Category Archives: Uncategorized

“The Right to Swing Your Fist” and Kim Davis

Certain American aphorisims date back a very long time, and one the choicest goes back to somewhere in the nineteenth century, to paraphrase: “Your right to swing your fist ends at the other person’s nose.” Attribution is unclear, but the the thought applies quite specifically to the unseemly spectacle now unfolding in Kentucky over the right of same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license. This circus (for it has been staged) brings discredit on Ms. Davis and several candidates for the presidency. Yes, she has a right to her religious beliefs. She may speak them, but she may not act on them in her official capacity. This involves not only her oath to uphold the law (and therefore legal rulings) but also the Constitutional prohibition against her imposing her religion on the rest of us (who do practice a Christian faith that does not uphold her tenets). She has in effect violated not only a court ruling but also the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a religion.

Underlying this whole affair is simple bigotry (which one can find aplenty in The Bible). Most states and the Federal government do not include “sexual orientation” as an element of human character exempt from discrimination. Until our laws change to prevent such discrimination, LGBT citizens will suffer. We can only hope that  “the mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye: the more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.” We need to proceed on this basis until the task begun by the Supreme Court this summer is finished.

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The Independence to Advise and Consent

Today I chose a rather different film for my July 4th viewing, Otto Preminger’s superb Advise and Consent, from Alan Drury’s excellent novel of the same title. Preminger became famous for taking on controversial subjects, and in this film he addresses two: the Red Baiting scare of the 40s and 50s, and also the blackmail of homosexual politicians. The cast is stellar, including Charles Laughton in his last performance, playing a Southern senator modeled on Strom Thurmond.

Preminger had no brief for communism, but he deplored the Red Baiting of the 40s and 50s in government and the arts. And while his film seems to portray gay life in a negative light, he means to comment on a world where gay men are stigmatized while straight men (in the form of a senator who dallies constantly with women) go unremarked. Advise and Consent represents the first mainline Hollywood production to address the plight of gay public servants, so far as I know.

We’ve seen great strides in struggle for LGBT freedom in the past few weeks: the right of same-sex couples to marry, and recognition of those marriages by the Episcopal Church (over the objections of the Archbishop of Canterbury, proving the Church of England anything but progressive). Members of the Federal government can now serve without fear of losing their positions because of their sexual orientation.

We’ve won battles but not the war: we will not achieve victory until both Federal and state laws ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Only then will we fulfill the Founders’ vision “that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain [in]alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among [Humankind], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . .

The Trend of Civilization

Imagine my joy at opening the New York Times moments after 10 AM to find that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality for same-sex partners on the basis of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. I thought immediately of something FDR said in his short fourth inaugural address:

“Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights–then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

So for the rights of people in this country. We have much work left to do about discrimination, but here we have a large step toward the upward trend.

My personal reaction comes from Friedrich Schiller (prefaced by paraphrased Beethoven):

Oh friends, yes, these sounds! Let us sing pleasantly and joyfully!

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,                           Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,

Tochter aus Elysium,                                           Daughter of Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,                                 Intoxicated with fire, we enter,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.                              Heavenly One, your sanctuary.

Deine Zauber binden wieder                               Your spells reunite

Was die Mode streng geteilt;                              That which custom strictly divides;

Alle Menschen werden Brüder,                           All men will become brothers,

Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.                         Where sheltered by your gentle wing.

Gay Pride in Wilton Manors (keep your shirt on—no, really!)

Gay Pride closed down the Drive on Saturday, and while I enjoyed it as always, I have a comment on those of you (us) who think you look good stripped to the waste. Don’t you think you’re a little old for that now? I’d like to think that Pride puts buff gay men on display, but even the young in this country tend a little bit toward the gut. So use some judgment, guys. Oh, and Speedos look really great on Olympic divers and swimmers—ask yourself if you’re one of them.

Boulder Now, Part 2

The second part of my stay unfolded five miles up Sunshine Canyon at the home of Rob and Betsey. We also enjoyed good food and excellent wine, with Rob and me collaborating on a paella of his devising. Otherwise, we had lunch at Brasserie Ten Ten, which has wonderful food (a continuation of the foodie theme from my last post).

Rob then took me on a tour of campus, including some of my old haunts. They retain all their traditional beauty. The College of Music has expanded much, all for the better. On Thursday night we attended an opera workshop in which we heard scenes from A Song for Susan Smith, libretto by Mark Campbell, music by Zach Redler. Campbell has already written a number of librettos, notably for Silent Night, which music by Kevin Puts won a Pulitzer prize. Redler shows promise, and I’d like to hear his writing for Broadway as well as for the operatic stage. The Eklund Program has come on strong at CU, and that’s a terrific thing to hear (particularly the young singers of substantial gifts and accomplishments).

Boulder Now, Part 1

Recently returned to my undergraduate stomping grounds, I found Boulder had changed much, though much remained the same. The presence of Bing, Google (soon to arrive) IBM, and a host of other tech players has turned the city in the Silicon Valley, Rocky Mountain Division. It’s driving up prices of real estate in extraordinary ways, but they cast their largesse on CU, and that done wonders for the University.

My first few days I spend with Gary and Jackie, friends of four decades, who flourish in the milieu of the city, always alive to new experiences. Gary has acquired a pellet smoker on which we enjoyed both a whole salmon and then a rib roast. Both tasted wonderful.

Boulder has become foodie heaven, and on Monday we dined at Frasca (garnering notice from the New York Times), one of the new and adventurous restaurants, which offered a four-course menu and an Austrian wine flight as accompaniment. Interesting and unusual.

One day Gary and I hiked seven miles round trip to “the Loch,” an extraordinary glacial lake in Rocky Mountain National. I can’t quite make the climbs I used to indulge regularly, but this hike brought back a taste of yesteryear. Boulder is populated with fitness crazies. I guess I’m still one of them.

“In everything that’s light and gay”

The heading here has nothing to do with the new meaning of the word ‘gay,’ but comes from Irving Kahal’s lyrics to one of Tin Pan Alley’s most beautiful songs, “I’ll Be Seeing You” (music by Sammy Fain). It first appeared in a 1938 musical (Right This Way) that flopped, but the song lived on, eventually as the inspiration for the movie taking the song’s title and released in 1944. It seems a fitting thought for Memorial Day and also for the commemoration of the dark time when three important people passed into history.

The first, June Lang, left us on May 15, 2005. My second cousin (though I called her Aunt June), acted in numerous pictures for 20th Century Fox and RKO, most prominently as Shirley Temple’s mother in Wee Willie Winkie. But I very much like her cameo in Stage Door Canteen with a group of Chinese air pilots. It’s a picture worth watching just for the catalog of stars. She had grace and beauty.

The second person was one of my father’s buddies on and off the golf course, George Mikan, the first basketball superstar and later commissioner of the defunct American Basketball League, who died on June 1, 2005.

But I think of “I’ll Be Seeing You” most in conjunction with my mother, Dorothy (Dot), who passed away after a short illness the day before Memorial Day, also in 2005. The next day to buck me up, my good friend Hoyt Robinson prepared dinner for me, and he put Louanne Hogan’s rendition of the Fain-Kahal song in his mix for the evening. Mother married my father during WWII, and the song would have carried a lot of memories for them too. Mother took great pride in my writing and was an unfailing source of support and good cheer. The words from the song, “I’ll be seeing you / in every lovely summer’s day, / In everything that’s light and gay, / I’ll always think of you that way,” sum up my feelings on this and on every future Memorial Day about a special member of “the greatest generation.”

Broadway in May

This past weekend found me in New York beholding exceptional performances on Broadway. Nobody would place On the Twentieth Century on their list of great musicals: it offers nothing but pure entertainment, perhaps a deliberate throwback to the lighthearted musicals of the 30s. The plot is paper thin, the music not particularly notable, and the book, while well-crafted, won’t become immortal in literature. The performances, on the other hand, sparkled, both from Kristin Chenoweth (in superb voice notwithstanding poor health) and Peter Gallagher, plus a quartet of tap-dancing Red Caps (does anybody remember Red Caps?). Great fun of the old-fashioned variety.

Helen Mirren exists beyond any honors in The Audience, which has a more comic (that’s right, comic) substance than one would expect. Mirren has impeccable timing, and Peter Morgan constructed the play solidly. They had even updated the segment for David Cameron to reflect the most recent elections (in Morgan’s version he bores the monarch to snores).

The King and I holds up remarkably well. Barlet Sher’s staging has some very grand effects, and having only known the movie version, I came to appreciate the original. The songs and pacing work much better (I’ve read Margaret Landon’s biography of Anna Leonowens, and it’s well worth a look). To see and hear Kelli O’Hara in person was an wonderful treat. She deserves all the praise she receives. Ken Watanabe was terrific, of course, but another star flies a little under the radar: Robert Russell Bennett, whose exceptional counterpoint brings Rodgers’ music to life, aided by the expertly tuned pit orchestra at the Vivian Beaumont.

Gentleman’s Game

Like many other people, I watched the last day of the Master’s Golf Tournament from beginning to end and thrilled to the victory of its young winner, Jordan Spieth. The field had depth and an overabundance of talent, with McIlroy, Mickelson and Rose all turning in rounds that would have won the coveted jacket on any other occasion. All of them shone as examples of the sportsmanship that forms the heart of the game: if a drive or a chip or a putt succeeded, they celebrated. If something went wrong, they showed disappointment but never anger. Spieth later said that golf is, after all, just a game (though one where he and the leaders earn quite a substantial living). I cringe when a golfer throws a club or a tantrum. That has no place on the course. This equanimity lay at the heart of my father’s philosophy about the game: one never loses one’s temper playing golf.

Spieth’s performance also displayed a bit of wisdom from my father (who played golf quite well, sometimes in the Bob Hope Invitational and other pro-am tournament around the US): the secret lies in the short game. Spieth drove from the tee into the rough more than I would have expected. He extracted himself from those predicaments with aplomb, he chipped excellently, and he putted brilliantly. This carries another lesson for life. Precision in small things outweighs grand display in large ones.

Both Spieth and especially his caddy, Michael Greller, are handsome, both straight. From a gay man’s perspective, one shakes one’s head and thinks, “We’ll need to live with the fact that straight guys are occasionally good looking too.”

Gilt Film

Today I saw a screening of Woman in Gold, a story within a story about the Nazi confiscation of artworks generally, of their victimization of one particular family, and then the restitution of that art. Having lived in Vienna during the late 70s, having returned many times subsequently, and then as a visitor to New York, I have viewed the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer many times. I knew something of the legal battle regarding the return of the painting to its rightful owner, Maria Altman. But it was wonderful to see it dramatized, however incompletely.

The film shifts between the original painting of the portrait (Klimt did not receive a traditional education at the Kunstakademie, but studied in the School of Arts and Crafts because of his more plebeian decent as the son of a silver- and goldsmith), the life of the wealthy family that commissioned it, their treatment and flight from the Nazis, and then the fight for reclamation. It brings the seamless story of Nazi oppression home, how it penetrated all of Jewish life. The Austrians, even after the war, don’t come out well in this story, and they don’t deserve to, much as I love their country and know that some of them performed heroic acts to save the persecuted.

Helen Mirren plays her role well, of course. The newspapers have been quite critical of Ryan Reynolds’s performance, and indeed I would not have cast him to play Arnold Schoeberg’s grandson. But he’s better than The Times review suggests. All in all, this film glows and also proves timely: the heirs of Erich Lederer are now pressing the Austrian government for return of perhaps Klimt’s greatest work of art, the magnificent Beethoven Frieze. Let’s hope in this instance that Austrian officials will follow a less Byzantine course to justice than they offered to Maria Altman.