Quick review: “Friendly atheist”: I cannot imagine a better name than that for this man.


For each of the first few years that I lived in Bloomington, I told myself that I should go to neighboring Brown County for the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival and see Bill Monroe perform while he was still alive. But I didn’t.  I was there once, saw some great music, but as I recall, he was too ill to make it, and a few months later he died.

Well, when I read that Ralph Stanley was scheduled to play at downtown Bloomington’s Buskirk Chumley Theater, I felt pretty strongly that I should make sure I went.  Not that this would make up for it, but if it’s that easy to see a living legend of an art form you feel a connection to… come on.

I was a bit concerned that the show might really just be a ruse… get some random musicians to play and just set Ralph in front of them and watch the money pour in, just cashing in on a legendary name.  There may have even been a small number of people at the show who felt like that was what happened.  But, if so, I’d say to them that they’re missing the difference between a legendary name and an actual legend.


It’s not officially a State Of The Union™ address, but you can read the prepared remarks or watch a video of the delivery thereof all from  I don’t know if that’s an Obama administration original or not, but I LOVE that the Whitehouse is making information directly available to people like that.  Anyway, here are some reactions to the speech, in “bullet list” style to try to keep me from being too verbose:

  • Obama is smoothly referring to the deficit as something “we’ve inherited”.  I’ve long said that the Dems should take the GOP to task for spending so much for the 6 years they were in total power in Washington.  This isn’t exactly it.  And, since the Dems control congress, they can’t really blame it all on Bush. Indeed, I thought Bobby Jindal speech was actually more direct about calling the Republicans failures on fiscal discipline. (In general I found Jindal’s speech to be intelligent, but not very inspiring.)
  • When he says he wants to cut the deficit in half, is he talking about the ~$400 Billion deficit of the budget or the +$trillion deficit of reality?  If it’s the latter, he could cut it in half and still have the second largest deficit in history after the current year.  That is, prior to this year, we never had a trillion dollar deficit, I believe the record was in the $400 billions… so if he cuts it down to $500 billion….?  I may have my numbers wrong, but it seems like there may be a rather unimpressive way to technically meet that goal.
  • He sure is talking about a lot of spending, and even lowering a lot of people’s taxes.  But at the same time cutting the deficit.  How can it be?  Well, one thing is letting the “Bush tax cuts” expire, but that’s not going to make the difference.  What I’m hoping is that he really will go through the budget “line by line” and eliminate programs that aren’t working.  Take, for instance, the war on drugs.  Can anyone say that it’s working?  And it certainly costs a lot of money.
  • I really like his focus on responsibility and accountability in government.  I hope he can carry through on that.  A lot of politicians talk about that kind of thing, but I do feel like he is really more serious about it than most.  I hope I’m right.
  • I also like his focus on accountability and responsibility outside of government.  Republicans have got to love that too… except that they might think that he is stealing their lines… except that they might actually have some effect when he says them.
  • I really don’t think it’s fair to say that the United States is the nation that invented the automobile.  He could have said that we were the nation to turn it from a rich person’s hobby to a near necessity for everyone.
  • Energy, Health Care, and Education.  Democrats are definitely in charge.  I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to succeed at these goals.  But I hope they do.
  • “dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”  This is a great example of the kind of thing that I feel like Obama can say in a way that seems like it would actually resonate with an actual young person considering dropping out.  I hope I’m right.  If he could inspire our nation’s under-ambitious youth, he could transform our society in ways that no law ever could.
  • A really dense section of quite specific and often remarkable claims about his upcoming budget:
    • “end education programs that don’t work.”  That could be a lot of programs
    • “end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them”. I had to cheer at hearing this.  I sure hope he accomplishes that, although I don’t know how he can given that the Farm Bill just passed with huge Democratic support.
    • “eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq”, more cheers!
    • “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use”.  Talk about a place to save money!! Maybe he will be able to spend all that money and still cut the deficit in half.
    • “We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier.” I don’t know much about this, but I can definitely imagine that there could be a lot of fat to trim there.
    • “we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.”  The Dems must love this, although I have to wonder if it’s more symbolic than anything.  Companies aren’t exporting jobs for tax breaks, and I doubt that the tax breaks add up to much.  It’ll still be cheaper to hire people in China or India than in the US, companies will keep doing it.  Having said all that, I do agree with the spirit of the statement that the companies shouldn’t get a tax break for doing it.  But… what exactly is this tax break?  anyone know?

Finally, you’ve got to be impressed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg showing up for work yesterday and staying up to attend tonight’s speech.  She looked kind of dazed to me, though.  I hope she’s doing well.

Well, I had to follow up from my post back in May about the very uninteresting primary ballot. Well, today was the general election, and … well, like most sequels, it wasn’t as impressive as the original, but definitely a variation on the same theme.

In May there were literally no contested elections on my ballot. On today’s ballot, there were two decisions to make: A normal race for mayor, and a “pick three out of four” for the three At Large City Council seats. I was the only voter there the whole time I was there, which admittedly wasn’t very long. I remain disappointed by the non-printing electronic voting machine.

*yawn* At least the first time was fresh and new. Even if this vote wasn’t quite as boring, it was less impressively boring, so in some sense, even more boring.

Quick review: Good for a few laughs, but too unrealistic to make me think about real issues as it was intended to do.

I had a show on my college radio station where I played mostly modern
classical music. That’s when I first started thinking about
“prolific” artists. I noticed that I tended to dislike the music of
composers who were described this way in liner notes. Furthermore, I
wondered why, in an era of information overload, when thousands if not
millions of people are trying to get public attention for their work,
would anyone view being “prolific” as a positive thing. I’d much
prefer someone who produces a small number of great things to a great
number of small things.

So, when I read in the program to Reel that IU MFA playwrite Paul
Shoulberg was described by his advisor as “the most prolific
playwright I’ve had in the program in twenty years”, I got just a
little worried. In fact, although I’m sure the professor didn’t mean
it this way, it struck my mind as a backhanded compliment, a sort of
“well, this is the nicest thing I can think to say about him.” Again,
I’m sure that wasn’t intended. But I was worried.

Sadly, my concern was not in vain.


The 2004 movie [*Kinsey*]( brought an understandable renewed interest in
the work of Alfred Kinsey. But anyone who lives in Bloomington for a
while knows the basics about him: That he usually sported a bowtie; that
he became famous as a sex researcher (in many ways the first sex
researcher); that he did his work on the Bloomington campus of Indiana
University; and that the institute for for sex research that he
founded and which now bears his name lives on to this day — a tribute
to his determination and that of then IU President Herman Wells. Oh, and that the Institute houses one of the largest
collections of “pornography” in the world (more on that below).

I was vaguely aware of the IU/sex research relationship when I moved
to Bloomington in 1992, but by the following year I was very well
aware of the basic details described above. However, here in 2006 I
had never been to the Institute, nor did I even know where it was
located, even though I am amicably acquainted with its Director and
her husband (it’s certainly an exaggeration to say that everyone in
Bloomington knows everyone else… but it’s not a ridiculous

Well, leave it to the highly motivated and highly effective founder of
the new polyamory group in Bloomington to blaze me a path to the
Institute’s door after fourteen years. Much to the delight of me and
many of my fellow members, she just called them up and asked if we
could take a tour. Sure! And, so it was that some of the mystery of
The Kinsey Institute was unveiled.


Quick Review: This documentary, about (but *not* by) Michael Moore being scheduled to speak at an unusually conservative college campus in Utah, left me swimming in thoughts about the state of our nation.


Quick reviews:

Tuesday: If we just introduce and accept the concept of *evitability*,
then there’s no conflict between Determinism and Free Will.

Thursday: Religions are a lot like domesticated animals, except that
they propagate via memes instead of genes… and that purpose that
they serve is a lot less clear.


Theater Reviews:

Our Town Quick Review: This classic American play would work better as a *Twilight Zone* episode.

*Dinner with Friends* Quick Review: It’s rare that drama succeeds so well at creating deep and realistic characters who are neither heroic nor flawed, neither good nor evil, and neither right nor wrong.

It’s not every week one can see live productions of two Pulitzer Prize winning plays in Bloomington. On Friday the 13th, I saw Thorton Wilder’s 1938 classic *Our Town*, which was the debut production of the new Cardinal Theater Company. Then, on Thursday the 19th, Donald Margulies’s *Dinner with Friends* from around the year 2000, and was produced by some weird collaboration between the Bloomington Playrights Project (BPP), the Bloomington Area Arts Council (BAAC, a.k.a. “the Waldron”) and Miro Productions. The contrast between the shows was striking to me, in many ways:


Quick Review: Perhaps every sub-culture has its own expression of raunchy humor. This play does it well for the semi-highbrow world of modern drama.


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