Friday, November 22, 2013

In Memoriam: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917 - 1963


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated fifty years ago today. 
 
One can speculate how different the 1960s would have been had JFK not been killed, just as one can wonder if Reconstruction would have gone differently had Lincoln not been shot (maybe) or if the Cold War would have been avoided had Franklin Roosevelt lived longer (probably not). But I cannot help the thought that Kennedy's premature death robbed this country of much of its optimism.

I had not yet been born, yet today I feel very deeply a sense of mourning. I think the country was substantively traumatized by JFK's assassination, a wound which was re-opened and deepened by the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

For what it's worth, I firmly believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman.  As for the astonishment that a nobody like Oswald could cut down President Kennedy in the prime of life, I merely state: Look at history.  Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, John Schrank, Guiseppe Zangara, Sara Jane Moore, John Hinckley.  With the exception of John Wilkes Booth, who was a well-known actor, nearly all of America’s presidential assassins and attempted assassins were unexceptional persons.  None of the conspiracy theories, nearly all of which contradict each other, have been able to come up with the conclusive evidence (if you will, "the smoking gun") which would prove a conspiracy.

It's unfortunately true that JFK, like many people of note, had his foibles. But it's equally true that JFK possessed a rare wit, grace under pressure, and a cool headedness which got the country through perilous times. One shudders to think how Richard Nixon would have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
 
I believe if JFK were, somehow, able to communicate with us today, he would say something along these lines:
 
It has been 50 years.  Why are so many people still fixating on conspiracy theories about who killed me and why?  I almost died during the war and after back surgery in 1954, so I'd already made peace with my Maker.  Have you?  I’m flattered by the attention.  But if you want to worry about murder, think of the 34 people who are murdered every DAY in this nation.  Why not do something about that?
 
I wanted America to look forward, not back.  What happened to the space program?  We should have a base on the Moon by now – we should be planning a manned mission to Mars.  Why did we pull back after going there a few times?  Do you think I wanted us to go there just to plant our flag and collect some rocks?  You know, when Martin and Bobby got here, they told me about this TV show, Star Trek, where all of Earth's races and even people from other planets worked together in solidarity to make the galaxy a better place. That’s the kind of future I wanted. 
 
Who are these people claiming I would be a Republican today?  Are you kidding me?  Sure, I was pro-business - if they behaved responsibly. But did you ever see the Press Conference when I ripped U. S. Steel a new one for raising the price of steel by $6 a ton?  Whose idea was it to repeal Glass-Steagall?  If I was President in 2008, those bankers who tanked the economy would have been thrown in jail.
 
What’s this Tea Party?  Sounds like a bunch of Birchers to me.  Why have they turned “moderation” and “compromise” into dirty words?  Compromise, moderation, and negotiating in good faith is how we beat the Soviets.  On behalf of Harry, Ike, Lyndon, Dick, Jerry, and Ronnie: You’re welcome.  Why didn’t you take advantage of the peace dividend and embark on a rebuilding and redevelopment program?  Oh, you decided to cut taxes instead.   I’m all for cutting taxes, but when I took office the top income tax rate was 90%, and I cut it down to 70%.  Now the top rate is half that and nothing can get done.  Nobody likes paying taxes, but there are things that need to be done in this country.  Our bridges and roads are in terrible disrepair.  C’mon people, let’s get moving.
 
I asked Americans to sacrifice for their country, not sequester themselves in 3,000 square foot McMansions where they don’t even talk to their neighbors.  How did we allow obesity to skyrocket?  Why are kids vegetating in front of the TV and video games when they should be going outside to play ball?  Heck, I played football with a bad back, and all the other medical problems I had - but let’s not talk about that now.
 
My point in a nutshell is: people are being passive when they should be getting off their butts, looking forward, and working toward a better future. America must pursue her grandest dreams, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because they will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.  
 
Jackie’s here with me.  She says to stop showing that film of me getting shot.  It’s disgusting.  Concentrate on what I was trying to do as President, not how I died.
 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

2013 Election Endorsements - Just say Yes

This year’s ballot has been described as “levy-heavy”, but that’s small wonder considering many of the services funded by these levies have faced the dual challenge of reduced funding – brought about by the decline in property values during the Great Recession, along with federal sequestration and state cuts – and increased need for the services they provide.

Issue 1: This is a replacement of the Health and Human Services Levy (which renews periodically), which will increase property taxes by $3.83 per month based (as all calculations in this post are) on a $100,000 home value. Passage of the levy will allow various entities, including MetroHealth, to continue with their work providing services to children, seniors and families – including funding for our region’s only Level One Trauma and Burn Center at MetroHealth, Metro Life Flight and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I urge a YES vote.

Issues 2 – 5 are not revenue related.  All concern separation of powers and duties of the Cuyahoga County council and various boards. My main concern with any change to the county charter is that it not grant untoward power to the executive. I feel Ed Fitzgerald has done an excellent job as Executive over the last few years. (Frankly, I wish he was staying here rather than running for governor – but I will vote for him if he’s nominated.) However, and under the truism “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, I am in favor of policies that promote a healthy tension and balance of power. Thus, I urge a YES vote on all four issues.

Issue 65: This 3.25 mill South Euclid safety forces levy would about $9.58/month, and would expire in 2017.

Our police and fire personnel have been subject to pay freezes and benefit cuts like many other private and public employees. Like any other municipality, South Euclid needs to compete for qualified safety personnel – and in the absence of that, our safety personnel may be enticed to leave for greener pastures.

Critics have said that the safety levy is merely an attempt by South Euclid’s elected leadership to cover their hides for financial decisions made prior to the Great Recession. As proof of their claim, they point to Cedar Center North, which was purchased and demolished by the city in 2007-2008. While there is legitimate criticism of the financing of Cedar Center North, very few right thinking persons would dispute that the new shopping center, even though it has yet to be filled to capacity, is a vast improvement over the dilapidated, embarrassing strip mall that was there before. (Further, the additional revenue the levy would raise is close to the amount that Governor John Kasich’s budget cut from South Euclid’s allocation of state assistance funds.) I think it also says something about the nature of the opposition that they have to go back to events that occurred before the Great Recession to bolster their criticism. The fact is, South Euclid’s leadership – not just elected officials, but employees across the board – made a good faith effort to tighten their belts during the recession. I don’t believe the way to reward them is to hose them on pay and benefits, particularly since many of them live and shop here. Given that the mayor was reelected in 2011 with a whopping 75% of the vote, I believe the people of South Euclid have already voiced their opinion of her leadership. The local and national economy is indisputably in recovery, the improving store occupancy and housing market are proof of that, and I believe the reports of South Euclid’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  If anything, South Euclid is better off than it was two years ago. But that could change, and one of the key indicators of quality of life is public safety. Whatever the issue of South Euclid’s finances, the fact is that without effective and fully staffed safety forces, South Euclid could well fall back into decline. More than any of this year’s ballot issues, I strongly urge a YES vote on Issue 65.

Issue 80: This 10 year 2.7 mill levy will add a grand total of $5 per month to the tax bill of a $100,000 home. It’s surprising such a small levy would garner opposition, but I suspect it’s coming from people with higher valued homes and rental property owners. Critics have said that the Metroparks should operate within their budget and “do more with less”. But the truth is, our Metroparks have been “doing more with less” during the past half-decade – a lot more. Just in the past year, they’ve added the former Acacia Country Club, which was purchased by the Conservation Fund and then turned over to the Metroparks, to their list of reservations. (If the owners of Oakwood Country Club had made the same arrangement, South Euclid and surrounding communities might have been spared a divisive battle.) In addition, the Metroparks this year took control of Euclid Beach, Gordon, and Edgewater Parks from the state of Ohio. (Cleveland ceded control of the parks to the state in 1978, a time when the city was so broke it couldn’t afford proper upkeep.) The state’s long-term neglect of the parks is already in the process of being rectified, as evidenced by the improvements at Edgewater Beach. Whatever the detractors say, the Cleveland Metroparks is one of the few things in Cuyahoga County that has worked consistently well over the generations. The support of the community has been more than earned and that’s why I am recommending a YES vote on Issue 80.

Issue 82: This is a renewal of the .13 mill levy for the Port of Cleveland, which costs property owners about $3.50 per year. For that small amount, the Port Authority will be able to continue their work maintaining and improving our Port, which is one of the main economic drivers in our region. A major problem with the port is that the upper Cuyahoga River has become shallow over the years, forcing ships to run half-empty for fear of dragging their hulls on the riverbed. One project to be undertaken is the dredging of the riverbed which will allow ships to travel the river at capacity. There is also the continued economic development which will make our lakefront - and by extension our downtown - more attractive.

Generally I don’t comment on elections in other wards or communities. But since South Euclid’s ward 2 councilman, Moe Romeo, is running unopposed, I am going to make an exception and comment on the Ward 4 race: Jane Goodman is seeking reelection against a challenger nobody seems to have heard of: Lintashia Marshall-Wilson. I can think of no city councilor in South Euclid who has been as unfairly maligned as Jane Goodman. Ironically, most of the vitriol directed at her has come from people living outside our community. For all the talk of regionalism, we elect our officials locally and Goodman has acted in the interests of the people of South Euclid. Goodman has served as Executive Director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization and is a dedicated and knowledgeable environmental advocate. Have you noticed the improvements of the Cuyahoga River and our local watershed? Goodman has had a hand in that. But she also works within the bounds of reality, which means when it came to the development of the former Oakwood Country Club – which was a certainty – she advocated for commercial zoning with LEED construction standards as opposed to residential development. I have discussed the development at Oakwood extensively in my blog and will not delve into it again. But I challenge those who refer to Goodman as a “phony environmentalist” to tabulate their carbon footprints against hers. I’ve no doubt most of them drive less fuel efficient vehicles, maintain toxic lawns, and live in larger homes than she. It is they, who spout Green Party talking points while acting like Tea Party Republicans, who are the hypocrites, not Jane Goodman – and I urge Ward 4 voters to reelect her.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Toward a Holistic Master Plan for South Euclid

I’m on the Citizens’ Steering Committee for South Euclid’s new Master Plan.

For those who don’t know, a Master Plan is a blueprint for managing a community’s growth and change. Until recently, a Master Plan lasted around 30 years before it needed to be replaced. Now, it lasts about a decade or so. Looking over the 1999 Master Plan, it’s easy to see why – it seems as if it was written on a different planet. Among other things, South Euclid’s 1999 master plan called for the construction of a multi-use ten story building on the corner of Mayfield and Green, and the infill of every square inch of undeveloped land – much of it with cluster housing. It also called for the renovation of Cedar Center North, one of the few parts of the 1999 plan to come to fruition. Although the financing of South Euclid’s portion of CCN has been controversial, few would argue with the notion that today’s Cedar Center is a vast improvement over the dilapidated strip that was torn down in 2008. The high volume of traffic generated by the new CCN attests to the project’s success. (Reading the 1999 plan, I was reminded of a city I lived in for nine years: Haverhill, Massachusetts. Ill conceived “urban renewal” begun in the 1960s demolished a good deal of historic architecture, replacing it with such amenities as parking garages.)

Between 2000-2011, South Euclid lost 5.3% of its population. But it’s worth noting that Cleveland Heights and Cuyahoga County, respectively, lost 7.2% and 7.8% of their population during the same period. Population loss has been the plight of the inner ring suburb since the 1980s. In both the amount of loss and overall demographics, South Euclid is in no way exceptional. Much of the population loss is not due to the economic collapse of 2008, but the result of children growing up and moving elsewhere, while the parents remain in place. That’s exactly why the South Euclid-Lyndhurst school district has been closing schools since 1983.

South Euclid’s location as an inner ring suburb is both a challenge and an opportunity. Housing stock is older and tends to be smaller than what some seek today – although increasing energy costs will likely lead to a revival of smaller housing in the coming decades. We’re not an outer ring suburb where everything is spread out and one needs a car to go anywhere. We’re close to everything, except a highway exit. We’re close enough to downtown that one can easily commute there without needing the highway – again with rising fuel costs that will be a big plus before long, as “telecommuting” is not always a viable option.

I believe the 1999 Master Plan was the result of skewed and short-term priorities – and I’ve seen these types priorities at work elsewhere. The insurance company for which I work changed their growth philosophy several years ago. Previously, their strategy was to simply sign up as many new customers as possible. It mattered not that many of those new customers dropped us after one six month policy term – because we received so many new applicants during that time that we could continue to grow. That is, until we reached a saturation point and new growth no longer offset non-renewals. That’s when we realized a longer term strategy was needed: retention. It was also tied into a new philosophy: we don’t just want business, we want good business – which translates into stable, long term customers.

When it comes to retaining and building a residential base, what constitutes “good” business? Mostly, people who plan to set down roots and remain in their homes for the foreseeable future. It is in the community’s best interest to encourage people to own the homes in which they live. Homeowners have incentive to take pride in ownership and maintain their property, while renters have no incentive to do so. While it may smack of social engineering, it is in the best interest of the community as a whole to ensure that landlords – as well as renters – will be accountable for the actions of tenants, who tend to be more transient.

How do you retain the “good” residents who already live here?  What people want in their community is pretty straightforward:

Walkability and bikeability: Take a look at the few areas in the city of Cleveland that are thriving – Tremont, Ohio City, Gordon Square, University Circle – and they all have something in common: you don’t need a car to get around – and you’ll see plenty of people walking and biking to their destinations. The main drag in South Euclid is Mayfield Road – which contains five lanes, including a dedicated turn lane. Each of those lanes is presently 13 feet wide. If those lanes were reduced in width to the ODOT required 11 feet, that would free up ten feet of space for dedicated bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Width reduction would also help alleviate the issue of speeding – the speed limit on Mayfield Road is 25mph throughout South Euclid and no one observes it. I would propose that every four lane road in South Euclid – including Green, South Belvoir, and the east side of Warrensville Center Road – be retrofitted in the same manner.

Business and Cultural amenities: Visit the Tremont Art Walk, and you’ll see how culture plays an important part in that area. Or visit Tremont on a non-art walk day, and you’ll witness how the restaurants – some of the finest in Cleveland – drive business. The Mayfield-Green intersection (the geographic center of South Euclid) needs a full service, sit down restaurant – of the so-called “White Tablecloth” model. Even a chain restaurant, such as an Outback Steakhouse, would be preferable to what we have now – which is nothing. Such a restaurant would easily fit into the former Blockbuster Video space. Storefronts along the Mayfield Road corridor, from Warrensville Center Road to Dill Road, need to be renovated. (While South Euclid needs to attract business, the city also needs to enforce building codes. On a personal note, it really annoyed me a few years ago when a city inspector cited my porch as needing tuck pointing, while commercial buildings with much greater visibility are allowed to slide.) While some have pooh-poohed the idea, utilization of the Telling Mansion as a Porcelain Art Museum and cultural arts center could be a great boon to South Euclid’s prestige. The location is flexible enough that it doesn’t have to be dedicated to only one use. As I said at the first TeMPO meeting: Why should University Circle have the monopoly on culture on the East Side? Further, the Mansion should be protected by local ordinance.

Safe neighborhoods and business districts: One cannot totally eliminate crime. But city leadership, the police, and residents must strategize to lower levels of crime. To that end, I support the broken windows approach.  Residents must report suspicious activity and annoyances (such as loud parties) and enable police to do their jobs. The placement of CCTV cameras would go a long way to securing marginal areas. Meanwhile, the police must take an active role in prosecuting “victimless” crimes such as vandalism and violation of noise ordinances. Community policing, which has had such success in Springfield, Massachusetts, is an option that should be explored.

Smart residential development and the courage to say “no”: South Euclid’s a high density city: we average 4,795 residents per square mile, as compared to 4,602 for Euclid, 3,162 for Lyndhurst, 2,375 for Richmond Heights (the presence of Cuyahoga County Airport depresses the number for the latter). There’s very little land left for development. I believe we should concentrate on redeveloping and enhancing already developed areas. That means setting aside and protecting undeveloped land BEFORE developers purchase it. I don’t hold anything against developers who want to build new housing – it’s their job. But overdevelopment negatively impacts quality of life, which drives down property values. It’s the job of a Master Plan, backed up by an empowered planning commission, to warn developers that we won’t encourage overdevelopment via the use of tax abatements and other giveaways. Thus, our Planning Commission needs to be strengthened so they can resist the whims of developers and politicians – even well-meaning ones. As a result of the foreclosure crisis, many distressed homes in South Euclid were torn down. Some of those lots were purchased by adjacent homeowners, some are for sale. Housing stock that’s out of repair brings down property values in the surrounding area. Likewise, a McMansion on a street filled with bungalows and small colonials sticks out like a sore thumb – as does a row of cluster houses in the middle of a low density development. Housing design standards, including continuity of homes within neighborhoods, maximum house “footprint” and minimum lot space, need to be codified and City planners must find the courage to say “no”.

Safe schools within a district that performs well academically: It’s a cop out to rationalize that property values in South Euclid are so cheap that one can send their kids to private schools and vote down every school levy that comes along – but that’s exactly what I’ve heard from more than one aspiring politician. The school district, not the city, sets policy in the schools. But the city, by enforcing curfews, and noise & nuisance ordinances, can drive home the point that we expect the best of our young people.

Amenities for all ages: Hand in hand with the above, our youths’ time must be filled with productive and healthy activity. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and the phrase “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” is valid whatever one’s own religious preferences. A few days ago, while riding my bike near my home, I spoke with two young men playing basketball in the street. We commiserated that there was no basketball court nearby – even in Bexley Park. Several years ago, South Euclid, Richmond Heights, and University Heights proposed collaborating with Lyndhurst to expand the Hillcrest YMCA into a recreation center. Lyndhurst, on whose land the Y currently sits, shamefully vetoed the idea. Having lived in Lyndhurst and knowing how many think there, I could not help the thought that they didn’t want a rec center that could be a congregating point for minority youth. While we can’t force Lyndhurst to host a center it doesn’t want, I propose an all-ages recreation center be built within South Euclid – either on the parking lot to the rear of Mayfield-Green shopping center, which is never filled; or at the vacant South Lyn Elementary school. Such a center would be open to members of any community which contributed to its construction and maintenance.

For those on the other end of life, we need housing designed for seniors. Modest work has been done retrofitting homes for energy efficiency and single-story living. But the area needs dedicated housing for seniors. The planned work for the Cleveland Heights portion of Oakwood seems to have stalled. If it doesn’t come to pass, the city needs to explore local alternatives.

A Master Plan is more than a collection of zoning maps and blueprints for proposed structures. It’s a vision for the future, a whole derived from many parts. The 2014 Master Plan is South Euclid’s chance to present its vision for holistic growth and change: a green, walkable, and bikeable community; with a thriving business district; with unique cultural amenities; which values its residents of all ages – a community in which you could live you whole life, and would want to do so.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Glass-Steagall: Time to bring it back

Recently, I was perusing the monthly issue of the Costco connection. In addition to articles on the newest goodies they sell, the magazine features a monthly discussion topic called “informed debate” - usually on a political issue, with “expert” commentary pro and con, along with comments by Costco customers. The recent issue dealt with whether the U. S. Banking Act of 1933, colloquially known as the Glass-Steagall Act, should be reinstated.

The purpose of that Act, written in the depths of the Great Depression, was to tame the boom/bust cycle to which the American economy had been increasingly subject in the decades following industrialization. It did so by, among other things, prohibiting commercial banks from owning securities brokerages – in other words, it erected a wall between commercial banking (like the kind you use for your checking or passbook savings accounts) and investment banking.

Let’s judge for ourselves the success of the Glass-Steagall Act by looking at some numbers:

A recession or depression is defined as two consecutive quarters in which America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracts. Contractions in GDP from 1901-1933 ranged from 10% to 32.7%. From the end of World War II to the end of the 20th century, GDP contractions ranged from .6% to 3.2% – an astonishing taming of some previously volatile numbers. Of course, GDP is but one indicator of an economic downturn’s severity. Another, more personal indicator, is unemployment rates. Unemployment levels were not tracked until the Great Depression, so accurate numbers are difficult to come by. But the unemployment rate at the time Franklin Roosevelt took office was at least 25%, and if underemployment is factored in, the combined rate was probably closer to 50%. (Not to mention the millions of Americans working for less money, with no benefits - and in the absence of job stability, afraid to spend the little money they had.) After World War II, unemployment was never higher than the 10.8% in November of 1982. (I have deliberately left out the “fake” February-October 1945 recession that was the result of post-war conversion to a peacetime economy – where GDP contracted by 12.7% but unemployment peaked at only 5.2%.) In short, the Glass-Steagall Act worked.



The most crucial provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act were repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, passed by the Republican House and Senate, and signed by President Bill Clinton. Even though the G-L-B act would have sustained a presidential veto, I won’t defend Clinton’s signing of the Act (nor will I defend his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which would have also sustained a veto – but that’s a subject for another post). The enactment of G-L-B was short sighted, based on the ludicrous assumption that the United States has entered an era in which recessions would be a thing of the past. Yes, there were actually people in the late-1990s who believed there would never be another recession, just as there were those in the early 1990s who referred to the “end of history” following the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War. History’s verdict on their commentary echoes Carl Sagan’s comment that “Intellectual brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong”.

Forgotten lessons are often painfully relearned: the March 2001-November 2001 recession, coupled with the September 11 attacks, reminded Americans that we weren’t indestructible. But that small GDP contraction of .3% was peanuts compared to the 4.3% contraction we suffered from December 2007-June 2009. There is a direct cause and effect relationship between the Glass-Steagall Act’s repeal, the slew of toxic investments, and 2007 subprime mortgage crisis - which led to the economic collapse of 2008. The repeal of Glass-Steagall allowed commercial banks to engage in risky investing, including mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. This led to the subprime mortgage crisis which led to the collapse of the United States housing bubble. Falling housing-related assets contributed to the global financial crisis, even as oil and food prices soared. That crisis led to the failure or collapse of many of America’s largest financial institutions: Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Citi Bank and AIG, as well as a crisis in the automobile industry. Many of the aforementioned were deemed “too big to fail” and were bailed out by American taxpayers.

Reading the comments in the Costco Connection by those who came out against reinstatement, I’m compelled to wonder if these people were conscious during the events of 2007-2008. In particular, the idea that reinstating Glass-Steagall would imperil economic growth is absurd, and refuted by the fact that the United States has enjoyed several periods of robust economic growth while the Act was in full force, including the 1960s, the middle 1980s, and the explosive growth in the 1990s – the years immediately preceding the Act’s repeal.

It’s time to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.  If the present Congress won’t do so, it’s time to elect a new Congress.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gary Graffman, complete recordings

Amazon has posted my review of Gary Graffman's complete recordings. Click here to read my review.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Zsolt Bognár's impressive debut recording

Amazon has just posted my review of Zsolt Bognár's debut recording.  Click here to read my review

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

THE piano boxed set of 2013

Amazon has just published my review of Sony's 41 CD (Plus 1 DVD) boxed set, Vladimir Horowitz - Live at Carnegie Hall. Click here to read my review.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Karajan 1970s - a retrospective

Amazon has just published my review of Herbert von Karajan's 1970s recordings.  Click here to read my review.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's a Done Deal

NOTE: I’ve received several comments to previous posts on the Telling Mansion – all anonymous. As stated on the frontispiece of my blog, I do not publish anonymous comments. If you wish for your comment to appear on the site, please include your name. Thanks.

 Last night, the Cuyahoga County Public Library board unanimously voted to sell the historic Telling Mansion to Richard Barone, a Cleveland investor who wants to use the building to house the American Porcelain Art Museum and Cultural Arts Center. Some of us foresaw this fate months ago, which is why we came together to form the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization: TeMPO.

I will defend neither the Library board’s decision nor the manner in which they arrived at it. It was contrary to the principles of open governance, and did not take the feelings of the affected citizens into account. However, per Ohio regulations the Library board is an independent entity – city and country officials are forbidden from blocking CCPL’s plans, just as they are not allowed to specify which books and other media the library may carry. So that begs the question: why did members of the Save the Mansion Library group take members of the Cuyahoga and South Euclid governments to task over the situation? Was it due to a lack of understanding of separation of powers on their part, simple desperation, or were certain members of that group using the library issue as a wedge against public servants they didn’t like?

While some members of the SML group may continue to shout “THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL”, in reality – it is. Whatever one thinks of the library move, it’s now a certainty – no matter how many people picket, sign online petitions, hold “read-ins” or try to shout down speakers at local meetings. The question now is: should citizens continue to push the CCPL into remaining at a site it has neglected for the past decade and has decided to leave, or should we embrace a better guardian? Look for yourself at the deplorable condition of the floor tiles near the entry way or the stone wall running along the driveway. Observe for yourself how the gate house isn’t even open to the public. (I’ve been in the latter – the only possible use right now is as a haunted house.)

Wouldn’t it be more productive if citizens worked with Richard Barone, who wants to make good use of the Mansion, the grounds, and the gate house – which has been closed for years?

In June, members of TeMPO met with Mr. Barone and voiced several concerns: that the site be properly maintained and renovated with historical sensitivity; that the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society remains on site; that the site remain open for public use in addition to his proposed use as a museum; and that the site – including green space and watershed – be protected in perpetuity via the creation of a foundation with an endowment. Mr. Barone is interested in working with us to accomplish these goals. He reiterated such at a fundraiser TeMPO held in August.

It is doubly important that Mr. Barone is stepping in at this time, because his purchase does more to safeguard the Telling Mansion than the other options: selling to one of the other interested parties (both commercial) or keeping the Library there. At a recent meeting of the citizens’ steering committee for South Euclid’s new Master Plan, I learned that South Euclid’s other Mansion (in a secluded lot off Dorsh Road) may be for sale in the near future. The two mansions sit on adjoining parcels of land, and anyone who’s seen the properties could well envision a nightmare scenario in which both mansions are demolished and a new housing development put in their place.

What I find most objectionable are the accusations, made without any evidence, that TeMPO was secretly cobbled together by the CCPL, Mayor Welo, and Sunny Simon to clear the path for the library move. On the contrary, TeMPO is driven and run by local citizens from all walks of life and political persuasions, who work without compensation, who are solely concerned with the preservation of the Telling Mansion and grounds. Indeed, Mayor Welo’s opponent in the 2011 election, Robert Schoenewald, is a member of our board.

People can continue to scream “the Telling Mansion should be a library” until they’re blue in the face. Fact is, the library is going to move. We believe Mr. Barone’s proposal represents the best way forward for the Telling Mansion – South Euclid’s architectural gem.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Vladimir Horowitz never peeled potatoes








“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” goes the old riddle. “Practice, practice, practice”, is the answer.

Vladimir Horowitz was fond of stating he only practiced a few hours a day, and cautioned students about over-practicing a musical work to the point that it became stale.  While he was usually coy about how he developed his technique, saying he learned it the same way he learned to speak four languages, he once confessed that in post-Revolutionary Russia “It was very cold, I was very hungry, and there was nothing to do but practice piano”.  There was no television, nor even any radio – and 78rpm discs were in very short supply at a time when the family subsisted on “rabbit ragout” – which was a euphemism used at a time when the stray cats and dogs in Kiev suddenly vanished.  To take his mind off the misery that surrounded him, young Volodya worked tirelessly and attentively at the piano – not merely at scales and etudes, but any music he could get his hands on: the standard piano repertoire, operas, orchestra scores (Horowitz was a fantastic site reader), and even the popular music of the day. 

Horowitz developed a technique so comprehensive that the standard repertoire became inadequate for fully displaying his skills, and he was – as he often pointed out – a frustrated composer.  He composed original works, but most famously offered arrangements, or transcriptions, of other composers’ music.  He almost never committed these transcriptions to paper, and many have tried, with varying success, to decipher the notes by listening to recordings and watching videos of his concerts.  Some of his arrangements changed over time, particularly his variations on the Gypsy Dance from Act II of Bizet’s Carmen.  Listening to the plethora of recordings, both officially published and “pirate” recordings of concerts, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only was Horowitz altering his work over the decades,  this most spontaneous of pianists often made changes “on the fly”.  

This kind of freedom, today heard only from jazz musicians, was common in the Classical and Romantic period.  Mozart and Beethoven were both spectacular improvisers, as was Liszt.  Being able to improvise leads to greater freedom in interpretation.  This freedom is part of what endeared Horowitz to the public, and drove anally retentive critics to distraction.  It also upset more than a few pianists, and I can only conclude that their sniping comments at Horowitz’s transcriptions were the result of enraged jealousy.  Particularly galling was Arthur Rubinstein’s hypo-criticism of Horowitz playing “all those Carmens, all those Danse Macabres” because Rubinstein himself played his own arrangements of Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and the March from Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges.  The piano transcription has a respectable lineage going all the way back to Liszt and Busoni. 

Truth be told, most pianists prepare a work to within an inch of its life, then bring it to the stage with all the spontaneity of peeling potatoes.  This was never the case with Horowitz.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Horowitz's seamless transmission


Poulenc’s Toccata is hardly anyone’s definition of an easy piece – although it’s well laid out for the keyboard.  Parallel passages become repeated notes, then right handed filigree accompanied by left hand chords & jumps, then right hand chords accompanied by left hand chromatic runs – there are gear shifts, sometimes radical, every few bars.  I’ve heard about 15 recordings of the Toccata, by pianists major and minor – at corresponding tempos.  They all have something in common – whenever the pianist has to shift gears, there is a pause, a hesitation - however infinitesimal -  to allow the pianist time to regroup for the next sequence.

All except one: Vladimir Horowitz.  There are at least three recordings of Horowitz playing Poulenc’s Toccata: a studio recording from 1932, a live recording from Carnegie Hall from the 1940s and available for listening at the Yale University music library, and a 1966 performance from a Carnegie Hall concert made when the pianist was 63 (the last has circulated as a pirate recording for years, but Sony has recently released their copy as part of a boxed set).  Despite differences in interpretation, all three recordings feature breathtaking tempos, minimal use of the sustaining pedal, a broad dynamic range – and the most seamless, imperceptible shifting of gears.  It’s the equivalent of driving a manual transmission without having to use the clutch – although in this case there’s no grinding and no damage.

I believe this is what Michael Steinberg was referring to when he complained that Horowitz was at times apt to “steamroll the line into perfect flatness” in his very wrongheaded – and now deleted – appraisal of the pianist in the Groves Encyclopedia.  In fact, Horowitz merely was able to mask the gear changes that lesser pianists (and that’s just about everybody) were forced to make audibly.  His transmission was infinitely variable.

But make no mistake: Horowitz infallible transmission was not merely the result of some accident of birth.  He worked his ass off.  More on that in a later post.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lessons from Seymour Avenue

Just 93 days ago, the people of Northeast Ohio and much of the world were stunned to learn that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight had escaped alive after a decade in captivity.  Many had given up hope that Berry and DeJesus were alive, and few had ever heard of Knight.
 
Within three months, the perpetrator, Ariel Castro, pled guilty, was convicted and sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison.  While some called for the death penalty, the plea deal spared three young women the pain of an extended trial and appeals process.  Castro, whose family has rightly disowned him, had better hope he’s kept in solitary confinement – he would be unlikely to last long in the general prison population.  
 
A blight removed...
 
This morning, Castro’s home at 2207 Seymour Avenue, which had been in foreclosure, was demolished.  Two adjacent homes are likely to be torn down in the near future.  For those who live on Seymour Avenue, this must be welcome news – as will be the withdrawal of the media parade of the last three months.
 
The events of the past 93 days have been the definition of swift justice.  Some have opined that we should now collectively forget what happened and “move on”.  I differ.  In my own life, there are lessons I learned at bitter cost in my younger years, only to forget them and be forced to re-learn.  Here too, there are lessons to be learned which should not be forgotten.  One lesson is to be aware, keep one’s eyes and ears open to an unpleasant reality, and commit to changing it.
 
It wasn’t until after the three young women escaped that neighbors spoke of occasional pounding noises coming from the house. They said they believed it was the result of home renovations - although the deteriorating condition of the house belied that explanation. Probably no one suspected that their neighbor, known for blasting salsa music while cooking barbeque, was a monster who was serially raping, impregnating, and inducing miscarriages.  Or no one wanted to suspect it.  No one wants to confront the worst, especially when one lives in an area where things are already tough enough.  How often does one hear of incidents of drug dealing, rape, assault, and suicide – even in “better” neighborhoods?  How many of these incidents could have been prevented if neighbors had taken notice of the warning signs?  Be certain, I am not blaming the neighbors for what happened at 2207 Seymour Avenue – the fault lies with Ariel Castro alone.
 
The first step is getting to know one’s neighbors, and allowing them to get to know you.  Being curious about one’s neighbors doesn’t equate with being Gladys Kravitz.  You don’t have to constantly knock on someone’s door asking to borrow a cup of sugar to take notice of what’s going on.  But if something nags the back of your mind, bring it up for discussion or, if warranted, report it to the authorities.
 
Being aware and involved does not make one the “boss” of the neighborhood.  Concern for bettering one’s area ought not to descend into a turf war or into vigilantism.  If you need to report something to the police, do so – and once done, back off and let them do their jobs.  If George Zimmerman had done what the police dispatcher told him to do, Trayvon Martin would still be alive.
 
Participate in efforts to enhance your area.  Neighborhood groups have been popping up in South Euclid, spearheaded by committed citizens – and the results have been positive.  There’s more to citizenship in a democracy than paying taxes, voting, then going home to watch Netflix or surf the ‘net. 
 
There has been talk of turning that land beneath the three homes on Seymour Avenue into a community garden.  That would be a positive step, so long as the garden is maintained – which hasn’t always been the case.  A park would be another positive development.
 
Finally, our local, state and federal governments must act aggressively to ameliorate the glut of distressed and abandoned housing.  While the worst of the foreclosure crisis may be behind us, there are still too many abandoned houses on the market.  We must creatively work to address these eyesores, which reduce property values, thereby reducing funds to local government and impacting services, creating a downward spiral.  The situation in East Cleveland is an extreme local example of this trend – and I will address that in a future post.  More ways need to be found to improve and sell – or, if that is not practical – demolished these houses.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Should East Cleveland be dissolved?



Last week, the nation learned of a serial killer in East Cleveland. Michael Madison has been tied to the deaths of three women, thus far. Coming two months after the revelation that three young women had been held for three years by Ariel Castro, the image of our region’s recovery – still remembered for the burning river and default embarrassments of the 1970s – was further tarnished.

It gives little comfort to those of us in Cuyahoga County to rationalize that the recent events occurred areas that few of us willingly visit – or even drive through.

Recently, I was describing Puerto Rico to a friend, who asked if it was dangerous. I replied that, like any place, Puerto Rico had good and bad areas – and described Bayamon as the East Cleveland of Puerto Rico.

There was a time when East Cleveland was one of the tonier areas in the county, with an economy driven by General Electric’s Nela Park facility, literally a “powerhouse” for activity. Large, beautiful homes lined the streets, and residents included John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Today, aside from a few homes on streets on the hill leading to Cleveland Heights, most of East Cleveland is run down. Many of the once luxurious homes were divided into multi-tenant units over the decades, neglected, and as often or not have been foreclosed or abandoned. Today, the population in East Cleveland is less than half of its peak in 1930.

East Cleveland’s political history has been one of embarrassment after embarrassment. Corruption; Graft; Double dipping. The previous mayor was ousted from office after several embarrassing photos of him wearing women’s clothes came to light. The current mayor, Gary Norton, has been waging a heroic effort over the last three years to get East Cleveland on the road to a solid recovery. For all his hard work, East Cleveland has only a smattering of development to show – mostly on its border with Cleveland’s University Circle.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the possibility of South Euclid merging with Lyndhurst. Judging by web hits, it was one of my most popular posts and received positive commentary. Given the recently aborted plans to merge several suburbs in southeast Cuyahoga County, I have no illusion this will happen anytime soon.

There are times when the most radical solution is justified, and I believe this is such a time. Thus, I propose that the municipality of East Cleveland be dissolved and the territory divided between the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.

Moving in a roughly diagonal line, Cleveland Heights would gain all the territory in Lakeview cemetery, as well as the territory in Mayfield Cemetery. The line would continue with the now divided Forest Hill/Rockefeller Park and all streets to the east of Terrace Road going to Cleveland Heights. Cleveland would gain the remaining territory, including all the properties on Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road, with Terrace Road divided from North Taylor onward – leading to the northeastern boundary of Cleveland Heights being North Noble Road. (An alternative to the above would use the center of Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road as the boundary line.) A benefit would be that most streets which are currently divided between East Cleveland and Cleveland/Cleveland Heights would now fall within one municipality. Also, the confusing, zigzag border that exists between East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights would be replaced with a border largely conforming to geological boundaries.


Two options...
 



Of course, fiddling around with the boundaries does not equate an instant fix to the myriad problems facing what is now East Cleveland. Those remain: poverty, resulting in a tax base so anemic that basic government services cannot be adequately delivered, resulting in lawlessness, causing people to flee – further driving down property values and tax revenue, resulting in an urban dead zone in which economic development is out of the question.

  The absorption of this territory would stretch the budget of the two acquiring municipalities, particularly Cleveland. What would be required to bring this area to its potential is a combination of federal block grants, state funds, and corporate investment. One need only remember how steeply crime rates dropped in the 1990s to appreciate how much better East Cleveland could be.

I believe the dissolution of East Cleveland is the best way forward for the citizens of that beleaguered area, and would benefit everyone, except for those who’ve profited from East Cleveland’s decades long decline.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Russia’s Olympics: To boycott or not to boycott?

Although not widely reported in the mainstream media, the Russian legislature unanimously passed, and President Vladimir Putin has signed, draconianlegislation forbidding any discussion which touches on homosexuality in anything but the most negative terms.  It’s a tragedy and an outrage that the country of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, and Nureyev – all homosexuals who contributed to Russian and human culture – should pursue such a retrograde course.

There was a time when people dared to hope that Russia was evolving into a more open society.  Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who deserves history’s gratitude, first opened the floodgates of Glasnost – until the reforms of Perestroika ran away faster than he could control and the Soviet Union was disbanded.  A culture of openness continued under Boris Yeltsin, under whom consensual same-sex acts were decriminalized.  But the vacuum caused by Yeltsin’s incompetence and ill health led to former KGB head Vladimir Putin taking control – promising law and order.  He apparently intends to remain in power for life, and has become as autocratic as any Russian leader since Stalin. Thus, while former countries in the Soviet sphere, most notably the Czech Republic, embrace openness and tolerance, Russia has been moving backwards and appears destined to become a Christian version of Iran.

Many in the LGBT community have called for the United States and other LGBT friendly nations to boycott the2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  Leaving aside the question as to whether the United States deserves to be called an LGBT welcoming nation, history has already demonstrated that a boycott would be a mistake.  I understand why individual LGBT athletes would want to boycott the games – either out of principle or due to concerns for their own safety.  But boycotts by nations would do nothing to advance the causes of LGBT rights in Russia, would only further isolate Russia (and LGBT Russians) from the rest of the world, and would quell opportunities for our athletes.  Let’s take a look at history:

The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, the center of Nazi Germany.  There were calls to boycott the games due to the Nazis’ racial and anti-Semitic policies.  At the insistence of Franklin Roosevelt, America participated. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, the long jump, and the 4X100 meter sprint relay, he threw mud in the face of Hitler’s theories on Aryan racial supremacy.

In 1980, 65 nations, led by the United States, boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The boycott did nothing to change Soviet policy: the Russians remained in Afghanistan for another nine years.  Nor did the boycott do anything to harm the Soviets’ image – not that they ever cared about appearances.

But the boycott did harm the many athletes who were unable to participate.  As Greg Louganis wrote: 

”The boycott was a terrible disappointment.  All of us had been working toward the games, and now suddenly it was gone.  To make matters worse, we were all expected to fall in line behind the president.  I never paid much attention to politics, so I really didn’t care why we were boycotting.  Whether the goal was to humiliate the Soviets for invading Afghanistan or to express dramatically our government’s disapproval of the invasion, the bottom line was that we weren’t going to compete.  The athletes and the fans paid the price for the message.” 
 
Louganis went on to note that even though he was able to resume his Olympic career in 1984 and 1988, for many, 1980 was their last chance to compete.

In 1984, the Soviets and 14 other nations responded with their own boycott of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, to even less effect.

In short, the idea that a boycott of the Olympics would have prevented the Holocaust, brought about Soviet withdrawal in Afghanistan, or prevented Western victory in the Cold War is beyond fallacious – it’s nonsensical.  It’s the kind of idea raised by New York activists like Michelangelo Signorile and Harvey Fierstein – both of whom live in gayborhoods and neither of whom have any idea what it’s like for aspiring athletes – gay or straight - growing up in flyover country.

A much better enterprise would be to use the power of the purse and persuade sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa, Samsung, and other corporations, to refrain from advertising at the games – and failing that, to boycott them.  Even better would be for the International Olympics Committee to move the games to a more appropriate venue, perhaps London or Vancouver.  A boycott of Russian made products could also be effective.  There has been talk of boycotting Russian Vodka (which might lead people to realize that Polish Vodka is superior at any rate) as well as those stupid nesting dolls.  Further, a voluntary boycott of tourism and visiting performance artists in Russia would drive home how the civilized world feels about the thuggery taking over Russia.  If Russians want to trot out their homophobia for all to see, right thinking companies should see to it that such behavior is unprofitable.  In the meantime, the Western powers, including the United States, should reform their immigration laws and welcome LGBT from countries which oppress them.  That’s a more effective way to help LGBT people throughout the world.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Leon Fleisher - the original album collection

In honor of his 85th birthday, Sony has released a 23CD set of their complete recordings of Leon Fleisher. Read my full review here.

The fat lady sings


If the proverbial fat lady sang her final aria in the forest, would anybody hear her?

On July 10, the lawsuit filed by the Save the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Mansion Library Committee against the Cuyahoga County Library Board was dismissed.  The suit was to prevent CCPL from selling the Telling Mansion and grounds. 




As of today, that suit’s dismissal has yet to be acknowledged by the Save the Mansion Library Committee or reported in the local media.

Meanwhile, the SML Committee continues their efforts.  The latest activity is a “read-in” scheduled for tonight in the Telling Mansion.  Presumably, their leaders continue to solicit funds.  A member of their group even called the President of TeMPO, boasting of the thousands of dollars they’ve raised.  They continue to post, in capital letters, that “THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL” on their facebook page and in Cleveland.com’s comments section (where one member of the SML committee posts under at least seven different names).

Truth be told, it’s a done deal.  I have never been in favor of the library’s move – but it’s going to happen.  The new site has been purchased, the Telling site is all but sold, and the legal barriers have been overcome.  Despite what some have stated, there’s nothing the city of South Euclid can do to prevent the new facility from opening.  Any attempt to erect bureaucratic barriers to the CCPL’s plans would inevitably result in a suit for which the citizens of South Euclid – and they alone – would be financially responsible.  Within a relatively short time, the library will move.  One can either choose to beat one’s chest, or one can try and find the best possible solution - emphasis on “possible”.

This is exactly why those of us in the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization have been working to secure the future of this historic property, to save it from demolition, and, preferably, keep it open to the public.  While the SML’ers have been promoting online petitions with no legal validity, picketing weekly outside the library, disrupting Library board and South Euclid City Council/Planning Commission meetings, we’ve been speaking with the prospective new owner: Richard Barone.  Mr. Barone wants to utilize the Telling Mansion as a museum for his collection of Porcelain Art, a niche that’s underserved in the United States.  We’ve raised our concerns about the long term future of the Mansion, allowing the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society to remain there, keeping it open to the public, and other possible uses – including ceremonies and performing arts.  Mr. Barone has responded positively to these concerns and gone over his plans in some detail – much of which remains unreported in the local media. We’re relieved that someone with the means to bring the Mansion, which has been neglected by the CCPL for the last decade, up to specs is now engaged.  And we intend to continue working toward the creation of a permanent foundation, with an endowment, to secure the Telling Mansion’s long term viability.

Now, let’s talk about the new library site.  Beyond the question of aesthetics, which is a matter of opinion, there are legitimate concerns about the proposed location on Green Road, across from Notre Dame College. 

One concern raised by the SML group is the large parking lot for the proposed site, and the potential impact to the water shed due to the increase in rainwater runoff.  The Planning Commission must insist on permeable materials for the entire parking lot.  If the CCPL can afford $12 to build a new library, they can afford the additional cost for permeable paving. It’s up to us citizens of South Euclid to ensure the Planning Commission heeds these concerns.  As a member of the Citizens Steering Committee for South Euclid’s new Master Plan, I intend to pursue this matter.

Another concern is the location.  Although the CCPL boasts that the new location will be ADA compliant, there is the accessibility of location – and the new site is not on RTA’s major line: the No. 9.  Citizens should encourage RTA to provide better bus access to the new Library.  Indeed, a community circulator bus that runs in the area bordered by Richmond Road on the East, Warrensville Center Road on the West, Mayfield Road on the North, and Cedar Road on the South is warranted. 

Finally, there is the issue of Lyndhurst.  It would be intentionally ignorant to deny that this community, which I once called home, has gotten the shaft.  The Mayfield Library has moved a mile further away from Lyndhurst, while the new site also takes the library over a mile further from Lyndhurst.  I believe citizens of South Euclid and Lyndhurst should team up, as we have in the past, and persuade the CCPL to open a satellite facility in Lyndhurst, as they have in Richmond Heights, preferably on Mayfield Road.

However, this should be something for the citizens of South Euclid and Lyndhurst to work on. The professional activists, particularly those with a history of antagonizing large swaths of our community and who have proven, by their losing track record, to have the fecal touch, need to butt out.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A refresher for drivers

For nine years, I lived in New England; in a state so notorious for aggressive, discourteous, and incompetent drivers they had their own name: Massholes. But I’ve encountered more than a few of these drivers right here in Cleveland, driving cars bearing Ohio license plates.

All too often, I see cars being driven far below the speed limit on highways. Until a few years ago, one could bet money the driver was someone well into their senior years. Now, as often as not, the driver is too busy yakking on a cell phone to drive at a reasonable rate of speed. Conversely, on my curving residential street, I frequently see drivers with cell phones whizzing by at well over the posted limit of 35MPH – I even saw one wrap his minivan around a tree on the median.

Then, there is the flagrant abuse of handicapped tags. Just this past weekend, while waiting in line at Dairy King, Daniel and I observed a portly woman park her Toyota Camry next to the building, immediately adjacent to a sign warning patrons not to park there. She then took her place behind us in line, complaining the whole time about the lack of service, while the one young person behind the counter scrambled to keep up with the orders. While we enjoyed our treats, we saw the woman get into her car and, ice cream cone in hand, move her car to a spot in the parking lot while she devoured her treat.

But I digress – let’s get back to the issue at hand: the drivers licensed by the state of Ohio. Just yesterday, my car was nearly sideswiped by a truck whose driver blew through a stop sign.

Based on my observations, Ohio should require drivers to correctly answer the following questions every time they get their license renewed:

1. How does a 4-way stop work?
A. The first vehicle at the intersection has the right of way.
B. The largest vehicle has the right of way.
C. The vehicle to the right has the right of way.
D. The vehicle blasting the loudest music has the right of way.

2. Who has the right of way on a two-way street with vehicles parked on one side?
A. The vehicle on the same side as the parked vehicles has the right of way.
B. The vehicle on the opposite side of the parked vehicles has the right of way.
C. Whichever vehicle is the fastest has the right of way.
D. Whichever vehicle arrives at the restricted section first has the right of way.

3. When do pedestrians have the right of way at a crosswalk?
A. When the traffic light is green in the pedestrian’s direction.
B. When “Walk” or symbol displays at a Pedestrian control signal.
C. When there are no traffic signals present.
D. All of the above.

4. When is it appropriate to turn left at a signaled intersection?
A. When the left-turn arrow appears.
B. If there is no left-turn arrow, but a solid green signal, once oncoming traffic has passed.
C. When there is a sign showing a red circle-slash through the left arrow.
D. Both A and B.

5. When is it appropriate to make a right-on-red?
A. When you’re in a hurry.
B. When there is no oncoming traffic, unless a restrictive sign is posted.
C. When no one’s looking.
D. When there are pedestrians in the crosswalk.

6. When should drivers activate their turn signal?
A. As you make your turn or change lanes.
B. Never. You don’t want the government agents tailing you to know where you’re headed.
C. At least 100 feet before turning or changing lanes, whether or not you see someone behind you.
D. Before turning or changing lanes if someone is behind you.

See the comments section for the correct answers.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thunder and Lightning at Blossom


Neither heat, humidity, nor a sudden thunderstorm prevented the Cleveland Orchestra with guest pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet from dazzling at Blossom Music Center last night. 

The skies darkened just as Franz Welser-Möst strode onstage to begin Beethoven’s Grand Fugue.  Originally written as the final movement the Op. 130 string quartet, Beethoven eventually replaced it with a more conventional ending and published the piece separately as Op. 133.  The piece is often performed in an arrangement for string orchestra, with the cello part supplemented by the double bass.  As with many of Beethoven’s later works, such as the Op. 111 piano sonata, and the last few string quartets, the Grand Fugue connects with something beyond the corporeal.   That feeling was enhanced when the skies opened up a few minutes into the piece.  With the accompanying rain and thunder, I was reminded of the story of Beethoven on his deathbed, raising his fist at a flash of lightning. 

There was a delay starting the second work, Liszt’s Dance of the Dead – first as the stagehands moved the piano to the center stage and arranged the orchestra seats, then as the first violinists took refuge from a sudden mist that invaded the pavilion.  Soon enough, the orchestra returned to the stage, joined by the pianist and conductor.  Thibaudet, dressed in a tastefully dazzling outfit, was a picture of fierce concentration at the keyboard.  There are not many pianists who can make this piece both exciting pianistically, but convincing musically.  But Thibaudet is one such artist.  The thunder was an appropriate accompaniment to the storms Thibaudet created at the piano.  He was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

During the intermission, the weather calmed and skies cleared.   

Following the intermission, Welser-Möst led the orchestra in a headlong performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.  Eschewing the first movement repeat, Welser-Möst’s tempos were swift, rhythms taut, with stark dynamic contrasts.

The finale was received with an enthusiastic response from the audience, some on the lawn still wet from the rainstorm.  It takes more than a storm to come between Cleveland’s audience and their music. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The march toward Marriage Equality

In a pair of stunning rulings, the Supreme Court today struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

For California, the ruling means that Proposition 8 is nullified and the nation’s most populous state can once again allow same-sex marriages. With marriage reinstated in California, by August 1 nearly 95 million Americans will live in states that recognize same-sex marriage.

Despite the overturning of DOMA, certain states, including Ohio, do not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. But the effect of that non-recognition is substantially, perhaps fatally, neutered by today's ruling. The Federal government must recognize marriages performed in any state which allows it, as well as marriages performed in other countries (the plaintiff in the DOMA case, Edie Windsor, married her same-sex spouse in Canada). Ultimately, the chief legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage derive from the Federal government. These 1138 statutory provisions touch nearly every aspect of life, from custodial rights, to financial benefits such as survivor’s benefits, to income and estate taxes.

Opponents of same sex marriage have fallen back on the same tired arguments that they’ve been using for over a decade – arguments which are failing to sell with an increasing majority of Americans: 1) that allowing same-sex marriage puts America down the slippery slope that will lead to incestuous marriages and marriages between humans and animals. That argument is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even merit a response, except to point out that there is a correlation between states that allow marriages between first cousins yet outlaw same-sex marriage; 2) that societal values are being degraded and the government is inflicting its will on religious Americans. First, there are numerous religious Americans who support same-sex marriage. Secondly, no one has ever made the assertion that churches should be forced to perform or even accept same-sex marriages. Indeed, I can’t imagine any gay man or lesbian of conscience who would want their marriage performed in a church, temple, or mosque which didn’t accept them.

I've said this before, I shall say it again: The number one reason I have supported the Democratic ticket for President since I became eligible to vote is that the President appoints Justices to the Supreme Court. Four of the five justices who voted to overturn DOMA were appointed by Democratic Presidents: two by President Clinton, two by President Obama. The fifth, Justice Kennedy, was appointed by President Reagan as a compromise when the Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee balked at his original choice: Robert Bork.

As for Ohio, marriage equality will probably be on the ballot in 2014, and it appears increasingly likely that the vile Ohio State Issue 1, passed in 2004, will be repealed. I am cautiously optimistic.

Our love matters...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mercury Living Presence, Volume 2



A second boxed set of classic Mercury Living Presence recordings has been issued. Click here to read my review.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Perhaps I’m showing my age. First, the new Star Trek movie largely left me cold. Now, the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, has been released to great fanfare. I dutifully saw it on opening weekend and was largely unimpressed.

What I liked: Henry Cavill does an excellent job portraying Kal-El, giving a slightly more brooding turn than usual. Some purists will object to a Briton portraying America’s superhero, but as Superman is not even human, I’m fine with it. As for Clark Kent, we see very little of him – the famous glasses are not even worn until the last few frames of the movie. Amy Adams brings a knowing glint to Lois Lane, sadly missing from Kate Bosworth’s limp portrayal in Superman Returns. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent in every respect, particularly Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.

What I disliked: I didn’t like the reimagined Krypton – give me the Donner icy galactic version any day. Nor did I care for the dumbed down plot and solution. In previous incarnations, from the comic books, to the serials, the classic 50s TV show and Christopher Reeve movies, Superman was always victorious in the end because he used his most important superpower: his brain. Here, we just have a series of endless action sequences ending in a snapped neck. The tuneless, percussive score droned monotonously. There’s quite a bit of product placement in Man of Steel – but there was in the 1978 Superman movie as well. Cheerios and Timex watches have been replaced with IHOP and Sears.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A time to push, a time to hold back



If you watched the national news today, you saw the story about Ellen Sturtz, a member of GetEQUAL who heckled the First Lady at a private fundraiser.  Mr. Sturtz was upset because the President has not signed an executive order forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation by the Federal government.  I wish the President would sign such an order, but it's worth remembering it would only cover Federal employees and contractors - and it could be easily withdrawn by a subsequent President.  As a member of the LGBT community, I felt embarrassed by Ms. Sturtz' behavior – as I’m sure members of any minority community feel when “one of their own” does something criminal or just plain stupid.  Did Ms. Sturtz actually believe that heckling the President's wife would persuade him to sign the executive order?


I find this "activist" to be appallingly rude. Mrs. Obama does not control White House policy and did not deserve to be treated in this manner. In its way, Ms. Sturtz' behavior mirrors that of several people in the Save the Mansion Library group, who shout and scream, use multiple sock-puppets to post nasty remarks about whoever disagrees with them, and who have been totally ineffective in getting anything done.

There’s a time to push and a time to exercise restraint.  One of the reasons Hate Crimes Legislation was passed and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed - along with the many other positive things for LGBT people that have occurred during the Obama administration - is that there was a balance of “on the streets” activism along with behind the scenes collaboration.  Both are necessary, but when you heckle the spouse of an elected official, you’re crossing a line.  I don’t care if that spouse is Michele Obama or Nancy Reagan.

I've said it before, and will say it again: the struggle for LGBT rights is a struggle for the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans.  If you want to make a difference, come out of the closet, leave the safe cocoon of your gayborhood, be proud, and make something of yourself.  

That’s how we’ll win.