Archive for February, 2013

Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

I’m a fancy dress dance where the debutantes go;
When a batter won’t swing at a bad pitcher’s throw;
I’m the fun time you have; where the foot meets the toe;
And the Lucy we loved on that old ’50’s show.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

A Few Thoughts about Guns

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Is it just me, or is all of the rhetoric about gun control getting a bit overheated?

If there are two sides – pro-gun and anti-gun – then I’d have to put myself on the side that favors more control than we have now. But the spectrum of options available to us as a society is wide-ranging, and the changes we are talking about are relatively small. There’s no serious movement to ban and confiscate guns. Nobody is proposing allowing citizens to own biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. Where we come down is going to be somewhere very much in the middle of these polar extremes, and pretty close to where we are now.

You wouldn’t know it by listening to the bombast coming from the right, though. It’s as though all of the issues from the 2012 election have faded away, and conservatives have decided to concentrate their efforts over the one issue where they feel like they’re on solid ground. Their arguments range from absolutist interpretations of the Constitution to catchy slogans to actual threats of violence. The threats of violence in particular seem an odd strategy for convincing us that they should keep their guns, but it’s hard to stay rational once the panic sets in. When the only tool you have is a TEC-9, the whole world looks like Call of Duty. I will admit that some of the slogans use some nice wordplay. “The only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Nice use of antithesis with parallel structure! And then, there’s the Constitution…

Just as the First Amendment doesn’t give you the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre, the Second Amendment doesn’t give you the right to turn a traffic jam into the end of a Quentin Tarantino movie. It is true that the founders gave us the right to keep and bear arms so that we could protect ourselves from government tyranny. The only problem is that the people currently making that argument are the same people who screamed that the Affordable Care Act was government tyranny. So, Freedom-Protectors, at what point are you planning to break out the arsenal? And when you fantasize about protecting our freedoms with an assault rifle, precisely who is it that you imagine yourself gunning down? American soldiers? Uniformed police officers? Elected officials? Federal agents? Protecting our freedom sounds pretty messy.

Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, one of the heartwarming things to come out of the gun-control debate is to see the right starting to call for better mental healthcare in the wake of the school shootings. Yeah, someone should get on that. I’m thinking some kind of public option, or even a single-payer system. What say you?

So, really, most of the pro-gun arguments I’ve heard are pure nonsense, and are embraced largely for their favorable conclusion: we should be allowed to have guns. The good news for gun enthusiasts, though, is that they don’t actually need to make a case to protect guns. In a free society, the burden of evidence is on those of us who would take rights away. And most people who are in favor of guns largely have positive experiences with them. They go hunting on the weekends, or they take their kids to the shooting range. Maybe they like to do a little skeet-shooting at Camp David. Everyone has fun and nobody gets hurt. They aren’t bothering anybody, and don’t understand why they should have to make any changes in their lifestyle just because some lunatic decides to go on a rampage in a school or a movie theatre. I agree.

What we’re talking about, though, is just some simple common sense reforms, such as requiring background checks or restricting assault weapons. We regulate cars better than we regulate guns, and yeah, you can have as many cars as you want. One of the weapons under discussion is called the Street Sweeper. Whoever named that gun had a pretty good idea about what it was primarily going to be used for. We should take notice. That doesn’t make a good fundraising pitch for the NRA, though, so they talk about the government coming for your guns, a scenario that doesn’t even make practical sense let alone political sense.

Ultimately, the actual changes being proposed are slight and incremental. We can have reasonable discussions about whether or not we should do them, but doing them won’t necessarily bring about major changes in gun violence in this country. Nor will they amount to an egregious violation of civil liberties. At this point, the heat generated by the argument is mostly about culture. There is one culture that wants an armed society, and another culture that doesn’t. We’ll argue it out and then we’ll vote through our elected representatives. But in so much as it is about culture, it’s worth giving some thought about what kind of country we want to live in.

Which side are you on? The litmus test is not the Sandy Hook school shooting. It’s not Aurora or Tuscon or Columbine. We’re all against random shootings of innocent people. The real litmus test centers on the events of February 26, 2012. That was one year ago tonight. That was the night that George Zimmerman shot and killed Treyvon Martin.

That much is certain, but the details are still murky a year later. That didn’t seem to matter so much at the time. People on both sides of the debate rushed to judgement before all of the facts were in. Did a trigger-happy gun nut racially profile a black kid and then shoot him? Or, is it true that a vigilant neighborhood watchman bravely defended his person and his community from a dangerous thug who attacked him without provocation? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle? Where it always, always is.

In the examination of this particular incident, it matters a great deal. This is a real case. One person is dead, another is on trial for his murder. A jury will have to weigh the evidence and make a serious deliberation to make sure their determination is just. But in a more general sense, it doesn’t really matter what happened this one time.

There is a more generalized version of the incident that has played out in the media and in the imaginations of everyone who has a purely political stake in the outcome for the past year. In the real case, we want to know facts, details, evidence. In the imaginary case, these things are a distraction. They take the case further away from what we need it to be. Because when the case remains general, we can imagine all of the possible angles and discuss how we feel about them. It’s not hard to imagine each various interpretation of this one incident being true in another similar incident. What we’re really arguing about is the sum total of all of the possible permutations of the event. What we’re really arguing is about the next time. I can’t tell you what to think about that, but I can tell you what I think.

I’m not really afraid of bad guys with guns. Maybe I should be. Studies show that people who tend to be more fearful skew conservative, so maybe they feel like they really need to protect themselves against bad guys with guns. For my part, I feel like there are so many other things out there that are going to get me first that I really don’t put it high on my list. So, I don’t live in fear of bad guys with guns. What terrifies me beyond belief is good guys with guns.

Good guys come in all shapes and sizes, and I don’t like the idea of them all carrying guns. There are so many more good guys than bad guys, and with a wider range of skills, judgment, and common sense. Some people carry a gun hoping they will never have to use it. Other people carry a gun with a hope that they will. And then there are the mistakes. Recall the vice president who shot his friend in the face while hunting. Recall the heroic athlete who fired four shots into a bathroom door. Choose your favorite statistic about guns kept in the home. It turns out that introducing a new gun into a situation is almost always a bad idea, unless you are well trained and have strictly enforced rules of engagement. George Zimmerman was supposed to be a good guy with a gun. Whether he turned out to be or not depends on your culture.

So I support the proposed changes to our existing gun laws, incremental as they may be. Could they lead to a slippery slope? I certainly hope so.

Shakespeare Song Parody: End It Well

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

This is the 25th in a series of pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.

Enjoy!

End It Well
sung to the tune of “Gives You Hell”

(With apologies to The All-American Rejects, and everyone else as well…)

I’m watching your work, Shakespeare,
With some tension in my face:
It’s one of your lesser-known plays.
Your heroine is risking
Her life on this rash chase;
I wonder how well that pays.

When you plan your plot,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.
When you write that play,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.

Now that part all worked out, though
The men have now gone to war,
And I’ve seen this plot before…
But still I’d really like to know
What this play has at its core,
Before I watch any more.

It’s better with a wedding.
It’s better than them dying.

When you plan your plot,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.
When you write that play,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.

If they sing a song,
As they dance along,
That would be swell.
Even if they don’t,
It should end well,
Hope you end it well.

I hope you end it well!

Bertram now thinks Helena is dead.
That’s often a very bad sign,
But it could still finish fine.

It’s better with a wedding.
It’s better than them dying.

When you plan your plot,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.
When you write that play,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.

If they sing a song,
As they dance along,
That would be swell.
Even if they don’t,
It should end well,
Hope you end it well.

It’s a “Problem Play.”
This could go either way.
Hope it won’t end like Tragedies;
They cause me dismay.
I’d try out a Romance,
Give a History a chance,
But I much prefer those Comedies you end so well.

When you plan your plot,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.
When you write that play,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.

If they sing a song,
As they dance along,
That would be swell.
Even if they don’t,
It should end well,
Hope you end it well.

When you plan your plot,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.
When you write that play,
Hope you end it well,
Hope you end it well.

If you’d end Act Five,
With them still alive,
That would be swell.
Some epilogue
Might end it well,
Hope you end it well.

When you end your play, I hope that you will end it well.

All will be well, as long as you will end it well.

Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I’m a place for a boat you would merrily row;
To watch TV online without saving the show;
How a stray beam of light in the darkness can glow;
A prevailing direction; or tears as they flow.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

Shakespeare Song Parody: Valentine

Friday, February 15th, 2013

This is the 24th in a series of pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.

Enjoy!

Valentine
rapped to the beat of “Back in Time”

(With apologies to Pitbull, and the Men in Black franchise…)

Please excuse me, lady.
Oh, yeah you, lady.
Now, let’s do Shakespeare, lady.
Yeah, let’s stage a play here, lady.

Please excuse me, lady.
Oh, yeah you, lady.
Now, let’s do Shakespeare, lady.
Yeah, let’s stage a play here, lady.

The Two Gentlemen.
Of Verona. In Milan.
At the Duke’s palace,
Proteus, Valentine, now it’s on.

Julia, oh Julia,
Oh, Julia, my sweet Julia,
You’re the one!

Milan equals doublet and hose, knee-length socks,
With a tanned leather belt to tie; I’ve got it!
Puffy sleeves, fancy shoes, a high stiff collar, and a feathered cap.
Like Valentine or Thurio, impress Silvia if they could, okay.
I’m tryna be reptilian with a friend pretense,
Underhanded, no-good,
I’m a liar, a cheat, a fabricator, and a
Falsifier, equivocator, out of hand a
Trickster, dissimulator, as I planned a
Way that I can consummate her.
To wrong my friend this way, much shame will be mine.
But to satisfy Proteus, I have to cross Valentine.

Silvia, oh Silvia,
Oh, Silvia, my sweet Silvia,
You’re the one!

I got the girl, yeah, out in the wood,
To win her over, any way I could.
That’s when you came.
Two Gentlemen, we meet again.
I professed my love. It wasn’t enough.
And then I just lost control, got a little bit rough.
I’m glad you came and intervened.
I hope that I can still be redeemed.
You know I’m sorry, I couldn’t fool ya,
And Sebastian’s identity learned: it’s Julia.
To behave this way, much shame has been mine.
But to reconcile Proteus, I have to love Valentine.

Julia, oh Julia,
Oh, Julia, my sweet Julia,
You’re the one!

Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

For portraying Mike Brady, I’m fairly well-known;
But I’m also the actress who played Donna Stone;
I’m a straight stalk of grass in the fields where I’m grown;
And a thin strip of cane that gives woodwinds their tone.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Bronx Richie. See comments for answer.

How Real is Richard?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

It’s been exciting to see Shakespeare so much in the news lately. The confirmation of the discovery King Richard the Third’s skeleton last week has thrust our beloved Bard back into the international spotlight. But just how relevant is Shakespeare to this discovery? How closely related is Shakespeare’s classic villain to the original owner of the bones found under the Leicester parking lot?

Shakespeare wrote that which we call History plays, but these are plays and not histories. Shakespeare often wrote about “real” people and events, but he always put his unique take on it. He could change any details that he wanted. Did you know that the real Hotspur was 23 years older than Prince Hal, even though the two men were portrayed as contemporaries in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV? That Rutland, killed as a small child in Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI, was actually older than his brothers George and Richard? That there were two different men named Edmund Mortimer, conflated into a single character by Shakespeare? And obviously, no matter how historical his characters, we all understand that he certainly was willing to put words in their mouths.

None of this matters, of course. Saying that Shakespeare got it wrong misses the point entirely. Shakespeare’s intent was to create entertaining theatrical plays. And Richard III is one of the most enduring and popular works of art ever to spring from the human imagination. So, yeah, I’d say Shakespeare actually got it right, wouldn’t you? An archeological discovery can tell us about history, and this is a particularly exciting discovery at that, but it sheds no new light on Shakespeare’s work. We already knew that Shakespeare based his work on Tudor historians, and that he shared their bias towards the Tudor view of history.

So when we ask whether characters from Shakespeare are “real” or not, it may not be such a binary question. I would prefer instead to think of it as a spectrum. More specifically, I have created a seven-point scale to compare how real the characters from Shakespeare actually are.

Enjoy!

* * *

Level Seven
Historical Characters Doing Historical Things
Examples: Henry VIII, Henry V

Even at the highest level of Shakespeare’s reality-based characters, there is still a lot of spin-doctoring going on. Shakespeare doesn’t just write about his country’s greatest heroes without a little glorification. But the stories Shakespeare tells about characters at Level Seven are fairly consistent with their historical accounts. Shakespeare himself must have been at least somewhat impressed with his own account of the life of Henry VIII when he originally gave his play the title All is True.

* * *

Level Six
Historical Characters Doing Speculative Historical Things
Examples: Julius Caesar, Cleopatra

I wanted to make a distinction between historical figures that Shakespeare wrote about from relatively recent time periods, and those from antiquity. There are numerous historical accounts of the lives of the ancient Greek and Roman leaders, so Shakespeare was actually writing from sources, but there is only so much faith that we can put in them. The primary difference between Level Six and Level Seven is the amount of time that has passed since the historical figures lived.

* * *

Level Five
Historical Characters Doing Highly-Speculative Politically-Convenient Historical Things
Examples: Richard III, Joan La Pucelle

Here we can put the characters that Shakespeare had a political reason to vilify. We see a version of history, but it’s a version that’s unapologetically slanted in the direction that Shakespeare’s audiences or benefactors would have appreciated most. Shakespeare is still writing mostly from sources, but the sources may themselves be politically biased, or Shakespeare just felt free to add his own spin to events as he wanted to portray them. The character of Richard III can go here.

* * *

Level Four
Historical Characters Doing Non-Historical Things
Examples: John Gower, Macbeth

There really was a historical Macbeth, but it’s doubtful he did many of the things attributed to him by either Shakespeare or history. Sure, Shakespeare was writing from a historical source, and had political reasons to vilify Macbeth, but the story is so far divorced from reality that we really need a new category to describe it. Level Four is for a character who really lived, but isn’t necessarily portrayed doing the things the original historical figure would actually have done.

* * *

Level Three
Legendary Characters Doing Legendary Things
Examples: Agamemnon, King Lear

Did any of these people really exist? And if they did, are the stories about them true? Probably not. But the stories were passed down from generation to generation, either in oral traditions or written texts, as though they were true. We can’t prove that there wasn’t some actual human being in the dark backward and abysm of time that inspired the legend. Level Three quantifies the precise amount of benefit-of-the-doubt I’m willing to give to that possibility.

* * *

Level Two
Characters Doing Fictional Things Who Couldn’t Possibly be Based on Real People (*snicker*)
Examples: Falstaff, Polonius

These are fictional characters, but audiences at the time would have understood the public figures they were based on. Maybe. If Polonius was based on William Cecil, Lord Burghley, then he could be placed one step above a completely fictional character. This is Level Two. Shakespeare expressly denied that Falstaff was meant to be John Oldcastle to satisfy one of Oldcastle’s noble descendants. But what was Shakespeare’s original name for the character Falstaff? It was John Oldcastle.

* * *

Level One
Fictional Characters Doing Fictional Things
Examples: Puck, Shylock

These are purely fictional characters, invented by Shakespeare or his literary sources. They are not real people. They are not based on real people. We will not be finding their bones under any parking lots. We are not worried about pleasing their descendants. If Shakespeare had simply confined himself to his own considerable imagination, we would still have an impressive panoply of Shakespearean characters to entertain us. But the conversations and controversies surrounding his plays would not be nearly as interesting.

Shakespeare Anagram: Richard III

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

From Richard III:

O, that thou wouldst as well afford a grave
As thou canst yield a melancholy seat!
Then would I hide my bones, not rest them here.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

To unearth late Richard the Third’s gamy bones would teach us, seem to alienate the vastly-followed myth.

No halo was found.

Shakespeare Song Parody: Iachimo

Friday, February 8th, 2013

This is the 23rd in a series of pop-music parodies for Shakespeare fans.

Enjoy!

Iachimo
sung to the tune of “Domino”

(With apologies to Jessie J, and any readers who are getting tired of the song parodies…)

You’re bragging about your bride,
Across your empty glass of scotch.
Our nation also has pride;
I need to take you down a notch.

You’re insisting that your woman is both honest and fair,
But I’m betting that my charms will soon be taking her there.
Don’t you know? It’s out of your control.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…
I can describe her room,
And her body; don’t fume.
Buddy, I won!
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh,
One was silver and silk,
And the other smooth as milk.
Buddy, I won!
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…

Should have tried to win my bet outright,
And on losing should have left alone.
Yes, I should have been more forthright,
But I lied because I’m Iachimo.

Now all the facts have come to light,
And all my misdeeds have become too well known.
Yes, I should have been more forthright,
But I lied because I’m Iachimo.

Shakespeare Anagram: The Merry Wives of Windsor

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

From The Merry Wives of Windsor:

I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names–sure, more,–and these are of the second edition: he will print them, out of doubt.

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

A hundredth stab, I can’t think of a fresh topic to put in here.

Therefore, we will wait until there is a neat one to reshuffle these words to be.

Demand no more sham drafts.