Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush: Don't Give Up

Written by: Peter Gabriel
Recorded: 1985
Released: October 1986.
Album: So
Label: Geffen Records

There are times in every person's life where we feel like giving up. It's not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite. It's a sign of being human, a sign of humanity, when we feel as if life has beaten us down, wherre every turn leads to a dead end. Yes, it's true that the world and people can be cruel. And you can feel the stinging rejection of harshness and criticism. No doubt, it hurts.

Take heart. It means that you can feel emotions, while some people cannot feel anything any longer. They live in a world devoid of feeling. Such people are emotionally dead, and are often in positions of authority, where their even-temperateness might be a mask for something else altogether inhuman or unhealthy.

Even so, having a full range of emotions suggest that you are an integrated human. Sadness is as good as happiness, and there is a time and place in the spectrum of our lives to display both in full measure.

We continue on. We don't give up when we know that people love us and want us around, no matter whether we are accomplished, famous or wealthy. We are needed by someone, and every human has value. It would be beneficial to humanity if we displayed more tolerance and compassion to others. In a world that criticizes needlessly and harshly, I needed to hear these words today. It's a beautiful song.

Here is how the song is described in Wikipedia:
"Don't Give Up" is a duet recorded by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush for Gabriel's album So. The single version spent eleven weeks in the UK Top 75 chart in 1986, peaking at number nine. It describes the despair [sung by Gabriel and the] wise counsel sung in the refrain by Bush.

There were two videos created for this song by Godley & Creme. The first consisted of a single take of the singers in an embrace, as the sun enters total eclipse and re-emerges. The second featured Gabriel and Bush's faces superimposed over film of a town and its people in disrepair. of a man who feels isolated and defeated by the economic system, and the support and the people in disrepair.

Don't Give Up

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
Ive changed my face, Ive changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Don't give up
cos you have friends
Don't give up
Youre not beaten yet
Don't give up
I know you can make it good

Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we'd be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

Don't give up
You still have us
Don't give up
We dont need much of anything
Don't give up
cause somewhere there's a place
Where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
It's going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don't give up
Please don't give up

Got to walk out of here
I can't take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That rivers flowing
That rivers flowing

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no one needs

Don't give upC
Cause you have friends
Don't give up
Youre not the only one
Don't give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don't give up
You still have us
Don't give up now
We're proud of who you are
Don't give up
You know it's never been easy
Don't give up
Cause I believe theres the a place
There's a place where we belong

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Musical Dream

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music. 
Gustav Mahler

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without. 

Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it.
John Lennon 

Kids Playing Drums: Inman Park Festival, Atlanta, Georgia, April 2007.
Photo Credit: rustytanton, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rustytanton/
 I am a writer, so I believe in the power of words to inform, inspire and unite people. Yet, as powerful as words are, I believe music is the highest creative act that can bring humanity together. Music's language is universal, and it is not bound by any nationality, culture or people. Music has and does bring humanity together. That is one reason why I like to have a good number of my postings dedicated to music I love and enjoy.

Music's power lies, I believe, in touching the hearts and souls of people, stripping away all pretense and the masks of indifference and inhumanity. Just look at the faces of people at a concert where the most hardened politicians and businesspeople are in attendance. A piece of music can pull at the heartstrings, and can bring a tear to their eyes. Whether you think such is pure emotionalism or sentimentalism is not as important as the beauty and power that music holds. I think you would agree with that sentiment.

Children love music, both to hear and play. I have always known this, but the idea was inchoate until a few weeks ago. My daughter and her husband came to our home to celebrate my birthday, and they both love music. My son-in-law, who is a fine musician, brought along a couple of drums and his acoustic guitar. He started to play the guitar, and my two sons, aged eight and two, started playing the drums.

Before we knew it, we had a jam session, and the children were laying down a nice rhythm, keeping up with the improvisation. I was both  impressed and amazed by it all. It was the best birthday gift that I could have had. It was not something that I had imagined happening. Which shows you that my imagination needs less management and more freedom to roam.

That is when my idea was born, so to speak. I have a very modest dream: to open a school where poor students would learn and play music. I do not have the money or the means to do this at the moment. But I keep this dream alive, in hope that some day this dream will become a reality. (Perhaps some millionaire or billionaire is reading this and wants to invest in this noble idea.)

I would like to share this dream with you, my readers. I believe that music is one of the chief means of uniting people, and, equally important, it gives joy and meaning to humanity. While many schools are placing emphasis on math, sciences and technology, the arts and music have been almost forgotten. Yet, can you imagine a world without music?

Equally important, music has many benefits, including helping to young people achieve better results academically, emotionally and socially, say Jovanka Ciares and Paul Borgese  in The Benefits of Music on Child Development:

With the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of high-tech jobs that require computer skills, there seems to be less interest in music and arts education. Fortunately, while all this is happening, several studies by experts in the field are demonstrating that studying the arts — particularly music — can actually help develop skills necessary when learning about computers.

Several studies by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is based at Brown University, explored the effects of art and music education on young children's learning. The conclusions of these studies support the theory that music instruction can help build intellectual and emotional skills, facilitate children's learning and strengthen other academic areas, such as reading and math. Also, these studies indicate that music can positively affect children and adults of all ages.
In addition, for those who like studies and academic papers on music's efficacy, Children's Music Workshop, has a wonderful site dedicated to music programs. It can give you a lot of supporting information on why music is important for children's development and education

As for my modest musical dream, I am thinking of naming the school after one of my musical heroes, John Lennon. It might have a name like the John Lennon School of Music.

As I envision it in my idealistic manner, the school would teach children to play all kinds of music: rock, blues, classical, jazz, klezmer, among the many other musical styles that the world offers us. The chief idea is to bring joy and hope to children, who often lack the means for both.

The school's theme song might be John Lennon's Imagine:

Imagine there's no countries,
it isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion too,
Imagine all the people,
living life in peace.

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one,
I hope someday you'll join us,
and the world will be as one.

Living in unity and harmony is a good, if not great, idea. Such ideals are deemed impossible only by people who don't want that to ever happen, for reasons that essentially come down to a poverty of imagination and an animus to happiness. All the great beneficial discoveries and creative efforts in history were not only initially met with skepticism and outright hostility, but were done by people who had a dream and a vision. They progressed forward despite the apparent obstacles.

I press forward in my modest way. The school would be a non-profit institution. It's a dream for now. I hope that one day it will become a reality, and that children will start making beautiful music together. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

I would like to hear your thoughts or views on this.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gene Krupa & Buddy Rich on Drums

Two of the greatest drummers showing their superior talents. If you love drumming, you'll love this. It was played on the Sammy Davis Show, 1966.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald: A-Tisket, A-Tasket


Words & Music by: Ella Fitzgerald & Van Alexander

The film clip is from Ride Em Cowboy (1942), starring Bud Abbott &Lou Costello.

A-Tisket, A-Tasket
By Ella Fitzgerald

A-tisket a-tasket
A green and yellow basket
I wrote a letter to my love
And on the way I dropped it

I dropped it, I dropped it
Yes, on the way I dropped it
A little girlie picked it up
And took it to the market

She was truckin' on down the avenue
Without a single thing to do
She was peck, peck, peckin' all around
When she spied it on the ground

A-tisket a-tasket
She took my yellow basket
And if she doesn't bring it back
I think that I shall die

A-tisket a-tasket
A green and yellow basket
I wrote a letter to my love
And on the way I dropped it

I dropped it, I dropped it
Yes, on the way I dropped it
A little girlie picked it up
And took it to the market

(Was it red?) No, no, no, no
(Was it brown?) No, no, no, no
(Was it blue?) No, no, no, no
Just a little yellow basket

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Harry Potter is Popular

Dumbledore: “My dear Professor, I've never seen a cat sit so stiffly.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Dumbledore: “Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Dumbledore: “As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all—the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Honoured Writer: J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary degree from The University of Aberdeen, 6 July 2006(2006-07-06).
Photo Credit: Sjhill, 2006.

There is no question that the Harry Potter series is a success, not only with children but with adults. I have not read any of the books yet, but two of my reading-age children have read all the books and seen the movies. The happy consensus is that they love it and want more of J.K. Rowling's work. Not only my children, but their peers and hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

Ms. Rowling has a sense of the times and what people want, and may need to hear. It's about fantasy. It's about good humour. It's about magic. It's about imagination. These are all things that children, and some adults love.

The latest movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a major commercial success. Its opening last weekend earned more than $300 million, reports David Germain, AP Movie Writer, in Yahoo Canada Financial News:
Harry Potter has cast his biggest box-office spell yet with a franchise record $125.1 million domestically over opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" also added $205 million in 54 overseas countries, bringing the film's worldwide total to $330.1 million.

In terms of domestic revenue, "Deathly Hallows: Part 1" came in ahead of the series' best previous debut of $102.7 million for 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
That's fantastic news and gladdens my heart. It is right that such a film is a commercial success in today's times. The movies speak about the universal battle between Good and Evil, and does so in a the wonderful British manner and sensibility, following writers like Lewis CarrollC.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien.

Jacket Cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Retrieved from the-leaky-cauldron.org
Art By Jason Cockcroft © 2007 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

Ms. J.K. Rowling has a keen understanding of the current zeitgeist: the need for fantasy to explain a world that seems upside down. In an age of terror, people want to escape. This is what people did during the 1940s, when they went to see Hollywood musicals and read science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. I have read a good many books from these authors in my formative years and all were pure escapism and a good read.

And today, science fiction and fantasy fills the need in people of all ages and of all sensible sentiments. The result is that Ms. Rowling has become wealthy and famous, and her body of work has given many enjoyment, thrills and consolation. All credit is due to Ms. Rowling for doing something good.

Yet, not everyone approves of her writing. Some are driven by ideological reasons (like hard-edged evangelical Christians), while others are driven by jealously (like other less-famous writers).

There will always be detractors when someone is doing good. There is not much one can do to change their views, as hardened as they have become, locked in an unbending ideology. It's the opposite of imagination. The good news is that hundreds of millions of people around the world, chiefly boys and girls, who might not have read anything, are now reading and developing their imagination.

Equally important, it lets children remain as children.
Note: I would like to hear your comments on the Harry Potter series.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Serve & Protect The Elites

This might become the iconic photo of today's Canada. If you look at the photo in the National Post article, you will note an unidentified police officer, protected by  other similar-minded and -clad bicycle-patrol officers, giving the boot to demonstrators in Toronto during the G20 summit.  No charges will be levied against any of the officers, an article in the National Post says:

The province’s Special Investigations Unit will not lay any criminal charges after probing the cases of six men who alleged police injured them during the June G20 summit in Toronto, despite evidence at least some of them were in fact assaulted by police.

In each investigation — details of which were made public Thursday — SIU director Ian Scott concluded there were no reasonable grounds to lay charges against any identified officer.

All of the complainants were injured on June 26 at various downtown locations.
It's unfortunate that the police in this case have closed ranks, despite, as the article says, "evidence at least some [protesters] were in fact assaulted by police."  Assault is assault, the law says, it being no respector of persons or position. It's especially more grievous when done in a position of authority, while wearing a uniform.

Yet, silence prevails. Doing so lessens the dignity of the majority of police officers in Canada, who do their duty protecting the public with diligence, professionalism and courtesy. But, of course, a few bad apples can ruin the bunch, and with it the reputation of Canadian police officers, both nationally and internationally.

This is especially disturbing given the wonderful work that the police in Canada have been doing with immigrant and ethnic communities the last few years—an effort made all the more difficult since many are fearful of police and authority, having left nations with totalitarian regimes. Images are powerful, and this one is no exception.

The photo and the article might give the impression that the police are there primarily to serve the State and its elites. That would be a blow to democracy. Sadly, for many now, the photo might now give new meaning to the motto: To Serve & To Protect.

Frank Sinatra: Nice 'n' Easy

Written by: Alan Bergman, Marilyn Keith, Lew Spence
Recorded: March 1 – 3, April 13, at Capitol Studio A, Hollywood, California
Released: 1960
Label:  Capitol Records
Album: Nice 'n' Easy

Frank Sinatra: Taking it  Nice 'n' Easy

Nice 'n' Easy

Let's take it nice and easy
It's gonna be so easy
For us to fall in love

Hey baby what's your hurry
Relax, don't you worry
We're gonna fall in love

We're on the road to romance
That's safe to say
But let's make all the stops along the way

The problem now of course is
To simply hold your horses, to rush would be a crime
'Cause nice and easy does it every time

We're on the road to romance
That's safe to say
But let's make all the stops along the way

The problem now of course is
To simply hold your horses, to rush would be a crime
'Cause nice and easy does it, nice and easy does it
Nice and easy does it every time

Like the man says one more time
Nice and easy does it, nice and easy does it
Nice and easy does it every time

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Can We End Poverty?

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
James A. Baldwin, American author

When you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a communist.

Archbishop Helder Camara
Brazilian archbishop, Catholic Church
Do we have the will to make poverty history?
Bono, singer and social activist

Poverty Is Everywhere: A young Afghan girl begs on the street in Kabul, September 8, 2008.
Photo Credit:  Mikhail Evstafie, 2008.

Bono's question is one of the most important anyone can ask. Poverty affects every nation, every people, every government. One of the problems of poverty is that it is universal. It is no respecter of persons. Persons who have been high can be knocked down off their feet to a point of humility. It's the tragedy written for common people.

And, yet, even today in our enlightened age, poverty carries one the greatest stigmas in the world, particularly in the highly industrialized nations. It remains one of the last taboos. Today, people can talk freely about their sex lives, but not of their poverty and their struggles to get by. This is highly evident in certain communities, where poverty is inextricably linked to failure and shame. It does not have to be this way.

It will take will, to be sure. It will also take a real commitment. For too long, governments have not fought diligently against poverty, giving in to vague promises and photo-ops. Little has really been accomplished in the last thirty years.

That might soon change. A new proposal, guaranteeing a annual income, by the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Quebec might ease the stigma associated with poverty and being poor, reports the Globe & Mail's Erin Anderssen in To end poverty, guarantee everyone in Canada $20,000 a year. But are you willing to trust the poor?

As Ms. Anderssen writes:
The idea of giving money to the poor without strings is not new. It melds altruism and libertarianism, saying both that the best way to fight poverty is to put cash in poor people's pockets and that people can make their own choices better than bureaucrats can. As a result, it can find support in theory from both left and right.

It has been tested with success in other countries, and now it has re-entered the Canadian political conversation.

This week, a House of Commons committee on poverty released a report proposing a guaranteed basic income for Canadians with disabilities, on the model already available to seniors. The Senate released a similar report this spring calling for a study of how it would work for all low-income Canadians.

In Quebec, a government task force went further, recommending a minimum guaranteed income starting at $12,000 for everyone in the province.
Keeping His Dignity in Europe. A man begs for some coins. Like everyone he deserves better.
Photo Credit: Sheldon Levy, circa 1990.
There is already an organization in Europe advocating such measures, BIEN, based in Belgium. Its mission statement is simple:
Founded in 1986, the Basic Income European Network (BIEN) aims to serve as a link between individuals and groups committed to, or interested in, basic income, i.e. an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement, and to foster informed discussion on this topic throughout Europe.

Members of BIEN include academics, students and social policy practitioners as well as people actively engaged in political, social and religious organisations. They vary in terms of disciplinary backgrounds and political affiliations no less than in terms of age and citizenship. In the course of two decades, "BIEN" has become somewhat of a misnomer, as scholars and activists from other continents have actively joined the network.

Common to all is the belief that some sort of economic right based upon citizenship—rather than upon one's relationship to the production process or one's family status - is called for as part of the just solution to social problems in advanced societies. Basic Income, conceived as a universal and unconditional, if modest, continuous stream of income granted throughout life to all members of a political community is just the simplest and most striking element in an expanding set of social policy proposals inspired by this belief and currently debated, if not already implemented.
That a government would consider instituting such a program is both hopeful and heartening. A program of a guaranteed income is humane and would give individual dignity, freedom and hope to people and families. Parents would not have to think where to spend their meager dollars. For the poor, each dollar is worth a lot. So, such a guaranteed income program would be wonderful news for everyone. Society benefits in a classic win-win situation.

More so, it would remove the fear and struggles associated with poverty. It would reduce hospital visits and other health problems linked to poverty. To those hard-hearted pragmatic individuals who say the money is not available, think again: It's not so much a hand-out, but a distribution of money where it would be needed the most. Large corporations in Canada, for example, receive billions of dollars in "corporate welfare." This is considered good for society.

But not in my estimation of fairness and decency. It would serve society far more to help individuals, particularly families with children. Yet, when reading the comments of some individuals in the above-cited article, you would think ice water runs through their veins. Or it might be something else all together different.

To those with atrophied hearts and souls, no amount of reasoning or appeal will work. To those with soft hearts I say this. If you have seen first-hand the affects of poverty on children, it is hard to easily dismiss such a noble idea as ending poverty. Most of us want to think ourselves as decent and fair people.

That would mean not begrudging those who need help from the State. That would mean treating everyone with dignity. That would mean a lot to those now enduring Poverty.
I have written on this subject in previous posts (see On Poverty & The War on Poverty: It's Worth Fighting).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Beatles: All You Need is Love

From the BBC Our World broadcast of June 25, 1967, "All You Need is Love" was seen by an estimated 400 million people in 26 countries, then representing about 10 per cent of the world's population.

Here is good background on the song and this video clip, from Wikipedia:
"All You Need Is Love" is a song written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon/McCartney. It was first performed by The Beatles on Our World, the first live global television link. Watched by 400 million in 26 countries, the program was broadcast via satellite on 25 June 1967. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song for the United Kingdom's contribution. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at no. 362 in their 500 greatest songs of all time.
 For the broadcast, The Beatles were (except for Starr) seated on stools, accompanied by a small studio orchestra. They were surrounded by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor, many of whom were among the leading stars of the British pop scene, who sang with the refrain during the fade-out, including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Pattie Harrison, Jane Asher, Mike McCartney, Gary Leeds and Hunter Davies.
The performance was not completely live: The Beatles, the orchestra, and guests were overdubbing onto a pre-recorded rhythm track mainly consisting of piano, harpsichord, drums, and backing vocals. Canadian musician Harry Currie was engaged as a backup vocalist in the original recording session at Abbey Road Studios in 1966. The full Our World segment opens with the band and company listening to the raw backing track, as commentator Steve Race explained the process in voice-over.
The live overdubs seem to include not only lead vocals, orchestra, and the improvised call-and-response, but also bass guitar, Harrison's guitar solo, and a second drum track — which seems to go out of time with the original track during the first few bars. At the beginning of the song, under "La Marseillaise," a tambourine is shaken, but this was mixed out and replaced with a drum roll before the single was released.
Lennon, affecting indifference, was said to be nervous about the broadcast, given the potential size of the international TV audience. Dissatisfied with his singing, he re-recorded the solo verses for use on the single. Starr also overdubbed drums before the single was released, fixing the aforementioned timing problems and adding the drum roll.
The programme was broadcast in 'black-and-white' (colour television had yet to commence broadcasting in Britain and most of the world). The Beatles' footage was colourised, based on photographs of the event, for The Beatles Anthology documentary.

All You Need is Love
By John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Love, Love, Love.
Love, Love, Love.
Love, Love, Love.

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It's easy.

Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It's easy.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love (Paul: All together, now!)
All you need is love. (Everybody!)
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need (love is all you need).

Oh yeah!
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah.
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exploring The Deep

If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.
Jules Verne

Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future, 
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Like many curious minds, I was always interested in understanding the unknown. When I was a young boy, I loved to read such books as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne), The Time Machine (H.G. Wells), and the Foundation Trilogy (Isaac Asimov). These books coincided with my interest in exploration of the unknown, both above and below.

While I discussed space exploration in a previous post (see The Space Race), I have yet to address my interest in the underwater world. Between 1968 and 1975, my family and I watched The Undersea  World of Jacques Cousteau, which became our entree into his world. It was a privilege to enter it, to see his love and respect for the natural beauty of the oceans and the beautiful and often strange life it nurtured.

He was one of my heroes, an inspiration to many of us who valued not only discovering the myriad beauties of the sea, but also the protection of the ocean and all it held. Captain Cousteau, who passed away in 1997, was indeed an inspiration to my generation growing up watching him on television, chiefly because he gave us a glimpse in to the fascinating underwater world. His pioneering work continues.

Much has to be done. Even today, we know very little about the undersea world, says World Ocean Census, compiled by The Cousteau Society:
Even now, at the beginning of the 21st century, 95 percent of the world’s ocean basins and seas has yet to be explored (some put this figure as high as 98 percent). Part of the reason is simply the global ocean’s vast size: it comprises approximately 71 percent of the planet’s surface and covers 361 million square kilometers (139 million square miles). And there is more to the world’s ocean than meets the eye – a vast story unfolds below the surface. The global volume of ocean water is 1,370 million cubic kilometers (329 million cubic miles), with an average depth of 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles).

The deepest ocean trench areas extend 10.5 kilometers (more than 6.7 miles) below the sea surface. And if the obstacles of size, volume and mass were not enough, other deterrents to exploration – darkness and pressure – greatly increase the challenge, cost and risk for those who dare to venture below the surface. Only recently have technological advances allowed scientists to successfully tackle the physical challenges of exploring dark ocean extremes at intense pressures.
Exploring the Ocean Deep:The  Alvin submersible in 1978, a year after first exploring hydrothermal vents. The three-person vessel allows for two scientists and one pilot to dive for up to nine hours at 4,500 meters (15,000 ft).
Photo Credit: NOAA, 1978. Source: NOAA Photo Gallery > NURP Album > Image ID nur07549.
The world's oceans, considered one body of water, truly remains the Great Unknown. What is known, however, is our effect on it. Despite what the sea has had to bear from humanity, including industrial waste and toxins, overfishing, and  it has continued to give us what humans need, including water, minerals and food. But many of the world's leading organizations that monitor the health of the world's oceans are raising concerns that we need to change our ways, lest we destroy our finely balanced eco-system.

One of the chief issues is over-fishing, says National Geographic's Paul Greenberg in Time for a Sea Change:
Too many hooks in the water. That’s the problem with today’s fisheries. Working from small pole-and-line boats to giant industrial trawlers, fishermen remove more than 170 billion pounds of wildlife a year from the seas. A new study suggests that our current appetite could soon lead to a worldwide fisheries collapse.
It sounds sensationalistic, but I suggest that you read the article in its entirety. Business as usual is not a serious option, if we want our children to enjoy the benefits and the beauty of the ocean. Outdated industrial-age large-scale fishing practices are killing fish and other wildlife needlessly, says Oceana, an international organization whose motto is Protecting the World's Oceans:
Destructive fishing practices that include driftnets, longlines and bottom trawls are ruining ocean ecosystems by indiscriminately killing fish and other wildlife, including seabirds and marine mammals. Each year, more than 16 billion pounds of bycatch are thrown overboard thanks to wasteful fishing techniques.
Bottom trawls drag heavily weighted nets along the ocean floor in search of fish or crustaceans in a practice akin to clearcutting a forest in order to catch a rabbit. Centuries-old habitats such as coral gardens are destroyed in an instant by bottom trawls, pulverized into barren plains. Endangered sea turtles drown on longline hooks while sharks have their fins sliced from their bodies, which are then tossed overboard.
The solution is available, and it always is, if we use our imagination and believe that we have a problem and that it needs a humane solution. We often suffer needlessly for lack of imagination. As Mr. Cousteau once said: " The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

Yes, there is a certain magic or mysticism involved, words that scare scientists with rational ideas. Yet, imagination is a necessary ingredient in thinking for solutions that often evade us. Which leads to the power of science fiction to free the imagination from its imprisonment. These novels gave us hope and imagination, little of which is evident today in the public discourse. Imagination is not the enemy, but part of the solution.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frank Sinatra: High Hopes

Written by: Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics by: Sammy Cahn.

High Hopes was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1959, featuring a children's choir like the one in the video. The song was included in a 1961 Sinatra album, All the Way. The tune reached no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. Frank Sinatra recorded a version of the tune with different lyrics which was used as the theme song for the 1960 Presidential Campaign of John F. Kennedy.

High Hopes

Next time you're found, with your chin on the ground
There a lot to be learned, so look around

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can't
Move a rubber tree plant

But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

So any time you're gettin' low
'stead of lettin' go
Just remember that ant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant

When troubles call, and your back's to the wall
There a lot to be learned, that wall could fall

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram, scram
He kept buttin' that dam

but he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

So any time you're feelin' bad
'stead of feelin' sad
Just remember that ram
Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam

All problems just a toy balloon
They'll be bursted soon
They're just bound to go pop

Oops there goes another problem kerplop
Oops, there goes another problem kerplop
Oops, there goes another problem kerplop

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sting: Save The Dolphins

Sting and his Save the Dolphins campaign in an IMAX trailer. Much has been written about these beautiful, playful and noble mammals. The images speak for themselves. How we view and treat other sentient beings tells us much about ourselves and our views on humanity.

There are, generally speaking, two views on the earth. One view is that the earth belongs to humans, and it is our right to do with it which gives us pleasure and fulfills our appetites. Another view is that the earth is a gift that we cherish, including all that it contains, and that we ought to be nurturing and protecting it, as we would something that we love.

For now, it seems that the former view has greater currency. Even so, many international organizations are working to protect the world's oceans, including Oceana, National Geographic and The Cousteau Society. I encourage you to visit each of their comprehensive web sites.

2001: A Space Odyssey

This is the trailer from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a Stanley Kubrick-directed film and its view of the future.

Writer: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Arthur C. Clarke

The music is as haunting, intense and familiar as ever. As for the movie's theme about machines, technology and our role in that mix, it's a reminder that our needs are best met when we remember our humanity and our inter-dependence.

Here is a review from a reader:
A whimsical, often spectacular view of a future in which advances in technology dominate the world. It is well shot and although slow-moving it is intense and enjoyable throughout. The featuring of classical music to establish atmosphere works brilliantly; it provides a feeling of awe, mystery and intrigue – the same aura that Walt Disney worked in creating "Fantasia".
The special effects, both sound and visual, are still spellbinding by the standards of today's technology. Aside from the technical pluses of the film, it stands strong as it is one of not many films out there that has something important to say about humankind, and where the human race is heading in terms of our increasing reliance on machines and our unquenchable thirst to discover. Despite an ending that is hard to understand, it is even harder to overlook this film a true cinema classic.
—by sol- (Perth, Australia)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Space Race

 That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, 
on becoming the first human
to step foot on the moon, July 20, 1969.

First Steps: Neil Armstrong descending the ladder on the lunar module on July 20, 1969. Polaroid image of slow scan television monitor at Goldstone Station. NASA image S69-42583. Photo Credit: NASA
Source: http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/luceneweb/caption.jsp?photoId=S69-42583

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s, the space race between Russia and the United States captured our attention, even here in Canada, watching with fascination which of the two superpowers would be the first to land a manned craft on the moon.

The United States won that boasting right, so to speak, when the Eagle lunar module, piloted by its commander, Neil Armstrong,  touched down on the moon's surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:17 pm EDT. (I had raced home from a picnic outing with my parents, with only a few minutes to spare, to see it all on my black-and-white television. The prospect of missing such a momentous event would have been disheartening.)

Six hours later, with my whole family watching, at 10:56 pm EDT, Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Buzz Aldrin followed 15 minutes later. That event was viewed by an estimated 450 million people, then about 15 per cent of the world's population.

There was excitement at this event, a feeling that something positive and noteworthy was taking place. And, yes, the astronauts were our heroes. As were the cosmonauts in the former Soviet Union for their citizens. This was a contest of scientific and technological achievement for both nations. And both nations accomplished great achievements.

For example, the Soviet Union was first in space and did in fact land unmanned craft on the moon, collecting scientific data. It also had many other firsts in space, including the first probe to impact the moon and the first women in space, fine and notable achievements.

As for the American Apollo 11 mission, after landing and setting foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong went for a walk to an area called East Crater, 60 metres east of the lunar module. At that point, he did something in recognition of both nation' quest to conquer space:
Armstrong's final task was to leave a small package of memorial items [dedicated] to deceased Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The time spent on EVA during Apollo 11 was about two-and-a-half hours, the shortest of any of the six Apollo lunar landing missions.
As indicated above, the U.S. was not the first nation to launch a unmanned satellite into space. That honour belongs to the Soviet Unions, which launched Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. It was launched into an elliptical low earth orbit, and was the first in a series of satellites collectively known as the Sputnik program. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1's success launched the Space Race within the Cold War. The launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age.

Things heated up. When the Soviet Union launched its Vostok 3KA spacecraft on April 12, 1961, with Yuri Gagarin aboard, excitement grew. The Vostok 1 mission was the first manned flight into space, and the first orbital flight of an manned vehicle. The first American in space was Alan B Shepard, Jr., who piloted a Mercury spacecraft named Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961. The sub-orbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes, attained an altitude of about 187 kilometres.

The event is referenced as a turning point in a speech that U.S. President John F. Kennedy made to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961:
It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful inter-agency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further—unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.

Apollo 11 Crew:. (L to R): Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
Photo Credit: NASA
Two years later, President Kennedy made an address before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations in  New York on September 20, 1963, in which he emphasized the quest for space was also a quest for peace and co-operation between the Soviet Union and the United States: 
All these and other new steps toward peaceful cooperation may be possible. Most of them will require on our part full consultation with our allies—for their interests are as much involved as our own, and we will not make an agreement at their expense. Most of them will require long and careful negotiation. And most of them will require a new approach to the cold war—a desire not to "bury" one's adversary, but to compete in a host of peaceful arenas, in ideas, in production, and ultimately in service to all mankind.
The contest will continue—the contest between those who see a monolithic world and those who believe in diversity—but it should be a contest in leadership and responsibility instead of destruction, a contest in achievement instead of intimidation. Speaking for the United States of America, I welcome such a contest. For we believe that truth is stronger than error--and that freedom is more enduring than coercion. And in the contest for a better life, all the world can be a winner.
The effort to improve the conditions of man, however, is not a task for the few. It is the task of all nations—acting alone, acting in groups, acting in the United Nations, for plague and pestilence, and plunder and pollution, the hazards of nature, and the hunger of children are the foes of every nation. The earth, the sea, and the air are the concern of every nation. And science, technology, and education can be the ally of every nation.
President's Kennedy's offer was rebuffed by Premier Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. Two months later, another seminal moment took place, and President Kennedy was assassinated. His death was felt beyond the immediate confines of his family and the nation that he artfully led. With the passing of President Kennedy, the hopes and dreams of a nation began to fade, and along with it its innocence.

It's true that the Americans eventually won the Space Race to the moon on that memorable day on Sunday July 20, 1969. It's also true that it was highly exciting to see all of it unfold with my youthful eyes. I wrote to NASA and received a package of photos, including autographed photos of the Apollo 11 astronauts and the gray grainy  shots of the lunar surface. And I followed subsequent missions, only losing interest after the excitement of space discovery died down, and other interests overtook my life.

But, now many decades later, I realize what could have been (avoided), if the two nations would have co-operated, as they eventually did, and do now. It might have been a victory for all humanity.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Frank Sinatra: Fly Me to the Moon

You can listen to the song here.

Written by: Bart Howard in 1954.
Recorded: June 9-12, 1964: Los Angeles, California
Released: 1964
Album: It Might As Well Be Swing
Label: Reprise Records

It Might As Well Be Swing: Frank Sinatra & Count Basie.
Fly Me To The Moon is the title track.

The song made it to outer space and to the moon, Wikipedia says:
Frank Sinatra recorded it on the album It Might as Well Be Swing (1964), accompanied by Count Basie. The arrangement by Quincy Jones has become the rendition most people know. Jones changed the time signature, which was originally 3/4 waltz-time, to 4/4 and gave it a looser, swing feel. Sinatra's recording was a hit and was played by the astronauts of Apollo 10 on their lunar-orbital mission, and again on the moon itself by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 landing
The Apollo 10 mission took place between May 18 and May 26, 1969. The Apollo 11 moon mission took place between July 16 and July 24, 1969, with the moon landing on July 20, 1969, a memorable event. I plan to write more about this mission, and its meaning for humanity, sometime this week.
Fly Me To The Moon
By Frank Sinatra

Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me

Fill my heart with song
And let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you

Fill my heart with song
Let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, in other words
I love ... you

Moon River: Breakfast at Tiffany´s

Music by:  Henry Mancini
Lyrics by: Johnny Mercer.

This clip of Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River is from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), a romantic comedy and perennial cultural favourite.  The film, based on Truman Capote, won two Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Song (Moon River).

Director:Blake Edwards
Writers:Truman Capote (novel), George Axelrod (screenplay)
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal

The film's plot is described by one film reviewer:
The celebrated author on whose novel it was based despised the film version, describing it as "mawkish." The star wasn't much more enthusiastic; she never considered it among her best work. And the reviews were mixed. But regardless of what Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, or the critics thought about it, the public adored it--and the image of Audrey Hepburn wearing a black evening dress, nibbling pastry, and window shopping has passed into our cultural iconography.

The film is indeed lightweight stuff. Audrey Hepburn is a New York good-time girl who makes a living by clipping her wealthy escorts for fifty here and fifty there. When she meets handsome George Peppard--a writer who makes ends meet by trading favors with society matron Patricia Neal--can love be far behind? But Audrey's mysterious past and her determination to marry rich, George's status as a kept boy-toy, and their occasionally questionable associates provide plenty of complications to fill out the story.

What makes the film work is the remarkable charm of its two stars. Most of the attention goes to Audrey Hepburn and the film shows her to remarkable advantage: she is a remarkable actress, personality, and beauty, and she works wonders with the ultralight script. But when it comes to charm, George Peppard is no slouch either: the film catches him at the height of his early golden-boy good looks, and he is the perfect foil for Hepburn in both their comic and dramatic scenes. Mickey Rooney's excessive performance as Yunioshi aside, the supporting cast is also very entertaining, with Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, and Dorothy Whitney all give enjoyable turns. The film looks great (make sure you get the widescreen version), the score (which includes "Moon River") is excellent, and director Blake Edwards keeps everything moving at a pleasant pace. This a great film to cozy up with on a cold night--romantic, entertaining, and as comforting as a cup of hot chocolate. Recommended.

—by Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Moon River
By Audrey Hepburn

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I'm crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you're going I'm going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world.
There's such a lot of world to see.
We're after the same rainbow's end--
waiting 'round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

© 1961 Paramount Music Corporation, ASCAP

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Open Society

This is a continuation of a previous post, The Just Society.

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard Zinn, American historian 

We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.
Karl Popper
British & Austrian philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies

Greek Goddess of Peace: Eirene (Peace) bearing Plutus (Wealth). Roman copy after a Greek votive statue by Kephisodotos (ca. 370 BC), which stood on the agora in Athens.
Photo Credit: Bibi Saint-Pol,  2007

An Open Society is better than a closed society, notably if you value liberal democracy and its values of individual liberty, equality, fairness and individual dignity. In his landmark and thoughtful book, The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), Karl Popper wrote:
I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago.
It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criticism.
It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered.
—Preface to the Second Edition.

Closed Societies Benefit the Few

Karl Popper was somewhat prescient. A closed society, whose attributes include constant surveillance, limit of civil liberties, and a pathological distrust of everyone's motives, stands in direct opposition to an Open Society. Their aims differ. By nature, governments like to know and somewhat control what its citizens are doing. Liberal democracies exhibit the least control, autocratic tyrannies the most.

In a closed society, the state is generally a distrusting and fearful cadre, fearful to let its citizens think and distrustful to let people roam freely, whether physically or intellectually. Such explains the current emphasis on airport scanners, city surveillance vehicles, wiretapping emails and websites, and other methods to collect and store information of anyone they deem necessary, which might be every person.

They find legal (but not moral or ethical) justification in the wars they undertake. The terror, however, is felt equally within the nation in the hearts of its people. Aligned with like-minded amoral corporations and the sanction of religious authorities, the proponents of a closed society have found a way to enrich the coffers of the few at the expense of people's civil liberties. If money is to be made, anything can be justified in the name of National Security, a meaningless catch-all phrase that could have been coined by George Orwell.

Such measures will not only do nothing or little for national security, but will assuredly cripple individual civil liberties. The fact that these events are taking place is not too surprising, if you follow the arc of history. Not to put too fine a point to it, but the German Weimar Republic was a liberal democracy for 14 years (1919-1933) before Nazism took over the German nation. After Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, the regime became totalitarian, and it made laws contrary to its Constitution.

Statue of Liberty:  This has been a powerful symbol to countless immigrants who viewed it on their way to Ellis Island in New York. Liberty and political freedom are the hallmarks of a well-working democracy. As Karl Popper points out: "We do not choose political freedom because it promises us this or that. We choose it because it makes possible the only dignified form of human coexistence, the only form in which we can be fully responsible for ourselves."
Photo Credit: Rebecca Kennison, August 27, 2001.
Such things can take place in nations that are suffering economically and are facing both economic and moral bankruptcy. Instead of looking inwardly for solutions, they use nationalism, religious ideology, propaganda and other similar tactics and strategies in an attempt to regain status and control. The strategy has short-term effects and is doomed to failure.

Closed Societies do not prosper, and eventually fall apart economically, socially and, of course, morally, because they fail to harness the full potential of all its citizens. Equally problematic, empires with imperialistic views do so at the expense of democracy at home, a point that Chalmers Johnson, public intellectual and professor emeritus at University of California at San Diego, makes in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. (It is interesting to note that Prof Johnson worked for a time as an analyst for the CIA.)

The United States, the leading military superpower, is inexorably becoming such a society. Its history as an Empire started at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. If it continues it profligate ways, including maintaining a huge military presence overseas, its days as a democracy is in peril. There is no schadenfreude expressed here at this real possibility. The writing is on the wall, and the warning signs are there for all to see, Prof Chalmers points out:
We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.
As is common with other once-leading Empires of historical standing, many of the political and business elites are blind to these warning signs. Such is America's zeitgeist.  

Open Societies Benefit the Many

Even so, it was Karl Popper's desire that the ideas of liberal democracy prevail. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy so eloquently put it in regards to the influence of The Open Society: "His most impassioned and brilliant social works, are as a consequence a powerful defence of democratic liberalism as a social and political philosophy, and a devastating critique of the principal philosophical presuppositions underpinning all forms of totalitarianism."

In open societies, the government is responsive and tolerant, and political decisions are made in a transparent, flexible and accommodating way, serving the needs of the citizens rather than those of the political, commercial and social elites. The state keeps no secrets from itself in the public sense. The society acts in a non-authoritarian manner in which all citizens are trusted with the knowledge that the state holds. Political freedoms and human rights are the central  foundation of an open society. Not only in the legal sense of the law, but in its spirit and intent.

No one nation today meets these criteria, but some are closer than others. There are nations that have been traditionally more open. Canada, where I reside, has had a long tradition of liberal democratic and socialist values, in stark contrast to our southern neighbour. More so the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. as well as Belgium and the Netherlands. There are others, of course, which do not get the world's media spotlight, but they are humming along just fine. Their societies, for the most part, are more inclusive and tolerant.

On this side of the Great Divide, there is more than an ocean that divides us. In North America, where all things done by the State has the imprimatur of law, the Constitutions of Canada and the United States are being stretched to unusual unforeseen places. We are far from the principles of an Open Society, and few people would consider that such a welcome change will take place soon. Much has to be done to change the thinking of the masses of people, and galvanize them to positive action. (Remember the saying, Paradigm Shift, common in the 1990s?)

Even so, there are organizations and people working assiduously to bring about change, such as George Soros, who established the Open Society Foundation in 1984. Its motto is Building Vibrant and Tolerant Democracies.  Equally important, imagination is more powerful than knowledge, hope more powerful than fear, and love more powerful than hate. And, as George Soros points out, "Open societies can prevail only when people can speak truth to power."

In the dark days of the Soviet Union, particularly under the iron and cruel grip of Stalinism, few would have dared conceived the fall of the Soviet Union happening in their lifetime. Well, we know what happened in 1991, after the former Soviet Union could no longer function under the combined weight of its own internal contradictions, a rising military budget, immoral failings and international pressure.

And, as Howard Zinn so eloquently stated, it is up to us, the majority of citizens doing small acts, to keep liberal democracy alive. I am always hopeful, perhaps a hope against hope, of change for the betterment and strengthening of liberal democracy happening soon.

If someone is reading this in ten or twenty years, I am sure that things are already better.

Ed note: In other news, about future plans to post my my novel-in-progress, see Announcements.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barbra Streisand: People



Lyrics By: Bob Merrill 
Composed By: Jule Styne
Recorded: December 20, 1963 
Released: January 1964 
Album: Funny Girl 
Label: CBS Records

This is considered Barbara Streisand's signature song.  Here is some background information on this song from Wikipedia:
"People" was one of the first songs written for the musical score of Funny Girl. It is based on the life and career of Broadway and film star and comedienne Fanny Brice and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur/gambler Nicky Arnstein.

Composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill were hired to write the musical score and met each other for the first time in 1962 in Palm Beach, Florida. They wrote their songs by day and tested them by night on the Palm Beach socialites at cocktail parties.

As they worked to develop the character of Fanny Brice, they needed to write a special love song depicting her feelings towards Nicky. According to the book, "Jule: The Story of Composer Jule Styne" by Theodore Taylor, "Jule turned to his collaborator Bob Merrill, 'You told me the other night to work on [the lyric] "a very special person." I think I've got a helluva melody for it.'...'Great,' Merrill yelled. 'But now it's not gonna be just a "special person." Listen.' Then he ad-libbed, while Jule played the melody again: 'People, people who need people'...The song 'wrote' in thirty minutes..."

Ironically, "People" nearly did not get included in "Funny Girl" during early try-outs as the producers did not like it. Bob fought to keep the song in and finally one night, Barbara was allowed to sing it on stage. It stopped the show and history was made.

The single by Streisand was released in January 1964, and peaked at number five on the Billboard pop chart, becoming the singer's first Top 40 hit. It also spent three weeks at number one on the Pop-Standards (adult contemporary) chart in June/July 1964. This helped to cement its inclusion in Funny Girl, which ran on Broadway from March 26, 1964 to July 1, 1967, and earned Styne and Merrill a nomination for a 1964 Tony Award as Best Composer and Lyricist. The single version was recorded on 20 December 1963 and produced by Mike Berniker.

By Barbra Streisand

People who need people,
Are the luckiest people in the world
We're children, needing other children
And yet letting a grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside
Acting more like children than children
Lovers are very special people
They're the luckiest people in the world
With one person one very special person
A feeling deep in your soul
Says you were half now you're whole
No more hunger and thirst
But first be a person who needs people
People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world
With one person one very special person
No more hunger and thirst
But first be a person who needs people
People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world..

Monday, November 15, 2010

Universal Principles

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
—Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
United Nations, December 10, 1948

Eleanor Roosevelt Holding The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: On addressing the UN General Assembly after its adoption,Mrs Roosevelt said: "As we here bring to fruition our labors on this Declaration of Human Rights, we must at the same time rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task which lies before us. We can now move on with new courage and inspiration to the completion of an international covenant on human rights and of measures for the implementation of human rights.
Source: Franklin D Roosevelt Library website.

No sane and reasonable person would argue against the ideals enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which form the basis of universal principles of equality, fairness and individual dignity. Yet, it is fashionable in some quarters to bash and trash the United Nations, deeming it an organization that operates far from its original principles. The charges levied against it are many, including being corrupt, ineffective. socialist and bureaucratic.

While some of these allegations might hold some kernels of truth, Americans who have ultra-conservative views, like the John Birch Society, go further than most. In their estimation, the UN ought to move its headquarters from New York City and outside the United States, and the US ought to also withdraw its membership from the international body. The cost of maintaining the UN is another point put forth by the reformers, which might have some merit. Although it can safely and reasonably be argued that such expenditure has value beyond the dollars and cents on an accounting ledger.

Of the two arguments, I would like to examine the former. What would happen if that wound take place? Would the world be a far better place?

Unlikely so. Owing to the United States' chief role in forming and shaping its founding ideals, the United Nations would be a poorer and weaker body without the presence of the United States and its long-standing tradition of liberal democracy. More than sixty years ago, two persons stand out in this regard: Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, liberal democrats, which might explain some of the animus directed at the UN today by those with opposing views on society.

That being the case, it is worth taking a few minutes to remember and look at how the Charter of the United Nations  and its guiding Universal Principles of Human Rights were shaped and written. This is particularly important to those of us, my generation and younger, who are too young to remember its historic formation.

In the midst of the Second World War, the world's leading powers, led by the United States, drew up a Declaration at the Arcadia Conference in Washington. President Roosevelt of the U.S., Prime Minister Churchill of the U.K.,  Maxim Litvinov, of the USSR, and T. V. Soong, of China signed a short document, on January 1, 1942, which later came to be known as the United Nations Declaration.

The next day representatives of twenty-two other nations added their signatures. This important document pledged the signatory governments to the maximum war effort and bound them against making a separate peace. This document would later become the blueprint for the formation of the modern United Nations, we read in History of the United Nations:
The name "United Nations," coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was first used in the "Declaration by United Nations" of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.
After the Second World War ended, with between 50 million and 70 million deaths, it became the deadliest war in history. The need for a world body to discuss and talk face to face was given greater urgency. That being the case, the United Nations officially came into existence quickly after the war's end, on October 24, 1945, after the Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories. Accordingly, United Nations Day is celebrated on October 24th each year.

The Charter's Universal Appeal

The Charter's Universal Principles are found in its Preamble, similar in sentiment to the United States Constitution: 
We The Peoples Of The United Nations Determine:
  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to regain faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
And For These Ends
  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
Have Resolved To Combine Our Efforts To Accomplish These Aims
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
No doubt, it is easy to criticize an organization that has as its mandate such an ideal as to bring about peace and cooperation among the world's various nations, cultures and peoples. It is idealism in its purest form. Yet, it's a necessary idealism, notably if we really want peace in the world. We tend to forget the cost of war, not only in monetary terms, but more important in human lives, wrecked potential and destruction of hope.

Human Rights Protected

And it was Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a formidable person in her own right, who worked tireless on gaining passage on December 10, 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, strengthening the values contained in the Charter:
Eleanor Roosevelt’s concern for humanity made her the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her leadership of the Commission on Human Rights led to the composition of a Declaration that has endured as a universally accepted standard of achievement for all nations. As our respect for and understanding of the Universal Declaration has grown, so too has our gratitude and admiration for this modest woman who passionately pursued what she imagined would become a cornerstone in the struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone - everywhere.
Remember the maxim: Universal principles like human rights, freedom, equality, and individual dignity are morally superior to man-made rules and laws. The principles themselves are not questionable. They are ideal and noble, among the best protections against tyranny and the erosion of human dignity. Although they might be imperfectly applied, it is not the fault of the documents or the Universal Principles they advocate. The fault lies within ourselves and our human imperfections.

I wonder at the reasons of the people who attack the United Nations, if the attacks are really noble, or otherwise. Is it that some are against the Universal Principles, or is it something else all-together? It might be easy and fashionable in some quarters to mock such noble idealism, especially among some who really do not want to accommodate other ideas, nations or peoples Or among those who think and view the world with steely pragmatism and utilitarianism. We can see what pragmatism and real-politic generally leads to: Misery, Cruelty, InHumanity.

Despite its many real and imagined problems, the United Nations remains the best hope for us, even in its weakened state. If the United Nations could prevent even one war, its mandate has been achieved. What other alternative is there? I am reminded of the famous words of Winston Churchill, former British prime minister and a great wartime leader: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."