- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

Lost tradition

“What struck me about [the Broadway musical] ‘The Producers’ when I first saw it was how unabashedly old-fashioned it seemed, from the right-between-the-eyes overture to the Milton-Berlesque acting. It stands to reason that the show should be old-fashioned, its creator having been born in 1926, but it occurred to me that what I was witnessing was not so much a new musical as the last gasp of a dying comic language.

“Strip away the naughty words and self-consciously outre production numbers and ‘The Producers’ is nothing more (or less) than a virtuoso reminiscence of the lapel-grabbing, kill-for-a-laugh shtickery on which so much of the stand-up comedy of my youth was based.

“Much of that comedy was explicitly Jewish, as is ‘The Producers’ itself, in which Yiddish slang is constantly popping up, even in [writer Mel] Brooks’s lyrics. Back when I was a small-town Missouri boy, such borscht belt humor had the crisp tang of the unfamiliar, which was part of what made it so funny. But most Jewish comics assimilated long ago, as was proved beyond doubt by the colossal success of ‘Seinfeld,’ that least overtly ethnic of sitcoms. Jerry and his friends shed their parents’ accents and became cool and ironic and put the past behind them … and now it’s gone, never to return.”

Terry Teachout, writing on “Bye Bye, Borscht Belt,” Thursday in the Wall Street Journal

A weird season

“At this point, I have no idea what happened inside that Colorado hotel room, and neither do you. Consequently, we are left to wait … and passively watch a man who is — pound for pound, inch for inch — the single greatest player in the [NBA]. Right now Kobe [Bryant] is operating at the height of powers; no one has been better since Jordan’s second tenure with the Bulls.

“Unfortunately, Bryant is also quite possibly a 6-foot-6 misogynistic minotaur who happens to have a 44-inch vertical. And if he isn’t — if this is all some twisted fairy tale fabricated by a confused hotel worker — his life has been destroyed for no reason, and the world will forever owe him an apology that will never compensate for what he has lost. …

“It appears that Bryant’s official trial won’t start until summer, which means that America could be forced to watch a guy who might be a rapist play 82 games. … For the first time in history, it’s possible that a 39-point, 11-board effort against the Denver Nuggets could potentially taint the jury pool.”

Chuck Klosterman, writing on “The Truth About Kobe,” in the December issue of Esquire

Cliched, not crazy

“Beginning in 1978 and continuing until he was apprehended in 1996, Theodore Kaczynski manufactured and mailed 16 bombs to prominent Americans working in biological and computer science and environmental technology. Dubbed the ‘Unabomber’ by the FBI, he killed three people and cruelly maimed 11 others in these attacks. …

“In ‘Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist,’ Alston Chase, a philosopher and student of intellectual history, describes Kaczynski’s acts. …

“Of special interest is Chase’s opinion about the claim, made in Kaczynski’s legal defense, that he suffered from some variant of paranoid schizophrenia. After examining Kaczynski’s writings and many public statements, Chase concludes … that Kaczynski was and is sane. … Chase refers to the ideas in Kaczynski’s ‘manifesto’ as cliches and thus far from delusional.”

Paul McHugh, writing on “The Making of a Killer,” in the November issue of First Things


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