31 October 2011


There is a movie being advertised that is based on the premise that Shakespeare did not write his plays but instead was a front man for someone more sophisticated, presumably the Earl of Oxford. This is an old theory that might work as fiction but it is not history. Indeed the film makers are doing to Shakespeare what he himself often did to historical figures- fabricating nonsense to make good drama. The theory is based on the assumption that someone with Shakespeare's ordinary, middling background could not have written so well.

But Shakespeare in fact is relatively middle-brow, and certainly in his own time, produced popular entertainment. But as the language has become more and more antiquated, and thus more difficult, it has been lifted to an intellectual level that is not there. I have often thought that non-English speakers may get a better read on Shakespeare because it is unlikely that he would be translated into arcane language.

Shakespeare had an undeniable gift for language and the stage, but this does not require a higher education and there is nothing miraculous about this. What does show through is a vague understanding of history that is not well-developed. When Shakespeare relies on sources like Plutarch he is relatively on the mark in, say, Julius Caesar, or Antony and Cleopatra. His historical figures are otherwise pretty consistently distorted, i.e. Richard III was not a hunchback, and often reflect Tudor propaganda.

Shakespeare is one of the most well-known persons in history even though parts of his life may be obscure, but the absence of information does not support fanciful conjecture. Given the passage of enough time things that we know to be true today may become hazy in future reference. Shakespeare had remarkable gifts, but his work does not require that he be an aristocrat. Shakespeare wrote his plays.

30 October 2011


It now costs $11.50 to enter New York City from anywhere further west and that will soon rise to $15.00. Imagine having to pay that every day. Never mind that the bridges and tunnels being tolled have long since been paid off. Once you enter the city, due to the anti-car mentality of the Bloomberg administration, there is virtually no free parking any more but plenty of bike lanes. To park on the street you have to pay the meter, or otherwise park in an exorbitantly expensive garage. It's not as bad as London but it's getting there. Where I live there is unnecessary alternate side parking four days a week, which means you have to go out and move the car every day or otherwise double-park for hours for the few minutes that the street sweeper actually passes by. Then there are the exclusive bus lanes, which leaves one lane open for everything else, and a heavy fine if you're caught intruding, although cabs constantly fly in and out of the lanes. The message is clear. Cars are not welcome even if they are sometimes necessary. This all may seem strange to the rest of the country, but you've been warned- don't drive in New York.

15 October 2011


I can remember a time when travel used to be fun. It was once possible to take a helicopter run by New York Airways to the airport from atop the Pan Am building near Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. Everything about jet airline travel then was “futuristic;” the airport, the aircraft, even the attire of the stewardesses. Now everything seems dismally past. The city banned the helicopter, Pan Am is gone (now the MetLife building), and routine travel has become an inconvenient ordeal. Once there was no onerous security screening and you could roam freely. It was also easy to catch a last minute flight. I remember one time missing a flight on American Airlines. I was able to simply walk over to United Airlines using the same ticket and catch their next flight to the same destination. There were also more direct, nonstop flights. Now you have to go through a “hub” and often wait around to change planes, hoping your luggage also made the same transfer.

The days of convenience and service are long gone. Once the airlines all provided meals and snacks, and baggage was considered an integral part of the trip- so much so that it would never have occurred to anyone to describe it as free. Now the airlines impose additional charges for every conceivable item, and ticket prices have been substantially inflated to the point, where, on my last ticket purchase taxes and fees were one-third of the price. A good deal of this has come about because of enhanced “security,” the passage through which can be a major nuisance. (I’m sure I could find a million other people who’d love to join me in stomping the “shoe bomber” to death).

Overall this is one area where life was definitely better thirty to forty years ago, and actually more modern. Something has gone terribly wrong with aerospace. Back then we were walking on the moon. Now we can’t even get to the International Space Station on our own. Then the future seemed a sure bet to be even better, with ever increasing improvements. Instead everything is essentially the same in many respects and far worse in others. Anyone who has lived through this regression cannot fail to be disappointed. Where once a trip to the airport was an occasion for wondrous joy, now we try an avoid flying as much as possible. We need to take a really hard look at this situation and come up with some solutions that will at least get us back to where we were, if not better.