Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pardon me: WKRP foresees the upcoming travesty

The US smugly denounces corruption in other countries, the poorer the better for the sanctimony.  Yet in the hopeful coda to a cancerous career, 45 is expected to issue some 100 pardons on his last full day of his unsanctified, cursed term.  His remaining handlers are said to be profiting handsomely from many paying top dollar to get their cases reviewed.

Some 42 years ago, WKRP in Cincinnati featured another corrupt, smarmy con artist – an ex-wrestler now in religious raiment fleecing the faithful.  The staff ultimately manages to get the Reverend Little Ed Pembrook off the air until he promises to reform.  Which he does, only to find another angle as grifters large and small usually manage to do.

That series had an hell of a first season which also included the legendary Thanksgiving episode with live turkeys dropped from a helicopter as a publicity stunt.

Youtube Channel: Benjamin Smith

Epstein-Barr in the year of Corona

No, not that Epstein, this one.  No, not that Barr, this one.  There’s a lot of spleen being vented over both of these punchbowl turds.  The cut-price John Simon is enjoying a brief death-rattle courtesy of the Wall Street Journal that went for clicks and got more than it could have imagined.    It gave some temporary visibility to the polyp in the bowel of Phi Beta Kappa, his one-time and twenty-four year employer, which has joined in the denunciations without actually saying his name.

More pressing is the matter of 45’s head henchman, lap dog, and supposed top law man in, of, and for the country.  He joins a long and sordid list of ejecta – a mob of serfs and idolaters that sullied the nation’s house and halls before getting the heave-ho for being insufficiently abject, corrupt, or both.  The problem before us is that every one of these jackholes from Tillerson to Bolton to Esper has been replaced by someone worse.  On top of that, the dearly departed suddenly become forgiven and their rationalizations smoothed over into recantations.  Mea culpa, mea ass.  They are still the same sleazebags that they were status quo ante only butthurt that their craven agendas ran into 45’s excrementally bigger ones.  There are still five weeks to go until regime change is formalized through inauguration.  We cannot breathe easier until then and possibly after.

Youtube Channel: Armando Hasudungan

An Impey Trifecta: Dark matter, strange correlations, and observing time

The online astronomy office hours from the UofA continue apace.  Every week  Prof. Chris Impey answers  ex tempore a mix of questions from planetary science to the fate of the universe from a thirsty audience across the globe.  A large Indian contingent stays up until the wee small hours of their morning to join in.   Part of the fun is pausing the video and trying to figure out the answer  from basic considerations before resuming.  It is fun to be right but more  instructive to be wrong.  I’ve been moved to send in three questions over the past couple of sessions and all have been answered.

  1. When in relation to the Big Bang did dark matter originate?
  2. There is a surprising correlation between supermassive galactic black hole size and the population of old stars in a galaxy. Can telescopes now resolve individual stars in distant galaxies well enough to distinguish old from new to establish this connection?
  3. Observational results come from the successful.  How do astronomers get precious telescope time?

Youtube Channel: Astronomy State of the Art

 

Nick on ‘brick: Another look at 2001

/tap /tap

Is this thing still on?

Apparently.

I’ve posted previously of CinemaTyler’s excellent but breathless exploration of 2001: A Space OdysseyParallaxNick takes a more leisurely and historical look at the same film. It is less about the filmmaking process and more on its origins, development, context, and implications.  Nick’s videos about astronomy are well worth the watch.

Youtube Channel: ParallaxNick

Market plunges: Winthorpe and Valentine held for questioning

Be it ever so crumbly, there’s no place like Rome” said Bugs Bunny and was he ever correct.  In the face of a real problem, our farcical economy is exposed once again as a house of straw and sticks on quicksand with vultures above and weasels beneath.  And I apologize to vultures and weasels everywhere.

Youtube Channel: wKw

 

Bulbous Bouffons and Kakistocratic Klingons at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival

MilliGrus – the origami swan part of audience participation

Mil Grus does double duty as the name of “Los Angeles’s Premier Bouffon Troupe” and their eponymous show at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Ostensibly based on Pliny the Elder’s story of a Thousand Cranes, a five member ensemble in heavy padding, tights, and grotesque makeup do various skits and improvisational bits taken from (if not exactly inspired by) extensive crowd work and audience participation.  The closest hooks to cranes are the elegant little origami handed to a few of us in the front row (right)  with the totality of the hour being a mystery.  The young and young-at-heart in the packed McCadden Place Theatre roared and ohmyGODded with every twitch, tic, and bit of shtick.  Being neither, I was tossed into my recurring nightmare of the final exam in a class I never  knew I was taking.  If there were references I didn’t get them and if there was a through line, it escaped me.  The performers do show talent in physical theatre and this may have been an intentionally loosely-formatted bit of nonsense for a festival audience.  Perhaps their other offerings have at least some structure for those of us that need it.

The swan-like Bird of Prey from the Klingon Tamburlaine Photo courtesy School of Night Theatre Company

Summertime is usually Shakespeare season but one festival company has taken on on the daunting task of mounting rival Marlowe.  This is no easy task as there are probably very good reasons why Shakespeare (or Bacon or DeVere or whomever) has dropkicked contemporaries to the curb over the past few hundred years.  Let’s blindly extrapolate from one or two encounters with the rest and assert that their language isn’t as smooth, their characters as fleshed, or their plots as nuanced.  Nevertheless, School of Night Theatre‘s  adaptation of “Tamburlaine the Great Parts 1 and 2” into the Star Trek milieu is galactic in scope, brazen in ambition, and a stone cold  marvel.   Historical Timur/Tamerlane/Tamburlaine was such a brutal and unrepentant conqueror that transplanting him into a Klingon makes eminent sense.  It is easier to recognize savagery in the other than to acknowledge it in the self.   The uncredited adapter also cleverly remaps various tribes and city-states involved in an endless series of wars into Vulcan, Romulan, and Starfleet counterparts.   Played straight, Tamburlaine’s unremitting and unpunished transition from shepherd to despot would wear thin quickly but Director Christopher Johnson deftly leavens the grim proceedings with wry humor, sight gags, posturing, and plenty of tongue.

Klingon Tamburlaine program

This production would be a tight fit in an outdoor venue and it is the height of q’hutzpagh to put a fully costumed beak-over-tailfeathers cast of 13 and a percussionist/Foley artist  into the 360 square feet offered by the Complex Theatres.   The action is non-stop, full-tilt, loud, and a tad too long with commedia head snaps and full throated oration from start to finish.  Neither is this a land-bound adaptation.  The large design team puts together epic space battles with supernumeraries, starship models, and clever lighting although the bulk of the fighting is incongruously hand-to-hand combat with pointy objects and blades.

There is  no comeuppance, no divine retribution, and no great moral to the story other than lying, cheating, nepotistic, usurping sleazeballs can and do get away with it.   Some things don’t change over the centuries.   If there is a criticism of the production it is that it might have reached out to LA’s vibrant Klingon community to cast parts currently played by human actors in prostheses and makeup.   The theatre world has taken steps toward inclusivity but there is always room to grow.

Mil Grus by Mil Grus Theatre
Closed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019
McCadden Place Theatre

Klingon Tamburlaine by School of Night Theatre
Remaining performances: Thursday 27 June at 8:30pm and Saturday 29 June at 4pm
Ruby Theatre at The Complex, Hollywood
6476 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
Online tickets via the Hollywood Fringe Festival 

Youtube Channel: The Vestibules

 

Youtube Channel: KyleKallgrenBHH

 

 

Comedy of Terrors: “Exit the King” at City Garage

Natasha St. Clair Johnson and Troy Dunn in “Exit the King” at City Garage
Photo courtesy of Paul Rubenstein

If the death of one man is a tragedy and a million a statistic, where does Everyman‘s death fall?  So asks Ionesco as his infinitely mutable Bérenger rages against mortality in “Exit the King,” just opened at City Garage.  This was one of the plays that introduced me to small theatre,  that distinct art form with which I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship ever since.   I didn’t know what to make of Ionesco when I first encountered him.  It was late 1993 and the Independent Theatre Company (ITC)  had staged “Exit” at their tiny House of Candles Theatre on Stanton Street in the lower East Side of New York City.    I had heard of the absurdists,  knew they were “important,” and that this play along with “Rhinoceros” were considered essential by those who knew about such things.     I don’t remember anything specific about the production apart from walking out with more questions than answers and yet willing to try the playwright again.

Chief Garagistes Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe have crafted their own translaptation  of the now well-known story – a petulant, arrogant, self-absorbed bigamist struldbrugg of a King Bérenger the First (Troy Dunn) is fading after four hundred years and doesn’t want to go, gently or otherwise, into that good night.   He pouts, sulks, screams, and tantrums  through the five stages of grief as his two wives and small retinue, emblems of his body and the body politic, try to ease what’s left of his mind.  Only the second wife, the keening Queen Marie (Lindsay Plake) shares his belief in the unfairness and tragedy of it all.   The rest try to prepare him for the inevitable, each according to his or her means.

Michel preserves the one act structure and plays up the comedic elements for most of it while not overplaying the house style.  Other than the Doctor’s (Anthony Sannazzaro) Pythonesque silly walk, the movement work is kept in check in favor of  the  text.  There is not much extraneous business and Duncombe’s set supports the action unobtrusively.  (The Actors Gang staged “Exit” 20 years ago, turning a tragicomic romp into a two act slog.  That, my second encounter  with the work, did not survive the merciful intermission.)   We begin to suspect that the King really isn’t and that we’re seeing the end of Everyman Bérenger, majestic in mind only, with other characters representing parts of his failing kingdom-cum-body.   The Doctor and Guard  (David E. Frank) quietly back off the stage leaving him defenseless. Much put-upon Maid Juliette (Kat Johnston in a fine, understated turn) leaves and the myriad autonomous functions of the body, life, and living leave with her.

To the question is this a one character or a six character play, the answer of course, is two.  It’s a bit of a setup but the comedy is a sweet headfake to the denouement between Bérenger and his first wife, the imperious, practical, and sensible Queen Marguerite.  The final scene between the resonant Dunn and cool, elegant, swan-necked Natasha St. Clair Johnson is the slow, terrifying, inevitable waltz that’s on all of our dance cards.  When that end comes, we know, life goes on without us.  Johnson has been appearing frequently in recent productions but is exceptionally well-matched to this role and this moment, the only truly regal presence.    The stage, unencumbered by videos or effects,  smoothly darkens as he ascends his throne for the last time with a single spot closing over his alternately tortured, frightened, desperate, pleading face.   This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.  It is one of those theatrical moments that can leave audiences holding their collective breath before a well-deserved exhale and wild applause.  Or it could have had it not been for the goober taking cellphone photos at intervals throughout the evening doing so at this juncture.  The flash came on in the dying light and to top it off, he began clapping before the fadeout to which the production had been building for the preceding 99 minutes.

Despite Bérenger’s resemblance to 45 (or vice-versa), “Exit” is not the overt political call-to-arms that is “Rhinoceros”  and certainly not the out-and-out political comedy that is “La Leçon/The Lesson” which Liz Pocock knocked into orbit in 2004 at the company’s old Promenade location.  Even if it were that call, the world is voting the other way these days and by and large, the world doesn’t go to see plays.   “Exit”‘s scope is smaller in respects, grander in others but this strong production is certainly worth a visit to Bergamot Station between now and 14 July.

Exit the King
by Eugène Ionesco, translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel

Running through 14 July 2019 at City Garage
Building T1, Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm;
Sundays, 4pm

Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
Box Office: 310-453-9939
Online ticketing through Brown Paper Tickets

And here’s King Louis the First with Steely Queen Keely with their take on the final curtain.

Youtube Channel: Mew Suay

 

Youler, Oiler, Wheeler: A flammable what’s in a name

You say CarMEEna, I say CarMYna
You say BurAHna, I say BurAYna
CarMEEna, CarMYna, BurAHna, BurAYna
Let’s Carl the whole thing Orff
— Unknown

The outsized impact of Teutonic peuples on the sciences requires the rest of the world to get acquainted with the nuances of German pronunciation what with the umlauts, diphthongs, capitalizations, and veryLongwordscomposedofötherwordswIthnospacesinbetwëënBerkeley chemistry majors of my vintage needed to take two terms of German so that we could read the older literature before English more-or-less took over as lingua franca.  Some of us actually enjoyed it, most cursed it.  Speaking of franca, the French were/are no slouches when it comes to scientific impact but we were not required to take French as part of the curriculum.

Vacky Deutscher Jens Fehlau offers a basic pronunciation course  in typical vacky, flammable, and completely not-safe-for-work idiom forgoing his usual chalkboard for a MySpace page come to life.  He vents justifiable rage against those profaning the great Leonhard Euler as ‘Youler’ or even ‘Wheeler’.  For an existence proof of the former, see UCL mathematician Hannah Fry deadpan it repeatedly in a discussion of map projections.  What in the actual f, indeed?  The definitive guide to speaking the insufficiently known Emmy Noether is a major service.

Youtube Channel: Flammable Maths

Let us now consider other Wheelers (not Youlers or Oilers) that have loomed in the physical sciences.  Most famous is Princeton’s late John Archibald, coiner of terms (black hole, wormhole, it-from-bit) and who begat Feynman, Thorne, and other luminaries.  There is also Reed’s Nicholas Wheeler whose lecture notes have become the stuff of legend.  Now the A. A. Knowlton Professor Emeritus of Physics, Wheeler created many courses over a six decade career developing first his own approach to a topic, writing about it, and then taking his students through it.  It is a pedagogical road taken by a select few.  He writes,

I learned early on in my undergraduate education that while it is instructive to read, and to attend to the words of informed speakers, I cannot gain the feeling that I “understand” a subject until I have done my best to write about it. So much of my time these past sixty years—even when seemingly involved with other things—has been spent pondering the outlines of what I would write when I returned to my desk, “composing the next sentence.”

Which means that I have been engaged more often in trying to write my way to understanding than from understanding

When thinking through a subject in preparation for a class I have no option but to write my way through the subject, and then to lecture from my own notes. I find it much more pleasant and productive to spend an afternoon and evening writing than arguing with the absent author of a published text.

Reed has placed the original handwritten notes in their Special Archives for consultation.  Fortunately, Wheeler also took pains to meticulously typeset a large fraction of these notes in \TeX and put them on his website. It is heady stuff this idiosyncratic guide through the highways, byways, and backroads of mathematical physics. Wheeler’s writing is alternately informal then precise, rigid then fluid, purposeful and then digressive. Each polished chapter contains seeds and fruits from all the others just as pieces of a hologram recapitulate the whole. There are treasures enough for many lifetimes. We can only marvel at undergraduates who had both the fortune to experience this ‘drawing out and not a putting in,’ as well as the ability to absorb and understand so much material coming from so many directions. Click the image to go the site and rejoice in each folder and its branches.

Image credit: Nicholas Wheeler