Monday, March 31, 2008

Goodbye to Al

The most over-the-top funeral this area has seen in years took place today. It was the final ride for Al Copeland, the 64-year-old former fried chicken king and restauranteur. Parked outside the mausoleum were several of Copeland's racing cars and motorcycles, like giant sentinels calling for their former master The powerboat that he had raced to championships was there too. The funeral procession was led by his own white Bentley and white Rolls-Royce with a fleet of white limos filing right behind. Copeland died March 23 in Germany while undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer. He lived fast and he died fast, a modern-day captain of industry, whose vision to make money and to transform his environment were never-ending. He first took a small donut shop and turned that into a huge money-maker, spinning the proceeds for the sale into what looked like an ill-fated effort, a chicken stand in St. Bernard Parish. Yet, with determination and his unstoppable persona, he carried on, ultimately figuring that spicy chicken would find favor in the land of the Cajuns and Creoles. Years later, Copeland recalled a man who purchased one of his early dinners only to return to the eatery for the pleasure of heaving the sack of the remaining chicken at him. But as that legendary sack of chicken sailed through the air, so was the legend of Al Copeland and Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken born. With the help of a jingle penned by local musician, record store manager and artist and repertoire man Tommy Morel, Copeland took his campaign to TV and radio with the inimitable Dr. John singing vocals. Everyone knew that ditty back and forth and loved its distinctly New uh...flavor. Even the cartoon figure of Popeye wasn't planned. It had been Copeland's original intention to honor the hero of "The French Connection" to relate to the speed at which the chicken would arrive once ordered. Anyone who has seen the famous chase scene underneath the elevated train tracks in New York could make uh...connection. It was only later that he was able to secure the permission of King Features to use the likeness of the famous cartoon sailor. While Copeland amassed a personal fortune in the tens of millions, he began spending money on adult toys like speedboats, fast cars, and even faster women. He married four times and divorced four times, producing nine children with women who were striking in their looks. The last two of his weddings were notable for their sheer size and scope. The third wedding took place at the New Orleans Museum of Art with rose petals being tossed by a helicopter as the happy couple emerged from the ceremony. Following that divorce was his final eye-raising nuptials to the blonde bombshell for whom he had left his third wife. That last ceremony was especially interesting to locals who inquired, how after three previous trips down the aisle, he could have gotten married in St. Louis Cathedral. The Church quickly snapped back an answer: his first wife had died and, because it was the only previous wedding that had taken place n a church, the powers that be saw no reason to stop Copeland from going down the aisle at the official church residence of the Archbishop of New Orleans. A dashing figure, nattily attired in tight-fitting clothes, Copeland worked out tirelessly and availed himself of tanning salons, a fact that didn't escape notice when the first details of his disease were made public. Like a cyclonic disturbance, Copeland left wakes in his path. His neighbors were outraged when he took the opportunity at Christmas time to festoon his house with hundreds of thousands of Chrismas lights, creating a public nuisance and a traffic nightmare for all that lived in his sleepy Metairie area. Eventually, he was forced to take the light show to his own building and later tried to tone it down a bit after he had moved to the North shore. Even there he was a neighbor no one was anxious to have. But Copeland, a big kid himself, knew that he had captured the hearts of the young and he would be forever remembered by those who had the spirit of the season. When it came to using his money in far less worthy endeavors, Copeland didn't stop there either. When several of his top aides were investigated for possible cocaine usage, it was alleged that they were shielding their boss, but no one was able to prove those charges. On the other hand, the government was able to prove money being passed to a judge by Copeland for a satisfactory divorce settlement from his third wife. That judge, part of a wide-spread investigation codenamed "Wrinkled Robe," went to federal prison. But Copeland was never prosecuted. He seemingly was made of teflon. The only time he seemed to have lost out was when he brokered a deal to take over Church's Chicken, backed by junk bonds just prior to the collapse of that market. When Church's turned the tables and swallowed up Copeland's empire, he demanded that his spice company remain the official source for the chicken seasoning. That deal turned out be his lifesaver. His contract with Popeyes, estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, fueled his penchant to create new restaurants like Copeland's, Straya, Copeland's Cheesecake, and Sweet Fire and Ice. He may have been a hero with feet of clay and lots of small imperfections, but he was our hero. He even went out with The Chairman of the Board, Ol' Blue Eyes himself, crooning that Paul Anka classic in the background, "My Way." There never was another quite like Al Copeland and I'm positive there won't be another one exactly like him. God rest his soul, at least for a short while, because if anything is sure, Copeland will be frying up chicken with a heavenly choir behind him singing of its joys.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cautionary tale

I've actually been victimized by identity theft criminals myself, so I was very curious when I spoke to a very close family member about an attempt to steal her identity and rip off her credit card companies. It would seem that the international criminals who are behind this well-designed scheme emanate from India, the epicenter of corporate outsizing. Thanks to the pencil pushers and bean counters who decided to send all of our important account information jobs to the sub-continent, the country has not only lost positions that could be held by out-of-work Americans, but we have now been placed at grave financial risk. There's little to be done about this when, after all, one places the fox in charge of the henhouse. Had the corporate geniuses from AOL Time Warner thought through their plan to have Travelocity staffed by people working for rupees per hour, they might have discovered that given an opportunity to steal thousands of American dollars, their "trusted" outsized employees might stray from the straight and narrow. Such was the case with this family member, who received an e-mail alert from American Express notifiying her that she had requested a change of address on her card and that a new card had been sent to her new address. The e-mail urged her to contact them right away if that was not the case. Thankfully, she was able to spring into action almost immediately because had she not been successful in reaching American Express in time, at least $800 would have been stolen by criminals in Detroit who had received the new card overnight. One would think that notifying American Express would be a simple act: just pick up the phone and notify them, right? Not so fast. These criminals had also stolen her social security number and using that and other sensitive account information available to them through the Travelocity site, they were able to disconnect her phones! If they had only been clever enough to also cancel her cell phone, they would have been able to plunder at will. But the story doesn't end there. She added security to all of her credit cards with new passwords and ordered a replacement American Express card to arrive overnight. When it didn't arrive, she called American Express to complain. They indicated to her that the criminals had cancelled the new card only a few hours after she had made her request These guys are very slick. The scheme began when calling AOL's Travelocity a few weeks back. Normally, when one calls an entity rather than receiving a call from someone, it is fairly safe to reveal personal information. When changing out an airplane ticket, she gave the person on the other end of the phone her Discover Card. After a few moments, he informed her that the charge did not go through. Rather than standing by that card and demanding it be re-run, she elected to give him an American Express card number, but not until after being placed on hold for an inordinately long period of time. It was during that period that the criminal contacted his fellow grifter and, unbeknown to my family member, it was this criminal who gathered the sensitive account information. Along with the other personal information available from the AOL Travelocity worker like the social security number and home phone and fax numbers, the criminals' plan was almost perfect. Had the cell phone also been cancelled, she could not have notified American Express and her other credit card companies in time. Thank goodness for stupid criminals.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Don't take our mayor for granite

Mayor Ray Nagin is understandably upset. After all, WWL-TV had no sooner finished an investigation of his day planner and put his family "at risk," when those nosey Times-Picayune reporters started investigating his family's ties to Home Depot. It was another headache for the mayor, having that pesky Fourth Estate investigate his family ties to the giant home improvement firm. Home Depot, busy putting the finishing touches on its first location in Orleans Parish's Central City, just happens to have a firm that will supply stone countertops called Stone Age, LLC. Stone Age, LLC just happens to be run by Nagin's two twenty-something sons. The fact that Home Depot secured a number of tax incentives and abatements in its plans to move into the city run by hizzoner seems to be a mere coincidence. For his part, the mayor calls foul. He is just a "financier." The business is to be run by his boys, after all, but since he put up most of the scratch, he and his wife will naturally control a small portion of the business. Whether the state's ethics laws were violated would depend on just how high a percentage the mayor holds. Anything less than 25% will probably pass muster. But don't expect any details to be forthcoming from the illustrious leader. The mayor's mouth is mum. And now that Nagin has left his regular gig at WWL-TV to take on a weekly similar time slot at competing station Fox 8, he probably won't have to worry about being grilled by those incovenient investigative reporters.
King James dethroned? That was the New Orleans Hornets finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers last night 100-99 in a last second thriller. Despite a very impressive 21-point performance by legendary player and Vogue cover model LeBron James, the Hornets posted another scrappy win for the leaders of the NBA West. Who woulda thunk?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Easy Theatre Awards Ceremony

What a great night for the New Orleans theatre community! Last night was the 20th annual Big Easy Awards for Theatre, the second time in as many years the event has dealt strictly with theatre. The music awards will follow next month in a separate gala affair. The picture above was taken at last night's gala that drew several hundred devotees of local theatre. I serve on the Big Easy Theatre Committee and helped to nominate the actors, actresses, producers, directors, music directors, choreographers, set designers, lighting designers, and productions that were presented last year for Big Easy Entertainment Awards. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Becky Allen, the local star of stage and screen who is almost a caricature of herself (seen with yours truly). She is such a joy to behold and yet as unique a character as one can imagine. Becky has been on stage since a very young lady and was featured at the ceremonies in a montage of photos and videos that captured her very impressive career for the last four-plus decades. Sean Patterson and Ricky Graham, Becky's partner in crime for many years, made the presentation. Congratulations should be extended to All Kinds of Theatre and Southern Repertory Theatre for the run of awards they garnered for "Doubt" including Best Supporting Actress (Andrea Frankle), Best Actress (Claire Moncrief), Best Actor (Jamie Wax) and Best Drama for 2007. Another set of impressive wins was achieved by the NOLA Project and Southern Repertory Theatre for "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," a very dark comedy complete with body parts and blood. John Biguenet's "Rising Water" won Best Original Play and he was selected as Theatre Person of the Year based on that play's nationwide success and Pulitzer nomination. Le Petit Theatre's Sonny Borey and Derek Franklin picked up the Best Musical for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," while Gary Rucker got the nod for Best Director with Rivertown Repertory's "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Best Musical Director went to Jonne Dendinger for Le Petit's restaging of "Tunes," first mounted by Ricky Graham and the late Freddie Palmisano. With performances peppered between presentations, the night was a splendid tribute to the entire New Orleans theatre community, which has rebounded nicely since Hurricane Katrina, but still has some big challenges ahead.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why do men cheat?

Now that the dust has settled over the New York and New Jersey governors' offices, there is an abiding question that must be asked. Why do men cheat? Why is it necessary when so much is at stake that a man can risk it all -- his family, his job, and his station in life -- in order to act on an affair of the heart that on cursory examination seems tawdry and fleeting in substance? This obviously crosses all sexual preference lines. It matters not if the marriage or commitment is recent or long-standing. Given an opportunity to stray and frolic through Cupid's groves, man will literally jump at the chance, if he feels he can do so without getting caught. After all, there are repercussions to this behavior. Someone once suggested that men act impusively because of the ice cream factor, i.e. there are so many varieties of partners available that they want to sample them all. Perhaps that is the case for some, but speaking for myself, I don't think I could keep up with the demands of that many partners to make myself happy. To be sure there is a certain satisfaction that a man experiences -- a type of benevolent mastery over his lady or partner -- wherein he feels completed. Some men go to the extreme here demanding unreasonable accountablilty and obsessive behavior, which can lead to stalking. That is a very unhealthy relationship and I won't consider that in this discusson. However, I believe there may be an underlying reason as to why men feel the compulsion to cheat. It is not that they no longer love their partners, although a loveless marriage or commitment might act as a catalyst. Instead, I believe it is a way of dealing with their own mortality. By having multiple partners, a man considers that he has cheated death and in a bizarre fashion, he fancies himself as above other mortals, at least for the moment. Once past his dotage, man is as faithful as a lapdog, but given full use of his faculties and physical health, he will choose to act on his impulses. I'm not particularly proud of this behavior, but I do accept it as part of man's nature. As there are many who are attracted to "bad" boys, the tendency is to forgive these indiscretions and to somehow overlook the darker side of man's nature. Perhaps that is why Pat Boone was never seen as any great challenge to Elvis Presley or why John Travolta's portrayals of Tony Manero and Danny Zuko are still the rage today. I would welcome any comments.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nutritional Tidbits

Our "Biggest Loser" group met with a nutritonist about what foods we should be eating and vice versa. I am the only male in the group. No surprise there. However, I was very surprised to learn some things about nutrition that I had not known before. For instance, taking vitamins supplements every day in very much de rigueur and at least one of them must be a multi-vitamin. Vitamins should always be taken with some sort of food item to help transport them through the system. I knew that already. But what surprised me was a one hour window before or after taking vitamins for coffee drinking. Apparently, caffeine cancels out the restorative effects of the vitamins if taken in close proxmity. I don't eat eggs that often, but if I eat two eggs, I must get rid of one of the yokes. If I eat a sandwich, I must lose one of the pieces of bread or the top of the bun and I'm allowed only one-half a bagel. Also, I am only permitted to eat red meat once a week. That means turkey, chicken and veal are in, hamburger and steaks are out. That will be a problem, but I will deal with it. This diet is complicated by the fact that I keep kosher in my home. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage because many of the items that I need to keep, such as whole wheat bread, tuna or salmon steaks, are only available through kosher locations. Fish that is fresh, but not cut with my own kosher knives would not be considered acceptable. So, if I want to continue to keep kosher and to lose weight, I must now eat mostly frozen foods purchased from the local kosher market. I am looking for alternatives, but it is vexing. Ironically, the local Chabad Rabbi Zelig Rivkin and his family kindly sent over kosher candies and hamantaschen as shalach manos (traditional food basket) offerings for Purim. It was literally a very sweet gesture. Unfortunately, I would be completely off the diet were I to enjoy the little morsels with the high calories and off-the-scale sugar content. Meanwhile, more exercise is the way I am attempting to deal with all of the new rules. Steady and slow goes the course.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Biggest Loser

For those of you who recall, one of my previous blogs ("When the Lights Go Out" - January 15) dealt with my height deficiency. Don't get me wrong. I am happy with my body. It's just that I'm not as tall as I should be for my present weight. I am endeavoring to understand why in the last several years my pants have been shrinking too. Perhaps I should be changing my detergent. What do you think? In any event, the local JCC (Jewish Community Center) to which I belong is holding a new contest patterned after the successful TV series "The Biggest Loser." I have been recorded as to size and weight and I am now working with a professional trainer to shed inches and pounds between now and the next five and a half weeks. Whoever wins gets another 10 personal trainer sessions to really get trimmed. It's a great opportunity for me to work with a trainer and make some healthy lifestyle changes. I know I need to eliminate a lot of sugar from my diet and I need some help with other food choices. I will be meeting with a nutritionist as part of the program this weekend. Meanwhile, even if I don't win the contest, I will be be burning more calories and working out more often. It can't hurt.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Purim and Happy Easter

Most of my readers who are not Jewish won't understand much about the holiday of Purim that begins at sundown tonight. Likewise, most Jews would not understand about the meaning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter other than to know that it deals with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the resurrection that is core to the central belief of Christianity. Purim is a fun holiday that commemorates the redemption of the Persian Jews about 500 years before the time of Jesus. Most everyone recognizes that the execution of Jesus that is remembered on Good Friday is a most somber event, while Easter, two days later, is celebrated as a joyous time. Purim is not unlike Mardi Gras, originally linked to the Christian observance of Lent leading up to Holy Week. Purim participants read from a special Hebrew scroll called a Megillah and are encouraged to wear costumes and to make noise, while adults are allowed to drink alcohol freely throughout the day (woo hoo!). Jews eat three-cornered pastries (like a triangle) filled with poppy-seed or fruits that are called hamantaschen. They are delicious, but they hardly compare to Heavenly Hash or a solid chocolate bunny rabbit. So, not matter what your observance, enjoy your holidays. I wish you all a meaningful and fun time with family and friends.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"The homeless, tempest-tossed"

Believe it or not, New Orleans has achieved another new record. Once again, it is one that we would prefer to pass on to some other American city, but it is a bleak reality of post-Katrina life here. It's our homeless population. Recent figures released from UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a homeless advocacy group, show New Orleans has a homeless population of 12,000. What that means is that one out of every 25 residents living in the city is homeless and it is double the pre-Katrina statistics. That translates to a 4% homeless rate, which far and away leads all other major metropolitan areas. By way of contrast, Atlanta has a 1.4% rate, while Washington, D.C.'s rate is slightly under 1%. No other city is even in the running for the unenviable title. According to city officials and advocacy workers, many of the homeless are victims of the hurricane who returned following the storm, but don't have jobs or fell through the cracks of the federal recovery programs that were put into place. Many are out-of-state workers who had come to New Orleans with the promise of work, but lost their jobs and are now stranded. Some are mental patients who are in severe need of care, but roam the streets due to a lack of treatment facilities. A gruesome reminder of this is the case of Bernell Johnson, a mentally ill patient now housed in the Orleans Parish House of Detention. Johnson stands accused of killing 24-year-old New Orleans police officer Nicola Cotton on January 28, following a seven-minute struggle for her weapon when the much-smaller two-year veteran tried to place him under arrest for a suspected rape violation. The tragedy of that event pales when one considers that Johnson is one of several thousand similar dislodged, mentally unfit members of New Orleans society who are in true survival mode. Throwing money at the problem doesn't seem to work, despite the many professionals on the city, state and federal levels. What we need is a better infrastructure and more programs in place to serve these underserved individuals. Many of the programs set in place to help the homeless have not been reopened since 2005. We have the figures to show the problem. We have the tragedy to illustrate the problem. What can we do to eliminate the problem?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bar Mitzvah Blues

Today marks the 41st anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah at the original Carondelet Street location of Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Both my son and I happend to share the same Parsha (Torah portion) and Haftorah (Prophets reading). That portion is known as Vayikra, the first chapter of the Third Book of Moses also known as Leviticus. My son will celebrate his anniversary on March 20, just two days from now. It is interesting having that Torah portion because the name appears along the walls of many Jewish houses of worship that identify the Five Books of Moses by their Hebrew names. Beyond that, though, there's nothing much more special about Vayikra or Beresheit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy) other than those are the first words in those books of the Torah. When I became a Bar Mitzvah, the biggest joke (which I didn't really get) was the one about the little Jewish boy making his speech and thinking about all of his gifts when he ascended the bimah (pulpit). "Today I am a fountain pen," the joke went. It was hilarious back then, but today, I am afraid, no one really knows what a fountain pen is anymore. Perhaps an update would be "Today I am an Ipod."
Republicans Poll: Don't forget to vote at the lower right for whom you feel would make the best running mate for John McCain. There's only a couple of days left. (Democrats can vote, but you should vote like a Republican. That means you should try to come up with the best (not worst) running mate.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The gift of the Irish

Well, St. Patrick's Day is almost over and I have yet to knock back a green beer or kiss a leprechaun. I seem to have survived, but there was a time when I clearly remember being punched in the shoulder by some of my ruffian classmates for the indelicate decision of not wearing green to school. I have rarely failed to wear green on intervening St. Patrick's Days since that time. There have been many famous Irishmen throughout history who have contributed to society in many ways, but in my estimation, probably the greatest gift of the Irish to the world is that of Irish coffee. I had the good fortune to be in San Francisco last year for the American Jewish Press Association meeting there and I was delighted to be at the Buena Vista Cafe, where Irish coffee was first imported in this country from Ireland. The Buena Vista is located at the last stop of the Hyde-Powell cable car that ends near Fisherman's Wharf. Back on November 10 in 1952 the owner of the Buena Vista, Jack Koeppler, invited travel writer Stanton Delaplane to re-create the popular coffee drink that visitors to Shannon Airport in Ireland had been enjoying for years. Throughout the night they toiled and they labored for several more weeks until the perfect rendering of the hot drink could be achieved. The devil was in the details as they experimented until final determining the right Irish whiskey, the proper aging of the whipped cream and the appropriate temperature to pre-heat the glass in which it was to be served. For those of you who have not enjoyed an Irish coffee as prepared by the excellent wait staff at the Buena Vista, you have not truly sampled the delicacy at its very best. One of them snapped the image above as I delved deep into the mystery of their delicious toddy on a midnight evening last June. It was a fact-finding mission and in true journalistic tradition, I am happy to report that it was a successful trip. As a time-honored Irish expression eloqently phrases it "it felt like a torchlight procession going down my throat."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The advent of Purim

Today is a date to check the calendars, all three of them. There must be a connection between the Jewish celebration of Passover and the Christian holidays of Holy Week, people reckon. The historical record says that the crucifixion of Jesus took place during the Passover celebration, so most Christians assume that the date for Passover is more or less connected to Easter. The fact is that there is no direct correlation to the two other than they both must be observed during the spring. The date of Easter is observed differently by the Western (Roman Catholic, Protestant and Anglican Churches) and Orthodox Churches. In the Western Churches, Easter is decided by the determination of Ash Wednesday, the date that follows Mardi Gras and is always 46 days prior to Easter. The date of Ash Wednesday is fixed according to a formula that is largely based on a lunar cycle (just like that found in the Jewish or Hebrew calendar) and a solar calendar that recognizes March 21 as the vernal equinox. Similarly, the Jewish calendar is not strictly lunar. Because there is a specific admonition in the Torah that the celebration of the festival known today as Passover must take place during the spring, there is a solar aspect to it as well. Similarly, the date of Ash Wednesday (not observed by the Orthodox Church) was set according to dates that were first fixed at the First Council of Nicaea in 365 C.E. when the Julian calendar was in place. Some may be surprised to learn that Easter had not always been observed on a Sunday, for example, prior to this important gathering. Changes implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 determined new dates for observance of Easter and Ash Wednesday for the Roman Catholic world and the Protestant churches which sprang up during the Reformation kept those new dates, the Anglican Church being the last major church to accept them in 1752. However, the Orthodox Church has kept its dates for observance of Easter more or less in line with the Julian calendar. As a result, the observance of Orthodox Easter can be many weeks different from the date set by the ecclesiastical formula used to determine Ash Wednesday and, hence, Easter, in the Western Church. This year the observance of Easter between the Western and Orthodox Churches differs by five weeks. That means that the observance of Passover, which begins at sundown on April 19 will be closer to the date set by the Orthodox Church for Easter, which is April 14. What is unusual is the proximity of the Jewish celebration of Purim, which happens to occur on Good Friday (as observed by the Western Churches) this year. Usually, Purim is closer in proximity to Mardi Gras (or Ash Wednesday), but because the date for Ash Wednesday in 2008 was set as February 6 (the second earliest date it can be set), and because this year the Jewish calendar has an extra month inserted, Adar II (in order to keep Passover in the spring), we have this highly unusual occurrence. If all of this makes your head spin, just think about the nightmare this presents for calendar makers. I don't know about you, but my recommendation is just to go with the flow and take it one day at a time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ides of March and the politics of hate

The news media and the Internet have been set ablaze this week with the political intrigue revolving about statements from two supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, namely Obama's pulpit minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Clinton's former high-profile supporter Geraldine Ferraro. Admitedly, it is difficult to compare the two divergent sources of controversy on face value. Wright's incendiary statements are oblique attempts to galvanize African-American supporters by emphasizing racial injustice. His rhetoric was vitriolic and mean-spirited, so it was no wonder that Obama felt the need to distance himself even further than he already had because a defense of Wright, who presided over Obama's wedding ceremony and baptized his children, was truly not possible. Obama's repudiation of Wright's statements was posted on Huffington Post at: . For his part, Obama seems sincere, especially since several of Wright's statements were as racist-inspired as any that would have come down the pike from the likes of David Duke. Substitute a few choice phrases here and there and the two could be interchangeable. As to Ferraro, her statement was a bit more veiled. She stated her opinion that suggested that Obama would not have been able to have gone as far as he has in the race to the White House were he not a member of a minority. I am amazed (as was Obama) that someone would suggest that being a minority gave one a treasured status or a leg up on the competition. Surely, Ferraro could see the folly in suggesting anything of the sort. Yet, she refused to back down and separated herself from the Clinton campaign to stem the critical tide that was rising in reaction to her statements. Yet, was what she suggested simply an error in analysis or venomous racism? Frankly, I think the storm against her was more a tempest in a teapot than the deserved reaction to Wright's statements. She was guilty of stupidity, not racism. On this date back in 44 B.C.E., another famous politician, Julius Caesar, was slaughtered for taking a bold stand. He had claimed absolute power and paid the absolute price for it. Perhaps the politics of hate practiced in America is not as extreme as that practiced in Ancient Rome, yet the casualities keep piling up and the course of the campaign is only at its mid-point. I imagine the Republicans are keeping their daggers sharpened for the real battle ahead...after the conventions.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Howard Metzenbaum

I never lived in Cleveland or Ohio during the golden years of Howard Metzenbaum, the former United States Senator who died Wednesday at 90. Metzenbaum had moved to Florida for retirement, but even in Louisiana, I knew of him. He was a formidable force in Congress and was one of Ohio's most well-known and respected statesmen. He was a bit liberal for some, vociferous for many, but a true American to all. Metzenbaum was one of the last surviving 29 founding fathers of the Cleveland Jewish News and so I owe him a debt of personal gratitude for having instituted the newspaper that became my rock and the place of my journalistic rebirth following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Metzenbaum's record as a businessman is as noteworthy as his upbringing in Cleveland was difficult. Hailing from meager beginnings, he worked his way through The Ohio State University in a variety of odd jobs. Later he attended Law School there and had graduated only a few years before he was elected to the state legislature. Metzenbaum converted a well-lit, well-staffed parking lot endeavor near Hopkins International Airport into APCOA (Airport Parking Corporation of America), the world's largest parking conglomerate. He also helped start up a rental car company that eventually became Avis, the "We're No. 2: We Try Harder" company that used its second place status as fodder for commercials. Metzenbaum's knack for business could have made him one of the world's wealthiest men, but he continually gave back to his community, his state and his nation. I was in Cleveland only a short time when Metzenbaum's former partner and schoolmate, Alva "Ted" Bonda, passed away. Bonda credited Metzenbaum with much of the early success he had enjoyed. Metzenbaum detested waste and was an opponent of pork barrel spending. He trimmed special projects from proposed legislation on a regular basis and was called "the conscience of the Senate" during his tenure. One published report suggests that the Senator saved taxpayers $10 billion in 1982 alone. After he left the Senate, he turned his attention to helping consumers when he became chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Metzenbaum is survived by his wife of 61 years, Shirley, four daughters and nine grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A clean shave

With all the hoopla over the resignation of Eliot Spitzer and the media feeding frenzy over "who is 'Kristen?'", I have decided it is time to move on. It's time to break away from the unusual and get back to the humdrum and normal. It's time to have a clean shave. When times are full of pressure, doing something as commonplace as shaving can be a touchstone to normalcy. My very sensitive face has always had a problem with straight-edge razors. The method of shaving I have used for the majority of my life has been the electric shaver. I remember how glad I was to be raising a beard when puberty finally caught up with me at summer camp in 1969. My mom sent me a handheld power shaver that dispatched what most would refer to as peachfuzz. The battery-powered, hand-held shaver that resembled a microphone eventually gave way to hot water, shaving cream and a Gillette razor. At first I was fascinated that my beard would come back every day and I laughed along with the nation when I heard Bill Cosby's routine of his imagined athlete with "Little Tiny Hairs" making a commercial for a shaving product. It wasn't long, though, before the laughter faded and the drudgery of dragging a sharp implement with acute angles across my rounded face became a daily bloodletting. I decided to purchase a Norelco rotary system after figuring anything had to be better than the daily gouging I endured with straight razors. The system turned out to be a good choice for me and for decades I was a Norelco man. I found out some years later that because of the lift and cutting technique Norelco razors employ that they are deemed "not kosher" by Orthodox Jews. I mention this because my great-grandfather Ellis Smith was the kosher barber for the formerly very Jewish section of New Orleans along the former Dryades Street corridor. For those of you who don't know, I began keeping kosher while living in Cleveland during the weeks following Hurricane Katrina and wrote about it in the Cleveland Jewish News: . Following my return to New Orleans, I kashered my kitchen, even going so far as to blowtorch the stove I hadn't used in over a year and a half. So when my Norelco shaver began losing its capacity to render a close shave and its battery to hold a charge, I decided to investigate what other shavers were out there that would give me both a comfortable and a close shave. Almost immediately I noticed the reviews on the Internet indicated that the Braun Pulsonic and the top of the line Norelco were...uh...neck and neck. Braun is a name I trust and so I began to consider it as an alternative to the rotary system I have treasured for so long. So, in keeping with my kosher home in New Orleans, I am proud to announce that my bathroom is also kosher. I now have a Braun Pulsonic and aside from the ringing in my ears (just kidding), the shave is indeed close. I look forward to many years of smooth operation and to utilizing its "cleaning station," which is guaranteed to keep the shaving head hygenic and to recharge it regularly. If nothing else, (for a few minutes at least), with a clean shave I am renewed and I don't have to deal with the dirty and dingy dealings of the outside world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sins, Part 2

As a follow up to yesterday's blog on sinning, I thought I might also mention the Vatican's recent updating of their Deadly Sins list. In addition to the Seven Deadly Sins (lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride), new sins the Vatican has issued include using and trafficking mind-altering drugs, despoiling the earth or polluting the environment, social and economic injustices, and genetic manipulations, though not necessarily in that order. According to the number two man at the Vatican, Archbishop Franco Girotti, the issue most troubling to the Holy See is that which deals with bioethics in general and cloning specifically. The present Pope and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, have both expressed their displeasure with the prospect of human cloning, but have gone out of their way to also register opposition to any future embryonic stem cell research that might involve the destruction of fetuses. This is the basic position that President Bush adhered to when he banned all embryonic stem cell research that did not emanate from what he described as "the existing 60 lines." Most researchers claim that only a small percentage of the existing lines have any real scientific potential for success. Another method that has also proven to be of research utility is the genetic engineering technique of creating a human ovum with a donated nucleus. This is called therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer. But because the only way to produce additional lines requires either destroying a viable human embryo or employing therapeutic cloning, pro-life advocates decry any attempts to add new lines other than to utilize the ones in which these life and death decisions had already been made years ago. The late Christopher Reeve advocated for enlarging the numbers of embryonic stem cell lines because of the great hope he and scientists saw in increasing the chances for a normal life for spinal cord injury victims such as himself. Likewise, Michael J. Fox, the unfortunate victim of Parkinson's Disease, has spoken before Congress about the possible benefits to those like himself who look to stem cell research as a possible "silver bullet." Meanwhile, advocates of cord stem cell research, a technique that does not require taking a life or genetically engineering material that has the potential for life, got a big boost yesterday when the Today Show spotlighted a hapless two-year-old victim of cerebral palsy. Doctors were amazed at the miraculous near total recovery from the disease following the mining for stem cells from his own umbilical cord. The grateful parents decided to register the birth cord just weeks before what they expected would be a routine delivery and had been reluctant to do so because the cost of $2000 associated with it was not covered by their health insurance. To read more about this incredible story go to:
The Vatican's labeling of drug traffickers as sinners sounds a bit like trying to stop a charging bull with the wave of a hand. Threatening morally corrupt drug pushers with eternal damnation or excommunication seem empty gestures. If the Church truly wants to stem the tide of drug proliferation, it might not lump the distributors into the same roux as users, who have been shown to be victims of disease and not the uncaring monsters who seek out billions of dollars of profits at the expense of human lives. Greed also figures into the raping of the earth and environmentalists are probably happy that the Church decided to go "green" with its newest pronouncement of sins. Yet, aside from the United States, the biggest offenders seem to be in the two most populous countries, China and India, neither of which seems in any hurry to get its environmental act together. The influence of the Church in both countries is minimal at best. Where it may play a more significant role is in South America, but only time will tell. The ages old problem of social injustices perpetrated by the haves over the have nots has long been a problem addressed by the Church. Labeling them as rich sinners might not get them any more money on the communal plate, but might put a spark of human compassion into their already dark souls. We shall see.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The First Deadly Sin

The Ten Commandments pretty much laid out the concept of sin for me. With every "thou shalt not" I heard as a child, a new way to be be "bad," or more appropriately "evil," was made evident. When it came to foreign terms like "adultery" or "covet," I was simply told they referred to wanting things that belonged to others and that was good enough for me. Later, as a student studying Dante's Divine Comedy, I became acquainted with the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments and the Church's concept of the Seven Deadly Sins. This seemed a rather slight list, but I recognized the concept as similar in design to that of the Hebrew Ten Commandments. For the record the list in order is lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. Lust was a fairly well known term by the time I was in high school and college. As a teenager growing up in the Sixties, lust and coveting was about as close as I would ever get to adultery. This was made all the more upsetting to me because I was living in the so-called Sexual Revolution. The fact that the revolution had started without me was not lost on yours truly. But I digress. To commit adultery was specific to breaking marriage vows on either party's side. That meant to me that two unmarried partners were free to go at it as long as they could stand it or each other. Yet, the concept of lust didn't distinguish whether a marriage was involved in reckless sexual promiscuity. It said too much of a good thing was evil, pure and simple. I was glad that I wasn't Catholic, because I was sure that I would be committing more sin by volume lusting than I ever could as an adulterer or a coveter. When Jimmy Carter announced to Playboy Magazine that he had "lusted" in his heart for women other than his wife, I thought to myself "how refreshing" that a politician was admitting to his capacity to sin. The fact that he didn't act on his impulses qualified him as a person of the highest moral order in my book. Later, though, when the White House sexual romps of JFK and Bill Clinton were revealed to me, Carter seemed to be a Johnny-come-lately, if you will excuse the pun. Sexual indiscretions have been practiced by many of our top leaders beginning with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but to their credit Franklin was a confirmed bachelor and Jefferson was indecent primarily after the loss of his wife. More recently, Louisiana had two Republican politicians involved in trysts with women other than their wives, to wit, Bob Livingston and David Vitter. Livingston, a dead-on favorite to be named Speaker of the House, resigned in disgrace when details were revealed about his indiscretions. Vitter, on the other hand, has escaped major fallout when his dallying with madams and prostitutes in New Orleans and Washington was revealed. Then again, this is Louisiana after all, and New Orleans in particular. Aside from Amsterdam and several small towns in Nevada, what other place could boast a Storyville, a "red light" district specifically sanctioned by the government for the practice of prostitution? Yet, for all of our history, it is particularly disturbing when a politician is literally caught with his pants down, especially if he is swept into office as a reformer and a person pointing accusing fingers at deviants. Eliot Spritzer, a man who should have been imbued with the Hebrew 10 Commandments as a child, seemed to be incapable of this kind of sin. As New York's state attorney general, he regularly prosecuted people of high and low stature who broke the law and seemed a clear choice to be governor just two years ago. The devastating news yesterday that Spritzer couldn't keep it in his pants prior to testifying to Congress last month seems all the more disappointing to me when one considers his past as a vigorous prosecutor of similar offenses. The question that remains is whether he will be able to save his political neck now that he has Clinton was impeached, but escaped conviction, following the details of his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Livingston became a powerful Capitol Hill lobbyist and is making more money legitimately than he ever could while in Congress. Vitter has held onto his office, although some say his influence has diminished because of the controversy. Yesterday it was Spritzer's wife of 20 years, Silda, who took her place next to her husband in the manner that Wendy Vitter, Bonnie Livingston and Hillary Clinton had done previously. It is a shame that the wives have to shoulder the guilt of their husbands' gaffes. Perhaps this shared blame is why adultery is considered such a major sin. There is no doubt that Spritzer was guilty of both lust and adultery. Whether he will pay the price of his high office is in doubt, but he has unquestionably disappointed his family and his electorate. At present, he is a veritable glass house waiting on a shipment of fresh stones.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A "Lucia" for the ages

When Gaetano Donizetti wrote the opera "Lucia di Lammermoor," based on Sir Walter Scott's "The Bride of Lammermoor," he chose an interesting accompaniment to the title heroine's "mad" scene. At that time the glass armonica, also known as the glass harmonica, was an early forerunner to the theremin with its ethereal sounds. The glass armonica is a series of spinning bowls contained in a cabinet resembling a harpsichord that is played with the dampened fingers of the musician. To get a rough approximation of what the sound is like, try moistening your fingertip and running it ever so slightly around the rim of a fine crystal wine glass. Any glass will do; crystal just sounds better. The glass armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin and was popular during the latter 18th and early 19th Centuries. To "play" a virtual glass armonica, go to this site: . There are two ways to play it. One is a fascimile of a glass armonica, while the other is a modern keyboard. Either way one can appreciate the ghostly sounds that emanate from this instrument and discern the degree of difficulty in playing it. Because of difficulties in staging the first production of "Lucia di Lamermoor," Donizetti rewrote the glass armonica parts and substituted the more conventional flute. It was reputed that the glass armonica player demanded more money. Whatever the reason, the opera had never been played with a glass armonica accompaniment until soprano Natalie Dessay and others suggested it be used for the Metropolitan Opera's new staging that began last October. Radio listeners of the popular Met Opera broadcasts were treated to the new production yesterday and the eerie result of Dessay's resplendent voice and the glass armonica in the third act received a well-deserved standing ovation of well over a minute. For opera enthusiasts it was an unreal moment where the original wishes of the composer who died 160 years ago were finally granted. And for those who enjoy what is highly regarded as Donizetti's greatest work, opera lovers (and the composer) were probably well-pleased. It was truly a "Lucia" for the ages.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Old Gray Mayor

Mayor Ed Koch, who served as New York City's highest elected official for 12 years (1978-89) swung into New Orleans yesterday for the Jewish Federation's Campaign Celebration and I was one of only two journalists allowed to interview him. For an 83-year-old man who suffered a stroke and survived a heart attack, he is amazingly spry. He is as sharp a tool as has ever graced the shed. He just completed his 17th book, an examination of his dealings throughout his political career with anti-Semitism called "The Koch Papers." He writes a weekly commentary and reviews movies and boy! does he have stories to tell. Koch kept the crowd of 300 in stitches last night as he recounted stories of his days as a New York Assemblyman, a U. S. Congressman and finally a New York mayor. In between his colorful and lively remembrances were several admonitions and challenges to the crowd. The celebratory mood was diminished by the news from Israel of the slaughter of eight Yeshiva HaRav students by a terrorist. Only a few people in the room knew about the attack, since news reports had just started emerging around the afternoon drive time. Koch was informed by yours truly when I handed him a breaking news report I had hurriedly printed just prior to leaving for the the interview session. It was clear he was moved and he stated unequivocaby that the centrality of the Jewish people needs to be Israel. And he went even further. "We are facing from Islamic terrorists a war of cultures that is an attack on all of Western civilization," he opined. "At the forefront in the vanguard of defending Western civilization and being attacked for it is the State of Israel." As somber and telling as those words may have been, Koch didn't stay morose very long and following the interview session (and a private dinner for major campaign donors), he was ready to address the packed house at the Westin Hotel. He gave audience members what they most wanted: an interesting, gregarious and funny celebrity who engaged the crowd with a snappy rapport. His support for the State of Israel is undeniable. That led to what was probably the biggest laugh of the night. Koch recalled a lady who expressed concern about evangelicals' support of Israel. He told the crowd that she had stated to him that she felt uneasy because "'what they say is they cannot have their Messiah return unless and until Israel is fully retored to Jewish control and then they expect the Jews to convert or die. That makes me a little queasy.'" Koch said he immediately shot back with this rejoinder: "Let me tell you how to handle this. If there is news in the land of Israel that there is a new Messiah, seek him out and ask him 'Are you Jewish?'" The room exploded in laughter. "And if he says yes," he continued, "then ask him 'Is this your first or your second visit?'" Again the room rocked. "And if he says it's his first visit, maybe they should convert. If he says it's his second visit, then we'll talk about it!"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"Plan Nine from Outer Space"

Eureka! I have found it (again). I have finally secured a DVD copy of Ed Wood's cinematic classic clinker "Plan Nine from Outer Space," regarded by most authorities as the singular worst movie ever shot, directed or released. Those who have seen the 1994 Tim Burton movie "Ed Wood" know full well who Edward D. Wood, Jr. was. Johnny Depp brilliantly played Wood, the world's worst director and cross-dresser, but in many ways the real Wood was so much more a rara avis than even Depp could only approximate his capacity for the bizarre. Yet, as poor a director and as inane a writer as Wood was, he was by all accounts a ferocious fighter when he enlisted as a Marine during World War II. Wood lost most of his front teeth in hand-to-hand contact with a Japanese soldier during one of the bloody conflicts in which he was engaged. He saw combat in the Marshall Islands and survived the costly battle at Tarawa. It was Wood who acknowledged that he wore a red bra and panties during one of his landings, but that didn't stop him from earning the Bronze and Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts among his war momentos. After Wood was honorably discharged due to injuries he had suffered in 1944, he ended up at college briefly and later joined a carnival where he regularly bit the heads off chickens. It was only natural with his many habits and questionable talent that he would end up in Hollywood and that he would assume the roles of writer and director. Wood's first foray into film was "Glen or Glenda," a somewhat autobiographical look at a transvestite, in which he wrote, directed and starred. Aside from copious continuity errors and his using stock film for cutaways, Wood was driven to shoot pictures on a budget and strove to use the least amount of film possible. The results were laughable movies that received scathing reviews or were largely ignored by the public. Despite his being a cross-dresser, Wood was devoutly heterosexual. He was married twice, although the first marriage was never consummated when his new bride found out he was wearing better female undergarments than she had. The marriage was annulled several months later. His second marriage fared better, lasting 22 years, but it was reported he and his wife were evicted from their apartment just prior to his death from heart failure, probably brought on by his rampant alcoholism. Wood's triumph "Plan Nine from Outer Space" deserves special attention from critcs because it was so horribly bad that it lowered the bar for all others that would follow it. Many years ago I recorded it on videotape when TBS ran it late one midnight. My wife used the tape to record a David Letterman program she wanted to keep and when I found out she had erased my only copy of Wood's travesty, I exclaimed "You erased 'Plan Nine from Outer Space!'" "Yeah, so what?" she asked me. "But you don't understand, it's the singular worst movie ever made!" "And so I recorded over the worst movie, what's your point?" she shot back. I had to shake my head. I didn't have a retort to that one. She would never understand. It's like the Three Stooges. Guys get that. Girls never do. But none of that matters now. I have my own copy of the glorious Golden Turkey of all time and I can just make out in my mind the excited voice of director Ed Wood exclaiming on the set "That's it. Perfect. Cut!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant

Hillary, I never knew you knew they knew you had it in you. But after Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island, there is a more than a spark of a scintilla of a chance that the campaign will wage on between the two Democratic hopefuls. On the Republican side, John McCain cinched his party's nomination and I think his role over the course of the next several months is definitely more enviable. The pundits are all over this one and the possiblity that Florida and Michigan may decide to "redo" their primaries could loom large. Frankly, it is just what any political junkie could hope for: the soap opera goes on.
Last Sunday I met a young man who is really making a difference. Ethan Zorn, the winner of "Survivor: Africa" in 2002, has been quietly working to stop the spread of HIV in Africa through his Grassroots Soccer charity ( Zorn, the curly, raven-haired and unshaven hunk with the six-pack abs was a fitting speaker at a gathering designed to promote youthful philanthropy. Here is a role model if there ever was one. Zorn has received numerous awards for his charity, which trains soccer players to encourage safe sex practices among targeted youth in nine African countries as well as in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As Zorn explains, the numbers of lives lost to AIDS in Africa boggles the mind because it is so rampant and is clearly a heterosexual disease. Zorn started the charity with the proceeds from his "Survivor" $1 million winnings. Talk about paying it forward. This still young fellow, who lost his father at 14, is grateful for everything he has amassed in life. "What do you do when you win a million bucks?" he asked the youthful crowd. "It's not as easy as you might think." He may have entered the contest on a whim, but he is clearly a quiet and reserved man with drive and determination, points he probably picked up on the soccer field. "I want to be the type of person who can use his celebrity to make a difference," he explained. From your mouth to the ears of the future leaders and philanthropists. Bravo and mazel tov, Ethan.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Down to the wire

Is it just me or does this presidential campaign seem like it is running interminably long? Perhaps by this time tomorrow night we will have an insight into the final players. Perhaps not. All I know is that a win for Clinton in Ohio and Texas is a must. That's not news to her or her campaign and it's probably not news to you. To go for a big victory tomorrow night, Obama only needs to pull off a win in either of those two states. To go for a kill, he needs to capture both states and I believe it's all over. Then, perhaps, we can get down to the serious issues of deciding running mates. I've already mentioned Michael Bloomfield as a potential running mate for McCain. Even though Bloomberg announced he was not interested in running for president last week, he did not touch on vice-president. What about Ron Paul? Would he help shore up the GOP team with a more conservative tilt? Would Paul be interested in working with McCain or would he decline the honor? And on the Democratic side, who would be a good choice to run along side of Obama? How about someone to pull the party ranks together with Clinton? Is there anyone out there who could capture the imagination of the party faithful? If Obama does pull off a victory, would he benefit from a Southern Democrat like John Edwards to take the second slot? Or would he be well-advised to pick up a Southwestern figure like Bill Richardson to combat the influence of Arizona's McCain? Hmmm....
Signing petitions: One of the items I touched on briefly in the four part series I published last month (Of hoaxes, scams, and spam...), was on Internet petitions. These are well-meaning attempts at stirring people into action to let "authorities" know of your opinion. Quite often the petitions are aimed at Congress, but I must tell you that Representatives and Senators tend to discount e-mail as opposed to actual letters written in longhand or printed through a word processor. Putting a stamp on correspondence upgrades its importance to Congressional staffers. The most recent petition I received is aimed at stopping Microsoft from stopping its support of Windows XP slated to end at the end of June, 2008. Let me caution everyone. Microsoft is fully intending on supporting the Vista operating system and doesn't care how many petitions it receives. While they may have acknowledged that Vista had its problems initially by continuing support for XP over the last year and a half, the fact is that they have already rolled out a service pack for Vista and that will take care of the lion's share of problems associated with Vista. If you don't like it, don't send petitions. Think about getting a Macintosh. I did.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

With apologies to Charles Dickens, today's title refers not to his connection between London and Paris, but to the bond between two modern American cities, each of which have experienced untold tragedy. When terrorists struck New York's Twin Towers in 2001, the city of New Orleans responded by sending numerous gifts and personnel to the scene. One group provided meal wagons filled with Cajun and Creole goodies for the recovery workers who toiled for months following September 11. One of the most remarkable gifts was a fire engine constructed in Louisiana and presented as a remembrance for the fallen firefighters who had perished and as a replacement for one of the engines lost when the buildings collapsed. The City of New York returned the favor and that engine following the destruction resulting from Hurricane Katrina as a gesture of thanks. So, the two cities have enjoyed close ties in recent times. Yesterday that connection was made even closer when the Navy christened its newest amphibious vessel, the massive USS New York, officially known as New York (LPD 21) at nearby Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding headquarters in Avondale, Louisiana. What makes this vessel ever more speciai is its bow, which was constructed out of 7.5 tons of steel collected from the rubble of the Twin Towers site and sent to New Orleans. It bears the admonition in a massive gold ribbon 'NEVER FORGET." A crowd estimated at 4,000 watched as the massive warship that stands ten stories tall and covers a length of 684 feet was offically dedicated. Members of the New York Fire Department as well as World War II veterans who had served on the previous vessel dubbed New York were also on hand to witness the christening first hand. It was a day that made New Yorkers and New Orleanians alike proud of what they had done to shore up each other and to strengthen the security of the nation with the launching of a vessel specifically designed to target terrorists. The USS New York is scheduled to be commissioned in New York harbor in September on or near the date of the seventh anniversary of 9/11.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Marching along together

Before anything else, I must give credit to the Jefferson Performing Arts Society and Artistic Director and founder Dennis Assaf for a lovely production of "Tosca," (one of my favorite operas) last night. The opera was reset from early Nineteenth Century Rome to Fascist Italy of June, 1944 just before the Allies take over Rome. Sometimes updating the setting of an opera clicks and sometimes it fails miserably. To see Baron Scarpia strutting about on stage with menace while wearing the black shirt uniform of one of Il Duce's own was really quite pleasing and gave the tawdry tale of treachery and woe new relevance. Plaudits to Isabella Maderi, who played the title role of Floria Tosca, and Peter Lindskoog who was a truly evil Scarpia. Assaf held the baton as he led the orchestra through its paces and the melodic line he produced was memorable. Many opera enthusiasts hold to the belief that the staging must remain true to the composer'a and librettist's original intentions. While I do agree resetting is ill-advised in some cases ("Aida" and "Turandot" need to be cast in Egypt and China, for example), I am of a mind to believe that it can enhance the opera experience and bring it more pertinence for today's demanding audiences.
New Jazz Fest Poster revealed: The 2008 New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival poster was just announced and I must say it is one that I will have to acquire for my collection. The subject is my dear friend Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, as depicted by Douglas Bourgeois. Set in a lush Louisiana swamp with an old 45 rpm record player behind her and an old style microphone and stand next to her, Irma is seen through the artist's hands as an iconic and statuesque figure from the early Sixties, the time of her greatest popular hits. To view the poster go to
Fast blog facts: Since the beginning of the year I have had 51 daily entries, which means I have only missed a possible eight entries in the past two months. Today marks the beginning of my third month and the 52nd blog for Kosher Computing. I look forward to hearing from you with any comments and hope to continue providing you a bit of information and humor along the way.