Friday, December 31, 2010

Tommy Dorsey: On the Sunny Side of the Street

On the Sunny Side of the Street, composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, was released in 1930. The song was first performed for the Broadway musical Lew Leslie's International Revue, starring Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence.

This recording by Tommy Dorsey, from 1945, is perhaps the most well-known version of the song. Other versions include those performed by Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald & The Manhattan Transfer. If you give each version a listen, you will notice that each performance, although differing somewhat in style and tempo, gives a nice rendition of the song's inner meaning.

Such shows the beauty and importance of preference, personal interpretation and the freedom that music provides. As well, as has been said many times and in many ways, music brings people together. It is a unifying force of good.

So, in choosing this song as my last blog posting of 2010, I wanted the year, which has been difficult in many ways, to end on a positive note. hat sometimes we have to make a concerted effort to walk "on the sunny side of the street." I hope that everyone has a Happy New Year. And may 2011 bring you everything that your heart desires.

On the Sunny Side of the Street
By Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street

Can't you hear a pitter-pat
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But now I'm not afraid
This rover crossed over
If I'd never have a cent
I'd be rich as Rockefeller
Going to set my feet

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Naomi Bronstein: Woman of Valor

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the lesson of kindness is on her tongue.
Proverbs 31:26

Naomi Bronstein, a Montreal woman who dedicated her life to helping orphaned and sick children in the Third World, died last week in Guatemala. She was 65.
Bronstein died in her sleep after years of poor health, including a heart condition.
Often called the Canadian Mother Teresa, Bronstein is best known for bringing Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans to North America for adoption in the 1970s.
Potsmedia News, December 30, 2010

Naomi Bronstein living life with a purpose: helping orphans and sick children live a life of dignity.
Source: CBC News

I never met Naomi Bronstein, but I wish I had. By all accounts, she was a remarkable, compassionate and selfless woman, the kind that our world needs more of—a woman of valor. In all Naomi Bronstein was the mother of 12 children, seven of whom were adopted. It is easy to see where her focus lay. Children were her cause, so to speak, notably taking care of children from such nations as Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea and Guatemala.

This morning I read about Mrs. Bronstein's death, which took place on December 23rd. She was 65. Like many others touched by her life, I felt a sense of loss, that a woman so giving and courageous will no longer be among us to make the world a better place. But we can take heart in learning lessons from a life that was well-lived and with a purpose that so few of us truly possess.

Naomi Bronstein was born in Montreal on September 22, 1945. She dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate in the world, notably children. In 1969, Mrs. Bronstein co-founded Families for Children, a group that brought Vietnamese and other Third World orphans to North America for adoption. In 1975, Bronstein established Canada House Orphanage in Cambodia until she was forced to flee by the Khmer Rouge.

Here is an excerpt from an article from People magazine (April 21,1975):
Mrs. Bronstein's involvement with Vietnam began in 1971 when she and her husband, a 33-year-old knitting mill sales manager, began to look into adopting a child. Outraged to learn that children of mixed parentage were languishing in orphanages all over the world, she decided to do something about it. Since then she has adopted six children herself (three from Vietnam, one from Cambodia, another from Ecuador, and a sixth of racially mixed Canadian parents) and shepherded 650 others to new homes in various countries.
That is almost 40 years of dedication to a worthy cause, the nurturing and care of children. For most of that time she has lived overseas in Vietnam and most recently in Guatemala, where she worked tireless for the children she adored.

She did return to Canada briefly. From 1981 to 1986, she and her family lived in Ottawa where she co-founded Heal the Children Canada, an organization that arranges life-saving medical care, in Canada, for children from overseas. During her tenure in Ottawa, she received the Order of Canada, in 1983, when Prime Minister Trudeau was the leader of Canada.

Of note, Mrs. Bronstein has also been awarded the Royal Bank of Canada $250,000 humanitarian award in 1997. She, as would be expected, donated the money to humanitarian causes. She has garnered many other awards.

To be sure, more could be said and written about this woman, but I would think her own words would do her memory justice. In a personal letter she penned in 2006 to a Dr Judy, we get a glimpse of her heart. This Letter was posted on the website of Dr Judy's cousin, Eva Rosenberg, and its revealing about Naomi Bronstein's dedication and passion for her children:
Dear Judy,

Things here have been pretty bad. Our co-worker and his 13 year old nephew were killed when going off the dirt road onto the highway after helping us with the wood. We build 400 beds for those sleeping in the cold mud. However Isaiah’s small truck was literally under this massive truck and both he and his nephew were killed instantly.

My financial support [name deleted] have written that they have stopped my living expenses and salary for Hugo and the light, phone, care payments etc as of this month, May. When I signed the contract I asked her first, and I told her that as the contract ended in Sept, I had to give notice in June. I don’t know if this was a mix up or not but it seems the payments stop in May.

There is no other place I can go as I have no money for rent or Hugo or car, or food or medicines. I have to be in country, actually living here in order to receive Grants and donations for projects, in order they be administrated and used correctly. All these expenses, including the place we rent for storage, and where Hugo and his wife and 3 kids live will have to go, his contract ends Nov 11th, but I think I can convince the owner to let us out earlier as Hugo, me, his wife, brothers and friends turned it from a cockroach infested, rat infected, giant cobwebs and filth to a painted clean place. I know he will be able to rent it for more.

However I have to pay for a place to live for myself, and salary and car payments and truck insurance, computer, light, gas, etc. This really adds up to $5000. per month. The Gibsons were giving me $9000 so I could also buy meds and pay for surgeries on kids here and still go to remote areas. Then it was cut more than half.

The US Weather bureau predicts 25 tropical storms and 17 Hurricanes for Guatemala this year.

31,000 are homeless, 1/3 of the country destroyed, we have grant and donation applications in, and one for the Mobile Medical Units that were old school buses that will go to the villages and treat the children & their families. If I am not living on the ground physically, none of these donations or grants will continue to happen and hundreds of children will suffer and many will die.

I need to find a way to raise, in a total pledge $5000 per month transferred to Canada and then my daughter wire transfers it to me here so an income tax receipt can be made that is acceptable to the IRS.

Really, when you think of $5000 a month divided up among people, companies, churches, clubs etc it really is not so hard to get going, and I am running out of time. The only thing is that whatever anyone pledges monthly, they have to keep this pledge for a year or how ever longer they want, but not less them a year. This is if its paid monthly.

I have to be here to help the kids, I cannot return to Montreal as I have no income at all, here or there.

So in 30 days I’m without funds, I am borrowing $3000 from a friend, but he knows I cannot pay it back. But I have to live and raise money for these children, who have nothing but more misery to look forward to this year.

Please Judy, I know it’s not your responsibility, but if you have any way that I can obtain living expenses in order that I remain here I cannot tell you how grateful I would be.

I have sent my CV in for jobs in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The areas are more dangerous but there is a little more income because of it, they provide you with a place to stay medical and airplane there and back. Its not what I want to do.

It took me years to gain the trust of the villagers here, from all the places we go. I have all my contacts here since I arrived after the massive earthquake in 1977. Any ideas you can come up with?

Take Care, hope you are well.
Naomi Bronstein's vision was crystal clear, and her heart large and in the right place, which is evident in an interview her daughter Heidi Bronstein gave Postmedia News:
"She believed that every child had a right to life and dedicated her life to making this goal a reality for as many children as she possibly could," her daughter Heidi Bronstein said. "She is living proof that one person can make a difference."
In Naomi Bronstein's case, Woman of Valor, that is indeed true. May we all take inspiration from your example.

Ella Fitzgerald: Summertime

Ella Fitzgerald sings "Summertime" in a television special from 1968. (Globo TV, Brazil).

Here are some music notes from Wikipedia:
Summertime is an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.
The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as "without doubt... one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote....Gershwin's highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century."
Heyward's lyrics for Summertime and "My Man's Gone Now" have been called "the best lyrics in the musical theater" by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim [3].
By George & Ira Gershwin

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry
See Announcements for some editorial changes starting January 1, 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Spoonful Of Sugar: Mary Poppins

This is a clip of A Spoonful Of Sugar, from the film, Mary Poppins (1964), a Walt Disney production. The musical score is by the Sherman Brothers, who have written more film scores than anybody else.

The film, which stars Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), Dick Van Dyke (Bert), David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks) and Glynis Johns (Mrs Banks)  is fabulous and worth seeing again. I remember not only seeing it a couple of years after it originally came out (I believe that I was eight and in Grade 3), but also listening to the many songs that the film contained, this one included, in school under the tutelage of a wonderfully inspirational  teacher.

Undoubtedly, as I could not understand then,  I had a wonderful elementary school education, which said that imagination and fun were as important as math and reading. That is one of the things that makes this movie so great and endearing so many decades later—its magical qualities. This contrasts with the hard world of fact-based materialism that many wrongly assume as reasonable and scientific.

To be sure, there is much to recommend this film: the music, the dancing and the storyline. Briefly stated, Mary Poppins, a magic nanny, comes to work for a cold banker's unhappy family. And in the process, everyone is changed for the better. The movie works at multiple levels, for children and for adults—its messages cleverly placed in the storyline and in the music.

As one reviewer put it:
The movie combines a diverting story, songs, color and sequences of live action blended with the movements of animated figures. Mary Poppins is a kind of Super-nanny who flies in with her umbrella in response to the request of the Banks children and proceeds to put things right with the aid of her rather extraordinary magical powers before flying off again.  
—Written by alfiehitchie 

And if you think about, sugar or sweetness helps make a difficult experience so much more palatable. It's a lesson in humility and in humanity for us all.

A Spoonful of Sugar
In ev'ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job's a game

And ev'ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree! It's very clear to see that

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

A robin feathering his nest
Has very little time to rest
While gathering his bits of twine and twig
Though quite intent in his pursuit
He has a merry tune to toot
He knows a song will move the job along - for

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way


The honey bee that fetch the nectar
From the flowers to the comb
Never tire of ever buzzing to and fro
Because they take a little nip
From ev'ry flower that they sip
And hence (And hence),
They find (They find)
Their task is not a grind.

Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h ah!

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pavarotti: Nessun Dorma

Luciano Pavarotti is singing Giacomo Puccini's Nessun Dorma, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted  by Zubin Mehta, on January 14, 1980. This performance was part of the "Live from Lincoln Center" 30th anniversary special. (There is another wonderful version of Nessun Dorma, with the Three Tenors, which was performed at Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium, in 1994, in front of 56, 000 people.

I am not highly knowledgeable about opera, but I love to listen and watch great performances, no matter the musical genre. Without a doubt, this is literally a spine-tingling performance, the human voice in perfection, equal to any manufactured musical instrument. Pavarotti is one of the greatest tenors of all time, and one of the greatest singers of any musical form or genre. It is an honour to watch such a master, a true maestro.

Nessun dorma is an aria from Act III of the opera, Turandot (1924) by Giacomo Puccini [1858-1924]. As Wikipedia points out,
is one of the best-known tenor arias in all opera. It is sung by Calaf, il principe ignoto (the unknown prince), who falls in love at first sight with the beautiful but cold Princess Turandot. However, any man who wishes to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles; if he fails, he will be beheaded.


Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore
e di speranza.

Ma il mio mistero e chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun sapr No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dir quando la luce splender
Ed il mio bacio sciogliera il silenzio
che ti fa mia!

(Il nome suo nessun sapr..
e noi dovrem, ahim?morir!)

Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All'alba vincerr vincerincerr


No-one sleeps,
Even you, O Princess,
in your cold room,
Watch the stars
which tremble with love
and hope!

But my secret is locked within me,
no-one shall know my name!
No, no, I shall say it on your mouth
when the light breaks!

And my kiss will break the silence
that makes you mine!

(No-one shall know his name,
and we, alas, shall die!)

Vanish, o night!
Set, ye stars!
At dawn I shall win!
See Announcements for some editorial changes starting January 1, 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jack Johnson: Boxing For Equality


“I made a lot of mistakes out of the ring, but I never made any in it.”
Jack Johnson

“Johnson in many ways is an embodiment of the African-American struggle to be truly free in this country — economically, socially and politically. He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual.”

Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker, 
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)

Jack Johnson, the Galvaston Giant, won the heavyweight boxing championship title on December 26, 1908, becoming the first African-American to do so.
Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection; 1915
Credit: Source: Library of Congress: George Grantham Bain Collection.

Jack Johnson, the Galvaston Giant, was the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world, winning that distinction on December 26, 1908, after battering Tommy Burns, a Canadian, in a 14-round match in Sydney, Australia, in front of 20,000 spectators. Johnson, 30, standing 6′- 1½″  and weighing almost 192 pounds with a reach of 74", won by a technical knock-out, or TKO.

He held the title for almost seven years until losing to a much-larger Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba, on April 5, 1915, reports  "At age 37, Johnson had a noticeable paunch and looked anything but ready for the scheduled 45-round bout. Still, he dominated the fight until the 20th round."

Johnson was a true pop-culture figure. He was constantly photographed and written about. He was outspoken and articulate. His life served as a role model and inspiration for other African-American boxers, paving the way for future champions like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Johnson didn't live as a saint. But he lived by his convictions and fought for equality, freedom and individual dignity.

Undoubtedly, his actions rankled the sensibilities of many, particularly when he thumbed his nose at convention and Establishment thinking. But he did so to preserve his dignity, freedom and sense of equality. That made him a hero to some and a public menace to others. He married three times, all to white women. As the modern expression goes, "He worked hard, and he played hard."

Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, on March 31, 1878, the third child and first son of Henry and Tina "Tiny" Johnson, former slaves who worked at blue-collar jobs to support their family of six children. Johnson began boxing as a young teenager in the Jim Crow-era South. Johnson fought his first bout, a 16-round victory, at age 15. He turned professional around 1897, fighting in private clubs and earning a lot of money.

Boxing then was a relatively new sport in America, and was banned in many states, explains the fine 2004 documentary by Ken Burns: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson:
African-Americans were permitted to compete for most titles, but not for the title that whites considered their exclusive domain: Heavyweight Champion of the World. African-Americans were considered unworthy to compete for the title — not for lack of talent, but simply by virtue of not being white.
Johnson's boxing record is impressive: 68-10-10 with 49 knockouts, in his 41-years a professional boxer. His fighting style went against the conventions of the time. Instead of hammering away at his opponents, Johnson fought defensibly, seeking to block, slip, and parry his opponents punches before striking offensively.

After gaining the title as first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, racial animosity rose to the surface. For example,  Jack London, the noted American author and socialist, called out for a "Great White Hope" to take the title away from Johnson. In his view, it was natural that a white man would want another white man to be the champion, and had nothing to do with racism. Such were the mores of the period.

That set the scene for The Fight of the Century in Reno, Nevada, a desert town, on July 4, 1910, in front of 12,000 mostly white people. The excitement was palpable. It was played up in the media across the United States. Johnson's challenger was James J. Jeffries, an undefeated champion lured out of a six-year retirement for the fight, ostensibly for reasons of honour. As he put it: "I feel obligated to the sporting public at least to make an effort to reclaim the heavyweight championship for the white race. . . . I should step into the ring again and demonstrate that a white man is king of them all."

Well, it was not to be. Johnson proved stronger and quicker than Jeffries. In the 15th round, after Jeffries had been knocked down twice for the first time in his career, his handlers called it quits to prevent Johnson from knocking him out. The "Fight of the Century" earned Johnson $100,000—a princely sum for that time.

The Fight of the Century, between James J. Jeffries (L) and Jack Johnson was won by Johnson in 15 rounds. The fight took place in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910.
Source: Wikipedia

The outcome, however, did not please everyone. Race riots took place in more than 25 states and 50 cities. The result was hundreds of people injured and the death of 23 blacks and two whites. Equally telling, Johnson has had many fights outside the ring, including with a a far more formidable opponent—bigotry and racism. It eventually led to his death. Even so, Johnson lived his life undeterred by what was taking place around him, including opening a nightclub in Chicago and living as the pop-culture icon he was.

More problematic, though, and threatening to the Establishment, was that Johnson flaunted his relationship with white women, dating them and marrying them, then a highly provocative gesture. It was likely no surprise that on October 18,1912, Johnson

was arrested for violating the Mann Act, the statute prohibiting the transportation of women across state lines for unlawful purposes. The woman in question was Belle Schreiber, an old acquaintance of Johnson's. The problem with the charge is that Johnson and Schreiber were an item before the Mann Act became law in June of 1910. "It was a rank frame up," Johnson recalled in his memoirs. "The charges were based upon a law that was not in effect at the time Belle and I had been together, and legally was not operative against me."

That did not stop the courts from finding Johnson guilty in May of 1913, nor did it keep the judge from imposing a sentence of one year and one day in prison, and a fine of $1,000. In the meantime, Johnson had married Lucille Cameron, his 18-year-old white secretary. When the verdict was handed down, Johnson arranged for he and his wife to travel to Canada and, from there, to Paris.
For the next seven years, Johnson was an exile from the United States, living in Europe, Mexico, and South America. His lifestyle overseas was lavish, and his exploits, including bullfighting, racing cars, performing on stage, and boxing, continued to receive worldwide attention. While in exile, his mother died, an event which saddened him very much.
In exile, he wandered the globe before giving himself up to U.S. authorities in 1920. He served eight months in Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. Upon his release from prison on July 9, 1921, he was met by a marching band and many admirers. He returned briefly to boxing, and in 1926, aged 48, he beat an opponent half his age. He fought for two more years, until 1938, but his best days were behind him, and he lost seven of his nine bouts. After retiring from the ring, he did what all ex-athletes do: tried to capitalize on his name.

On June 10, 1946, Johnson left a diner, outside Raleigh, North Carolina, in anger. Johnson was outraged that they refused to serve him, an ordinary and all too common occurrence for that time and place in the United States. Unable to negotiate a curve at high speed, he hit a light pole, and died from his injuries three hours later at a hospital dedicated to African-Americans, Saint Agnes Hospital in Raleigh. Johnson was 68.

Almost 100 years later, some are trying to seek justice on behalf of Johnson, for what many say were false trumped-up charges levied  against him in 1912. This time he is getting help from unexpected sources. In 2004, the Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson, which filmmaker Ken Burns helped form, and included the signatures of Senator John McCain, Senator Edward Kennedy, and New York Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer, filed a petition for a pardon with the Justice Department. It was never acted on.

Yet the case for a pardon persists. In April 2009, U.S. Senator John McCain, along with Representative Peter King, filmmaker Ken Burns and Johnson's great-great niece, Linda Haywood, requested a presidential pardon for Johnson from President Barack Obama. Around the same time, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution on July 29, 2009, calling on President Obama to issue a pardon.

As Senator McCain told the Associated Press: “I know the president, once he looks carefully at this issue, would want to correct a grave injustice done.”
The petition for a posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson has so far been denied. The Justice Department has cited a policy of not processing posthumous pardon requests, though two were given in the past. The only recourse for justice for Jack Johnson, then, is that President Obama issue the pardon directly, without any intermediaries informing his decision, as it is in his power to do.

There is a delicious irony at play here. America's first African-American president has in his power to right the wrongs of the past. The pardon can`t bring Jack Johnson back. But it would do much to give a fuller sense to the overarching ideas of freedom and dignity that is part of the American identity.

Jackson's story begs for a happy ending. As filmmaker Ken Burns said: "Johnson's story is more than the story of a tremendous athlete, or even one who broke a color line. It is the story of a man who forced America to confront its definition of freedom, and that is an issue with which we continue to struggle."

Addendum to Jack Johnson story: President Trump issued a pardon to Jack Johnson (NYT; May 24, 2018).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Handel's Messiah: Hallelujah Chorus


This is from Andre Rieu's Live From Radio City Music Hall, New York City, in 2004, with the Johann Strauss Orchestra and the Harlem Gospel Choir.

Here are some background notes from Wikipedia:

Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel, and is one of the most popular works in the Western choral literature. The libretto by Charles Jennens is drawn entirely from the King James and Great Bibles, and interprets the Christian doctrine of the Messiah. Messiah (often but incorrectly called The Messiah) is one of Handel's most famous works. The Messiah sing-alongs now common at Christmas usually consist of only the first of the oratorio's three parts, with Hallelujah (originally concluding the second part) replacing His Yoke is Easy in the first part.

Composed in London during the summer of 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1742, it was repeatedly revised by Handel, reaching its most familiar version in the performance to benefit the Foundling Hospital in 1754. In 1789 Mozart orchestrated a German version of the work; his added woodwind parts, and the edition by Ebenezer Prout, were commonly heard until the mid-20th century and the rise of historically informed performance.
Messiah: Hallelujah Chorus
By George Frideric Handel

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
(For the lord God omnipotent reigneth)
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah

For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
(Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah)

The kingdom of this world;
is become
the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ
and of His Christ

And He shall reign for ever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever
And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and lord of lords
King of kings and lord of lords

And he shall reign
And he shall reign
And he shall reign
He shall reign
And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever
and lord of lords hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings and lord of lords
King of kings and lord of lords
And he shall reign forever and ever

Forever and ever and ever and ever
(King of kings and lord of lords)

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
See Announcements for some  editorial changes starting January 1, 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Three Tenors: Happy Christmas


The Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and José Carreras, arguably the three most popular male vocalists in contemporary opera, sing John Lennon's Happy Christmas/War is Over.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was written by John Lennon, released as a single in 1971 by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Plastic Ono Band on Apple Records. It included the children's vocals of the Harlem Community Choir. (The more traditional version, including the Harlem Community Choir, can be viewed and heard here.)

This particular clip is from Christmas in Vienna, December 1999. Their singing, a testament to John Lennon's lyrics, helps to make legitimate the song's message of peace among the social cognoscenti. Peace is the normal and moral desire of most of the world's people, hence the song's universal appeal.

Happy Christmas (War is Over)
By John Lennon
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
Ans so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over over
If you want it
War is over
See Announcements for some  editorial changes starting January 1, 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Message of Peace & Hope

Peace is its own reward.
Mohandas Gandhi

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
Jimi Hendrix

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.
The Talmud, Mishna Sanhedrin

Symbol of Peace: Logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958, which became a widespread peace symbol
Credit: Gerald Holtom

The end of the year and the Holiday Season is a time of reflection for many of us. We reflect on what we have and what we do not have. My desires are that simple.Like many others, I join the chorus of people around the world who yearn for more peace, justice and hope in the world. Some of these views are delineated in a previous blog essay: A Decent Proposal.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, problems (evils) besetting humanity are wars and military conflicts. My views on war are known: see War Stories. Currently, more than two dozen wars or conflicts are continuing in the world, reports, including the major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That has been the way humans have behaved for thousands of years, ever since we have kept records of wars and conflicts. The reasons are as many and varied as they are foolish and self-regarding. I sense that very few wars in recorded history can be classified as just and necessary. Yet, they persist, like cancer.

In short, humanity has witnessed thousands of conflicts in the last 5,000 years, reports Small wonder that some people become cynical, skeptical or just plain tired of the way the world is spinning.  Although such views are understandable, I remain hopeful of small incremental changes. And such explains the sum total of my writings.

And like many other ordinary people, the billions that make up the world's majority, I have no power to change things in any large way, but only in a small way. Such is in our power, to make change in small ways, to make the world around us a better place. We can do it at home, at work, in our community, with everyone we encounter, by design or by chance.

Mural of Peace: At the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Mural by Gari Melchers (1862–1932).
Photo Credit: Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain, 2007.
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-highsm-02246 (original digital file), uncompressed archival TIFF version (50 MB)
It matters little what religious views you hold, or don't hold. My hope is that humanity does not allow religious or ideological views to become a destructive point of contention or cause divisiveness among family, friends and the surrounding community. Beliefs and faith can do much good for humanity when they bring people together. They have the opposite effect, though, when it leads to strife and contention.

Some questions to consider. Is it not possible for individuals to hold views without the need to impose them on others? Can we not look at the many things that we share in common? Is it not better to build than destroy?

We are all humans, after all is said and done, and share too many things in common to allow animus, resentment and hatred to take hold of us.

Peace can be built by taking small measures to connect with people. For example, the newest communication technologies, like this one, can do just that. They build bridges, links and bind people and communities together. It's true that some of the links are weak, but they can eventually become strong. It will take love. It will take work to overcome the fear to build a lasting trust. It will take great hope and a strong belief in peace.

My hope is for everyone to have a peaceful and good holiday

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker


The Kirov Ballet (Mariinsky Ballet), St. Petersburg, Russia, performing Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker: Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker, Act II (1892).
Photo Credit:

The Nutcracker is a popular ballet, especially this time of year. It has a beautiful score and is a visual delight to see for children and adults of all ages. In Wikipedia, we read the following notes on the ballet's history and significance:
The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик, Schelkunchik) is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". It was given its premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on 18 December 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky's opera, Iolanta.[1]

Although the original production was not a success, the twenty-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the mid-20th century and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S.[2] Tchaikovsky's score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite.[3]

Among other things, the score is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda. Although known primarily as the featured solo instrument in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Act II of The Nutcracker, it is also employed elsewhere in the same act.[4]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Discovery of Penicillin

Great Scientific Advances

This is the beginning of a new series: Great Scientific Advances. Each week, we will look at an important scientific discovery, one that markedly improved our physical well-being and made our lives better. We start off with one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century: Penicillin.

“We ought to have saints’ days to commemorate the great discoveries which have been made for all mankind, and perhaps for all time—or for whatever time may be left to us. Nature ... is a prodigal of pain. I should like to find a day when we can take a holiday, a day of jubilation when we can fête good Saint Anaesthesia and chaste and pure Saint Antiseptic. ... I should be bound to celebrate, among others, Saint Penicillin...”
Winston Leonard Churchill, prime minister of UK, 
Speech at Guildhall, London, 1947

“A drop from the nose of Fleming, who had a cold, fell onto an agar plate where large yellow colonies of a contaminant had grown, and lysosyme was discovered. He made this important discovery because when he saw that the colonies of the contaminant were fading, his mind went straight to the right cause of the phenomenon he was observing—that the drop from his nose contained a lytic substance.”
Sir Alexander Fleming
Personal recollections of Alexander Fleming by Lady Amelia Fleming. 
Quoted in Molecular Cloning (2001), Vol. 1, 153.

The Look of Penicillin: Penicillin core structure, in 3D. Purple areas are variable groups.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

We can’t imagine a world without penicillin, the antibiotic that is routinely prescribed by physicians the world over, notably to young children for ear infections and strep throat. Although it might not now be the strongest antibiotic in the arsenal of medical science, its importance cannot be denied: it the first antibiotic and as such bears remembering. In its early days (1940s and ‘50s), it was highly effective, for example, against such deadly infections as syphilis and Staphylococcus.

As is common with many scientific discoveries, this discovery happened by initial good fortune and subsequent hard work after the initial discovery. It also involved the collaborative effort of a number of scientists, researchers and technicians, each dedicated to achieving a victory of sorts over killer diseases. All are necessary for scientific advancement.

When penicillin is cited, the name of Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, quickly comes to mind. His eureka moment, has served humanity well, and prevented untold misery and death. For his contribution, Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945; however, he was joined by British scientists Howard Walter Florey (Australian born pharmacologist) and Ernst Boris Chain (German born biochemist), whose achievements are as equally important as that of Fleming.

No doubt, Fleming deserves the fame and attention, including joining the list of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the 20th century for his contribution to science, and in this case medicine. But it truly took an international team of scientists, both in Britain and the United States, to bring penicillin to market.

Here are some of the relevant details. On the morning of Friday September 28, 1928, at his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary's Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), Fleming made an observation, Time magazine pithily notes that would eventually contribute to humanity's betterment and change history:

In 1928 the young Scottish researcher Alexander Fleming sloppily left a lab dish growing bacteria on a bench when he went on vacation. It got contaminated with a Penicillium mold spore, and when he returned, he noticed that the mold seemed to stop the growth of the germs. His serendipitous discovery would eventually save more lives than were lost in all the century's wars combined.

Fleming serves well as a symbol of all the great medical researchers, such as Jonas Salk and David Ho, who fought disease. But he personally did little, after his initial eureka! moment, to develop penicillin.

To add further detail missing in the Time article, Fleming observed, as explains:
[M]ould had developed accidentally on a staphylococcus culture plate and that the mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. He was inspired to further experiment and he found that a mould culture prevented growth of staphylococci, even when diluted 800 times. He named the active substance penicillin.

Nobel Laureate (1945): Alexander Fleming (L) receives the Nobel Prize n Medicine from King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, 1945.
Photo Credit: Karolinska Institutet, Sweden,

That must have been an inspiring moment. But not much happened. Fleming wrote a paper for a scientific journal, British Journal of Experimental Pathology, noting that penicillin could have therapeutic value if it could be produced in enough quantity. That was indeed the problem and the hurdle to overcome.

Although Fleming kept at it assiduously for the next ten years, he had to pass the baton to four other British scientists — Cecil George Paine, Howard Walter Florey, Ernst Boris Chain, and Norman Heatley— to overcome the problems preventing penicillin's clinical trial and subsequent production, explains
It was not until 1939 that Dr. Howard Florey, a future Nobel Laureate, and three colleagues at Oxford University began intensive research and were able to demonstrate penicillin's ability to kill infectious bacteria. As the war with Germany continued to drain industrial and government resources, the British scientists could not produce the quantities of penicillin needed for clinical trials on humans and turned to the United States for help.
They were quickly referred to the Peoria Lab where scientists were already working on fermentation methods to increase the growth rate of fungal cultures. One July 9, 1941, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley, Oxford University scientists came to the U.S. with a small but valuable package containing a small amount of penicillin to begin work.

The American contribution is important, notably the work done by Moyer, Coghill and Raper at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lab in Peoria, Illinois. By 1943, American scientists developed methods for industrialized penicillin production and isolated higher-yielding strains of the Penicillium fungus.

A few months later, the scientists were able to increase the amount of penicillin required for clinical trials. By 1943, clinical trials were successfully done. And now was the need for mass production. American scientists, led by Jasper Kane, at Charles Pfizer & Co., then a relatively small chemical company in Brooklyn, New York, developed the practical, deep-tank fermentation method for production of large quantities of pharmaceutical-grade penicillin. Again, it was another breakthrough moment, recalls the American Chemical Society:
Pfizer's technological advances in using deep tanks for fermentation proved critical when Allied governments sent out the call for penicillin. Initially, Pfizer researchers, led by Jasper Kane, used shallow flasks and pans like those that were used for citric acid, and they made gradual progress in improving penicillin's potency and purity.
The breakthrough came when Kane suggested a different approach: the deep-tank method that proved successful for gluconic acid. They needed huge tanks that could hold thousands of gallons of "fermentation liquor." Pfizer purchased an old ice plant in Brooklyn that had the necessary refrigeration equipment and converted it into a penicillin factory which opened on March 1, 1944.

The plant contained fourteen 7,500-gallon tanks and soon the company was producing more penicillin in one month than it had in all of 1943. Most of the penicillin that went ashore with Allied forces on D-Day came from Pfizer’s Brooklyn facility.

After the Second World war, in 1946, the price of production dropped and so did the cost for the public, to about fifty-five cents per dose. Penicillin soon became widely available, thereby saving many lives. By 1952, penicillin was available in oral pill form.

Fleming might get the credit, but it was the combined efforts of scientists working collaboratively internationally that helped make the initial discovery in 1928, and publication in 1929, by Alexander Fleming a springboard to success, whereby penicillin eventually became a common antibiotic. As Fleming remarked in his Nobel Laureate lecture on December 11,1945: “My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bob Dylan: Like A Rolling Stone

Here is Like A  Rolling Stone.

Written by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: June 15-16, 1965: Columbia Studio A, 799 Seventh Avenue, New York City
Released:July 20, 1965
Album: Highway 61 Revisited
Label: Columbia

Bob Dylan played this song, a few days after it was released to the general public, on July 25, 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. On that live performance, which is not this one, some people were booing Bob Dylan, the festival's main attraction, during his first live plugged-in performance of his career.

The electrified performance explains some discontented voices in the crowd, who might have objected to the plugged-in performance, an anathema to folk purists. He played and sang with the backing of Mike Bloomfield on guitar and others from an electric blues/rock and roll band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The song survived this difficult performance. Like a Rolling Stone is one of the songs that defined the 1960s generation. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked it as the No. 1 rock song of all time in 2004. The song's meaning has been discussed and debated. It might be one of those songs with multiple meanings. In one sense, it is about you and me, everybody, including Dylan himself, who experience a loss of innocence in search for freedom and individual dignity. Its central essence, Wikipedia says, might be as follows:
Dylan biographer Robert Shelton summed up the song's meaning as: "A song that seems to hail the dropout life for those who can take it segues into compassion for those who have dropped out of bourgeois surroundings. 'Rolling Stone' is about the loss of innocence and the harshness of experience. Myths, props, and old beliefs fall away to reveal a very taxing reality."[42]
Like A Rolling Stone

By Bob Dylan

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you ?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Ah! you never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Great Howie Morenz

Great Athletes

 “I don't think from end to end I ever saw a guy like Morenz. He was small, stocky, with the most powerful legs you've ever seen. He'd make rush after rush - at least 20 a game—and it never mattered how hard he got hit.” 

 —Hector “Toe” Blake, who played with and against Morenz,
and was later the coach of The Montreal Canadiens 
& Hockey Hall of Famer

“(Morenz) had a heart that was unsurpassed in athletic history and no one ever came close to him in the colour department. After you watched Howie you wanted to see him often, and as much as I liked to play hockey, I often thought I would have counted it a full evening had I been able to sit in the stands and watch the Morenz maneuvers. Such an inclination never occurred to me about other stars.”

Eddie Shore, player for the Boston Bruins  (1926-40)
and Hockey Hall Of Famer

Howie Morenz, “The Mitchell Meteor” (1902-1937): Centre of the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL from 1923 to 1934 and again from 1936 to 1937, circa 1936-37. 
Photo Credit: Montreal Canadiens

I mentioned in a previous post that when I was a youngster I was a great fan of sports, both as a player with average abilities and as a  follower of the professional teams. In Montreal, at that time we had three professional sports teams: the Alouettes (football), the Expos (baseball) and the Canadiens (hockey).

Of the three, hockey and the Canadiens was the regional religion, and people lived and died with the fortunes of the Montreal Canadians. I and my friends numbered among the many thousands of faithful.

Thankfully, for the adherents, the Canadiens, (or Habs, the shortened nickname of the team) built a dynasty and won 24 Stanley Cup championship games—the most of any hockey team. With such an impressive record, the Club is not only considered a hockey dynasty but a professional sports dynasty.

The Montreal hockey dynasty rivals the New York Yankees, which have won 27 World Series baseball championships; the Boston Celtics, which have won 17 NBA basketball championships; and Manchester United (England), which has won a record 11 FA Cups in soccer (football). All such teams carry with them a storied history and great sense of accomplishment. Great coaching and great players make champions.

That being the case, many great players have proudly worn the Montreal Canadiens jersey: Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Jacques Plant, Ken Dryden and Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrien, to name a few of the Hall Of Famers the team has produced. Another Hall of Fame inductee is Howie Morenz, a name synonymous both with professional hockey and tragedy. (My friend, Jack, reminded me of this great player a few days ago.).

Howie Morenz was one of professional hockey's first superstars. Morenz was born in small town Canada, in Mitchell, Ontario, on June 21, 1902. He played chiefly for the The Canadiens between 1923 and 1937. Standing only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Morenz played centre alongside Aurèle Joliat and Bill Boucher. He was a scoring sensation and a goaltender's nightmare, says The Montreal Canadiens official site:

No hockey player’s star ever shone brighter than that of Howie Morenz. Known as both “The Stratford Streak” and “The Mitchell Meteor”, Morenz was the NHL’s first true superstar, carving out a reputation as one of the best to ever play the game. His 14-year career began reluctantly and ended suddenly, sadly and prematurely.

Happy in small town Ontario and not thrilled by the prospect of life in the big city, Morenz was courted by both Montreal and Toronto, eventually signing with the Habs. Bursting onto the scene to start the 1923-24 season, he quickly became one of the fledgling NHL’s top scorers. Morenz’s speed, skill and manoeuvrability lifted hometown fans out of their seats. They rose to cheer on their new favorite player as he began one of his trademark rushes up the ice that almost invariably ended with the puck behind the opposition’s goaltender.
Morenz won the Hart Trophy–awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player– three times: in 1928, 1930 and 1931, which has not been duplicated by any other Canadiens player. He also finished atop the scoring race twice, peaking with an unbelievable 40 goals in 44 games during the 1929-30 campaign, in which the team won the Stanley Cup. Morenz's name is etched on three Stanley Cups.

Howie Morenz in Hospital: As D'Arcy Jenish reports in The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory (2008): "Though there were many visitors, Morenz often found himself alone in the hospital room, unable to move off his bed. To pass the time, he read newspapers to stay up to date with the Canadiens as they finished the season. Since his injury, the team had dropped in the standings, causing Morenz to worry. He began to think he would never play hockey again and became depressed."

But tragedy struck on January 28, 1937, when The Canadiens were playing the Chicago Black Hawks at the Montreal Forum, says Wikipedia:
In the first period, Morenz went after the puck in the Chicago end while being chased by Black Hawks defenceman Earl Seibert. Morenz lost his balance and fell to the ice, crashing into the boards and catching his left skate in the wooden siding. Seibert, unable to stop, landed on him with full force. The resulting impact snapped Morenz's left leg, creating a noise heard throughout the rink.[34] Helped to the Canadiens bench by his teammates, Morenz was taken to Hôpital St-Luc, where it was found that his leg was fractured in four places [3].

While in hospital, Morenz, his leg in traction, received many get-well cards, visits from his team-mates and players from opposing teams. Morenz spent his time reading the sports pages, following the fortunes of his team, which were doing poorly without his presence.

On March 8, Morenz began complaining of chest pains, which doctors attributed to a heart attack. Mary Morenz, his wife; and Cecil Hart, the team's head coach, were called to the hospital around 11:30 pm. But before they could arrive, Morenz had collapsed on the floor while trying to get to the washroom. Morenz died minutes before his wife and coach arrived. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot, resulting from the original leg fracture, which stopped his heart. He was 34.

As is reported on The Canadiens site, his death was given all the honours due a legend. The funeral was broadcast all across Canada on radio.Thousands of fans lined the funeral cortege as Morenz's body was transported to Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal for final burial.
He lay in state at the Forum while thousands of devoted admirers filed in to pay their last respects to the NHL’s most spectacular player. A benefit game that pitted stars from around the league against a squad made up of representatives from the Canadiens and the Maroons, Montreal’s other NHL team, raised $20,000 dollars to benefit the Morenz family.
More honours followed. His No. 7 sweater was retired forever in 1937, the first player among the Canadiens greats to have his sweather placed in the rafters of the Forum. When the Hockey Hall of Fame was opened in 1945, Howie Morenz was among its first 12 inductees.

In 1950 the Canadian Press named Morenz the best ice hockey player of the first half of the twentieth century. And In 1998, he was ranked 15th on the List of 100 Greatest Hockey Players by The Hockey News.

In a interesting note, Morenz's daughter, Marlene, in 1952, married Bernie Geoffrion, who played for both the Canadiens and the New York Rangers from 1950 to 1968. Their son, Howie's grandson, Dan Geoffrion, would briefly play for the Canadiens in the 1979-80 NHL season.

The memory of Howie Morenz lives on.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman

Written by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: March 8, 1966: Columbia Studios, Nashville, TN
Released: August 1966
Album: Blonde on Blonde
Label: Columbia

Here's a young Bob Dylan.  Some have claimed the song is misogynist, but I see it as a personal story of a young man in pain, placed in a position of respectful awe of the power that women have over men. It's really a love song of a man for a woman, albeit made painfully raw by the (often) harsh realities of human relationship.

The song has been ranked by Rolling Stone magazine at no. 230 in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Some interesting notes, including the song's supposed object of affection, are given voice in Wikipedia:
Dylan wrote "Just Like a Woman" on November 25, 1965 (Thanksgiving Day) in Kansas City while on tour.[5] It was allegedly inspired by New York socialite Edie Sedgwick,[5] who frequented Andy Warhol's Factory at around the same time that Dylan was introduced to Warhol. Sedgewick had a tendency to catch the attention of musicians; The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed wrote "Femme Fatale", released on 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico album, about Sedgwick at roughly the same time.[6]

"Just Like a Woman" has also been rumored to have been written about Dylan's relationship with fellow folk singer Joan Baez.[1] In particular, the lines "Please don't let on that you knew me when/I was hungry and it was your world" seem to refer to the early days of their relationship, when Baez was more famous than Dylan.[1]

Just Like A Woman
By Bob Dylan

Nobody feels any pain tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows that baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls

And she takes just like a woman
And she aches just like a woman
And she wakes just like a woman
Yeah but she breaks just like a little girl

Queen Mary, she's my friend yes, I believe I'll go see her again
Nobody has to guess that baby can't be blessed
Till she sees finally that she's like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls

She takes just like a woman
And she wakes just like a woman
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

It's was raining from the first and I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here and your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse is this pain in here
I can't stay in here ain't it clear that

I just don't fit yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
When we meet again, introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world

You take just like a woman
And you ache just like a woman
And you make love just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Band with Bob Dylan: Forever Young

Bob Dylan on a reunion tour with The Band

Lyrics by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: November 5, 6 and 9, 1973: Village Recorder in West Los Angeles, California
Released: January 17, 1974
Album: Planet Waves
Label: Asylum; Island (UK only)

This is a heartfelt and personal song of a parent to a child; the first line is a rendition of the traditional Jewish blessing that a father says to his child(en) during the Friday Shabbat (Sabbath) service. The third line is a rendition of the Golden Rule, which is common in many religions. Many critics, professional cynics, found the song sentimental and mushy. The regular people didn't agree, and the song remains popular.

Here are some more background notes from Wikipedia:
In the notes for the 2007 album titled DYLAN, Bill Flanagan had the following to say about "Forever Young":
After an eight-year break from touring, Dylan's legend was big enough to fit all twelve apostles and still have room for a couple of Buddhas. He agreed to go back on the road in 1974 with The Band, his old backup group who had become stars themselves during the down time. They got together and quickly knocked off an album, Planet Waves, that featured two versions of a blessing from a parent to a child. In the years he was away from stage Dylan had become a father. He had that in common with a good chunk of the audience. The song reflected it. Memorably recited on American TV by Howard Cosell when Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight crown for the third time.

Forever Young
By Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Decent Proposal

No matter how noble the objective of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion—it is an evil government.
Eric Hoffer, American social writer & philosopher 
Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
—Pablo Casals, Spanish cellist

Our scientific age demands that we provide definitions, measurements, and statistics in order to be taken seriously. Yet most of the important things in life cannot be precisely defined or measured. Can we define or measure love, beauty, friendship, or decency, for example?
Dennis Prager, American journalist

Proposals by writers have a long and honoured history. In 1729, for example, Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, a satirical take on the failed policies of economic utilitarianism regarding the poor of Ireland. In 1993, Adrian Lyne directed a film about a proposal of a different kind: Indecent Proposal. In it, a married woman is offered one million dollars to spend the night with a rich man. The outcome was predictable as it was sad. Everyone loses their dignity.

I would like to offer a proposal, as well. It is neither modest, nor indecent, but a humble look at what I would like to see take place, both near and far. Some might call this a flight of fancy, an imagination grounded in fantasy. So be it. There are enough hard-headed (and hard-hearted) realists out there who have had their way for eons. A change for the better to advance human society would be welcome.

My point here is not emulate Mr. Jonathan Swift in his satirical wizardry, but to draw attention to the fact that we  are fighting wars, battles, and spending money in the wrong places. As was the case in Mr. Swift's times, poverty is no stranger to us. We still suffer poverty, here in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom—wealthy industrialized nations. (see Can We End Poverty?)

And people in dire circumstances, as the film shows, will do indecent things for money. We are also far, far away from acting, in general, as decent human beings. This is not a tenable situation, if you think about it.

Justice and Peace Kiss Each Other: From the Gallery, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia (Italy): circa 1880.
Photo Credit: Giovanni Dall'Orto, 2002.

But humans have the capacity to change their views and even their ways. So, here are my humble proposals, some are of a more personal and modest nature that we can all put into practice. Others will take the convicted will of world leaders and the powerful elites of business and politics. The benefits to society are great: restore humanity and individual dignity to us all. 

Peace Efforts: 42 nations have soldiers in Afghanistan, the largest contingent by far are the Americans with about 95,000 soldiers out of an estimated total of 120,000, reports
The United States should lead the way and withdraw in an orderly fashion from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Other nations, including my own (Canada) will surely follow. The war has cost too many lives, and a prolonged presence benefits few people. The United States calls it Operation Enduring Freedom
As for Iraq, the United States is the only foreign nation with troops on the ground, with 48,000 soldiers stationed in that war-torn nation, primarily for security and training missions. The War in Iraq has cost US taxpayers about $900 billion (as of  Nov 30, 2010), reports These soldiers, serving their nations, will not be home for the holidays. Their families will miss them. That is a loss, to be sure.
But the greater loss is of human life. Thousands of soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nations. Millions of people displaced, and families uprooted. All thse figures are sobering, because each represents a real person. One figure stands out: More than 100,000 reported civilian deaths, says Iraqi Body Count, including children, in Iraq. (My views on war are clearly spelled out in War Stories.)
Governments: Too many democracies in the world, including Canada, United Kingdom and the United States, have allowed freedoms and human rights to erode, shifting increasing power to the State and away from individuals. (see Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2010) .
This is taking place despite the legal and moral power of the Constitution these nations' leaders say they cherish and uphold. We ought to examine  and have open forums questioning why this shift is taking place and resist it with all the legal, ethical and moral arguments we can muster.
Democracy, it must not be forgotten, is a system of government by the people and for the people. In effect, this means that the interests of the majority of people ought to be upheld first, and not only those of the elites.
Business: Employers ought to pay their employees more, if they could afford to do so. ( I was speaking to a cashier today at my local supermarket, and she was getting paid $14.00 per hour after twenty years of service. The situation is similar for lower-paid bank tellers and other clerical positions.)
Millions of people are out of work in Canada and the United States alone. If employers can hire even one person, that would make a difference, having a multiplying effect. It's more than the bottom line, or at least it ought to be.
Consider this. Look at employees not as human resources, a most inhumane term, but as humans who make your company profitable. Some employers make obscene profits, and yet pay employees a mere pittance. This is shameful. Before giving money to shareholders, give first to your employees.  It makes perfect sense if you think about it.
Parents: Be kind and compassionate to your children. They are truly our future, and we have the power to shape them for good. Spend time with them. 
Talk to your children, and listen to their concerns. They can teach us parents many things. (I know, mine do!) As well, read more books to their children. Use the wonderful libraries available in most communities. (See Reading for Pleasure & Imagination.) 
Children: Show respect for your parents, even if you think they do not deserve it. Some would say some parents are horrible, and undoubtedly this is true. 
But I am not talking about these brutes, a small subsection of humanity. I am talking about the great silent majority of parents who have one of the hardest jobs in the world, and who do the best they can. So, children, give your mother, father, or both a hug today and tell them you love them. It will mean a lot.
These ideas have the power to change the world. We can do some of these things, and help make the world a better place. I know that many of you people reading this already have been thinking about these matters and have been acting accordingly. This proposal is for the others. It's the decent thing to do.