Monday, February 28, 2011

On Democracy & The Jasmine Revolution

Government & Society

Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
Winston Churchill

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Democracy ... is the only form of government that is founded on the dignity of men, not the dignity of some men, of rich men, of educated men or of white men, but of all men. Its sanction is not the sanction of force, but the sanction of human nature. Equality and justice, the two great distinguishing characteristics of democracy, follow inevitably from the conception of men, all men, as rational and spiritual beings.

Robert Maynard Hutchins,
Democracy and Human Nature

Aristotle: "Now a fundamental principle of the democratic form of constitution is liberty—that is what is usually asserted, implying that only under this constitution do men participate in liberty, for they assert this as the aim of every democracy."
Photo Credit:  Jastrow, 2006 at Ludovisi Collection: National Museum in Rome

In the Jasmine Revolution, people are revolting against censorship, tyranny and injustice and amassing in public places for freedom, justice and democracy, some paying the ultimate price with their lives. Its beginnings and stirrings have been felt first in the Middle East in the nations of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. It's taking place, rather fitting, in the same general geographic area where Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, once resided, thought and taught.

His ideas on human dignity will spread further in the Middle East and migrate to other places, to other nations, to wherever people yearn for freedom and democracy. This both angers and worries the autocrats, the dictators, the self-declared megalomaniacs, and the elites who hate democracy. They do not want to give up the very same power they have seized so easily for their aggrandizement and personal benefit.

They cite the need for law and order. That's hardly the case. The only order they truly care about is ordering people about like servants, while they take more and more for themselves and their entourage. Their insatiable appetite for power and money can be summed up by one word: More. Bribes, patronage and corruption are the norm. But the street won't be fooled any longer.

The street sees now first-hand that the anti-democratic elites care little about their own people. This is evident, wherever that story of needless violence and death plays out. The good news is that the dictators are now on the wrong side of history, dinosaurs from another age.

The Once-Mighty Dinosaurs: Mounted skeletons of Tyrannosaurus (left) and Apatosaurus (right) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

And like dinosaurs, they face extinction. Democracy is not for sale, and cannot be bought or sold. Democracy is not for the few. It's not for the rich. It's not for the West. It's for Everyone. All Peoples Everywhere. May democracy take hold everywhere.

Some say some nations and people are not ready for immediate democracy, to go slow with an easy transition. It's true that sometimes, perhaps too often, the unexpected results go against democracy and freedom, which gives credence to the line by Pete Townsend of The Who, in "Won't Be Fooled Again."
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
This was the general outcome in the Russian Revolution (1917), the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004). But sometimes the results are good for democracy, and the new boss differs from the old boss, as was the case in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (1989).

The American Revolution (1776) and French Revolution (1789) were in the end successful transitions to democracy, although both took time to establish. The ideals enshrined in many of the documents of this age can act as ideals today.

As for today, whether revolutions are successful or not are hard to really predict. And the so-called experts are only guessing or posturing what their hopes are—either the status quo or change. There are too many factors to accurately predict an outcome of mass demonstrations, and calls for change from the old regime. Even so, one thing is certain. It all depends on who the political leaders are, and whether they really want democracy, or more of the same, but under their leadership.

A true democrat, like Vaclav Havel, wanted democracy and achieved it for his people in Czechoslovakia. It is noteworthy that he was not a born politician, but a poet and playwright, a man of letters, and an artist. His ideals and leadership made it easier to transit the nation from from a repressive regime to a more open parliamentary democracy.

It can happen elsewhere, if the people are willing and the leadership is endorsed by its people. Many in the media, notably in the West, were at first officially skeptical of such outcomes. Such expressions of doubt emanate from a particular school of thought or particular self-interests that don't line up with those of peoples elsewhere.

More important, it's not surprising that the large media concerns of Big Media missed this story while it was brewing. Their interests, despite their protests to the contrary, are elsewhere, generally as profit-making ventures.At first, who really cared about some poor people protesting in the Middle East, or elsewhere for that matter?

But the Jasmine Revolution will continue with or without Big Media's reportage. Its relevance thus far is hard to say, given the unpredictable nature of Revolutions and the dominance of bloggers and social-media sites that can get the real news out much quicker than the lumbering giants.

We are witnessing history in the making. Let's hope that it turns out well for the people struggling for justice, freedom, and democracy, and the ability to earn a livelihood and eat. It's also about the values that make us civilized, about human dignity, and respect for people, even if they are not wealthy, or rich or high net-worth individuals, a most-abhorrent description, lacking in any sense of what is really a measure of  person. (For more on this thought, see Three Cheers for Human Dignity.)

The person who thought up such a description, likely someone involved with investment banking, epitomizes the problem. So are persons who blindly use such phrases. They are lacking something essential in their makeup to connect them with humanity. More's the pity.

The poor may always be with us, but there is no need to lord it over the poor, to demean the poor, to treat the poor without respect. Being poor means lacking money, not lacking humanity. Those who think otherwise are the real poor persons, having a poverty of the soul.

Remember what it was that sparked the Revolution. It was an indignity, an inhumane act foisted in the name of law and order. It's about human rights in the truest most basic form. Here are a couple of posted accounts of what was the spark that ignited the Jasmine Revolution: the first is by The New York Times; the second by AlJazeera. Both are well-written accounts, each focusing on what the writer considered important.

It started in Tunisia. The name to remember is Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old  poor fruit vendor from Sidi Bouzid, located 250 kilometres southwest of the country’s capital, Tunis. He tried to eke out a living, but was met with an uncaring bureaucracy focused on permits and paperwork. He resided in a country where bribes, patronage and corruption were the norm. He tried to appeal to the governor, but was rebuffed by indifference.

Acting out of desperation, not thinking that anyone cared, Bouazizi doused himself with a flammable liquid,  and set himself ablaze outside the governor's office around noon on December 14, 2010. He survived his suicide protest, but died in hospital in Tunis on January 4, 2011.

That was the so-called tipping point for people who endured decades of getting slapped around by life. People want their dignity back. Mr. Bouazizi's dying actions sparked a democratic revolution few predicted. His actions will not die in vain, but be remembered in history as the actions of a man, an unlikely hero, who sparked a revolution for freedom, justice and democracy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jacob Greenbaum: A Tale of Whoa!

Fiction Sunday

Part of this blog's emphasis is to encourage the creative process and tell a good story. On that note, I am pleased to post a short story by Jacob Greenbaum, titled A Tale of Whoa!


She stood in the doorway and confronted him with the setting sun highlighting her hair. The sun was streaming through a big bay window that looked onto a large backyard, now littered with patches of greyish-white snow, partly torn green garbage bags, and a swing set that still functioned, provided some elbow grease was applied in generous measure. In front of the bay window was a small kitchenette, a pail placed under a hole in the ceiling to catch the drip.

Moving forward from there, a hardwood floor with a pair of white roller skates lying on their sides, their toes pointing at each other. A brown, faux-leather couch, sturdy, yet showing some lumps, stood front and center in the living room. The same room that her body was barring him from entering. He was fixated on her hair and wanted to burrow his nose in it.

“You said you’d be here an hour ago."

Lise was a petite woman dressed simply in grey baggy non-descript jeans and a blue sweatshirt sporting Property of Alcatraz in white lettering. Moving down her legs, your eyes ended at pink fluffy bunny slippers. A large metal pail filled with soapy water stood juxtaposed by her right calf, and she was holding a damp mop, its business end pointing at him.

“Well, what’s your excuse this time?”

Rahim knew better than to answer right away. Glibness did not work with her, not anymore anyway. Rahim fingered the bling-bling around his neck, and stroked his newly acquired moustache. He smoothed the wrinkles on his black Armani shirt, his long manicured hands moving slowly, palms down to his navel. He smelled his fingers. They smelled nice. Civilized. Living large.

“Let’s go inside and talk about this like two civilized people instead of my freezing my ass out here,” he said.

“Didn’t have time to dry your hair?” she said.

“I was late as it is, tried to get here as fast as I could. Are you gonna let me in? I gotta use the bathroom.”

“Try the concierge, no wait, that’s not a good idea. Shelley’s over there taking a nap. She can’t stand the smell of detergent. To tell you the truth, neither can I.” The clunk clunk of the washing machine provided counterpoint to their dialogue.

Lise wrinkled her nose the way Samantha Stevens did in Bewitched and smiled.

“Maybe, you’d better come in, hon,” Lise said.

She tossed him the mop, and startled, he grabbed it, keeping it well away from his body. He looked like a Kalahari Bushman, spear at the ready. She turned around, bent over, and curled her fingers around the metal handle of the pail. Its tarnished silvery finish side by side with the gold around her left hand caught Rahim’s eye. She felt his fingers over hers.

“Let me get that,” he said. “I’ll play the man, for once. North American man at least.”

“Thank you,” said softly and then her head swivelled away from him, followed by her body.

Lise, unencumbered, moved smartly to the kitchenette and motioned for Rahim to hurry up. Rahim sauntered in, sidestepping puddles caused by the dripping mop head.

“Do you smell that?”


Her eyes scanned the room. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t leave the mop dripping against the wall. Put it in head first, into the pail. Well, do it.” He did.

“It’s coming from the fridge,” she said.

He took off his shirt and folded it carefully over a chair. He then stood up straight, and walked with purpose to the fridge, moving one end away from the wall with a broad shoulder. He peered at the backside of the fridge, lint hanging here and there like clothes on a line. Rahim put the back of one hand against the fridge and then patted it- like someone’s behind.

“It’s warm, but not that hot. No loose or frayed wires. I hear it humming. Bet the fridge is okay.”

He remembered getting the fridge with her just a few months ago. Getting a fridge in some crowded box of a shopping center packed with kids wiping their runny noses and screaming at the top of their lungs. Doing this for his Lise when World Cup playoffs were on TV. At least he didn’t go to a bar to watch it. He wanted to watch it at home with Lise and explain the finer points of the game. The finesse, the moves. Scoring.

She opened the fridge, the light went on, and the food felt cold. As it should.

“Then where’s the smoke coming from?”

They walked through their home hand in hand checking every electrical appliance. The smoke, both agreed, was strongest in the kitchen, where they both ended up after going through every room.

“If it’s not in here,” Rahim said, “then it must be outside.”

Lise went to a window, opened it, and craned her head up down and all around.

“Rahim, c’mere, look, there’s smoke coming from Apt.203, just below us.”

Lise went to the phone, called the concierge and informed her about the smoke.

“The concierge thinks it may be a fire and she’s going to check it out. I’m going too. Let’s leave the mopping alone for now.”

“Fine with me”

Lise, in the lead, went to the door, turned and put her hand on Rahim’s chest, his bare chest.

“Maybe, you’d better put your shirt on. I don’t mind but Mrs. Smith is over eighty, and she’s down the hall.”

Indeed, it was a fire in Apt. 203 as Rahim and Lise discovered when they entered, courtesy of the concierge. A fire caused by a teakettle left on the burner after the tenant had vacated the premises. Rahim noted the faint smell of hashish in the apartment and smiled to himself. Lise was pleased that the stay at home tenant in Apt. 203 had worse housekeeping habits then her.

Both of them were back upstairs on the couch, exhausted after their shared adventure, mopping, and doing the laundry.

“Thanks for your help,” Lise said.

“Yep”. Rahim was stifling a yawn.

“I was at the gym, Y’know. “

“The gym?” Lise asked.

“Why I was late, the hour late, the wet hair, Y’know.”

“It’s ok, “she said, and looked at her watch. “We don’t have to pick up Shelley for another hour.”

Rahim got up from the couch with new reserves of energy. Lise looked at his rear, got up, thought about putting on her bunny slippers, rejected it, and followed Rahim in her bare feet to their bedroom. She grabbed a hairbrush.

He looked at her. She brushed her hair and smiled.


Jacob Greenbaum writes about faith and technology. He resides in Montreal, and can be reached at

Copyright ©2011. Jacob Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Evgeny Kissin: Liszt's Liebesträume

Evgeny Kissin [b Oct 1971] plays Franz Liszt's  Liebesträume No. 3. Kissin is another of those child musical prodigies that come out of Russia. "He came to international attention in March 1984 when, at the age of twelve, he performed Chopin’s Piano Concertos 1 and 2 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the Moscow State Philharmonic under Dmitri Kitaenko," his website says.

Liebesträume (German for Dreams of Love), is a set of three solo piano works (S/G541) by Franz Liszt, published in 1850. Often, the term Liebesträume refers specifically to No. 3, the most famous of the three.


Arthur Rubinstein: Chopin's Heroic Polonaise


Frédéric Chopin's Heroic" Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53: Performed by Arthur Rubinstein. It was composed in 1842 by the Polish-born Chopin [1810-1849] when he was 32. Chopin's music epitomizes the Romantic style.

Arthur Rubinstein [1887-1982], also born in Poland, was considered a specialist on Chopin's pieces such as this one.

Frédéric Chopin [1810-1849]:  At age 25. This is an 1835 watercolor portrait of Polish composer Frederic Chopin, painted by then-16-year-old Maria Wodzinska (1819-96). The artist and her sitter became engaged the following year but never married each other. The portrait is described in Tad Szulc's book "Chopin in Paris" (p. 137) as "one of the best portraits of Chopin extant--after that by Delacroix--with the composer looking relaxed, pensive, and at peace."
Credit: pl:Maria Wodzińska, copied by Nihil novi: 2010 June 24

You can also view a vintage performance of Rubinstein at the Great Hall in Moscow, and an older more mature Rubinstein playing the same piece here, and compare.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Where Have All The Bees Gone?

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.
Marcus Aurelius

Bees work for man, and yet they never bruise Their Master's flower, but leave it having done, As fair as ever and as fit to use; So both the flower doth stay and honey run.
George Herbert, The Church: Providence

Better one bee than a host of flies.
Italian proverb

Hard at Work: This bee, Osmia ribifloris (on a barberry flower), is an effective pollinator of commercial blueberries (because it is blue) and is one of several relatives of the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria. Similar in appearance, the blue orchard bee is also a successful commercial pollinator that is now being evaluated for use in a wider range of crops.
Photo Credit: USDA Photo by Jack Dykinga, 2006.

Bees are amazing insects. And it's a wonder and a bit of nature's magic to see them buzz from flower to flower, carefully and assiduous doing their work. Unless you are allergic to them, as some people are, you could admire their qualities from fairly close up. Every summer, I await the bees, watching them fly from flower to flower in my modest garden populated with a few local flowers. They help humanity in numerous ways.

Chief among them are pollinating flowering plants and gathering nectar to produce honey. Of the two, pollination, the transfer of pollen from one flower to another, is critical to fruit and seed production. The distinction is valid and an important one, since different bee species focus on different tasks. Bees that gather nectar, honeybees, will pollinate flowers, but bees that deliberately gather pollen are more efficient at pollination.

About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Bees of various species can be found in every continent, except Antarctica.

There are almost 20,000 known species of bees, categorized into seven to nine recognized families. The honeybee belongs to the family called, Apidae, representing a small fraction of all bees. Currently, there are only seven recognized species of honeybee, and a total of 44 subspecies.

Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis are true honeybees. One of the most common species found in North America is Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. It was introduced by English settlers to North America, when they arrived by ship in Virginia, in 1622.

Given its beginnings as an agricultural society, the honeybee was important for crop production. Honeybees continue to play an important role in food production, as insects that are considered pollinators. The list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds, and dozens of others: a total of $15 billion worth of crops that depend on the honey bee in the U.S. alone.

But it's not feral, or wild honeybees, which are doing the work. From 1972 to 2006, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of wild honeybees in the U.S. Wild honeybees are almost non-existent. Instead, there is a whole industry now where farmers, who used to rely on feral honeybees for pollination, must now rent managed colonies. That's right: bees for hire.

It's a commercial venture with commercial colonies. In the U.S., beekeepers as a group earn much more from renting their bees out for pollination than they do from honey production. One problem with that for bee survival rates is that when bees are trucked around, they intermingle with other bees from all over, which helps spread viruses and mites among colonies. It is also a strain on the colony.

Now, here's the problem. There are fewer bee hives in the U.S. today than at any time in the last 50 years—about 2.3 million colonies, or hives. An average colony has about 50,000 bees. Yet, there are not enough bees. For example, the $2 billion almond crop in California requires one million honeybee hives, or colonies, for cross-pollination, at about two colonies per acre. Depending on the crop, it can take between one and four colonies of honeybees per acre for pollination. (Apples require one, blueberries up to four.)

One of the current concerns regarding honeybees is what has been called colony collapse disorder, where worker bees from a beehive disappear and don't return. As of yet, there is no scientifically verifiable explanation.

The queen bee, in a sense, has lost her loyal subjects. They are not returning to the hive, or colony. An estimated one-third of the colonies in the U.S. have for yet unexplainable reasons vanished, triple the norm of 10 per cent. The rate is 20 per cent or higher in much of Europe, and similar rates have been reported in Latin America and Asia.

Starting the Honey-Making Process: A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts nectar from an Aster flower using its proboscis. Tiny hairs covering the bee's body maintain a slight electrostatic charge, causing pollen from the flower's anthers to stick to the bee, allowing for pollination when the bee moves on to another flower.
Photo Credit: John Severns, 2007

Various Possible Explanations

Scientists are looking for possible explanations, including the United States Department of Agriculture, which says:
A perfect storm of existing stresses may have unexpectedly weakened colonies leading to collapse. Stress, in general, compromises the immune system of bees (and other social insects) and may disrupt their social system, making colonies more susceptible to disease.

These stresses could include high levels of infection by the varroa mite (a parasite that feeds on bee blood and transmits bee viruses); poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, or pollen or nectar scarcity; and exposure to limited or contaminated water supplies. Migratory stress brought about by increased needs for pollination might also be a contributing factor.
Other considered possibilities have been Israel acute paralysis virus, or IAPV, first discovered by Israeli scientists in 2002, which causes paralysis in bees that then die outside the hive; and Neonicotinoid pesticides, including clothianidin, which are neurotoxins used to protect crops against pests, yet these chemicals may also be harming honeybees.

Although nothing conclusive has been reported yet, neonicotinoid insecticides has been limited or banned in a number of countries including Germany, Italy, France and Slovenia. A lot of fingers have been pointing at neonicotinoid insecticides – relatively new compounds which mimic the insect-killing properties of nicotine. Both the U.S. and Britain however, continue to allow the use of neonicotinoids.

That might be one cause, but not the only one. In fact,there might be a  number of causes, depending on which region of the world the colony collapse is taking place, reports in a recent article:
It’s becoming clear that there is no single parasite, virus or chemical to blame, argues Frances Ratnieks, a bee scientist at University of Sussex in Brighton.

Instead, honeybees are probably dying for all kinds of different reasons from loss of their foraging grounds to increased exposure to global pathogens, Ratnieks wrote in a review of the issue in the journal Science.

“We may conclude that colonies are dying for different reasons in different parts of the world and I would say that if that is the case, I would not be the least bit surprised,” Ratnieks told
That is why some scientists say further study is required, the emphasis of a recent paper, Colony Collapse Disorder in Context, by Geoffrey R. Williams et al of Dalhousie University's department of biology in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In it, the paper's authors said: "The point is, honey bees die from many things. We must be careful to not synonymize CCD with all honey bee losses."  It's a tricky problem, no doubt.

The consequences of continuing reduction in bee colonies are far-reaching: a collapse in our food chain and higher food prices. Let's hope that scientists and researchers looking into this problem will come up with a solution soon. I will keep you posted.


Update: To find out more, I would recommend the excellent documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, directed by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein, and narrated by Ellen Page.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Improving Scientific Literacy

Science & Society

If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well. Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. Everything should be as simple as it can be, yet no simpler
—Albert Einstein

Clear writing is an essential ingredient of any communication and especially scientific communication. For example, in Science, we don't encourage clear writing, we insist on it.
Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science

 Misunderstanding of probability may be the greatest of all impediments to scientific literacy.
Stephen Jay Gould

DNA Double Helix: The stylized DNA structure shown above determines the genetic structure of all known life. Co-originators of the double-helix model, Francis Crick & James Watson's contribution to science, is one of the greatest of the 20th century. It's part of scientist's quest for knowledge. Note that Science is derived from the Latin scientia, or knowledge.
Credit: Michael Ströck, 2006

I am in the midst of reading Paul Offit's Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All for a review, which I plan to post on Friday March 4th. In reading it, I began thinking about how poor a job in general the media does in reporting science, scientific research and hard science news. This is evident, even among the best news sites, who do an otherwise good job of reportage in politics, economics and other facets of the public sphere.

Now, in all fairness, there are good science reporters, but not enough. When it comes to science reportage, it all comes apart at the seams—a form of scientific illiteracy. I am fortunate, however, to have come from a strong science and engineering background, having worked for many years in industry, before turning to writing and journalism. I am very comfortable with scientific language, numbers, and their significance. And I enjoy decoding it and communicating such to people in everyday language.

Even so, science is poorly understood in a number of areas and for a number of reasons. Here are some of them:
  • Statistics and Numbers: Many, if not most journalists, do not have a good understanding of numbers. Accordingly, they do not often respect nor give credence to the statistical data, often looking at it with suspicion or outright disdain. Or outright fear.
    That being said, it comes down to this: If you believe in the veracity of the statistics, and you should if you have a complete set of data, there is no reason to doubt its outcomes. Think of how accurate election polls are. They use the same statistical analysis as scientists.
  • Cause and Effect: This is essential to understand, and many people, including intelligent persons, get it wrong. Just because one event follows another does not mean the preceding event necessarily caused it.
    To use a simple example, just because you walk under a ladder, and it falls on you, it doesn't mean that your walking under the ladder caused it to fall. In science, cause and effect always has the same outcome. For example, if I throw a ball up, it will always fall down. It's part of the Scientific Method, where cause and effect must be proven, at least statistically with a high rate of probability. In general, scientists often look for multiple causes of an event, not only one.
  • Emotion in the Story: Now, I am a firm believer is emotions coming into play in artistic and creative endeavors. Such emotions and finer feelings are necessary and critical in all artistic efforts, from music, painting, photography and writing. Data has little place in art, however. But emotion, yes, for without it, there is no art.
    In science, however, it's data that informs the scientist and the researcher. Data is as essential to science as emotion is to art. Emotion only complicates the issue, and offers no validity of results. Journalists, actors, the media and entertainment industry are large on emotion, and rely on it to tell their stories, as it ought to be. Yet, as a group non-scientists have a hard time with numbers, statistics and data.Their stock-in-trade are emotions writ large.
    There's the rub. Such explains why many top-notch scientists and researchers are reluctant to enter the fray, the arena that journalists and the media shape and control, and no more so than the entertainment media. The fact that Dr. Offit, for example, makes himself available to the media, shows that he cares about setting the record straight, of course. He cares about scientific literacy, as well. But more important, it shows that he cares about the future well-fare of our children and our society.

    Academy of Science in France: An engraving by Sebastien Le Clerc from Mémoires pour servir a l'Histoire Naturelle des Animause (Paris, 1671), depicting King Louis XIV visting the Académie des Sciences.
    Scientific Illiteracy and Conspiracies

    Even so, it's important to dissect why the anti-vaccine lobby receives the media exposure it does, often at the expense of sound science and scientific policy Part of the reason centres on the meshing of news and entertainment into infotainment, which diminishes hard news and upgrades entertainment into one and the same thing. And when the media speaks to an audience in a "dumbed down" over-simplified emotionally laden message, essentially looking at its audience as uninformed patrons of entertainment, you get the results that we are now witnessing.

    So, one party responsible is the media and the way it operates in search of ratings and profits, becoming in many ways indistinguishable from the entertainment industry. But that does not fully explain the deep suspicions and distrust that too many people have of an industry that many decades ago was looked at with praise. Fifty years ago, when the Salk vaccine for polio was announced, there was singing and dancing in the streets, and thank you signs posted on storefront windows.

    Nation's Gratitude: Shopkeeper expresses a nation's gratitude for Dr. Salk's discovery: April 13, 1955.
    Photo Credit: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.
    Source: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation; in book: Smith, Jane S. (1990). Patenting the Sun: Polio and The Salk Vaccine. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0688094945

    Not so today. The difference between now and 50 years ago is an unhappiness of the motives and intents of the healthcare industry, and in particular Big Pharma. For many, it has come to represent everything wrong with health-care in America. It has come to symbolize excessive greed and unmitigated excesses of power and privilege. This sometimes lead to the formation of of conspiracy theories. To be sure, there is a great need to improve scientific literacy. But that will take effort on many fronts.

    The Trust Factor

    For one there's Big Pharma. While Wall Street might love them and their financial results, but not so Main Street, which has become suspicious. Therein lies the root of the problem: Public Trust. If I would have the ear of Big Pharma, and I don't, I would offer the following advice:

    At the next annual meeting, don't speak about financial results, about how much money you made, the earnings per share, the language of investors. The small percentage of people who really care about such things already know the financial results. Speak to the everyday people on Main Street.

    Speak about what you are doing to improve the lives of humanity in very real terms. Speak about real people with real results. Speak about how important your products are, in particular vaccines and life-saving drugs. Be as ebullient and upbeat about helping people as you have been historically as helping financial investors.

    Such an approach will win over the hearts and minds of everyday people. They want to believe that companies are doing good. But if all they hear is financial results, the impression made is that companies care only about money. The national conversation needs to be shifted, generally, away from financial results, which is not the raison d'être of the company, to human results. This has to be done at every opportunity—showing a human face to people. To explain science in human terms.

    Telling a Good Story

    It will take some doing and some training, but it's not impossible. Executives can look into themselves and remember what's truly essential. They can also look to people who are excellent communicators, the same-named actors, talk-show hosts and media stars, who speak to the people in a way they understand. It's about tapping into the human emotion, and telling a good story.

    Avoid PR agencies and others who only offer professional-looking slick campaigns, and have lost touch with the everyday people. Their campaigns are generally just that: slick campaigns stripped of any sincere human meaning.

    Look to people who are good communicators. That is what people like Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Bill Maher and a host of Hollywood actors and media personalities excel at, tapping into the human emotion. In short, they tell stories. If the health-care sector wants to help people, they have to tell a good story, in a way that will encourage people and make them listen. It's not about money. It's about people and regaining their trust.

    Science in general has an excellent human story to tell, notably in how its continuing scientific advances in vaccines go a long way to not only bettering the lives of our children, but also eventually ridding society of those debilitating and deadly diseases that plagued our ancestors. We all have some work to do. Dr. Offit, among a few noteworthy others, have done their part.

    Now it's up to Big Pharma to do theirs.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    California Dreamin': The Mamas & The Papas

    MUSIC Wednesday
    Written by
    : John Phillips & Michelle Phillips
    : 1965
    : November 1965

    Album: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
    Label: Dunhill Records
    I am in the mood for some of that early 1960s California sound from The Mamas & the Papas. It's February in Montreal, winter's breath still upon our faces, and many people here are dreaming of warmer times, still a couple of months away. This one does the ticket. The song is about the longing for the warmth of California. In Rolling Stones magazine 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, it ranks no. 89.

    Some liner notes, from Wikipedia:
    According to John Phillips in a Bravo documentary, and Michelle Phillips in an NPR piece, the song was written in 1963 while they were living in New York. He dreamed about the song and woke her up to help him write it. At the time, the Phillipses were members of the folk group The New Journeymen which evolved into The Mamas & the Papas.
    They earned their first record contract after being introduced to Lou Adler, the head of Dunhill Records, by the singer Barry McGuire. In thanks to Adler, they sang the backing vocals to "California Dreamin'" on McGuire's album This Precious Time. The Mamas and the Papas then recorded their own version, using the same instrumental backing track to which they added new vocals and an alto flute solo by Bud Shank.

    McGuire's original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely wiped.[2] The single was released in late 1965 but it was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, Michelle Phillips remembers that it took a radio station in Boston to break the song nationwide.[3] By early 1966, the song peaked at #4 and stayed on the charts for 17 weeks.

    The Mamas and the Papas: Album Cover: If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears: 1966.
    California Dreamin'
    By John Phillips & Michelle Phillips

    All the leaves are brown
    and the sky is grey
    I've been for a walk
    on a winter's day
    I'd be safe and warm
    if I was in L.A
    California Dreamin'
    on such a winter's day
    Stopped into a church
    I passed along the way
    well, I got down on my knees
    and I pretend to pray 
    You know the preacher likes the cold
    he knows I'm gonna stay
    California Dreamin'
    on such a winter's day
    All the leaves are brown
    and the sky is grey
    I've been for a walk
    on a winter's day
    if I didn't tell her
    I could leave today
    California Dreamin'
    on such a winter's day x3

    The Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun

    MUSIC Wednesday

    Early Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun

    Written by: Brian Wilson & Mike Love
    Recorded: January 1, 1964: United Western Recorders: Hollywood, CA
    Released: February 3, 1964.
    Album: Shut Down Volume 2
    Label: Capitol Records

    Here are some noteworthy liner notes, from Wikipedia:
    The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love about Shirley England, the daughter of the owner of radio station KNAK in Salt Lake City, Utah (not to be confused with the call letters now assigned to a station in Delta, Utah) where she worked as a teenager. She borrowed her father's Ford Thunderbird to go study at the library. Instead of driving to the library, she ended up at a hamburger stand. When her father found out, he took the car away. The next day she was at the radio station complaining about it to the staff while The Beach Boys were visiting and they were inspired to write this song.[2]

    The Wilsons' father, Murry, always the critical conservative, denounced the whole idea for the song as immoral, and tried to prevent the group from recording it. The song, backed by a single-only mix of a cover version of Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", became a top-five hit. This argument set the seed for further deterioration in the family. It finally led to Murry being sacked as The Beach Boys manager a few months later when "I Get Around" was about to become the first number-one single for The Beach Boys.

    The opening electric guitar introduction of the original version of the song was based on Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, which was released in 1958.

    The Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun single sleeve cover, Februray 1964

    Fun, Fun, Fun
    By Brian Wilson & Mike Love

    Well, she got her daddy's car
    And she cruised through the hamburger stand, now
    Seems she forgot all about the library
    Like she told her old man, now
    And with the radio blastin' goes
    Cruisin' just as fast as she can, now

    Chorus 1:
    And she'll have fun, fun, fun
    'Til her daddy takes the T-bird away
    (Fun, fun, fun, 'til her daddy takes the T-bird

    Verse 2:

    Well, the girls can't stand her
    'Cause she walks, looks, and drives like an ace,
    (You walk like an ace, now, you walk like an ace)
    She makes the Indy 500 look like
    The Roman chariot race, now
    (You look like an ace, now, you look like an ace)
    A lot of guys try to catch her
    But she leads 'em on a wild goose chase, now
    (You drive like an ace, now, you drive like an

    [repeat chorus]

    Instrumental break (organ/guitar solo):

    Verse 3:
    Well, you knew all along
    That your dad was gettin' wise to you, now
    (You shouldn't-a lied, now, you shouldn't-a lied)
    And since he took your set of keys
    You been thinkin' that your fun is all through
    (You shouldn't-a lied, now, you shouldn't-a lied)
    But you can come along with me
    'Cause we got a lot of things to do now
    (You shouldn't-a lied, now, you shouldn't-a lied)

    Chorus 2 [2X]:
    And we'll have fun, fun, fun
    Now that Daddy took the T-bird away
    (Fun, fun, fun, now that Daddy took the T-bird

    Coda [repeat to fade]:
    Fun, fun, fun now that Daddy took the T-bird away

    Fun, fun, now that Daddy took the T-bird away

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Alfred Stieglitz: The Patient Photographer

    Great Artists

    I  have always been a great believer in today. Most people live either in the past or in the future, so that they really never live at all. So many people are busy worrying about the future of art or society, they have no time to preserve what is. Utopia is in the moment. Not in some future time, some other place, but in the here and now, or else it is nowhere.
    Alfred Stieglitz

    Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings… You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today.
     —Alfred Stieglitz

    "I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life – to show that (the success of) my photographs (was) not due to subject matter – not to special trees or faces, or interiors, to special privileges – clouds were there for everyone. 
    Alfred Stieglitz

    Alfred Stieglitz [1864-1946]: "Let me here call attention to one of the most universally popular mistakes that have to do with photography—that of classing supposedly excellent work as professional, and using the term amateur to convey the idea of immature productions and to excuse atrociously poor photographs."
    Photo Credit: Gertrude Käsebier [1852-1934], 1902.
    Source: US Library of Congress: Prints & Photographic Div.

    Alfred Stieglitz didn't consider his photography as works of art, but his photos of everyday life evoked as much emotion as any expressionist artist of the last century. In Stieglitz's photos, one has a photographic record of the immense changes taking place in America, notably New York City—from its transition at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century from an uncultured and uncivilized city of undistinguished character to a vibrant metropolis teeming with the changes brought about by innovation, immigration and imagination.

    He was a perfectionist, shooting the same scene many times and using the best paper and highest printing methods to achieve what he wanted, and, yet, resisted all attempts to classify him as an artist and his work as art. Nor did he must care for distinctions between amateur and professional. For him, there was only good photography and bad photography, the latter usually resulting from poor planning and lack of patience. Stieglitz gave the truism, "Patience is its own reward," additional meaning.

    Moreover, for Stieglitz, such classifications were for academics who failed, at first glance, to see the beauty in front of them as it was happening in the then and now. As a photographer, his work recorded what his heart saw, notably the everyday lives of ordinary people.

    In that regard, we owe a debt of gratitude to Stieglitz. He was one of the pioneers of both street photography and using a hand-held camera. His advice on getting the perfect picture ("Patience") is as relevant today as it was when he wrote this in The Hand Camera—Its Present importance, in 1897:
    In order to obtain pictures by means of the hand camera it is well to choose your subject, regardless of figures, and carefully study the lines and lighting. After having determined upon these watch the passing figures and await the moment in which everything is in balance; that is, satisfied your eye. This often means hours of patient waiting.

    My picture, "Fifth Avenue, Winter" is the result of a three hours' stand during a fierce snow-storm on February 22nd 1893, awaiting the proper moment. My patience was duly rewarded. Of course, the result contained an element of chance, as I might have stood there for hours without succeeding in getting the desired pictures."
    Fifth Avenue—Winter: This was taken by Stieglitz on February 22, 1893, after patiently waiting for three hours during a winter storm. As Stieglitz said: "My patience was duly rewarded. Of course, the result contained an element of chance, as I might have stood there for hours without succeeding in getting the desired pictures."
    Photo Credit: Alfred Stieglitz, 1893
    Stieglitz was well-suited in temperament and position to chronicle the changes he was seeing through his hand-held camera, which was at first a Folmer and Schwing 4x5 plate film camera, which did not require the need to lug around a tripod—giving him artistic freedom.

    During the course of his long career, spanning more than 50 years, Stieglitz produced more than 2,500 mounted photographs, including The Terminal" (1893), Venetian Canal (1894) and The Steerage (1907). As well, there are a number of famous photos of Georgia O'Keefe, the well-known American abstract painter of southwestern landscapes.

    Growing Up

    Alfred Stieglitz was born to Edward Stieglitz and Hedwig Ann Werner in Hoboken, New Jersey,  on January 1, 1864, the first son of German-Jewish immigrants. The Stieglitz family would eventually have five more children, but Alfred would always be the eldest child. A few years later, the family would move into a brownstone in Manhattan, New York.

    In 1871, he attended the Charlier Institute, the best private school in New York. Although he enjoyed the school, he did not find it overly demanding. The summers were spent at Lake George in the Andirondack Mountains, a place Stieglitz would return to many times in his adult life.

    He moved with his family to Germany in 1881, when his father sold the family business for $400,000. That money would provide the young Stieglitz with an allowance of $1,200 a month. The next year, Stieglitz began studying mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, but soon became interested in photography.

    He was influenced by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, who was an important scientist and researcher in the then developing field of photography. He also met German artists Adolf von Menzel and Wilhelm Hasemann, both of whom introduced him to the idea of making art directly from nature. He bought his first camera and traveled through the European countryside, taking many photographs of landscapes and peasants working on the Dutch seacoast and undisturbed nature within Germany's Black Forest. He won prizes and attention throughout Europe in the 1880s.

    Although his parents returned to the U.S. in 1884, Stieglitz returned only in 1890, rather reluctantly, after his parents summoned him home after the death of his sister, Flora, during childbirth. He had considered America uncultured compared to Europe. But when his father threatened to cut off his allowance, the younger Stieglitz dutifully returned to New York City.

    A Working Photographer in New York

    By then, he had found his passion—photography—and had decided that was how he would make his living. He married Emmeline Obermeyer, the daughter of his father's business associate, on November 16, 1893. Emmy, as she was called, was 20; Alfred was 29.

    It was not a marriage of love. Stieglitz later wrote that he did not love Emmy when they were first married and that their marriage was not consummated for at least a year. It was a marriage of financial convenience, in that she had inherited a considerable fortune from her father, a brewery owner.

    This allowed him the freedom to pursue his art. But it was not a match made in heaven. He was looking for an artistic equal, which to no fault of hers, was not hers to give and share. From 1893 to 1896, Stieglitz was editor of American Amateur Photographer magazine, but his forceful autocratic manner was his undoing, and he was forced to resign. 

    In 1898, Stieglitz's daughter, Katherine, or "Kitty," was born. Stieglitz took many photos of Kitty, in a sense creating a photographic journal of her life. He would revisit the idea of serial portraiture several times throughout his career. Stieglitz exhibited and published many pictures of his daughter, confirming that he considered them important pieces of his photographic oeuvre.

    At the New York Camera Club, later called The Camera Club of New York, he reformatted its newsletter into a serious art periodical known as Camera Notes, for which he was editor between 1897 and 1902. Its distinguishing feature would be that each published image would be a picture, and not a photograph.

    In 1902 Stieglitz founded an elite group of photographers called the Photo‐Secession, which included Edward Steichen, Clarence White, and others whose work exemplified the highest accomplishments of the art of photography. In 1905, Stieglitz, along with fellow photographer and painter Edward Steichen, founded the Little Galleries of the Photo‐Secession, which quickly became known as 291 from its address on Fifth Avenue. He also started a lush photo magazine, Camera Work. His aims were to bring European tastes to America through the relatively young artistic medium:
    Because Stieglitz was fascinated with the relationship between photography and the other arts, he began to exhibit works by leading European and American modern artists, including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, as well as Marius de Zayas, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O'Keeffe, often giving them either their first shows in the USA or their first ever exhibitions.

    Gallery 291 quickly became the centre for avant‐garde art in America, attracting not only painters, sculptors, and photographers, but also writers, poets, critics, and musicians.
    Georgia O'Keefe: An artist of American Modernism, O'Keefe first met Stieglitz in 1916. They married in 1924 and remained so until Stieglitz's death in 1946. Stieglitz took more than 300 photos of her between 1918 and 1937. This is one of the earliest photographs.
    Photo Credit: Alfred Stieglitz, 1918.
    Relationship with O'Keefe
    In January 1916, when Stieglitz saw a portfolio of drawings by a young artist named Georgia O'Keeffe, he made plans to exhibit her work, without first contacting the young artist or asking her permission, at 291. When O'Keefe went to the gallery in May 1916, she was at first not pleased with Stieglitz's presumption or physical presence. He felt an immediate attraction, both physically and artistically. It would take a year of correspondence to convince O'Keefe of the seriousness of his finer feelings.

    By then, a combination of poor finances, the First World War and Stieglitz's changing interests persuaded him to close the 291, end his association with Photo-Secession and cease publication of Camera Work in 1917.  His marriage to Emmy was over in all but name. 

    By July 1918, Stieglitz and O"Keefe were living together. It was then that Stieglitz took many of the famous nudes of O'Keefe, reportedly in the family apartment that he was still officially sharing with his wife. She walked in on them during one of the photography sessions.Stieglitz and O'Keefe would marry six years later in 1924. But in the interim, they would be together most of this time, in which Stieglitz took more than 350 mounted prints of her. Many were studies of the human form, including close-up details of her hands, a dynamic and intimate chronicle of an individual

    At the end of 1924 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a collection of 27 of Stieglitz's photographs, the first time a major museum included photographs in its permanent collection. On December 15, 1929, two weeks after his 65th birthday, Stieglitz opened his last gallery, An American Place, which became known as "The Place." 

    It was. There, photographers such as Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter received early exposure. From the windows of this 17th-floor gallery and from his apartment  in The Shelton Towers, Stieglitz photographed New York City undergoing transformation to a high-rise metropolis. The view from his apartment changed even more dramatically with the addition of the General Electric Building, completed in October 1931.

    It was also during the1920s and early 1930s that Stieglitz made some of his most accomplished photographs, including a series of photographs of clouds, which he called Equivalents. By this time, Stieglitz and O'Keefe were spending more time apart, she spending a lot of time in New Mexico painting, and he remaining in New York. 

    Stieglitz stopped taking pictures in early 1938, when he suffered a serious heart attack, one of six coronary or angina attacks that would affect him over the next eight years. He would spend most of these years in the darkroom preparing photos, and not out on the street, in his natural milieu. For example, in the last 10 years of his life, he would spend summers at Lake George, New York, where he had converted a shed into a darkroom.

    Alfred Stieglitz suffered a stroke and died on July 13, 1946, in New York. His wife, Georgia O'Keefe, was able top rush to his bedside before he died. He was 82. O'Keefe took his ashes to Lake George and buried them at the foot of a tall pine tree beside the waters.

    Stieglitz, the man who initially refused the idea of photographer as artist, has produced some of the most evocative works in early modern photography. Stieglitz remains a leading pioneer, who made photography a more acceptable medium of expression.

    Note: See Announcements for changes to posting frequency and other news about my novel.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Muhammad Ali: Boxing’s Greatest

    Great Legends of Sport

    Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
    Muhammad Ali

    At home I am a nice guy: but I don't want the world to know. Humble people, I've found, don't get very far.
    Muhammad Ali

    Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.
    Muhammad Ali

    Muhammad Ali: At age 25: In 1993, the Associated Press reported that Ali was tied with Babe Ruth as the most recognized athlete, out of over 800 dead or alive athletes, in America.

    Photo Credit: Ira Rosenberg: New York World-Telegram & Sun, 1967.
    Source: U.S. Library of Congress: Prints & Photographs Div.

    Muhammad Ali is one of the most recognized sports legends in the world, a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion. In his prime, in the 1960s and early ’70s, Ali was both adored and loathed, for his strong views and beliefs, uncommon for an athlete, his pre-fight barbs directed at his opponents and the media, and his brash uncompromising but often playful personality.

    Much of Ali's public persona was molded in his formative years growing up in the segregated south, notably at a time when America was undergoing tremendous social unrest and change. African-Americans were fighting for civil rights that many others took for granted. If Ali recoiled against these inequalities in a brash manner, it is understandable, particularly for a young man who had the physical presence and mental convictions to stand up to abuse of authority, in whatever form it took. 

    Ali displayed the outward confidence, some would say chutzpah, or brashness, that he was not going to be anyone's servant, least of all one not of his choosing. Whatever views one holds on this man, he was not easily ignored or forgotten.

    Eighteen years after his retirement from boxing, in 1999, Ali was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC television network. He has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, holding wins over seven other Hall of Fame inductees. Ali's record is equally impressive, winning 57 of his 62 fights, 39 by  knockouts.

    He originally boxed under his birth name, Cassius Clay, but changed it to Muhammad Ali, after officially converting to Islam in March 1964, shortly after defeating Sonny Liston for boxing's heavyweight crown.In 1975, he became a Sufi Muslim, a sect devoted to the inner mystical teachings of Islam.

    Ali stood 6-ft, 3-in (1.91 m), and had a highly unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer. Rather than the normal style of carrying the hands high to defend the face, he relied on foot speed and quickness to avoid punches, and carried his hands low. He not only predicted victory, which usually came, but also which round it would come in.

    From Louisville, Kentucky

    Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born to Odessa Grady Clay and Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942, the second of two boys. He was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician of the same name. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother was a household domestic. They were brought up as Baptists. a denomination of the Christian faith.

    He turned to boxing, as a way to avenge himself of a stolen bike, says a biography site:
    At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. "Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people," Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym.
    He was a quick study and a natural talent. Ali won the 1956 Golden Gloves Championship for novices in the light heavyweight class. Three years later, he won the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions and the Amateur Athletic Union's national title for the light-heavyweight division. Ali won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, in 1960, traveling to Rome, Italy. He came home, winning the gold medal, after defeating Zbigniew Pietrzkowski from Poland.

    From 1960 to 1963, the young heavyweight  fighter amassed a record of 19–0, with 15 knockouts. He was a knockout machine, He defeated boxers such as Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Alonzo Johnson, George Logan, Willi Besmanoff, Lamar Clark (who had won his previous 40 bouts by knockout), Doug Jones and Henry Cooper.

    Champion at 22

    Then came the shot at the championship, against Sonny Liston. Liston was favored heavily to win against the brash Ali. On the day before the fight, during the official weigh-in, Ali said: that he would "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."" His strategy: "Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see." Ali predicted to a skeptical media that he would knock Liston out by the eight round.

    He was close to his word. Despite Liston's powerful left hook, Ali's jabs and footwork proved decisive. On February 25, 1964, Ali scored a technical knockout (TKO), when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round. Ali was the world's heavyweight boxing champ at 22.

    He won a rematch against Liston the following year, on May 25, 1965, winning a TKO in the first round. The photo of Ali standing over Liston is one of the most famous in boxing history.

    The Sonny Liston Re-Match (May 25, 1965): Ali scored a TKO in the first round  (at 1:42) over Sonny Liston, keeping his WBC world heavyweight crown. The fight was held at the Central Maine Youth Center in Lewiston, Maine, in front of  only 2,434 spectators, the lowest number for a championship fight. This is considered one of the most iconic photos, not only in boxing history, but also in sports history. 
    Photo Credit: Donald L. Robinson, © Bettmann/CORBIS
    Source: World Famous Photos
    The Lost Years

    Outside the ring, Ali was a polarizing figure. It was not only his rhetoric but his views on two fronts, both divisive and controversial, which showed what kind of man he was outside the ring: his association with Nation of Islam; and his views and stance against the Vietnam War. The combination cost Ali almost four years of his boxing career, where he was stripped of his title and not allowed to box.

    On the latter history has proved him right, courageous and heroic. On the former, many say his views were just as racist as the white segregationists he was fighting against in his struggle for equality. It might have been rhetoric; it might have been the sentiments of a hurt man; it might have been something all together different. It certainly made him more known, says one biography site:
    Ali's actions in refusing military service and aligning himself with the Nation of Islam made him a lightning rod for controversy, turning the outspoken but popular former champion into one of that era's most recognizable and controversial figures. Appearing at rallies with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and declaring his allegiance to him at a time when mainstream America viewed them with suspicion — if not outright hostility — made Ali a target of outrage, and suspicion as well. Ali seemed at times to even provoke such reactions, with viewpoints that wavered from support for civil rights to outright support of separatism.
    Joe Louis, a great heavyweight champion of a previous era said about Ali, whom he referred to as his birth name: "Clay is a good enough fighter, but it's unfortunate that he's a Black Muslim. A champion should represent all sects, not one," said Louis in "'Living legend still commands respect of peers" by Andrew Baker in The Daily Telegraph (15 January 2002). Joe Louis is correct on that count.

    The War

    Even so, one had to admire Ali for sticking to his convictions. In 1967, Ali put his personal values ahead of his career. The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. He was found guilty of refusing to be inducted into the military. Professionally, he suffered.  The boxing association took away his title and suspended him from the sport for three and a half years.

    He did not go to prison, but his livelihood was affected. Between 1967 and 1970, during his prime, Ali did not earn a living as a boxer. But after a lengthy legal battle, on June 28, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Ali's conviction for refusing to serve in the military. He was officially exonerated for his actions. The public's acceptance of Ali's decision would take longer, however, after facts about the Vietnam War became more widely known.

    Even so, history later vindicated him. On the Vietnam War, he gambled and guessed right. He was following his conscience, as he put it: "No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slave-masters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end," Ali said.

    A Great Comeback

    Among his most memorable fights were three against a formidable opponent; Joe Frazier. In the first match-up, at New York's Madison Square Garden, known as the Fight of the Century, on March 8, 1971, Ali suffered his first career loss, a 15-round unanimous decision to Frazier. It was a championship fight and Frazier retained his title.

    The second Ali-Frazier fight was a nontitle rematch, since Frazier had already lost his title to George Foreman. The bout was held on January 28, 1974, with Ali winning a unanimous 12-round decision. This set up the scene for one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history.

    Called The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali regained his title by defeating champion George Foreman in their bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974. Using a technique called "Rope-A-Dope," Ali tired Foreman out, mentally and physically, and scored an eight-round knockout in Kinsahra. He was champ once again.

    By the late 1970s, however, Ali's career had started to decline. He was defeated by Leon Spinks in 1978 and was knocked out by Larry Holmes in 1980. In 1981, Ali fought his last bout, losing his heavyweight title to Trevor Berbick. He announced his retirement from boxing the next day.

    Muhammad Ali, three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world, receives an embrace from President George W. Bush after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on November 9, 2005, as Mrs Lonnie Ali, his wife, looks on.
    Photo Credit: Paul Morse, White House photographer, 2005. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
    Source: Wikipedia
    The Mellow Years

    During his retirement, Ali has devoted much of his time to philanthropy. He announced that he has Parkinson's disease in 1984, a degenerative neurological condition, and has been involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the years, Ali has also supported the Special Olympics and the Make a Wish Foundation among other organizations.

    Muhammad Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two sons. Ali lives with his fourth wife, Yolanda (Lonnie) Ali, with whom he has been married since 1986, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The couple has one son, Assad.

    On a personal note, I have always admired Ali for his boxing skills, his showmanship and his active conscience. His earlier views on race were likely those of a young man easily led and impressionable, often the case with famous people who become a means to an end, whether good or bad. One could forgive Ali for those earlier views, a product of their times, when racism was so much more pronounced than today.

    And the great heavyweight boxer has mellowed. You can view a more mellow, more tolerant man in his autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey (November 2004), written with his daughter Hana Yasmeen Ali. The book is full of sayings, thoughts and aphorisms on love, including the following: 
    "If we continue to think and live as if we belong only to different cultures and different religions, with separate missions and goals, we will always be in self-defeating competition with each other. Once we realize we are all members of humanity, we will want to compete in the spirit of love."
    Better words were never written. It only shows that Muhammad Ali was not only a champ inside the ring, but outside of it, too.

    Note: See Announcements for changes to posting frequency and other news about my novel.

    Update: Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016; he was 74.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Dateline 2032: The Life of JAC03225: Part 8


    In Part 7, JAC03225 learns about the untimely death of his father. His good friend, MEL03226, arranges to take him home.

    The large black security car pulled up in front of the stone-faced building on 4597 Park Avenue where JAC03325 resided. A large black limousine was parked in front, the driver waiting with the hydrogen engine running, water vapor emitting from the exhaust. The two lions guarding the portico were as stony faced as ever. Two senior officers bounded out of the car and walked JAC03225 through the front door and into the brightly lit lobby. They were not alone.

    At that moment, another security detail of four black-cad figures in leather vests and laser-powered guns, were leading an important figure from the elevator reserved for penthouse residents. One of them, the squad leader, gave a nod of recognition to the senior officer leading JAC03225. He was the captain of the alpha squad assigned to the University President. This was considered a prestigious assignment, though often laden with tedious and tiring tasks.

    The President was a head-strong older man of seventy-two, a well-regarded public intellectual, who seemed to resist direction from his subordinates, even those assigned to protect him. He was a man cut from a different cloth, from an older generation of men who believed that power was to be worn lightly.  He was also as friendly as a politician seeking election. The University President, recognizing JAC03225, immediately stopped walking forward and turned toward  him, somewhat taking his security detail by surprise for this unplanned maneuver.

    “Hello, JAC03325, It’s good to see you, son,” he said, his right hand outstretched and his left hand grabbing JAC03325's right shoulder, in motion so fluid it seemed natural, as if he had done this thousands of times in his life. He had. He also had a way with people, a leader who made others feel comfortable, allowing others to be  themselves. He was a man comfortable in his own skin. So, he allowed others the same courtesy. His style was familiar, warm, inviting. He called everyone younger than him, son “How is everything going?”he said, his penetrating blue eyes looking directly but warmly into JAC03325's brown eyes.

    JAC03225 dutifully returned the warm gesture, and immediately told him about the sudden death of his father, sparing no details. It seemed as if he took a while to explain, but it was only a few minutes, and the University President took it all in, with patience. Both teams of security were standing nearby, at a respectable distance yet within earshot of the conversation. They were trained to be ready and alert, to serve, protect and act.

    “I am really very sorry to hear the news” the University President said, his face betraying an emotion of sadness, which he tried to conceal. Usually he was quite successful at concealment, but not this time. “I knew your father very well," he said, his voice slightly quavering. "He.. he was a fine man, a fine scholar, a fine friend. We went to school together, you know. That’s very shoc...., uh, very sad news. ”

    Somewhat shocked and flustered, he asks his security detail to give him a few minutes alone. They resist at first saying they are pressed for time, but he sternly insists, given the "special circumstances" to give him some needed privacy. They reluctantly comply, standing  no more than five metres away, their weapons armed on stun and ready.

    Visibly shaken, the University President tells JAC03225 that he can’t do anything officially for his father. But as he touches JAC03325’s arm again, with some affection,  he says with unmasked kindness: “Your father was a great man, truly he was. Let me know if you need anything. I mean that, truly.”

    “I must go. My handlers are getting nervous, and I have to give a speech to a group of prominent business leaders, in honor of your good friend, MEL03226's new position, in fact, and I am running late. Your father always hated that part of his duties.”

    He then turned on his heel, and said to the captain of the security squad, in a voice both loud and clear: "Let's go." The University President walked though the doors and entered the large black limousine, after which the driver closed his door and the security detail entered, two in front seat and two in the rear seat. The University President was protected like an egg sandwich. The limo eased away from the building and sped off into Park Avenue traffic.

    MEL 03226’s officers then brought JAC03225 to the door of his residence, a dozen or so steps from the main lobby. After assuring them that he was OK, they left, satisfied they performed their duty, as required.

    JAC03325 was now alone with his thoughts. He walked around his apartment, and stepped into his bedroom, and sat on his bed. Now he felt alone, more alone then he could remember. He had no physical contact with his past, now that his father was dead, and his mother gone years ago. Gone from his presence. Some said his father died years ago. But not according to his son. He was still alive, only this morning when he left the apartment for what was another routine day. But now everything was changed, and always would be. Nothing would... could be the same. Not now.

    He got up from the bed and slowly walked into the living room. A yellow and black winged butterfly flew quickly across the far-side window. Sunlight bathed the room, and the infused his favorite soft chair, near the window, with a yellowish warmth. He moved towards the light, removed his suede coat, deftly took out his media appliance and placed it on a nearby coffee table. He was about to neatly fold his jacket, as he had always done, but instead casually flung it on a facing chair, set up for intimate conversation. He sat down, placing both his hands on his cheek, as if to hold up his head.

    No sooner had he done this than more distant thoughts flooded his memory. How his father loved egg sandwiches on rye with mustard and the crusts cut off. It would drive the androids crazy. But he would firmly insist that he was the customer, and that’s how he liked it. It was the way his father ate his egg sandwiches. Tradition. Old traditions.

    How his father’s office at AIM U was decorated to match his taste and personality, both warm and exacting. It had wood paneling all around, a large bay window overlooking the city and a large oak desk and matching credenza. Both were rather imposing, many visitors implied. In front of the desk was a small rectangular-shaped Kandinsky rug, always slightly askew.

    On the walls were paintings by the Old Moderns: Chagall's The Three Candles, Kandisnky's Composition VII, and Picasso's Three Musicians. He wasn't sure if they were originals or copies, since reproduction technologies were so advanced, and few people really cared for the Old Modern period. But his father and a few friends did.

    He remembered it gave his father enjoyment. That was good, and important. And so was the freedom to imagine and think in non-practical ways. As a child, he was fascinated with the geometric lines and swirls of the Kandinsky rug, the interplay of the red, blues and gold shapes, playing a Schoenberg symphony of color. He would imagine himself a painter, or a musician, or even both in the folly of youth. He dreamed to dream. His father was no impediment in that way, as many other fathers were, In fact, he encouraged it, by saying: "It's important to follow your heart, your passions, and bring beauty and poetry to the world. It's as important as science, perhaps even more so.

    He would often accompany his father to his office when he was four or five years old, and watch his father doing research on a precursor to the media appliance. His father called it a computer, which he manipulated with all ten fingers.

    There were also the memories at the park near the house where he was raised, a large bungalow on a tree-lined street. At the park, he learned to throw a ball, his father patiently teaching him the kinetic mechanics of throwing and catching. He remembered how happy his father was when he made his first successful catch. “Great JAC0, Great—You did it.” and tousled his hair and gave him a hug. "Hard work and perseverance when directed in the right way will always pay off."  JAC03225 liked the closeness of his father.

    When JAC03325 was ten, he failed to make an important sports team. One of his classmates used his father’s influence to make the team in an unfair way. JAC03325 came home crying. His father held him close, kissing away his tears, and said: “JAC0, my son, the most important thing is that you tried your best, that you did it honestly with integrity. I could use my influence, of course, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be right.”

    In the certainty of youth, JAC03325 was righteously angry at his father for not helping him secure something that he then considered important. Afterward, he didn’t speak to his father for days. His father, though somewhat hurt by JAC03325’s distance, remained close yet patiently distant, allowing JAC03225 to find his true bearings.Yet, he couldn't stay angry for long, not with his father.

    He always tried to be his own person and live up to his father’s expectations. And then there was the shame of his trial and conviction. Even then, he suspected his father was keeping something important from him, a secret that he could not yet share. For his own protection, he said.

    Before he was taken away to prison, his father held him close. He could still feel the whiskers and smell the after-shave lotion, a musk scent that was as strong as his father. A few years before, when his father was on top of the academic world, JAC03225 had said as a teenager: “Dad, why are you wearing that stinky stuff? You could afford something more elegant, more refined. What would people say?”

    His father looked him in the eye with affection and said. “I know, son, but it was what my father wore. It's good enough for me.

    "I wonder if I could find that same brand of after-shave," JAC03225 thought to himself for no particular reason, as he got up from the chair and looked out the bay window. He could see people strolling nearby on Park Avenue, some couples hand in hand, laughing and giggling. It was a warm spring day. The room's automatic lighting system switched on, as the light from the sun dimmed. Its iridescent disk lowering under the horizon, settling down for the evening.

    The media device rang, startling JAC03325 from his private thoughts. It showed a private caller, which was only designated for government officials, notably the State Security Office. “It must be MEL0 worrying if I’m all right,” he thought to himself. He answered the media device dutifully and with feigned cheerfulness.

    “Hi, MEL0. I told you I’m fine. You’re such a worrier.”

    “Hi JAC03225, said a warn woman’s voice whom he immediately recognized. It was the prosecuting attorney he had met earlier that day at the cafe. “I heard about your father, and I’m sorry to hear about his sudden death.”

    “MEL0 told you?”

    “No, my father.”

    Your father?

    “Yes, he’s the president at AIM U,” she said with some embarrassment. “You bumped into him a earlier this afternoon in the lobby. He called me from his limousine on a private encrypted line. I had to call you, also on a secure encrypted line. I am taking somewhat of a risk doing this, but I feel compelled to. I heard your father give a talk when I was a teenager, somewhat rebellious, and my father dragged me to a lecture that your father was giving on Ancient Law. Your father was an excellent lecturer, and he’s one of the reasons I became a lawyer. And, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but he was a fine man. I wanted to let you know. Good-bye.”

    “Wait a minute, what’s your name?”

    “I’m sorry, I forgot my manners. It’s DIG15825.”

    “Oh, you-re originally from New Metropole, the big city.”

    “I’m originally from Metropole, its original name. I have a hard time calling it by its new name, although I should know better. Our family moved when I was very young, twenty years ago when I was seven, when my father was just hired at AIM University. That’s when we first met your father. I’m sorry but I really must go. I wanted to catch you early; and I have to finish preparing a legal case before morning.”

    “Thank you for calling. Perhaps we’ll see each other again.”

    “Perhaps. I wish you well, JAC03225. Good-bye.”

    “Bye DIG15825.”

    It was 9 pm, not late, yet JAC03325 was tired after such an eventful day. He thought about going to bed early. Tomorrow he would have to make preparations for his father’s funeral and memorial service. He would have to make calls to persons he hadn’t spoken to in years. Who should he call? Who would be there? Who would show up? His thoughts about the near future were immediately interrupted by a noise at the window, a high-pitched sound.

    It was a bird; a small black bird singing loudly, belting out a beautiful melody that JAC03225 had never heard. He had never heard such sweet singing. So late, singing in the dark was a most unusual sight. The blackbird seemed to be singing not only for him, but for other black birds. Yes, that was it. He was singing for other birds.

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night
    Take these broken wings and learn to fly
    All your life
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise
    Blackbird Fly

    That completes all of the excerpts of Chapter One. I plan to complete the novel, which I expect will take until July or August 2011. Then I plan to publish it in some form, possibly as an e-book. I will keep you posted in the Announcements.

    Copyright (c) Perry J. Greenbaum, 2010. All rights reserved.

    Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.