Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When my students have a free moment, they create videos making fun of me....

Actually I'm quite proud of this in a way.  I mean, how many other conductors have satirical videos about themselves put onto Youtube by their own orchestras?

Of course, I"ve been known to satirize myself from time to time....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Some Clips from Mahler 3

From the Mahler 3 Premiere

Well, the reception was tumultuous and heartwarming, though I personally would have to say that our Mahler 3 was not as technically smooth as our previous performances of Mahler 5 and 9.   Here are some excerpts....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fleeing for a Day

The world is a savage place.  The woman in the clip above got 60 days' jail when she flew into a rage at not being able to get McNuggets.  She smashed glass, tried to punch out the employee, and so on ... proving that Thailand doesn't have a monopoly on those who would tear up the town when they can't get what they want right away.  So yes, I have in fact receiving some astonishing threats and yes, the police have been looking out for me lately.  In fact, the added vigilance on my street, owing to the fact that I am under police protection, caused them to stop and search me on my way to my house!  Gotta watch out for fake Somtows hiding out among the fake DVDs and Rolexes.

Although I don't mind at all when people comment on this blog and have occasionally even had my mind changed as a result of someone's comments or fact correction, The night of July 30 was unusual in that I received five really virulent blog comments in a row.  They were all about how "the reds" were going to splash my blood all over Rajprasong intersection and cut off my head and so on.  The comments caused my family and friends to get worried and regretfully I closed off the comment section and handed the threats (along with their suspected IP) to the police just in case these threats were actually serious ones.

Of course, anyone who reads this blog would be aware that I have been critical of most of the protagonists in this sorry situation.  Indeed, I gave an interview on the yellow shirts' TV station last week in which I spent much of the hour as an advocate for the opposing viewpoint.

Meanwhile there's another "white paper", this one from Chatham House ... well, more of an essay ... which, unlike Mr. Amsterdam's, makes more of an attempt at evenhandedness.  I've already received a note complaining that Thaksin's "paid them off" but that may well not be the case.  Rather, I think that it's struggling to achieve balance.  It's just that it starts from a place of utter pessimism.  It might be a useful stance to take at times, but personally I don't think it's that helpful to the country right now.   Find the right balance between cynicism and hope is important right now.

I decided to escape with some of the members of the Shounen-Thai Quartet to the Burmese border, because I'd heard that there's an incredible flea market right on the edge.

My dreams of anonymity were crushed when I walked into the Wiang Inn Hotel in Chiangrai and was immediately greeted by "I saw you on TV last night...."

It is instructive to note that one of your last sights on crossing the border is a 7-11 sign.  Burma didn't look, on the surface, to be much different, but their  border town had nothing like a 7-11, or an ATM.  Whereas the Thai side had several of both.  And of course much newer-looking cars.

The Burmese side had beautiful people, and vast shops full of every pirated DVD you can imagine for $1, including rarities like one about Elliot Carter, complete CD boxed sets like Solti conducting the Bruckner Symphonies for around $5 and so on.

There were also plenty of fake Rolexes and Omegas.  Some jade too, perhaps mostly fake, though good jade comes from Burma, as we all know.  I bought a beautiful jade bracelet at a price where it didn't matter if it was fake or not.

But I have to say that to me the most disorienting sight was the one below: a shop selling lovely hand-painted Buddha icons on pieces of old teak (perhaps planks from one of those old-style houses) for about $1 a piece, with an extraordinary, primitive-style Crucifixion hanging beside them.  The juxtaposition of the suffering Jesus with the serene Buddha seemed somehow to crystallize the feelings that this strange outpost aroused in me.

It made me think, too, about the nature of dreams, and of freedom.   Everyone always dreams about "another place".  As a science fiction person living in L.A., I met many Americans for whom "another place" was not even on earth.  "I dream," they would say, "that one day I will go to the Moon.  Or settle in an L-5 colony."  I also knew many Thai people who had had their own version of this dream.  "I dreamt," they told me, "of emigrating to America and opening my own restaurant."

When I was standing across the bridge from Thailand, an imperfect democracy where many have yet to learn to control their rage and to start using the political process in a constructive way, a country where fake DVDs cost ten times as much as they do in Burma....  I got to thinking ... once I cross that bridge, I'll be able to walk into a 7-11.

Could that, too, be someone's impossible dream?  Do we dare to take anything for granted in this world?

Monday, August 2, 2010

15 Minutes of Fame

Okay, so my local paper has decided to fan the flames by putting me and R.A. head to head on the front page.  Which suggests that there must have been no real news yesterday.

I'm a little peeved at being painted with a yellow background: I have not been uncritical of the yellows in the past.  But then again, I doubt that THE NATION is that impartial: their bio of me is all about my awards, while their summary of Amsterdam is about his clients languishing in Russian jails.  And they've used a more flattering picture of me.

In a week or so I'll probably reopen the comments section of this blog, as soon as I get over my fear.  There are plenty of venues for people to exercise their right (if any) to make death threats, but there's no reason why it should happen on webspace which I pay for!  It is interesting that while the blog entry provoked virulent attacks and threats, so far the email on the NATION piece (which is substantially the same) has been very supportive.  Those who read the morning people and those who troll the net at midnight are clearly members of a different demographic.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I was forced to close the comments section of the last blog post when five extremely violent, death-threatening posts came in quick succession.  I can't tell whether they're real, but they also made threats against other people, so I handed them over to the police along with the posters' IPs.  I'm going to keep the comments section closed for a while.  It's a pity because I have always taken pride in allowing those who disagree to state their opinions freely in comments on this blog.  But remarks like "you half-blood pseudo thai-chinese hi-so fem chink - the reds will be painting ratchaprasong with your blood" (and that was one of the milder ones) scare me.  I'm only human. 

My discussion of Mr. Amsterdam has drawn a lot of virulent commentary, but also some praise even from people like the Secretary-General of ASEAN, who said in an email: "it was brilliant... It's the style, the structure of and substance of your argument that are more decisive and critical to publications and readers. Your style reminds me of philosophical debates of the enlightenment...stimulating, entertaining and illuminating at the same time.   The part critical to the PM ... is particularly effective and fundamentally correct. It is powerful in that sense."

Unlike some of the other commentators, Dr. Surin didn't fail to notice that I have no compunction about being critical of all sides in this.

I was flattered that Robert Amsterdam himself would respond to my blog on his blog, but all he really does is try to push the dialogue back to ground on which he feels more comfortable.  He is of course too intelligent to actually have missed my point.  He complains that I only addressed one of the myriad points in his White Paper, but of course, that point having been addressed, he does concede that my methodology for addressing that point is proper and fair.  Well, exactly.  A "fair fight" is in fact possible on Mr. Amsterdam's turf.  As soon as someone pays me as much as Mr. Amsterdam's getting paid, I'll gladly tackle such a fight.  I don't mind giving up my time to do the research if the fees can keep the opera going for the next five years!

Mr. Amsterdam understands that the point of my "rebuttal" (It's not a rebuttal — see preceding paragraph) is to explain that the entirety of the White Paper has validity only insofar as it is understood in the context of Mr. Amsterdam's strategy as a paid advocate.   It may masquerade as truth, but "whole" truth will only be possible if other "white papers" from all the different sides (there are not, despite Mr. Amsterdam's courtroom-based black-and-white portrayal of the case, only two sides in this conflict) are presented at the same time.  He also understand that there is no defense against this point.  His only viable strategem is to drag the argument back to his own turf.  He's a good lawyer and he did what a good lawyer must do.

I am a little saddened that Mr. Amsterdam and others decided to play the seventh card in the shyster deck.  I avoided mentioning it in my post because of all the possible cards, it can only be played "after all else fails."  I am referring of course to the race card.  It's the "Well, if you don't agree with me it can only be because you hate Jews/gays/African-Americans/name your own oppressed minority."

In this case, my use of the word "shyster" has caused him to paint my arguments with a racial bias.

Now, the dictionary in my iPhone, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary as well, both say that this word means "a dishonest lawyer or politician".  There's no racial element in this definition.  I've lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, totally at home in the extremely Jewish culture of neighborhoods like Encino, and I come from a family of highly distinguished lawyers.  English, American English in particular, is my native language.  I don't know every single word in the language, but my novels are twice cited as a source in the Oxford Dictionary of English Idiom.  I have used this word among lawyers, and among Jews, and heard it used by them, my entire life, without racial coloration.

It is my understanding that a minority view that this word has a racial implication comes from an erroneous conflation between the word and "shylock" — a word which is in fact frequently used as a racial slur.  (Although I would have to say that in Shakespeare's play, Shylock is by no means painted as an utter villain, and his speech "hath not a Jew eyes" is as potent an anti-racism statement today as it was five centuries ago.)

Robert Horn, a Jewish writer who works for Time, wrote to me:"I'm Jewish, and I don't regard your use of the word shyster as anti-semitic at all."  I believe that this opinion would be shared by most literate native speakers.

I'm not that sad to lose a word like "gay" to a narrower definition, because its original meaning has many synonyms.  However, I know of only one good word for "dishonest lawyer".  To eliminate that word from the general vocabulary would be a loss for the English language.

I'm a passionate advocate of music by Jewish composers, was the only person in Thailand to contribute a concert to the Daniel Perlmann World Music Days, was the only person in Southeast Asia that I know of to stage a big concert in memory of Simon Wiesenthal.  I'm an anti-Semite?  If there is a jot or tittle of anti-Semitism in my heart, it is known only to ha-Shem!

Now that that is dealt with, I would have to add that I could have played the race card in my article.  For example, I could have said something like "For Mr. Amsterdam to attempt to equate those tragic deaths to the Holocaust is a betrayal of his own racial heritage."  I didn't say that because it is not kosher.  Not cricket. Dirty pool.  And it is something you would only do if you were losing the argument.

One of the commentators said that Amsterdam and I should get to know each other, even work together. I'm not entirely averse to that.  Maybe we could have a TV show, like CNN's "Crossfire".  If you're reading this, Bobby, let's do lunch.