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The Evolutionary Perspective
Daily Archives: January 19, 2020
Posted: January 19, 2020 at 6:51 am
Three out of every four voters in Taiwan went to the polls on Saturday. On January 15 at 5pm PST, (January 16 at 9am in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China), the USC U.S.-China Institute will host a video conference looking at what the key issues were in the election and what the election means for Taiwan domestic policies, for cross-strait relations, and for U.S.-Taiwan relations. Please registerto join this online conference.
Taiwans President Tsai Ing-wen received a record 8.2 million votes, winning reelection with 57% of the ballots. Her Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) rival, Han Kuo-yu, received 39% of the vote. Tsais Democratic Progressive Party won 61 of the 113 seats in the legislature. The Kuomintang won 38 seats. Several small parties and independent also won seats. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Tsai on her victory and Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of its robust democratic system. Xinhua, Chinas state news agency described Tsais election as a temporary counter-current. Xinhua blamed DPP cheating and said anti-China political forces in the West openly intervened and supported Tsai to contain China.
The discussion will be moderated by Clayton Dube, the director of theUSC U.S.-China Institute.Panelists will include:
Tom Hollihan, USCHollihan heads the USC Annenberg School doctoral program and observed the Taiwan election as a member of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation. He is a specialist on political communication and is the author of several books including The Dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: How Media Narratives Shape Public Opinions and Challenge the Global Order and Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age.
Daniel Lynch, City University of Hong KongLynch taught international relations at USC for two decades before moving to Hong Kong where he teaches international relations and Chinese politics. His books include Chinas Futures: PRC Elites Debate Economics, Politics, and Foreign Policy, Rising China and Asian Democratization: Socialization to Global Culture in the Political Transformations of Thailand, China, and Taiwan. In addition to observing this election, Lynch spent two months in Taiwan in summer 2019 for his current research.
Shelley Rigger, Davidson CollegeCurrently a Fulbright Scholar based in Taipei and Shanghai, Rigger is especially well-known for her book,Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse,but shes also the author ofPolitics in Taiwan: Voting for Democracy, From Opposition to Power: Taiwans Democratic Progressive Party,andTaiwans Rising Rationalism: Generations, Politics and Taiwan Nationalism.
Ray Wang, National Chengchi UniversityWangworks as an Associate Professor at National Chengchi University, Taiwan. Rays major research interests focus on human rights, religious freedom, and transnational advocacy networks. Currently he serves as the executive editor of Mainland China Studies (TSSCI). He is the recipient of an Excellent Young Scholar Research Fund from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (2018-2021) and a part of the research is published in the new book, Resistance under Communist China Religious Protesters, Advocates and Opportunists (Palgrave) in 2019.
Please register now to join the roundtable.
Posted: at 6:51 am
In this series, The Week looks at the ideas and innovations that permanently changed the way we see the world. This week, the spotlight is on prison:
Oscar Wilde first saw the inside of a prison 13 years before he wroteDe Profundis, his famous 55,000-word letter to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, from his cell at Reading Gaol.
On seeing the state of the inmates at a jail in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1882, Wilde wrote of being confronted with poor odd types of humanity in striped dresses making bricks in the sun. All of the faces were mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face.
By the time of his own incarceration for indecency, Wildes views had softened on those residing in prison. Reviewing a book of poetry composed behind bars by the anti-imperialist Wilfred Blunt, Wilde wrote that an unjust imprisonment for a noble cause strengthens as well as deepens the nature.
Wildes changing attitude to the jail population reflected a shift in the general perception of criminality. The prisons of Wildes Britain were a far cry from the rehabilitation-focused penal systems of the 21st century.
Prisons, which are often run by governments, are usually secure facilities (though not always) that constrain the movements and social interactions of prisoners. The notion was born out of the barbaric origins of the medieval torture chamber, but by the eighteenth centry it had shifted towards imprisonment with labour, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform.
This then changed again as prisons became more concerned with the concept of rehabilitation. This time prisons moved towards the modern mechanisms of criminal justice, what French philosopher Michael Foucault described as not a physical imprisonment, but an economy of suspended rights aimed at reshaping individual behaviour.
The earliest descriptions ofimprisonment corresponded closely with the spread of the written word and the formalisation of early legal codes. However, the earliest legal documents for example the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi dating from about 1750 BC focused on retribution from the victim, rather than state-led punishment as we now recognise it.
Plato began to develop ideas about rehabilitation and in Platos Lawsconsidered the laws role in making citizens virtuous. Plato dwelt on the suggestion that injustice is a disease of the soul that can be cured through punishment.
PlatosGreece did have prisons calleddesmoterion, meaning place of chains however they were used more for the holding of prisoners who had been condemned to death. The Ancient Romans also used imprisonment for the same purpose, and in 640 BC, the Mamertine Prison, known as the Tullianum, was erected.
The 400-year-old San Giuseppe dei Falegnami Roman Catholic church now stands on the site of the prison, but at the time it would have been a squalid series of dungeons in the sewers under Rome.
During the Middle Ages, prison conditions did not improve. Across Europe, brutal punishment was still prescribed to rule-breakers, with castles, fortresses and the basements of public buildings given over to housing the incarcerated.
As historian Patricia Turning writes inCrime and Punishment in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, by the 13th century the right to imprison criminals gave a certain legitimacy to political administrations, from the king to regional counts to city councils.
Up until the late 17th and early 18th century, justice mostly involved performative displays of violence against criminals. Public executions and torture were widespread, with the Bloody Code imposing the death penalty for hundreds of often petty offencesin the United Kingdom.
In the 18th century, there was a shift away from public executions as public perceptions of violence began to shift. The Howard League notes that a more complex penal system developed during the period, including the widespread introduction of houses of correction. The first of these in the UK was Bridewell Prison - a complex in London that was originally built as Bridewell Palace, a residence for Henry VIII.
What precisely prisons were for during this time was divided between two philosophical outlooks. In From Newgate to Dannemora: The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, David Lewis notes that Enlightenment ideas of utilitarianism and rationalism clashed, leading to discussion of whether prisons should be a deterrent or a site of moral reform (an early description of rehabilitation).
This divide was embodied by two prison reformers of the time: John Howard after who the Howard League is named and Jeremy Bentham. Bentham, a utilitarian, believed that the prisoner should suffer a severe regime, while Howard advocated for the rehabilitation of prisoners so that they could be reintroduced into society.
Bentham would go on to design the panopticon (pictured below), in which prisoners were under observation at all times.Over 200 years later, Foucault would use Benthams panopticon design as a metaphor for the modern disciplinary society, in which acts of violence had been replaced with efforts to reshape the behaviour of individuals.
The first state prison in England was the Millbank Prison, established in 1816 on the site of the current Tate Gallery in London, with a capacity for just under 1,000 inmates. In 1842, Pentonville Prison in London opened, kickstarting the trend for ever-increasing incarceration rates and the use of prison as the primary form of crime punishment.
In 1786 the state of Pennsylvania in the US passed a law which forced all convicts who had not been sentenced to death to be placed in penal servitude to do public works projects such as building roads, forts and mines. This inspired the rise of so-called chain gangs.
The notion of moral reformation took on a religious bent in Pennsylvania around this time. According to the 2004 bookVoices from Prisonon the life histories of black male prisoners in the US, 1790 saw the Walnut Street Jail in Pennsylvania begin locking its prisoners in solitary cells to reflect on their sins, accompanied by nothing but religious literature.
By the 1800s, prisons as a means of rehabilitation were becoming more mainstream, though the methods for reforming those behind bars were still harsh. Mary Bosworth writes in The U.S. Federal Prison Systemthat the Auburn system developed in New York confined prisoners in separate cells and prohibited them from speaking.
First introduced at Auburn State Prison, the system was modelled on the strictness of a school classroom, where pupils would be shaped and moulded by their teachers. The method became famous and is mentioned by French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, based on a visit to the US.
In the early 1900s, major reforms began in the UKs prison system, spearheaded by the Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill, who had been imprisoned himself during the Boer War. He said: I certainly hated my captivity more then I have ever hated any other period in my whole life... Looking back on those days Ive always felt the keenest pity for prisoners and captives.
His biographer, Paul Addison, would later add that more than any other Home Secretary of the 20th century, Churchill was the prisoners friend.
Churchills reforms - unpopular though they were at the time - aimed to make prison more bearable and more likely to rehabilitate prisoners.The policy left Britain with one of the most liberal prison systems in the Western world, but by the mid-20th century this had been far outstripped by the Scandinavian penal system.
Sweden was the first country to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of rehabilitation not incarceration.In 1965 it introduced a criminal code that emphasised punishments that reduced prison time. The hugely progressive move included a focus on conditional sentences, probation for first-time offenders and the more extensive use of fines.
This influenced a shift in imprisonment across Europe, with France and the Netherlands following Swedens example and experiencing a rapid fall in prison numbers as a result.
In 2014, Sweden was able to close four of its56 prisons, as only 4,500 people out of a total population of 9.5 million were being held in jail. At the time,Swedish politician Nils Oberg told The Guardian that prison is not for punishment in Sweden. We get people into better shape.
The same year, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that the UKs then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, was introducing measures that amounted to a ramped-up political emphasis on punishment rather than real rehabilitation.
The damming response suggested that despite Britain leading the world in liberalising prisons in the early 1900s, by the turn of the 21st century it had fallen behind.The number of deaths in the ten worst prisons in England and Wales are increasing year on year, withunderstaffing, drug use, crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding all playing a role.
More than 11 million people are currently held in prison around the world - ranging from incarceration in the liberal penal system of Scandinavia, to the hidden detention sites of China and North Korea from which many never return.
The concept of imprisoning people ushered in a type of justice that focused less on the violent retribution endorsed in Britain's Bloody Code and later allowed for rehabilitation to become a vital part of modern criminal justice systems.
Just as Oscar Wildes attitude to criminals tempered, so too has societys, with polling in the US which houses 22% of the worlds prison population showing that 40% of people believe rehabilitation is the most important function of a prison system.
In the same poll, 53% supported the abolition of solitary confinement, a stark comparison to the uncompromising rules of the Auburn system or the authoritarianism of Jeremy Benthams panopticon.
Posted: at 6:48 am
Why does every waiter act like they needs to explain how menus work now? Theyre menus. Appetizers up top, desserts at the bottom. We get it. That topic and more are covered in our interview with Avenue 5's Zach Woods and Rebecca Front, above. On Armando Iannuccis new farce, premiering this weekend on HBO, the pair play against each other as a nihilist customer service representative and a busybody passenger, both of whom are now stuck on what amounts to a damaged cruise ship languishing in space. Its a great premise for the two to play with, especially since theyre both veterans of the Iannucci-verse. In the clip above, the pair talk about their relationship with Arm, as Woods calls him, and well as who theyd ultimately find themselves becoming if they were trapped with strangers for the foreseeable future.
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Posted: at 6:48 am
Fifty years after Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature, newly opened archives reveal the serious doubts the Nobel committee had about giving the award to an author they felt held a bottomless contempt for the human condition.
Announcing that the Irishman had won the laureateship in 1969, the Swedish Academy praised his writing, which in new forms for the novel and drama in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.
But with Nobel archives being made public only after five decades, documents have now revealed there were major disagreements within the Swedish Academy over the choice of the Waiting for Godot author. According to Svenska Dagbladet, the split was between Beckett and French writer Andr Malraux, with other nominations including Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Graham Greene.
Four members of the committee supported Beckett and two backed Malraux, with the primary objections to Beckett coming from the Nobel committees chairman, Anders sterling, who had campaigned against the playwright for years. sterling questioned whether writing of a demonstratively negative or nihilistic nature like Becketts corresponded to the intention laid out in Alfred Nobels will, to reward the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction.
While sterling acknowledged the possibility that behind Becketts depressing motives might lie a secret defence of humanity, but in the eyes of most readers, he said, it remains an artistically staged ghost poetry, characterised by a bottomless contempt for the human condition.
But Becketts main supporter on the committee, Karl Ragnar Gierow, felt that Becketts black vision was not the expression of animosity and nihilism. Beckett, he argued, portrays humanity as we have all seen it, at the moment of its most severe violation, and searches for the depths of degradation because, even there, there is the possibility of rehabilitation.
Beckett was rejected for the prize a year earlier, in 1968, but a year later his champions won out. sterling did not give the speech presenting him with the award. That was done by Gierow, who expanded on the arguments he made to the committee, saying that Becketts work goes to the depths because it is only there that pessimistic thought and poetry can work their miracles. What does one get when a negative is printed? A positive, a clarification, with black proving to be the light of day, the parts in deepest shade those which reflect the light source.
Beckett himself accepted the prize, but he did not come to Stockholm to receive it, or give the traditional winners lecture. And the division among the jury remained secret for half a century unlike today, when the split over the decision to award the 2019 prize to the Austrian writer Peter Handke prompted the boycott of the ceremony by Peter Englund, the former permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, and further resignations. Guardian
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Posted: at 6:48 am
Broadway seems to get a new jukebox musical every few months: There are ersatz Chers and Tina Turners and Carole Kings and Jersey Boys all over Times Square. Still, there was something a little shocking about the very idea of Jagged Little Pill, the new jukebox musical based on Alanis Morissettes seminal 1994 album that premiered on Broadway in December. Jukebox musicals, surely, were for nostalgic baby boomers with tourist money to burn. They can be well executed, but traditionally they are painfully sincere hagiographies that wedge their songs into their subjects lives with much, too much, literalism. So what was Alanis, the poster girl for Gen Xs ironic nihilism, doing on Broadway?
Then Jagged Little Pill opened in Boston in 2018, and the rumors began: As jukebox musicals go, the early buzz whispered, Jagged Little Pill was actually not that bad. It had some astonishing performances. It had fixed the jukebox musical.
Part of what made Jagged Little Pill so exciting, according to those early out-of-town reviews, was that it eschewed the traditional biographical jukebox musical plot (And then they said I shouldnt be myself, but I was! And then I won a thousand Grammys! is usually how you can summarize a typical plot.)
Instead, first-time playwright Diablo Codys book tells the story of a suburban family caught in contemporary malaise. Perfect mother Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is drowning under the weight of keeping up appearances, and shes become dependent on opioids. Shes also struggling to connect to her daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), a committed activist who sings to Mary Jane that shes frustrated by your apathy. But both Mary Jane and Frankie have to reconsider their understanding of each other after Frankies classmate Bella (Kathryn Gallagher) is raped at a party.
Its still rare and unusual for a jukebox musical to have an original plot not focused on the artist themselves, so for many critics, Codys involvement was already an enormous step forward for the genre. But after the show moved to New York and was met with initial raves, a counternarrative began. For some critics, Codys book was the shows weak link that let down Morissettes music, a shaky and contrived mess of confusion and occasional silliness.
One month after the shows Broadway debut, the conversation about whether Jagged Little Pill is worth swallowing has calmed down a little. So Vox culture writers Constance Grady and Aja Romano decided to take this time to talk through Jagged Little Pill and the problems of the jukebox musical. What makes them work, what makes them not and is this particular musical any good or not?
Constance: In the month and change that Jagged Little Pill has been out, weve had time for a rough consensus on the show to develop among critics, and it goes a little something like this: The performances are brilliant, but the book is overstuffed at best and a shapeless mess at worst. Where you fall on the musical overall seems to depend upon which aspect of the show youre willing to give the most weight to.
Ill put my cards on the table. I think Jagged Little Pill is a mess, and I love it with my whole heart. I had a blast at this show. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I have only a glancing acquaintance with Alaniss original album (I was slightly too young and way too uncool to listen to Jagged Little Pill very much in the 90s), but the music is so undeniable, and the young cast so strong, that it was easy for me to let myself get swept away by everything that was happening onstage.
Like, try to sit there while Lauren Pattens heartbroken Jo absolutely shreds You Oughta Know and not start screaming with catharsis. You cant! Its physically impossible! Thats why the show has to stop dead for a standing ovation every night as soon as shes finished.
On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that this show suffers from the standard jukebox musical problem of forcing its characters into position to sing a particular song. And because this particular example is trying to do so much at once, giving every single character a disconnected subplot of their own, it doesnt quite have time to pay off the tensions its songs set up.
You Oughta Know is a bit of a case study in this problem. An Alanis musical absolutely has to have someone sing You Oughta Know, because its one of her best and biggest hits. To set up the song, the show puts together a love triangle, so we see Frankie become torn between her girlfriend Jo and new kid Phoenix. But at the same time, the main concerns of Jagged Little Pill as a play are Mary Janes opioid addiction and the ripple effects from Bellas rape, and it really doesnt have time to make the love triangle feel like anything more than an afterthought.
The aims of this show as a jukebox musical and the aims of this show as an original musical are at odds, and as a result, its center of gravity is warped. This giant showstopper of a number is embedded in the slightest and weakest arc of the show. And the only conclusion Jo gets after the heartbreak and rage of You Oughta Know is half a verse in the finale, which is a pretty weak conclusion.
Having said all that, I actually think that as far as this genre goes, Diablo Codys much-maligned book is pretty solid. If nothing else, Cody managed to people the cast with characters who all have different personalities, but who all believably feel like they are the kind of person who would break into an Alanis Morissette song if given the chance. Thats such a monumental achievement for a jukebox musical that I have to give her props for it.
Aja, where do you fall on Jagged Little Pill? Does the critical consensus feel correct to you? And do you love it in spite of the structure or hate it because of it?
Aja: Ill be very upfront and say that I grew up with an unshakeable, nay, zealous, faith in the thoroughly integrated book musical, whose songs evolve organically from the book and the characters. So the last two decades of musical theater have been pretty fraught for me, because I deeply resent the rise of the jukebox musical. Its a regression in form! Its everything Broadway aspired for decades to evolve beyond, now wrapped in a fancy marketing package as a cheap trick to get people into theaters! Its cheating, Constance!
So, with all that said, I really do appreciate the spirit of Jagged Little Pill. Its aims are pure, its ambitions are to become a real musical, and Im mostly in its corner. The creative team understands that you just shouldnt treat Morissettes music like that in any other pop biopic. Most jukebox musical scores are light even if the subjects are serious, but Alaniss music is raw emotion. Its the classic Gen X mix of depression and angst, infused with societal malaise and a touch of addiction.
Even its upbeat moments veer into neurotic, manic, difficult. JLP really couldnt ever be a jukebox musical in that sense, because whos actually gonna play Alanis on a jukebox? You play Alanis while screaming into your pillow at 3 am over a dirty breakup. You play Alanis while eye-rolling at each other about how ironically self-aware youre being about playing Alanis a move the musical itself parodies, in a scene meant purely to lampoon the cultural reaction to Ironic.
But the fact that Im talking about how a musical is breaking the fourth wall to answer the longstanding cultural perceptions about one of its songs is part of the inherent problems you run into with musicals like this one. You have to work much harder to create characters the audience cares about as much as the songs themselves, and especially to get those characters to fit the situations prescribed by those songs.
You Oughta Know is one of the most glaring examples of this, because this song is meant to be the shows climactic showstopper, but it just doesnt fit. You Oughta Know is full of the kind of deep bitterness that results from a relationship thats lasted years, not the uncertain, relatively new relationship its assigned to onstage.
Lauren Patten acts the hell out of Jo who I read as emphatically nonbinary, FWIW and she also gets one of the shows other big numbers, One Hand In My Pocket. But her role is frustrating, because even though shes one of the most compelling actors onstage, shes working hard to fill a very thinly written part. Remember, Jo is the strongest leg in that ultimately weak love triangle Constance mentioned, and the character seems to have been created just to deliver strong (low-key queer) anthems, not to do much of anything else.
We barely get glimpses of her life outside their relationship with Frankie, and we really dont even understand that relationship before it starts falling apart. Ultimately, the contrast between these giant, overly emotive songs and such an underwritten part just highlights just how lacking so much of the book is. (Next time, just make the whole musical about the misfit genderqueer kid! Done!)
Diablo Codys book is overstuffed with too many social issues and too many characters, and its really obvious that much of this bloat is about finding ways to shoehorn in all the Alanis songs you know, whether or not they make sense and fit the plot or its characters.
Head Over Feet bizarrely gets split between two couples at once, as an attempt to give our main character, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), some backstory with her husband. Only this random nostalgia break abruptly happens in the middle of a bitter couples therapy session, where its placement makes no sense. Similarly, turning Ironic into a purely throwaway meta-number seems like a wasted opportunity, but thats what happens when youre trying to match characters to songs instead of letting songs grow out of character.
Additionally, Tom Kitt of the Pulitzer-winning Next to Normal did the orchestrations and arrangements for JLP, and I felt like Next to Normal heavily influenced this show in spirit without influencing its approach to characterization and story structure so I felt the ghostly imprint of a much better show about family dysfunction bleeding through at every turn.
Even so, theres a lot to like about JLP. The staging and choreography, together with the additional music by Glen Ballard (Morissettes co-writer and Jagged Little Pills original album producer) and Kitt are all fantastic and full of pulsing energy and heart. Even though the characters are all little more than ciphers, Mary Jane in particular is the classic unlikeable Diablo Cody protagonist. Shes really hard to take until she becomes almost heartbreakingly vulnerable, and Elizabeth Stanley really nails that performance.
I wasnt as moved as other audience members were by the scene where Uninvited invites us into the darkness in her head, but boy did I appreciate it as a way of drawing out that songs complex, layered meanings, and as a way of elevating the jukebox musical itself. If we have to have jukebox musicals, and it seems we must, Id rather have a dozen Jagged Little Pills that dont quite work than a dozen blander, frothier musicals that do.
Constance: I absolutely agree on Jagged Little Pills massive ambitions, and I think youre correct, Aja, that they are both its saving grace and one of its biggest problems. We can see this basic paradox not only formally but also thematically, because whoa, boy, does this musical have ambitions of handling a lot of different social and political themes. And it honestly only really has space for maaaaaaaaybe one and a half of them.
Most obviously, this is a musical about the opioid addiction crisis. Frankies mom Mary Jane is addicted to pills, and over the course of the show, we delve into Mary Janes addiction, its roots, and all the ways its begun to warp her ostensibly perfect suburban mom life. That plotline works nicely, I think: Smiling in particular, in which we see a disoriented and alienated Mary Jane going backwards through her days routine, really succeeds at making Alaniss music feel fresh and new and character-based, is staged in an inventive and effective way, and is also genuinely moving.
Weve also got the date rape plotline, which I would say is handled in a way that feels basically fine. Sure, some of the protest scenes are a little cringe-inducingly earnest, and yes, songs like Predator and No get extremely literal interpretations (Predator can more or less survive it; No cant). Still, Codys book gets nicely nuanced in the way she talks through the concerns here, especially when it comes to who believes whom and why. The plotline plays into Mary Janes addiction story in a thoughtful way. And Kathryn Gallagher gives a really grounded, smart performance as Bella throughout this subplot.
And then, sort of stuffed into the corners of the play, weve got Frankies political activism, and that just does not work at all. This plotline seems to want to cover basically all the progressive causes du jour, including climate change and, in a very bizarrely weighted moment, school gun violence.
Theres also the barely-sketched-in subplot of Frankies angst as a black girl adopted by a very white family, plus the sexual politics of her queer love triangle between Jo and Phoenix. Those issues are just kind of there. They take up space, they inspire some extremely energetic rage-dancing but theres no room for the show to explore them as fully as they deserve. It begins to feel as though its just going through a checklist of issues for the wokeness street cred, rather than caring about those issues for their own sake.
Aja: And that is, wait for it, the ultimate irony of Jagged Little Pill: The show doesnt care enough about any of the issues its cycling through to make them meaningful when the whole point of the Jagged Little Pill album is the terror of caring too much.
Alaniss album was an instant legend in part because it captured the zeitgeist of a generation that had turned toward ironic detachment to cope with the lack of control they felt over the world and their own lives. Alaniss songs explicitly voiced the terror and anxiety of letting yourself care for anything at the end of a century in a culture increasingly veering towards nihilism. Her lyrics embraced her own neuroses and the power of her own bitterness in ways that also enhanced and amplified her hesitant, constantly-deflected shows of genuine affection and positive emotion. They made us feel how hard it is to love and care for anything.
And look, everyone knows that a suburban nuclear family is always a deceptively idyllic allegory for larger societal disquiet, right? Thats the trope. But when we look at the vast pantheon of stories that use this trope, too often suburban malaise itself is treated as the problem and not a symptom of something larger.
I think thats the basic mistake Cody makes here: She treats most of her characters like theyve been inducted by default into the national suburban burnout epidemic, and thats the reason theyre all in individually self-absorbed hazes that keep them from connecting to each other or even listening to each other half the time. (On that front, I also think her storyline is strangely non-critical of the male members of our family, who both are actively dismissive of the pain of the women in their lives until they magically arent anymore, in ways that arent really fully examined or dealt with.)
These characters are performing their default identities, both individual and collective, and hitting their trope marks so they can get into position to sing their big Alanis number: the angry adopted child rebelling through feminism; the overworked absent dad who resents his depressed wife for not making him feel loved; the all-American jock who implodes under the pressure of getting into a top school by going to a dangerous high school party. It all feels perfunctory. But a cast full of characters truly inspired by Alanis Morissette would be fighting with themselves every step of the way about where they wanted to go, and why, and why theyre even this invested when its clear nothing matters at all.
Jagged Little Pill, the album, isnt about characters performing simulacrums of humanity while being stuck in a bucolic modern hell: Its about characters loudly and angrily trying to fight through that malaise to something better and more authentic. But here the characters struggles collectively feel far more performative than sincere. In a musical full of fight songs, theres very little fight at all.
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Posted: at 6:47 am
The 2020s have arrived. Science and technology are poised to revolutionize health care, spawning moral questions we cant yet imagine. Such questions will tempt governments to mandate or prohibit new technologies. Unintended consequences will follow.
2020 marks a good time for medical professionals, ethicists and policymakers to examine events that transpired in the previous 20s the 1920s a similar period of foment. In 1920, nobody quite knew the nature of the coming medical revolution. Before the decade was out, hope turned to hubris, and public policy veered in abominable directions.
In the 1920s, scientific and political consensus led to appalling abuses of human rights, including the forcible sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans.
In teaching medical professionals, Ive always devoted a week or two to the 1920s, never telling the students exactly why we were covering this period or exactly what they were supposed to learn from it. They were left to draw their own lessons on what that period means for our own time. Ill do the same here.
First, a bit of context. From around the 1830s on, Western medicine sank into therapeutic nihilism the idea that then-existing medical interventions did more harm than good, so doctors should limit their activities to observing and comforting patients not trying to heal them. In the late 1800s, the field of statistics emerged, and researchers zealously applied new mathematical tools to the study of physical and mental illness. Knowledge grew rapidly, but confidence in that knowledge grew even faster. Therapeutic medicine was back. The 1920s produced insulin and penicillin, but it also generated an awful consensus around eugenics the highly politicized junk-science predecessor to genetics.
Eugenics was purportedly the science of good breeding. Armed with statistical tools and modern medical techniques, eugenicists believed they could and should breed a superior race of humans by encouraging fit people to mate and discouraging unfit people from procreating. In 1927, the Supreme Court signed onto this agenda.
In Buck v. Bell, the Commonwealth of Virginia argued that a young woman, Carrie Buck, her mother, and Carries infant daughter exemplified hereditary feeblemindedness. The case was built on sham science and sleazy legal shenanigans, but the Supreme Court bought the states arguments. Virginia and other states were now free to forcibly sterilize people like Buck to prevent the birth of future generations of unfit people.
Bucks mother was a suspected prostitute. Buck was judged immoral for giving birth out of wedlock (after being raped). A local nurse testified that Bucks infant daughter was somewhat peculiar somehow. These paltry facts were taken as scientific proof of genetic illness and doomed Bucks life. In the decision, Oliver Wendell Holmes penned some of the most appalling words that ever emerged from the Supreme Court:
It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
Buck v. Bell led to the forcible sterilization of more than 70,000 Americans 8,300 in my own state of Virginia. The story of Buck v. Bell and eugenics is told painfully and movingly in an eerie 49-minute 1993 documentary called The Lynchburg Story and in Edwin Blacks book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and Americas Campaign to Create a Master Race. I consider them must-watch and must-read for this topic.
People in the 1920s were thrilled by the power that statistical, pharmacological, diagnostical, and surgical innovations brought to medicine. But popular enthusiasm for these techniques led to a grotesque overestimation of the wisdom of experts and the desirability of state micromanagement of human beings.
Today, were equally thrilled by the prospects of genomic medicine, CRISPR, Big Data, and sharing intimate data through wearable devices and genetic testing companies. I myself am enthusiastic about these innovations. But the history of eugenics tempers my enthusiasm, making me wary of efforts to manipulate individual lives, based on this explosion of information. Theres reason to fear both the mandates and the prohibitions that governments will summon forth. Tread lightly.
Robert Graboyes is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he focuses on technological innovation in health care. He is the author of Fortress and Frontier in American Health Care and has taught health economics at five universities. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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