer:

“Filling in the East River… do we really need two rivers? I think the Hudson should stay; it’s bigger, it’s prettier, it separates us from New Jersey. Tchnically, the East River isn’t even a river—it’s an estuary. The real estate opportunities afforded by filling it in are simply too great to ignore. It would also ease traffic across the bridges and make connecting the LIRR to the East side much cheaper, since there would be no tunneling underwater. As for the bridges themselves we could… turn them into promenades. And we can charge to use them We’ve already done some preliminary research on this, and everything we’ve seen tells us people will pay.”

Now, assuming he’s not joking (which might be a big assumption)… can we now stop taking seriously anything this guy says? When Rick Santorum said what he said about gays, I felt “okay, you’re disqualified. Now the Press should insert `who thinks that consensual adult sex is the same as bestiality’ before any time they quote you”. Similarly, I think it would be great if we now precede everything Doctoroff says with “whose hubris leads him to support a crackpot scheme to pave the East River” before anything he says about cost/benefit analysis w/r/t the Stadium Scheme.

Anyway, contact Mayor Bloomberg. Let him know what you think. (212) 788-9600.

From a friend of mine who shall remain, for now, nameless

I got this e-mail in my mail box recently and thought I'd share it with the world:

I've been reminded of late that a lot of my feelings on current issues are pretty retro.  I keep finding that a lot has already been written that seems to basically sum up my feelings on current events.

On the practice of locking up American citizens without charge, trial, or counsel because of fears of terrorism:
"No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment V

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . . and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment VI

On "Gay marriage":
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment XIV

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment IX

On the role of the government in determining what expressions or philosophies are damaging enough to be regulated or proscribed.  To me, this goes to most cases where proponents of government regulation argue that God says something is bad:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble."
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment I

On the role of religion-based arguments that underpin proposed government action:
"[O]ur civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence . . . is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; . . . that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, . . .
We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever . . . but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
- Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom"

On the role of the government in determining whether I can choose to be armed:
"[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment II

On the right of the government to look into my personal shit:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause."
- The Unites States Constitution, Amendment IV

On those in government who would pursue courses of action in opposition to the stipulations of the Constitution:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same"
- From the oath taken by military officers, enlisted, members of Congress, and others.

Oh, that goes for the President too:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
- The Unites States Constitution, Article II, Clause 8

David Brooks patrol is out today!

So I'm reading through my usual blog list, and just found out that John Paul over at Everythings Ruined seems to have the same axe to grind against David Brooks that I do. JP, we have to stop meeting like this.


Don't forget, liberal radio starts today! Al Franken from 12-3, Jeananne Garofalo from 6-9 with special guest Atrios!

Well Educated Anti Intellectual

One of the weirdest (or funniest, take your pick) things about David Brooks is his posturing anti-intellectualism. He is very well educated, and doesn’t mind being so when on PBS, but once let loose in the New York Times, he knows what his conservative audience demands of him.

Well educated and anti-intellectual… it’s one of the fascinating new developments in neo-conservatism. After all, the Neocons fuel the ideology of the most anti-intellectual President in modern history in one of the great anti-intellectual times that our country has ever been through. Of course, this also seems to correspond with widespread higher education gains amongst the poor, but I’ll let you parse that one our for yourselves.

Anyway, David Brooks’ well-educated anti-intellectualism (or WEAI) was well on display in yesterday’s New York Times. The basic thrust of the article? Applying to College is one of the least important things you’ll ever do, good grades don’t matter because all that means is that you’re trying to please your teachers etc. This is not to say he doesn’t make a few good points, he does, in his usual hallmark condescending prose, but the overall thrust is that getting good grades and applying yourself in school is equal to being a toadie for the system. And then we get this little sneaky one-two punch:

“But in adulthood, you'll find that a talent for regurgitating what superiors want to hear will take you only halfway up the ladder, and then you'll stop there. The people who succeed most spectacularly, on the other hand, often had low grades. They are not prudential. They venture out and thrive where there is no supervision, where there are no preset requirements.”

Does anyone really doubt for a second that he’s not talking about George W. Bush here? He’s sneaking a very specific view about the President and his underlings (who, by the by, are become famous for their abilities to regurgitate what he wants to hear and who often get fired for not doing so).

There’s also this salient detail: people with bad grades who go on to achieve often do so because there is some other thing that helps them along. Maybe it’s wealthy parents whose grandfather, a senator, did business with the Nazis. Or maybe it’s because you went to the 92nd St. Y for Kindegarten and everything’s been coming up roses since then. Or maybe (let’s just be honest here) it’s because you’re white, you’re straight, you’re male, you don’t openly challenge your privilege and you act (to quote The Donald) “classy”. These are all legs up. What Brooks doesn’t consider is that if you don’t have any of the above (if you are, for example, a black woman trying to make it in the still very white and male world) good grades and a good school wouldn’t hurt.

There’s also an additional danger to the WEAI attitude, and that danger is playing itself out in Iraq. Check outthis Christian Science Monitor article, which covers an issue I haven’t really seen written about anywhere else.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Voltaire's food for thought

From Candide, when Candide is in France:

“The man of taste explained clearly how a play could interest an audience and yet have very little merit. He proved in a few words that it is not enough to collect form any novel one or two of those situations which will always enchant an audience: a dramatist must have ideas which are fresh without being fantastic; he must be able to touch the sublime yet remain natural; and he must know the human heart and make it speak. He must be a great poet, without representing any of his characters as a poet. He must understand the language perfectly and speak it purely and harmoniously, yet he must never allow the rhyme to dictate the meaning…. [he said]`There are very few good tragedies. Some are pretty little things, quite well written in their way. Some are political arguments which send us to sleep. Some are revolting amplifications of some simple little theme. And some are the expressions of wild frenzy, written in the crudest style, and full of desultory talk, long addresses to the gods (for want of knowing how to speak to men), false observations, and turgid commonplaces’”

Just a little food for thought...

Monday, March 29, 2004

Lifting Up The Curtain: Trashing the Joint

(For previous "Lifting Up The Curtain"s, click:
here, here, here, here, or here.)

This one is rather long, but I think it’s entertaining. This one’s actually an anecdote, instead of one of my “let me explain this process to you like you’re an idiot” stories.

So now that I’m staging the play, I’m re-reading Hauser and Reich’s Notes on Directing, which has some great tips on blocking (Learn to Love Traingles. Imbalance Adds Interest. Choose a facing Angle etc.). Anyway, according to them, playwright Romulus Linney (father of Laura Linney) once wrote: “Everything on the set should be used up, burned up, blown up, destroyed, or otherwise completely chemically altered over the course of the story or else it didn’t belong there to begin with”. In other words, learn to create a world with nothing extraneous, but chock full of variety and interest in what is there on stage.

Unfortunately, at Sunday’s rehearsal, we might have took Mr. Linney’s suggestion a tad bit too literally.

It’s Sunday, a beautiful Sunday, the first really perfect day of weather we’ve gotten in New York in way too long. There’s a cool breeze, a high in the low sixties and, to quote First You’re Born, “The sun is shining and everything is peaceful and serene”. We have booked a rehearsal at the Danish Seaman’s Church (or as I’ve redubbed it: “The Danish Seaman’s Church NO LAUGHING!”). You may recall that First You’re Born is the US premier of a hit play from Denmark, and thus we rely occasionally on Danish resources within the United States to get the play done.

Anyway, the church is in Brooklyn Heights, nearby where the Cosby Show B-unit footage was shot- a gorgeous area full of town houses, tree-lined streets, laughing (not screaming) children, and rainbows and lollipops and maybe a Lorax or two. We are together, the full cast and I, to rehearse one of three full-cast scenes in the play, the second to last one, called “Knife Drama”. In “Knife Drama” Axel realizes that his ex-girlfriend (Bimsy) has moved on to another man (Viktor) and sets out to kill him (hence the Knife). Meanwhile Axel’s roommate (Tearman) has set the two of them up with the agoraphobic twins living next door (Lis and Pis). For those of you for whom this sounds cutesy, precious, and nauseating, well… it works when you read or see it, trust me.

Anyway, the scene is where the play totally embraces the genre of farce. There’s chasing, door slamming, screaming, a knife wound (Axel cuts himself in a rage), a chase around a park bench—really, this scene has it all. And we’re supposed to rehearse it today. For the first time. In a basement. At a Danish church. The Danes being, of course, some of the nicest and most polite people on Earth. We’re going to go into their church, and yell curse words and try to kill each other all in the name of a three week run of this little play from their home country.

The pastor’s wife greets me at the door, and shows me the three possible rooms we could rehearse in. There’s a TV lounge, rather like one in a dorm room, a little living room and the aforementioned basement, which we end up using. The basement has two long tables covered in boxes, binders and paper. I ask her if we can move the stuff, promising to put everything back as we’d found it. She agrees, and Brooks (one of my assistants) and I set to work, setting up the scene.

Setting up the scene (which begins in Viktor’s apartment and expands to include multiple other locations) means moving all the stuff off of one table and using it as a stand in for a bed. All the other set pieces are made up of stacks of what look like knock-off Arne Jacobsen Ant Chairs painted red and blue. Meanwhile, the actors arrive, covering the other table in bags and jackets and crap before I can tell them to try to keep things orderly.

So we begin staging the scene, which is laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s just making me more and more grateful that we have such a comically talented cast. I’ve pretty much let them run loose for this first round of blocking, giving them only the slightest bit of structure and right now it’s paying off. So far, everything’s going right. For some reason, Rob has this odd habit of falling down at random moments (socks on linoleum floor I suppose) but it’s just helping fuel the energy of the scene. Finally, we get to the combat section of the scene. It goes something like this:

(0) Axel storms on in a rage, confronting Viktor and Bimsy
(0) Axel threatens Viktor with a knife
(0) Bimsy, Viktor and Axel all start arguing with each other
(0) Axel chases Viktor around the bench,
(0) Axel trips and cuts himself
(0) Axel sits down with Viktor
(0) Axel tries to strangle Viktor
(0) Bimsy threatens Axel with the knife
(0) Bimsy kicks Axel and Viktor out of her life

Anyway, Geoffrey (Axel) and Rob (Viktor) are really going at it with gusto. When Axel chases Viktor, Rob runs around the bench like a Muppet on fire. When Axel cuts himself, Geoffrey does this hilarious little-boy-running-around-in-circles bit. Everything’s going great. And then the strangling happens.

Geoffrey runs over and puts Rob in a headlock. He shouts his line “BIMSY IS STANDING IN THE SUNSET AND YOU CAN’T SEE HER FACE” and suddenly there is a cracking, splitting sound coming from Rob’s chair. Slowly, every so slowly, in slow motion even, Rob begins to fall backwards. He falls so slowly it’s like Alan Rickman in Die Hard. He has this wide eyed, unbelieving expression on his face as the back of the chair is no longer at a 90 degree angle from the seat but now in a straight line with it and Rob catches himself. He turns to us, and says “hey, I’m okay. Really I’m alright”. This is the eighth time he’s fallen today, it feels like, and we can’t help but burst out laughing for a good five minutes.

We finish blocking the scene about an hour later, and run it through and I let everyone go home. And then, the party’s over. It’s time to put the room back together. Neither Brooks nor I can remember, six hours later, exactly where anything is supposed to be. All of the papers and boxes and binders are piled in a big mess. One of the chairs is broken.

No matter how much I try to escape it, I am the rude American. I took my privileged ass over to someone’s house (in a church, no less!) wrecked the furniture, shouted curse words, and am now feebly trying to put everything back together. We slowly make it look orderly, at least, a kind of half-hearted gesture and I turn to Brooks and say, “shit, we trashed this place, didn’t we?” he pauses, unsure whether to make me feel better or tell me the truth and says, “yeah, kinda”. I mean, it’s not like we put a TV through a window but still, I’m not in college anymore, and this kind of shit isn’t cool to pull these days.

I sheepishly climb upstairs with Brooks and the pastor’s wife, Marit, is standing there.

“How did it go?”
“Um, great. Really great. We had a great time. Thank you so much for opening up your home to us. Listen… uh… we tried to make it look like it did when we came in, but I’m not sure if it’s really in order or not. Can I stick around and maybe make sure with you that it’s alright down there?”
“Please, we had a meeting in there last night. It’s a mess, don’t worry about it, really.”
“Are you sure? Um. There’s one other thing… well… we, you know, we were using the chairs and-“
“One of them broke?” She asks it and my face lights up, hope!
“Well, yes. Listen, can I write you a check to replace it?”
“Those chairs are thirty years old. The church bought them then, used at that, and they cost I think $5 a piece.”
“Well, I have a fiver on me”
“Don’t be silly”.

So I’m not as terrible as I thought! And I gallantly offered to pay! Even when I heard it was only five bucks! Not bad, Herr Director, not bad at all. I talk to her about Denmark a little bit (my trip there was like, a magical experience) and I give her a postcard. She welcomes us to come back and rehearse anytime we want. I thank her, and I walk home, talking to Brooks and thinking about how the Danes might just be (for all their melancholy) the nicest people in the world.

PS: Thanks to the wonderful Playwright's Horizons, we are now rehearsing at their rehearsal studios for the entire run of rehearsals! So the "Space Wars" are solved and we'll no longer be fucking up churches!