Friday, January 30, 2009

I Am Sick and Tired of Your Gabler Bashing

While I am really really tempted to go off on the notion of "Post-Partisan Compromise" as it currently exists, especially in terms of the recent Economic Stimulus package, I am resisting letting this cross all the way over to being a political blog. [I will, however let Glenn Greenwald say a lot of the things I've been thinking on the subject. And I don't promise that I won't revisit this question.]

Instead, I have to weigh in for a moment on the Roundabout Theatre's current production of Hedda Gabler, which has been getting a sound thrashing in the press. These reviews are, on the whole, in my opinion, mean-spirited and wrong. I'm not going to link to any of them, because I don't think they're worth the attention. And while I do have some problems with the production, a couple of them rather serious, the 'update' by Christopher Shinn was clear and streamlined, the concept and production directed by Ian Rickson was powerful and passionate, and that Mary-Louise Parker, who took some heat for missing how Hedda is 'meant to be played' (really? Is that how we think of that play and character? That there's a 'way to do it'? If you said that about Hamlet, you'd be laughed out of the room, or you should be.) in fact brought heat to the role, but not the obvious kind; rather the smoldering, under-the-surface-but-NEEDING-to-get-out kind. Not only that, but what she was doing was clear as mountain water. Loved it.

Open your minds, people. And I hope no one ever treats you the way the critics are treating this show.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are You Kidding Me?

Because I just read this, about a California court ruling that a school can expel students for being lesbians (or rather, get this, for having "a bond of intimacy" that is "characteristic of a lesbian relationship") and it's all just peachy.  I can't even deal with it.  It's wrong on so many levels.  

California: when did you become the poster child for intolerance?  Do you guys sit up at night thinking of ways to ruin people's lives?  Innocent, underage Lutheran School students?  Just for kicks?

What's in a name?

So now that's she's Secretary of State, I guess we're back to Hillary Rodham Clinton. I could be wrong, but wasn't it usually just "Hillary Clinton" when she was running for President?

Speaking of the Presidential middle names, looks like we'll be hearing more of Obama's middle name too. As implied in the article linked above, it would seem to be an asset in talks with Middle Eastern Nations. Which talks, it is widely acknowledged, are poised to be more positive and productive than they've been in 30+ years. This is for a variety of reasons, including economic factors, but even James Earl Carter, Jr. (you know, Jimmy) said on the Daily Show the other night that the President's name will turn out to be helpful in negotiating a settlement in Israel (which by the way, he thinks is more doable now than ever. Wouldn't it be great if he were right?)

Of course, Obama's name has fueled and will continue to fuel ire among the terrormongers (I have to work hard to restrain myself from calling them 'terrorists') who make such splendid arguments as "moving detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the American Mainland will create a target in every city they're placed!" and "I, for one, don't want these men anywhere near MY town!!" As if they'd be hanging out at the Piggly Wiggly, not, um, behind bars in maximum security.

That's my move in the Name Game for today.

Well, ok, I'll also ask: how might things be different for Blagojevich if his name were Smith? Cohen? D'Angelo? Kennedy?

Monday, January 26, 2009

For Whom the Neocon Bell Tolls

Turns out that yesterday's Times saw William Kristol's last column.

Now, lest we get involved in any grave-dancing for the end of at least one phase of this Project for a New American Century disastermonger's career (that site is really worth spending some time examining, by the way, if you don't mind letting your blood boil for a while, especially as you see how the right wing exploited 9/11 utterly without shame or scruple to advance its economic and military goals. At least take a look at the Statement of Principles, written in 1997, and some of the people who signed off on it. To be fair, I should mention that Kristol's name is not among them.), let me say that I don't think that every single syllable uttered or written by Kristol is complete and unalloyed crap. Nope. I sure don't. Once in a while, he even makes some sense. Once in a while.

But what I'm really wondering is: what's the story here? What precipitated his leaving what had to be his most visible platform? (other than maybe those occasional appearances on TV)
Update: Here's what the Times itself has to say on the subject.

Boston Trip

Just a quick (and somewhat outdated) entry documenting the trip Lola and I made to Boston a couple weekends ago. Actually, I didn't even make it to Boston Proper, as my Sunday plans got squashed by a big-ish snow storm that happened up there.

The main event of the weekend was a late birthday celebration for Steve. His birthday (kind of a big round one) was last month, but it got a little lost in the Holidays, so Sue decided to take advantage of the fact that I was going up there (I didn't get a trip up there over in December, for the first time in a long time) to throw a Better-Late-Than-Never Bash for the birthday boy. They also kept up their holiday decorations a little later than usual to keep the festive spirit going.

Most of the shots I took ended up really blurry, but I think a couple of them are plenty bitchin anyway.

Like that one - the fact that it's out of focus can't change the fact that Steve is semi-hiding behind a Chococat Pillow. (No, I don't know what a Chococat is, but there you have it.)

And then there's the Cresch that they left up until after I'd visited. Yes, that is a stuffed Max (of Grinch fame) with antler tied to his head off to the left there, and yes, I do believe that those are spent glow sticks nestled behind baby Jesus.

Finally, here's a shot that's actually in focus. Sue was in the act of digging out from the snowfall (as we all were at that point). Took this one right before I hit the road to come home. I actually really like it. Sue may not have been in the mood to be photographed (she is seldom in the mood to be photographed) but she can't help looking great even when she's dusting snow off her car.

Happy Year of the Ox

That's right, it's Chinese New Year, a.k.a. Asian New Year, a.k.a. Lunar New Year. No matter how you slice it, it starts today. And if the Chinese Zodiac is to be believed, it's the Year of the Ox.

So, I don't know, have a hamburger, or swear off hamburgers, or something.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

And while I'm on it

This photo essay from the good people at covering the Inauguration and the people watching it worldwide is worth taking a look at in its entirety.

Guys at a hookah cafe in Baghdad watching coverage of Obama.

Oh, and by the way...

There's a new President of the United States of America!

We don't have to mention a certain oath-flubbing justice.

We don't have to dwell on a certain annoyance of a minister.

We don't have to make too many Mr. Potter jokes about a certain wheelchair-bound former high-ranking official (love that 'former'), or keep searching for metaphors about leaving behind a crippled nation.

We don't have to ask "Have we heard enough of that song at last?"

We don't have to wonder where I was yesterday when the rest of the country was blogging about this.

But we can look at this shot (click on it to get a larger view) and wonder if people might be ready to get together and do some work.

I hear some good things about this 'hope' idea...

Slight Return... one of the themes in my Something Bad entry of a few days ago. (Bonus Smartypants Points, by the way, if you know to what I was referring in the title and first line of that post)

A source familiar with the Times' editorial decisions informs us that the article about the Supreme Court decision regarding the Exclusionary Rule written by Adam Liptak is considered by the Times to be an update of the story written by David Stout - i.e. a later version of the same story - so it replaced the earlier one rather than appearing in addition to it. Since to the best of my knowledge the Stout story never appeared in the print edition of the Times, it is now lost in the folds of the internets.

One might say 'good riddance to bad garbage;' one might surmise as to the thinking behind that unusually sweeping editorial choice, or the immediate feedback that led to it; one might marvel at something being removed from the record in our so-called 'Newspaper of Record.' But there it is: just one of the innumerable quirky publishing details that happen every day, perhaps remarkable only in that it was noticed by a handful of alert citizens.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fun with Art and Music

Now this is good news, and I think you'll like it if you read it.

Totally fun to think of Charles Schulz finding the perfect piece of music for Schroeder to be playing, whistling, thinking about, and drawing it into the comic, line by line and dot by dot.

The Lonesome Death of...

William Zantzinger. Who served six months and paid a $500 fine for killing a black maid who didn't serve him a drink fast enough. In Maryland, in 1963, that was a different kind of possible.

Even today, if you poke around the news reports of his life and death, you'll find different tones depending on where you look.

This can't count as "good" news, because that would be morbid and wrong. And of course it turned out that the details of the case were not as cut and dried as the way Dylan painted them.

Still, one line keeps coming back to me:

She never done nothin' to William Zanzinger

I always found it interesting that Dylan took the 't' out of his name for the song, calling him 'Zanzinger.' Some kind of very subtle nod to the notion that the song's power comes from the Truth of the story itself, not its factual basis?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Something Bad Is Happening

Something very Bad is happening.

Maybe there is something lunar going on. Just too much is too weird for this all to be ok.

The Zipper Factory Theater closed suddenly, and without warning. Such a good space with good adventurous shows. Very sad.

For Round Two: the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a dirty blow to due process, by cutting off the Exclusionary Rule, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, at the knees. An odd addendum here is that the first article I saw on this in the Times was by David Stout and had a very glib tone - making it seem that this ruling was a-ok if you prefer not to see the bad guys get off on technicalities. But then on Thursday the Times had this article, by Adam Liptak, which is much better and more circumspect, and looks into the ramifications more. And - this is the weird part - that first article is now nowhere to be found. I'll print it at the bottom of this entry, because I think it's important to acknowledge these sorts of media events, especially in publications as influential as the Times. Not to be all conspiracy theory about it, but - what do you suppose is going on there?

No matter how you slice it, the ruling is bad news. And the fact that it's not being treated as BIG news is a little scary.

Next, we have the Metropolitan Opera facing huge cuts. Check out some of the specifics there: their endowment has dropped by a third, to the tune of $100 million dollars. That's 100 million dollars less than they had a couple years ago. This kind of detail is what causes me to go nuts at the notion of it being some big 'victory' when NEA funding increases by 20 or 50 million bucks. It's just not to scale with the problems, and shows that the arts are literally devalued. Or, if you prefer, undervalued. In any case, it seems to me that our policy-makers are missing the point in a fundamental, not incremental, way.

It's an old and well-worn point, but by way of comparison, bear in mind that NEA budget was $144.4 million in 2008 (and the Bush administration even tried to cut that); and the budget for U.S. Military Bands was $168 million - in 1997. They stopped releasing those numbers (as people started noticing things like this?), but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they haven't gone down.

And then - why should those things be enough? - a plane crashes in the Hudson River.

What the heck is going on, people?

But there was a seriously sunny side in the fact that no one died or was even too badly hurt in that crash. SO - soon I'll be posting an entry with some things that feel more like good news.

Meanwhile, here's that first article I saw about Wednesday's Supreme Court Ruling, which appears to have been pulled by the Times.


Published: January 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of an Alabama man on drug and weapons charges, emphasizing that the exclusionary rule, which generally bars prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police through improper searches, is far from absolute.

In a 5-to-4 opinion, the court upheld the federal conviction of Bennie Dean Herring, who from the court records appears to have been very unlucky as well as felonious in his conduct. In upholding the conviction, the court’s majority came to a conclusion that will most likely please those who complain about criminals going free on “technicalities” and alarm those who fear that the high court is looking for ways to narrow the reach of the exclusionary rule.

Mr. Herring had gone to the Coffee County, Ala., sheriff’s department on July 7, 2004, to retrieve something from his truck, which had been impounded. “Herring was no stranger to law enforcement,” as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. observed dryly in his opinion for the court.

And he was no stranger to Mark Anderson, an investigator for the sheriff’s department, who asked a Coffee County clerk if there were any outstanding warrants for Mr. Herring.

No, Mr. Anderson was told. So he asked the clerk to check with her counterpart in neighboring Dale County, who turned up a warrant against Mr. Herring for failing to appear in court on a felony charge.

Mr. Anderson and a deputy following Mr. Herring as he left the impound lot pulled him over and arrested him. A search turned up methamphetamine in his pocket and a pistol, which Mr. Herring could not legally possess because of an earlier felony conviction, in his truck.

Within minutes, however, the Dale County clerk discovered that the warrant against Mr. Herring had been withdrawn five months earlier and had been left in the computer system by mistake. The clerk immediately called Mr. Anderson, but Mr. Herring had already been taken into custody.

Was Mr. Herring entitled to go free because the officers lacked probable cause and there was no dispute that both the arrest and subsequent search were unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment? No, the Supreme Court ruled.

“When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

“We do not suggest that all recordkeeping errors by the police are immune from the exclusionary rule,” the majority noted. But the justices said the official errors in the Herring case do not compare with the kind of egregious and deliberate police misconduct that gave rise to the exclusionary rule in the first place.

Deciding when to throw out evidence under the exclusionary rule is a balancing act, the majority said. Is the official misconduct serious enough that the evidence should be disallowed to deter future misconduct, even if criminals sometimes go free?

Not in Mr. Herring’s case, the majority ruled, upholding findings by a federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. “In my view, the court’s opinion underestimates the need for a forceful exclusionary rule and the gravity of recordkeeping errors in the law enforcement,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

But in the majority opinion, the chief justice wrote that the exclusionary rule “is not an individual right and applies only where its deterrent effect outweighs the substantial cost of letting guilty
and possibly dangerous defendants go free.”

At another point, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “the very phrase ‘probable cause’ confirms that the Fourth Amendment does not demand all possible precision.”

The dissenters were unpersuaded, however. “Negligent recordkeeping errors by law enforcement threaten individual liberty, are susceptible to deterrence by the exclusionary rule, and cannot be remedied effectively through other means,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Great Annual Post-Holiday Funfest Extravaganza

That's the title I gave to my party this year, which happened on Saturday. And, if I may say so myself, it almost lived up to the name.

A few days of prep, and we were ready to go. Mad props to Sherin and especially Cory for all the help - cooking, cleaning, shopping, setting up, decorating and hanging snowflakes. Sometimes, it's hard work having fun. We got a whole bunch of last-minute help from Aaron, Shannon and Jacquie too - getting ice, building bruschetta, setting out crackers & cheese, setting up the bar, all kinds of final-moments-before-the-throng-arrives details. AND - many thanks to Susan for bringing a huge batch of cupcakes in honor of Daniel's Birthday, which had been a couple days prior. Happy Birthday Daniel!

This year's menu, in part:

  • Sweet Potato Soup
  • Recession Stew with black beans, black-eyed peas, and mystery ingredients
  • Bruschetta with goat cheese and olive tapenade
  • Cheese platter featuring Tallegio and Danish bleu cheeses
  • Chicken and Fennel Stew
  • Portabella Mushroom Risotto
  • Saffron Shrimp Risotto
  • Peanut Blossom Cookies
  • Chocolate Chip Date Cake
  • Fudge
  • Peanut Brittle
  • and... Susan's Cupcakes
That's most of it. Vegetarians, Fishitarians and Carnivores were taken care of. Yum!

There was a healthy debate as to whether or not the Peanut Blossoms looked like boobs. Every party should have at least one conversation like this.

The bar was pretty well stocked with booze and mixers, and people brought beer and wine to fill it out. Conviviality flourished, and as usual it was a gathering that brought together loyal longterm friends and some of my newest friends and colleagues. About 30 people turned up in all; only a few were scared off by the nasty weather (which turned out to be milder than the histrionic meteorologists warned us it would be). This year's snowflake theme was Impressions of Obama (what the hell, it's an unprecedented Inauguration we're going to have next week), and I think that there may have been more snowflakes created this year than ever. The Argentinians really got into it!

No pictures yet. I was so psyched to shoot at this party, but when the time came I didn't want to do anything that felt like work. But other people took a bunch, I think, so I should be able to post some shots before long.

Special shoutout to Cory for the Iranian saffron (I think it's from Iran; I know she bought it in Istanbul though), which was featured in some of those dishes. She brought me some of those tiny but potent threads from her trip to Turkey. SOoooooo good! AND - we stayed up late late late to clean up afterwards, so no giganto mess the next day.

Which meant we got to play a legendary, Titanic game of Scrabble. I scored 311, which is usually enough to win, but not this time. No sir. Miss Cory scored an otherworldly 436. 436, people. That means that even if you took away the bonus points for her two bingos, she'd still have beaten me by 15 points. We used every tile but one. I guess you have to be a Scrabble fan to appreciate this, but let me tell you, it was a pretty cool way to polish off a great weekend.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Secretary of the Arts

Holy crap it's about damn time somebody did this.

Earlier today, Cory sent me an email with a link to a Petition to President-elect Obama, inspired by Quincy Jones, asking him (President Obama) to create the office of United States Secretary of the Arts.

This wouldn't necessarily have to be a Cabinet-level position, (which at any rate might start a political firestorm in the current climate), but the Secretary should have an active role in policy-making, not be a mere ceremonial figure.

As the email mentions, many other nations have some version of a 'Minister of Art and/or Culture' and have had them, in some cases, for centuries. "Well yeah," one might argue, "but these are other countries: places that consider Arts to be a matter of National Pride."

Well, yeah.

And maybe it's tricky for me to be saying this, since I work in the arts, and this can be seen as self-serving. And maybe it is a little self-serving. But I would add that I (and almost all the people I know who work in the arts) have made all kinds of sacrifices for the privilege. And that in addition to my opinion that art is, you know, important, there's tons of evidence that, in the context of education programs and as a part of daily life, artistic endeavor and interest help build the valuable skills of creativity, interpretation, imagination, discipline and critical thinking. AND - lest we fall prey to the argument that "in a time of such severe economic crisis, war and failing healthcare and educational systems, we cannot allow something as frivilous as the Arts to be treated as a truly high priority" - I would propose a fierce and heartfelt response along the lines of: "Smart and ambitious Art programs actually provide economic stimulus, and can amp up discussions in any number of policy areas. Besides, wouldn't you say that creativity, interpretation, imagination, discipline and critical thinking come in handy when constructing, say, a healthcare initiative?

So, in that spirit, I signed the petition with the following comment to President-elect Obama:

As you help America make its long-awaited and much-needed transition to a new era, please remember the importance of the Arts as building blocks of American Culture and Heritage. And remember the lessons of history: that the Arts can also be useful tools for providing employment, improving education and stimulating the economy. A Secretary of the Arts could play a very useful role to that end.

And for what it's worth I, signatory number 15086, encourage you to consider signing it too.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Choral Chameleon

SO, you know that vocal ensemble Choral Chameleon?

What? You don't? How could this have happened??

Alright, you're off the hook. While they'd been in the works for quite a while, they've only had once concert so far: a Holidayish offering at the Broadway Presbyterian Church in December. I know, I know: this is waaaay behind the times, but - the group will be back, and next time you'll get to be one of those lucky people in the know.

Vince Peterson directs a chorus of about 15 voices. While their Vision Statement (not to be confused with their Mission Statement. They make a lot of statements.) claims that they have assembled irrespective of age, they would appear to be a young bunch. This is not a criticism: without sacrificing professionalism or musicianship, they bring a fresh approach to programming, an adventurous spirit and a palpable (and infectious) enthusiasm to their singing.

They performed music inspired by Medieval Plainchant and music adapted from English folksong; Christmas Carols from American Gospel and African vernacular. They sang the relatively obscure (Joan Szymko's Nada te turbe - at any rate, that was unknown to me, and featured a lovely Cello line), and the all too well-known (White Christmas, Winter Wonderland - though that was in a fun new arrangement by Tony Asaro). Their warm voices blended into a hauntingly beautiful reading of Nurit Hirsch's Bashana Haba'ah. And they did not shy away from the very challenging, handling Poulenc's Quatre Motets pour un temps de Noel with intelligence and finesse.

Sure, there were moments of imprecision. Sometimes I would have liked to hear more power (although to be fair, there are only 15 of them). But what a treat to hear a new ensemble with such imaginative programming and ambitious intent. Keep them on your radar.

And maybe next time they won't let that pipe organ at Broadway Presbyterian loom silent behind them...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


One of the things I do before the big party I throw about this time each year is hang up these snowflakes.

They've been accumulating through the years (lots of years) going back to when I was a sophomore in college. And one of the cool things about having a sleeping loft (there are a few cool things) is that it gives you a snowflake's-level perspective.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Beautiful Girl

Just a quick entry to show a shot of that niece of mine in a better, less trigger-happy light.

I think she's gorgeous. I know she doesn't get the photographic attention here that her little sister does, but - take a look at her! The depth of field is kind of messed up, but I like the way this captures her quiet side.

Many thanks are due here to my sister for the new lense which allows me to catch light like this, so: Thanks Lori!!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Happy New Year Again

The theme of this entry is "Great Ways to Spend New Year's Eve."

For the last bunch of years, I have spent New Year's in one part of New England or another. It's a great tradition, and I love it, as I love the people I visit in Boston, Williamstown, and wherever else I end up visiting. However, this year I stayed in New York to say goodbye to '008 and hello to the New Year. And while I missed those friends that I don't get to see often enough, I had a FANTASTIC time here. Enough so that I'll share with you the headlines as a recipe, in case you're looking for a New Year that is true New York, but that could be approximated just about anywhere.

  • We went to see a matinee of Speed the Plow on Broadway (including Norbert Leo Butz in his last-minute fill-in for the thermometric Jeremy Piven) You can't do this everywhere, but I bet there's some kind of live entertainment available wherever you live.
  • Went to Gazala Place for a quick snack afterwards - yum!
  • Cory had to go back to work, including a stint in Times Square shepherding dance fans through the throng to City Center. This is definitely a New York Only kind of thing, but consider: while there is certainly something very fun and maybe even glamorous about it, it was effin cold out, and it's more work dealing with the cops and the crowds than you want to be doing on NYE.
  • While she was doing that, I went shopping for food, booze and movies, then proceeded to prepare dinner.
  • When Cory came in from the cold, I greeted her with a cup of Kentucky Chocolate with peppermint marshmallows. Mmmmmmm...
  • Then we had dinner - a simplified version of Steak Diane, roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, fresh green salad, pomegranate sorbet with chocolate chips. Rather tasty, if I may say so myself.
  • Along with dinner, we had a drink that I thought I didn't like very much, but it turns out I like it very much. Prosecco, in this instance with pureed blackberries. MMMMmmmmmm...
  • After dinner we watched Harold and Maude, which if you haven't seen, you should. There's a reason I give it a shoutout in the "description" part of this blog.
  • Then we watched the Ball Drop Show on New Year's Rockin' Eve and on CNN, including the getting-on-but-still-kicking Dick Clark, and Anderson Cooper with the spirited (dare I say randy?) Kathy Griffin.
  • Midnight Toast with more Prosecco. Eventually we polished the bottle and finished the night not too late, not too drunk - but fizzy and mellow and very happy indeed.

So it was short on insanity, but long on festivity. Couldn't have been happier!

Hope your New Year's Eve was happy as could be too, and that 2009 turns out to be your best year so far!