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.