Monthly Archives: July 2016

ban “The Merchant of Venice”?


The following is my response to:

“The Merchant of Venice’ perpetuates vile stereotypes of Jews. So why do we still produce it?,” by Steve Frank, The Washington Post, July 28, 2016


Guess what? I don’t agree with the benighted author of this article.


I had lunch on Tuesday, July 26 with an emeritus professor with whom I have become friends due to common interests.

I think he may be Jewish, am not sure. His wife is Jewish and is very active in advocacy of Jewish causes.

He is an opera lover. One of his favorites is Wagner. He told me that he can’t get it out of his mind what a horrible person Wagner was in so many respects.

But he continues to listen to the operas, loves and admires them.

Sorry. You don’t ban Shakespeare.

You do not ban the poet and playwright who wrote such memorable lines as:

The pound of flesh which I demand of him

Is deerely bought, ’tis mine, and I will haue it.

The playwright who coined more words and phrases in our language than any other.

The peerless writer who cannot and will never be equaled in the realm of English literature.

The writer who, in the view of one eminent citric, Harold Bloom, “not only invented the [modern] English language, but also created human nature as we know it today.”

Prejudices and anti-Semitism notwithstanding, Shylock is a memorable character. It was Shakespeare who created him. Shakespeare, to whom we owe gratitude and reverence, notwithstanding what may have been his views.

We don’t approve, are horrified when fanatical Islamists destroy holy shrines on the grounds of enforcing their view of religious purity.

Shakespeare is an icon whose works must not be censored.


— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016




“The Merchant of Venice” is currently playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Some other comments (responses to the op ed) published on the Washington Post website include the following, with which I agree.

Let’s see: “Taming of the Shrew” for sexism, “Othello” for disparaging people of color/foreigners, all the history plays for rampant historical inaccuracy, “Romeo and Juliet” for romanticizing teenage suicide…. And that’s just for starters and just Shakespeare.

Well, gee, let’s just not produce anything set in any controversial time and portray it accurately. If we’re going to start assuming that people are, or have to remain, so ignorant of what they are seeing as to not be able to realize that the way people are speaking to each other is a historical bias and not a present-day way of speaking… then why bother teaching history or literature at all? If we’re going to start suggesting that by using the correct wording to portray how people spoke to each other at the time, that we’re creating hate… then you might as well start digging a really big pit to burn all the books and movies in because people have actually been trying to be more and more historically accurate over the years (the fools!).

It’s a play. It isn’t a documentary.

The author [Frank] seems in favor of the idea that the past should be judged purely by today’s standards and not in context. Maybe he should come up with a politically correct version of the Bible for example? Should be about half the size of any other Bible.

Why tilt at this little windmill when the mother ship of anti-Semitism is all around us? Read the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible and the Jews demanding that Jesus be killed and accepting the resulting curse on them and their children. That is obviously written by someone who was in a conflict with the then-current Jewish leadership, and was designed to stir animosity rather than to accurately portray events. Then there’s all the stuff about Pharisees. The Bible has surely been responsible for a heck of a lot more anti-Semitism than Shakespeare.

“The Merchant of Venice” does not perpetuate any stereotype of Jews. Audiences don’t stream out with hatred of Jews ignited in them nor even the seeds of hatred planted in their minds. Those few in the audience who are already anti-Semitic — and they are few in modern English speaking societies — are not going to get any more stoked up in their anti-Semitism. Those who are not, the majority, will simply enjoy a work by the greatest dramatist and poet of our culture with all its intricacies and observations about human nature.

Banning the play, simply to ameliorate the discomfort of those who would ban all discomforting speech on PC grounds, is to perpetuate intolerance for real. Watching the play is the lesser evil, by far.

“Merchant” is the latest casualty of that creeping disease called political correctness, which is busily tearing up the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech guarantee. We still have free speech — unless, of course, it offends somebody.

canned vs. frozen vs. fresh (my personal experience)


Canned food has been around for about two hundred years, according to a Wikipedia article I just read at

Hard to believe, is it not?

According to another Wikipedia article re frozen foods, at

From 1929, Clarence Birdseye introduced “flash freezing” to the American public. Birdseye first became interested in food freezing during fur-trapping expeditions to Labrador in 1912 and 1916, where he saw the natives use natural freezing to preserve foods. … [E}xperiments, involving orange juice, ice cream and vegetables were conducted by the military near the end of World War II.

Which means that frozen foods were common by the time I was growing up.

My impressions, in a nutshell:

Frozen orange juice from concentrate was horrible.

Most vegetables tasted then, and still do, quite good: for example, peas (especially), broccoli, and string beans.

But other vegetables, strangely, did not then and do not now seem to taste as good frozen. Corn, for example. And, spinach.

Why is it a fact that (it seems indisputable to me) that corn seems to taste far better canned?

Spinach? it doesn’t seem to freeze well. It needs to be fresh.

Beets are best by far fresh. They are passable canned, but not very tasty or nutritious.

When it comes to fruits, I actually prefer some canned! This may be because I was brought up with them being served them that way, often for desert. (I loved Del Monte Fruit Cocktail.)  For example, peaches and pears. I think they taste very good canned. In contrast, they have a rough texture when fresh that I can’t get used to. And, the fresh ones are often as hard as rocks.

Strawberries ideally should be fresh. But, fresh strawberries when purchased often are not that fresh and taste bitter. My mother used to use frozen strawberries, and I actually got to like them. Nowadays, store bought strawberries often seem to taste “cottony.”

Peas, as I mentioned above, taste great frozen. They seem to retain their full flavor and to be just about as good as the real thing. Why is it that canned peas taste insipid?

As I mentioned above, canned corn tastes just great. What about the real thing?

My father once told me that he had heard it said that corn on the cob should be eaten right away once harvested – the way he put was, “you have to practically run to the pot with an ear of corn.” I have noticed that a lot of store bought corn on the cob does not taste particularly good. The kernels are hard, and you can tell it’s not fresh. Which is not to say that there is nothing like a buttered ear of fresh, sweet corn on the cob.

Did anyone ask about cherries? I have never heard of them being sold any other way than fresh. I love them. Too bad they are often not fresh anymore by the time they reach market, with the result that they taste bitter and tart –- the delicious sweetness all gone. It’s very hard to find fresh cherries here in New York.

You will see cherries very highly priced, wrapped in cellophane, in stores here. They supposedly are the best ones, from the state of Washington. They seem to have spent a lot of time on the shelf and are fair, at best. Basically, it’s a rip off. It used to be, just a few years ago, that there would be a few weeks during the summer when you could purchase the real things – honest to God sweet, fresh cherries – at local greengrocers in the City. I can’t seem to find them anymore.

I forgot to mention watermelons. They were wonderful in my childhood; they were local. Nowadays, it’s hard to get fresh, sweet watermelons. More often than not, they are more or less tasteless. What a shame. Watermelons seem to grow profusely practically everywhere.


— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016

OJ on the Rocks


it’s not hard to get good orange juice these days.

There is still some variation in quality. If you order fresh squeezed orange juice, it is sometimes not that fresh. The fancier Manhattan delis offer fresh squeezed orange juice at a high price, as much as five dollars for a plastic container of it. Sometimes it’s great; at other times you can tell it’s been on the shelf for too long.

I recall orange juice from the 1950’s. My mother would urge us to drink our orange juice at breakfast before going to school. The orange juice available then was frozen. It came in a tube. You would open it up and there would be a hunk of orange colored ice (you would squeeze the tube to make sure you got all of it). My mother would put it into a pitcher and mix it with tap water. That was our “fresh” juice. It was watery and not good. It didn’t taste anything like the real thing — in fact, it tasted horrible.

Occasionally, my mother would cut up oranges and make real orange juice, but that was rare.

Today, I had breakfast in a local restaurant. I ordered an omelet (which was delicious), toast, orange juice, and coffee.

The waitress brought the orange juice in a plastic glass that was filled with ice. Also a straw, which one does not need to drink orange juice!

I could not resist saying to her, “You know, orange juice is actually better served without ice.”

She couldn’t relate to what I was saying and had no idea as to what. She didn’t care. “We always serve it that way,” she replied.

Orange juice should not be served in with ice. It should not be warm, obviously, but it should not be chilled — ice dilutes the juice and ruins it.

A final observation, based on something a New Age type person once said to me, which seemed to make sense. If you have a craving for orange juice, your body is telling you something. Drink a lot of it right then and there. You will get a massive infusion of something – presumably Vitamin C (I am not a nutritionist or scientist and and thus am not qualified to say more) — which will do you a lot of good and may help you feel better immediately.


— Roger W. Smith

     July 2016



summary of classical music on this blog


The music I have posted here is from old LP’s of mine. There is some rare and wonderful music (among my all time favorites).



Folk music for voice and piano: eight Hungarian folksongs (The music is simply stunning and the performance by a Hungarian singer and pianist superb. You never heard anything quite like it.)



Late Quartets (By The Hungarian Quarter I have never liked another performance as much.)

Mass in C major (A friend gave me this LP as a gift. I like this mass as much if not more than the “Missa Solemnis.”)

Moonlight, Appassionata and Pathétique sonatas (played beautifully on this LP with great restraint)



“Lyric Suite” by Berg and some other pieces by Anton Webern



l’Enfance du Christ” (Oratorio; I love the piece and this performance. There is a wonderful soprano on this recording.)



Concerto for trumpet, oboe, bassoon with two violins and basso continuo in D major (attributed to Biscogli)


CAMPION, DOWLAND, AND MORLEY (Elizabethan composers; this was an LP that was part of scholarly musical research and reconstruction. It consists of music for lute and voice by Thomas Campion, John Dowland, and Thomas Morley, composers of Shakespeare’s time. Beautiful, plaintive music.)



Quartet #6 (“American”)


IRVING FINE (my father’s music professor)

Symphony (1962; an arresting piece. A premier performance of this work at Tanglewood, given less than two weeks before Fine’s death in his forties from a heart attack. Fine conducted the premiere.)





“Acis and Galatea”

“Alexander’s Feast” (a Handel work based on a poem of Dryden)

“L’Allegro ed il Penseroso” (A splendid performance of Handel’s enchanting setting of Milton’s poem. Does not include “il Moderato.”)

“Birthday Anthem for Queen Anne”


“Israel in Egypt”

“Judas Maccabeus”

“Ode to the Foundling Hospital” (heart rending)


“Samson” (a splendid work, right up there with “Messiah”)



“Sosarme” (awesome)



Symphony #6 (the charming “Surmise” symphony, on a rare old mono LP)

“Mass in Time of War”

“Schöpfungmesse” (Creation Mass)


(The late Hayden masses are nonpareil works.)



liturgical music on a single LP (Ave Maria, Easter Ode, etc.; haunting)



Music for chorus. (“The Circus Band” alone is worth it, and there is some other good stuff — a Salvation Army hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” for instance.)



La Messe de Nosrte Dame (It was a revelation to me on first hearing; work very old yet seemingly somewhat “modern.”)



“Mass in F Major, k. 192 (a “sleeper”; an old recording of lesser known, charming mass)

“Complete Masonic Music.” (The music was a very pleasant surprise to me. Includes the splendid short piece “Ave Verum Corpus.”)



songs (I don’t understand why Nielsen is not better known. His output of songs was prolific and outstanding. There are twelve songs on this rare LP.)

“Springtime in Funen” (You’ve never heard a piece quite like “Springtime in Funen,” which is sort of a vocal piece for chorus and soloists celebrating life on a Danish island where the composer grew up.)



“The Fairy-Queen” (a splendid 1950’s recording of this masque/semi-opera)

“King Arthur” (a rare recording this semi-opera)

harpsichord suites (They are impressive and compelling.)



An LP of sacred music by Orlando di Lasso, Josquin des Prez, and Heinrich Isaac.



String quintet in C minor, op. 163

Mass #6 in E flat (a performance done with great restraint, which this beautiful setting of the mass leads itself to)



“Weihnachhistorie” (Christmas Story; I love the piece and the performance.)



symphony no. 11 (a rare early recording of a Shostakovich symphony that, while not neglected, deserves to be better known)

“Song of the Forests” (an arresting oratorio)



“Kullervo” (A wonderful symphonic suite with chorus based on the Finnish national epic. The last track includes some wonderful incidental music that was not composed as part of “Kullervo.”)



A capella settings for chorus by Tchaikovsky of poems (I find the music haunting; there is something incredibly pure and beautiful about the singing. Includes settings of poems by poets such as Lermontov and Pushkin.)



“Juditha Triumphans” (I love this oratorio and this performance. I believe it is the only Vivaldi oratorio extant.)

“Stabat Mater”


— Roger W. Smith

    July 2016

Re Guantánamo


Donald Trump has vowed to keep the prison open, and to “load it up with some bad dudes.” According to a leaked memo obtained by CNN, those prisoners will include American ISIS supporters—which, critics say, will likely mean American Muslims, deprived of their constitutional rights. “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump has said, adding, in other appearances, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” and “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.”

— Connie Bruck, “Why Obama Has Failed to Close Guantánamo,” The New Yorker, August 1, 2016



This is revolting, nauseating, sickening.


— Roger W. Smith

   July 2016

a hot summer morning (with reflections on the topic of weather)


I had a very enjoyable walk in my favorite local park this morning.

It got very hot as the day progressed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and being outdoors.  I love summer weather, period.

There is a restaurant right near the park. I have hardly ever gone there, but I got to the park very early and decided after a little while to get breakfast.

A woman came into the restaurant when I was there. She is a regular there, as was indicated by her interaction with one of the waitresses. She looked about my age.

She said to the waitress something like, “This heat is terrible. It’s awful to have to put up with it – it’s disgusting.

A lot of people complain about the weather, but the way she said it was accusatory, like the heat was an outrage being perpetrated upon her that she should not have to put up with.

Of course, I feel completely the opposite. I was enjoying the day so much. It was a balmy heat – I love the sun. It was extremely hot, but there was a modest breeze and it was not humid.

Some people will take offense at anything!


— Roger W. Smith

   July 18, 2016




As the summer draws to a close, I have been thinking some more about the subject of weather.

I live in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States. I grew up in New England. In both places, I was very glad that I was able to experience all four seasons.

I love the change of seasons, to be able to experience it.

About a week and a half ago, we had a spell of very hot and humid weather that was very uncomfortable. (Even I found it to be so.) You have a few spells like that during summer in New York City. Usually, only a few days of really hot weather. At most other times, while the City is hot in the summer, it is not unbearable heat wise.

I found during the recent hot spell that it was often cooler outdoors. If there was a breeze, it was often pleasant and certainly bearable. I was surprised that hardly anyone seemed to be outside (relatively speaking). I guess everyone was staying indoors because they wanted air conditioning.

I find that even on the hottest summer mornings, it is cooler (outdoors, that is). And, it can be that way in the evenings, too. This is particularly true in the parks. The grass and soil absorb the heat, whereas the pavement radiates it back like an oven.



I take all weather with equanimity. I am somewhat rueful that the balmy, delightful summer days will be ending soon, but, on the other hand, I am looking forward to the wonderfully temperate, beautiful autumn days. Fall is truly a gorgeous time.

I enjoy extremes of temperature. I like to experience them. This includes bitterly cold winter days. I do — in the depth of winter, when the whole world seems to be in its grip — often wish that it would end and long for the spring, rejoice when it comes. (It came early this year, which is to say right on schedule.) But, I still appreciate the winter, which has its own harsh beauty. And, the contrast between it and other seasons makes me appreciate them all the more. Furthermore, sometimes the cold, ice, and snow can be invigorating, as well as beautiful.

I guess one could say that I take the weather as it comes. I never complain about it.

I got this from my father and mother, who did not take the beautiful New England weather with its four distinct seasons for granted.

Particularly noteworthy was my father’s attitude towards extreme weather conditions and climate changes. He NEVER complained about the weather. He welcomed the extremes. He never used weather conditions as an excuse for missing work or an appointment. He seemed to take a perverse delight in the challenges severe weather would present, and his car never stopped running, snow chains and all.

— Roger W. Smith

  September 2016



Juniper Valley Park, Middle Village, Queens, NY;  July 18, 2016 — photograph by Roger W. Smith


Juniper Valley Park

Henry James on summertime


Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

— Henry James, quoted by Edith Wharton



Reflects and expresses my own feelings.


— Roger W. Smith

   July 2016

A Late Night Softball Game


A late night softball game was going on yesterday evening during my walk in Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, Queens, NY, my favorite local park. It was nearly 9 p.m. The sky was almost dark.

I love to watch amateur baseball. It’s a lot less expensive and less of a hassle than attending a Major League game. A great view for free. I have always enjoyed watching amateur baseball — at all levels. The intricacies and beauty of the game are still there to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Baseball seems ideally to go hand in hand with contemplation. No wonder it has inspired a lot of good writing, from Zane Grey to Roger Kahn.


— Roger W. Smith

   July 14, 2016


late night softball game, Juniper Valley Park 7-13-2016.JPG