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LGBT activists have requested that the Metropolitan Opera dedicate just one performance in its current run of "Eugene Onegin," by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the famous gay Russian composer, to oppressed LGBT citizens in Russia. The Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, has declined that request. Below is his op-ed that appeared the other day in Bloomberg explaining his decision.
As I said in the comments to the article, there is a sad irony in the general manager of the Met, America's premier showplace for operatic repertoire, much of which is filled with themes that have historically made opera among the most overtly political of all higher art forms, declaring the institution to be, in effect, 'above the fray' of political expression.
Why Met Won’t Bow to Protest of Anti-Gay Law: Peter Gelb
By Peter Gelb - Sep 22, 2013 4:00 PM ET
With activists preparing to picket the Met’s season-opening production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” tonight, I think it is important that the public understands why the Met is not dedicating its performance to the oppressed gay citizens of Russia, even though we’re being pressured to do so.
The activists argue that since Tchaikovsky was gay and our performance features several Russian artists who have been associated with Vladimir Putin, the Met must turn our performance into a public rebuke of Russia and, by association, the Russian performers on our stage.
While I’m confident that many members of our company join me in personally deploring the tyranny of Russia’s new anti-gay laws, we’re also opposed to the laws of the 76 countries that go even further than Russia in the outright criminalization of homosexuality.
We stand against the significant human rights abuses that take place every day in many countries. But as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.
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Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Sep 24, 2013, 07:43 PM (0 replies)
I work at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street; the building is on the west side of Fifth Avenue. The subway I use to commute to work stops directly beneath the building I work in. The subway station has two exits on the Fifth Avenue end of the station, one of which comes up under my building, and the other across the street on the east side of Fifth Avenue.
So, here's the thing. Whenever the President is at the U.N., 53rd Street is the route the motorcade takes whenever he leaves the U.N. And, whenever that is expected, there are barricades, and plenty of police officers, on hand to keep people well back on the sidewalk. The President's motorcade must be expected through any minute, because just now, as I arrived for work, the barricades were up and people were lining the street, obviously hoping to catch a glimpse of the President. Here's what I don't get: as I came out of the subway, and began to take the stairs that come up to the street just below my building, two police officers stopped me and told me I couldn't exit there, and would have to use the exit on the east side of Fifth Avenue instead. Fine, no big deal. So I go underground to the opposite side of Fifth Avenue and exit the station, and then cross Fifth Avenue, walking parallel to 53rd Street, to get to the entrance of my building, which is about six feet from the subway entrance the police barred me from using. So my question is this: what was actually accomplished by way of increasing security for the President's motorcade by this little diversion?
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Sep 24, 2013, 04:31 PM (15 replies)
Interesting NYT Op-Ed by Bill Keller on opening jury service to non-citizens who are legal residents
I haven't entirely decided how I feel about the suggestion, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss it out-of-hand. But I"m not sure Bill Keller makes a very good case for it in this Op-Ed.
In support of expanding jury service to make non-citizen legal residents eligible to serve, Keller points to the high cost of jury trials, which, he claims, have led to a decline in the number jury trials, in favor of summary judgments and out-of-court settlements. I don't doubt that cost has driven that decline, but Keller fails to explain how he thinks expanding the jury pool would bring those costs down. The added costs of a jury trial, it seems to me, are comprised chiefly of the expense involved in accommodating jurors (stipends, hotel accommodations when juries are sequestered, etc.), as well as the added expense of court time needed for jury selection and deliberation. But those costs remain fairly fixed, regardless of how large the initial jury pool might be.
Keller also mentions that it is much more likely these days, if one is called for jury duty, that one will go home without having served on a jury. But that doesn't suggest to me that the problem is that the available jury pool isn't large enough; rather, it seems to me this points to a gross inefficiency in the way jurors are selected. And again, I fail to see how this is addressed merely by expanding the jury pool.
There might be very good reasons to expand jury pools to include non-citizen legal residents, and I would certainly be open to hearing them. Keller's Op-Ed, however, fails to make the case.
A Jury of Whose Peers?
By BILL KELLER
Published: September 22, 2013
TODAY let’s take a short break from the dismaying spectacle of everything Washington and celebrate one feature of American democracy that still pretty much works. I refer to jury duty, which, since the abolition of the draft and aside from taxes, is the most arduous chore that comes with government by the people.
The subject is on my mind not only because I spent two days in a jury pool last week, but also because of some interesting news. The great laboratory state of California has just come up with an interesting idea for enlarging this quintessentially American institution: including noncitizens. The State Legislature passed a bill last month opening jury service to permanent legal residents (not, as foxnews.com misreported, “illegal immigrants”) and it is awaiting the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown. We’ll get to that shortly.
A few years back my colleague Adam Liptak — deftly extracting a column from his own days in a jury pool — pointed out that the jury trial is in sharp decline, replaced by out-of-court settlements and summary judgments from the bench. This trend continues, boosted by the financial crisis. Budget cuts in many jurisdictions have raised the threshold for jury trials because they are more expensive. It is more likely than ever that when you are summoned to jury duty you will go home, as I did, without working a trial. This is generally a relief for people who have other places to be but is also a saddening retreat from what is, as one judge enthused to Liptak, “the most stunning and successful experiment in direct popular sovereignty in all history.”
I’m a cheerleader for jury duty. It is one of the few rituals of our political system that respects the experience and common sense of the ordinary citizen, and that puts a premium on an open mind. A collection of strangers from disparate backgrounds, in pursuit of a common purpose — justice — is the founders’ vision in microcosm. Sure, we can all think of cases where a jury was razzle-dazzled by a skillful attorney, or lost in the complications of evidence, or swayed by popular prejudice. But judges are human, too. And a jury can soften the rough edges of the law.
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Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Sep 23, 2013, 06:58 PM (0 replies)
This is the text of a comment I posted last night to a very good New York Times editorial, "The March to Anarcy". The comment seems to have struck quite a chord with many readers, so I thought I would share it here.
New York, NY
If the GOP insists on an economic civil war, then I sincerely hope President Obama gives it to them. The notion that a faction within a party that controls only one house of Congress -- and that only by virtue of gerrymandering -- has a right to dictate policy or legislation, when it hasn't been able to be sufficiently successful at the polls to enable it to pass its agenda through legitimate legislative means, by repeatedly engaging in blackmail and extortion, MUST be stopped, whatever the cost. Republicans seem to be under the very mistaken idea that elections only have consequences when Republicans prevail, and that they, and they alone, are entitled to govern. That is in direct conflict with the system of government our founders created. And no, the claim that "both sides have engaged in this sort of thing" is not valid. Sure, both parties have, in the past, engaged in targeted resistance to particular pieces of legislation, or to a particular nominee. But at no other point in this country's history has an opposition party engaged in such total, across-the-board obstruction, nor tried to force its agenda by extorting the country with the threat of deliberately wrecking the nation's economy if they didn't get their way. That dubious distinction goes solely to today's Republican Party. It is nothing less than economic terrorism, and the President should deal with it the way the U.S. government officially deals with terrorists of any kind: by refusing to negotiate.
Sept. 19, 2013 at 7:16 a.m.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 19, 2013, 09:43 PM (15 replies)
Here is the text of a comment I just posted to the article:
This is truly one of the most vile, offensive and utterly ignorant articles I've ever seen in the Washington Post, or any other daily paper for that matter. And I say that as a Christian (Episcopalian). None of the world's major religions advocate violence (notwithstanding certain sub-sects within each of them that may do so). And so far as I know, mental illness does not discriminate on the basis of religion. This article, by implying that it might be in any way legitimate to infer anything at all about a major world religion, based on the actions of a single adherent of that religion who is mentally ill, is simply scandalous. Ask yourself: would these two reporters, or the Washington Post more broadly speaking, ever even dream -- indeed, would they ever even have dared -- of trying to draw religious inferences if this killer had been Christian or Jewish?
Further, to pretend that one can even have a meaningful discussion about religious influences or beliefs on a particular individual's actions as if to suggest that there is some direct, cause-and-effect relationship between the two, particularly when the individual in question is clearly seriously mentally ill, is to grossly misunderstand the nature of this kind of mental illness.
Yet more scandalous still is the article's vague attribution of this alleged "debate" to an unnamed "some." The fact that the article fails to identify where, and among whom, this purported 'debate' is occurring makes one wonder what the motivations for writing such a piece were. I will stop short of suggesting that the writers wrote the article because they wanted to foment religious bigotry, but neither the Post nor the writers themselves should be surprised if people interpret it that way..
What an utterly shameful piece of 'journalism.'
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Sep 18, 2013, 03:08 PM (0 replies)
Now THIS is what I call a creative use of eminent domain: municipalities using eminent domain to seize homes whose mortgages are under water (either because of predatory banking practices or because of lost jobs or income as a result of the recession); then allowing the original owners to refinance at a lower principal. Not surprisingly, the article says that banks, as well as real estate and securities lobbying groups are furious about it, but there doesn't appear to be much they can do legally to block it, since the government's right of eminent domain is pretty absolute. And hey, if they can use it to seize people's homes to make way for commercial developers, then they can certainly use it for this purpose!
Using Eminent Domain to Rescue Main Street
But homeowners who have asked banks to modify their mortgages typically get a cold shoulder or a bureaucratic runaround. So far, the Obama administration and Congress have been unwilling to require intransigent banks to reset loans.
Faced with this quagmire, a growing number of cities — with the support of community groups and unions — are taking things into their own hands. Thanks to a legal strategy initially formulated by Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett, city officials have discovered that they can use their eminent domain power — which they routinely use to purchase property for sidewalks, infrastructure, school construction and other projects — to buy underwater mortgages at their current market value and resell them to homeowners at reduced price and mortgage payments.
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If banks reset Richmond’s underwater mortgages to fair market value, homeowners would save an average of over $1,000 per month on their payments. If those savings were spent on local goods and services, it would generate about $170 million in economic stimulus and create at least 2,500 jobs.
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Wall Street is up in arms. Since several cities began discussing this strategy last year, industry lobbyists have been fighting back. In a coordinated effort involving letters, phone calls and meetings, some of the nation’s most powerful lobby groups — including the National Association of Realtors, the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, American Securitization Forum, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) — have tried to dissuade local officials from pursuing the eminent domain strategy.
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Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Sep 17, 2013, 07:51 AM (2 replies)
Wow -- a year after police shot 9 bystanders near the Empire State Building, police open fire in Times Square, and hit two bystanders. The NYPD needs a complete overhaul from top to bottom, as far as I am concerned!
Police Bullets Hit Bystanders, and Questions Rise Yet Again
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ and J. DAVID GOODMAN
Published: September 15, 2013
It began as just another bizarre scene in the Times Square area, a disoriented man lurching amid traffic, seemingly throwing himself into the path of oncoming cars.
The police arrived and the crowd grew. The hulking man continued on, ignoring the officers’ commands while eluding capture. Then the man reached into his pants pocket, withdrawing his hand as if it were a gun, the police said, and pretended to shoot at some of the officers.
Two officers opened fire, discharging a total of three bullets. They missed the man, but struck two women nearby, including one who had been leaning against her walker; the bullet wound to her leg sent her tumbling to the ground. Other officers rushed toward the suspect; a sergeant used a Taser on the man, and he was quickly subdued.
The shooting on Saturday night immediately raised questions about the police’s use of deadly force, especially in a crowded area where bystanders were in the line of fire. On Sunday, police officials, including the commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, refused to say if the shooting appeared justified, saying that the circumstances were being investigated.
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Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Sep 16, 2013, 10:39 AM (4 replies)
Putin is certainly not the most savory character, and no doubt criticism coming from someone like him can be hard to take. But I have yet to see anybody refute the substance of what he wrote in his Op-Ed.
But isn't this so typical of America (and Americans)? We convince ourselves that we inhabit some lofty moral plane where America is, always and everywhere, the 'good guy' and anybody who opposes us (or points out our rather glaring hypocrisies) is, always and everywhere, the very incarnation of evil (or the 'bad guy'). (And before anybody jumps down my throat about that remark, I am NOT defending Putin and his misdeeds). So along comes a critic like Putin -- a very complicated fellow, to be sure -- with some criticism that we, as a nation, probably really need to hear. But rather than grapple with such truth as might be contained in his words, we get on our moral high horse and point instead to his moral failings, and then feel justified in dismissing out of hand anything he might have to say (even if much of it happens to be true), all the while remaining willfully obtuse about, blissfully blind to, our own myriad failings and hypocrisies as a nation. (But of course, if we actually allowed that his remarks may have some shred of validity, it would undermine our Manichean view of the world in which the U.S. is always the side of goodness and light and puppies and kittens.)
We seem to adopt this defensive moral posture to a significantly greater extent that the citizens of most other countries. Hey, wait a minute . . . maybe I believe in 'American exceptionalism' after all: since Americans certainly do seem to be exceptionally self-righteous!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 12, 2013, 12:14 PM (213 replies)
This is the text of a comment I just made to an editorial that appeared today in the Centre Dailiy Times. It was yet another, "Never Forget" pieces, which frankly I have had my fill of. Here is the comment I posted:
I don't think anybody who was old enough to know what was going on at the time is in any danger of "forgetting" 9-11. I live in New York, and did at the time, so I know I certainly won't. But to insist that those who were too young to remember the event must conjure up the same raw emotions of horror, fear and grief is not only unnatural, but unhealthy. I don't have the same connection with Pearl Harbor that my parents did, because they lived through it and I didn't. The generation that was of age to remember that event is rapidly dying off. And while my generation may commemorate it for many years to come, the event will never have the kind of visceral connection that our parents' generation had. That is the way it is supposed to work. Events, from the greatest tragedies to the greatest triumphs, do -- and indeed, must -- fade into the mists of time.
It fitting and appropriate to remember those who died. But these annual commemorations have become morbid exercises in terror porn, in which we watch the videos and pictures of that horrible day over and over again, as broadcast networks air programs such as, "9-11 As It Happened." The nation might eventually heal from the wounds of 9-11, if only we would collectively stop ripping the wounds open before they have had time to heal.
Consider this: say you had a friend who lost a loved one -- a spouse, a child, a parent or sibling -- in a horrific automobile accident. By happenstance, there exists some surveillance video of the accident. Now imaging if this friend, on each anniversary of the accident, called other surviving family members together so they could all watch the surveillance video of the crash. I think most people would be seriously concerned about how that friend is coping, and might gently suggest to him that he look into counseling. Most of us would certainly recognize that behavior as an unhealthy fixation. And yet, collectively that is what we have been doing to ourselves, every year for twelve years now. It is time to move on. Moving on does not mean forgetting. But neither does it show any particular respect for those who died by remaining fixated on the the morbid details of their deaths.
Those of us who lived through that day have been indelibly marked by it. While it is fine to educate younger and future generations about the experience, we shouldn't expect them to bear the memory in the same way those of us who lived through it do. Future generations may well have their own burdens to bear -- they shouldn't be expected to carry ours as well.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Sep 11, 2013, 09:53 PM (8 replies)
Think about it. The President enlisted the support of David Cameron for missile strikes. Then he stood by while Cameron went way out on a limb for him, only to suffer a serious political hit when he was roundly defeated in Parliament, the President all the while standing by knowing he was intending to leave Cameron twisting in the wind. If that were actually the case, it would represent a truly unprecedented diplomatic betrayal. And in that event, I think Cameron would be contemplating missile strikes against Washington about now! Seriously, though, do you really think any U.S. President would do such a thing?
So, still want to stand by the theory that it was the President's plan all along?
(NOTE: Credit where credit is due, this angle was brought to my attention by DU member DisgustipatedinCA)
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Sep 11, 2013, 05:59 AM (33 replies)