Carnival of the Bureaucrats #7

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s Chief Executive Officer, is an inspiration to bureaucrats world-wide. The recipient last year of a 25-year service pin from Microsoft, Ballmer has been in the middle of immensely important developments. With Microsoft’s software, a large chain of managers can rapidly exchange edits to a document describing the feature set of an animated paper clip. Every day Microsoft’s software helps bureaucrats to process a much larger volume of documents than they would otherwise be able to handle.

Ballmer exemplifies the passion for an organization that distinguishes outstanding professional bureaucrats. What matters is not just who you are or what you do, because you know that you’re good and that you’re important. But what you really love is more than yourself. In the words of this month’s Bureaucrat of the Month, “I have four words for you: I LOVE THIS COMPANY!”

[if you don’t see the video, try here]

Jon Swift asks, “Who Needs Books?” Books are handy for propping open a door, giving your kid a bit more height at the kitchen table, and supplying emergency bath tissue needs. Neatly standing at attention on a bookshelf, books provide intellectually impressive room decoration (book titles also provide learned decoration for blog posts). Unfortunately, many government reports aren’t bound and issued as books. Government reports should be treasured nonetheless. More harmless satire? Mr. Swift, think again.

Corey discusses “The Problem With Anarchy (Short Version).” Corey observes:

People do not care about one another enough to live in a society where there is no government to be there for them. As depressing as that may be, it is true.

Cheer up! Government bureaucrats care about you. That’s why you’re in this carnival.

Leon Gettler observes, “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seems to have lost tens of millions of dollars through improper and fraudulent payments, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.” The Government Accountability Office is a government agency. Once again government bureaucrats are saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Jack Yoest at Reasoned Audacity describes an astonishing educational initiative:

So instead of running away from the problem, my wife and I [the Amoses] decided to do something about it directly. My son brought home three boys, who needed the kind of support that our family could provide, and what we did was adopt them. And over an 11 year period we adopted 87 children into our home. We sent 73 kids to college, 61 have graduated from college, 14 have advanced degrees. I spent about $600,000 of my own money on this effort, another $400,000-some from Xerox, over a million dollars we’ve pumped into the D.C. public schools, prior to anything they’re doing with charter schools

But local government needed education too. Especially on the Amos no-nonsense business approach to solving problems on kids and schools. When the city children’s agency knocked on his door asking for his license to work with all the children (quietly studying) about his house — Amos shows them his driver’s license. The bureaucrats were not amused, but were eventually persuaded.

“I don’t need a license to raise my kids,” Amos told me as he tells the story. And he is right.

While those with questions about educational licensing should contact another bureau, I personally agree that Amos is right. A family with 87 kids requires a great wealth of love. Moreover, running that size household is an impressive bureaucratic achievement. For the record, Steve Ballmer just barely edged out Kent Amos for this month’s Bureaucrat of the Month.

In the midst of a recent blog kerfuffle about public relations (PR), Shel Holtz declares:

For me, one of the great frustrations of working in the PR profession is the number of people who think they understand it without the benefit of any background in it. Public relations is a field in which scholars devote their lives to researching models and theories. You can earn a doctorate in PR. The field of PR research has exploded to align effort with results. Associations collect volumes of case studies and analyses. The body of literature that comprises the study of PR is vast and rich.

Yet there is no shortage of people who have never studied the business, never read a single textbook, never attended a single workshop, who are ready and willing to tell the profession how to do its job.

Whether they have an advanced degree in public affairs or decades of experience, government bureaucrats regularly encounter exactly this situation.

Gary Becker, in a critique of libertarian paternalism, asserts:

Even best-intentioned government officials should be considered subject to the same bounds on rationality, limits on self-control, myopia in looking forward, and the other cognitive defects that are supposed to affect choices by us ordinary individuals. Can one have the slightest degree of confidence that these officials will promote the interests of individuals better than these individuals do themselves?

Yes. I have a high degree of confidence in hardworking, conscientious government bureaucrats.

Remarking, “Just something I heard two bureaucrats saying and thought of you all!” the Gnome reports:

Today, in the lift of a large council building he heard the following alarming news… “The bollard situation has now become critical – there are some people in this council who are working against us.”

A critical bollard situation? What could that be? Too many? Too few? The wrong kind? Is there a government appointed bollard tzar handling this critical issue on our behalf? Can we expect a bollard hotline to be set up, similar to the much lamented cone hotline initiative by the failing Major government of 1997?

Good questions. Citizen involvement contributes to good government. Ask not what government bureaucrats will do for you, but how you can help government bureaucrats to do what you want them to do.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using the Carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival regulations. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the Carnival index page.

reverse caching saves trees

Energy is a significant cost of running data centers. Over a three-year operating period at typical U.S. power costs, a server’s acquisition cost is about equal to its power cost.[1] One documented estimate puts the annual power cost of U.S. data centers at two billion dollars in 2003.[2] IT power costs should be incorporated into a sensible evaluation of IT budgets and considered in energy policy.

Reverse caching can significantly reduce data center energy costs. At the State of the Net Conference this past Wednesday, Dick Sullivan of EMC stated that 70% of data on high-performance drives in data centers hasn’t been touched in the past ninety days. Caching traditionally moves some currently relevant data to relatively fast memory. Reverse caching goes the other way. Moving data unlikely to be used to energy efficient storage (a kinetically idle or unplugged drive, or a dismounted tape) saves significant costs.

At the far end of reverse caching are major issues of digital preservation. Reverse caching puts digital preservation into a framework of shorter-run operation and maintenance issues. That may be a valuable management reform. Digital preservation is probably a larger business opportunity than reverse caching. Reverse caching might help to make digital preservation more prominent in (short-run) management strategy.


1) I fixed a few mistakes in the earlier version of this post.

2) Chuck’s Blog has a good discussion of data center power usage.

3) Jonathon Koomey, with AMD sponsorship, has recently estimated total server power consumption in the U.S. in 2005 as 45 billion kWh. That represents 1.2% of total U.S. electricity consumption, about the same amount of power that color televisions consume (Koomey (2007), p. i). At an electricity cost of $60 per MWh, that power costs $2.7 billion. Koomey’s server power estimate includes power for cooling and auxiliary equipment associated with servers. It doesn’t include data storage and network equipment power, which Koomey suggests accounts for 20-40% of data center power consumption (see p. 2). Koomey’s server power estimate also does not include power for custom-built servers. Google’s custom-built servers, if included, might increase the total power consumption figure by 1.7% (see p. 3).

Koomey, Jonathan G. (2007), Estimating Total Power Consumption by Servers in the U.S. and the World (pdf), Final Report, Feb. 15.

[1] The Real Story about Dynamic Smart Cooling, Fact 1, citing HP, Christopher Malone, PhD, Christian Belady, P.E., “Metrics to Characterize Data Center & IT Equipment Energy Use”, Digital Power Forum, Richardson, TX (September 2006).

[2] Jeffrey S. Chase, Darrell C. Anderson, Prachi N. Thakar, Amin M. Vahdat, Ronald P. Doyle, “Managing energy and server resources in hosting centers,” ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, Proceedings of the eighteenth ACM symposium on Operating systems principles, Banff, Alberta, Canada, 2001, pp. 103 – 116, (available pdf). Citing Jennifer D. Mitchell-Jackson, Energy Needs in an Internet Economy: A Closer Look at Data Centers, Master’s thesis, Energy and Resources Group, University of California at Berkeley, July 2001. This estimate used a power cost of $100 per MWh. Where power supply costs are higher, the power consumption cost of a server would be proportionally greater.

Adrienne #1!

The pinnacle of life.

[if you don’t see the video, try here]

Originally the video had a better soundtrack that used two short excerpts from copyrighted songs from albums that I purchased several years ago. Since the use of short excerpts of a copyrighted song in a non-commercial video made available on a personal website is highly controversial under copyright law, I deleted my original soundtrack and replaced it with the present one.

Given that I spent significant time to make this video, I would have been willing to spend a small amount of money to get rights for non-commercial use of the song excerpts in a video posted only on my personal blog. One song used words and melody from “Happy Birthday,” which itself is a copyrighted work. Not sure how to sort that one out.

The website of the group that recorded the other song had a FAQ on song use that pointed fans to a licensing site. The licensing regime is very complex. In addition, the licensing site notes, “EMI does not allow their songs or recordings to be used on the Internet in any form.” The licensing body encourages potential customers to send them a written proposal. It explains:

Due to the high volume of requests, the amount of research involved as well as the various levels of approval your request will have to go through, it may take 4 to 5 weeks for you to receive your license, which will be sent regular mail. We are unable to respond directly to each request as they come in. Rest assured, we will process your request as quickly as possible.

Of course they will. That’s why they use regular (snail) mail!

Telephone companies could teach music licensing bodies a lot about customer service.

ferrous mashups

A great thing about a bike is that it comes with major user rights. Public display, public performance, sharing with friends, adaptations, derivative works, mashups — you’ve got the rights. Alabama folk artist Butch Anthony took advantage of this wonderful freedom to create a vibrant design for a new bicycle rental kiosk at the corner of 19’th and N. Moore in Rosslyn, Virginia.

flower wheels sculpture

From a plaque at the site:

Butch Anthony takes his inspiration from society’s castoff metal parts found in junkyards, backyards or the side of the road. A self-taught artist who hails from Seale, a small town on Alabama’s eastern border with Georgia, Anthony’s style of working is grounded in rural southern traditions of making do with what the environment provides.

You can see more of Butch Anthony’s work at his Museum of Wonder.

bike rental kiosk

The bicycle below, which I saw in the nearby Gateway Park during the Rosslyn Jazz Festival, is the fully functional work of a local folk artist. Arts are alive in Arlington County!

bicycle useful art

localism in news reporting

Localism is now attracting considerable attention in media business strategy. Stephen Gray of the Newspaper Next project observes:

It’s becoming a truism these days that “local” is the core value proposition for newspapers.
The reasoning goes like this: With tons of national and international news and other non-local content available free online, “local” is the one thing a local newspaper can do better than anyone else.

Gray emphasizes compiling a wide variety of local information:

How often do you wish you knew where to buy something locally? What contractor, plumber, doctor, lawyer or mechanic you could trust? What you or your family could do on the weekend for fun? How to help with your daughter’s algebra assignment? What’s the best pizza joint, Thai restaurant, dry cleaner, etc.? Where the cool parties are? (Yes, much of this is age-dependent.) What’s a good elder care or child care solution? Whether there’s a traffic jam right now on the expressway home?

While much valuable information has a local aspect, local information isn’t a good concept for bounding a media business. Local traffic data, like local geographic data that Mapquest and Google Maps offer nationally, is associated with objective technical problems of acquisition, database organization, and query services. “Where the cool parties are?”, in contrast, is information inextricably intertwined with social relations of the sort that friending functions support in social networking sites. In another business direction, identifying a trustworthy service supplier is a reputation management problem of the type that Ebay and Amazon rating systems address. The way and extent to which local information is embedded in local personal relationships matters a great deal for a media business.

Traditional local newspapers’ comparative advantage is in making news. Making news means defining what’s publicly important. Putting you, your friends, schoolmates, workmates, and neighbors into the newspaper makes the newspaper more interesting to you.

Citizen journalism is not the same as hyperlocal news reporting. Orato bills itself as “True Stories from REAL People: Featuring FIRST PERSON, Citizen Journalism from Around the World.” In a post entitled “The Scoop on Citizen Journalism,” Paul Sullivan in Orato’s editor’s blog observes:

Today, as the Pickton trial begins, Orato is coming off its highest traffic week ever. Most of it, we’re sure, comes from recent media play over our decision to give ex-sex trade workers Trisha Baptie and Pauline VanKoll an opportunity to report on the Pickton trial [the trial of a man accused of killing 26 Vancouver women, most associated with sex-for-money transactions with a large customer set]. I guess you could say we’ve made a great leap forward, but after a 15-second self-applied pat on the back, it’s clear to me, and no doubt, to the small army of citizen journalists who regularly visit and contribute to this site, that we’ve got a long way to go.

This is the sort of story and reporting that would be extremely valuable to traditional national news organizations. Measured with respect to journalistic ideals, neophyte journalists can totally outperforming highly experienced, resource-rich, professional journalists. Among Louisiana folk storytellers, “true stories” is a term of art in the art in which they excel.

Yourhub is an excellent example of innovative, hyperlocal news reporting. In a recent top story, Ann Himel reports:

Cabin fever hits in less than 12 hours for me, but I waited it out without maiming any of my family members in order to venture into the depths of snow today, Thursday, December 21, 2006.

Dateline, Littleton, CO: Ann Himel and her two companions, daughter Catherine and faithful Labrador Rocky, ventured outside in (not quite) the worst blizzard on record to clear a path to freedom. Where will they go?

The best stories from Yourhub are published each week in a printed newspaper delivered to subscribers of the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. This is like the idea of a placeblog, or neighborhood networking, married to an important physical news reporting form and distribution system. It’s news provided on real (dead) wood that has endured many seasons of weather.

Hyperlocal news reporting faces some significant challenges. Only a small share of citizens are likely to be interested in writing news stories, although a larger share would be interested in reading them. Professional journalists need to figure out how to expand efficiently the personal scope of their coverage and how to encourage and work with citizen journalists. Generating sufficient volume of hyperlocal news stories and distributing them to interested persons are significant business challenges. In addition, policies for hyperlocal news reporting need to be discussed and considered rationally. These are challenges that traditional local media are best positioned to meet.

Business models and policies for hyperlocal news reporting are just starting to be explored. Localism is a potent issue in U.S. national communications regulation. With new communication technologies, localism in communication is likely to become more important to many more persons and local organizations.

social networking success

Dogs and cats are probably more important than Second Life to the future of the internet. While major media have hyped Second Life, the number of concurrent online users of Second Life rose above 20,000 for the first time on December, 29, 2006 (oddly, “peak concurrency” reportedly was 25,000 about a week later). The CEO of Linden Lab reported in early January, 2007, that “252,284 people have logged in more than 30 days after their account creation date”. That’s an upper bound for reasonable definitions of current active users in December, 2006.

Dogster and Catster have been about as successful as Second Life in acquiring active users. Dogster and Catster currently host about 244,000 and 103,000 dog and cat profiles, respectively. Some Dogster and Catster members post multiple profiles: 260,000 members accounted for over 300,000 pet profiles across both Dogster and Catster. Dogster/Catster has made available of variety of additional statistics:

* Over 20.5 million virtual treats given
* There are 7.8 million distinct friend-to-friend connections
* 2.6 million private messages have been sent through the sites
* Over 50,000 pets keep a diary
* We host and server 1.34 million pet photos
* Almost one million forums posts
* Members have created 4,601 affinity groups
[stats reported on Oct. 9, 2006]

Assuming that pets can’t write, “over 50,000 pets keep a diary” provides some indication of persons who actively use the service. However, one user may write more than one pet diary. On the other hand, active use can involved many activities other than writing a diary for a pet.

Define active users to be persons who used a service in a given month and who had also used the service more than 30 days prior to their use of the service in the given month. Based on the scanty available data and estimates, I would guess that the number of active users of Second Life and the number of active users of Dogster/Catster were both about 200,000 in December, 2006.

While Dogster/Catster has received relatively little funding, it has a much more propitious field for development than does Second Life. The economic value of Second Life artifacts is rather speculative. In November, 2006, Second Life users cashed out about US$1.1 million. Real-money trade of virtual commodities in all virtual worlds worldwide has been estimated at US$1-3 billion in 2006.

The value of pets is well-established and much larger. At the end of 2001, 36% of U.S. households had a dog, and 32% of households had a cat (see Table 1227). Total spending on pets in the U.S. in 2006 is estimated to have been $38 billion. This spending is not just for necessities:

As it is becoming widely recognized, pet owners’ spending is not limited to the basics. [American Pet Products Manufacturers Association]’s National Pet Owners Survey shows 27 percent of dog owners and 13 percent of cat owners buy their pets birthday presents, and 55 percent of dog owners and 37 percent of cat owners buy their pet holiday presents.

Pet-based social networking has real business potential.

Pet-based social networking opens up a new field of creative possibilities. Vinny the Pug may become more famous than a world-famous mountain climber. When the Dogster company blog reported more than 300,000 pet profiles on Dogster and Catster, a commenter wrote:

I was wondering how i can get my 2 year old brindle great dane to be in movies, or magazines, everyone seems even my self that she is a sight to see for being as large of a dog which she is. i would like if you could email me at [address omitted] and give me some insight of how or who would like to give cagney a chance to be a star in the dog world, i do have her site on dogsters here and i hpe you like what you see hope to hear from you soon

At the technological cutting age, SNiFlabs, pioneers in Social Networking in Fur, are developing intelligent pet collars, active leashes, and supporting information services:

Unlike impersonal web services, SNiFlabs lets someone you know and trust make personal connections for you: your dog. Every time you take your dog out for a walk you meet other dogs and other dog owners in your neighborhood. The SNiF® tag takes advantage of this and automatically keeps track of the dogs you have met while out and about. Want to meet new people? You already have something in common with other dog owners. Need to find a good plumber? Want to try a new neighborhood restaurant? Chances are that some one in your dog’s social network can make recommendations for you. [see Meeting People]

The future of the internet is as real as pet-based social networking.

Martin Luther: trade-off between textual control and distribution

Early in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther’s work rapidly spread across Europe. Luther issued his Ninety-Five Theses in Latin on October 31, 1517. They became known across Europe in about a month. The Ninety-Five Theses and other subsequent works of Luther were widely reprinted. Between 1518 and 1519, there were about 1,350 reprintings of Luther’s tracts. By 1524, over a million copies of Luther’s writing were in circulation in Europe.[1] An obscure monk in 1517, Luther by 1521 was one of the most famous persons in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

No one directed or controlled the distribution of Luther’s work. Luther wrote in Latin and in German. German was the language of most persons in German lands. Latin connected Luther to an educated elite across Europe:

The educated élite who could understand Latin and theological debate was no longer composed only of churchmen and professors. [Luther’s theses] were initially read by a small group of learned laymen who were less likely to gather on the church steps than in urban workshops where town and gown met to exchange gossip and news, peer over editors’ shoulders, check copy and read proof. There, also, new schemes for promoting bestsellers were being tried out. [2]

Without the constraint of legal doctrines of copyright or any other controlling authority, religious and commercial innovators and entrepreneurs freely shared, reprinted, adapted, translated, and sold Luther’s work. Their interests and Luther’s interests were loosely joined:

The printers at Wittenberg at times even published material that Luther did not want to have published. This aspect of the matter annoyed him no end, but on the other hand he was glad to have their services and had no serious objection to these sometimes overly enthusiastic colporteurs of his message.[3]

Luther’s writing and ideas were appropriated and incorporated in works directed at popular readership outside German lands:

very few of Luther’s writings were translated into non-German vernaculars — a few into Dutch, and two or three into English and French. On the other hand, many of Luther’s early German writings were translated into Latin and, as the case of William Tyndale so tellingly shows, he was extensively plagiarized.[4]

The interpretations and presentations of Luther’s ideas in non-German vernaculars were not authoritative, but they had great communicative effect.

The institutional Church controlled communication much more tightly and communicated much less quickly and much less widely. The Council of Trent, an important response of the Church to the religious turmoil of the early sixteenth century, met three times from 1545 to 1563. Pope Pius IV’s bull accompanying the concluding decrees of the Council set out a tightly controlled communication system for the decrees:

that these things may come to the knowledge of all men, and that no one may use the excuse of ignorance; We will and ordain, that, in the Vatican Basilica of the prince of the apostles, and in the Lateran church, at the time when the people is wont to assemble there to be present at the solemnization of masses, this letter be publicly read in a loud voice by certain officers of our court; and that, after having been read, it be affixed to the doors of those churches, and also to the gates of the Apostolic Chancery, and to the usual place in the Campo di Fiore; and be there left for some time, to be read by and to come to the knowledge of all men. And when removed thence, copies being, according to custom, left in those same places, it shall be committed to the press in our good city, that so it may be more conveniently made known throughout the provinces and kingdoms of the Christian name. And we ordain and decree, that, without any doubt, faith be given to copies thereof written or subscribed by the hand of a public notary, and guaranteed by the seal and signature of some person constituted in ecclesiastical dignity.[5]

Interpretative and derivative works were also controlled:

in order to avoid the perversion and confusion which might arise, if each one were allowed, as he might think fit, to publish his own commentaries and interpretations on the decrees of the Council; We, by apostolic authority, forbid all men, as well ecclesiastics, of whatsoever order, condition, and rank they may be, as also laymen, with whatsoever honor and power invested; prelates, to wit, under pain of being interdicted from entering the church, and all others whomsoever they be, under pain of excommunication incurred by the fact, to presume, without our authority to publish, in any form, any commentaries, glosses, annotations, scholia, or any kind of interpretation whatsoever of the decrees of the said Council.[6]

By the early sixteenth century, an independent, decentralized, commercially oriented, competitive printing and book-selling business had developed in Europe. The Church organized communication of the decrees of the Council of Trent so as to keep it outside of the new printing and book-selling business.

In retrospect about five hundred years later, the split between Luther and the Church seems to have been mainly a communication problem.  Communication problems are difficult problems.  For a communicative endeavor to succeed, it must have actually necessary and feasible control within a sufficiently effective communication system.

* * * * *

[1] Hillerbrand, Hans J., “The Spread of the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth Century: A Historical Case Study in the Transfer of Ideas,” The South Atlantic Quarterly LXVII (Spring 1968) p. 275.

[2] Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, 2 vols. (Cambridge University Press: 1980), vol. I, pp. 308-9.

[3] Hillerbrand, “Spread,” p. 275.

[4] Ibid. p. 282.

[5] Bull of Pius IV, February 7, 1564, printed after canons and decrees in The Council of Trent, The Twenty-Fifth Session, ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848).

[6] Ibid.

challenges for citizen journalism

Persons live in specific places. Citizen journalism potentially can support local events and build community. I’ve tried to make some contribution here, here, here, and here.

Below I document one of my failures.

The rules for citizen journalism aren’t clear. Many organizations need to think about such rules. The challenge, it seems to me, is to recognize fears, to address them rationally, and to demonstrate the additional value that new media possibilities offer. That’s a job for everyone.

** original post to purple motes **

Title: NBB Basketball Highlights
Posted: Tuesday, January 09th 2007, about 10:45 pm

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming on the mind-boggling media transformations to bring you NBB Basketball Highlights. With networked journalism, you’re in the game.

** email 1 **

From: Douglas Galbi
Sent: Tuesday, January 09, 2007 10:51 PM
To: [third grade girls basketball coordinator]
Cc: [league commissioner]
Subject: basketball video

Dear [third grade girls basketball coordinator],

I brought my video camera to last Saturday’s [team 1] v [team 2] game (my first ref assignment) and ask the mother of my co-ref to shoot some video. I then put together a brief news report that I hope others might enjoy and perhaps find funny. The news video is available on my blog at

I’m aware of the importance of on-line safety. The video does not include any names of participants, does not identify the place of the event, nor the league. Because the video resolution is low, only persons familiar with the players and their numbers are likely to be able to recognize players from the video. In addition, while the video is served through YouTube to my website, the video is not available through the YouTube website (I’ve set it up as a “private” video). It can be viewed only on my blog. I think that the video does not present any risk to the children. But if you have any concern about the video, please let me know.

A whole new world of media is upon us. I think it can be used for good.

Douglas Galbi
1’st year ref

** email 2 **

Subject: RE: basketball video
From: [league commissioner]
Date: 1/10/2007 6:16 PM
To: Douglas Galbi


My name is [league commisioner] and I am the commissioner of [league]. I really appreciate you sending your note but I have to say, I am uncomfortable with you videotaping our games. I know they are only available through your blog but it still makes me extremely uncomfortable. If you would please remove it, I would appreciate it. Anyone can get on your blog and we would need permission from all of the parents of all the kids on the video for me to be OK with you posting it.

Thank you and I appreciate your cooperation.

[league commissioner]

** email 3 **

Subject: Re: basketball video
From: Douglas Galbi
Date: 1/10/2007 7:10 PM
To: [league commissioner]

[league commissioner],

Thanks for your reply. I’ve deleted the video (and the blog post).

Perhaps for next season, you and the Board of Directors might consider how [league] could take advantage of possibilities for non-traditional reporting, with due concern for safety and consent. With respect to consent, it seems to me that timely news reporting cannot require the consent of the persons who are the subject of the story. That would make such reporting impossible.  Typically community sports events include in the liability weaver a proviso for consent to use of images of persons participating in the event. Reporters of course are not party to such a waiver. My understanding is that such waivers cover publicity photos/videos that the organizers of the event use to promote future such events.

I’m impressed with the excellent organization of [league], and I look forward to working further as a referee.


a theatrical exploration of Shakespearean sense

In Shakespeare’s time, controversy raged about the values of words, images, and actions. Is God’s word meant to be proclaimed in liturgy, or is God most effectively encountered in personal reading of scripture? Can images and physical gestures support communication with God? Authorities across the sixteenth century suppressed physical practices of worship, white-washed interiors of churches, and burned books, images, and persons in fierce struggles over sensuous forms.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in debate about whether Shakespeare wrote for theatrical performance or sought to author literary works. Many persons who attend Shakespeare’s plays leave exhausted from struggling after words that can be heard but not fully grasped, a vortex of language that touches down in many different places across a vast range of experience. When Shakespeare’s words are fixed on the page, they can be read slowly, savored, contemplated, and studied. That Shakespeare wrote for readers makes good sense to many modern theater-goers.

But words, whether in performance or written, fail to bound Shakespeare’s art. After Romeo and Juliet flirt in a dialogue that plays with the outlawed devotional practices of pilgrims and takes the literary form of a sonnet, Romeo kisses Juliet. Then Juliet calls forth laughter after what was surely a passionate kiss, “You kiss by th’book.” At the end of The Tempest, Prospero implores the play-goers, “release me from my bands / With the help of your good hands. / Gentle breath of yours my sails / Must fill, or else my project fails….”

Shakespeare’s art is best expressed in events such as Shakespeare in Washington, a DC-wide festival that runs from January to June of 2007. The festival includes theater, music, dance, films, and art exhibits. It leads into the opening of the new Harmon Center for the Arts. Gesture in Shakespeare is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-gesture.

Synetic Theater, a company based in the Washington, DC area, has pioneered wordless performances of Shakespeare’s work. Synetic’s first such production, Hamlet…the rest is silence was a critical and popular success. It will be performed again at the Kennedy Center from March 31 to June 17, 2007 as part of Shakespeare in Washington. Synetic Theater is also contributing to this festival a new wordless production of Macbeth. Synetic’s Macbeth is at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington, Virginia, from January 12 to February 25, 2007. Not only is Synetic’s Macbeth spectacularly pleasing entertainment, it also profoundly explores Shakespearean art.

The witches are major figures in this production. Played brilliantly by Philip Fletcher, Meghan Grady, and Katherine E. Hill, they look like characters one might find dancing at a gothic party in Hell. They crawl out of stage-bottom holes spewing corrupted air and double with a bishop, a rabbi, and an imam in the world-cracking beginning of the play. Macbeth’s first words, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” are realized in the witches reappearing and disappearing throughout the play. They show that Macbeth’s personal problems are also problems of the structure of the world.

This wordless production poignantly communicates Macbeth’s combination of personal and worldly effects. Verbal dialogue ordinarily absorbs much of the weight of revealing persons to each other and the audience. In this production, the actors communicate solely through actions, gestures, facial expressions, and acts of the eyes. While words might be imagined to come from somewhere within, gestures, facial expressions, and acts of the eyes are readily understood as material actions like the actions of the rest of the world. Dispensing with words helps to bring together the actors and Macbeth the play-world.

The effect is exquisite in Macbeth’s relationship to Lady Macbeth. George and Martha’s living room death-match in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the cosmic necessity of a Greek tragedy like the Oresteia both play out through Irakli Kavsadze’s and Irina Tiskurishvili’s superb acting. They’re just an ordinary couple who enjoy a drink together, sexually taunt each other, and desperately need each other. But their relational problems lead to the murder of the King of Scotland and murders of many other truly beloved, real persons. In an artful production choice, Macbeth’s victims appear to Macbeth at the end of the play like the Erinyes of Greek tragedy, like a self-curse that Macbeth cannot subsequently dispel.

The wordless production may have enabled some spectacular staging. Ben Cunis as Macduff displays impressive fighting skills in vanquishing Macbeth. That fight could be in a conventional production, or in a Hollywood action film in which the action figure is actually a good actor. Military personnel swarming in chaotic, beautiful patterns about the darkened stage, with flashlight-tipped guns shooting light darts around the intimate, frozen Rosselyn Spectrum theater, probably also could be transferred to a conventional production. In the comic highlight of the evening, Courtney Pauroso in the role of the porter puts on an impressively expressive drunken soldier act. Words from the drunk might detract from the art of that acting.

The hugely successful banquet scene probably depends on wordlessness. Macbeth’s unwilled turning inside out and the Lady’s desperate swerving to maintain the form of the event produces moments in which horror and comedy meet. The silent ghost of Banquo stands in every host’s fear of conversational topics not to be discussed at a convivial evening. Appropriate for a banquet is conventional social conversation. The guests can hardly make social conversation in unison, but they convincingly gesture that way. Towards the end of the debacle, the guests in unison stick their figures over the table, nervously strum them, and emerge from under the table. That is a great moment in wordless Shakespearean play.

The pleasure of attending this play does not depend on theatrical sophistication or any level of prior knowledge of the plot and characters. The Macbeths’ ambition, fears, and their unraveling in carnage are clearly communicated within this production. Shakespeare connoisseurs might hear in their heads specific phrases at certain points in the action, such as Lady Macbeth’s call for sexual negation: “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty.” A reviewer who described a three-hour production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as “that rare example of a long night’s journey you only wish could go on longer” surely would enjoy attending this production many times. If you are just looking to see an action movie, or to feel like you do at a horror film, you can get much of those effects from this production, and much more.

The Synethic Theater’s production shows unforgettably the unheroic tragedy of Macbeth. At its center is a pedestrian domestic drama (except, perhaps, for the erotic sadism that the Macbeths prominently display). Macbeth, like a middle-manager scheming to become acting chief executive officer of a major corporation, imagines his ambition to encompass the globe. While Macbeth’s actions are preternaturally ruthless, they also are like the actions of ordinary life: contingent, done without a coherent, well-thought-out plan. For Macbeth, a tragic ordering of the cosmos is a matter of hearsay: “It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood.” The world of Macbeth has no more sure balance than the particularities of an ordinary person’s psyche.

Synetic Theater’s Macbeth is a profound exploration of Shakespeare’s work. It’s a play not to be missed.

Synetic Theater presents Macbeth, January 12 – February 25, 2007, at the Rosslyn Spectrum, Arlington, Virginia. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, adapted by Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili. Performances Thurdays through Saturdays, 8 pm, Sundays, 3 pm. Tickets $30-$35, $5 off for seniors and students, $15 student “rush” tickets; free parking available. See for more information.