Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hank’s Top 5 Culinary Pet Peeves

Overcooked vegetables: Steaming veggies until they’re mush kills the flavor and removes many of the nutrients.

Overcooked meat: It’s already dead. There’s no need to cook it so long that all the flavor is depleted. If one prefers a charred surface (which is potentially hazardous due to carcinogens), then quickly broil/flame the meat, leaving the inside tender and juicy. (Of course, no one should serve or eat meat which is dangerously underdone.)

Gargantuan portions: Few things turn me off to eating in a restaurant as when I face a huge plate overloaded with food. Not only does it make consuming the meal seem more like a chore than a pleasure, but it dampens the prospect of dessert.

Miniscule portions: The ultimate in culinary pretense, and often parodied, is the expensive restaurant that serves a tiny wedge of food, surrounded by empty plate surface. Skimpiness is not desireable.

Misuse of spices: The purpose of herbs, spices, and the like is to supplement the natural flavor of food. It’s not to drown out the flavor and bring attention to itself. Nor is it to overwhelm people’s senses and cause them physical distress (not only when the food is entering the body, but as it exits as well). A good indicator of whether food is too spiced is whether you want to take another bite, or you become desperate for a glass of ice water. Any restaurant that boats of serving chicken wings so hot that a customer is required to sign a release form before consuming them should be shuttered by the health department.

Which of the 50 states...

Which of the 50 states has the highest suicide rate? (Hint: Its former half-governor is a reality show celebrity.)

Which state is the smartest? (Hint: I got married there.)

Which state is #1 in obesity? (Hint: It's in a part of the country where the mantra is If it ain't fried, it ain't food.)

Which state ranks #1 for speeding tickets? (Hint: There's a reason why they call them Massholes.)

Click the image below to find out...

Winter Wonderland

I was amused by this article from Britain's Telegraph newspaper:

Why America is better at clearing snow than we are

I would also add that Clevelanders are more adept at this than New Yorkers.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thoughts on veganism and America’s addiction to meat

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has named Bill Clinton as their Person of the Year. The former President made headlines this year when he announced that he had been living on a diet largely consisting of “beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit…a protein supplement every morning… no dairy”.

It’s more than a bit disingenuous to promote Clinton as a champion of veganism: First, he still eats fish (which PETA fails to note); Secondly, Clinton has undertaken this restrictive diet out of medical necessity. For decades, he abused his body with cholesterol laden junk food, paid the price with quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and has since had to have two stents placed in his coronary arteries. The former President represents an extreme case, where there is no alternative but to go “virtually vegan”.

I’m amused by the reactions of the pro and anti vegan crowd to this news. The vegans crow with vindication about Clinton’s late-life change, and the carnivores counter that all vegans are smelly, weird people. Then carnivores inevitably drop the Hitler bomb, even though Hitler was not, in fact a strict vegan or even a vegetarian. (By the way, I listen to Beethoven and Wagner and am not going to stop just because Hitler happened to have good taste in music.) While the vegans claim that Clinton looks astonishingly fit, the carnivores complain that he looks like a feeble old man. For my part, I do believe that Clinton looks somewhat gaunt, although he appears better than he did immediately after his bypass surgery, when his pallor reminded me of late-life photographs of Franklin Roosevelt. Clinton’s voice has also lost much of its projection, and there is a noticeable reduction in his legendary vigor.

As is often the case where both camps are convinced of their absolute correctness, reality is somewhere in the middle.

Fact is, humans are driven by evolution and biology to crave and eat meat (by which I mean all kinds of meat, including pork and poultry). That’s why we have incisors and canine teeth, unlike herbivores which have mouthfuls of molars. Early humans ate meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. They did not, however, eat bread (which is a human invention). Neither did they drink milk (once they were weaned from their mothers’ milk) or consume other dairy products such as butter and cheese.

Most Americans, however, eat too much meat, particularly so called red meat. This is for several reasons: historically, Americans have been meat eaters since before our founding: There was a bounty of game animals on the continent that exceeded Europeans’ grandest dreams; in modern times, factory farming has kept meat available in plenty, and at prices most Americans can easily afford. Very few of them care, or are even aware, that the vast majority of meat and poultry is filled with growth hormones, antibiotics, and was raised in conditions that our 19th Century counterparts would have considered indecent. The overconsumption of meat and dairy products and reliance on processed foods (like bread and products made with High Fructose Corn Syrup), combined with the under-consumption of fruits and vegetables and our sedentary lifestyles have placed the American peoples’ health in jeopardy. What happened to Bill Clinton is a sample of what’s in store for many of us if we don’t change our ways. (And overconsumption of certain kinds of fish can lead to mercury poisoning.)

There is also the ethical question. I grew up with foods such as pot roast, steak, burgers on the grill – along with the veggies my parents made me eat. I never gave a thought as to where the food came from or how it got to the kitchen table – and I’d venture to guess that few of my classmates did either. But over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly uneasy with eating red meat and pork. I now try to keep myself limited to one helping of red meat per week – but even that has started to bother me, especially since watching The Cove. For what is the difference, after all, in eating meat that comes from a cow or pig, as opposed to a whale, dolphin, or even the family dog? They are all mammals, and all share the same evolutionary history. It may be irrational or false equivocation, but I do consider mammals to be a higher form of life than fowl, which are essentially reptiles. There is also the environmental impact deriving from the raising or so many cattle, which have to be fed and housed before they are slaughtered. So the struggle I face is between my body’s cravings for red meat, and my growing guilt in consuming it. Last summer, I totally gave up dairy for several weeks, and that combined with my reduction in red meat intake produced some unexpected results – in the form of dreams about cheeseburgers covered in ice cream. I don’t think I will ever be able to give up mammalian meat completely.

In the end, the answer is, as it has always been: moderation in everything. If President Clinton had observed that mantra in his younger years, he wouldn’t have to resort to extreme measures today.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts on the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

America’s ludicrous ban on openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military has finally been struck down – although it will probably take a year or more for the military to implement the repeal.

President Obama was roundly criticized for his handling of this issue. The military continued discharges even as it became increasingly obvious that DADT’s days were numbered. The President could have easily issued a stop-loss order suspending discharges, but chose not to. Indeed, I don’t think any President since Carter has been so roundly pilloried from both the right and the left – including my own comments. President Obama’s lack of executive experience has made itself most evident in his inability to control various processes. As has been stated elsewhere, instead of negotiating from a position of strength, he has frittered it away and gotten much weaker legislation than could have been passed – this has most recently been demonstrated with the Tax Package, but applies to Health Care as well. In the end, he got both done, but Obama must be a lousy Poker player. Fortunately, the repeal of DADT was a straightforward piece of legislation and it was merely a question of getting enough votes for passage. The credit for that does not go to the President, but to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and a handful of Republicans. (It must be pointed out that, despite the crowing by Log Cabin Republicans and the GOProud crowd, the overwhelming majority of Republicans in office remains homophobic in their voting and policy positions, regardless of what may or may not be in their hearts. A few Republicans yielding to common sense do not constitute a bipartisan victory.)

The Human Rights Campaign received a lot of flak for its handling of DADT repeal, along with Hate Crimes and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. Much of that criticism was justified. While HRC will undoubtedly use the repeal of DADT as fodder in fundraising letters and for their lavish parties, the fact is that the primary driver of repeal was media attention to decorated service members who opted to come out, most notably Lieutenant Dan Choi, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva. These brave Americans helped push public opinion in the right direction. Without them, and ground level activists pushing HRC and the establishment, DADT’s repeal would have been delayed indefinitely. HRC’s slight pushing at the end does not forgive their record for ineffectiveness.

One commenter has raised the specter that DADT might one day be reinstated. Given the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in general society, largely driven by the work of gay activists going back 40 years, and a generational change in attitudes, a rollback of gay rights seems increasingly unlikely. It would take strong majorities of conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate, along with a Republican President, to reinstate any ban. It would mean the Republican Party would have to purge its moderate wing – which would make it impossible to elect Republicans in New England or the West.

But the gay community’s work is far from done: It is still perfectly legal to fire someone from his job for being gay in 38 states. With the upcoming party change in the House of Representatives, any enactment of ENDA seems unlikely in the foreseeable future – to say nothing about repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The status of LGBT people in American society is still far from equal. It’s increasingly likely that any advance in employment and marriage in the near future is going to come from the courts and not the legislature. It needs to be pointed out that there are far more LGBT people in civilian society than in the military – and their rights are just as important.

As for myself, I have never seriously contemplated joining the military, and at 43 I’m not about to start now - especially considering the United States’ increasing propensity to undertake unwarranted wars of choice that neither make the world safer nor improve America’s standing in the world. Despite changes in party leadership, Dwight Eisenhower’s prophetic nightmare continues: the military-industrial complex thrives.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Afterthought for the day

A clean conscience is its own reward...but food is a very effective incentive.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No Free Lunch...

These two Gallup poll results, from the same day, illustrate the present dichotomy among the American populace:

66% of Americans (but not the same 66%) favor extending both the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Large majorities also want to increase FDA and USDA regulation, while a plurality wants to postpone cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. In other words, the American people want increased government services, but don't want to pay for them.

People need to be reminded that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Olbermann: Obama "God-damned Wrong" on tax-deal

Once again, Keith speaks for the conscience of Liberal and Progressive America. It would have been better to let ALL the Bush tax cuts expire and return to Clinton-era levels. Need I remind anyone the 1990s were a time of unprecedented economic prosperity? Sound fiscal and tax policy had something to do with that.

Who is going to be hurt by the Obama/Republican deal? Americans making less than $20,000 a year. President Obama is betraying one of the core ideals which have guided the Democrats since the 1930s - a rising tide lifts all boats, and giving in to Trickle-down economics.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mason: the Dog who likes Classical Music

I've commented before that Mason can be calmed by music. Here's an example of that, as my friend Zsolt plays Schubert at our Thanksgiving celebration. (Before Zsolt started playing, Mason was frantic with excitement at seeing him.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Return of the deer family

If you double-click on the video, it will take you to the youtube page where you can watch it in full-screen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The case for nuance

  • This morning, I learned of a twitter posting from Lt. Dan Choi. As those who follow this blog know, I have held Lt. Choi in high regard for his service to the nation. Indeed, it was I who created the Wikipedia article on him. So it pained me to read Lt. Choi’s Tweet:

My response:
Barack Obama’s far from perfect on LGBT issues, but he’s not as horrible as Choi and some others have stated. Here’s what we’ve gotten in the past 20 months from the Obama administration and the Democrats on the Hill:

*Hate Crimes bill – first federal law extending protections to LGBT people – passed by Democrats, signed by Obama.

*Issued directive banning discrimination against gays in respect to hospital visitation rights – signed by Obama.

*Persuaded top military brass to speak out against DADT, started process likely to lead to eventual repeal.

*Ended the HIV travel ban – Executive Order signed by Obama.

*Extended benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees – Executive memorandum signed by Obama.

*Over 150 LGBT appointees in less than two years (a record by a large margin).

Let’s compare Obama’s record to that of some recent Presidents:

Jimmy Carter: Did nothing for LGBT people beyond a tepid statement at a political rally for California voters to “vote against Proposition 6” (at the request of Governor Jerry Brown – and it wasn’t certain that Carter even knew what Prop 6 was).

Ronald Reagan: The patron saint of America’s right-wing ignored the growing AIDS crisis of the 1980s – refusing to even utter the word AIDS in public for a full six years. Indeed, he was outright hostile at the mere mention of the subject, avoiding discussion of it during meetings and shooting angry looks at anyone who dared mention the word. He opposed legislation extending any protection to LGBT people. He appointed the virulently anti-gay Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, but he also appointed Anthony Kennedy, who turned out to be a moderate. (Kennedy’s appointment, it should be remembered, came on the heels of Robert Bork’s failure to gain the Senate’s approval. If Bork had become a Justice, he would have been as anti-gay as Scalia.) True, Reagan issued an op-ed in the 1970s against Prop 6, but he wasn’t President then, so it doesn’t count.

George H. W. Bush: Told ACT-UP protestors to “shut up and sit down” during a speech. Like Reagan, Bush opposed any extension of federal protection to LGBT Americans. He also told an interviewer that if one of his grandchildren came out as gay, he would “embrace that child, love that child”, but would advise them to “not become an advocate for that lifestyle” - in other words, to stay in the closet. Bush appointed anti-gay Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Bill Clinton: the first party nominee for President to actively seek the gay vote (“I have a vision, and you’re a part of it”) before his nomination, blundered out of the gate with his attempt to allow openly gay/lesbian service members – resulting in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At best: a transitional policy toward full open service; At worst: a hazy unclear policy that resulted in an increase in discharges. Clinton failed to persuade Congress to pass any LGBT friendly legislation. He also signed the Defense of Marriage act, even though he could have let it pass without
his signature in symbolic protest (and been easily reelected anyway). On the other hand, it was under Clinton that HIV funding dramatically increased, leading to new drug regimens that greatly increased the life-expectancy for those living with HIV. There are literally tens of
thousands of Americans living today who would be dead without those medications. Appointed two gay-friendly justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, to the Supreme Court.

George W. Bush: Despite claiming that “I’m not a gay basher”, he threatened to veto Hate Crimes legislation. On multiple occasions, he lobbied Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, over the objections of his own Vice President. (Think about that for a moment: If Bush had gotten his way, people in Vermont, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa would be unable to marry their same-sex partner. The progress we’ve made in the last few years, inadequate though it is, would have been wiped out.) Bush’s pre-emptive war in Iraq led to a fundamentalist resurgence in that country, causing a
monumental step backwards for LGBT people there, who had enjoyed a modicum of acceptance under Saddam Hussein. Bush’s Supreme Court appointments, Thomas Roberts and Samuel Alito, were the most anti- LGBT since Scalia’s appointment under Reagan.

So, based on the above, is President Obama really “the worst”? Or is he merely disappointing because people expected better?

I believe based on his Tweet, as well as various statements and actions over the last year, that Lt. Choi is experiencing “newly-out” syndrome, in which everything revolves around being gay. (This is very common, and I went through that phase myself when I was in my early-20s.) I also feel that residual anger toward his parents (who, Choi states, have not spoken to him since his coming out) has boiled over into his public persona. He’s been given to venting rage at anyone who does not agree with every facet of his agenda and methods. Choi’s attitude is disturbingly reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” approach to foreign

The problem with Choi’s Tweet can be summed up by a fictional president, Jed Bartlet: "Every once in a while, every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren't very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that's way too big for ten words [or 140 characters]. I'm the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me."

We now come to the issue of Choi’s own core political beliefs, which he has yet to disclose. But in the context of his other remarks, I feel that Choi, were he not gay, would be opposed to Democratic policy positions across the board. Certainly he has neglected to criticize any Republicans in the way he has Democrats. Given his comments about the war in Iraq, it’s obvious that he is a “true believer” in that bloody, unwarranted conflict. Further his comment referring to Senate Majority Leader Reid as a “pussy” who “bleeds once a month” is appallingly misogynistic and immature. They are also unworthy of a man who is supposed to represent the
finest in his country. (Add to that his frequent protests and arrests while in uniform, and it’s very unlikely that Choi would be allowed to reenlist even when DADT is repealed.) Let us have no illusions that Dan Choi is not as politically correct as many in the LGBT community would
prefer. But as a public figure, it's disingenuous for him to be coy about where he stands politically.

And though this may pain Lt. Choi to hear it: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is but one issue facing one segment of the gay community. While it is high profile, there is no reason it should be the LGBT community’s highest priority.

I have made plain my own disappointment with President Obama and the Democratic leadership, not just on LGBT issues but across the board. But I don’t for a moment accept that he is “the worst.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Keith Olbermann responds to Ted Koppel

In one of his best Special Comments, Keith Olbermann flays Ted Koppel over his disingenuous op-ed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The letter the Plain Dealer declined to print

Cleveland's sole daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer, recently printed a letter from one of those exhurban dwellers who probably knows nothing of life beyond the cul-de-sac and the pulpit. These kinds of letters seem to be par-for-the-course in what many call The Very Plain Dealer, and always seem to come from the pens of the same few people from Brunswick, Seven Hills, Hudson, and the like.

I wrote a letter in response, which the PD declined to print. For your edification, here it is:

To the Editor:

In response to Marion B. Stewart's letter to the editor: Educate yourself. Read the scientific literature on sexuality. With the exception of "studies" funded by religious fundamentalists, they all come to the same conclusion: Sexuality is an inborn, immutable trait. "Conversion" therapy, which is merely the modern version of exorcism, doesn't work - and often results in deep psychological harm.

Religion, however, is not a biological trait. One's parents may be a particular religion, but at some point, an individual makes a conscious choice to embrace that religion, find another faith, reject religion altogether, or adopt a neutral stance.

I know of no LGBT activist who has suggested conversion therapy to "rescue" individuals from religion (despite all the destruction that has been carried out by those citing God, Allah, or Jesus as justification). The gay community’s demands for basic civil rights do nothing to prevent the religious from exercising theirs. LGBT people deserve the same courtesy.

Hank Drake
South Euclid, OH

Monday, November 1, 2010

Seems like yesterday

On November 1, 2008, Daniel & I brought Mason home from the shelter. As the cliche goes, "It seems like only yesterday."

Mason's first photo, taken November 2, 2008. Aged eight weeks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

After 22 years, a divorce

I grew up in a Republican family. My parents were Eisenhower Republicans. (It’s somewhat ironic that President Kennedy was assassinated on my parent’s 7th wedding anniversary.) Their parents were Coolidge Republicans. Some of my earliest memories involve politics: I watched Richard Nixon’s resignation speech live on television, I supported Dennis Kucinich’s recall (even though I was not old enough to vote and didn’t even live within Cleveland city limits) and I watched Ronald Reagan decisively beat Jimmy Carter during a debate in 1980 (apparently thanks to a stolen debate book, as I later learned). At that time, while I was more informed than most children of my age (I watched the news religiously), I parroted my parents’ views on just about everything.

But there were two seminal events in my adolescence, entirely unrelated, that formed my adult political consciousness and led to me casting my first vote (and nearly every one since) for Democratic candidates: I read James McGregor Burns’ two part biography of Franklin Roosevelt, which laid out how FDR fought for ordinary Americans – going back to when he ran for the New York State Senate in 1910 and the hot button issue was the size of apple barrels; I came out as a gay man.

I vividly recall in 1984, when Walter Mondale was slaughtered by Ronald Reagan, that my grandmother had a young boarder. J. was a genuine holy-roller (she even took me once to her Assembly of God congregation, where I witnessed the whole song & dance: “praise JEE-zus”, speaking in tongues, etc.). When J. announced her opposition to Democrats, she shouted that it was because “they’re for gay rights!” (How many LGBT young people encounter bigotry from those unthinking fools who never pause to consider who they may be proselytizing to?) Thanks to J., the division for me between the two parties was as clear as the fight to defend the United States against those who wanted to turn our country into JEE-zusland.

Where did we go wrong? As Nixon (arguably, our last economically liberal President) said, “Follow the money”. The recent Supreme Court ruling expanding corporate rights at the expense of people’s rights has only exacerbated an already dismally money driven political system. Did the ruling fire up Democrats to fight for the values that made them America’s majority party from the 1932 to 1980? On the contrary. In the wake of the ruling Party leadership caved to moneyed interests. America’s political scene has now devolved to the extent that there is very little difference between the two major parties: The Republican Party is controlled by corporations and the religious fundamentalists. The Democratic Party is controlled by corporations and labor unions.

This was not always the case. The Republican Party under Theodore Roosevelt fought not only for individuals, but for small businesses by writing and enforcing anti-monopoly laws. It was partly over that issue that T. R. left the Republicans in 1912 and ran as a Progressive. Many people doubted the viability of a Third Party candidate, but Roosevelt came in second place, ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. Following the election, there was no illusion that the Republican Party represented any constituency other than big business. But it was not until the Great Depression that Franklin Roosevelt aligned the Democratic Party firmly with the disenfranchised and enacted economic policies that arguably created the American middle-class. But in the 21st Century, those that Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt respectively called “malefactors of great wealth” and “money changers” now hold all too many cards.

The situation has devolved. As Gore Vidal once said “America has many elections, but no politics.”

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I formally announce that I am leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Green Party. My heart has been with the Greens for nearly a decade anyway. Once the party of Franklin Roosevelt - who signed Social Security into law, and Harry Truman - who advocated for single payer health care, the Democratic Party has lost its people-centered mojo. No wonder the Democratic laity is so dispirited. I am reminded once again of Truman’s line: Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time. (Ironically, one of the few Democrats to avoid this fate is Dennis Kucinich, who continues to win by large margins, and who I would support in a heartbeat if I lived in his district.)

It’s not just because Democrats have come under the mercy of their corporate masters, not just that they failed to enact the single payer health care system Truman wanted, not just that a Democratic President is continuing to wage the last Republican President’s war of choice, not just that our bass-akward tax system has not been reformed and brought in line with other advanced nations. Nor is it merely because the Democrats have been nearly as unenthusiastic about protecting the environment as Republicans - refusing to endorse the shared sacrifice that will be necessary if humanity is to make it to the 22nd Century in one piece.

As a gay man, I take very personally Barack Obama’s lackadaisical approach to the issues that affect people like me. President Obama has done everything possible to avoid moving effectively on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; he has not signed legislation outlawing employment discrimination against LGBT people; his justice department is not aggressively enforcing the Hate Crimes Legislation that he did very little to pass. Worst of all, he has had the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to allow his justice department to compare my marriage with bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. Given that two generations ago, his own parents would not have been allowed to marry in broad swaths of the United States, I can only ask: How dare he?

Mr. President, my love matters.

My decision doesn’t mean that I will never again vote for a Democrat. Where there are no Green Party candidates available, I may well hold my nose and vote for the Democratic candidate – even a moderate one. Hell, in the past, I’ve even voted for the occasional Republican – like William Weld when he ran against John Silber for Governor of Massachusetts. I always vote for the best person for the job. Sadly, Democratic candidates are finding themselves co-opted by corporations as Republicans have been since the 1920s, and they are rarely the best people for the job anymore.

There are those who would say: “But, Hank, doesn’t supporting the Green Party mean that in effect you’re really supporting the Republicans, because it will divert from Democratic votes?” I can only reply that I am no longer willing to support the “least-worst” option and ignore my conscience when there is another choice. I would also point out that many early Republicans faced that same dilemma when they left the Whig party. I would also state that this is not 2000 when the Democratic Party had an arguably Green candidate in Al Gore; we are not in Florida, and the “add one - subtract another” paradigm no longer applies. I am fully cognizant that the Green Party candidates I will be voting for have very little chance of being elected…this time. But one has to start somewhere. And sometimes, one just has to make a stand. For me, that time has come. In the end, I can only echo what Ronald Reagan said when he changed parties: “I didn’t abandon my party. It abandoned me.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CIM Orchestra at Severance: Mozart, Walton, and Wagner

Last night's CIM orchestra concert was held at Severance Hall - partly to accommodate larger than usual orchestral forces. It's always a pleasure to go to Severance.

Mozart's overture to The Magic Flute was tonally lovely, but blurriness and occasional discoordination in the string section marred the performance. Of course, we're close to the beginning of the school year, and there are some inexperienced members in the orchestra, but CIM's band has long been known for the excellence of its strings - outstripping a good many professional orchestras - so this was a disappointment.

I only know William Walton's music casually, being familiar with the Second Symphony, Hindemith Variations, Partita for Orchestra and Cello Concerto. So the Violin Concerto was new repertoire for me. A friend commented that it seemed like a battle between Romanticism and Modernism. I commented that both lost in this case. The soloist, Ai Nihira gave a commendable performance.

The post-intermission portion of the concert consisted of orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Ring cycle. Asher Fisch is said to be a Wagner specialist. His knowledge of the music may have accounted for the fact that he wisely reinstated several sections of music that are usually discarded when performing these "bleeding chunks". This was particularly the case with "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla" and "Forest Murmurs". It was in the former that the full dynamics of the CIM orchestra were at last unleashed. But in the latter there was some shaky intonation in the woodwinds. Siegfried's Funeral Music went at an unyielding, almost jaunty clip that drained the music of much of its majesty. But the Ride of the Valkries was thrilling - how could it be otherwise?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Support of National Service

 I was watching the news the other day, and there was a story about the pending expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. There has been considerable consternation inside the beltway as to whether they should be made permanent, allowed to expire for everyone, or allowed to expire for those making over $250,000 per year. This post is not intended to address that issue, but for the record, I am in favor of the last option.

What got my attention was a remark made by a typical outer-ring suburban soccer mom, who was whining that if the upper-income tax cuts expired her family wouldn’t be able to take their planned vacation in South America.

Well, boo hoo. Her complaint stuck with me all day, on many levels, including the fact that her family would be using a tax credit and spending it outside the United States. Then it occurred to me, neither this woman nor her family had probably ever experienced real poverty, had never known true struggle, and had been insulated for their entire lives.

I grew up in a solidly middle-class family – not poor, but far from rich. My parents were reasonably thrifty: drove used cars, and left the dining room unfurnished – all so they could live in an area with an excellent school system. I didn’t know material struggle until I finished high school and had to start earning my own way – and even then, jobs came easily to me in the boom years of the 1980s.

But in the summer of 1990, in the midst of the first Bush recession, I was unemployed. Living from check to check on unemployment, which I felt ashamed to accept, I was demoralized by my struggle to find work. The low point for me came in July: I was a week behind on my rent and was only able to stay in my apartment through the good graces of my landlord (he probably reasoned that it would cost him more to find a new tenant as to let me run a week behind on my rent); the refrigerator and cupboards were bare with the exceptions of an old box of penne pasta and a bottle of Thousand Island dressing. I was hungry, and as I ate the cooked pasta covered in dressing – slowly to make it last – I realized I was probably still better off than half the people on the planet. I had a warm bed to sleep in; I had electricity, books, television, and music. And I had another unemployment check coming the next day, which would go toward my rent and the cheapest food I could find.

Going back to the soccer mom: It’s probably too late to save the parents’ minds, I thought. But what about their children? And my thoughts returned to something I have contemplated for several years: National Youth Service.

It is my belief that every able bodied person between the ages of 18-25 should be required to perform one year of National Service. It could be in the Coast Guard or National Guard (standard military service for only one year would not be practical), or working in inner cities, helping the elderly, or getting back to nature in a revived Civilian Conservation Corps. For their work, young people would get minimal pay, food, a dormitory-style place to stay, and college credits. Not only could much needed work be done to better the country, but young people could better themselves and meet their peers from all walks of life. No mainstream American politician of either the left or right supports this idea, but I do.

National Service is a staple of young adulthood in many advanced countries. Several years ago, I met a young man from Germany who was performing his service by helping the elderly in Cleveland paint homes – later he went to New Orleans to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. How interesting that American generosity, such as after the Haitian earthquake or the mine disaster in Chile, is reported in our media – but people from other countries helping over here never makes the news.

America has dabbled in National Youth Service before, most recently with AmeriCorps – which started under President Clinton. But aside from the emergency programs during the Great Depression, it has never been wholeheartedly embraced by either the government or the populace. This may be, in part, due to fears of National Service devolving into a Draft. Or it merely may be that the Congress is unwilling to expend the money necessary – although that hasn’t stopped them from funding trillion dollar wars of choice. But the time has come to define citizenship as more than just paying taxes. Citizenship means that all must “ask what you can do for your country” and then act accordingly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Hidden Horowitz

Horowitz at one of George Cukor's (with spectacles) Hollywood parties, c. 1950. Kenneth Leedom, Horowitz's lover at the time, is standing behind the pianist with his hand on Horowitz's shoulder.

Remaining persons are unidentified.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Through a Dog's Eyes

For anyone who loves dogs, I recommend this book!

My review of Through a Dog's Eyes

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our wedding video

Full post with text and photos to follow.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Trip to Vermont: Final entry

Wednesday - September 15
After superb Eggs Benedict, Dan & I bid our goodbyes at Moose Meadow Lodge and drove to Shelburne to tour the Vermont Teddy Bear company. I remember hearing their ads on the radio in the 1980s, and I’ve seen their website, but I’d never been there before. The tour was lead by a long haired British gentleman. As we’d planned, after the tour we selected two Groom bears.

Then we headed to Burlington, which I’d visited with my father in 1992. It hasn’t changed much since then, a liberal college town - rather like a more urbanized Oberlin. Church Street has recently been closed to traffic and is an open pedestrian way - making it a sort of outdoor mall. The stores are more corporate than in the smaller towns, with a Borders that had a very ordinary selection. We didn’t stay long, driving to the edge of town to get a view of Lake Champlain.

Then I did something stupid: knowing that we planned to stop overnight, I programmed the GPS to take us back without using highways. Unfortunately, it took us on a route which had extensive roadwork being done, so that after two hours, I reprogrammed it to take us back to the highways. We made it to Seneca Falls, New York by 9pm and bunked in at a Microtel. Despite the cheap cost, the dreary, barren room made me pine for the Lodge.
Thursday - September 16
We were up by 6:30am, ate Microtel’s poor excuse for a Continental breakfast, and were on our way by 7:15. Save for some rain and construction, the drive from Seneca Falls to South Euclid was uneventful, and we were home before 12:30. After unpacking, we headed over to the West Side to get Mason, who greeted us with frantic high pitched whimpers. He loves his two daddies.
Later that night, we opened the registry presents we received. One was from a high school friend, the other from my older brother, Rob.
After being back in Ohio for a few days, my emotions tailspun into a depression. I have long said that the worst factor of Cleveland is that it’s in Ohio. The state in which I was born combines the worst aspects of small and large states: unfriendly, inconsiderate people, bad drivers with no respect for pedestrians, political ignorance.
Dan shares my feelings. We’ve settled for living here because it’s cheap, we have rather lucrative jobs and friends here, and Cleveland has a lot to offer culturally for a town of its size. But symphony orchestras and art museums will only get you so far.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Trip to Vermont: Tuesday - September 14

Monday afternoon, Daniel confessed to me that he forgot to pack one item: his dress shirt. So, after asking Willie where the nearest mall was, we decided to head there Tuesday morning. The Berlin Mall (really a small shopping center) is about 30 minutes away from the Lodge, and near Montpelier, Vermont’s capitol (the only state capitol without a McDonald’s). We arrived at the Mall just as the stores were opening. After Danny got his shirt at J. C . Penney’s, we checked out various stores before stopping at the Wal-Mart (!) to get the candles for our ceremony.
We had plenty of time before the ceremony, so we headed up the road to Montpelier. Considerably larger than Waterbury, Montpelier is eminently walkable, and our stroll confirmed what I like about Vermont’s towns: within a ten minute walk, there were six independent bookstores and many other unique shoppes, without a Barnes & Noble or Borders in sight. Also like most other towns in Vermont, Montpelier is dog-friendly, and you can bring your canine companion into nearly any shop except food establishments. We spotted a rainbow flag on the corner of State & Main streets, and headed into Coffee Corner to grab milkshakes - which were made the old fashioned way - with ice cream, milk, a metal cup, and a blender. I chatted with the waitress and casually mentioned that Danny & I were getting married that day. She offered hearty congratulations, and brought out the owner who comped our shakes.

We were back at the Lodge in time to grab a nap before getting ready for the ceremony. Danny & I had worked out the details in advance, including our vows, the use of candles, and the rings. It was just the two of us - with Greg Trulson officiating. I looked deeply into Danny’s eyes, which were welling up as we proclaimed our love for each other, and commitment to each other for life. We took our individual candles and lit the large one, symbolizing our two lives becoming one. Then the ceremony was over and we were married.

Danny & I then headed for Hen of the Wood for dinner. This award winning restaurant is built in a former mill, and featured locally grown produce and locally raised meat. After some lovely wine and appetizers, we ordered our entrees: I had the Hanger Steak - my favorite dish - and Daniel ordered the rabbit, much to my surprise. (I once had a pet rabbit, and felt guilty when I sampled a bit of Daniels - which I didn’t like.) For dessert, we shared a piece of apple cake ala mode. Our diets were obviously suspended for the duration of our time in Vermont.

It doesn’t feel in the least strange to now be able to refer to Daniel as my husband, rather than partner. Indeed, it feels right.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trip to Vermont: Monday - September 13

After a good night’s sleep, Danny & I headed down the road to the Duxbury town clerk’s office for our marriage license. We brought our birth certificates in case he asked for them, but surprisingly he didn’t ask for any ID whatsoever. Upon our return to the Lodge, we entered the kitchen where Greg and Willie greeted us with embraces as if we were long lost friends. During our entire stay there, they set a relaxed ambience that made us feel completely at-home.
After breakfast, we discussed the ceremony with Greg, deciding to have it at 4PM Tuesday near the pond. Then Danny & I headed out for some sightseeing, starting with Vermont favorite the Ben & Jerry’s ice Cream factory tour. This was a hoot, and the tour guide was relaxed and humorous, even when a British tourist pestered him about the discontinuation of Rainforest Crunch (it was due to the supplier of the “crunch” retiring).

From there, we headed down the road to a local cider place before returning to walk around downtown Waterbury, which more than makes up in charm for what it lacks in size. A typical New England mill town, Waterbury is remarkably pedestrian friendly, with small shops, more restaurants than we had time to sample, and very amicable people - who actually make eye-contact with passers-by.

By now it was mid-afternoon, and we headed back to the Lodge for a nap before going to dinner. There are so many unique restaurants in town (not a fast food chain in site) it was difficult to decide where to go. In the end, we went to The Reservoir, a typical burgers & beer type place, with a Vermont twist: they offered a burger made from whatever wild game had been caught - in this case, Elk. I’d never had Elk before, so I ordered it medium rare. The taste is similar to Bison. Danny had the Fanny Pack sized Burrito, which was bigger than Chipotle’s.
We skipped dessert and instead got a pumpkin pie from the local grocery store, which we brought back to share with the Lodge. It was our last evening as an unmarried couple.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trip to Vermont: Sunday - September 12

Daniel and I went to Vermont for a combination vacation/wedding. We had planned this for several months, and it had been on my mind since 2009 when Vermont transitioned from civil unions to full marriages for same-sex partners.
We left Mason and Valdo with Mark Saturday night. We awakened early Sunday and were on the road at 6:23AM. The trip via Interstate-90 through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and most of New York was uneventful. After we left I-90, we found ourselves navigating a series of more rural and winding roads, eventually entering Vermont. Danny has never been to the Green Mountain State, and I was only there once previously, in 1992. It’s the only place I’ve ever been that actually looks like its own postcards. I find the mountains, country roads, and scenery very appealing.
We arrived at Moose Meadow Lodge just before 6PM. The Lodge is a very large log home on an 86 acre estate featuring extensive trails, a pond, and a sky view gazebo.

We stayed in the Creel Room, which was larger than I expected - it featured a balcony overlooking part of the woods. The bathroom has a two-person shower with a steam machine - which came in handy when I started to feel a sore throat coming on - which never fully materialized. The Lodge, on the border of Duxbury and Waterbury, is owned and run by Greg Trulson and Willie Docto, who’ve been together for nearly 20 years. Willie, an amateur violinist, also prepares daily breakfast for the guests - our three days we were delighted with omelet wraps, pecan pancakes, and the finest eggs Benedict I’ve ever eaten. Greg is also a Justice of the Peace and he presided over our ceremony - he also officiated over the first same-sex marriage in Vermont just after midnight on September 1, 2009.

We didn’t actually see Greg & Willie until Monday morning - on Sunday, they were out with friends, but they left the door unlocked with a note for us. (In that part of Vermont, people don’t lock their doors anyway). But Kelly & Kerri, a couple visiting from North Carolina were there, and they welcomed us and mentioned some places to get dinner. After unpacking our things, we headed to Zachary’s Pizza for dinner, including especially fine Chicken Alfredo pizza. By the time we got back to the Lodge, it was dark outside, and we watched some TV before going to bed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Horowitz and Beethoven

An article I wrote in 2004 about Vladimir Horowitz's Beethoven recordings (once posted on the now-defunct All About Classical website) has been reposted at The Horowitz Website, now the definitive repository for information about the pianists's recordings.

Here's a direct link to the article, which will be revised and updated with new material in my upcoming book, Toward the Flame: Reflections on Vladimir Horowitz.

Just for fun, here are the two infamous LP covers I refer to in the article, along with the cover from Horowitz's Emperor Concerto recording:

Pretty pink moon. Did the astronauts see that?

That's a very plain looking candelabra. What would Liberace say?

The original cover for this LP was very plain.
This was for a reprint using the same catalogue number.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get Lost

The TV show, that is. The complete series has been released on Blu-ray and it's nothing short of spectacular.

My review of Lost: The Complete Collection

Monday, August 30, 2010

Two peas in a pod

Last Friday, Mark brought Buster over for Danny & me to watch while he was in Carrollton. Buster, who Mark and I rescued in January of 2003, is a seven pound tan Chihuahua. As far as we can tell, Buster (who I named) is about 11 years old by now, and full of spunk. Despite his age and small stature, he kept Mason in line – even though Mason tried to reassert himself. Buster stayed with us until Sunday afternoon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dan Savage on Ken Mehlman's belated coming out

Btw, Mehlman still thinks LGBT people should support the Republican Party because Islamofascists are so much worse.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Dr. Laura and the First Amendment

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, no stranger to controversy, has come under fire in recent days for a radio program where she repeated the N-word multiple times, and defended the concept of people saying it freely. Her comments were in response to a call from an African-American woman, married to a white man, who was hearing this language from her husband’s family. Dr. Laura’s spin was that since some African-American men call each other the N-word, then everyone else should be able to shout it with impunity as well.

Does anyone wonder what her response to the caller would have been if the caller’s family were using epithets against Jews or Christians – or bleached blondes - as opposed to African-Americans? She would have rushed to the caller’s defense and lambasted the in-laws in no uncertain terms.

Numerous groups have expressed entirely understandable outrage over Dr. Laura’s comments, to the extent that she made a half-hearted apology the next day. Following this latest media circus, Dr. Laura has stated she’s ending her radio program to defend her First Amendment rights, which she claims are being oppressed. Sarah Palin, that Constitutional scholar, agrees with her.

Let us review the text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances[

Dr. Laura (who is not a psychologist but has a degree in physiology – in essence, she’s qualified to be a gym teacher), is perfectly free to say whatever she wishes, no matter how offensive, misguided, or just plain wrong. And those who disagree with what she says are free to picket her appearances and call for boycotts of her advertisers. Her sponsors are free to withdraw their support – although in this case she voluntarily is ending her radio show (and will probably relent and stay on the air).

I, under my First Amendment rights, will now state my opinion: I despise Laura Schlessinger. She’s a phony doctor who promotes ignorance and intolerance against anyone who doesn’t fit into her narrow paradigm of acceptable behavior: Republican voting Judeo-Christian heterosexuality. Given her own spotty moral history, she’s in no position to moralize toward anyone, and is a hypocrite par-excellence.

There. Don’t like what I wrote? Feel free to boycott my advertisers.

And now, time for that perennial favorite, an open letter to Dr. Laura:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev.24:10-16)? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging. Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's not even a mosque

As usual, Keith Olbermann has addressed this situation more eloquently than I can. I'd just like to add: Nearly every branch of Judaism and Christianity has persecuted homosexuals at one time or another - some to the point of execution. I would never oppose the building of a Christian church or Jewish Temple anywhere in the United States - even the most rabidly homophobic one if it were placed right next to my house.

If you want to defeat fundamental Islam, do it with the strength of ideas - which is not determined by who shouts the loudest.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How falsity becomes “fact”

I stumbled upon this short bio of Vladimir Horowitz at Arkivmusic. Probably written by a Steinway press agent (Arkiv is a subsidiary of Steinway), it’s chock full of inaccuracies. Sad thing is, many will consider this blurb an “authoritative source” even though the frequently dissed Wikipedia has a superior article on Horowitz. The full text is below with my remarks in red.

A pianist of legendary fame and stature, Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine. (According to some sources, Horowitz was born in Kiev, according to others, it was Berdichev. There are conflicting documents on this matter, and Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire at the time of his birth.) His mother, herself a professional pianist, provided his first instruction at the piano and was the first to recognize his extraordinary talents; he studied further at the Kiev Conservatory. His first public appearance was a recital in Kiev on May 30, 1920, (this was his graduation recital at Kiev Conservatory, which may or may not be considered a "public appearance") and in 1922 he gave a series of 15 concerts in Kharkov for which he was paid in food and clothing. Although Russia was still reeling from the revolution of 1917, Horowitz fashioned successful concert tours in major cities such as Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev -- marking the beginning of a performing career of unflagging and spectacular success. (There is no mention here of Horowitz's most significant success from that era: 23 recitals in Leningrad {then called Petrograd} playing 11 different programs.)

His first international appearance came with his 1926 trip to Berlin (his Berlin debut took place on December 18, 1925, Horowitz playing the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Symphony under Oskar Fried) soon after which followed concerts in Paris, London, and New York. Further appearances in the United States solidified his reputation as an exceptional virtuoso, and the country which was to become his adopted home embraced him warmly. He was invited to the White House to play for President Hoover in 1931, and in 1933 he married Wanda Toscanini -- the daughter of the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini, who would soon conduct Horowitz and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in performances of the Beethoven piano concertos. (Here, the writer has his chronology reversed: Horowitz played under Toscanini on April 23, 1933 – and it was only in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. He married Wanda on December 21, 1933.) Horowitz permanently settled in the United States in 1940 and achieved citizenship in 1944.

Wanda Toscanini assumed a gentle stewardship (Gentle, are you kidding?) of her new husband, who was in fragile physical and emotional health. Often seized with an irrational fear of failure, Horowitz found the life of touring threatening to his equilibrium. He withdrew from the concert stage for several periods during his life, and made only rare appearances after 1970 (actually, his appearances from 1965 were pretty rare). When Horowitz did schedule a concert, it often took the persuasive powers of his wife and friends to keep him from canceling at the last minute. (If this is referring to the post-1970 era, it’s incorrect. Horowitz rarely canceled after 1970, most notably in the aftermath of his daughter, Sonia’s, death in 1975, and when he underwent prostate removal surgery in late-1978. In both cases, the concerts were rescheduled and performed.) His nagging, and often overpowering, insecurity led him to seek shock therapy in 1973, but though he seemed to achieve some benefit from treatment, he was never free of anxiety when playing in public. The one exception to this trend was when he appeared as accompanist to another artist, which he often did with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and violinist Isaac Stern. (He played with the listed performers only once, at a Carnegie Hall benefit concert on May 18, 1976. If that’s often then I’m a vegetarian.) Because of his long absences from the concert stage, Horowitz's popularity was largely sustained by his recordings.

Perhaps the most significant single event in Horowitz's long career was his long-overdue return to the Soviet Union (his first since his departure in the 1920s) for a series (Does two concerts count as a series?) of concerts in 1986. The resulting tour became a major political event, coinciding as it did with an era of new understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it resonated powerfully with Soviet audiences. Revitalized by the Soviet tour, Horwowitz (<-don’t they have a proofreader?) signed a new contract with Sony, (He was still revitalized by the tour three years after the tour ended, and two years after he stopped giving concerts? In fact, he signed with Sony because the head of Deutsche Grammophon, Gunther Breest, went to work for Sony and Horowitz went with him.) the contract included provisions for recording him at home on his favorite piano. He made his last such recording on November 1, 1989; on November 5 he died of a massive heart attack.

As a performer, Horowitz had huge resources of speed and power, and a clean articulation. His performances were brilliant, exciting, and often mystifying to those who found his technique enigmatic (he played, for instance, with unusually straight fingers, laying them nearly flat on the keys). Though his performances were frequently criticized for their willfulness and self-indulgent nature, there was an undeniable charisma to his playing that endeared him to most everyone who heard him.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hubris on All Sides...

I’ve written on this matter before. So, a quick summary: Donald Rosenberg was the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s lead Classical Music critic for many years. His primary job was covering the Cleveland Orchestra. In 2008, he was reassigned by the paper’s editor, Susan Goldberg, and now covers other musical and dance events.

Prior to Franz Welser-Möst’s taking the baton, Rosenberg’s reviews of the Orchestra had been consistently laudatory. But in 2002, his reviews began to take on an almost unrelentingly negative tone. The Plain Dealer reassigned Rosenberg to cover non-orchestra events, and replaced him with Zachary Lewis, a clearly less qualified (but perhaps more open minded) reviewer.

Being the Plain Dealer’s critic for the Cleveland Orchestra has its perks: free tickets always in a great seat, use of the orchestra’s Green Room while writing one’s reviews, being able to hobnob with movers & shakers – all part of the job.

When Rosenberg was reassigned, he lost the privileges of membership. Neither his pay nor his benefits were cut, but his ego must have been bruised. This would have been especially humiliating for Rosenberg because he literally "wrote the book" on the Cleveland Orchestra.

Rosenberg sued, alleging that the Plain Dealer reassigned him under pressure from the MAA as a result of his reviews. He further alleged age discrimination. 56 at the time of his reassignment, that’s a tough complaint to swallow.

This past Friday, the jury decided against Rosenberg. I can’t say I am surprised by this. Barring a prior contractual agreement, a newspaper has the right to assign its reporters to any beat it wishes. In addition to the age discrimination complaint, Rosenberg was unable to prove that his reassignment has harmed his career. Is his book about the Cleveland Orchestra, Second to None, any less respected than it was before he was reassigned? Hardly. Indeed, the publicity surrounding the trial has probably boosted sales. (The book does not cover Welser-Möst as it was written prior to his tenure here.)

As I have stated elsewhere, I don’t agree with many of Rosenberg’s reviews. When it comes to his critiques of various piano based events, from the local piano competition, to recitals and concertos, he’s out of his depth. (This is more than a matter of differing taste, but many factual errors on his part. Sadly, Rosenberg’s reassignment has resulted in him covering precisely these kinds of events.) But Rosenberg’s reviews of the orchestra were written from a knowledgeable perspective – the guy knows his onions. I also think it is fair to state that Rosenberg was biased against Welser-Möst – and slavishly devoted to his predecessor, Christoph von Dohnányi. But if every biased critic were removed from his post, there would be precious few reviewers. Harold C. Schonberg, for many years the New York Times’ lead music critic, had an axe to grind with many musicians, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould to Ivo Pogorelich, and it showed in his reviews. If there is an influential critic, it’s one who writes for the most noteworthy paper in the cultural capital of the nation. Despite frequent letters to the editor protesting Schonberg’s reviews, Times’ management never considered removing him from his post. I am unaware as to whether New York Philharmonic management tried to exert pressure for Schonberg’s removal or reassignment, but if they did, the Times ignored it. That paper stood by its man. Plain Dealer management tried to have it both ways by reassigning Rosenberg without firing him.

On the other hand, however, Schonberg scrupulously guarded his integrity – to the extent that he avoided cultivating friendships with musicians that he reviewed (following his retirement he reached out to many of them). Schonberg would never have considered “advising” the orchestra that Bernstein had to go, as Rosenberg has admitted doing with Cleveland Orchestra staff regarding Welser-Most. A critic advising the orchestra in any place other than his written reviews is a serious overstepping of boundaries and sign of personal hubris.

I’ve had my own complaints about Welser-Möst’s tenure at the orchestra: the continued over-emphasis of Germanic repertoire (which started under Dohnányi); the lack of a clear interpretive point of view; the eclipsing of the orchestra’s sharp aural profile in favor of a soft, marshmallowy sonority. But I’ve also maintained an open mind, and come to the conclusion that Welser- Möst’s conducting has improved over the last few years. Franz (he insists on being called by his first name) seems to have hit his stride. Also, to his credit, the current conductor has responded to tight economic times by taking a substantial cut in pay. And he involves himself with Cleveland’s everyday folk in a way few conductors would. Dohnányi, the anti-populist, wouldn’t have been caught dead conducting a July 4th concert as Welser-Möst has done.

If he’d still been reviewing the orchestra over the past two years, would Rosenberg have had the same response? Would he still be harping on Welser-Möst, and telling management the conductor “had to go”? Thanks to Welser-Möst’s thin skin, Rosenberg’s own hubris, and the caving of the Plain Dealer’s editorial team, we may never know.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Would FDR have dropped the bomb?

Sixty five years ago today, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  That and another bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later forced the unconditional surrender of Japan – ending World War II.

The use of the bomb was one of the most controversial issues of the war.  The efficacy and appropriateness have been discussed to death, and I will not debate it here except to state that I believe from the perspective of ending the war quickly, with the least loss of life on both sides, that the strategy was not only effective, but moral – as moral as anything in war can be.  It also prevented the possible carving up of Japan by Soviet and American forces which would have resulted from a land invasion.  The straw arguments brought out by those who state that Japan was on the verge of surrender in summer 1945 would be laughable if they weren’t made in the face of Japan’s human rights abuses both before and during the Second World War – both against Allied military personnel and innocent civilians.  Isn’t it interesting that Japan’s behavior in atrocities such as the Bataan Death March and the rape of Manchuria are utterly forgotten by those who use August 6 to declaim America’s evil?  Some of this is doubtless due to Japan's own whitewashing of her history.

One question that has been raised is whether Franklin Roosevelt would have used the atomic bomb and if he knew of its potential for destruction. There is no doubt among serious historians that Franklin Roosevelt fully intended to use the bomb.  Although certain naïve persons have been misled by FDR’s genteel image, he was particularly tough on issues of American security: pushing J. Edgar Hoover to make broad use of wiretaps, approving the execution of several German nationals who snuck into the United States with the intent of sabotage, and signing Executive Order 9066 - which led to the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry.  (For what it’s worth, both Hoover and Harry Truman though Japanese Internment was a mistake and unjustified by American security concerns.)

It was FDR himself who put the development of an atomic bomb on the agenda after he received a letter from Albert Einstein advising that Germany was working on just such a weapon.  He immediately told his military aide, General Edwin “Pa” Watson, that “this requires action” and to keep all documents relating to the project in the White House safe.

Roosevelt followed the development of the Manhattan Project closely and was fully aware of an atomic bomb’s potential power, telling an aide that one dropped in Times Square “would lay New York low”.

When the Germans broke through Allied lines in the Ardennes in late 1944, FDR called in Leslie Groves to ask about the possibility of fast tracking a bomb to be dropped on Berlin to force an end to the war.  Groves had the unpleasant duty of informing the President that production of a workable bomb was months away.

There is also the written account of James Roosevelt, the last of FDR’s sons to see him alive, who in January 1945 confessed to this father his fears concerning Operation Olympic – the planned invasion of Japan.  FDR bluntly told James “There will be no invasion of Japan.  We are developing a weapon of immense power, and we will use it if we can.”  For FDR, who always kept his cards close to his chest and hadn’t even told his wife about the Manhattan Project, to drop such a broad hint was extraordinary.

Shortly after FDR’s death, his Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, advised Harry Truman of the existence of the atomic bomb project - although Truman had suspected the Manhattan Project centered on a new kind of “super-weapon” since he stumbled upon the project while chairing the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program when he was a Senator.  As the targets were being chosen, it was Stimson who persuaded the military against Kyoto as a target – as it was primarily a cultural and religious center.

FDR would have used the bomb.  The only questions are when and where.  But FDR died, and that decision fell to another man. 

 Thank God for Harry Truman.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bread & Blossom

My coworker Sheilagh had a garage sale over the weekend. Daniel & I bought a bread maker and some knick-knacks. As soon as we got home, Daniel rushed to the store, bought ingredients, and made a loaf of wheat-raisin bread. Delicious, but not conducive to a reduced carbohydrate diet.

Did you ever sit and listen to an orchestra play a fine overture and imagine that things were as they ought to be and not as they are?
- Harry Truman

Saturday evening, Daniel & I headed to Blossom Music Center for a concert with the Cleveland Orchestra. It was an especially well balanced program: Vaughn-Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije Suite, and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. in D minor with pianist Stephen Hough.   

Starting with the final work on the program, I must confess to having an on-again/off-again relationship with the Brahms Concerto. A popular discussion among pianists is which concerto is the most “difficult.” The Rachmaninoff Third usually gets the nod (unless one includes non-standard repertoire works like the mammoth Busoni Concerto). But while the Rachmaninoff Third is more technically advanced, in many ways the loftier Brahms First is more difficult to carry off. It’s the work of a young composer, who had deep ideas, but had not completely mastered orchestration and did not write idiomatically for the piano.   For me, the crux of the problem is twofold: achieving balance between the piano and orchestra, and maintaining a singular dramatic “through-line” during the very long first movement.

Stephen Hough has written about this concerto, and I concur with his opinion: the Second Concerto is the work of a more mature, seasoned, “professional” composer, but the First Concerto reaches higher and digs deeper.

The Brahms D minor is probably the most poorly served Concerto in the standard repertoire. There are precious few exemplary recordings of it. Indeed, the first recording of it I ever heard was an execrable version by Arthur Rubinstein that should not have been released (he recorded much better versions of it with Reiner and Leinsdorf). I have not heard Hough’s recording of the work, but after Saturday night’s concert, I plan to get it. 

All too often, one tends to hear the first movement played like the work of a prematurely middle-aged composer – soggy and weighted down. But Hough brought out the tragic ardor in the movement without negating the composer’s Maestoso (Majestic) marking – partly by maintaining a sensible tempo and playing with a wide dynamic range. Indeed, there were some intensely fiery moments in the middle of that movement.

Throughout the middle movement, a deeply spiritual essay, a moth flittered above the musicians. I thought “this must be the luckiest insect in the world”.  Hough daringly mixed harmonies with the pedal here, but the texture never became mushy. For the first time though, I noticed something troubling about Blossom’s acoustics: where we were sitting (Row F near the center), lower frequencies were nearly lost, so that the double-basses’ harmonic underpinnings were undermined.

The infamous “Blossom crack” was heard early in the third movement, but it only added to the proceedings. In the passages leading to the cadenza, the orchestral sound virtually exploded, and Hough’s presentation of the cadenza built upon that. The switch to major in the final bars brought about a catharsis that ended the concert. 

Before intermission, David Zinman brought out the humor of Prokofiev’s satirical Lt. Kijé Suite, which is adapted from a film score. The piece, a parody of bureaucracy, (Kijé essentially translates into “what’s-his-name”) is effectively orchestrated (including use of the saxophone) and has the piquant harmonic touches Prokofiev is well known for. Zinman is an economical conductor – he doesn’t flap his arms about or sway his body around to demonstrate his emotional involvement in the music. He lets the music speak for itself and concentrates on getting the best possible playing from the orchestra. That was the case both here and in the Brahms.

The concert began with Case Scaglione making his conducting debut with the Tallis Fantasia. The interpretation was unobtrusive, and the dynamics of this strings-only piece - which begins and ends with fade-in/fade-out effects - were very well handled. Of course, The Cleveland Orchestra could probably play this work in its sleep. The true test of Scaglione’s skills will lie in what he can do with a less gifted orchestra.

During the Prokofiev and Vaughn-Williams, I noticed an older second- violinist, who seemed so casually at-ease with his instrument as he gently swayed back & forth to the music - it looked as if playing the violin was the most natural thing in the world. As someone who briefly and unsuccessfully tried playing the violin, I can assure you it’s not. 

After the concert, I remarked to Daniel that we should go to concerts more often (as it is, we attend about three times per year). With so much war, strife, chaos, and political infighting, Harry Truman’s quote haunted me for the rest of the evening.