I think I'm beginning to understand the 1649 meaning: Does the Census Bureau compile stats on how many cities are trying to become "sucka free" using investigative muckrakers, like A.C. Thompson, who wrongly swat Sunshine activists ("Gadfly Gallery," Nov. 15)?
Does the Bureau track reporters who claim one thing, then do another? Is there an epidemic of journalists reserving unto themselves exclusive use of our public-records Sunshine Ordinance to monitor City Hall, but who never use the tool?
Does the Bureau compile stats about stories that went unreported in mainstream- and alternative-media outlets until ordinary citizen-reporter activists uncovered public documents City Hall political cattle obstruct from public view, documents professional journalists could no longer ignore?
Maybe the Bureau tracks how many journalists and politicians misuse "gadfly" whenever they're annoyed, forgetting the 1649 meaning: "one who irritates another" is entangled with the word gad, which in 1225, 225 years earlier, meant a rod to drive cattle.
I've a right to prod loose any document describing what city government is doing. Communities are based on compromise, presupposing disagreement. Just because we may disagree doesn't permit Thompson to unilaterally dictate which Sunshine requests are arcane, or which are germane.
Had Thompson bothered asking, here's my quote: "Mislabeling as 'gadflies' those with whom you disagree isn't investigative reporting; it's yellow journalism designed to distort."
O.G. gadfly: The role of gadfly is an honorable and ancient one, at least in democracies that protect critical and otherwise irritating speech. The term "gadfly" as a political metaphor was first used by Plato in the speech he put in the mouth of Socrates, defending himself against banishment or capital punishment in the Apology:
"And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning me, who am his gift to you. I am the gadfly of the Athenian people, given to them by God, and they will never have another, if they kill me. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you to spare me."
Of course, the Athenians did not spare him. But the word survives as a reminder of the principle that those buzzing around and stinging the great beast of power need not have a grand agenda or a sheaf of solutions in order to be worth hearing out. Even when it may be hard to see what is constructive in their criticism, gadflies are central to the ecology of government by the people.
Backstage drama: Chloe Veltman's review of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain takes the writer, Naomi Iizuka, and my theater to task for our work inspired by [the original] Hamlet. I respect Ms. Veltman's opinion; it is the right and responsibility of a critic to call them as she/he sees them. But I offer a task to Ms. Veltman in understanding the initiative that has given birth to our Hamlet and several other community-based new works projects. What Ms. Veltman either neglected to include in her assessment of our New Works/New Communities Initiative, or didn't actually research before writing her review, is how the play is just one, albeit very important, aspect of our community engagement process, which is at the heart of our initiative.
This process has brought people, who otherwise do not see their lives and history reflected in the arts, into a process of creating a work that responds truthfully to their stories. We brought two young gifted writers into the process, acting in this production and bringing their unique teaching skills to our theater's educational constituencies. The list of what this process has entailed and the effect it has had on individuals and organizations is too long to acknowledge here, and that list continues to grow as we play the production to sold-out houses. Audiences from Orinda and beyond have come to the Mission District to witness a new work in San Francisco's oldest alternative-arts space. And two theaters, Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts/Campo Santo, came together to engage, create, learn, and grow our theatrical community.
Take my productions to task; review as you see fit. But do not take on our organizational initiatives without understanding them. It is irresponsible journalism. It demeans the passion of my staff and that of Intersection, as well as the countless community members who have seen their lives affected by this unique and important process.
Artistic Director, California Shakespeare Theater