Saturday, August 18, 2012

Julian Assange

 This whole situation with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy is fascinating. I heard Assange speak on the 15th of October and I think he's a hero.  I don't know what kind of man he is personally, but the function of wikileaks:  to undermine the state secrets doctrine that robs people of the possibility of true democracy, that function is admirable.  Virtuous.  Don't talk to me about him jeopardizing the troups.  The truth is the entity jeopardizing the US troups is  not Julian Assange. It is the US government.  Not only do they kill them with friendly fire, they sent them there in the first place.  Assange said he was in it for a moral revolution, for a simple application of the rule of law, and I believe him. While the red states and the blue states have been bickering, the ability of the people to decide when and if we go to war has been stolen from us.  I feel like Assange sees the big picture.

And now he is hiding out at the Ecuadorian Embassy because he doesn't want to face the prosecutor from Sweden over alleged sexual impropriety with two separate women.  I don't offer an opinion on the charges, I know nothing.

Only that I think it is weird and problematic that the Swedish prosecutor won't just come and interview Assange in London.  That is the next thing that needs to happen in the investigation and why can't it happen here? It is logical and orderly.

The media reports he doesn't actually care about facing those charges,  his concern is that he will be extradited from Sweden to the U.S..  That is why he had to seek Asylum, so the UK wouldn't hand him over to Sweden.  I think he's probably right about that and he has every reason to be concerned.  Look what they did to Bradley Manning. 

So Ecuador was undecided on granting him Asylum - although they saw his care and keep at the Embassy a kind of humanitarian aid -- until the UK government sent them a letter saying they thought it was within their rights to raid the Embassy to get  Assange.  And in any event, they were not going to grant him safe passage to get from the Embassy onto a diplomatic flight to Ecuador.

This is the most short-sighted abuse of power I have seen from Whitehall in a while.  This really takes the cake.  Functioning embassies are a cornerstone of civilization and at their heart is a magic, a magic called sovereignty.  Under law, that embassy is in Ecuador and the minute that Assange went in, he ceased to be their responsibility.  And believe me every ambassador who ever came out of the UK is agreeing with me on this point because they need those magic powers to keep up alliances, to unite the sovereigns, they need that discretion and power within their host countries.  But some pasty Oxbridge idiot can decide to take all that back.  I wonder if the US put them up to it too.  I really do.

Not to even go into the sovereign immunity case a few years ago with Pinochet. Seriously, the Labor government let Pinochet drink through the wine list at The Priory (the private hospital near Selfridges in London where Pinochet holed up) for fifteen months before they dragged their feet into extradition.  So
I don't really understand why they are planning a dawn raid on the territory of a foreign sovereign, unless Washington is leaning on them (see Iraq war).

So Assange can run or he can walk out of that Embassy and be extradited to Sweden.  Basically, the way I see it, his choices are Trotsky or Mandela.  He either spends his life in non-extradition treaty countries in a shadowly half-life of freedom and an increasing irrelevance or he faces the horrors of being imprisoned.  Prison is no joke.  But then, neither is the moral revolution.  It might take years, but I really think that eventually people will come to understand.  I mean, Assange is never going to be an American hero.  The highest ranking Australian in our culture is Crocodile Dundee.  But he could be the gadfly biting the flank of Athens, moving them by his unjust presence in jail.  I don't know.  I don't know what I would do. But he would certainly be a living symbol of the moral revolution he hopes to achieve.

The Posner Holocaust

What follows is what I always write on my blog:  self-serving drivel that interests only me.  It is lovely to think I could never be accused of marketing.

So today my four nephews stopped by with my sister-in-law and luckily they were in top form and we were able to have a vehement political discussion, very well argued from all sides, in a matter of moments.  I do love that about them.  Sister-in-law asked about the teaching of evolution in America; she is a teacher here.  She was very interested in the prevalence of intelligent design, which I think it is fair to say she saw as an idea that should not compete directly with the prevalent and accepted science in a science class.

Sure, it's weird for people outside the United States, the whole creation thing, but it's not as damaging as one I don't hear discussed very often.  At least the creationists are straightforward in promoting their ideology.  You know who they are and what they want.  When I look back at my education, my objection is not to intelligent design.  My objection is to the fact that every system for the distribution of goods and services in society except for capitalism was extensively and willfully ignored.  In my law school classes, in my college economics classes, in my philosophy of justice classes, in my city planning classes . . . the ideology of capitalism is so insidious in the United States.  Socialism and communism was dismissed outright as absurd and bad.  But that isn't the worst thing.  Now that we find capitalism failing the people so obviously in the United States what really enrages me is that in all my training in thinking and law, I was never trained to apply principles of justice to capitalism.  That faculty - that possibility -was not taught and today I am pissed off. 

I blame Richard Posner.  Maybe not only him, but we can't overestimate the neo-liberal damage done by the Rawls-Dworkin-9th Circuit syndicate that made it somehow impossible to people to apply justice to numbers.  Law and Economics as a way of thinking about law was and is insanely popular in most law schools.  But in that ideology, somehow the economics always won.  The basic equation of law and economics is that growth is always best, more profit, more industry, less regulation, basically, in Law and Economics, economics gag law, and law never wins.  The humanity of justice, its complexity and importance is systematically dehumanized in law and economics to ultimately mean that the biggest number wins. 

So you can see why I feel let down.  You know, Marx saw this coming.  But we aren't allowed to think about Marx because he's a goddamned communist and what could be worse than that?  Well, I'll tell you what could be worse than that.  A corporate oligarchy masquerading as a democracy.  What is worse than that is exactly what we have now.   

And the funny thing is I still think that capitalism is not bad.  All of these systems are not bad or good, just a thing that can be regulated by the people in the way they regulate their democracy.  I like capitalism.  I think it's the way to go. I think competition produces great results. Anyone who watched the Olympics probably agrees with me there.  I think it would be nuts to suggest replacing the current system.  But I feel like its something we don't even have the ability to talk about in any meaningful way.  The general counsels defer to the CFO's.  Always.  Capitalism has been made inevitable by our universities, and we feel it controls us rather than we control it.  But no one seems to talk about this particular holocaust.  Maybe holocaust is too strong a word.  But how strange that something can be instantly dismissed with one word - socialist! communist! - and we don't even have an idea of what those words mean, or how those words could serve us.  And we don't even have an idea of how to put an economic transaction on the scales of justice.

To me that is much more unnerving than the intelligent design people.  At least in that debate, we can discuss both sides.  I feel like the other side of this debate - the ideas of justice and money exterminated in the Posner Holocaust has not been addressed.  I don't know what it looks like.  Although, you know, I am trying.  It is what the play I am working on is about.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Edinburgh Fringe 2012 Review

Three days, ten shows, wonder, puzzlement, nostalgia, blinked-back tears and a few drunks.  I’m on the train back from my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

First up after arrival: Phil Nichol doing an hour of comedy at the Assembly Rooms Sunday night.  Phil Nichol Rants!  I have seen Phil Nichol mesmerize, delight, teach and connect with audiences.  On Sunday though he mostly insulted Americans generally and specifically insulted my American friend sitting next to me at her first ever Fringe show.  There was more American bashing than any other year at the Fringe.  So FYI America: you are not welcomed as liberators now.  You are scorned as oppressors.  It may be worth considering whether they have a point. 

I consider this with some frequency. This summer my son has been insulted with some regularity for being half American.  The local kids have learned from their parents that Americans are stupid, annoying people who solve their problems with guns.  "Americans are stupid people who shoot each other with guns when they have problems." That's what my son heard every day.  FYI.  

But really this insult lacks integrity, right?  I mean, if I  - clearly an American - really solved my problems with guns, then wouldn't they not want to make themselves a problem?  I guess I am just saying we lose either way. 

Phil Nichol had some good moments, I’m sure his new play with David Florez, Intervention,  will be very good. 

The next morning we jumped into Female Gothic.  The actor, Rebecca Vaughn  told three tales of horror, each creepier than the last. About 5% of the lines were incredibly beautifully written, like Hemingway, clear and unforgettable.  The storytelling was absorbing.  Using only her voice and a few choice sound effects, she painted shadowy pictures of ghosts of spurned lovers, the living dead, and malevolent murderous spirits.  Pixar’s best CGI demon will never be half as creepy as the one evoked by Rebecca as I sat in the dark listening to her.  If she explained why the show was called Female Gothic at the beginning, I didn’t hear it because I was in the bathroom but I think it is called Female Gothic because the starting point of all the stories was a woman spurned, a woman ignored, a jealous woman – a wise man once told me that when you have a dream, you must realize that all of the characters in the dream in fact represent some portion of yourself.  The dark forces evoked in these stories are no less than the dark side of ourselves.  Again, don’t shoot the messenger.  I am just here to tell you that the more you can understand yourself, especially the darkest parts of yourself, the better you have made the world. 

We went straight to see Guy Masterson’s show The Half.  The Half what theatre veterans call the 35 minutes before curtain of a show.  Guy plays a 50-year-old alcoholic, whose wife has left him, who has a nervous breakdown  during The Half as he contemplates his imminent return to the theatre performing Hamlet as a one-man show lasting four and half hours with no intermission.  Four five-star reviews came in for it today, deservedly, for Guy’s virtuoso performance and for the  evocative script.  Hamlet is paralyzed by doubt, remember, looking to the theatre for respite and truth.  Hamlet devoutly wishes for death but cannot muster the courage for suicide. The parallels haunt this piece.  There is suffering.  But the suffering has a ludicrousness, the character has a ridiculousness in his failure so much that I could not help but laugh.  So the piece swings from utter pathos to slapstick comedy.  Not for the faint of heart.  The one-person sword fight is in itself highly entertaining, shortly after, though, the man is moved to tears with self-loathing.  A difficult show, a challenging show.  In some ways it seemed huge and Russian to me, looking at madness like The Idiot.  Like all Masterson productions, though, it ended beautifully, perfectly. Somewhere in the hysteria and ego of this character, somewhere in his meaningless bloated eternal life of self-doubt, there is something real, a real connection.  Basically, you have to see The Half if you get a chance, because its extremities will provoke great thought. 

Next to A Soldier’s Song.  This was great, and the Fringe is really the only place on earth I see stuff like this.  A private in the Falklands tells his true story of war, accompanied by sounds of assassins’ bullets and mortar fire.   I mean, really, if you ever wanted the opportunity to look at a guy who has really shot another guy dead at point blank range, this is it.  The way he told his stories was haunting, sometimes funny, always honest.  

He came to Edinburgh to tell this story because he knows that for the public, war is a story spun by politicians, but he wants us to know that war is in fact just young boys being ripped apart by metal.   He wants a new script for the politician’s stories and somehow his time on the battlefield gives his request a certain poignancy.  

This is what happens at the Fringe sometimes.  There is a story, and then there is the fact that the person this really happened to is the person telling me.  This is a different theatrical experience to just being absorbed by the narrative. What I think is the upside of this different Fringe-specific experience is that it i not only to entertain, but to teach as the voice of experience.   I wanted more in Soldier’s Song of that polemic.  I wanted more of what happened to him after the war.  I wanted to learn more.  

At least theoretically I wanted to learn more, actually by the time Soldier’s Song ended I was a little emotionally wiped out.  That is Edinburgh, right, the human condition laid out in all its glory, including the suffering.  After creepiness, pathos and war, I was chain smoking and eating nachos pretty pathetically.  

Thank God though the next person was the Australian comedienne Sarah Kendall.  She welcomed us to the Fringe and pointed out the incredible number of  comedians we had to choose from, all with great reviews.  In fact, she pointed out, if you believe all the reviews,  there is an incredible number of geniuses congregating in Edinburgh this August.  (“Sorry, we won’t be finding the cure for cancer this August, all the geniuses are doing stand-up in Scotland”).  Sarah has this delivery that is so matter-of-fact that it actually takes a few seconds to realize how brilliant what she just said was.  A lot of the show was about the kind of world she was bringing her daughter into, the devastating message of appearances in The Ugly Duckling.  Her routine where she pitched a rap music video that involved her watching gay guys make out was so telling.  The casual sexism of everything pointed out with a wry and equally casual delivery. 

After Sarah Kendall we went to see a three comedian extra 11:00 pm show.  Eddie Izzard, Michael Mittelmeier and Trevor Noah.  Izzard had produced Michael’s and Trevor’s shows in his bid to bring world enlightenment through comedy.  Trevor is half Swiss, half black South African.  Michael is completely German.  Trevor and Michael were thematically united by making fun of Americans.  No matter, Izzard was right.  There is a lot to learn.  I did feel like I learned.  Trevor’s best friend growing up was named Hitler.  As a first name.  Because in his mom’s culture in SA, when word got out that a guy named Hitler was bombing the French and the English, they were like, whoa, way to go.  To them the French and the English were the oppressors.  And then a generation later a kid would be named after his father or grandfather and they would be the next Hitler.  I found it kind of difficult to deal with – there is such a culturally communicated knee-jerk reaction against Hitler.  But I have learned from yoga that when something is hard to deal with, the best thing to do is pay a lot of attention to it.  So I did, and I felt like I learned.  I even learned from the German but was eventually allowed to relax when he  started making fun of the British (instead of Americans) and it was hilarious.  You have not lived until you have heard a German comedian call an Edinburgh crowd “a bunch of hobbits from the Shire”. 

Izzard was in good form but somewhere around 12:30 my brain shut down.

The next day we started with Kemble’s Riot.  John Kemble and his sister Mrs Sarah Siddons were the  biggest celebrities of their day, and when they built a new theatre and tried to raise prices on tickets in  London circa1809, the crowds in Covent Garden rioted for 66 nights until they backed down. This play used five actors and the audience to act out the riots.  This is totally my kind of play.  There were a million interesting things going on, the possiblity of which was created but left open by the script.  The audience had a couple actors implanted who act as protest ringleaders. When in the play a security guard (an actor) tried to remove a ringleader (another actor), one of the audience (**not an actor) pulled him off the protester.  Fantastic.  The historical reminder of the power of the crowd to stop those in authority from doing things we don’t want them to do could not be more important.  This show is great because it’s sort of Protest 101, Transgressive Behaviour Junior Course.  We are so acculturated not to complain, to take it, to obey, to submit, to not make a fuss.  These are no longer virtues, and this play helps us exercise our more virtuous protest muscles.  In the world we live in now, failing to complain is the vice.  Learning to complain is the necessity.  Protest.  Remember.  Justice Is Possible. Kemble's Riot.  Really good. 

Next to an adorable and not really dark revival of the off-Broadway darling musical Putnam County Spelling Bee.  A cast of eight kids spell their way right into our hearts.  My friend, the one insulted by Phil Nichol, came into her own at that play.  This was one of those plays that lets down the "fourth wall" and begins as soon as people walk in the theatre.  The lead character latched on to Ellen as his mother.  As she held his inhaler for him during the play she would shake it from time to time for him to make sure it had enough medicine. (Me, jealous:  Ellen, it's a prop!").  Funny, sweet, clever – everything you want in a musical.  I loved Olive Otrovsky, the lonely only child.  This is a broadway show just going into general release and I will say this:  American shows may seem unsophisticated and guileless next to their European counterparts but they also do something the European shows fail to do:  leave you with an overwhelming sense of positivity, hope and love.  European shows somehow always remind you that suicide has its own logic.  

The last show of the  day was, well, ok, it was Ted, the incompetent lawyer from Scrubs and the rest of his barbershop quartet.  Yes, those four guys from Scrubs have a show.  They promise the The first fifteen minutes were the weakest fifteen minutes of the Fringe, but then they sang Take On Me and there was something authentic in the nostalgia.  I find myself in those moments bathed in memories.  Take on Me, I probably watched the video for that 100 times. And the k-Tel greatest hit collections, advertised on television during my childhood cross-legged on the floor, were recreated with a specificity and acumen that was the perfect aide memoire. 

The Blanks, for that is the name of the group, aspire to a Marx Brothers style of zaniness.  I could see they had started to work it and were beginning to get there.  The thing is, the Marx Brothers' routines had been worked out in hundreds of stage performances before they were captured on film.  The Blanks have an admirable goal and should just keep performing together to get the time in to make their routines as immortal.  I did think they had a couple of promising starts.   And already impressive musicians.  Please drop all references to Scrubs, you have to get past that, and also please put Underdog in your line-up.  

Last show, Bullet Catch at the Traverse, written and performed by Rob Drummond.  It's a magic show, a mind-reading show, the story of an on-stage defense of free will and the quietest (except for the shots) and loveliest show on the Fringe.  I never looked at my watch.  I felt great tidal waves of emotion. I wondered.  Really too good.

Is this what it has come to?  Have I really mastered the Fringe and pick no loser shows on which to vent my ire?  It may be.  It was one of my best Fringes. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Alan Kay, let me introduce you to the Rule of Law

 this federal judge, Alan Kay, ruled in Hawai'i today that the state laws, which grant civil partnerships for gay couples but not marriage rights were not unconstitutional.  He didn't try to answer the question on its merits, despite the fact he is a judge, no, he let loose with this gem:

" If the traditional institution of marriage is to be reconstructed, as sought by the plaintiffs, it should be done by a democratically elected legislature or the people through a constitutional amendment," and not through the courts"

I interrupt the regularly scheduled neglect of my blog to vent my rage on this one.

If a mob decides the law, it is rule by mob.  The balance on the legislature - the mob - is a strong judiciary committed to the rule of law.  This is the genius of the constitution (the intent of the founders, if you're dirty like that).  

But it only works if the members of the judiciary step up.  

And judges have a responsibility to write the law - within the confines of the facts of the case before them.  It's a burden, it's a sacred duty.  Alan Kay took his sacred duty and punted.  He's not the first, but that doesn't make it right.  The time for the judiciary to start making calls on the cases in front of them is ALWAYS.  Remember Alan, history does not look kindly on Justices who wrote the Dred Scott decision. There is a reason you are sitting underneath Lady Justice who has a blindfold on.  That is because your mandate is to do justice and be blind to the consequences:  fiat justitia ruat coelum.  That is latin for:  do justice though the heavens be rent asunder.  Translation:  do the right thing even if that means things hitting fans. 

I do not think it should be controversial or even remarkable to assert that a judge is obliged to decide the law based on the facts before her or him.  Somewhere along the line our judiciary has put themselves in the back seat and made that assertion seem controversial and remarkable.  This is problematic. 

So I don't blog when we have the 3 Day Play with Gomito Theatre Company in my back yard and 14 kids devise and perform a great play entitled Where Has All The Magic Gone?  And I don't blog when we go to the Secret Garden Party and sleep in a tent and for four days slog through mud and participate in a strangely perfect celebration of humanity.  I don't blog when we go to the Olympics, I don't blog about Edinburgh (although I will).  

I blog for this, to point out an error, to tell everyone that I still believe justice is possible, I believe ineffably in the rule of law.  I am therefore displeased with Alan Kay.