“Howl, howl, howl, howl!”

10 December 2009: Just Me, Justice

President Obama, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech at Oslo, spoke at length about “a just peace” and, of course, “a just war.”  He uses the word “just” only as an adjective, meaning “honorable and fair in one’s dealings and actions…consistent with moral right; righteous…valid within the law; legitimate…based on fact or sound reason; well-founded.”  But, the word “just” is not just an adjective; it is also an adverb, meaning, among other things, “merely, only.” 

At the end of the day, how many among us think about the war in Afghanistan as “a just war,” or that it’s “just war,” no different than some of the video games that our children play?  As for peace itself, why must it ever be justified? Do we need to continue to sell the idea of “a just peace” to the families and relatives of all those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Is it possible that “a just war” would, in the end, bring “merely” and “only” peace?

30 November 2009: Tiger Gets a Woody!

Tiger Woods is finally living up to his name.  Okay, so the guy gets a woody with some other lady.  He and his wife alledgedly get into a spat.  He tries to leave in his car.  She chases after him with a golf club and starts swinging.  Did she bash him with an iron or, ironically, with a wood?  In any case, in Puritanical America, if Nike and his other corporate sponsors can’t deal with this “holes-in-one” scandal,  our man really has nothing to worry about.  When the moment is right, I’m sure he will be ready to sign with any of the Mad Men representing Cialis or Viagra.  Sample headline for a new ad campaign:  Tigerrr Plays Harrrd with Viagrrra!

27 November 2009: I’m Black, You’re Green

It’s Black Friday. Merchants are seeing Green as consumers continue to dream of a White Christmas in a Red economy. 

The English language is nothing if not colorful, and the word “black” is the one which evokes the greatest range of polarities and emotions. On the one hand, we blackball or blacklist people for being blackguards who practise black magic or sell stuff on the black market and give other folks black eyes.  Although juvenile delinquests are the black sheep in their families, even they dread the onslaught of blackheads.  In medieval times, people died of the Black Death and, in our own time, we disappear into Black Holes. But, on the other hand, we copy down useful information which our teachers write on blackboards.  We give out black belts to people who excel in judo or karate.  And Barack Obama cannot live without his Blackberry. 

Some years ago, the University of Kansas Theatre Department decided to cancel its production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by black playwright August Wilson because they couldn’t find enough black actors to play all the parts in the play.  In its place, the department substituted The House of Blue Leaves, a dark comedy by white playwright John Guare.  When the department sent out a press release announcing the change, it quite accurately described the play as “a black comedy.”  But, not surprisingly, the local paper in its confusion decided to label this whiter-than-white play about a dysfunctional white family in Queens, New York, as “an African-American comedy.”

All this leads me to wonder, when the season of Red and Green is over, how Barack Obama will deal with all the other hues in the spectrum of American society.  Will he hear the hue and cry of the LBGT coalition who contributed to his campaign and helped to elect him the President of these United States? Will 2010 finally see the White House flying the colors of The Rainbow?

26 November 2009: Head of Gobbler

Thanksgiving is not one of the holidays I grew up with in the Philippines—and so, although I have much to be thankful for, every year on this special day I find myself wishing that I had written a seasonal theatre piece to be performed entirely by actors dressed as turkeys, a spoof of Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER, except that mine would be called HEAD OF GOBBLER. 

Since I have yet to write this play, this year I’m just going to amuse myself by searching YouTube for the video clip of Sarah Palin yakking away in that turkey farm in Alaska, totally unaware of that man in the background who’s nonchalantly stuffing one live turkey after another into those deadly decapitating machines.  We’ll need that man again, to do unto us what he did unto those turkeys, if and when Sarah Palin decides to run for anything except dog-catcher or moose-hunter or fish-monger in 2012. 

“Bless us, O Lord, for these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen.”  And now, while you’re carving the carcass, can I have The Pope’s Nose?  And a bit of everything else, please.  And for dessert….What?  No pumpkin or mincemeat pie? Only Baked Alaska?….Well, then, I’ll just go rogue and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

25 November 2009: Hell Happens, But Heaven Prevails

This past weekend, after 21 years of mostly good and wonderful memories, English Alternative Theatre presented its final production of an original script by one of my playwriting students at the University of Kansas.  But, thanks to the awful temper tantrums of one of the actors, who had earlier asked me if he could also design the set and the lights for the show, and which I was foolish enough to agree to, I am now going to remember this final show as THE PRODUCTION FROM HELL.

Just as I was thinking this, I picked up the latest issue of Newsweek, and saw that its cover story on a journalist’s captivity in Iran is titled 118 DAYS IN HELL.  And then I saw that, not to be outdone, the latest issue of Time shows on its cover a bawling baby bidding bye-bye to THE DECADE FROM HELL So what’s going on?  Is this Armageddon?

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick check on Amazon.com, and discovered that the word HELL appears in the titles of 968 movies you can watch…3,452 songs you can listen to…and 474,641 books you can read.  Thankfully, Amazon.com also shows that the word HEAVEN appears in the titles of 1,016 movies…5,911 songs…and 523,445 books.  Thus, it would appear that God is winning over Satan in the world of popular culture, but not by much.  Going Rogue or Going Rouge, take your pick.

In the playwriting classes that I teach, in order to encourage the students to focus on each and every word they’re using, one of the early classroom exercises they have to write is a short monologue which would incorporate two very special words—the first, their favorite word in the English language; and the second, the one word in the lexicon which, if they could, they would banish forever from everyone’s vocabulary.  You’d be surprised what words show up on either side of the fence.  But, as far as I can remember, in the 21 years I’ve been assigning this exercise, I don’t think HEAVEN or HELL has ever popped up on anyone’s list.  And, just as I’m writing this, I remember hearing on MSNBC recently that PRE-DETERMINED seems to be one of Barack Obama’s favorite words.  To date, he has used it over 900 times in various speeches and public forums.  I wonder now if it’s all pre-determined, whether he knows where we’re going to end up when it’s all over.

Meanwhile, back to THE PRODUCTION FROM HELL.  Drop in on me sometime and, if you’ll bring a case of Pete’s Wicked Ale with you, and you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, I’ll tell you all about it.

18 November 2009: The King Must Die

One of my favorite novels is Mary Renault’s The King Must Die (1958), a compelling portrait of Theseus, the mythical Greek hero and King of Athens who danced with bulls and slew the dreaded Minotaur.  For me, the title says it all.  Don’t ask me why, but people in America all seem to have a need to create heroes from among our politicians, movie stars, athletes, rock musicians, etc.  We build up “the chosen ones,” I think, just so we can knock them down, to prove to ourselves that they are, after all, no better than we are.  At one end of this horrific spectrum we have Abraham, John, Martin and Bobby.  I live in fear, daily, about the safety of Barack Obama, what with all the crackpots running around the fringes of our society. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have the media circus surrounding the likes of O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and all our other erstwhile gods as they topple down the lofty firmament that we built for their temporary residence.

Here, at the University of Kansas, I am amused by what’s happening to football coach Mark Mangino.  When he coached his team to an Orange Bowl victory two years ago, the man could do no wrong.  The school rewarded him with a $1.5 million guaranteed yearly salary through 2010; built him a new football stadium for his team to practice in, then planted trees around the new stadium so no one can spy on his team practicing; and, according to one news report, he was absolved of all his parking tickets, even after he had tracked down a student employee from KU Parking and Transit who had written one of the tickets, and launched a 10-minute expletive-filled tirade against the terrified student.

But that was then, and this is now. After losing five football games in a row this season, Mangino is suddenly undergoing “an internal investigation”  because he allegedly poked one of his football players in the chest several weeks ago.  This particular football player is willing to suffer all sorts of physical punishment and abuse on the playing field, but being poked in the chest by the coach simply isn’t acceptable or tolerable—especially with 2010 around the corner, with no more guarantees of any sort for the coach.

Well, this is just the beginning of the end.  Sit back and watch KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins whittle the Mighty Mangino down to normal size.  It’ll happen.  Mark my words.  The King Must Die.

11 November 2009: How Deep Within Is The Enemy?

When 9/11 struck, a collective sigh of relief was heard from among the Filipinos I knew in the United States.  “Thank God the perpetrators were not brown,” they cried, although I’m not sure what skin pigmentation they would assign to Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists in the Middle East.  If not also brown, then what?  Tan? Olive? Bronze?

I’m sure the Chinese in the United States felt the same way when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II. Except, in their case, they could not say, “Thank God the perpetrators were not yellow.”  But, how do you go about explaining to anyone willing to listen, that not all Asians are Japanese and, more importantly, that not all Japanese are kamikaze pilots?  Or, conversely, how would you feel if you were Japanese-American, and your remaining relatives in Japan blame  you for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Prof. Grant Goodman, who served in Japan with Gen. MacArthur immediately after the war, writes in his memoir that he personally knew some Japanese-American soldiers who committed suicide while they were on active duty in Japan, because they were so unhappy about who they really were, and how they were perceived by the rest of the world.

The story about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and what drove him to do what he did in Fort Hood, TX is hard for us to comprehend.  That he was a conflicted Muslim living in the shadow of 9/11,  that he was an Army psychiatrist who had to deal with the gruesome stories being told by the walking wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that he was a physician who could not heal himself, turning himself into the very enemy he had been taught to fear and hate, is something no one will ever understand, not unless you’ve ever been ashamed of, or felt guilty about, the religion and/or the skin pigmentation which you just happen to share with “the bad guys.”   This time, the enemy within is really within—deep, deep within oneself.  I hope none of us ever have to go there.

10 November 2009: Carrie Prejean Sans Jeans?

Ex-Miss California Carrie Prejean was hawking her autobiography on Fox News last night.  During the cheery interview with Hannity, she coyly revealed that there is a solo sex video of her floating around, the result of a youthful indiscretion, something she made for her boyfriend at the time.  It isn’t clear whether this was before or after her famous breast implants.

Her autobiography is called STILL STANDING, which makes me wonder what position she’s in, upright or supine, in that video.  In any case, now that she has told the whole world about it, why doesn’t she just throw in a DVD of the video with the book?  It will allow her to compete better in the marketplace with Sarah Palin’s upcoming autobiography, and also with Levi Johnston’s forthcoming Playgirl centerfold.

Think about it. Carrie Prejean Sans Jeans! The Religious Right which she champions should be thrilled that she’s keeping righteous folks busy, turning the pages of her book and, if they’ve got the video, simultaneously reaching for the remote and pressing all the right buttons.  Rest assured, there will be no idle hands in the devil’s workshop, not anymore, not with Carrie leading us all through the Pearly Gates!

7 November 2009: Play It Again, Uncle Sam

In Billy Wilder’s wonderfully wacky 1961 political satire One, Two, Three, there is a hilarious scene which shows the young East Berlin communist spy (Horst Buchholz) being “tortured” by American CIA interrogators. Their secret method is to play a hit song from the period, “Itsy, Bitsy, Teenie, Weenie, Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini,” over and over, until the poor guy is reduced to blithering idiocy.

And now, the latest issue of Newsweek gives us a list of pop songs which have actually been used during military operations conducted by both the FBI and the CIA, and also during the interrogation of detainees in various American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan and, of course, at Guantanamo. Among the torturous songs are “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns N’ Roses), “I Love You” (Barney), “Hells Bells” (AC/DC), “The Real Slim Shady” (Eminem), “F–k Your God” (Deicide), “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (Nancy Sinatra), and the Sesame Street Theme.

So here’s my suggestion for how America can end all the wars that we are involved in, right now, in the Muslim world. Let’s fly our helicopters 24/7 over all these non-Christian countries, with speakers loudly blaring all our most beloved Christmas carols, the same ones we are already being subjected to in our grocery stores and department stores, even though it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Maybe that’s why people aren’t buying, and why the economy is down.

Perhaps with Dick Cheney’s help, the CIA can put together a good loop of yuletide ditties that’ll drive them loopy, something that’ll Git ’em at Gitmo.  Maybe we can alternate the songs, in order to play Good Cop/Bad Cop with them. If telling them that “they better watch out, they better not cry” doesn’t work, then maybe those lyrics about “sleeping in heavenly peace” with “round young virgins” might do the trick. Who needs waterboarding?  Play it again, Uncle Sam.