Monday, December 31, 2007

Beethoven's 9th

I'm so glad that Beethoven's 9th was No. 1--again--on the WQXR Classical Countdown. Some rationality in the world.

The 6th was 8th, the 5th was 3rd, the 7th was second. Fourth was, I believe, the 5th piano concerto. The violin concerto was maybe 16th. Not a bad showing.

Ok, where were the piano sonatas? The Eroica?

Lots of Mahler this year. And where were Mozart's symphonies? (I didn't hear everything, but for heaven's sake, Mozart above Mahler.)

Happy Birthday, Hugo

Cleaning out some files, I came upon the "declaration of intent" of my grandfather, Hugo Boroson (Borochsohn).

It was dated Feb. 8, 1907.

He was 43, 135 pounds, dark brown hair, brown hair, white, fair complexion. No distinctive marks. Occupation: tinsmith.

He was born in Curland (Kurland), Russia on Jan. 1, 1864, and was living in Brooklyn.

He came to the US from Russia via Bremen, Germany, on the vessel Hohenzollern, arriving in New York on Dec. 28, 1891.

"It is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to

Nicholas II emperor of Russia [this was an insert]

of which I am now a subject."

"I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist or a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and to permanently reside herein; SO HELP ME GOD."

He had several children, many grandchildren (including me), and many great-grandchildren. A lot of musical talent, and brains, in the family.

Today, Jan. 1, 2008, would be Hugo's 144th birthday.

Bach and Cage

When he was a teenager, my son, Bram, said that John Cage was a better composer than Bach.

I was upset.

I wrote to John Cage, asking him to disabuse my son.

Cage wrote back: Your son is entitled to his opinion.

First Newsweek, Now the Times

First Newsweek makes Karl Rove a columnist--the editor must be an idiot--among Newsweek readers, like me, Rove is held in thorough contempt--

Now the Times makes Kristol a columnist--the Times is so proud to report that he has criticized the Times so often! The Times must be run by ninnies--

How about the Times making an anti-Semite a columnist? Some people think the Times is too Jewish--

Most intelligent people are left-wing because most decent people are left wing.

I'm ashamed of myself because...

Around a year ago, I was on a grand jury--
A woman was arrested in a mall for leaving her young child alone in her car--
For an hour or two--
Her explanation: She was applying for a job & it took longer than she had expected--

Everyone voted a true bill--(grand juries, it's been said, would convict a ham sandwich)

I was shocked--I thought that our grand jury leader would defend the woman--

I did not--

I should have made an eloquent statement--that it was Christmas time--that the woman was a recent immigrant & we should show some compassion--that she surely must have gotten the message--

Why make her life and her child's life harder? She was applying for job, dammit!

But...I was intimidated by the idea of going against everyone else.

I said nothing. And I am ashamed of myself.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Shock of Recognition

At Columbia College, I took a German course--with a young teacher, Professor Stern--this was 1954-55 or so--
Charming, easy-going guy--

I remember asking him, in front of the class, to translate a German sentence further on in our German book--
Es gibt kein Stern in Himmel--

He looked disgusted--and asked another student to translate it--

The other student said, There is no star in heaven

I shook my head vigorously.

Prof. Stern seemed surprised. What do you think it means? he asked.

"There is no STERN in heaven," I said

He laughed. The class hooted


Tonight I was watching a documentary, The Ritchie Boys. About the training of US intelligence agents during WW 2--mostly German-speaking young men.

There's Prof. Guy Stern! He was prominent intelligence officer before coming to Columbia!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why are their so many Italian opera singers?

I asked that question of a voice expert on Her reply: She couldn't answer that.

My answer: Italy has given us many of the best Italian composers--Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini, Bellini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo. Italy has a world-famous opera house, La Scala, and many lesser-known ones. Opera plays a huge role in Italian culture. A critic has written that in Italian "opera is seen as a stadium sport, akin to soccer."

So Italian schools and Italian parents are on the lookout for young people with good voices--more so than, in, say, Great Britain. Italian youths dream of becoming the next Renata Tebaldi or Mario Lanza or Luciano Pavarotti. Not the next Joe DiMaggio.

So, an Italian with a strong voice is perhaps more likely to become a singer than a bank teller or a journalist or a vice president of advertising.

It's also possible that because people tend to marry other people they work with, Italians with good voices may intermarry. Cecilia Bartoli is the offspring of two singers; Feruccio Tagliavini also married an opera singer. And Roberto Alagna (Sicilian parents) is married to another famous singer, the Romanian Angela Gheorghiu.

So, I'm not surprised that many opera singers are Italian. It's the same reason why so many good baseball players are American. And why so many cricket players are English.

Did you ever hear of an opera singer named Lucretia Bori? Her real name was Lucretia Borgia. No wonder she changed it.

Most Annoying Celebrity

I thought that Paris Hilton would easily win this poll. All the media complain about her--and give her publicity.
Her father, seeing her walk out of jail, said proudly, she has never looked more beautiful.
If I had been there, I would have flashed him a smile and said, "Or dumber!"

He's proud of this ninny! As for her being beautiful, I disagree. Vehemently.

Rosie O'Donnell got the most votes. An intelligent woman who is courageous enough to make provocative statements. I admire her. I wish I had her courage.

Originally I would have voted for Paris Hilton. But I forget about Ann Coulter. I consider her to be--and I am controlling my temper--a %!#*(#%$!!

She's not just "annoying." She's contemptible. Loathsome. Evil.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Provocative book: The Status Syndrome.

Author makes strong case that social standing is related to better health. He downplays genetics, compliance, environment--but doesn't ignore them completely. His answer to the question, Can money buy happiness? is a resounding yes.

Later on I'll post his interesting explanation of why Mimi dies of consumption, but not Rudolfo!

And his prescriptions for change. And examples of his felicitous writing.


The Namesake: Film is intelligent and well-acted, but slow. Good insights into Indian culture.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I am Legend

This movie should have spent less money on special effects and more on script-writing. Predictable and shallow.

Waitress was a gem. Fresh and original in many ways. A tragedy that the director was murdered.

Christmas day: Hard to find even a Chinese restaurant open! But went to a Mid-Eastern restaurant--

Earlier, I went to an old-age place to help out, so employees could take Xmas off, but there were too many volunteers there, and the place was a madhouse--so I Ieft early--

I should write about working in a table factory when I was in high school and college--a friend of mine just told me he knows Bill DeSaussure, whose family owned the factory--we called him Little Bill--his father was WP DeSaussure, his uncle JP--my mother was the business manager there for around 40 years--Little Bill must be in his 80s or 90s--the factory is in Maywood now, but was in West New York when I worked there--

Great news:My son will be working for Harvard-Smithsonian again--either at home or in Cambridge--

Wow, a friend of mine at the Daily Record, Dawn Benko, tells me she was in an auto accident and hurt her spine--life is so unpredictable and arbitrary--

I am so looking forward to teaching a five-part course in the spring on famous singers--I have it mostly planned--two singers in every session, a main one and a secondary one--Rose Ponselle, Richard Crooks, Elis Rethberg, Lawrence Tibbett will be the (four) main ones--

Working on that book for high school students on personal finance--but I haven't received the official contract--I hope the editors don't butcher what I've written--

I should write some New Year's resolutions--like: Lose weight! Exercise more!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Fortune Magazine

John Bogle, who founded Vanguard, is asked to name CEOs he admires.
He mentions Buffett. And Immelt at GE.
Then adds...

"It must be obvious, for whatever it's worth, that names are not tripping off my tongue."


Someone who writes for the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was miffed that when he referred to a cock, a male bird, his software automatically replaced the word with ****.

His comment: "As bird lovers all know, a Parus major is a great tit, and while a **** doesn't get past the forum censors, tits do not cause offense."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Opera Buffs

Reading and listening to old opera singers--because of a course I'm giving--
What an incredible number of great singers there have been! Pol Plancon! Absolutely great. And I had never heard of him--and had never appreciated Titta Ruffo--
Comments on YouTube's old recordings come from very sophisticated people, who mention other singers I knew little about.
I could do a course just on wonderful recordings made in the year 1907!

Tullio Sarafin, the conductor, said there were 3 exceptional singers: Rose Ponselle, Caruso, and...Titta Ruffo.

To me, Jussi Bjoerling is still the very best. I sometimes idly listen to a recording--and the tenor is striking--and it suddenly dawns on me--that must be Jussi!

I saw him at the Met, and remember thinking: Don't other members of the audience recognize how superlative he is?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Great Singers of a Bygone Era

I've gotten the go ahead to teach a course on great, almost forgotten singers of the past--and I'm excited. I don't know that much about singing, but I've been an opera lover for a long time, and I love the singers of yesteryear--like Elisabeth Rethberg.
Course will be five sessions at the Institute of New Dimensions in Paramus.

I'll feature 5 main people and 5 others--

Richard Crooks, Elisabeth Rethberg, Paul Robeson, Conchita Supervia, Lawrence Tibbett.

Along with Rosa Ponselle, Titto Gobbi, Ruth Etting (popular, I know, but her voice is so charming!), John McCormack, and a variety of others.

Not necessarily the best singers--no Bjoerling, for instance--but favorites of mine who deserve more recognition.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Disappearing Male Mustache

At film was on the other night, on TCM, featuring Richard Dix--he had a mustache.

Male film stars, said a retired doctor on the trendmill next to me, no longer have mustaches.

Errol Flynn did. And Ronald Coleman. David Niven. And Robert Taylor, for a while.

But these days, Robert Redford sported one briefly. So did George Clooney. But most modern male leads--Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Cagney, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Harrison For, Tom Cruise--didn't have one.

I myself always have always been suspicious of male movie stars with mustaches. What's wrong with the guy, that he can't get by without a mustache?

Tough guys don't have mustaches. Can you imagine James Bond with a mustache? Or cowboy heroes--Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Marshall Dillon?

Canard Enchaine

What a lousy time we had last night! To celebrate a birthday. At a French restaurant in Kingston, Canard Enchaine.

Our waitress took our orders--and we never saw her again. Did she quit?

We didn't get our appetizers for 45 minutes--then our main courses, over an hour later--

We didn't order dessert or coffee--

The food was good, but I had filled up on bread waiting for the meals--

Never again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kill Bill 2

An arresting film. I saw part of it the other night--again.
Puzzling why it's so mesmerizing. The actress is mesmerizing. Athletic. Good-looking, unusual-looking, with her long, narrow face.
The photography is arresting. Colorful, simple.
Well acted.
A super comic book, as someone said.
Our heroine is dumped into a coffin, which is nailed shut. Coffin is inside grave, Dirt is then shoveled onto the coffin. Her hands and feet are, by the way, tied up.
She manages to get her boots off, as well as the belts binding her feet.. She had a knife in her boot--and manages to get to the knife, and cut the ropes on her hands. (Why isn't she suffocating?)
Question: Why did her tormentor give her a flashllight? We need it to see what she does, of course.
Well, how else would she get a big flashlight?
A mistake in the writing. But perhaps unavoidable.

Bill, played by David Carradine, is talking and talking. And making a sandwich, using a great big knife and a cutting board. It's interesting. Very carefully made sandwich. I guess, just listening to someone talking is undesirable, and watching a sandwich being made distracts you a bit.

Very clever film. I don't know if any critic has properly analyzed its appeal. I'm still puzzled.

More Notes

Gee, I may get 3 book contracts all at once.


On Gurufocus, my columns often elicit really nasty dumb comments. I think I'll comment on the commentators. I don't mind getting into a pissing contest with skunks -- when they deserve it. When commentators aren't identified, we get what Freud called the Return of the Repressed.


I like all the Democratic candidates and despise almost all the Republican ones. McCain is among the better ones; at least he has some compassionate words for immigrants. I'm glad that everyone is beginning to see Romney for the Machiavellian bastard that he is.... Edwards has come down in my estimation because of his savage attacks on Hillary.


So many good books to read! I should read more and watch fewer movies on TV.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

John Wayne story

Funny joke:

John Wayne acted in Hamlet, playing the melancholy Dane himself.

Audience kept booing and hissing.

At the end of the performance, amid boos and hisses, Wayne walked in front of the stage and said, "Hey, don't blame me, I didn't write this shit."

Bob Arnott

I've managed to persuade him to come to NJ to give a talk on Jan 23--I think he's flying in especially to give the talk!--he's a formidable person in the investment world--I've got to try to arrange other meetings for him--

A question for him: How does one reconcile the two mistakes investors make-selling too soon and holding onto their losers?


I may try teaching a course on famous singers of the past--Conchita Supervia, Elisabeth Rethberg, Giuseppi de Stefano, and so forth--not necessarily the best singers, but wonderful singers singing lovely arias where the quality of the sound isn't bad--doing some research I've met up with good singers I had never heard of, like Pasquale Amato--


So many things to do! Trouble is, I put off stuff I don't want to do--like fixing a defective chair and a defective bed frame and filing for insurance reimbursmenet--


Everyone my age (it seems) is suffering from memory loss--I was playing bridge a few years ago, and in the middle of a hand forgot everything--what had been played, what was trump--I gave up bridge--and yes, I'll get up to go somewhere and forget why I got up--and play tennis, and forget the score and forget who was serving--

But when I was a kid, I was forgetful, too! There's a snapping turtle in the yard, my parents warned me--I went to the yard, touched a black stone, and the turtle bit me!--I had forgotten--I wanted to remember to save my fingernails after cutting them--and it took me a long, long time to remember to do that--and I was mad at myself for not remembering--I wanted to save my fingernails because I was engaging in magical thinking--

Friday, December 07, 2007


"Across the Universe": Worst film I've seen in years.

At a bar, someone asked Truman Capote to autograph his penis. Said Capote, allegedly, there's probably only room for my initials.

Poem by John Updyke quoted in current Harper's will forever tarnish his reputation.

Son, age 3, of conductor Gisele Ben-Dor was asked if he would like to a conductor like his mother when he grows up. No, he replied. That's for girls.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Know-it-alls and pontificators

I’ve been thinking about know-it-alls recently—because I’ve met a few.
I recently said to Ralph, "Someone told me that Edward Elgar is the poor man’s Brahms." Ralph, who takes himself much too seriously, replied, “I’m dubious of all such comparisons.”
Typical. He announces that he doesn’t think much of Thomas Jefferson. That George W. Bush will go down in history as another George Washington. (My reply: They shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence.)
In short, he talks as if his views are holy writ, as if he is a guru, as if he is a recognized authority. He pontificates. He talks as if he were the chief justice of the Supreme Court or a Nobel Prize-winner when you and I know that he is just one of us. Immodest. Unhumble.

I met one fellow, years ago, the father of a friend of mine, and in just a few minutes I disliked him intensely. Why? In thinking about it, I decided that it was because he treated me as an audience for his profound words of wisdom. And his words of wisdom didn’t impress me.

If someone treats you as an inferior, as just an audience, that person isn’t complimenting you.

Flachsenhaar, the arrogant editor of the Daily Record, is like that. He habitually comes out with seemingly sententious remarks that, when you think about them, are commonplace. Or just wrong. “I believe newspapers should tell the truth.” In a strong voice with a serious look. The hidden message: “I am very wise and you should bow down before me.” And all he issues are bromides!

Some people are know-it-alls. Not the same. They may just like to share interesting facts. My late friend, Roy Pollack, was like that. Talking about Thailand, he might say: Did you know that the leading cause of death there is snake bites?
I do that, too. I like quoting witticisms. Yesterday, talking about Wagner, I mentioned that Mark Twain said that his music is better than it sounds. I DO like to appear knowledgeable. (And I love to tell jokes!)
But know-it-alls don’t pontificate. They aren’t handing down their opinions from the throne. “I-- yes I myself, the great and powerful Wizard of Oz--believe that …”
Know-it-alls may show off their knowledge, not their opinions. So they aren’t necessarily obnoxious.
Jimmy Rogers, the investor, is forever giving his opinions, but they are provocative and sometimes startling—and he is courteous about it. He’s chatty about it. Not arrogant at all. And he really is worth listening to. The true pontificator is rarely if ever worth listening to.

Another way of putting it: Pontificators behave as if they are the Wizard of Oz ... when actually they are the humbug hiding behind the curtain.