Monday, July 27, 2009

An Extraordinary Evening (Letter to the Editor of NLTB)

About 45 years ago I sat in the second row of the Eastman Theater to hear Yehudi Menuhin play the Beethoven Violin Concerto. It was an experience I treasure and one I never thought would be equalled.

Last night I sat in St. Patrick's Church and heard Elizabeth Pitcairn play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on the "Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius," and my experience in the '60s was surpassed. What a talent this young woman is, and what a career she has ahead of her.

We are fortunate beyond measure to have a symphony orchestra and chorus like TOCCATA here in Incline - in a place with extraordinary music programs and talents, TOCCATA and its driving forces James and Nancy Rawie, stand out. That they could get a world-class talent like Ms Pitcairn and her extraordinary instrument and that they could assemble the musical talent that they have is remarkable.

If you missed "A Mountain of Mendelssohn," you missed a remarkable evening, but watch for future TOCCATA programs - they deserve our support.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Turning Over the Rocks

July is only ¾ over and it's already been a singularly bad month for news on the ethics front.

At the top of the list we have "The house on C Street," where a group of US Senators and Congressmen live together, professing deep Christian faith and morality, and at the same time either engaging in their own and covering up others' extramarital affairs. The former group included the sanctimonious John Ensign of Nevada and the now-laughingstock Mark Sanford of South Carolina. To compound the hypocrisy, both have announced they have no intention of resigning, even though both called on President Clinton to resign when he got caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

When are we as a nation and as voters going to get it? These holier-than-thou types have a very high probability of being hypocrites. I'm not saying all religious people are phonies – far from it – but public officials who trumpet their "faith" seem to keep coming up lousy. There is a reason that the founders went to great lengths to separate church and state, and this is a prime example of it. I'm not condemning them for having "strayed" – the best of us have fallen prey to that – it's being so damned sanctimonious about others. Wasn't it He whom they claim to worship who said "why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother's eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?"

Then we have a double-header – the eminent scholar Henry Louis Gates is arrested after the police were called by someone who saw him "breaking into" his own home in Cambridge, and a member of the traveling troupe of Porgy and Bess, staying at a private home in San Francisco, has the police called when she goes into the house and again when she lingers in her car to complete a phone call. Both their "crimes" seem to be GATBWB (going about their business while black).

After the last election, much was made of our having entered a "post-racial" era – an era when race will not be a factor in our lives and racism is over. There's no question that the election of Barack Obama signaled a sea change in American culture, but folks, it ain't over. When a black man in his own home who objects to the police being present is arrested for "tumultuous behavior" and when a black woman can't enter a house where she is a guest without being under suspicion, just how "post-racial" are we?

And finally, we have 44 politicians, civilians, and clergy arrested in New Jersey after a ten-year corruption investigation involving money laundering, influence peddling, etc. Again, we have public figures including Rabbis (lest you think this is peculiar to fundamentalist Christians) espousing high morality while operating immorally.

What the hell is going on? I'd like to think (and this may be whistling in the dark) that, with Bush, Cheney, et al. out of power, we're starting to restore honest to public life, and that these things are coming to light as the rocks of integrity get turned over. Let's hope so.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Interesting Story

A traveler  is flying from Asia to the UK in the first class cabin of a 747, en route they stop at Mumbai where an elderly lady joins the flight and sits next to our traveler. He does not particularly want to engage in any conversation with the lady, and is a bit put off by the fact that despite lots of space on the plane, she is seated in the same row as he is.In fact,
he does not understand how she is there at all as she does not look like she has any wealth at all. The lady asks, "who are you" he replies with his name reluctantly, then she asks "and what do you do?" - determined to close this conversation off, the traveler informs her that he is a senior executive of a global oil distributor and that he is returning from a significant business trip - unimpressed, the lady asks "yes, but what do you do that matters?

The person who related that story to an audience at Impact Development group in 2005 then informed the audience that he
realized that this was in fact Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and that challenge made him re-assess his life and purpose, within a year of that flight he had left Shell and became a regional director of Business In the Community.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The King is Dead, but…

Throughout history there have been individuals with prodigious musical talent – Mozart and Beethoven in the Classical Age, Duke Ellington and Eubie Blake in the Jazz Age, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in Folk, Leadbelly in Blues, the list goes on and on.

But when did musical talent, even genius, become the object of veneration and idolatry? In my own lifetime I can remember that Sinatra was idolized, but his various character flaws were not overlooked, Elvis was certainly the object of fan mania, but no one overlooked his drug problems in assessing his character.

Now we have the one some would characterize as Elvis' successor – from the King of Rock 'n' Roll to the King of Pop. He died at age 50. From the viewpoint of my advanced age, I can go along with characterizing that as "untimely" or "dying young." The cause of death is, as of this writing, still open, but there are indications that his known addiction to prescription drugs may have been a factor. His character is certainly open to question. Allegations of child molestation were never subjected to legal test, and it seems that payment to the accusers may have kept them from going to trial. He certainly was not a model of good judgment, dangling a baby from a Berlin hotel window and stating publicly that he saw no problem with sharing his bed with young boys.

So why is he being idolized in death, while his character flaws are being minimized? Suddenly he is a hero to African-Americans who resented his changing his appearance with the effect, whatever the intent, of looking more Caucasian. Fans are praising him to the skies as a fallen hero. Frankly, I don't get it.

He was talented and made a career of entertainment innovation. He was definitely entertaining. He was also deeply flawed. His celebrity and his wealth allowed him to buy his way out of trouble (for $25 million in one case), but that does not make his action less heinous. So why, in the days following his death of as yet undetermined causes, were we subjected to adulation unbalanced by any response to his character? And why do I have the feeling that no matter how balanced I try to be in this column, I will be resented for even mentioning his faults? Have we, as a culture, descended to the point where if someone entertains us, we don't care about anything else?