Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to save Social Security

There has been a lot of talk about Social Security lately.

Despite what you may have read in chain e-mails, Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. It is a multi-generational Insurance Program – one that has worked stunningly well for over 75 years. Today, we easily forget how all but the wealthiest elderly people had to work until they dropped, or move in with their children.

Social Security has faced challenges before. In the 1980s, there was need for large scale reform, which was implemented with bipartisan support. There was also George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005, which would have ended in disaster only three years later had Bush prevailed.

Social Security is facing a major challenge in the form of a budget crunch in the coming decades. If no changes are made, Social Security will be able to pay out full benefits until 2033 – which just so happens to be the year I turn 66. After that, partial benefits will still be paid out - around 75% of benefits for the next several decades. But as someone who is planning ahead for my retirement, working full time and shoveling all I can afford into my 401K, I should not be penalized because the government is unwilling to take the necessary steps to make Social Security fully solvent for the next century. Nor should I be penalized because I didn’t grow up in a rich family and benefit from a trust fund that became available when I came of age. Social Security, in fact, was partly created to be an economic equalizer, so that everyone would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors when they reached old age.

Social Security is funded by a 6.2% employee payroll tax, along with a matching employer tax – separate and distinct from the income taxes we all grumble about. Currently, the eligible income for the payroll tax is capped at $110,100 – in other words, after $110,100 the percentage is discarded and someone who makes a $250,000, $500,000, or million dollars or more in annual income pays the same dollar amount into the trust fund as someone who makes $110,100 per year.

As of 2010, the life expectancy in the United States was 78.2 years. (This figure is nothing to be proud of – the US is ranked 37th in life expectancy, below Cuba and above Portugal.) There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the increase in life expectancy since 1935, when the Social Security Act was signed into law. This relates to the difference between average and median calculations. The average lifespan takes into account when every person dies, from infancy to old age. Since childhood mortality was much higher in the 1930s than it is today, using the “from birth” calculation drags the life expectancy downward – and the average life expectancy at birth was 52. It also skews the numbers because infants and children to not pay into the trust fund until they have a paying job. In 1935, the majority of Americans who survived into adulthood could expect to make it to 65, and back then there were 7.8 million Americans aged 65 or older – a not insubstantial figure in a country with a population of 128 million. In 1935, Americans who made it to 65 had a greater than 50% change of living to 78 – today, that number has risen to 86. The Social Security Act was signed with the understanding that life expectancy would rise over time, and there would be enough “cushion” in the system to accommodate this increase. What the planners did not anticipate was the huge increase in population that occurred after the end of World War II – the so-called “baby boom” – and a secondary population increase when the boomers began to have their own kids. Further, with increasing numbers of baby-boomers now collecting benefits, the trust fund is slowly being depleted.

There is also the question of how same-sex married couples are going to be treated as marriage laws evolve nationwide. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 43,416,598 in population, recognize same-sex marriage. Those figures do not represent California (population 37,691,912), which briefly recognized same-sex marriage and likely will again soon. As it is now, same-sex married couples have no spousal Social Security benefits, nor any of the benefits opposite-sex married couples enjoy. But that is more than likely to change within a decade.

The time for reform has come. These reforms need not be draconian, just sensible.

First of all, I believe any reforms to Social Security should be separate from the “fiscal cliff” talks taking place at this writing. Indeed, Social Security should not be tied to any deals, budget or otherwise. The idea of cutting benefits or reducing cost of living increases (COLA increases are automatically tied to the rate of inflation) is bad economics because most recipients immediately spend their checks – putting the money back into the economy. Also, cutting benefits will not cut the deficit because Social Security does not contribute to the deficit – because it is not part of the federal budget. It is and must remain separate.

*Raise the income cap to $250,000. This change alone will make Social Security fully solvent until approximately 2087.

*Raise the retirement age – incrementally, and over a long period of time. Nobody plans their exact date of retirement ten years in advance. So, codify a gradual increase in the retirement age starting ten years after the bill is passed, with the age increasing by one year every ten years - and phasing out options for early retirement with partial benefits – until the universal retirement age is 70.

If the changes outlined above are made, Social Security will remain fully solvent well into the 22nd Century, including for those in same-sex marriages.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Conspiracy-o-rama, or Conspiracy-o-Bama?

Mother Jones magazine has cleverly compiled and organized the various conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama. I'm relieved the majority of voting Americans don't believe them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Salvation Army - just say NO

Read the article here to find out why no self-respecting LGBT person should support the Salvation Army. Then print out the vouchers below and place them in the SA kettles in place of money. There are many other charities more worthy of our hard earned money.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Costco versus Wal-Mart

Over the weekend, I participated in Small Business Saturday, and I hope you did, too. But there is one chain that will always have my loyalty. Apparently, they have their employees' loyalty as well, and it's not hard to see why.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Murray Perahia - a fitting tribute

Sony Classical has produced a beautiful boxed set containing all of Murray Perahia's recordings for that label.

Click here to read my review.

Religious Freedom, or Christian Privilege?

Driving to and from work, I’ve passed many political lawn signs over the last few months. Most are the usual candidate signs, with a few devoted to state or local issues. One sign I saw was is a simple white sign with black print: Protect Religious Freedom. Despite the election’s passage, many continue to be displayed.

I’ve done some research on the group behind these signs. Called Faith 4 Freedom on the signs, the organization is Catholics United 4 Freedom. Color me unsurprised that the group is Christian based – it’s part of a continuing pattern.

There is a small but very vocal group in this country which believes that religious freedom is under attack in the United States. Whenever I hear someone complain about infringements upon religious freedom in this country, the complainer invariably is Christian – usually a hard core evangelical, fundamentalist, or conservative Catholic. One almost never hears this complaint from a Jew, Episcopalian, member of the United Church of Christ, or even a Muslim. (This, of course, is separate from the very real prejudice and discrimination which unfortunately still exist against Jews and Muslims.) Not coincidentally, these are the same people who demand equal time in the teaching of Creationism versus Evolution in public schools.

I would be quite surprised if any of the yards hosting these signs were owned by anyone other than Christians of the fundamentalist variety. Indeed, I suspect that, if you asked these people off the record what religion they think President Obama belongs to, a high percentage would reply “Muslim.”

There is a line that this country has been allowed to cross, the line which marks the demarcation point between religious freedom – as defined by the First Amendment – and Christian privilege.

As a refresher, let us read 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.

In the simplest terms, that means the government must remain neutral on matters religious. It is an indisputable fact that Christians in the United States are accorded special accommodations that are rarely given to members of other religions: For example, Christmas is a national holiday. (At this point, let me disclose that I celebrate Christmas – though in an entirely secular manner.) Although there are individual municipalities and school districts where Jewish or Muslim holy days are recognized, only Christianity gets a Federal holiday. But that’s not good enough for the zealots. They want more, and see any attempt to separate the religious from the secular as an infringement upon their sacred rights.

When Christian groups whine about not being able to place a Christmas display on public property, their true complaint is not about religious persecution, but the waning of their Christian privilege. Were a similar Muslim display, say for Ramadan, to be erected, there would be a hue and cry from these very same people who claim to “protect religious freedom”.

What the religion protectors demand is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others, regardless of the individual’s own religious beliefs or lack thereof. For example, they believe they should have the right to ban same-sex marriage for everyone – no matter the religious belief of those wanting to get married. Never mind the fact that no one seeking a same-sex marriage has ever demanded such a ceremony be performed in or recognized by any church. Religious zealots are unable to separate civil from religious concepts, even though Jesus himself said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” They also demand that politicians – most of whom happen to be male – legislate whether a woman be allowed to use birth control or have access to abortion. The religious protectors are the very people who have made the United States a laughingstock to much of the civilized world. But it’s nothing to laugh about here, because these are the people who want to turn America into a Christian Iran.

Over the last century, particularly in the period after the Second World War, America has become more religiously diverse – that’s a good thing. A recent survey from the Pew institute indicated that one in five Americans declared themselves affiliated with NO religion – that’s an even better thing. One wonders what the reaction would be if a monument to atheism/agnosticism – or simply to “separation of church and state” – were to arise.

The recent trouncing the right wing faced in the recent elections – with the Republicans losing the Presidential race, seats in both chambers of Congress, and marriage quality victories in four states – are harbingers of a trend that our country is on the path to a more rational, more secular, less fundamentalist future. For that, we can thank whatever god we believe in – or not.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Election Endorsements

For president: Barack Obama. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has faced a greater mess than Barack Obama confronted when he took office. Unlike FDR, Obama didn’t have three years to come up with solutions - the financial crisis emerged after he’d gotten the nomination. FDR used to compare the nation’s business people to an injured patient: “Some of these people really forget how sick they were. But I know how sick they were. I have their fever charts. I know how the knees of all of our rugged individualists were trembling four years ago and how their hearts fluttered. They came to Washington in great numbers. Washington did not look like a dangerous bureaucracy to them then. Oh, no! It looked like an emergency hospital. All of the distinguished patients wanted two things—a quick hypodermic to end the pain and a course of treatment to cure the disease. They wanted them in a hurry; we gave them both. And now most of the patients seem to be doing very nicely. Some of them are even well enough to throw their crutches at the doctor.” President Obama acted quickly to staunch the bleeding by passing both the stimulus and auto rescue packages. Then he achieved something which presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have tried and failed to do: push through comprehensive health care reform. Ironically, if the recession had been sharper and deeper, Obama might have an easier time of reelection. Too many Americans have forgotten the state of our nation four short years ago - not just economically, but how we were despised by much of the world for our misadventure in Iraq and embrace of torture. Many Americans have also forgotten how health insurers routinely denied important medical procedures, denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and tossed 18 year olds off their parents’ insurance. Many also have forgotten how credit card companies raised interest rates on a whim, without providing adequate notice. We have a long way to go to gain complete economic prosperity and international security - but anyone who thinks America is worse off today than in 2008 has their head in the sand. Joe Biden put it succinctly: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive [as is Chrysler].” Hopefully, a healthy majority of the American people will have longer memories and vote to reelect President Obama. But those with short memories need only look as far back as this week, and the President’s calm, resourceful leadership in responding to Hurricane Sandy. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, does not meet the character qualifications required to be President. With everything he's done, from bullying a student he perceived to be gay, his treatment of his dog, to his conduct as Governor of Massachusetts and his dishonest Presidential campaign, Romney has proved that, at best, he is a sociopath.

For United States Senate: Sherrod Brown. On the basis of the auto rescue package alone, Sherrod Brown deserves the gratitude of Ohioans - both in and out of the auto industry. Consider this: It’s not just those who work in the auto plants who benefited from the bailout, it’s those who work in the dealerships - the sales people, mechanics, and support staff; it’s the parts suppliers; it’s the vendors - who provide everything from food to toilet paper; it’s the local stores and restaurants; and it’s those who receive the money spent by all of the above. The auto rescue is a large part of why Ohio is ahead of the curve on the recovery. Brown has stuck to his principles, which - like them or not - are resoundingly liberal. Ohioans knew this from Brown’s many years in the House when they elected them to the Senate in 2006. He has never sold his vote to the highest bidder or the richest lobbyist or SuperPAC. Brown’s opponent, Josh Mandel - backed by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS - has run the most mendacious campaign in recent memory, easily enough to disqualify him from public office.

State Issues

Issue 1 - Constitutional Convention: This issue pops up every twenty years. In the words of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Constitutional Convention would be a “grand waste of time“. No good would come of this convention, and the potential for mischief is great. It would take little effort for Bible-thumping gun lovers to flood the convention and enact amendments outlawing firearm registration, abortion, and public schooling. The proper way to amend the state constitution is via the established process of bringing the issue directly to the voters. Vote NO on Issue 1.

Issue 2 - Redistricting reform: Despite the scare tactics bandied about by Republican Super PACs, this initiative is a good thing. It would take the process of redistricting necessitated by the Census out of the hands of the legislature and make it the responsibility of an appointed, bi-partisan panel. Republicans would be in favor of this issue if Democrats were running the show. In a swing state ardently courted by Federal politicians, a more equitably balanced Congressional map will only enhance Ohio’s importance. The Gerrymandering done to Ohio’s districts this year is particularly egregious, and passage of Issue 2 ensures future redistricting would be more equitable. I strongly urge a YES vote on Issue 2.

Cuyahoga County Issue

Issue 108 - Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority Levy: YES. Angry suburbanites have been voicing opposition to this levy on the basis of poor management in the past and, after all, the port is Cleveland’s problem. But if we’re going to embrace regionalism, we need to embrace regional solutions and abandon the specious notion that Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are unrelated entities. Fact is, people from all over our county and beyond enjoy the river and benefit from the port. Greatly needed work, such as the repair of Riverbed Road, needs to be done, and in a time of declining state and federal assistance, this is the only way to pay for it. This levy would only cost $1.65/month per $100,000 in home value and its’ passage is a no-brainer.

South Euclid Issues

South Euclid City Confirmation Deadline Amendment: Yes. This issue provides for an important check and balance that is de-riguer in most cities but not in South Euclid: it merely requires that the city council must confirm or reject the mayor’s appointment of the law director.

South Euclid City Garbage Tax Amendment: No. This is merely another attempt by the same group of individuals who ran - and lost - in last year’s mayoral/council elections to enact the Tea Party’s stated goal: Starve the Beast. Constitutionally, we elect governments to, among other things, pass laws and levy taxes. If we feel the laws or taxes they have levied are unreasonable, we tell them so and they act accordingly (such as when the council reversed its decision to repeal the tax credit for residents who work outside the city in 2010), or we un-elect them.

School Levy:

Issue 115: The South Euclid-Lyndhurst school district has weathered some tough times over the last few decades. Declining population and enrollment have led to the demolition of several schools, while declining property values and the loss of state revenue have necessitated belt tightening. The previous operating levy was supposed to carry the district through another two years, but the district was able the make those funds last twice that long. After a brief drop into Continuous Improvement status last year, the district overall has returned to the Effective rating it has held for eleven of the last twelve years. The district’s previous superintendent, who was double-dipping while the district was sinking, has been replaced with a young a motivated superintendent: Linda Reid. She has stated that, while she welcomes a return to an Effective rating, she is not satisfied and wants to work to get the district into Excellent status. Some critics would contend that further improvements should take place before any such levy is granted. But the fact is, with the aforementioned cuts, the budget has already been cut to the bone, which makes further progress impossible. The additional cost would be $15/month per $100,000 in property value – the cost of two fast food “value” meals. I believe it’s time for our property owners – even those, like myself, who do not have children in the district schools – to step up to the plate and give superintendent Reid a chance. I urge a YES vote on Issue 115.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Plain Dealer endorses Barack Obama

Cleveland’s sole newspaper, The Plain Dealer, has endorsed President Barack Obama’s reelection, thus proving the axiom that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The Plain Dealer tends to tailor its editorials to meet the opinions of its readership, which skews to an older, and thus more conservative, demographic for its print edition - so this editorial is something of a surprise.

The PD’s editorial board has a short collective memory, as evidenced by their description of President Obama’s successful efforts to bring about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. First, they describe it as a “decades old dream of Democrats”. In fact, every President since Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) has tried to grapple with America’s health care system. Truman went so far as to advocate for what he called National Health Insurance - today known as Single-Payer. Then there is the PD’s accusation that Obama “ceded too much freedom to doctrinaire Democrats”, a statement that would raise the eyebrows of those who were advocating for Single-Payer or at least a government option. In fact, the template for what the Republicans call Obamacare was drawn by The Heritage Foundation - a right-wing think tank - in the early 1990s as an alternative to Hillarycare. It’s no coincidence that Romneycare as it was enacted in Massachusetts and Obamacare are essentially the same thing.

But this is nothing new.

Skim through the PD’s presidential endorsements from 1936 onward, and anyone with knowledge of history is in for a chuckle.

In 1936, the PD reluctantly endorsed Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election - which was virtually a certainty anyway - despite their complaint that Roosevelt “pays too little heed to what these programs cost and who must pay the cost”. Poor FDR must have been reading the PD’s editorial, because when he took their advice and cut back spending in 1937, the economy contracted, the stock market crashed again, and a two year recession ensued.

Four years later, the editors endorsed Wendel Willkie because, as a businessman, Willkie knew that “insolvency and disaster lie down the road of continuous deficit spending”. There is no mention of the war in Europe in the editorial snippet - although there might have been as originally printed. A side note, Willkie died in October 1944, and his running mate, Charles McNary, died in February of that year, which means if he Willkie had been elected, his Secretary of State would have become President (this was before the order of succession was changed by the 25th Amendment).

1944 - “Communists and other left-wingers who want to revolutionize the American form of government by establishing some form of state-socialism are becoming more and more entrenched in the government.” Well, we can certainly see where Joseph McCarthy got his inspiration when the Plain Dealer endorsed Thomas Dewey for President, which they did again four years later.

1960 - The PD endorsed Nixon in his run against Kennedy - indeed, Ohio went Republican in 1960, bucking the national trend. Nixon’s disastrous presidency a decade later serves as testament to the PD’s lack of insight into his character. But can anyone imagine how a Nixon presidency in the early 60’s would have fared? How would Nixon, not known for grace under pressure or cool-headedness, have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis? None of us might have been left to cluck at the Plain Dealer’s editorial board’s idiotic statement that “Mr. Nixon is more mature and stable in his thinking and attitudes” than John F. Kennedy.

1984: In their slavish lauding of Ronald Reagan, they fail to mention the spiraling budget and trade deficits that would lead to the 1987 stock market crash and 1990 recession.

1996: The PD editors rightly endorsed Bill Clinton, but their condemnation of “an ill-advised $16 billion ‘economic stimulus’ package” (which touched off the greatest economic expansion in post-war American history and was to result in budget surpluses) is not one of their great crystal ball moments. Clintonomics worked - which is more than could be said for Bushomics.

2000: Again, the PD editors were right about one aspect of George W. Bush: his “authenticity”. He was a genuine idiot - and as Americans learned painfully over the next eight years: beware the power behind the throne.

2004: There is no denying that Senator John Kerry was a weak candidate, unable to explain his vote for the Iraq war, which he was for before he was against. But in the Plain Dealer’s refusal to endorse any candidate, they also failed to punish Bush for the worst intelligence failure in American history and two incompetently waged wars which costs thousands of American lives. No presidency since Richard Nixon’s (whom the PD endorsed thrice) had such a high body count. How interesting that the Plain Dealer makes no mention of the issue they harped on in 1936 and 1940: the budget deficit and federal debt - which skyrocketed during Bush’s term, obliterating the Clinton surplus. I suppose they followed Dick Cheney’s dictum that “deficits don’t matter”.

In this year’s endorsement, the Plain Dealer only hints at what I’ve been stating for months: If Barack Obama is turned out of office, it would be the single most egregious act of ingratitude in American political history.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Knights of Columbus wastes donor money

Considering making a donation to the Knights of Columbus? Check out this infographic:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Incumbent Presidents and Debates

Like many, hopefully most, Americans, I watched last night’s Presidential debate. As someone who took debate in high school, I must note these are not true debates. Classical debates focus on a single issue and often the debaters don’t even get to pick which side they’ll argue. What we saw last night was a joint press conference.

After the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960 (which TV viewers thought Kennedy won but radio listeners felt Nixon won) there no debates for the next three presidential elections. Televised presidential debates resumed in 1976 and have occurred with each election. Incumbent presidents have been involved in each of these with the exceptions of 1988, 2000, and 2008.

As I watched last night’s debate, it occurred to me that, with the exception of Clinton’s debates with Dole in 1996, each incumbent President has “lost” at least one debate with an opponent. Clinton, it must be noted, is a masterful extemporaneous speaker – perhaps the greatest since Martin Luther King. His ability to pull accurate data from his mind, form facts into a coherent argument, and wrap it all up into an statement that relates to ordinary people is uncanny. Judging from his speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention, which had lengthy improvised segments, his skills appear undiminished with age.

But enough waxing nostalgic about Clinton; let’s review some history:

1976 - Ford vs. Carter: At the second debate, devoted to foreign policy issues, Ford asserted with great conviction that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration”, a comment that wouldn’t pass muster with a sixth grade student.

1980 - Carter vs. Reagan: Carter, who was already fighting exhaustion because of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, gave the impression of being irritated and put upon during the single debate he had with Reagan that year. He blundered by recounting how he asked his daughter, Amy, what she felt was the most important issue facing the world – which she said was nuclear proliferation, leading some to comment that Carter was getting foreign policy advice from a pre-adolescent child. When Carter commented about Reagan’s opposition to Medicare in the 1960s, Reagan’s reply “There you go again” disarmed the President – although Carter was in fact correct on the substance of his statement. Reagan clinched the debate when he asked Americans if there were better off today than four years previously. With that appeal, American voters saw not a B-movie actor, but a President.

1984 - Reagan vs. Mondale: Reagan, then 73, was so out of sorts during the first debate that commentators openly speculated whether he was physically or mentally up to the job. He fumbled facts, lost his train of thought, and when Mondale called Reagan out for the substance behind his “There you go again” line in 1980, Reagan was so nonplussed the proceedings nearly ground to a halt. Expectations were so lowered for the second debate that reporter Sam Donaldson said Reagan would win by default “if he doesn’t drool”. Reagan did not drool, and pulled out a few one liners to disarm Mondale, particularly when Reagan was asked about his age: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience”. Mondale was so charmed that he never gave the obvious response: that he was 13 years older than Kennedy had been in 1960, and that with four years as an Attorney General, twelve years as a Senator, and four years as Vice President, Mondale was hardly “inexperienced”.

1992 - Bush vs. Clinton vs. Perot: All the candidates were well briefed and in command of the facts for the three debates this year. Bush, an already unpopular incumbent, reinforced the impression of being detached from the concerns of the American people when he was seen looking at his watch, seemingly impatient for the debate to be over. When he irritably responded to a question about the recession by saying “Message: I care”, it reinforced the impression that he didn’t care about the hardships many Americans were facing.

2004 - Bush vs. Kerry: The first debate was most notable for a mysterious bulge in Bush’s jacket and non-sequitur comments, leading some to believe he was receiving live-coaching; Bush’s scowling demeanor during that debate didn’t help; nor did his irrelevant comment about the Dred Scott decision or his pleading that the presidency was “hard work” – a comment that was lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

2012 - Obama vs. Romney: It may be a bit early to dissect this one, but it’s clear that Obama’s professorial style was no contest for Romney’s jabbing – something finely honed after five consecutive years running for President. Obama is, at heart, a thinker – not an improviser like Bill Clinton. Obama’s style is not well served by the “gotcha” atmosphere that pervades today’s debates. Also, I believe Obama is very wary of appearing to be an “angry black man”, a demeanor that could potentially turn off independents. On the other hand, we’ve seen this from Obama before, where he at first appears weak, only to draw his opponent in and land a haymaker – in boxing this is called the Rope-a-Dope. Whatever the case, Obama he needs to step up his game for the next two debates. The fact is, the audience is more persuaded by the style exhibited in these debates - and that's been the case since 1960. It remains to be seen whether the mainstream media will call out Romney for the the frequent and egregious falsehoods he told - and how that will pan out in the election.

Finally, I must comment on last night’s moderator, Jim Lehrer. I’ve long respected him as a news anchor and debate moderator, but he was out of sorts last night and completely snowed under by Governor Romney. If Mr. Lehrer is unable or unwilling to enforce the rules, it’s time to put him out to pasture and find someone with the backbone to do so.

Steward Goodyear's Stunning Beethoven

It's worth remembering that when the young Ludwig van Beethoven initially conquered Vienna, it was as a pianist, not a composer. The brilliance, dynamism, and expressivity of Beethoven's playing came as a shock to audiences more accustomed to the neat and smooth playing of Mozart and politely brilliant playing of Clementi. Beethoven was a true virtuoso - at a time before it became a dirty word.

Click here to read my review...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A False Argument Against Marriage Equality

I’ve lived in several major metropolitan areas in my life, including San Francisco and Boston – but the bulk of my life has been in the Cleveland area. San Francisco and Boston each have two daily newspapers. During my Boston years I preferred The Boston Globe over The Boston Herald, which is nothing more than a right-wing tabloid. Cleveland used to be a two newspaper town: The Cleveland Plain Dealer competed with the Cleveland Press until the latter closed in 1982. I don’t have memories of reading the Press, but I don’t think it could have been any worse than the very PD.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s letters section is my early morning read. There’s always something there to jolt me from my sleepiness. It’s surprising that in a metropolitan area of some 2,881,937 people, the Plain Dealer can’t find more letters demonstrating a degree of probity and intellectual rigor. That is, it’s surprising unless you’ve written such a letter to the Plain Dealer or its suburban subsidiary, the Sun – only to wait in vain for your letter to be published. The almost relentless barrage of stupidity and offensiveness on display there is surpassed only by that which is displayed on’s comment stream. Mostly, the letters section is dominated by either the usual Tea Party talking points or Muslim bashing, but this letter from Ziggy Rein of Lakewood took me by surprise.

There are so many flaws in the logic of this letter, but let’s start with the obvious: People are going to have sex whether they are married or not. The AIDS epidemic in the United States began back in the 1970s, when the thought of same-sex marriage hadn’t even occurred to most gay people – indeed, many gay activists revolted against monogamous relationships as “heterosexist” and “patriarchal”. Faithful relationships didn’t drive the spread of AIDS. Promiscuity and unsafe sexual activity did. From a medical standpoint, encouraging gay men to get into stable relationships is beneficial to slowing the spread of HIV. True, not all same-sex marriages are 100% monogamous – but neither are all heterosexual marriages. (I refrain from mentioning the lesbian community here since HIV is extremely rare among that group, but of course I support marriage equality for them too.) As for the religious argument against homosexuality, which is the crutch of choice when one doesn’t have a real argument: religion has been used to justify banning everything from slavery to interracial marriage the eating of shellfish – the argument against same-sex marriage isn’t any more valid than the other ones were.

I can’t say it any better than Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron – a Conservative – did a few months ago:

Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else—commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us. Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and we support each other. I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Clifford Curzon Rediscovered

Clifford Curzon has long been a respected pianist, but not exactly household name (to the extent that any Classical performer is a household name in the post-Toscanini era). During his lifetime and in the decades since his passing, he has been on the second tier of piano fandom - except in Britain.

Click here to read my review

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Dark Side of Monticello

A recent Smithsonian Magazine article by Henry Wiencek puts to rest the idea that Thomas Jefferson was a "benevolent" slave master. 

Click here to read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Constructive Dialogue vs. Angry Ranting

The Sun Messenger has published an article about the continuing controversy surrounding the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library.

There is so much misinformation in this article, with opinions published as fact and uncorrected by the author. A few points need to be clarified:

The Cuyahoga County Public Library is not subject to voter referendum, and the petition circulating is symbolic at best. Why this group keeps pushing a petition which will have no effect goes beyond reasoning.

The presence of the Telling Mansion on the National Register of Historic Places does not mean it cannot be torn down. The NHRP merely regulates how the exterior is maintained and provides tax incentives for renovations that are performed in a historically informed manner. Since the CCPL pays no taxes, the latter provision would be no incentive at all. Indeed, if the CCPL wanted to, they could tear down the Telling Mansion and build their new library on the same site.

The city of South Euclid has no power over the CCPL – they are independent entities. South Euclid’s Planning Commission can approve the building plans and make recommendations for changes - such as landscaping, parking, and operational hours. The Planning Commission cannot reject the plans just because they don’t like where it’s being built. Likewise, the City Council only has the power to approve the conditional use permit - and a library is already one of the approved uses at the proposed site.

I can’t help the thought that some of those involved in this group are using this issue as yet another excuse to tweak city officials and vent their resentments regarding how the Oakwood issue turned out. I know of at least three in this group who were vocally, one could even say stridently, opposed to rezoning at Oakwood – and at least one of these doesn’t even live in South Euclid or Lyndhurst. I’ve also heard that some in this group have suggested (hopefully in jest) that the Library relocate to the Wal-Mart at Severance Center, since that will be moving to Oakwood. It’s obvious from the sign that this group hung outside the library two weeks ago that they are not interested in constructive dialogue. As for the positions of city officials, my email to Mayor Cicero was never answered, and his lack of comment on the subject indicates he simply does not care. Mayor Welo’s email to me indicates that she is lukewarm on the library’s move but knows there is nothing the city can do to stop it – but she is very concerned about the fate of the Telling Mansion.

If you’re interested in saving the Telling Mansion, as opposed to engaging in another divisive turf war, consider joining this group.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Memory

My heart goes out to the families of Sean Smith, Ambassador Chris Stevens, and the other two Americans (names have not yet been released) who died in service to their country.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Karajan Reappraised – the 1960s

Even though I’ve never been a particular “fan” of Karajan, I couldn’t pass up this box – all of HvK’s non-operatic DG recordings from the 1960s with the original LP jackets and labels, a generous booklet, and facsimiles of several recording session logs.

No surprise: The high point here is the proto-typical German repertoire. One can plainly hear why the 1961-1962 Beethoven Symphony cycle is legendary: I’ve never heard a more searing funeral march from the Eroica – and it’s nice to hear a chorus that can properly pronounce the German lyrics in the Ode to Joy. The Brahms Symphonies exude a dark luminosity, a contradiction that was central to Brahms’ composing. I must confess I’ve never been a great fan of Brahms’ First Symphony, where I feel the composer overreaches in his attempt to become the next Beethoven – but Karajan makes it all work, and the Fourth Symphony is in one continuous line – as it should be. The Wagner excerpts are appropriately epic, with no sense of these being bleeding chunks lifted from great operas – but fine works on their own merit.

It’s been noted by esteemed music historian Harvey Sachs that Karajan’s “performances had a prefabricated, artificial quality” resulting from “an all-purpose, highly refined, lacquered, calculatedly voluptuous sound that could be applied, with the stylistic modifications he deemed appropriate, to Bach and Puccini, Mozart and Mahler, Beethoven and Wagner, Schumann and Stravinsky”. For the most part, the Karajan “style” worked for much of the core 19th Century romantic repertoire, from Beethoven (yes, Virginia, Beethoven was a Romantic composer) through Richard Strauss. But when HvK strays from the 19th Century, prefabrication becomes a limitation. Much of the Mozart is in the thick, syrupy style that was losing favor even by the 1960s, and the Haydn is utterly lacking in the wit and verve associated with this composer. Worst of all is Bach which becomes the ultimate wallpaper music under HVK’s baton – recordings to own for the purpose of showing how cultured one is, rather than for listening. At the other end of the temporal spectrum, HvK is clueless in anything post-Richard Strauss. Stravinsky once lambasted HvK’s recording of The Rite of Spring, describing one part as “tempo di hoochie-koochie”, and concluding that HvK’s way with this seminal work makes it sound like “a pet savage rather than a real one” leaving it as inconsequential as Stravinsky’s later works. And Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra amounts to a group of pretty sounds and harmonic piquancies without adding up to anything meaningful. The grit is missing.

Then there are the concerto recordings. For the most part, the concertos are serviceable, if conductor driven, affairs (and HvK is hardly the only conductor who high-handed soloists). The Tchaikovsky Concerto with Richter* was the most anti-charismatic recording of this warhorse ever made – until HvK repeated the trick with Kissin. But that’s the low point. The high point here is the Beethoven First Concerto with Eschenbach, where the soloist freely embellishes as would have been heard in the composer’s time. For violin concertos, HvK was content to stick with Christian Ferras – a pairing that produced some of the most anonymous concerto recordings in history.

Sound quality/remastering: the documentation does not make clear which recordings have been newly remastered and which are using existing transfers. But all are acceptable, and demonstrate the sound DG typically gave Karajan in the 1960s: well-judged microphone placement (without obvious spot-miking), with plenty of hall ambience, adding up to a clear if slightly gauzed sonic picture.

The book provides recording dates and locales. There are three essays, one sycophantic, the others perceptive.

*Richter reportedly despised the recording

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Viking tears bigot a new one

Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, gave Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns a stern lesson in Constitutional law in his response to Burns' attept to silence Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. This is a must read. Kluwe also appeared on The Ed Show.

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

BRGR9 - Excellent Burgers and Service

It’s not often one can become enthusiastic about a hamburger joint, especially in Cleveland which has an overabundance of red meat eateries, but BRGR9 has much to appeal to the burger lover. First is the locale, right on West 9th Street in the middle of the warehouse district and proudly amongst higher priced restaurants. Second is the immaculately clean interior which contrasts nicely with the “come as you are” vibe.

I had the Land & Sea burger, featuring lobster scallion roulade, chive butter, and lemon crème fraiche over a half-pound patty cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavoring was complex and interesting, best enjoyed slowly to avoid overloading one’s senses.

My dining partner had the Local, which featured Ohio cheddar, caramelized onions, bratwurst, and a pierogi on top of the patty. The mix of the salty bratwurst and the sweetness of the onions made for a taste that was like a trip to the West Side Market.

By the way, the menu is ala carte, meaning sides are not included (fear not, fries are available for a mere $1.99 extra). As an alternative to fries, we split an order of Sweet Potato Tater Tots, served with two varieties of mayonnaise: orange and cajun flavored. Delicious!

Although the burgers and tots were filling, we still had room for a split dessert. We chose the Deconstructed Peanut Butter Cup. The name does not do justice to the subtle taste and texture, more mousse-like than one would expect. It was satisfying without being heavy.

When weather permits, BRGR9 has outdoor seating available, and they are dog friendly.

Service was excellent in every respect, from the timing of the orders to the refilling of drinks (even my dog’s ice water).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What of the Telling Mansion?

Yesterday, Cuyahoga County Public Library’s board of directors unanimously voted to move the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Public Library from its current site at the Telling Mansion on Mayfield Road. In about two years, a new facility will exist on Green Road – across from the former Regina High School. What remains to be seen is what will happen to the Telling Mansion – which has housed the Library since 1952. I have many fond memories of that Library dating back to my years as a student at Brush High School in the 1980s. I would stop there on weekdays after school, spending about an hour there before I headed to start my shift at work. It was at the Library where I was able to expand my musical horizons, borrowing classical LPs which were prohibitively expensive to purchase.

The timing of the purchase agreements on the three Green Road properties and yesterday’s vote make it obvious that the CCPL was deep into planning this move long before the public was given notice. It’s also worth noting that CCPL habitually scheduled public meetings during regular business hours – when most of the public was unable to attend. In short, CCPL did an end-run around the taxpayers who fund them. By the time residents knew what was going on, it was already too late to mount an effective response. As late as Monday, regular patrons of the Library were unaware of the situation. An astonished “WHAT?” was the most common reaction when I mentioned it to several people there.

The CCPL has already made it clear why they want to build a new facility: energy efficiency; clear sightlines; and the ability to reduce staff. All laudable goals. But would New York tear down its old Library because it’s out of date? No, because it’s a connection to New York’s history – as is the Telling Mansion for South Euclid. This goes to the heart of why libraries exist. To what extent does the CCPL’s goal to run what it deems to be a “modern” and “efficient” network of libraries run counter to its obligation to hear and heed the voices of the local community – the taxpayers who foot the bill? How can they hear the public’s input, when they deliberately tried to avoid it?

Especially upsetting was the apparent lack of interest seen from Lyndhurst. While the Telling site is technically the South Euclid-Lyndhurst library, many people from Lyndhurst have probably been using the Mayfield branch on Wilson Mills Road. I know this from personal experience, as I lived in Lyndhurst from 1994-1998 and that’s there I went. But the Mayfield site will be moving to a new location on SOM Center Road in less than a year. Sometime in 2014, there will be no local library for residents of Lyndhurst – except for the tiny branch by the Richmond Mall, which is only useful as a pickup/drop off facility. It’s worth noting that, while I received prompt responses from CCPL’s Executive Director Sari Feldman, Mayor Welo and other South Euclid officials – Mayor Cicero of Lyndhurst never responded to my e-mail.

There are some people who are happy to see the Library move. Perhaps some of this attitude is reflected in a letter that has been making the rounds, in which a citizen defended the Library’s move by complaining that “hordes of blacks” from Brush High School invade the branch weekdays after school and cause a ruckus. I have no doubt that the writer of this letter holds an opinion that is all too common among a certain generation of our residents. I well remember when an African-American family’s home in Lyndhurst was vandalized in the 1980s. Change in societal attitudes comes slowly. But it’s sad that in this day and age there are still people who clutch their belongings close to themselves and rush away whenever a youngster of color is near. For myself, I’ve been at the library during such hours and I’ve noted no unruly behavior, just young people quietly studying at tables or at the bank of computers.

But the board has voted and what’s done is done. The CCPL is not subject to voter referenda and certainly not to online petitions – especially when many signatures come from people outside Cuyahoga County. Nothing is to be gained by engaging in an acrimonious battle as happened last year with Oakwood. Now is the time to look forward (although I will be unlikely to support the levy request which is certain to come in the next few years).

I’ve always made it plain that my primary concern was preserving the Telling Mansion and keeping it as a site which can be enjoyed by the public. Last week, I received an e-mail from Director Feldman in which she promised the CCPL would “seek a buyer who wishes to maintain the historic integrity of the building as we have over the years”. But there’s a long way from “seeking” a buyer to “drawing a line in the sand”, and agreeing to sell ONLY to a buyer who will treat the Telling Mansion with respect. This is critically important, because the building’s fate hangs in the balance. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the Telling Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places does NOT protect it from demolition. When it comes to private property, which the Telling site would become if sold to a private entity, the NHRP merely regulates how the exterior of the building is maintained and provides tax incentives to maintain the interior in a historically appropriate manner. But there is nothing to prevent someone from tearing the building down and building, say, condominiums.

Remember what happened to Millionaire’s Row on Euclid Avenue, and take heed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Religion Fixation

A preoccupation with religion in government and a political fear of offending religious lobbies is holding back our nation scientifically, intellectually and morally... Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The three Rs

Click to enlarge

Monday, August 20, 2012

What's Paul Ryan hiding?

Musical Theatre on the East Side

Recently, an acquaintance complained to me that there was nothing to do in our area. My unspoken thought was “you must be joking”. Just this past weekend, Dan & I were able to attend two locally produced musicals.

The first was Mercury Summer Stock’s production of All Shook Up. Mercury has operated in such prestigious locales as The Cleveland Playhouse. But this summer, they took up residence in South Euclid, at the former Regina High School – now part of Notre Dame College. Dan & I previously saw Cats and Once Upon a Mattress – we missed Footloose which only ran for two days. Despite being presented in a former high school auditorium, the quality of these productions was quite high. The acting and singing were on a professional level, coupled with the youthful enthusiasm one would expect from mostly under-30 performers. I sincerely hope Mercury returns to our city next year.

Saturday night, Dan & I headed to the Mayfield Village Civic Center to see Urinetown – presented by the Fairmount Center for the Arts. The last time I had been in that building was precisely nineteen years before, August 18 1993 for my mother’s funeral service – when the building housed Mayfield United Methodist Church. Around ten years ago, the church moved to Chesterland and the Village bought the building – but it remains largely as it was before. In the former sanctuary, the pews have been replaced with rows of chairs. Appropriately for a musical called Urinetown, we were seated in Row P. I wish I could enthuse about this production, but it was clearly on an amateur level. Many of the performers were high school age – nothing wrong with that, but they had not been schooled in the art of diction. (One thing that annoyed me about 2009’s Star Trek was how Zachary Quinto was unable to properly present his dialogue [“Enterprise, for tuh beem up”] as Nimoy effortlessly did during the series.) Then there was the material itself. Urinetown takes place in a dystopian future where water has become so scarce that one must pay the corporate oligarchy to go to the bathroom (peeing outdoors is forbidden). After the events of this past summer, Urinetown could seem oddly prophetic. But the songs were unmemorable and there was all too much breaking of the fourth wall for Urinetown to rivet me to my seat. I kept checking my program to see how many songs were left before we could leave.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library

Here's the text of a letter I recently sent to the Sun Messenger.  Thus far, it has not been printed:

As a citizen of South Euclid, who used the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library while a student at Brush and continues to do so in middle age, I have many fond memories of the Telling Mansion – its home since 1952. It’s with a growing sense of alarm that I read of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s intention to move the facility from this historic site and build a new location near the border of our city.

First there is the issue of what happens with the Telling Mansion, one of the few remaining links to our past. Its presence on the National Register of Historic Places only regulates how the exterior is maintained. There is nothing to prevent it from being demolished should a new owner want to redevelop it.

The proposed Green Road location is troublesome for several reasons: It would involve taking down three existing homes and a business, and cutting down a wooded area. These parcels of land, which currently pay property taxes, would become public land and thus pay no taxes – placing a financial strain on our city and school district. It would also replace a centrally located facility (the existing library is about a 5 minute walk from the South Euclid / Lyndhurst border) and move it near the border of University Heights. That’s not fair to the people of Lyndhurst, and University Heights has its own library (not in the CCPL network).

Part of the justification for the CCPL proposing this change is because they want a facility that is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the two most frequently used floors at the Telling site are already accessible to the disabled. Additionally, there are many other libraries within the CCPL system that comply with ADA.

CCPL has long been nationally recognized as a superb library system – even with buildings that were not fully modern. Why the sudden urge to alter that which is already great? Why the sudden insistence on uniformity and conformity? It has been written that “every rule needs an exception to prove it”. With the drive to have all of CCPL’s libraries built to a “modern” standard, why not keep the Telling Mansion as the “exception”?

Hank Drake
South Euclid

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Democratic LGBT Platform Language

Thanks to Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner, we now have the LGBT specific language in the 2012 Democratic Platform.

We know that putting America back to work is job one, and we are committed to ensuring Americans do not face employment discrimination. We support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to ensuring all Americans are treated fairly. This administration hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and we must continue our work to prevent vicious bullying of young people and support LGBT youth.

The President’s record, from ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in full cooperation with our military leadership, to passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to ensuring same-sex couples can visit each other in the hospital, reflects Democrats’ belief that all Americans deserve the same chance to pursue happiness, earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country, and take care of the ones they love.

We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.

We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

The Log Cabin Republicans can crow all they want about having a seat on the Republican Platform Committee. The final language of the Republican platform will be the same song and dance about supporting family values - while their economic polcies will still be detrimental to the vast majority of America's families.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Haverhill's Costly Mistake

From 1985-1994, I lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts - a town rich in history and ties to historical figures going back to our country’s beginning.  When John Adams served as Ambassador to England with his wife accompanying him, two of their children were sent to live with a relative in Haverhill.  President Washington visited there in 1889.  Later the town became the home of John Greenleaf Whittier.   

Haverhill had many ups and downs, none more down than the 1950s and ‘60s, when under the guise of “modernization” much of the city’s Federalist and Victorian architecture was demolished.  The most egregious example of this was a group of buildings on Merrimack Street: torn down and replaced with…a parking garage.  As a result, that section of town is almost now entirely devoid of charm – the corner of Merrimack and Main Streets is blighted with a store front that has been empty for more than four decades. 

Walk a few thousand feet west and Merrimack Street becomes Washington Street, paralleled with Wingate Street.  Here, there are rows of buildings constructed between 1882-1912 as shoe factories – fortunately never demolished, and now renovated into beautiful apartments and condominiums with vibrant retail and restaurants on the ground level. 

New is not always Better.  Let us not repeat Haverhill's mistake in South Euclid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library

The Cuyahoga County Public Library is planning to move the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the library from its current location in the former Telling Mansion to a new location across from Notre Dame College on Green Road. This is in coordination with the CCPL's master plan to make all their buildings compliant with the American's with Disabilities Act, and to address issues with parking and energy efficiency.

As someone who lives in South Euclid, who used the library when in school and continues to do so today, I’d like to make a few points.

As a historic building, the Telling Mansion is exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act. An elevator, which some have suggested, would further mar the historical integrity of the building. Both of the most frequently used levels are accessible by wheelchair - although one would need to leave the building, get in the car, drive down a level, and reenter the building to do so.

The Green Road location is troublesome for several reasons: It would involve taking down three existing homes and cutting down a wooded area. It also replaces a centrally located facility (the existing library is about a 5 minute walk from the South Euclid / Lyndhurst border) and moves it near the border of University Heights. That’s not fair to the people of Lyndhurst, and University Heights has its own library (not in the CCPL network). IF the decision is made to leave the Telling site, why not build a new library at the old Anderson school site? The land is for sale, the location is central - and it’s close to the Richmond Heights mini-library, which could be closed at considerable savings. It’s also closer to Brush and Memorial than the proposed Green Road site.

I understand where CCPL’s directors are coming from, their vision is a network of libraries that are universally ADA compliant, with meeting rooms and state of the art energy efficiency. But why can’t there be an exception to the rule? Why can’t there be ONE historic, unique building in the network, tied to our history, even if it breaks some of the rules? Why the insistence on uniformity and conformity? To discuss the issue further, I have created a Facebook group. Feel free to join.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thank you, Officer Rex

A valued member of the South Euclid Police Department retired this week, after ably serving the city for ten years. His name is Officer Rex. Officer Rex doesn’t have a last name, because Officer a dog.

Rex is a German Shepherd. Like most police dogs, Rex was not born in the United States. He was raised in Holland, and his papers trace him to the Czech Republic. Mostly, this is due to a problem the American version of the breed has developed: The “slope” in the back commonly seen in our country is considered desirable by the American Kennel Club, and American dogs are bred to maintain this characteristic. However one feels the slope looks, it is in fact a sign of deformity and often results in hind-leg disease. Thus, the American version of the breed is useless as a police dog - which must run and tackle. Last Saturday, several members of the Avondale/Argonne/West Belvoir neighborhood group gathered to throw Rex a retirement party. I was there and noticed that Rex’s back, despite his advancing years, is beautifully straight.

Officer Rex’s service has been highly beneficial to the city: he’s sniffed out drugs from marijuana, to heroin, to cocaine from vehicles, homes, and schools; he’s apprehended suspects, and located weapons used in crimes. Rex has also assisted in providing security, such as when President Obama visited Shaker Heights. He’s also helped in the area of public relations: A service dog can often bring a “human” face to the police department, particularly with children.

Rex will continue to live, as he has for ten years, with Officer Mike Fink, his handler since Rex was 13 months old. Last week, Officer Fink told me that Rex knew it was time for work when his master started donning his police uniform. I’m not surprised. My dog, Mason, is able to delineate whether I’m getting ready for work or to take him for a walk. While humans are often thinking of many things at once – anticipating what they need to do that day, what to buy at the store, remembering to fill the gas tank; and berating themselves over past mistakes – dogs are solely focused on the activity of the moment. They observe us humans, and learn our habits. I wonder how Rex will feel when his master leaves for work, while Rex stays at home. With time, he will doubtless adapt to the new routine. At eleven years old, Rex is well past canine retirement age and has earned his rest.

Given that he did not draw a salary, Officer Rex was the least expensive member of the force. He was purchased with confiscated drug money – probably the best way such money could be put to good use. The city continues to use another police dog, Officer Recon, and is working to purchase a successor for Rex sometime next year.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chik-Fil-A - the bird of Hate

Some in the LGBT community have questioned the usefulness and wisdom of boycotting companies (Chik-Fil-A being the latest example) that actively work against LGBT rights. Whether one’s motivation for opposing a boycott is driven by a desire to appear accommodating or a weakness for processed chicken, it’s worth remembering that groups like the American Family Association have regularly called for boycotts of companies like Disney, Starbucks, JC Penney, and many more. What’s good for the goose is good for the chicken gander.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Olympic opening ceremonies

The difference between Britain's moving, humorous, and humanistically dazzling ceremony and the regimented fearful dazzle of Beijing 2008 is the difference between a free country and a totalitarian one.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sony's Complete Toscanini

Over fifty years after his death, it must be difficult for audiences to grasp the importance of Arturo Toscanini's contribution to music. George Szell summed it up best, in reaction to hearing Toscanini in 1930: "This was orchestral performance of a kind new to all of us. The clarity of texture; the precision of ensemble; the rightness of balances; the virtuosity of every section, every solo player in the orchestra - then at its peak - in the service of an interpretative concept of evident, self-effacing integrity, enforced with irresistible willpower and unflagging ardor, set new, undreamed-of standards literally overnight." Today, we take for granted what Szell marveled over, and that's mainly thanks to Toscanini and his successors - including Szell. Thus, it's no exaggeration to say that Toscanini initiated the modern era of conducting.

Click here to read the rest of my review

Sunday, July 22, 2012


No comparison can be made between the weapons used by James Eagan Holmes and those envisioned by the nation's founders when they codified the Second Amendment. There is nothing in the Constitution that justifies the posession of assault-type "AK" and "AR" weapons any more than there's justification for the posession of nuclear weapons. Need anyone be reminded that Holmes purchased these weapons legally on the open market?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Maps, Two Stories

Here are two maps which tell two different stories.
Atlantic magazine has created a Tolerance map, based on such factors as racial integration, number of immigrants, and percentage of LGBT people. NorthEast Ohio ranks high on the map.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has created a hate map, based on the number of hate groups within the state. Naturally, a larger state will have more groups. Paradoxically, several groups are located in NorthEast Ohio - one of the most integrated areas in America. Significantly, the SPLC map fails to list at least two groups which hide behind the cloak of religion to spread a message of hate: the American Family Association and Focus on the Family. However, the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas is listed as a hate group - with their protests at military and celebrity funerals, they cannot be ignored.
Addendum: Here's another map worth considering:

Friday, July 13, 2012

5 facts about Romney

                  We need to face the truth of what Romney really is...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare is upheld

I was listening to an NPR report this morning, about a health insurance agency impacted by the health care law. (I urge readers to play the audio in the link, which is more complete than the transcript). The company in question sells health insurance to private individuals, and based on the pre-reform system, denies coverage to anyone deemed to have a pre-existing condition, or who doesn’t otherwise fit into their narrowly defined parameters. But the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, upheld by the Supreme Court yesterday, outlaws denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions – including a lack of previous insurance. It allows those without insurance to buy into an online health exchange, which means companies like the one in the article will soon be obsolete.

Frankly, I have little sympathy for these people. These are the middlemen of health care, a prime factor in driving costs through the roof. In most advanced countries, the middlemen have been removed from the healthcare equation, helping keep costs down. Fully 5% of our GDP goes to administrative costs in health care – not health care delivery – just pushing paper or the electronic equivalent. That’s one reason why health care costs a lot less in Canada even though life expectancy is three years longer there than in the United States.

As someone who’s held a Property and Casualty license in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, I’ve come to some conclusions about private insurance – its benefits and its limitations. In my opinion, private insurance is a necessary and beneficent safeguard for those wanting to protect their homes or vehicles in the event of a loss. After all, if your home or vehicle is destroyed, the insurance can provide a reasonable replacement. But it’s not the best solution for protecting one’s body - which cannot be replaced. That’s why I’ve long favored a single-payer system and have been lukewarm about Obamacare. Unfortunately, single-payer is not going to happen anytime soon, so a reform of the existing system is the best we can get for now. Within the parameters of the present system, Obamacare gets the most people covered, which means more people paying into the coverage pool and more people getting preventative care, which is less expensive than uninsured people showing up at emergency rooms and winding up financially devastated - often unable to pay the bill and raising the costs for everyone else.

I have had experience with needing health care while being uninsured. It was on July 4, 1987. A very hot morning in Haverhill, Massachusetts, I awakened bathed in perspiration. Groggily, I went to open the window when suddenly my sweaty hand slipped off the wooden frame and went through the glass, opening a bloody wound on my wrist and damaging a tendon. I was rushed to the hospital by my brother-in-law, where the first question asked was about my health insurance coverage. I had none. While in the administrator’s office, I started to go into shock and was taken to an operating room. The very able surgeon repaired the damage to my tendon, closed my wound, and immobilized my wrist in a splint. I was also given his card as I would need therapy afterwards. And there were the medications to pay for. All told, the bill was several thousand dollars – a hefty sum for a young person earning little above minimum wage. (For the record, I paid that bill in its entirety, although it took several years.)

The fact that I didn’t have insurance can be laid on the fact that I had two part time jobs – neither of which afforded me coverage. Also, I can blame my youth and naiveté for not buying my own coverage – hardly uncommon for a 20 year old.

In the aftermath of this crisis, I began to realize that I needed health insurance – and that is when the salesman showed up. He pulled out his three-ring binder, handed me his pamphlets, and explained how the insurance offered by his company offered such great benefits and such a reasonable cost. All I had to do was allow a nurse to visit and administer a routine health exam. We set up the appointment, the nurse visited, and I was examined. As she left, she smiled “you’ll be receiving the results in a few weeks.”

A few weeks later I received a letter, noting that the results of my medical exam indicated that I really needed to get coverage and I should contact that company “right away”. I did, and when I was quoted the cost (which was higher than quoted due to some health condition they wouldn’t discuss with me) I nearly experienced another health crisis. It follows that I did not purchase their coverage – I simply couldn’t afford it. Instead, I experienced anxiety worrying about this mysterious medical condition that no doctor since has been able to confirm. (In retrospect, it was obviously a fabrication designed to frighten me into buying overpriced coverage.) But my anxiety was short lived as I became a full time employee at one of my jobs, and was afforded health insurance as part of the benefits package.

With the confirmation of the health care law by the Supreme Court, people like this travelling scam artist will need to find new jobs. Perhaps they can become televangelists.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Obama: while others spoke, he acted.

I can't imagine any other president, in addition to pushing for the many advances the LGBT community has seen over the last three years and advocating for same sex marriage, also devoting an ad to it. You know the Republicans are going to use this for fundraising fodder among the religious extremists. I'm sure the President knows that as well, and decided to run the ad anyway. Just because President Obama doesn't rant and scream like the extremists of the left or right doesn't mean he hasn't been a forceful advocate for people like us.

To paraphrase Harry Truman: Any LGBT person who votes for Romney should go to Hell.

Obama/Biden 2012.