Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance—Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! Quirk Books $12.95 : Chronicle Books:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life!

Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.
The Playgoer: Bush's NEA: Dana Gioia's Parting Shot:

Here's some other high/lowlights in the report.

* "The number of nonprofit theaters in the United States has doubled over a 15-year period." 1990-2005, that is. From 1,000-2,000.

* In 1990 "earned income" (as in ticket sales) made up about 65% of all revenue for those companies. Today it's down to about 50%. "Contributions" has picked up the shortfall.

* Of those "contributions" the trend over the last two decades is now demonstrably (not that you ever doubted it) toward greater individual and corporate giving and dwindling government funding. But look at this: Back in 1987 individual giving still was the highest source at 32% of total contributions. But federal/state/local government grants were a close second at 26%. By last count in 2002, the "individuals" piece of the pie is up to 40% and the government portion has sunk ten points (15.6%)--that's now fourth place, overtaken by "Foundations" (21.7%) and "Businesses" (17%).

* Blaming high ticket prices for the decline of the audience? Nonsense! "Theater ticket sales do not appear to respond strongly to price changes. Statistical models predict that a 20 percent price hike in low-end subscription or single tickets will reduce total attendance by only 2 percent." Wait there's more, in the small print of a footnote: "Further increases in attendance per performance appear to be linked with increases in the highest ticket prices that theaters offer." Go figure. I guess it's the old "if it ain't pricey, it ain't classy" phenomenon.

So what have we learned today?
Sparkly D. - Skycam Burrito Princess Centerfold for Scene Mag 2008
Why the world's economic leaders blame the catastrophe on the system instead of themselves. - By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine:

At a CNBC event yesterday, groups of 10 to 12 people sat at tables and mooted three questions: Which policy assumption failed? Which regulatory failure proved to be the largest systemic shock? And which market failure proved most damaging? The answers were obvious: poor regulation of the shadow banking system, mispricing of risk, the failure of models. But there was very little talk about the people who helped design and justify the systems, the mispricing, and the models. At one point, someone in the crowd stood up and said: "It's intriguing nobody is to blame. In other industries, there are consequences if you make toxic products that hurt people. Policy makers need to make it clear that there are serious consequences for that type of behavior." Big applause! And yet aside from the odd mention of Alan Greenspan and an oblique reference to Robert Rubin, the former treasury secretary who became a senior executive at Citigroup, there was little talk of individual players who had responsibility.

The dismissal of human agency is ironic, but also predictable. Just as financial markets in the United States privatize profits and socialize losses, Davos and other conferences like this privatize success (by chalking it up to individuals) and socialize failure (by blaming it on large systemic problems).
Rithma - "Sex Sells" Album Art 1
The Davos Man is supposed to be gracious and civil. Not this year. - By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine:

Even though we're in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, schadenfreude is a sentiment generally frowned on at Davos. Rather, the powerful and wealthy congratulate themselves for taking time out of their busy schedules to ponder the plight of the less fortunate. One of the unofficial Davos events is the "Refugee Run," a simulation of life as a refugee, complete with hostile, armed rebels, power outages, and barbed wire.
Feather Obsession 6..
The Arts | Monologuist Mike Daisey at Kirkland Performance Center | Seattle Times Newspaper:

Seattle-honed, nationally acclaimed solo artist Mike Daisey returns to the area this weekend with two works. His bitingly satirical rumination on American innovation and corporate power, "Monopoly!," plays at 8 tonight; then Daisey will perform his monologue about his Brooklyn neighborhood before and after Sept. 11, 2001 — called "Invincible Summer" — at 8 p.m. Saturday. Both shows are at the Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland; $10-$25 (425-893-9900 or

Thursday, January 29, 2009

For James Urbaniak:

It's soy. You're welcome.
The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.:

I served in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, and I attended SERE as a young lieutenant in November 1995. I have since been to Iraq three times (as a reporter), and I can attest that the school isn't relevant to the threats American soldiers face abroad. It resembles more of an elaborate hazing ritual than actual training.

While I was in the school, I lived like an animal. I was hooded, beaten, starved, stripped naked, and hosed down in the December air until I became hypothermic. At one point, I couldn't speak because I was shivering so hard. Thrown into a 3-by-3-foot cage with only a rusted coffee can to piss into, I was told that the worst had yet to come. I was violently interrogated three times. When I forgot my prisoner number, I was strapped to a gurney and made to watch as a fellow prisoner was water-boarded a foot away from me. I will never forget the sound of that young sailor choking, seemingly near death, paying for my mistake. I remember only the sound because, try as I might, I couldn't force myself to look at his face. I was next. But for some reason, the guards just dropped the hose on my chest, the water soaking my uniform.
What a 1988 college thesis by the former vice president's daughter tells us about the Bush presidency:

When I worked at the library at Colorado College, I quickly discovered the job had few perks. The free book loans on demand were little better than subprime mortgages when you realized anyone could get them. The only "exclusive" benefit was the chance to keep manuscripts the library threw out. Usually, I had a limited selection of titles, like Proceedings From the Third Workshop on Genetics of Bark Beetles and Associated Micro-Organisms. But occasionally I stumbled across a gem. Rummaging through a bin of discarded books one day, I saw an unusual spine: "CHENEY The Evolution of Presidential War Powers 1988."

In 1988, while Dick Cheney was Wyoming's sole representative in the House of Representatives, his daughter's senior thesis was quietly published in Colorado Springs. The 125-page treatise argued that, constitutionally and historically, presidents have virtually unchecked powers in war. Thirteen years before her father became vice president, she had symbolically authored the first legal memorandum of the Bush administration, laying out the same arguments that would eventually justify Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, wiretapping of American citizens, and, broadly, the unitary theory of the executive that shaped the Bush presidency.

In a few weeks I'm traveling to the remote island of Tanna, a tiny speck at the end of the Vanuatu island chain in the South Pacific. It is the location of the last cargo cult in the world: a religion created by islanders after Americans built temporary bases here during WWII.

The religion revolves around the worship of American power, and the summoning of America's power back to the island through sympathetic magic. Islanders enact rituals where they wear whiteface and create costumes that look like military uniforms, and sit at bamboo tables to "type" on bamboo recreations of typewriters...because they saw American servicemen doing the same, and it made the cargo come, and with it the power of America.

From the Wikipedia entry about the John Frum cult:

"In 1941, followers of John Frum rid themselves of their money in a frenzy of spending, left the missionary churches, schools, villages and plantations, and moved further inland to celebrate traditional custom through feasts, dances and rituals. The movement gained popularity in the 1940s when some 300,000 American troops established themselves in Vanuatu. The islanders were impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their obvious wealth and power. This led them to conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into a mythic figure who would empower the island peoples by giving them cargo wealth."

Meticulous simulacra have been created—life-size models of McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft, lovingly shaped from bamboo and straw, totems made to call power back to the island. Control towers of bamboo, whole runways accurate to an inch but made of palm fronds—a universe constructed from faith that they could compel America to return to the island.

Now the religion is over fifty years old, and the islanders' faith has evolved with the times. Today the village elders watch CNN on satellite uplink...and they write new hymns to draw out the power of America, based on the news events they see occurring in that far-off land.

I will be there for a massive celebration, held once a year, when the islanders recreate the stories of America from across the sea. They will re-enact the events of the past year—I hope I will see Obama be inaugurated a second time—in great detail. I will be there for this event, and remaining for a number of weeks to interview and see what I can learn of their lives.

Then I will be touring Australia, where I'll be performing the very earliest notes toward a new monologue. Tentatively titled
THE LAST CARGO CULT, it will explore stories of belief, trust and sympathetic magic from  the cargo cults by weaving them against stories of belief, trust, and sympathetic magic from a more familiar source: the international financial crisis.

From the belief in the infallibility of markets that gave birth to it, to the trust economy that we rely on to keep the modern world running, to our ultimate achievement in abstraction and sympathetic magic—money—I hope to wrestle with the largest questions of what the collapse means, and what can we see about the system we've created that underlies everything we do. I'm speaking with experts from that world now, from financiers to hedge fund traders to me if you have expertise in these areas and would like to talk.

Finance is a lens we use to define our world, and in doing so we become subject to the world we've created, bound to the laws we lay down. I'm hoping to use each culture to illuminate the other in an honest attempt to find, between the seemingly primitive and the achingly modern, a human answer.

That's the hope. It is terribly early yet, and there's much to do.

I will be performing early versions of this work across Australia, with performances in Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney during March—as dates are locked down I will update with complete details.

When I return to America in March we'll be presenting an early version of the piece in conjunction with a run of
HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles—details are available at my site.

Be seeing you,


PS:  A life on the road: we are now in Seattle, where we perform
MONOPOLY! this Friday night and INVINCIBLE SUMMER this Saturday, and then up to Vancouver for the PuSh Festival. This will be the only time these monologues will be done in the region, so if you're so inclined, buy tickets now before it is too late:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 / Comment / Analysis - The game changer:

What about credit default swaps? Here I take a more radical view than most people. The prevailing view is that they ought to be traded on regulated exchanges. I believe they are toxic and should be used only by prescription. They could be used to insure actual bonds but – in light of their asymmetric character – not to speculate against countries or companies.

CDS are not, however, the only synthetic financial instruments that have proved toxic. The same applies to the slicing and dicing of collateralised debt obligations and to the portfolio insurance contracts that caused the stock market crash of 1987, to mention only two that have done a lot of damage. The issuance of stock is closely regulated by authorities such as the Securities and Exchange Commission; why not the issuance of derivatives and other synthetic instruments? The role of reflexivity and the asymmetries identified earlier ought to prompt a rejection of the efficient market hypothesis and a thorough reconsideration of the regulatory regime.
Just talkin
Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions — PNAS:

The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years.
Parabasis: One Quick Thought On Ticket Prices:

This is what I want to say though: The idea that we won't on some subconscious level have different, higher expectations for a $75.00 show vs. a $15.00 show is naive in the extreme.  We expect (culturally I'm sayin' here) value and price to equal out in some way, and when they don't, we tend to feel much worse about the value than we normally would.  Seeing a so-so show for $75.00 pisses me off. Seeing a so-so show for $18.00 does not. I'm more and more realizing that this (emotional) response is not one I am choosing, it's due to a set of (culturally created perhaps) assumptions about what money means and how it interacts with value.  Our audiences are going to have fairly similar assumptions when they come in to see our shows.

This is one of the many reasons why high ticket prices are self-defeating.
Seattle Calendar - Mike Daisey - page 1 - Seattle Weekly:

Mike Daisey possesses a singular skill that suits his profession to a T: He can talk about himself at great length with great charm, without seeming self-absorbed. While others might parlay this skill into little more than entertaining at family gatherings, Daisey’s made it the backbone of his performance career, crafting a series of monologues that pretend to deal with such eclectic subjects as eccentric geniuses,, America’s nuclear industry, and the death of American theater, while actually being about how these subjects affect his life and fascinate his cynically playful eye. Daisey, who honed his craft here for over a decade, has performed most of his pieces in Seattle, save one: Invincible Summer, a monologue chronicling his move to New York in 2001, his eyewitness account of 9/11, and its aftermath. When I last asked him about the piece, he admitted that he’s often asked by Seattleites when he’s going to stage it here, and that some of them seem weirdly resentful that they’ve been denied the chance to round out the Daisey canon. Well, Daiseyphiles, now’s your chance, though you’ll have to cross the lake to hear what happened when the big guy made the jump from our little burg to the dark bohemian underground of Brooklyn. (On Friday, Daisey offers Monopoly!, about Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and the Parker Brothers board game.)
Nadine in Vinings

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

APB from the NY NeoFuturists:

HEY! YOU!! Are you a wildly creative theatrical mastermind? Then check this out:

The New York Neo-Futurists are seeking new members for their creative & prolific ensemble to write/perform/direct in their open-run of TOO MUCH LIGHT MAKES THE BABY GO BLIND (now in its 5th year), an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes that the NY Times calls "an entire fringe festival in one show." This is a unique and demanding show, requiring a long-term commitment. It is strongly suggested that you see Too Much Light before auditioning.

Auditions (by appointment only) will be held on February 2 & 8
Callbacks will be held on February 14 & 15. (Auditioners must be present for both days of callbacks.)

People of color & LGBT encouraged.

For more info, go to:

To set up an appointment, email
Untitled (365/306)
Excuses: John Thain and the Art of the Modern Non-Apology Apology:

Is there an excuse former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain hasn't trotted out to explain why his fall is not his fault?

Thain, who resigned last Thursday. He had come under fire for four main sins:

* Not disclosing more quickly Merrill's $15.3 billion in losses for the fourth quarter.
* Asking for a $10 million bonus for himself.
* Paying Merrill Lynch employees $4 billion in bonuses, normally given in January, in December, before Bank of America closed on the acquisition.
* Spending $1.2 million a year ago to renovate his office and three other rooms, including an $87,000 rug and a $35,000 commode.

For each of these, Thain has an excuse.

The world has changed. Thain told CNBC about the renovation, "It is clear to me in today's world that it was a mistake."
My predecessor was a jerk. In the same interview, Thain said that former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal's office "was very different than the general decor of Merrill's offices. It really would have been very difficult for me to use it in the form that it was in. … It needed to be renovated no matter what." And Thain will pay Bank of America back for the $1.2 million
I told them everything. In a memo to Merrill employees, Thain said that Bank of America "learned about these losses when we did." On the bonuses: "The timing of the payments for both the cash and stock were all determined together with Bank of America."
And they were okay with it. Steele Alphin, Bank of America's chief administrative officer, wrote an email, leaked to Dealbreaker, which defended Thain in early December when the question of Thain's bonus first came up:

John was not asking for a $10MM bonus, but simply to be paid fairly and anything paid him paid less than Lewis, if Ken is to receive a bonus. John had already accepted that if Ken was to be at zero, he would be at zero. Or, if Ken was below $10MM, he would be significantly below $10MM. John's reputation has not been damaged with our directors or management team which now includes him.

The important thing: None of these deals with the actual substance of the complaint.
Disagree with a flight attendant? You're a terrorist - Boing Boing:

So I'd assumed that he was just a little puffed-up martinet making idle threats, but it appears we got off lucky. According to this, plenty of passengers who disagreed with a flight crew are now classed as "terrorists" in international databases and subject to incredible hassle and are even at risk of being detained when they fly.

Not a bad business to be in: for most companies, all they can do when a customer has an argument with a rep is ask them to leave. Airlines get to punish their customers by having them arrested as terrorists. I guess we're lucky the record industry doesn't have the same ability.
{4} With Every Breath I Kill You
Adam Szymkowicz: Advice for playwrights starting out:

1. Are you sure you want to be a playwright? How about a screenwriter or TV writer or fiction writer? Not that you can’t do them all, but it helps, I think, to concentrate and get really good at one at a time and you should think about if you want that one thing to be a playwright. Being a playwright is hard. One of my profs once said to me you have to work hard at it for at least 10 years before you start to see any movement.

Then you reach that threshold but it continues to be hard. Yes, it can be great to see your work on a stage. If you love the theatre, I mean really love the theatre and more than anything want to write plays, I guess you should do it, but you should know, there is a lot of competition, a lot of great work, a lot of baby boomers who get the season slots first.

And there is not much money. Not a lot of resources.

So are you still sure you want to be a playwright? Okay, go on to number 2 if you’re sure, otherwise go read someone’s blog who started out as something else.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall - Errol Morris Blog -

And I turned to one of my editors — First I said, “Oh, my God.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “You’ve got to see this picture of Bush. This is really stunning.” And I flipped it over to him to process and his first reaction was, “Wow.” And I said, “If he wasn’t just back there behind that door crying, I don’t know what that look on his face is.” Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency. And it’s just really striking. He just looks absolutely devastated.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oh Really? Really??? « Culturebot:

Young Jean Lee & Thomas Bradshaw both studied with Mac Wellman at Brooklyn College. She did a show at the Ontological and Mark Russell booked her at PS122. Mark had left by the time Young Jean’s show was being developed (Pullman, WA) and during that time I got to know both of them.

And when  Young Jean brought Thomas by the office to talk about his work I pushed it through and supported it and advocated for it with Vallejo who went on to promote and foster both of these artists.  During my brief tenure at IRT I gave both Thomas and Young Jean residencies to develop the shows that Als ultimately wrote about in the New Yorker. Not to forget Soho Rep, Little Theater, The Brick, The Flea, BAX and all the other places that have supported these writers along the way and informed the discussions in and around the work.

The larger issue is that these artists, this idea, this “new trend” does not arise in a vacuum. There is a huge, rich, diverse, complicated, underfunded ecosystem where these “trends” are nurtured, explored, devised, discussed and refined. And it is NOT part of the mainstream theater world.  I started Culturebot to cover THAT world - and thus I’ve been writing - and talking -  about this “new trend in American theatre” for a long time.
Op-Ed Columnist - Will Obama Save Liberalism? -

This is William Kristol’s last column.
written by Sheila Callaghan
directed by Kip Fagan
A pair of radical feminist ex-strippers scour the country on a murderous rampage against right-wing pro-lifers, blogging about their exploits in gruesome detail. Meanwhile, a scruffy screenwriter named Owen tries to bang out his magnum opus in a hotel room as his best friend Rodney ("The Rod") holds forth on rape and other manly enterprises. When Owen decides to incorporate the strippers into his screenplay, the boundaries of reality begin to blur, and only a visit from Jane Fonda can help keep worlds from blowing apart. Sheila Callaghan's THAT PRETTY PRETTY; OR, THE RAPE PLAY is a violently funny and disturbing excavation of the dirty corners of our imaginations.
Tickets found here!
A Reporter at Large: Atomic John: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker:

The single, blinding release of pure energy over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, marked a startling and permanent break with our prior understandings of the visible world. Yet for more than sixty years the technology behind the explosion has remained a state secret. The United States government has never divulged the engineering specifications of the first atomic bombs, not even after other countries have produced generations of ever more powerful nuclear weapons. In the decades since the Second World War, dozens of historians have attempted to divine the precise mechanics of the Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, and of the bomb that fell three days later on Nagasaki, known as Fat Man. The most prominent is Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize, in 1988, for his dazzling and meticulous book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” But the most accurate account of the bomb’s inner workings—an unnervingly detailed reconstruction, based on old photographs and documents—has been written by a sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.
Where The Boys Are?
Religion: Pope Reinstates Holocaust-Denying Bishop:

Now that American Muslims have been thoroughly demonized in the last presidential election, Pope Benedict XVI seems keen to open another religious rift, between Catholics and Jews.

He is reinstating Bishop Richard Williamson, who does not believe 6 million Jews were gassed by the Germans during the Nazi regime, he says it was more like 200,000, not a holocaust at all. See the interview above, taped just this past November and aired last week in Sweden.

Benedict is also broadening the use of "a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews" and reinstating three other hard-line bishops in an effort to bring right-wing schismatic groups back into the fold, according to the Times.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (January 25, 2009) - Parsing Obama:

The men who ordered a man tied to a chair, doused in water, and chilled to hypothermia so intense he had to be rushed to emergency medical care, the men who presided over at least two dozen and at most a hundred prisoners tortured to death, the men who ordered an American servicewoman to smear fake menstrual blood over a Muslim's face in order to win a war against Jihadism, the men who ordered innocents stripped naked, sexually abused, terrified by dogs, or cast into darkness with no possibility of a future, and did all this in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the men who gave the signal in wartime that there were no limits to what could be done to prisoners of war and reaped a whirlwind of abuse and torture that will haunt American servicemembers for decades: these men will earn the judgment of history. It will be brutal.

We will need some formal and comprehensive record of all that happened, and the Congress will surely begin to move on that (and they should not exempt their own members from scrutiny either). And as specific allegations of torture emerge, the Justice Department will have no option but to prosecute. To ignore such charges is itself a dereliction of constitutional duty.
The Fortress of Jason Grote: And The Critic-O-Meter:

This is a good idea: a blog that aggregates theater reviews, put together by Isaac Butler and Rob Weinert-Kendt. Like other critics of the endeavor, I'm not crazy about the assignment of letter grades to plays, but I do really like the fact that they aggregate all of the reviews in one spot.
Colors from Valencia market
I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle:

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user's photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.
Frosty landscape
Tales of the Rampant Coyote: The Black Triangle:

Our company financial controller and acting HR lady, Jen, came in to see what incredible things the engineers and artists had come up with. Everyone was staring at a television set hooked up to a development box for the Sony Playstation. There, on the screen, against a single-color background, was a black triangle.

“It’s a black triangle,” she said in an amused but sarcastic voice. One of the engine programmers tried to explain, but she shook her head and went back to her office. I could almost hear her thoughts… “We’ve got ten months to deliver two games to Sony, and they are cheering over a black triangle? THAT took them nearly a month to develop?”

What she later came to realize (and explain to others) was that the black triangle was a pioneer. It wasn’t just that we’d managed to get a triangle onto the screen. That could be done in about a day. It was the journey the triangle had taken to get up on the screen. It had passed through our new modeling tools, through two different intermediate converter programs, had been loaded up as a complete database, and been rendered through a fairly complex scene hierarchy, fully textured and lit (though there were no lights, so the triangle came out looking black). The black triangle demonstrated that the foundation was finally complete – the core of a fairly complex system was completed, and we were now ready to put it to work doing cool stuff. By the end of the day, we had complete models on the screen, manipulating them with the controllers. Within a week, we had an environment to move the model through.

Afterwards, we came to refer to certain types of accomplishments as “black triangles.” These are important accomplishments that take a lot of effort to achieve, but upon completion you don’t have much to show for it – only that more work can now proceed. It takes someone who really knows the guts of what you are doing to appreciate a black triangle.
at the end of the tunnel
Portland Mercury | Blogtown, PDX | Liveblogging Apollo:

I'm sitting in the lobby at the Armory waiting for the doors to open at Apollo, Portland Center Stage's new 3.5-hour, multimedia production about Nazis, and outer space, and... stuff. Tonight's the "Twitter and live-blog friendly performance," which means that the balcony is full of new media types on laptops and iphones

It's weird. I'm going to liveblog it. I'm curious about the entire experience: how watching a play while plugged into the internet changes the viewing experience; if it's even possible to pay attention to a 3.5 hour play when the entire, endlessly diverting internet is at my fingertips; if this is a new, possibly improved way of relating to theater, or simply a novel PR hook. I'll post updates after the jump, and I might follow it on Twitter as well: alisonhallett if you're interested.
The Quitter Economy:

"The reason we're seeing liquation rather than bankruptcy from so many retailers is because people are hopeless," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute. "We're still looking at a very bad year in 2009 and probably most of 2010, so it's very difficult to be optimistic about reorganizing and coming out of it stronger."

Liquidation has become the corporate analog to residential foreclosures—with banks slow to restructure mortgages to help out shaky borrowers, and borrowers quick to "mail in the keys" to the bank when the value of their house plummets. Foreclosures rose 79 percent in 2007 and spiked another 81 percent in 2008, to a record 2.3 million households. "It wouldn't surprise me if we approach 3 million households in 2009," said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles foreclosure data. At the same time, hedge funds, which helped foment the boom, have started mailing in their own keys. If a fund suffers losses in a year, the managers can't start earning lucrative performance fees unless the fund returns above its high-water mark. Rather than soldier on, many operators have opted to simply fold, returning money to investors.

Companies, homeowners, and money managers willing to quit rather than fight is both a symptom of the nation's deep economic woes and emblematic of the challenge the Obama administration faces. More than a mere "economic crisis" is facing Barack Obama. Our Yes, We Can president is going to have to fix a No, We Can't economy.
Walking In The Air
The Rumpus Long Interview With Steven Soderbergh - The

The Rumpus: I love so many of your movies, but they seem very different.  I can’t connect “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” to “Out of Sight” to “Traffic.”  And I can’t connect “Traffic” to “Che” at all. Am I missing something there?

SODERBERGH: The good news is that I don’t have to know if there’s a link. Wells had a great quote once where some critic asked him a similar question. He said, “I’m the bird, and you’re the ornithologist.” I don’t really sit down and think on a macro level how or if these things are connected. They obviously are in the sense that I wanted to make them. And so there must be something in them that I’m drawn to.
Miss Roxy Velvet

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Clyde Fitch Report: From the Blogroll VII:

Mike also references a Gawker post about stunt casting on Broadway that is, to be blunt, a poor excuse for the writer of that post to call attention to his own ignorance and silliness and penchant for unclever whining. People, this is the theatre. It has always been, and always will be, utterly predicated on stars, at least at the commercial level. The truth is that if the dude who wrote that Gawker post had any history in his pocket, he would know that when Hollywood stars shun the stage -- as they have been wont to do in the past and shall, no doubt, be wont to do once more at some point -- everybody in the theatre will run up and down the avenues fretting about theatre not being hip and crying "How will we fill our seats" and asking "Why is the theatre so stuffy?" and on and on.

The truth is that we should be encouraging film actors to do the theater thing and critics, moreover, should stop being adenoidal idiots about it when reviewing them. I don't mean giving film stars free passes, just to be clear. What I mean that it is in the interest of the theatre to have them visit, to critique them in a way that is constructive and encourages them to return. Diddy Combs did the theatre more favors when he did A Raisin in the Sun, his, um, questionable chops aside, than anyone I can think of in the last 10 years.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Layoffs: Microsoft's Self-Destructing Email Pink Slips:

Fired employees often say impolite things. But only at Microsoft are their pink slips unprintable. The software giant fired 1,400 people this week with specially encoded, read-only email.

A tipster who saw one of the notices says the email had DRM restrictions — similar to the ones that prevent the copying of music files — that prevented it from being forwarded or printed, and instructed the 1,400 fired employees to pack up their things and go home, where their severance package would be mailed: "No meeting with their boss. No meeting with HR. Nada."
The Nameless Face Who Continually Smiled for Me.
From an email I received earlier:

Dear Mr. Daisey-

I heard a feature on your work on NPR a few months ago and wrote a poem based on the piece.

I am a first year MFA candidate (poetry) at Brooklyn College and I was struck by the poetry of your Tesla monologues.

I hope you enjoy the poem.

Many thanks,
Sarah Feeley


he collecting june bugs little baby boy while I fly steel wings
pigeon hone home or alternate nests of wires
nests of feathers and dust spark and blow the brick wide substation

my war for your entire house
my love sleeps in hotel rooms unmarried
my love’s visions stuck burrs in my dreams

World Keeps Spinning
Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case | Threat Level from

The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.
The Theatre: Broadway Stunt Casting Increasingly Popular, Annoying:

Did you hear that collective grumble that rose up among young male actors in New York when Haley frickin' Joel Osment got cast in the ill-fated revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo? The kid got that role simply because he starred in a couple of shitty movies ten years ago. He'd done little to no acting since. But producers, desperate for ticket sales, will throw just about any known screen actor into a significant role in a play, despite their lack of any discernible chops. Which is, you know, kind of a slap in the face to actual "theatre people." The more it happens, the more true straddlers of both mediums—your Mary Louise Parkers, your Laura Linneys, your Ethan Hawkes—get lumped in with the sad pile. The stunt casting cheapens the medium, reducing it to just an excuse to see your favorite star live and saying things. (Who the hell really wanted to see Pygmalion? No, they just wanted to see Angela Chase up close.)
Parabasis: Are You A Teaching Artist?:

One of my fellow National Arts Policy Committee Droogies is putting together a massive study of teaching artists in America.  This is an important time for such a study, part of Obama's arts policy is the creation of Artist Corps, so figuring out how teaching artists work etc. and so forth.  Here's all the info (you get a free This American Life compilation!):
Too Cold to Jog
The Raw Story | Whistleblower: NSA spied on everyone, targeted journalists:

Former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice, who helped expose the NSA's warrantless wiretapping in December 2005, has now come forward with even more startling allegations. Tice told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Wednesday that the programs that spied on Americans were not only much broader than previously acknowledged but specifically targeted journalists.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Patrick McGoohan: Son of a Bitch:

McGoohan was the driving creative force behind the series, as well as its star, so it's no wonder that it served as a perfect showcase for his talents. Finally, we have a man who hates the world stuck in a world that justifies that hate. In the anonymous Village, Number Six is prodded, tested, tricked, seduced, compelled, and tortured by a shadowy force whose ultimate purpose is never revealed, and all of it done for a simple piece of information that it wouldn't take more than a sentence or two to reveal. It's not even all that important—they only want to know why he quit his job. No state secrets, nothing involving missile plans or code words or anything technical like that; simply his motivation for leaving an exciting, well-paid (one assumes) position at British Intelligence. It almost seems rude of Six not to tell them. Sure, they drugged and kidnapped him, but they do give him room and board and a quite lovely seaside vacation. All very comforting, provided you don't swim too far.

We never find out why Six resigned, but those of us playing at home come closer to figuring it than any of the various Number Twos. For McGoohan, motivation is a personal thing, and regardless of how insignificant the questions may seem, the right not to answer them is of innumerable value. At its heart, The Prisoner is about the ways in which society seeks to crush and compromise the individual, to force people into blind acceptance so that the trains run on time, the clocks are always set, and faces are forever smiling. Out of all his movie and TV work, it's here that McGoohan's fury finds its true purpose. His is the passion of anyone who's ever been told to fit in, to quiet down, to agree more, to listen less, to know one's place, to never question it. For once, we aren't the target of his anger, we share it. For all the outcasts, here is someone who wouldn't compromise how nicely he was asked to.

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it)
The Stranger | Slog | Obama Team Gutted Rail; Most Stimulus Highway Projects Not "Shovel-Ready":

As Matthew Yglesias notes, less than half the money dedicated to new infrastructure projects in the House-Obama stimulus plan—a plan that was gutted, supposedly at the behest of Obama economic advisor Larry Summers, to eliminate $17 billion in proposed spending on public transportation—will be spent in the next two years. That means, first and foremost, that those highway projects won't do anything to lift the nation out of recession—the stated primary goal of the economic stimulus. And it's especially disappointing given that, as Grist reports, there are at least $50 billion in backlogged repair projects for public transit systems ready to go right now. Prioritizing highways that won't be built for years at the expense of shovel-ready transit projects that could help the economy today makes no logistical sense. It's a political decision, not an economic one.
Shrine To Beef 2
In my recent conversations with theater artists, we often talk about the insane cost of MFA theater programs--future artists get saddled with over $100,000 in debt for many three year programs.

What makes this reprehensible is that there is no rational way for the VAST majority artists to repay this massive debt through the practice of their art. You would think that an industry would adapt to those circumstances, and that this would result in less MFA programs...but instead they're at colleges across the country, and their advertisements fuel our industry. AMERICAN THEATRE magazine appears to be supported entirely by ads for MFA programs.

This deepens these programs' legitimacy, and the participants dig themselves in more and more. When I talk to young people in schools, I am constantly asked which MFA programs I would recommend. They are routinely lied to and told baldly that without MFA training they couldn't possibly be ready to perform for the public. In undergraduate programs professors of the theater (who very often have never come near the professional theater) push students on to further studies, encouraging them to believe they need further training before working.

In this way our best and brightest, who want so badly to do the right thing and are willing to sacrifice to make their careers work, get saddled with the largest debts, ensuring that they'll have the hardest time staying in the profession.

What brought this up for me today was
this Slate article with advice for young lawyers in debt. The advice-seeker writes:

Dear Patty and Sandy,

I'm a law student in my final year, pondering my career plans. I'll be clerking for a judge for one year following law school but am torn as to where I'll go next. Law school usually results in an enormous amount of student loan debt, and I'll be no exception: I'm looking at roughly $100,000. I've always been driven toward public service and government work, and wanted a career in law in order to help those unable to help themselves. I'm considering a career in refugee law or perhaps as a public defender or district attorney. The trouble, of course, is that these positions pay salaries that would present a challenge even without law school loans to pay off. The conventional wisdom from a number of friends, family, and fellow students seems to be taking a high-paying job with a private law firm for a few years in order to pay off loans is the prudent course, particularly in difficult economic times. I don't want to work for a law firm: When I was a little girl, I dreamed of saving the world, not of billing hours. Still ... $100,000 is a daunting number. Any advice?


Then two skilled and experienced lawyers then give the young woman heartfelt advice.

Where is this process happening in theater? Where are older actors and artists advising the next generation on what to do with their debt? This is an essential process, and we learn nothing if each generation has to blindly stumble forward.

I'll tell you where they are: they are nowhere. They have no answers, and no venues to speak them in. Artists in the American theater see a life devoid of support, to such an extent that they have no answers for themselves, much less the next generation.

There are no "corporate jobs" in the American theater that one can take for a few years to reduce that law-school-sized debt. At least there are none that don't involve leaving the theater entirely, or making it a nighttime career while you struggle at a day job, scraping up the cash needed to pay the massive debt you incurred, and closing the door on making it a viable career you could invest yourself in full-time.

But there is one way.

The equivalent of the corporate job in the American theater is to work in academia. Keep climbing the ladder, and then you can finally pull a salary which, while small, is still more stable and more supported than artists will receive. Then those artists become complicit in the system, and perpetuate the cycle of abuse by passing their debt on to the next generation.

It is a broken system, and a huge number of artists and schools are complicit in this failure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“Why Theatre?” « Notes from Forum Theatre:

Inspired by the ongoing discussions both at Woolly Mammoth’s How Theatre Failed America and here, on the blog, we will be holding a special OpenForum event on Monday.  The “round table” will be focused on many of the topics raised by you, in the comments section of our recent postings.  Titled “Why Theatre?,”  we will discuss how the medium fits in today’s cultural environment, who it’s being done for, and how it can remain relevant for the future.

It all kicks off at 7pm on Monday, the 26th, at Woolly Mammoth.  Let’s continue the conversation.
This is fascinating, awesome, and terrible in a number of ways: it is a bootlegged recording of Patti LuPone tearing an audience member a new one during the final performance of GYPSY because the audience member was taking photographs:

I think this is a very interesting clip, for a number of reasons.

First, this really throws into stark relief the disconnect between theater and recording: this clip has been listened to 80,638 times as of this posting. The St. James Theatre has 1,690 seats. The equivalent of nearly 48 sold-out Broadway houses have heard this clip in the 4 days since it was posted.

I'm not using this as an opportunity to say that this means that these experiences are EQUIVALENT--and that's an important detail. Futurists who don't understand theater often claim it is "dead" and certainly marginal by pointing to how few can participate in an event, tally up the numbers and call it a day. (Even more often than that they don't think about theater at all, sadly.)

I am saying that one experience does not invalidate the other—the existence of this clip doesn't make the production less valued, as listening to a recording in my web browser in no way resembles the live experience of being in the St. James Theatre.

I'm also not using it in an argument about what ticket prices should be: $100+ for GYPSY tickets, or free at YouTube.

It is interesting to think about how this recording is not temporally bound, as theater is—now that GYPSY is over, the most enduring record of that experience exists at that YouTube link. It's the scarcity of the theatrical experience that makes it valuable over time, but in our modern age that scarcity of experience doesn't mean you can't find ways to communicate...

...but in fact, it does mean that. AEA regulations are complete straightjackets on recording live events, regardless or whether the recordings are used commercially or not, and it ends up killing the baby in the crib before we can see what the future might be.

It's also instructive how the tropes of the theater do and don't transfer to the net—in the YouTube comments a large number of people hold Ms. LuPone to task for her unprofessionalism. I'd argue that most of the talk in the theaterosphere considers other factors, like diva-hood and the rudeness of flash photography in performances—what interests me is how those tropes get flipped when folks from the outside world are suddenly inside the theater.

From my point of view as a performer I am sympathetic to Ms. LuPone's issues—I've had people take photographs at performances, and it is a pain in the ass. Since I'm not performing in a giant rock arena, photography really impacts—it's often painfully clear that it is happening, and it can be very disruptive.

For my money the biggest issue isn't flash photography, as most idiots know to turn their flash off. My bigger issue is AF-assist light, which is the orange light that comes on just before you take a picture—most people don't know how to disable it, and it shines right into my eyes when performing, and it sucks. I am hoping that cellphone cameras get better and better, WITHOUT AF-assist, so that when people take a picture it will be silent and inobtrusive.

I may be different than other performers, but I have no issues with people recording my shows, both audio, still image, and video, so long as that recording in no way affects the experience of the room for me or for my audiences. I would further expect that if folks posted those materials to the net they wouldn't charge for them (duh) and that if I asked them to take something down, they would. I see recordings of live events like theater as fossil records—invaluable perhaps in generating a history, but ultimately frozen and lifeless and incapable of communicating what it was like to actually be there.

The fact that they are not the event itself isn't a repudiation, however—it's fantastic. It means they can be leveraged and used to bring glimpses of what endures about the theater above the cultural waterline into the light. It's a glimpse of a possible future where the AEA can behave rationally and change the underlying rules about recording in theaters. By clinging to the past they jeopardize their place in the future, and we need to work toward change now.
Daily Kos: RIP 50-state strategy:

There reason that there's an inherent conflict with turning the DNC into Obama's 2012 reelection effort is that there's no reason for the Obama operation to have staffers in Utah. But there's a reason for the Democratic Party to have staffers in Utah -- helping Democrats get elected to important local- and state-level offices and building a bench for federal offices.

If Obama's DNC wants to staff up in battleground states, then great. But the rest of the states shouldn't be discarded. We've been down that road before, and it wasn't pretty.
About she

Monday, January 19, 2009

Flat N All That:

Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging.When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.
Happy Saturday!
Harper’s Index: A retrospective of the Bush era (Harper's Magazine):

Harper’s Index

Number of news stories from 1998 to Election Day 2000 containing “George W. Bush” and “aura of inevitability”: 206

Amount for which Bush successfully sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1999: $2,500

Year in which a political candidate first sued Palm Beach County over problems with hanging chads: 1984

Total amount the Bush campaign paid Enron and Halliburton for use of corporate jets during the 2000 recount: $15,400

Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42

Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98

Years before becoming energy secretary that Spencer Abraham cosponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy: 2

Number of Chevron oil tankers named after Condoleezza Rice, at the time she became foreign policy adviser: 1

Date on which the GAO sued Dick Cheney to force the release of documents related to current U.S. energy policy: 2/22/02

Number of other officials the GAO has sued over access to federal records: 0

Months before September 11, 2001, that Cheney’s Energy Task Force investigated Iraq’s oil resources: 6

Hours after the 9/11 attacks that an Alaska congressman speculated they may have been committed by “eco-terrorists”: 9

Date on which the first contract for a book about September 11 was signed: 9/13/01

Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182

Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0

Number charged with an immigration violation: 762

Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0

Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden: 20

Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075

Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39

Chances an American in 2002 believed the government should regulate comedy routines that make light of terrorism: 2 in 5

Rank of Mom, Dad, and Rudolph Giuliani among those whom 2002 college graduates said they most wished to emulate: 1, 2, 3

Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000

Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50

Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069

Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100

Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0

Date on which Bush said of Osama bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him”: 3/13/02

Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1

Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25

Number of books by Henry Kissinger found in Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s mansion: 2

Number by then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller: 1

Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6

Factor by which the cause of death was more likely to be violence: 120

Chance that an Iraqi has fled his or her home since the beginning of the war: 1 in 6

Portion of Baghdad residents in 2007 who had a family member or friend wounded or killed since 2003: 3/4

Percentage of U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have filed for disability with the VA: 35

Chance that an Iraq war veteran who has served two or more tours now has post-traumatic stress disorder: 1 in 4

Number of all U.S. war veterans who have been denied Veterans Administration health care since 2003: 452,677

Number of eligibility restrictions for admission into the Army that have been loosened since 2003: 9

Percentage change from 2004 to 2007 in the number of Army recruits admitted despite having been charged with a felony: +295

Date on which the White House announced it had stopped looking for WMDs in Iraq: 1/12/05

Years since his acquittal that O. J. Simpson has said he is still looking for his wife’s “real killers”: 13

Minimum number of close-up photographs of Bush’s hands owned by his current chief of staff, Josh Bolten: 4

Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6

Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400

Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3

Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld’s vacation home: 25

Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8

Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200

Date on which USA Today added Guantánamo to its weather map: 1/3/05

Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897

Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110

Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79

Number of the thirty-eight Iraq war veterans who have run for Congress who were Democrats: 21

Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62

Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10

Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40

Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Percentage change since 2002 in the number of U.S. teens using illegal drugs: –9

Percentage change in the number of adults in their fifties doing so: +121

Number of times FDA officials met with consumer and patient groups as they revised drug-review policy in 2006: 5

Number of times they met with industry representatives: 113

Amount the Justice Department spent in 2001 installing curtains to cover two seminude statues of Justice: $8,650

Number of Republican officials who have been investigated by the Justice Department since 2001: 196

Number of Democratic officials who have been: 890

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Number of U.S. cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush: 92

Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: +466

Percentage of EPA scientists who say they have experienced political interference with their work since 2002: 60

Change since 2001 in the percentage of Americans who believe humans are causing climate change: –4

Number of total additions made to the U.S. endangered-species list under Bush: 61

Average number made yearly under Clinton: 65

Minimum number of pheasant hunts Dick Cheney has gone on since he shot a hunting companion in 2006: 5

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1

Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4

Portion of the $3.3 billion in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4

Percentage change in the number of Louisiana and Mississippi newborns named Katrina in the year after the storm: +153

Rank of Nevaeh, “heaven” spelled backward, among the fastest growing names given to American newborns since 2000: 1

Months, beginning in 2001, that the federal government’s online condom fact sheet disappeared from its website : 17

Minimum amount that religious groups received in congressional earmarks from 2003 to 2006: $209,000,000

Amount such groups received during the previous fourteen years: $107,000,000

Percentage change from 2003 to 2007 in the amount of money invested in U.S. faith-based mutual funds: +88

Average annualized percentage return during that time in the Christian and Muslim funds, respectively: +11, +15

Number of feet the Ground Zero pit has been built up since the site was fully cleared in 2002: 30

Number of 980-foot-plus “Super Tall” towers built in the Arab world in the seven years since 9/11: 4

Year by which the third and final phase of the 2003 “road map” to a Palestinian state was to have been reached: 2005

Estimated number of the twenty-five provisions of the first phase that have yet to be completed: 12

Number of times in 2007 that U.S. media called General David Petraeus “King David”: 14

Percentage change during the first ten months of the Iraq war “surge” in the number of Iraqis detained in U.S.-run prisons: +63

Percentage change in the number of Iraqis aged nine to seventeen detained: +285

Ratio of the entire U.S. federal budget in 1957, adjusted for inflation, to the amount spent so far on the Iraq war: 1:1

Estimated amount Bush-era policies will cost the U.S. in new debt and accrued obligations: $10,350,000,000,000 (see page 31)

Percentage change in U.S. discretionary spending during Bush’s presidency: +31

Percentage change during Reagan’s and Clinton’s, respectively: +16, +0.3

Ratio in 1999 of the number of U.S. federal employees to the number of private employees on government contracts: 15:6

Ratio in 2006: 14:15

Total value of U.S. government contracts in 2000 that were awarded without competitive bidding: $73,000,000,000

Total in 2007: $146,000,000,000

Number of the five directors of the No Child Left Behind reading program with financial ties to a curriculum they developed: 4

Amount by which the federal government has underfunded its estimated cost to implement NCLB: $71,000,000,000

Minimum number of copies sold, since it was released in 2006, of Flipping Houses for Dummies: 45,000

Chance that the buyer of a U.S. home in 2006 now has “negative equity,” i.e., the debt on the home exceeds its value: 1 in 5

Estimated value of Henry Paulson’s Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary and sold it: $575,000,000

Estimated value of that stock today: $238,000,000

Salary in 2006 of the White House’s newly created Director for Lessons Learned: $106,641

Minimum number of Bush-related books published since 2001: 606

Number of words in the first sentence of Bill Clinton’s memoir and in that of George W. Bush’s, respectively: 49, 5

Minimum number of nicknames Bush has given to associates during his presidency: 75

Number of associates with the last name Jackson he has dubbed “Action Jackson”: 2

Number of press conferences at which Bush has referred to a question as a “trick”: 14

Number of times he has declared an event or outcome not to be “acceptable”: 149

Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1

Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37

Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

Space: Forty Years Ago, A Cosmonaut Experienced What Can Only Be Described as 'Hell':

To say the event went smoothly would be, well, a total frickin' lie, as cosmonaut Boris Volynov would experience one of space flight's most harrowing reentries on this most historic trip.

After his craft, the Soyuz 5, failed to separate from its service module, it began the descent facing the wrong way. As the heat shield got an unparalleled view of the cosmos, the flimsy entry hatch, with its one-inch of insulation and a window, received the brunt of reentry. Things began to melt and stink and smoke, and the hatch itself bulged inwards from the stress of reentry. If the craft had not miraculously righted itself, poor Volynov would have cooked to death in temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees.

But that wasn't the end—the parachute still had to partially fail, and there was the missed landing spot to worry about too. The former only resulted in broken teeth and a mouthful of blood (phew!). The latter almost killed him for a third time in 30 minutes, as the Ural Mountains were -40 degrees when he landed there, some 2,000 kilometers short of the LZ.

Lucky for Volynov, some nearby peasants kept him warm in their hut until help arrived. As a token of their appreciation, the Soviet government then forbade him from talking about the incident because of the ongoing space race with the U.S. News of the event only surfaced relatively recently in 1997.