Saturday, August 28, 2010

Should the Other Woman warn the Cuckolded Woman?


Kickin' it old-school in Ellora.

Just recently, someone I know discovered that her boyfriend of two years was engaged to someone else.

I know, right? WTF?

She found the guy's wedding website while things were fizzling out between them.

So what can she do now? She's in quite a position to screw over this guy's life. Should she alert the fiancée that this guy's an asshole, or just say good riddance and move on with her own life?

On the one hand, if I were in the fiancée's position, I would want to know. I would want someone to tell me that the dude is a deceptive jerk. And I'd certainly want to know before the wedding.

On the other hand, if I were in my friend's position, my wimpy non-confrontational side would want to walk away and avoid the drama altogether. I mean, given the guy's history, he'll probably screw it all up himself eventually, right? Does it matter whether it's sooner through one's own involvement or later of the guy's own incompetence? Well, yeah, it matters, because it would be a lot less complicated to break up pre-wedding instead of divorce post-wedding.

How much does the Other Woman have the moral imperative to alert the Cuckolded Woman?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Overpopulation, education, and responsibility



While people cite many reasons both for and against having children, when it comes down to it, it's unethical to have children if you can't muster up the resources and responsibility to care for them. Money cannot buy love, but money can buy comfort, especially in terms of the basics, like food, clothing, shelter, and especially education.

Overpopulation puts a huge strain on our planet's limited resources. Recently, Your Call on KALW had a show on the controversy of population control. Clearly, population control is controversial because people don't like their genital functions controlled by some third party. Population control also brings up the nasty idea of eugenics. Another interesting and obvious point, education plays a huge role in population control, for birthrates drop and family sizes shrink when women are educated.

Yup, birth control is fantastic. The Vatican is not a fan of birth control. Lack of birth control easily leads to unwanted pregnancies, perhaps abortion, perhaps child neglect, etc. It's easier to deal with the upstream causes than the downstream effects, isn't it?

I just generally feel that it is unethical to bring a child into an environment where he/she will not be cared for. That includes homeopaths and anti-vaccination freaks; those irrational behaviors endanger public health, and that's just downright unethical. Perpetuating bigotry (e.g., racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.) is also unethical.

Well, it looks like education fixes a lot of things here, and not necessarily advanced education, either. As I mentioned above, an educated society has a low birthrate. Come on; we all learned sex ed when puberty hit, right? I sure hope so, anyway. Theoretically, the homeopaths and anti-vax freaks could mend their ways with one high school science class. In an ideal world, a high school history class could fix the bigots, too.

I guess the resources and responsibility of caring for children should really go towards the classroom, just like UC Berkeley's Michael O'Hare wrote in a letter to his students, on fixing California's woefully broken system.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and why I care

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Looking towards Nørrebro, Copenhagen.

When I was in Denmark some years ago, I learned that there was a fair amount of xenophobia going on. People would explain to me that the neighborhood where I was living, Nørrebro, was inhabited by a lot of immigrants, where the word "immigrant" contained quite a negative connotation. One of my friends implied that it was a rough neighborhood, but that I would be fine because my hair is black. My co-workers had a low-level disdain for the stereotypical immigrant who takes advantage of the country's generous welfare services. Citing one example of immigrants' opposition to co-ed swimming pools, my co-workers even said that Danes are very tolerant people but will not tolerate intolerance.

This Danish xenophobia was about 30 years behind the xenophobia I've seen in France. The French xenophobia arises from post-colonial bitterness. Of course, the French xenophobia also incorporates the disdain for lazy immigrant welfare moochers. In both Denmark and France, these immigrants that stick out the most and are easy targets for the xenophobia come from chiefly Islamic traditions.

I thought that this Islamophobia was a distinctly European thing. After all, here in the States, we already have historical xenophobia (post-slavery issues with African-Americans) and various waves of fresh immigrant xenophobia (Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, you name it). However, this Park51/Cordoba House thing has really brought out the worst in my countrymen. It's ugly, and I really don't like it.

Reza Aslan writes that European Islamophobia Finds a Home in the U.S. [NPR]. Daisy Khan, one of the leading organizers behind Park51, likens American Islamophobia to "metastasized anti-Semitism" [Politico, via RNS].

It's remarkable how quickly people forget history and then doom themselves to repeat it. Ever since Europeans first graced these shores five centuries ago, they've marginalized those different from them, from indigenous Native Americans, to Blacks, to Jews, to Asians, to Hispanics, etc. As each group gets stirred into the melting pot stew, some new Other becomes a target for hate. This time, it's Muslims.

I care a lot about religious persecution because I've had a taste of it myself from people close to me. Here are a few examples:

1. One of my college friends, who was a non-denominational Christian (i.e., Baptist), asked me if it was a sin for her to date her Catholic boyfriend. Heh, as if my sinful Catholic answer would make a difference. (By the way, she married him, and they seem very happy.)

2. My ex gave off anti-Semitic vibes for what he thought was preferential hiring of Jews by his Jewish supervisor. I also think he was bitter that he wasn't a shoe-in for high-profile investment banker jobs because he didn't go to a grande école. (Aside: Jorge Cham of PhD Comics did a great summary of the rigidity of the French educational system: parts 1 and 2.)

3. My mom has once said something to the effect of, "Well, I'm glad the Spanish imposed Catholicism instead of Islam in the Philippines!"

4. My parents had a major shit-fit when I told them that various Vatican teachings bothered me and that I was attending an Anglo-Catholic church. They even said they'd come to mass some time to check it out. Lies.

Ignorance breeds contempt. I think that if people on both sides of the divide actually did their homework about people different from themselves and replaced their prejudices with knowledge, there would be fewer jerks and assholes in the world.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Birth of Impressionism and the death of the idealized female form


The Birth of Venus, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

This weekend I went to the de Young Museum for the Birth of Impressionism exhibit. With a couple wings of the Musée d'Orsay closed for renovations, a bunch of their Impressionism and Post-Impressionism collections are going on tour, baby!

I learned that Impressionism developed in opposition to the French state-run Salon d'Exposition and their stringent academic requirements of their featured artwork. Edouard Manet brought back a Spanish technique of short, distinct brushtrokes. This technique lent itself wonderfully for depicting light reflecting off the surface of water or the dappled light filtering through leafy trees. However, the unfocused look of it all scandalized the Salon juries, who preferred things like the above Birth of Venus, with its classical subject matter and clean execution of the idealized female form.

Wait a minute. Idealized female form? Yeah, she's lost at least fifty pounds in the last hundred years. See?


From Photoshop Disasters, via Boing Boing.

That just ain't right.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Cordoba House

DSC00803
Did you know that Islamic art reveals a complex understanding of math?

People really need to chill out about this Cordoba Initiative thing. It's that Islamic cultural center slated for building in Manhattan, the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." Those opposed to it think it's going to be some big gloating gesture two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center.

Seriously, you ignorant rednecks? Man, you guys suck.

Have we forgotten about that whole freedom of religion thing in the First Amendment of the Constitution?

President Obama said it best:



Excerpt:
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.

Amen to that. Take that, you ignorant rednecks.

Furthermore, Little Green Footballs notes that Most Manhattanites Support Cordoba House:

But there’s something the New York Post isn’t telling you. When you take a look at the actual poll’s cross-tabs, you discover something interesting: a clear majority of Manhattan residents — the people who live and work near Ground Zero, and who experienced the 9/11 attacks first hand — support the Cordoba House.



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Irrational rant about my afternoon adventure


A t-shirt from Threadless that I really don't need.

I had to run an errand yesterday, picking up some blood samples from an animal research facility. It's in a very sketchy corner of town. Like, I wouldn't want to walk around there during the daytime, even if accompanied by a rugby team. I got lost and got scared and came back to work and ranted because I needed to blame someone.

The first time I went there was a couple months ago. The directions I had were a little off. I had to circle around this rundown neighborhood in a shiny rental car to find my way. I was already pretty nervous, then I got downright scared when I saw two pitbulls sauntering across the street. Their heads were solid bone, and their bodies were solid muscle. Yeesh. I finally found where I needed to go, and it all worked out.

This second time, I went to the right gate, and it was closed with a huge sign that said to use some other entrance. So I drove around to this legendary other entrance, which was non-trivial because of the winding, hilly roads. The security lady had two different people try to guide me to the animal facility, over worn-down pavement punctuated with the occasional ill-labeled trailers and dilapidated buildings. I could tell we were heading towards the closed entrance that I had initially tried. Of course, it was a restricted construction site. Although I could see the animal facility, that fence gate was closed, and no one seemed to be able to give me a FREAKIN' STREET NAME to access the place!

I had to call my work because I left my contact person's phone number at my desk. Yeah, I'm smart. My side of the call went something like this:

"Hi, [co-worker]? It's [me]. I'm in [sketchy neighborhood], and I'm horribly lost, and I need [contact person]'s number. It's on a post-it on the left-hand side of my desk. Could you give it to me, please?"

A nice construction worker led me out of the derelict labyrinth and back to the closed entrance. Where I had started. Well, well, well, there was my contact person with the samples I needed. So the road beyond the "DEAD END" sign, with a fence labeled with some random contractor/construction company name, that was the access point.

GAAAAAHHHH!

So I got back to work to process my samples and said, "Ya know whom I blame for my [sketchy neighborhood] adventures? PETA! That's right! People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If it weren't for them, maybe we wouldn't need to hide our animal research facilities in super-sketchy parts of town with NO SIGNS!"

I probably swore a bit in there, too.

Don't get me wrong. I generally support animal rights. I don't wear fur. I've been eating mostly vegetarian food. If I do eat meat, I try to go for meat from happy animals. I steer my bike around critters that cross my path, like snails, slugs, and the occasional mouse.

But, come on, animal research is kind of essential. It sucks, but what else can you do? We're trying to cure diseases here. There's only so much that cells in a dish can tell you. Eventually, you gotta move into higher organisms until you can do clinical trials in humans.

The animals live in carefully controlled conditions: temperature, light-dark cycles, food and water, clean bedding, etc. Researchers themselves don't exactly get these ideal living conditions, in comparison.

What I don't like is that sometimes there are militant PETA jerks who break into animal research facilities and let the animals free, thereby screwing over scientific progress and putting the animals in danger. And every once in a while, you hear various news stories about militant PETA jerks who harass--and sometimes even kill--animal researchers. Oh, the irony.

Plus, any time these guys take any sort of medicine, they conveniently forget that those drugs probably went through lots of animals before getting to the drugstore.

So yeah, I irrationally blame militant PETA jerks for the necessity to hide the animal research facility in the sketchiest corner of town with no signage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Healing prayer service at Lakeside Presbyterian


Lakeside Presbyterian, San Francisco

At Lakeside Presbyterian on Friday evening I went to a healing, laying-on-of-hands prayer service for a parishioner whose breast cancer metastasized to her brain. It was a healing, restorative experience for me, too.

The Big Choir Meltdown of '09

A year ago, there was Major Drama in the chorus I was singing with. The outgoing Board of Directors made one unpopular decision that the Board elect (of which I was a part) supported and that the chorus at large did not support. A good ol'-fashioned flame war ensued over e-mail. There was much mudslinging and backstabbing. The chorus at large passed a vote of no-confidence to oust the Board elect. The chorus lost a large chunk of its membership. A lot of friendships ended over this, but the incident strengthened the friendships among the outgoing Board and the Board elect.

The Way Things Were

Before I got into the backstage, administrative dealings of the chorus, I was the soprano section leader. Yes, it is like herding cats. One of my sopranos had a lot of professional and semi-professional experience in the singing world. Every once in a while during rehearsal, she would blurt out a smart-ass one-liner about said singing world. It was a light way to break the tension of rehearsal with a funny insight into the industry. So over a year ago, during my last year with the chorus, she underwent treatment for breast cancer. Treatment was successful, and her hair grew back and everything. We thought she was in the clear.

Boobs For Brains

Then a couple weeks ago, we got word that the cancer was back, this time in her brain. After the service, it was apparent that she still had her sense of humor. She said that one of her old choral directors would joke that the airheaded sopranos had boobs for brains. Then she tossed around the idea of starting a blog entitled Boobs For Brains, about her fight against metastasized breast cancer. Yikes.

Arming Ourselves at Dinner

A few of us in the scorned ex-Board group got together for a classy dinner at the Olive Garden before the service. We were all still a little bitter and cautious about going back into the lions' den that was our old rehearsal space. But we agreed that we were going there to support our soprano friend and to support each other. Of course, it probably didn't hurt to have that round of cocktails at dinner, either.

The Service

We were handed programs at the door, and we walked into a candlelit sanctuary. The church was sparsely populated, maybe one-third full if everyone sat next to each other. We saw many, many familiar faces in the pews, people we haven't seen in over a year, for the most part. Pastor Kim Nelson led the service, assisted by Rev. J. D. Ward. Pastor Kim's wife Becky played the piano. There was also a cellist and a harpist.

Pastor Kim opened the service with the words, "Welcome, all." It quickly became clear to me that this healing could easily apply to the choral rift from last year. Immediately, Pastor Kim had us exchange the sign of peace. I think this is where a lot of the reconciliation happened with the old chorus members and me.

There were many readings and hymns centered around the theme of healing. You could tell that there were a lot of musicians in the congregation. Clean tone, good tuning, and impeccable final consonants graced every hymn.

Pastor Kim did something interesting with the Gospel, playing a DVD (!) for this particular reading from the Gospel of Matthew. It was a little hokey. And wouldn't Jesus have worn a yarmulke? I think so, but he didn't in this DVD.

At the laying-on-of-hands portion of the service, the family (our soprano, her husband, and their daughter) sat in front of the altar, and the rest of the congregation was invited up to form small group prayer circles around them. There was not a dry eye in the house.

We're Like a Family

At the reception, Pastor Kim presented the family with a very generous gift of almost $9,000, which is a huge help to them. Besides the medical bills, the husband had been laid off, and their house was just a few days away from foreclosure.

There were some really tasty flourless chocolate cookies and caramelly florentines, too.

Debriefing on the ride back home, one of us said that we're like a family. Something tears us apart and makes us hold huge grudges against each other. Then another tragedy brings us back together.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More on the ordination of women - Mary as the first priest

Natural light
Mary in St-Sulpice, Paris

Sunday at church (no, not in Paris), the music director managed to get me to sing the alto line of a soprano-alto duet, Ave Maria, by Josef Rheinberger. It's a really pretty piece, and I didn't screw up too badly. The music director also preached the homily on Sunday. I had never seen him preach, but I know he has an amazing brain full of church history, music history, and liturgical history. I really liked his homily about Mary as the first priest.

Here are a few key points that I remember:

1. Within Christianity, there's a range of how people deal with the end of Mary's time on Earth. Roman Catholics believe that Mary was assumed--body and soul--into heaven, and didn't necessarily die. Others believe that she did die, and was buried, and that a small chapel was built at her burial site.

2. "Ave" reverses "Eva." Remember when I wrote about Mary being the new Eve? Yeah, crazy, huh? Ave Maria, thank you for rescuing Eva's (Eve's) assist in the fall of Adam.

3. Mary was a smart cookie. When the angel Gabriel told her God would give her a baby, she had two responses. "Yes," and "Um, how?" She put her trust in God and also willed her intellect to understand God's plan, too. This is in line with the greatest commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

4. Mary was the first priest. Priests today take food and drink (i.e., bread and wine) and consecrate it into the body and blood of Christ. Mary herself took food and drink and nourished the baby in her womb, the body and blood of Christ.

5. Mary sets a great example for us. She put her trust and intellect in God. She also shows us how to process the Eucharist, as nourishment to pass on to future generations.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good man satire, scoundrel missing the point


Re-imagining the Gospels, this time with 100% more sibling rivalry! (image credit: Neal Fox)

In this novel, Pullman presents his very thinly-veiled disdain for organized religion with a creative retelling of the familiar Gospels. Pullman splits Jesus Christ into twins: the generally good-to-a-fault Jesus, and the more complex, morally ambiguous, and ambitious Christ. Pullman's sources are the Gospels and the Epistles. In fact, according to the review on NPR, "Pullman says he hopes his book will send readers back to one of the other versions of this story: the Bible. He believes they might be surprised by some of the inconsistencies they find there."

Read some excerpts here [Guardian] and here [NPR]. The above picture links to a short parody distillation of Philip Pullman's latest novel, Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reviews the book mostly positively, praising Pullman's clear storytelling and clever presentation of the centuries-long battle between truth and truthiness in doctrinal authority. "Mark's gospel, in particular, presents a Jesus who insistently refuses to use his own miracles to prove his status, and a company of disciples who are chronically incapable of understanding Jesus's challenges. [The New Testament] seems to recognise the irony that the more you say about Jesus the more you risk getting it wrong."

Fr. Gerald O'Collins misses the point of Pullman's novel, however. Jesuit priest accuses Philip Pullman of waging war against Christianity [Guardian]. I guess the words "THIS IS A STORY" on the book jacket didn't fool Fr. O'Collins, who docks Pullman for distorting the historical Jesus. Fr. O'Collins also sees right through Pullman's unsubtle satire against organized religion and accuses Pullman of misusing the Gospel story to undermine Christianity. Thank you, Fr. Obvious, S.J.!

Pullman's latest novel is definitely a thought-provoker. He gives us a very clever retelling of the Gospels in modern, accessible language. For those of us, like me, who grew up hearing the same stories at church, year in and year out, this novel offers a fresh look and challenging perspective on familiar stories. While I thought some moments of his satire were as subtle as a sledgehammer, my favorite moments are the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, I wouldn't suggest the book to, say, my parents, but anyone who enjoyed Christopher Moore's Lamb would find Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as its more dour, emo, little brother.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Ordination of Women - It's all about Mary

Virgin Mary Santiago
Mary shrugs as if to say, "Women priests? Why the heck not?" (image credit: Fairlytall on Flickr)

Tobias Stanislas Haller best expressed the argument in favor of women priests here:
If God had wanted women to be priests and bishops,
He would have made a woman
the means of His Incarnation,
the agent of the first manifestation
of His Real Presence
in Body and Blood.

Oh, wait...

Fr. Tobias goes on in today's post to say that because Christ redeemed all of humanity in his incarnation as a human, gender should not be a barrier to ordination. Bravo, Fr. Tobias.

It's a great read for the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. You know, the one where some pope from back in the day said that although there's nothing in the bible about Mary going to heaven, we can assume that she did. So there ya go.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Guest blogger - my husband, on why Jews aren't generally for Jesus

My husband very elegantly fielded a question from his former roommate's friend's son. The question and my husband's reply are lightly edited for punctuation, spelling, and anonymity.

Question:
I guess the biggest question I have right now is why Judaism (and other religions) doesn't believe Jesus was the son of God? As my Mom mentioned I have started learning about different religions and studying the Bible (finished Genesis and Exodus). And I believe this is one of the main differences between Judaism and Christianity. Feel free to correct me if my understanding of it is not accurate. Appreciate your willingness to help answer some of these questions.

Answer:
The term "Son of God" can mean several things, depending on the tradition you are coming from. If you believe the term to mean that we are creations of God and are all his children, then Jesus was a child of God the same as you or me. I don't think that there will be any Jews who disagree with that. In Christian tradition, the term "Son of God" is used along with other honorifics such as "Son of Man," "The Christ," or "The Messiah." It is this meaning of "Son of God" that I assume you are asking about. Why do Jews not believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

The Messiah is a very old concept that has strong roots in Judaism as well as other early religions. Though you don't hear much about it in mainstream (reform, conservative, modern orthodox) Judaism today, the concept of the Messiah was very alive in the religiosity of Jews at the time of Jesus. There were many people claiming to be the Messiah that just didn't get enough followers for their messages to survive. Today they are thought of as false messiahs. At the time, there was already a long developed tradition of scriptural interpretation that led Jews to believe certain things about who the Messiah was and the promises from scripture that he was going to fulfill. I think that, at the time of Jesus, many Jews rejected him for two big reasons. One was that he was attacking the religious organizations of the day. They thought that the Messiah should be one to save them from Roman occupation and persecution, not attack the religion from within. Though he attacked much of the negative aspects of the Judaism of his day, the people wanted their Messiah to focus on the external threat, not the internal threat. The second reason he was rejected was because he did not fulfill the believed promises of bringing about the messianic era. He didn't bring peace to the world, bring eternal life to the inhabitants, destroy evil in the world, and rule over the peaceful earth. Christianity has dealt with this problem by claiming he has done these things spiritually (washing away sins from believers, giving eternal life in heaven to those who believe, brings peace to the flock) and that he will fulfill these promises physically when he returns.

The "Son of God" title in Christianity also has some distinct trinitarian overtones in that Jesus is God the Son (Trinity being that all three--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--are fully separate and fully the indivisible God. I can't really explain that one. It's supposed to be a contradiction. The church teaches that it is a sacred mystery.) This belief came to full fruition after Jesus had died and early Christians worked to understand who he was. There were centuries of fighting between Christians over this concept, but it is now basic, fully accepted Christianity. Another important concept that divided early Christians but is basic, fully accepted Christianity now is the concept of the humanity vs. divinity of Jesus. (The answer to this one is that Jesus is one entity, fully man and fully God. It is also taught as a sacred mystery. I can't really explain this one either.) This idea that Jesus was God does not work with Jewish teachings. In Jewish interpretations of scripture, the Messiah will be a special man, but just a man. For Jews, the idea that God would be man is unthinkable. God is God and man is man. We have a special relationship, but God would not come down as a man.

The reasons above are theological reasons for Jews to not believe in Jesus as "Son of God." I personally believe, however, that there are also a lot of cultural reasons. During the lifetime of Jesus, his followers thought of themselves as Jewish and an important debate was whether to teach his message to Jews only or everyone. They decided to teach outside to both Jews and Gentiles, but this argument lasted decades after his death. Most Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah during his lifetime, and many who thought themselves followers of Jesus rejected him after his death. It wasn't long before the early Christian church had more Gentile converts than Jewish converts. Consequently, the early church began to pull its identity away from the Jewish identity. After the Roman emperor converted to Christianity in the early fourth century, Christianity began to grow in power and for centuries after persecuted Jews for their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Much of modern Jewish identity has been shaped by this persecution. Even though most modern Jews don't really believe in the concept of messiah from the scriptures and they don't care much about whether God would come down into a man, they do remember the centuries of persecution over this issue. Countless generations of our ancestors have been slaughtered because of their religious conviction and to convert to Christianity would feel like a rejection of their sacrifice. It is ingrained in Jews from a young age that, "You are Jewish; they are Christian. They believe in Jesus; you don't. They have killed us for a long time over this." Even when one doesn't care much about the theology, one doesn't easily forget this.

Anyway, I know this is long, but I hope it helps. Feel free to follow up with any questions you may have. I don't claim to have the authoritative answer to the question, but this is how I understand it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Prop 8, Shakespeare, and Culture Clash

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, you know that Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional [SFGate]. This brought me oodles of happiness and hope for the future! It's history in the making, folks!

This also got me thinking about a couple theatrical treatments of the concept of the other, namely Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice [OSF] and a new play by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash, American Night: The Ballad of Juan José [OSF].

Each of these plays deals with the struggle of minorities under the persecution of pre-conceived notions and negative stereotypes in the community at large. These plays bring up a lot of cultural guilt in the brusque dialogue. Finally, the endings are a little bittersweet.



American Night follows Juan José, a Mexican immigrant studying for his United States citizenship exam. He reviews his flashcards on the night before his exam and falls asleep. His fever dream descends into wackiness under the sketch comedy stylings of Culture Clash. The small cast depicts various historical figures, all spewing cliché racial slurs of their respective eras. Juan José realizes that there has been a lot of cross-cultural shadiness in this country's history, from the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, to Japanese internment camps, to today's Tea Baggers Party. The historical guilt almost sours him on the idea of becoming an American citizen. However, I think the Bob Dylan-esque character says it best with the line, "America sucks, man, but she swallows!"

If you make it up to Ashland, Oregon, I highly suggest the show because it made me laugh to the point of tears!

Although American Night's satirical use of racial slurs doesn't really challenge our own behavior (then again, I only speak for happy-clappy, multi-cultural liberals like myself), I definitely thought it the perfect play to watch before Merchant of Venice



Now, this production of Merchant of Venice, like most productions, is quite controversial. No lines were cut, not even the ugliest anti-Semitic insults. This particular comedy is dripping in irony. The Christian good guys are downright despicable, whereas Shylock is a sympathetic character. Interestingly, Anthony Heald is OSF's first Jewish actor to play Shylock.

I think Shakespeare equivocates through the whole play. After all, Shakespeare was born into a Catholic family in Protestant England, at a time when it was pretty much illegal to be Catholic. He knew what it was like to be the target of discrimination and alienation. Shakespeare presents his own thoughts against such discrimination in Shylock's famous monologue. You know the one: "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" etc. Shakespeare knows his audience, though, so he has to give the play a happy ending by bestowing on Shylock some good, old-fashioned, love-thy-neighbor, saving grace of Christ.

Heh.

Right, so Judge Vaughn Walker did a great job in calling out the irrational bigotry of the supporters of Prop 8. When it comes down to it, these jerks use religion, tradition, and ideals to justify their "I hate my [adjective] neighbor" mentality. In the case of Prop 8, the adjective is "gay." In American Night, it's some form of "brown." In Merchant of Venice, it's "Jewish" (or "Catholic," from Shakespeare's point of view). Just goes to show you how little things have changed over the centuries, huh?