Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wicked, the Musical

We saw Wicked, the musical, recently at the Orpheum Theatre. Wicked is quite a show. I had a switch flipped in my head that it was a comedy because it was a musical, but trust me, it isn't funny. It's a very good show, though - staging, dancing, singing, lighting, costumes, all excellent.

I started this post as a review of the show, but what I really want to do is talk about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch. I've now read the book and seen the musical, in that order (not always the best order!), and although the stories are quite different, the central character is very consistent in both forms. Elphaba is a misfit who was born with green skin. Everybody looks at her and shudders. She's also very bright, a rebel, and an underdog who passionately defends other underdogs.

There are sequences in both stories where Elphaba attends college away from home; this doesn't resemble my college years very much (I went to U.C. Berkeley, where nobody worried about "popularity" but the sorority girls), but it brought back vivid, painful memories of high school! It isn't fun to be unpopular in a school, any school. Some of the things Galinda (later Glinda, the "good witch") does to Elphaba just rang big, clanging bells for me. So by the middle of the first act I'm identifying solidly with the Wicked Witch (and resenting the way everybody treats her!).

In fact, Teal Wicks, who played Elphaba, was gorgeous, especially in the second act when she finally got some decent clothes! She had presence and style in the face of an appalling costume and everyone else's (acted) disdain. She has a fabulous low alto range, which I thought added substantially to the role. I love a good alto. And she visibly strengthened and matured her character through the show.

It's very clear in both the book and the musical that Elphaba's "wickedness" lies in her refusal to accept the wickedness of the people in power (speaking of people in power, you must see Patty Duke as Madame Morrible!); and that's as close as I'll get to a plot synopsis. Read the book yourself (or see the show!). We all know
how her story ends from the L. Frank Baum book (not to mention the movie!); but it's the story and not the ending that matters. And she maintains an integrity throughout her story that I wish I thought I had.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I often glance at the Google News "Top stories" to see if anything important has happened; since I have a pretty full iGoogle page, I see a lot of abbreviations (which of course you can expand by mousing over the link, you know this).

This morning I saw one that made me stop, from Bloomberg:

Existing Home Sales In U.S. Jump to Two...

Mousing over the story, I find that "Two..." translates to "Two-Year High," which is more reassuring; but for a minute there I wondered if Bloomberg was just being unusually honest.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sick Bird

Scrub jays nest in our neighborhood. In fact, I ate lunch in the back yard a few days ago to a continual "serenade" from one. But one of them - more than one? I can't tell them apart - doesn't seem to be well. My husband came home night before last and found him sitting on our front stoop. I'm not a bird vet, but he looked sick to me. I like taking photos of birds, though, and I had one posing for me, so I snapped a few shots.

He didn't seem very happy.

I got my long lens out and took a couple of closeups:

He looks ill, doesn't he?

The next day, we saw either the same bird, or a different bird with the same problem, sitting on the woodpile in the back yard. I didn't take any other pictures, but I walked out to look at him, and he didn't look any better than this. It's a very unusual scrub jay that will let a human being walk to within 3 feet of him. I saw a (healthy) scrub jay fly off the woodpile when a squirrel jumped off the fence onto the pile, and got within 3 feet of him. This guy just sat and stared at me, breathing very fast.

I wondered if I should report it, but to whom? Who cares about scrub jays?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Reform

I've been reading all the rants about this, and this isn't any attempt to analyze the issues and cite sources. This is just my personal opinion on the situation.

First, I agree with my blogger friend Linkmeister, who commented in a post today that the Republican party has now made its position clear. They aren't interested in health care reform. They are only interested in defeating whatever President Obama tries to do. This being the case, the hell with bi-partisanship.

Second, I've thought about this a lot, and I'm convinced that we will never get health care costs under control until we separate health care from capitalism. Health care isn't something you should plan to get rich at. It's a service that should be provided to everyone, like fire and police protection. (Okay, in Oakland, California, "police protection" as a service provided to everyone is kind of a touchy subject. But my point stands on the "should.") The profit motive in health care is what's driving costs inexorably upward, and we won't get costs under control until we come to a common agreement that for-profit health care is a Bad Thing. It's the defense of the Bottom Line that causes companies to cancel people's coverage the minute they come down with something that will be really expensive to treat, like cancer.

Yes, this means I want a "public option." Actually, I don't - I want single payer. So far, the Repubs have managed to shove that off the table. Maybe, now they've made their position clear, we can bring it back; since they aren't going to agree to anything anyway, we can ignore the fact that they don't like it.

But there's one more thing we have to do to make this work: we have to reform medical education. Becoming a doctor is fiendishly expensive; people come out of their training fully qualified and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. That training has to be subsidized, as part of the subsidy for medical care itself, or no one will go into medicine. This is just part of providing the service. Hopefully such reforms will attract people who want to provide health care, instead of people who want to become filthy rich doing specialties like cosmetic surgery and neurology. I have nothing against either cosmetic surgery or neurologists, I use the specialties as a general example; I am aware of a shortage of general practitioners, because it's so hard to pay off your medical school debts on a GP's income that everyone wants to get into the high-stakes specialties.

And this is personal. I'm in favor of single payer (or at least a "public option") because I expect to need it. Right now my access to health care depends on my husband's employer; I have a fall-back position at my own former employer. I have no faith that either of those companies will continue to support health care for retirees. I really think we need to separate health care from employment, and if that means taxing employer-provided health care, then let's tax it.

I'm hearing a general consensus on several critical points: everybody should be have health insurance; nobody should be refused coverage because of a pre-existing condition; nobody's coverage should be dropped just because they got sick. The only thing we're still arguing about is "socialized medicine," AKA "how do we pay for this?"

People have been bitching about this for fifty years, for Crissakes; I remember the screams of "socialized medicine" in the '60s when Medicare was passed. We're now in the 21st century, and most of the major industrialized countries have universal coverage, and none of them is Socialist. (You really think Canada or Great Britain are Socialist?? You don't know what "socialist" means.) And they all look at us and shake their heads and say, "Crazy Americans." Can we please get on the train that everyone else is on, and start figuring out how to control the costs??

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I feel a great sense of accomplishment - I've finished something! Specifically, I've finished weeding, tweaking, and posting the photos I took over the long weekend we spent in Fort Bragg last November, to celebrate my husband's birthday. They're all now available at my site on SmugMug, in 7 separate galleries.

It's amazing how many photos you can take in 3 days with a digital camera. I didn't post all of them, either, but I think I posted the best. I may post one or two more photos of the Point Cabrillo Fresnel lens, but the best of them are up.

I have to be honest - I decided to go with SmugMug, which is paid, when I could have put up free galleries at SmugMug lets me put a few photos up at a time; with the galleries, I pretty much have to do the whole thing at once. Doing photo galleries on the web site is just more work.

Enjoy the photos.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Computers Have No Memory

No, that's not what I mean.

Years ago, we kept our personal schedules, and our personal address lists, in paper books. If we were really organized, we kept them all in the same book, which may have been called a DayRunner or a Filofax. I used DayRunner, because it let me change out only the calendar pages, and keep my address pages from year to year. When an address or a phone number changed, you crossed it out (if you kept the list in ink) and wrote in the new one above it. I remember my mother's address book with sometimes 3 or 4 addresses scribbled in. (My sister moved a lot when she was in college.)

Now, we keep our addresses, and our schedule, and a whole lot of other things, in our electronic devices - computers. Cell phones. iPhones. Cell phones are a lot easier to carry around than DayRunners; I quit using a DayRunner because the weight of it in my purse was breaking my arm. But I've lost those crossed out addresses - I've lost the history. Electronic calendars have no memory of what the appointment was before you changed it. They don't remember what Aunt Betty's address was, before she moved to Cleveland. But my mother's
calendar did - and her address book did.

I thought of this because, the other day, I had to reschedule an appointment for a haircut. Like half the world, I use Microsoft Outlook, and I rescheduled a "recurring" appointment to happen one week later - and the entire history of my haircut appointments vanished. Now, I don't especially need to know when I got a haircut in March. But if the issue ever came up, it's gone.

Historians now can read the diaries, the desk calendars, the daily life records of people who kept their daily information in paper books. What will future historians know about us, 200 years from now? Will they be able to read what's in our cell phones? Mine has a password. Or will human history disappear, somewhere around 2003? Is a blog really the same as a diary? Will they even be able to read our blogs?