Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some time after I arrived in Boston to begin studies at the Boston University Theater School, I began expanding my record collection in the new and exciting areas of Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque that had suddenly taken off like rockets. The market became flooded with inexpensive LPs licensed from European companies. Perhaps the most prominent label was Nonesuch--I bought scores of their records. Another was Vanguard and the prize of the bunch was a recording of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks in a version not like any other available.

It was a time that saw the beginning of what's now called "authentic practice" by those who were exploring early music, but began as "original instrument." Violins were being outfitted with gut strings rather than steel, recorders in all their different registers and harpsichords were everywhere. The truly brave took up valveless "natural" horns and the little, brilliant Baroque trumpets with their stratospheric high notes; they were treacherous to play and before players had fully mastered them they cracked notes mercilessly. Audiences were introduced to the different sound of entire orchestras made up of original instruments; groups battled each other in print, on the concert platform, and via their recordings over which one was more authentic than thou.

In 1959 the young Charles Mackerras, soon to be a major force in original instrument authentic practice, looked at the original manuscript of the Fireworks Music and saw that its instrumentation was radically different from that of the smoothed over, reorchestrated scores made by Victorian-era arrangers and decided to see what the original sounde like. An English company agreed to make a recording. The sessions had to begin late at night after the musicians in London's symphony orchestras and opera house orchestra pits were finished their evening performances. The cream of the city's brass, woodwind and percussion players was engaged. This was the orchestra for which Handel had written:

24 oboes (26 were used for the recording), 14 bassoons (16 for the recording) , 4 contra-bassoons, 2 serpents, 9 horns, 9 trumpets, 6 tympani, and 6 side drums. A gothic church in the north of London was the recording venue.

The recording was a revelation when it came out, and over the years I literally wore the record out. The performance, the sheer glorious noise of it, had nothing to do with the reverent, polite performance style that had become standard for Handel and which frequently drained the life out of much of his work. This was exciting, striding, confident, full-blooded Handel.

As my LP deteriorated, I kept looking for a CD reissue and one may at some time have come out but I couldn't find it if it did. Two weeks ago Amazon sent one if its periodic notices of new releases it thinks I might like based on previous purchases - and there it was on the Testament label, the Fireworks, the other items on the original release, and other Handel performances conducted by the young Mackerras. There are even the two minuets from the Fireworks, with the sounds of actual fireworks and cannon shots mixed in, that had been released in England but not in the US as a bonus.

I played it last night during dinner and Fritz was captivated. There's a moment early in the overture to the Fireworks that is just breathtaking. It begins with a grand, stately section in the lower voiced winds, then a sudden, brilliant entrance by the nine trumpets, and an immediate response from the nine horns with a thrilling burr on their tone made all the more exciting by the crystal clear digitized sound. A whole era of baroque splendor is in that moment!


One of the longest and busiest careers at the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere ended last week with the retirement of Charles Anthony. I began going to opera as a kid - literally - and Charley Anthony was in the first opera I ever saw: Rossini's The Barber of Seville in 1957. He'd already been singing there for three years at that time.

In his first years he sang not only the character roles for which he would became so famous, but also some lyric tenor leads. A repertory company can't exist, however, without a rock solid ensemble in support of the big stars. That's where the child of Sicilian immigrants who had settled in New Orleans made his mark. He was born Calogero Antonio Caruso; the article below got his original name wrong. He had a very big voice, which was just right for a 3800 seat opera house, and sang in French, Italian, German, English, and Russian operas.

After 57 Years at the Met, a Tenor’s Swan Song
By JAMES BARRON, NY Times January 27, 2010, 6:25 pm

Would a Caruso by another name be as memorable?

The tenor Charles Anthony has had 57 years to wonder about that. That is how long he has been on the Metropolitan Opera’s roster, appearing with stars who were household names. Plácido Domingo. Kiri Te Kanawa. Jessye Norman. Luciano Pavarotti. Leontyne Price.

They sang under their own names. Not Mr. Anthony.

Rudolf Bing, the Met’s imperious general manager when Mr. Anthony was in his 20s and had just made it into the semifinals of the Met’s auditions for promising young singers, told him that he had to choose another name.

It already had a guy with his last name: Enrico Caruso. So Charles Anthony Caruso became just Charles Anthony.

Now, at 80, Mr. Anthony has become a Methuselah of the Met. It is tempting to say that he has appeared too many times to count, but the Met counts things. It says he has appeared in 2,927 performances, the most of any solo artist in its history. He is comfortably ahead of George Cehanovsky, a Russian-born baritone who appeared 2,394 times in a career that began in 1926. (No. 3 on the list could steal the title in a few years: James Levine, the music director of the Met, has conducted 2,410 performances.)

As a younger man, Mr. Anthony concentrated on character roles. For the last few years he has been something of a bench warmer, singing some roles but also covering those of singers assigned to parts he once sang. If an understudy suddenly gets a sore throat, he steps in. That does not happen often, so most nights, he watches the doings on the stage on a wide-screen television in a dressing room.

But on Thursday, he is going on, as Emperor Altoum in Puccini’s “Turandot.” It will be his last appearance at the Met, the end of a run that began with “Boris Godunov” and continued with “Pagliacci” and “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” on tour, opposite Roberta Peters. And that was just during his first season, in 1954.

“We’re talking about a huge range of roles,” Mr. Levine said. “We’re talking about a guy with phenomenal resilience.”

Mr. Anthony learned the emperor’s role when he was 66, an age when many singers’ voices have left them. He had sung another character in “Turandot” in the 1960s — Pong, one of the three ministers at the emperor’s court in Beijing. “Then Zeffirelli came along” in the 1970s, Mr. Anthony said, “and I did Pang.”

“I always wanted to do the emperor,” he said, but Mr. Levine told him, “Your voice sounds too young. I guess at 80,” Mr. Anthony said, “I’m old enough.”

In all those years at the Met, he has not only sung a lot, he has seen a lot: the understudy who leapt over a wall, the way the star always did, only to pull the wall down. The donkey in “Il Trittico” who ruined a scene with the nuns.

Or the time the soprano in “Salome” finished the Dance of the Seven Veils, only to have a tenor who had a role in that scene whisper, “Can she sing ‘Melancholy Baby’?”

Mr. Levine said that it was true that, back in the ’70s or the ’80s, he had said Mr. Anthony still sounded too young to sing the emperor’s part. “The other thing I remember saying was, he was a beacon of really intelligent bel canto singing,” Mr. Levine said, “and that was important for the incoming singers to see that this isn’t about screaming or forcing it.”

Two newcomers Mr. Anthony appeared with probably already knew that. One was Marian Anderson, who made her Met debut in January 1955 in “Un Ballo in Maschera.” “I didn’t realize what a momentous evening that was,” he said. “The Jackie Robinson of opera.”

Seven years later, he had a hand — literally — in Ms. Price’s first night at the Met, in “Il Trovatore.”

“I had to lead her on stage” for her big scene in Act IV, Mr. Anthony said. “Her hands were ice cold. She didn’t want to move. She was petrified. She had to sing the toughest aria in the show. I hear our cue. I say, ‘That’s our cue.’ She says, ‘I can’t go.’ Then she looked up and says, ‘Well, God, you got me here, now get me out of here!’”

She sang the aria, “D’amor sull’ali rosee.” For a long moment after the last note, there was silence in the house. “I’m going, ‘Oh, my God, they’re not going to applaud?’” Mr. Anthony recalled. “And then the audience roared like an airplane.”

The conversation turned to Pavarotti. They appeared in more than 130 performances together, starting with “La Traviata” in 1970. The performance he remembered was in 1981, the first time they were in the same cast of “Rigoletto.”

“Most singers are petrified before they go on,” he said. “Pavarotti said, ‘Anthony’ — and he was shaking — ‘I wouldn’t wish these three minutes before the orchestra starts on my worst enemy.’ And then there’s a moment when they fall back on their technique and lock in. I’ve been scared all my life. I prayed my way through every performance.”

I've seen a total of 859 performances of opera so far in my life from Sydney, Australia to Kiev, Ukraine with the majority at the Metropolitan. I don't know how many performances I've seen with Charley Anthony over the years - perhaps as many as a hundred. But even if it was "only" ninety, there was something reassuring knowing that every season I bought tickets for the Metropolitan, Charley would be involved somehow. He was there the first time I saw a live opera, and as good as it will continue to be for me at the MET, one small but meaningful component of that great organization is gone and will be sincerely missed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Here's a story on one of our own, home-grown homophobic wingnuts:

GOPer: NH Selling Children To Gay Couples For $10,000
Jillian Rayfield | January 25, 2010, 1:00PM TPM LiveWire

Democrats are calling on New Hampshire State Rep. Alfred Baldasaro (R) to resign over his remarks that the state "sold" children for $10,000 each when "they said that homosexual couples, not married, can adopt."

Baldasaro is one of the main sponsors of HB 1590, which aims to repeal a New Hampshire law allowing same-sex couples to marry. In his testimony before the state's House Judiciary Committee on January 20, Baldasaro offered his objections to gay marriage, first insisting that it's "not normal."

He elaborated with some choice metaphors:

"So because I disagree on something that's pushed down my throat, I'm supposed to roll over because, representative, you think it's normal? I'm sorry you got the wrong person."

Then things got really bad: "I wanted to make sure everyone understood here, that this legislature sold the rights of $10,000 per kid under title four, when they said that homosexual couples, not married, can adopt. So we sold each kid to a homosexual couple that's not married for $10,000," Baldasaro said.

Baldasaro also brought up incestuous couples, asking "aren't we discriminating against all them? What about the Muslims now?," he asked. "Everyone's praising the Muslims. They're killing us. What about them, they want three, four wives. We're discriminating against them."

Following these remarks, Ray Buckley, Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, released a statement calling on Baldasaro to resign:

"Rep. Baldasaro's remarks have no place in New Hampshire and certainly not from a state elected official. He needs to immediately apologize for his outrageous statement. And his Londonderry colleague House Minority Leader Rep. Sherman Packard, as well as Deputy Minority Leader Rep. David Hess of Hooksett and Republican 16th District Senate candidate Rep. David Boutin of Hooksett should denounce these ridiculously hateful remarks and demand his resignation.

"The Granite State is a place where people of different backgrounds are accepted, not discriminated against based on their, race, gender, or sexual orientation. To make such an ignorant comment is an embarrassment to his party, his office, and to our state. Republican legislative leaders should take swift and determined action against Rep. Baldasaro."

We're still waiting to hear if there's going to be any fall-out from this at all, as in Mr. Baldasaro falling from position. One thing that's encouraging is that political commentators here believe his attempt to overturn same-sex marriage and other rights in New Hampshire by law has no chance at all of passage.


President Obama has just announced in his State of the Union message that this is the year that he will move to end DADT. The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reacted with stony silence and did not applaud. We've heard this from him beforre - we'll see.


One of the latest pictures of Sasha Julia, who will be six months old on Thursday of next week.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I have some news, not the best but something we believe we will work through successfully, and Fritz has given the go-ahead to blog about it.

At his annual physical, Fritz's PSA numbers were higher than usual when the blood work was analyzed. His doctor said he should have a prostate biopsy and the results showed prostate cancer.

As you may know, this is the least aggressive cancer and patients are frequently told they will die of something else long before prostate cancer becomes a problem. But of the six samples taken throughout the prostate for biopsy, five were cancerous and their PSA numbers, while not in the "critical" range, were higher than in the "too low to worry about" range.

We sat with the oncologist earlier this week and learned all the options. Doing nothing and monitoring further biopsy results in future was one of the options, which Fritz rejected because of a history of cancer in his family (mother, older sister, younger brother). Other courses of treatment available: surgery to remove the prostate, freeze the prostate to kill it and the cancer in it, hormone treatment, low dose radiation. The first three, while effective, can have serious side effects, including incapacities of one kind or another.

The last one would work this way: a single hormone shot to shrink the prostate over a three month period (which will also "soften up" the cancer and make it more vulnerable to radiation) followed by six weeks of pinpoint accurate radiation to destroy the cancer, and perhaps a final hormone shot IF the oncologist feels it's absolutely necessary. Fritz, with the doctor's and my agreement, has chosen this course of treatment (statistically extremely effective with the fewest side effects) and felt there was no sense delaying it. He had the hormone shot right there and then; we will be seeing the radiologist on the 4th of February to discuss radiation procedure, schedule, etc. The oncologist is very positive about this course of treatment for a man in such strong health.

Fritz told me he may be up and down emotionally for a while and I told him that's just fine--we'll adjust and make it all work and we feel pretty confident we'll come out the other side OK.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Politics makes strange bedfellows!

Cindy McCain endorses NOH8 gay marriage campaign
Failed presidential candidate John McCain opposes same-sex unions, but his wife and daughter think differently
The Guardian, UK (similar stories in the American press)

Cindy McCain, the wife of John McCain, posing for the NOH8 campaign.
Photograph: Adam Bouska/AP

John McCain's staunch opposition to gay marriage was one of the key parts of his presidential campaign. But it has become clear this was not supported in his own household. His daughter, Meghan, is a vocal advocate of gay rights. Now his wife, Cindy, has appeared in a poster campaign against California's proposition 8 – a law banning same-sex marriage.

The move has shocked and delighted gay rights campaigners and led to questions about the state of the McCains' own marriage.

Cindy McCain appears in the poster with silver duct tape across her mouth and the campaign slogan, "NOH8", marked on her cheek.

Unveiling the image on his website, Adam Bouska, the founder of the campaign, said: "In the year since we've started the NOH8 Campaign we've often been surprised at some of the different individuals who have approached us showing their support. Few, though, have surprised us more than Cindy McCain.

"Aligning yourself with the platform of gay marriage as a Republican still tends to be very stigmatic, but Cindy McCain wanted to participate in the campaign to show people that party doesn't matter."

John McCain's office said in a statement that he respected the views of his family but remained opposed to gay marriage. "Senator McCain believes the sanctity of marriage is only defined as between one man and one woman," it said. In 2008 McCain backed a measure in his home state of Arizona to ban same-sex marriage.

Meghan McCain also appears in the poster campaign. "I couldn't be more proud of my mother for posing for the NOH8 campaign," she wrote on Twitter. "I think more Republicans need to start taking a stand for equality.

"I was there when she did it and I almost started crying during the photo shoot."

Bloggers are suggesting that Cindy McCain's move is a deliberate public dig at her husband. Writing on gossip site Gawker, Maureen O'Connor praised both Cindy McCain and Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of the 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, for defying their husbands on gay marriage.

"Is it a coincidence that these two couples are also in the public eye over marital woes?" she wrote.

Pam Spaulding, who blogs on gay issues, was reminded of an infamous and foul-mouthed bust up between John and Cindy during a campaign in 1992. "Given the Senator's hot temper, and the fact that he called his wife a trollop and 'you c*nt' … this was a nice 'screw you' for picking that dimwit Palin and derailing the campaign," Spaulding wrote. (The asterisk is Pam Spaulding's, not ours.)

The participation of Cindy and Meghan McCain in the NoH8 campaign is apparently causing an uproar in Republican circles. Mrs. McCain had earlier supported gay marriage by appearing at a convention organized by the Log Cabin Republicans last year. Meghan McCain says her mother has always been a supporter of same-sex marriage.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This item came to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune from a "ghost writer" named Lily Coyle:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle.

Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please.

Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Photo: Larry Wolf, Associated Press

Sent to Fritz and me by a good friend; what's delicious is that names are named:

A DC airport ticket agent offers some examples of 'WHY' our country is in trouble!

1. I had a New Hampshire Congresswoman (Carol Shea-Porter) ask for an aisle seat so that her hair wouldn't get messed up by being near the window--on an airplane!

2. I got a call from a Kansas Congressman's (Moore) staffer (Howard Bauleke), who wanted to go to Cape Town. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information, and then he interrupted me with, ''I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts.''

Without trying to make him look stupid, I calmly explained, ''Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Cape Town is in South Africa ''

His response -- (click).

3. A senior Vermont Congressman (Bernie Sanders) called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that's not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state.

He replied, 'Don't lie to me!, I looked on the map, and Florida is a very THIN state!!''

4. I got a call from a lawmaker's wife (Landra Reid) who asked, ''Is it possible to see England from Canada ?'' I said, ''No.''

She said, ''But they look so close on the map'' (OMG, again!)

5. An aide for a cabinet member (Janet Napolitano) once called and asked if he could rent a car in Dalls. I pulled up the reservation and noticed he had only a 1-hour layover in Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, ''I heard Dallas was a big airport, and we will need a car to drive between gates to save time.'' (Aghhhh)

6. An Illinois Congresswoman (Jan Schakowsky) called last week. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:30 a.m., and got to Chicago at 8:33 a.m.

I explained that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she couldn't understand the concept of time zones. Finally, I told her the plane went fast, and she bought that.

7. A New York lawmaker, (Jerrold Nadler) called and asked, ''Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to whom?'' I said, 'No, why do you ask?'

He replied, ''Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said (FAT), and I'm overweight I think that's very rude!''

After putting him on hold for a minute, while I looked into it. (I was dying laughing), I came back and explained the city code for Fresno , Ca. is (FAT - Fresno Air Terminal), and the airline was just putting a destination tag on his luggage..

8. A Senator John Kerry aide (Lindsay Ross) called to inquire about a trip package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked,''Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii ?''

9. I just got off the phone with a freshman Congressman, Bobby Bright from Ala who asked, ''How do I know which plane to get on?''

I asked him what exactly he meant, to which he replied, ''I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these planes have numbers on them.''

10. Senator Dianne Feinstein called and said, ''I need to fly to Pepsi-Cola, Florida . Do I have to get on one of those little computer planes?''

I asked if she meant fly to Pensacola, FL on a commuter plane. She said,''Yeah, whatever, smarty!''

11. Mary Landrieu, La. Senator, called and had a question about the documents she needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded her that she needed a visa. 'Oh, no I don't, I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those.''

I double checked and sure enough, her stay required a visa. When I told her this she said, ''Look, I've been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express!''

12. A New Jersey Congressman (John Adler) called to make reservations, ''I want to go from Chicago to Rhino, New York .''

I was at a loss for words. Finally, I said, ''Are you sure that's the name of the town?''

''Yes, what flights do you have?'' replied the man.

After some searching, I came back with, ''I'm sorry, sir, I've looked up every airport code in the country and can't find a rhino anywhere."

''The man retorted, ''Oh, don't be silly! Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!''

So I scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, ''You don't mean Buffalo, do you?''

The reply? ''Whatever! I knew it was a big animal.''

Now you know why the Government is in the shape that it's in! Could ANYONE be this DUMB?

YES, They walk among us, are in politics, and they continue to breed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Apricot Noodle Pudding

When our 23 New Year's guests had all gone home, we began the job of cleaning up and one of the tasks was to package and preserve leftovers from all the great lunches and dinners that the guys had made. Among the leftovers was a gallon-sized freezer bag of spaghetti. I used some of it when I dismantled half a turkey into two frozen dinners of something like Turkey Tetrazzini with pasta; more of it went into spaghetti with home-made pesto that was very good indeed.

But there was still more. I really dislike throwing out good food, so I cast around in my mind for something else I'd like to make--and noodle pudding popped into my head. I went on line, found something like 20 different recipes and chose the one whose ingredients sounded best to me, and which I already had in the house. As usual, I made some additions, in this case typical dessert spices to give the pudding a better taste profile. I used a lovely old straight-sided crockery bowl of Fritz's and it came out very well indeed. It also tasted delicious!

Apricot Noodle Pudding

1/4 lb. butter (I used the reduced fat Move Over, Butter)
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
Mix thoroughly

Grease a bundt pan or 12 cup Jello mold. Put the brown sugar mixture in bottom of mold and pat down with fingers

5 well beaten eggs
1 cup cream or milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dried apricots, cut up
1/2 c. white raisins
1/2 c. sugar
1/8 lb. butter, melted
1-1/2 to 2 cups cooked noodles (I substituted my spaghetti chopped into short lengths)
2 tsp, cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
Mix thoroughly and pour into the mold on top of the brown sugar mixture.
Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees and test for doneness the usual way.
Cool and unmold onto a plate or platter.

I served this pudding with a dollop of non-fat vanilla yogurt on top.


From BBC News:
Ancient map with China at center goes on show in US

A historic map of the world, with China at its center, has gone on display at the Library of Congress in Washington. The map was created by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci in 1602. It is one of only two copies in existence in good condition.

Because of its rarity and fragility - the map is printed on rice paper - the map has become known as the "Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography". This is the first time it has been on public show in north America.

Ricci created the map at the request of Emperor Wanli who wanted it to help scholars and explorers.

A detail from the China section of Matteo Ricci's world map

The map was purchased by the James Ford Bell Trust in October for $1m, making it the second-most expensive rare map ever sold. It denotes different parts of the world with annotations and pictures. The map had China at the center of the world to underline its importance

In the Americas, several places are named including Chih-Li (Chile), Wa-ti-ma-la (Guatemala) and Ka-na-ta (Canada), and Florida is described as "the Land of the Flowers".

Ford W Bell, a trustee for the James Ford Bell Trust, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper, that the map was "one of the two best in terms of quality, as far as we know. Ricci was a very smart missionary. He put China right at the center of this new universe, this new globe, to underscore its importance," he said. "Ricci, of course, was the first Westerner to enter Beijing. He was revered by the Chinese, and he was buried there."

The first secretary for cultural affairs at the Chinese embassy in the US, Ti Ban Zhang, said in a statement that the map represents "the momentous first meeting of East and West".

Well, that last statement is seriously up for grabs. The Silk Road was in operation during the height of the Roman Empire with goods passing back and forth freely and frequently. When the Western Empire collapsed, the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople, sent missionaries to China; they smuggled live silk worm larvae out of the country, which b roke the Chinese monopoly began a thriving Western silk industry that had a big political and financial impact.

Arab fleets sailed to China throughout the medieval period at a time when Islam stretched from the Atlantic coast of Spain and North Africa all the way to Afghanistan. Xian in the heart of China was the site of a major Muslim settlement whose descendants live there today--I visited their mosque in 1985. Jews are documented to have had well-established settlements in several Chinese cities in the 7th and 8th centuries; evidence exists that Jews may well have arrived in China as early as 250BC. Marco Polo's trip to China in the 13th century was a logical development of the millennium-old Silk Route contact between China and "the West."

There is intriguing evidence that a Chinese exploratory fleet hugged the shoreline up the Siberian Coast, sailed across the Aleutian Island chain and southward as far as South America in the early 15th century--that it was the Chinese who, in fact, "discovered America." The returning fleet's description of oval fruits made up of yellow seeds on the outside sounds like nothing so much as corn.

All this was well before the 1602 map. As the years go by and more discoveries are made in uncataloged archival libraries and via archaeology, it becomes possible to see a world far more interconnected into even remote antiquity than we had ever dreamed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


California: The Ultimate Battleground?

I am beginning to see speculation in the press and on the web that what happens in California may not stay in California--the issue, of course, is same-sex marriage.

Should the ruling in California go against Prop 8 thereby reinstating gay marriage, the expectation is that the various groups who stand against gay rights will form a coalition and appeal right up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court could--COULD--deliver a ruling that would go beyond California and either establish gay marriage across the length and breadth of the United States--or do the other thing entirely. So, either the long, arduous process of going state by state would be averted, or we could lose everything some Monday later this year and watch the victory laps of those who would oppress gays and lesbians.

It's a serious question--and risk--because there is a majority of Roman Catholic Justices sitting on the bench at this time, at least one well-known homophobe among them, and the Vatican, which is denying the sacraments to Patrick Kennedy for his support of a woman's right to choose, has no hesitation in imposing itself on the American legislative and judicial process.


For all my worry, the wine glass rack went up without incident. I marked and drilled four holes, hitting solid wood each time. With the ceiling hooks firmly anchored I hung the rack, filled it with glasses, and we lived with it for the evening and the next morning.

At that time, we both decided it was riding too low, so I removed two links from each chain. I also added a brace made of a nice piece of scrap oak because the rack had developed a noticeable sag during the night. The woodworking site on the web from which I ordered the rack makes them out of clear pine, but the runners going the length of the rack are not particularly hefty and weren't strong enough to carry seven slots of glasses without forming a dip in the middle. I don't think I'll be ordering from them again.

The piece of oak turned out to be seven inches longer than the rack. My plan was to trim off the excess and center it lengthwise at 90 degrees to the slots in which the glasses hang. But I happened to lay the piece on top of the rack so that it overhung on each side and liked the look, as well as having a place from which to hang drying herbs and clusters of garlic bulbs. When we're putting recipes together on the island below, we'll just have to reach up a little to get some of the seasonings.


It's MY sofa!


Anne Frank diary guardian Miep Gies dies aged 100
From BBC News

Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, has died in the Netherlands aged 100. She and other employees of Anne Frank's father Otto supplied food to the family as they hid in a secret annex above the business premises in Amsterdam, from 1942 to 1944.

Anne's diary of their life in hiding, which ended in betrayal, is one of the most famous records of the Holocaust. It was rescued by Mrs Gies, who kept it safe until after the war. She died in a nursing home after suffering a fall just before Christmas.

Speaking last year as she celebrated her 100th birthday, Mrs Gies played down her role, saying others had done far more to protect Jews in the Netherlands.

When the family were found by the authorities, they were deported, and Anne died of typhus in the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

It was Mrs Gies who collected up Anne's papers and locked them away, hoping that one day she would be able to give them back to the girl. In the event, she returned them to Otto Frank, who survived the war, and helped him compile them into a diary that was published in 1947. It went on to sell tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages.

Mrs Gies became a kind of ambassador for the diary, travelling to talk about Anne Frank and her experiences, campaigning against Holocaust denial and refuting allegations that the diary was a forgery. For her efforts to protect the Franks and to preserve their memory, Mrs Gies won many accolades

In an interview from 1998, published on the annefrank website, Miep Gies says she thought it "perfectly natural" to help Anne and the seven others despite the penalties she could have suffered under the Nazi occupation. "They were powerless, they didn't know where to turn..." she says. "We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need."

Mrs Gies also remembers the day the Franks were taken away and how she went up into the empty annex to find the pages of the diary lying on the floor. Removing the pages, she did not read them immediately, telling herself at the time: "These may belong to a child, but even children have a right to privacy."


Fritz and I have put on hold for a while our plans to take down this year's Christmas tree. We had a great time putting the two sections up, all our friends and family had a great time with it, the birds love the outside section and the cat has a great time watching them just a couple of inches from the glass. It's being well watered and remains supple, so there's no great fire danger. We'll probably get to it this weekend--reluctantly, to be sure.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The holidays officially end around here this weekend with the taking down of all the ornaments and, tomorrow, the inside/outside Christmas tree. In all it's been a truly great holiday season, filled with family, visitors and guests (more this weekend), lots of fun and frolic (some especially delightful frolic during our big New Year's gathering), and a great feeling of connectedness with everyone we know and love.

Picked up from Boston's The Edge website:

Portuguese parliament moves to permit gay marriage
Associated Press Friday Jan 8, 2010

Portugal’s Parliament is debating a bill that would permit gay marriage in the mostly Roman Catholic country. The Socialist government’s bill has the support of all left-of-center parties and is expected to pass Friday afternoon. Its approval would make Portugal the sixth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

If passed, the proposed law goes to Portugal’s conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva. He can ratify or veto it, but a veto can be overturned by Parliament. If there is no presidential veto, the first gay marriage ceremonies could take place in April.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates says the measure is part of his effort to modernize Portugal. Two years ago his government lifted Portugal’s ban on abortion.

The Parliament has passed the measure and same-sex marriages could start in April. News reports say the president is unlikely to veto the bill which had the support of the entire Left.


I have some projects coming up, one of which is going to be a bit tricky. I had a wine glass rack made for us to hang centered over the island in the middle of the kitchen. Ideally the rack should be hung from hooks screwed into the ceiling joists, but between the joists and the actual ceiling is 3/4" strapping. My joist finder doesn't pickup the joists because of the 3/4" of open space between the top of the ceiling board and the underside of the joist, but it does find all the strapping.

Given the right screw-hooks and the relatively light weight of the rack even when it's loaded, I suspect I can hang the thing from the strapping, particularly if I add a couple of extra hanging points for security. I don't want to drill lots and lots of holes in the ceiling to locate the joists. Wish me luck, please!


My Cousin in Montreal sent this, with full acknowledgment that it probably offends everyone and traffics in national stereotypes. But it IS funny, so please keep that in mind, especially because Italians (of which I am one on my father's side) get a good drubbing along with everyone else:

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to"A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588 when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose".

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Americans meanwhile and as usual are carrying out pre-emptive strikes on all of their allies 'just in case'.

Canada doesn't have any alert levels.

New Zealand has also raised its security levels - from "baaa" to "BAAAA". Due to continuing defense cutbacks, New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "I hope Australia will come and rescue us".

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be al'right, mate". Three more escalation levels remain: "Crikey!", "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and "The barbie is cancelled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

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