Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grover vs.Grover: Sandy, Norquist & Why we Blue States Are Saying 'See Ya!'

In the gloomy aftermath of Sandy and the toll it has taken on NY & NJ, it is frustrating to think of the followers of Grover Glenn Norquist who want to severely shrink the ability of our government to provide services like those at work right now from FEMA and state and local first responders.  These services are essential for providing food and medical care to Sandy victims.  Private help is useful but cannot fill the void if governmental support were materially diminished.  For those not quite familiar with Mr. Norquist, he's had an incredible impact on American politics and government.  
Grover Glenn Norquist is an American lobbyist, conservative activist, and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.  He began his political career volunteering for Nixon (remember how much we liked Nixon?) in 1968 and was among the co-authors (working closely with Newt Gingrich) of the 1994 Contract with America (we Democrats called it the "Contract on America").  Norquist also has close ties with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff who did so nicely with native Americans and casinos.  While Norquist was mentioned in Abramoff's memoirs and  in Senate testimony pertaining to the 3 felony criminal counts to which Abramoff plead guilty, Norquist has not been found to have done anything wrong (to my knowledge).  Norquist is also active in the Tea Party and, most famously, according to wikipedia, Norquist "is known as the promoter of the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge", which was signed by 95% of all Republican Congressmen and all but one of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, to oppose increases in marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses, as well as net reductions or eliminations of deductions and credits without a matching reduced tax rate."  

So what's my reaction to the capture of our political system by the Red States and the political ideology championed by Norquist (can we really have 95% of one party's officials have signed that pledge...written by a Tea Party loyalist)? Well, in the words Paddy Chayefsky (screen writing genius) wrote in Sidney Lumet's brilliant film, Network: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" So with this, I've plagiarized (it's okay as long as I admit that, right?) an attempt at secession ...and while I didn't write the below, I kind of wish I had...because when it comes right down it to it, I'd rather fund the cute furry Grover from Sesame Street than the other Grover who wants to zero fund PBS (yes, that's right it is Grover vs. Grover (and Big Bird...nobody ever should have messed with that bird!)).

Subject: Enough already!
Dear Red States:

We're ticked off at your Neanderthal attitudes and politics and we've decided we're leaving: "Legitimate rape" and the opposition to Marital Equality were reason enough!

We in New York and New Jersey intend to form our own country and we're taking the other Blue States with us.

In case you aren't aware that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and the rest of the Northeast.

We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation and especially to the
people of the new country of The Enlightened States of America (E.S.A).

To sum up briefly:

You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.
We get stem cell research and the best beaches.
We get Andrew Cuomo and my law school professor Elizabeth Warren. You get Bobby Jindal, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
We get the Statue of Liberty. You get OpryLand.

We get Intel, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. You get WorldCom and Enron.

We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue. You get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian Coalition's we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms (hey, we like single moms...heck, we have a binder just full of 'em).

Please be aware that the E.S.A. will be pro choice and will provide full rights for the LGBT community.  You get the ability to carry concealed automatic weapons, like those so effectively deployed in high school and movie theater shootings throughout our nation.

We wish you success in Afghanistan, and possibly Iran as well, but we're not willing to spend our resources in these sorts of pursuits.

With the Blue States in hand we will have firm control of 80% of the
country's fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of
the nation's fresh fruit, 95% of America's quality wines (we trust that you will enjoy serving French wines at state dinners) 90% of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the US low sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT. 

With the Red States you will have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans and their projected health care costs, 92% of all US mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, virtually 100% of all televangelists and Rush Limbaugh (see above for the disastrous strong winds).

We get Hollywood, Napa Valley and Yosemite, thank you.

We get Bruce Springsteen you get Lynyrd Skynyrd (FYI -- Lynyrd Skynyrd changed their mind and want to fly the Confederate Flag at concerts again).

38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a 
whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penaltyor gun laws, 44% say that evolution is only a theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61% of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals than we lefties.

We're taking the good weed too. You can have that crap they grow in Mexico. 

Citizens of the Enlightened States of America
people of the new country of The Enlightened States of America (E.S.A).

Sent from my iPad (and typed while on an espresso-induced buzz)
P.S. Looks like we get all the good pizza too!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Sure As Heck Didn't Build It! (With some thanks to Helen & Al Kauffman, Jeannie, my folks and the US government)

Warning: This post isn't well researched (frankly, it isn't researched at all) and it isn't particularly well thought out.  Judging from much of the political discourse I've seen recently, that hardly matters.   In contrast to much of what I've seen, on both sides of the aisle, the author (me, in this case) genuinely believes what he is saying to be factually accurate.

I recently listened to a really compelling installment of NPR's wonderful show, This American Life (March 2, 2012).  In that podcast, they focused on some changes in Trenton and Newark, NJ as well as in the Midwest as a result of decreased government spending.  That got me thinking.

Shortly after that, my mom stayed at our home and discussed with my adolescent kids the sacrifices she and my dad made when it was time for me to go to college and earlier in my life.  I greatly appreciate the huge stretching my family did to provide those opportunities.  That's when it crystallized and I decided to write this down.

It is very clear to me that whatever I have today in terms of education and professional achievements, I wouldn't have accessed without the help of a seemingly innumerable set of government programs, luck and the kindness of people who, at the time, were strangers.  I'm not saying that what I've achieved is so great or that financial stability is success.  That said, because I grew up in a multigenerational row home which my parents shared with my aunt and grandmother (the latter two shared a bedroom), owning my own home complete with white picket fence and rooms for my 2 healthy kids is something I had wanted for a very long time.  I am delighted and appreciative that my wife and I were able to get there, but we certainly didn't get there alone. Here's just a little background.

My parents both went to college for free at Brooklyn College and my father, who grew up dirt poor (my mom grew up poor, but he was poorer), received medical help periodically throughout his life from the Veterans Administration and their various services.  I'm not saying it was the best care, but it was there for him and he couldn't afford more, especially after his military service and before he completed college.  Neither of them viewed the free college tuition as a handout, both worked during the day and went to school at night, which is where they met.  My father-in-law, who also grew up poor, went to NYU on the GI Bill after fighting in WWII.  Incidentally, my wife and I met when we were 18, right after she spent a year studying in Germany on a scholarship funded by the United States State Department and the German Bundestag (a post-war program designed to increase understanding between our nations).

All 4 of my grandparents were born overseas so I'm pretty appreciative that our immigration policy at the time let them all in...especially because they arrived jobless.  Certainly, none of them did particularly well financially so they were probably a drain on the government in a number of ways, especially my mom's family (she is one of 6 kids).  My father grew up with English as his second language. He learned English for free, in school, thanks to compulsory (and free) elementary education.

I was fortunate enough to get into a magnet program at a public high school in Brooklyn.  It was several miles from home but because we didn't have much money, I received a subsidy to take a municipal bus (or two) to and from school in High School.  I doubt that I'd have gone to the college I attended had I not had my perspective materially altered by attending that magnet program (so thank you Midwood High School).

We couldn't afford college but a combination of government loans, scholarships and, of course, tuition and other payments from my parents, covered the bills.  A work study program enabled me to work for all 4 years of college, during school.  Sometimes I worked 35 hours a week and my jobs did include cleaning toilets in an office building in Philadelphia (I didn't last long at that one, but I received more compensation per hour for that than for working on campus).

When it was time for law school, I took out more government subsidized loans and the student loans I had previously obtained were deferred until I finished school.  The mountain of debt I had amassed did very much inform my decision to go straight to law school because the thought of repaying what I had borrowed on whatever job I expected to get with a degree in Sociology & Anthropology was a bit daunting.  So when my college friends asked if I wanted to join them on an exotic trip after graduation, I declined and worked instead.  Not complaining and not bragging, just noting that these things informed my decisions but they also showed me a world I wanted to enter where kids could take those kinds of trips.

My first summer of law school at U of Penn, I received a grant to work for a Public Interest Law Group where I had been working during the school year.  This was consistent with my work the prior summer when I had been a camp counselor at an overnight camp for persons with retardation and those who had been labeled mentally ill.  At the camp, we received and dined on government subsidized food and while I never thought to ask where our funding had come from, I'm confident that there were government funds involved...this was not a luxurious camp.  For my time at the public interest job, our work helping people with developmental disabilities was funded by a series of government grants and while I remember my bosses applying for grants, I certainly don't remember them having to cozy up to private donors; ever.

I have nothing against soliciting funds from private donors (though I like the idea of a public interest law project not having to worry about which corporate interests it angers).  Quite the opposite.  In fact that's soliciting private donors has been the cornerstone of the HAPI Foundation -- -- , the charity my wife and I founded with some friends (and which I have chaired for more than a decade).  Through the HAPI Foundation, we raised and gave grants of several million bucks to dozens of worthy organizations.  Fortunately, the government enabled our friends to get a deduction for those donations and many of the wonderful organizations we've supported were government-run or government-funded groups (though certainly not all of them were).  One of those that is government funded, YCS, has become very special to our family because not only has the HAPI Foundation consistently funded YCS, but the interactions my kids have had with the people at YCS and the children served by YCS has greatly influenced my kids.

The point is that the public sector and the private sector must BOTH be involved in helping.  For instance, my older sister was born with severe disabilities (which is part of why helping special populations has always been important to me) and her life was saved by experimental surgery in the Philadelphia suburbs just over 100 miles from where we lived in Brooklyn.  My parents needed to be at her bedside when she was undergoing treatment (surgery, various procedures and post-surgical check ups) there and the good people who were geographically proximate to the hospital had volunteered to let families of kids like my sister stay at their homes when the families couldn't afford hotels.  We couldn't afford hotels and we stayed with volunteers.  In fact, we stayed so frequently, that it wasn't until I was older that I learned that Aunt Helen and Uncle Al Kauffman weren't related to us but were merely volunteers who took a young family with a very sick kid into their homes, repeatedly.  I have never forgotten that kindness nor have I forgotten that they always made us feel like welcome guests.  My eyes well up right now thinking about it.  I loved the muti-colored digital clock they had in the room I slept.  I still have vivid memories of being there as a pre-kindergartener.  Some of the grants I have pushed for and made through the HAPI Foundation are, in fact, directly as a result of that kindness and my desire to pay it back.  Being wiped out by a flood themselves didn't stop Helen and Al from helping us as soon as their house was reassembled.  Thank goodness for government emergency help for flood victims and others.  Again, I'm not saying FEMA and related services are perfect, but I'd hate to eliminate those services.

We also have a family member named Jeannie who further embodies that spirit in the private sector.  When Jeannie was a teenager she responded to an ad my parents placed looking for volunteers to help with my sister's physical therapy.  Jeannie's family also didn't have a ton of money but she wanted some experience because she planned to go to medical school.  She worked tirelessly with my family for years, while in school and even while getting a medical degree from Columbia University.  Now, more than 45 years later, she's a professor at Georgetown Medical School and is an amazing person who works tirelessly for a number of really important causes, including her professional focus on cancers affecting older women.  We're still close and I've never really been able to explain to people how she's part of our family, but she is very much a part of our family and always will be.  In fact, when I started teaching at Columbia University's Business School I was particularly pleased because it had been her alma mater.  I can't even express how much I look up to Jeannie.

My point is simply that we need both -- government programs and people like Helen, Al and, of course, Jeannie, who just step up and do the right thing over and over again.  I sure wish some of our politicians would take a look at Jeannie's life and the impact she's had on our family.  She's just down the block over at Georgetown...and she frequently seeks government grants for her research and work.  Thank goodness the government funding is there for her and for all of us.  Incidentally, I didn't tell her I was writing this and she had no idea I'd be talking about her.

So thanks for not cutting all the funding and shrinking away all the government just yet.

Pass it on.
PS This week we adopted a kitten from a shelter.  He was the runt of the litter and kind of stupid looking, in an adorable way.  His care and the rescue of other similarly situated kittens are thanks to the county (and the donations that families like ours have made when we adopt those kitties).  His care is, of course, given by human beings but we sure did notice that the woman who had been in charge of him was wearing a shirt that said Morris County Animal Control when we picked up this adorable little guy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pause Points for Diligence in Venture Deals

Last night Mark Suster wrote a thoughtful post on How Much Information Should You Give VCs During Diligence and, jet-lagged, I read it this morning and posted a comment.  As I thought more about it and realized I was about to commence both a new semester teaching Venture Capital and Angel Investing to MBA Candidates at Columbia University's Business School (my 7th year teaching this with my partner Dave Haber at Lowenstein Sandler) and a new vintage of, with its  15 or so teams of founders, it might make sense to spell out my thoughts on the topic here.

Here then are my Pause Points For Diligence in VC Deals -- points in time at which the founders need to consider whether, how and to whom to disclose.  I think Mark did a fine job of talking about what to disclose during the initial getting to know phase, though I think it is fine to talk to more VCs and to simply get to know them and update them on your business. I'd set expectations about that being the purpose of a meeting before you arrive at the meeting, but building your network of investor relationships early is a very solid strategy.  It also happens to be very rewarding...many venture investors are really charismatic and insightful people -- they have to be, they're in the business of convincing really smart and creative people that the same amount of money from one investor is more valuable than that amount coming from another investor!

I give three pause points in the body of the article covering the time period after things have heated up with investors and before the closing but give 8 pause points at the end of the article from the start of the process (before you meet) to the closing.

Quick note: this isn't legal advice (and it isn't illegal advice) so don't sue me for it!

Years ago I had a friend and client who, sadly, perished in the twin towers on 9/11.  She taught me a number of things which still influence how I lawyer today.  One of them was "Bad news isn't wine, it does not improve with age."  That one applies here quite nicely.  Once you've passed the initial getting to know phase, there's a huge pause point (1) when your sponsor or deal champion at the fund is socializing the deal with her colleagues before the partner meeting. One good test for founders is to try to put yourself in the shoes of your sponsor at the fund and ask whether she is going to need to go back to her colleagues and say "hey, I either didn't do my homework or the founder didn't have great judgment about what and when to make disclosure but here's something we need to consider before we invest..." Investors will feel embarrassed and burned if they receive material bad news after they've greenlighted a deal. As an angel who has championed deals and brought others into a syndicate (as recently as this month), I certainly am sensitive to having egg on my face because it looks like I wasn't thorough or the founder didn't trust me enough to share potentially off-putting news. Sure, as angels we can ask the really hard questions, but we worry about giving off a bad vibe and/or impacting our own reputations ("Zimmerman, he's the creep who asks everyone if they've previously declared bankruptcy..." No thanks!). My view, as an angel, is that the founder should be forthcoming about negative info rather than waiting for me to ferret it out. How would you feel as a founder if, as an angel about to make a small investment and bring in a bunch of my friends, I asked you whether you had declared bankruptcy or been convicted of a crime? I think that burden should fall on the person with that in his or her past. Of course that is something the lawyers will need to tackle in legal diligence, which comes after there's a signed a term sheet but I'd argue that is way too late to first be learning about those two types of disclosure.
There's another pause point (2) before you sign the term sheet and again (3) before the company sends the investors the first draft of the disclosure schedules. The disclosure schedules get attached to the purchase agreement and modify the representations and warranties in the purchase agreement. For instance, "there's no litigation except the matters listed on schedule 3.7." If there's anything embarrassing (criminal, bankruptcy, resume inaccuracies) those usually get disclosed before the schedules go out either in a call or face to face - you don't really want your investor to read about the fact that you went bankrupt, tell her in real time (preferably shortly before she brings it to the partnership for issuing the term sheet, but that may be an over generalization of complex facts). The diligence process is an important prelude to setting the tone for a relationship in which bad news will inevitably get shared (even at great companies), usually in both directions (investors do, sometimes, have disappointing news to deliver to their management teams). Set the tone for honesty and openness early in the relationship. This also holds true for personal things (a dissolving marriage could, for instance, impact your whereabouts during the day and your focus at work; it could also impact stock ownership, and it has).  There are plenty of things that may not have any legal impact but that your investor should probably know about before funding because it might just feel awkward if they learned about it later.  Again, this is relationship/trust building as much as it is legal considerations. For instance, I'd expect a severe illness in the family to have an impact and it is something that a founder might consider disclosing at some point before the closing even though it may not be relevant disclosure from a legal perspective. Of course if you, as a C level executive, have had 3 prior heart attacks and are about to take the helm of a company into which investors investors have poured millions and you falsify your pre-employment questionnaire (by omitting to reference your heart attack), do expect that to bite you in the ass...and hard! (I mention this one because in putting miles on my odometer, I've had this actually happen...he had a heart attack during the first week in the new role!).
It is important to know that you will be held to the standard of having needed to disclose anything a reasonably prudent investor should have known before she made the investment decision. This standard requires foresight and judgment, the kind of judgment that only comes from having considered these decisions and then lived with the results...for years and years. If you're uncertain but think that disclosure might be necessary, run it by someone who has put a ton of miles on the odometer in these types of deals, there's no substitute for experience in terms of whether, how and when to make the disclosure.
As Mark's post indicates, people don't forget it when you've breached propriety in diligence, whether it was contacting people when you were asked not to do so or whether you shaded something the wrong way or exercised poor judgment about what and when to disclose. As a lawyer representing numerous venture funds, I've certainly spent time with clients noodling through whether I thought the founder who had messed up the timing, tone or decision to disclose was simply inexperienced and getting bad guidance or was not forthcoming. The first of those two categories can be a problem and requires fixing and the second can be worse. I've also spent way more time counseling founders on whether, how and when to disclose. It is important to note that lawyers shouldn't just have a knee-jerk reaction saying "disclose everything." I'm not suggesting that you hide pending lawsuits or felony convictions, but I'm not sure, for instance, that it is a good use of time and paper to disclose speeding tickets...that you paid.  On the other hand, having been fired for cause may end up in that middle category where the reasons and timing may well be important.  I mention that because I have been fired for cause...more than once (though not since law school).
While the odds of a bad outcome (the thing to be disclosed may never come to fruition) may be low, the odds of the investor finding out either not from the founder or after the closing can turn an honest mistake into a failure to properly respect a relationship. These can be pretty subtle judgment calls more susceptible to being talked through than to a 5 Simple Rules approach.

So now that I've said I can't give you 5 simple rules, I can give you a handful of pause points when you need to strongly consider whether to make additional disclosures -- and it is a bad idea to be forgetful when trying to figure out if there is something important to consider, which is why overly inclusive diligence lists that ask whether you've been arrested or gone bankrupt are important and helpful:

1. When introducing your business by email, especially through a middle person (friend of a friend) or cold

2. At first meeting -- if you aren't shopping/pitching, manage expectations about that and figure out in advance what you want disclosed

3. Before investors do a deep dive to figure out whether this is something they might want to fund

4. When your internal champion/sponsor at a fund or in an angel group is about to socialize your business with her colleagues/friends before greenlighting a term sheet or investment

5. Before signing that term sheet

6. Before sending the first raft of diligence materials -- call or do a face to face if there's anything icky or sticky to disclose

7.  Before sending the first draft of the disclosure schedules -- I hate seeing something that the founders knew about and just didn't want to disclose when I get a blacklined second or third draft of the schedules.  The junior lawyers and junior people at the fund will always read the blacklines and the senior folks often do as well.  Adding something negative that just arose is okay (of course, it may be so negative that it impacts the deal, but at least you won't look like a liar...unless it is a perjury conviction in which case, there's not much I can do to help you!), but a late addition of something material that was clearly known about previously is worth noting and not in a good way.  I'd want to understand why it had not been disclosed sooner so be ready to explain.

8. Before closing.  This is why lawyers for the company often do a "knowledge group call" with the management team members in the so-called "Knowledge Group" to go through the reps and warranties.  These calls aren't always done and in a cost-cutting/cost-conscious environment, people in seed and venture deals often omit them.  I'm a fan of doing them, especially in M&A and larger venture deals.

Hope that helps.  Please share your experiences and pose your questions!  Thanks.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ain't Nobody's Business...Not Exactly Bessie!

While some credit the song to Billie Holiday, "Ain't Nobody's Business" was apparently written by Bessie Smith's accompanist, pianist, Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins.  I've loved this classic blues song from the 20s for many years. I've listened to the lyrics repeatedly, as I have with many Bessie Smith songs.  So why is it that today, while I was washing dishes (using barkeeper's friend on stainless pots actually...which I really hate doing), that I heard something I'd overlooked on all prior listens? Here's what Bessie sings on Queen of the Blues Volume 1 (as transcribed by me so probably inaccurately transcribed):

There ain't nothing I can do
Or nothing I can say
That's folks don't criticize me

But I'm going to do just as I want to anyway
And don't care if they all despise me
If I should take a notion to jump in to the ocean t'ain't nobody's business if I

If I go to church on Sunday
Then just shimmy down on Monday
t'ain't nobody's business if I do, if I do

If my friend ain't got no money and I say take all mine honey
t'ain't nobody's business if I do, if I do

If I give him my last nickel and he leaves me in a pickle
t'ain't nobody's business if I do, if I do

If I'd rather my man would hit me than to jump right up and quit me
t'ain't nobody's business if I do, if I do

I swear I won't call no copper if I'm beat up by my papa
t'ain't nobody's business if I do, if I do

[Incidentally, she seems to be saying "in" and then "to" the ocean, rather than "into" and I'm not sure I'm right about "despise" but I couldn't figure out what else it could be -- "defile"?]

This song has been recorded and performed by so many great artists (some versions predate Bessie's) and, in various instances, the lyrics changed.  In some instance, the lyric alterations resulted in omitting references to domestic violence.

One of the things I've always loved about Bessie is the personality that shines through in her vocals; a personality which paints her as a force to be reckoned with.  For instance, on Gimme a Pigfoot (which I love), she ends up somewhere between a growl and a roar.  On first hearing, it wouldn't be wrong to actually jump when she roars about the paino player bringing her down.  Vulnerable on many of her songs, sure, but welcoming abuse (in a song written by men from a woman's perspective)?

Maybe I've been thinking more about this since hearing Terry Gross' fabulous interview with Carole King and spending a bunch of time with my family listening to Tapestry (which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't own until this year) and Carole King's Legendary Demos disc (which may be better than Tapestry and is certainly more impressive a display of raw talent).  In the interview, Terry asks her about one of the seemingly innumerable hits she wrote for other artists, "He Hit Me & It Felt Like a Kiss," which she penned with her former husband, Gerry Goffin (he was the lyricist and she wrote the music).  Here are the remarkably troubling lyrics, but before I share them, what is so noteworthy is that in King's autobiography (which I've not read) she revealed that she was in a physically abusive relationship (years after writing that song and the songs comprising Tapestry and not with Goffin).  During the Terry Gross interview on Fresh Air, she said that she really regrets having had a part in writing that song, especially as a woman who later was herself physically abused.  Note the wikipedia entry for this song provides: "Goffin and King wrote the song after discovering that singer Little Eva was being regularly beaten by her boyfriend.[1] When they inquired why she tolerated such treatment, Eva replied, with complete sincerity, that her boyfriend's actions were motivated by his love for her.[1]"

"He hit me And it felt like a kiss. He hit me But it didn't hurt me. He couldn't stand to hear me say That I'd been with someone new, And when I told him I had been untrue He hit me And it felt like a kiss. He hit me And I knew he loved me. If he didn't care for me I could have never made him mad But he hit me, And I was glad. (instrumental break) Yes, he hit me And it felt like a kiss. He hit me And I knew I loved him. And then he took me in his arms With all the tenderness there is, And when he kissed me, He made me his."

I've been sharing Bessie, Carole, Etta James and others with my daughter (13) and son (11).  My kids also love Amy Winehouse who had commented that this was one of her favorite songs of all time and was a major influence (Winehouse's own musings about abuse are noteworthy and troubling).

I'm hoping that I'm right when I say that more social opprobrium would attach to work like this today than it did when these were penned in the 20s and 60s, respectively, though He Hit Me did not receive a warm welcome by any stretch.  I believe there's some real merit in discussing with the kids that King herself suffered through a physically abusive relationship while she was successful, affluent, incredibly talented and, in fact, really famous.  She suffered in silence as many do.  The fact of the matter is, however, Bessie got it wrong -- it is somebody's business and I hope that if my kids had a friend who was suffering abuse they'd find a way to help.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Dining in Paris...Lots of Luck!

Want to eat in Paris in August or late July? Try again mon ami...the city is closed.  Okay, overstatement? Maybe.  Here's an online list of which handful of restaurants are open when:

We had a lovely dinner at Relais de Comptoir on August 14...the day before the day on which everyplace in France is closed. No reservations and a pretty long wait on a line outside the restaurant (I had to bribe/appease the kids with a crepe from the Avant le Comptoir store next door).

Enjoy and best wishes for gustatory happiness in a country that so thoroughly expects its citizens to take August off that the highways feature electronic messages, in French, wishing drivers a happy vacation!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

DNR List (don't tweet this post...not that anyone would have)

I am always reluctant to publicly take a negative view on a restaurant, winery, hotel etc.  I was a busboy at a restaurant and worked behind the counter of a sandwich shop and a bagel place...I know that there are two sides to the story.  I also have a terrible memory and want to have a way of finding my mental list of places that I'd rather not revisit because life is short and I just believe that my odds of having a great experience will be better elsewhere.  There are exceptions to that rule -- Chez L'Ami Louis in Paris, for instance -- where they just simply deserve to be publicly berated.  Of course, it is easiest when someone else calls them out (was it Vogue magazine that made my day by recognizing Chez L'Ami Louis as the world's worst restaurant?  Of course, that was several years after the restaurant had crapped all over me (and my family), but vindication was sweet.

Here then is my list of places that have either been affirmatively awful (hopefully there will be very few of these) and those that have simply failed to be memorable and, accordingly, I will need to write them down so that I may sidestep in the future.  The list is by location, rather than in order

Chez L'Ami Louis

Lorena (Maplewood)
Khun Thai (Millburn) -- changed owners, changed recipes, killed my taste buds...sorry.  Not offensive people by any stretch, just bad cooking (May 2012)

Le Verre Vole (10th arrond.) -- amusingly inattentive service, food was pretty good, but not fantastic; kind of a "can't do" attitude (August 2012)
Restaurant Raja Preuk (thai food) (6th Arrond.)  -- food wasn't that bad, though it was crawling with was pretty empty.  People were nice and reviews had been decent.  (August 2011)

Il Boscareto -- staff at the restaurant La Rei and at the hotel were perfectly nice, they just didn't really know how to do the stuff that needed to be done.  The hotel itself is out of place in Piedmont.  They also advertised air conditioning (which is pretty important in the middle of the summer in Piedmont) and while they have a/c, it doesn't actually cool the place so you can't actually be in your room during the day (a quick search on the internet revealed that other travelers had encountered this problem).  The restaurant service was a bit comical and the food was nowhere near the quality of much humbler and less pricey places in the area.  Again, the staff was very nice so I feel a little guilty...but so should they. (July 2012)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

1/2Baked Paris Summer 2012: "Waiting on a Miracle"

My current wish list of food I want to eat in Paris in Summer 2012 while await the unattainable Yam T'Cha reservation (hence the reference to the Springsteen song title above, though I'm pretty sure the Boss wasn't thinking that scoring a Parisian hot reservation was so miraculous):
In the 7th:
LA TABLE D’AKI, 49 rue Vaneau, Paris 7. Tel: +33 1 45 44 43 48. Métro: Vaneau. Open: Tuesday-Saturday. Closed  Sunday & Monday. Lunch & Dinner: A la carte 38-50€
--Here's what Patricia Wells had to say (and we love her):

"Akihiro Horikoshi brings new meaning to the phrase "one man show." His new, 16-seat restaurant has a single employee: Aki. He shops, he creates the menu, he cooks, he takes orders, he serves, he cleans up. And this is the way the Tokyo native wants it. He has been on his own at La Table d’Aki since January 10, having worked under the tutelage of Bernard Pacaud at the Michelin three-star L’Ambroisie since 1991. The spotless, tiny restaurant is bathed in light and white from head to toe, with a few flashes of red from the lamp cables that bring the room together in a quiet, festive way. His food, too – pure, simple, and sensational in an understated way  – is white. A giant. alabaster ravioli filled with sweet, fresh langoustines dotted with herbs arrives with a thin but potent meat sauce that makes the dish look like dessert (photo). A delicate, moist fricassée of chicken with carefully turned potatoes and baby onions tastes as though it was dropped from on high by the angels. The delicate lieu-jaune (Atlantic cod) is offset with the punch of a brunoise of celery root, all those precision-cut cubes, and a nice hit of capers. Dessert, all white again, arrives as silken crème brûlée, paired with an apple baked with a touch of cake inside, a pleasant surprise on the palate. At night, Aki cooks only fish. On the menu now, the freshest scallops from Brittany. The food has the Aki signature, as well as the echo of Pacauad’s sublime perfection. La Table d’Aki is a nice little new star in Paris’s ever-glistening sky."
Also, check out Paris by Mouth:

COUTUME CAFE: I'm looking for Coffee (really good coffee!) and light bites (salad to justify all that carb-loading I do in Paris) at the hot new place described here:
Address 47 rue de Babylone; 75007 Paris
by rue Vaneau
Neighbourhood 7th Arrondissement | See on map
Metro Saint-François-Xavier [M13], Vaneau [M10]
Telephone +33 1 45 51 50 47
Price EUR 10-15
Hours Tues-Fri 08-19. Sat-Sun 10-19

RESTAURANT LE CHARDENOUX DES PRES: This bistro in the 6th was dubbed among Gayot's top 10 new restaurants in Paris for 2012 and is open 7 days a week (and that means Sundays too).  It garners 14/20 from Gayot, which is pretty great praise, actually: and here's the Gayot link to the restaurant:

SATURNE: A moderately priced new find in the 2nd where a Passard alum (our beloved veggie 7th heaven, Arpege) and a good sommelier, have teamed up to garner 14/20 and make Gayot's top 10 new restos of 2012.  Front room is a no reservation bistro. Back room is more upscale and takes res.  Here's the Gayot review:  And this review makes it sound like the perfect place for a pretentious foodie like me:

GUY SAVOY: It's time...for years, I have toyed with the idea and kept wondering whether the hype had outlived the quality but seeing the 3 star rating again from Michelin and the top ranking in Gayot this year (18/20) means that the time has come to take the plunge: and here's the link to the restaurant itself: and here's what Michelin has to say:

CHEN SOLEIL d'EST: I admit that I am on the fence on this one...with 16/20 from Gayot and a nod for best Chinese in Paris, I am intrigued (especially since they said that it has a wine list that matches well...)

What about Spring? Check out the GQ coverage:

And there's more for me to explore: like some of those in this article:

Frenchie looks yummy and fairly priced:
These two women are causing a bit of a stir in the 18th:

We have friends in the 9th and there's a wine store nearby that i quite like, so...

Is she the real deal? Not sure, but this Argentine chef has been feeding Paris' star chefs of late: Le Baratin, 3 rue Jouye-Rouve (20th); +33-1-43-49-39-70.  What I save on food, I will spend on the cab -- because this is in the 20th, no really, the 20th: 0
Nearest transport: Pyrenées or Belleville (11)
Hours: Closed Sunday and Monday
Reservations: Book a few days in advance
This is also touted in and here: (which mentions Edith Piaf's birthplace, right nearby)

1/2Baked Scotland

In furtherance of my goal of publishing half-baked notes aggregating the research I've done and guidance I've received on a given location so that, over time, I can get feedback and incorporate my own experiences to refine these notes, Here's what's cooking in Scotland.  We plan to visit in mid/late August for family vacation.  Any tips are greatly appreciated!

--Rhubarb, the Restaurant at Prestonfield -- this is supposed to have great food and won the AA award for best wine list in Scotland 2011(2012 edition).  see below for sibling restaurant, the Witchery by the Castle
--The Kitchin (Tom Kitchin) -- okay, I'm confused already -- who is better Kitchin or Kitching, both seem to be super hot chefs in Edinburgh(****)
--Restaurant Martin Wishart -- is this Scotland's finest restaurant? That's a claim I've heard and they have a hefty wine list too (****)
--21212/Paul Kitching -- this is the hot address in Edinburgh right now.  Can't wait to try it (and the wine list too)
--Witchery by the Castle - is this the better of the duo at Prestonfields?
--Balmoral -- this has the reputation of being Edinburgh's most prestigious hotel...the restaurant sounds intriguing, though is it stuffy? (Hadrian's is the less formal sibling)
--Hadrian's -- this modern scottish sibling to the high end Balmoral's primary restaurant is also noteworthy.  Is it heavy? May well be lower key though
--Norton House -- just outside Edinburgh and, apparently, amazing word on the wine list
--Cafe Royal -- winner of the 2011 Pub of the Year for Scotland
--Castle Terrace Restaurant (a *** run by a friend of Tom Kitchin's)
--Plumed Horse (another *** for which we won't have time, sadly)

--Blytheswood Square -- hotel of the year for Scotland 2012
Where else should we dine in Glasgow?  Kind of wish we had access to Edinburgh's hot resto scene from here, no?

--Culloden House in Inverness -- creative local cuisine ** in a great hotel, local produce and no jackets required! Book it Danno!
--Boath House in Nairn -- **** with local produce and their own organic produce and honey from hives and gardens on the property (not that I plan to eat honey...okay, a little I do plan to eat, but it portends great things, no?).  More than 125 bottles and I can handle the "No T shirts" dress code!
--Glenmoriston Town House Hotel in Inverness -- *** of refined European cuisine
--Inverlochy Castle in Fort Williams -- this looks pretty kicking with *** for food, more for lodging and a wine list too.  I might have to suck up the jacket+tie requirement and head over there for chow (why is Scotland currently in love with lemon grass?)
-Loch Ness Lodge -- serving large portions of filet of Nessy, I presume? (Maybe not) **
--The Cross at Kingussie in, where else, Kingussie! Female chef ***, 200+ bottles, serves only 20 people...sounds very worth checking out!  How far is this puppy from Inverness?
--The Torridon in, you guessed it, Torridon (and don't confuse it with the Torridon Inn in...Torridon).  Might be too far if staying Inverness. I do respect the "No jeans; no trainers" dress code and the *** rating.

--Kinloch Lodge -- *** & 200+bottles run by cookbook author Lady Claire MacDonald and her husband with an emphasis on local/seasonal and a kick-butt hotel too.  This baby also has a star from Michelin!  This is, in fact, the only Mich Star on the Isle.
--The Three Chimneys & the House Over-By ...herbs & veggies from their own gardens and more than 180 bottles on the list at this Colbost-based ***  Here's what the NYTIMES wrote in 2008 about this place:

"The Three Chimneys is the French Laundry of Scotland, luring food-loving pilgrims from near and far, a destination in its own right. And it was precisely the restaurant I was hoping for, one that can't be replicated outside Scotland."

--Toravaig House Hotel doesn't have a huge wine list but does do modern, local/seasonal food worthy of ** and might be worth a visit.
--Duisdale House may well have the same notes as Toravaig House Hotel...wonder if anyone could settle that coin toss?
--Ullinish Country Lodge is another *** doing modern French in a farmhouse which once housed Samuel Johnson and Boswell.  Not sure the menu sounds like it directly hits my sweetspot, but I'm open minded if time permits.  65 bottle list gets high marks, though it does make me wonder whether that's an ample enough list for my snooty tastes! (Self knowledge can be cruel but admitting I have a problem is, well, pretty easy for me).
--Hotel Eileen Iarmain is on the water, gets ** for traditional Scottish food and has a small wine list.

Moray - Perth & Kinrich
Not sure we will visit this area, but if we do, sounds like we should hit:
--Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles **** cooking from a local who trained under Michel Guerard and boasts 300+bottles.  Apparently this dude picked up the deuce from Michelin too!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

1/2Baked Stuff Others Told Me To Do In...(Piedmont)

Years ago I spoke to a very bright, articulate and well traveled guy who worked at a wine shop in California.  When it came time for my magical second trip to Paris, I asked him for some recommendations and he obliged with a wonderful list.  I followed it, longed to have the sophistication and familiarity with Paris that his list evidenced and felt deeply in his debt (I never repaid that debt, sadly).  Since then, I've obsessively made my own lists and asked many others for their recommendations and lists.  I started blogging, in part, to remember my own darn likes and, perhaps more importantly, dislikes (because I'll be damned if I ever let any friend of mine eat at the treacherous and malevolent Chez L'Ami Louis in Paris...okay, I won't forget that place because my reaction to how they treated us is so deeply burned into my brain, but I might forget the allegedly wonderful Thai place in the 6th arrondissement in Paris where roaches literally crawled out of our Phad Thai like passengers deboarding the Love Boat after a satisfying cruise).

In light of all this, my goal is to create some MVP (minimum viable product) blogposts that enable me to aggregate recommendations for a given spot, not refine or comment on the data, collect other reactions and data and then refine and edit over time. A "catch and release" for data on some great spots.  I hope people will comment on these 1/2Baked works in progress and enable me to refine, preferably before a trip and certainly after!

So here is what a smattering of wine geeks (mostly professional winemakers and some retailers and importers) have told me about Piedmont -- IN UNEDITED FORM -- SO I AM PARTICULARLY EAGER TO GET YOUR FEEDBACK AND SPECIFIC COMMENTS IF YOU'VE VISITED PLACES:

From my friend Dan, a great wine maker and Italy-lover:
A restaurant (and albergo/hotel) to consider in Monforte d'Alba - la Felicin.  I stayed there and ate there many years ago (2006).
Also, download the iPhone app - enogea. It is a great appellation breakdown of Piedmonte. The maps are by Alessandro Masnaghetti. The maps are distributed by Rare Wine Co.

From a fellow music lover who had just returned from Piedmont:
my best two meals in alba and surrounding region (from the 6 I had) were at

1. Piazza Duomo in downtown Alba (best to reserve esp. in high season - two star michelin)

make sure to order what they call Essenza di Finanziera (the finanziera i was explained is a local dish made with whatever meat scraps and discarded organs, the components vary from home to home).  Theirs was made of duck tongues and rabbit kidneys but served in a liver sauce.  You eat it with a spoon like baby food (for the rich and spoiled bambini).
Had one of their large tasting menus, their advertised 5/6 courses turned into 10 or 11 courses (the first four of which were hand-eaten). I ordered the wines selections tailored to the meal (something I usually do not like, I much prefer concentrating on a single bottle), but they opened some absolutely delicious, lesser-known things, including two or 3 whites from the region that were revelations.  You will like the closer by the way (if you like grappa).

2.  Vecchio Tre Stelle, Tre Stelle, Barbaresco (actually between alba and Barbaresco proper)
I had a few delicious things at this  restaurant in Barbaresco.  A remarkable cheese tray, a splendid quail/mushroom/black truffle/green salad, etc.  I was the only client there that lunch (mid week, off season, etc.), never a great feeling, and yet the food had a most charming, honest, fresh quality.  Not too heavy, which in that region is not so easily found.

3.  Avoid ANTINE in Barbaresco.  Dreadful meal. Michelin gave it a star.

From my friend J (winemaker):
Schiavenza has a great restaurant as well, called Schiavenza.  Very traditional wines and very good- worth checking out.  You should stay in La Morra or Barolo.  Everything is 15 minutes away from the next village, so it is easy to get around.
Another great restaurant that is in Barbaresco is Trattoria Antica Torre.  Small restaurant that our friend L... really liked.

From an importer:

Lunch – I had a great lunch at Borgo Antico (fancy) last November, or Trattoria dell Arco (Simple, classic) in Cissone is near your hotel and still has some older gems on the list. There’s also a fun wine bar up the hill from Monforte’s square called Casa del Saracca. The mains are week, but charcuterie is excellent and the wine list is deep (if young).

From the friend of a friend (wine importer)
a Serralunga 
•    Trattoria Schiavenza 0173 613115 chiuso ma
•    Ristorante Antico Podere TOTA VIRGINIA 0173 613026 chiuso ma
•    Il Boscareto Resort & SPA – Ristorante “La Rei”  0173 613036 chiuso la DO
•    Ristorante Trattoria del Castello. - Frazione Baudana, 16 Tel. 0173.61.33.75 chiuso me
Nei dintorni 
Serravalle: Trattoria la Coccinella 0173 748220 Chiuso il martedì e mercoledì a pranzo
Cravanzana Ristorante da Maurizio 0173 855019  Chiuso il mercoledì e giovedì a pranzo
Monforte :Il Giardino di Felicin 0173 78225 chiuso lu
        La Salita via marconi 2/a tel 0173787196 chiuso lu
La Morra :Ristorante Bovio via Alba 17 bis-017359303 chiuso lu
                    Osteria More e Macine via XX settembre 9 –tel 0173500395 chiuso ma
Cherasco : Osteria la Torre 0172 488458 Chiuso il lunedì
                   Trattoria Vineria Pane e Vino Reg. Moglia 12 0172 48910048 Chiuso il lunedì
Monchiero Bancobar loc borgonuovo 105 0173792312 chiuso domenica
Roddino :Agriturismo Iride Loc. Chiabotto, 1 tel 0173 794122
Treiso: Profumo di vino viale rimembranza 1 tel 0173638017 chiuso ma
Alba : Rist dell’Arco P.zza Savona tel. 0173 
           Rist. La Libera Via Pertinace, 24/A tel 0173 293155 Chiuso la do e lu a pranzo
           Arco s.a.s. di Enrico Crippa p.zza Risorgimento 4  tel. 0173366167 chiuso lu
Treiso : La Ciau del Tornavento P.zza Baracco, 7 tel 0173 638333 Chiuso me e gi a pranzo
Barolo :  Locanda nel Borgo Antico, loc: Boschetti 4, 12050 
Bergolo :Ristorante Il Bunet tel. 0173 87013 chiuso il martedì
Castiglione Falletto : Ristorante Le Torri tel. 0173 62849 chiuso il ma ed il me a pranzo
Guarene Osteria La Madernassa Loc. Lora, 2 Castelrotto di tel. 0173 611716 Chiuso il lunedì
Cervere: L’Antica Corona Reale da Renzo Via Fossano, 13 tel. 0172 474132 Chiuso me e ma sera
Dronero: Rosso Rubino p.zza Marconi 2 12025 tel 0171905678 chiuso lu
Robilante: Ristorante il Leon d’Oro P.zza Oliveto, 10 tel. 0171.78679 
Saluzzo: L’Ostu dij Baloss Via S.Bernardino 19, tel.0175 248292 Chiuso il lunedì
Carrù: Osteria del Borgo Via Garibaldi, 19 tel. 0173 759184 Chiuso mercoledì e martedì sera
             Hd da Ivan strada bordino 4 frazione frave tel. 0173759089 chiuso martedì
Briaglia :Trattoria Marsupino via roma 20 cn 0174563888 chiuso ME E GIO a pranzo

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Uh Oh...Some Politics & Religion...Family Values & Homophobia: I Want My Kids to Know We Support Marital Equality

There's a fascinating letter that has made its way to millions of viewers via email and the internet.  Purportedly, it was authored by a Professor at (or formerly at) University of Virginia.  However, he has disclaimed authorship and has written a fascinating collection of the correspondence he's received in response to the letter he didn't write and some analysis.  Dr. Laura has also disclaimed the statement to which the open letter responds.  While the history of the missive is interesting, I'm not posting it here for that reason.  Nor am I posting it because Dr. Laura made the comment (I don't listen to her so I don't know), nor because Professor Kauffman wrote it (I have no idea who wrote it).  Let me also be clear that I have no interest in being disrespectful to religious beliefs or religion.  I am however really concerned and upset about the lack of tolerance toward homosexuality and marital equality (this week's events in North Carolina for instance, are very upsetting and disappointing and our President took way too long to come out in favor of marital equality just as Bill Clinton's don't ask don't tell was hugely disappointing and wishy/washy). I do think that the open letter is a witty response to the biblical argument that homosexuality is abhorrent.

I know numerous people who have religious faith and/or are observant, who don't have an issue regarding homosexuality.  For those who lack tolerance regarding homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to change your mind regardless.  It just doesn't seem to work that way.  I am, however, committed to speaking up on this issue.  There's too long a history of not taking a position because we don't want to offend people.  If you believe that homosexuality is abhorrent and my strong and clear objection to that belief offends you, I'm okay with that and I don't want to be silent about it -- it is important to voice the view that homosexuality is not abnormal nor is it abhorrent.  That's how I feel.  And if you don't want to do business with me because I support marital equality and rights for the LGBT community, I can live with that too.

In the April 27, 2012 NYTimes, there's a piece referencing newly published research that states:

"In recent years, Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader who preached that homosexuality was a sin, resigned after a scandal involving a former male prostitute; Larry Craig, a United States senator who opposed including sexual orientation in hate-crime legislation, was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom; and Glenn Murphy Jr., a leader of the Young Republican National Convention and an opponent of same-sex marriage, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after being accused of sexually assaulting another man.
One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled. Even Mr. Haggard seemed to endorse this idea when, apologizing after his scandal for his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”

It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we and our fellow researchers provide empirical evidence that homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire."

I didn't scrutinize the underlying research and it is worth noting that the NYT piece was written by one of the co-authors of the research (as opposed to an independently researched take on the study). What I do know (or maybe I should say 'what I do strongly believe') is that if you endorse "family values" then instead of wasting your time with anti-gay sentiment, teaching and lobbying or any kind of homophobia, why not go outside and have a catch with your kids or listen to some music with them or take a walk with them? Once I publish this post, that's precisely what I aim to do (after I remind them how strongly their parents feel about tolerance, of course).

Now let's have a few laughs at the very nicely crafted letter below (which I didn't write but kind of wish I had).
Quoting a letter widely distributed by email and on the web:

"Owning A Canadian

On her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger (America's most popular talk show host) - said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura and posted on the Internet.
It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.  When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1.       Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighbouring nations.

A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.
Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2.       I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. 

In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3.       I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual un-cleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24.

The problem is how do I tell?  I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4.       When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord - Lev.1:9.

The problem is my neighbours.  They claim the odour is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?

5.       I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.

Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6.       A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality.

I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7.       Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.

I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8.       Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27.

How should they die?

9.       I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10.     My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16.

Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia"

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Classics: My Dad, George Jellinek & Music for My Kids

Here's a photo of the late radio host/opera commentator George Jellinek from his obituary in the NYTimes.  I regret that I never sent him a thank you note for the decades of joy he gave my father and the wonderful childhood memories I have of both my father and the grammatically perfect and anecdotally rich radio shows of Jellinek.  Great teachers of passion and obsession for music.

It starts with my father.  He endlessly played opera on a monaural tape recorder or a cheap transistor am/fm radio all day and all night in his little office in the basement boiler room of the home we shared with my grandmother and aunt in Brooklyn.  He had a voluminous library of scratchy tape recordings from WQXR's The Vocal Scene hosted by the now deceased George Jellinek who reigned supreme as the on air commentator for opera in NY from 1969 to 2004, when he retired.  Jellinek spun recordings of the same operatic aria by different artists and overlaid the comparisons with insights, anecdotes, and despite a definite Hungarian accent, perfect grammar. My father spoke endlessly and passionately to me about the most minute differences between an aria recorded by Caruso and the same aria (perhaps Che Gelida Manina from Puccini's La Boheme) by Gigli or McCormick or Tucker.  He desperately wanted me to fall in love with these recordings and artists and he waxed rhapsodic about the golden age of Opera, mourned its passing and glowed over the discovery of longed-for LPs in the Salvation Army stores and used furniture shops of Brooklyn  where, for a dime, he could add a Marcel Journet or Tito Schipa to his collection.  When, in 1994, he was dying of lung cancer, I spent hours a day in his hospital room -- and I can never thank my then and current employer, Lowenstein Sandler, enough for the gift of that much time with my father, especially since I was so junior a lawyer at the time and they gave me virtually endless time off to be with him -- 6 days a week for almost 3 months.  Much of that time was spent discussing Opera, listening to it (they had just begun to release golden age Opera vocalists on CDs and I bought him a bunch) and sharing anecdotes about those singers and arias and various unfilmed (but much spoken of) performances of different operas.  We also talked a great deal about books, movies, Vaudeville routines and, sometimes, the Yankees.  He wanted me to share his passions and since men don't always have an easy time sharing emotions, we achieved an intense closeness through these shared interests.

To tell the truth -- and he knew this -- I'd almost always rather hear Aretha Franklin sing Soul Serenade than a scratchy recording of Caruso doing Ridi Pagliacco (though that does rock).  I think what's important is this: (1) I saw my dad's passion for music, (2) he shared it openly and freely with me, (3) we connected through it in a way that never could have happened without his openness about it -- letting me see his eyes fill with tears over a performance definitely taught me something about what being a man meant, especially in a pretty rough neighborhood in Brooklyn where my friends weren't listening to Opera, (4) his memory lives in me and is evoked by any mention of Opera or Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or H.P. Lovecraft or Sherlock Holmes or any of the things he held dear, (5) his love of anecdotes and the stories behind the music was infectious and (6) while the Opera thing never fully took -- I'm there...I'm totally there on the passion and on allowing myself to be brought to tears by a performance (sometimes humiliatingly so, especially on airplanes) and on questing for the stories behind the music I love (and sometimes falling in love with the music because of the back story).

For one of those stories, check out this Youtube of the great Caruso and the wonderful Soprano, Geraldine Farrar from Madame Butterfly.  More than 30 years ago, my father shared with me (and thank you Youtube for now confirming my rusty memory) this story.  If you listen really closely Farrar, the Soprano, has replaced one of the lyrics (about 26 seconds in) with "He had a highball" (whiskey and soda) and Caruso, according to legend, replaces his reply lyrics with "No, I had three."  I can clearly hear the first line, but am unsure of Caruso's reply - nonetheless, how lovely and unforgettable an anecdote, especially because my father told it with a zeal -- he felt as if he'd been let in on a secret and had forever more shared an inside joke with a tenor he worshipped...and he had.
So the next time you hear me spout an overly verbose story about a bottle of wine, it's just because I don't have any Opera anecdotes to share but I sure do want to relive that moment in which I was communing with that wine and sharing something with that winemaker I worship.

During high school I learned that a classic is something that has withstood the test of time.  I've compelled my kids to immerse themselves in and absorb the classics. They don't need to love all of them.  They don't need to agree with my list of them (well, at least, they can disagree with my list once they're paying their own rent).  I do feel strongly that they need to discover, refute, embrace and create their own list of the classics.

On reflection, it seems that my list of the classics isn't actually "works of art that have withstood the test of time" but rather works of art that have moved me and lodged themselves in my heart and brain so indelibly that I can't shake them.  So, for instance, Jumping Jack Flash may be a gas, gas, gas...and every high school classic rock cover band I ever saw seems to have perfected a cover of that song.  It is a really good song; it just never moved me the way that Mick did when he sang about the demise of his love affair with heroin, anthropomorphized in the song Angie which, to me, is a classic.  Similarly, I know that Shakespeare's works are classics and should be read and understood but I've been moved much more deeply by To Kill A Mockingbird, even though Harper Lee really only appears to have written one transcendent piece of literature.

Several years back (when I listened to terrestrial radio...generally left of the dial), I was listening to a college radio station and the DJ said that the next song was perhaps the best pop/rock song of the 1980s.  He then explained that he'd give his right arm to be able to write songs like this one.  I was stumped -- REM, the Replacements, U2, the Smiths, where was he going?  He played "I'll Stop the World and Melt With You" by Modern English. that right arm big guy!
My point is he was clearly so moved by that song and it was important to him in a way that was very sweet although, in my self-satisfied view, misguided.  But it did make me think.  So I am defining "classic" as a blend of (a) has withstood the test of time and (b) I'd be really bummed if my kids missed these.  My father's definition of classics in music differed pretty dramatically from where I am.  It seems somewhat unimportant, however, because he'd have been very pleased with the degree to which I feel passionate about that has been indelibly imprinted on my heart.  And his quest for ten cent LPs at garage sales in Brooklyn, well that's pretty darn close to my endless quests for obscure bottles of wine everywhere I visit in person or on the web.

Here's the start of my music list in case I'm gone and my kids want to know what I wanted music, books and movies I wanted them to experience...and, if possible, to love.  Now that it's almost 20 years since my father Sam Zimmerman passed away, I sure do wish I could ask him what else I should be reading, hearing or watching.  Let me know what makes your list...I'm off to find a recording of Jellinek that I can force my kids to hear, like my dad did so many years ago!

High on my list, Ella Fitzgerald's classic -- Cole Porter was a frickin' Genius and Ella's voice is one of the greatest instruments ever created!

MUSIC (and there's way more to come)
Aretha Franklin -- I Never Loved A Man
Aretha -- Lady Soul
Ella Fitzgerald -- 12 Nights in Hollywood
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong -- Ella & Louis Again
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong -- The Complete Ella & Louis
Ella Fitzgerald -- Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Stevie Wonder -- Songs in the Key of Life
Elvis Costello -- My Aim is True
Elvis Costello -- Armed Forces
The Clash -- The Clash
The Clash -- London Calling
Bob Dylan -- Blonde on Blonde
Bob Dylan -- Blood on the Tracks
Otis Redding -- Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul
Beatles -- White Album
Beatles -- Rubber Soul
Beatles -- Abbey Road
Beatles -- Sgt Pepper
Who -- Who's Next
The Jam -- All Mod Cons
Replacements -- Let It Be
X -- Los Angeles
Dar Williams -- End of the Summer
Richard & Linda Thompson -- Shoot Out the Lights
George Gershwin -- Rhapsody in Blue
Beethoven String Quartets (especially the Late ones)
Bing Crosby -- Pennies From Heaven (my Dad's favorite pop song)
Bessie Smith -- Gimme a Pig's Foot
Nirvana -- Nevermind
Bruce Springsteen -- the River
Bruce Springsteen -- Born to Run
The Velvet Underground (with Andy Warhol, esp on vinyl with an unpeeled banana, like the one I bought at Plastic Fantastic outside of Philadelphia in 1986)
Jill Sobule -- Underdog Victorious, California Years
Ramones -- Sedated, KKK took my baby away, Sheena, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers -- The Modern Lovers
The Temptations
Janis Joplin -- though they don't have to love her (because I know they already don't)
Smokey Robinson
Chi-Lites -- because Oh Girl and Have You Seen Her are two of the most hauntingly lovely soul songs (Here I Am is also beautiful as are some others)
Nirvana: Nevermind
Marvin Gaye -- Let's Get it On
Marvin Gaye -- What's Going On
Billie Holiday - them there eyes, pennies from heaven (and so many others)
Bessie Smith -- gimme a pigfoot (and so many others)
Replacements -- Let it be
Warren Zevon -- Excitable Boy (but many others too)
Marshall Crenshaw -- For One Day With You (because it meant a lot to me years ago)
Coleman Hawkins
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
John Coltrane -- Blue Train and also with Johnny Hartman and My Favorite Things
Duke Ellington -- they need to know his songbook work with Ella and Louis and classics like Take the "A" Train, Satin Doll, and It Don't Mean a Thing
Cole Porter -- Miss Otis Regrets, Too Darn Hot, Let's do it (Ella+Louie version esp.), Begin the Beguine (which my dad loved), I get a kick out of you, Just One of those things, Night & Day, My Heart Belongs to Daddy
George & Ira Gershwin -- sure Rhapsody and American in Paris and Porgy & Bess, but the songs are so amazing
Sarah Vaughan (but they need to be able to know why Ella is better)
u2 - there's not one album for me, rather collections of many great songs (One, Stuck In a Moment, Pride, Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own, Yahweh, Beautiful Day, Sweetest Thing)
Jimi Hendrix -- Hey Joe (they should know the original Leaves version), Purple Haze, Little Wing, All Along the Watchtower (they need to know Clapton, Dylan and Jimi's versions), Foxey Lady, If 6 Was 9, Star Spangled Banner, The Wind Cries Mary, and others
Led Zeppelin - IV but also their pop stuff like Fool in the Rain, All My Love, D'yer Mak'er and, well, there aren't too many albums so really all of them
Rolling Stones -- old stuff, but also ballads (Angie, Wild Horses, Beast of Burden), Exile, Bleed, Sticky, Some Girls
Derek & the Dominos
Cream -- but a best of collection will do
Blind Faith
Eric Clapton (again, a Best Of will suffice)
The Cure -- for the sheer joy of songs like Just Like Heaven, Friday I'm in Love, and In Between Days and the goth-maudlin stuff like Boys Don't Cry, which is still pretty great and unique
Van Morrison -- the core song book and Astral Weeks (but they need to know Them and the recording of Gloria and not just think of Van Morrison as the old guy who did Brown Eyed Girl)
Simon & Garfunkle -- the complete works and Paul's Graceland disc
Toscanini -- thy should understand what made him great (and will need someone smarter than me to explain it)
Joni Mitchell -- Blue and Court & Spark
Richard Hell & the Voidoids -- because he was important
Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf & Muddy Waters & lightnin Hopkins & Leadbelly -- because so much of it started there, especially Howlin' Wolf's "Built for Comfort" (which we had the band play at our wedding) and songs like Killing Floor and Spoonful, without which Zeppelin and Cream couldn't have existed, which means Nirvana couldn't have been born
BB King -- especially songs like Sweet Sixteen (which may have been written about Etta James and my daughter adores Etta), Hummingbird (because my own wife is little and she loves me), The Thrill is Gone, How Blue Can You Get, and so many more
Etta James -- because they should understand that artists suffer and that gifts are too precious to waste
Bonnie Raitt -- because her voice is amazing, especially in the 1970s when she was selecting other composer's works and interpreting them brilliantly (and because my wife loves Bonnie's work)
Barry White -- because he had some Mojo! Even if they don't like it, they need to think about what it was in this music that has moved generations of listeners (okay, I really mean generations of women, but some men too)
Corneille - Birth of Cornelius -- because it is so deeply personal and poetic a coming to terms with the destruction of his homeland and his family in war-torn Rwanda and his voice (lyrically and his actual physical musical instrument) are so beautiful
Beach Boys -- great American composers and  God Only Knows is one of the great pop love songs of the last 50 years, while many of their songs may sound dated or have subject matter that is so narrow and 'of  period' it is brilliant music
Telefone - Illimite -- because Jean-Louis Aubert is supercool whether he's punked out (Un Autre Monde or Crache Ton Venin), poppy (Cendrillon), or downright anthemic! (La Bombe Humaine) and it is a shame we Americans have missed his music
Serge Gainsbourg -- because he's the French/Jewish Barry White... this guy had serious Mojo and broke rules left and right (well, mostly left).  At some point, I'm really going to have to disappear into his lyrics (translated) until I understand all the genius of them...or the things he's singing that, in fact, aren't lyrics! (Though let's wait until the kids are older before we go there!)

Los Angeles Punk Rock Innovators, X, with their album Los Angeles set more than just the album cover on fire!