Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Words are weapons in fight for freedom.

     We live in an odd house. There is a dictionary stand in the dining room. Bought on a whim at a resale shop. But my office is too jammed with books to accommodate the stand. So we tucked it near the dining room table, to refer to during family Scrabble games, increasingly rare in recent years.
     There is also a copy of the Constitution in the kitchen. Any room where three lawyers periodically break bread together should have one handy to resolve arguments — not used much lately either, until Monday. I was alone, drinking coffee, reading the Sun-Times and thinking about July 4. How this year the holiday finds a bitterly divided country, loping toward an election where one party promises to win or seize power. This was the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law doesn't apply to the presidents if they can couch their wrongdoing in the trappings of office.
     What is there to celebrate? The rule of law is a candle guttering in a rainstorm.
     I sprang up. The little booklet, published by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, was in a cabinet, nestled beside plates. To read the whole thing now — it takes only a few minutes — is to realize once again how problems of the past echo today.
     Article I, Section 2 goes straight to elections: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People ... ."
     If you're wondering where the Constitution allows elections to be ignored if the will of the People isn't to your liking, that line isn't there.
     The pamphlet also reprints the Declaration of Independence, the reason for Thursday's holiday, marking this "Action of the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776." I read it aloud, beginning to end, my voice echoing off the granite counters.
     The self-evident truths begin, "all men are created equal." The word "men" is significant because women wouldn't get the vote for another 144 years. And enslaved Blacks didn't count because they weren't even considered human beings, never mind "men" with rights and dignity.
     I mention that not to make you feel bad about America but as a reminder: Our entire history is one gradual widening of whose voice gets to be heard. Freedom is always a work in progress. As is oppression: There are always Americans fluttering their hands, clutching their pearls and crying, "Oh no! Surely not these people too!"
     The famous beginning gets all the attention. But the bulk of of the Declaration — easily 2/3 of the text — is a direct complaint against King George III, starting with, "He has refused to assent to laws ..." and faulting him for thwarting the popular ballot, "a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only."

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Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Flashback 2012: Maybe tomatoes don’t taste like sun

     A reader wrote in, praising my use of metaphor. I considered writing something on that subject, then realized I had already done so, a dozen years ago. This column somehow managed to combine the subject of metaphor, tomatoes, slavery and LGBTQ.

     ‘Eat a tomato, boys,” I urged, spearing another fat red chunk of home-grown, vine-ripened bliss and transferring it greedily to my plate at dinner Monday night. “It’s like eating the sun.”
     A strange phrase, granted. “It’s like eating the sun.” Why say that? A bit of advertising puffery. A plea for help. The tomato crop is crazy this year — my plants are tossing off tomatoes like a pitching machine firing fastballs. Try as I might, my wife and I can’t eat them all. The boys weren’t touching any and wouldn’t, without encouragement. Heck, they probably wouldn’t with encouragement but I had to try; the idea was to evoke the sun-blessed, deep, resonating goodness of fresh-picked tomatoes. It didn’t work.
      “Like eating a vast ball of exploding gas?” scoffed the teenage boy to my left, busily picking the pasta out of his pasta salad, ignoring the non-pasta parts. “It would kill us in an instant.” I tried to speak ...
     “A mouthful of superheated plasma...” mocked the teenage boy to my right or words to that effect, I wasn’t taking notes — I was eating dinner, or trying to.
     What I meant to say was, “It’s like eating sunshine” — warm, dense, moist ...
     Oh heck, sunshine isn’t moist, is it?
     See, that’s the problem. All metaphor is imperfect. The world is not really a ball — it doesn’t bounce. Love is not a rose — it isn’t pollinated by bees. There is no metaphor you can’t shoot down. Buttons are not cute. Feathers, in sufficient bulk, are not light.
     Yet metaphor is crucial to communicating the feelings behind the flat facts of our lives. When we say our day was “hell,” we do not mean we were immersed upside down in a pool of molten lead in a fiery underworld of unimaginable woe while winged demons jabbed at our smoldering feet with pitchforks. What we mean is, it was a hard day. The computer crashed. The boss yelled at us.
     But that doesn’t resonate with other people. “Have pity — my supervisor scolded me” doesn’t quite do it. “My day was hell” is an attempt to draw indifferent others into sharing our own emotional state.
     Metaphors and similes (a simile is a metaphor that uses “like” or “as” — “like eating the sun” is a simile) are helpful not only in expressing feelings but in condensing arguments. That’s why people always compare situations to Hitler — it saves time and delivers a complex emotional punch or did.
     Metaphors are risky — not only can they be overused, as with our old pal Hitler, but as my boys illustrated, they have flaws that can be easily seized on and used to try to discredit whatever a person is trying to say.
     For instance, last week, in my column I used religion’s reaction to slavery as a metaphor, relating it to two situations where religion would like the final word today: gay marriage and abortion, realms where the freedom of affected individuals would be swept aside by fervent third parties who feel entitled to use their faith to trump the liberty of others. Rather as was done with slaves.
     Agree or disagree, the argument is clear. Some readers, rather than address the point, went after flaws in the metaphor. For instance, comparing the two situations therefore meant I was suggesting they are the same in all regards, that I was saying that being forced to work on a planation is the same as being forced to live in the closet.
     Some felt obligated to explain the difference between being black and being gay.
     “An African American had and has no way of disguising her identity to receive fair treatment while the traits of being a homosexual surely and are at times masked to further one’s career and financial goals against inherent bias,” wrote one reader.
     Even long-established metaphors are easy as pie to pick apart. “Easy as pie? Are you crazy. Have you ever made a pie? Pie is hard.”
     We expect our metaphors to be accepted. It’s a shock when they’re not. If you said that a certain friend has a heart of gold, it would be jarring if the reply were an angry, “What? Impossible! A heart couldn’t circulate blood if it were made of gold. You’d die in minutes!”
     At dinner, beset from both sides, I paused to form a little speech: “Someday, boys,” I was going to solemnly intone. “You will be tomato gardeners, too ­— all good men are. You will think back to the luscious, fire-engine red tomatoes of your father and how he offered them to you with an open hand. How they sat before you in perfect beauty, untouched. You will wish in your deepest heart that you had partaken of the fruits of his honest labor, your father’s tomatoes, instead of scorning them with the glib pig ignorance and shrugging indifference that are the hallmarks of wasted adolescence. You will be scoured with regret, and wish you could apologize. But I of course will be long gone by then....”
     Rather than blurt this speech out, I composed it carefully in mind. But when I went to tell my sons, they had already leapt up and were gone. Probably just as well.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, August 29, 2012

Monday, July 1, 2024

Biden is faltering, but what he represents remains strong

     People try to "live in the moment" without realizing what that really means. Living in the moment is fine if, at the moment, you are hiking in the Colorado Rockies, pausing to sip cool water and admire the vista.
     But how often are you living in that moment?
     My father, Robert Steinberg, 91, lives in what I call "the immediate moment." Whatever is happening right now is all there is or can be.
     There is no past — his 30 years as a nuclear physicist at NASA have vanished.
     There is no future. He has no volition. There is nothing he wants to do. He won't be attending my older son's wedding next month — the crowd would confuse and frighten him.
     There really isn't much of a present, either. A sofa. A television. And if I'm there too, I also exist, for the moment.
     "How's the world treating you, Neil?" he'll ask, and I'll tell him. It's the only thing he says to me, those exact words. Over and over. I think of those cheap little music boxes, with a cylinder plucking metal tines. Turn the tiny crank and a dozen notes of "Pop Goes the Weasel" tinkle out: ba-dump ba-dump, ba-daddidy dump ...
     No shame in that. Just nature taking her course. But to not recognize what has happened would be irresponsible. My father holds patents in nuclear reactor design, but I would not ask him to design a nuclear reactor now, nor would I want to live near one he had worked on recently.
     At some point, responsible parties must close the door. Three years ago, my father was driving the car, despite my telling my mother, repeatedly, "He's going to kill a child in a crosswalk and it's going to be your fault." When we moved them to Belmont Village Senior Living in Buffalo Grove, we sold their car.

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Sunday, June 30, 2024

Maybe Facebook will like this headline better — The state of the blog, Year Eleven


     Traditionally, I top my year-end review with a nonsequiteur headline pulled from the Right Wing thunderdome. This year's, ""I JUST left the rally for my friend, President Trump" caused Facebook to immediately take down the post. While they indeed have a point — the headline IS unsuited to the content — it was done in a sense of irony, not deception. Apparently, the algorithm is still working on irony. Anyway, the back of my hand stung by Facebook's ruler, I renamed the post and am trying again. There are lots of new readers, recently, and this can be seen as a guide to the more noteworthy posts of the past year.

     Last September, I wrote about the prevalence of spirals in Copenhagen, "Danish Notes #1: Spiral City." Looking back over the 11th year of this blog, which ends today, I think that post can serve as a synecdoche for the blog itself.
    Did you need to know about spirals and Copenhagen? No. Could you easily live your life  ignorant of spirals in Copenhagen? Yes. But are spirals in Copenhagen interesting (maybe even belatedly relevant, given that one of the spirals featured burned down in April). Something that learning about embellishes your day, along with knowing the word synecdoche, a literary term for a part that stands in for the whole, the way you'd, oh, call a car your "wheels." 
    Again yes. I hope so, anyway. A spiral turns in on itself, and there is a lot of inward motion here. I actually fight introspection and self-reference — "The only wisdom we can hope to achieve," T.S. Eliot writes, "is the wisdom of humility." That I often fail, well, one of my rules as a writer, beside not having rules, is to be who you are.
     The numbers are good: 1.6 million clicks over the past year, a healthy 130,000 a month. I should probably leave it at that. But candor is a value esteemed here, even over modesty, and I have to note that 2/3 of those clicks are from China and Hong Kong, so certainly do not represent actual readers. I severely doubt this blog has one  regular reader among 1.3 billion Chinese, which is sad, because that would be an interesting person to get to know. I wish I could explain what accounts for those Asian clicks, but imagine a box bristling with wires, sitting in a windowless room in some basement along an industrial road in Shantou, a device I think of as a "thrummer," clonically clicking on this site. A glitch of some sort. Which is, in its own way, apt.
    There was reaction from actual human beings — a term made all the more relative by the rise of AI. In July I wrote the third most read post of EGD history, "Wrangle carts, earn quarters," what I thought was an innocuous first visit to an Aldi supermarket, but was turned into some grotesque opera bufo by the torch-bearing mobs on Reddit. The dynamic that drove them into a frenzy is worth noting — the crime I committed was timing my wife when she returned the cart, to see how much labor Aldi was getting for its quarter. This struck Reddit as arrogance, and punishing the arrogant — selectively — is a major culture force in America today, along with punishment in general. I didn't mind, was happy for the new readers, and never went on Reddit to see the hundreds of thousands of comments. Keep the poison out.
    A spiral also, if viewed another way, turns outward. I like to think I did that too.
    In August, I weighed in on the immigrant crisis in Chicago with "Chicago needs every busload." I try not to natter on about my failures — others do that for me — but I'll always regret not finding a way to write more about immigration. It was the moral test of our time and I didn't study hard enough and got a C. That column is notable for the Tyler Pascale photo, which hadn't been run in the paper, and I was glad to expose to the public. The baby's face — the tableau made me think of the Madonna and Child. 
    Maybe the problem is I keep getting distracted by mundane details, such as the difficulty in maintaining infrastructure, laid out in another August story, "Hydrant Repair Crews face water, pressure." 
    Mocking the media always does very well — my columns roasting John Kass are perennial favorites. It doesn't take a genius to see why: the media, or what's left of it, is fascinated with itself, just like everybody else, and such stories get bandied about. In September, in addition to my Scandinavian notes, I chided the New York Times for its prissy send-off of Jimmy Buffett, "It's my own damn fault," which turned out to be the third most read post of the year.
    I don't have a column in the newspaper on Sundays, but that doesn't carry over to the blog, so I was able to immediately weigh in on the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that sparked the Gaza war. "War in the Middle East" struck themes I'd revisit in the months to come, and also could be run without being vetted by every assistant producer who can fog a mirror at WBEZ, which is not true for my Sun-Times columns. 
     November began with "From the river to the sea..." which appeared on the blog, and online, but not in the physical newspaper itself because ... because ... well, my superiors at WBEZ never did quite explain it to me in a way I could understand. 
     In December, rather than gripe about my future daughter-in-law's disdain for modern art, I tried education instead, walking through the contemporary wing of The Art Institute with two curators in "Art can take you to a particular place." 
     January found me in Phoenix, hanging with my younger son and his fiance, but I paused to point out a gaping hole in the entire Republican stop-the-steal lie, "Won't it just get stolen again?"
     Attention to artificial intelligence  rose steadily all year, and in February I used AI to craft a column — a tissue of cliched crap easily pulled apart, in "Robots rise up? Relax, Chicago, it's not Skynet" — yet." Chicago Public Media graphic artist Angela Massino designed concocted a way cool Robot Neil bug to go with it, an irony for certain.
    In March, I published a column that was a metaphor for the electoral choice America will be facing, "Drink poison or eat Chex? The choice is yours." I wrote it as a half sly way to get around the paper's 501(c)3 restrictions against endorsing a candidate. But my bosses saw through it, and wouldn't run the piece. I don't want to cast the blog as a consolation prize. But at least it allows spiked columns to get before the public.
    In April I did one of those fun deep dives, in to the world of trumpets, visiting Conn Selmer in Elkhart and spending time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's main trumpet player. "A great trumpet is 'a thing of beauty, an extension of you'" 
    In May I remarked on Ken Griffin trying to purchase some respect in his former hometown. "Sorry, Ken — Chicagoans will call the Museum of Science and Industry what they please."
    In June, I returned to CSO musicians and their instruments, featuring percussionist Cynthia Yeh. I had hoped this would be the start of a running series, featuring classical musicians and the instruments they play, intending to methodically work my way through the orchestra. The double bass was next.  But Yeh complained that I hadn't treated her reverentially enough — I quote her swearing — and the CSO told me not to bother trying to profile their musicians in the future. We shall have to stumble forward without them best we can.
      Also in June I introduced you to Off. Angelo Wells, a Chicago cop who had been shot and ended up moving to Northbrook — which is why he would talk to me, having escaped the cone of silence that falls over all CPD matters. His Chicago partner wouldn't even return my calls. Nor would the CPD comment on the subject of officers in rehab trying to return to work after being shot. I can't get the superintendent of police to have an off-the-record coffee with me.
      Do you see a pattern here? I do. The struggle continues to get my hooks into situations and draw them wriggling out of the unseen depths and into the sunlight to share with you. Year Eleven, done and in the bag. On to Year Twelve. Thank you for reading. Thank you for all of you who comment, particularly those who point out typos, including where the mistake they noticed is to be found. Thank you Marc Schulman of Eli's Cheesecake for your advertising. Thank you Chicago Sun-Times for continuing to exist. I'll see you here tomorrow, and every day after that, onward toward eternity.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

This is the Hour of Lead

Emily Dickinson

    The first thing I did after the debate was check an Emily Dickinson poem that came to mind.
    Strange, I know. 
    Not the one about hope being the thing with feathers. Honestly, I felt no hope. "Trump won," I told my wife, before she fled the room, unable to watch the fiasco.
     I believed that. And yet when it was finally over, I felt ... oddly light. And not just because I no longer had to witness two elderly men flailing at one another, nor the current president gazing at the floor, as if in shame, letting the hateful maunderings of Cheetolini go unanswered. 
     There was a line I was looking for.
     "After great pain, a formal feeling comes—" begin Poem #341 — Dickinson gave titles to only a very few of her poems, written mostly for herself, folded into little bundles and wrapped in thread. The poem continues:

      The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
      The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
      And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

     Not that I would describe what seeing Biden's awful show of age and infirmity as "great pain." That's overly-dramatic. Shock, and horror. How could it be a surprise? The Republicans have been saying as much for months. Who could imagine they'd be right? That something they said wasn't a lie. What else have been they saying that is true? Is Trump really a super-genius? He certainly shone, by comparison, at least in speaking ability. The toxic lies and hate, not so much. Then again, I turned the sound off for a while, unable to hear more.

          The Feet, mechanical go round—
          Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
          A Wooden way
          Regardless grown,
          A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

     I was surprised how peaceful I felt. Not light-hearted, not happy. But not dismal and doomstruck either. A certain calm focus — "a formal feeling" is close — the kind of quiet clarity in an emergency situation, where you see what's unfolding in slow motion and know exactly what you have to do. "A Quartz contentment" almost nails it too.   
This is the Hour of Lead—
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—
   Does that explain the serenity?  The drown reflex? The way peace supposedly settles on those who stop thrashing and sink to the bottom? Or a person freezing to death? Had Biden thrown away his worsening chance between 8 p.m. and 8:03 p.m. CST, and now all that's left is the mechanical go round, as Trump lurches toward his return to the White House, and the nation slides into extremism and repression? Have the marshals of doom seized the nation, one at each elbow, to escort us to our richly earned punishment? Was the fate sealed in 180 seconds of live television, the dice thrown, the ball settling into the roulette wheel cup and croupier chance sniggers and scrapes our life's savings off the table?
    Maybe. But you know what? I don't care. Because I don't plan to surrender. Not until the last second of the clock plays out and then after the game ends. Once the shock wears off. I plan to oppose Trump with every fiber of my being, and if that means backing a decent man who had a bad night, so be it. Biden seemed to recover himself Friday, and gave a good speech in North Carolina. Counter-intuitive things happen. Maybe Biden's near political death experience will  mobilize support in a way it never would before, that for each person who doesn't vote because his face was slack and confused, two more will head to the polls because the alternative is still so much worse. You could put Joe Biden in a wood chipper and what spewed out the other side wouldn't be pretty, but it wouldn't be a liar, bully, fraud and traitor either.  If they dragged Joe Biden's corpse to campaign events and stood it up behind a podium and Kamala Harris worked his lips while giving a speech out of the corner of her mouth, a real life "Weekend at Bernie's," I'd still vote for Biden. He might be raspy, but he isn't Vladimir Putin's catspaw.
     A couple hours after the debate, my wife and I walked our dog through the lovely little downtown park in Northbrook. Another beautiful summer night. I wasn't angry or upset or scared. I felt focused. The Hour of Lead had already passed, and now I was responding to the crisis, in the zone. The tide of battle turned, for the moment. It sure looked like a rout. And some have already throw down their muskets and bolted for the trees. Yet others are still in the field, standing firm, ready to take what's coming. 
      When I'm low, I often turn to my hero, Samuel Johnson, the great English lexicographer. He was a man beset with problems — gouty, with faulty eyesight, hard of hearing, scrofulous, ugly, alcoholic, depressed. And yet possessed with an iron will. Facing his final illness, he said something worth remembering. "I will be conquered," Johnson vowed. "I will not capitulate." That sounds like a plan.


Friday, June 28, 2024

Debate? What debate? Did anybody really expect a debate?

     Watching the disaster unfold Thursday night, I considered jumping in and changing this. But honestly, what need be said? Joe Biden started the debate feeble, almost wide-eyed, staring at the ground, as if in shame, as Donald Trump bloviated and lied. Biden rallied, at points, but it was too late. The fiasco was so painfully clear, any Democrat watching realized it almost immediately. I suppose that is a comfort — at least we can recognize a new reality —well, new to the public — in front of our eyes. Turns out the Republican libel was right. Now as to whether anyone will do anything about it, well, I wish I had hope of that. Something could happen. But, to paraphrase Renault in "Casablanca," that would take a miracle, and the Republicans have outlawed miracles. Or, rather, the Democrats have. We did this to ourselves. We made our bed. Now we have to lie in it.

     My profession has lots of rules. Spelling rules, grammar rules, usage rules. People quoted in stories ought to both actually exist and have said the words attributed to them. Were I to tuck in a sentence like, "'I think the mayor is a fumbling stumblebum,' said John Q. Chicagoan, relaxing in the bleachers at Comiskey Park ..." my boss would be on me like a ton of bricks.
     Writing authoritatively about events that have not yet occurred is also frowned upon. The ideal way to comment on Thursday night's debate between President Joe Biden and former president and, oh, dear God, perhaps future President Donald Trump would be to watch it and then craft my opinion on the fly while it is happening.
     But that's problematic, too. The debate began at 8 p.m. and lasted 90 minutes. I might have spent this column discussing an exchange in the first hour when, five minutes before the end, CNN producers will have had to pry the candidates' fingers off each other's throats. That would look stupid, or worse. I remember a colleague who lost her job after reviewing a concert she left early, remarking on songs that were never performed.
     Besides, I know of one thing that definitely, 100%, take-it-to-the bank was going to happen Thursday night. Or, to be more precise, not happen.
     OK, again, lots of things might not have happened. The whole debate might not have come off at all. Trump might not have shown up — people kept saying that, citing his proven track record of cowardice. After protesters scuppered a Chicago campaign appearance in 2016, Trump never showed his face at a public event in Chicago again and certainly never will. A distinction that should be added to the city seal, perhaps replacing the naked baby on a clam shell.
     Or the debate could have been incomplete. The TV lights could have melted Biden like a wax figurine under a blowtorch. He could have crumbled to dust and been blown away on the hot gale of Trump's nonstop jabbering. Anything is possible.
     But of the range of possibilities, there is one thing I was 100% certain wasn't going happen, even though it is tucked into the very name of the event under consideration: the first 2024 presidential debate. I'll give you a hint. It is certainly presidential — one current and one former president was there. But the presidential debate wasn't a debate. Did anybody expect otherwise?
     Did you tune in, expecting the presentation of arguments? The marshaling of relevant facts? One candidate shrugs off the very idea of factuality, living in a constantly changing fantasy hall of mirrors that millions and millions of Americans are all too glad to wander alongside him in, docile as lambs.

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Flashback 2006: King Lear, "I would not be mad"

Stacy Keach, left, as King Lear. (Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre)

     Many emails Monday from readers grateful for my pushback against muscular Christianity trying to wrestle public education to the ground and break its arm. One mentioned that this was the third letter of praise he had sent to a public figure, in his life, the first being to Christopher Plummer after seeing him in "King Lear." 
     Good company. My inclination was to send him, as thanks, my observations on Robert Falls' benchmark 2006 "King Lear," but realized I'd never posted it here. Let me fix that right away.

'I would not be mad. . .'

     Theater, like life, is fleeting. The most elaborate production is quickly gone, the sets broken down, the cast dispersed, never to return.
     But you can't see everything, not in a town like Chicago, where dramatic riches are being tossed from a stage somewhere almost every single night.
     Which is why I nearly missed "King Lear" at the Goodman, for the simple reason that "Hamlet" opened at Navy Pier a few days earlier. How much Shakespeare can I reasonably ask my wife to endure?
      As October clicked by, I began to feel a rising panic, the desperate urgency that grips my boys when they hear the receding jingle of the ice cream truck. My chance was slipping by. Still I dithered.
     Then the Wall Street Journal, a perfumed hankie jammed under its nose, panned the play as an "appallingly expensive desecration," as if it were footing the bill. "Oral sex, anal rape, male and female nudity, murder by garrote" — the Journal huffed, as if Shakespeare didn't stud his work with both killings and low puns about country matters.
     Could director Robert Falls have really stumbled that badly? I remember being awed at his "Hamlet" nearly a quarter century ago. It shocked, in a good way. When Ophelia came on stage, late in the play, hiking up her skirts and drawing on her face with lipstick, you recoiled, thinking, "She's crazy!" and then laughed at yourself because, duh, it's Ophelia.
     Was the Journal right? Or was my colleague Hedy Weiss, who praised the play, particularly Falls' decision to set it among the embers of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, which the Journal found a stunt?
     If I didn't see it, I'd never know.
     So I went, alone, having failed to entice anybody to go with me. Drove downtown in the snowstorm Thursday, ponied up the $26 to park and the $60 for a ticket, feeling slightly sheepish — some strange vestige of directorial brand loyalty. "Lear" isn't even one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.
     Or wasn't, until now.
     The good news is that the Journal's theater critic is as perceptive as its editorial writers, who consider George Bush in a class with Lincoln and Jesus. Without replicating Hedy's spot-on review, I'll note that the murderous dukes and lecherous ladies of "Lear" fit perfectly into the bloody post-Soviet chaos.
     At one point, I did turn my face away, revolted. But that was when Gloucester's eyes are ripped out, and isn't that what an audience should do at that point? Falls didn't write the scene — Shakespeare did. Falls just gave it the horror it deserves. I guess the Journal would have preferred his eyes be put out demurely, perhaps by a committee.
     The sad thing is that "King Lear" only runs for another week, though tickets are available. As I said, these things end far too soon.
          —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Oct. 15, 2006