Sunday, March 29, 2009

Desperately Seeking Survival

29 March, 2009: Dr. Ruth Westheimer does not see herself as a Holocaust survivor. Rather, she tells us she is a Holocaust orphan. In 1939, at the tender age of 10, her parents put their youngest child on a train leaving from their hometown Berlin bound for Switzerland where arrangements had been made for her to stay in a children's home. There she grew up, never seeing her family again.

The irrepressible Dr. Ruth shared this poignant page out of her autobiography last night in her introductory remarks to the gathered throng at the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. As we all sat bracing ourselves, however, for what no one expected to be a program of light and lively music, it was clear that there was perhaps a handful of actual concentration camp survivors among the thousand or so people crowding the church.

Other Survivors, namely those of the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Furstenberg, Germany have invited Ars Choralis to perform at their annual Liberation Day ceremonies on April 18 and 19, 2009 on the grounds of the camp. And there are sure to be a number of Holocaust survivors and orphans alike among those who will be at Berlin's Heilig Kreuz Passion Church when Ars Choralis presents the same program there on April 17.

In the still early dawn of 21st Century, however, we Americans tend to be psychically disconnected more than ever by time and space -- not to mention a gaping cultural divide -- that separate us from the unthinkable horrors that make up an ignominious living memory for people we often forget are still with us. The performance last night was presented as a tribute to a group of gifted artists who were forced to live not only through a desperate time of insanity far from anything most of us have experienced. But they also lived ever after haunted by the deep soul-wrenching conflicts of having participated in the bizarre and often humiliating rituals that accompanied the genocide of their own people by the millions.

As musicians plucked from the arriving cattle cars at Auschwitz and kept alive to form the death camp orchestra, the women honored by this program were forced to play while wave after wave of inmates --no more deserving than they -- were degraded, broken down by hard labor, gassed and burned like so much rubbish.

A former inmate, Erika Rothschild, remembered this macabre accompaniment:

Those who arrived in Birkenau were driven out of the cattle wagons and put in rows … to this the band played, made up of the best musicians among the prisoners; they played, depending on the origins of the transport, Polish, Czech, or Hungarian folk music. The band played, the SS pummelled, and you had no time to reflect … some were forced into the camp, the others into the crematoria.

According to the New York Times pre-review (March 25) , "some survivors find it too poignant. The ensemble has agreed to forgo the “Desperate Times” program of music and lyrics at Ravensbrück and play other music instead... because 'survivors said it would be too painful.'

Esther Béjarano, 84, a pianist who played accordion in the Birkenau orchestra, said it saved her life. But she called the current orchestra’s revival of the music 'distasteful.'
'I don’t want to listen to this music,' she said recently from her home in Hamburg, Germany. 'I don’t want to be reminded. Never in my life do I want to ever hear it again.'”

How then are we to feel? Understanding how some of the actual surviving musicians feel about this - and why - and sitting among many for whom this beautiful, riveting performance dredges up unfathomably painful memories of a world we never knew, how could we fight our own voyeuristic shame in finding any kind of gratification in the somber experience?

All I can say is: it was an awesome experience for me, beyond the privilege of having been part of a meaningful virtuoso concert and choral performance in the ethereal magnificence of an historic and progressive venue that is St. John the Divine's. I can't help but feel that more people need to experience this sort of connection on a deep personal level with such effective reminders of the extremes to which we human beings are capable of going, any time and all at once.

Naturally it makes a person uneasy to sit in silent attention while performers on a stage before us lead us through complex juxtapositions of innocence and artistry against the brutal context of man's overwhelming inhumanity to man. Unsettling are the echoes drawn from distant places through timeless gut-wrenching ugliness even as they reverberate across the antique cavernous chamber of a massive gothic cathedral. It is an uncomfortable disturbance of the cherished oblivion of our own time. For most of us today, reliving that prior time too horrible to conceive and audaciously denied by a scant few subhumans among us, it is understandably better forgotten by those who cannot deny the truth of what and how they survived. Whatever else comes through in this tribute performance, these echoes will evoke pangs of shame and pride, unreconcilable pleasure, pain and survivor's guilt that impossibly demands reconciliation.

I just can't imagine this coming through with the same meaningful intensity in anything other than a live performance as seen last night. This was ultimately a courageous performance reflecting the humble courage of the original Birkenau Women's Orchestra, 54 women who thankfully survived their 18 months of hell to be liberated by the British just hours before they were slated for execution themselves.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I would likely never have even known about this concert if my very good friend Nancy had not been a part of it. Nancy is not just a unique human being and a very special person in my life - she is also a truly gifted musician and artist whose performances I have missed way too many of in recent years. When I first heard that she was going to be performing at a time and place that just so happened to coincide with my schedule and my pressing need to take a long overdue, long-weekend break from my tedious routine, I did not even think to ask what it was all about. Nancy can do just about anything. If she has not gotten around to everything she may yet master musically I, for one, have always been blown away by her every performance I've been lucky enough to see, hear or hear about.

Nancy plays recorder in the Birkenau tribute orchestra. Ars Choralis is lucky to have her, as are we all!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Now Is Soon?

Only a couple of times a year do my partner and I get to do it up and drag our lame butts out to a concert experience that we would both really want to kick ourselves for missing. A couple of months ago while scanning the announcements of upcoming concerts there was no question about it when we saw the first notice that Morrissey would be performing in one of the most fabulous halls in the country right here in our home town: the 152 year old Academy of Music (Prince Charles and Camilla were here 2 years ago to celebrate the sesquicentennial).

The former lead singer of The Smiths coming up on 30 years later does way more than deliver on this tour. He kicks it OUT!

You can find YouTube videos of other performances from his Tour of Refusal with better sound quality than the one embedded here. But this one takes me back the best visually. That's the set they had on stage and those were the rock and roll lights. It was hard to keep my eyes on them though from my partially-obstructed-view seat behind a column in the second balcony, what with the awesome (perfect word) 19th century interior details to look at (always makes me feel like I'm in the Theatre of the Vampires there).

But what is truly awesome about the place where the orchestra played are the damn near perfect acoustics. Morrissey's 50 year old voice is as smooth and rich as ever - every syllable popped - and as loud and angry as the music of his band got (with those precocious identical twins on drums and guitars), I never felt like covering my ears or ducking out for relief in the halls. In fact, I was totally into it. "Hurt me Morrissey, make me feel like you inside!"

The man does a great show. Even in the stodgy old-money environment of the Academy, Morrissey's angst-wrenched charisma still drives the boys so wild they are compelled to literally climb up and over each other in a mad frenzy to get onto the stage in an effort to... what? Rip his clothes off? I don't know. Those who actually made it past the footlights and onto the stage ended up just getting manhandled by the big burly guards/roadies who tossed the interlopers right back into the parquet circle like they thow amps onto a truck. Ouch!

I was just as happy to keep my middle-aged butt up there in the balcony, above it all. God knows, if I were down in the orchestra/mosh pit with them, I probably would have gotten swept up in the frenzy myself!

I don't even usually use the word, "awesome." But this is an awesome show. Awesome.

The man from Lancashire has really gone Hollywood, though. At one point, after the third song or so, the Moz even did a costume change, ripping off the white shirt he wore for the first act and disappearing back stage only to reappear wearing a totally different black shirt!

Who does he think he is? Cher?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Special Report: Sarah Palin sees Obama as more powerful than God!

Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate and the mother of a young son with Down syndrome, said she was "shocked" by the "degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world"
-- From

Personally, I think all this brouhaha over President Obama's off-the-cuff remarks during his TV appearance this week -- supposedly exposing his hidden insensitivity to people with disabilities -- is just downright retarded.

But what do you expect from those retards in the media, the GOP and even some who should know better? They have been salivating in wait for their first chance to pounce on the new President for any public slip of the tongue that can be hyped as offensive to somebody. After eight embarrassing years of Bush, he still has some highly placed apologists who are desperate to see the mentally challenged ex-president somehow vindicated for that constant barrage of idiocies that sputtered out every time he opened his damn fool mouth without a script or teleprompter. Do they actually think that catching Obama in anything that can be made to seem like an objectionable gaffe gives them ammunition in their futile battle of wits? You would think that such stupid tactics would only work on the witless.

Obama's supposed "gaffe" came during a light night TV appearance and was the kind of self-deprecating assessment made routinely by most people of normal intellect and tact -- those who aren't so arrogant they cannot admit their own short-comings. Remember when Bush drew a blank when asked to name a single mistake he made during his disastrous two terms in office?

The big Obama "gaffe" was in comparing his own facility at the "sport" of bowling to that of a contender in the Special Olympics. We all got the joke because we all made the joke amongst ourselves, in one way or another - often in ways that really are offensive to people with disabilities.

But Obama's comment was not offensive. It only became a gaffe when someone deliberately twisted it that way. Personally, being the relatively able-bodied middle-age lunk that I am, I suck at all sports myself -- always have. I was born without a trace of the Jock gene (drives my jock boyfriend mad). I am sure the only way I would ever have had a shot at coming near winning in any kind of sport would be in competition with people who have disadvantages of their own, physical, mental or otherwise. If I acknowledge this does that make me offensive to people with disabilities?

If Obama's mention of bowling and the Special Olympics was offensive, it should be noted that it could have and would have been worse coming from Bush. Had he been talking about golf, he might have had a chance to double his offensive entendre by referring to his own "handicap," a now-disparaged term in the disabled community. This would be the kind of inopportune phrasing that Bush would have been expected to mangle, even if he were talking about bowling instead of golf.

A more grievous faux pas we can easily imagine coming from a cretin like Bush would have been referring to the "Retard Olympics" or some other objectionable misnomer for the competition. That would be offensive coming from anybody.

The whole ordeal raises once again the question of using the word "special" in reference to people with disabilities and moreover the officially protected use of the term in reference to the Olympics. How is it not totally offensive to the physically or mentally challenged community to allow such a condescending term in reference to them and their abilities?

What is so special about having a recognized disability?

According to the report, even Sarah Palin's carefully worded objection to Obama's remarks makes it clear that it is not the individuals who are considered special: it's their "needs" ("she hoped the president's comment did not reflect his true feelings about the special needs community"). In this context the word "special" clearly pertains more to the egotistic feelings of people like Palin herself who take responsibility for someone with such disabilities rather than to the individuals in their charge. Not to say that any care-giver does not act sincerely out of love, but in my experience, the people I know and love who fit the description of "disabled" consider their needs to be basic, not "special." What's so special about having to rely on someone else to take care of your basic needs?

If you are like me you just take for granted such things as getting yourself out of bed, feeding yourself, talking and getting around on your own, wiping your own ass and cleaning up after yourself. We would be be more honest to recognize that we are the ones who are "special" in that we do not (yet) have to live necessarily resigned to the indignity of having others do these basic things for us.

It is blatantly disingenuous for someone like Palin to pander so to what she calls the "special needs community" when she and her ilk regard the needs of other disadvantaged communities as "special" only in a pejorative sense. They champion reform of attitudes, customs and laws that may limit opportunities and the full participation of people with physical or mental disabilities in society. But the struggle to reform societal and legal prohibitions against people who face disadvantages imposed by equally ignorant attitudes, customs and laws held by the majority is dismissed as an unreasonable demand for "special" rights rather than for equality. In the case of marriage equality for same-sex couples in particular, it is really people like Palin who feel entitled to the quality of "specialness" they wrongly ascribe to our basic rights and needs.

On another level, the legally sanctioned exclusivity of the term "Special Olympics" is little more than an instance of high-profile institutionalized pandering to people with disabilities, with unintended demeaning results. In 2000 the US Supreme Court upheld the United States Olympic Commission's right to impose sanctions on any organization or business that might use the word "olympic" in any public reference. The basis of their decision was in trademark regulations which the commission has famously but selectively enforced since 1910, even bringing action against mom-and-pop pizza parlors after they hung out a shingle bearing their chosen name "Olympic Pizza." When a group of people from the LGBT community came together to create the annual event now known as the "Gay Games" they were hit with a ferocious lawsuit to prevent them from using their preferred "Gay Olympics" name. At the same time, no action was taken against the "Police Olympics" or even the "Nebraska Rat Olympics."

Mainly, though, the USOC today allows only one other use of the term over which they legally own all rights: the "Special Olympics." I would never demean any athletically inclined person who wishes to take part in sports competition with others on a level playing field, but it is clearly well-known what the Special Olympics is all about and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. One unintended result, however, of the fact that we have only the Olympics and the Special Olympics in our current frame of reference is that anyone who is not mentally challenged can make such self-deprecating remarks about our own athletic abilities as Obama did and have them interpreted as offensive to the people who are serious competitors in those games. However, even by their own admission, the Special Olympics is not primarily a venue for competitors to gain recognition of athletic supremacy. It is an organization and movement that works to bring attention to "the value and unique gifts of people with intellectual disabilities." In this it is a noble cause and provides a very valuable experience for those who are eligible to take part.

As little footage as I have seen of actual Special Olympic events, it appears to me that the overriding attitude of the participants is far different from the sometimes cut-throat Tanya Harding rivalry among competitors in the World Olympics. Rather it always appears that Special Olympic contenders are genuinely enthused with the sheer joy of being together and playing the games, no matter how they might score. As I listened to Obama's comment and attitude on the YouTube replay it seemed to me that he was reflecting this admirable aspect of the Special Olympics: that he could take part in the game and enjoy himself regardless of his lack of bowling prowess.

I understand the need he felt soon after to clarify his nuanced remarks in order to appease those idiots who would exploit them to their own evil advantage. But I wish Obama had not apologized for what he said. It is just plain disgraceful of all those washed up douche bags and bimbos like Palin to jump on the media-fired bandwagon and add their own self-serving, worthless comments to the manufactured storm of outrage. I would love to hear Obama's spokespeople demand an apology from all of them for their attempted character assassination of the President.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rush to Apology: Apologies to Rush

If you are like me, you have probably, on occasion, frequently, or perhaps continually over any number of years, said something horribly offensive about the incendiary loud-mouth shithead, Mr. Rush Limbaugh. If you are a member of the Republican Party you may feel overwhelming regret for it and wish to offer an apology to your self-anointed leader. Now you can...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Touched By an Uncle?

Ben is a member of the family I was born into, but only by marriage (and I don't mean he is my husband). Married to my little sister, Ben and I are nearly the same age in years. But there is something wrong with the guy. I was reminded of this recently when, out of the blue, I received a text message from him. The text seemed to be meant to inform me of a death in the family I had moved far away from about 35 years ago.

I figured this may mark a coming resurgence of impersonal messages I used to get from my text-happy brother-in-law: like the one he sent two years ago to let me know my only other brother-in-law had passed. Ben seems completely unable to understand how I feel about getting such messages by text. I think it is terribly offensive. And he and my sister are completely offended because of how I feel about it. Actually, there is more to the story of our falling out. It involves his texting me hateful racist messages about Obama during the Presidential campaign and me calling him on it. I asked him which order of the Klan he had joined since I last saw him, among other, even more direct observations that his texting me such crap was pure and simple racism.

But I digress.

So I got this text out of the blue - after telling text man months ago to f*uck off and stop wasting my minutes. I did not really say anything the last time he texted me about a death in the family but I felt then that if he wanted to convey this kind of news - and since he does have my phone number - why couldn't he take the time to make an actual call?

I knew even before I left them all in that Southern state that I would never rate such a grand gesture as a phone call, or even the common courtesy of sharing such a private familial moment like a REAL member of the family. Sending me such news from hundreds of miles away by text message just makes me feel like they are crossing me off the list of obligations they think they have to tend to when a family member dies: item #25: text everybody that you don't really want to talk to. Just so you can say you did it and then go on with your life.

I guess it makes them feel better about themselves and puts the ball in my court. Am I supposed to take it on myself to call back? As I recall I responded by calling my niece and offer my condolences on the loss of her father. As my niece is a modern adult gal who stays in touch with me = and who I love like a niece - I don't feel bad about that at all. She is not one of THEM: my immediate sibs.

I don't know. I think Ben is so obsessed with texting he gets happy when he has an excuse to do it. Almost makes it seem like he is glad when somebody in the family dies because he then has an excuse to send text messages. Two years ago, he and my sister came to visit me on a trip to the big city - the only family visit I've had for 35 years (a mistake I will never allow to be repeated) all he did was text back and forth with his adolescent daughters as though he were one of them. I tell you, there is something wrong with the guy. Not that I'm all that: I'm just sayin'.

The message said, "Uncle Al died over the weekend. He was 84," or words close to this. I thought, "Gee. I can't even remember having an Uncle named Al, or Alfred, or Albert... But I've been out of the loop for about 35 years and I never did know most of my parents siblings. No surprise that I don't remember him."

I do remember a TV perv who played a character named "Uncle Al" who had the kids show when I was growing up. I even went on the show once when I was about 5 (Of course I did: being a budding perv-ette myself at the time). But I didn't think it was "Uncle Al" that Ben was taking the trouble to text me about. After the horrible falling out we had why would he suddenly decide to text me with this bit of trivial information? Maybe if I was still 5 years old I might care if Uncle Al the TV perv dropped dead. But I grew up and got past the whole kiddy TV thing about four and a half decades ago. (In fairness, I don't really know if the guy was really a perv. But come on, just look at him. And he had a kids show for Christ's sake!).

Still thinking that the message was about some actual unknown relative of mine - who I was probably supposed to remember according to him - I decided to screw with Ben a little. I texted back "Condolences to Capt Windy."

I thought it might be taken as snarky and offensive of me to make the connection between a real life relative who just died and some obscure and fictitious TV persona - an unreal character played by some guy I never knew. That guy actually had a first AND a last name. Captain Windy was his TV sidekick cloned from June Cleaver. Those TV characters all died a long time ago for me, probably long before the show they were on was cancelled. I am unaware of the day it went off the air but that would have been when these characters "died" -- as much as TV characters can die. As I found out, that happened sometime in the 1980s.

Out of curiosity I later Googled it and found out that Ben probably was texting me about the guy who played Uncle Al. His name was Al Lewis. He was married to a woman named Wanda who played Captain Windy on his show.

The sad thing is that Ben is probably truly mourning the passing of Uncle Al but not Al Lewis. More likely, he may be mourning the demise of his own long-extended childhood. Finally hitting adolescence in his mid-to-late 50s: this could be a dangerous phase for someone like Ben - the guy who sent me all those juvenile delinquent, thinly veiled racist slurs about Barack Obama by text message. I just wonder how long it took the Uni-bomber to grow up?

I tell ya, there is something wrong with the guy.

I'm a Producer - You Can Be One Too!

Go to Rethink Afghanistan at the Brave New Films website

In this economy it's the best investment you can make!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

British Anti-War Coalition Takes The Lead

The American Anti-War Movement seems to be on hiatus, apparently in hope that the Obama Administration will make us obsolete, rather than merely ineffective as we were all during the Bullish-on-War Bush years. There is a huge risk, however, in getting our hopes up too high and hanging back while Obama and Co. continue the same mistakes that their detestable predecessors made.

Yes, we can forget Iraq as long as we feel we can take President Obama on his word that the troops are coming home. I think he deserves that trust. But at the same time, what about Afghanistan? He has begun a "surge" of troops to that country where we have no more reason to be than we had to be in Iraq. Listening to his brilliant speech before Congress last week, outlining all the progressive policies and programs he is putting in place, I strained to hear what his justification may be for ratcheting up the US military presence in Afghanistan. All I heard was the same old weak rationale that could have just as well come out of the mouth of Bush except for the use of the irritating phrase, "war on terror."

I am very interested to see how the movers and shakers in the US Peace Movement chose to respond to this on-going war. But I would be even more interested how a President Obama would respond to large-scale demonstrations like the ones I joined on the Mall in DC or the streets of Manhattan during the build up to the Iraq war when several hundred thousand of us knew we were just banging our heads against the wall. What would it be like to hold such a march when there is someone in office who has actual intelligence, a moral compass that works and the keen sense of a real leader who takes the concerns of his constituents seriously?

We are likely to get a taste soon of how this President responds to a large crowd of people with a passionate drive to resist war, demanding that policies that keep us involved in senseless, unjustified military actions (wars) be changed. But it will not be due to any action of the comatose US Peace Movement.

The UK Stop the War Coalition is organizing a huge demonstration at the G20 meeting coming up in London early next month. Mainly focused on the recent horrible attacks on Palestinians by the Israeli government but their agenda includes calling for all foreign troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

The demonstration is bound to get Obama's attention. They are using his tagline: "Yes We Can!" End the War.

Below is the text of a recent email I received announcing the event,


The leaders of the world's most powerful nations will meet at the G20 summit in London on April 2. It will be Barack Obama's
first visit to Britain. Despite expectations of a change of course, and though we now have a welcome commitment to a
pullback from Iraq, there has been no distancing from Israel from Obama, a promise of a massive surge of troops to
Afghanistan and continued missile attacks on Pakistan.

The G20 is a chance for us to demand a real end to Bush's war policies. The Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity
Campaign, The British Muslim Initiative, and CND have called two protests at the G20.

Our message will be 'Yes We Can'. Yes we can end the siege of Gaza and free Palestine, yes we can get the troops out of Iraq
and Afghanistan, yes we can make jobs not bombs, yes we can abolish nukes, yes we can stop arming Israel.

* April1st: march through central London on the eve of the G20, assemble central London, 2pm.

* April 2nd: protest at the Excel Centre London Docklands, assemble 11am.

For publicity postcards contact the Stop the War office.

Stop the War will also be marching on the March 28th Put
People First Demonstration.