Tuesday, April 28, 2009
"Fantastic news from Maine! Just minutes ago, the joint judiciary committee voted 11-3 that the marriage bill "ought to pass without amendment." This follows an overwhelmingly successful public hearing at which Mainers of all stripes, from the very young to the very old, Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Unitarians, testified that they support equality for all Mainers.
"When Vermont's legislature voted for marriage equality, we were halfway to our goal of bringing marriage equality to 6 New England states by 2012. We are very hopeful that Maine will bring us to 2/3 of the way there. Please continue to support our efforts, and thank you for everything you do to support equality."
I was up on the hillside behind and over the house today, beginning the third and last of the garden terraces. When I looked down and over the roof I saw golden tan leaves spiraling straight upwards from a row of beech trees. With the heat of a very hot day beginning, a strong updraft was created and the beeches, which keep their leaves through the winter and only drop them in spring, were giving them up to the wind. They kept them aloft for a couple of minutes and then the updraft suddenly ended and there was a slow and graceful shower of gold all across the front of the house.
The sudden heat that began last weekend (4 days into the 80s) brought the big magnolia tree down by Fritz's old house into instant bloom, but also caused huge insect populations to emerge in great masses. The blackflies, emerged on Saturday, miserable pests that like to slam into your scalp, forehead and eyes--and administer a vicious bite. Mayflies are everywhere, particularly all over the roof and hood of my Jeep, by the hundreds. Either they like the color red or they like the hot smooth metal. They do a hopping dance up and down and you can hear their bodies clicking against the metal as they drop down. It's kind of weird. This has been going on for the last couple of days--I assume it's somehow involved with mating--and is exhausting just to watch. Perhaps Doug Taron can enlighten me on this behavior.
Speaking of Doug (of the blog Gosamer Tapestry), he was here for the weekend taking part in a gay men's workshop put on by the Body Electric School. I normally co-host these events with Fritz but I took part in this one. We've been fortunate to have Doug and husband Leon here for dinner a couple of times and gotten to know that Doug loves to go collecting insect specimens. Since he came early on Friday, we began by hiking the 30 acres here where he was delighted at all the spring growth on the forest floor. We followed that up with a trip to a local sand excavation pit which proved to be full of tiger beetles, one of his specialties. By the time the program began after Friday night's dinner, the beetles were safely stored in plastic vials in our freezer.
The program was extremely well run and profoundly moving. There were 23 of us in all and by Sunday evening, we were all semi-euphoric. I took Doug, Fritz and another of the participants out to dinner as the idea of cooking was just not a possibility.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I’ve never been a great novel fan but the chance discovery of Song of the Loon by Richard Amory (a pseudonym) among our books has set off an exploration of gay novels from the 1960s—a transitional period in gay fiction.
Amory wrote three books in the Loon series: Song of the Loon was the first and by far the most popular, a very big seller with several printings, it was a revolutionary departure in tone from the norm in gay fiction. Copyright 1966, it was among the very first gay-themed books in which being gay was free of angst and shown in a wholly positive light, in which the protagonist lived happily and did not arrive in the final pages a shattered, guilt-ridden wreck.
In print and on stage, the wretchedly unhappy homosexual had traditionally been seen as a toxic alien in society who was expected to retreat into invisibility or suicide to cease being an inconvenience and scandal in respectable society. On the subject of homosexuality, Britain’s King George V memorably opined, “I thought THAT sort of man killed himself!” And on the English stage, THAT sort of man frequently did, usually in act 3 after he had finally been cornered, unmasked and roundly condemned for moral degeneracy by all and sundry. He would rush off-stage, there would be a period of tense waiting among the self-righteous, then the gunshot was heard from off left and everyone relaxed in recognition of the moral order having been reconfirmed once again. All that was missing was a rousing chorus of Rule, Brittiania! but you get the point.
Song of the Loon was a radical change; set in the American Northwest in the 19th century, it’s a romantic-erotic fantasy of a land populated exclusively by men in which, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, the men are all handsome, the trappers are literate (improvising poetry, dropping foreign words like “rinascimento”) and intellectually sophisticated, and the penises are all above average. The Indian tribes are prosperous, unthreatened by the white population, peaceful and sexually liberated, originators of the Society of the Loon whose members have shed not only inhibitions, prejudices, and heteronormativity, but also the poison of jealousy.
One earns one’s loon medallion—a little amulet that renders gaydar unnecessary and saves a lot of time—from the wise and ancient chief who is the Society’s guru, through a series of sexual encounters with members both white and Indian, capped by a final journey into the deep forest on some kind of peyote-like drug that leads to dreams the ancient chief analyzes to see if one is ready for membership.
If it sounds a bit hokey, and it may, the fact is that Song of the Loon fell like a rain of sweet balm on parched and wounded gay readers, providing a vision of a transformed, ideal society that supported and celebrated them and provided the opportunity for a great deal of guilt-free sex into the bargain. This was three years before Stonewall in New York City. Fritz had read the Loon books years ago and was interested in my reaction at various points in the plot. The first thing I noticed is that Amory’s prose is rhapsodic, and the plot is an ecstatic fantasy of a gay utopia (an author’s note at the beginning states that there never were Indians such as his creations, warns against worrying about anachronisms and improbabilities, and advises just giving oneself to the pastoral genre). I experienced the sex scenes as art porn, extraordinarily positive and poetic, without the usual, tired clichés of porn novels. The book’s attraction was obvious and its fame completely understandable.
The other two books in the series are Song of Aaron (which it turned out we also have) and Listen, the Loon Sings, which we don’t or which at least we haven't found yet. I’ll start Song of Aaron as soon as Fritz finishes rereading it.
Finding the trilogy is difficult. All of it—and most of Amory’s other output—is out of print. Because of its many printings and a later edition with an introduction by Michael Brodsky, Amazon and Abe Books list Song of the Loon, used, for just over six dollars--but the other two, which apparently enjoyed much smaller circulation, go for upwards of fifty dollars each. One Amazon supplier offers a copy for $350.
When I’ve read all the Amory that we have, I’ll proceed to Christopher Isherwood, whose work, amazingly, I know only through adaptations like Cabaret.
PS--if you Google Richard Amory the first site that comes up should be one devoted to gay writers. On the Amory page is a biographical note by his son, Cesar Love, and his fiercely anti-homophobic novel Frost is available for download--but that's the only one.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Thursday morning we took off for what was to be the longest single day drive of the trip—across Chesapeake Bay via the bridge-tunnel complex, up the Delmarva Peninsula (brief stop to say hello to her son and his family), a stop in West Chester, PA, and a final run up the coast to north-central New Jersey to spend the night near the Thomas Alva Edison Tower, Museum and site of the invention of the light bulb, recorded sound, etc. etc. It was our first night alone together after six days immersed in various branches of our families, and it felt very nice indeed.
We put up for the night in a Howard Johnson’s Motel in New Brunswick, a vestige of the once mighty HoJo empire that spanned the continent and was, in a certain sense, the McDonald's of its day. Howard Johnson’s was never fast food. It was a sit-down restaurant and the food could be slow to come out; Mad Magazine once ran a satirical comic spread when the chain was in decline in which three or four Johnson waitresses stand around arguing which of them is the slowest waitress of all while customers sit fuming at tables, waiting for their food.
But it was a major presence on the nation's highways and in lots of cities and towns. The distinctive orange roof and country cupola was an instantly recognizable symbol, along with the big Simple Simon and the Pieman signs out front. Fried clams were a signature menu item. Sharp eyes can detect former Johnson restaurants with painted-over roofs and different signs but the characteristic architecture tells the tale. There was even an imitator, Henry Johnson’s with an red roof, if I recall correctly, and Whistler and His Dog signs out front.
A few Howard Johnson Restaurants are left here and there, but nothing like the coverage they had at their height. The motels, a late addition to the company, are much more likely to be encountered. When I travel, I don’t need indoor pools and grand atriums. I get the coupon books at highway service areas that offer reduced rates, and look for basic, clean accommodations, working TV and plumbing, free WiFi, and some sort of breakfast if possible. The plumbing at these aging motels is sometimes chancy and the wallpaper not always in its first youth--but they’re affordable and perfectly adequate.
Friday morning we visited the Edison site in Menlo Park. To begin, nothing of the original complex of buildings—the big studio in which the inventions were planned and developed, the glass blowing house, the machine shop, and the tracks for the electric train he developed that went some distance through the surrounding community—survives. Fires claimed some and the rest fell into ruin. The property has reverted to woods.
There’s a terrific model of the studio building, made of wood salvaged from the building itself, housed in the museum, a utilitarian two-room concrete building. The Memorial Tower, a pre-cast concrete art deco column topped by a giant light bulb made of corning glass slabs lights up at night. The tower, which stands in the studio’s original footprint, is closed to the public as water seepage with attendant freezing and thawing in winter has weakened part of the structure. There are ambitious plans for its restoration and the construction of a new, extensive and inter-active museum but funding is, as always, the big obstacle. Huge amounts of Edison material and inventions remain in storage in West Orange, where the house he inhabited in later life still stands.
But any sense of decay is instantly dispelled by Kathleen Carlucci, the museum’s Director of Interpretation. Energetic, friendly, extremely knowledgeable on matters biographical, historical, mechanical and cultural, she demonstrated for us (and encouraged us to try ourselves) Edison light bulbs and gramophones.
The museum has originals or exact working replicas of an original metal foil recorder (above), wax cylinder recorder (left), a bizarre violin with its own attached metal horn amplifier, allowing it to make a powerful enough sound to register on the early recording devices, a hand-cranked magneto for firing up an early Edison light bulb (worked by Fritz, below), and many other devices as well as component parts, period advertising and supportive equipment.
Perhaps my favorite is this simple cardboard, paper and wood gramophone that kids can put together (below). An ordinary sewing pin acts as the needle, the “horn” is a paper cone—and the thing actually plays a shellac record. Nothing I have ever seen or read points up the utter directness and simplicity of Edison’s invention than this crude toy that could be made on a garage or basement workbench in minutes.
From there we got onto the interstate system and headed back north, via a lunch stop at the wonderful Katz’s Deli—“Just a little off-Broadway”—at one of the exits from the Merritt Parkway in New Haven, CT. We arrived home just before 5pm to an enthusiastic welcome from our cat.
More bad news on the performing arts scene; the stories are gathered by Dave Itzkoff for the Arts Briefly notes in the New York Times:
Economic Woes Hit Boston Symphony
Published: April 16, 2009
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has canceled a planned tour of Europe that would have commenced in 2010 and included performances in Paris and Vienna, The Boston Globe reported. In a statement the orchestra said the cancellation was a result of the economic downturn and added that it “will not resume international touring activity until a recovery is well under way,” according to The Globe. The orchestra said it would continue to focus on performances in Boston, Tanglewood and New York.
Brooklyn Philharmonic Cancels Concerts
By DANIEL J. WAKIN Published: April 17, 2009
The Brooklyn Philharmonic, running a deficit and facing declining revenue, has canceled its final program this season, on May 9, and all of next season’s subscription concerts, the orchestra said on Friday. The orchestra said it would continue its teaching projects and school concerts, which still have funding, mainly from government sources. The orchestra, which is led by Michael Christie, usually presents about four programs a year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. J. Barclay Collins II, the orchestra’s board chairman, said the group was in talks with the Brooklyn Academy about paying some concert costs for future seasons.
The high drama (and ever-more-likely death throes) of New York City Opera continue with this very bad news that the Board of Directors liquidated the majority of the endowment:
City Opera Taps Into Endowment
By DANIEL J. WAKIN; Published: April 17, 2009
The New York City Opera said on Friday that it had raided its endowment of a total of $23.5 million to pay off debts and right the troubled company’s finances, leaving little left in its coffers. The company took $17.5 million from the endowment in the fall, said George R. Steel, the artistic director and general manager, with the approval of the New York State attorney general’s office, which regulates nonprofit organizations. Court documents stated that $9.5 million of that sum had been used to repay a loan taken out to cover a “cash shortfall” from last season and that the rest had been used for operating costs this season, when the company suspended most operations while its home, the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, was being renovated. Earlier this week, City Opera said, it received approval for another $6.6 million withdrawal from the endowment to meet payroll and other needs. The withdrawals are considered loans, and the opera has promised to restore the money. A spokesman for City Opera, Pascal Nadon, said the company’s endowment now stands at $10.4 million. City Opera’s budget next year is estimated at between $25 million and $30 million. The company recently announced a stripped-down season of five productions for 2009-10.
City Opera may be in its death throes--the result of continuing bad oversight by its Board of Directors, the disastrous abandonment of the company by a prestigious European General Manager who made ambitious plans and fled when the company couldn't begin to finance them, and now the virtual gutting of the endowment that will probably scare off any potential major donors--should any be left these days with sufficient capital to bail the company out. Should it close down operations, it will be the largest and most prominent company to fail in the current economic depression.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel photo from the cbbt.com site
Howard Johnson memorabilia from the blog, Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space of Richard Layman in D.C.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Greensboro, NC on a Tuesday afternoon is a quiet place even in the heart of its downtown. The business district is more or less strictly business with few if any residences, certainly no big condo or apartment buildings. The city is surrounded by huge stretches of commercial and mall activity on the roads leading in. The results of that commercial activity in the outskirts, and of the current economic collapse, are visible in empty shops and businesses that line Elm Street, downtown's shopping steet.
Greensboro’s heart is made up mostly of three and four story brick buildings that date from the late nineteenth century through the art deco 1930s. The styles should clash but live comfortably with each other as they do in towns all over the nation. There are one or two low-rise high rises including a very handsome gray granite insurance building with a tall pyramidal roof that overlooks a large and welcoming park with fountains and plazas. The streets weren’t empty, but there were very few people out and about in mid-afternoon.
One of the great icons of an earlier U.S., a huge Woolworth that occupies an entire city block, lies empty with its entire entrance area open to the street. Some demolition and the beginning of renovation can be seen inside, along with a large placard announcing its renovation into a museum of the Civil Rights Movement.
It was at this Woolworth’s in 1960 that four African-American University of North Carolina students began the very first sit-in at the lunch counter that would bring down segregation in the state.
But the renovation and museum may never happen—with funding difficult over the years, and totally unavailable now, the project has lain dormant for something like a decade. All along Elm Street, store windows may have one or two items in them to alleviate the sense of desolation (one was filled with stacks of law books, surprisingly) but a closer look quickly reveals empty darkness beyond.
At the foot of Elm, however, signs of life are everywhere. As in so many cities, as soon as a neighborhood begins to fail artists move in to take advantage of depressed rental rates, converting empty businesses into studios, renovating the store fronts with lively colors, lights, and their work in the windows. We saw a lot of stained glass, as well as paintings, sculpture and assorted crafts. There were also some seemingly thriving bars and cafes and a welcome sense of life and interest.
We walked back up Elm and explored the Cultural Center in a very modern building overlooking the big park in the center of town. Several art and performance organizations occupy the Center's large spaces. One gallery specializes in showing the work of black artists, another shows Native American work, and the Art Alliance provides big, well-equipped studios where parents can bring their children and work in a variety of media. The attached gallery was filled with the work of local artists of a very high quality. Standouts were potter Tom Suomalainen (witty, anthropomorphic pigs parodying human activities and pretensions); Bill Brown, an abstract sculptor whose warm-toned wood and metal Eclipse showed a lovely coordination of pattern and mass; and Lin Barnhardt who reinterprets houses and other structures (many from the paintings of Edward Hopper) miniaturized in slightly bizarre perspectives, on meticulously painted earthenware.
We ended our afternoon's exploration at the Public Library's cafe with tea and sweet potato pie.
Woolworth store photo from dbking's photostream on Flickr
Archival sit-in photo from upi/bwttman/corbis via the Encyclopedia Brittanica site
Suomalainen photo from the Art Alliance site
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I'm hoping this will post properly as the computer that's available is an ancient iMac that runs a version of Netscape not seen since the early days of the Bush presidency--the FIRST Bush, that is. At least five people in surrounding units have WiFi that I can see on my MacBook but cannot join because I don't have the passwords. Hotmail and Facebook are not handled well--or at all--by this level of Netscape either, so I'm feeling more than a little isolated. Lordy, whatever did we DO before the age of advanced electronic communication?
Fortunately there's a Korean grocery just a bit up the street that looks to be worth investigating. Fritz is off with his sister to give a program on brain exercises, so I'm amusing myself for a while. (I know what you're thinking, guys and that's not it. At least not yet.)
Last night the Cafe Europa in downtown Greensboro was a real find. Daube Provencale was a long-cooked lamb and vegetables in white wine dish that came with a virtually perfect baguette for sopping the generous amount of rich gravy. The accompanying "small" house salad was a vast mound of greens, tomato, cucumber, chopped walnuts and other delights that would have been a whole lunch under other circumstances. A delightful way to spend our first night here.
A couple of personal notes:
Richard, I can see that you've written me but cannot open your message. I'm hoping for a real connection when we reach Norfolk.
Doug, when you're up in NH with us, we should have time to visit the sand pits in the area before we take you back to the plane Monday morning, so bring any special specimen-gathering gear you might need.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Happy Easter to Everyone!
We came down through Connecticut on the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways. I love these old roads, famous for the fact that all the original bridges over them were designed individually, each one a unique art deco design. The Merritt in southwestern Connecticut, ironically one of the most heavily settled areas anywhere in the state, had many more deer and wild turkeys foraging for grass and other edibles on the sides of the roadway than I've ever seen before on one trip.
It's also turning into our Asian food tour--excellent Indian in Basking Ridge, NJ with my cousin and his wife on Friday, superb Burmese last night here in Tacoma Park, a delightful neighborhood of arts and crafts style bungalows and cottage houses, although there's a stucco Spanish-style house complete with interior courtyard in the next block that presents quite a distinctive profile within the general look.
The good news is that the rain is gone and the Easter morning sky is cloudless and brilliant. As I'm not religious (spiritual yes, religious definitely not) I don't take it as a great symbol, just as a welcome relief from the insistent cloud and rain that we've had for a week or more in New England and that followed us down the coast.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I'll leave you with this encouraging news about the upcoming same-sex marriage deliberations in New York state, from OurSceneTV, a gay media site on the web:
Articles and Headlines
BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES SUPPORT FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY BILL
Hope Shines Bright at The Center's Annual Dinner
Only days following Senator Chuck Schumer's revelatory decision to support gay marriage and call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the LGBT Community celebrated at The Center's Annual Dinner. It was certainly a night to revel in New York City. The milestone event was hosted by Ugly Betty's Michael Urie, and featured a riveting performance by musical sensation, Matt Alber. The event paid tribute to the Center's previous Executive Director of 22 years, Richard Burns. The Hammerstein Ballroom was aglow with luminaries from the LGBT world, and straight allies alike, including Mayor Michael J. Bloomberg, and New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn.
Setting a tone of great hope and considerable achievement, during his speech acknowledging Richard Burns, Mayor Bloomberg reaffirmed his longstanding alignment with the LGBT Community, promising his support for a New York State marriage equality bill.
This is, of course gilt-edged support for marriage equality in one of the most influential states in this country.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
A very happy Easter and Passover to everyone, and I'll "see" you all again in a week if not before.
The bad news from performing arts companies just keeps on coming. This is the official word of the demise of the artistically significant Granite State Opera which had begun preparation of its most ambitious production yet, Verdi's Macbeth:
Economic Malaise Claims Another Arts Company
Temple, NH – Tuesday, April 7, 2009 -
"Lilliane LeBel, President of the Board of Trustees of Granite State Opera, today announces that the opera company is closing effective April 3, 2009. “It is with heartfelt disappointment on my part, and the part of all of us involved, that we make this announcement. Granite State Opera has brought such joy and enrichment to the community over the past nine years, and we are extremely sorry to have to close.” said Ms. LeBel.
"Granite State Opera is not alone. It follows Baltimore Opera, Connecticut Opera, Orlando Opera and Pacific Opera, not to mention dozens of other arts organizations across the country. Even The Metropolitan Opera has had to cut back on its productions.
"Known for its high-quality productions despite its size, Granite State Opera has won many awards since its inception including “Best Classical Event in NH in 2006” from Hippo Press for its Madama Butterfly and “Best Opera, Best Opera Orchestra, and Best Male Lead” awards from operaonline.us for the eastern US region for its 2007 production of I Pagliacci. In addition it has received many glowing reviews from both national and international critics including the prestigious Seen and Heard International.
"But even the critical acclaim that the Granite State Opera has garnered could not spare it from the downturn. Even as late as this week, the company mulled over a plan that it thought it could survive by extending the season and holding town hall-type meetings, but unfortunately realized that those steps would not be enough to help it weather the next few months. “It was with deep regrets that the Board came to the conclusion that there were no other viable options that would enable us to continue,” she continued.
"Artistic Director Philip Lauriat said, “I am saddened that we need to close the company, but I am proud of what Granite State Opera has offered to its audiences over the years. I hope that we have expanded the love of opera in New Hampshire.”
The company thanks the many supporters, patrons, audience members, singers, instrumentalists, directors, stage and set crews who have contributed to the company's artistic successes over the years."
As many of these companies have gone down, they've taken with them extremely valuable community outreach programs, including in some cases the only exposure to classical music or even music of any kind in local schools. The prestigious Juilliard Music School in New York City is also pressed by the current economy, as this note in the New York Times makes clear:
By Daniel J. Wakin
The Juilliard School’s music-training program for poor minority schoolchildren has been slashed, disappointing dozens of children preparing to audition.
This financial crash looks like it will also impoverish us artistically.
Several months ago, I developed a craving for a pair of red socks. A lot of it had to do, I think, with my tendency to not dress exactly like everybody else, something that decades ago confirmed for me that I would not be going into the business world where everybody has to wear essentially identical business suits, shirts, and ties.
Another part of it is that Fritz and I both find the standard clothing choices available to men to be very dull, mostly in sober colors and lacking much, if any, individuality. So I tried to find red socks and kept coming up empty at store after store. Eventually, I resorted to the internet and found nothing from most of the men's on line clothiers. Finally there was a site that had only socks, from about 50 companies. The first pair that was red were Armani and cost something like $70 a pair--no way THAT was going to happen. Another designer label offered its red socks for $48. No sale there either.
But along about page 24 of the site, Joseph A. Bank had a dandy pair in a color called "berry" for $12 a pair, still a good deal more than at your local Target or Wal-Mart, but those places weren't selling red socks, so I ordered two pair that are now rolled neatly in my sock basket, awaiting my first important event.
Yesterday I completed the first of three raised beds on the hillside above the house that will serve as our vegetable garden. Building them is difficult work as the ground is super rocky (the mini-boulder on the corner of the picture above weighs in at about 50 pounds and is typical of the larger rocks in the soil, which is also crammed with smaller stones locked together in the soil of this long-extinct volcanic blow hole.
The terraces march uphill toward the solar panels, and are also stepped gently downward as the slope drops off gently to the right.
Once I get the next two built (their inside dimension is 25 feet wide by 4 feet deep, seen looking inside the first one, above) a great load of good topsoil will be dumped on the property and we'll fill these with a 6" to 7" layer of it and immediately begin to plant.
One of the most interesting and successful of the early video porn stars, Jack Wrangler, has died. Jack's career was unique to say the least--he began with gay porn, progressed to bi and straight porn, eventually became a musical theater leading man, and his private life was crowned by a long marriage to the jazz and cabaret singer Margaret Whiting that was platonic but seemingly no less loving for that. Here's the obit:
Porn Icon Jack Wrangler Dead at 62
April 07, 2009
Legendary porn star turned musical theater actor Jack Wrangler passed away last night, according to director Jeffrey Schwarz, whose recent documentary Wrangler: Anatomy of An Icon captured the legacy of the late star. Wrangler spoke to The Advocate in November in one of his last interviews.
Wrangler came from a prominent Hollywood family and got his start in Christian television, only to go on to become one of the first gay porn actors to achieve star status and a cult following in the 1960s and ‘70s. He made over 80 adult films, including Wanted and Sex Magic. His rugged, masculine good looks helped define the sexual attractions of a generation of gay men.
Wrangler stunned fans when he switched over to straight porn later in his career -- confounding them yet again when he retired from porn all together after meeting and eventually starting a relationship with singer Margaret Whiting. That relationship would last the rest of his life. Wrangler went on to enjoy a successful career in musical theater.
Wrangler reportedly died of complications from lung disease. He was 62 years old.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Update: Vermont passes Same-Sex Marriage; DC recognizes same-sex marriages
The Vermont House of Representatives passed the bill by a 100-49 vote after it cleared the state Senate 23-5 earlier in the day. Vermont's vote comes just four days after Iowa's Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that barred gays from marrying to make that state the first in the U.S. heartland to allow same-sex marriages.
Vermont, which became the first state in the country to allow full civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000, joins New England neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Maine are also considering bills to allow gay marriage, putting New England at the heart of a divisive national debate over the issue.
[Gay marriage opponents please note: this was done not by "activist judges" but by the people's representatives as part of the legislative process. September 1 has been set as the date the first same-sex marriages can take place in Vermont.
The majority of the stone carving on Vermont's state Capitol Building, by the way, was done by my Italian sculptor grandfather, Alessandro Fregosi, along with a crew under his supervision.]
Update updated: The news just keeps on coming. The District of Columbia, the nation's capital, will now recognize gay marriages from states where they are legal. The District may even be moving toward legalizing same sex marriage:
The D.C. Council voted today to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, on the same day that Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex unions. Domestic partnerships are already legal in the nation's capital, and gay couples married in other states are recognized as domestic partners when they move to the city. But today's legislation, billed as an important milestone in gay rights, explicitly recognizes them as married couples. The initial vote was 12-0. The unanimous vote sets the stage for future debate on legalizing same-sex marriage in the District and a clash with Congress, which approves the city's laws under Home Rule. The council is expected to take a final vote on the legislation next month. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is gay, called the amendment a matter of "basic fairness."
Steven Colbert’s new word and definition: engayify v. to gay it up.
Shock waves are still rumbling around Boston and the general New England over the New York Times’ ultimatum to the Boston Globe to cut at least $20 million in costs immediately or face being closed down. The Globe is the dominant news paper not only in Massachusetts but also in New England generally.
A distinguished publication (the attached article mentions its Pulitzer Prize totals) and an influential one, the Globe has suffered as have all print media from incursion by the internet, and particularly by the general lack of interest of many in the younger generations in reading, particularly in reading at length. Sound bites and the headlines sections of internet sites, along with The Daily Show seem to be where the media-oriented and attention span-challenged get their information, not from newspapers that can develop stories in depth and that have a stake in the welfare, development and local culture of the communities and regions they serve.
This last point has been uppermost in statements about the disastrous impact the closing of the Globe would have on the arts in the area. Jill Medvedow, Director of The Institute of Contemporary Art made eloquent comments about the effect the Globe had on the Institute’s complete reinvention of itself on the occasion of its move to a new, architecturally spectacular home on Boston Harbor. The Globe gave extensive coverage, including an insert devoted entirely to the ICA’s new building and the expansion of its collections. In the process, Medvedow explained, a museum that most Bostonians didn’t know, housed as it was in a dark and cramped converted firehouse, was presented to Boston and the nation as a dazzling, cutting edge facility and art resource in an incredible location to visit. The result was that the ICA has [deservedly] become a major stop on the tourist trail as well as an iconic symbol of contemporary Boston along with the Zakem Bridge.
Performance-based companies are also concerned as Globe publicity and reviewers are credited with being the major force that brings people into theaters, recital halls and opera venues. Jill Medvedow went on to recall that the Times has already engineered a major dismantling of the Globe’s departments in thisw decade. During that cut-back, we lost our chief theater and music critics (the latter being the well-respected Richard Dyer); eventually newer and younger critics were brought in, and we lucked out with Jeremy Eichler in music particularly. However, the scope of arts criticism and features was reduced noticeably; Medvedow (and I) are concerned that a new round of staff reductions and department downsizing will reduce arts coverage even further. The Globe has already said that regional coverage will be reduced considerably. Peter Wolf, the front man for the J. Geils Band, said losing the Globe would destroy readers' connection to the region.
At any rate, here’s the [slightly edited] news item that the Globe published about its situation last Friday:
The New York Times Co. has threatened to shut The Boston Globe unless the newspaper's unions swiftly agree to $20 million in concessions, union leaders said yesterday.
Executives from the Times Co. and Globe made the demands Thursday morning in an approximately 90-minute meeting with leaders of the newspaper's 13 unions, union officials said. The possible concessions include pay cuts, the end of pension contributions by the company, and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees now enjoyed by some veteran employees, said Daniel Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the Globe's biggest union, which represents more than 700 editorial, advertising, and business office employees.
The concessions will be negotiated individually with each of the unions, said Totten and Ralph Giallanella, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 259, which represents about 200 drivers who deliver the newspaper.
"We all know the newspaper industry is going through great transition and loss,"' said Giallanella. "The ad revenues have fallen off the cliff. Just based on everything that's going on around the country, they're serious."
Totten said the Times Co. officials wanted the concessions within 30 days or else the paper would be shuttered, but Giallanella said officials did not mention a specific timetable.The newspaper industry, which had already been struggling as readers and advertisers moved to the Internet, has been hard hit by the recession, and the Globe is no exception. The newspaper's advertising revenues have declined sharply in recent years; once robustly profitable, it is now losing money.
This week, the Globe newsroom completed cutting the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. But the deteriorating economy has made the Globe's financial outlook much worse. Management told union leaders Thursday that the Globe will lose $85 million in 2009 unless serious cutbacks are made. Last year the paper lost an estimated $50 million, the employee said.
The Times Co. is seeking concessions from the unions because the New York company, which is also suffering from the recession, can no longer subsidize the Globe's losses. The Times Co. posted a net loss of $57.8 million in 2008.
In recent months, the Times Co. has taken steps to raise cash. It has been shopping its stake in the Red Sox, and recently sold most of its headquarters in New York, while leasing back the office space. It received $250 million from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, agreeing to pay 14 percent interest. It also suspended shareholder dividends to save about $130 million.
Several major newspaper companies have filed for bankruptcy reorganization in recent months, and several have threatened to shut down operations unless they receive major concessions from workers. Some companies have already closed unprofitable publications. Hearst recently shut down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after it failed to find a buyer, and E.W. Scripps Co. shuttered the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.
Lou Ureneck, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University's College of Communications, said he believed the Times Co. is hoping to get the concessions and keep publishing the Globe. But he said the Times Co. management seems to have decided that the flagship New York Times newspaper is its top priority and it will no longer subsidize its New England newspaper group.
Ureneck said a shutdown of the Globe would be a catastrophe for the community. "It's a crucial part of life in Boston," he said. "This city would be diminished by the loss of The Boston Globe. I can't even imagine it. The Globe is the 14th-largest paper in the country and by far the region's circulation leader.
Local leaders yesterday expressed shock at the possibility of the Globe's closure and trepidation over a future without it.
"I believe in good government, and I believe good government depends on a strong paper, and the Globe has served that role in Massachusetts for a long time," said Governor Deval Patrick, who had a Globe paper route while a student at Milton Academy. "It's hard to imagine starting the day or doing this current job without the Globe."
Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston said the city would lose a vital institution. "The Globe helped build Boston," Menino said last night. "The Globe holds people accountable on the issues, and that's important. We might not like it sometimes. Sometimes we don't agree. But they ask the tough questions - backed up with real data."
The Boston Globe began publishing in 1872 when a half-dozen local businessmen, led by Jordan Marsh department store founder Eben Jordan, pooled $150,000 to launch the newspaper, according to a company history. The first issue, appearing March 4, 1872, cost four cents. It was sold to The New York Times Co. on Oct. 1, 1993, for $1.1 billion. The Globe has won 20 Pulitzer Prizes, including eight under the Times Co. ownership.
In recent years, the Globe, like papers throughout the country, has cut jobs in both newsroom and business operations as print circulation and advertising have declined. Even though many papers, including the Globe, reach more readers than ever through the Internet, newspaper websites are not generating enough advertising revenues to make up for the decline in print advertising.
Union leaders said they are taking the threat seriously. In addition to pay cuts, the Times Co. is also asking to cut its contributions to healthcare and 401(k) plans, according to an employee briefed on the discussions.
The president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, said management should lead by example and take additional cuts in pay and jobs. The representative of the Teamsters Local 259, said it will be easier to sell concessions to his members if they see management sharing the burden. "I don't think we have any choice but to make these serious decisions and do our best to work through this," he said. "Hundreds of jobs are at stake, and the future of The Boston Globe."
Saturday, April 04, 2009
The first frog of spring! Fritz found this elfin little fellow when he came up the hill from closing down the Center for the night. The little guy wasn’t spooked at having the two of us close to him, but he had gone on his way by morning.
My cat has a terrycloth fetish. It began maybe four years ago and continues unabated.
I love thick, warm terrycloth bathrobes to envelop my body when I get out of the shower, part absorbent towel, part cuddly warm garment. Starr discovered that if a claw were to be inserted into a loop of the terrycloth, it could be pulled out into a long string that would dangle. This dangling thread could be played with or—the great discovery—it could be chewed on, leaving it wet with cat slobber. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was by this development.
In short order any robe I have begins to look like a yak in spring when it begins to shed its winter fur. She has fun pulling out the loops whether the robe is on me, folded and sitting on a chair, or hanging on the clothing rack system in the dressing/exercise room.
Remember always she’s a cat: rebukes, shoving her away, any attempt to put the robe out of reach—all fail. When caught in the act, she usually does “flop and roll”, dropping to the floor and rolling on her back, wriggling and crying seductively to have her tummy rubbed, thereby creating a diversion and channeling my upset into a “time to love the cat” moment. And we do love each other so it always works. I’ve learned to live with shaggy terrycloth.
On his blog, The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross pointed out Linda Ronstadt’s presentation before a Congressional committee in which she advocated for arts funding in our schools, music in particular.
Ronstadt has run a most interesting career. For one thing she began as one of the few pop/rock singers who could actually, you know, SING. She swam among genres, taking risks and taking on challenges and never remaining locked into any one style for long before exploring something else. She starred in the late, dearly missed Joe Papp’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, in company with a vibrant, mostly young cast in which she performed at various times and places with Kevin Klein, Rex Smith, Patricia Routledge, Estelle Parsons, Angela Lansbury and Tony Azito. And Papp followed this up for her with an intimate, chamber version of Puccini’s La Boheme that really didn’t work but she was willing to take the risk, and that’s what art is all about.
In her early 60s and with her voice still very much intact, Linda Ronstadt is now doing cabaret in good venues, singing Gershwin, Porter, Richard Rodgers and other great American song writers with minimal amplification and maximum communication with her audiences. She is also an emerging major advocate for the arts in this country, thus her remarks as quoted below:
Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to be here. My name is Linda Ronstadt, I am a singer, and I am pleased to be a part of the Americans for the Arts delegation and to come to our nation's capitol for Arts Advocacy Day. I am also here to testify in favor of a Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation of $200 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Before I discuss the topic of my remarks, I would like to share a bit about my personal background, which informs my conversation with you today.
I grew up in the desert in Tucson, Arizona on what was then a rural route. My grandfather's cattle ranch had been whittled down considerably in size as a result of the financial storms of the last depression, but we were pretty happily established there amid the cactus and the cottonwoods. My family had built a little compound with my grandparents in one house, my father and mother and the four of us kids in the other.
I don't remember when there wasn't music going on in some form - my father whistling while he was figuring out how to fix something, my older brother practicing the "Ave Maria" for his performance with Advertisement, the Tucson Boys Choir, my sister sobbing a Hank Williams song with her hands in the dishwater, my little brother struggling to play the huge double bass.
Sundays, my father would sit at the piano and play most anything in the key of C and sing in his beautiful baritone: love songs in Spanish for my mother, maybe a few Sinatra songs while he remembered single life before children and responsibilities, and before the awful war that we won, that time. My mother would play Ragtime or something from Gilbert and Sullivan.
When we got tired of listening to our own house we would tramp across to my grandmother's where we got a pretty regular diet of classical music. They had what they called a Victrola and would listen to their favorite opera excerpts played on 78-RPM recordings. On Saturdays, they would tune in to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast or sit at the piano trying to unravel a simple Beethoven, Brahms or Liszt composition from a page of sheet music. Evenings, if the weather wasn't too hot or freezing and the mosquitoes not threatening to carry us away to the land of Oz, we would haul our guitars outside and sing songs until it was time to go in, which was when we had run out of songs.
There was no TV, the radio couldn't wander around with you because it was tethered to the wall, and we didn't get enough allowance to buy concert tickets. In any case, there weren't many big acts playing in Tucson, so if we wanted music, we had to make our own. The music I heard there, in those two houses, before I was ten years old, provided me with enough material to explore for my entire career, which has stretched from the late sixties until now.
It gave me something else too, something even bigger than that. It gave me an enormous yardstick to measure my experiences against generations of other people. It placed me in a much larger cultural context, and helped me to locate my humanity.
Sometimes, it shocked me when music revealed the intensity of an emotion I was feeling, something I hadn't even realized I felt so keenly or disturbingly until I had a musical lens to bring it into focus. As renowned music educator Karl Paulnack, Music Director and conductor of the orchestra at the Boston Conservatory said about great music: "It has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does." Years later, I would have the same emotional experience paging through works of classic literature. It occurred to me: no school curriculum would be complete without the works of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, Henry James, Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why then would it be complete without a working knowledge of Mozart, Beethoven or George Gershwin?
In the United States we spend millions of dollars on sports because it promotes teamwork, discipline, and the experience of learning to make great progress in small increments. Learning to play music together does all this and more. Joseph Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, the children's music curriculum currently considered to be the best in the world, says this: "An orchestra is a community that comes together with the fundamental objective of agreeing with itself. Therefore, the person who plays in an orchestra begins to live the experience of agreement. And what does the agreement of experience mean? Team practice, the practice of a group that recognizes itself as interdependent where one is responsible for others and the others are responsible for oneself. Agree on what? To create beauty."
Karl Paulnack has also described how the arts, including music, were able to survive even the nightmarish conditions of the Nazi concentration camps: "The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, 'I am alive, and my life has meaning.'"
Music exists to help us identify our feelings. Through music one can safely express strong emotions like anger, sorrow, or frustration that might otherwise find a release in violence, or, just as bad, cause one to seek the numbing relief of drugs.
I'm continually stunned and deeply concerned when I hear groups of school children trying to sing something as simple as "Happy Birthday" and they are unable to match pitch. Many recent school children's performances that I have observed sounded like a gray wash of tone-deaf warbling. It is not the children's fault.
Increasingly, people's experience with music is passive. We delegate our musical expression to professionals. Music cannot be learned without both listening and playing. We need to teach our children to sing their own songs and play their own instruments, not just listen to their iPods. Do we really want our children's musical experience to be limited to the mainstream commercial music that is blared at them continually? They deserve and are fully capable of learning to express themselves in the more subtle and profound ways of traditional and classical music.
As I am now 62, I have become concerned about keeping my mental faculties intact and recently acquired, from National Public Radio, a program I can do at home called Brain Fitness. It was developed by Michael Merzenich, a leading researcher on neuroplasticity, which is how our brains can change and adapt to meet new challenges like stroke, head trauma, or old age. When I opened up the program on my laptop, I was very surprised to discover that hours and hours and hours of the exercises were based on one's ability to distinguish pitch. It turns out that this ability has a great deal to do with how our brains process and store information. Do you know a way of putting in sequence 26 things and remembering them? Well, the alphabet has 26 letters and we all learned it the same way: A-B-C-D-E-F-G... I can still remember a bit of a grammar lesson the nuns at Saints Peter and Paul School drilled into my head by using the tune of "Sweet Betsy From Pike." "First person refers to the speaker you see. For personal pronouns use I, mine, and me".
For thousands of years human history was passed down the generations using music as a way to remember long sagas before they could be written down. In these modern times, we tend to think of music as an entertainment or something that helps a troop of soldiers to step out smartly in a parade. Music is not just entertainment. Music has a profound biological resonance and it is an essential component of nearly every human endeavor. Oliver Sacks, the noted neurologist, wrote a book called "Awakenings" in which he describes his patients whose brains were severely damaged by Parkinson's disease. These patients were unable to walk, but when music was played they were able to get up and dance across the floor. Music has an alternate set of neurological pathways through our bodies and our brains.
Music programs have a very discernable positive effect on our children's education. A recent survey by Harris Interactive of 450 randomly selected high schools revealed that students who are enrolled in a music program have a 90.2% graduation rate, while those who take no music classes have a 72.9% graduation rate. Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and associate dean of the School of Fine Arts at Kansas University, conducted a landmark study comparing test scores of students in a music program with students who had no music. Professor Johnson later testified before Congress, presenting some eye-opening data: students of all regions and socio-economic backgrounds who studied music scored significantly higher on math and English tests than students who did not study music.
Recently I have been invited to sing at several schools. I agreed on the condition that I not sing from the stage to a large school assembly but rather in the classrooms of first and second graders so that they could hear un-amplified music in a more natural setting the way I experience it in my living room. I know that many of these children don't have families that play music at home. In fact, most of them have had no experience with anything but recorded music. They think music comes out of their television or computer screens, not out of people's hands and mouths. After they got over the shock of discovering that we didn't have volume knobs on our heads or on our acoustic guitars, they settled down and listened to our selection of folk songs from the early part of the twentieth century. These were not children's songs. They were songs about building the railroad, exploring unknown territory and the loneliness of being a stranger in a new land. Afterward, we talked about the stories in the songs and how they might apply to their lives.
There are some excellent programs that promote live performances in the schools and they deserve to be supported. Yo-Yo Ma, the renowned cellist who performed recently at President Obama's inauguration, has volunteered his time to perform in schools with the help of an organization called Young Audiences.
In my hometown of Tucson, an organization called OMA (Opening Minds to the Arts) has made a tremendous impact in helping children of many different cultures and languages to assimilate into the Tucson Unified School District. Children of African refugees, Native Americans, and Mexican immigrants, all have benefited from learning music, the universal language, as they struggle to become proficient in English and excel in their other subjects. In only the first year the program was implemented, the dramatic rise in test scores in schools being served by OMA surprised teachers and researchers alike.
Currently, I am acting as the artistic director of the Mexican Heritage Foundation in San Jose, California. We have a mariachi program that has functioned successfully in the schools since 1992 and an exciting math and music program in development.
And finally, as you may know, there is a conductor of staggering talent who has been hailed as the next Leonard Bernstein. His name is Gustavo Dudamel and he has toured the United States and Europe with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra to ecstatic reviews. He joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic as their Music Director in the fall. Perhaps you have seen him featured on 60 Minutes or in other national or international press. Here's what matters to us today: this young conductor has a passion for music education because he knows its true power to alter the course of young lives. He was brought up in Venezuela in the extraordinary music education system that I mentioned earlier called El Sistema. It has existed for 35 years, and now reaches over 250,000 students and their families. A driving force in Dudamel's life is to transform communities through participation in music. He is leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic's YOLA or Youth Orchestra L.A. project, which is designed to serve children who have the most need and the fewest resources. ACCESS TO QUALITY MUSIC EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD IT. THE BENEFITS ARE TOO GREAT.
Today, children ages 7-16 in the urban core of Los Angeles receive free instruments, after-school music instruction and orchestra experience. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has already touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families and has plans to reach more. Imagine what can be accomplished if we support the arts, engage 'at risk' youth and help them succeed in school and in their lives. For 'underserved' families, indeed for all families, participation in music and the arts can help people reclaim and achieve the American Dream.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
UPDATE: Gay Marriage Legal in Iowa!
“From a Catholic point of view, Newt’s sins no longer exist—they’ve been absolved. He’s made a fresh start in life. So Newt will continue to sin and confess but there aren’t going to be a lot of Catholics who will hold that against him. They understand why being a Catholic makes a difference.”
So Newt can carry on screwing around, run to confession to say how dreadfully sorry he is, be forgiven--and it’s off to the races again (repeat, repeat, repeat). Ironic that a Republican from the Baptist South is resorting to the Catholic Church, traditionally hated and distrusted there, to restore himself to respectability. Strange bedfellows, indeed.
UPDATE: Victory in Iowa!!
by Lisa Keen, contributing writer, Bay Windows
Friday Apr 3, 2009
In an enormous victory for equal marriage rights for gay couples, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that gay couples should have the right to marriage licenses the same as heterosexual couples.
The decision represents the first time a state supreme court has ruled unanimously in favor of equal marriage rights for gay couples, and it is the first time a state in America’s "heartland" has done so. The decision, which goes into effect in 21 days, will make Iowa the third state to be currently offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important government objective," wrote Justice Mark Cady, for the seven-member court. "The legislature has [with its 1998 law banning marriage] excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."
The court said the law violated the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law and that the court’s own constitutional duty "requires" it to strike the law down.
Noting that other supreme courts have allowed legislatures to provide "equal benefits" of marriage through civil unions, the Iowa court said such a "new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution." The state’s marriage law -minus the ban for gay couples-must now be applied, said the court, "in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage."
"When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long," said Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, in a joint statement. "It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency. Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan."
The Des Moines Register put a different spin on it. The paper, which published procedures for how to impeach a judge after the district court judge ruled in favor of gay marriage, today "reported" the ruling was "a victory for the gay rights movement in Iowa and elsewhere, and a setback for social conservatives who wanted to protect traditional families."
There is no doubt that the decision is a victory for people seeking equal treatment of gay people under the law."
"Today’s victory is a testament to the strength of love, hope and courage-our clients have shown an abundance of all three for many years and now at long last they will be able to marry," said Camilla Taylor, an attorney at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund that spearheaded the lawsuit. "This will go down as another proud day in Iowa’s long history of protecting individual rights."
Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, said: "There’s a rainbow over Iowa today and equality in marriage has come to America’s heartland."
Joe's site has a list of quotes from right wingers and homophobes predicting that god will strike Iowa with massive crop failures and economic ruin to punish it for legalizing gay marriage.