Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Get Some Laughs with Torture

The Theater Project captures all the zany darkness of Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them in an hilarious and perceptively staged production at Union County College in Cranford. This 2009 off Broadway hit written by Christopher Durang opens with Felicity (Meghan Murray), a newlywed bride, awakening (in a vertical bed that makes an interesting scene extraordinary) next to her new husband, Zamir (Phil Eichinger), a complete, and somewhat unsavory, stranger. Shaken, Felicity heads to her parents' home in Maplewood, but the parents only make matters worse. Dad (Gary Glor) is a paranoid serving in a self created shadow government while Mom (Harriett Trangucci) is paralyzed into a life of theater babble – or maybe it's genius to those who really know their theater.

Mr. Durang mounts an assault on the fourth wall that begins with some odd (and very funny) PA announcements, reminiscent of MASH, and escalates into a strobe lit attack on the fabric of the space-time continuum. The last few minutes may actually get a little too zany, even a little too saccharine, but it's a long ride. Most of the journey is a surprising, engaging and playful tug of war with the characters jumping in and out of their theatrical reality, all while serving up Durang's dark brew of acerbic wit.

The Theater Project, a professional company based at UCC, and Artistic Director Mark Spina make a habit of reviving shows that are just the right fit for the resources available and then producing them creatively. Every dollar spent seems to produce two dollars in impact on the stage.

The entire cast excels. Mr. Eichinger wisely chooses not to go too far over the top as Zamir, giving the show a necessary secondary anchor. Mr. Glor and Ms Trangucci make the most of roles that require both comedic and dramatic deftness amid the spiraling madness. Ms Murray handles the central role of the non-crazy well, but even she can't quite take enough sweetness out of a final scene that turns preachy in a contradiction of all that has gone before it.

Torture is playing Thursday-Sunday nights until August 1. This reviewer is not the only fan, the audience was laughing out loud throughout most of the show.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Times Slaps Doc Gurby Again

First post in a while, spurred on by duty as the official blog of Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan: President Says Private Newspapers to be Allowed - And why not? Doc Gurby has nothing to hide. Every change this guy has made has been pro-Democracy, pro-liberalization. Even the NY Times has finally begun to recognize this:
Since the 2006 death of his autocratic predecessor, Mr. Berdymukhammedov
has taken steps toward liberalization, removing bans on institutions from the
Internet to the opera.

Yet still, the Times cannot resist the gratuitous slap:
But he controls power in the one-party state, and rights groups say reforms
are cosmetic.

Who are these unnamed rights groups? Is it really news that Doc isn't changing things fast enough to suit everyone?

There is news here, a real story, not a silly tag line. Where is Doc headed, what is the plan?. Will he keep the brakes on forever, or does he want to transform Turkmenistan into a functioning democracy during his lifetime? For many autocrats, the answe depends on one key fact - is there a relative or protege whom the autocrat wants to establish as a successor? If yes, the shift to democracy is limited. If no, then maybe Doc really wants to have democracy up and running by the time he retires. What has the Times said about Doc's family? About favored proteges? Nothing. It's a lot easier to write tag lines about rights groups, no thought required.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Honeymoon Lost

1993, West Orange, NJ – a 50th wedding anniversary party at the Manor for Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Sy. Sy, an athletic, big man who normally stands tall, rises sheepishly, and reveals, with some trepidation, a secret he's held for 50 years.

1943, NY, NY – Sy gets his orders to ship out. He and Eleanor accelerate their wedding plans. NYC is stuffed to the gills with servicemen, but Sy manages to reserve the honeymoon suite at a plush hotel for their one night together.

The wedding reception winds down and Sy and Eleanor head for the New Yorker Hotel. Sy is shocked, and Eleanor disappointed, when the desk clerk cannot find their reservation. The clerk sympathizes with a serviceman and his new bride on a one night honeymoon, but he's booked solid. Fortunately, sympathy and a generous gratuity are enough to get Sy and Eleanor a room, but it looks a lot more like the broom closet than the honeymoon suite.

1943, the North Atlantic - Five days later, Sy is on deck, headed to Europe. Strains of the Glen Miller standard Pennsylvania 6-5000 waft towards him and gradually invade his consciousness. Suddenly Sy smites his own forehead with a mighty blow. He had reserved the honeymoon suite – at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

1993, West Orange, NJ – After 50 years of marriage Eleanor is prepared to look back and laugh at a great story, right? No way! Eleanor, normally resolutely cheerful, is irate. She is mad about the broom closet honeymoon and even madder about the fifty year wait for the truth. Sy manages to patch things up, somewhat, by the time the evening winds down.

2010 – the moral? Many options here, but “that's my story and I'm sticking to it” is looking good to me. Not sure if Sy wishes he had taken this story to his grave, but I'm glad he did not, hope you are too.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cub Reporter's Debut

Cub Reporter's Debut - posted today on Justmeans - is a genuine report on a CSR Forum sponsored by the Better Business Bureau- wrapped in a good old As Good As News style fun post. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gatekeepers - Plus IMF, Plus Manuscript

Latest post on Sustainable Finance external blog deals with Gatekeepers (accountants, lawyers, etc.) deterring securities fraud by their clients. Based on a law review article, but it's actually a fun piece. Lately I have been lightening up and making the Justmean's columns a little more like good old As Good As News. If you don't believe me visit Justmeans Editorial (link in column on right) for my latest song parody - Mother Earth is Makin Her Last Stand (to the tune of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), while you are there check out all the Justmeans Earth Day specials.

While we are on Earth Day (and for those upset about the snarky posty on Bob Zoellick), IFC is now selling it's first green bond, proceeds to be held in a segregated fund awaiting investment in green projects. Posts at Justmeans include some "nice" observations on IMF. IMF now has an interim report out on bailout and financial reform (previewed as "global tax" in Justmeans). Look for coverage on the interim report sometime in next two weeks.

Manuscript at The Theater Project in Cranford, NJ is another success. Artistic Director Mark Spina consistently finds off Broadway material that is just right for adaptation to the Theater Project space and budget. Manuscript is funny, suspenseful and surprising. The cast has a minor stumble or two and the show is not Spina's absolute best, but still much fun and well worth seeing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Told You So..

New column in Sustainable Finance today, "Plugging into Mother Earth" also plugging for MIT and feeling a little better about prospects for the developing world.

NY Times is really going after the unpaid internship story, with two news items last week, neither of which had any real news to report. Sustainable Finance ran its first column on Feb 5, revisits the story today - (not posted yet, visit, then from menu select Editorial and then Sustainable Finance) mostly to note that the only new news so far is the Time's interest.

Steelers trade Santonio Holmes to Jets for a stinking FIFTH ROUND PICK. Here's what As Good As News said in a post titled "Strange Odors" in early February 2009 when Santonio was the hero of the Steeler Superbowl win over the Cards:

What to do? Trade Santonio now. He will never be more valuable. There's a
wealthy team in the Meadowlands that needs a replacement at wide receiver. See,
it's always about New Jersey after all.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I forgot

When I started writing for Justmeans I included a link here, but I forgot to mention that one post a week goes to Sustainable Finance, a separate blog.

My latest post on Sustainable Finance is AAAAAAAARGH! Pirate Finance Model a little too successful.

An early favorite was posted February 5 - Unpaid Interns, the New Sweatshop - the NY Times started to get interested in this topic on Saturday, Apr. 3.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Justmeans transfer and Mystery of the Missing Pissarros

No posts lately as I have been travelling (ski trip, Columbus visit for my brother's birthday and St. Thomas trip for my wedding anniversary). Now I'm working on editorial posts for Justmeans which means posts here will be few and far between for some time. First Justmeans publication is scheduled for Feb. 1. I'm writing on sustainable finance, a broad area encompassing a surprising number of opportunities for humor. Don't hesitate to communicate, here or through Justmeans, if you want to suggest a topic for a column.

If you visit St. Thomas stop at Government House in Charlotte Amalie. If you are lucky (like we were) the guard will give you a thorough tour of the lobby, including two small oils by Camille Pissarro. Then visit the house Pissarro grew up in, just a few blocks away. It now houses an art gallery on the top floor, including some Pissarro sketches, no oils. Talk to the proprietor, who will offer some very interesting speculation on what happened to the other two Pissarro's in Government House -there used to be four altogether, all donated by Pissarro's family for the benefit of the people on the island. If you have any information on the missing Pissarro oils, please comment here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Die Now for Once in a Lifetime Estate Tax Savings? Congress Creates a Quagmire.

Summary -A Congressional showdown has produced an estate tax rate of zero, for the moment, with the future of the estate tax still up for grabs. The resulting uncertainty will hamper the efforts of charitable, educational and social organizations seeking major gifts and bequests from major donors.

Thanks to an unusual piece of Bush era tax legislation, the Federal Estate Tax rate, which has been decreasing for several years, is now zero for 2010. No matter how excited you are about this once in a lifetime (literally) estate tax planning opportunity, try not to die, at least until you have finished this post. If Congress does nothing, the estate tax will be back with a vengeance in 2011, when the Bush legislation expires and the higher taxes of the Clinton era come back to life (the dreaded Zombie Effect).

The House has already passed a bill extending the 2009 estate tax for 2010 (top rate 45% with first $3.5 million of each estate excluded from tax). The Senate is likely to consider adoption of the same approach, retroactive to January 1. Pro-estate tax forces in Congress have generally shown some willingness to compromise on rates and exclusions in order to get a tax in place for 2010. Opponents, who would like to repeal the "death tax" permanently, might be happy with the zero rate now, but even they want to get something done before 2011, when the Zombie Effect would produce a 55% top rate, with an exclusion of $1 million and new exposure of estate assets to capital gains tax. For now, some of the estate tax foes are playing hardball, confident that the Zombie Effect is not a serious threat, because it will be unpalatable to nearly everyone.

Why should you care about any of this if you are not wealthy, not planning to die within the next few years and not really into zombies? Estate tax planning drives a significant component of charitable giving. If your favorite school, environmental organization, or social justice institution hasn't already asked you to make a lifetime bequest of capital while reserving lifetime income under an annuity arrangement, it will someday. If you are rich enough and old enough to think about making this kind of gift, then you will want to understand the estate tax consequences. If the estate tax is up in the air, the estate tax consequences are unknowable. The result: worthy causes seeking major gifts and bequests will be hearing an awful lot of, "Let me get back to you once I know what's happening with estate taxes." Sustainable financing for even the most basic operations of some organizations could be jeopardized.

Today is not a good day to die, even for the estate planning fanatic. Today is a good day for Congress to produce serious estate tax legislation for 2010 and beyond. Don't let a showdown over the Zombie Effect bring charitable giving to its knees.