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Night of the 16-Stone Transvestite Hitler, or, Welcome to Mel Aviv!

The London Times' Stephen Farrell reports in on the theater beat from Israel:

In five years covering the Middle East for The Times I have witnessed scenes that stretched credulity, in a region where history more often than not gives birth to its bastard offspring - tragedy and farce - simultaneously.

        * * *

In Najaf during one of the fiercest military battles of the Iraq insurgency I saw Moqtada al-Sadr's militia cackling with laughter at the hoary old 'Yes but are you a Catholic Shia or Protestant Shia' joke from Northern Ireland.

In Fallujah a terrifying kidnap descended into hysterical scenes as I watched a roomful of Baathist insurgents stand in a circle and compare bald spots, before gravely agreeing that Her Majesty's Times correspondent’s beat them all.

        * * *

But nothing, nothing compared with the scene of a Nazi-saluting Israeli actor, whose own European Jewry grandfather was a personal friend of Franz Kafka - shouting 'Heil' on an Israeli theatre stage while wearing a Third Reich helmet, gravely assuring an audience of Kristallnacht survivors: 'the Fuhrer was a great dancer'.

Yes, friends, Mel Brooks' musical version of The Producers has opened onstage in Israel, featuring noted drag queen Itzik Cohen as Roger de Bris/Hitler.  [Additional photos of Cohen's flouncin' fatty of a führer accompany this AP story.]

As Mr. Farrell reports in his companion story, putting on a Nazi-centric musical comedy in Israel provides hitherto unsuspected opportunities for that nice Mrs. Miriam Bobash to play dark little practical jokes on her husband Benny:

During the interval on Tuesday, Miriam Bobash, 78, a Dresden-born Holocaust survivor, said that she had not told her husband, Benny, about the content of the play beforehand.

'It’s fun,' she said with a grin.  'It actually is very good.'  Mr. Bobash, 81, was altogether less enthusiastic.  He said: 'It’s not a subject that we should even laugh about.  If I had known, I wouldn’t have come.'  His view was clearly in the minority.

'The biggest fun on earth,' said Frances Marcus, 74, who survived the Holocaust in her native Netherlands. 

'You couldn’t have put this on twenty or even ten years ago.  And now to see this Hitler dancing and not feel offended.  Attitudes to Germany have changed totally.  Both sides have grown up.'  After a pause she added: 'And with this whole business of the [Prophet Muhammad] cartoons — isn’t this just the biggest, super-mega cartoon, this show?'

The Tel Aviv production is in Hebrew, but it is not the first non-English version of the show.  That distinction, at least according to Pravda, belongs to the production that opened last month in that notorious hotbed of cavalier disrespect, Copenhagen, Denmark.  A cast photo (and hotel bookings) may be had here.

[Initial tip-off to the existence of the Tel Aviv production via Tim Blair.]

Scubai-Dubai To-Do

I long since abandoned any desire to make this a primarily political weblog, but I can't resist the opportunity to use that title.

Concerning the transfer of some port operations from the British-owned P&O to state-owned Dubai Ports World: while the transaction obviously deserves scrutiny -- and while it should have been obvious to someone in the Administration that a lot of prominent persons were going to object to the appearance of the thing if they were not clued in to the decision before it was announced -- one has to wonder how serious the security risks are when even N[o particular friend to the]P[resident]R[adio] can broadcast this actively reassuring report from the Port of Newark.


And if I'm going to comment on one current event, I might as well comment on two: let us now speak of the dreaded Danish cartoons.   

As I have indicated elsewhere recently, I am inclined to be an absolutist when it comes to matters of free speech and free expression, let it gore whose ox it may.  On that score, I quote approvingly this weekend commentary from Colby Cosh:

What I want to know is, how come our other constitutional freedoms are never hogtied and thrown onto the psychoanalyst's couch like this?  No one ever seems to ask what ugly or antisocial purposes might sometimes be promoted by the exercise of our voting rights, our mobility rights, our equality rights, or our rights to due process of the law.  When it comes to some individual rights -- for instance, the right of a witness not to self-incriminate at a criminal trial -- it is practically only bad people and instances of evil conduct that are ostensibly protected.  But these rights have, for the most part, well-understood purposes; we know that to preserve liberal democracy, there are good reasons for these rules to be upheld absolutely and universally.

But let anyone exercise freedom of the press, or freedom of speech, and suddenly his motives are interrogated -- suddenly the 'right' is only available to the well-meaning, which is to be defined none too broadly.

Those who have made what little effort it takes to track down and actually view the offending drawings will perhaps have observed that a reader stumbling upon them in their original context most likely wouldn't even have known that the sketches were supposed to be depictions of the Prophet if the editors of Jyllands-Posten hadn't said that that is what they were.  Absent a more specific description, the pictures would likely have been taken for nothing more than generic caricatures of run-of-the-mill radical clerics of the Ayatollah Khomeini school.  The most infamous of the cartoons -- the humorless, bearded fellow with the Boris Badenov-style bomb in his turban -- could just as easily have been drawn wearing spectacles and labeled "Zawahiri," and no one would have been the wiser.  You see what you want to see.

Flemming Rose, the Danish editor who made the decision to run the cartoons in the first place, offered his own more than somewhat persuasive apologia for the cartoons in Sunday's Washington Post.


There, that's done.  Apolitical musings will resume in short order.

Cuter Than a Shoe Phone, For Sure, and With Better Manners

Good morning, ma'am, and thank you for opening your door to me.  Such a pleasure to find you at home here today.

No, no, I'm sorry -- no, I'm not the fellow from Publisher's Clearing House.  But please, don't close that door.  Hear me out, if you would now.  I won't need but a few minutes of your time today.

Thank you, ma'am, thank you very much. 

Now, you will naturally be curious to know what it is that I have on offer on this lovely morning, so let me get straight to the point: 

Could I perhaps interest you in "a software and robotic agent that helps the user manage her mobile communication channels"?

Would it help if I referred to it instead as "The Cellular Squirrel"?

Why yes--  yes it would, wouldn't it?

A cup of coffee?  Why yes, ma'am, that would be delightful.  Let me just get out my order book here....


[Thank you, Professor Althouse, for this fuzzy and helpful link.  Friends, be sure that you do not miss the video demonstrations of this delightful device.  A pity that it's only a prototype.]

Monday Morning Quoterback

Quotable items from Elsewhere:

  • John Heilpern in the New York Observer, on Simon Russell Beale stepping into the role of King Arthur in Monty Python's Spamalot:

He understands that redeeming British specialty and safety valve of stuffiness everywhere -- the supreme art of being silly.

[Link via George Hunka's Superfluities; read on for an appreciation of what makes British acting what it is -- no surprise, Cambridge is involved -- and to learn John Gielgud's secret unfulfilled ambition.]

  • Peter Nicholson at 3quarksdaily, ostensibly writing on great sopranos Birgit Nilsson and Dame Joan Sutherland:

Nevertheless, there still remains the question of beauty, where it comes from.  It will always remain a rhetorical question, since there can be no answers to it. Keats was wise: '"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -- that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'  However, ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’ is not nearly good enough for our latter-day rationalists who think everything can be explained.  Beauty is going to turn out an adaptive Darwinian mechanism for them.  The human is a mutation of the gene pool in a dress, or suit.  These people will tell me about vocal training, using the diaphragm correctly, scale practise, hard yakka as we Australians might call it.  Necessary, but not an explanation.  There are no explanations for Tristan, the statue of David or the taste of Australian shiraz.  Don’t tell me about harmonic progression, quarrying marble in Carrara or the terroir of Western Australian soil.  These are banal explanations for wonders, just as when we fall in love we realign the universe on inexplicable principles.  And who would ever try to explain love?  Only a very foolish person.

  • The New Yorker's Dana Goodyear, in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Book Review, on the Collected Poems of Objectivist Charles Reznikoff and the New and Collected poems of Harvey Shapiro:

In a poem called 'For Charles Reznikoff' in his 1994 collection, 'A Day's Portion,' he [Shapiro] writes of '. . . putting words to the page,/ not as carefully as you placed them there —/ I haven't the patience or the art.' It is a show of humility that this reviewer isn't tempted to refute.

From the Proceedings of the Society for the Naming of Bands After Small Flying Creatures, Chicagoland Chapter

Before the recent work-driven posting hiatus, I wrote about the Chicago band, Hummingbiird.  A few days later, I received an e-mail from Matt Ammerman, another Chicago area musician, who is the principal writer and front man for another Chicago area band, Cracklin Moth, which is scheduled to open for Hummingbiird at Martyrs' in Chicago on February 19.  [Details here, just in case I have any readers in the Chicago area.]

Cracklin Moth - redbird ep cover detail Cracklin Moth was formerly known as "Redbird."   At some point, it came to their attention that another band also laid claim to that name, so for a time they became "Reddbird" before adopting their current moniker, which refers to an invisible childhood friend of Matt's brother.  (Are you following this?)   Matt and company have recently issued a self-released five-song EP entitled, naturally, "Redbird" and including a song of that same name.  (PayPal operators are standing by.)  They are reportedly at work on a full-length album and another EP. 

Here for your delectation are a pair of MP3 tracks, one drawn from the EP and the other from a collection of live performances available for download from the band's site. 

The EP track, "One Little Smile," is squarely in an Americana/alt country vein, a good old "life is beating me down but a fleeting moment's attention from you will allow me to soldier on" song, the sort of thing that the Rolling Stones brought to near-perfection in "Wild Horses" (and sent up mercilessly in "Girl with the Far Away Eyes").  For some reason, the guitar part reminds me of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" "Wish You Were Here," too, which is not a bad thing.  Continuing the theme of songs referring to facial expressions, the live track is "A Frown That Disarms".  It seems to be about a dangerous hunger for sensation, and kicks something fierce.

The press material supporting the Redbird EP indicates that the band's newer material is influenced by "Pet Sounds and chamber pop."  You can get a sense of that influence at work in "Talking to the Dark," an EP track that is available to stream on the Cracklin Moth MySpace page.  For extra credit, you can study how this piano-based arrangement -- echoing the first McCartney solo album or good mid-period Billy Joel (these are compliments, folks) -- began as the guitar-based demo that is available on Matt's personal MySpace page.


Also Noted: Alongside nearly every other musical aspirant in America, Hummingbiird unsurprisingly also has a MySpace presence.  If you go there, you will perhaps note that the band has adopted this little drawing as its MySpacean avatar:

Edward Lear's remarkable Humming Beard

Where, I ask myself, have I seen that before

Happy to have been of service, gentlemen.

Not Posting but Drowning

[With apologies to stevie smith, and acknowledging that my own situation is not remotely so dire as that in her poem.]

Whoo-ee!  What's it been?  Nearly three weeks without a post?  It is most certainly a pity that it's the lawyerin' and not the webloggin' that needs must be counted on to pay the bills 'round here, now isn't it?  Mind you, just because I don't write doesn't mean I haven't been reading, so allow me please to point you to a random selection of items that have caught my eye these past weeks.  More of my own to follow, I hope.

  • Morgan Meis, of 3quarksdaily, recently rewatched The Philadelphia Story.  Naturally, it inspired him to think about . . . Abelard and Heloise.   In the process, it also inspired him to this comment on my own favorite -- which should by rights be every attorney's favorite, and possibly even every happily married person's favorite -- Tracy and Hepburn picture:

[Katharine Hepburn] fell in love with Spencer Tracy and he fell in love with her but because of his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church he would never get a divorce from his wife.  So he and Hepburn lived in some form of sin together until his death.  It is hard not to feel that her position was the nobler and braver of the two, though she never seems to have chided him much for it.  They made a number of classic films together and one in particular, Adam’s Rib, that is a secretly utopian film.  It imagines a situation in which a man and a woman could love one another and make each other better for it, instead of tearing one another apart, slowly or quickly as the case may be.  One of the best details of the movie is the fact that they both have the same pet name for each other, Pinky.  One can only imagine the process of emotional exhaustion by which they finally reached the sublime stasis of Pinky and Pinky.  That, in itself, is one of those small triumphs of love.

  • Alan Sullivan has relocated his weblog and tricked it out with your choice of three interchangeable and attractive designs.   I have updated the links list to the left accordingly.  Thus far, I seem to be the only person subscribed to Alan's RSS feed through Bloglines.   At least one other of Alan's regular "rare readers" -- Mike Snider -- has made note of the move.  Mike himself has also relocated and that change, too, is now reflected in my links.

Here, Alan has reproduced at length some insightful helpful remarks he made in 2004 on the subject of Beowulf, following his co-translation of the poem with Tim Murphy.  Peter Jackson is mentioned, in passing, favorably.  In a shorter and more recent post, he offers a credible approach to the problem of a screen adaptation of the tale of the 'wulf.   (I last went on a bit about Beowulf and adaptation into other media this past September, here.)

BONUS: The otherworldly photo linked by Alan in this post is also well worth your while.  Darkness visible, indeed.

  • escapegrace just turned "1" two weeks ago.   Best wishes on that.   If I recall right - and I may have my facts altogether wrong in my dotage - Chris inexplicably linked this weblog among other Los Angeles-centric sites on her sidebar shortly before venturing West from New York last April.   Although I started linking to her in my posts back then, I was criminally remiss in not adding her to the sidebar until November.   Mea culpa, et bonne bloggiversaire.
  • While I have been languishing in awkward silence, David Giacalone has been posting at a furious pace.  (He seems pretty darned voluble for a self-proclaimed "one-breath pundit.")  I'd recommend starting at the top and just scrolling on down to read the whole thing, but those who want only highlights might start with David's appreciation of the late and remarkable Al Lewis, or perhaps his cross-pollination of lawn bowls, law and Star Wars as he wonders whether we should all speak bocce.  I'll remaining mum on his ongoing linguistic crusades against the neolawgism "blawg" and the creeping scourge of "e"'s not merely silent but invisible.

(More of the same here.   All in some roundabout way triggered by this item -- "Hockney is boring, watercolours are boring and East Yorkshire is boring.  Watercolours by Hockney of East Yorkshire are boring cubed. . . ." --  which seems actually to have been about something else altogether.)

  • Have I ever mentioned my theory that cellular phones make already foolish people more foolish?   stereogum provides anecdotal evidence in support.