Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bistro 303

A minister told a story that I actually remember. Illustrating what I do not recall, but I do remember the story. He came across the papers and records of a deceased relative that he did not know all that well. Finding the man's checkbook register, he discovered all kinds of things about him; what he liked, events in his life, kids in school, new car, birthdays etc. He learned more about that man looking at that one document than he did anything else he found.

If you looked at my checkbook, you would not see much, I write few checks. But look at my bank statements and my Visa Check Card and all that and you would wonder what Bistro 303 is all about. I have lots of "checks" to them.

Bistro 303 is the closest thing to a neighborhood bar and restaurant that I have ever known. Friendly staff, good food, good drinks; a place where everyone does know your name. Some of the patrons can be a bit surly, some of the more pretentious A-gay folks like to call it home as well. But I do not let them bother me, we just talk about them as they talk about us.

Owners Gene and Jeffrey greet their patrons, join them in a conversation or a drink yet keep the service going. Whether Sunday brunch, weekday dinner, evening happy hour (look for me there every Wednesday 5:15-7 or thereabouts)Bistro 303 always has an interesting crowd. Late night, it is packed and noisy as any bar, before 9PM, the dinner crowd is more genteel.

Sunday brunch is always excellent, the menu changes occasionally. I especially enjoy the wonderful andouille sausage as a side and the always tasty quiche. I, and other patrons, find the biscuits and gravy bland. A few mimosas, the sausage and quiche and I am happy.

Dinner and small plates change more frequently. Enjoy the unusual asparagus flan while you can. More of a souffle than a flan, it is quite tasty and topped with wild mushrooms, most unique. Their fish and chips small plate appetizer is also delightful, never greasy and a crisp, light batter. Outside of the bland gravy described above, I have never had a bad meal at 303.

The bar is well stocked, and even keeps a supply of my favorite Finlandia Mango vodka for me. The drinks are always well made and good sized, reasonable priced for a high end gay bar.

And there lies the question. Is 303 a gay bar, a gay restaurant, a neighborhood bistro, an upscale adventurous restaurant? Frankly, it is all of the above.

Bistro 303
303 Westport Rd
Kansas City, MO 64111
(816) 753-2303

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pato Update

Pato is preparing a major policy rant, I have not had one for a long time. This one is taking shape slowly, but will be up soon. Stay tuned.

I have been busy and the Towers nuts as usual. Complicating matters is that I am constantly tired, must be the medications or something. Not sure what that is all about. I thought you were supposed to get tired when, as a diabetic, you got hypoglycemic or low blood glucose. I get tired when I am normal. Who knows.

Anyway, some shameless self advertising here are some links to some Ebay items I am selling for a friend in Texas. He does nice leather work but has no internet access. So I am willing to help.




Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dad and Pug

I am too lazy to blog something serious, profound or even readable today so here is a pic of your's truly and Her Majesty on Memorial Day:

A rare view of me without my trusty ball cap as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 25, 1977

It is a phenomenon of the human mind that we remember incredible details surrounding important or tragic events.

I was in Mrs. Cadle's first grade class when a strange bell rang.. "Class", she said, "this is a signal for an emergency or special announcement" as she quickly left us to destroy the classroom. She returned shortly, tears in her eyes to announce that someone had killed President Kennedy. November 22, 1963.

As a 12 year old, I came down the short set of stairs leading from my bedroom, late in the evening to stand next to the couch with my parents watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon. July 20, 1969.

I was at my desk at the Missouri Department of Mental Health Personnel Office (as we called it then) when Dr Ed Bode announced that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded. January 28, 1986.

May 25, 1977, 30 years ago, I remember another more pleasant event. Steve and Val his girlfriend, John and Sara and Lori Anne and I stood in a huge line for 3 hours at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL to get tickets to see the movie that was hyped to the gills, Star Wars.

Damn what a show. The huge audience gasped at the sight of the text crawl at the beginning, forever etching the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" into our lexicon, floating almost 3-D across the screen. Ooohs and ahhs from the mostly college kid crowd greeted the huge life like and almost life size space ships. From those of us who were reared on the obviously wobbly model of the Starship Enterprise, it looked real. The life like, believable aliens, the stirring music, the incredible, deafening Dolby sound, the action, the lovable droids.. we were in a fabulous new world.

It was billed as the first of set of films and true to his word, George Lucas finished 6 Star Wars features, the last in 2005. The first 3, actually the last 3 of the sextet, were finished in quick order "A New Hope" 1977, "The Empire Strikes Back" 1980 and "Return of the Jedi" 1983. It took 16 years for the first of the pre-quel episodes "The Phantom Menace" 1999 to appear. The last, "Revenge of the Stith" actually # 3, premiered just two years ago.

Basically Episodes I, II, and III chronicle the downfall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire. It is also the story of Anakin Skywalker, rising as a gifted young Jedi and eventually transforming into Darth Vader via the Dark Side of the Force.

Episodes IV, V and VI chronicle the Galactic Civil War, a lengthy conflict in which the Galactic Empire falls to the Rebel Alliance. These films follow the story of Luke Skywalker, the son of Anakin Skywalker (now Darth Vader), and his rise in the rebellion against the Empire.

No doubt the movie changed the world of entertainment for two generations. I took my kids to see the original when it was re-released to the big screen a few years ago. Still exciting and fresh, but years of technology advances had taken the edge off the complex special effects. For my kids, it was nothing new, so last year. I am not sure if they captured the same feeling I did almost 20 years before, but to me everyone who love the stories and cinematography must see them on the big silver screen.

Maybe a grade suffered, a class or two skipped (it was a Wednesday), money lost from not working, or I missed out on finding a million dollars under some tree, but I am glad I spent 3 hours waiting in line that May afternoon. It was worth the memory.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kansas City Symphony: Thursday Bon Bons

The Kansas City Symphony rewarded their volunteers, donors and contributors with an invitation only Contributors' Concert last night at the Lyric Theatre. From the crowded lobby and lines for food and drink at the reception, everyone in Kansas City has had something to do with the Symphony this year.

The concert itself was a light affair but 100% enjoyable. An appropriate curtain raiser was a rousing and sparkling "Forza del Destino" overture by Verdi. The brass have certainly come a long way as their dramatic clarion calls were solid and forceful, as the force of destiny should be.

Associate Conductor Damon Gupton led a fine performance of Beethoven's "Creatures of Prometheus" overture. Ending his first season as Associate, Maestro Damon showed the large audience that he is a fine conductor with a commanding presence.

Next was Christina Yuen, winner of the KC Young Artists Competition playing the first movement of the Saint-Saens Piano # 2 again with Gupton conducting. I had heard her perform the same piece at an earlier concert and this one was about the same. Fabulous technique for 14 years old, maturity will bring more nuance and ability to communicate. She certainly has the potential.

For me the highlight was the wonderfully turned, dramatic, fun and exciting Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story". Bernstein's finest music bar none (it is said that he spent the rest of his composing career trying to match it), the Symphonic Dances was pulled together from the dance scenes of the play by Bernstein in 1961. Many of the great tunes are featured (Maria, Somewhere, Jet Song, Rumble) in brilliant full orchestration, complete with finger snapping and shouts of "Rumble"!

The orchestra dug into this music; despite its "popular beginnings" it is not especially easy. The percussion was pointed and driving, the brass swung and the winds were sweetly in tune and beautifully hushed in the quiet, devastating finale. Some of the best ensemble playing I have heard from the symphony.

The final piece was Brahms Academic Festival Overture, which one patron found funny as hell. I guess she recognized the tunes. I rarely find Brahms funny, even when he is being "festive". I put aside my reservations about the piece and Brahms in general, and note a fine, well balanced and spirited performance.

We were treated to dessert: The Farandole from L'Arlesienne by Bizet.

Light fare, bon bons, whatever, it showed again that the Symphony is a force to be reckoned with and a major contributor to the life of the city.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

News From The Towers

The Towers has been buzzing!

1) The dungeon, the unfinished apt in the basement, is being redone. It is taking forever to get redone, but it is actually happening. A small unit, it is almost totally underground except for the north side which opens to a sunken courtyard. 1/2 of the courtyard is in dispute between the owners, so it will remain an unfinished, unsightly testimonial to utter stupidity and maliciousness. I hope it is done soon, it is making me weary.

2) We are getting a new hall AC unit installed. The old one, 26 yrs of service, finally bit the dust. The Powers of the Towers almost opted for repairing it, but smarter minds prevailed and a new one arrived this AM.

3)We had to have an old plumbing pipe replaced that was leaking and causing all sorts of havoc. The Plumbers thought it would be a day long project, but like everything here, it became complex and costly. $3,000 and 2 weeks later, it is done. Again, like the AC, it involved some of the original equipment, this time dating back to the building's construction in 1915. The pipe, encased in thick, hard English concrete and brick, was reluctant to come out, even in in it's rusty state. Jackhammers were called in to free it from the wall. Dust was everywhere, noise was deafening. But now the water flows unimpeded to all. We are happy.

4) Our hibiscus looks great!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who's Afraid of Big Bad GW?

Why is everyone so damn afraid of criticizing GW Bush? He is, in my opinion, a war criminal and a hypocritical, alcoholic idiot who has singlehandedly maimed the reputation of the US forever. He has led the country into an un-winnable war, lied about it, alienated everyone, worked tirelessly against the poor and gays and lesbians, reversed civil rights, stole two elections, made a sham of the Justice Department and allows his friends in big oil and industry to run rampant. He is a disaster, one of the worst, if not the worst Presidents ever.

Jimmy Carter, Nobel Prize winner, said so. In an interview in Arkansas he stated: "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." I would agree, so would many others.

But now it seems that Carter is backtracking, saying he was misunderstood. From what I saw, he was really quite clear. What happened, was he threatened by the Bushies? Did he want to be cordial and diplomatic to a fellow President? Bush wasn't. His minions dismissed Carter after the remarks as "increasingly irrelevant."

In response, Carter, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said: "Well, I don't claim to have any relevancy. I have a completely unofficial capacity. The only thing I lead is the Carter Center."

What is relevant is that Bush has wounded and weakened America. And the opposition is too damn timid to care.

We'll be paying for this mess a loooooooong time.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kansas City Symphony, Saint-Saens, Harbison and Prokofiev

I had to admit I had not heard of Larry Rachleff, who was featured as guest conductor of this weekend’s Kansas City Symphony. The program looked interesting with Harbison’s “Remembering Gatsby”, the Violin Concerto # 3 by Saint-Saens and selections from Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet” as fare.

Larry Rachleff, come to find out, is an active conductor and teacher. He is in his eleventh season as Music Director of the Rhode Island Symphony, he is Professor of Conducting and Music Director of Rice University’s Shepherd School Orchestras in Houston and also conducts the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and is Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony. Not a particularly flashy conductor he certainly brought an element of superbly controlled energy to the orchestra’s sound. Again, the symphony was sounding better than ever.

The opening “Remembering Gatsby: Foxtrot for Orchestra” was well played and attractive. The work is derived from an opera based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece “The Great Gatsby”. The opera had a long gestation period and this piece actually predates the completed opera by about 15 years. The muted brass, jazzy winds and percussion evoke a1920's night club. Much like the hideous 1974 film of the Great Gatsby, all the pain and grit and biting satire inherent in this story have been glossed over. Not being real familiar with the piece, I can not compare it to other performances; however it was well played and enthusiastically received.

What is there not to like about Saint-Saens? Some may be inclined to dismiss the composer’s works; the music is hardly ever emotionally draining or deeply moving and rarely does it stretch the demands of the performers in a new way. Indeed discussion rages yet today on the merit of the man and his music. Yet it is always engaging, tuneful, charming, often exciting and in the concerti always technically demanding.

The 3rd Violin Concerto is the most often played of the 3 Saint-Saens wrote. Not particularly demanding, it is, however, full of melodic invention and expression. Jennifer Frautschi ably brought out this flow of melody; her violin singing above and weaving in and out of the orchestral texture. The orchestra was a thrilling accompanist, especially in the last movement with its gypsy tones and grand chorale. Frautschi is a wonderful and also quite adventurous violinist. Her album “Solovision” is a fascinating and varied program of solo violin works by Ysaye, Harbison, Bartok and Davidovsky. Worth looking for on the Artek label.

I have never really been attracted neither to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet nor to the music of the composer in general. This music, coming from one of his more successful scores, is always a crowd pleaser and familiar to many and thus a satisfying conclusion to the evening. Rachleff led an exciting performance with the Death of Tybalt being one of the more successful and engaging performances of the piece I have heard.

I do hope we get to hear more of this exciting and accomplished conductor.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Irish Joke

Pato is worn out, too much stress too much work, too much too instead of an insightful piece about an obscure composer or a rant about the world, here is an Irish joke:

John O'Reilly hoisted his beer and said, "Here's to spending the rest of me life!, between the legs of me wife!"

That won him the top prize at the pub for the best toast of the night!

He went home and told his wife, Mary, "I won the prize for the Best toast of the night"

She said, "Aye, did ye now. And what was your toast?"

John said, "Here's to spending the rest of me life, sitting in church beside me wife."

"Oh, that is very nice indeed, John!" Mary said.

The next day, Mary ran into one of John's drinking buddies on the street corner. The man chuckled leeringly and said, "John won the prize the other night at the pub with a toast about you, Mary."

She said, "Aye, he told me, and I was a bit surprised myself. You know, he's only been there twice in the last four years. Once he fell asleep, and the other time I had to pull him by the ears to make him come."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The State of the Orchestra

How does one tell a symphony orchestra has made significant progress and improvements?

The world of the orchestra in the US is tenuous and mixed at best. Some orchestras are soaring with new music directors and appreciative audiences. Some, including some big names, languish and are stagnant. Others have failed.

Some measure success in ticket sales, financial health and endowments. Some look at ability to perform engaging programs. Maybe a new music director and musicians breathe life in the organization. Some point to the sound of the orchestra.

Kansas City is one that is making progress. There are lots of signs:

1) Last I heard ticket sales are up, season ticket holders are plentiful, and concerts are sold out or at least very full. I was out of town this weekend, but according to the review in the Star, approx 1,400 were in the audience for the Tchaikovsky 6th and Bernstein Chichester Psalms on Saturday. Not bad for a 1,500 seat theatre. It seems the orchestra is in good financial health as well. We do not seem to be in danger of falling off the edge this week in this business is always a world away.

2) Kansas City Symphony programming has been excellent. Although some sneer and snipe at the "scratchy modern crap", it is true as the radio program says "all music was once new". We have heard everything from early Mozart, Rameau, Haydn and Handel up to Chen Yi and Ellen Taafe Zwillich. The level of soloists attracted has been impressive: Leon Fleisher, Yfrim Bronfman, Roberto Diaz, Michelle De Young, Yo Yo Ma, Joseph Kalichstein, Emmanuel Pahud and soon Joshua Bell and Marc-Andre Hamelin. It used to be Symphonies like KC relied on engaging the winner of the Miss Jones' School of Violin recital champion as soloist. Kansas City can attract the caliber of soloists as the big boys do.

3) Leadership is essential. It appears to me that Michael Stern has lit a fire under the orchestra. The enthusiasm is palpable, the playing improved. Stern has attracted new players, adding to an already strong team. The winds and strings are excellent and the somewhat untamed brass is on the mend. Stern is also visible and personable; a natural in front of an audience. He is also well known nationally and internationally, adding to the orchestra’s respect and position.

4) The Symphony made a new commercial recording, the first in a long time. Available world wide on the Naxos label, the Gordon Chin “Double Concerto” and “Formosa Seasons” was well received. Hopefully more are on the horizon.

But above all, our musical letter carrier Paul was most enthusiastic about the state of our Orchestra. “Somebody is doing something right”, he mused, “I can actually hear the violas now”.

That is quite an achievement!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So Long Jerry Falwell

Televangelist, Moral Majority founder, Republican power broker and hater of anyone Gay, Jerry Falwell died this AM shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, Executive VP of the University said Falwell was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. According to Godwin, "CPR efforts were unsuccessful". Godwin said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but he said Falwell "has a history of heart challenges". Probably because he was grossly obese... or didn't have a heart.

I, imagine that, do not deeply mourn his death. For someone who caused so much grief, hatred, death and destruction in the name of being "holy" or "moral", tears are hard to find here. I do feel for his family, I am sure he was loved.

So no candles, no prayers, no flowers from He would not have expected that from me.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I have been a passenger in a taxicab more this past weekend than I have in the past 7 years. The Queen Mary is fragile right now, her universal joints about to break. Thus I am loathe to take her too far, not wanting to risk her dropping her guts in the middle of I-35, leading to complications I do not want to face. Thus for my trip to St Louis and a previous night on the town, I hailed a cab.

I wish they were not so freaking expensive, I spent enough to buy a cab or two, as I really enjoy being chauffeured around. And you meet some interesting people.

My cabbie on Fri eve was a pleasant fellow from Haiti, who admitted he had 7 kids here and a stray son in Paris, France. He was chatty, talking about the weather, traffic and his life. When I mentioned I spoke French, off he went. My somewhat rusty, now Spanish tinged, French came back and we had a pleasant conversation. I gave him the wrong address but he quickly found the place I was looking for; we were on the wrong side of the street.

Saturday, as luck would have it, I got another French speaking cabbie, this time from Senegal. Impressed that I spoke French, knew where Senegal was and that the capital was Dakar, he went on asking me where I had been, how I came to live in such a fancy building, how long I had been in Kansas City and how the hell I knew anything about Senegal. I was a bit annoyed that he took the long way around downtown, thus adding a dollar or two the already ridiculous fare, so he did not get a real good tip. He also had no change. Nice fellow though.

I could not convince my son Daniel to drive 20 miles round trip to take me the 5 miles from my hotel to the airport in St Louis, thus another taxi ride. Number 3 was 100% USA and used to live in Kansas City. Regaling me with a story about him insulting an woman of a known Mafioso while selling some cleaning agent door to door, the trip was all too short, but still expensive. Upon reading an article on how Mafia types revered their mothers and women yet killed without mercy, I wondered about his sanity.

The ride back from KCI to the Towers was not as exciting. The cabbie was nice, definitely not native to the USA but not real talkative. I pegged him as being from Nigeria perhaps; he had an Islamic name, but did not look Arab. He was concerned about running out of gas so we made a side trip to a most interesting gas station. You could not pull through to the pump; you had to back in or out. I do not think I had ever seen a station like that in all my travels. Thoughtfully, he turned off the meter while the old Crown Vic, badly in need of an alignment, new tires or both, gobbled fuel. He also went the shortest way to my place and even adjusted the fare as he went through downtown, not realizing a road that had been closed was now reopened after construction. He got a nice tip.

I am home now, and no more cab rides, I am broke!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Benjamin Britten "War Requiem"

"I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense conciliatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful." -Wilfred Owen 1893-1918

Thus is the quote from Wilfred Owen that prefaces the score of Benjamin Britten's monumental War Requiem, quite frankly one of the most powerful choral works of our time, or any time for that matter.

This massive work, scored for three soloists, a chamber orchestra, a full choir and main orchestra, and a boys’ choir and organ, was admirably performed this weekend by the St Louis Symphony, David Robertson conducting. Soloists were Christine Brewer, tenor Paul Groves and baritone Dwayne Croft.

The dramatic nature of the War Requiem always begs comparisons to that other Requiem Mass by an opera composer, Verdi's Requiem. More drama than straight liturgy, the War Requiem juxtaposes the Mass texts with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, written in the battlefields of World War I. Owen was killed in battle, just one week before the Armistice in 1918. Owen's chilling poetry offers an earthbound, cold and stark commentary on the sacred texts. Written for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, built in the shadow of the destroyed original, the massive work is as timely today as it was at its 1962 premiere.

The huge forces (200 on stage, the boys’ chorus and organ off stage as directed) were always under superb control by Maestro Robertson. Not a particularly fast performance, it nonetheless moved powerfully forward, each section building on the tension of the former.

The soloists were excellent. Brewer floated powerfully but always gracefully over the chorus, seated as she was in their midst. She was clarion clear and bell like in the ringing "Sanctus" and sweetly sad in the tender "Lacrimosa". She clearly loves this work and her devotion to it shows.

Tenor Paul Groves possesses a very clean, powerful and masculine tenor voice that was used to great dramatic effect. My quibble may be with baritone Dwayne Croft. His voice is dark and wide and thus did not always blend with Groves. This was especially disappointing as it muddied the pivotal line "and slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one", lessening the devastating impact of the gruesome retelling of Abraham and Isaac. However, Croft more than redeemed himself in the long soliloquy "'None', said the other," save the undone years" in the "Libera Me"; perfectly dramatic, communicative and poignant.

The chorus was suitably powerful when needed, such as the ecstatic, spine-tingling hosannas of the "Sanctus" and in the dramatic "Dies Irae". I was reminded of a "Dies Irae" which I performed with the Dallas Turtle Creek Chorale. The director reminded us that this was the "day of wrath" and that if we should make the audience "pee in their pants with fear", he would consider the performance successful. This was one of those performances. The chorus could also whisper the opening "Requiem Aeternam" and negotiate the angelic chordal progression of the final "amen" with equal beauty of tone and color. The off stage Boys’ Chorus and organ was appropriately serene and other worldly.

Christine Brewer has recorded the War Requiem in the LPO Live series with Kurt Masur and the London Philharmonic. This was an all around better performance, more emotional and communicative. Robertson simply let the powerful work speak for itself.

With round trip airfare from Kansas City to St Louis, several taxi rides, premium price tickets (wonderful seats and acoustics in Powell Hall) plus the obligatory pre-concert dinner and hotel, this was not a cheap concert. But just about the best one I ever experienced.

Friday, May 11, 2007

It is All Down Hill From Here, Little Boy

As I was coming back to the Towers from running errands both various and sundry, I saw a toddler boy in his front yard. Running and playing, enjoying the sun and whatever fantastic thing he spied. Enjoying being a boy.

Enjoy it while you can my friend. You'll soon enter the world of "male privilege"

Male-only military conscription, he has a much higher chance of being cannon fodder than his sister.

Significantly higher for chance of suicide.

The disparity in the healthcare system. Here in the US, women live longer than men usually by about six to seven years; however, there are many more health programs catering to women's special health needs than for men's special health needs. When is the last time you saw a men's health center?? Funding for prostate cancer research is significantly lower than for breast cancer, which is less frequent.

He stands a higher chance of dying in a work related accident or at least being in a hazardous job.

Much more likely to be killed in accidents and car crashes.

High rates of untreated, undiagnosed or mis-diagnosed depression.

In maybe as much as 30% of domestic violence the victim is male. The real number is likely to be higher, since male victims may be less likely to report abuse.

Stereotypes in advertising, the dumb dad or boyfriend, the silly boy rescued by the smarter girl, etc. he'll soon learn he is an object of ridicule for just being who he is. And if he is a strong, self=dependent man, he'll less likely seek help when the world crushes him.

He is likely to be labeled a rapist. Radical feminists claim that rape is simply an extreme expression of normal male sexuality, and that all men are potential rapists capable of sexual violence.

He is more likely to be in prison.

As a teen, he risks dying at twice the rate of girls.

He is more likely to drown.

He is more likely to be colorblind and have hearing loss

He can not criticize or discriminate against women but they can certainly criticize and discriminate against him. He is a minority in most settings, but told he is not.

He will be soon forced to curtail his natural emotions, he can not cry or fail, he soon will find his rigid role in society, and shoot himself when he fails to live up to it.

Enjoy it now, son. It is all downhill from here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

An Opinion Rendered, by HM Puggles QOP, SRA, ETC

Someone asked Her Majesty, Puggles Duchess Windsor, Queen of Pugs, Supreme Ruler of Alaska, Princess Royal of Baltimore Place, Grand Duchess of Missouri, Grand Duchess of Kansas City and St Louis, Duchess of Illinois, Duchess of Clinton, Baroness Pugtona, Royal Order of the Greenie and Treat, Grand Order of the Scrunchie, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kibble, Patroness of the Royal Pugharmonic Orchestra, to give her opinion on Cats:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spring Rains

It has been raining... and raining...and raining...and raining. 9 inches so far through this AM May 8th. The rivers are out of their banks, corners are flooded, low lying areas fill with water and debris. Brush Creek through the Plaza roars like a river. Basements are flooded, sump pump sales are brisk.

The spring has been a nasty one here. Too warm of weather in Feb and March got the trees to bloom, only to be socked with lows in the teens. Some trees are still bare, the big magnolia in the back has just a few green leaves and many wilted, soggy brown ones, hanging limp and dead. Her magnificent blooms will have to wait till next year.

Tornadoes have been frequent, a big one obliterated Greensburg, KS. Nothing much is left of the place. We have been lucky here, but the storms in the last few days have been fierce.

More rain is to come, more flooding, more soggy ground. What is growing is lush and green. But soon, Mother Nature will be back, the clouds will part way... the brown dry August will come again. And we will wish for the rain; we never being satisfied.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Saga of the De Havilland Comet

News agencies reported thousands of people gathered at London Airport (now better known as Heathrow) on May 2nd 1952 to witness the first jet operated commercial flight.

At 3:12PM, the BOAC Comet registered G-ALYP took off for its first commercial flight. Carrying 36 passengers, its destination was Johannesburg with scheduled stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. The total journey of nearly 7000 miles (11260 km) was scheduled to take 23h 40 minutes. Prop driven planes took twice that long.

BOAC was the first airline to operate jet equipment. The revolutionary Comet would forever change the way we travel. At first, BOAC was the only airline to operate the Comet. Air France, UAT, Canadian Pacific, British Commonwealth Pacific were next in line to operate the revolutionary machine. Pan Am and others were soon to join in as no other aircraft like the Comet was available; the Boeing 707 was still on the drawing boards.

Unfortunately, the future of the Comet was not bright. Its manufacturer and designer, de Havilland Aircraft, would pay the price for being first. They had pushed the envelope of aircraft design and performance, unfortunately the envelope pushed back. No one had ever built and flown a pressurized aircraft as large and with the capability to fly as high and fast as the Comet. She was literally flying in unchartered territory.

A series of accidents doomed the new plane. The first two crashes were blamed on pilot error, specifically not being aware of some characteristics of jet take off, and in the second accident in Karachi, Pakistan, perhaps the first noted case of jet lag. On the first anniversary of the first flight, BOAC Comet G-ALYV crashed in Calcutta. At first it was assumed to be due to flying through a strong storm, later events would show a more serious cause.

Comets were grounded as G-ALYP itself would be the 4th Comet to crash on January 10th 1954 after taking off from Rome-Ciampino airport. It suffered a mid-air explosion and plunged into the Mediterranean Sea near Elba. After a lengthy investigation of the recovered aircraft, Comets were allowed to return to the air with changes designed to hopefully correct the problems found.

On April 12th, 1954, just 16 days after being allowed in the air, BOAC Comet G-ALYY crashed in the bay of Naples, after its take off from Rome this time headed south to Cairo. Comet 1s were permanently grounded.

Testing would show that the last two accidents and likely the one in Calcutta were caused by metal fatigue. The science of metallurgy was very new. De Havilland had tested the frame thoroughly they thought. They tested a test frame to pressures twice their normal levels with no problem. That should have been sufficient. But metal had not coughed up one of its secrets, pressure that high actually helps bond and parts and changes the structure of the metal. No one knew that at the time. An official inquiry placed no blame. The Comet experience had taught aircraft manufacturers a lot, but at a high price.

We have the Comet to thank for the mighty and safe machines that take us around the world in modest comfort (unless you pay out the nose and go first class and then go in style) shrinking our globe and uniting the world.

Beautiful machine too.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Injustice Files: Police State

The US Police State continues. Be afraid, people, soon we will all be criminals, except for the rich few:

A California man who prosecutors said got a little too friendly with his girlfriend during a flight was convicted Thursday of interfering with flight attendants and crew members.

The man will probably serve jail time for the federal felony conviction. His defense said he will appeal. Charges against his girlfriend were dropped, likely because the poor girl was abused or somehow mistreated.

Be scared people, be scared!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Incredible Sound World of György Ligeti's Music for Piano

Lyrical, playful, intense, dramatic, out-of-control, fun, a revelation. All words I used to describe some of the most incredible music to which I have ever been exposed, the piano music of Romanian/Hungarian composer György Ligeti.

Many of you have heard Ligeti's music but likely did not know it. He was a particular favorite of Stanley Kubrick who used Ligeti's atmospheric and strange music for his films "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Eyes Wide Shut". His most famous work, Atmosphères (1961) for orchestra concentrates and explores pure sound. For example, the opening 5 octave chord consists of all notes in the chromatic scale, using fifty-six string players, each one playing a different note. No wonder Kubrick used this "otherworldly" music in 2001 (and without Ligeti's permission.)

But it is the wonderful piano music that has set my musical world on its ear, so to speak.

Fredrik Ullén's traversal of all of Ligeti's Piano music is available on BIS records. Paul, our musical mailman, introduced me to this magical music and this incredible recording recently and it has rarely left my player.

Most interesting and most important in the canon of Ligeti's work are the Etudes For Piano written in 3 books from 1985 to 2001. These marvelous and yes, even entertaining works, explore diverse sound worlds such as Indonesian gamelan, Debussy (Book 1 “Arc-en-ciel” for example), Steve Reich, Bartók, even modern jazz. The opening work of Book 1 of the Etudes “Desordre, Molto Vivace, vigoroso, molto ritmico,” to me evokes the insane player piano pieces of Conlon Nancarrow. Book 3’s “White on White” is a breathtaking portrait of simple lyrical beauty, even in the wild, ecstatic cadenza. Chopinesque? Maybe so, though I tend to hear more Bachian symmetry and linear development in the late 3rd Book.

If “Atmosphères” was pure sound, dispensing with rhythm and melody, Ligeti’s Piano works are a celebration of rhythm and melody and of the power of the piano to communicate. It takes a pianist with an ear for nuance to capture the many polyrhythms and cross rhythms plus a formidable technique to make sense of the storm of notes and phrases in some of the faster works. A sensibility for melody and long lines is needed for the more subtle works such as the aforementioned "White on White" Etude or the "Rubato: Lamentoso" of the "Musica Ricercata" of the 1950's.

Formidable, challenging, engaging… the Ligeti piano music admirably demonstrates that elements of avant-garde technique, minimalism, world music, jazz and beautiful lyricism not only can work together, but actually make incredible and listenable music.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Here Comes "da Funk"

Kansas City has a new Mayor, Mark Funkhouser. In his inauguration yesterday, he pledged to make some changes in the way the city functions. No nonsense, no hype, just action, more hands on, more oversight. He even said he plans on not being "beloved", some hard decisions must be made.

Kansas City is going in the right direction. After years of neglect and all talk and no action, the previous Mayor Kay Barnes got some long delayed projects off and running. Downtown is alive with activity, construction, cranes, repaved streets, old crumbling buildings revived and thriving, the long delayed Power and Light District is actually being built, a shiny new arena is nearing completion. North of 20th Street, everything is hot!

But Funkhouser realized that a lot of that was accomplished by tax deferments that have reduced services in the rest of the city. Lousy streets, ineffective and arrogant police, poor sewers, trash, non existent snow removal was the norm below 20th. In his inaugural speech, he pledged to extend the downtown renewal to the rest of the city.

So far I believe him. I think the city did the right thing in electing him. He will not be the popular, glad hander that Kay Barnes was. She was a visionary and motivator, Funkhouser is hands on. His opponent in the election was a great person as well, but we did not need a talker, we need a doer and that we got.

And he pledged to get rid of the incredibly stupid metal plates that the street department have inexplicably used to cover holes. I have never seen them anywhere else in the country. Many a tire has been ruined by those blasted things.

Go for it Funk. We are behind you. We, especially us here in the middle, want to see some results.