I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Childs, Artistic Director of 1812 Productions, Philadelphia's All Comedy Theatre Company, about her new comedy, which she wrote and directed, It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. It's My Party began in 2010 with two questions: how do women use comedy and how does the usage change as they age. Through collage, cabaret, and stand-up Childs investigates gender stereotypes that lock women into certain roles, such as the ditz, the vamp, and the old maid.
In some ways, the play responds to Christopher Hitchens' provocative comment in a Vanity Fair article years ago, claiming that women aren't funny. The first act of this compelling show had the audience laughing on the opening night last Wedensday. The all-woman ensemble includes comedic veterans of the Philadelphia theatre. The play incorporates original and devised music by the cast and the musical director Monica Stephenson, and features a set by 1812 Productions' designer Lance Kniskern.
During this graduation season, you might need some guidance in selecting suitable gifts. In the past, I've bestowed books of graduation speeches, which fascinate me, and I've given Harlan Cohen's The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College (which delighted the recipient because her mother did, indeed, have a naked roommate). Now, I write to tout the whimsy and insight of Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life, edited by Smith Magazine in partnership with Reboot, a non-profit with a mission of triggering discussions about Jewish identity, community, and meaning.
Now known as "flash fiction," the six-word story derives its literary genesis from lore that Ernest Hemingway won a bet with the challenge to write a novel in just six words with the following: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." A reviewer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called this style an American haiku. Smith Magazine has trademarked its Six-Word Memoirs series; this newest addition is a much quicker read than a graduation speech!
The case in point is his April 9 segment pitting Easter against Passover, most of which I found offensive as a Jew. While the premise was not necessarily a terrible idea, the punch lines trivialized nearly every important concept of the Jewish festival of freedom for the sake of a few cheap laughs. That the studio audience ate it up is no indication of its funniness — it's a known fact that The Daily Show audience laughs at anything.
One of most humorous I think relates to my father. You may remember my father, George Romney, was president of an automobile company called American Motors... They had a factory in Michigan, and they had a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and another one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And as the president of the company he decided to close the factory in Michigan and move all the production to Wisconsin. Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan and so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign... So every time they would start playing 'On, Wisconsin, On, Wisconsin,' my dad's political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop, because they didn't want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin.
Beginning when we are children, we all take pledges. The earliest pledge for most of us is when we pledge allegiance to the flag. Most of us earnestly do this before we know what "pledge" or "allegiance" mean. All I knew was that it involved "the Republic for which it stands" which I assumed was all one word ("Forwhichistan") and was probably near some of the smaller, similarly named countries in Soviet Siberia.
As I grew older I learned there are other pledges people take, almost all of which are bad ideas. For example, some people take a "Pledge of Chastity," which, if the statistics are any indication, is tantamount to a pledge to get pregnant, immediately.
Then there are the loyalty pledges we made people sign during our dark, McCarthy period (I refer to Senator Joseph McCarthy, not Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist's dummy, whose view of anti-communist purges is more ambiguous). Turns out, that people who are disloyal, have absolutely no problem signing loyalty pledges. Go Figure.
I remember taking the Boy Scout pledge. I don't remember all of it, but part of it was me swearing to be "brave, clean and reverent." But as a 15 year old, I was a scrungy, blasphemous coward, so clearly that pledge needed some tweaking.
Then there was the "Pledge Pin" where a young man would insert his fraternity pin directly into the pectoral muscles of his best gal. At least that's what I did. Maybe that's why I never got second dates. And then some pledge their "troth," and who the hell knows what a "troth" is?
The point is that most pledges are a bad idea. They usually involve promises to do things that you know won't feel right or won't be right in days to come. That's why you take the pledge now. You are saying:
"No matter what happens in the future, no matter what facts change, or what circumstances change, or how I change, I am pledging to this bone-headed thing, no matter what. So help me God."
Let me give you an example. suppose I take the "No Right Turn Pledge," which says as follows:
I __________, am of reasonable intelligence. This means I am not as dumb as a ________, nor is my name _____W. ___. I hereby pledge, when driving on the streets of Pennsylvania, that I verily, and with utmost rectitude, will never, under any circumstances, make a "right turn," or "right hand turn" as people who need extra help call it.
I shall refrain from turning right even if I am driving straight and my destination is on the right. Or, if I am heading towards a brick wall and my breaks fail, and there's a huge cliff on the left. Or, lets say I see a big sign that says "Lots of Money ahead, on right!!!" Nope not even then.
By my Hand _________________
Seems kind of silly, huh? Well, our governor has signed a pledge which makes the "No Right Turn" thing seem like pure genius. I refer to the "The Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
This is a pledge written by a man named Grover Norquist, who has, to my knowledge, never even been to Pennsylvania (he may have taken a pledge not to), but who nonetheless appears to be running the state.
Mr. Norquist's pledge requires the signer to never, ever vote to create a new tax or increase an existing one. It does not matter how low the existing tax rate is, what kind of tax would be raised, what it would go for, how dire the state's fiscal situation is or how tiny the increase would be.
So even if the rapture did happen on May 21 (and I'm quite sure the guy is right about the new date) and we needed a small tax on... say... cigars to help deal with all of the unexpected rivers of molten lava and swarms of locusts, that would be unacceptable to Grover.
This pledge applies under absolutely all circumstances. If it only applied when it made sense, you wouldn't need a pledge. That would be a no-brainer and not require the services of Mr. Norquist.
Recently, some in the legislature suggested that we charge the Marcellus Shale drilling industry a "local impact fee" to help defray the costs of the damage they do to the communities where they drill. The supporters of this proposal made it very clear that this was not a "tax." It was a "fee." You can tell because "tax" and "fee" aren't even spelled the same. Plus, the money raised would not go to educating kids or giving medicine to sick people, or any other part of the radical, Kenyan Socialist agenda. Surely, Grover Norquist would smile on this.
But alas unicorns, it was not to be. Grover, communing with the Spirit of Jack Kemp, as well as the spirits of the Koch Brothers, who while not actually dead, are too rich to require physical bodies, issued his edict. This fee was really a tax, and would be a violation of The Pledge.
So apparently, because the Governor signed this ridiculous pledge to ignore all facts forever, our hands are tied. Grover Norquist rules the day, despite the fact that this does great damage to our state, despite the fact that he was never elected to anything in Pennsylvania, and despite the fact that his name is Grover.
I have an idea for a pledge. It goes something like this...
"I, ______ hereby pledge that I will address every public policy question with an open mind, and that I will consider all the facts and do my best to do what's right for the people of Pennsylvania, without regard to rigid ideologies, or bone-headed pledges written by dudes I've never met named "Grover."
Austan Goolsbee, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, advocates for the latke at the 61st annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 26, 2007.
Gary Tubb, Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, advocates for the hamantashen at the 62nd annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 25, 2008.
I learned about these annual debates when my daughter enrolled at the University of Chicago and was even invited to serve as banner-carrier. This year's debate was re-labelled "Sixty-Five and Never Retiring: A debate over Social Security like no other," but I think the more fun symposia are on the original topic of food preferences. The "The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate" published in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press and edited by Ruth Fredman Cernea includes "Consolations of the Latke" delivered by Philosophy Professor Ted Cohen at the 1976 Latke-Hamantash Debate.
So, which do you prefer: the latke or the hamantaschen?
(Keep this in mind for this weekend. PJVoice Comic Steve Hofstetter is always a hoot. Part of the proceeds will support the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. - promoted by Publisher)
Tired of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Eve? Try some of the top Jewish comics in the business as the King Davids of Comedy take the stage. Our mensches present their hilarious schtick as the great tradition of Jewish comedians continues at the brand new Laughing Devil Comedy Club. Shows are hosted by Philadelphia Jewish Voice writer Steve Hofstetter from the Late Late Show and lineup is TBA - though past guests have included Jeff Garlin, Sarah Silverman, and more.
The after-tax income of the top 1% of US Households has almost quadrupled since 1979. Meanwhile those at the bottom experienced an 18% increased according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Accordingly 68% of Americans are asking the richest to do their fair share and pay an extra couple of percent on their marginal tax rate for their income beyond $1,000,000. Nevertheless, the Republicans on the "Supercommittee" charged with reducing the deficit are intransigent. They have signed Grover Norquist pledge to never increase taxes and want to balance the budget by cutting expenses. This puts onus largely on the backs of the working poor who will suffer the most from reductions in social security and other entitlements.
However, the Republicans did offer a token compromise. Yesterday, they offered to eliminate certain deductions. Millionaires would no longer be able to write off interest paid for their yacht or summer home.
However, in exchange they want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and expand them, slashing one-fifth of the income tax for millionaires by reducing the top rate from 35% to 28%.
This year my wife and I will be spending one seder at her mother's and one at my mother's, but in the future, we may be starting our own Passover traditions. And I admit, I am completely lost.
I began thinking about the Passovers I knew growing up, and how the holiday was the same every year. There'd be an occasional change in which random elderly cousin coughed a lot in the last seat, but from five to fifteen years old, I had twenty identical seders.
It would be unfair of me to expect that the seders my wife and I might throw in the future will involve just my traditions and not hers. So to help me think about which I'd like to keep (and entertain a few readers simultaneously), I wanted to recount the memories that most say Passover to me. I'd bet at least a few of these will remind you of your childhood, and help you determine what you'd like to keep, should you ever JDate your way to your own family.
I like to think of myself as a pretty worldly guy. I've been to the rodeo. I've eaten the Easter Peeps. I've paid full price for a muffler. But every once in a while, something so outrageous, so off-the-charts awful happens (like Celine Dion making a new album) that even I am shocked.
Such a thing happened last Tuesday in Harrisburg when our new Governor, Tom Corbett gave his budget address. I entered the Hall of the House for the joint session all prepared. I had my ankle warmers and flask of hot cocoa, because one can get cold in the capitol. The Senator sitting next to me had his flask of Jaegermeister, because one can get sober in the capitol.
I was wearing my "Tony Luke's Makes the Best Sausage" T-Shirt (I get a small fee) and my giant foam hand with extended index finger in case Corbett mentioned Temple University and my jar of mace, in case... well... just in case.
The governor's speech started off promisingly enough in that he didn't trip walking up the stairs. That is no small thing. In 1822 Governor Joseph Heister fell off of the dais during his budget address and hit his head. For the rest of his term he could not be persuaded that he wasn't a large chicken, which led to some very restrictive, yet innovative agricultural legislation.
While there was much in Mr. Corbett's budget I disagreed with, that is for another day. After the address was over, I dragged my neighboring Senator (he finished his flask) back to his office and started lazily paging through the 1,124 page Policy Statement which accompanied the budget. In it, I found something truly shocking.
Governor Corbett included the following paragraph which set forth a new policy on how we regulate. It turns out that the Governor wants a "friction free" relationship between regulators and the industries they regulate.
Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted."
This is troubling. "Friction-free" relationships are very rare in the best of circumstances. I haven't had a friction free relationship since my imaginary friend Dodo, when I was a kid. But by the time I turned 40, even he came to loath me.
Historically, friction doesn't arise because regulators like Woody Allen movies and Industrialists don't. There is only one reason for "friction," which is that industry doesn't like to be told they can't dump poisons in lakes or mercury in the air or have to give their workers bathroom breaks. So in other words, a "friction-free" environment sounds frightfully like a regulation free environment.
Things then go from bad to worse. Under this new policy directive, those who head our regulatory agencies (the Secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Labor and Industry, etc.) will lose their power to make regulatory decisions.
Now, in order "to be more responsive to the needs of job-creators" (very little is ever said about the needs of "job-doers") the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development is "empowered to expedite any permit or other action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted."
Ok, lets stop there. What will our actual regulators now do since they are losing their ability to regulate. One word... Yahtzee!!
Keep in mind, that this strips the departments of their control over when to issue permits, and "any...other action." Presumably going to the rest room now requires a call to DCED.
Of course, this only applies if "creation of jobs may be impacted." I suppose this could have been broader. It could apply "only if air is being breathed somewhere" or "only if Lindsey Lohan is getting arrested." But this is pretty darn broad.
Any regulation could theoretically impact the creation of jobs. For example if a regulation says you have to clean up a stream you polluted, that will cost money that could have gone to hire someone to dump more pollution into that stream. Or if a regulation says you can't beat employees with rubber tubing, the guy who beats folks is suddenly on the street.
Finally its bad enough that there is a guy whose job is to stop health, safety, worker and consumer regulations. But its even worse when you realize who that guy is. The head of DCED is a man named C. Alan Walker.
Let me start off by saying that I do not know Mr. Walker. I have never met him. He may be a perfectly delightful man. Maybe he buys flowers for his wife on her birthday. Maybe he buys flowers for my wife on her birthday. God knows someone should. That said, his public record does not instill great confidence that he will be a strict guardian of our safety.
First, he has given $184,000 to Governor Corbett over the years. That sounds like a Kool-Aid drinker to me. I don't have many $184,000 donors (although I am open to meeting them!). But if I did, I doubt I'd have a very arms-length relationship with them.
He is also the head of one coal company and has an ownership interest in an unknown number of other coal companies. That is also strange. At any given time, I know exactly how many coal companies I own. He also has a history of polluting and refusing to clean up until a court makes him.
An Outsider's Take On Purim's Public Relations Problem
-- Julie D. Bartha
First off, you should know that I am not Jewish. I grew up in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, but it wasn't until I was in high school that I realized my neighborhood was a Catholic island surrounded by a sea of synagogues. I had never even heard of Purim until well into my adulthood.
When I was a little kid, my parents decided to not raise us within an organized religion. They let us kids seek religious truths for ourselves, and I've always been grateful for that. It allowed me to explore a variety of faiths with an open mind. But I was also a little lonely growing up. The others kids all seemed to have a sense of belonging that I lacked.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) mocks Republican defunding National Public Radio. "What a relief. I'm glad we got the economy back going. I'm so glad we secured our nuclear power plants. So glad Americans are going back to work. We discovered a target we can all agree on...it's Click And Clack."
When I was elected in 2002, I became the tenth Jewish legislator in Pennsylvania. Thus, because of me, we now had a minyan in Harrisburg. We could theoretically get together to daven three times each day. And although we never actually have (I said "theoretically") it was empowering to know that we could.
Flush with this newfound sense of power, we set about to make state government more overtly Jewish. Of course, when I say "we", I should note that the other nine Jewish members were not actually with me on this. In fact, some of them actually formed a committee to find a non-Jew to convert, so that they could have a minyan that never meets which did notinclude me. Nonetheless, I lifted my head high, started humming "I am Jewish, Hear me Roar" and set about changing the world.
Here is a skit entitled "Kindergarten Hope" from the satire program "Eretz Nehederet" (Wonderful Country) on Israel Television Channel 2 applying the curriculum of the university reform movement Im Tirtzu to Israeli Kindergartens.
If you haven't been watching HBO's Boardwalk Empire, you're missing out on something rare. A Jew portrayed on camera as a tough guy.
The stereotypical Jewish character on television is not usually one we can be proud of. From Woody Allen's nebbish and neurotic to Mrs. Seinfeld's overbearing and oblivious, the Jews might have a reputation as scholarly, but never sexy. This must be what it Italians feel like watching Jersey Shore.
I imagine it's much more difficult to be a Jew on Christmas than it is to be a Christian on Hanukah. You don't find many Hanukah specials about families getting stranded in an airport learning the true meaning of the menorah.
But if there were lots of Hanukah specials, I'd be just as annoyed as I am at those about Christmas. I finally realized that I do not dislike most Christmas specials because they are about a holiday I do not celebrate - I dislike them because they're really, really cheesy.
I love the original Grinch cartoon. The Peanuts specials are always fun, and Seinfeld's Festivus episode is a classic. A number of sit-coms have simply had funny events happen at Christmas parties, which is fine considering that the holiday is a part of our country's pop culture. But the shows that have people changing their lives based on the true meaning of Christmas really exasperate me.
As a kid, I always knew where to be for the high holidays. I would be in my seat in synagogue, with an occasional respite for "bathroom" breaks that devolved into 20 minute games of freeze tag. I know, lying to my parents is wrong. But it gave me something to repent for.
We have always gravitated towards large metro areas. Perhaps it's because we're a communal people. Perhaps it's for the availability of good Chinese food. Whatever the reason, we're city dwellers. Which means there's an awful lot of America without any Jews.
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