Monday, August 31, 2009

Painting and dining

An eventful week passed that found me feeling defeated one day and accomplished the next.

Much of the week, I was feeling the effects of a tendon strain that seems to be turning into a chronic condition. I have come to the conclusion that I must indefinitely suspend strength training on my legs (at least my upper legs), but I can continue working the elliptical machine as long as the resistance settings are not set too high. Tuesday evening, things were painful enough that I took a
Flexeril and Vicodin and within an hour I was a zombie.

I spent much of the rest of the week trying to regain enough focus to do my work and put together plans for the weekend. The major item on the agenda was painting the dining room, which I’ve been wanting to do for ten months. (The previous owner killed the first floor with beige, and I decided to paint the dining room a shade of red to break things up.) Friday evening, I felt well enough to tape off the moulding and, with Danny’s help, move the furniture out of the way.

The dining room last November. Nice but rather plain.

Saturday morning, I had to get some more masking tape to finish off the moulding, fill out some areas with spackle, and then I went to work painting, starting with the areas around the trim.

By 1pm, the first coat was completed. After relaxing for a few hours, I applied the second coat, and the dining room was done by evening. Unfortunately, as I was removing the masking tape, some layers of paint on the trim came off, so I will have to repaint the trim eventually. It’s not a high priority for now. The room now has a more vibrant look, contrasting with the mellow ambience of the living room. The darker color also highlights the artwork.

Mostly finished, with the masking tape still on the trim.

Sunday morning, my alarm went off at 6:25 as usual, and Mason was there to enforce it. But as he was licking my face, I told Mason it was “quiet time”, and he promptly laid down and let out an exasperated sigh. He let me sleep in till 8am. After a quick glass of OJ, I took Mason for a ride to my buddy Stan’s house to pick up a
Star Trek cookbook for a party we’re having next week. After we got back, Danny made waffles and we relaxed between folding loads of laundry. At 4pm, we had Zsolt over for drinks and dinner in our “new” dining room. It was a pleasure sharing dinner with a friend, especially one who was open to Mason’s exuberant affection.

Zsolt dances with Mason

Zsolt and Mason, last November

My latest review

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: Private Collection:Schumann,Chopin,Liszt & Balakirev
Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: Private Collection:Schumann,Chopin,Liszt & Balakirev
4.0 out of 5 stars Horowitz Rocks the House with Islamey, August 31, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)      
Sony/BMG is digging into the Vladimir Horowitz archives at Yale University and unearthing more treasures. The items on this CD were recorded privately for Horowitz's use, and sat in his attic for decades before he donated them to Yale a year before his death.

Horowitz's fans will already be intimately acquainted with his 1965 live performance of Schumann's C Major Fantasy, available in edited and non-edited versions. This 1946 recording shows a more volatile approach to the opening movement, with the tempo pushed forward and doubling of bass notes. Much of the tenderness of the 1965 recording is not to be heard here. The March bursts forth at a brisk tempo, but there will be controversy due to Horowitz's deletion of 19 measures midway through. Indeed, I can find no musical justification for this cut. The pianist throws caution to the wind during the infamous contrary motion leaps, and there is a clinker toward the end. Horowitz settles down for the contemplative last movement and there are some lovely moments and beautiful shadings. But on the whole I prefer the more poetic 1965 performance of the Fantasy, wrong notes and all.

Evidenced by his recordings, Horowitz saw Chopin's Barcarolle as more of an erotic tone poem than a gondolier's song. His performance of the piece grows fervent towards the climax, and is more straightforward that his 1980 recording.

Two items here are new to the Horowitz discography: Balakirev's Islamey, and Liszt's St. Francis Walking on the Water - both works with extensive revisions by Horowitz himself. Wanda Toscanini Horowitz was opposed to the release of these two works, on the ground that they were flashy repertoire that Horowitz did not play in his later years. (It should be noted that Wanda approved the release of Horowitz's disjointed 1986 Schubert B-flat Sonata, so her musical judgment was suspect. In any event, copies of these recordings have been circulating on the Internet for years.)

St. Francis is problematic, partly because the work itself combines Liszt's best and worst qualities: spiritual luminosity and empty bombast. Horowitz tilts his performance toward the latter, adding interlocking octaves that suggest stormy weather, and an apocalyptic ending. Under his hands, the piece could be retitled St. Francis Surfing on the Waves during a Hurricane.

Islamey, said by some to be the most difficult piece for solo piano ever written, gets a no-holds-barred, virtuoso performance. Horowitz begins the work at a breakneck tempo and, save for the lyrical central section, never lets up. But with all the speed and fury, Horowitz's coolness and nonchalance point out the work's humorous aspects. In addition to adding a more firecracker ending, Horowitz tightens some repetitive and rambling sections. The audience can barely contain itself and the raucous applause erupts well before the pianist plays the work's final two chords.

The sound quality, restored by Jon Samuels, varies here. The source material was 78RPM and 33 1/3RPM discs, and only single copies were made. The Schumann and Liszt items suffer from wear and tear (likely by Horowitz himself) and sound muffled, while Islamey sounds nearly pristine. A few quibbles: At 60 minutes, this disc is not well filled - and with the huge cache of unreleased material in Sony/BMG's vaults, there is no excuse. And this CD, like many of Sony's new releases, is packaged in cheap "digipack" paperboard - so handle with care.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Click picture for full size

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Brother

It can be said without hyperbole that Ted Kennedy was the most powerful senator in U. S. History, and one of the most controversial.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Ted Kennedy did more for ordinary Americans than either of his brothers. It was Ted who stood up for the Forgotten Man, and it predated his entry into politics. At his brother Jack’s birthday in 1946, 14 year old Ted proposed a toast not to Jack, but to the memory of Joe Kennedy, Jr., the brother who was killed in World War II.

Whatever his flaws, and there were many, peaking with the indefensible events at Chappaquiddick, his accomplishments as Senator were formidable and will live on after him. Kennedy was the spearhead behind the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the National Cancer Act of 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, the COBRA Act of 1985, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act in 1990, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996 and 2008, the State Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997, the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009 (one of the few times he allowed his name to headline legislation).

But what would have been his greatest accomplishment, Universal Health Care, has yet to pass. Kennedy’s interest in health care goes back to 1964, when his back was broken in an airplane crash. During his 6 month recovery, he spoke with a friend who suffered from long term tuberculosis, and learned of his friend’s struggles to cope with the financial aspects of health care. In 1969, Kennedy first proposed Universal Health Care. The fact that it was not to come to fruition during his life time is one of the cruel ironies of history, where the architect does not live to see the final structure. Lincoln did not live to see Reconstruction; FDR died four weeks before victory in Europe; JFK was murdered before he could pass the Civil Rights Act. Going further back, Moses led his people to the Promised Land, but was not permitted to enter it.

Historically important, but less convincing with passing years...

Chopin/Piano Concerto #1 & 2 (SHM)
Chopin/Piano Concertos #1 & 2

By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)      
This version of Chopin's First Concerto (composed after, but published before the Second Concerto) is the most successful of Rubinstein's recorded attempts, partly thanks to the sensitive accompaniment of the New London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. Tempos are well-judged, phrasing is supple and natural, virtuosity is there, but not for its own sake. The sound on the original LP and the first CD issue was plagued by dropouts at the beginning of the Concerto--these have been smoothed over remarkably. Balance between orchestra and piano has also been improved. As a caveat, it must be mentioned that Rubinstein makes a cut in the first movement introduction that was apparently standard at the time.

Rubinstein made no fewer than four recordings of Chopin's popular Second Concerto (there is an additional, filmed, performance from 1975). The pianist's conception of the piece changed over the course of his career, from the brilliant, scintillating, and somewhat sectionalized playing of his early years, to the more mellow, mature, and structurally minded performance heard here. Rubinstein, 81 at the time of this recording, is occasionally cautious during the concerto's more demanding passages, uses less rubato, and less pedal than in his earlier recordings. Eugene Ormandy proves a most sympathetic accompanist here, even accommodating Rubinstein's rather questionable changes to Chopin's text: Rubinstein ordered a cut at the end of the first movement, and the violins in the mazurka episode of the finale play the passages with their bows, rather than sul ponticello (with the wood) as Chopin indicated. The sound here is full and natural.

The cover has been adapted from the original LP cover for the First Concerto. These are beautiful and historically important performances. But I would not want to be without Krystian Zimerman's (Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2) or Vassily Primakov's (Primakov Plays Chopin Piano Concertos) more recent recordings, which I frankly turn to more often.

Some of the loudest voices are faceless.

During many of the recent town halls on health care reform, we’ve seen a lot of protesting on television. Many people, proclaiming themselves ordinary citizens, have hurled verbal arrows at public officials. It is all to the good when Free Speech is exercised. But those who use Free Speech as an excuse to shout others down, it’s no longer a Constitutional exercise, but a descent into mob rule. Even worse is when people with vested interests in maintaining the status quo pose as ordinary citizens when they are in fact political operatives, as has been the case in many of these town meetings.

The modern version of this behavior is to be seen on the Internet. Anonymous posters at Cleveland,com and other sites, posting the most vile racist, anti-Semitic (or anti-Arabic), homophobic remarks. On my own site, I’ve received an increasing number of anonymous and semi-anonymous responses to my posts, some of them racist and one just plain threatening. Therefore, I am instituting a new policy: responses to my blog will not be posted unless you either have a blogger ID with a profile, a link to a blog of your own, or an email address.

Whether one agrees with my views and observations or not, they are my own opinions. I state them openly, and I back them up with my name. And if you want to respond on my blog, you should have the guts to do the same.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh, Canada...

If Canada's health system is so bad, why is the average Canadian lifespan 81.23 years, while the average American lifespan is 78.11?

Why is Canada's infant mortality rate 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births while the United States is stuck between French Polynesia and Slovakia at 6.6?

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bow Wow.

South Euclid boasts a dog park, which includes a spacious fenced-in play area, running water, and a large selection of donated toys. I took Mason there Sunday morning. He had a great time playing with the other dogs, including a friendly mastif named King.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Right-Wingers Open Mouths, Insert Feet.

"The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available."
--Winston Churchill, in 1944, endorsing the creation of the National Health Service

Recently, the Investor's Business Daily said in an editorial: "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

Hawking, of course, is British and has lived in England his entire life. The physicist, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, was compelled to respond:

"I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
--Stephen Hawking

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Defender" of "Traditional Marriage" now in contentious divorce...

Doug Manchester, owner of the San Diego Grand Hyatt, defender of "traditional marriage", and Proposition 8 supporter, is in the middle of a contentious divorce with his wife of 43 years:

Yes, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes...

Monday, August 10, 2009

You Call this a Service Economy???

After work on Friday, I stopped at the new Aldi’s on Mayfield Road. The store was built behind where the old Richmond movie theater (and later DSW Shoe Warehouse) stood. I am familiar with Aldi’s sales model (along with Sav-a-Lot) which emphasizes price above all else. It’s not my kind of store – but I had a coupon for $5 off any purchase of $30 or more, so you know how it goes.

Shopping carts are kept outside the store and require a 25 cent deposit placed into a gizmo on the cart itself. To get your quarter back, you must return the cart to the corral, plug in a key from the adjoining cart, and your quarter is returned. There are signs posted that if you try to take the cart beyond the parking lot, the wheels will lock. So, an adversarial relationship between the company and customers is established even before the customer enters the store.

The store itself, newly constructed, is rather small. There are four aisles, filled with a preponderance of junk foods and ready made items. The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is rather sparse. The prices, it must be admitted, are low. But the items being sold are not “name” brands, so the retail price is likely the result of low wholesale costs. Overhead is kept down by charging for bags, not accepting credit cards (debit cards are accepted), and customers doing their own bagging. (As a former bag-stuffer myself, this was not a problem.) No doubt the employees, who looked unenthusiastic, make low wages and receive few, if any, benefits.

But it got me to thinking: for decades, talking heads have been complaining that the United States is transitioning to a “service economy.” Most of the time, what is meant is that the manufacturing base is eroding – and it’s true that the US makes a smaller portion of manufactured goods than in decades past. But where is the service part?

In today’s US, people pump their own gas (except in New Jersey and Oregon), size their own shoes, and bag their own groceries – all in a mad quest to save a dollar. Meanwhile, unemployment rises and profits concentrate to the executive class.

Just a few short years ago, a Catalano’s Stop & Shop just two miles from the new Aldi’s boasted an excellent selection of food, pleasant cashiers (long-term employees who remembered your name) and clean-cut bag stuffers who wore ties and offered to help bring items to your car. Today, only Heinen’s offers this first class treatment, and their prices reflect it. Now, the Catalano’s building is an empty shell – a bitter reminder of another era.