Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Laughing at Grannie and Crazy Aunt Christine

Schadenfreude is the word for the kick one gets from watching somebody fall down the stairs. But what’s the word that describes the mixed feelings you have watching a fellow human being look foolish and sympathetic at the same time? When you laugh at somebody you know could be you?

I sent round a YouTube piece yesterday of a 99-year-old woman calling the cops to find out if the big storm that had hit overnight had affected her daughter in another city, whom she hadn’t heard from. (For the English, see below.) It was clear she was worried.

She was also hard of hearing, and the poor cop at 911 couldn’t make her understand there was nothing to worry about. With each new “eh?” the situation got funnier and funnier until I was rolling on the floor. I had to e-mail the link to friends.

I don’t know whether the fact that the piece was in German had anything to do with it – I think the situation should be obvious despite a language barrier (and I provided a translation) – but I got back some interesting responses, all sympathetic to the old woman. Doesn’t social services provide hearing aids? Doesn’t this make you sad? Don’t you realize this could soon be you? Nobody else so far has found it amusing, much less rolling on the floor funny.

That makes me think that I’ve done a good job surrounding myself with friends with a greater sense of decency than I have myself. Always nice to be able to pat yourself on the back for your ability to select people of character as friends.

But what am I to do with my gut reaction, which is to laugh. Even now, just thinking of that interaction and hearing the cops laughing in the background brings a smile to my face. I’m just going to have to admit I like to laugh at people’s weaknesses. If I laugh at others when they’re down, I’m inviting them to laugh at me when I’m down. So be it. We’ll go through life this way. We all end up dead and gone. My goal is to go with a smile on my face.

I came across this YouTube video, incidentally, while checking out the story of a woman named Christina Zehnbauer, in Mannheim, Germany. The story never traveled outside the German-speaking world, evidently, although it was big news for a while inside. It involves a woman who calls the cops to complain her neighbor is playing his music so loud that her “plates are flying off the wall.” The cop does a masterful job of calming her hysterics, and the call ends well, with the two of them laughing together, as he promises to send a car around to investigate.

The problem is, somehow this conversation got out and found its way onto the internet. One of Frau Zehnbauer’s neighbors told her about it, and next thing she’s got a lawyer and is suing the cops for insulting her civil liberties.

These bare facts do not tell the real story, however, which is that for a brief while Frau Zehnbauer was the talk of the nation. TV channels picked it up, one of Germany’s most famous cabaret comedians goes to meet her with TV reporters recording the event, and Frau Zehnbauer goes along and plays smoochie-smoochie for the camera with this most famous of her many fans. The uploaded YouTube 911 call (it’s 112 in Germany and most of Europe) is picked up everywhere. Children memorize it and recite it. A rock group uses it as lyrics to a song.

And for a while everything Frau Zehnbauer does is national news. The power company turns her lights out, and cameras are there to film her plight. She has a fight with her ex-husband and all the neighbors – and all the cameras – are there as witnesses. A neighbor claims she was injured in a fight with Frau Zehnbauer and the cameras film the reconciliation. Her sister-in-law with the same last name complains her life is hell. She is featured in another video titled “Frau Zehnbauer against the world.” and the camera films her reconciliation with the entire neighborhood she has pissed off – including Mr. Ellenburger, the man she originally complained about who was playing his music so loud the plates were “flying off the wall.”

If you speak German, what may well first tickle your funnybone is the fact that Christina Zehnbauer is speaking in dialect. Germany, like many places, has a history of snobbery about regional dialects, and they are often used in joketelling for the added bumpkin effect. When Christina Zehnbauer shouts to the rooftops in Kurpfalz Dialect (the area around Heidelberg/Mannheim), it’s funny. Never mind this may be a woman in distress.

Bülent Ceylan, the comedian who shows up at Frau Zehnbauer’s doorstep with a rose in his hand and cameras turning, is also from Mannheim, as it turns out, and in one of his TV appearances he goes into character as Harald, the local who is incensed at the way people make fun of people from Mannheim just because of the way they speak. The skit is hilarious because the reference is to Christina Zehnbauer. And the TV special is clearly squeezing every ounce of humor out of the situation it can, making the story into one of “love at first sight.” Ceylan, like most comedians, who reserve the right to laugh at absolutely anything, makes fun of Christina, but you have to believe she is enjoying the limelight. And he’s totally charming, and I’m not so sure I wouldn’t enjoy being in Christina’s place at the time.

If I had stopped with the original telephone call to 911 gone viral, as most people would, I would have simply enjoyed the laugh and moved on. And probably I should have. Amusing situations seldom bear analysis. Unfortunately (or not), in this era of YouTube videos, a whole bunch of other videos have been uploaded of Christina making a fool of herself as well. I watched in fascination, until I realized what I was looking at was a troubled soul living on welfare, unable to run her life with any sense of balance. She has no off button, lets invective fly at will, and is capable of turning half the world against her every morning before breakfast and the rest by noon. She has two daughters who suffer from her excesses, and who have lost a whole lot of dignity with Christina’s “fifteen minutes of fame” – only this time it was notoriety and weeks, not fifteen minutes. To watch it all is to stop laughing. And maybe even start feeling a little sheepish.

And if you didn’t feel sheepish watching a fellow human being self-destruct, maybe you would when you read that Christina Zehnbauer died this week of unknown causes. They think it was a heart attack, but she was only 47. I’ve searched for the reason, but find only one local paper, the Wormser Zeitung, with even that much information. It looks like she’s yesterday’s news, and we’re all moving on.

In a totally unrelated event, I happened across an essay by a Lutheran minister on the subject of the ethics of one of America’s most outspoken sex columnists, Dan Savage. Savage breaks all the rules of our traditional sources of cultural authority in religion, which places sex at the center of morality and paints virtue in terms of sacrifice, celibacy, and control. Savage’s ethical code is focused on honesty, trust and an acceptance of human appetites which must be accommodated. Needless to say I’m with Savage. For me, sexual loyalty is way down the list of virtues, and honesty is at the very top. Perhaps that’s why, as I’ve reflected on the plight of Christina Zehnbauer and the grannie worried about her daughter, I’ve decided I’m going to continue to laugh heartily and without guilt when faced with human failure. If I can do that with my own failures, why should I not do the same with the failure of others? To laugh in someone’s face is usually unkind, and you have to be sure you’re laughing at yourself when you see another’s fumbling and not kicking someone when they’re down. But as I age I recognize more and more each day how dignity falls away in time. The solution is not to pretend something isn’t funny when it is. The solution is to recognize you don’t have to be dishonest when looking at the human condition in its entirety.

I’m not suggesting that sympathetic laughter is the only laughter I would allow myself. Derision and ridicule are honest responses to arrogant fools. I feel no guilt deriding the Roman Catholic hierarchy for their hypocrisy in claiming exclusive control over the definition of morality. And I feel no reason not to ridicule the likes of Newt Gingrich when he speaks of family values.

But I also know smiling while watching old people shuffle and cup their ears is not derision or ridicule, but a way of recognizing we’re all on the way to losing it.

And we might as well go down laughing.

For transcript and translation to Frau Zehnbauer 911 call, click here.
For transcript and translation to Grannie call, click here.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Reductionist Game

I just got another of those letters from a cousin whom I hold in great esteem. She’s a dear lady. Only today, unlike on many days when she reveals her warm and gentle nature, she has her head where the sun don't shine.

Here’s the letter she sent me, with the one-line comment, “I have to agree with this!”
Some Belated Parental Advice to Protesters

Call it an occupational hazard but I can’t look at the Occupy Wall Street protesters without thinking, “Who parented these people?”

As a culture columnist, I’ve commented on the social and political ramifications of the “movement” – now known as “OWS” – whose fairyland agenda can be summarized by one of their placards: “Everything for everybody.”

Thanks to their pipe-dream platform, it’s clear there are people with serious designs on “transformational” change in America who are using the protesters like bedsprings in a brothel.

Yet it’s not my role as a commentator that prompts my parenting question but rather the fact that I’m the mother of four teens and young adults. There are some crucial life lessons that the protesters’ moms clearly have not passed along.

Here, then, are five things the OWS protesters’ mothers should have taught their children but obviously didn’t, so I will:

• Life isn’t fair. The concept of justice – that everyone should be treated fairly – is a worthy and worthwhile moral imperative on which our nation was founded. But justice and economic equality are not the same. Or, as Mick Jagger [2] said, “You can’t always get what you want.”

No matter how you try to “level the playing field,” some people have better luck, skills, talents or connections that land them in better places. Some seem to have all the advantages in life but squander them, others play the modest hand they’re dealt and make up the difference in hard work and perseverance and some find jobs on Wall Street and eventually buy houses in the Hamptons. Is it fair? Stupid question.

• Nothing is “free.” Protesting with signs that seek “free” college degrees and “free” health care make you look like idiots because colleges and hospitals don’t operate on rainbows and sunshine. There is no magic money machine to tap for your meandering educational careers and “slow paths” to adulthood and the 53 percent of taxpaying Americans owe you neither a degree nor an annual physical.

While I’m pointing out this obvious fact, here are a few other things that are not free: overtime for police officers and municipal workers, trash hauling, repairs to fixtures and property, condoms, Band-Aids and the food that inexplicably appears on the tables in your makeshift protest kitchens. Real people with real dollars are underwriting your civic temper tantrum.

• Your word is your bond. When you demonstrate to eliminate student loan debt, you are advocating precisely the lack of integrity you decry in others. Loans are made based on solemn promises to repay them. No one forces you to borrow money; you are free to choose educational pursuits that don’t require loans or to seek technical or vocational training that allows you to support yourself and your ongoing educational goals. Also, for the record, being a college student is not a state of victimization. It’s a privilege that billions of young people around the globe would die for – literally.

• A protest is not a party. On Saturday in New York, while making a mad dash from my cab to the door of my hotel to avoid you, I saw what isn’t evident in the newsreel footage of your demonstrations: Most of you are doing this only for attention and fun. Serious people in a sober pursuit of social and political change don’t dance jigs down Sixth Avenue like attendees of a Renaissance festival. You look foolish, you smell gross, you are clearly high and you don’t seem to realize that all around you are people who deem you irrelevant.

• There are reasons you haven’t found jobs. The truth? Your tattooed necks, gauged ears, facial piercings and dirty dreadlocks are off-putting. Nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity isn’t a virtue. Occupy reality: Only 4 percent of college graduates are out of work. If you are among that 4 percent, find a mirror and face the problem. It’s not them. It’s you.

I wrote back.

Dear [name deleted]:

You say you agree with this article by Mary Beth Hicks of the Washington Times. I don’t. Let me tell you why.

It’s one of the best examples of missing the woods for the trees I’ve seen in a long time.

To start with, look what she’s done with this now global phenomenon called “Occupy Wall Street” – she has reduced it to the worst features of some of its least representative members – the whining self-centered smelly folk who provide the media, always looking for the outrageous and the controversial, with a demon to glom onto. The thousands of people protesting the abuse of power in the United States are reduced to people with “tattooed necks, gauged ears, facial piercings and dirty dreadlocks.”

Where in this “report” is the big picture, the full extent of what the movement represents and who all is involved?

I won’t pick apart her arguments one by one. Others have already done it in the commentary to her article.

But just let me say this. Ms. Hicks’ putdown of this cry for help in America is no different from watching a power-hungry bureaucrat turn back an application for food stamps because, contrary to the rules, it was filled out in pencil. Or a plea from a mother wanting her child out of jail because her English is ungrammatical. We often miss the injustices done by people claiming the high ground because they know how to make reasonable arguments and focus the story on the mud on a fireman’s boots while he tries to keep your house from burning down.

The right wing in America is pulling out all the stops trying to discredit the OWS movement, to hide the fact that money has so thoroughly corrupted our political system that there is widespread and increasing consensus that there is no reason anymore to work within the system. To help the democrats and work within the system, they believe, is no longer a viable option. Democrats too, they say - and I think the evidence isn't hard to find - write legislation on the basis of who pays them, not on what is good for the country.

Life isn’t fair, says Ms. Hicks. Kids should accept that. Really? We should accept without a whimper that between 1979 and 2007 the wealth of the richest 1% of Americans increased by 275% at the same time as the bottom 80% saw their wealth decline? And since the Supreme Court has decided there can be no limit to secret contributions to officials by wealthy corporations, we no longer have recourse to the usual channels to fix this inequity. Banging pots and pans (what Ms. Hicks dismisses as a “civic temper tantrum”) has become all that’s left.

It’s true that ultimately one cannot make changes just by making noises. Ultimately these cries of protest will have to be translated into action. The cries are not the solution. But they are the wake-up call. Ms. Hicks is blaming the alarm clock for not getting out of bed and going to work. She’s blaming the young for not being clean and polite. Fine, but while you're nodding your head in agreement, be careful you're not still nodding when she blames the unemployed in a time of 10% inflation, for not working. And when she ignores the 10-12% figures when stressing on the 4% figure for college graduates, as if college kids should take their money and run and not see the plight of those is worse shape. One wonders why she would go to this length to twist and filter facts to make an argument.

I wondered why, until I realized she was writing for the Washington Times, the right wing Washington newspaper, which historian Thomas Frank of Harper's has called "a propaganda sheet whose distortions are so obvious and so alien that it puts one in mind of those official party organs one encounters when traveling in authoritarian countries." Hicks is endorsed by the likes of Michelle Malkin and touted for being on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.

Mary Beth Hicks is the voice of the folks interested in keeping the wealth in the hands of America’s superwealthy, the republic of the people, by the people, for the people, be damned.

Hope you’re well,

Your cousin,



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Matches to Kindling

The UC Davis story has staying power. In fact, it may still be growing. The headlines in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle read "UC Davis chancellor tearfully apologizes" and has a picture of Chancellor Linda Katehi, looking like she hasn't slept in 48 hours, being escorted by two burly guys to her car. And the online edition, SFGate, has a picture of the pepper spraying incident attached to the story of the “tearful” apology four days later.

Poor woman. You have to wonder if this isn't being overdone. But the rage has to go somewhere. Earlier there was a picture of her walking to her car at night past students lined up, watching in stone-cold silence as she passed. The paper called it a "perp walk." There are pictures everywhere of signs, "Resign, resign!" Interesting that both the chancellor and the police chief are women. How times have changed.

Charlie Rose had two especially interesting interviews on last night, one with Dov Seidman, and the other with David Brooks. If you go in the next couple of days, this link will work. After that, you can still find the interviews, one more fascinating than the other. Seidman's going around giving big corporations lectures on being ethical. Brooks is talking about how government is broken but the country is very healthy because, he says, "Americans still trust strangers and can build organizations” while most of the world is still wary of outsiders." Interesting social analysis, even though most analysis on that level often misses the devils in the details.

One of them mentioned the power of single individuals to either change the world or represent change of some kind, thanks to the internet and the fact that things regularly go viral now. And nothing illustrates that better than this Davis story. Davis is a kind of out of the way school, very much a country cousin to UC Berkeley and UCLA. Known for its School of Veterinary Medicine and its Department of Viticulture and Enology (and how many of those do you see around?) A place that suggests earthiness, and calm and steady hard work. Now you hear people criticizing the administration for forgetting its educational purpose and being all about management and control. They're taking a beating.

I just got off the phone. It rang before 9 o’clock this morning and it was somebody from the DCCC – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the folks working to get Democrats into office nationwide. I usually hang up quickly, sometimes complaining about telephone solicitations, usually asking them to take my name off donor lists. The last time somebody from the DCCC called I went on at length about how I’ve decided not to send another nickel to political campaigns as long as the system stays broken. This morning the young lady was way ahead of me. “And just who’s going to fix it?” (she stopped before she actually said, “Mr. Smarty Pants.”) We talked a full fifteen or twenty minutes. Not smart on her part if she’s serious about fund raising. But in the end, she got fifty bucks out of me, not because I’ve changed my mind about the broken system, but because I couldn’t not reward a bright eyed young woman who talked about daily arguments with her grandparents who feel as I do about the failure of the system in the United States. I immediately regretted it, when the next item in my inbox was a solicitation for funds from AlterNet. “Please support AlterNet’s coverage of OWS,” it says. Precisely the kind of thing I told the woman I wanted to send my pocket change to, instead of things that keep the system going.

In the end, my small contributions won’t make any difference, except that they do hold off despair and cynicism for another day. The letters to the editor are filled with complaints about how smelly and stupid and destructive the occupy movements are. And they all miss the point, which is that things are stirring and there’s no telling where they will go. The cops with their batons and their pepper spray are already iconic images of the system gone wrong.

Now I’m wondering if the rage can lose Ms. Katehi her job, or if it should. I know the buck has to stop somewhere, and too often it stops before it gets to the top. But on the surface of things, it would seem counterproductive to push Linda Katehi aside.

I just checked her background. Turns out her full name is Pisti Basile "Linda" Katehi-Tseregounis, and she’s fourteen years younger than me. She was born in Athens and was raised on Salamis Island, which, I am told, was mentioned by Homer. She’s an electrical engineer and computer scientist, holds nineteen U.S. patents and has authored some 650 publications. Doesn’t sound like one of the bad guys. But she may take the blame. Particularly when it gets out that her salary is $400,000, paid directly by California taxpayers. The same ones that send their kids off to college to study winemaking and to research leukemia in cats.

The images of two UC campus police forces, one at Berkeley, with police punching kids in the gut with their batons, and one at Davis, with the vivid color of red pepper being sprayed directly into kids’ eyes, were matches to a pile of dry kindling.

There’s so much to this story of unrest in America.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Working, working

Are all these Occupy Movements working? I think they are.

To say that right now, as they are closing down encampments in Oakland and San Francisco as well as in Zuccotti Park in New York and elsewhere, may sound unduly optimistic. But I really think they are.

Yesterday I blogged a quick impression of the goings on at Sproul Hall at the UC Berkeley campus and the start of the march down Bancroft to downtown Berkeley. I’ve said before that I think this movement is too big and complex for neat and tidy summaries, so let me continue with some more pieces, without tying them together, necessarily.

After my snapshot of the happy crowd yesterday getting their start at Telegraph and Bancroft I note with pleasure that by later in the evening they had swelled to five thousand by police estimates, up to ten thousand, by organizer estimates. They remained peaceful, and focused on information exchanges after they had circled back, including a speech by Robert Reich on the steps of Sproul Hall, made famous around the world by Mario Savio, and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. Reich’s message was that when the Supreme Court can make corporations equal to citizens we all lose, and when there are tuition increases as sudden and as steep as there have been recently, equal access to information and to power disappears. The threat to democracy is the same now as it was then. In that moment Reich became the voice of the Occupy movement.

It’s part of the story that those steps were officially named the Mario Savio steps in 1997 and everybody who gathers there today gets to stand on his shoulders. Today the events in Berkeley are part of a larger movement centered in New York, even though the heart of the protests here are the radical increases in tuition at UC and California State University campuses.

While this was going on, a man at the Haas School of Business, a five-minute walk away, pulled a gun out of his backpack and a cop shot him. He died in hospital a short while ago. Unlike the killing last week at the BART station near Occupy Oakland, this story didn’t even make the front page of this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle. (It was there, but on page 14.) As with the Oakland killing, there doesn’t appear to be any connection with the protest march. Just random acts of violence, the Oakland one apparently a gang related thing, the Berkeley one apparently a nut case. Nothing new there. Just more evidence of social decay.

Among the information being generated – whether the Occupy movements are responsible for this consciousness, I can’t be sure, but it seems likely – is the heightened awareness of how many of our leaders are in the 1%. Mayor Bloomberg, for example, the man shutting down Zuccotti Park. And Nancy Pelosi. The paper this morning reported that her family has assets of some $43.4 million, and that includes holdings in Alcoa and Dow Chemical Company, among other big corporations.

I sent Nancy Pelosi $50, and have a thank you note with her alleged signature to show for it, when the health care bill passed. Now I’m seeing her in the same light I see Diane Feinstein. She’s another local democrat who does so many things I admire. But they both work for the system and the system is revealing itself to be not just broken, but for all intents and purposes, unfixable. The fact that Diane Feinstein’s personal fortune was a mere $23 million in 2003, but by 2005 was, by some estimates, as high as $99 million may be no reason to rank her with the greedy bankers of Wall Street, but we’re wondering now. How does this system work, where her husband gets award after award for being a philanthropist, but the state she represents is about to stop educating many of its children and taking care of many more of its poor.

I know she’s fighting a good fight – and so is Pelosi - to turn this around, but as we move into the Occupy Wall Street era, when the argument that if you’re rich you earned it has started to make people’s blood boil, we’re going to want to hear a lot more people asking the kinds of questions Steve Croft of 60 Minutes just asked Nancy Pelosi. 60 Minutes ran a piece this week on the way Congress has made it possible for its members to do insider trading legally. She may have a better answer to the question than she was able to come up with at the spur of the moment, and I’d rather be governed by a philanthropist than a Scrooge, but the questions of wealth distribution are beginning to take shape.

After years of battling with my friends who voted for Ralph Nader, years of arguing our system leaves us no choice but to vote for the lesser evil, I’m no longer buying the argument. Like many who represent the heart of the Occupy Movements, I see the valiant efforts of Feinstein and Pelosi as ineffective. It’s not that the system once was equitable and has now become inequitable. It’s that when everybody was moving on up the inequities were masked. Occupy Wall Street has forced us to look at the system, and we’re beginning to see more clearly it was broken all along.

It’s an unanswered question how many people have started seeing the superrich in a new light, and asking questions they haven’t asked in a while, but it’s clear that’s just what’s happening. Money, like fire, is both necessary and a two-edged sword, and I think maybe the fact that Diane Feinstein’s wealth can go from $22 to $99 million in two years suggests the country is burning down.

Look almost anywhere and you find more evidence. Behind the scandal at Penn State is a story not just about child abuse but about big money and a university defined not so much as an educational institution but as just another piece of corporate America.

Occupy Wall Street may not be the only reason for this sudden focus on the corruption of big money and America’s plutocratic government, but it's got to be the main reason.

When the nice young man from the Democratic Central Committee asked me why I had not sent in my contribution to the party this year, I was able to tell him I’m not a Democrat any more. I’m with the Occupy movements, I told him, hoping to take our political life to a higher level of effectiveness. He gave me a good argument. You need clear goals you can implement, he said. Right, I said. And your implementable goals are...?

OK, so it’s pretty much all consciousness raising at the moment. But it feels like the right path, at least. America’s two-party system doesn’t seem to be taking us anywhere.

Every day I see criticism of this attitude in letters to the editor. Like the folks in the coffee shop yesterday asking, “Do they even know what they want?” “What ARE they after, anyway?” Lech Wałęsa spoke out yesterday and offered the advice that you can’t just ask questions, you have to provide answers. He says his Solidarity Movement that began at the Gdansk Shipyards worked because they had a plan and Occupy doesn’t.

But what he is missing, I think, is the fact that by the time he got Solidarity started the will to fight the tyranny of the Polish leadership and Soviet imperialism was already there and well developed. His supporters had watched their colleagues shot and killed by gunfire raining down from helicopters.

The American situation is radically different. Americans are just beginning to realize how fat and lazy and uninformed we are. We are still coming to terms with the fact that what we learned about our great democracy in high school simply isn’t true. Sometimes it’s harder to fight the naïve than it is to fight the tyrannical. And it gets even more complicated when you see how naïve the Occupy folks themselves can be, with their insistence on a complete lack of a power structure, for example. Warren Buffet is making their case, and so are, I suspect, Pelosi and Feinstein, whom I just sort of scattered some anti-glitter on for possibly not the best of reasons.

Dig a little deeper for detail and some interesting things show up. The fact that a judge ruled that the Boston Occupy could not be shut down, for example. Or the fact that one of the Occupy cities is Salt Lake City, of all places. Or the fact that in Berkeley a city councilman sent out an e-mail urging Berkeley citizens to support the Occupy movement. And then it turns out that an Oakland city councilwoman tipped off the Oakland demonstrators about Monday’s police raid on their encampment. Support is coming from a broad front, including from within the system, in other words.

Stay tuned. Occupy, despite its name, isn’t about territory; it’s about an idea, and it’s pretty clear the time for that idea has come. They’re being dismantled at the moment, but they’ll be back. Have a look at their website, if you have any doubt. And at the other places in Spain, Germany, and Belgium where the spark has been kindled.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Piano, piano

Gorgeous day in Berkeley today. Temperature in the high 60s. The mood is copasetic.

I walked up to campus because I got an e-mail from one of the city council members urging people in the community to show their support for the students rallying today, and hell, when government calls, I answer the call.

As I approached the campus I expected to hear some crowd noises, but all I saw was people going about their business. There was in fact a crowd in front of Sproul Hall, but the mood was festive, not angry. How can one be angry on a day like this, with the sun shining down. New England has been without electricity for a week, but we’re still running around in T-shirts.

I took a few pictures of the signs and the crowds and settled in for a coffee and a scone. When I want to guilt myself, I describe myself as somebody who, when the revolution comes, will be complaining either that there’s no public transportation to take me there, or that it’s late, or that there’s no bus stop right in front of a coffee shop.

Two students were at the table next to me. They were using words like hegemonic and commodify, but they were discussing philosophy, not politics. When the crowd paraded by, they stopped what they were doing. One of them commented, “Do they have an agenda? Or are they just angry?” The other one answered, “Who knows what they want. I think they don’t even know what they want.”

It was hard to keep my mouth shut. Here were two students who evidently had so much money they didn’t seem to realize, or care, that most of the signs had to do with a 60% tuition raise. They were dead wrong. The students knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted to pay a whole lot less for their education. And how dare you use words like hegemonic and be so friggin clueless?

They left before I could poison their coffee, and a woman sat down with earphones in her ears. Good, I thought. I can get back to my reading. But she didn’t seem to notice I was reading. “What’s the protest all about?” she asked. “Did something happen?”

God, another one, I thought. How are we ever going to fix the world with everybody so damned detached. I explained that this was both a protest over tuition hikes and a march of solidarity with the Occupy movements now spreading around the world. Turns out she was a professor. And her question said more about her fear that there might have been more violence than that she was as clueless as the philosophers.

I walked home and apologized to the dogs for not taking them with me. Don’t want them anywhere near an unruly crowd, but today they would have been completely safe.

So often I get angry that people aren’t angry. When Harvey Milk was killed and we marched down Market Street with candles, I remember a guy standing and watching the mass of folk march by, shouting, “Where is your rage? Where is your rage?”

That was not a time for rage. It was a time for sadness.

And today was not a time for rage, either. As city administrations move to clear out the Occupy Movements because they have in large part been hijacked by violent outsiders, and as people in the Occupy protests themselves work out the next steps, this little corner of the world did its thing in a very slow and peaceful way. A little protesting. A little sign carrying. A whole bunch of smiling faces. A couple conversations in the coffee shop. And then home to feed the dogs and think about dinner.

Piano, piano, si va lontano. Easy, easy, if we’re to go a long way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

No bottom line

I've been confused a lot lately. For weeks now I've had my nose in one book after another about the Ratlines, the escape routes the Nazis used to get to South America. At first I thought I was going to find more grist for the mill in my anti-Vatican kick - they seem to have been major movers in aiding ex-Nazis and Ustashi. But now I'm rattling around in my head wondering how hard it must have been for anybody trying to find a middle ground between fascism and communism. And the more you know about the British and American efforts to help the ex-Nazis, the more the Vatican comes off as just another player. The "real story" remains elusive.

I've also just watched City of Life and Death, a Chinese movie about the Rape of Nanking, and am struggling with how to set up the "real story" here too. There is overwhelming evidence of Japanese nationalism so vicious it puts Japan in the same category as Nazi Germany, Pol Pot and Rwanda. But how much of the story should be mitigated by the fact that its chief narrator these days is Communist China, where truth routinely serves the power structure without even an apology. I've pretty much decided the story is essentially true (because I've heard Japanese eye-witness stories), but I'm bothered nonetheless by attempts to embellish it and milk it. What are the facts? Is this about a few sadistic military officers? About a genocidal policy? About reprehensible Japanese cultural values? So much of this story continues to be elusive.

And now, on a very different level, those of us living in the Bay Area (and anybody else looking on, as well) are being asked to evaluate the confusion of the Occupy Oakland Protests. Don't get me wrong. I'm not comparing American civil disobedience to genocide. But there is a parallel in the confusion, even chaos, even with all those cameras running, and the bottom line remains elusive.

I complained to no one in particular yesterday [What was the message, anyway?] that the message of Occupy Oakland - and thus the larger message of Occupy Wall Street - was being lost because of thugs on the one hand and overreactive police on the other. I woke up this morning wanting to take that piece down, feeling as I always do when I tell a story that lies by omission. I don't think I got any facts wrong, but everything I said was second-hand from local media reports, and I don't trust local media a whole lot. I might have thrown in a few caveats here and there.

What really bothered me was that I think I left a bunch of false impressions - that the thugs and the cops are equally culpable and that the violence on the part of both are the real story of the moment. They are the real story. But they are only part of the real story.

I met a Berkeley cop not long ago at a dinner party and was seriously impressed. I had imagined his work to be something like an airline pilot's - hours of boredom interspersed with sheer terror. "What do you do most of the time?" I asked him. "I like to make arrests." Great, I thought. A power-hungry fool.

"I go for the drug dealers," he said. "They're actually quite stupid. Easy to spot. They use certain intersections, and I ride a bicycle so I can come up on them before they figure out what's happening, and get them off the street. It's like graffiti. You stop it quick, and keep the volume down and that's the only way to keep it from getting out of hand."

OK, so I was wrong. Not a bad guy. In fact, quite a good guy, if you're going to work in black and white.

The media dash from one controversy to another and blow it up. If you get your news from television you get blown-up news. Manufactured stories, like the suggestion that Michele Bachmann was ever a serious contender for the Republican nomination. Most people know but we all need reminding that the truth is not at the extremes, nor is it in the middle. Sometimes one side is largely but not entirely right, sometimes there is no right, only perspective, and often the real truth of the story is in the complexity of narratives, including the contradictions.

That would seem to be the case with what's going on at present. Taku is focused on the mess at Frank Ogawa Square. He hates it that Frank Ogawa's good name is being trashed as folks try to rename the place Oscar Grant Square, for the kid killed by a BART cop when the cop pinned him down on the ground and got his taser mixed up with his gun. Taku focuses on the fact that Oscar Grant, while he certainly didn't deserve to die, or even be roughed up by the police, was fighting on the train, and was actively resisting arrest. I think Taku's Japanese pride is hurt this guy should take Frank's place. Small matter, but part of the story.

Taku's in tune with 75% of locals who now think Occupy Oakland protesters need to be cleared out so local business owners can get back to business, the city can stop paying cops overtime, and give downtown a chance to get off life support. Where my shoe is pinching is the need I see to keep Americans talking about the inequities and the evidence our Congress is a high-priced whore working almost exclusively for lobbyists and other big money. There's no middle ground. No compromise between Taku's focus and mine. We're looking through different lenses. Both stories and others besides all need to be told and left for still others to sift through. Occupy Oakland is not Occupy Wall Street, either. If Oakland goes, it does not signify that time for OWS has run out. That time should come only when talk about inequity has turned to action against inequity.

The fact that Oakland lives with out-of-control crime and homelessness is an on-going one. I just read that as many as half the folk camping out at Ogawa Square may be homeless, and that allegation has convinced the majority of folk in Oakland that it should be shut down. Maybe they're right, but should that be the reason? Maybe the cost of keeping it going is too counter to the original intent of calling attention to inequity. But what do we do now with the spin-off stories, the rogue trigger-happy cops, the drugs, the homeless?

How many people actually know that the killing that took place right next to the protests the other night was passed off as "routine" in this city? The fact that gang members met another gang member with guns and shot him dead in cold blood at the 12th St. BART Station is routine here. You do know, maybe, that the full name of that BART Station is 12th St/City Center, by the way. And consider this question. Is it worse that it's happening in City Center and not out on International Boulevard in the ghetto? Is it better?

How many people know that up to half the people sleeping in the protesters' tents are homeless? And for them it's a step up from sleeping on the streets. We've got to clean this place up, says Mayor Quan. And the people of Oakland agree. And you would too if you actually went down there, as Taku did the other day. He came away saying, "I think the average protester is going to leave pretty soon anyway - the stink is so bad."

What are we to do now? I like the attention to broken America they're calling for. I never liked sleeping in tents and am sure as hell not going to do it now, particularly if I'd have to share the place with all night drumming and stench, but this is our way of banging pots and pans, and if we don't bang the pots and pans, we'll go back to business as usual where 100% of the Republican candidates for the presidency still argue we should take even more money from the poor and give it to the rich, and the PBS news hour thinks we should somehow treat Republicans with as much respect as we do Democrats.

The story isn't in the middle. The cops are not all good nor all bad. Things are real bad and we need to keep attention focused on the fact things are real bad, but we also need to face the fact that part of the story are guns and stench and things that can not easily be summarized. It's a time for story-telling. Everybody get in there and tell stories. Of good cops and bad. Of stinking people and heroic efforts. Never mind the idiotic things written on the sign of the guy marching next to you.

We depend on journalists and analysts to sum things up for us, to sift through the flood of information and tell us what's relevant and what's not. There's an entire industry of pundits working full time at that sort of thing.

But this experience of trying to make sense of the Occupy Wall Street protests and the confusion you find in dealing with the chaos they have engendered suggest to me this is a time to set the pundits and others claiming expert knowledge aside.

With all the cynicism and despair, all the mistrust of those in authority, all the if-it-bleeds-it-leads media stories, all of our own limited attention spans, I think this is a time to keep the stories coming. And if you've got contradicting stories to tell, tell one today, the other one tomorrow. It's a time of considerable chaos. Chaos, like depression, is usually thought of as negative. But it doesn't have to be. If you know how to use it, it can be a time for shaking loose some ossified misconceptions. Forget the bottom line, the neat summary, the real story, the greater truth.

Tell the whole story.


What was the message, anyway?

So much to say about the Occupy Movements. Don't know where to start. It's like the Civil War in our household (OK, so that's a bit of rhetorical excess....) Taku sees it one way, I see it another.

Taku is angry Oakland is so filled with violence, and can't understand why the people who seem to be getting it in the ear are the small business owners around Frank Ogawa Plaza. What's their message, anyway, he wants to know. I'm trying to focus on the value of the Occupy movements for getting the country talking at long last about the collapse of American democracy. I've waited for years for Americans to get out there and start banging pots and pans, and now it seems to be happening.

But nothing seems to happen in this country without violence. In Oakland, it's the thugs. And to some degree the cops. At least one cop that got it all wrong when he hit that Iraqi vet, former Marine Scott Olsen, with a tear gas canister. Fractured his skull. Not like he won’t recover or anything.

Oh, right. Then there was Kayvan Sabeghi, another vet, whom Oakland police beat up and lacerated his spleen. And then denied him medical treatment for eighteen hours. His crime appears to be that he was trying to walk home from the protests.

Oh, yeah. One more. A cameraman was shot in the face because he was filming the cops. Don't know yet how he's doing.

Now the news comes out that somebody was shot and killed last night. But it's good news. Apparently just another gang killing that had nothing to do with the Occupy movement. Just happened to be in the same place. Thank God it was just an ordinary murder.

Meanwhile, five miles north here in Berkeley I was out walking the dogs yesterday when I saw those damn helicopters hovering again. Hate it when that happens. That unrelenting noise, and it doesn't go away. It's as bad inside the house as outside.

It was only when I turned on the news that I learned that an Occupy Berkeley protest has started up to match the one a straight shot down Telegraph, just below where it runs into Broadway, where the cops are giving the thugs a run for their money distracting the media's attention away from all the "we are the 99%" folk.

At least here in Berkeley we have a clear message, right? Students are pissed we have trillions of dollars for the wars, billions for banker bonuses, but tuition has gone up way past the ability of the average Californian to pay - up to 16% a year in increases for the next four years.

Our cops would not make the same mistake as the Oakland cops, right? We don't have the same problems as downtown Oakland. We don't have thugs causing violence.

Unless you see it the way Margo Bennett sees it, of course...
"The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence," UC police Capt. Margo Bennett said. "I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest."
See? Violence everywhere.

Guess that explains why the cops had to start beating the kids with their sticks.

You've seen the video, right?

All that violence just makes the cops mad, apparently. It distracts from the message.

It's hard to make the point that something's wrong with the system when the system is so wrong you can't get to the message.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Every Day – a review

Every Day is listed in Netflix under comedies. It has Eddie Izzard in it and some funny moments, but if you rent it for laughs, you need to be prepared to watch the story of a dying old man with a rotten disposition threatening to pull a family apart with his needs. It’s the story of Ned, a New York TV script writer (Liev Schreiber) whose hard-driving boss (Eddie Izzard) keeps him from attending to crises at home, where his wife Jeannie (Helen Hunt) is dealing with a father (Brian Dennehy) who needs 24-hour care, an overtaxed career and two kids with growing problems. The story starts slowly and you might be tempted to chuck it out as just another contrived domestic drama for TV. But stick with it. Despite the bumps in the road, it turns out the story is a comedy, not for its laughs but for its embrace of life and demonstration that at some of us, when we pull together, can make things work - comedy as opposed to tragedy.

The acting is excellent. Even the minor characters – Robin (Carla Gugino), Ned’s seductive co-worker, and Nathan (Skyler Fortgang), the younger son, are great to watch. The only real flaw, I think, is the overdone character of Ned’s boss, where you suspect the deliberate outrageousness was written into the script just to provide Izzard an opportunity to do his thing.

The most interesting aspect of the story for me is the treatment of gayness. Jonah (Ezra Miller) plays a remarkably well put-together teenager and older of two sons. He is out and getting full support from his mother. His father, however, who writes scripts on demand of all manner of violence and perversion, and who might be expected to be super savvy on sexual matters, turns out to have some deep-seated problems coming to terms with his son’s sexuality. On the surface, he’s simply overly protective. But one touching moment in the film is when Ned (the father, remember – not the son) “comes out” to his boss – who is a flaming gay himself – as a man with a gay son, and admits he has been hiding that fact from everybody for six months, giving illustration to the claim that homophobia is the last of the major American bigotries to fall.

Ned’s failings as a husband and father lead much of the plot. There’s a scene where Jonah plays on his overprotectiveness when Ned tells him to get off the computer because it’s 10 o’clock and time for bed. Jonah responds, “Well give me five minutes to say good-bye. I don’t want to be rude to a priest.” There’s another where Ned doesn’t like the way Jonah is dressed and tells him he looks like a hustler – against the protestations by Jeannie that their son is old enough to know how to dress for a dance. “Would you allow him to go out dressed like that if he were a girl?” Ned asks. Jonah comes back down with one of his father’s sweaters. “That’s better,” Ned says. Then, as soon as Jonah leaves, he turns to his wife and says, “Do I look that gay in that sweater?”

The fears and character flaws and the stressfulness of dealing with a difficult dying parent give the comedy an edginess and the slowly revealed richness of each character’s character lift it above the ordinary. I’d give it three-and-a-half stars on the Netflix scale – and because they do not give you in-between options, I went with four.

Not a must-see. But a good go at the movies.

93 minutes. 2010.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Prowling about the world

When I was a kid, and my world was divided into them Catholics and us Protestants, I used to attend mass every morning during lent with my Catholic friends. Not because I was becoming Catholic, but because it was a lot of fun to get together before school, have breakfast and start the day with something vaguely illicit.

As a shrink told me some time back when I was talking out some of my childhood memories of religious indoctrination, "You've smashed the idols of religion, but you're still carrying around the molds they came in."

I went to an Episcopal Church every Sunday my first couple years in college. It was the perfect blend of Protestantism, where my head was, and Catholicism, where my heart was. What they lacked in bells and whistles they made up in language. Like the delicious language of the prayer of confession:
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.
There is no health in us! No kidding. That bad. What a tidy summary of the message that we are evil creatures, worthy of self-loathing. Beautiful Elizabethan English. And words that can kill.

Back in high school, though, when I was going to mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, what struck me as powerfully as "no health in us" were the words of the prayer to St. Michael that followed the mass:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
I couldn't get over this image of ghosts "prowling about the world" trying to get hold of my soul and drag it down into hell. I was intrigued by the thought there could be unseen evils at every turn, and that hell was a real place and I might go there to burn. It was one thing both Protestants and Catholics agreed on, after all. With such consensus, where was an insecure teenager to turn?

The prayer to St. Michael was removed from the Catholic service less than ten years later, but the image of demons is with us to this day. In fact, it made a big splash just last week when The Pilot, the official voice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, and America's oldest Catholic newspaper, printed a comment on October 28 by Daniel Avila, a policy adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), suggesting that gay people were being controlled by Satan and these very same demons we've been talking about.

The real story is not about some whack job who believes in trolls, though. The real story here is what happened next. The Pilot retracted the story with a statement by Avila, assuring readers he was not speaking for the Catholic Bishops and apologizing for causing "hurt and confusion."

For some, that will be the end of the story.

Oops. Misspoke. Sorry. Didn't mean it. Let's move on.

But in reading through a number of retellings of the event, one item caught my eye that most reports missed. Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, issued one of those "It's not that you're not supposed to say it; you're just not supposed to get caught" statements. Donilon criticized the publication of Avila's view. But then he assured readers that Avila would continue to write for The Pilot, even though he committed what The Pilot is now calling "a theological error." And praised Avila for his passion and commitment to the church.

The story has now gone viral. Google News lists 627 articles on the topic as of this writing, and theologian Bill Lindsey has taken time to post a list of sources of opinion and to follow the threads in the hierarchy to the likes of Oakland bishop Cordileone, head of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, which reveal the insincerity of Avila's apology and the church's rush to disassociate itself from his opinions. True, technically we're into hating the sin and loving the sinner these days, but Avila was - and remains - very much an insider, and this view of demons is not anathema. On the contrary, exorcism, defined as "the religious practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed" is listed in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church as a "sacramental" (not quite a sacrament, but moving in that direction). Paragraph 1673 is worth citing in its entirety:
When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One (sic) and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.
Note the wiggle room there at the end. OK, so maybe gays are not possessed. Maybe they're just ill. Either way, there's something powerfully wrong with them, and all our moves - to remove their civil rights, to keep them from marrying and/or adopting kids, to have standing of any kind in the community, individually or collectively, are justified.

There are two ways to condemn people. One is to stand and face them, point a finger, and denounce them. A more effective way is to create an atmosphere in which condemnation hangs in the air, and you let others do the work of condemnation for you.

Avila just demonstrated how that second kind of demonization works. He speaks out. Reminds catholics who know their catechism that there are such things as demons. The church then comes in and speaks about Avila's "passion for the church." Slaps his hands for being so naughty.

Then puts him back to work.

Mission accomplished.

The demonization of gays has been renewed for another season.

Update: Looks like Avila has now resigned. Mission not accomplished after all. How 'bout them apples.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Anna Bolena - a review

Everybody knows that Enrico the 8th had six wives. And that he divorced them one after the other. Or cut off their heads. Which he was able to do because he told the Pope of Rome to stuff it and started the Church of Inghilterra.

Many people also know that Anna Bolena was Enrico’s second wife, the one who followed Catarina of Aragon, whom he divorced in 1533 because she couldn’t bear him a figlio, which might have kept La Famiglia Tudor in business.

Problem is, once Enrico had developed the habit of getting rid of a wife, there was nothing to keep him from doing it again, so Anna lost her head, and Enrico went on to Giovanna Seymour. She died after only one year in office, but that’s getting ahead of our story. We’re really only concerned with Anna Bolena, played by Anna Netrebko, Enrico, played by Ildar Abdrazakov, and Giovanna Seymour, played by Ekaterina Gubanova.

I know it might strike you as out of the ordinary that such illustrious English characters as Enrico, Anna and Giovanna should be played by Russians, but such is the splendor of this brave new post-cold war era, and we should all be mighty thankful for it. Those Russians sing so beautifully they make you want to cry.

This latest MET performance of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena isn’t all Russian. Sir Richard Percy, Anna’s true love, before she got ambitious and realized she could get Enrico to bump off Catarina, is played by Stephen (nice English name) Costello (OK, not so English.) Stephen/Percy also has a voice to lift you out of your seat and howl with delight. (See the link to the trio, below.)

If you don’t know these names – I didn’t – you might want to get to know them. Ildar Abdrazakov, according to the Nezavisimaya (Independent) Gazeta, has a “velvety voice, full sounding, ideally pure, with an almost tangible aroma of vibrato (now there’s a turn of phrase) that filled the entire auditorium: how could this not drive you insane?” OK, that was a bit excessive, and not about the Anna Bolena performance, but about a Verdi Requiem he did back in St. Petersburg – did I tell you that Ildar is an “honored Artist of the Republic of Bashkortostan? – here’s a picture of one of its architectural splendors. But it gives you an idea of what a bear he is and how he can sing.

Don’t believe me? Have a listen. Here he is singing the memorable aria, “Desta si Tosto” (“Oh, did you just get up already?”) with Anna and Percy. (All YouTubes are from the performance in question, by the way.) Even if you don’t have time for the whole of it (and you’ll kick yourself around the block if you miss that trio), have a look at those costumes. They brought in Jenny Tiramani to do the costumes, and she’d be taking six or eight curtain calls, if I had anything to do with it. Such a feast for the eyes. Jenny was Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare's Globe Theater for ten years, so she knows how to dress the 16th Century. Which you will get a taste of, if you go to her Facebook page.

But back to the Russians. I don’t want to neglect the third one, Ekaterina Gubanova, also, like Ildar, of the Mariinsky, who plays Giovanna. Here she is in that meeting with Anna in one of the more dramatic scenes in the play, where wife #2 learns that her best friend is going to be wife #3, and curses her out before forgiving her. (It isn’t Italian drama if it doesn’t give you emotional whiplash.) It just doesn’t get any better than “Seymour, mia rivale.”

Watching Anna Netrebko do this performance was a joy from start to finish. I love her voice to death, and it has bugged me no end to hear people talk of her as lacking in trill ability or unable to hit a high E-flat. What they are missing is the way she has grown from the young ingenue she was when Valery Gergiev found her working as a scullery maid (OK, I exaggerate, but I’m doing opera here, so give me a break) and launched her career. To get an idea where she is today, check out her web page. Everybody’s going gaga over her. “Reigning new diva of the early 21st Century” says Associated Press. “A virtuoso singer of endless versatility,” says Town and Country. And drop-dead gorgeous, just to put some icing on the cake. Even The New York Times wants to “bathe in her luscious sound forever,” demonstrating that music of this quality makes fools of us all.

Anna Bolena has two notable features as an opera. Besides the fact the music is so gorgeous, I mean. It was written by Donizetti as one of a trio about the queens of England (along with Maria Stuarda and Elisabeth) to see how many singers he could get to sing themselves into exhaustion. Beverley Sills once admitted, I read somewhere, that singing Donizetti took ten years off her career. And, unlike many operas – Trovatore, for example – that have plot lines that make you roll in the aisles, this one has a real-life story to it you can relate to. Unfortunately, from start to finish, it’s all about Anna’s road to the executioner’s axe, so the entire cast is standing around for three and a half hours looking like somebody’s about to have their head chopped off. But look on the bright side. You get to see Anna lift her long hair to the side in the last scene and walk directly into the darkness with her neck exposed, and then you see the executioner come down out of the sky with his axe, just as the lights go out and the audience rises to its feet shouting bravo, bravo, bravo all around and please do it again.

People are comparing Anna Netrebko’s performance of Anna Bolena at the Vienna State Opera last spring with this one. Some say Vienna had better staging, and I didn’t see it, so what do I know, but I’m a MET fan through and through and I thought this one by Robert Jones did the trick for me. It was designed for scene changes without the curtain coming down, so you see trees lowered down from above and suddenly there are dogs on the stage and people are not in the bedroom but out hunting. Cool stuff.

David McVicar, the Scottish director, who Wikipedia informs me is one of the 100 most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain, directed the piece. Can’t he just be among the 50 most influential gay people? But I digress. Watch him, if you like, talking about this performance. (You’ll hear Anna Netrebko tell you how hard the role is, as well).

Things have really changed. Opera used to be for the super elite. Today, thanks to this wonderful technology called simulcasting – and let’s not forget YouTube – it’s much more accessible. Hell, even Gayle what’s her name – you know, Oprah’s best friend who has her own show – is out there getting Anna Netrebko to talk about her boobs.

Too much information, I know. Best to get back to the real thing. Here’s a last look, at Anna singing “Coppia Iniqua.” (To hell with both of you, oh iniquitious couple). She’s gone mad by this stage (it’s opera, after all), and it’s only minutes before the head comes off, but consider that this lovely lady has been singing her heart and soul out for three and a half hours at this pace when she gets to this final piece.

And marvel.

Just sit there and marvel.

And go to Netflix and reserve this MET performance if it ever comes out on DVD.