Friday, December 30, 2011

Stop Ohio’s Puppy Mills

There is an evil thing happening in Ohio right now – the reckless breeding and exploitation of canines via puppy mills. Such mills have existed for decades in America, but have become an epidemic problem in recent years. Ohio currently ranks sixth nationally for high volume breeders, and Holmes County is Ohio's epicenter for dog auctions. The vast majority of puppy mill operators in Ohio are Amish.

Before I proceed, let me make it plain that there is a sharp delineation between puppy mills and legitimate breeders. In puppy mills, female dogs are constantly bred – delivering litter after litter nearly without pause. They spend their entire lives confined to cages. Typical puppy mills can have literally hundreds of breeding dogs, which give birth until they are no longer able to carry. At that point, the dogs are removed from their cages and shot. These dogs are never properly socialized to humans – and the litters they give birth to are not properly cared for in the first weeks of life. The puppies are auctioned off to pet stores or, increasingly, sold via the Internet to unsuspecting buyers.

This is not the case with legitimate breeders, where the health of the mother dog* is paramount, stud dogs are carefully selected, and puppies are closely monitored in the earliest weeks of life. There is a place for dog breeders in our society, particularly in the creation of service dogs.

Puppy mills were common in Pennsylvania – with Lancaster County called the “puppy mill capitol of the world” – until Governor Ed Rendell signed legislation that clamped down on such practices. Following that, a portion of mill activity found its way to Ohio. There is currently an effort underway to outlaw dog auctions in Ohio either through legislation or a ballot initiative - such a ban would deal a major blow to puppy mills.

Some people have opposed this initiative based on a rose-tinted image of the Amish: simple folk who live in harmony with nature and God. But in recent years, a truer picture of the Amish has arisen, one in which cruelty toward animals and even fellow humans is common. Others oppose it based on the false idea that we should not be worrying about dogs when there are so many humans who live in misery. My response is that human problems are generally caused by humans – either by themselves or through the actions of others. The problems dogs face, including the tragedy of puppy mills, are also caused by humans – and require a human solution.

Recent evidence indicates that the human/canine bond has existed far longer than previously thought – as long as 31,000 years – and that man’s domestication of wolves may have been reciprocated. The presence of dogs in our lives may have been a critical factor in the evolution of human society from loose groups of hunter-gatherers to stable communities. To this day, dogs continue to be of service to humans in war and in peace. How have we repaid canines for their service to man? By ignoring the need to spay/neuter, we’ve allowed them to overpopulate – to the extent that millions are euthanized each year. We’ve created designer breeds in a manner that has placed appearance above health. For example, the English Bulldog, once a great breed, has been inbred to the extent that cardiopulmonary problems are common and their lifespan has been reduced. The posture of the German Shepherd has been adversely affected by breeding for an aesthetically pleasing appearance – resulting in epidemic hip dysplasia. Is this any way to treat Man’s Best Friend, a creature WE created, and which aided us in our own formative era?

Legislation to outlaw dog auctions is only part of the solution. The more critical element is raising the awareness of those looking for canine companions. Far too many people have been so caught up with dogs of specific breed that they are unaware that dogs of mixed breed can often be a preferable option. I hold the American Kennel Club responsible as the primary perpetrator of this snob appeal. More often than not, a mutt will carry the best traits of each breed in its mix – this is known as hybrid-vigor. I’ve seen it personally in my Labrador/Collie/Shepherd mix Mason: He has the friendliness and playfulness of a Lab, the intelligence of a Collie, and the watchfulness and protectiveness of a Shepherd.

Dogs are not accessories - they are living, beathing, feeling creatures!

I urge all my readers, both in Ohio and out, to support this effort.

* I refuse to use the term “bitch”, which is more commonly a pejorative term in America

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fitness Update: The revenge of Christmas dinner

Despite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I have been managing to keep up with my workouts. I worked out every day this past week, including Wednesday which I usually skip. I even managed to get in a Christmas Eve (well, the afternoon of Christmas Eve day) workout at Progressive’s gym, which was nearly devoid of people. I wish I could say I was being as vigilant about the diet end of things. Between the food offered at various project and seasonal work events, and the treats shared by coworkers, I’ve put a couple pounds back on.

Dan had to work overnight, so while he slept Christmas morning, I began work on dinner: Candied Yams and Stuffin’ Muffins (muffins made of stuffing). After he awakened and we opened presents, Dan made Pasteles and arroz con gandules, and we washed our meal down with coquito. A traditional feast, but one that mixed several traditions.

Making the Stuffin' Muffins - note the time on the stove.

12/24/2011 214#

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beethoven's deafness and his compositional style

The British Medical Journal has published a fascinating article about how Beethoven's increasing deafness may have influenced his compositional style.

Click here to read the full article.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Nutcracker

When counting the years on the modern calendar, we often refer to BC and AD (or the more politically correct CE). When considering ballet, one could easily refer to BT and AT – before and after Tchaikovsky. The Russian composer put ballet music on the map. For those who doubt that assertion (and there are some who will merely so they can “dis” Tchaikovsky) consider this: How many memorable ballet scores - that can stand on their own in the concert hall, and away from dancers – were written before Tchaikovsky? And how much did that change after Tchaikovsky put his stamp on ballet music? Probably the most noteworthy original ballet score before Tchaikovsky was Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus. The score, to be blunt, it not particularly interesting or memorable, except for a serviceable overture, and a theme he used several times – as the finale of the Eroica Symphony and in the Eroica Variations.

I’ve seen The Nutcracker more times than I can recall. Dan and I went to the Saturday matinee at the State Theatre. The production, by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet had a particularly Canadian flavor. The Nutcracker is flexible enough that in can withstand changes in tone – even the cutesy-poo addition of a dancing bear. But I found much of the choreography cautious and not up to the standards present when Cleveland had its own ballet company (albeit shared with San Jose). This was Dan’s first live ballet and I wish the dancing had been more virtuosic and the staging more imaginative.

The RWB production took some liberties with the music: the arrangement of pieces in the second act was altered and the Waltz of the Flowers was early on rather than near the end. They even added a piece (the Marche Miniature from Tchaikovsky’s Suite, Op. 43) to the second act – being less harmonically advanced it didn’t really fit into the score. Tempos were cautious during the faster pieces – whether this was to accommodate the dancers or the players I do not know. The playing by the pick-up ensemble was accurate but small scaled.

I learned a lesson: when attending a cultural event which may involve children, always opt for the evening show - never the matinee. Young children simply do not know proper etiquette. Appallingly, too many parents don’t know how to behave either. There was a man in front of us reading a pro-Newt Gingrich blog on his brightly-lit smart phone drawing our attention from the performance.

But for me, the marvel of The Nutcracker, after seeing it live many times, is and will remain Tchaikovsky's score. It shines through even in a less than stellar production. All the more remarkable is that Tchaikovsky composed the ballet’s score under very restrictive conditions imposed by the producer (and some say choreographer) Marius Petipa. The composer was told: "I want seven bars in 3/4 time, then ten bars in 6/8 time, then twenty bars in 4/4 time, at the following tempos..."

It has been said that art thrives on restrictions, and The Nutcracker score is an extreme example of that. I wish I could go back in time and tell Tchaikovsky, who was notoriously insecure about his work and was disappointed in this ballet, that a century later there would be annual productions of this ballet in nearly every major city, that audiences would enjoy the Nutcracker Suite in concert halls and on recordings without even the need to watch the ballet, that even a musical novice would recognize a tune from the score and it would bring a smile to his face - and a tear to his eye.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A New Musical Direction

My love for classical music (by which I mean the repertoire from baroque to the moderns and even some minimalism – along with orchestral film scores) goes back 35 years. The classical repertoire is so vast that one can barely acquire a deep knowledge of it in the course of a lifetime. Consider, for example, the many fine works by otherwise well-known composers that are rarely played, various pieces by Schumann and Liszt. It occurred to me early on that if I was to know enough repertoire, I would have to limit my time with other genres. That’s OK, because much of what I heard from the pop world didn’t appeal to me – particularly what is referred to as the Top 40, to say nothing of Rap and its various offshoots. True, there are a few things in my collection that are nowhere near the Classical repertoire: dance mixes, some Madonna, even some 70s disco. But those are exceptions and as often as not, only serve the purpose of speeding up my workout. Also, I don’t really care for music with lyrics of any kind (opera is a relative blind spot for me, although choral music is not). I’m more interested in the melodic/harmonic lines which often contain emotions too deep for words to convey.

But I’ve spent so much time studying scores and listening to music that, I must confess, it seldom makes a direct connection to me on an emotional level anymore. Instead, my emotional response is filtered through my intellectual understanding of the music.

By happenstance, I put a documentary called Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, into my Netflix queue – mostly based on the fact that he was shown singing Jacky. It arrived last week, and I watched it Monday night. For someone who started off singing in a boy-band, Walker has taken a remarkable journey. Songs such as Big Louise and Two Ragged Soldiers are melodically ambiguous, harmonically complex, richly orchestrated, and utterly heartbreaking. It has been a long time since any music made such an immediate emotional connection with me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fitness Quest: Illness and recovery

As mentioned in my previous post, I was ill with a sinus infection and sore throat for most of my vacation. Even at this point, I have not fully recovered – although I have been able to resume workouts. I had already decided not to schedule training sessions the week of my vacation since I didn’t know where I would be in my home improvement. But I planned on working out on my own – which illness put the kibosh on. So, from November 20 – 27 I didn’t work out at all. The most exercise I got was pulling the carpet and walking the dog – neither of which amounted to very much. When I resumed training last Tuesday, my weight had upticked. But I have tapered down and my weight is at its lowest point since I began training. How much of that loss is due to atrophy and how much is due to fat loss I don’t know. But I felt energized enough to combine two workouts into one on Saturday.

12/3/2011 212#

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Staycation renovation

I was on staycation last week, watching Mason and the house while Dan traveled to his brother’s place in Virginia. Although I was sick with a sinus infection for all but two of those days, I took the opportunity to get some work done in the house: I removed the carpeting from the upstairs hallway. Taking out the layer of tan, shag carpeting, I found remnants of bright orange shag underneath it, along with the carpet pad. I also found evidence of some sloppy tile work in the threshold where the bathroom meets the hallway. The entire job would have been done in three hours if not for that sloppy tile work. As it was, I had to neaten that up, buy a new threshold cover, and fit that to the door frame. But it was worth it. The existing floor has been preserved by the carpeting and looks better than the bedroom floors – which have a bit of wear.

Mason in the upstairs hallway

Hallway floor

Hallway floor

I also considered taking out the carpeting in the family room, but there are two obstacles which make that impractical. For one, the existing wood floors are poor quality and would have to be heavily renovated or covered with better hardwood. Also, the family room is an addition to the house (added in 1956, according to records) and is built over a crawl space that vents to the outside – so the floors would become very cold in winter. So, we have decided to replace the existing carpet.

Dan returned on Thanksgiving day via Akron-Canton airport. We stopped at the Waffle House in Green for our Thanksgiving dinner. Surprisingly good – and no clean up on our part.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Season 3 of The Bionic Woman is a letdown with a few good moments

As a child, I watched both The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman, but quickly became more enthusiastic about the latter. While I was entertained by Steve Austin's derring-do, I cared about Jaime Sommers. However, by the time the final seasons of TBW and 6M$M came along, my interest in each series had declined. So with a few exceptions, I am seeing these episodes for the first time. With the exception of a few episodes, including The Bionic Dog and On the Run, season 3 is a bit of a letdown.

Click to read my review...

Mason is enthralled by Max, the bionic dog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Election

The election of 2011 has taken place. The votes have been counted, and the people have spoken.

I am very relieved that Issues 1 and 2 were defeated at the polls. As for Issue 3, the practical effect is nil. Federal law generally trumps state law, and the insurance mandate of the 2010 Healthcare law will likely end up in the Supreme Court. If the court rules for the mandate, all will be required to purchase health insurance. If the court rules against it, the ruling will probably reignite the push for single player health care or - at the very least - a government option.

I am disappointed that Tony Caroscio was not reelected to council at large. Tony’s a nice guy who has served the city honorably. But with so many challengers this year, it was likely one councilor was going to lose his seat. Caroscio was narrowly defeated by Marty Gelfand, who brings a strong background to the office.

Issue 96 was certainly the most hotly fought, bitterly debated contest in South Euclid I can recall. Despite the relatively close vote, I retain my opinion: passing Issue 96 was the best viable option for this land. On Tuesday, I spent six hours working at two polling stations: City Hall and the University Heights Library. During my time there, I saw three people from the No on 96 campaign: Rich Sones, Fran Mentch, and Garry Kanter. All three were from Cleveland Heights, which confirms my initial belief that they were the drivers of this campaign. (Sones’ home was the No on 96 headquarters.) The fact that Fran Mentch in particular felt the need to verbally confront me and other Yes on 96 campaigners and repeatedly accuse us of being paid (which we were not) is an indication of how little they had in the way of facts to support their side. My comment in an earlier post that they relied upon suppositions, hysteria, and character assassination to drive their campaign was vindicated not only in their behavior at the polling stations (with the exception of Sones, who was reserved and polite), but by the increasingly shrill and desperate flyers they sent in the waning days of the campaign, and the vandalism of pro-96 signs.

I am glad this election season is over, and I am looking forward to putting thoughts of the rancor behind me. There used to be an American tradition: after Election Day, we pulled up our lawn signs, life returned to normal, and we all just “got along” as we had before. I don’t feel confident that that’s the case anymore – and not just because of the
reaction to Issue 96’s passage. Witness the years of nagging about President Obama’s birth certificate, then the conspiracy theories about Osama bin Laden’s death. For myself, despite my best efforts, I can’t pretend that there are “no hard-feelings” on the Oakwood issue after the way front groups with phony websites, shadowy funding and a group of activists from a large suburb tried to sway the voters of a suburb only half its size. Many of these people are now saying they’ll never shop at Oakwood. And these same people bullied those of us who dared to speak our minds. I was personally the recipient of such behavior, as was Jane Goodman. They defamed us as paid shills or worse. And I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to spend my money in any of those businesses which aided them - whether those businesses were in South Euclid, Cleveland Heights, or elsewhere - for quite a while.

A bitter election season is over, yet the bitterness lingers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fitness Quest: November 7

Two steps forward, one step back. I’ve observed that my weight is like a ball bouncing down the stairs. The overall trend is downward, but it does bounce back up. Over the past week, I have been tremendously busy with work and canvassing for Issue 96. Although I’ve certainly been active, I have not adhered to my diet principles as I should. Last night, I fell off the wagon in a bad way when I ate a bison burger at burgers 2 beer, a new place across from Progressive’s main campus. (The burger was excellent, by the way, as were the fries that accompanied it.) So, my weight has upticked.

I used the time change to my advantage this morning to grab a cardio work out before my shift rather than after.

11/07/2011 weight: 214 #

Friday, November 4, 2011

Another reason we need Oakwood Commons

This is another reason we need Oakwood Commons. The average one-way daily commute in the United States is 16 miles - and that doesn't include how far we drive to shop. We need to bring people closer to where they work and where they shop. We need to return growth to cities and their inner-ring suburbs.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A look at No on 96 funding.

Click to enlarge:

The Ohio Fact Check item is a $25,000 donation. Donald McTigue is listed as the treasurer of Ohio Fact Check - he is also the lawyer for the No on 96 group. McTigue's registering of that internet domain (which redirects to resulted in pointed criticism by the real The section marked residents outside SE and CH includes a $200 donation from the Avon branch of the Northeast Ohio Sierra club. The prospect of an "environmental" organization trying to stop inner-ring renewal with a donation from a far-flung exurb boggles the mind, and I have decided not to renew my membership in the Sierra Club.

Source: here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2011 Election Endorsements

Mason says: Vote NO on Issues 1, 2, & 3.

Issue 1: This is to raise the maximum age at which a justice can be appointed from 70 to 75. Issue 1 is nothing more than a twist on FDR’s court-packing scheme, in which he tried to pack the court with younger – and more Liberal – judges. Now, the Republicans in control want to pack the court with older – and more Conservative – judges. Republicans already have solid control of the courts in Ohio, which Issue 1 would only entrench. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 1.

Issue 2: Everyone’s hearing about this one - on TV, in print, and via mailed flyers. Issue 2 is an attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio. If this passes, private employees will be next. This is part of a continuing erosion of Union rights that started in the 1980s. It is no coincidence that the middle-class started to shrink at around that time. Governor Kasich claims that he simply wants to balance spending by reining in overly generous benefits. Two facts that belie Kasich’s claims: 1. Public employees have already agreed to wage freezes and benefit cuts; 2. If Kasich wants to avoid a deficit, why is he giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations when it’s been proven they don’t stimulate economic growth? Kasich’s stand might be good politics – at present – but it’s bad economics and bad governance. Don’t fall for this, Ohio. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 2.

Issue 3: The disingenuously named Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment is simply an attempt to destroy the progress that’s been made in health care reform over the past few years, and take a political swipe at President Obama. It will not protect anyone’s freedom, except the freedom to be irresponsible at the expense of the responsible. Passage of Issue 3 will, at best, continue skyrocketing health care costs and leave more people uninsured. It will also provide a disincentive from employers offering health coverage as part of their benefits package. VOTE NO ON ISSUE 3.

Issue 96: Issue 96 concerns the South Euclid portion of the former Oakwood Golf Club, which was sold to First Interstate, run by developer Mitchell Schneider. The No on 96 people, who are largely funded by Cleveland Heights residents and by Severance Center, are gambling that if they can stoke enough opposition by playing the Wal-Mart card, the zoning will be reverted to Residential and Schneider will donate the land in exchange for a tax write-off. That idea flies in the face of all logic and business sense. More likely, he will develop the land as residential or sell to another developer who will then develop the land. Under a residential paradigm, non-profits such as a church or health care facility could be built, which would be exempt from property taxes. Most likely, any development under a residential template would be a gated community. (The fact that the general economy and housing market are poor does not negate the fact that there are still plenty of people with money who would love to live close to the city and cultural attractions, without the negative implications they feel inner-ring suburbs bring: namely, integration and a large stock of smaller, older housing. Witness the developments at University Circle and the Gordon Square neighborhood.) The pittance of money that South Euclid would collect in property taxes from housing (most of which will go to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District) will not even begin to cover the costs of road upkeep, trash collection, et cetera.

A Yes vote means the commercial zoning approved unanimously by the South Euclid city council will remain on the books. It means the development of a new shopping center similar to Steelyard Commons, and the chance for local access to retailers that we now have to drive miles to get to. South Euclid recently ranked 10th in walkability among the 114 largest communities in Ohio. That’s a remarklable asset that Oakwood Commons will only enhance. First Interstate will cover ALL costs of remediation for the 21 acres of parkland it’s donating to South Euclid, as well as improvements on Warrensville Center Road including a new traffic signal and a sidewalk on the western portion of the road – where only a decaying fence now exists. Oakwood Commons would pay for trash collection and upkeep of their parking lot. Then there are the fiscal benefits, including income taxes from the jobs created and property taxes – although, again, most of the property taxes will go to CH-UH schools. There is also the potential to make a real dent in the local youth unemployment rate, which is a huge problem no one wants to talk about. Incidentally, both Mayor Welo and her opponent, Robert Schoenewald, have told me they favor a Yes vote on Issue 96. This is the most important issue on the South Euclid ballot, which will determine our city's financial fate for at least a generation. VOTE YES ON ISSUE 96.

Issue 97: For the past several months, a single speeding camera has been moved from side street to side street, clocking vehicles that travel more than eleven miles per hour over the limit. News of this camera’s impending use has been in the local media for at least two years, often accompanied by consternation and accusations of political misdeeds – with no supporting evidence. The best argument that can be made against the camera is that a ticketed individual cannot face his accuser in court. Indeed, the tickets issued are not reported to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and points are not issued to the licensee. Also, the title holder may not even be driving the car at the time of the infraction – it may be loaned to a friend or family member. But fines are still collected, after the camera manufacturer gets its cut. There are real problems with speeding on some streets in the city – including on South Belvoir, where I witnessed a pickup driver going at least 45mph on a recent Saturday morning. There is also the 25mph speed limit on Mayfield Road, for which I can find no justification, which leads many to use side streets as cut-throughs. I have yet to see evidence of stepped up police presence since they were supposedly “freed-up” by the camera from writing speeding tickets. (NOTE: I am not bashing our police force, which I hold in high regard, but I question their leadership.) Therefore, despite the hyperbole of the anti-camera set, I am urging a YES VOTE ON ISSUE 97.

For Mayor: I certainly have reservations about Mayor Welo’s performance. She seems to decide on who to endorse or appoint based on whether or not they go to her church. Many of these have led to an insularity at city hall that discourages constructive criticism and open debate. The purchase of Cedar Center North was, at best, badly timed and poorly executed and, at worst, a serious breach of private property rights. And many feel a more creative, less expensive solution could have been found to the troubles on Greenvale Road than the purchase and demolition of nine perfectly acceptable houses. Cuyahoga County councillor Sunny Simon, a resident of the Greenvale neighborhood at the time of the purchase, has vigorously defended Welo's stance. But it’s very unlikely that the money spent on these two items will ever be recouped. It’s also true that these events took place before the 2008 economic collapse, which very few people saw coming. The argument can also also be made that if the city did nothing with regard to blighted property, both commercial and residential, we’d be headed down the road to East Cleveland. Also, the city has made good faith efforts to rein in spending since the recession began, there has been no tax increase (a proposed increase for residents who work outside the city was quickly withdrawn), and South Euclid recently earned an above average credit rating from Moody’s.

A 1974 Brush High School graduate, Robert Schoenewald, Mayor Welo’s opponent, has been very civil in his criticism. I spent 45 minutes talking with him at a meet & greet and he seems like a very nice, personable human being. But his refusal to repudiate the tactics of some of his more over-the-top supporters bespeaks a serious lack of political courage on his part, especially for someone who calls Mayor Welo a “friend”. Schoenewald does have some good ideas, including better verification of residence for local students to make sure they're really local, and an approach to housing inspection that essentially amounts to “if it can’t be seen from the street, it’s not the city’s business”. But there were some things he told me that came right out of the Ayn Rand playbook which set off my radar. While he’s told me personally that he favors passage of Issue 96, his refusal to take a public stand, once again, is a bad omen for rudderless leadership were he to become mayor. His campaign has been long on statistics and short on specific solutions. Mayors have to do more than count and balance the books, they have to lead, and sometimes take unpopular stands.

In the end, I have chosen to vote for Mayor Welo. While some of her actions can be questioned, her general leadership has proven she's willing to fight to reverse the decline that has plagued South Euclid for the past 35 years.

For City Council (at large): Ward councilors are not running this year. Their four year term will be up for renewal in 2013. There are three open seats with eight candidates running. The seats are non-partisan, although not all the candidates are.

Michael Fortner: Fortner is unique in that he’s the only declared Republican in the race. I am not a Republican and don’t agree with all his ideas, such as replacing the city’s housing initiative with tax breaks for people who buy and rehab/replace distressed housing. The realities of the market are that tax breaks would not begin to cover the expenses involved, and distressed housing would remain on the market and an eyesore to neighborhoods for years. One such house on my street that was finally torn down this year after it began to lean. Having once lived in Slavic Village, I saw the potential for abandoned houses to attract vermin, including Chihuahua-sized rats. That would be a far worse problem for South Euclid than a few vacant lots – which can potentially be turned into community gardens or resold when the market improves. However, Fortner is a thoughtful individual who listens to both sides of issues, and he would bring some ideological balance to a council that has been little more than a rubber stamp for the mayor. Alternative ideas, no matter from whom they come, need to be raised. South Euclid needs a “loyal opposition”, and I believe Fortner would fill that role admirably without becoming overly strident.

Marty Gelfand: Only one candidate running has extensive experience in navigating the byways and pulling the levers of government, and that’s Gelfand. For years he’s worked as an assistant to Congressman Dennis Kucinich. I’m well aware that Dennis is a lightning rod for controversy, both positive and negative. But Gelfand’s connection to Kucinich may help in securing funds from Washington.

Tony Caroscio: A 1987 Brush High school graduate who was appointed to council in 2009. At the time, some noted Caroscio’s other occupation, as a manager for the Nike store at Aurora outlets, as not being distinguished enough for someone seeking city office. I don’t feel that a retail job is a disqualification for government office, but I may be a bit partial since I worked retail for 16 years. After all, Harry Truman ran a men’s clothing store, while Herbert Hoover was known as the “great engineer.” Make your own judgments. The primary job of a city councilor is to work with constituents, and discuss and vote on ordinances. These are largely people skills that have nothing to do with engineering. Caroscio has been willing to take stands on various issues, including a bill that would require a minimum of five votes (of seven total on the council) for any tax increase. He was also active in raising (private) money for the Playground of Possibilities. His contribution to the council and the city has been constructive, and with the ankle-biting that’s been going on in South Euclid, Caroscio’s performance in office has been refreshing.

School Board: I went to South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools from Kindergarten onward (with some breaks when my parents divorced) and am a proud graduate of Brush High School – class of 1985. So, even though I don’t have kids of my own, issues facing our schools are of great importance to me. Watching the dwindling performance of our local schools over the last 15 years has been a depressing sight. There are two open seats on the school board this year, with three candidates running. One of those candidates, Arizinnia Hood, could not even be bothered to file her paperwork on time or show up for an interview with the Sun Messenger. Frankly, that’s the kind of attitude that put our schools in the position they’re in today. Therefore, by default my endorsements go to Stefanie Rhine and Alfreda Wynne.

South Euclid Municipal Court: There are three candidates for one seat. Only one has received consistently excellent ratings from area Bar and Lawyer Associations, and that’s Lee Koosed. His average rating of 3.75 blows the other candidates’ 2.5 ratings out of the water. VOTE FOR LEE KOOSED.

Three wonderful years

Three years ago today, Dan & I headed to All-Breed Animal Rescue near Akron to look over a litter of seven puppies. We immediately spotted a brown pup with white paws and a white patch on his neck who seemed to be lording it over his brothers and sisters. Dan & I knew immediately that he was meant for us. The last three years have flown by, largely thanks to Mason.

Here's the first picture we took of Mason - one day after we adopted him:

Here's a photo of Mason in Halloween costume, taken last night:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Deceptive practices by No on 96 coalition

The real has issued an objection to the deceptive use of their name by the No on 96 crowd. Read here to learn more.

If the No on 96 group can't be trusted to tell the truth about who they are, how can they be trusted to tell the truth about the real implications of voting no on 96?

If you value the future viability of South Euclid, vote yes on Issue 96.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Letter to the Sun

I have decided to reenter the frey on Oakwood, which I left several months ago after receiving threatening comments from people on the other side. The following is a letter I sent to the Sun Messenger which is not being published due to length:

To the editor:

Like many, I was saddened to learn that the Oakwood Club had been sold to a developer – First Interstate, run by Mitchell Schneider. I wanted the land to be preserved as a green space – although as a fertilized and manicured golf course, it has never been a true green space. But the developer bought the land fair & square after a neighborhood group failed to raise more than a small fraction of the money required for purchase.

Now, there is a choice facing the citizens of South Euclid: Should the land be zoned commercial or residential?

Some very noisy people have dug their heels in, clinging to the belief that the land can become a park. Many are hoping that if Issue 96 is rejected, the developer will throw up his hands, magically “see the light” and donate the land to the Metroparks (which never bid on the land when it was for sale) or to the city of South Euclid (which cannot afford to reclaim and maintain all 60-plus acres). This hope flies in the face of all logic and business sense.

Zoning the Oakwood land residential does not mean it will become a park. It means housing would be built, most likely a gated community – because there are people who want to live close to the city, but not in the open neighborhoods with smaller houses that South Euclid has. New housing will exacerbate the glut of existing housing on the market and further depress property values. The bulk of property taxes paid on those houses will go to Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools – meaning whatever South Euclid collects won’t cover the costs of road upkeep, trash collection, et cetera. South Euclid will also lose the 21 acres of parkland that First Interstate is offering to donate, remediate, and maintain. Beware: a No vote is gambling with our city’s financial future – and means a tax increase for sure.

Certainly there are some in South Euclid who have been misled into opposing the rezoning of Oakwood. And there are some here who oppose it based on delusions of a massive urban park or on rigid ideological grounds. But the driving force of the opposition comes from activists and business in Cleveland Heights. They can’t vote on this issue, so they are trying to influence how South Euclidians vote. Don’t be fooled by them. I have also noted online comments at which make negative references to the developer’s religion/ethnicity. Really - in this day and age? How sad that individuals use the anonymity of the Internet to engage in this kind of baiting.

A Yes vote will mean over 700 permanent jobs – in addition to the jobs required to build Oakwood Commons. True, these will be retail/restaurant jobs, which are not the highest paying. But they will go a long way to alleviate the problem of youth unemployment. The money earned by these employees will mostly be spent locally. The income taxes collected will benefit South Euclid’s coffers. First Interstate will cover the costs of putting a sidewalk on Warrensville Center Road – where only a fence exists now. First Interstate will NOT be seeking any tax abatements – unlike the developers of Cedar Center and Cutters Creek. For shoppers, it will mean additional choices without requiring a long drive.

Of course, there are those who don’t want you to have a choice of where to conveniently shop. There are also those who believe stores should move into existing storefronts on Mayfield Road. Problem is, most retailers aren’t interested in those kinds of sites, and no one can force them to do business where they don’t want to.

I have spoken to both of South Euclid’s mayoral candidates – and both have told me that they favor a yes vote on Issue 96. Of every candidate for South Euclid city council, both incumbent and challenger, only one has stated his opposition to Oakwood Commons. This is not a partisan or political issue. This is an issue of communities having the right to control their own destinies without outside interference.

Sure, I would have liked to see Oakwood become a park. Guess what: Ain’t gonna happen. Voting yes on 96 is not the perfect solution. It is the ONLY viable solution.

Hank Drake

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rachmaninoff finally gets a complete edition...

The days are long gone (except among a few pseudo-intellectuals) when Rachmaninoff was written off as a lightweight, pops composer - as an old edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music& Musicians notoriously did. Grove's statement that the popularity of a few of Rachmaninoff's compositions would not last has been resoundingly disproven. Not only are the old warhorses - the Second Symphony, Second Piano Concerto, and Paganini Rhapsody - as popular as ever, but many of Rachmaninoff's previously obscure works have entered the standard repertoire. But this set from Brilliant Classics marks the first time a complete edition of Rachmaninoff's works has been released. It's long overdue.

Read my full review here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fitness Quest: October 24

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when I stepped on the scale: my weight has dropped again – this time to 212 ½ pounds (yes, I am counting fractions when they work in my favor – I need all the encouragement I can get). This boosted my mood at a time fraught with some personal strife I’d rather not go into here. During the previous week, I’ve had a slight reoccurrence of my brachial plexus injury (that’s fancy talk for a pinched nerve), but I soldiered on through my workouts. I find myself able to do things with coordination and weights that were impossible for me before. But I still have limitations: my right knee remains inflexible and weak, so that my right leg can only hold my weight for a short time while bent. This is a problem that’s been creeping up on me for many years – I first noticed it when I lived in New England – but it has definitely grown more pronounced as of late. Both my ankles, but particularly the right, also have limited stamina. I have upped my time on the elliptical machine to 35 minutes. At that point, my body is not fatigued, but my ankles start to pain. So at that point I switch to a stationary bike.

10/24/2011 weight: 212 ½ #

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Have you seen this gravestone?

The gravestone with the Out to Lunch inscription was stolen from our yard Saturday night/Sunday morning. If you know what's become of it, you can anonymously leave a comment below.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fitness Quest: October 15

I had a potential setback on Thursday, October 6. Toward the tail end of my workout, while doing some intense work on my “core” (back, abs, and obliques), I felt a pull in my back and let out a yelp of pain. Bryan, my trainer, immediately halted the workout. Despite the use of Icy/Hot when I got home, I continued to feel sore Friday, and took a Flexeril that night – which more than did the trick as I was something of a Zombie well into Saturday.

By Sunday morning, I felt completely better, and headed to the gym for what turned out to be my best workout in a month. Toward the end of my routine, while doing a tricep pulldown, I noticed something I have never seen before: defined biceps and triceps. This is part of a trend over the last few months: first there was definition in my lower legs, then my shoulders – particularly where the trapezius runs from the shoulders to the neck – then my forearms, and now my upper arms. Previously, I’ve been able to get a decent sized but undefined lump of muscle. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to see some striation. This indicates that my modified diet and my combination of strength-training and longer cardio sessions is finally working – even though my actual weight loss has been minimal. The definition is not always noticeable, only when I’ve just worked out and am “pumped-up”, but the progress is definite.

A side benefit of getting into better shape is that my sleep has improved. I’ve grown accustomed over the years to having two poor nights of sleep per week – being unable to fall asleep due to worries, an excess of energy, or physical discomfort. Now, I’m asleep almost immediately after my head hits the pillow - and I sleep through until morning. I had to work late on Thursday night, so my sleeping patterns were disrupted.

10/15/2011 weight: 214#

Friday, October 7, 2011

Elegy for VSD

An Elegy composed in memory of my mother, who was born on this day in 1933.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My review of Earl Wild's memoirs

Here's my review of Earl Wild's autobiography, A Walk on the Wild Side. As it's not exactly a rave, I'm sure it will earn me brickbats from Wild's coterie.

Not so much Wild as rambling & bitchy

Earl Wild (1914-2010) had one of the longest careers in the performing arts. He was a pianist of remarkable technique who made everything he played look easy. He'd been claiming - or "threatening" if one had ever heard him in interviews - to be working on his memoirs for decades before his death.

Early in A Walk on the Wild Side, the author complains that Arthur Rubinstein's two-volume memoirs contained too much recounting of social events, meals, and love affairs - and not enough about music. Reading that complaint, I became hopeful that Wild's book would be largely centred on music. Sadly, it is not. Wild's early years are dispensed with quickly enough - he claims his family was not close knit, to the extent that Wild once didn't recognize his own brother who came backstage to see him after a concert. He recounts his years as staff pianist for NBC, which he left when he entered the Armed Services during World War II. Wild recalls the various dignitaries he met over the years, including Eleanor Roosevelt and various Presidents (he describes Franklin Roosevelt as an "intelligent and sensitive" man who would sit close to the keyboard to watch Wild's hands, but writes that JFK wanted to be elsewhere than the post-Inaugural concert). Wild also relates how he met Michael Rolland Davis, who became his life partner from the early 1970s until Wild's death. Wild's unapologetic candor in describing his relationship with Davis - while refusing to use it as an excuse to plead for "tolerance" - is refreshing at a time when some people still feel the need to justify love. It is what it is and if you don't like it - too bad for you.

Neither editing nor fact checking appears to have been done. Wild's prose style is of the kind that would be discouraged by any decent high school English teacher. He seems to finish every third sentence with an exclamation point! Some of Wild's statements are impossible for anyone with musical knowledge to take seriously, such as his comment that Josef Hofmann played at the top of his form until the end of his career. Also, there are so many factual errors that everything Wild writes comes into question. For example, Wild relates that President Truman, upset by critic Paul Hume's review of Margaret Truman's concert, wrote Hume a letter in which he called Hume an unprintable name. In fact, Truman's letter was published and, although Truman's distaste for Hume is evident, there is no profanity. This story is well known and easily verifiable - yet no one seems to have bothered to check it.

There are a few musicians who earn Wild's praise, including Paderewski, Toscanini, Garrick Ohlsson and, of all people, Liberace! There are also moments of amusement, such as when Wild catches Wanda Toscanini Horowitz staring at his face, apparently looking for evidence of cosmetic surgery and a hairpiece (Wild maintained naturally full hair until his death).

But for the most part, the book is a diatribe against the classical music "business" and those who run it. A few - and there are many - targets of Wild's bile include: Isaac Stern, Virgil Thomson, and the Steinway company. In short, Wild claims that Isaac Stern blocked Carnegie Hall from presenting him - so that Wild had to finance his own concerts there; that Thomson gave him bad reviews after Wild spurned a sexual advance; and that Steinway loaned him poorly prepared pianos. From what I've learned over the years, these three examples are entirely plausible. But it doesn't end there. It seems that anyone, particularly pianists, who had what Wild perceives as greater success than he, is a valid target. So, Wild states that Claudio Arrau's career was entirely the product of publicity, and goes on to lambaste Alfred "Bren-dull", Vladimir Feltsman, and even Yehudi Menuin. In the end, it reads like Wild is whining that he didn't get what he deserved because others either conspired against him or ignored him. Even supposed friends, like Harold Schonberg, are not spared.

The best part of A Walk on the Wild Side is the chapter devoted solely to musical and pianistic matters. Wild's holistic advice on how to physically approach and play the piano should be memorized by every piano student - particularly in these days of swooning by the likes of Lang Lang - who Wild refers to as "the J-Lo of the piano". But one chapter does not make up for the air of bitterness that pervades the rest of Wild's book. Wild comes across not as charmingly egocentric, but as someone with scores to settle - and settle them he does. In the end, one wishes that the pianist had consulted a psychologist to deal with his lingering anger rather than subject the rest of us to it.

The book includes a discography which is very useful, because when Wild mentions any of his own recordings he makes it clear that he likes them better than anyone else's. No false modesty here! The book comes with a CD that includes a rambling interview with Wild (some anecdotes are recounted nearly word-for-word the same as the book) and selected recordings - none of which show Wild at his best.

I've never had any illusion that Wild was one of the deep thinkers in pianistic history, but his true pettiness was not revealed to me until reading this disappointing book. I recommend you skip this book (or at least try to find it at a library) and spend the $45 on some of Wild's better recordings - particularly Rhapsody in Blue, which is sui generis. They will bring more pleasure and less disillusionment.

[Note: As I predicted, my review of this book on Amazon resulted in many negative votes and comments. Several positive reviews of the book were immediately written from accounts which had never submitted a review before. Interestingly, many of my other reviews there have also earned negative votes - which indicates one or a few ax grinders are trolling my reviews. These people (or is it one person using multiple accounts?) seem obsessed with avenging Wild's memory which I have ruthlessly defamed. They seem uninterested in the positive reviews I've written for Ivory Classics recordings, such as that by Igor Lovchinsky. I have no control over what people write on Amazon, but I am not permitting comments on this entry of my blog. I have been harrassed enough already by Wild's groupies.]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Teddy Roosevelt to Rachmaninoff – when revisionist spelling runs amuck

Theodore Roosevelt is known for many things: President, hunter, conservationist, Bull-Moose candidate, trust-buster, foreign policy expansionist, prolific author. One thing nearly forgotten by history was his effort to simplify spelling in American-English. I believe the motivation behind this was TR’s desire to separate the American language from its British roots – all the more because this came at a time when the American Navy was eclipsing England’s.

Be that as it may, in 1906, the Simplified Spelling Board was founded in New York City. Board members included Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), library organizer Melvil Dewey (of Dewey Decimal System fame), U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, publisher Henry Holt, and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage. Among the board’s recommendations: make American-English more phonetic by deleting silent letters, such as "e" (as in "axe"), "h" (as in "ghost"), "w" (as in "answer"), and "b" (as in "debt"); spell “enough” as “enuf”, remove the “u” from honour, colour, and favour; change centre to center, rhyme to rime, socks to sox, and so on.
A few of these changes have come to pass, but many have gone the way of the 1970s proposed conversion to the metric system – which made more sense in retrospect. As far as spelling is concerned, I am old fashioned and still use grey, not gray, when describing my car’s color.

History remembers the Soviet Union for many things: Stalin’s bloody purges, the high price paid for victory in the Great Patriotic War, their early lead in the Space Race, Glasnost & Perestroika, and the way it all ended – not with a bang but with a whimper. Early Soviets also decided to reform spelling. But unlike TR’s attempt, the Soviet restructuring of the Russian language took firm hold – not always with the positive results.

Nowhere in music is this more evident than in the spelling of a certain composer’s name as Rachmaninow, or more commonly Rachmaninov, instead of Rachmaninoff.

For the record, the Cyrillic spelling of the composer’s name when he was born is Сергей Васильевич Рахманиновъ. That “ъ” at the end is known as a tvyordiy znak – but its use was altered early in the Soviet period, which in turn changed how certain words were transliterated.

And thus is was that, by the 1970s, European musicologists were inevitably using the Soviet spelling for Rachmaninoff’s name and transliterating it as Rachmaninov. European record labels caught on and this is now the standard spelling as seen on European based labels. Sergei would turn over in his grave (which, incidentally, is in New York, not Russia) at this turn of events - all the more so because his contract with RCA stated exactly how his name was to appear on their recordings: Sergei Rachmaninoff.

In some ways, the European insistence in spelling Rachmaninoff’s name with a “v” mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s desire to change American-English: Misguided, provincial, and reactionary.

Rachmaninoff’s signature, which shows both how he spelled his name, and his exquisite penmanship.

Spelling Rachmaninoff’s name with a “v” is wrong on so many levels: It ignores the way the composer signed his own name in Western Countries (where he lived the last 25 years of his life); it does not take into account the original Russian spelling of his name – Рахманиновъ – and it leads readers to mispronounce his name, which should end with an “f” sound, not a “v”. Not to mention, it was during the Soviet era that Russian musicians – both in and out of official positions – were downgrading Rachmaninoff as a composer. I recall asking a Soviet-era Russian musician how his fellow countrymen rated Rachmaninoff. “About like Gershwin”, he said. It’s a cruel irony that, 20 years after the Soviet Union wound up on the “ash heap of history” the post-Revolutionary spelling of Rachmaninoff’s name dominates Western music.

But I will never succumb to the Euro-snobs. For me, this often underrated composer will always be Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fitness Quest: September 19

Over the weekend, I noticed an ingrown toenail which became very painful by this morning. Despite that, I did a short cardio workout after work today. Sunday, my workout was disrupted by an emotional upset that I won’t go into here. But I was thrown off my bearings and forgot how to do several of the exercises Bryan showed me.

I won’t have my usual Tuesday morning session with Bryan tomorrow, so I plan on working my upper body and staying off my feet.

A bit of good news: I continue to make slow progress. Despite occasional obstacles, I’ve lost another pound. This is more significant than it seems, as my upper chest and legs are significantly more toned and my pants are noticeably looser.

9/19/2011 weight: 214#

Monday, September 12, 2011

Borders: a post-mortem

Well, it’s over. The last Borders bookstore closed today – ironically, the same place where the first one opened in 1971: Ann Arbor, Michigan. For years, I was a regular at the La Place Borders. Their Classical CD selection couldn’t be beat locally, and I was building a collection. Music of Note on Shaker Square had recently closed, and The Music Box was long gone.

I was peripherally linked with Borders. From 1985-1986 and again from 1994-1997, I was employed by Waldenbooks. In the 1990s, K-mart owned Waldens, along with Brentano’s and Borders Bookstores (at the time, a small chain based in Ann Arbor, Michigan). By the middle ‘90s, K-mart was in something of a financial crunch and was seeking outside investors. One group of fundamentalist Christian investors balked at the prospect of investing in K-mart because Waldenbooks sold Playboy, Penthouse, and the like. So, in order to secure investor money, K-mart merged Waldens and Borders and spun them off into their own company: The Borders Group. By the way, it was around that time that Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers were fined by the FTC for colluding on the closing of bookstores at several locations (in other words: Walden and B. Dalton agreed that “if you close your store at Mall A, we’ll close ours at Mall B”) a gross violation of anti-trust laws.

I was working at Waldenbooks when the Borders spinoff happened. At the time, we thought Borders was the wave of the future. Those big stores with their comfy leather chairs, coffee shops, and huge selection were irresistible, and Borders started popping up everywhere. Borders’ rapid growth was at the expense of mall based bookstores like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton – and independent stores suffered even more. By 1997, the writing was on the wall for Waldenbooks: Who wanted to shop for books in cramped stores in the midst of thug-infested malls? The paucity of remaining Waldens meant that it was impossible to advance working there. Many Waldenbooks employees started interviewing at Borders. Even Waldenbooks managers took clerk jobs at Borders - the pay and benefits were competitive (mostly because Walden pay was lousy). I myself left Walden that year and went into a totally different arena.
Whatever the selection at Borders, once the competition from independents was gone, Borders was charging full price on their Classical CDs and only discounted bestselling and remaindered books. Then the Internet came along and by 2000, I was usually buying my CDs at Amazon or other online retailers for less money – and I could even listen to a sample online. What had happened to the independents was now happening to Borders, and their classical selection dwindled.

Borders is not just a victim of changes in the way people shop. In some ways, I think Borders is the victim of its own expansion. Just a few years ago, there were Borders, B&N or Jo-Beth in Richmond Heights, Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst, Beachwood, and Woodmere. The technical term for this is Market Saturation. Far more than the local population could sustain - especially with retail rents which have increased far beyond inflation. Jo-Beth was the first to go belly up, about a year ago.

This brings up the question: “Why have Jo-Beth and Borders gone out of business yet Barnes & Noble is still running?” I think it’s a combination of several good decisions on the part of B&N management: 1. B&N made better decisions on where to open stores and did not hesitate to dump locations that were not profitable – such as at Richmond Town Square; 2. B&N was much more savvy on the electronic side of business, with a better website, e-books, and enabling customers to listen to samples of CDs they were browsing just by running the bar code under a scanner.

There is also the e-book factor. I prefer real books myself. But I know someone who travels frequently, and the e-book is a great convenience: It's not heavy, more portable since you can store several books in one package, and if you're reading while eating, you don't have to hold the pages open. Borders totally missed the boat on this one.

Fortunately, some independent bookstores survived – but not many music stores with a good selection of Classical music. When I was in Montpelier, Vermont last September, I visited at least five bookstores all within walking distance of each other. Borders never bothered with small towns like Montpelier (the only state capitol without a McDonald’s). A few stores in Ohio, like Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls and Mac’s Backs on Coventry, have survived the life and death of Borders.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mason at Three

Mason, our 3 year old Lab/Collie/Shepherd mix, really knocks us out with his idiosyncratic behavior. Even when Dan & I are going about our business without thought to what we’re doing, Mason is present - observing us and taking in every detail of our routines.

Mason is very accustomed to our work schedules – Dan works nights, and I work a more standard shift. One advantage of our schedule is that someone is nearly always home. Mason does not want for company! I leave for work around 7:20am, after the first segment of the Today Show winds up and goes to commercial via some cheesy outro music. At that point, Mason jumps up from his spot on the floor or the futon, and starts barking at me. Usually, it’s three short, sharp barks, almost as if he’s saying “Go to work!” The same thing happens when Dan leaves for work around 10:30pm. With Dan, Mason is a bit less certain of the schedule, because we may be watching various programs or the TV may not be on at all. With the shortening days and earlier sunsets, Mason is sometimes barking at Dan to go to work, and we have to remind him it’s too early. He also reminds Dan when it’s time for his afternoon nap, barking at Dan until he goes up to the bedroom and retires.

Mason is a picky eater – has been since we adopted him at age eight weeks. We’ve been through several kinds of food, from Kirkland Signature brand, to Purina, to Iams, and tried supplementing it. But he never filled out and was chronically underweight – not severely, but I definitely noticed when I bathed him and his hair was wet. We’ve finally hit on the solution about six weeks ago, when we started using Blue Buffalo brand dry food. It’s expensive, but it has done the trick. Mason is much more enthusiastic about eating, especially when we supplement it with Kirkland Signature canned food. His frame has filled out, although he still has a rather svelte appearance. Another benefit - and not to be too graphic here – is that Mason’s stools, which had been chronically runny, have improved and are now solid. So, if you have a picky dog, I’d definitely recommend incurring the extra expense and trying Blue Buffalo food.

Mason keeps abreast of current events, and wants to send a message to Michael Vick:

Horowitz plays Great Sonatas

Sony has issued a ten CD compilation of Horowitz playing Sonatas by various composers.

Click here to read and rate my review.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fitness Update:September 6

Three weeks into my new routine. My training sessions with Bryan seem to be going well. By working with him at 8:30am, I am able to get 25 minutes more sleep on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I repeat the routine he gave me on Saturdays, with Daniel if he's available. Mondays and Fridays I do straight cardio. I have increased my cardio time from 25 minutes to 40 - although I have had to stop early twice. Wednesdays and Sundays are off days - no workout.

So far, I have not lost a substantial amount of weight – in fact, during the first two weeks, I gained two pounds, then tapered down by three in the next week. Over the last ten days, I have started to notice minute changes. While brushing my teeth last week, I noticed that my chest seemed better developed. And on Sunday, I caught sight of myself in the gym mirror and noticed my calves looked more cut. I am not particularly looking for more definition in my legs, but there it was. Bryan has told me this is to be expected. As the body loses fat, the legs and upper chest become more defined first – and the belly last. So, I have a lot of work in front of me.

9/06/2011 weight: 215#

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rubinstein plays Liszt

Sony has issued a 2-CD set compiling many of Arthur Rubinstein's Liszt recordings.

My review of Rubinstein: The Liszt Album

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fitness Update: August 21

I had my first session with my trainer, Bryan, on Thursday. This was preceded on Wednesday by a fitness assessment – the results of which were worse than I thought. Because I intend to maintain a modicum of privacy, I won’t go into all the details here. But suffice it to say we have our work cut out for us. I weighed in Wednesday at 216#. As stated before, I hope to get my weight down to 180# - although hitting that number is less important than improving my Body Mass Index, increasing my lean tissue, and greatly reducing my body fat percentage. We put together a fitness plan and Bryan confirmed that a goal of losing five pounds a month until I hit my target weight is realistic. I also signed up for Progressive’s Healthy U class – although the next available session is February 16th.

During my Thursday morning session, Bryan put me through a series of exercises including working with free weights – the first time I’ve done this in years as my balance is not the best. This was followed by some stretching, and then I went into work. I did no cardio during that session, although my heart rate was elevated during the strength training. I plan to arrive ten minutes earlier for my next session to get in a cardio warm-up beforehand.

I felt mostly OK for the rest of Thursday, just a feeling of mild shakiness and a somewhat “tight” feeling – I became progressively stiffer during the day and was beginning to feel sore by the evening. (I bought Ibuprofen at Costco that evening.)

I felt rather sore Friday and Saturday – and Friday morning I encountered spasms in my right hand between my thumb and index finger. I don’t believe these were caused by my workout – but are related to use of the computer mouse. There was no pain involved, just involuntary contractions. They recurred slightly on Saturday and were gone by this morning. Also this morning, I repeated the workout with Dan and felt fewer side effects than before.

I will be doing cardio and abs Monday afternoon and have another session Tuesday morning.

I will be reporting weekly on my progress. As this is a family friendly blog, I will not be providing shirtless beefcake (or in my case, flab cake) pictures. Small variations in weight of a pound or two are meaningless, but for the record, here’s where I stand:

8/18/2011 weight: 215#

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Most Important Project

Those who know me personally know that I’ve long battled my weight. I won’t lapse into politically correct speak of “body-issues.” I have no issues with my body save for one: I’m fat. I’ve long made peace with my other “issues”, including baldness, allergies, and aging.

I haven’t always been fat. Despite being the shortest kid in the class, and the last picked for the team, my body was height/weight proportionate during my pre-adolescent years. That all changed when I was about twelve. There were a number of factors that led to my weight gain: my best friend moved to another area, so there was no more horsing around on his jungle gym; my parents divorced, and in my sadness, I fulfilled myself by stuffing my face and zoning out in front of the television. I am also the inheritor of an endomorphic body type from both sides of my family.

My adult height is 5’9”. My weight has yo-yoed over the decades. I was at my slimmest when I was 19: dirt poor, I was working at a grocery store in Massachusetts as a cashier. The constant physical activity brought my weight down to 134#, but the combination of continuous handling of (germ-ridden and filthy) cash, walking to and from work, and poor nutrition (I was practically living on potato chips, dip, and pop) meant that I was near constantly sick. Between being underweight and sick, I actually began to fear that I had AIDS – until I realized I hadn’t done anything likely to transmit the virus. At the time, people were always commenting that I was too skinny. But after years of being overweight, that was a comment I was very happy to hear.

With several changes in jobs and eating habits, my weight increased and by 1987 I was what would be considered a healthy weight. I remember a co-worker commenting that I’d gained a few pounds and “it looks good on ya’.”

But soon that was surpassed and by 1992 I was fat again and had little in the way of muscle tone. It was at that point that a friend of mine told me bluntly: “Hank, you’re fat - get off your butt and join the gym” whereupon he shoved a flyer in my face advertising gym rates so cheap even I could afford them.

Thus began my first serious attempt at physical fitness. I did not use a trainer, but borrowed books from the library and watched what others did. I was particularly inspired by a man in his ‘70s who was remarkably fit and strong. Paradoxically, my weight did not decrease over those months. As the fat was replaced with muscle, I actually gained a few pounds, but the shape of my body changed for the better. By spring of 1993, I was in such good shape that the gym actually hired me as a part timer.

In autumn of 1994, I moved back to Ohio to take care of my grandmother. There are numerous differences between Massachusetts and Ohio, but the most relevant to this post is that the cost of car ownership and availability of public transportation in Massachusetts meant that I walked a great deal more there – even if it was just to the bus stop. Upon returning to Ohio, I bought my first car – at the age of 27. And it was at this point that I began to gain weight – despite still belonging to a gym. The muscle largely remained, but layers of fat began to accumulate. I returned to Ohio weighing 168#, but 1996 I weighed 176#, 180# in 1997, 190# by 1999, until I hit 200# to coincide with the end of the millennium. That increase continued over the next decade. Despite my weight gain, my most recent blood pressure was 108/76 –nearly miraculous considering the shape I’m in. My cholesterol is slightly elevated, but steadily improving over the last several years. I’ve never taken medication for either of these.

I started off 2011 weighing 225#. At that point, I decided to ditch my usual New Year’s resolution of losing weight, and pledged to finish my Will. But I also decided to change my diet – not so much for health reasons as for ethical ones. Much of this was brought on by seeing two films: Food, Inc and The Cove. I dropped whatever food I could that derived from mammals: Red meat, pork, dairy products. I also cut back on my intake of carbonated beverages, replacing Pepsi with green tea. My dinner, which would have been a meat dish, along with carbs and a serving of vegetables, became poultry or fish, along with a double serving of veggies.

Since mid-2010, I had been doing Yoga which didn’t affect my weight but made me feel better. And, I kept up my standard workout routine, which was 30 minutes of cardio, work on my abs area, and a bit of nautilus - as much as I could make time for between work, taking care of the dog and keeping the house in order.

After starting my new diet, I immediately started dropping weight: from 225# on New Year’s Day to 210# an April 1. Then nature played an April Fool’s joke on me and my weight loss hit a brick wall. For the next two months my weight hovered between 209# and 212#. In June, Dan & I went to Disney World for a week, and I went off my diet. I also messed up my right ankle, and had trouble keeping up with my cardio workouts. By August 1st, my weight was back to 217# and I’d had enough. With the stock market tanking in the wake of the debt fiasco, I decided to take some of the money I’d been investing in other money – and invest it in myself. I'll be working out with a personal trainer.

I am 44 years old. The older I get, the harder it gets to bring myself into some kind of acceptable shape. I have no illusions about transforming myself into some kind of Adonis with washboard abs and all the prerequisites of a “perfect” body. But the time to act is now – and this is not about vanity. It’s about the determination that 2011 be the approximate half-way point in my life, not the two-thirds mark. This is so important that I am putting all other priorities aside, including my reviews, the Horowitz Project, and all but the most necessary work on the house.

I will up the ante on myself by reporting on my progress in this blog over the coming months.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: The Bionic Woman, Season 2

As a child, I watched both The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman. But quickly became more enthusiastic about the latter. While I was entertained by Steve Austin's derring-do, I cared about Jaime Sommers.

Click here to read the rest of my review

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: A Queer History of the United States

Back in the 1980s, my friends and I would flock to see any film or television show, or read any book that touched on homosexuality. It's not that these were all great works of art (although some were), but that the paucity of available material made any LGBT related material noteworthy. We would surely have devoured and debated Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States then, but there is little to warrant such indiscriminate attention these days.

Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If a picture is worth 1,000 words...

How many words are seven charts worth?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Verna's Veggie Dip

Here's a dip I grew up with, yet I didn't know the recipe until I was nearly 30. My grandmother's veggie dip brings a piquant but not overwhelming flavor to raw vegetables.

The recipe:
* 2 parts mayonaise or Miracle Whip
* 1 part mustard (preferably Cleveland Stadium brown mustard)
* Liberally season with curry
* Mix in a small dipping bowl
* Garnish with curry for a decorative touch.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Should South Euclid merge (and with whom)?

One of many possibilities (click to enlarge)

The communities of Orange, Pepper Pike, Moreland Hills, and Woodmere are studying a proposal to merge their small communities into one larger one. These four towns already share a school system. Combining police, fire, and other services would save them a substantial amount of tax dollars and increase efficiency. I believe it would also help root out the corruption that is inevitable when fiefdoms take root as happened in Woodmere during the 1990s. There has been speculation about what the new suburb would be called, from Chagrin Hills to Pepperwood. The latter sounds too much like peckerwood, and is best left alone.

There has been talk of other communities merging, including Parma/Parma Heights, Seven Hills/Independence, Olmsted Falls/Olmsted Township, and Cleveland Heights/University Heights. There has also been talk of South Euclid merging with various bordering towns. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to South Euclid and its bordering communities.

Should South Euclid (population 21,000) merge with another community, and which one? University Heights? Richmond Heights? Lyndhurst? Let’s examine the various possibilities.

I didn’t mention Cleveland Heights above because I think a merger with that city would be out of the question. It’s very unlikely that citizens in either community would agree to it. Also, Cleveland Heights – with a population of over 46,000 - is arguably large enough by itself that a merger is not warranted.

Some have suggested University Heights (population 13,500) merge with South Euclid (calling it, Euclid Heights, perhaps?). This idea has its merits: both are about the right size for combination, and a merger would not make the combined community too large. The demographics of South Euclid and University Heights would commingle nicely. But there are obstacles, too – chiefly that University Heights and Cleveland Heights already share a school system. It’s my opinion that any new communities should match their school systems – and the state board of education makes decisions in those matters. If the South Euclid and University Heights school systems were combined, it would mean construction of a new high school and the shifting of a lot of kids to new schools.

Merging South Euclid with Richmond Heights (population 10,500) would benefit neither and possibly harm both. Consider that both SE and RH have mostly older housing stock and a struggling tax base. Any improvement in efficiency would be marginal at best – for example, the SE and RH fire stations are so far apart, both would need to remain open. Then there is the issue with the school system: Richmond Heights High School would be too small to accommodate a large number of additional students, sits on a cramped parcel of land where expansion is impractical, and would have to be replaced. Finally, the Se and RH borders don’t fit together well, and the physical layout of the area would look like an infant gerrymander.

Under just about any reasoning, it would make the most sense for South Euclid and Lyndhurst (population 14,000) to merge. For one thing, both cities have had a long history of mutual cooperation – though there have been some rough patches lately, mostly caused by South Euclid’s city council. For another, South Euclid and Lyndhurst already share a school system and even a branch of the Cuyahoga Library. In many ways, South Euclid and Lyndhurst are de facto merged already, so the transition could be accomplished with the least difficulty.

I’ve thought of various names for a new, merged SE-L suburb. I’ve never been a fan of the South Euclid name. It makes it seem as if we’re an appendix of Euclid – when in fact our border with Euclid is tiny. The name that strikes me as most apropos is Hillcrest, a nod to an earlier era. Some are under the impression that Hillcrest refers only to the area adjacent to Hillcrest Hospital, which is not the case. Historically, Hillcrest has referred to the entire hilltop area intersected by Mayfield Road, from Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland Heights to the western border of Gates Mills. (Early geographic surveys referred to that region as Hillcrest, later calling the western portion Heights and the eastern part Hillcrest.) That’s why the Hillcrest branch of the YMCA is located in Lyndhurst near the South Euclid border. Since the SE-L area sits dead center in that region, and is literally at the top of this hill, calling a merged suburb Hillcrest would be historically and geographically accurate.

Merging communities is not an easy prospect to sell. Most Lyndhurst residents would probably be against it. I lived in Lyndhurst from 1983-1985 and 1994-1998. Many there have long had a somewhat “nose in the air” attitude toward South Euclid which is totally unwarranted. Some have proposed separating South Euclid and Lyndhurst into individual school districts, even though the combined district is smaller than it has been in decades. The best way to overcome these objections is for the County to give Lyndhurst a choice: merge with South Euclid or merge with Richmond Heights. It would be a no brainer for them to choose South Euclid.

University Heights, I propose, should merge with Beachwood (population 12,000). The combined population would be about 25,500 and would balance nicely with Cleveland Heights’ 46,000, the proposed Hillcrest’s 35,000, and Shaker Heights’ 28,500 (Shaker is large enough on its own that a merger is not warranted). The distinctive housing would make the Beachwood/University area even more of a gem; and the plentiful retail would keep taxes low, helping to dissuade people from moving to a far off exurb. Most importantly, University Heights would greatly benefit from joining with Beachwood’s excellent school system – far superior to the struggling system in Cleveland Heights. Another option would be for University Heights to merge with a combined South Euclid/Lyndhurst, making the total population about 48, 500.

That leaves the question of Richmond Heights. In the new paradigm, it would be too small to remain on its own. As a standalone, Richmond Heights is barely viable. Since Euclid already has a population of over 50,000, I would recommend that Richmond Heights merge with Highland Heights and the name be changed to Richmond Highlands. The existing school infrastructure would remain the same, with kids going to the same schools as at present, but would be under the jurisdiction of the Mayfield City school district.

Hillcrest,Ohio. Has a nice ring to it.