Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paula West at The Rrazz Room

We're just about at the mid-point of Paula West's seven-week run in San Francisco. I wish I'd gotten to the Rrazz Room earlier, so you'd have more time to plan an evening with this incredibly honest and powerful singer. But that means you still have three weeks to take advantage of this opportunity.

I'd seen West a year ago, in the same venue. But on that night, I think I was so taken by her trio of backup singers that I didn't get the full impact of what this woman brings to the stage. When she feels a song -- and she seems to feel all of them -- she doesn't let that feeling go. She spends time with it, and searches for a way to share it with you. It's almost like she's a hostess, inviting you in to share the song with her -- the way she knows it.

She started with "New World Coming" (made famous by Nina Simone and Mama Cass Elliott), which resonated nicely after tonight's speech to Congress by President Obama.

But it was the second tune she and the George Mesterhazy Quartet played that really hooked me: an amazing version of "The Beat Goes On." The way she played with the beat during the refrain, "drums keep poundin' rhythm to the brain" was absolutely magical.

She also does terrific versions of "Gentle On My Mind," some Rodgers and Hart and a Cole Porter song I'd never heard before, "You've Got That Thing," that includes healthy dollops of the Porter wit:

"You've got what Adam craved when he
With love for Eve was tortured
She only had an apple tree
But you, you've got an orchard

You've got those ways, those taking ways
That make me rush off to Cartier's
For a wedding ring, you've got that thing"

When she puts her stamp on Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'," you'll hear the song in ways you never have. She sings it as if she could change the world herself, just with this one song, on this one night, singing it for just one person: you. Her "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" is heartfelt without being sappy and she brings out all the pain of a once-lush, now dessicated, love in Lennon & McCartney's "For No One."

Plus the band behind her is worth listening to all on their own. Especially pianist and arranger Goerge Mesterhazy.

If you live in the Bay Area, go. She'll be at The Rrazz Room until March 22. If you don't live in the Bay Area, get here. (Although she also plays New York with some regularity -- if memory serves, at The Oak Room at The Algonquin. Here's what the New York Times had to say about her rendition of two of my favorites from the show:

"The peppy martial pulse of “The Beat Goes On,” the 1967 Sonny and Cher anthem for flower children, has been atomized and turned into polyrhythmic jazz. As she delivered the song at Tuesday’s opening-night show in staccato, syncopated phrases, the George Mesterhazy Quartet injected it with Afro-Cuban heat. Her dark clotted voice transformed a carefree hippie strut celebrating changing fashion into an ominous reflection on the relentless drive of history. This is it, it’s now or never, get ready, she implied; heavy turbulence lies ahead.

"Later in the show Bob Dylan’s 1964 anthem, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” picked up the theme. As Ms. West bore down on the prophetic lyrics, images flashed to mind of an emerging topsy-turvy order in which hierarchies are reversed and bankrupt financiers and corrupt politicians find themselves either in prison or on the streets.")

Do go. Soon as you can.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sean Steps Up

With a heartfelt acceptance speech, Sean Penn said to hundreds of millions of people something virtually all of them know, but most of them don't want to admit: that full civil equality for GLBT people is coming, and that those who fight equality today will one day be held in the same low esteem that we now hold those who worked to continue slavery or hold back women's suffrage or deny voting rights.

"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think it’s a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the great shame in their grandchildren’s eyes..."

Penn, in his usual direct manner, skipped the niceties and called a bigot a bigot. Basically, he is saying if you don't recognize the wrongness of your thinking soon enough, you will one day look back on this fight with terrible regret that you chose the side you did. And if you don't, your descendants will.

He's going to catch some hell for this -- but not as much hell as those who stand against equality will catch when the guilt over the pain and suffering they have helped cause finally catches up to them.

A Workable Compromise

In today's New York Times, David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch -- two writers on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate -- have come to a compromise. Their suggestion: create federal civil unions that give equal federal level benefits (Social Security survivor benefits, tax-free inheritance, etc.), yet allow religious organizations to refuse to recognize these unions. I'm not sure I like the idea of legalized discrimination for organizations simply because they believe there is an invisible superbeing who supports their position, but I think the federal rights are so important we ought to claim them via whatever avenue provides them.

Money quote: "In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief. But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society."

Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Music Man" in Ashland

Theater fans who travel to Ashland, Oregon usually make the journey for a fix of Shakespeare, as the charming town in the southern part of the state is home to the oldest (and perhaps best) Shakespeare festival in the country. Sitting under the stars in their outdoor theater, a mostly faithful recreation of The Globe, where many of the Bard's plays were originally staged, taking in one of the classics, is a delightful way to spend a warm summer evening.

But in February the outdoor stage is closed, and the Ashland festival stages its offerings in its indoor venues, the largest of which is the Angus Bowmer Theater. I remember the Bowmer from several high school field trips. It's where I saw "Oedipus Rex" and "Waiting for Godot" (which I still don't fully grok).

Although I travel semi-regularly to Ashland to visit family, I don't often attend festival offerings. In the summer it's hard to get good seats, and much of what they stage I've already seen in New York. And to be honest, though the OSF is a solid festival, I've never been overly impressed. (But I'm hard to please.)

But when Devin and I decided to take a few days of her mid-winter break to head north and visit Mom, I checked the OSF schedule and saw that "The Music Man" would be up one of the nights we were there. "The Music Man" is one of my favorite musicals, and though I had recently seen a production of it on Broadway in New York, I decided to take a chance.

And how glad I am I did. This new production is absolutely delightful. Though I have some quibbles with the show (primarily the orchestra, which is tiny and its playing a touch sloppy), I had a terrific evening. It's easily the funniest version of the show I've ever seen. Richard Elmore, who plays Mayor Shinn, is the best Mayor Shinn I've ever seen, and that includes Paul Ford, who played the role in the movie. Elmore has simply brilliant comic timing. In fact the whole production is working well -- which is surprising since the night I saw the show was only the second performance of the run!

Director Bill Rauch's take on the production is that conman Harold Hill brings life and vitality not just to the life of Marian the Librarian, but to the entire town of River City. At the top of the show, everything is in black and white -- even the flags, even though it's the Fourth of July -- except for Harold Hill's coat. By the time the band plays at the end, everyone is technicolor -- though it takes Mayor Shinn longer to loosen up than anyone else in town.

Highly recommended.

Two notes in closing. First, though I generally don't have too much trouble with color-blind casting, an African-American Marion Paroo took a bit of getting used to, especially since, in the original, Marion is Irish. I just decided she was black Irish.

Second, I found it interesting to note that when Harold Hill comes to town and is looking for a way to frighten the townsfolk to convince them that they need his boys' band to keep the young folk under control, he inveigles the citizens to see the pool table as a tool of the devil. That's not the interesting part; I've known that since the first time I saw the show as a boy. What's interesting was being reminded that when you want to frighten someone -- and there is no logical reason they should be frightened -- the best way to do so is to invoke God and morality. After all, there's no logical, reasonable response to such an indictment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Equality is clearly NOT the point

As I have mentioned before, it seems the folks opposed to marriage equality have a problem with more than just the use of the word "marriage." Throughout the debate over Proposition 8, its supporters often claimed they had no problem with treating people equally, they simply felt "marriage" should be reserved for man-woman relationships.

That is, until it actually comes time to extend anything even close to equality to same-sex couples. A group in Utah, Common Ground, after hearing all the protestations from same-sex marriage foes that they don't oppose equal rights, took the haters at their word and introduced five bills in the Utah State legislature to attempt to provide some measure of civil equality for gay and lesbian couples. However, even the most benign of the five, the one that would allow for equal hospital visitation rights for a same-sex partner was shot down in committee before it could even come up for a vote.

The opposition apparently complained the legislation was unnecessary and was simply an end-around attempt to drag the state into legalizing gay marriage.

It's clear, at least to me, that the neanderthals that cling to religion as a bulwark against the complexity and confusion of real life have no interest in allowing equal treatment of people they think are "objectively disordered" (to use the Catholic Church's term). They live in another century. Fortunately, they are dying off. Perhaps not as fast as I might like, but hey, I'm patient. The next generation understands that sexuality is no more a choice and no more changeable than handedness. The recalcitrance and fear of the crazy faithful will soon backfire on them. As Dr. King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Perhaps when people see how truly bigoted and fearful those most opposed to marriage equality are, the more fair-minded among them may be able to get past their own hesitation and support true equality.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Japanese make some beautiful stuff. Case in point? The laptop case pictured above. Laminate cedar, lined with canvas. Gorgeous, but I'm afraid I'd scratch the hell out of it the first day. But you're probably more careful than I, so you can purchase it here for a mere $382.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

E-mail THIS video to the claims adjuster...

Click play. There has got to be some molten metal at the end of this.

You can also read an early account of the circumstances surrounding this fire in Beijing here. If you were going to send the gist of this story to someone in a text, it would read "prbly firewks." It was the last night of Lunar New Year, and by order of city officials, all fireworks had to be used by midnight. So no one's saving anything -- they're setting a match to every fuse. Speculation is that a stray rocket could perhaps have ignited debris at the site.

My question is, what's the insurance situation on something like that? The building was an unoccupied, soon-to-be-opened Mandarin Oriental hotel. Say you're the developer and you see the spreadsheet on the wall. So you arrange to have a small accident happen on Lunar New Year when there will be lots of explosions as a cover. Will the policy pay out more to the developers than they could have reasonably expected if the hotel had opened? Or, perhaps more likely, will it pay a return faster than opening and waiting for a global economic turndown to pay it off the old-fashioned way?

I'm not saying I'm just saying.

Is It All Talk?

For all the talk during the Prop 8 debate about how those opposed to same-sex marriage weren't against equal rights, they just felt "marriage" was between a man and a woman, just watch what happens when that option of fully-equivalent civil unions come up. For example, in Hawaii, where a civil unions bill is making its way through the legislature and seems to have the votes required to pass. Money quotes:

"“There is no benefit to an unproductive relationship,” said Virginia Domligan, a pastor at Prayer Center of the Pacific in Pearl City. “Full benefits are for traditional marriage between male and female.”"

"Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona urged legislators to respect the 1998 vote and reject civil unions. He suggested that lawmakers could put the question on the ballot again rather than pass a law without another vote of the people. “This is nothing more than same-sex marriage under a different name,” Aiona said. “You would be circumventing the will of the people.”"

The gay community is prepared to accept fully-equivalent civil unions (especially if they are required of all couples that seek state benefits), but if the opponents of marriage equality fight like this they're going to end up losing that big battle over the word "marriage." Maybe not this year or next, but soon. If they would compromise and accept civil equality, maybe they'd have a chance to hang on to that word that's so important to them.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Weirdness from Etsy

They say these handle covers would be perfect for a bridal shower gift, but I can only imagine them actually being put to use in...well...almost nowhere. Do you suppose she'd also knit a matching vulva potholder?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Like Bill Cosby says...

...only with more swearing. Lifting the African-American community from within:

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Another Reason to Love Golf

Almost two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote this brief post about Camilo Villegas, who I was predicting to be the next big star on the PGA Tour. In the two years since, Camilo has pretty much fulfilled my prediction. He is currently ranked #11 in the world, and shot a 63 today and leads the Buick Invitational by three strokes.

But that's not the additional reason I love golf. In another post, written during the 2007 Buick Invitational, I wrote that contrary to the opinion of those who think of golf as elitist, it is actually among the most democratic of sports. Here's how I put it then:

"Few people ever experience the thrill of dunking a basketball, or running a sub four-minute mile or flinging a football 60 yards downfield. And though few of us can drive the ball 300+ yards, from time to time, every golfer hits a shot that is identical to the sort Tiger, Vijay, Ernie or Phil make with somewhat greater regularity: the 60-foot putt that curls in, the chip from off the green that hits the flag and drops, the approach from 180 yards that nuzzles up close. (I do it with a 3-wood, Tiger with his 7-iron.) And 18 times a round, every golfer gets to hear the same lovely sound the pros do when the ball finds the bottom of the cup."

Here's the additional reason to love the game, a reason that came to me today while watching the pros try and tame Torrey Pines, and it relates to golf's egalitarian nature. What other sport can you play where you get the opportunity to experience that sport in the same venue the pros do? Sure, with connections, you could probably shoot hoops on the parquet in the Boston Garden, or maybe stand at home plate in Yankee Stadium. And though you could travel to Austria and ski the Hahnenkamm run, the most famous downhill course, they wouldn't clear the mountain for you and time you so you could compare your efforts against the world's best. The experiences just aren't the same.

Of course you can't play every course they play on tour (just trying getting a tee time at Augusta or Shinnecock if you're not a member or have member connections), but if you have the coin, you can tee it up at Torrey Pines South, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst or Bethpage Black -- all of which have hosted the US Open. There are dozens of other courses open to the public where other PGA tournaments, even majors, are played. If you want, you can even play from the back tees and see just how short you fall in relation to the standard set by the pros.


Watch it.