Thursday, July 20, 2017

A get-well card for Arizona Senator John McCain

I’ve never been friends with Sen. John McCain. Never liked him, never voted for him — not in any of his two congressional races or five U.S. Senate races, which apparently made little difference, since he won all of them handily.
I didn’t vote for him in his 2008 Republican presidential run against Barack Obama. Never even considered voting for him, really — especially after his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which unleashed her shrill voice and the even more shrill outburst of the tea party that followed. And I pretty thoroughly hated him for his TV ads that always addressed me as “my friend.”
That’s when I joined the army of non-supporters who chanted at their TV sets, “I’m not your friend, you old bastard.”
But today, I’ve joined another army: wishing John McCain well in his battle against brain cancer.
Sen. John McCain
McCain, 80, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor after surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye last week. Treatment options include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
“Glioblastoma” is an ugly word that describes an ugly kind of cancer. It’s an aggressive kind of brain cancer that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy less than 15 months after it was discovered.
For a state best known for saguaros and sunsets, Arizona has produced a surprising lineup of congressional giants. (Sorry, Al Franken, you had the misfortune of living in Minnesota; but I am enjoying your book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.) But, of course, there was Ernest McFarland, the Senate Majority Leader from 1951 to 1953, and one of the “Fathers of the GI Bill.” And Barry Goldwater, who was the first Arizonan to grab the Republican reins and run for president in 1964. He lost by a landslide, but he was a key figure in the resurgence of the American conservative movement that later swept Ronald Reagan and the others — including, I guess, Donald Trump (gack) into the presidency.
Rep. Morris K. Udall chased after the Democratic nomination in1976 against Jimmy Carter. His self-deprecating wit and humor would be so refreshing in today’s political climate. Of course, in Trump’s case all the humor and wit would be used to throw aides under the bus.
Udall liked to tell a story about a café he visited in Iowa one day. “Hello,” he said, “I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for President.” And one of the café regulars said, “Yeah, we were just joking about that.”
Can you imagine Trump trying to tell that joke about himself? His head would explode first.
But getting back to John McCain.
“McCain’s significance inside Congress is hard to overstate,” the Washington Post reported, “and his absence, however long, will reverberate across the Capitol.”
Without McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to lose only two more votes to salvage such beloved Republican issues as health care, taxes and defense spending. The Post also notes that McCain’s absence would deprive the Senate of its “moral conscience” on issues such as the investigation of the Trump campaign’s role, if any, in Russian 2016 election shenanigans.
Wait a minute. What moral conscience?
Anyway, McConnell said, “I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life. The entire Senate family’s prayers are with John, Cindy and his family, his staff, and the people of Arizona he represents so well.
“We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon.”
That goes for me, too, Sen. McCain. Although I only spoke to you once, in an unmemorable interview when I was the political reporter for the Tucson Citizen and you were running for the District 1 seat in Congress back in 1982. You told me about your prisoner of war ordeal and I wrote it all down. Still, I didn’t vote for you then and have never voted for you. But you have my vote now, and my prayers.
Godspeed, John McCain.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Indecent Corrections

 Let's face it.  I'm not a famous writer.  Yeah, I have some loyal followers for which I am immensely grateful but I'm not exactly a household name except in my own house.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened an email from Jim Byk representing the press office of the Broadway play Indecent.  He thanked me for my review of the play and provided a link to production photos for my future use.  I've included two of those photos in this article with thanks to the play's press office.  Mr. Byk also asked me to make a couple of corrections to my original article which I am happy to do.  Accuracy is essential especially in this time of such profound and glaring journalistic inaccuracy.  In my article I stated that Indecent was originally scheduled to close on June 23, 2017.  Mr Byk points out that the actual date of the original closing was to have been June 25, 2017.  I stand corrected.  In my article I also stated that, "Its author, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, co directs with Rebecca Taichman."  Mr. Byk asks me to make this correction:  Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman receive credits an co-creators.  However the play was written by Paula and directed by Rebecca.
You might right now be reasonably asking yourself, "So what?  What difference does any of this make?  And why would a guy with a big job such as Byk's even bother contacting an unknown writer read by not many people at all?"  In my response to Mr. Byk's email I thanked him for reaching out to me and assured him that I would make the above corrections.  The play Indecent is in large part the story of words and their power to transform.  Realizing that power, we have a responsibility to accuracy.  That responsibility belongs not only to those of us who write.  It belongs to everyone.  Words have the power to inspire or to condemn, to heal or to wound.  May we always use our words for the greater good.  To me, that is one of the many urgent messages of the play Indecent.  I thank Jim Byk for reminding me and for holding me to my responsibility.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The dragons are coming! The dragons are coming!

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons

Oh. My. God. The dragons are coming. So are the direwoves and the White Walkers. Oh yes, and the three-eyed ravens that can see the future. And the future they see is the end of the world as we know it.
I can hardly wait.
All this can mean only one thing: a new season of Game of Thrones is upon us.
Game of Thrones, if you’re one of three people in the world who don’t know this, is a TV series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It’s an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The first of the series of novels is A Game of Thrones.
This seventh season of the world’s most popular TV show begins Sunday, July 16, on HBO. And this season, the next to last, promises to be even bloodier than the sixth, which was plenty bloody itself. Remember the Battle of the Bastards?
Well, the advances I’ve read warn that we haven’t seen anything yet.
It is, after all, end-game time in the seven-season battle to see who will finally get to sit on the Iron Throne of Westeros — and stay there.
(Spoiler alert: it won’t be Donald Trump.)
Everybody has their Game of Thrones favorite. Mine is Daenerys Targaryen, who went through a real trial of fire to become the Mother of Dragons.
She’ll be in the fight with her three fire-breathing dragons, now grown to the size of 747s. With her will be the “imp” Tyrion Lannister, a character who makes up for his lack of size with a gigantic, sharp wit.
Cersei Lannister now rules on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. She has earned her place the hard way, having been forced by religious leaders to parade naked through the city while people pelted her with excrement and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” She got back at them by blowing up their wing of the palace. So then Cersei went back to her incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime.
Don’t you love a nice family story?
And then there’s Jon Snow and Sansa Stark in Winterfell, after Jon defeated Ramsey Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards. They’re accompanied by the ever-plotting, ever-whispering Littlefinger and the wonderful warrior Brienne of Tarth, who has vowed to protect Sansa to the death.
Watch out, Littlefinger.
In fact, watch out everybody. Watch out, Bran Stark, not that he hasn’t had a hard enough life as it is, what with being left a paraplegic after being thrown from a tower. Hey, all he was doing was spying on Jaime and Cersei Lannister having sex. Jeez.
Anyway, Bran, accompanied by his ravens and his stone-cold killer sister, Arya, and a direwolf or two, are making their way back home.
And then there’s Euron Greyjoy, the expected super villain of Season 7. And then, of course, winter is coming. The zombie-like White Walkers are heading for Westeros.
Donald Trump famously promised that the “American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” But he didn’t know Westeros. In that fictitious continent, the opposite is true.
The carnage begins now. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Traffic Light at Perrineville Road

In 1984, my parents moved to a retirement community in what was then the wilds of New Jersey.  Cornfields and wandering deer surrounded the senior living homes of those who wanted to avoid spending their golden years in New York City.  If you had the temerity to set out anywhere after dark, you needed the eyes of an eagle, because there was not a streetlight to be found, and the traffic lights were few and far between.  As the area became more and more populous, this began to be a problem.  My father had a particular animus for the corner of Union Valley Road and Perrineville Road, which also happens to be the intersection closest to his home.  Every time we passed it, he had the same thing to say, “You see this intersection?  This is a really dangerous intersection.  Four people were killed at this corner.  It’s because (he gestures to his left) you can’t see the traffic coming from that side because of the turn in the road.  They really should put up a traffic light here.  Don’t ever make a left turn at this corner. Promise me you won’t turn left here.”  He said these words quite a lot, because in the twenty seven years he and my mother lived there, we passed that corner a lot of times. 
My father died in 2013, in California, where he came to live near us after my mother’s death in 2011.  Now, we live in New Jersey, part-time in the same apartment in that same retirement community.  A few weeks ago, a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment and traffic barriers appeared at the corner of Union Valley Road and Perrineville Road.  They are finally putting up a traffic light, some thirty three years after my father declared a need for one.  It should be working pretty soon.  I can’t wait to make my first left turn onto Perrineville Road.

An Indecent Play

In 1907 Sholem Asch wrote a play entitled God of Vengeance about about a Jewish brothel owner who attempts to become respectable by commissioning a Torah scroll and marrying off his daughter to a yeshiva student. Set in a brothel, the play includes Jewish prostitutes, a lesbian scene, and the hurling of a Torah across the stage. The play, written and performed in Yiddish, enjoyed success and acclaim throughout Europe. In 1923, it was translated into English, and staged on Broadway at the Apollo Theatre on West 42nd Street. Its run was cut short when the entire cast was arrested, indicted – and eventually convicted – on charges of obscenity.  After a long and costly legal battle the conviction was successfully appealed. Members of the cast returned to Europe where the final performances of the play were in an attic in the Lodz Ghetto before the cast was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Indecent is a play about that play.  Scheduled to close on June 23, 2017, the play's run has been, by public outcry, extended until August 6, 2017.  Such run extensions don't happen all that often.  Generally, they are cut short by public disinterest.  Not so for Indecent which won 2 Tony awards.  Its author, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, co directs with Rebecca Taichman.  The Los Angeles Times ended its review with these words:  "Indecent reminds us of the power of art to tell us truths long before we are able to recognize them as such."
Yesterday I saw this play performed at the historic Cort Theatre in New York City not too far from the Apollo Theatre..  I took this photograph before the play began.  And, yes, it does begin with all actors and musicians seated on the stage as the audience takes its seats.  The play ends in a rainstorm which drenches two of its central female characters who took their curtain calls dripping wet wrapped in towels.
Playwright Paula Vogel reminds us that "...the purpose of theatre is to wound our memory so we can remember."  She adds that she didn't think her play would be as relevant today as it is.  That again we are witnessing an upheaval of fear, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism."
The Bulgarian artist Christo reminds us that, "A work of art is a scream of freedom."
May our screams for both art and freedom be heard throughout the land.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The attack of the killer monsoon

It sounds like a 1950s “creature feature” horror movie. Giant bugs crawling down from the treetops. Even bigger bugs crawling out of the ground to go for a drink in swimming pools. And big wasps with paralyzing stings searching for a place to lay  their eggs.
Welcome to Tucson in the summer.
It’s the time of year when the desert springs all kinds of surprises on you. Even though I’m a native Arizonan, I was completely unaware of the existence of mesquite bugs until my friend Doug Kreutz wrote about them in an Arizona Daily Star article.
Mesquite bug
The imposing insects — up to 2 inches in length — are harmless to humans,” Kreutz writes, “but they’re nevertheless startling to some people because of their size.”
The “beautiful gentle giants,” as a University of Arizona entomologist described them, live in the canopies of mesquite trees. There, they feed off the trees, mate and lay eggs in late summer that will hatch in the spring. They are completely harmless, to mesquite trees or to people.
But when the heat gets really brutal like it has been in Tucson — the high yesterday was 111, the latest in a long string of 100-plus days — the mesquite bugs move down to the base of the tree where it’s maybe a few degrees cooler. It’s the same way Tucsonans head north to the higher elevations of Flagstaff or Pinetop.
Man, I wish I were there now.
But like many others in this desert city, I must  content myself with the knowledge that restaurants are less crowded since everyone flew off; or that my house and cars are air conditioned; and that the monsoon must surely come.
That North American Monsoon is always a welcome break from the oppressive summer heat. Moisture flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico brings wonderful afternoon and evening thunderstorms. There are damaging winds sometimes, lightning-set fires, and flooding in which stranded motorists have to be rescued from the roofs of their cars.
Palo verde beetle
But there is blessed rain and nature’s own air conditioning system that can drop the temperature 30 degrees in a matter of minutes. Fully half of Tucson’s annual rainfall comes during this period.
Yes, monsoon, please come soon.
The music of hot weather before the monsoons, of course, is the screeching of cicadas. Then, once the rains begin, we will have the annual migration of the palo verde beetle.
This lovely insect lives most of its life underground, as a grub that feeds on the roots of trees — preferably, the palo verde. It can do a lot of damage down there, but then, in the summer it finds its life purpose: to mate, lay eggs and die.
To do that, the adult beetles come out of the ground looking like some kind of armored fighting machine — nearly 4 inches long, with waving antennae, wings, and a pair of impressive pincers. Despite all that formidable equipment, these bugs seem to mostly end up drowned in swimming pools.
Guess big pincers don’t necessarily mean big brains. (Fill in joke about our president here.)
One bug you don’t want to tangle with, though, is the tarantula hawk. This guy is scary looking, about 2 inches long with blue-black bodies and rust-colored wings. In flight, they make a loud fluttery kind of sound like an old prop plane that’s missing  on a couple of cylinders.
Tarantula hawk
If you hear that sound coming toward you, look out. Its sting is rated as one of the most painful, second only to the bullet ant. If you do get stung by one, the recommendation is to “just lie down and scream.” Then, after about five minutes the pain will subside. Maybe.
Mostly though, the tarantula hawk isn’t looking for trouble. It’s just looking for a tarantula that it can hire as a baby sitter.
The female tarantula hawk stings a tarantula with a paralyzing venom. She then drags her prey to a brooding nest — often times, the tarantula’s own burrow. Then the hawk lays a single egg on the spider’s abdomen and covers up the burrow’s entrance.
When the wasp larva hatches, it digs a small hole in the belly of the paralyzed tarantula, which is still alive. Then the larva feeds on the spider, avoiding vital organs to keep the spider alive as long as possible. Finally, the wasp emerges from the spider’s belly as an adult, ready to hunt for another tarantula.
Ain’t nature wonderful?