Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's First Huge Mistake

The selection of evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20 is absolutely astonishing and tremendously disappointing.

President-elect Obama's defense of the choice is ironic: claiming that he wants to honor and represent the diversity of America, he has gone with a pastor who has stood in public opposition to that ideal.

Rick Warren is entitled to his religious views that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture and to hold the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. He is even entitled to disregard all the available scientific research on the subject of sexual orientation and continue to maintain that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice" that can be "treated." He was entitled to support California's Proposition 8 and to campaign on its behalf.

What Pastor Warren was not entitled to do, however, was to participate in a campaign of dishonesty about the "threat" the civil marriage of same-sex couples posed to religious freedom and freedom of speech. He claimed that any religious figure who spoke out against homosexuality or same-sex marriage could be "charged" with hate speech and fed the silly fear that churches would be "forced" to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Either Mr. Warren does not understand his own first amendment rights that he claims to be so worried about, or he is a liar.

The legalization of civil marriage for same-sex couples does not restrict in any manner any person's fundamental right to speak in opposition. Just look how many people were censored or arrested for "hate speech" in California during the four months that same-sex marriage was legal there: zero. And how many pastors were forced to bless same-sex unions agains their deeply held religious beliefs? None.

It is true that Warren's rhetoric has been more moderate in tone than many other conservative religious leaders, but the content was no less poisonous. It is odious that in the name of "diversity" Barack Obama has given this honor to a person who used his pulpit to call for the elimination of existing rights for a minority population based on prejudice -- whether protected speech, or no.

Barack Obama's victory was in large part possible because the nation chose to soundly repudiate the politics of pander perfected by Karl Rove in targeting people like Rick Warren and his supporters. It is disheartening that this selection reinforces the notion that to be a credible religious figure in America one must be socially conservative. Why couldn't Obama have picked a progressive member of the clergy, like evangelical activist Jim Wallis? Or why not Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who is also a scientist? Or perhaps a prominent African American scholar like Harvard's Peter Gomes?

Consider me extremely disappointed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thank God for CNN

Today's top story: "A man identified as an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at -- but missed -- President Bush during a news conference Sunday evening in Baghdad, where Bush was making a farewell visit. In Arab culture, throwing shoes at someone, or sitting so that the bottom of a shoe faces another person, is considered an insult."

Okay...unlike, where, exactly, where chucking footwear at someone is a compliment?

So, Portland is having this once-in-a-century kind of blizzard thing. The cats and I are curled up under the tree listening to the wind howl. There is nothing on TV. I am actually considering watching the SciFi original movie about the great white shark terrorizing the canals of Venice. I'll probably just watch until a gondola gets eaten and then go to bed.

I'll leave you with this parting thought:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Somewhere Out There...

Hi, y'all. Thanks for the comments and the inquisitive emails that have come in. I'm okay. Just haven't felt any inspiration to write at all for days. I know, right? So much going on. Newsweek publishes a coverstory on the Biblical argument FOR gay marriage. George W. Bush says he's not a biblical literalist and says evolution is not incompatible with scripture. Blagojevich. (What a bleepin' blogging goldmine THAT is.) And yet...thoughts (at least, coherent ones) just aren't coming. All this stuff is right up my alley! But all I can manage right now is a "meh."

Monday, December 01, 2008

For the Record...

As much as I opposed Hillary Clinton's pursuit of the Oval Office, I am rather intrigued and excited by the notion of having her as Secretary of State. She makes Sarah Palin's "pitbull with lipstick" look like a poodle.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blasphemy on Several Different Levels

Wow, here's maybe the worst idea anyone's ever had. Paul McCartney and Jesus are both spinning in their graves.

I Thought I'd Seen Everything

You know, I feel like more than 13 years of living in Manhattan allows me to be pretty jaded about quite a lot of stuff.

Nonetheless, when I was strolling around downtown Portland this morning and witnessed a man with his pants down around his ankles humping a trashcan, I have to say I was surprised.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Continuing Saga of the iTunes Genius Sidebar FAIL

I know I have taste in music that runs outside the mainstream, but seriously...what's going on at iTunes? Why is it that when my selection is "Il segreto per esser felice" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia sung by Marilyn Horne that the iTunes "Genius" recommendation is "Con te partiro" as "sung" by Andrea Boccelli? This would be like me going into a restaurant and remarking that I like Veuve Clicquot and having the sommelier respond by suggesting a glass of Diet Pepsi. WTF, people?

Monday, November 24, 2008

My New Mantra

So, I was just thumbing through a new book my therapist -- oh, yes, NEWSFLASH!, I am crazy -- anyway, my therapist recommended, and I was browsing through a page of affirmations. I misread "I am prosperous" as "I am preposterous."

I think I like that better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

iTunes Genius Sidebar FAIL

Currently playing: the Benedictus from Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor.

iTunes: "We currently have no matches for this selection. Recommended: "Single Ladies" - Beyonce Knowles."


Is Anybody Home at CNN?

Here's a lame-ass headline from "Obama's Vetting Could Chase Away Candidates."

Yes, you morons. THAT IS THE POINT. Sheesh!

Sarah Palin's Secret Gay Son

So, I had this very odd dream last night.

My father was reading to me out of The National Enquirer -- so, already you know we are in some kind of alternate-reality here -- an article claiming that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (you might remember her from such political disasters as "The Turkey Slaughter that Upstaged My Press Conference" and "The Couric Interviews") had a secret son named Brian no one knew about, who had been disowned and exiled because of his homosexuality.

Well, I had to find out if this was true, so immediately I set out to investigate. And then, well, this being a dream, suddenly I was no longer with my father, I was entering a building that appeared to be a library. A vaguely cherubic, slightly pudgy, rosy-cheeked teenager passed me and said, "Hello, Andy."

"Wait -- how do you know my name?" I inquired of the stranger. He winked at me, and then presto we were in some kind of underground lair where he revealed his identity to me.

"You know who I am," he said -- and I did! -- "but I no longer use the name that was given to me. I am now called Shhhhhh." When he pronounced his name, it echoed around the subterranean cavern with terrible authority.

He then explained that during his years of exile he had come in contact with a master race of alien homosexuals and had become their military commander. He was right this moment in the process of initiating an intergalactic invasion that would wipe out fundygelicals once and for all and then said, "But I am looking for a pastry chef. Are you interested in the job?"

Even though I am not a pastry chef, naturally I accepted. Then I woke up.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Opera Rated PG-13

This afternoon I was chatting with a friend of the family who casually mentioned that she was thinking of taking her nine year-old daughter to see an opera, and asked if there was anything coming up soon in Portland that I could recommend.

"Well," I said hesitantly, "there are only two more productions left in the season. In February there's The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten, which is about two ghosts who sexually abuse children, and then there's Rigoletto, which is about a teenage girl who gets abducted, raped, stabbed and stuffed in a sack."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Opera Review: Fidelio in Portland

It seems odd that it took seventeen years for an avid opera goer like myself to make it to a performance of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, but that's how it turned out.

I confess, Fidelio is not one I'd really been dying to see. The Met had a new production with Ben Heppner and Karita Mattila when I was still in New York, and even though it was a hot ticket, I imagine I could have gotten in if I'd summoned a little effort. I just wasn't that interested; in college, while I was busily devouring every recording I could get my hands on, I borrowed Fidelio from the library -- admittedly, the messy Behrens/Hofmann recording which, to put it nicely, doesn't capture either of them at their best -- and just wasn't that impressed. I don't know it nearly as well as the rest of the standard canon.

Fortunately, I was able to attend both the opening and closing performances of Portland Opera's recent run, which ended last night. The PO folks should be extremely proud of the first-rate roster they were able to field of this extraordinarily difficult-to-cast opera. It was the best all-around singing I have heard there, and would have impressed audiences at any of the great houses in the world.

In the title role, soprano Lori Phillips tackled the often awkward vocal line with gusto, especially on closing night, in which she and the rest of the cast were infinitely more confident and committed. Her voice is strongly reminiscent of Leonie Rysanek's. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris may not have the most appealing tone quality, but he has the technique and stamina to get through some of the least gracious vocal lines ever set to paper, plowing heroically through the ridiculous -- and yet, emotionally powerful -- "In des Lebens."

Deeper voices were gloriously represented by Greer Grimsley as Don Pizarro, Arthur Woodley as Rocco and Clayton Brainerd as Don Fernando. Grimsley has one of my absolute favorite voices; his incredible power and infinitely rich tone more than compensated for the handicap of being stuck with a one-dimensional role and school-pageant style dialogue. Mr. Woodley has an especially appealing voice; a wonderful basso cantabile, I hope he comes back to Portland soon and would love to hear him in a lieder recital. In Don Fernando's brief outing, Clayton Brainerd nearly stole the show just by virtue of his incredibly imposing presence and classically handsome face. That he can sing -- and sing very well! -- was just icing on the cake.

In the smaller roles, Portland Opera studio artist Brendan Tuohy gave an affecting account of the first prisoner's solo. Tenor Jonathan Boyd sang prettily as the oaf Jacquino. The best singing of the evening came from soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge in the role of Marzelline; she has an extremely beautiful voice and is charismatic and comfortable onstage. I hope to see her return in a meatier role.

Under the baton of Arthur Fagen, I would say that perhaps Beethoven's score would fare better with a slightly more polished orchestra, except that they played so well in Aida and Traviata. It just didn't seem to me to be a particularly passionate, imaginative rendering. The augmented chorus was impressive.

I would complain that the updated, modernized production gave no hint of the story's Iberian setting, except Beethoven's music has about as much Spanish flavor as knockwurst and sauerkraut. I remain unconvinced as to the wisdom of producing operas sung in the original language but with English dialogue; it seems hopelessly schizophrenic. The supertitles aided and abetted the contemporary setting in questionable fashion; I am pretty certain that Jacquino does not actually sing, "Damn that telephone!"

I'm afraid it's 0-2 for director Helena Binder at Portland Opera, whose debut was last season's trainwreck Rodelinda. True, she has taken on difficult assignments. Rodelinda makes no sense at all, so Fidelio -- which starts out as a quirky romantic comedy and then abruptly makes a 90-degree turn to populist political thriller -- seems like Shakespeare in comparison. Still, there is no evidence that she has any clue what to do with a singing actor. Ms. Phillips, in particular, would have benefited from a better director. Having not seen this production's original incarnation under Chris Alexander at Seattle Opera, I cannot say what Ms. Binder's innovations, if any, were. Overall, the stage action was limp at best; the choral finale, while vocally thrilling, lamely consisted of a casual semi-circle and unconvincing, synchronized fist-waving. God only knows why a prisoner would attempt to scale a barbed-wire fence under the watchful eyes of six automatic-rifle-armed guards two feet away, but if Ms. Binder was just being faithful to the original production, perhaps she might have selected a chorister for the job who looked less like he was barely able to hop the curb, let alone a fence.

Join the Impact: Photos from Across the Country

Wow, is all I can say.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Join the Impact: Prop 8 Rally in Portland!

In which it is revealed that I suck at community organizing.

In the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state, a national day of protest was organized by a group called "Join the Impact," with simultaneous rallies in every state in the country.

I decided this would be a boffo opportunity for the recently resurrected Oregon chapter of Integrity. The local network coordinator could not attend (Ducks game!), but he gave me his email password and on Thursday I sent out an email blast to basically the entire Diocese inviting them to the protest.

I know it was short notice -- the whole event was planned over the internet in just a couple of days -- but I confess I'd hoped for slightly better Episcopal representation. Only one other member of Integrity showed up -- and he hadn't gotten the email, he was just there by coincidence. So it was me, him, his straight roommate, and one very nice, very supportive lady from my church. Oh well.

The rally consisted of a series of speakers. For the first 20 minutes, they had no amplification whatsoever. Then someone brought a bull-horn, but the speakers were in the center of the crowd, so if the bullhorn wasn't pointed right at you, you couldn't hear what was being said. Eventually we moved away from the main part of the crowd since we realized no one could see our banner, and took up a spot on the steps of the PSU library. I think people maybe thought we were crazy Christian counter-protesters.

Sam Adams, the openly gay mayor-elect of Portland, gave a barnstormer of a speech. At least, I'm guessing he did. We heard the crowd roar repeatedly with approval, but I didn't hear a single word. Next time some AMPLIFICATION might be in order, folks.

At least I got this cute new profile pic of me and some other guy's dog. How gay is this?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Random Memories from Hell

When I was in kindergarten, I had a horrible teacher.

Students were required to bring something in for Show & Tell. I decided I'd bring in my stuffed elephant, Bart. (Technically, BART, named after the Bay Area Rapid Transit.)

Ms. Kusmal asked me what Bart ate.

I thought I would play along and cheerfully responded, "Peanut butter!"

Then Ms. Kusmal made me stay in at recess for "being silly."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bumpersticker of the Day

"If We Ignore the Environment, It Will Go Away."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Thought for the Day

Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
my lying foes who would destroy me are mighty.
Must I then give back what I never stole?

Psalm 69:5

Thursday, November 06, 2008

She Thought Africa Was a Country

FOX News doesn't just throw Sarah Palin under the bus, they tie her to the bumper and hit the gas.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse

Perusing the Google searches that are leading folks to my blog 1 day after the election, "Obama Antichrist" and variations seem to be winning.

For the curious, here's every post I've written that contains "antichrist."

Whoops, I Was Wrong

I predicted Obama would get 355 electoral votes.

Looks like he's headed for 364. My bad!

CA Prop 8 to Face Court Challenge

Opponents of Proposition 8 in California have refused to concede the election, citing the approximately 4 million absentee ballots that have yet to be counted. That's probably a long shot, but apparently we have another ace up our sleeve.

Originally I believed there would be no recourse in the courts; after all, Proposition 8 amends the state constitution, which the state supreme court must uphold and enforce. However, an emergency appeal was filed today by Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights urging the invalidation of Proposition 8.

Here's the argument: in May, the court cited numerous precedents and reiterated that marriage is a fundamental right. Proposition 8 improperly eliminates access to a fundamental right by targeting a specific group. To put that another way, it's as if California voters had passed an amendment to deny the right of free speech only to women, or the right to vote to non-whites. According to the brief filed today, "any measure that would change the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by the legislature before being submitted to the voters. That didn’t happen with Proposition 8, and that’s why it’s invalid."

There's even a precedent for this. In 1990, the state supreme court reversed an initiative that "improperly attempted to strip California’s courts of their role as independent interpreters of the state’s constitution. "

The state legislature voted twice to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, and the supreme court ruled 4-3* back in May in favor of marriage. Proposition 8 may yet fall.

The bigots will scream bloody judicial activism, but we have to win this. Proposition 8 is a manifest injustice. Under the banner of righteousness, these people campaigned on fear and deception to villainize and victimize thousands of their fellow citizens. Prop 8 protects nothing -- least of all children or the free expression of religion -- and serves only to deny thousands of Americans their fundamental rights for the sake of outright prejudice.

In yet more reassuring news, the California Attorney General issued a statement today that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that have already taken place will continue to be honored.

This is not over!

* In the original version of this post, I inadvertently wrote that the supreme court ruled "unanimously" in favor of marriage; I was thinking of New Jersey's Lewis v. Harris. In the California case, three justices concurred and dissented in part.

Mixed Blessings

Right now, my relief and joy that Barack Obama was elected president has been momentarily supplanted by distress that Proposition 8 in California appears to be passing. This country took one giant leap forward for civil rights last night, and one step back.

Still, there are reasons to be encouraged. That fully 48% of California voters said they were okay with same-sex marriage is a huge milestone and shows just how far the gay rights movement has come. Younger voters overwhelmingly opposed it. Our day will come.

More on this later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Mac is Back

John McCain -- your concession speech was amazing. That was the John McCain I thought I knew. Where have you been?

Too little, too late.

Dodged That Bullet

Sayonara, Sarah!

It's Over

Going out on a limb, but with MSNBC calling Ohio for Obama, it's over. According to my projections, Obama did not need Ohio to win. This clinches it.

Ready for Tonight

Which will it be?

And, a propos of nothing, a gratuitous picture of the kids enjoying the last nice weather of 2008.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Confession (2)

I am freakin' NERVOUS!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

2008 Election Predictions

Because I am so good at this, I'm going to go ahead and offer up my predictions for election night: Barack Obama will win with 355 electoral votes.

What to Watch For on Tuesday Night

Despite John McCain's claims that they are making a last minute national surge -- his campaign manager, Rick Davis, argued that Barack Obama is advertising in Arizona, Montana and Georgia in a desperate last-ditch attempt to broaden his territory to eke out a win -- there are hardly any scenarios in which McCain pulls this off.

McCain's one hope is to win Pennsylvania, but poll guru Nate Silver has said that Obama has a better chance of winning Arizona than losing the Keystone, not great odds for McCain. As I said last week, I think Obama's electoral floor is 272, and that's without Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana and North Carolina. Barack Obama doesn't need any of those states to win, but McCain needs them all, plus PA.

Once Virginia and Pennsylvania are called for Obama, we can start popping the champagne. (Nonetheless, I also have a bottle of Jack Daniel's on hand, just in case.)

Other Races

Oh, I am looking forward to cleaning house in a big way. Buh-bye, Senator Stevens and Senator Dole. Sayonara, Michelle Bachman. I am also crossing my fingers for the end of Ohio's crazy congresswoman Jean Schmidt. My wish list includes victories for Al Franken in Minnesota and incumbent governor Chris Gregoire in Washington, but those are too close to call.

Proposition 8 in California...we just have to hope.

In Oregon, it appears the bell will toll for Senator Gordon Smith. I struggled with my vote on this one. I don't have any particular issue with Sen. Smith; I think he's one of the few congressional Republicans with any integrity, and he's been a faithful steward for the state of Oregon. That was almost enough for me to vote for him, right there. His challenger, Jeff Merkley, ran some dispiriting ads, and Smith responded in kind, which has been very disappointing. Nonetheless, when it came right down to it, I couldn't deny that Merkley is going to be the more reliable vote on issues that are important to me.

The Future of the Republican Party

Civil war's a-brewin'.

Many Republicans will chuck Sarah Palin under the bus as the albatross that sank the USS McCain; others will hold her up as a martyr. McCain will be marginalized, blamed by the economic conservatives for selling out to the fundamentalists, and villainized by social conservatives for being too soft on Obama.

There is no "Republican Party," and hasn't been for a long time. The leading lights of the party, such as it is, are Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. John McCain was the sorry compromise that emerged from the inability of the two wings of the party to agree. Romney is the standard-bearer for the small-government, big-business neocons who are far more concerned about the capital gains and inheritance taxes than they are about gay marriage. Many of those Republicans, despite their philosophical differences with the Democrats, will vote for Obama this year because he's the lone voice of sanity on the ballot. (Hence the rash of recent endorsements.)

What's left is the loony right. They will be convinced that they lost because they weren't right-wing enough. These are the folks who live in the fantasy universe where Barack Obama is a socialist radical Islamist whose friends are PLO spokesmen and domestic terrorists, who will ban the Bible, prohibit religious speech and force gay marriage on the country while taxing us all into poverty. Their new heroes are Sarah Palin and, yes, Joe the Plumber.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Department of Unintentional Irony

Anyone who knows me knows that I can't stand scary movies. My imagination is waaaayyyy too suggestive. Sometimes I had to turn off "The X-Files." I didn't sleep for a week after Congo.

And yet...? I looooooove The Shining.

So, Starbuck and I are watching it right now on A&E. (Rocky is cowering under the bed.)

Twice now, there's been a commercial for Pella Windows featuring a young boy riding around the house on a tricycle.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Turnabout is Fair Play

Bill Clinton for Marriage Equality

Via Andrew Sullivan:

"This is Bill Clinton calling to ask you to vote NO on Proposition 8 on Tuesday, November 4th. Proposition 8 would use state law to single out one group of Californians to be treated differently -- discriminating against members of our family, our friends and our co-workers. If I know one thing about California, I know that is not what you're about. That is not what America is about. Please vote NO on 8. It's unfair and it's wrong. Thank you."

Sullivan writes, "If he makes the difference, we can finally forgive him for DOMA."

I second that.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barack Obama for President

This is a defining moment in American history, and the choice before us is clear. Barack Obama is the man we need to take the helm and steer us in a new direction.

At this point, there are only two justifications for supporting John McCain: short-sighted greed and fear.

Back in June, Obama headed to Florida to reassure Jewish voters. "Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama," he quipped. "Because, he sounds pretty scary." The Republican Party has spent all of its time manufacturing a grotesque caricature of the Democratic nominee that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original. John McCain has campaigned nearly exclusively on wild, fear-mongering claims about what Obama would "do" to the country, while offering almost nothing in terms of policy and vision.

John McCain has served his country admirably and once had broad, bi-partisan appeal. He is a true American hero who suffered unimaginable horrors in Vietnam. He has stood up for sensible policies on taxation, immigration, the treatment of detainees and campaign finance reform.

Unfortunately, that John McCain didn't run for President.

The John McCain that did run has so little idea of what to do for this country and so vague a concept of why anyone should vote for him that he had a create a straw bogeyman, banking his candidacy on fear and prejudice and hoping that he could convince moderates and independents that Barack Obama would be so terrible for America that we should prefer to prolong the Bush years.

The latest bizarre smear is that Obama is a "socialist" who wants to "spread the wealth around." The picture he paints is of a Robin Hood government, robbing hard-working Americans to give handouts to the poor and lazy. But all Obama wants to do is return us to the tax structure we had under the Clinton Administration. Republicans can chant all they like that higher taxes shrink the economy and eliminate jobs, but if you compare eight years of George W. Bush and eight years of William Jefferson Clinton, you'll see that our economy did just fine with the top 5% of Americans paying slightly more. Most Americans remember the economic boom of the 90s rather fondly. I, for one, certainly miss my Intel shares that used to trade at $145. (As I write, that stock is currently at $15.81.)

McCain accuses Obama of being naive on foreign policy, but the record demonstrates that he has been sound and prescient. Most Americans now understand that the war in Iraq was an enormous mistake. Whether Iraq can evolve into a functioning democratic society is not up to us and is not something we can unilaterally achieve through military force. We can't achieve it in Afghanistan, either, but at least there we can pour our resources into chasing down Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who remains free these seven years after 9/11. McCain speaks of diplomacy as if merely sitting down to negotiations with the likes of Castro or Ahmedinejad is some sort of enormous concession. But talking to our enemies doesn't mean we concede anything. It's the adult thing to do. Eight years of neocon-fantasy foreign policy should be enough to convince us that it doesn't work.

Obama's proposal for fixing healthcare in this country isn't perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. Frankly, the solution -- eliminating the scourge of for-profit private health insurance -- is presently politically untenable, so Obama has put forward the best we can do for now. McCain, on the other hand, has famously argued that we should eliminate consumer protections and government oversight so that we can do for healthcare what we did for the banking industry. His plan taxes healthcare benefits for the first time in history, with the express intent of driving employees to find their own coverage on the open market. In exchange, he offers them a tax credit that, in most cases, wouldn't even amount to half of the annual cost of a policy. He would allow insurance companies to exclude patients with pre-existing conditions.

McCain is now attempting to make the argument that, after all these years in public service -- as a community organizer, as a professor, a state legislator and a senator and twenty months on the campaign trial in a 24/7 news cycle -- that we don't know who Barack Obama is. They are openly trying to align him with radical fringe elements of society and despicably claim that he is "pals" with terrorists. This is beneath contempt. He has generally allowed some of his supporters to believe that Obama is a "secret" Muslim, and has not even had the principle or the courage to stand up to this appalling bigotry to remind people that there is no religious litmus test for public office in this country, that we have many citizens of all faiths in the United States, including many native-born Muslims, and that Muslim-Americans are presently fighting and dying for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama is not a Muslim but the only honorable response to the "accusation" is, "So what if he were?"

In his choice of a vice president, John McCain has selected a religious zealot who wears her ignorance as a badge of honor and calls it patriotic. Her job on the campaign trail has been to wink and fan the smoldering flames of ancient hatreds from our nation's ugly past.

On Tuesday, please vote Barack Obama for America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Religious Case Against Proposition 8

Next Tuesday, when California voters head to the polls to pick the next president, they will also be deciding on Proposition 8, which seeks to amend the state constitution and thereby nullify the state supreme court's ruling from earlier this year, which found that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Supporters of the proposition claim to be protecting "traditional" marriage from a threat that is clearly non-existent. Their entire campaign is based on lies, distortions and the absolutely preposterous notion that heterosexuals will opt for non-procreative same-sex relationships leading to the extinction of the human race, simply because the law says they can, as if homosexuality is contagious and can be legislated out of existence, rather than a biological phenomenon affecting a tiny percentage of the population.

One of the myths being pushed by supporters of the proposition is that a "no" vote would have a profoundly adverse effect on First Amendment guarantees of free speech and religious expression; in fact, the opposite is true.

Anti-gay forces are claiming that legalized gay marriage somehow gives the state the power to force clergy to perform same-sex marriages and would ban religious speech against homosexuality. These accusations are utterly without merit.

There is a difference in this country between civil marriage and religious marriage, whatever the protestations of the extreme right wing, that is very clearly illustrated: no state in the union requires the religious solemnization of a marriage nor recognizes a religious marriage without a civil license. Same-sex marriage does not change this.

The argument that churches would be "forced" to perform a marriage that was against their religious beliefs is utterly unfounded. For example, there is no limit to how many times a person can be legally married and divorced in the United States, but the Catholic church does not recognize the re-marriage of divorced persons. You can trot down to city hall and get your third, fourth, eighth license, whatever. But the government is absolutely powerless to require a Catholic priest to officiate at a marriage ceremony for you.

Most churches require couples counseling with a minister before a marriage ceremony; it's rare, but clergy have the pastoral right to decide a couple should not be married for whatever reason and decline to officiate. That can't stop them from obtaining a civil license.

Similarly, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox and Conservative Jews oppose interfaith marriages. A Mormon can legally marry a Jew, but no church or synagogue can be compelled to host the ceremony or recognize the relationship. The plain truth is that federal and local governments already recognize the marriages of couples whose unions are opposed by various longstanding religious traditions.

Ask the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston how many same-sex marriages they have been forced to perform since 2003.

Far from protecting first amendment guarantees about the freedom of religion, Proposition 8 actually imperils them. One of the many bogus assumptions supporters of the proposition make is that to be "religious" means to be anti-gay. Some religious groups openly oppose Proposition 8.

Furthermore, religious groups including Unitarian Universalists, the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ and Conservative and Reform Jewish synagogues routinely bless same-sex unions. While the practice remains controversial in many other denominations, individual churches within mainline traditions (especially the Episcopal and Lutheran churches) often welcome and bless same-sex couples.

Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, recently had this to say: "Performing and blessing [same-sex] marriages is not simply theoretical. There are real people in congregations large and small who have waited sometimes for many years for this opportunity, and the witness of their faithful love has been an inspiration to me....While no one in this Diocese will be forced to move beyond what his or her conscience allows, we seek to provide that gracious space for those whose conscience compels them to bless the marriages of all faithful people as together we discern the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth."

Thus, Proposition 8 does not protect religious expression at all but rather threatens the legitimate diversity of opinion on this issue among people of faith in the name of a narrow, fundamentalist orthodoxy. Legal recognition and protection of same-sex unions threatens no one and enhances freedom of religious expression in the State of California.

This post is written in support of Write to Marry Day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Practical Uses for Pornography

Over the weekend I was in the town of Monmouth, Oregon to lead another LGBT faith outreach workshop centered around the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So. Just to put this in context, the giant billboard alongside Highway 99W just north of town proclaims in bold red letters, "POLK COUNTY IS PALIN COUNTRY." (In 2004, Polk went for Bush by 12 points.)

After the screening, we broke up into small groups for discussion. I talked about the challenges of trying to conceal my sexuality as a teenager from a born-again father. "That must have been very difficult for you," said a concerned, sympathetic older woman. Then I recalled one of my more brilliant strategies.

"Yeah. I used to hide pictures of naked women in my bedroom for my dad to find, to throw him off the trail."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where Have I Heard That Before?

From the New York Daily News:

"Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said the Arizona senator wasn't talking about "real New Yorkers."

"He's talking about Park Ave. and the upper West Side, which is inhabited by the liberal socialites and the media types who, yeah, are certainly elitists," King said.

As it happens, the U.S. zip code that's given the most to the McCain campaign - $909,128 - is Manhattan's 10021, which includes a swath of Park Ave. "

* * * * *

Also this today from James Carville: "The reason Republicans are happy about Joe the Plumber is they're glad they got somebody hanging around a toilet other than Larry Craig."

Who's Got the Last Laugh Now?

Gail Collins' column from yesterday's New York Times brought back memories of my first-ever temp job as a telemarketer.

Picture it: Portland, Oregon, the fall of 1993. I was preparing to transfer to a school in New York City and took a semester off to live at home and work to save money for the move. I signed up with a temp agency.

When they called with the first assignment, they didn't really make clear that this was going to be a telemarketing job. I'm pretty sure they said I would be "handling the phones" at a comedy club downtown. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind -- anyone who knows me knows I hate telephones -- but I had to accept the first job.

I took an instant dislike to the manager of the club, the type of guy who obviously thinks of himself as a complete hot-shot. After telling me I didn't need to dress for work since the place wasn't open during the day, he showed me to a small, fluorescent-lit office where about four other people were sitting at folding tables with telephones and phonebooks.

"Here you go," he said, pointing to a chair and handing me a script.

"Hi, my name is _________________, and I'm calling from the Last Laugh Comedy Club in downtown Portland. Do you like to laugh? I thought so! The Last Laugh features today's hottest comics, including headliners from top-rated cable comedy shows. Can I interest you in a free pass for two to our club for this weekend?"


Now, this was before the days of fancy computer operations. I had an old-style touch-tone phone and a phonebook. We were under explicit instructions to ask for the person in the listing.

So, do you know who's home in the middle of the day? The unemployed, the elderly, sick people, and people who work the night shift. Very few of these folks are interested in free passes (with a two-drink minimum...) to a comedy club, and even fewer of them appreciate being awakened from their nap for the offer. I was hung up on. A lot. This exchange stayed in my memory:

Me: Hello, may I please speak with Mr. Edward Thomas?

[long, uncomfortable pause]

Fragile-sounding elderly voice on the other end: Who's calling, please?

Me: Hi there, my name is Andy, and I'm calling from the Last Laugh Comedy Club in downtown Portland. Is Mr. Thomas available?

Fragile voice: [after another awkward pause] Mr. Thomas has been dead for ten years, sir.

Me: [thinking silently, then why is he still in the white pages?!?!!?!] Oh. Ermm...well...I'm sorry to have bothered you...

That was one of the more successful conversations. The goal was to get them to give us their address so we could mail the flyer, which presumably they would present upon entry. The reason we were required to speak only with the person listed in the phonebook was because the management wanted to be sure we were sending the flyers to actual people; on my first day, the guy sitting next to me got reamed out by Mr. Hot Shot because a flyer came back marked "undeliverable." It was addressed to a guy named...Jim Shorts.

On my second day, Mr. Hot Shot told me I was "a natural" and that I had a really good "schpiel." This made me feel icky and it began to dawn on me that this was not actually a temp job, but professional limbo, where I supposed to linger indefinitely between hell and New York.

I called the temp agency back, explained that I was not comfortable in that environment, and asked if something else might be available. The receptionist who took my call was cheery and supportive and understanding and said, "No problem, Andy."

Except, she forgot to tell the person who assigned me. Which meant that no one told Mr. Hot Shot. So when I didn't show up the next day, he called the agency. The staffer called me and demanded to know why I hadn't gone to work; my explanation that I called yesterday and asked to be reassigned fell on deaf ears. "You embarrassed me in front of my client!" she shrieked, before hanging up on me.

I took a job at the mall, instead.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greetings from a Fake American

I haven't written very much about the political world recently. Frankly, the prospect of a McCain presidency, however depressing and terrifying, is presently so unlikely that it animates me less than the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency did during the primaries. (And, in a couple of weeks, I presume I will be receiving apologies from the Clintonistas out there who insisted that Obama would be powerless in the face of constant Ayers/Wright/Hussein smears from the right.)

Don't get me wrong; it's not in the bag and Obama is right to warn against complacency. In one respect, this will be a fairly close election: I would be very surprised if Obama is more than five points ahead of McCain when the popular vote is tallied. However, I think the Democrats' electoral strategy is solid, and I'm glad our hopes aren't pinned on Ohio and Florida. Barack doesn't need either of them to win; this year he needs Pennsylvania and Virginia. If he gets those two, it's over. He can lose Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Florida, Indiana and North Carolina -- and he'll win at least some of them -- and still take the election. (I base that on the assumption that Obama wins CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VA, VT, WA & WI for a total of 272 electoral votes.)

I guess now is also a fine time to admit that I was wrong on this point.

However, I am being roused out of my blogging apathy by the recent common mantra from the McCain campaign and their supporters that they somehow represent "real" America. First there was John McCain's brother, who said that northern Virginia was "communist country," which was echoed by McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer when she talked about "real Virginia." Touting "small-town" values had always been a part of Sarah Palin's campaign schtick, but then she had to go off in North Carolina and talk about "real America," saying, "the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit," and lauded them for their "pro-America" stance. (She has since apologized for those remarks.) Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota called for an "expose" of anti-American members of Congress.

So much for George W. Bush's 2000 strategy of campaigning on a message of bipartisanship and his famously worthless oath to be "a uniter, not a divider." We've now reached a point where supposedly serious people can say with a straight face that only parts of this country are "real" or "pro-America," and we have a candidate for the White House who can somehow claim that grass-roots efforts to register first time voters and get them to take advantage of the primary fundamental right bestowed on us by the Founders threatens to destroy "the fabric of democracy."

Yesterday, McCain and Palin clarified their stance in an interview to air tonight on NBC. In response to a request from Brian Williams to define what they meant by "elite," Palin said this: "Oh, I guess just people who think that they're better than anyone else."

McCain went on to elaborate that by "elite" he means the folks who live "in our nation's capital and in New York City," adding, "Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves."


Because, you know, our country's largest city and of course the capital don't have any "hard-working, middle-class Americans," just atheist feminist socialist gay-married immigrant welfare queens who drive Priuses, instead of American-made Cadillacs, on their way to abortion parties with a bottle of chardonnay in one hand and the Koran in the other.

The rhetoric from the right really is that bizarre these days. Consider Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina, who tried to deny that he warmed up a McCain rally crowd by saying, "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God" before he was exposed by a tape of the event.

You know, look: I'm a liberal. I'm gay, I drive a Honda, I live in an infamously progressive city, I believe climate change is real and has human causes, I think healthcare is a fundamental human right, I think the Iraq war was a mistake, I do not believe that all Muslims are terrorists, and I happen to like sushi, goat cheese, lattes, pinot noir and imported vodka. I supported Obama against Hillary in the primaries because she's too conservative for me. (Well, and she's a liar.) Sue me. But dangit, I was born in this country, I work hard (and make roughly one-fifth of Joe the Plumber's salary, apparently), I pay taxes and I frickin' go to church and believe in God. And I vote. I don't "hate" hard-working religious Americans, I am one.

The Republican Party, as embodied today by John McCain, has no message for the country and no vision for the future aside from a rude, non-sensical belief that (at least) half the country is fake, unpatriotic, hateful, lazy, elitist and amoral. Their ideas and policies are so exhausted and bankrupt that their last remaining argument is a spurious claim that they represent the "real" America. No wonder conservatives of principle are deserting in droves to endorse Obama.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Flew the Coop

Well, I guess you can't make chicken paprika without chicken.

I bought chicken, but it seems not to have made it into the shopping bag I brought home. I would go back to the store for it, but that was, oh, four hours ago now. What I can't believe is that I unpacked all my groceries when I got home and didn't notice. I only made the sad discovery once I set everything out on the counter five minutes ago to start cooking and couldn't find the chicken in the refrigerator.

I am an idiot.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Opera Review: Elektra in Seattle

There was much to admire on the opening night of Seattle Opera's Elektra by Richard Strauss, but nonetheless I have to admit I came away a bit disappointed.

Taking on the title role, soprano Janice Baird -- who became famous earlier this year when she made her Met debut jumping into the middle of an in-progress Tristan und Isolde -- sang the smartest, most secure Elektra I've ever heard. Though it took her a few minutes for the voice to gain full power and lustre, she sang radiantly through her nearly two hours on stage, and finished sounding like she was ready to do it again. Everything was wonderfully aligned, her rich tone shimmered up and down the scale, and her high notes were perfectly in tune and vibrant, whether she was singing full out or sweetly and delicately in the second half of the recognition scene. Unlike many Elektras -- who shriek, wail, scoop, caterwaul and sometimes actually scream to get through the killer role -- Baird was completely in control...which was part of the problem. You see, Elektra is not in control. Elektra is nuts.

Now, I'm not saying a wonderful artist with a long, promising career ahead of her should sabotage her vocal future by adopting all the vulgarities of her colleagues, but Baird just didn't convey much of Elektra's shattered personality. Her vocal restraint was mirrored by her physical performance. This is a woman so obsessed with revenge that it's literally what keeps her alive: at the end of the opera, she simply drops dead from relief. Baird didn't begin to approach the necessary level of fixation and desperation. But damn, she can sing.

As her sister Chrysothemis, German soprano Irmgard Vilsmaier was much more succesful in protraying the fragile, jumpy, shell-shocked survivor of an abusive househould. She looked like she'd shriek if you said "boo." Which is a safe bet, because she did shriek. A lot.

At first she displayed a rich, warm voice, but soon ran out of steam in the high-flying aria "Ich kann nicht sitzen," stumbling badly on the climactic high B-flat. She did the same thing on the high B in the final duet, finding herself unable to sustain the tone for the full duration the score requires, almost causing an orchestral fender-bender in the process. Maybe she was ill or just having an especially bad night? If not...I think she needs to visit mezzo-land, where she might thrive at lower altitudes.

Veteran mezzo Rosalind Plowright as Queen Klytaemnestra was a horror. (In a good way. ) Finally we got some old-fashioned scenery-chewing and a healthy balance of good singing and cheesy vocal histrionics. (Her "und schlachte, schlachte, schlachte Opfer um Opfer" was a particular highlight.)

Alfred Walker sang a beautiful, if not particularly passionate, Orest. Gorgeous voice, but we could have used a little more personality and warmth after he revealed his identity to his long-lost sister. I'm not clear why Richard Margison -- a sturdy and reliable if not especially compelling tenor who has sung all the leading roles in all the great houses of the world -- took on the brief and ungrateful role of Aegisthus, usually reserved for tenors who are on their way out. He sounded fine to me...when you could hear him. I don't know where he was during the murder scene, but he was utterly inaudible. "Help, murder! Doesn't anyone hear me?" read the supertitles.

No, actually, we didn't. I'm sure it wasn't Margison's fault, because we couldn't hear the chorus, either, in the glorious finale. I was in the chorus as an apprentice at Santa Fe, so I know what to listen for, and it just wasn't there. They should fix that.

Among the smaller roles, mezzo Melissa Parks as the Third Servant was a standout, with a powerful, voluptuous tone.

The production, by Chris Alexander, was only so-so. Wolfram Skalicki's set gave no hint of classical Greece and instead looked like it was borrowed from one of those corny episodes of Stargate Atlantis on SciFi, where they visit yet another new planet where everyone seems to be living in medieval England and the climate looks just like British Columbia. Alexander missed that Elektra is a very, very lonely opera. Aside from the opening bit with the five maids and the overseer and Klytaemnestra's entrace, there are never more than two singers on stage at a time. This production was too busy; instead of staging a goofy battle between Orestes' men (where did they come from?) and the palace guards (who looked like they wandered in from Monty Python's Holy Grail), complete with clanking swords and unconvincing grunts from the actors distracting from the gorgeous music, if they felt they needed more people on stage, they should have just trotted out the chorus, so we could hear them.

Under Lawrence Renes the Seattle Opera Orchestra played magnificently. McCaw Hall is my new favorite opera house, not least because of the wonderful acoustics. I'll be back in the early spring for their Erwartung/Bluebeard's Castle double bill.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grey Goose Was Made for Drinking, Not Bashing

A disturbing story via Andrew Sullivan.

Oh, and ps, Maureen Dowd still sucks. Or, should I say, Maureen Dowd etiam combibo.

OH! and PPS, we are 100 days away from the end of the Bush Presidency. Can I get a "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah"?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Opera Review: Salome in Hi-Def

First, a note to the Met website people: please post the complete cast list, not just the principal artists. Because this information is unavailable, I'll have to refer to some performers by character name only.

Today's live high-definition broadcast of Richard Strauss' Salome from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera reminded me again how valuable this project is. In addition to being a front-row seat to a world-class performance at semi-reasonable prices ($24 in the movie theater, versus $275 for orchestra prime in the house), viewers get a rare chance to see what's going on behind the scenes at the performance. Salome, being a single, salacious one-acter, had no intermission features, but we were treated to a brief introduction by dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt moonlighting as host. We were there for the moment when the afternoon's star, soprano Karita Mattila, opened the door of her dressing room, beamed into the camera and said, in faintly Finnish-tinted English, "Let's kick ass!" as the camera followed her to the stage.

And kick ass, she did.

There's a special place in my heart for Salome, not just because it's kinda twisted: it was the occasion of my European debut in November 2000, in the teeny role of the Cappadocian at the Zurich Opera under the baton of Valery Gergiev. Plus, where else can you get a Bible story featuring nude dancing as told by Oscar Wilde and set to music by my favorite composer? How can you go wrong?

The amazing thing about Salome is that it still seems shocking and modern 103 years after its premiere. It's two decades older than Turandot, but still comes off edgy and risqué. The audience for today's broadcast at Cedar Mill Crossing in Beaverton -- also generally two decades older than Turandot -- visibly and audibly shifted in their seats in discomfort at some of the purpler moments. They may have thought they were ready to see a woman sing to a severed head (though, the lady behind me too loudly commented that the head in question was unnecessarily realistic), but they were unprepared for the subtitles to reveal just what it is that she's singing: "You would not let me kiss your mouth, Jochanaan, but I will kiss it now! I will bite it with my teeth, as one bites a ripe fruit." Good stuff.

In the title role, Karita Mattila gave a glorious performance. Previously when I have heard her live, especially in the similar role of Chrysothemis in the same composer's Elektra, her top lacked focus and could occasionally be dry and husky. Today, however, the highest notes were spun like shining silver threads, even as the high-definition close-ups revealed the physical effort it takes to sing this role. Her middle voice was plummy and opulent and her frequent forays into the chest register were strong and expressive; she sailed through both the high, light lyrical moments and the powerful outbursts of passion and fury. She was fascinating to watch, engaged in every moment; she was petulant, manipulative, charming, seductive, outrageous and unhinged. The opera world should be forever grateful that this artist has been captured for posterity in her prime in this role.

Unfortunately, as the object of her desire, baritone Juha Uusitalo disappointed. His voice lacked the magisterial depth and warmth of the role's greatest exponents, which robbed Jochanaan of his prophetic authority. Even if Strauss envisioned his Baptist as a pompous, sexophobic fundamentalist blowhard, he still wrote beautiful, soaring music for him; I've always viewed Jochanaan as being in something of a permanent trance: wild, staring eyes and torrents of rich sound pouring out of a figure as solid and immovable as a boulder. Uusitalo's physical struggles with the role were a distraction.

Tenor Kim Begley was excellent as the sleazy, manic King Herod; Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi as his wife Herodias almost upstaged him just by virtue of her resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, but she sang well, too: her forceful outbursts were as commanding as her easy stage presence.

As the tormented captain Narraboth, tenor Joseph Kaiser looked adorable; the power required to clear Strauss' orchestra eluded him in a couple of spots, but it's evident that he has a pretty voice and knows what he's doing. I'd like to hear him in something else. The Page sang adequately, but did not sound remotely German. In the prize comprimario role of First Nazarene (no, I'm not being snarky, it's really a plum small part) the phenomenal bass (thanks, Met Opera, for not putting his name on the web, sheesh!!!) displayed in spades what Uusitalo's Jochanaan lacked: here was a voice of immense power produced almost effortlessly, with dark bronze rivers of sound welling upward from his golden throat. Despite his ringing, heroic top, he might be too low a bass to comfortably sing Jochanaan, but I hope this is someone the Met is grooming for other roles...King Philip comes to mind. And I might be picky and biased, since clearly I own this part, but David Won as the Cappadocian (I remembered his name from the credits) couldn't possibly have looked less interested in the questions he was asking the First Soldier, mellifluously sung by (name unavailable on the website).

The Met Opera management did alert us via the press that for the broadcast, while Ms. Mattila would indeed go full-monty in the famous Dance of the Seven Veils (or, as Parterre's La Cieca put it, "jam out with her clam out"), the cameras would discretely pan away; as it happened, we got a shot of Herod's delighted leer. I imagine this was, in Janet Jackson's wake, an attempt to avoid the ire of the FCC. Because, you know, it's okay to show a woman's face covered in blood after she's been kissing a decapitated head, but God forbid we see her breasts or, gasp, a little tuft of high-definition fur. This is a century-old opera based on a Bible story, and we still can't handle some of it. Small wonder that it was yanked off the boards of the Met after a single performance in 1907 and banned for twenty-seven years.

On a local technical note, I am wondering if they forgot to turn on some of the speakers at the theater in Beaverton today; I recall being overwhelmed by sound during last season's Macbeth, with the floor literally vibrating. While that may have been a tetch much, today only the speakers directly behind the screen were in operation; the sound was fine, but the experience lacked the visceral thrill -- and part of the point -- of seeing an opera in high-definition in a digital movie theater.

Might Have to Wait Until Next Week to Retire

The Year-to-Date Rate of Return on my 401(k) is now -41.4%.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Must Have Been Some Crash

From today's Oregonian:

"Wolf said the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro hardtop was northbound on 135th at high speed when it rolled and came to rest against the side of a home on the corner. A passenger was ejected during the crash. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue responders found him on the roof of the home. He was lowered and transported to OHSU."

Who Told You You're Allowed to Rain on My Cookie Parade?

Damn this economy!!!!!

While driving to work this morning, I heard on NPR that Mother's Cookies filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. They were unable to get a loan to make payroll.

Those pink and white frosted circus animal cookies were one of my absolute most-needed comfort foods for bad days. Definitive proof that George W. Bush has wrecked the country.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wonder if That Means Anything?

Last night I dreamed I moved to San Francisco and forgot to tell my father.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Reading Revelation Before Bed

Last night I dreamed I lived in a beautiful old house out in the country, surrounded by eagles and flying leopards.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Rocky & Starbuck at the Feast of St. Francis

Opera Review: La Traviata

Hi...okay, I know, I promised a blog about my trip to the beach. It's still coming. Probably. I don't know. I've been busy. I would like to get back to blogging more. We'll see. Anyway, for the three of you still bothering to check this blog, here's a new post.

* * * * *

I didn't mean to be a jerk. Really, I didn't. But when the woman sitting next to me at La Traviata at Portland Opera this evening asked between the 2nd and 3rd acts, "Have you seen this performance before?" I looked at her as if she'd asked, "Purple baby horticulture breadfruit shirking?" I sort of cocked my head and said, "I'm sorry, what was the question?" She smiled and repeated earnestly, "Have you seen this performance before?"

Well...what could I say? To an opera fan, the performance is what's happening that evening. To me, it was tantamount to asking, "Have you experienced these exact three hours in time before?" The production is the series of performances mounted with this cast, this set, this conductor and this stage director in this house; I suppose that's what she meant, and I could have said no, but she irritated me so I just said, "I have seen La Traviata many times." Which is true. I could have added, "I have sung La Traviata," too, but I wanted the conversation to end.

* * * * *

It was pretty good. I give it a B.

There was much to admire in Stephen Lord's handling of the orchestra, in particular the careful attention to dynamics (the long, steady crescendo and accelerando at the end of the Brindisi, for example), and I especially liked the extra "oomph" in the chords underneath "Prendi, quest'e l'immagine," which seemed to convey the cruel inevitability of the finale. I was glad to hear Alfredo's cabaletta, often cut, but not thrilled with the inclusion of Germont's cabaletta (even more often cut, but for good reason), and not convinced both verses of "Addio del passato" were merited.

The many comprimario roles were ably sung, though Brendan Tuohy's goofy Gastone was annoying. Portland native and local favorite Richard Zeller sang a commanding Germont with excellent legato and easy high notes, although the top sounded a bit woolly. Tenor Richard Troxell did not impress quite as much as he did as last season's Don Jose; though ardently sung, he didn't possess the agility for the Brindisi and struggled with some of the more dramatic passages. "O mio rimmorso" was energetic and for the most part very well done, though it's not traditional to drop out for the last eight bars unless you are going to interpolate the final high-C.

Maria Kanyova's Violetta was uneven, though she received rapturous applause at the curtain call. She has a beautiful, secure lyric soprano voice, but the coloratura fireworks of the first act test her limits. At times she opted for an irreverent straight tone in the cabaletta as an expressive choice, but then her voice lost bloom and sounded amateur. I could tell from the first D-flat that she didn't have an E-flat (at least, not tonight), but she tried it anyway, which was a mistake; you shouldn't cap a perfectly competent "Sempre libera" (a notoriously difficult piece -- though she lagged behind the beat in the roulades) with a screechy high note that's not in the score. If you have it, great. If you don't, Verdi didn't ask for it. It sounded like she stepped on something cold and slimy.

Many of her best moments were in the long duet with Zeller in the second act, which perfectly suits her voice. "Amami, Alfredo" gave me goosebumps. She was excellent in the brief third act, displaying a perfectly shimmery pianissimo at the end of her last aria. Her voice blended beautifully with Troxell's, though their chemistry didn't sizzle to the back of the house.

The production, by James Robinson for Opera Colorado and the Boston Lyric Opera is low-frills but adequate; the first act was suitably opulent, but red gowns in a room with all-red decor was a bit redundant. The all-white set for the first part of Act II made it look as if it were set in winter, though no one aside from Germont seemed dressed for the weather. Directing for Portland Opera, Jennifer Nicoll made some interesting choices, some more successful than others. She badly misjudged the end of the second act, having Alfredo retreat to the wings to the laughter of the chorus, when the clear sentiment of the moment is outrage. I am guessing she is also to blame for turning Gastone into a hybrid of Jar-Jar Binks and Rosie O'Donnell. Otherwise the performance was conventional.

Stay tuned: in two weeks I'll be reviewing opening night of Seattle Opera's Elektra.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hi...Sorry! Yes, I'm Still Alive


The last week was just kerr-ayyy-zeee busy! and then this weekend I went on another solo retreat at the Oregon Coast, thanks to a co-worker who generously offered me the use of his beach time-share. I had a wonderful, incredibly relaxing, restorative and insightful weekend -- much better than my last attempt! Hopefully I will blog about it sometime real soon, photos and all!

This week, however, I anticipate to be a magnitude 8.9 on the suckitude scale. It's not a lot of fun to be working in corporate finance during an economic crisis that is putting all of the financial planning we've been doing for the last couple of years in jeopardy.

Anyway, I hope to have an update for you soon -- thanks for checking in and for all your kind emails inquiring as to my whereabouts.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Help! I Can't Finish This Book

I'm stuck. I'm trying to read Robin Lane Fox's The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, but I'm on page 165 and don't think I can go any further.

I really like biblical history; that, to be clear, is not so much history as portrayed by the Bible, but rather the history of the writings themselves -- who wrote it, when, where, why and for whom. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea; a lot of people just aren't going to be open to the suggestion that Deuteronomy not only wasn't written by Moses, but was composed at the conclusion of the Babylonian exile by Jews returning to Jerusalem seeking to codify and re-establish temple practices and culture that had withered in captivity. See, I find that stuff fascinating.

This book is full of interesting information but there are two huge flaws: structure and style.

The chapters seem out of sequence. Presently I'm stranded in a chapter that seeks to define agreed-upon standards for what constitutes an ancient "historian." I can't help but feel that this probably belongs at the beginning of the book, and, at fourteen pages, is at least nine pages too long. There does seem to be a vague arc; the first chapter talks about the two separate creation traditions that got spliced together in Genesis, and most of the stuff relating to the New Testament is clumped together at the back. But it feels haphazard, and what comes in between does not have a sense of flow or development.

And, oh...the prose. Dull does not begin to cover it. Mr. Fox just has no voice. It's an effort just to turn the page.

There's stuff toward the back I'm interested in, but I feel like what I'm reading now is supposed to be laying the groundwork for what I'm to take away in ensuing pages. I'm tempted, however, to regard it more like an encyclopedia and just skip to what interests me. I'm also tempted just to put it back on the shelf.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Belated Blogoversary To Me

Oopsie. Missed my own blogoversary, which was September 19. (Thanks, Assisi, for the generous reminder!!!)

The truth is, I'm kind of depressed.

I have a good job, but it's not really a fit. I can't really call it boring, because the pace is frantic and I spend most of my time lurching from crisis to crisis. But not huge, important, world-saving crises, like protecting endangered species. When I get home I am exhausted. I'm good at my job, but it doesn't really play to my talents or passions.

Now, I knew it would be like this going into it. I never thought that my calling in life was to be a corporate tax admin. My circumstances are what they are, and I have to pay the bills, and this is the most money I can make given my skills and experience. So, there it is. Nonetheless, it's kind of a drag sometimes. I don't blog as much because I'm just uninspired; I feel like my creative, analytical brain is atrophying, like a houseplant in a room with bad light.

My social life isn't quite what I'd hoped for, either.

It's not all bad news, though.

Since May I have been working with Integrity and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon to develop an outreach program on LGBT faith issues, and last Thursday was the project's first outing. I thought about advertising it on the blog, but then I panicked and thought, "Oh...what if it turns out I'm terrible at this?" So I didn't.

The program features a licensed screening of the 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, followed by a moderated dialogue on homosexuality and the church (hosted by yours truly), and our first event was held at St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukie, Oregon. We had about 25 people show up, and it was a wonderful experience.

To be honest, it was a little bit like preaching to the choir, or at least the parents of the choir; no one was hostile or unreceptive to the issue. I heard some incredible and moving stories; there were elderly parents of a gay man there and they recognized their own journey of reconciliation in the film, and a man whose son had married a woman who turned out to be a lesbian. Another woman shared that she had a transgender brother. The vast majority of attendees were heterosexual.

I left feeling excited and inspired. When I come home from work, I feel literally physically heavy, like I have lead in my blood, but on that night I felt alive. I need to do more of this. Fortunately, I have at least two more "gigs" on the line, one in Monmouth, Oregon at the end of October and another at my own parish, date TBD. (Note to self: talk to rector today!) I need to try to get more opportunities like this, and maybe someday I can even branch out of the Episcopal Church to face a more skeptical audience.

Why I Don't Like Sarah Palin, Continued

She's totally Christy Masters from Romy & Michele's High School Reunion.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Andy Declares War on Sarah Palin

BREAKING NEWS: A personal friend of Governor Palin's revealed to ABC news this horrifying secret: "She doesn't care for cats."

A spokesperson for Rocky and Starbuck this morning responded, "The feeling is entirely mutual."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Earmarks vs Pork

One of the strangest themes of John McCain's campaign is his crusade against earmarks.

Congress exists to write and pass laws, yes. But another important job is to take taxpayers' money and divvy it up in appropriate ways, to determine how this money can most effectively be spent. We voters send our representatives and senators to Congress to fight for our piece of that pie. This is how Congress works; this is how Congress was intended to work. Specifically, "under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to direct appropriations of money drawn from the national treasury. This includes the power to "earmark" funds it appropriates to specifically designated projects."

An "earmark" is just a piece of tax pie that Congress decides will be set aside for a particular program or project. Earmarks help fund all manner of projects, from public transportation to education and research. The Iraq Study Group was funded through earmarks. Earmarks can also be used for the national infrastructure like, oh, I don't know, let's say...umm...levees in New Orleans and, um, bridges in Minneapolis. Not incidentally, all of our aid to Israel is earmarked. Is John McCain really opposing aid for Israel?

Now, let's be honest: Congress is not infallible. Sometimes they screw up. Sometimes they want to fund projects for political purposes that will cost the taxpayers more than they will yield in public benefit; that's not an earmark, that's pork.

In the second part of her interview with ABC's Charles Gibson that will air tonight, Governor Palin will say this: "And it's not inappropriate for a mayor or for a governor to request and to work with their Congress and their congressmen, their congresswomen, to plug into the federal budget along with every other state a share of the federal budget for infrastructure."

That's right. That is one of the main responsibilities of Congress. No argument from me.

But this statement comes in response to a reasonable question about her repeated claim to have "told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that Bridge to Nowhere."

The plain fact of the matter is that Congress stripped the earmark of funds for the bridge in November 2005.

Sarah Palin did not become Governor of Alaska until 2007.

In fact, as she campaigned in late 2006, she expressed support for the bridge.

The first time Sarah Palin told Congress "thanks, but no thanks," was at the Republican National Convention in August 2008, almost three years after the bridge became a national laughingstock.

That's not change you can believe in.
But wait, this gets better. Recently McCain and Palin accused Barack Obama of requesting "nearly $1 billion" in earmarks for the state of Illinois. But Obama has requested no earmarks for 2008, and in 2007 only $311 million, which works out to $25 per Illinois resident.

This year, Sarah Palin asked Congress for $198 million in earmarks. That's $295 per Alaska citizen. In 2007, she requested $256 million. While she was mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, she hired a Jack Abramoff-affiliated lobbyist and secured "14 earmarks totaling $27 million."

Here are some sterling examples of recent Alaska "earmarks."

Friday, September 05, 2008


Tomorrow I am attending the bar-mitzvah of the autistic son of two gay men, one Jewish, one Episcopalian, being held at a Presbyterian church.

Is it too much to hope for kugel at the reception?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why Sarah Palin's Family is Fair Game

"I have said before and I will repeat again: People's families are off limits," Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said on Tuesday. "And people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18 and how a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be a topic of our politics."

Noble words, with which I'd happily be first to concur. But no...not until I hear the same principled stance from Republican activists who have made discrimination and fear-mongering a rallying cry and make people like me political props in their campaign of distraction.

The 2008 Republican Party Platform explicitly calls for writing discrimination into the Constitution, seeking both to deny same-sex couples the right to marry and to deprive the courts of their proper role in protecting the civil rights of all citizens from the tyranny of the (shrinking) majority.

Their defense of "traditional" marriage is lined with all the discredited tropes of the waning anti-gay movement. They insist that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples protects "our children's future," although the government neither requires nor recognizes procreative intent or capability as a characteristic of civil marriage. The platform paints a disparaging view of children who grow up "in homes without fathers," while failing to note that the research they cite exclusively refers to the children of heterosexual mothers whose fathers chose not to live up to their responsibilities, not the children of committed same-sex partners. We are meant to ignore that some children of single-parent households turn out just fine (see Obama, Barack) and others have two fathers.

You see, according to Republicans like Sarah Palin, a family like this one is a better place for children than this one. The belief that any pairing of married heterosexual parents provides a stabler, healthier home than any same-sex couple could possibly offer is just not born out by any sort of evidence, at all.

Never mind their foreign policy disasters or the tanking economy -- look out! Here come Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi! Give me a break.

This is not a trivial issue. Palin and her ilk have literally campaigned on the promise to protect America from gay bogeymen (and women). Sure, in an ideal world, Bristol Palin and her circumstances would be irrelevant. They should be. And so should the private lives of millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, taxpaying, hard-working citizens. But when the RNC uses us to scare up voters, I refuse to sit idly by and not point out the egregious hypocrisy of people like Sarah Palin.

So Bristol Palin is 17, pregnant, and scheduled to marry the teenage father. Now, who knows? Maybe these two are genuinely in love and will live a happy, committed life together. It's entirely possible. My grandmother was pregnant (turns out, with someone else's child, my father) when she married her husband, and they're still married 65 years later and raised three kids, two of whom are divorced. But the research shows that pregnant brides are 50% more likely to get divorced, and that's factoring in a heterosexual divorce rate that isn't anything to be proud of.

Here's why Sarah Palin's family matters. You won't find anyone to argue that Bristol was being responsible by getting pregnant while unmarried and still in high school, even if they now assert she's doing the right thing by marrying the charming father. Though McCain aides may protest that the "liberal media" is smearing Palin's family, it was the GOP that first trotted out the Palins as a model to be emulated.

If you agree with Barack Obama that this subject should be off-limits, then you're at odds with James Dobson, whose activist organization Focus on the Family -- note the name -- is at least as political as it is religious. Here's his statement on the Bristol Palin situation.

Now, let's reflect back on his comments regarding the daughter of a sitting vice president who got pregnant outside the bonds of civil marriage.

Seventeen year-old Bristol Palin is about to marry a fellow teenager; they will have full government recognition and protection for a relationship that is, let's face it, a last-ditch attempt to make right a stupid mistake made in a brief moment of passion. Sarah Palin thinks this is just great. Yet compare that to Mary Cheney, who had been in a committed relationship with her partner for 15 years when they made the conscious decision to raise a child. (They're now at 17 years together, 6 years past the average heterosexual marriage duration of 11 years.) Sarah Palin thinks that Mary and Heather deserve no recognition or protection; Mary is the biological mother, so in the unfortunate event of her death, Sarah insists that Heather has no claim to the child. Sarah thinks Heather should not have been allowed to be present in the hospital for the birth, nor should she be allowed to be with Mary in the hospital under any circumstances. The couple, according to Palin, is not entitled to any insurance, inheritance or social security benefits.

Sarah Palin is receiving heaps of praise for supporting her teenage daughter's decision to have a child before she even completes high school and to marry another student who openly boasted on his MySpace profile that he doesn't want kids while simultaneously insisting that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who had been in a committed relationship longer than Sarah has been alive, deserve no protection or recognition.

John McCain, Sarah Palin's running mate, cheated during his first marriage which ended in divorce.

Gay folk get scapegoated for the political gain and moral failures of uninformed ideologues like Sarah Palin, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and David Vitter. I will heed Barack Obama's call to leave her family alone just as soon as she stops blaming me for everything that is wrong with heterosexual marriage.

Republican, heal thyself.