Thursday, August 28, 2014

To My Readers, if Any There Be...

The answer is I'm fine, thanks for askin.' Just that my blogging tastes seem to have changed, at least for the moment. Maybe they'll change again. In the meantime, if I feel I have something to say, I suppose I will post it here but then link it over to my Facebook page. If you'd care to try to follow me on Facebook, here's a link (I also have a Twitter account but it is even more dormant than this--I really do not get Twitter).

The already-published stuff will, of course, stay up.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From the Inbox

From her corner office in New York’s Rockefeller Center, [Rebecca Patterson] the chief investment officer of Bessemer Trust Co. is putting $55.7 billion in client assets under geopolitical stress. ... 
Patterson joined Bessemer, the world’s third largest multi-family office, from JPMorgan Chase & Co. two years ago. The average family has $43 million in assets under supervision at Bessemer and the wealth of its founder, steel-mogul Henry Phipps and his descendants, remains the largest  ... 
Phipps founded Bessemer in 1907 to manage his wealth after selling his interest in Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan. The company is named after Henry Bessemer, the inventor of the steel-making process that was instrumental to the success of Carnegie Steel, according to Bessemer’s website. The closely held firm opened to other families in 1974 and now has about 2,200 clients, according to the website. It offers services including investments, estate planning and tax advice, and supervises $97.5 billion in total assets.
Link.

Meanwhile...

But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade. 
Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level. 
Link.






Saturday, August 16, 2014

Shakespeare the Player

Well, here's a blessing.  I'd call it an unbought grace, except that I bought it, in a used bookstore, on impulse.  That is: Shakespeare the Player, subtitled "A Life in the Theatre," a book by one John Southworth, hitherto unknown to me who, if I have the right IMDb  page, hoofed it out through a lifetime of mostly second-tier assignments as stage and screen actor (IMDb says he died in 2004).   The career context is important because what we have here is a man with a message, or a mission: arraying himself against a formidable (albeit not unanimous) phalanx of contrary critics, Southworth wants to put the theatre at the center of Shakespeare's universe, and to put the Shakespeare at the center of the theatre--to make him a working actor who got into playwrighting because the company needed a material, not merely a playwright who traded pen for buskin just to fill up an idle hour.

This book must have been a labor of love, perhaps not unlike his acting career. So far as I can tell, the academics never took him seriously (returning his own favor) and I don't suppose many of his fellow actors were willing to give much time to what is, at the end of the day, a pretty dense book.  Southworth may not be a scholar but he has done a scholar's job of combing the record for any forgotten bauble that might adorn his argument.  He does what he can to demonstrate not merely that Shakespeare was an actor, but rather also to to identify the parts he played and (sometime) why.  Most of this is near-bald speculation which any anonymous reviewer would have savaged on his first read.  But most of the guesses strike me as pretty shrewd and I am delighted to take them in default of a better.  He also offers up 10 pages of excerpts to show how the young Shakespeare early in his career echoed so many of the playwrights around him. Not plagiarism: precisely not. Southworth's point is rather more that if you live in that world (memorizing whole globs of stuff and playing a different play every night), you were bound to riff on habits of speech that you heard from those around you.

All of which builds up to the takeaway argument at the center of the book. The question is the old favorite: what was Shakespeare doing in the "lost 80s," when the trail goes cold in Stratford, years before it warms up again in London.   Southworth's answer: no, not that Shakespeare was a sailor, a soldier, a spy a servant in a great house.  No: Southworth argues that he was right there in the theatre, learning his own trade.

I have to confess this suits my own prejudice nicely.  I never thought to make the point as strongly as Southworth. But it has long struck me that Shakespeare almost from the beginning--in Henry Vii, say--seems to know stuff that an outsider wouldn't know.  He might not have reached full maturity as a poet (though Southworth thinks a lot of this stuff is better than it gets credit for). But he knows theatre stuff: he knows how to do theatre stuff: how to shape a scene how to get characters on or off stage.  So far, so good. Southworth's point is that he cannot have learned that kind of stuff on the fly in a few months. It's the kind of skill you build up only through long experience under careful tutelage.  Southworth argues that Shakespeare's situation suggests exactly that: entirety plausible (uh oh) that he  honed his skill by the tedious practice of stuff that actors do

I guess I can understand why this book wasn't a natural hit, not even among the enthusiasts: too jaunty for the academics, too dense for those who have to go rehearse their lines.  But it's a compelling story, carefully documented which goes far to make Shakespeare's world even more three-dimensional than it might have been already.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Gindin and Panitch and the "Four Transformations"

Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch try to understand and explain how the world has changed over the last half century or so:
Four specific transformations were especially important in this restructuring of the economy and social relations in the US, each with particular implications for the making of global capitalism. The first of these was the relationship between industry and finance. A much larger share of total corporate profits now went to the financial sector: between 1960 and 1984, the financial sector’s share of domestic corporate profits averaged 17 percent; from then through 2007 it averaged 30 percent, peaking at 44 percent in 2002. ...

The second transformation— the one most associated with the thesis of US decline—occurred in the core industries that had fueled American economic dynamism in the postwar era. The old labor-intensive sectors like shoes, textiles, food, and beverage had seen a sharp contraction well before the 1980s, but it was rising imports and the corresponding loss of jobs in steel, auto, and machinery that occasioned alarm about the state of American manufacturing. …  But more was going on here than the word “decline” could adequately capture. By the end of the century, a major restructuring had occurred within these industries. In the auto industry there were eighteen assembly plant closures between 1988 and 1999, but thirteen new plants also opened, while the sixty-six auto-parts plants that closed over these years were more than offset by 184 new parts plants. Moreover, the number of plant expansions greatly exceeded the number of downsizings. ... 
All this brings us to the third transformation— the shift to high-tech manufacturing production. This new industrial revolution—which soon spread globally and encompassed computer and telecommunications equipment, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and scientific instruments— was largely American-led in terms of its origins and concentration, and of the mechanisms of its subsequent diffusion abroad. …  By the end of the century, of the top dozen global firms by sector, the US accounted for 77 percent of the world’s aerospace sales, 75 percent of all sales of computers and office equipment, 91 percent of computer software sales, and 62 percent of pharmaceuticals....

The fourth structural transformation in the economy involved the growth of a diverse range of “professional and business services” that ranged across consulting, law, accounting, market research, engineering, computer software, and systems analysis.  Here, the number of jobs increased dramatically. In 1983 employment in this broad sector was less than half that in manufacturing, but by the turn of the century employment— growing even faster than in financial services— had doubled, and matched total manufacturing employment.

Gindin, Sam; Panitch, Leo (2012-10-09). The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy Of American Empire (Kindle Locations 4196-4289). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.   

Recapping, the second is perhaps most understood and most complicated to explain.  What we have here is no just the decline or the rise of something but the decline and rise of the auto industry, as rust-belt "legacy" providers give way to "foreign," particularly Japanese, competitors who shortly Americanize themselves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shakespeare on Death and Transfiguration

A Serious Person would write about Ebola or the Yazidis or the soon-to-be-former Colorado River.  For the moment, I'll stick to Shakespeare, as seen by one of my favorite commentators:
Prospero, Duke of Milan [in The Tempest], deprived of his dukedom and riled on an island, is restored t the end to his former place, a man so altered by his experience that henceforth, he declares, every third thought shall be his grave. Obviously, this is the pattern of As You Like It with the Forest of Arden in place of the Enchanted Isle and with the difference that the Senior Duke is in no need of regeneration. But, less obviously, this theme of the King, Prince, Duke, or other person of high estate losing his place or his inheritance only to recover it or its spiritual equivalent, after exile or suffering, in a sense in which he never possessed it before, is repeated by Shakespeare over and over. All stemming in a way from that early and undervalued study of King Henry VI, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and parts o f Pericles, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale are built on that situation.They all, in  one way or another, contrast with and supplement Hamlet, whose hero propounds the same problem, wavers on the edge of a fresh solution, only to offer in the end the old erroneous answer. They all, in virus keys, reiterate the theme of Timon: "Nothing brings me all things."
But it is not just those who have lost worldly kingdoms in a literal sense who come to realize this truth. Shakespeare uses the same idea metaphorically. Over and over in his plays when the object valued or the person loved is taken away, an imaginative object or person, more than compensating for the loss, appears in its place.
So Harold C. Goddard in The Meaning of Shakespeare, v. 2, 288 (1951).I'm not quite sold on this yet but I do think it invites some thought.  One particular, however, strikes me as momentous.  Goddard is reminding us of how rewarding it can be to read Hamlet not only on its own terms (where it is rewarding enough) but also in the context of Shakespeare's entire career.  Hamlet appears at just about the mid-point of Shakespeare's career.  Others have noted how you can read it as summing up everything (i.e., a lot) that Shakespeare has learned up to that time, but also posing questions that he will spend the rest of his career trying to answer.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

More Ashland: The Tempest

Another Ashand note, this on The Tempest, with Denis Arndt as Prospero.

You've heard of him?  Just possibly.  He's not a celeb but he's 75 years old and by a survey of the evidence, he has a long history of employment in theatre, movies and TV.  More remarkably, I read that he played King Lear here in Ashland--twice, the most recent 28 years ago.  Any actor who outlives his Lear by 28 years gets points for, if nothing else, endurance.

His Prospero was what you might expect--or better "hope for" in someone with such a resume.  He makes  no effort to kid you about his age: he's bald and wrinkled.   Although he's also impressively fit (I read an interview somewhere where he speaks of acting as a kind of athletic event, and it's clear he approaches it that way).  Technically, his Shakespearean diction is excellent, although he does have a bit of a lisp which gets in the way of easy comprehension.  His presentation--I guess the best you can say is that it is entirely his own, the work of someone who knows who he is and what he can do and is willing to embrace the part on his own terms.

Put another way, I think the point is that his Prospero is  not anybody else's.  Specifically, my guess would be that for a couple of of generations now, actors have been trying to wiggle out from other the blanket of John Gielgud, who put a semi-permanent stamp on the role, with something like 30 renditions over a long career.  Arndt isn't Gielgud.  More important, he isn't trying to be Gielgud; he isn't even at war with him.  He's an old hoofer with a long resume and he brings to the part everything he knows about himself.

Fn.:  Several other lovely performances as well, not least Wayne T. Carr as Caliban. But I'm particularly pleased that they offered a shot to another old hoofer, this one cast somewhat against type. I'm talking about  Richard Elmore, a 30-year veteran of the Ashland company, who repaid this latest offering with a star turn as Stephano, the lord of misrule full of big dreams to take over Prospero's island for himself.

Fn to fn.: somebody must have done a dissertation comparing Stephano's princely aspirations with those of Sancho Panza , whose comic experiment at governance must have come into being at just about the same time.

Ashland Richard III

We took in the current Ashland offering of Shakespeare's  Richard III last night.   It was a polished and entertaining version of a famously somewhat-less-than-first-tier Shakespeare play.   Dan Donohue plays the villainous king with diabolic energy and topnotch diction, such that you could stay engaged with everything through the entire performance.   He also figured out how to add some touches of camp comedy, sufficient to satisfy the 21st-century taste for ironic detachment. One suspects the campy note was not part of Shakespeare's original plan but no matter; it didn't seem to transgress the central thrust.

So far fine, but Mrs. B offers an interesting fillip.  She said she noticed the lack of any effort to clue us into Richard's interior life executes his schemes (not to say his adversaries).  But you say: that is the problem with Richard: unlike Macbeth, with whom he is so often compared, Richard has no interior life; it's all "I, a villain, heh heh."  With Macbeth, 15 years later, he had simply learned how to do better.

True enough, says Mrs. B, but you can give him a bit of an interior life in the execution, with an approach that no more transgresses the original than does the camp.   A pause, a flick of the eyelid, maybe a sudden turn.   But perhaps you can't do that on a big stage; maybe you need the intimacy of a TV screen, or a movie shot as if it were a TV screen.

I think she was thinking Ian McKellen.  Still, it might be fun to go back and watch the old Olivier movie--one of the first bits of Shakespeare that first really dazzled me, coming on 60 years ago now.  Or maybe it wouldn't: sometimes revisiting a lost artistic love can convey the same sense of shock and disappointment you get from going to a high school reunion.  Anyway, I thought Donohue did a fine job, and if he wasn't McKellen, well which of us is?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Anon Explains the Subprime Crisis

Wonder who wrote this excellent Wiki squib:
There are several "narratives" attempting to place the causes of the crisis into context, with overlapping elements. Four such narratives include:

  • There was the equivalent of a bank run on the shadow banking system, which includes investment banks and other non-depository financial entities. This system had grown to rival the depository system in scale yet was not subject to the same regulatory safeguards. 

  • The economy was being driven by a housing bubble. When it burst, private residential investment (i.e., housing construction) fell by nearly 4% GDP and consumption enabled by bubble-generated housing wealth also slowed. This created a gap in annual demand (GDP) of nearly $1 trillion. Government was unwilling to make up for this private sector shortfall. 

  • Record levels of household debt accumulated in the decades preceding the crisis resulted in a balance sheet recession (similar to debt deflation) once housing prices began falling in 2006. Consumers began paying down debt, which reduces their consumption, slowing down the economy for an extended period while debt levels are reduced. 

  • Government policies that encouraged home ownership even for those who could not afford it, contributing to lax lending standards, unsustainable housing price increases, and indebtedness.
  • See Wiki, Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  [I stripped off he numbering; could't make it work  in this format.  Also omitted the footnotes.]  Seems to me pithy and to the point. The whole piece is useful, if a bit diffuse. 

    More Munich Opera: Logistics

    Another fragment on Munich opera--this one I share with almost every American opera goer who ventures to Germany and keep his eyes open. The point is not the variety and the quality (both admirable) but the sheer fact that they so so much of it.   We say that "opera houses all over Germany" produce "an opera every night."  Inevitably, I don't know exactly what that means ("all over"?  "every night"?), but it's close enough to true that we can treat it as given: consider the number of not-quite-first-tier American cities who count themselves cultured if they can stage just one a year.    This has to mean a ton of taxpayer subsidy and yes, I can think of so many other, seemingly more appealing, causes to which the euros could be put.  But I'm impelled to offer three observations, all of them probably familiar to anyone who has actually thought about it.

    One: I marvel at the opportunities for steady work among opera singers (and, I guess, pit musicians).  It must mean that there is a cadre of able music-makers--not superstar material, perhaps, but talented enough--who have the opportunity to polish their craft and get as much out of themselves as they have to offer. Or  maybe they superstars, just working off a long apprenticeship: Verdi himself wrote a dozen operas over a dozen years before he hit the trifecta with Rigoletto, Traviata and Trovatore (it's wandering but I guess you could say the same thing about Shakespeare--a dozen or more experiments--some quite good-- before he totally nails it with Midsummer Night's Dream).  Query, can anybody name a product of the German opera house system with a similar career trajectory?

    Two: the downside of all this is that they must not have time to rehearse.  Yes, yes, I'm sure there are offsite practice halls but it can't be (is unlikely to be) anywhere near the same as being in the real house, with the real echoes and the real timbre.  And there are also simple problems of logistics. I hear tell (I can't find the source right now) of a Carmen who came onstage and realized she couldn't find her tenor. "Où se trouve Don José?" she is said to have said. --"Suivez-moi, madame!" responded a gentlemanly super as he led her downstage.

    And three: sets:  I know that the  Met prides itself on being able to change sets about as fast as the pit crew tightens wheel bolts on a NASCAR competitor.  But on a German schedule, you can't really make too many demands.  Couple tight schedules with the Germans' penchant for really loony staging and you are bound to have some train wreck results. Case in point, last week's Marriage of Figaro.* The curtain rises on the bare interior of a box, painted blinding white--so blinding that I kept wanted to shout "okay, I'll betray my loved ones--just stop making my eyes hurt!"  

    But that's not all, folks. The later scene, though not a painful, was even sillier.  Mozart fans will recall that what we've got here is a lot of horseplay in the garden at night.  The very stuff of comedy, and how do you create the garden effect on an indoor stage?  Oh, I have it!  You drape the whole thing in cheesecloth (yes?) and let the singers tumble and stumble among the folds while they try to find their pitch!  So in addition to trying to keep track of who is who, and to check the supertitles in a language you don't understand anyway, there is the extra problem of repeatedly reminding yourself just why everyone is wandering around in an exploded laundry.
    ===
    *A moment' perfunctory research informs me that this production is not new: actually old enough to drink beer in Munich.  So maybe my argument has nothing to do with anything. Whatever; I like it and I'm keeping it.