Atlantis Alumni

Monday, April 30, 2007

Welcome Aboard, Marc!

One of the great things about hobbies can be the people that you meet who share your hobby interests. It's doubly wonderful when you meet someone through your hobby who also shares some of your larger concerns about the world. So it is with great pleasure that I say "Welcome aboard!" HTP Blog to Marc Kuffler. Marc is a most knowledgeable collector of standard gauge trains who has maintained a most interesting blog focusing on our hobby for several years. I joined Marc's blog recently as a contributor, and I'm delighted that he is going to return the favor here on HTP.

The Bushies continue eating their own. Don't you just feel terrible for poor George Tenet. His new book in his own defense, which is due out today, accuses Bush/Cheney of not fully discussing the Iraq war before proceeding. But George Tenet, you told George Bush that Iraq would be a "slam-dunk." Come on George Tenet, you had to know that if you told clueless, dumb George Bush something like that then you'd be enabling him. There would be no further discussion needed. It would be slam-dunk! On 60 minutes last night, Tenet tried to say that he meant something else by "slam-dunk." Give me a break. You have to be of questionable character to take the job of CIA chief. I could never do it and I don't know anyone who could. The CIA is a necessary evil. But to take the job under Bush/Cheney, now that would require someone really special, wouldn't it?

Here's an update on the former Imus slot on MSNBC. This week they are simulcasting yet another local radio show talking head, one Stephanie Miller from somewhere out on the Left coast. Supposedly a "liberal," she claims she is too liberal for Republicans and right wingers, but too un-PC for those on the left. Where do they get these people?


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mammoth Productions At The Met

The best production of opera I've seen all year was the new Trittico at the Metropolitan Opera. A huge physical production, it features meticulously detailed sets for each of the three operas that comprise Puccini's extraordinary triptych. Not only a complete river barge materialized in Il Tabarro, the first opera, but also an overhead bridge that crossed the Seine. A cloister and 'stone' chapel set the stage for Suor Angelica, which accommodated deft sunlight and subsequent 'mystical' light effects in that powerful opera. Yet the last of the three operas, Gianni Schicchi, contained the biggest coup de theatre, when a large and ornate room in a Renaissance palace sunk into the stage, in seconds supplanted by a terrace overlooking Florence's glorious skyline. This is a photo of the cover of the original score.

The musical values of the three operas were strongly delineated by Maestro James Levine. And the Met cast all three works from strength, with such fine singing-actors as Barbara Frittoli, Stephanie Blythe, Maria Guleghina and Salvatore Licitra. Yet the size of the production, described by the Met as the largest in its repertory, started me thinking about the current peculiar double standards that exist in opera stagings in this country and in Europe.

Usually, realistic productions are decried by the New York press. Is there a single New York Times critic who admires Franco Zeffirelli? If so, I've yet to read such an opinion. Most critics praise minimalism (like Robert Wilson's) and the distortions of countless European regie directors. Wilson's staging is done solely with lighting effects and he forces his actors to stand still as statues for long periods of time. Such practices rarely add anything to Wagner's operas or the other pieces he directs. The other type of staging popular now in theater and opera is called "Regie," from the German word for 'direction.' This usually involves updating the story and tossing in clumsy symbolism. A current example at the Met is this season's new production of Richard Strauss' opera Die Agyptische Helena. English director David Fielding included such distractions and (by now cliches) as a group of warriors in suits who carry suitcases onstage and leave them spread about the floor to no discernible effect. This type of direction has been discourteously and quite accurately labeled "Eurotrash." Though such practices are just as often done now by American directors, as the New York City Opera's unfortunate production of Rossini's La Donna del Lago proves. Certainly it's not impossible to update an opera and make a powerful statement, as the Met's production of the Shostakovich opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District demonstrates.

But a double standard seems to exist, to read the reviews of the Met's new Il Trittico. The Times applauded the production, and rightly so. Yet if the same designs and realistic directing had been created by Zeffirelli the whole production would have been lambasted. It could be that realistic and 'traditional' versions of stage design and direction may be on the way out for good. If that happens, it will be a sad world for future audiences and the masterpieces such directors trash.


82 Year Old Frank Kameny Speaks Out!

As reported in Ohio's Gay People's Chronicle newspaper, Long time gay rights activist Frank Kameny gave a fiery speech at the the American Veterans For Equal Rights Convention.

"The pinnacle of the convention, however, was the keynote address given by Dr. Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran. Kameny, 82, was fired from a Civil Service position for being gay in 1957, ending his career as an astronomer in the Army Map Service. He went on to become one of the earliest LGBT equal rights pioneers. “I have taken the strong position,” said Kameny, “that by denying military service by people with a lot to offer, [government officials] are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of our country. Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is the constitutional definition of ‘treason’,” he added. “Anyone who supports ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ starting with traitor [former U.S. Senator] Sam Nunn, should be indicted, prosecuted, convicted and hanged,” Kameny said to applause. “And I will gladly pay for the hangman’s noose out of my own pocket.”

Now, I admire Frank Kameny and agree with his sentiments, er, well, I don't believe in capital punishment, so I wouldn't hang anyone, but I think he has the wrong villain. Let's be perfectly clear about this: Bill Clinton is responsible for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Clinton promised to issue an executive order and then didn't' do it. Yes, Congress would have reversed it with legislation, but issuing the order would have put the executive branch of government on the record in favor of gays serving openly. Eliot Spitzer essentially is using the same strategy with his introduction of the gay marriage bill in New York state. He knows it will fail initially, but it sets a precedent. Clinton waffled, and he ended up setting the wrong precedent. Frank, it's Bill Clinton that you really need to hold accountable.


Catching Up On My Reading

Yesterday we drove to the beautiful Hamilton Station in New Jersey to catch a NJ Transit train into Manhattan. This is a most convienent way to travel between Philadelphia and New York.

The train ride gave me an opportunity to read a few magazines and other items of mail that I had stacked on my desk. The most recent issue of The New Yorker has a few great articles in it including one on Barbara Stanwyk and another on what happens to us physically as we grow old (it is not pretty.) Adam Gopnik's commentary on the VA Tech shootings and the need in the U.S. for handgun control hit the mark:

"Rural America is hunting country, and hunters need rifles and shotguns-with proper licensing, we'll live with the risk. There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun. At some point, that simple truth will register. Until it does, phones will ring for dead children, and parents will be told not to ask why."

When the medical professionals and police were removing the bodies of the dead kids from Norris Hall, cell phones were ringing in the victim's pockets. It was their parents frantically calling to check on them. What a horror, but no, we don't need gun control laws and strict enforcement to prevent mentally unstable kids from purchasing 9 mm Glocks, do we?


Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Democrat I Could Support

Eight years of Bill Clinton's broken promises and cowardly behavior in matters concerning gay rights has left me even more leery of Democrats and the Democratic Party than I was before. I agree with what some African American leaders say about the Democrats: they get lip service from them but little else. Gay and lesbians are even worse off when it comes to the Democratic Party. However, the newly elected governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, has made good on his promise to introduce a gay marriage bill in the state assembly. He knows it won't pass initially, but he's doing it anyway because it's the right thing to do. Hillary, of course, is opposed to gay marriage and has never renounced the hateful "Defense Of Marriage Act" that her husband signed in to law. Too bad Spitzer isn't running for president instead of Hillary.

The photo is of Sufjan Stevens at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia taken last fall. It was a great concert.

My Episcopalian friends are justly proud of their leadership in standing firm against the anti-gay bigotry of the reactionary elements within the Anglican communion. It's interesting to watch this play out. The big disappointment is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has sided with the bigots. He knows better.

I had a brief discussion at dinner the other evening with a friend. The topic was power in relationships. He feels that, in relationships one partner has the most power and the other is "needy." I don't think it's quite that simple. I think a partner that has a lot of power power can be needy, and the "needy" partner can have quite a bit of power. Successful relationships play out over time and lots of interpersonal "territory," and shifting dynamics of power and need.

We're off to the Big Apple today to enjoy the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Puccini's "Il Tritico."


Friday, April 27, 2007

This time of the year I bounce back and fourth like a ping pong ball between Fire Island and Philadelphia. Yesterday I drove back from New York and met with my Friend Marc for a couple of hours. He's handling his mother's death well. As he told me, they were both ready for it.

This photo shows the new Fire Island Pines Pavillion replacement structure, which is nearly ready for the summer season.

I missed the Democratic candidates debate on TV last night because we went out to dinner with friends. It was" Dining Out For Life," an AIDS fund raiser that has been a tradition for years. News coverage has it as a lovefest between the Dems at the expense of the emperor. I suppose that's a good thing at least at this point in the game.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marc's Mom

Ethel, my friend Marc's mother, died last night after a long series of illnesses. I've known Marc and Ethel for close to 40 years. Marc made nothing less than heroic efforts to help his mom during her illnesses. He left no stone unturned in terms of investigating therapies, talking to physicians and other professionals; and he stayed by her side throughout her hospitalizations. He did everything he could for her and then some. I can only admire his devotion and marvel at the love and care that he gave to Ethel in her last days. Marc is a man of great character and I'm proud to be his friend.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Island Blogging

Here's our Fire Island beach house. This shot was taken one early April day a few years ago. This April has also been pretty rough weather wise. However, yesterday the temperature soared into the 80s, and with the wind out of the north is was downright hot out here in Cherry Grove.

I'm fighting the computer wars here. The four year old desktop died. I have an old laptop that I can use, but I actually got a tired 10 year old desktop working that I had stored in the attic. I guess it's time to buy a new machine for the island house. But that means wrestling with compatibility problems since new boxes are packed with MS Vista and probably nothing we have will work with the new system.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Needed: The Fairness Doctrine

Smerconish is back on MSNBC again this morning. His guests, while I have been watching, have been Arlen Spector, Pat Buchannan, and John McCain. Now that's a nice, balanced lineup, eh? The Fairness Doctrine used to require real balance until it was done away with under, I think, the Reagan administration. Clinton could have reinstated it but didn't. That's just one more of his many failings. We need the Fairness doctine back. Remember, the explosion of right wing talk radio, the Limbaughs, Savages, etc, is due largely to the elimination of the Fairness Doctine.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Oh No! Smerconish On MSNBC

Philadelphia right wing radio talk show host Michael Smerconish appeared on MSNBC this morning in the Imus slot, in a simulcast of his radio show. Smerconish is on many short lists of the worst bigots on the air. What's wrong with MSNBC? Apparently, MSNBC is prepared to continue showcasing bigots in an effort to help their ratings. How long will it be before this character gets the boot for saying something totally bigoted?


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Road Trip

I've been out of town the last few days attending a toy train convention in York, PA. It's always fun to visit Pennsylvania Dutch country. and it was a relief to get away from the VA Tech story and lose myself in my hobby.

This male Cardinal is the mate to the female in the picture I posted below. They sure are photogenic.

So I missed Gonzales' Senate testimony, and Harry Reid saying that we lost the war in Iraq. Gonzales should be toast and Reid is right. It will be interesting to see if Gonzales lasts the weekend. Hopefully, the Dems will hang tough with the emperor Bush on a bring the troops home timetable.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How Politically Left Or Right Are You?

Click on the above title link and take the quiz to find out. (Thanks for the link, Kirk!) Are you on the left end of the political spectrum with the likes of Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, or are you over there on the right with Reagan? I scored a 4, which puts me pretty far over on the left. I wonder what I answered wrong? I wanted a perfect score on the left. Take the quiz and you'll see what I mean.

This time of the year I love to visit Fire Island, where we have a second home. In the Spring I buy lots of bird seed and keep the feeder full when I can be there. I took this photo of a female Cardinal a couple of weeks ago.

Here are a few random thoughts for today. John McCain says that we don't need additional gun control measures because the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own a gun. He's wrong on both counts. That's not what the Constitution says, and we do need measures designed to prevent unbalanced individuals from obtaining guns. Maybe we ought to require a psychological checkup before selling someone a handgun. We require vision tests before issuing driver's licenses, so why not? Why does a 23 year old student need a powerful handgun? Shouldn't someone ask him? We don't sell alcohol to intoxicated individuals, so why do we sell guns to unbalanced people?

I read that the Democrats are likely to extend most or all of Bush's tax cuts, which heavily favor the rich. That's not great. We finally get a Democratic congress, and they're going to lay down in the face of the obscene inequities of Bush's economic policy. No matter that we continue to incur debt that will saddle future generations. I'd like to return to the pre-Reagan tax rates, which were truly progressive. If we did that we could probably solve the Social Security and Medicare funding challenges, and begin to reverse the ever growing inequality between the rich and the poor in this country. Republican economic policy has Social Darwinist underpinnings: "Let them eat cake." Their newest "rising star," Fred Thompson, is a "supply-side economics" advocate. Wasn't that debunked? Here we go further back into the dark ages.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Are We Numb?

What a sad, sad morning in America this is. You have to feel so very sorry for those poor kids who involved in the horrible shootings yesterday in Virginia. What is the answer?

I took this photo in Washington, D.C. in early March of 2003, at a rally I attended that was organized as a last ditch attempt to stop the invasion if Iraq. Unfortunately, we who marched then and protested Bush's mad plan to invade Iraq were not successful in preventing the lawless invasion that took place on March 20, 2003. Now, over four years later, as the seemingly endless war drags on at a staggering cost in human life, I wonder, as we mourn those poor kids who were killed yesterday in Virginia, if we have become numb to the thousands and thousands of innocent civilian deaths that have occurred and continue to occur each day in Iraq? Where are the protests? If we had a non-volunteer armed services, would even more people be demanding that we get out of Iraq?


Monday, April 16, 2007

The Va. Tech Horror

Another senseless massacre of young students has taken place, just four days before the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I feel so sorry for those who lost their lives, and for their parents friends and relatives. And I feel sorry for all of us who feel powerless to reverse the course of this increasingly violent country. Can you believe that some people are already complaining that the University's policy prohibiting students from carrying concealed handguns on campus is responsible for this? Just what do the gun crazies want, daily Dodge City style shootouts on our college campuses?

Until the recently decided Federal Circuit Court decision that threw out Washington, D.C's handgun ordinance, no federal court decision had supported an individual right to bear arms. Read the Constitution! Law enforcement officials everywhere support strict handgun control. The D.C. decision will be appealed and, I hope overturned. Let's hope this happens before yet another massacre takes place.


Just Say NO! To An Imus Return

The IMUS show replacement disc jockeys on New York's WFAN 660 AM dropped the hint this morning that maybe the I-Man will return to the station in two weeks. I doubt that this will happen.

No, I think Imus is gone, and that's a good thing. His "humor," done largely at the expense of others who are not in a position to hit back or defend themselves, is not funny. That type of humor takes little talent to present. Imus, I've seen and heard real comedy and you're not talented enough to do it. Instead, you relied upon your clearly bigoted on air cronies to feed you sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic hard balls that you were usually smart enough not to repeat, but for the times you slipped up, like with the Rutger's women's team. You're not fooling most of us. We know what's in your heart, because it came out of your mouth.

Some of the members of your all white circle of political media cronies have defended you with lame references to you being "an equal opportunity offender," but that doesn't wash. I don't have any friends or associates who use the epithets or say the kinds of things I heard on your show, and I don't want any that do. So why would I want to hear you and your on air thugs use such language? Oh yes, and there is the defense that you do a lot of charity work. Too bad that good work cannot offset or negate the massive amounts of offense and hurt you've caused over the years to so many people including myself. Well, now you'll have more time to devote to your causes.

Oh, the hypocrisy of it all! - that's the defense of Imus coming from supporters like Frank Rich, who should know better. But he's a straight, white man, and didn't present much of a target for Imus' bigot squad. Others in Imus' former circle of cronies have seen the light, like John Meecham at Newsweek. Still others remain in hiding, such as Harold Ford and Tim Russert. It was wonderful to watch Gwen Ifil criticize Russert on "Meet The Press" for his tacit complicity in all of this as a repeat Imus guest. Yes, there are hypocrites out there, but how does that in any way excuse what happened?

Finally, there's the attack on PC that is used as a defense of Imus, as if being civil and respectful of diversity is bad. The right wing has managed to so demonize calls for civility using the pejorative tag "political correctness" that people run from it, just like they've demonized "liberals" to the point where no one wants to be called one. However, the Imus story has shown that we must return to a culture of civil discourse in the media and elsewhere, one that respects our sexual, social, ethnic and cultural diversity. What we need is an end to the uncivil antics of the rest of the bigoted shock jocks and pundits. They're on notice now. I can't wait for the next firing.