Saturday, April 29, 2006

Snark of the Covenant

William Saletan, a Slate Magazine columnist, is one of my favorite writers. He objectively tackles the field of bioethics, particularly in areas such as genetic research, cloning and stem cells, weighing potential benefits against potential harms and stacking them up against moral concerns. His recommendation for Democrats on the issue of abortion – that they’ll never get anywhere with the American heartland until they can admit that “abortion's legality doesn't make it right, or that some women take it too lightly, or that every abortion is tragic” – is spot on. He’s insightful, empathetic, intelligent and opinionated without being ideological.

That’s why I was so disappointed with the piece that appeared today, “Solemnize Me.” He is correct that a major conservative objection to same-sex marriage is the idea that gays will treat matrimony lightly, that marriage will become a casual thing.

Saletan’s prescription for the gay community is to embrace “Covenant Marriage,” a conservative Christian practice that includes pre-marital counseling, written and oral affirmations of lifelong intent, and barriers to divorce. It’s not especially popular: fewer than 1% of heterosexual couples choose this option in states that promote it, about 7,000 couples in total since the practice began in 1997. Compare that with Massachusetts, where more than 7,000 same-sex couples have married just since 2003. Saletan argues that if gays could convince conservatives that they intend to take marriage seriously, they could gain some ground.

He’s right, but he gives the wrong prescription. What’s needed is for conservatives to get a grip on reality. Gay people already take marriage at least as seriously as heterosexuals.

“Supporters of gay equality think they can demand marriage like any other right,” he says. “You cannot assume or demand it,” he chides, “you have to earn it.” What did straight people do to earn their right to marriage? The Declaration talks about inalienable rights with which we have been naturally endowed. If the right to recognition of your committed relationship doesn’t fall under “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” then I don’t know what does.

Saletan cites some poll numbers showing that the growing acceptance of homosexuality in America draws a line at same-sex marriage: “solid majorities oppose offering gay couples ‘the same rights as traditional marriages.’” That’s not entirely true: in New Jersey, the most recent data suggests 56% in favor of legalizing same sex marriage. That’s not a static number; even a cursory glance at changing attitudes toward homosexuality will show an accelerating trend toward acceptance. Gay marriage is an unstoppable juggernaut; it’s a social inevitability. Even if it weren’t, his argument stumbles fatally on the core definition of a civil right: the majority doesn’t get to decide whether the minority is equal under the Constitution.

Then he reverts to the old canard about definition: marriage is “usually about kids, and it’s always about commitment.” What gay marriage isn’t about commitment? As for children, “A new survey finds that two-thirds of lesbians and a third of gay men in the US plan to add children to their families in the near future.”

“If covenant marriage were opened to gays, many on the left would spurn it,” he predicts. Yet he reports that fewer than 1% of heterosexuals are interested. For what reason should gays be held to a higher standard?

Citing John O’Sullivan, he ponders, “Just how many gay couples would sign up for a marriage that was really lifelong?” Doesn’t everyone who gets married have the intention, at least on the day of their wedding, to make it last forever? Yet the most recent data shows that 38% of marriages go bust. No one proposes denying marriage to heterosexuals on account of their lousy track record, yet some feel perfectly justified in denying it to same-sex couples based on assumptions and double-standards. Gay people shouldn’t get married because they might get divorced?

Saletan is not arguing that gays shouldn’t be able to get married, but he does unfairly blame the gay community for the obstacles in their path. The problems with marriage in America – divorce, infidelity, etc., -- are not unique to one sexual orientation or another. Those that are willing to make a legal commitment and a serious attempt at a lifelong partnership should not have that opportunity denied by a hypocritical majority.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Our National Soul

The President came out today against singing our national anthem in any language other than English.

"One of the things that's very important is, when we debate this issue, that we not lose our national soul," he said.

Because our soul, apparently, only speaks English. Because our soul, apparently, comes from the English heritage of the colonists and Founding Fathers. Can't sing the national anthem in German, or Russian, or Vietnamese, or Spanish, or Mohican, even though all of the cultures those languages represent are strands in our national fabric, because our "soul" is English.

As a former opera singer, I have a bunch of thoughts on singing music in translation. The biggest argument against it, in my mind, is that it relegates the work of the poet to distant second-class status, as if his (or her) contribution were insignificant, as if an opera without words still has the same effect. In the best operas, the words and music are inseparable; indeed, the words themselves are musical. Perhaps the best example is the alliteration of Siegmund's Act I aria from Die Walküre, "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond, in mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz; auf linden Lüften leicht und lieblich, Wunder webend er sich wiegt," etc. To discard this poetry on the argument that the audience doesn't understand German is to not understand what opera is.

The Star Spangled Banner, however, is not opera. It's a nationalistic jingle. It's not an aria describing the events at Fort McHenry, it's a metaphor for the endurance of American ideals. It should be sung with pride. One of the things we have taken pride in, at least since the 20th century, is our cultural diversity. I think the idea that the national anthem should be sung in a variety of different languages is a good one. At the very least, it should not be dismissed with the prejudiced assertion that our national character would be tainted or, indeed, lost, by singing this song in a different language.

No, Mr. President. This country lost its soul when you deceived its citizens and led us into a war against innocent people under false pretenses.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chagrin & Tonic

Dating is like baseball: it takes balls. Unlike baseball, you can also strike out in one swing.

On Tuesday I looked too adorable for words, and, not wanting to waste that opportunity, I met my friend after work for happy hour at a friendly Chelsea bar.

I made eye contact with a very good looking guy, who smiled. I smiled back.

After that happened a couple of times, emboldened by a glass or two of liquid courage, I decided I would break out of the mould and actually go say hello. I left my friend under the pretext of getting another round; the guy was over by the bar with some friends. Once there I introduced myself and claimed my friend was talking to a cute guy (completely plausible!) and I wanted to give them a moment.

We chatted politely for a few minutes. After a moment, The Guy excused himself to use the restroom. I said to his friends, "He seems nice. Is he seeing anyone?"

"Yeah, me," said one, raising his hand.

"Oooooohhhh....kayyyy, errmmmm, uh...well, this isn't awkward or anything...I guess my friend's through talking to that guy now. Nice meeting you!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

After School Special: Sex Clubs!

Parents, it’s 4:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?

That seems to be the main theme of a recent article in WorldNetDaily, “How Homosexual School Clubs Offer Sex to Students,” by Linda Harvey. (Ms. Harvey is president of an organization that “monitors homosexual activism, the occult and New Age influence on American youth,” although it doesn’t appear she “monitors” these disparate topics so much as rails against them.) Despite the juicy headline, she doesn’t have any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that school-based GSA clubs or youth-oriented LGBTQ community centers “offer sex” to anyone.

Today, April 26, is the “Day of Silence,” an annual event sponsored by GLSEN in schools and colleges where students protest discriminatory treatment against people who are gay or perceived to be gay or people who do not conform to traditional gender roles by maintaining silence. Ms. Harvey advocates instead for April 27, “Day of Truth,” sponsored by the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund.

Her main concern is that youth, especially very young children, are being indoctrinated by these clubs and community centers into a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility and near-certain HIV infection. Her particular outrage focuses on the idea that explicit discussion of sexual behavior is made available to underage youth, and that participation in these groups requires no parental consent, notification, or participation. As evidence that such organizations “target” young children, she writes that many centers “are located conveniently on bus lines to accommodate kids under driving age.” Oh, those cunning homosexuals!

Ms. Harvey also clearly believes in sexual preference, not orientation, a distinction she makes by always using quotation marks around words like gay or acronyms such as LGBTQ. One imagines her speaking a la Dr. Evil, using “quotation fingers” every time she finds herself needing to say “lesbian.” Because of this misunderstanding, she assumes a principal function of such groups is recruitment.

She can’t be faulted for being concerned about spreading HIV, but she should be roundly condemned for her association of HIV with homosexuality. One of the reasons that the rates of transmission are highest among heterosexuals is the belief that AIDS is a gay disease. She also has fallen prey to the bizarre notion that people who are well informed about the risks of sexual behavior and actions they can take to avoid or minimize those risks are more likely to engage in risky behavior than those who remain uneducated. She doesn’t realize that an educated teen (or adult) can still make a moral choice for abstinence.

Look at the programs she criticizes: a youth group in Boston describes a seminar by saying they provide “sexy new ways to use condoms and barriers,” with “honest, judgment-free conversations about…how to keep it safe and advocate for yourself.” Yes, the language includes mention of behaviors such as group sex, mixing sex and drugs and unprotected sex. But that’s not promotion of these behaviors: it’s educating young people about the risks involved and ways to avoid them. It empowers youths to make informed decisions about sexual behavior. Similarly, she warns about an Ohio program called K.I.S.S., which stands for “Keep It Smart and Safe.”

She’s living in La-La-Land if she thinks heterosexual teenagers aren’t also having unprotected, risky sex. This is not a gay phenomenon. It wasn’t gay students having oral sex in the backseats of the weekend ski bus in my junior high.

My senior year in high school I attended a few meetings of the Gay-Straight Alliance. I don’t recall that we ever talked about sex, nor were we “encouraged” to participate in sexual behaviors. There certainly wasn’t any sex going on during the meetings, as Harvey seems to allege is commonplace. We talked about issues relating to safety and self esteem, and mostly it was just a fantastic relief to show up and find out that I wasn’t alone at my school. It was comforting to know that other people I’d known for years were struggling with the same issues – including the bully who’d kicked my ass in the locker room in eighth grade. (The day he showed up I nearly fell out of my chair.)

She is inordinately worried that these kinds of meetings do not typically involve parents.

“Parents are, by and large, not a problem for kids, but the primary people in the world who care most about a kid’s welfare,” writes Harvey. Well, duh. But these programs aren’t necessarily for kids with great parents who are involved in their children’s lives and emotionally available for these kinds of intimate discussions. One only needs to open the local paper to read stories about parents who abuse their children physically, emotionally and sexually. Some kids can’t talk to their parents about issues of sexual orientation, because they risk abuse or being thrown out on the street. That’s not the fault of the gay community, that’s the fault of people like Ms. Harvey who continue to advocate for ignorance, and against what she terms “the beasts of tolerance and acceptance.”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: It is Finished

The new office before any work. Posted by Picasa

I am sooooo tired. Here's what I've spent the last few weeks working on: the new office space at work. We didn't do anything too dramatic, we just painted, shampooed the carpet to within an inch of its life, built a wall to subdivide one office, move old furniture in and have some new furniture delivered and installed. It wasn't a complete makeover of the space like this guy did. Still, it was lots of hard work, and I am glad it's over.

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the day I accepted their job offer, so to have this major project finished exactly a year later is a good feeling. Now I'm going to take my good feeling and go back to bed and sleep some more.

All done! Posted by Picasa

Before. Posted by Picasa

After. Posted by Picasa

Agnes the Easter Lamb enjoying the view. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 22, 2006

He Auditioned for This

Yesterday on my way to work I spied a guy (well, I guess it could have been a gal) in a chicken suit hawking (nice pun, right?) Texas rotisserie chicken. And I thought, yes, that is definitely worse than training your whole life for an opera career, only to end up onstage next to your idol with nothing to sing. Though I'm sure he's getting paid. Posted by Picasa

I began to wonder about people like this. How do you find these jobs? Are there ads in The Times? "Wanted: Chicken Impersonator." Is there an audition? "Hello, my name is Julio Suarez, and I'd like to do a scene from Chicken Run."

Maybe it's just an interview. "So, Mr. Braszlawski, do you have any experience playing a chicken?" "No, but once I was a sheep in the church nativity pageant when I was nine."

Perhaps one needs an agent for this sort of work. "Jimmy, it's your manager. Hey, look, I haven't heard back from the Law & Order folks, but I've found a job for you on Broadway." "Broadway, really?" "Yes, Broadway and Wall. You're going to be wearing a chicken suit handing out menus."

The Literal Media

Ah, the New York tabloid press. Here are my favorite headlines from yesterday about President Hu Jintao's visit to the White House.




Where Time and Space are One

Last night I was at a party, and someone mentioned that someone we knew was setting up someone else we knew with yet a third person we knew.

"I wonder how long that will last," said one.

"About three inches and thirty seconds," said another.

And the rest of us knew exactly what he meant.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What I Did for Love...and Fifty Bucks

From September 2000 to July 2001, I sang with the Zurich Opera as a member of the Internationales Opernstudio.

Things got off to a good start: the day I landed and walked jet-lagged and culture-shocked into the opera house for the first time, they said, “Oh, hello, we have a role for you in Salome” – a new production conducted by Valery Gergiev. Things were looking up!

Turns out I was overly optimistic.

After Salome closed, I didn’t have anything else coming up in the house, which was mighty depressing. Then suddenly one day the director casually said, “Oh, we’ve found a part for you in Fedora.”

Fedora…starring tenor Jose Cura and my great idol Mirella Freni. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I thought, “I don’t care how small the part is, oh my God, I get to sing with Freni!”

Well…you know how they say to be careful what you wish for? They’re not kidding.

They wanted me for a non-singing extra, the police commissioner’s secretary. Ouch.

But, at least I would have the rare opportunity of being onstage with the great diva in the twilight of her career, and I knew that would be special. Also, I needed the money, and there was still more than half a season left, so I didn’t dare turn it down.

Madame Freni was extraordinary. She was 65 at the time, but looked marvelous and sang like the devil. It was just amazing. She was also so gracious and friendly and unpretentious. She made a small mistake in Act I of the dress rehearsal, then turned upstage to where I was standing and crossed her eyes and made a funny face as if to say, “D’oh!”

While she was delightful, I was the one who unfortunately had to be a diva. They wanted to glue a beard and mustache on me. Now, I am VIOLENTLY allergic to spirit gum: it causes my skin to turn lobster red and break out in lymph-covered blisters. It stays that way for about a week. I asked if they had hypoallergenic adhesive, and the makeup lady told me they did. She lied. The day after the dress rehearsal I marched into the theater with my red, crusty, swollen face, found her making someone up for La Traviata, pointed at myself and said, “Thank you very much. No more beard.” She looked appropriately horrified. For some reason, they wouldn’t let us do our own make up. As you can see from the photo, she painted me like I was doing a drag show in the Astrodome, not a bit part in a 900 seat theater. (The fact that you can’t see my blisters is a testament to the quarter-inch of grease paint I’m wearing, which didn’t help the rash. Love the eyebrows.)

My contract specified a fee of 100 Swiss Franks per night (after taxes about $50) over and above my monthly salary. Every night before a show, the management would place a receipt in our dressing room, which could be redeemed from the cashier anytime after the first act was over. Often I saved up my receipts and collected all my fees at once, but on opening night I was desperately in need of some cash. They hadn’t left me a receipt, so at intermission I went to the cashier to inquire.

“Which role are you?” the unfriendly Swiss woman behind the glass asked. When I explained, she said, “Oh, you are nonsinging, of course we don’t pay you for this.”

Early the next morning my scabby face appeared in the director’s office. “Look pal,” I said, “I did not spend 6 years in conservatory, earn a master’s degree and fly to Switzerland at my own expense to do walk-on roles for free. I did the rehearsals, I’m giving up six evenings for performances, and I will be paid what you said I would be paid for stage performances or I will not do them. I did not leave my apartment in the hands of a subletter to come to Europe for a year to volunteer to not sing. I auditioned for this.”

I got my fee.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Question for the Ages

Phew, that was keeping me up at night.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Nuclear Threats

I’ve been trying to catch up on last week’s news, most of which I missed because I didn’t have time to do any reading during the office move.

Far and away, what horrified me the most is the development that the Bush Administration is considering – or, “won’t rule out,” or, “all options are on the table,” in their parlance – using “tactical” nuclear weapons on Iran.

Where to begin? As if we needed further proof that the White House is run by people who are insane, they’ve now handed us this definitive evidence that they are mad. Absolutely, unapologetically, unquestionably cuckoo.

As Condoleezza Rice recently helpfully pointed out in an interview with the British press, “Iran is not Iraq.”

Iran is “slightly larger than the combined area of the contiguous states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.” Iran is modern, it is wealthy, and even though experts declare that Iran’s claims of nuclear capability are exaggerated, there is no question about their ambitions.

Oh yes, Iran is not Iraq. Don’t let the people who tried to tell you that Iraq could be converted to democracy within six months at a cost of $1.7 billion plan out our strategy for dealing with Iran.

It’s time to have an open and honest debate about the doctrine of pre-emption: what it means, and what its limits should be, and what the standards for implementation ought to be. Clinton used it semi-successfully: the 1998 missile strikes on Iraq shut down what was left of Saddam’s WMD programs; he also blew up an aspirin factory in Sudan. Israel successfully bombed a nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981. Had Bush not rejected an option to bomb Zarqawi’s training camp in northern Iraq prior to the invasion, the occupation might have turned out very differently.

The world should not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons capability. Actually, no one should have it: nuclear weapons should be banned outright, and present weapons should be deactivated, their warheads used in power plants instead.

The United States, however, continues to maintain an enormous arsenal, by which it appears to claim authority to determine which other countries may have nuclear weapons: Israel, but not Iraq; India, but not Pakistan. The international community should strongly condemn this notion and actively seek to thwart it.

A mere sixty years into the history of a nuclear world, it is the height of arrogance to assume we know all the potential ramifications of using weapons with radioactive half-lives lasting decades or centuries, depending on size and ingredients. Nuclear weapons are immoral not because of their immediate and devastating explosive power, but because they poison the atmosphere, the water and the soil. They make a place literally unlivable. Those who are not killed instantly succomb to or suffer from radiation sickness. They may develop rare cancers or other diseases; children born years after the attack can be severely deformed.

During the Cold War, the concept of “mutually assured destruction” kept us at relative peace. Both sides knew that in the event of nuclear war, there would be no winner. Everyone would be annihilated. That would not be the case in a strike on Iran: the U.S., taking unfair advantage of superior weaponry, would unleash environmental hell. The Bushies see no apparent disconnect in the argument that they have the authority to use nuclear weapons to stop a country from doing the same.

Instead of a nuke, there’s something else we might try: friendship.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Spring!

Pictures from Ft. Tryon Park in upper Manhattan, taken on a beautiful Easter morning. Enjoy! Posted by Picasa

Daffodils. Posted by Picasa

Fort Tryon. Posted by Picasa

Daffodils, tulips and the Hudson River. Posted by Picasa

The Heather Garden, Ft. Tryon Park. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Sounds of Summer

I think we can safely say that winter is over.

It was 78 and sunny in New York today. Birds are singing, tulips and daffodils are blooming, and my windows are open. I am sighing a big sigh of joyful contentedness. Personally, I'm in favor of global warming. Winter is evil. (Okay, I'm not really being serious about global warming, but I do regularly fantasize about living somewhere like San Diego where a blustry winter day is 60.)

I love summer so much. Even in New York. The streets look better when the trees have leaves. The people look better when they're not bundled up under eight layers and a hat. Fire Island! Hurray for warm weather!

Of course summer in New York does have its drawbacks. Humidity. The smells of rotting garbage. The smells of stale urine in the subway stations. The smells of subways, period. But the worst, absolutely the worst, is the fucking Mr. Softee truck.

Why, why, Mr. Softee, must you park right outside my window every year? For hours? Playing that godforsaken horrible crucible of a jingle? Out of tinny, rusty speakers? The same eight bars of "melody," over and over and over and over and over. This is, I'm sure, what the mood music in hell sounds like (except there's no ice cream truck).

Digital technology being what it is -- if I hit "shuffle" on my iPod it would play continuously without repeating a single song for 12 days, 8 hours, 49 minutes and 19 seconds -- I can't comprehend why you're stuck on these same eight bars. Are you afraid the Liebestod won't sell ice cream?

Well, I guess this is the price I pay for decent weather. It could be worse...I suppose Mr. Softee could switch to "My Humps."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rescuing Kundry

When we first meet Parsifal, midway through the first act, he is a bumbling ball of ignorance, all id and no superego. When Kundry tells him that his mother has died, he attacks her and tries to choke her. Gurnemanz and the knights pull him off her, and then she brings him a drink of water. “Well done, according to the Grail’s mercy,” declares Gurnemanz. “For evil is ended when it is repaid with goodness.”

Kundry is a wildly misunderstood character. At the top of the second act, the evil sorcerer Klingsor wakes her with an invocation: “Herodias you were, and what else? Gundryggia there, Kundry here!” This is a reference to her many incarnations, one of the strongest Buddhist aspects of the work: karma has condemned her to successive lives in which she must atone for some great sin.

Misinterpretations of Parsifal often begin with this line. Kundry’s original identity was Herodias, wife of King Herod of Judaea, mother of Salome. Alone with Parsifal in Klingsor’s garden, she will confess: “I saw Him…Him! And…I laughed.” That is to say, she observed Christ carrying his cross on the road to Calvary on the day we now call "Good Friday"; she beheld ultimate suffering, and she mocked it. This has unfortunately given rise to the idea that Parsifal is an anti-Semitic work.

The truth is that the historical Herodias was neither religiously nor ethnically Jewish. That is not a recent discovery, and Wagner was almost certainly aware of it. Furthermore, Kundry’s other named incarnation, Gundryggia, is a figure from Nordic legend: an Aryan. Kundry’s sin is not Jewishness, as so many people have assumed Wagner intended. It was her fundamental lack of compassion.

Moreover, Kundry is portrayed by Wagner as a victim of discrimination. The stage directions describe her as a woman with dark eyes, black hair, and a deep red-brown complexion. In act one, the young squires of the Grail deride her behavior, saying she acts like a “wild beast,” and they accuse her of being a heathen sorceress who hates them.

“What harm has she done you?” asks the wise old Gurnemanz. “She has nothing in common with you, yet when help is wanted in danger, her zeal speeds her through the air, and she never looks to you for thanks.”

The Grail Temple is hidden in a magical forest, "where time and space are one," protected by a spell that keeps all who are unworthy from ever finding it. That is how Gurnemanz initially recognizes Parsifal’s potential: only those whom the Grail summons may approach. Significantly, Kundry can come and go from the forest as she pleases. I have never seen anyone else comment on this: it seems the Grail welcomes Kundry, but it is the knights who never extend to her the invitation to visit the temple itself. She is strange, mysterious, unfamiliar, and therefore they are suspicious.

Kundry needs to be loved, to have her humanity valued, and, above all, to be forgiven. It is Parsifal who is eventually able to offer her pardon. Compassion and forgiveness seem like such simple things, but Wagner realized that in fact they are immensely difficult for people. What couldn’t be achieved in this world if we were only willing to forgive each other all transgressions as Christ commands? In this way, when Parsifal calls her “Friend” in the third act, his compassion is more heroic, brave and triumphant than any mortal sacrifice in any other Wagner opera.

On a beautiful Good Friday, when the world is filled with signs of renewal, it is Parsifal who then leads Kundry to the temple for the first time, where she is released from her curse of immortality and sinks lifeless, but transcended and redeemed, to the ground. Parsifal is not an opera about racial or gender exclusion; on the contrary, it is a hymn to inclusion, a command to look beyond people’s superficial traits and embrace their inner human worth.

A vindictive opera? An assassination of basic ethics? Hardly.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It Came From Behind the File Cabinet

Last night we completed our move at work up to a higher, better floor. In all honesty, if I may be allowed to toot my own horn for just a moment, it could not possibly have gone better. I am not one who's given to feeling proud of himself, but let me add that they don't teach you office relocation at conservatory, even in the master's program. I have -- erm, had! -- zero experience soliciting competitive bids from contractors, movers, furniture companies, negotiating contracts, and lining all this stuff up. Lately I've been depressed and anxiety prone because I've wondered, in all honesty, how someone as ditzy as myself was ever going to be capable of overseeing this kind of operation.

Everything went absolutely like clockwork, I could not believe it. The system I improvised for labeling furniture and new locations was flawless; the movers just put everything down exactly where I wanted it. Now all that's left is the delivery of the new furniture (next week) and the unpacking and organizing of the new space.

Also, even though I don't think anyone from work reads my blog, I have to give enormous props to my co-workers, every single one of whom pitched in and had a great attitude about the whole thing and all the inconveniences that came with it. We were completely packed and ready to go hours before the movers arrived. Stunning.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was in the file room with E., a straight guy from North Carolina, who was helping me move some of the heavier boxes. I was just reaching up to a heavy box high on top of a cabinet when I spied a long antenna twitching. "Hmm, I think there's a bug up there," I said.

Well, that's my recollection of what I said, at any rate. The official transcript probably reads, "[squeal of terror like Janet Leigh in Psycho] Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God a cockroach, a big one help a really big oh my god, it's huge helllllp!"

And it was. This sucker's body must have been four inches long, with antennas that can probably get FM stations from Samarkand. As E. came in, the antennas scuttled to the back of the box. "Hmm," he said, as he picked up a piece of cardboard and tapped the box.

The roach came back, angered I suppose, at what he (rightly) took to be a challenge. He walked boldly to the edge of the box and stared at us, antennas twitching and whirling around as he faced us down.

"Cocky little sucker," said E. I spent about the next five minutes watching E. try to thwack it with this piece of cardboard, but the roach was always one step ahead, racing over and around the sides of the box. At one point, when I thought E. had him for sure, the monster's carapace suddenly opened, and he flew into the air in my direction and landed on the opposite file cabinet.

"Okay, see, now you're just showing off," said E. His mistake was climbing up the wall and then walking across the ceiling, upside down, where E. easily swatted him to the floor. Then he raised his sneakered right foot and brought it down with a stomp that nearly damaged the tile. The roach expired in a crunchy-pop that was so loud, the deputy director down the hall shouted, "What the hell was that?"

* I had planned an additional Parsifal post for today, but since it focuses on Act III, it only seems appropriate to wait until tomorrow, Good Friday.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Christianity of Parsifal

Poor Parsifal.

Grossly misunderstood, this opera has inherited a fearsome reputation regarding the composer’s intentions. Nietzsche wrote, “For Parsifal is a work of perfidy, of vindictiveness, of a secret attempt to poison the presuppositions of life – a bad work. I despise everyone who does not experience Parsifal as an attempted assassination of basic ethics.”

Some have viewed this opera as a paean to Aryan blood-purity, a vulgarly racist work containing a Jewish harlot who seduces Christian heroes, consigned to servitude and absolved of her Jewishness by Christian baptism and then promptly killed off. Others have even tried to argue that the kingdom of the grail is a secret homosexual society, saying that King Amfortas suffers because he dared to sleep with a woman.

Those ideas are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but it is generally acknowledged – wrongly – that Parsifal is a work of Christian propaganda. It’s not a ridiculous conclusion to reach: though Jesus is never mentioned by name, there are countless allusions impossible to miss, and the first and last acts culminate in what certainly looks like a communion ceremony. But as Wagner was not a Christian (see my series from January of this year), it makes about as much sense for him to write an opera for the purpose of proselytizing as it does for the opera world’s most notorious heterosexual philanderer to dedicate his final masterpiece to an idealized all-male gay private club.

Christian imagery abounds in Parsifal, but there are also overt references to pre-Christian paganism and Buddhism; audiences just don’t recognize them. Above all, Parsifal is a philosophical work, fully saturated with a Schopenhauerian outlook on the meaning of life – specifically the denial of the will as path to spiritual transcendence – and Wagner believed that while religions were not literally true, they revealed essential truths about humanity and he viewed religious symbols as valuable tools for use by creative artists.

What most people identify as Parsifal’s “Christianity” is just that: familiar symbols lifted by the composer for the purpose of establishing a framework in which to tell his story. It is also not generally realized that Wagner was fully aware that the Grail itself, so central to the Parsifal plot, is not Christian at all, though it had been co-opted in religious folklore as Christianity spread northward from Rome. Christianity does not believe that the cup from the Last Supper was also used to catch Christ’s blood as it dripped from the cross, and that it survives in a secret location today with the ability to grant the bearer immortality. That is an ancient pagan belief: the Grail was originally a dish or rock with special powers.

Yet Parsifal is a work with a deeply Christian ethos. A running theme in all of Wagner’s operas is “redemption,” but Parsifal has a radically different take on what that means. “Redemption” for Wagner always meant love, often achieved through mortal sacrifice: Senta throws herself into the fjord for the Dutchman, Elisabeth expires on the frozen peak of the Wartburg praying for Tannhäuser’s safe return, and Brünnhilde rides her horse gleefully into Siegfried’s blazing funeral pyre. In Parsifal, redemption is achieved through simple acts of compassion. That is the heart of Parsifal’s meaning, and it is also the heart of Christianity.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Andy & the Q-Tip

Just giving you fair warning that I probably won't be around much this week; after months of planning, finally the internal relocation at work to a bigger, better, brighter space is happening. I will be away from my desk for most of the week, and working late.

So if the blog is quiet this week, you'll know why.

Mostly what I will miss is the opportunity to read and comment on the many blogs I visit daily; I'll try to keep up, but make no promises.


Last week, when we were discussing the results of a study on prayer, the issue of the "placebo effect" came up in the comments section, but I took a stand for alternative (i.e., non-Western) forms of medicine, specifically what is now being called "energy" medicine.

A few years ago while I was struggling with acid reflux, I pursued a variety of alternative remedies, including energy medicine. Most of the practitioners seemed fairly predictable to me, like the woman who lived in the walk-up in the grungy building in the East Village with her pet iguana, about four thousand candles, some incense burners and a Buddha statue. (I think she was actually on to something about me, and I have to say her treatment was very relaxing.)

But then there was the woman I was referred to by an old friend who lives in suburban Portland, Oregon. Emphasis on the suburban. She was a walking stereotype, from the plush white wall-to-wall carpet, the pictures of the smiling, perfect children on the mantel, all the way down to her pink sweater and gold locket. But yet here she was, an energy healer.

She had me lie down on a table in her immaculate, sunny living room. (No iguanas or Buddhas.) She would place her hands on different parts of my body, and then she would "tap" me, which she explained meant she was asking my body a specific question, and she could understand the answer. (There are people I believe who can actually do this.) At one point she asked, "May I try something?"

She took a Q-tip and asked me to wet it with my saliva, explaining that for diagnostic purposes saliva is every bit as good, if not better, than blood. Then she took the slobbery Q-tip and put it in my belly button. She placed one of my hands flat against my belly, with her hand over it, and my other hand on my forehead, also with her hand over it, and for a few minutes she said, "Hmm...hmm...errmmmm...hmmm," and then finally, with an exclamation of utter surprise, "Oh! You have a wheat allergy!"

I don't. I paid her fee (I think it was around $150), and thanked her very much for her time. Did it help me at all? No. But I got a hell of a story out of it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Thoughts on Judas

This week, an English translation of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas was made public for the first time. The document was found in Egypt, in a Coptic translation made around 300 A.D., about 100 years or so later than the original Greek version is believed to have been written. It is the only extant copy of this text, which has been assumed to exist based upon references to it in the writings of the second-century Bishop Irenaeus, who played the most prominent role in the early Christian church in deciding which texts about the life of Christ could be considered genuine and which heretical.

The document, bound in leather and written on papyrus, is damaged in places and missing some chunks of the text, but the overall significance appears to be that, in this version, Judas was a favored disciple of Christ, to whom was revealed certain secrets about the nature of heaven, the origin of the world, the end of time, and the human soul. Most shockingly, the gospel seems to suggest that Judas’ “betrayal” was actually done at Jesus’ request for the furthering of the divine plan.

I first began to consider Judas and his role in the passion when I was a teenager, after I came across that great theological treatise, Jesus Christ Superstar. To this day, I wonder about the relationship between the “Divine Plan” and free will, and to what extent each limits the other. I used to lean more toward a pre-ordained vision of everything, but the more I read of theology, the more I understand the importance of free will in relationship to true faith.

Still, the passion brings up questions that are difficult for my simple brain to grapple with. Obviously, it is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we are redeemed, and the four New Testament Gospels repeatedly show Christ foreshadowing and hinting at his own end, thereby suggesting the inevitable fulfillment of ancient prophecy. But where does Judas fit into this? Was he part of the plan? Did he betray Christ of his own free will? Or was he compelled by the Spirit? If Jesus needed to be betrayed in order to be killed, then do we owe Judas credit or scorn?

The New Testament is pretty clear. Before His death, Matthew records Jesus saying, “The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so." Matthew then says Judas took his thirty pieces of silver and threw them down in the temple, and then went and hanged himself. The Book of Acts says Judas took the money and “bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” (Another major obstacle for people who claim belief in the literal veracity of Scripture.)

I make no pretense whatsoever at theological expertise, so I won’t attempt any analysis of what the Judas gospel might mean or whether it sheds any authoritative light on Christ. At one point Jesus refers to “Your god who is within you,” which echoes Luke 17:21, “The Kingdom of God is within you,” which also seems to share some relationship to the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which says, “Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are the children of the living Father.”

The Christ of the Judas gospel laughs a lot, which would I like, since Jesus is often depicted as rather dour, sad and serious, and I like to think he was maybe (at least sometimes) a little more fun than that, except that here He seems to be specifically laughing at his disciples, mocking them for their lack of understanding, and interpreting part of a vision they shared by saying, “The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray.”

The Judas Gospel doesn’t appear to be very gay friendly, either, as Christ seems to foretell a priesthood of false prophets made up of “slayers of children, and…those who sleep with men, and those who abstain, and the rest of the people of pollution and lawlessness and error.” There’s some other weird stuff: Judas says Jesus is “from the immortal realm of Barbelo,” which is Greek for “forethought,” and Jesus talks about a lot of different angels and “corruptible Sophia.” Is Sophia a person? In Greek “sophia” means “wisdom,” and in the Gnostic tradition, specifically “the final and lowest emanation of God.” I’m not going to pretend I understand any of that.

Is there anything of definitive value in the Gospel of Judas for Christians to learn?

Yes, indirectly, by its mere existence.

I recall during the confirmation process of Bishop V. Gene Robinson a member of the opposition balked at the voting process by saying, “The Bible wasn’t decided by committee.”

Well, yes, in fact, it was. We really don’t “know” anything about the historical Jesus; what we do know for certain is that in the early days of Christianity there were dozens of “gospel” texts, some with competing, contradictory ideas about who Jesus was and what He said. The four gospels which found their way into the New Testament were the ones favored by Irenaeus and approved by the Nicene Council in 325 A.D., but the Bible’s present contents and the order in which they appear were not ratified until the 1500’s. Many, many, many texts were read and rejected…voted on by committee.

I think it’s defensible to say that the spirit of the Lord was at work in these committees, guiding their votes to select which texts would survive and form the basis of His church, in the same manner Catholics believe voting for Pope reveals God’s own choice. It is irresponsible, however, to ignore that the Bible is a collection of diverse historical writings assembled by groups of men throughout history, many centuries removed from the events described therein.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Taking the Broke out of "Brokeback"

God bless the American Family Association. They give me so much wonderful material.

Last month, during the run-up to the Oscars, I marveled at the way Christian organizations frequently triumphantly pointed out that Brokeback Mountain wasn't doing well at the box office compared to Star Wars or King Kong or Narnia.

I could write a whole post on what's wrong with that premise. Oh...wait, I wrote three.

Anyway, they haven't given up.

The Los Angeles Times reports that AFA spokesperson Randy Sharp is upset with Wal*Mart -- yes, Wal*Mart, that God-hating, gay-loving, anti-family liberal behemoth that only gave 80% of its 2004 political contributions to Republican candidates -- because not only did they refuse to acquiesce to the AFA's request not to carry the Brokeback DVD, they've given it prominent store placement.

Says Sharp, "It wasn't even a blockbuster movie, so if Wal-Mart isn't trying to push an agenda, why would they put it at the front door?"

I love it. Wal*Mart is "pushing" the homosexual agenda. Rrrrrrright.

Okay, well, back here in Reality Land, let's take a look at some facts.

Presently Brokeback Mountain's worldwide gross is $170,356,991.

The DVD is currently #1 -- yes, nummer eins, numero uno, ichiban -- at

What else is selling at Amazon? AFA Chairman Don Wildmon's book Following the Carpenter.

It's ranked 1,298,641, between New Headway English Course and Eyewitness Phrase Book: Spanish (with cassette).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Moussaoui Trial

Can we execute a man for confessing to a crime that he couldn’t possibly have committed?

Though he has not yet been sentenced, last week a federal jury found Zacarias Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty for his “role” in the attacks of September 11, 2001. I’m afraid we’re through the looking-glass here, people.

Let’s start with the facts. Zacarias Moussaoui was a member of Al Qaeda who has publicly pledged allegiance to that terrorist organization and has expressed his desire to kill Americans. He also enrolled in a flight school to learn how to fly large jetliners. He was in prison on September 11, arrested on immigration charges.

The doomed airliners of that awful day were hijacked by four teams, three of five members and one of four; as organized as the plot was, it seems logical to assume that the last team was also meant to have five members, and the government originally concluded that Moussaoui was supposed to be the “20th Hijacker.”

That idea was discredited by Moussaoui himself, who has consistently claimed that he was training for a separate plot and had minimal advance knowledge of 9/11. Furthermore, his status as an active Al Qaeda operative has been called into question by several other Al Qaeda members who assert he was cut from the group because he was deemed untrustworthy: in a word, he’s a nutcase.

The government then took him to trial – in a case marred by misconduct, including but not limited to illegal coaching of witnesses by a lawyer who wrote in an email that the feds had no real argument – claiming that the lies he told the FBI following his arrest on immigration charges (flying airplanes was a hobby, the money in his bank account had been legitimately earned, etc.) constituted an act furthering the conspiracy of 9/11. Unfortunately for the government, as legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick wrote, “The causal links between Moussaoui’s acts and the actual murders is just too stretched to work under the federal laws involved in the case.” After all, we only charge witnesses with perjury, not criminals, who are expected to lie in their own defense.

So the prosecution changed its tack, midtrial, saying that he deliberately withheld information that could have been used to prevent the attack.

This is, to say the least, a novel legal theory.

First of all, it is not a crime, let alone a capital one, to withhold information. Rather, the Fifth Amendment specifically protects you from having to implicate yourself. Second, this argument posits two things: that the information Moussaoui could have provided would have been sufficient to stop 9/11, and that the government could actually have succeeded. Maybe. I’m not saying it’s not possible. But we don’t convict people, or sentence them to death, on “could haves.”

The trial’s observers commented that Moussaoui’s story has been consistent all along, while the government’s charges kept changing. That was, until last week, when Moussaoui shocked the world with his spectacular witness-stand “confession” that he had been part of the original 9/11 plot, and that he and shoe-bomber Richard Reid were supposed to fly a separate aircraft into the White House.

That seems damning, until you consider that there is precisely zero corroborating evidence. Actually the preponderance of evidence points to the idea that he is a whacked out Al Qaeda wannabe; a terrorist, yes, but not one who was involved with 9/11.

Should we kill him?

First we have to examine our reasons for doing so. Is it simply because, as Neil Lewis said of the government’s argument in today’s New York Times, “Mr. Moussaoui…should be regarded as a proxy for the 19 hijackers who died that day”?

There is also debate as to whether we make a “martyr” of him.

For me, the compelling argument is that he clearly wants us to kill him, as evidenced by his 11th hour confession rescuing the government’s insupportable case against him. Punishment, in my mind, is about doing something the criminal does not want to have done to him. If he would prefer to be killed, that should be reason enough to lock him up and throw away the key. Or, if you prefer a legal argument, Lithwick reminds us: it’s not “a capital crime to wish you were a hero instead of a dud.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Democrats: Just Stop. Now.

Okay, so my personal email box was filled today with emails from liberal organizations crowing over Tom DeLay's resignation.


Look, he's a smarmy bastard, and a little Schadenfreude is in perfect order.

But Democrats, don't you dare go claiming any credit for this, you useless, impotent bags of agenda-less posturing. Tom DeLay's downfall was purely his own fault: he got tangled up in his own web of excess and corruption. And his vacant seat will go to a Republican in the next election.

No, Democrats, no points for you on this one. If you'd managed to defeat him in an election, you could take some credit. But this lying, ham-fisted, base-pandering partisan hack was serving his ELEVENTH TERM in Congress. ELEVEN. For SHAME, Democrats, that you couldn't find anyone to defeat this nincompoop.


In his resignation statement this afternoon, DeLay said, "I have no regrets today."

Therefore, I would like to dedicate a song to the former Hammer: Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien," available on iTunes for 99 cents.

The Federal Government Resigns

An appreciative retrospective of the political career of Tom DeLay.

"Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud."

"You want to empower women in America? Give 'em a gun."

"I am the Federal Government."

The Power of Prayer

Last Friday, The New York Times ran an article detailing the findings of a recent study on the effects of prayer on seriously ill people.

The patients were sorted into three groups: a control set which was not prayed for, a set that was told they were being prayed for, and a set that was not told. Results showed no real difference between the patients who were prayed for and patients who were not; the patients who knew they were being prayed for had somewhat higher rates of post-operative complications.

Is this evidence that prayer does not work?

It depends on what one means by “work.” I have serious concerns about the merits of such a study, and the potential for misinterpretation of the results.

First and foremost, God is not a genie in a bottle. “Ask and ye shall receive,” says the Bible, but inconveniently there’s a catch: what we ask for must still be in accordance with God’s will. “With prayer and thanksgiving, make your requests known to God,” says Paul, but we still must be careful what we ask for. Even Jesus, the night before his death, asked “if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me,” but he added, “yet not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

This dilemma is one of the core challenges with faith: when people pray, they often don’t get the answer they hoped for, or perhaps it doesn’t come within the timeframe that they would like, and they assume their prayer has not been answered. All prayers are answered. Sometimes the answer is no. Not because God doesn’t like you, but rather because He knows you and your needs even better than you do; the Bible tells us He will always provide us with what we need.

The second problem is a presumption that we should always be happy and healthy, and that illness or adversity is an indication of God’s disfavor. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible is full of stories of people of perfect faith – Jesus included – who suffered immensely. Just think of the grisly demise of most saints.

Suffering must be looked upon as a spiritual gift; in Christianity, as in many other religions, suffering is the path to enlightenment. Suffering strengthens us and teaches us important lessons. Anyone who tries to tell you that Christianity will give you a life without suffering is probably selling a book.

Tied to this is the idea that if God loves us, He will let us live, that we won’t fall victim to a heart attack or a car accident or a terrorist act. But we can see that clearly isn’t true: there isn’t one single person in history who achieved earthly immortality through faith. Everyone dies, and death is often unpleasant and uncomfortable, if not downright agonizing. It has nothing to do with whether God loves us or not; there is no “whether.” God loves all equally, even those who do not love Him. God is not just “love,” but unconditional love.

Dr. Richard Sloan of Columbia University told the Times, “The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion.”

I couldn’t agree more. The search for scientific evidence of God is thoroughly misguided; it will never be found. The Christian religion is one of faith, and it’s not possible to have “faith” in something that can be proven. God wants for us to believe He is there despite a lack of scientific evidence. Any Christians pursuing scientific proof of Divinity are wasting their time.

So why pray?

It is pleasing to God that we remember our friends and loved ones – as well as strangers – in our prayers and wish good things for them. For our own sake, though God may not always indulge our request for a better job or a cute boyfriend or a mansion in Malibu or the end of a trying illness, He does always grant requests for patience and guidance in trying times, and people who pray regularly testify to an improved ability to relax and to calm troubled hearts and minds.

Don’t be discouraged by these misleading results. Prayer does work, but this study fundamentally misunderstands how. The success of prayer can only be measured in spiritual means, not in a laboratory.

Finally, always remember that God never sends a challenge we can’t handle. Even if a challenge ends with our death – and inevitably, one of them will – prayer will get you through it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Batman's an Episcopalian?


Hat tip: Hit or Miss.

Review: Don Pasquale

This past Friday evening, Raindog and I attended the new production premiere of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Metropolitan Opera.

Mostly it’s great. The sets are wonderful: they nicely evoke the crumbling, sun-baked casual glamour of middle-class Italy. The garden in the last act is especially beautiful. Still, they take too long to switch: Pasquale is a wonderfully paced, relatively short opera. The Met stretches it out to three and a half hours. Directed by the great Otto Schenk, in his farewell to the stage after a long and wonderful career, the staging is traditional; generally very good, but the ensembles lack a spark of originality, and poor Malatesta has nothing to do but sing the first half of “Bella siccome” on the left side of Pasquale’s chair and then switch for the second verse.

Maurizio Benini was the perfect choice to replace James Levine at the podium following the maestro’s shoulder injury: Benini understands and happily exploits the built-in flexibility and expressiveness of Donizetti’s orchestra writing; paying close attention to dynamics and changes of tempo, he elicits a wonderful, quintessentially Italianate energy. In the solo moments, he happily lets the singers do their thing, understanding the required symbiotic relationship.

Overall, the singing was truly exceptional. Anna Netrebko, as Norina, has a stage presence rare among opera singers, and the Met audience clearly adores her. Her voice is unusually dark and creamy for the repertoire she sings, but I do fear it’s a bit manufactured. She’s quite musical, but we wondered if she was worried about filling the cavernous Met: she sang at a mostly unstinting forte all evening long. The effort was apparent in the shrill and squally timbre of her high C’s and the badly articulated coloratura. Norina is not a technical tour-de-force; next year Netrebko is slated for I Puritani at the Met, and if she doesn’t back off and relax on her singing, I don’t think she’ll be able to do it. She sounded like a Tosca; she’ll never get through “Son vergin vezzosa” like that.

Her partner in volume was the young baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. It’s a robust and glorious sound, even in timbre from top to bottom and easily produced. Still, he sang as if to say, “I’m just singing this junior role now, but I’m letting you know that really I’m a Rigoletto.” Loud, loud, loud. Wonderful voice, but his performance was woefully lacking in musical nuance and anything but the most generalized character.

They both need to take a cue from the primo tenore di grazia del mondo, Juan Diego Florez. His is a slender, small-scaled instrument (as voices of that register tend to be), but he sings with confidence that even his gentlest mezza voce will carry all the way to standing room. He sang effortlessly with tremendous grace, sensitivity and attention to musical and textual detail, even in this mercilessly high role.

Unfortunately he was undone between Acts 2 and 3 by a sudden allergy attack, and had to withdraw from the performance, being replaced by Barry Banks. Interestingly I’ve met Mr. Banks; he was singing in Rossini’s Ermione at Santa Fe when I was an apprentice there. I remember him saying that he never needed to warm up, he was always able to just sing. Lucky him, since on a moment’s notice he had to step into the last act of a new production premiere on the heels of a popular and wonderful singer, launching immediately into the high-flying serenade “Com’e gentil” with its high B followed by the duet “Tornami a dir” with a high C-sharp. He was spectacular: his singing was every bit as healthy, beautiful and expressive as Mr. Florez’s, and he seemed astonishingly confident given the circumstances. He received a well-won ovation.

There’s not much to say about Simone Alaimo’s portrayal of the title character, other than “masterful.” He perfectly captured the difficult balance between the parlando quality of basso-buffo roles while really singing. He expertly telegraphed the sincere anguish at the beginning of Act 3 when Norina impetuously smacks him across the face. At that moment she realizes that for all Pasquale’s curmudgeonly unlikeableness, he’s a human being, not a villain, and her farce has gone one step too far. All he wanted was a wife, and now she’s broken the heart he gave so easily.

All things considered, it’s a superior performance. If Netrebko and Kwiecien just had more confidence in their voices and stopped trying so hard to prove themselves, the production might well achieve perfection.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Nuclear Family

Last night I was at a party with my pals (Doomed to Flail, Fabulous Jackass, Glennalicious, Morbid Optimist, Tin Man, Useless! Worthless! Insipid! and other assorted boyfriends and hangers-on: mwah, I love you guys!) and I was sharing the story of the recently discovered gossip-item that my father's father is not who we thought he was.

Friend: "So, you're a bastard?"

Me: "No, I'm a grandbastard."

Sunday Photo Blogging: Cats of Italy

Ecco il leone! Near the Accademia in Venice. Posted by Picasa

Venice, outside the Palazzo Vendramin, where Richard Wagner died. Posted by Picasa

Torcello, the Venetian Lagoon. Posted by Picasa

Firenze. Posted by Picasa

Cannaregio, Venice. Posted by Picasa

Siena. There are actually three cats in this picture; you can just see the ears of a little gray one in the lower left of the window, and there was also a black cat who didn't show up. Posted by Picasa

Venice. Posted by Picasa

Siena. Posted by Picasa

Venice. Posted by Picasa

Burano, the Venetian Lagoon. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Diet Update

Well, let's hear it for South Beach. I tipped the scale at 171 this morning -- that's down 30 lbs. Woo-hoo! Ice cream for everybody!