Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review

No doubt about it.  For me 2016 was, by and large, a rotten year.

The United States witnessed the nastiest, bitterest, muddiest election campaign in generations – recalling the tone of 1968, minus the assassinations.  Unsurprisingly, Americans were overwhelmingly turned off, resulting in low voter turnout – which invariably favors conservatives.  The increasing divisiveness in our nation was capped off by Donald Trump’s surprise Electoral victory, despite losing the popular vote by a wide margin – followed by a series of hate crimes committed by his more extremist followers, which sounded a portentous note for things to come.  Now there are allegations that Russia hacked the election, which I have long suspected.  For that matter, I believe there was Russian influence behind Brexit as well.  Occam’s Razor applies here.  Dividing Europe and installing a pro-Putin U. S. President align with Putin’s desire for an Imperial Russian resurgence. 

Amidst the divisiveness, Omar Mateen gunned down innocent patrons at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53 others.  Although most Americans awakened to the news on a Sunday morning, I was working a late-night shift at my job as the initial news reports began to trickle in.   When I arrived home that morning, I awakened Dan and told him the news.  Most of the victims were Latino – many Puerto Rican – and one was a friend of a friend. 

Then there was Syria’s indiscriminate bombardment of Aleppo, with the help of the Russian Air Force – avenged in December by the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.

2016 will also be remembered as a year which many notable humans left us: John Glenn, Janet Reno, Antonin Scalia (I confess I didn’t particularly mourn that one), Nancy Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, Carrie Fisher – and one day later, her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

But for me, the defining event of 2016 will be a more personal loss: the death of my father in April.  We had a complicated relationship and periods of estrangement, but were in a good place by the time he passed.  If not for my patient husband, it may have taken me a good deal longer to emerge from the depression and heartbreak that follow the death of a loved one.   Once I could gain distance and perspective, I was struck by the realization that I am now the family patriarch.

Not all was sadness and misery in 2016. 

Dan & I enjoyed a lovely vacation in Toronto, where we witnessed the Cavaliers’ victory from a local bar packed with Cleveland fans.  It was also in Toronto where we saw a moving and heartfelt memorial to the victims of the Orlando massacre.

Speaking of Cleveland, following the Cavs Victory Parade, our city was host to the Republican National Convention.  While the GOP is not my party of choice, I was happy to see them spend their money here, and proud that the overwhelming majority of locals – whatever their preferences – rolled out the proverbial welcome mat – as we did during 2014’s Gay Games.  Such was also the case, this Autumn, when Chicago Cubs fans visited our town – and it seemed the Indians might win their first World Series since 1948.  But the Curse of Chief Wahoo lives on.

Dan & I made a good chunk of progress on our home: vinyl siding on the exterior, interior paint, new blinds for most of the windows, a new range for the kitchen, and bookcases for the office – so now we’re able to work in an organized space.  The last twelve months represented, on the whole, the largest amount of work we’ve put into the house since buying it in 2008.  All that remains, aside from periodic maintenance, is a kitchen remodel and finishing out the basement – along with the possible addition of a small mudroom.  Our 75-year-old house is shaping up quite well and it’s more of a pleasure to come home after work than ever before. 

We receive frequent inquiries from friends and family about our dog, Mason.  Now over eight years old, Mason is officially a “senior” dog.  But there are remarkably few signs of advancing age: his snout is turning from brown to grey and there are flecks of white hair around his eyes.  His vision and hearing remain excellent, and while he enjoys naps as much as ever, he will leap from the bed and bound down the stairs at warp speed upon hearing the word “walk”. 

I do not know what 2017 will bring for me personally, for America, or for the world.  But, as Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seat belts”.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Jackie and Rogue One

Dan & I saw two films over the weekend, Jackie and Rogue One

Jackie was a searing look at Jacqueline Kennedy's experience of dealing with the aftermath of her husband's murder, from returning to Washington with his body, planning his funeral, and ensuring his legacy was remembered - partly through an interview which has now become legendary. Like one's own memories, the film moves back and forth through time in a stream of consciousness fashion, but holds together well - mostly due to Natalie Portman's brilliant performance. She's come a long way from playing Queen Amidala. 

Rogue One was probably the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes back. Without being too spoilery, it deals with the events immediately preceding 1977's A New Hope. The battle scenes were spectacular. But the limitations of CGI were shown in the doll-like recreations of the young Carrie Fisher and the late Peter Cushing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra's deficit in perspective

As noted in the Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Orchestra has acknowledged a deficit of $2.4 million against operating costs of $52.2 million.  If only our Federal government had a deficit that was proportionally this small.

I note that music blogger Norman Lebrecht has posted this story with a typically sensationalist and misleading headline: "NEW BOSS PUTS CLEVEAND IN THE RED".  But the decisions which led to this deficit were likely made years before Andre Gremillet took over. As with any unhappy news, it's important to maintain perspective.  A one year deficit after years of surplus is hardly reason for the Chicken Littles to scream that the sky is falling.  I'm not a subscriber, but I attend at least a dozen concerts a year: Severance is usually at or near capacity.

However, I believe that orchestra management needs to rethink priorities, particularly when it comes to the Miami residency.  Miami-Dade County has more than twice the population of Cuyahoga County.  Miami should be able to support its own orchestra.  Commenters on the Plain Dealer link have noted that the Opera and Ballet companies have left the region and should be enticed to return.  But I doubt if Northeast Ohio could also support a Ballet or Opera company.  With the second largest theatre district in the United States and a continually shrinking population, there's only so much support for the arts here.  

In the final analysis, the lesson to be learned for the orchestra is the same as in life in general: Adapt or Die.

Monday, December 5, 2016

In Defense of Purging

No, dear friends. I have not, in my desire to lose weight, come out in favor of bulimia. Instead, I am addressing the controversy of deleting online friends due to their offensive political views. 

 In terms of vulgarity and general offensiveness, Donald Trump goes way beyond anything this nation has ever seen in a major party candidate. I have had strong differences with many elected officials, from Ronald Reagan (who ignored the AIDS for six years) to John Kasich. But I never questioned their basic decency or their belief that they were doing what they thought was best for the nation as a whole. 

But Trump is a horse’s ass of another color. For the past year, some on the left were comparing Trump with Adolf Hitler. At first, I was offended by the comparison, and thought the Hitler-Trump comparisons were specious. Not anymore. Read these excerpts from a New York Times review of a recent biography of Hitler, and take note: “‘Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,’ Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order. Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising ‘to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,’ though he was typically vague about his actual plans.” 

 Change “anti-Semitic” to “anti-Immigrant”, “anti-Gay”, “anti-Muslim” and, well, you get the picture. 

There are superficial similarities between 1933 Germany and 2016 America as well: 

“‘The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”’ 

America's political system is a portrait of dysfunctional gridlock. The spirit of compromise that allowed the country to unite against fascism, communism, and land a man on the moon is a distant memory. But while 1933 Germany was economically destitute, America’s economy continues to improve, unemployment is at its lowest level in nine years, incomes are rising – albeit dis-proportionally for those in the upper economic strata. 

 How would Hitler have used a social media platform, like Twitter? My guess, pretty much like Trump has. 

 There are a few differences, though. While Trump dodged the draft, Hitler volunteered for the German army during World War I and was known as a brave, tenacious message runner. Also, Hitler only married once. 

And then there’s this: 

Many of those who voted for Trump will tell you that they were offended by his behavior and don’t condone the mocking of people with disabilities. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. As the child of a semi-disabled person, I will never be able to understand how any right-thinking person with an OUNCE of sympathy in them wouldn't have found this to be a deal-breaker. Add to that Trump’s comments about women, religious and ethnic minorities, and using nuclear weapons – how could this man have been considered? It’s not that far from Trump’s disdain toward those with life challenging conditions and Hitler’s stated belief that the disabled, mentally ill, and mentally retarded should be euthanized so they wouldn’t be a drain on the state. 

With the above in mind, I did perform a long overdue enema on my facebook friends list. It wasn't all encompassing, I just weeded out the worst of them.  Most of those removed were either people I had never met in real life or had passing acquaintances with in school or previous jobs. One was a relative who, frankly, has always been something of a bully and about whom I’ve long had reservations. I also blocked several people, including someone who I knew in elementary school (I didn’t like her, even then). Typically for Trump supporters, she became pregnant while in high school and later “matured” into a born-again judgmental Christian who posted “Hillary for Prison” pictures on her facebook timeline. 

No thanks. I have enough friends to be selective.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Zweden and Trifonov at Severance

This weekend’s Cleveland Orchestra concerts featured guest conductor Jaap van Zweden and pianist Daniil Trifonov.  Given how the hall was nearly sold out and the parking garage was filled an hour before the concert began, it's no exaggeration to state that this was the hottest ticket in town.

The concert began with Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia de Requiem.  The work was commissioned by the Japanese Government in 1940, in celebration of the 2600th anniversary of the founding of their empire.  Ultimately, the Japanese rejected the work (although Britten was still paid) on the grounds that the titles of the movements – Lacrymosa, Dies Irae, Requiem aeternam – were too Christian in character for Japan.    Given that the Japanese Empire was already engaging in atrocities against Manchuria, including cannibalism, the use of chemical weapons, and the wholesale slaughter of civilians, it’s probably for the best that Britten’s work was premiered in Carnegie Hall.

Last weekend was only the second time the Cleveland Orchestra had programmed the piece – the first was in 1976.  The movements are bound together, although it’s easy enough to determine where one ends and the other begins as there are no cross movement thematic references.  Despite many interesting passages – particularly in the Dies Irae – the piece lacks the dramatic line that carries the listener from beginning to end.

Mozart’s A Major Piano Concerto, K. 488 followed, with pianist Daniil Trifonov.  The work is one of Mozart’s most popular in that form.  Trifonov has a Cleveland connection, having lived here while studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Sergei Babayan.  On that basis alone, I’d love to be able to give the performance a rave review.  But I can’t honestly do that.   The opening movement, a lyrically cheerful Allegro, was devoid of inflection, rubato, and color.  It was as drab and as plain as could be.  Further, there were several right-hand passages that were blurred and tentative sounding – this was also an issue in the Finale.  The slow movement, an Adagio in F-sharp Minor (the only time Mozart used that as a home key) was taken at a tempo that could almost have been a Larghetto or even a Lento – so that the movement took the character of a funeral dirge in 6/8 time.  As with most slow movements of his piano concertos, Mozart did not fully write out the piano part, expecting pianists to improvise their own filler passages.  Trifonov played only the inscribed notes, except for a brief flourish nine bars before the end – which I realized was copied from Horowitz’s version.  The Finale, an Allegro assai, was reasonably brisk but – as with the rest of the concerto – played at a disappointingly small scale.  This was Rococo, porcelain doll Mozart - a cautious conservatory rendition, designed to offend as few as possible – but fated to fade in memory after a brief time.  The audience, however, leapt to its feet as of Trifonov had just slaughtered the piano in the Rachmaninoff Third – including a woman two seats away from me who talked with her husband through much of the Britten.  I can only surmise that the audience was packed with Trifonov’s fans who were apt to suspend judgement for “their boy” – certainly there were many unfamiliar faces that night.  Zweden kept the orchestra in time with the pianist. 

The second half of the concert was devoted to Beethoven’s ubiquitous Fifth Symphony.  Probably the most well-known orchestral work in the repertoire, Beethoven’s Fifth has one characteristic in common with Britten’s Sinfonia de Requiem: the joining of movements – although in Beethoven’s case only the Third and Fourth Movements are joined – to the best of my knowledge the first time that had ever been done in a Symphony by a major composer.  Zweden, whose tempos were well judged (although the Finale was a bit overly fast), paid careful attention to balances, observed all the repeats, made striking use of dynamics, and brought the work to a thrilling conclusion.

The concert was nearly sold out.  Perhaps that was a factor in the constant coughing we heard – particularly throughout the Mozart – the worst such cacophony of audience eruptions I’ve heard at Severance.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reflections on Election 2016

It’s part of human nature.  You lose, or your team loses, or your candidate loses, or your party loses – followed by a period of (self) recrimination.

No doubt, the pending Electoral confirmation of Donald Trump is a harbinger of Presidential stupidity not seen since the days of George W. Bush, and malfeasance in office that could exceed that of Richard Nixon.  But the country survived eight years of Bush, five and a half years of Nixon, and it will survive four years (possibly less) of Trump. 

It is not the end of the world as we know it, but it’s going to be a rough ride.

However this is painted by the blogosphere and the media, 2016 was not a rout of the Democratic Party.  Democrats gained at least six seats (four remain undecided) in the House of Representatives, and two in the Senate.  And Hillary Clinton, as you may have heard, earned the highest number of votes, despite narrowly losing the Electoral College.

But there are anomalies in the Presidential race which demand further scrutiny.   In 2009, Barack Obama rammed an auto-industry bailout package through Congress which saved Michigan’s economy – not just for the Big Three automakers but for the vendors who serve them, everything from auto parts to food for their cafeterias to toilet paper.  If blue collar Michiganders indeed voted for Trump it would be the most striking example of political ingratitude since voters sat home and allowed Republicans to take over Congress in 1946.  But given the Putin government’s repeated attempts to hack into our nation’s computers – both public and private – and the obvious collusion between the Russians and Wikileaks, a sudden spasm of ingratitude from Michiganders seems less likely.  Will our government investigate this, and if merited call the Russians out on their behavior? Unlikely.  That would jeopardize world stability – which Putin knows we are loathe to do.    

The 1946 reference above is hardly random.  Americans, after enduring the Great Depression and World War II, were enjoying a strong economy, plentiful jobs, the reuniting of loved ones, and the beginning of families – a normalcy not seen since the 1920s.  The demand for new housing was such that there was a shortage as suburban development proceeded at a breakneck pace.  But the American people have a short memory – relatively minor issues like inflation were irritants and a series of strikes caused a backlash among conservative voters who began to fear a middle-class that had it “too easy” and was becoming too “uppity”.    As for the middle class, many were too busy enjoying the “easy life” which, for them, meant a regular job, food on the table, a decent home, a car – along with saving a little for the future.  President Truman’s program, called the Fair Deal, was intended to build on the gains made under the New Deal.  But Truman’s actions on their behalf were not enough to drive middle class voters to defend their gains, leading to the low turnout elections of 1946. 

Does any of the above sound familiar?  In 2008, the economy was in tailspin.  Only quick action by Presidents Bush (in a rare moment of poise and competence) and Obama prevented a second Great Depression.  In 2008 the United States was mired in two wars: Afghanistan and the misbegotten war in Iraq.  Obama began to immediately move upon taking office on getting the economy moving again, reducing unemployment, pulling our troops out of harm’s way, and locating and killing Osama Bin Laden.  He also began work on reforming Health Care, a task which has confronted Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.  The Affordable Care Act, while far from perfect, has resulted in 20 million Americans obtaining Health Insurance.  But the lobbyists for Health Care Insurers, along with the NRA, are two formidable forces in American politics, and they – along with Dick Armey’s AstroTurf Tea Party – were able to collectively throw the House and Senate to the Republicans – along with enough Governorships to Gerrymander House districts. 

After the 1946 elections, Harry Truman was worse than a lame duck – politically he was considered a dead duck and was widely expected not to seek reelection.  But persevered through 1946’s election losses and gained reelection in 1948 by focusing on issues that mattered to ordinary Americans and by ceaselessly pointing out how the “good for nothing” 80th Congress was working against their interests.  In the process, he also helped return the Democrats to majorities in the House and Senate.

Today’s Democrats, too, will recover from the 2016 election and regain the White House - if they learn Truman’s lesson.  The Democrats must return to their roots as a people’s party, which means, at a minimum, that there must be a house cleaning in which corporate types like Debbie Wasserman Schultz no longer have influence beyond her own Congressional District.  Further, the party should pursue Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy which was the blueprint for President Obama’s victory in 2008.  Big money donations, as this year has shown, are not enough to win election.  Neither are strategic firewalls.  In every district of every state, Democrats should declare rhetorical war on the 115th Congress, which stands poised to become the most anti-people Congress since the 80th.   Democracy is like a rubber band: whenever a politician or party pulls too far to one side – as the Republicans are now likely to do – the people snap it back.  Finally, Democrats must seek and nominate someone who will motivate supporters – no matter that person’s gender, ethnicity, or religion.  As much as I like Hillary Clinton, she was not someone who inspired the deepest level of motivation or loyalty among ordinary Americans – particularly independents.  She has served her country well since the 1970s, but it’s now time for her to retire.   The same is true for Ohio Democrats.  The Governor's race is in 2018.  It's time to move past relics like Ted Strickland and find a younger candidate with solid credentials who will appeal to voters.  

We have work to do.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016 Election Fallout

Those who voted for Trump, those who voted for useless 3rd party candidates, and those who sat home will deserve exactly what they get. The rest of us will be victims of their folly.

Americans are going to be in for a painful awakening. Just as with B
rexit in the UK, when the American people grasp the implications of what they have wrought there are going to be clamors for a do-over. But there are no do-overs in the US. We're going to be stuck with The Donald, and his equally odious running mate, for the next four years.

My father was born and raised in Michigan. And though he was a lifelong Republican, two weeks before he died he told me he would never vote for Donald Trump if he was the GOP nominee.
It was President Obama's auto-bailout package, passed by a Democratic Congress, that saved America's Big Three auto manufacturers and not just their jobs, but those of their vendors as well.
As the son of a Michigander, I say that there is a special place in Hell for Michigan auto industry workers who voted for Donald Trump.
I would end this by saying "Go Buckeyes", but Ohio sucks pretty badly too.

I haven't felt so ashamed to be an Ohioan since 2004, when the anti-marriage equality amendment was passed.

Ohio was once known as an abolitionist state that sent a huge portion of its men into battle to preserve the Union, which was the stomping ground for two young brothers who dared to fly, which proudly elected John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum to the Senate.

But that Ohio is dead. Cleveland and Columbus are the last holdouts.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wang and Hrůša at Severance

The Cleveland Orchestra performed a varied program with guest conductor Jakub Hrůša and pianist Yuja Wang this weekend. 

The concert began with Bohuslav Martinů’s Parables, a triptych with which I was unfamiliar. The programmatic work was presented with a mix of orchestral color and a picturesque quality that befitted the 1958 piece. One would never guess the Orchestra was presenting the work for the first time given the technical finish and ease with this they performed the piece.  

After a brief break during which the stage extension with the Hamburg Steinway piano and supplementary percussion was raised, Yuja Wang strode on stage to begin the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 1. I am only passingly familiar with this, the least popular of Bartók’s three piano concertos. While I cannot provide a detailed analysis, I can relate that Wang’s interpretation and delivery were more convincing than Vladimir Ashkenazy’s recording. For one thing, Wang was able to play with an appropriately percussive sound without lapsing into an unpleasant and unmusical sonority. It’s rare when a work such as this brings the audience to its feet, but Wang and the orchestra pulled it off. The audience, from which nary a cough was heard, was rewarded with two encores: Arrangements of Mozart’s Turkish March and Gluck’s Melodie from Orfeo ed Euridice.

Wang has come under criticism in some circles both for her musicianship and the haute couture she wears during her performances. I can report that last night she wore a dazzling yet tasteful black sequined dress. As for the other criticism, I have heard nothing from Wang – either last night or in her recordings – to support the snide remarks made by some critics and on some Internet chat boards. After decades observing and participating in the Classical scene, I can dismiss them as the typical mix of jealousy and pedantry that are part of the cause of the decline in Classical audiences.  (The criticism of Lang Lang, however, is justified owing the musical hash he makes of nearly everything he plays.) 

Wang has appeared in Zsolt Bognár’s interview series, Living the Classical Life, and I am delighted to present the interview below: 

The Brahms Fourth is one of my five “desert island” Symphonies. (The other four, in no particular order, are Mozart’s “Jupiter”, Beethoven’s Seventh, Schubert’s “Great” C major, and Rachmaninoff’s Second.) In terms of musical architecture, Brahms’ E minor Symphony is probably the most perfect work in that genre of the post-Beethoven era. The opening movement’s themes and motifs are developed in a totally organic manner; it is one of the rare symphonic opening movements without an introduction (Brahms composed and discarded one early on). Leonard Bernstein analyzed the many wonders of this movement far better than I could. The finale’s passacaglia is an homage to Bach but delivered in a Brahmsian manner. 

Sadly, Hrůša chose a rather lethargic tempo for the opening Allegro non troppo, and from there gave in to the urge to slow down and brood over individual passages. The second movement, a moderate Andante, was paced appropriately but suffered from limp phrasing and a lack of dynamic contrast. The Scherzo came off best, with the triangle passages a bit more prominently heard than usual – or perhaps it was the acoustics of Severance Hall’s row W, where we sat. The finale, like the opening movement, is best heard in a fairly straight line – it’s essentially a headlong slow-motion descent into Hell. Hrůša started off well, but midway started alternating between the accelerator and the brake so the sense of inevitability was disrupted. In the end, Brahms’ greatest symphony, which reconciles the Classic and Romantic traditions, was gently ruined by Hrůša’s essentially immature conception.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Trump and accusations of rigging

By now, you’ve heard it in the media repeated ad infinitum, ad absurdum: Hillary/the Media/the Democrats are rigging the 2016 election.  It’s a common enough election year mantra.  I remember a conversation with my father, about ten years ago, in which he stated that Truman’s 1948 upset victory over Dewey was rigged.  He went on the say it was accomplished by fraudulent voting in Chicago and Texas - and it was then that I first realized my dad, approaching 80 at the time, was mentally losing it.  It was not the 1948 election, but the 1960 election, conspiracy buffs claim, that was rigged by Richard Daley’s machine in Chicago and Lyndon Johnson in Texas – all greased with money by Joe Kennedy.  These allegations have never been proven.

It’s worth pointing out that, of the billion or so votes cast in the United States since 2000, there have only been 31 proven cases of fraudulent votes – a statistically insignificant number.  Voter suppression, on the other hand, is very real, and likely had a role in George W. Bush’s victory in Florida that year.   While those allegations also remain unproven, there’s far more evidence for tomfoolery in Florida in 2000 than anywhere in 1960.

In fact, it is nearly impossible to rig a national election in the United States, because, simply put, there is no such thing as a national election here.  True, there are Presidential elections – but those are 50 state elections (territories like the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, of course, don’t have a vote in Presidential elections – although they do in party primaries) which happen to have Electors for Presidents on the ballot.  It is certainly possible to rig a state election – and it’s entirely possible that Jeb Bush helped rig Florida for his brother in 2000.  But if Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8, it’s not evidence of rigging – as the electoral boards in all three states are controlled by Republicans.  On the other hand, if those states vote for Trump in the face of polls which indicate a lead for Clinton, further investigation is warranted.

Monday, October 10, 2016

2016 Election Endorsements

Early voting in Ohio begins tomorrow.  No matter which candidates one supports, I encourage all who are eligible to vote to make their voice heard.  Here are our endorsements.  


For President - Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton earned the nomination of the Democratic Party after a grueling primary battle with Bernie Sanders.  The Vermont Senator, who is not a party member but caucuses with the Democrats, has endorsed Clinton and strenuously advocated for her election.  Others have touted Clinton’s lengthy and distinguished resume of public service, dating back to 1970 when she investigated illegal segregation in private schools in the South (for which a number of Southerners have never forgiven her).  Although Clinton’s CV bears repeating – First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator, Secretary of State – it’s also worth remembering that a list of previous employment is not a guarantee of excellence.  George H. W. Bush was probably the most experienced person in history to enter the office of the Presidency, but he was a fair-to-middling President.

Clinton has come under criticism for changing her positions on issues.  But a slavish loyalty to an unwavering position on any issue reminds me of George W. Bush’s conviction of the merits of his Middle East policies, and Herbert Hoover’s unwillingness to take the actions necessary to alleviate the Great Depression.  It’s worth remembering that Hoover labeled Franklin D. Roosevelt a “chameleon on plaid” for changing positions (often 180º) on how to turn the economy around.  Altering positions on issues goes beyond politically expedient flexibility.  Examining Senator Clinton’s evolving viewpoints it becomes obvious that she has evolved in the right direction.  I’d rather have a President who can adapt with the times than one who is stuck in the groove – an apt criticism against Republicans like Hoover and Democrats like Jimmy Carter alike.  We must bluntly face the truth that no matter who is elected President, Republicans will likely control the House of Representatives for the rest of this decade, largely thanks to Gerrymandering by Republican governors and state legislatures.  Democrats will be lucky if they gain control of the Senate, and the next president will likely nominate at least two Supreme Court Justices.  Contrary to those who deride her as “$hillary” and a corporate candidate, Clinton’s record over the past four plus decades shows her consistently fighting for the downtrodden: minorities seeking education in the South, education improvement in Arkansas, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, aid for 9/11 rescue workers.  Like any politician, Clinton has made her share of mistakes.  The worst of these was her vote to authorize use of force in Iraq – a vote which she has acknowledged as a mistake.  The difference between her and Donald Trump can be centered on their response to this issue: Trump also favored the war in Iraq.  But while Clinton has owned up to her mistake, Trump has laughably denied he was ever for the Iraq war, even though there are recordings of him doing endorsing it. 

Trump’s campaign has revealed his own personal history of corruption, tax evasion, attempted bribery of government officials, kowtowing to dictators, racism, religious bigotry, womanizing on a scale that makes Bill Clinton look like a rank amateur, and most disturbingly, allegations of rape of an underage girl.  That his supporters are willing to ignore these very real concerns is a sad commentary on the racism and xenophobia in the hearts of many Americans.  Hillary Clinton has come under attack for her comments that many of Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables”.  But, like Senator Barack Obama’s comment about certain voters “clinging to guns and religion”, it was a hard truth that should not have been walked back. 

Two other nominees have received some attention, as fewer Americans identify with either Democrats or Republicans: Libertarian Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico who has been out of office since 2003; and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, a physician, folk musician, and activist who has never held elected office and garnered .4% of the vote in 2012 and unsuccessfully ran for various offices in Massachusetts five times.  I sympathize with those who want an alternative to the two major parties. But let's take a look at history. The most successful 3rd party candidate in history was Teddy Roosevelt, who ran as part of the Progressive "Bull Moose" party and won 27.4% of the popular vote back in 1912 - coming in a distant second to Woodrow Wilson.  Roosevelt had previously served as President and enjoyed widespread popularity.  If a popular former President like Teddy Roosevelt can't mount a successful 3rd party run, it's delusional for anyone to think that someone who is unknown to much of the public can.  (By the way, the Progressive party’s 1912 platform called for a minimum wage, 8 hour workday, social insurance {i.e., Social Security}, farm relief, and increased rights for labor unions. It took Teddy's distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt - a Democrat - to put those ideas into action in the 1930s.)

Building a credible 3rd party is something that must be done from the ground up. That's one of the lessons of 1912. Also, don't drive a ship at full speed through iceberg infested waters - but I digress. 
Of the alternative candidates, Johnson has received unusually large support owing to Trump’s continued offensive statements and Johnson’s call for decriminalization for marijuana – the latter of which I happen to support. However, he has no experience in either national or foreign affairs, as his bafflement over Aleppo and other foreign policy matters painfully demonstrates.  Although I supported William Weld for governor of Massachusetts in 1990 (his opponent, John Silber, was downright fascistic), his presence on the Libertarian party ticket does not compensate Gary Johnson’s unsuitability for the Presidency.  Jill Stein, the Green party candidate, is a non-starter nominee of a non-starter party and is the kind of candidate who gives leftist politics a bad name. 

Therefore, on the basis of experience, policy positions, and the ability to remain steady in a crisis, we enthusiastically endorse Hillary Clinton for President.   

United States Senator – Ohio: No endorsement

Commentators have tried to paint Senator Rob Portman as a moderate Republican on account of his support for same sex marriage.  In fact, Portman only supported marriage equality after his own son came out as gay.  Otherwise, Portman’s record is undistinguishable from the most conservative Republicans.  His refusal to allow President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee - Merrick Garland - to even be voted upon, along with his continued opposition to background checks for gun purchasers demonstrate that he is unworthy to continue serving as Ohio’s Senator.

His opponent, Ted Strickland, is hardly any worthier.  For months, he was unable to come up with a credible explanation for his weak performance as Ohio’s governor – when the answer was right in front of him – the state was in the midst of an international economic crash.  He’s a “Johnny come lately” to sensible gun control.  As I predicted when I posted my primary endorsements, Democrats have selected the establishment’s weak candidate rather than the lesser known strong candidate.  It’s my hope that P. G. Sittenfeld, a young and promising public servant, will seek a Senate seat again.  For this cycle, we are not offering an endorsement.

United States Representative, 11th District – Marcia Fudge

Marcia Fudge stepped in at the last moment to chair this year’s Democratic Convention, replacing the controversial Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  That she did so with poise and grace, despite disruptive behavior from those in and out of the party, are testament to how Fudge has become a seasoned parliamentarian in the eight years since she replaced Stephanie Tubbs-Jones after the latter passed away.   Further, Fudge’s policy positions and votes are in concert with the vast majority of her constituents, so she is an accurate representation of her district.  We endorse Fudge’s reelection.


For State House, 8th District:  Kent Smith.  Smith, a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican house, has fought the good fight against Corporate Personhood, in favor of protecting Lake Erie, advancing Clean Energy, and challenging the Kasich Administrations fiscal stranglehold over municipalities.  Smith deserves to be reelected.

South Euclid

Issue 101, Property Tax Safety Levy: I supported issue 65, the initial safety levy, in 2013, and we support its replacement and increase.  South Euclid safety forces have done an excellent job in protecting our community from both fires and crime – with none of the embarrassing behavior that has marred Cleveland’s Safety Forces.  As overall tax revenues are still suffering from the real estate crash and the Great Recession, continuing and increasing the levy (which will only cost another $7.25 per month for every $100,000 of property value) is a no-brainer.

Issue 102, Corporate Personhood: The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen United case has led to the increasing monetization and commercialization of politics.  Case in point: a reality TV star is the Republican nominee.  Issue 102 is mainly symbolic, but it puts the citizens of South Euclid on record as opposing Corporate Personhood – and we support its passage.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Beethoven and Respighi at Severance

Saturday night’s concert with the Cleveland Orchestra led by Franz Welser-Möst offered an unusual program that will linger in the mind’s ear for a long  time to come.

Saturday night’s concert was preceded by a brief tribute to recently retired principle viola Robert Vernon, who offered his modest, soft spoken thanks.

The concert began with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F major, the shortest – and arguably, lightest – of his nine symphonies. Welser-Möst’s approach was a model of interpretative rectitude.  The performance was a model of structural clarity, well-gauged tempos, sensible phrasing, and the balance between sections one expects from the Clevelanders. 

I was a bit surprised that the Beethoven was immediately followed by the intermission.  This meant that all three works in Respighi’s Roman triptych (Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, and Roman Festivals) were played back to back, adding to a second half that lasted well over an hour.  But far from being overlong, time flew during the second half of the program.

Respighi pulled out all the stops in his orchestration of these works – particularly Festivals which included organ and off-stage brass.  Since the dawn of stereo recording, Respighi’s Roman poems have often been used as “hi-fi” spectaculars.  Some recordings, notably Maazel’s recordings of Festivals and Pines with the Cleveland Orchestra, have succeeded better than most.   But hearing the works in concert brought to light the limitations of even the finest recordings: none can match the huge dynamic range of the orchestra – from the gossamer pianissimo string arpeggios at the beginning of Fountains (a passage which James Horner adapted in his score for Star Trek III) to the nearly deafening final pages of Festivals and Pines.  Even the finest playback equipment is subject to distortion in the louder sections.  But while Welser-Möst pushed the orchestra to the limits at the end of Festivals, the sound remained pure and balanced – every strand of orchestration was heard in proper proportion.  Throughout the triptych, Welser-Möst’s tempos were well judged – they were not merely suited for each individual portrait, but also within the context of the whole work - and his use of rubato was unerring.  Welser-Möst was particularly masterful in the coda of Festivals, where there is a tricky accelerando that most conductors are unable to convincingly execute.

Welser-Möst has been Cleveland’s musical director for nearly a decade and a half now.  If anyone had told me in 2002 that Welser-Möst would lead the orchestra in thrilling performances of Respighi’s most famous works, I wouldn’t have believed it.  His predecessor, Christoph von Dohnányi, would have turned his kapellmeister’s nose up at such stuff.  For those who have deigned to conduct the Respighi, the temptation has been to rattle through them as showpieces and nothing more.  Welser-Möst demonstrated that there was more to this music than mere bluster, while sacrificing nothing in visceral excitement.  For that, he deserves the audience’s thanks – and I believe Respighi, who conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1920s, would have been appreciative as well.    

Friday, October 7, 2016

My review of Murray Perahia's new Deutsche Grammophon recording

Murray Perahia has jumped the Sony ship and is now recording exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon.  The first project is dedicated to J. S. Bach's French Suites.  Lovely performance and recording.  Click here to read my review.   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

My review of Emil Gilels' complete RCA & Columbia recordings

Sony has reissued their complete RCA and Columbia recordings of Emil Gilels.  This collection is a must for pianophiles.  Click here to read my review. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trump and the End Times

Why are so many evangelical Christians supporting the twice divorced, thrice married Donald Trump, despite a history of womanizing that makes Bill Clinton look like a rank amateur in comparison?  Why are so many evangelical Christians supporting Trump, despite his glorification of his own greed in a manner that runs counter to what Jesus preached?

It’s quite simple.  Many evangelicals believe we are living in the End Times.  They also believe that, at the advent of the Apocalypse, they will magically rise to heaven in their physical form – while the rest of us heathens are left on Earth to endure the terror.  (Personally, I believe if all religious extremists of every faith were to disappear, the world would probably become a quieter, more tranquil place, and a new era of human progress would unfold.)   The fixation of evangelicals on the Apocalypse leads to the conclusion that if an evangelical was elected President, he or she could well bring about a real End Times scenario  - the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I don’t believe for a New York minute that Trump himself is either an evangelical or even particularly religious.  But he’s the candidate who’s doing their bidding, and they may even believe that they have some form of control over him.  This is a delusion.  Nobody, but nobody, controls Donald Trump.  He’s the little boy who does what he wants, never faces reprimand when he hurts someone else, and has never faced consequences.  Not from his parents, not from his wives, not from betrayed vendors, and not from the law other than the minor financial slap on the wrist.  In other words, Trump is a walking Id who knows nothing of boundaries.

Trump’s bombastic statements, which have already ratcheted up religious tensions in the United States, would lead to even more danger – worldwide - if he was actually elected President. That may be what religious extremists, craving for the Apocalypse want.  That’s not what sensible people the world over desire.   

Sunday, September 11, 2016

34, 11/22, 9/11

One day when my father was 34 years old, he left work early to surprise my mother on their seventh wedding anniversary.  On his way home, he stopped at a florist and purchased a dozen roses.  After leaving the florist, he switched on the radio of his 1963 Ford Galaxie and shortly thereafter heard a news flash from Dallas announcing that President Kennedy had been shot and seriously wounded.  He hit the gas pedal and raced home.  My mother greeted my father with a tearful embrace as Walter Cronkite announced that the President had died.  My parents and my sisters sat in front of the television for much of that weekend – never leaving the house.  The flowers my father bought had been left in the passenger seat – where they withered and died over the course of the weekend.  The date was November 22, 1963 - a day my parents would never forget.     

One morning when I was 34 years old, I left my home to head for work.  I switched on the radio of my 1997 Saturn SL2 and heard an ongoing news report that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  As my car merged into traffic on I-480, I heard that another plane had struck the other tower.  As I arrived from work, I raced past my coworkers, shouting the news to them as I headed to my office and switched on the TV.  My colleagues gathered in front of the TV as updates came in: multiple hijackings; a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon; the FAA suspended all takeoffs; the South Tower collapsed; a fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania; then the North Tower fell.  Driving past Hopkins airport that night, the usual line of planes approaching to land was gone, replaced with eerie stillness.  The date was September 11, 2001 - a day my friends and I would never forget.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Mother's Final Gift

23 years ago today, my mother died.  Truly the pain of losing a loved one never really goes away.  But one adjusts to it – it’s either that or a life spent in sadness.  There have been many times, particularly in the last decade, when I’ve wished I could tell my mother how happy I finally am - with my career, my place in society, and especially my husband.  But if all wishes were granted we’d have nothing to strive for, and as C. S. Lewis wrote, “The pain now is part of the happiness then; that’s the deal”.

I was at a difficult point of my life in August of 1993: broke, unemployed, unsure of where I wanted to live, a relationship recently fizzled out – one of many up to that point.  After eight years living and struggling in Haverhill, Massachusetts, I opted to move to Florida with my sister Sarah and her family – with hopes of a brighter future.

But my troubles were nothing compared to my mother’s, someone to whom life was cruel.   After 23 years with a husband she didn’t understand, and who was unable to understand her, my mother found herself abandoned for a younger, more compatible woman.  She tried to pick herself up, tried to hold down a job – but a combination of mild Cerebral Palsy and increasing  mental illness impaired her ability to do so.  During her final years, she was intermittently hospitalized, homeless, and hopeless.  Her decline over those years was chronicled in a series of letters she wrote to me – each less coherent than the last.  In her last letter to me, she complained of abdominal pains and intestinal bleeding.  I advised her that she needed to see a doctor immediately.  When she did, she claimed she was being poisoned, and was placed the mental ward.  Her pains were written off as psychosomatic, and in a health care system which put profit above providing care, there was no examination of her physical symptoms – not even a stool sample.  It wasn’t until my mother fell and broke her hip that she was taken to the emergency room and physically examined.  By that point, her belly had distended and the doctor decided to perform exploratory surgery.  The results were heartbreaking: her small intestine and part of her stomach were gangrenous and beyond repair – a result of vascular disease caused by a lifetime of smoking.

On the evening of August 15th, my sister Sarah and I received a phone call from our sister, Pixie, telling us of the results of surgery and advising we needed to get ourselves to Cleveland immediately.  We flew to Cleveland the next morning – the first time I’d been in Cleveland in over five years.  My mother was in the intensive care unit – but she really wasn’t there.  She was on morphine with a Demerol drip due to the pain in her intestines.  Despite her belly’s distension, she weighed only 88 pounds.  I held her hand and whispered into her ear – but her hand was unresponsive and her eyes, despite being partially opened, showed no signs of life. 

Shortly afterward, my grandmother arrived with my uncle, who she had been visiting in Atlanta.  While my uncle spent time with my mother – his older sister – he and the rest of us advised  my grandmother not to go into the ICU.  At 84, we felt it best for my grandmother to be spared the shock of seeing her daughter’s condition.   As evening approached, it was mutually decided that my sisters would stay with my mother to the end, and I would accompany my uncle and grandmother to her house.  I don’t recall the rest of that evening, except that my emotions were torn between grieving my mother’s imminent death and a sense of relief that her pain would soon be at an end. 

I am not a believer in the supernatural, but as I lay fitfully sleeping on the sofa bed in my grandmother’s family room, I had a vivid dream of her seeming to ascend heavenward, while waving goodbye, broadly smiling.  She looked very much as she did in the photo below, which I took in 1977.  As she disappeared from sight, I was jolted awake by the telephone ringing, with the news my mother had died at 2:30am.  My grandmother and I sat on the sofa in the living room, quietly talking through the night – waiting for my sisters to come home.  She held herself together like the trooper she was, and it was only after my sisters arrived that she broke down in sobs – the likes of which I’d never heard from her. 

Over the next few days, funeral plans were made, the service took place (led by a pastor who didn't know my mother from Eve), and my mother was buried under the shade of a tree at Lake View Cemetery.  

But it was what happened 24 hours earlier that reminded me of my mother’s ceaseless, undying love, which endures to this day.  As related to me, while my mother lay in intensive care, her vital signs crashed, her heartbeat flatlined – my mother died.  My eldest sister Pixie, who had been with my mother in her final days and sat vigil over my mother while Sarah and I prepared to fly to Cleveland, began weeping, telling my mother that we were on our way to see her – and begged her to hold on for a while longer.

And my mother’s heart began faintly beating again, her vitals stabilized.   It would have been easier for my mother to die at that point, but whatever conscious thought that remained with my mother in those moments ordered her heart to start again, willed herself to go on.  It was my mother’s last gift – which allowed me to be able to hold her hand, tell her how much she meant to me, and that it was alright for her to let go.    

Just over a year later, in September, 1994, I returned to Cleveland, to take care of my grandmother in her advancing years.  At one time, our whole family was here.  Now, it was just my grandmother and me.  I’ve often written that I’ve never regretted my decision to return to Cleveland after nine years of living elsewhere – and I’ve extolled all our area has to offer.  But, with my grandmother now gone, I’m the last of our family still here.  So, in addition to the many reasons I stay, there is another, hitherto unmentioned reason: my mother’s remains are here.  She is the only family member buried in Cleveland.  And, when my time comes, half of my ashes will be placed on top of her grave (the other half will be buried with my husband, when our time has come), and I will be able to, symbolically at least, keep her company.  I owe it to my mother, who gave me life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A few days in Toronto

I can’t help wondering how many Americans have visited Toronto.  For those in Northeast Ohio, it’s a mere five hours drive – give or take traffic. But it’s like a different world.

Toronto is a lovely city, well planned and executed, with a nice, balanced energy.  In a way, it’s a larger version of the city that Cleveland could be - if city, county, and state leaders would work together and execute long term plans to properly develop the lakefront, downtown, and revive the neighborhoods.  Wouldn’t it be great if Cleveland had a lakeside landmark like Toronto’s CN Tower?  To do that, Cleveland would have to close Burke Lakefront Airport– Hopkins could easily accommodate Burke’s traffic.  Closing Burke would free up a massive slice of lakefront property that could be developed into Condos/Apartments, Retail, and other beachfront amenities.  But, enough about Cleveland for now.  

Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower

Toronto is very clean, well maintained, and boasts excellent public transport.  We did not avail ourselves of any of the public transport options, but used the PATH – an ingenious network of underground and elevated walkways – for getting around during hotter periods.  But we did get outside enough to see the variety of architecture – from preserved old homes and other buildings, to new skyscrapers – a good many still under construction.

A Toronto Streetcar - built in Cleveland

The Royal Ontario Museum is sort of a mix of the Cleveland Art Museum and Natural History Museum.  The collection of dinosaur skeletons there is the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  There’s also an excellent section on the First People of Canada.  The only issue I had with the ROM is that there wasn’t a clear flow from room to room.  Further, the ROM consists of two interconnecting buildings which makes navigation confusing – even with a map.  We also visited the Bata Shoe Museum – a specialist place that appealed to Daniel more than I.

Outside of London, Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever seen, with particularly large numbers of Asians.  The diversity extends to religions, and we in the United States could learn a few things from our northern neighbors.  In a previous post I pointed out that Muslims can be found in every corner of the world.  Toronto is a case in point.  I saw Muslim men and women in every area of the city I visited, from Eaton Centre mall to Church & Wellesley.  Muslims are an integral part of the social fabric of Toronto, yet I saw no sign of social tension as one would see in the United States.

Despite the effects both the mainstreaming of LGBT people and the Internet/App culture have had on gay neighborhoods, Toronto has a vibrant LGBT scene, with the Church-Wellesley area being the most notable gayborhood.  There is a generous selection of gay clubs and bars there, catering to every taste.  We were particularly fond of Woody’s (famous from Queer as Folk), and the Statler.  Daniel & I were moved to see a memorial to those slain in Orlando earlier this month, as well as the names and ages of every victim stenciled on the ground.   We have never felt safer as a gay couple than our days in Toronto, not even in Provincetown or in the Soho neighborhood of London.  We were able to walk through most of the city holding hands, with no one batting an eye – and we were far from the only same sex couple doing so.  Even at Eaton Centre, Toronto’s largest mall, there were teenaged same sex couples, holding hands, embracing, and looking at each other the way only people in love do – what a difference from when I was their age!  Canada is therefore far ahead of the United States in social tolerance and public safety.  Of course, when you’re in a country where guns are sensibly regulated, safety is a reality, not just a feeling. 

Church & Wellesley

As we were only there for a few days, Daniel & I did not have time to take a “deep dive” into the culinary scene.  Highlights were the ChurchMouse, and Smiths (both on Church street), and Elephant & Castle, on Yonge Street.  Smiths had the most perfectly balanced salads imaginable.  While ChurchMouse and Elephant & Castle were traditional British pubs - with the latter also being sports oriented.  We were there enjoying a late dinner during game 7 of the NBA Finals – and happy to learn most of the crowd was pro-Cleveland, judging by the reactions.

On the flip side, there were a large number of homeless people, on practically every block we walked on - more than I’ve seen in any American city or in London.  This was a surprise, given Canada’s strong reputation for social welfare.

Daniel and I stayed at the Chelsea Eaton, which proved to be both convenient and well appointed.  We can recommend it for anyone looking for a comfortable place to set their heads down at night – with the added bonus of an excellent fitness centre, several restaurants, and central location.