Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Secret To Success: Hard Work

Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.
Robert Half

I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true —hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it.
—Ray Bradbury

If I don't practice for a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't practice for three days, the world knows it.
—Vladimir Horowitz 

Work:  The painting took 13 years to complete. As one art site put it: "It is a modern allegory of society and a literal rendition of Heath Street, Hampstead. In it he shows ordinary people as heroes, but without a shade of sentimentality: at the center are common navvies digging. They are surrounded by a thronging crowd of contemporary people: ragged working class children and beggars alongside street traders and smart upper class ladies."
Artist: Ford Madox Brown (1821-93). Oil on canvas. Original in the Manchester City Art Galleries
Source: Wikipedia

As is common with many parents, I have always tried to instill certain values in my children, one being the necessity of hard work. I am reminded of this virtue because my nine-year-old son returns to school today, to Grade 4, and let me add  not with much enthusiasm. Hopefully, he will soon see the advantage that learning and hard work confers on people. It's an earned advantage open to anyone and everyone.

Since I was young—I am now 53—I have understood this value of hard work, both academically and outside of school. It was something that I viewed in my parents and to which I naturally understood as important for success. I started working when quite young—I think I was eight—first stocking shelves at my parents' grocery store, then the paper route after school and shoveling snow in high school and other part-time jobs in college and university too numerous to mention. Most of my peers did the same.

Now, it's true that I might have grown up in a working middle-class family in the 1960s and '70s, and such was normal for the times. But I have noticed that in the biographies of famous people that I have read there is a recurring theme—whether they are scientists, artists, musicians or professional athletes—they all worked hard. It's also true that they loved what they did, and that's important, too.

Talent is important, no doubt, but even with talent or ability, there is no guarantee of success. Laziness in the pursuit of a profession will prevent you from succeeding. (And success is related to happiness.) It's also true that working hard is no guarantee of success. It also takes some luck, or timing, or some other intangible. Yet,  not working hard is certainly a guarantee of failure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Here is the prologue of a recent production (December 19, 2009) of Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("The Tales of Hoffmann), an opera in three acts. Performing the music is The Metropolitan Opera ("The Met) in New York City, with James Levine as conductor.

The cast is as follows:
Hoffmann: Joseph Calleja
Olympia: Kathleen Kim
Antonia / Stella: Anna Netrebko
Giulietta: Ekaterina Gubanova
Lindorf / Coppélius / Dappertutto / Dr. Miracle: Alan Held
Nicklausse / Muse: Kate Lindsey
Andrès / Cochenille / Pitichinaccio / Frantz: Alan Oke
Luther / Crespel: Dean Peterson
Nathanael: Rodell Rosel
Hermann / Schlèmil: Michael Todd Simpson
Spalanzani: Mark Schowalter
Antonias's Mother Voice: Wendy White
The French libretto was written by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, a German Romantic author who is the main protagonist in the opera. The synopsis for the opera can be found here. It is set in Germany and Italy in the early 19th century. The Prologue is in Luther's Tavern in Nuremberg, Germany.


Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880): Circa 1860s. Offenbach did not live to see his opera performed, dying on October 5, 1880, aged 61, four months before its premiere.
Source: Wikipedia
Jacques Offenbach was born Jacob Offenbach to Isaac Juda Offenbach (né Eberst) and Marianne (née Rindskopf) in Cologne, Germany (then part of Prussia), on June 20, 1819, the seventh of ten children and the son of a Jewish cantor. Jacob's father, who had adopted the surname Offenbach officially in 1808, after the town where he was born, Offenbach am Main, moved to Cologne in 1816 where he worked as a music teacher. Later on, he secured permanent employment as a cantor of a local synagogue.

Jacob took up the violin at six, and the cello at nine. When Jacob was 14, he went with his brother Julius, 18, to study at the Paris Conservatoire under the direction of Luigi Cherubini. There they both adopted French versions of their names: Jacob became Jacques and Julius became Jules. His older brother graduated and became a successful violin teacher and conductor. Jacques dropped out after a year.

Jacques Offenbach had a difficult time for a few years, living hand to mouth, as it were, before securing a position as a cellist with the Opéra-Comique in 1835. He later took lessons in composition and orchestration from Fromental Halévy. His reputation eventually grew, playing in fashionable salons in Paris.

In an 1844 tour of England, he played with such luminaries as Anton Rubinstein, Felix Mendelssohn and Joseph Joachim. There was one more thing to do, which he did after his return. After converting to Christianity, Jacques Offenbach married Hérminie d'Alcain on August 14, 1844.  The bride was the daughter of a general. He was 25; she 17. The marriage was, by all accounts, a happy one.

In 1855, Offenbach rented his own theatre, the Bouffes Parisiens on the Champs Élysées, and began a successful career devoted largely to operetta and opéras comiques, which lasted till  his death. His best known operettas are Orpheus in the Underworld, La Vie parisienne, La Belle Hélène, and The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein.

Offenbach wrote about 100 lighter pieces for the stage. His final work, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, is more serious than his other earlier works. It remained incomplete when Offenbach died of heart failure at the age of 61, and it was completed by Ernest Guiraud, Offenbach's good friend.  Les Contes d'Hoffmann premiered in February 10, 1881 at the Opéra-Comique. Here are some background notes from Opera Today (Aug 10, 2006):
His health had been in decline by the time Offenbach started to compose what he must have known would be his masterpiece, but he pressed on. In May, 1879, there was a private reading of Les contes d'Hoffmann at Offenbach’s home at which Carvalho, from the Opèra-Comique, and Jauner, from the Ring Theater, were present. Both men wanted the rights to the work, and the composer eagerly agreed. Eighteen months later Offenbach died without seeing his opera reach the stage. Les Contes d'Hoffmann premiered at the Opèra Comique, on February 10, 1881, and the original production played one hundred and one performances to overwhelming, public, and critical acclaim.

Elegy to Jacques Offenbach in the illustrated English magazine, Punch: Volume 79, Issue 14: October 16, 1880.
Author: Clement Scott (1841-1904)
Source: Wikipedia

Monday, August 29, 2011

George Jochnowitz: Reconsidering The Blessed Human Race

Guest Voices

We welcome back George Jochnowitz with Reconsidering the Blessed Human Race. In the essay, Prof Jochnowitz writes that contrary to Christian thinking, the human race is not inherently evil, an idea fleshed out of Original Sin, a foundation of Christian theology. Moreover, such religious thinking often places a premium on the afterlife, which can and often does lead to a lack of faith in democratic human institutions. Marxism, an ideology which has greatly been discredited, also speaks of the redemptive power, in this case of Revolution. Both fail to consider our need for freedom, namely, to question and investigate and to weigh the evidence. Such is fatal short-sightedness and a lack of understanding of the arc of history. "Science and democracy are the gifts of the blessed human race," the essay points out.


Cynicism is the theory that all human motivation is selfish. We lock our doors because we believe humanity is bad; we ask strangers for directions, which we follow, because we believe humanity is good. Even cynics are not afraid to request and accept directions.

Despite the fact that our society values kindness and admires selfless people, there is a current of popular cynicism that is reflected by such underground proverbs as "Never give a sucker an even break," or "No good deed goes unpunished," or even "The good die young." Half the collective ethos of our culture tells us to be good; the other half warns us that the good are exploited.

A belief in the natural badness of human beings has religious implications. If human nature is evil, human institutions cannot be any good either; humanity cannot save itself. Indeed, a poetic way to express cynicism is to say that man is born in original sin. Thus, cynicism is frequently linked with the idea of faith. Some religions teach that the reason to believe in God and to act morally is to achieve salvation. What is more cynical than being good solely because you want to be saved and not damned? Thus do faith and cynicism go hand in hand. A religion that looks upon morality as a question of reward and punishment not only reflects cynicism but teaches it as well.

Goodness, if practiced merely for the sake of reward, is not goodness at all but merely obedience. Reducing the very idea of morality to reward and punishment implies that ethical rules are arbitrary and incomprehensible in human terms.

Cynicism ignores and obscures the fact that the greatness of humanity lies in the heroism of the ordinary. In our everyday lives we rear our children and care for our parents, help out our neighbors and make major efforts for our friends, are courteous to strangers and careful about our surroundings. We do these things not because we expect to be rewarded but because we are good. When we don't act as we should, it is because we are too tired, too frightened, too pressed —because life is too hard.

The opposite of cynicism is politics, which reflects faith in human institutions. Politics is the legal acceptance of the necessity of both selfishness and altruism. In the long run they work together to insure human survival; in the short run they conflict with each other. That is why we need checks and balances. James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution were not being inconsistent when they gave power to the people and simultaneously guarded against the tyranny of the majority. Checks and balances, and the rule of law in general, recognize that the contradictions between individual and public needs are reconcilable. Indeed, this reconciliation is the purpose of law and government. That is why all societies have laws. Man everywhere is a political animal.

Philosophies that are based on the ultimate redemption of man in the next world —either in Heaven or after the Revolution —assume that the existing state of humanity is wicked and so have no choice but to deny the goodness of the ordinary. They also contain within themselves the mirror image of cynicism —the belief that those who have seen the light are capable of total goodness. This is quite logical; a belief in pure badness is the same as a belief in pure goodness —only with a minus sign in front of it. If human institutions have no value, neither do human goals. For cynics, therefore, goodness is identified with selflessness to the point of sacrifice.

Sacrifice and self-denial are considered virtues by Marxism and Christianity. In Christianity, suffering is redemptive; Jesus is the Lamb of God whose suffering takes away the sin of the world. The pain of ordinary mortals is redemptive as well; it is punishment here on earth for sins that will not have to be paid for again in the world to come. Marx, an atheist, could not very well speak about redemption, but Marxist societies extol sacrifice and confuse normal self-interest with bourgeois acquisitiveness.

Faith in human institutions, on the other hand, finds redemption in law—in accepting the goodness of human nature and the creativity of disagreement. Those who recognize that the tension between the individual and the group is normal can then work to redirect its energies in order to minimize conflict and injustice. A system of checks and balances is the legal realization of the recognition that the conflict between selfishness and altruism will never end. Marx and Jesus had no interest in checks and balances. Law was impotent in the evil world of today; it would become irrelevant and vanish in the perfect world of tomorrow.

If people are good, why is there so much violence and cruelty? One of the reasons is that human altruism is most frequently realized through nationalism, religion and causes. One gets swept up in an issue which seems to embody the good; therefore, one does bad for the sake of doing good. The Khmer Rouge no doubt felt very virtuous. Unmixed altruism is even more dangerous than unmixed selfishness. Another reason for evil is fear, particularly fear of strangers and foreign customs. It is natural to dislike the ways of others —that is part of the instinct to adhere to the values of society. Foreignness looks very much like lawlessness to those who do not understand the vastness of the variety of human culture. The answer to xenophobia is politics — balancing the rights of those who fear the strange and those who are the strange.

We human beings have neither fangs, claws nor armor. We cannot run very fast. To protect ourselves, we have formed small groups, like families, and larger groups, like clans, tribes and nations. We identify according to profession, age, sex, faith, politics, taste, etc. Our groups may be included within others, may intersect or may overlap. They are often in conflict with each other, just as individual needs are often in conflict with social needs. But these disagreements can be muted, controlled and redirected in a legal system that recognizes the inevitability of disagreement.

Prejudice is perhaps a logical consequence of division into groups: bonding among insiders has as its corollary suspicion of outsiders. The only societies that have not known racism are those that have not known about other races. Religious disagreements and national hostilities are so widespread that they seem to be inherent in the human experience. War has existed throughout history and in all parts of the world.

The establishment of the League of Nations and the United Nations is evidence that war is not considered inevitable. The League failed and the U.N. has not been especially successful, but the wars since 1945 have not been global, perhaps because of the existence of nuclear weapons. We still don't know whether the optimism reflected by the world's continued willingness to support the U.N. is justified. Nor do we know whether racism can be eliminated. The United States has outlawed segregated schools and has integrated public accommodations, but racial tensions remain. To the extent that a society seeks legal solutions to the problem of prejudice, it has rejected cynicism. Similarly, a world that attempts arms control and maintains peace-keeping forces in troubled areas is not an entirely cynical world. Politics may eventually be extended to control warfare among nations as it now does within nations.

The Old Testament is very much about politics; it is the story of the establishment of human institutions in a particular time and place. The beginning of law is the development of the distinction between what is legal and what is illegal. This in turn presupposes the knowledge of what is good and evil.

Humanity separated itself from the rest of nature by discovering the idea of morality. This story is told figuratively in Genesis. Adam and Eve, like the birds and the bees, lived in innocence because they knew nothing else. They could no more be evil than a carnivorous animal or a deadly virus can be. By eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they entered a new stage of awareness that would inevitably lead to the building of social structures. They could take control of their fate rather than being the passive victims of the elements. In the words of the serpent, "and ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil" (Gen. 3:5).

Adam and Eve paid the price inherent in civilization: alienated labor. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. 3:19). Social organization also led to communal memory, longer than individual recollection. Therefore every human being learned that mortality was universal, that no individual could escape it, which was the fulfillment of God's warning to Adam about the forbidden fruit, "For in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17).

This beautiful story has been misinterpreted and trivialized. To say that humanity is wicked because of an act of disobedience by Adam and Eve is to deny the complexity of society and law, to lose sight of the fact that knowledge of evil is necessary in order to achieve justice, to forget that society—a prerequisite for both survival and civilization — is a human creation, to reject the view that law is a gift from heaven.

Mark Twain, in his essay, "The Damned Human Race," condemns Christianity and all religions for intolerance: "Man is the Religious Animal. . . . He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight." Yet he accepts a traditional Christian reading of the doctrine of Original Sin: "What now, do we find the primal Curse to have been? Plainly what it was in the beginning: the infliction upon man of the Moral Sense: the ability to distinguish good from evil; and with it, necessarily, the ability to do evil; for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it."

Mark Twain comes very close to understanding why the human race is blessed and not damned. What is missing from his analysis is law and politics, the recognition of the legitimacy of disagreement. Yes, the knowledge of evil creates evil in a world without law, rights and debate. This same knowledge defeats evil when combined with science, which is another word for acknowledging the possibility that one may be wrong.

Deng Xiaoping, in 1985, was admired and respected all over the world, just as Mikhail Gorbachev was in 1990. Deng and Gorbachev spoke about prosperity and practicality. They seemed to have lost faith in Marxist dogma. However, when the theocracies they ruled were threatened with real opposition, they showed themselves quite capable of human sacrifice. Unlike Abraham, Deng was not only able, but apparently even eager to sacrifice his children on June 4, 1989.

Totalitarianism is a 20th-century phenomenon, but it is nevertheless a rejection of modernity. Totalitarian ideologies look back to an ideal time they claim existed in the past —a time of racial purity for the Nazis and of primitive communism for Marxists, a time when strife did not exist. The goal of such ideologies is the retention of contemporary technology but the rejection of all the other discordant features—questioning, variety, creativity—of modern life. The weakening of Marxist thinking now taking place all over the world is evidence of a reconciliation with science and freedom.

Although the Old Testament antedates both science and freedom, it recognizes the fact that time is linear. Events matter and change the course of history. History cannot be undone; the Garden of Eden is neither possible nor desirable; Adam and Eve's choices made us what we are.

The May 4th Movement, which was active in China in 1919, chose "Science and Democracy" as its slogan. A brilliant choice! Democracy and science are inseparable; both are reflections of modesty, of the fact that we need to look and listen and measure. Perhaps science and democracy are different sides of a single phenomenon: searching. Both, through exploration and debate, reject cynicism and make politics possible. Science is the enemy of the grotesque superstition that had been persecuting China since Liberation. The Democracy Movement demanded science as well as freedom and democracy. The Movement understood these three things are inseparable. That is where its strength came from. "Science and Democracy" is a Chinese slogan. It dates back to the May 4th Movement of 1919. Ironically, there is a May 4th Street in many Chinese cities, and May 4th is celebrated as a holiday, called "Students' Day."

The scientific method—questioning, testing, measuring, drawing conclusions, and reconsidering them in the light of fresh evidence—is precisely what we mean by free speech. The Beijing Spring Movement of 1989 is a logical consequence of the May 4th Movement of 1919. Science and democracy are the gifts of the blessed human race. Democracy is the political realization of the scientific method.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2011. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. A Hebrew version of this article appeared in Nativ, Volume 4, Number 3, May 1991. An English version appeared In Midstream, Volume 48, Number 7, November/December 2002.  It is an except from The Blessed Human Race. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.  It is republished here with the author's permission.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Charlie Chaplin: The Great Dictator's Final Speech

This is from The Great Dictator, a 1940 film  directed and starring Charlie Chaplin. The  film, an anti-fascist satire, is as much a judgment on Nazi Germany and all it stands for as a tribute to democracy and science. It is important to note that the United States was not yet at war when the film was released, only entering after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Yet, Europe was very much in the midst of war.

Chaplin, who was not Jewish, started thinking of making the film in 1938, before the hostilities of the Second World War. Although Chaplin's first talking picture was made 12 years after the introduction of sound to movies, it came at the right time. It was released, first in the U.S., on October 15, 1940. In 1941, it garnered five Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actor. It won none.

It's true that Chaplin was known for his comedy, notably the character of the little tramp that he created. The final speech might, to some, deflate the film's comedy. Yet, it has a purpose, as film critic Roger Ebert noted in a 2007 review:
The movie plays like a comedy followed by an editorial.

Chaplin (1889-1977) nevertheless was determined to keep the speech; it might have been his reason for making the film. He put the Little Tramp and $1.5 million of his own money on the line to ridicule Hitler (and was instrumental in directing more millions to Jewish refugee centers). He made his statement, it found a large audience, and in the stretches leading up to the final speech, he shows his innate comic genius. It is a funny film, which we expect from Chaplin, and a brave one. He never played a little man with a mustache again.
Was Chaplin prescient? Or just aware that some men are morally evil? The words spoken are relevant today for persons who value freedom and humanity and who see the value of democracy and democratic institutions. The Great Dictator was added in 1997 to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

The Great Dictator: A poster from the 1940 film. "I am for people. I can't help it," Chaplin once said.
: Wikipedia

The text of the speech can be found here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mahler Symphony No. 4: Vienna Philharmonic

The Vienna Philharmonic performs Gustav Mahler'’s Symphony No. 4, first movement, with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, into a Jewish family in Kaliste, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of the Czech Republic. In  February 1897, at age 36, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, chiefly to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Court Opera. Nevertheless, his music retained his Jewish heritage and influences. "This, in the eyes of those who hated his innovations, far from removing his Jewish stigma, drew attention to it," Paul Johnson, a historian writes in A History of the Jews, quoting from Alma Mahler's book Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946):
"He was not a man who ever deceived himself," wrote his wife, "and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it."
Mahler composed the Fourth Symphony, with four movements, between 1899 and 1901. The first four symphonies are often called  "Wunderhorn" symphonies because many of their themes originate in earlier songs by Mahler from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), a collection of German folk poems published in the early 19th century. The symphony, infused with childlike innocence and wonder, was first performed in Munich, Germany, without acceptance by the public.

In his posting on Symphony No. 4, Peter Gutmann writes:
It's hard to believe nowadays that such a thoroughly lovely work encountered indifference and hostility by both audiences and critics. The 1901 Munich premiere, led by the composer, was booed and condemned as baffling and tasteless. The local antipathy may have stemmed from thwarted expectations for a colossal successor to Mahler's earlier work or perhaps the lack of insightful programmatic guidance, but clearly was fueled by the professional enmity created by his reforms at the Opera and further stoked by anti-Semitism (even though Mahler had converted to Catholicism as a condition of his Vienna post —an irrelevant detail to devoted bigots). Yet, even in America, that cradle of tolerance and free thinking, a 1904 New York concert was greeted as a "drooling and emasculated musical monstrosity, … the most painful musical torture to which [the critic] has been compelled to submit."
Mahler's symphonies, hardly performed during his life, became out of fashion for decades after his death in 1911 at the age of 50. The anti-Romantic mood changed after the Second World War. Leonard Bernstein has been credited with giving Mahler new life in the 1960s, making his music popular on both sides of the Atlantic. With all due credit to Bernstein's influence, it might also have to do with the changing sentiments after the destructiveness resulting from a world caught up in the mania of war.

After its end, the world was ready to hear Mahler.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Neil Diamond: Solitary Man

Neil Diamond sings "Solitary Man" in a BBC performance in 1971. Neil Diamond wrote the song in 1966, when it was first released as a single. It is the first song on his debut album, "The Feel of Neil Diamond."

Solitude, the word alone frightens many people as a unnatural state of affairs. There are times in our lives, no matter our current marital status or living arrangements, when we live as solitaries, the result of death, divorce, separation, argument, differences of thought. The song speaks of acceptance of solitude as a necessary prelude to finding someone who is true and faithful. This shows that most persons prefer to be in the company of others, in a loving relationship, and studies show such is a healthy preference. Or, as Honoré de Balzac, the 19th century French novelist and playwright, put it, "Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine. "

Solitary Man
by Neil Diamond

Melinda was mine
'Til the time
That I found her
Holding Jim
Loving Him
Then Sue came along
Loved me strong
That's what I thought
Me and Sue
But that died too

Don't know that I will
But until I can find me
The girl who'll stay
And won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
A solitary man
Solitary man

I've had it to here
Bein' where
Love's a small word
Part-time thing
Paper ring

I know it's been done
Havin' one
Girl who'll love me
Right or wrong
Weak or strong

Don't know that I will
But until I can find me
The girl who'll stay
And won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
A solitary man
Solitary man

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

David Oistrakh; Dvořák Slavonic Dance No 2

David Oistrakh plays Antonín Dvořák's Slavonic Dance No. 2 in E minor, opus 72, which Dvořák composed in 1886. Inspired by Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dances, this is the second set of eight dances that the Czech composer wrote; the first set of eight were completed in 1878. It forms part of the music of the late Romantic period.

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904): Czech composer:  In  an article, "Music in America," which appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine in February 1895, Dvořák said: "The music of the people is like a rare and lovely flower growing amidst encroaching weeds. Thousands pass it, while others trample it under foot, and thus the chances are that it will perish before it is seen by the one discriminating spirit who will prize it above all else. The fact that no one has as yet arisen to make the most of it does not prove that nothing is there."

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Look at the Last Year: A Writer’s Life (2011)

Perry J Greenbaum: At age 53. "We must not allow cynicism to define us. It’s not always easy, I get tired much too often, yet I still retain hope in humanity. I make a conscious choice to seek it wherever  and whenever it could be found."
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011

It has been a year since I started this blog; and 368 articles (or posts) later, 205 in 2011 alone, I would like to share, again, some of things that I wrote about. It's not so much a retrospective but, rather, a look at the varied yet consistent views of this blog centred on ideas that shape us as humans struggling to live a life of dignity.

Early on, I wrote the following:
On Courtesy: One of the orphans of a electronic communications age is courtesy. This is particular striking, given the various ways and modes of communication we have at our disposal today.
Finding Humility: We have been witnessing an erosion of the virtue of humility in the last 50 years, the loss becoming more evident in the last few years in the Age of Celebrity.

The War on Poverty: It's Worth Fighting: In an earlier post, I wrote about consensus building among leading intellectuals, world leaders and creative people that  The War on Drugs has been a failure. Granted, there has been another forgotten war, "The War on Poverty," that in the Gilded Age of Today garners little public attention.
Having Fun:  Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) wrote Cat in the Hat in response to an article by John Hershey in Life magazine that children weren't reading, because they found books boring.
Then I wrote about the importance of science and medicine, notably on how vaccines save and better our lives:
The Scientific Method: Often lost in the business and media-led hype about technology is how basic science informs technological innovation. And when we discuss modern science we do so in light of the Scientific Method.
On Vaccines: A Matter of Life: Some of you might have noticed that I have been publishing a series of articles on the discovery of many of the vaccines that we now take for granted, including polio, hepatitis, and measles mumps and rubella (MMR).

Informed Parents: Making Good Choices: In Deadly Choices, Paul Offit pushes back against the threats, allegations and fear-mongering of the anti-vaccine movement.
The visual arts are an important ingredient in giving us an insight into beauty, imagination and the human condition:
Pablo Picasso: Making Waves: Pablo Picasso is famous for co-founding, along with George Braque, a new art form called Cubism with his painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, in 1907.
Marc Chagall: The Jewish Modernist: Marc Chagall has been described two ways, as a major artist of the 20th century, the last of the modernists; and equally as a painter of Jewish themes that depict, in highly poetic and haunting, if not unreal images, life in the Russian city of Vitebsk at the turn of the twentieth century.
Alfred Stieglitz: The Patient Photographer: 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.
A life without music is empty and meaningless. Music brings us much joy and pleasure.
Vladimir Horowitz: Last of the Romantics: Vladimir Horowitz, ranked among the greatest pianists of the 20th century, is best known for his performances of the Romantic piano repertoire, evoking a personal interpretation and expression of a piece of music.
Irving Berlin: Made in America: There are a number of things that can be said about Irving Berlin. But the two that come to mind are that Berlin was a Made in America success story and an old-fashioned patriot.
Arthur Rubinstein: Playing From the Heart: When you see Arthur Rubinstein play you view not only a great technical performance, but perhaps more important, a man whose interpretation of the music makes it so much more personal and enjoyable.
Then there’s community. I would also like to include a few of the wonderful guest posts that have been part of this blog and helped make it a success:
Sheldon Levy: The Many Faces of Humanity: I can tell you a lot of stories. Everybody has at least a few. I can tell you who and what and where. I could say that it was a bitter cold  when I met this man in Nashville or that woman in New York.

George Jochnowitz: A Discordant Century: A few years ago, my wife and I subscribed to a chamber music series. No matter who was performing, the program followed the same canonical form: a quartet by Haydn, a modern work, the intermission, and a concluding piece of the romantic period.

Jacob Greenbaum: 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.
I enjoy writing, and I hope that much is apparent. When I make a choice on what to include in my blog, whether I write it or a Guest Voice does, I keep in mind what the ultimate purpose is: “A life of compassion, understanding, intellectual honesty, imagination & dignity.” If I could ask for anything, it would be that more readers comment on what is posted. Writers often have fragile egos and need encouragement. So, if you feel so inclined to share a thought, a comment, a criticism on anything posted, I welcome and encourage you to do so.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mozart Jupitar Symphony: Vienna Philharmonic

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, First movement. Called the Jupitar Symphony, this performance is by Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Karl Bohm.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Water Rights

Science & Society

Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.
The United Nations Committee
on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights

More than eighty countries, with forty percent of the world’s population, are already facing water shortages, while by year 2020 the world’s population will double. The costs of water infrastructure have risen dramatically. The quality of water in rivers and underground has deteriorated, due to pollution by waste and contaminants from cities, industry and agriculture. Ecosystems are being destroyed, sometimes permanently. Over one billion people lack safe water, and three billion lack sanitation; eighty per cent of infectious diseases are waterborne, killing millions of children each year.
—World Bank, 1999

Whoever stops up his ears at the cry of the poor will himself cry, but not be answered. 
Proverbs 21:13, Jewish Bible 

View of the Earth: A shot taken from Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972. Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface; the oceans contain 97.5% of the Earth's water. The Antarctic ice sheet, which contains 61% of all fresh water on Earth, is visible at the bottom.
Photo Credit: NASA. Photo taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans (of the Apollo 17 crew).
Source: NASA

I reside in a suburb of Montreal on the western side of the island that this summer has restricted water use, namely, the watering of lawns. The reason for the ban is that the current demand for water exceeds supply, so the municipality is doubling the capacity of its water plant, a $75-million project that is expected to be complete by June 2012. That's the only restriction—no lawn watering. Some of my neighbours are quite upset about it and have voiced their displeasure to the mayor, to no avail.

Undoubtedly, sprinklers going full tilt is a common site, notably in suburbia, where lush emerald-green lawns are a testimony to the homeowner's status. Quite honestly, it has no effect on our family's well-being, since we usually allow nature to water our lawn. It might also be that in comparison to some of the large "monster homes" in my neighborhood, our house is modest, as is the parcel of land of about 3,500 square feet (325 square metres) on which our house sits. It is, however, sufficient for our needs.

I raise this issue for a reason. While suburbanites in North America worry about brown lawns, many others worldwide worry whether they will get any quality water to drink. Some people say that there is not enough drinking water for all the earth's inhabitants. numbering almost seven billion people. Recent scientific estimates say that almost one billion people, one in seven persons, do not have access to quality drinking water. There are equally a number of sobering statistics of the consequences of this: poverty, sickness and death.

Note that humans require, on average, 2.4 litres per day of drinking water and between 20 and 50 litres per day for basic needs such as cooking, bathing and cleaning. A person can survive up to 30 days without food, but only up to seven days without water (A full set of interesting statistics can be found here and here for those interested.)

Drought and famine are an all-too common occurrence, notably in sub-Sahara Africa. For example, there is currently a famine, brought out partly by drought, in the Horn of Africa, with Somalia bearing the brunt of it. The photos of emaciated children are hard to ignore and rich nations pledge money. Some of it trickles its way to the persons affected; most doesn't. The cycle continues as does the cynicism. But yet we hope that things will change one day for the poorest of the poor. We feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming poverty, asking if it must always be this way. Some of the problems are man-made, but not all. It has everything to do with how much water we have access to and how it is distributed.

The Water Cycle:
The water cycle is the only way that Earth can be continually supplied with fresh water. The heat from the sun is the most important part of renewing our water supply. This heat soaks up water from the oceans, lakes, rivers, trees and plants in a process called evaporation. As the water mixes with the air it forms water vapor. As the air cools, the water vapor forms clouds. This is called condensation. Most of the water is immediately returned to the seas by rain (precipitation). The rest of the water vapor is carried inside clouds by wind over land where it rains or snows. Rain and melted snow is brought back to the oceans by rivers, streams, and run-off from glaciers and water underground.
Credit: US Geological Survey
Source: Wikipedia

Less than One Per Cent of the World's Water is Drinkable

Although, about two-thirds of the earth is covered with water, 97.5 per cent of it in the oceans and is salty and thus not drinkable or usable for our consumption. That leaves 2.5 per cent for freshwater use. But two-thirds of that amount, or 1.7 per cent, is locked in permanent snow and glaciers. So, less than one percent of the world's water is easily accessible and drinkable. Even so, UN-Water reports that we have yet to access all the world's water resources: "The world's six billion people are appropriating 54 percent of all the accessible freshwater contained in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers."

For some nations it makes perfect sense to tap into the world's oceans and it huge saltwater reserves. Desalination technology is available, but expensive to operate on a wide scale, at least for now, since it uses a lot of energy in the form of steam to to produce clean drinkable water.  There are, of course, environmental concerns of using such technologies. "According to International Desalination Association 2009, there are 14,451 desalination plants in operation worldwide, producing 59.9 million cubic meters per day (15.8 billion gallons a day)," Wikipedia says.

Most are, not surprisingly, in the Middle East, where in the desert groundwater is scarce. Costs are coming down, however, as technology gets better, more efficient. For example, in Israel, the cost is US$0.53 per cubic meter. Costs in other parts of the world are comparable. It is expected that costs will eventually come down with technological improvements. (For a technical look at the desalination process see "The ABCs of Desalting," put out by the International Desalination Association.) The consumer costs of bottled water are comparably much higher.

Water has to be managed, even in the industrialized west, or else we'll run out of it. Large concerns are taking care of the water supply and management, since they argue, they are best suited for such matters. That is the simple truth that some scientists say we will have to contend with shortly.

Science and technology might eventually solve the technical problems. Technical and technological consideration aside, there are other things to think about. Here's another simple truth from Jon Luoma, in “The privatisation of water," published in The Ecologist (March 1 2004):
Multinational companies now run water systems for 7 per cent of the world's population, and analysts say that figure could grow to 17 per cent by 2015. Private water management is estimated to be a $200 billion business, and the World Bank, which has encouraged governments to sell off their utilities to reduce public debt, projects it could be worth $1 trillion by 2021. The potential for profits is staggering: in May 2000 Fortune magazine predicted that water is about to become 'one of the world's great business opportunities', and that "it promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th."
Some of the language is alarmist. While I don't agree that the comparison to oil is necessarily valid, the article does raise a few questions on how water will be managed in the fairest way possible. Corporations operate with the intention of making a profit, and such is understandable. But when it comes to a basic resource like water, corporations ought to rethink and reconsider how they operate, if they wish to be good corporate citizens.

The Practical Choice/The Moral Choice

Even so, this scenario raises a few questions. If this is happening, why is it so? Why has water, which no one really should own, become a commodity, possibly controlled by the few. The short answer is that it takes huge investments to set up a water network, and companies have the right to not only recoup their investment but make a profit. Is this a morally defensible position? The problem is not greed, per se, a vital force that can be harnessed for good, if directed in the right fashion, such as making new technologies for profit.

It's the greed that is selfish and unchecked by opposing forces of goodness and goodwill for the less fortunate that is problematic. It's true that individuals can come together at conferences, such as the UN and FAO, Unicef and others, to work out some ethical framework of a personal or corporate nature and do good. Pledge money, Deliver aid. It's all good and well. It works, somewhat, at least for now, even in the face of thugs and thieves who steal from their own people. Yet, the cycle seems never-ending: drought, aid, theft, poverty, death.

Because it is logical, rational and utilitarian, it serves the needs of the situation. Thus, on a grander scale of humanity and for its betterment, it will likely fail and fail in a miserable way, bringing with it misery to many. The reasons are the ones that have always plagued us. A lack of long-term good will to help those who need help the most, chiefly because there is no real benefit other than doing good.

In the end, we might solve the technical problems, but the human problems are much more difficult. Cynicism and realism are two sides of the same coin, ultimately leading to defeat of the spirit,  This approach, the moral one, will happen  when we believe it is the only possible solution. Until then, it's likely business as usual.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jacqueline du Pré: Beethoven Sonata No.3


Jacqueline du Pré on cello and Daniel Barenboim on piano perform Beethoven Sonata No.3, Op.69,  II. Scherzo. The Sonta, which was composed in 1808, has three movements. That same year, Ludwig van Beethoven published the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.

Jacqueline du Pré, born in Oxford, England, was one of the most gifted musicians to play the cello. Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim married on June 15, 1967, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. She was a convert to Judaism.

In the fall of 1973, at age 28, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but she stopped performing before then:
Her last public concerts were in New York in February 1973: four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman, and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic were scheduled. Du Pré recalled that she had problems judging the weight of the bow, and just opening the cello case had become difficult. As she had lost sensation in her fingers, she had to coordinate her fingering visually. She performed three of the concerts and cancelled the last. Isaac Stern stepped in for her, performing Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
She continued to teach on occasion, but her health worsened, and she died in London, England, on October 19, 1987. She was 42. Jacqueline du Pré is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery in London.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Arthur Rubinstein: Playing From the Heart

Great Artists

To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings - it's all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life miracle to miracle.
Arthur Rubinstein

I'm passionately involved in life: I love its change, its color, its movement.
Arthur Rubinstein

Sometimes when I sit down to practice and there is no one else in the room, I have to stifle an impulse to ring for the elevator man and offer him money to come in and hear me.
Arthur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein [1886-1982] around the age of 20: "It took great courage to ask a beautiful young woman to marry me. Believe me, it is easier to play the whole Petrushka on the piano."
Photo Credit: circa 1906.
US Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.
When you see Arthur Rubinstein play you view not only a great technical performance, but perhaps more important, a man whose interpretation of the music makes it so much more personal and enjoyable. There is more to music than playing the notes correctly, which many concerts pianists today do so proficiently. There is the personality of the musician, which younger musicians would be wise to emulate. But it cannot be artificial or contrived; it must come naturally, from the heart.

That ability, to charm the audience, has made Rubinstein one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. He continues to charm today through his many recordings. Some notable ones are the Beethoven Piano Concertos with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim (1975), the Schumann Fantasiestücke (1962) and, of course, the Chopin Nocturnes, Waltzes and Polonaises, which can be found in various remastered  collections put out recently.  Rubinstein played from the heart, and that meant that he took chances, which highlighted his humanity all the more so. This is revealed in an insight from the website dedicated to the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which says:
"On stage," Rubinstein told in an interview with Harold C. Shonberg in 1964, "I will take a chance. There has to be an element of daring in great music-making. These younger ones, they are too cautious. They take the music out of their pockets instead out of their hearts. And they know little about pedalling or tone production. " Rubinstein’s remark about "playing from the heart" was characteristic. He always played from the heart. Music was nothing if not an emotional expression.

In his long life he saw interpretation pass from Romanticism to the percussionism of Bartok and Prokofiev, and then to the literalism brought in by the anti-Romantic movement, in which young pianists were trained to observe only the printed note, keeping themselves out of music. Rubinstein did not like what he heard. He realized, as all great artists do, that music means nothing until brought to life by an imaginative, sympathetic player. He knew that it was the function of the interpreter to refract the message of the composer through the prism of his own mind. Otherwise a robot could do the job as well.
But Rubinstein was no Romantic musician; his was more a fusion of Romanticism and Classical. (Although by today's standards of musicians playing note perfect, but without emotion, he might be considered a Romantic.) Chopin was his specialty, The New York Times said, "and it was a Chopinist that he was considered by many without peer." It has been said that Rubinstein played Frédéric Chopin's music so well that the Polish composer might have had Rubinstein in mind when he wrote. Never mind that Rubinstein was two generations removed from Chopin. Rubinstein and Chopin shared the same country of birth—Poland—and their affinity for it, and the music reveals as much.

He also had an ideal physique for a pianist: five foot eight with a short muscular torso, long arms and extraordinary fingers. There is an iconic image of Rubinstein, his back erect, attired in formal wear, tails draped over the bench and his face formed like a mask in perfect concentration. And then came the music, which seemed in stark contrast to his pose. And so it must be for a man who loved life and was a self-proclaimed extrovert. Even his lighting a cigar was a performance.

Rubinstein, who was fluent in eight languages— English, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, German, and Portuguese— also enjoyed being in the company of women, notably early in his career. ''It is said of me that when I was young I divided my time impartially among wine, women and song,'' he said. ''I deny this categorically. Ninety percent of my interests were women.'' These romantic affairs were not distractions, but formed an integral part of Rubinstein's personality.

Rubinstein: At age 50. "People are always setting conditions for happiness... I love life without condition."
Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten [1880-1964];  November 30, 1937
Source: U.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Early Years in Poland

Arthur Rubinstein was born to Izaak Rubinstein and Blima Feiga Rubinstein (nee Heiman) on January 28, 1887, in Lodz, Poland. He was the youngest, by almost seven years, of seven children, born into a mercantile family of assimilated Jews. His parents, Izaak and Blima (Felicja in Polish) married in March 1870, when Izaak was 21 and Felicja was 17. (see Rubinsten: a life).

The Rubinsteins lived in a spacious sunny apartment, part of a nice three-storey house, on a main thoroughfare, Piotrowska ulica, in Lodz. The family purchased an upright piano when Arthur was 2½, but not for him, but for his older sisters who were expected to learn such things. But it was the young boy, Arthur, who became the piano's chief friend, so to speak.

The young Rubinstein knew his vocation early on, at age three, which made it unnecessary for him to think of what he would do with his life. In Rubinstein: a life (1995), Harvey Sachs writes:
"When I was three years old I was a musician," the aged Rubinstein told an interviewer. "In fact I could play four hands with my sister then. She played very badly, but I played the four-hand things quite well. . . . There are lots of people who at twenty can't decide if they want to be jewellers or doctors or engineers. I knew at the age of three that I was going to be a musician."
Until the age of eight he was a student at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music, and afterward was sent to perform for Joseph Joachim, the famed Hungarian-Jewish violinist based in Berlin. Joachim, who was friends with Schumann and Brahms, was duly impressed and assumed responsibility for Rubinstein's study. At the young Rubinstein's Berlin debut, age 11, Joachim was the conductor. Recitals in Dresden, Hamburg, and Warsaw soon followed. By then, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the well-known Polish pianist and conductor, took him under his wing and became a major influence.

Rubinstein made a number of tours, including an unsuccessful tour of America, before establishing himself first in Spain, in 1916, and then South America, where audiences responded to his passionate playing. By then he was residing in Paris and was often found on the French Riviera in the company of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.

Although he enjoyed life and its many beautiful offerings, Rubinstein became more serious about his career and the direction that it would take after he met and married Aniela ("Nela") Mlynarski, the youngest daughter of the Polish conductor Emil Młynarski, in London, England, on July 27, 1932—he was 45 and she was almost 24. Rubinstein began to think more seriously about his place in the pantheon of music, and equally important what his children would think of their father. "I didn't want my kids to grow up thinking of their father as either a second-string pianist or as a has-been,'' he said. The couple remained married for fifty years until his death. They had four children: Eva, Paul, Alina A. and John A., all whom resided in Manhattan at the time of their father's death.

Acceptance in America

So, when Rubinstein made his third appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City on November 21, 1937, at age 50, he showed maturity as an artist. (Previous appearances in 1906 and 1919 were not successful). And America embraced him and loved him. It was the right time. During the Second World War, he moved his family from Paris to Beverly Hills, California. Rubinstein became a U.S. citizen in 1946. The Rubinsteins then moved to New York City in the 1950s.

He began touring the world and playing to appreciative audiences. By then Rubinstein was established and adored. On his return to his native Poland in 1958, after being absent 20 years, his concert in Warsaw had 10 encores. Chopin's Heroic Polonaise, opus 53, in A flat was a natural hit, precipitating the encores. He said that had a deep affection for Poland, his country of birth.

Rubinstein's discography is extensive, a total of 107 hours of music. Since he began to record for RCA Victor, in 1928, he has put out solos, concertos and chamber music works. The earlier recordings have been remastered and are now available on CDS.

Later Years

During the mid 1970s his eyesight deteriorated, and he retired from the stage at age 89 in May 1976, giving his last concert at London's Wigmore Hall, where he had first played nearly 70 years before. Toward the end of his life, in 1974, Rubinstein gave his name to a piano competition in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Arthur Rubinstein died quietly in his sleep in Geneva, Switzerland, on December 20, 1982. He was 95.

In accordance to his wishes, he was cremated. On the first anniversary of his death, an urn holding his ashes was buried in Jerusalem in a dedicated plot called the Arthur Rubinstein Panorama and also dubbed the “Rubinstein Forest” overlooking the Jerusalem Forest and Judean Hills.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Copland Clarinet Concerto: Benny Goodman

This is Benny Goodman playing the Copland Clarinet Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Aaron Copland conducting, 1976. Goodman commissioned Copland to write a concerto for clarinet in 1947, and he first performed the piece on an NBC radio broadcast with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner, on November 6, 1950. (You might also want to hear, for the sake of comparison, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto performed here by Martin Fröst with  German Radio Philharmonic, Christoph Poppen, conductor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
PreambleDeclaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, 
drafted by Thomas Jefferson

If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator.
W. Beran Wolfe, How To Be Happy Though Human

I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be "happy." I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter and to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.
Leo C. Rosten

Thomas Jefferson: The chief author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the United States' third President linked happiness to meaningful work and freedom to pursue just causes. "Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits."
Credit: Rembrandt Peale [1778-1860]: 1800
Source: The White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

There are no limit on the number of books that look at happiness and how to attain it. And there are an equal number of buyers. It is without a doubt a growth industry, often linked to books on self-help or self-improvement. The pursuit of happiness is the chief goal of many if not most people, linked to a meaningful and fulfilling life. The fact that there are so many books on pursuing happiness, some spiritual, some religious, some practical, some serious speaks about a deep lack of happiness in people's lives. Or at least that's why such books exist—to make things better.

But such books are not being written by only pop psychologists and psychiatrists, whom one would suspect of putting out such books. Now, there are even serious academics who make a career of writing about happiness and well being. Take, for example, Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology.

On his website, Authentic Happiness, Seligman defines authentic happiness as the sum of three parts: "The theory in Authentic Happiness is that happiness could be analyzed into three different elements that we choose for their own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. And each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness."

In short, it's about the choices that we freely make and their influence on our well being. Here is an excerpt from Martin Seligman's  Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being:
Positive psychology, as I intend it, is about what we choose for its own sake. I chose to have a back rub in the Minneapolis airport recently because it made me feel good. I chose the back rub for its own sake, not because it gave my life more meaning or for any other reason. We often choose what makes us feel good, but it is very important to realize that often our choices are not made for the sake of how we will feel. I chose to listen to my six-year-old’s excruciating piano recital last night, not because it made me feel good but because it is my parental duty and part of what gives my life meaning.

Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center & founder of positive psychology, says: "Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think."

Making Moral Choices

It's true that happiness can be linked to what kind of choices we make and how they affect us. Yet, there's more to the story, I suspect. It might be that the aggressive pursuit of happiness and the attaining of happiness are not one and the same. For people and a time overly focused on attainment and achievement, happiness is not really something that you can attain, like a new car, house, pet, or, even, spouse. It's more ethereal. It's more a state of mind that has everything to do with acceptance and humility, and nothing to do with avarice and aggressiveness. Happiness is furthest away from the person who thinks he can attain it by the mere use of money or power.

In a culture filled with endless consumer choices, where almost anything (and anybody) can be bought—it has been opined that everything and everybody has a price—happiness cannot. For if you try and buy it or get it through aggressive means, it's not happiness that you have attained. It's something else altogether.

Such is a point that W. Beran Wolfe makes in How To Be Happy Though Human. Beran, a student of Alfred Adler, proposed a society of mutual cooperation as most beneficial, published this work in 1932.
We are too prone to overlook the terrific costs of the wreck of the competitive system to individual and to State. The competitive system in life does not kill outright, as in the animal world, where its success is greater. Applied to human life it maims, it cripples, it makes dependent. It breeds crimes, perversion and insanity, the costs of which weigh heavily on victor and victim alike. (2)
 Of the three approaches to life that marks human decision making—placid indifference, an aggressive business approach, or the artistic vision, Beran Wolfe  says the last is the most human:
The third attitude toward life is the approach of the artist. Here the underlying philosophy is "what can I put into it?" (2)
Again, it's clear that making a moral choice to do something positive makes us happier. Now, I would like to return Thomas Jefferson and the "pursuit of happiness" clause in the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776), which might surprise some that it's not included in the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment: it lists the right of “life, liberty, and property."  Property rights are strongly protected, and rightly so, which means that the State or government agents cannot arbitrary take someone's property, as has historically been the case in non-democratic regimes.

Meaningful Work

Such might help explain the power of the prevailing American Dream, still resonant today, despite the recent setbacks with the housing bubble. Property ownership speaks of permanence, an ability to settle down and raise a family. (It is noteworthy that Jefferson was influenced by Epicurus, whose beliefs centre on knowledge, friendship, and living a virtuous and temperate life.)

But there's more to the story. In the 18th century, happiness also boiled down to an ability to earn a livelihood, or to work. Thus, in such views there should be no impediment in a person's ability to earn a living and take care of himself and family. Such raises an excellent and valid point. Besides the obvious monetary benefits, work can (and does) give a lot of meaning to one's life. The fact that the unemployment rate is so high in the U.S. explains the lack of hope and happiness that many feel at the moment. It is also the reason that governments want the unemployment rate to stay low.

Even so, happiness is also linked to giving and kindness, to love and hope, to beauty and music. And, lest we forget, to friendship and community, and the ability to freely pursue just causes. Many of these things are absent today from people's lives, and that explains, rather sadly, why so many settle for imitations of the authentic. In short, happiness might be more concrete than too many (pop) psychologists think. It might be more about friendship and family, meaningful work, making good choices, and living a moral, responsible and just life than about self indulgence, self-analysis, or positive thinking.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Elvis Presley: It's Now or Never

Elvis Presley sings "It's Now or Never," recorded in 1960. The melody of the song is adapted from the Italian standard, "'O Sole Mio,"a Neapolitan song from 1898 composed by Eduardo Di Capua & Emanuele Alfredo Mazzucchi with lyrics by Giovanni Capurro. (You can hear The Three Tenors' wonderful version of "O Sole Mio" here).  Thus it comes at no surprise that the song became highly popular.

Written by: Aaron Schroeder & Wally Gold
Recorded: April 3, 1960
Released: July 5, 1960
Single: It's Now or Never/A Mess of Blues
Label: RCA Records

In 1960, the song spent five weeks in the United States at number one, and in the United Kingdom, eight weeks. The song has generated sales of more than 25 million copies worldwide.
Elvis Presley: It's Now or Never, 1960 single sleeve.
Source: Wikipedia

It's Now or Never
by Aaron Schroeder & Wally Gold

It's now or never,
come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never
My love won't wait.

When I first saw you
with your smile so tender
My heart was captured,
my soul surrendered
I'd spend a lifetime
waiting for the right time
Now that your near
the time is here at last.

It's now or never,
come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never
My love won't wait.

Just like a willow,
we would cry an ocean
If we lost true love
and sweet devotion
Your lips excite me,
let your arms invite me
For who knows when
we'll meet again this way

It's now or never,
come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never
My love won't wait.

O Sole Mio
Eduardo Di Capua, Emanuele Alfredo Mazzucchi & Giovanni Capurro

Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole,
n'aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe' ll'aria fresca pare già na festa...
Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole.

Ma n'atu sole
cchiù bello, oje ne'.
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
O sole
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
sta 'nfronte a te!

Quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne,
me vene quase 'na malincunia;
sotto 'a fenesta toia restarria
quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne.

Ma n'atu sole
cchiù bello, oje ne'.
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
O sole
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
sta 'nfronte a te!

English Translation

What a wonderful thing a sunny day
The serene air after a thunderstorm
The fresh air, and a party is already going on…
What a wonderful thing a sunny day.

But another sun,
that’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
that’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!

When night comes and the sun has gone down,
I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.

But another sun,
that’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
that’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Three Tenors: La Donna è Mobile

The Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras perform "La donna è mobile,"  from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto (1851). This performance is from the concert at  Los Angeles, California, on July 16, 1994, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the chorus of Los Angeles Opera, Zubin Mehta conducting.

Rigoletto, an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, is based on the play Le roi s'amuse, a tragedy in five acts that Victor Hugo published in 1832. The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave, who had a long and successful collaboration with Verdi. The opera was first performed at La Fenice in Venice, Italy, on March 11, 1851. It is set in Manuta, Italy, in the 16th century.

"La donna è mobile" is the Duke of Mantua's aria in Act 3. The irony is not lost on the audience, who understands that it is the Duke of Mantua himself who suffers inconstancy and is an immoral and cynical womanizer. Here is the original Italian and English translation, as supplied by

Original Italian
La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento,
Muta d'accento — e di pensiero.
Sempre un amabile,
Leggiadro viso,
In pianto o in riso, — è menzognero.
È sempre misero
Chi a lei s'affida,
Chi le confida — mal cauto il cuore!
Pur mai non sentesi
Felice appieno
Chi su quel seno — non liba amore!

English Translation

Woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice — and her mind.
Always sweet,
Pretty face,
In tears or in laughter, — she is always lying.
Always miserable
Is he who trusts her,
He who confides in her — his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels
Fully happy
Who on that bosom — does not drink love!
 In another performance, here Pavarotti sings the aria in this film version of Rigoletto (1982) directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.