Wednesday, January 28, 2015


For the turn of a phrase or the sake of a good picture, events occasionally have been manipulated --ignored or enhanced-- at times even created. Remember President George H.W. Bush's speech from the oval office when a drug addict was entrapped for the sake of an example, pre-written into the speech.

I doubt that we'll ever know the whole truth about the Challenger explosion (enless there are some death bed confessions) but with Nixon's televised precedent of speaking from the oval office to astronauts on the moon, it seems quite reasonable that President Reagan could have made dramatic use of a phone conversation from the Speaker's dais of the joint Houses of Congress during his State of the Union Address in 1986.

Indeed it has been reported that such a conversation was planned as part of the speech. So what was the nature of phone calls between the White House and Morton Thiocol and engineers who tried to prevent the launching? Who really forced the decision to launch and for what reasons?

Look at what happened. The Challenger exploded, and the State of the Union was merely postponed a week. President Reagan won praise for his uplifting words on the loss of our gallant heroes. How ironic! Reagan didn't write the text in the first place -- Peggy Noonan did. Isn't it strange that we should compliment our politicians for words crafted by ghostwriters? In Peggy Noonan's case, some of her most famous lines aren't original with her anyway. "A thousand points of light" is a direct quote from C.S. Lewis' 1955 book The Magician's Nephew or a variation of Thomas Wolfe's 1939 The Web and the Rock ("thousand points of friendly light") and ", gentler..." is, I understand, adapted from a speech of Mario Cuomo's (and I have no idea who actually wrote his speech.)

But back to the Challenger. It seems very likely that the shuttle was launched after multiple delays --against the advice of the engineers-- for the sake of a photo-op and the turn of a phrase. Then after the disaster, the President took credit for uplifiting words written by someone else-- words which wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if the engineers hadn't been overridden for a theatrical stunt.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Strauss' DER ROSENKAVALIER Premiered ~ January 26, 1911

Der Rosenkavalier (Op. 59) (The Knight of the Rose) is a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to an original German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is loosely adapted from the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai and Molière's comedy Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. It was first performed at the Königliches Opernhaus in Dresden on 26 January 1911. Until the premiere, the working title was Ochs von Lerchenau. (The choice of the name Ochs is not accidental, for in German Ochs is translated as ox, which depicts the character of the Baron throughout the opera.)

Der Rosenkavalier premiered in 1911 in Dresden under the baton of Ernst von Schuch who had previously conducted the premieres of Strauss's Feuersnot, Salome and Elektra, Georg Toller was originally supposed to produce the production, but he backed out and was replaced by Max Reinhardt. The event was a pinnacle in the career of soprano Margarethe Siems (Strauss’s first Chrysothemis) who portrayed the Marschallin.

The reaction to the 1911 premiere was nothing short of triumphant. The opera was a complete success with the public and was a great financial boon for the house; it is reported that at the time of the première, tickets were sold out almost immediately. The response from music critics was overall very positive, although some responded negatively to Strauss's use of waltzes, a music form out of fashion at that present moment. Despite this, the opera became one of the composer's most popular works during his lifetime and the opera remains a part of the standard repertory today.

The opera has four main characters: the aristocratic Marschallin, her very young lover Octavian Rofrano, her coarse, skirt-chasing country cousin Baron Ochs, and his young prospective fiancée Sophie, the lovely daughter of a rich Viennese bourgeois. Baron Ochs, having arranged with Sophie's father Faninal to combine his noble rank with Faninal's money by marrying Sophie, asks the Marschallin to suggest an appropriate young man to be his Knight of the Rose, who will present a silver rose to Sophie on his behalf as a traditional symbol of courtship. She recommends Octavian. When Octavian delivers the rose, he and Sophie fall in love on sight, and must figure out how to prevent Baron Ochs from marrying Sophie. They accomplish this in a comedy of errors that is smoothed over with the help of the Marschallin.

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Friday, January 8, 2010
By Barb Herbert
In "Der Rosenkavalier" Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, created their most realistic characters. The Marschallin, who is the main character in the opera, is a beautiful, elegant and sad woman. She is sad because time is slipping away and she fears becoming old (she is 32 years old and her lover, Octavian, is 17). Her young lover (the part is sung by a mezzo-soprano) falls in love with a beautiful young girl named Sophie. The Marschallin is the one who introduces him to Sophie even though she knows that she will lose Octavian by doing so. Perhaps the Marschallin will have other lovers; Strauss thought that she would.
The most poignant moment in the opera comes at the end of Act I when the Marschallin sings these words:
"Time, after all ... time leaves the world unchanged./Time is a strange thing./While one is living one's life away,/It is absolutely nothing./Then, suddenly, one is aware of nothing else./At times I hear it flowing -- inexorably./At times, I get up in the middle of the night/And stop all the clocks, all of them."
There is also a comic character in the opera; his name is Baron Ochs. He fancies himself an irresistible lover and is excited about his forthcoming marriage to Sophie. Things don't exactly turn out as he had planned as the other characters play some pretty funny practical jokes on him. He never does marry Sophie, much to his chagrin.
This is an opera of great charm and elegance. The Met sets are gorgeous and reflect the style of Vienna, Austria, during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa. Soprano Renee Fleming sings the role of the Marschallin, and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham is Octavian.
It is amazing to me that the man who wrote "Salome" and "Elektra," two of the weirdest operas in the repertory, could write "Der Rosenkavalier," the most elegant and wistful of all operas.
Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of KRCU's "Sunday Night at the Opera."
© Copyright 2010
Der Rosenkavalier is one of my all time favorite operas, both for its story and music. Richard Strauss was a master orchestrator, and his writing for this opera features some of the most glorious orchestral and vocal music ever heard! The Metropolitan Opera in New York had a live high-definition broadcast in movie theatres on Saturday January 9th two years ago. It was completely sold out a week in advance for the showing at a major theatre downtown San Francisco. I was able to attend, however, at a smaller theatre on the other side of the Twin Peaks tunnel, the Empire Theatre in West Portal. I was up early Saturday morning and managed to get a ticket. It was a splendid performance with Renee Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Robert Burns ~ January 25, 1759 ~ 256 Years


O, my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run:

And fare thee weel, my only Luve!
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' twere ten thousand mile.


I sang a setting of this poem last night at the annual Burns Night 
dinner sponsored by the St. Andrew's Society of San Francisco 
held at the Family Club on Bush and Powell. I sang in memory
of my dear friend Lyle Richardson, who died at the age of 92
just a few days before Christmas. I first met Lyle when he was
my accompanist for this same song at the same event many years ago.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


1848 – California Gold Rush: James W. Marshall finds gold at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento.

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered by James Wilson Marshall at Sutter's Mill, in Coloma, California. News of the discovery soon spread, resulting in some 300,000 men, women, and children coming to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. Of the 300,000, approximately 150,000 arrived by sea while the remaining 150,000 arrived by land.

Around the beginning of the Gold Rush, Mexican laws were no longer in effect, but there was very little law regarding property rights as the US had just taken over California land. Thus, California was forced to quickly develop various institutions. The solution to the property rights problem was a first-come-first-serve basis with the right to claim jump on abandoned sites.

The early gold-seekers, called "forty-niners," (as a reference to 1849) traveled to California by sailing boat and in covered wagons across the continent, often facing substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. At first, the prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods of gold recovery developed which were later adopted around the world. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of corporate to individual miners. Gold worth billions of today's dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few. However, many returned home with little more than they had started with.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. San Francisco grew from a small settlement to a boomtown, and roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. A system of laws and a government were created, leading to the admission of California as a free state in 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850.

New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service and railroads were built. The business of agriculture, California's next major growth field, was started on a wide scale throughout the state. However, the Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans were attacked and pushed off traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental harm.

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Note: the date is in the first month of 1848. But we don't say the "48'ers." That's because the people who discovered gold tried to keeep quiet about it because they figured they'd be overrun (and they were.) But more importantly, communication and transportation was so slow in the middle of the 19th Century that it took almost a full year for momentum to build for fortune seekers from around the world to come to California. But come they did. The population of the newly renamed town of San Francisco grew from 800 to 80,000 in a single year!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

LOUIS XVI Guillotined ~ January 21, 1793

1793 – After being found guilty of treason by the French Convention, Louis XVI of France is executed by guillotine.

His cousin, the Duke of Orleans was the one responsible for spreading rumors about Louis' wife which caused people to get very angry. Louis was officially arrested on the 13th of August and sent to the Temple, an ancient Paris fortress used as a prison. On 21 September, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic and abolished the monarchy.

The Girondins were partial to keeping the deposed king under arrest, both as a hostage and a guarantee for the future. The more radical members – mainly the Commune and Parisian deputies who would soon be known as the Mountain – argued for Louis's immediate execution. The legal background of many of the deputies made it difficult for a great number of them to accept an execution without due process of some sort, and it was voted that the deposed monarch should be tried before the National Convention, the organ that housed the representatives of the sovereign people.

On 11 December, among crowded and silent streets, the deposed king was brought from the Temple to stand before the Convention and hear his indictment, an accusation of High Treason and Crimes against the State. On 26 December, his counsel, Raymond de Sèze, delivered Louis's response to the charges, with the assistance of François Tronchet and Malesherbes.

On 15 January 1793, the Convention, composed of 721 deputies, voted out the verdict, which was a foregone conclusion – 693 voted guilty, and none voted for acquittal. The next day, a voting roll-call was carried out in order to decide upon the fate of the king, and the result was, for such a dramatic decision, uncomfortably close. 288 deputies voted against death and for some other alternative, mainly some means of imprisonment or exile. 72 deputies voted for the death penalty, but subject to a number of delaying conditions and reservations. 361 deputies voted for Louis's immediate death.

The next day, a motion to grant Louis reprieve from the death sentence was voted down; 310 deputies requested mercy, 380 voted for the execution of the death penalty. This decision would be final. On Monday, 21 January 1793, stripped of all titles and honorifics by the republican government, Citoyen Louis Capet was guillotined in front of a cheering crowd in what today is the Place de la Concorde. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, testified that the former King had bravely met his fate.

As Louis mounted the scaffold he appeared dignified and resigned. He attempted a speech in which he reasserted his innocence and pardoned those responsible for his death. He declared himself willing to die and prayed that the people of France would be spared a similar fate. He seemed about to say more when Antoine-Joseph Santerre, a general in the National Guard (France), cut Louis off by ordering a drum roll. The former king was then quickly beheaded.

Accounts of Louis’ beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely as the blade severed Louis’s spine. It is agreed however that, as Louis's blood dripped to the ground, many in the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

First Presidential Inauguration on January 20 in 1937

Franklin Roosevelt is inaugurated for a second term as President of the United States. This is the first inauguration scheduled on January 20, following adoption of the 20th Amendment. Previous inaugurations were scheduled on March 4.

The inauguration of the President of the United States occurs upon the commencement of a new term of a President of the United States.

The only inauguration element mandated by the United States Constitution is that the President make an oath or affirmation before that person can "enter on the Execution" of the office of the presidency. However, over the years, various traditions have arisen that have expanded the inauguration from a simple oath-taking ceremony to a day-long event, including parades, speeches, and balls.

This day, now known as Inauguration Day, was on March 4 from 1798 until 1933. Since then, Inauguration Day has occurred on January 20 (the 1933 ratification of the Twentieth Amendment changed the start date of the term).

From the presidency of Andrew Jackson through Jimmy Carter, the primary Inauguration Day ceremony took place on the Capitol's East Portico. Since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the ceremony has been held at the Capitol's West Front. The inaugurations of William Howard Taft in 1909 and Reagan in 1985 were moved indoors at the Capitol due to cold weather.

Since Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth swore in President John Adams, no Chief Justice has missed a regularly-scheduled Inauguration Day swearing-in. When Inauguration Day has fallen on a Sunday, the Chief Justice has administered the oath to the President either on inauguration day itself or on the preceding Saturday privately and the following Monday publicly. The War of 1812 and World War II caused two inaugurations to be held at other locations in Washington, D.C.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

NIKA RIOTS FAIL ~ January 18, 532 CE

The Nika riots (Greek: Στάση του Νίκα), or Nika revolt, took place over the course of a week in Constantinople in 532. It was the most violent riot that Constantinople had ever seen to that point, with nearly half the city being burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed.

The ancient Roman and Byzantine Empires had well-developed associations, known as demes which supported the different factions (or teams) under which competitors in certain sporting events competed; this was particularly true of chariot racing. There were four major factional teams of chariot racing, differentiated by the color of the uniform in which they competed; the colors were also worn by their supporters. These were the Blues, the Reds, the Greens, and the Whites, although by the Byzantine era the only teams with any influence were the Blues and Greens. The Emperor Justinian I was a supporter of the Blues.

The team associations had become a focus for various social and political issues for which the general Byzantine population lacked other forms of outlet. They combined aspects of street gangs and political parties, taking positions on current issues, notably theological problems (a cause of massive, often violent argument in the fifth and sixth centuries) or claimants to the throne. They frequently tried to affect the policy of the Emperors by shouting political demands between the races. The imperial forces and guards in the city could not keep order without the cooperation of the circus factions which were in turn backed by the aristocratic families of the city: this included some families who believed they had a more rightful claim to the throne than Justinian.

Setting the stage for the revolt, in 531 some members of the Blues and Greens had been arrested for murder in connection with deaths that occurred during rioting after a recent chariot race. Relatively limited riots were not unknown at chariot races, similar to the mayhem that occasionally erupts after an association football championship in modern times. The murderers were to be hanged, and most of them were. But on January 10, 532, two of them, a Blue and a Green, escaped and were taking refuge in the sanctuary of a church surrounded by an angry mob.

Justinian was nervous: he was in the midst of negotiating with the Persians over peace in the east, there was enormous resentment over high taxes, and now he faced a potential crisis in his city. Facing this, he declared that a chariot race would be held on January 13 and commuted the sentences to imprisonment. The Blues and Greens responded by demanding that the two men be pardoned entirely.

The riots

January 13 a tense and angry populace arrived at the Hippodrome for the races. The Hippodrome was next to the palace complex and thus Justinian could watch from the safety of his box in the palace and preside over the races. From the start the crowd had been hurling insults at Justinian. By the end of the day, at race 22, the partisan chants had changed from "Blue" or "Green" to a unified Nίκα ("Nika", meaning "Win!" or "Conquer!"), and the crowds broke out and began to assault the palace. For the next five days the palace was under virtual siege. The fires that started during the tumult resulted in the destruction of much of the city, including the city's foremost church, the Church of the Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia (which Justinian would later rebuild).

Some of the senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian, as they were opposed to his new taxes and his lack of support for the nobility. The rioters, now armed and probably controlled by their allies in the Senate, also demanded that Justinian dismiss the prefect John the Cappadocian, who was responsible for tax collecting, and the quaestor Tribonian, who was responsible for rewriting the legal code. They then declared a new emperor, Hypatius, who was a nephew of former Emperor Anastasius I.

Justinian, in despair, considered fleeing, but his wife Theodora is said to have dissuaded him, saying, "Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress." Although an escape route across the sea lay open for the emperor, Theodora insisted that she would stay in the city, quoting an ancient saying, "Royalty is a fine burial shroud," or perhaps, [the royal color] "Purple makes a fine winding sheet."

As Justinian rallied himself, he created a plan that involved Narses, a popular eunuch, as well as the generals, Belisarius and Mundus. Carrying a bag of gold given to him by Justinian, the slightly built eunuch entered the Hippodrome alone and unarmed, against a murderous mob that had already killed hundreds. Narses went directly to the Blues' section, where he approached the important Blues and reminded them that the Emperor Justinian supported them over the Greens. He also reminded them that the man they were crowning, Hypatius, was a Green. Then, he distributed the gold. The Blue leaders spoke quietly with each other and then they spoke to their followers. Then, in the middle of Hypatius's coronation, the Blues stormed out of the Hippodrome. The Greens sat, stunned. Then, Imperial troops led by Belisarius and Mundus stormed into the Hippodrome, killing the remaining rebels.

About thirty thousand rioters were reportedly killed. Justinian also had Hypatius executed and exiled the senators who had supported the riot. He then rebuilt Constantinople and the Hagia Sophia, and was free to establish his rule of law.

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Among several locations, where I scattered some of Dennis' ashes in Istanbul, was the base of the obelisk shown above in the middle of what had been the Hippodrome.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)