Hey, McCloud!

I'm sorry if you missed Milwaukee Shakespeare's production of "Henry IV (Part I)," which closed this past Sunday. The black box of the Broadway Theatre was transformed into the suggestion of a wood-beamed English pub, with the audience split in half on either side to watch the gambols and wagers of Falstaff, and then into a battlefield for Hotspur's bloody rebellion against the king. The staging put the viewer in the midst of the jokes and the scheming, the battles and the bawdry.

Shakespeare's spot-on depictions of barroom boasting and bloodlust show us time and again that the human animal hasn't changed too much in the intervening 400-odd years. I'm always stunned by the Bard's ability to push an unwanted mirror in our faces, his arm stretching across centuries to show us our flaws.

This time it was the ethnic stereotyping in "Henry IV" that caught my attention. The Scots and the Welsh are mocked throughout the play, sometimes subtly and sometimes with a heavy hand. The Scots, represented in the character of the Earl of Douglas who's come to support Hotspur's coup against King Henry, get the worst of it. "The Douglas" is a brute of a man, eager for war and claiming that the word "fear" isn't even in the Scottish vocabulary. He's the Terminator in a kilt, but not quite a man. Other characters make fun of his accent and there's a bit of a suggestion that he might be compensating for something.

It reminded me of the old Monty Python sketch, "A Scotsman on a Horse," in which a tartan-sporting, feather-hatted Scots dandy rides purposefully toward a church where a wedding is in progress. When he finally arrives, he breaks up the ceremony in the nick of time by scooping up the groom and running away with him. The homophobic gag obviously draws on some longstanding English stereotype of the Scots that we don't drink with the water here in the U.S.

And then there's that joke about if the Rolling Stones had written their "Hey, you, get off of my cloud," lin…


Spider-Man meets with Restorative Justice

This weekend a couple of my boys dragged me to see "Spider-Man III." Arriving late, we found seats during an ear-splitting battle between Spider-Man and his best friend Harry. The fight was the first of several testosterone-driven, Dolby-enhanced aural assaults I endured while trying to untangle the story's web of mortal insults, broken relationships, and self-destructive revenge fantasies.

I was deeply impressed with "Spider-Man III," in spite of the bloodletting, explosions, and other atrocities. As an MPS school board member, I've had violence and revenge on my mind a lot lately. No, I'm not planning to suspend any of my fellow board members from a skyscraper or pummel them with my sandfist, like Spider-Man's opponents do to people. I've been thinking about how to stop the violence our students are engaged in outside and inside of our schools.

One of the best responses I've found is Restorative Justice (RJ). In RJ, the goal is to acknowledge the harm that's been done to both the direct victim and the broader community, and give the offender the opportunity to make things right. Sometimes this means a community conferencing circle, like the ones the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office runs for first-time teenage drug offenders. I was part of one of these circles with a teen who tried to sell marijuana in an MPS high school. I got to talk with him about how his actions affected me - someone he didn't even know - because I'm an MPS mom and also a representative of the district who is trying to get city and state support for our schools. When he messed up, he made my job as a parent and as a policymaker harder. Our community circle and the teen drew up an RJ contract which would allow him to avoid felony charges if he fulfilled it. The terms included doing well at his alternative school, apologizing in writing to his school leaders and the security guard who caught him, and securing a legal summer job so he wouldn't be tempted to try to sell drugs ag…


Moral high groundcover

Congressional Democrats discovered their collective backbone this week, passing a bill to withdraw from Iraq. Bush vetoed it, of course. Stuart Carlson had a brilliant cartoon Friday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that showed Bush rejecting the Dems' timetable because "that would have been setting a date for failure. I prefer my plan: failure with no end in sight!"

The front page of The New York Times Friday morning also talked about how things are going in Iraq. Or Jordan, rather. It seems that Jordanian young people are lining up to learn how to become suicide bombers against the U.S. occupation in Iraq. The article notes that these are self-starters who have bypassed traditional adult teachers and, through small study groups, are radicalizing each other's interpretations of Islam and world politics. "Today, you don't need anyone to tell the young men that they should go to jihad. They themselves want to be martyrs," says one local leader in the reportedly radical hotbed of Zarqa.

Nobody even has to ask. It sounds like a mom's dream come true: "My son took out the garbage this morning, and I didn't even have to ask." In Zarqa, it's more like: "My son took out a Baghdad bus this morning, and I didn't even have to ask." (Actually, the moms quoted in the article weren't so hot on the idea of their kids blowing themselves up.)

The Iraq Body Count project (www.iraqbodycount.org) is keeping track of civilian deaths resulting directly or indirectly from the U.S. occupation. The victims of these youthful suicide attackers have added to the count, which is now somewhere between 63,000 and 69,000. The IBC counts civilian victims of military, paramilitary, and terrorist attacks, as well as "excess civilian deaths caused by criminal action resulting from the breakdown in law and order which followed the coalition invasion [in 2003]."

IBC, by the way, has just launched a "No IRAN Body Count Project" initiative, taking an easy bet on Bush's next move.