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Caroline, or Change
Back on November 2, the Day of the Dead (and S's birthday), we went to see this work at the Public Theater, and loved it. I meant to write a review here, but never got around to it. Fortunately my friend Bob Lamm has, and he says pretty much what I had wanted to say. I guess what we saw must have been a pre-preview, because Bob says it had its "opening" just a week ago. Here's Bob's review; see link below for images.

Dear Friends--

Just back from the Public Theater, where I saw one of the last previews of
the new musical, CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, for which Tony Kushner wrote the book
and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori wrote the music. It had its "opening" a week
ago and apparently the reviews will be in the newspapers on Monday.

I found it very powerful and very moving, another triumph for Kushner (and
Tesori). And this rave comes from someone who rarely enjoys musicals unless
they were written by Frank Loesser!

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is set in Louisiana in 1963. It's about Caroline
Thibodeaux, a divorced African American mother of four who is working as a
maid in the home of a Jewish family with lots of problems. To write a
musical addressing Black-Jewish issues is certainly walking through
landmines, but I believe that Kushner and Tesori have done a great job. For
me, the first act had some fine moments yet lagged at times. However, the
second act was superb and memorable.

Tonya Pinkins is sensational in the lead role. If Ben Brantley gives it a
rave review in the Times, if they can get the money to bring CAROLINE, OR
CHANGE to Broadway, it's a certainty that she will win a Tony Award for Best
Actress in a Musical. There's also a terrific performance by a young actress
who was new to me, Anika Noni Rose. She plays Caroline's teenage daughter,
a young woman who is becoming involved in the civil rights movement.

I'd definitely recommend seeing CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at the Public if you can
(though I imagine it will quickly sell out) or, hopefully, on Broadway.


Scenes from "Caroline, or Change"



A friend forwarded me an essay by Franz Schurman, purporting to explain why China and India, former foes, are now becoming buddies. I've read Schurman in the past, and frankly, I expected better. Here I think he's all wrong. So you can judge for yourself, I've appended his original article to my riposte.

Some of this is bullshit. Countries don't change polices because they get "sick and tired of their mutual hatred of each other." They change policies when there are shifts in internal pressures -- meaning what the leadership needs to do to stay in power. Schurman treats this as a psychiatric, rather than a pragmatic political, problem; India and China were a couple that just needed counseling.

What has changed within India and within China to make each more interested in cooperation? I don't know in detail, but my hunches are to look at:

- In India, the decline of the Congress Party; the Hindu zealots now in power don't have a tradition, or any motive, to continue Cold War policies, especially now that the U.S. is no longer basing military & other sorts of aid on the basis of hostility to China;
- In China, a departure from the partly paranoid, partly arrogant doctrine of self-sufficiency and a growing concern with market-share for exports -- due to the unleashing of internal forces of capitalism;
- For both, a mutual hostility to Islamic militants (Kashmir & Pakistan for the Indians, Uyghurs and all those other Muslims on the borders for China).

Schurman writes:
Another answer to the question how hatred morphed into cooperation is that both China and India are ancient empires that produced brilliant civilizations. Empires are states that rule over a great diversity of peoples and extend over huge tracts of lands. Civilizations are cultures on a vast scale. And culture can be defined as the ways people live, work and think together.

Some empires rest on great civilizations, others do not. The former last very long while the latter do not. China and India are the world's greatest examples of the former. And great empires like these seek peace and prosperity. It's the short-lived empires that stir up wars, like the ones led by Napoleon and Hitler.

Puh-leeze! This kind of stereotyping mystifies instead of clarifying. To imagine India as ever having been a unified empire comparable to China muddles the differences that explain why that other empire, the British, ended up with such contrasting strategies toward the two regions (to call India a "country" would be to exaggerate its integration). The "great civilization" that informed some of the empires within India (because during most of its history, it was divided among several) was Persian. Anyway, it's not clear that most of the rulers during most of their pre-19th century history in either country were primarily interested in peace and prosperity. Confucius certainly didn't think so, which is why he made such an issue of it. The Indian kingdoms were almost perpetually at war with one another.

What would Schurman say was the great civilization on which the Ottoman empire rested? It lasted 700 years, or about 550 if we count only from the fall of Constantinople, which is a pretty long time. Their civilization was brilliant, actually, because it was completely eclectic -- a little Arabic, a little Persian, a little Jewish, wrapped in ancient Turkic traditions from Central Asia. Doesn't fit Schurman's model.

And how does he conclude that Napoleon's and Hitler's empires (the Reich lasted 12 years, by the way, not the "less than a decade" he says) did NOT rest on great civilizations? The civilizations of France and Germany were pretty impressive and pretty ancient. It was the empires themselves that were new.

So, here is Schurman's piece, from the Pacific News Service:

EDITOR'S NOTE: India and China, both with a strong and prosperous economy, have overcome old vehemence to shake hands across their once bloody border. This new Indo-Sino relationship will spur a vast common market in Asia and bring back the glories of their civilization. PNS Editor Franz Schurmann (fschurmann@pacificnews.org) is emeritus professor of sociology and history at U.C. Berkeley and the author of numerous books.


On Nov. 22, 2003, the prestigious French paper "Le Monde" ran the headline "Huge Asian Common Market Working Better Than Europe's." The two founders of the world's newest common market are China and India, each with a population of over a billion, and each with high literacy rates. Just a few years back, relations between the two countries were terrible. How is it that now they are cooperating so well that Le Monde hailed it as a "new direction in (global) development?"

One answer is that both countries are sick and tired of their mutual hatred of each other. The animosity started in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India, where he still lives. In 1962 the two countries fought a war over Aksai-Chin, a barren plateau in the frozen Himalayas. Neither side gained anything except deepening hatred.

However, the thaw in the relations between the two countries occurred in January 2002, when former Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji visited India. Zhu was the first high-ranking Chinese official to do so in 11 years. This time Zhu started a process that recently resulted in joint maneuvers by the two navies in the East China Sea. Zhu also gave a speech in Bangalore, India's information Technology (IT) hub. The gist of the speech was that China excels in hardware while India excels in software. And his punch line was that the two countries should work together.

Two years later, Sino-Indian IT cooperation is moving at a fast pace. An example of this Sino-Indian common market is that NIIT Ltd, one of India's biggest software producing firms, has landed a contract to build 125 schools in China's 25 provinces. NIIT will teach 25,000 students each year.

Another answer to the question how hatred morphed into cooperation is that both China and India are ancient empires that produced brilliant civilizations. Empires are states that rule over a great diversity of peoples and extend over huge tracts of lands. Civilizations are cultures on a vast scale. And culture can be defined as the ways people live, work and think together.

Some empires rest on great civilizations, others do not. The former last very long while the latter do not. China and India are the world's greatest examples of the former. And great empires like these seek peace and prosperity. It's the short-lived empires that stir up wars, like the ones led by Napoleon and Hitler.

The Indians and Chinese have three or four millennia of civilization embedded in the minds and souls of their huge populations. Now they also have well-functioning states highly respected throughout the world. It's not coincidental that Indian and Chinese youngsters do well in many areas of education. They are all immersed in stories about great heroes and heroines that mould their minds and give their souls direction. Their most powerful direction is education.

Furthermore, both civilizations radiated out to many countries, near and far. These collateral youngsters perform just as well as those of the root civilization. For one thing, they share the traditional stories of the root civilization. Even way back in history when foreigners ruled India and China these rulers accepted much or all of the great civilizations that surrounded them.

And over the centuries many of those foreign rulers gave their Indian and Chinese subjects the peace that provided security to farmers, traders and intellectuals. The rulers of both countries now know that the combination of a strong state and a brilliant civilization can give their huge populations what most want, peace and prosperity.

An answer to the question posed by Le Monde, why the new Sino-Indian common market is doing better than the European Union (EU), is that after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 B.C., Europe only had only short-lived empires. Charlemagne's attempt lasted less than two decades.

Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804 and met his Waterloo in 1815. Hitler's Thousand Year Reich didn't even last a decade.

Around the beginning of the second millennium Europe did create a civilization, the Renaissance, that still sends rays of knowledge and beauty all over the world. But they were not able to create a Roman-style empire in Europe.

Britain built a vast empire all over the world but shunned Europe. France's dominion over Europe died at Waterloo. Like many empires, Austria had great diversity but was never able to create a strong state.

And today, while Europe is still struggling to build a strong European state, India and China are using their historical capital to create both brilliant civilizations and strong states.


For subscription information or to reprint PNS articles, please go here, or contact catherine@pacificnews.org.



Oh, how innocent we were!
I just found this old note from November 2000, showing how seriously I, and many others, misunderestimated the damage that George W. Bush would be capable of to our economy, our environment, our liberty and our very lives -- as his "war on terrorism" does everything imaginable to stimulate greater terror.

00/11/20 -- Elections 2000: What's at stake?
Erectile dysfunction: World Trade Center fizzle
New York City missed an opportunity to acquire a landmark building by the firm that knows more about how to build one, and to make it work for a democratic society, than any other. Instead we get Danny Libeskind's eager-to-please, unworkable structure with its frantic gesture. And, if the jury selection of the 8 finalists in the memorial competition stands, it looks like we'll get a generic, airbrushed sort of mock cemetery to mock the grief of 9/11.

Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin is an impressive small work. When we saw it and walked through it three years ago, it did not yet have anything on exhibit, and didn't even seem to offer good exhibit spaces, so the building itself was the exhibit. With its nowhere-leading staircase, it seemed a fitting commentary on the sadness and dead-endedness of the story of German Jewry in the 20th century. Libeskind has visual imagination. But he's never built anything as big as a skyscraper and, as his renderings of his assymetrical projected WTC tower demonstrate, he doesn't know how. Building it will be somebody else's headache, engineers especially.

Libeskind is all about conceptual design. A one-sided spire to mimic and wave back to the much smaller Statue of Liberty, though, is a silly concept, like making the tower exactly 1,776 feet tall (as though the Christian calendar could be equated to the English foot-pound system, or as though anybody could tell from the ground precisely how many feet it was). And then of course there was that spurious "shaft of light," a beam from the heavens that, it turns out, won't even fall where he said it would. These are empty gestures, saluting democratic tradition (and some vague, generic religious sensibility) without grappling with it, or thinking through how to revitalize democracy in the 21st century.

Norman Foster and his London firm do know how to build very large buildings that are both elegant and functional. Foster also, despite his feudal-sounding title ("Lord Foster"), understands much better than Libeskind the strains on democracy and some ways that 21st century technology can help renew it. His transformation of the old German Reichstag, not far from Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, is brilliant. The glass dome is a perpetual reminder of the original, which was an important icon in German history, but its transparency is not merely a symbol of the hoped-for transparency of modern German democracy, but also an opportunity for citizens (and visitors from abroad) to see how the new parliament works and to look over the whole of the reunited city. His London City Hall (which I haven't personally seen yet) is an engineering marvel, also celebrating democratic openness.

Maybe, though, empty gestures are just what the decision-makers these days want for us. Like a frantic wave toward Miss Liberty so nobody notices how they are ignoring her real message.

Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, Berlin
Lord Norman Foster's Reichstag, New German Parliament
BBC coverage of Foster & Partners' London City Hall
WTC Memorial finalists
Libeskind, Foster, and other proposals for the WTC site (2002)
Pagan Pilgrimage: Berlin, Oktober 2000 by Geoffrey Fox (originally published in the now-defunct Themestream, October 2000.
Scoundrels all!
The trouble with disputes in the National Writers Union is that everybody is so damned articulate, that each side can put together a vehement, eloquent argument proving that the other side is a pack of scoundrels. And I'm inclined to believe them.

No, not really. Even though some folks are getting nigh on hysterical, I don't think anybody has really evil intent. We just have different views on what's best for writers; for mine, see my note from 11/19 (below, or if not there, in the archives link on the left).