Friday, November 30, 2012

On The Move To Toronto

ReLocation & ReSettlement

Our family is on the move; we have left Montreal, and moved out of the province of Quebec, my native residence. By the time you read this, we are on our way to a new life elsewhere, in Toronto, the largest city in Canada. I might explain the reasons for the move in a future post. We will be spending the next few days getting settled in our new home.

There will be blog posts in December, but slightly fewer than usual in the first week or so. You are welcome to submit comments, but I will not be able to post them until Monday December 3rd. Thanks for your patience; we'll be back to full speed very shortly.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Krystian Zimerman: Chopin Ballade No. 1

Krystian Zimerman performs Frédéric Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, opus 23. Chopin composed this piece in 1835–36 during his early years in Paris and, as Wikipedia puts it, "[he] dedicated it to Monsieur le Baron de Stockhausen, the Hanoverian ambassador to France, and reportedly inspired by Adam Mickiewicz's poem Konrad Wallenrod."


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Politically Hypercorrect: The Pronoun 'He Or She' With Plural Antecedents

Language Matters

Language is learned; some grammarians, however, like to insist that there is a best way to speak a language in accordance with standard rules of speech. That might be so, but such speech although quite correct, might sound stilted and "wrong." The best writers are not grammarians, but individuals attuned to the speech around them. Language evolves. As Prof George Jochnowitz, a linguist writes, "Human language must be designed to produce sentences that have never been said before, which can happen not only because grammatical rules are recursive, but because languages have processes to augment the lexicon."

by George Jochnowitz

Girl, 7, Seeking U.S. Flight Record, Dies in Crash,” says a headline in the New York Times, April 12, 1996. The news story includes the following sentence:
A solo pilot of a plane must be at least 16 years old. But a person of any age may fly next to a licensed pilot, who may let them take control if he or she feels it is safe to do so.
In the preceding quotation, them refers to "a person" and he or she to "a licensed pilot." We speakers of English have never known which pronouns to choose when referring to nouns of undetermined gender. The sentence sounds correct, albeit illogical, to me. Perhaps the alternation of singular and plural pronouns actually makes the meaning clearer.

On the other hand, speakers of English used to know which pronoun to use with a plural antecedent. Unfortunately, some of us have forgotten. In the fall semester of 1996, a high school teacher taking a graduate linguistics class I was teaching wrote the following sentence in a term paper:
I have discussed the potential futility of telling students that their usage doesn't sound right, because in all probability it does sound right to him or her.
Former President Clinton used the pronoun his or her with the antecedent every American in his State of the Union message in 1996. That in itself should not draw our attention. The context, however, suggests that he was talking about fathers rather than about every American:
In particular, I challenge the fathers of this country to love and care for their children. If your family has separated, you must pay your child support. We're doing more than ever to make sure you do, and we're going to do more. But let's all admit something about that, too: A check will never substitute for a parent's love and guidance, and only you, only you, can make the decision to help raise your children. No matter who you are, how low or high your station in life, it is the most basic duty of every American to do that job to the best of his or her ability.
The use of they with singular antecedents was once common. The use of he or she as a compound pronoun has become increasingly frequent in recent years. There is reason to believe that this compound has also broadened its meaning and can now be used to refer to both singular and plural antecedents.

A total of 17 out of 52 students in three different classes of mine in December 1995 (a composition class for ESL students, an undergraduate linguistics course, and a graduate course in sociolinguistics) saw nothing wrong with sentences of the type: "All citizens have the right to express his or her opinion." The percentage was the same at all three levels, which is surprising. Two years later, in December 1997, 5 out 9 students in the undergraduate course and 10 out of 25 in the graduate course judged the sentence correct. The ESL class was not tested. Whether the students would have produced sentences of this sort is an independent question. There is a difference between saying a sentence is correct and using it in speech or writing.

My sample was small and my method was haphazard. Hypercorrections of this sort, however, have been found by others. Miriam Watkins Meyers reported the following construction: "The production, 'By the Sea,' is a zany new age comedy about a bizarre group of characters' mad quest for his or her sense of higher power" [emphasis in Meyers' article] (229). Michael Newman, referring to an earlier survey of pronoun use by W. Green, reports, "Eight percent made hypercorrections matching a singular pronoun to the plural antecedents" (14).

It may be that we are seeing the beginning of a linguistic change: he or she (which I will use as shorthand to include his or her and him or her as well) can be used as a plural pronoun.

The word they is always used with a plural verb and is usually plural in meaning. It is not plural, however, in sentences such as: Have they come to fix the leak? Some time before the Norman Conquest, in an Old English translation of the Bible, formally plural pronouns were used with formally singular antecedents. James D. Gordon cites the pronoun hyra 'their' (120) and explains in a note that he has translated it 'his' (122). Indeed, according to the OED, the earliest attestation of the word everybody occurred in the sentence "Everye bodye was in theyr lodgynges."

Furthermore, as I have argued elsewhere, they appears to be the underlying subject of agentless passives (201). Thus, When was the Verrazano Bridge opened? is identical in meaning with When did they open the Verrazano Bridge? (The answer is October 8, 1964.)

Traditional handbooks, until recently, advocated the use of he with indefinite antecedents. Feminists urged the use of he or she instead of he. The masculine singular pronouns, as it happened, had never really caught on. Instead, he or she replaced the word they, which had always referred both to singular antecedents and plural ones. For the first time in the history of the English language, singular they was threatened. Speakers of English, thinking they were avoiding the use of sex-marked he, began to replace they with he or she. Thus, it is not surprising, that, by analogy, plural they was replaced as well.

In the case of indefinite pronouns, words like everybody, which require a singular verb but are notionally plural, sex-marked he has always been a form that felt stilted and unnatural. Michael Newman came up with the following result:
In this study it was found that the facts of usage went even further; syntactic structure notwithstanding, no singular pronoun was everused with a notionally plural but formally singular antecedent [emphasis in original]. The classic school-grammar formula, everybody . . . he, was simply not found (207).
Descriptive linguists have maintained that descriptivism and prescriptivism are mutually exclusive. Introductory textbooks in general linguistics, sociolinguistics, etc., often open with a discussion of prescriptive linguistics, not to be confused with real—descriptive— linguistics. I have selected an example by Ronald Wardhaugh.
What is important to remember is that when we turn our attention to how we speak the language we must try to listen to how English is actually spoken and not let assumptions about how it should be spoken get in the way (1).
A descriptive approach is one that attempts to describe actual language use, in our case the use of the language by the kind of speakers [educated at least to high school level] described above. A prescriptive approach is one that expresses a certain dissatisfaction with language use in general and even the language of such speakers (2).
This is a mistake; any descriptive analysis should note prescriptive tendencies—perhaps a linguistic universal —as part of its description. Indeed, Wardhaugh grudgingly recognizes as much:
Prescriptivism is a fact about attitudes toward English; it cannot be ignored. Most highly edited formal prose conforms to the demands of prescriptivists (2).
Linguistic change is inherent in the fact that language is learned, that we are not born speaking any particular language. Furthermore, linguistic development is a prerequisite for human existence. We survive because it is natural for us to be unnatural— to invent and use tools, to develop specialized skills and consequently to divide labor, to do things that have not been done before and to communicate these innovations to our contemporaries and our posterity. Human language must be designed to produce sentences that have never been said before, which can happen not only because grammatical rules are recursive, but because languages have processes to augment the lexicon.

Nevertheless, the evolution of language, inevitable though it may be, is itself an obstacle to communication. The Tower of Babel story in Genesis (11:1-9) is evidence that people have always feared linguistic change. Societies everywhere have prescriptive rules to slow or prevent the development of barriers of unintelligibility caused by natural linguistic evolution. Any descriptive grammar is incomplete if it fails to note the prescriptive rules honored, if not always observed, by the speakers of the language.

Linguists study the rules of language: grammar, lexicon, phonology. They also study the dynamics of language: linguistic change and language in society. In either situation, one would expect an analysis of what the standard language actually is, and what is working to maintain or undermine aspects of this standard. For whatever reason, standard has long been a taboo. Handbooks on usage, for which there is a demand, have been written with little linguistic input. Some of the rules advocated by teachers and the texts they use are, in fact, not rules. The rules for they, he, and he or she are in fact more complicated and nuanced than what prescriptivists tell us. Newman cites an interesting example:
If there is a Barbara Wassman on board, could they make themselves known to the cabin? [emphasis in original] (110).
The sentence does not sound wrong, even though she would be the obvious pronoun to use in this case. Why doesn't it sound wrong? Linguists should have been exploring this issue decades ago. Perhaps it is the tradition of anti-prescriptivism that was at work.

When we were taught to use he with indefinite antecedents, the problem is not that we were being taught prescriptivism. What we were taught was nonsense. It doesn't follow that prescriptivism has to be nonsense.

An example of what prescriptivism ought to be is found in an article by Yuchi Todaka about the distinctions between the prepositions between and among. Todaka's research led to the following conclusion: "If the items in the NP objects are seen individually, between is used, if not among is used" (32). Other variables exist as well. Todaka lives in Japan and faces the very tangible problem of what to teach students who want to learn English. Here is a case where linguistic research uncovered the rule, the correct description of standard English, that explains how to use these prepositions. The rule about using among with three or more objects has never been true.

An analogous study by Thomas Nunnally explains that there is a difference between nominal-force gerunds and verbal-force gerunds. One may say, I was surprised at Ashley marrying Scarlett, but no one says *I was surprised at Ashley marrying of Scarlett (364-65). Once again, a scholar has explained the reality of a descriptive rule that had been masked by an incorrect prescriptive rule.

The issue of epicene or generic pronouns is more complicated because the linguistic and political issues have become intertwined. Activists are likely to be Whorfians, at the practical if not at the theoretical level. Practical Whorfians, whether seeking to undo gender bias or attempting to confront different issues, are activists. The need to be active can lead to contradictory tactics. A few years ago, if my memory is correct, people—activists and others—said gay men and women. Nowadays it is lesbians and gays. When gay became a noun, it became masculine. On the other hand, the noun actor has become gender neutral, at least for some speakers: Marilyn Monroe was a great actor.

Thus, he or she has a political advantage over they: it is new enough to draw attention to the problem of gender bias in language. Perhaps no one intended to eliminate epicene they. The attack against biased but marginal epicene he turned out to be an attack against unmarked they. Speakers simply replaced all occurrences of they with he or she. Hypercorrection takes place when overgeneralization occurs. Instead of replacing singular they, he or she simply replaced they in formal usage.

In speech, on the other hand, they survives when referring to indefinite pronouns.


An earlier version of this paper was read at the 41st Annual Conference of the International Linguistic Association, 14 April 1996. I am grateful to Franklin Horowitz and Dorothy Sedley for their bibliographical suggestions.


Clinton, William Jefferson. 1996. State of the Union Address. 23 January 1996. Printed in The New York Times 24 January 1996.

Gordon, James D. 1972. The English Language: An Historical Introduction. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

Green, W. 1977. "Singular Pronouns and Sexual Politics." College Composition and Communication 28: 150-53.

Jochnowitz, George. 1982. "Everybody Likes Pizza, Doesn't He or She?" American Speech 57: 198-203.

Meyers, Miriam Watkins. 1990. "Current Generic Pronoun Usage: An Empirical Study."American Speech 65: 228-37.

Newman, Michael. 1997. Epicene Pronouns: The Linguistics of a Prescriptive Problem. New York and London: Garland.

Nunnally, Thomas. 1991. "The Possessive with Gerunds: What the Handbooks Say, and What They Should Say." American Speech 66: 359-70.

Todaka, Yuchi. 1996. "Between and Among: A Data Based Analysis." Word 47: 13-40.

Verhovek, Sam Howe. 1996. "Girl, 7, Seeking U.S. Flight Record, Dies in Crash." New York Times 12 April 1996.

Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1995. Understanding Grammar: A Linguistic Approach. Oxford UK and Cambridge USA: Blackwell.

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

Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article can also be found on George Jochnowitz. It is published here with the permission of the author.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master Of Many Languages

Language & Learning

Some persons can speak two or three languages; and others a few more. Then, there are the few exceptional individuals who can speak more than a dozen languages, polyglots. And chief of them is Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, who reportedly could speak more than 70 languages, making him a hyperpolyglot, writes Michael Erard in an article in The Public Domain Review of a book The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, which Charles William Russell, an Irish priest, published in 1858:
Russell’s book is full of singular details like this, or the one in his capsule portrait of the American, Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), who “rose early in the winter mornings, and, while the mistress of the house was preparing breakfast by lamplight, he would stand by the mantel-piece with his Hebrew Bible on the shelf, and his lexicon in his hand, thus studying while he ate.” Dropping in mundane details don’t humanize as much they amplify the miraculous nature of the personage. It’s a stylistic trope from the hagiography that Russell borrowed.
In the same way, he sets Mezzofanti’s monumentalism against the gifts of all those lesser saints. “Cardinal Mezzofanti will be found to stand so immeasurably above even the highest of these names,…that, at least for the purposes of comparison with him, its minor celebrities can possess little claim for consideration,” he wrote. Over and over, he states that his goal is to assess the claims made for Mezzofanti’s language abilities and to measure, once and for all, the cardinal’s abilities. He resists the urge to recount anecdotes about him (though a few are too good to resist, such as the time that Lord Byron and Mezzofanti had a swearing match; after Byron’s stock was exhausted, Mezzofanti asked, “Is that all?”), opting instead to collate first-hand reports from native speakers who witnessed Mezzofanti using languages. It’s as if Russell wanted to singlehandedly rescue him from the cabinet of curiosities where he had been abandoned by science. (Even though Mezzofanti lived at the height of phrenology in Europe, his skull was apparently never an object of fascination, not while he was alive, anyway.) Russell scours the literature and solicits accounts from Mezzofanti’s contemporaries. Collecting them, he concludes that Mezzofanti spoke 72 languages to varying degrees.
Cardinal Mezzofanti is one of those rare and gifted individuals who fascinate those of us who hold lesser linguistic abilities. If the Cardinal of Bologna were alive today, scientists would find it hard to resist the need, the temptation if you will, to scan his brain and poke around in it, chiefly to see if there were any scientific explanations for his astounding abilities. I sense that science would be disappointed; there might be none that science could measure.

You can read the rest of the article at [Public Domain]

Isaac Stern: Beethoven's Violin Concerto—Rondo

Isaac Stern performs Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, opus 61—Rondo, with Orchestre National de France, Claudio Abbado conducting. Beethoven premiered the work at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on December 23, 1806.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Russian State Symphony Orchestra: Shostakovich's Suite For Variety Orchestra—Waltz 2

The Russian State Symphony Orchestra performs from the seventh movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Suite For Variety Orchestra—Waltz 2, in C minor and E-flat major, under the baton of Dmitry Yablonsky. This is a post-1956 work in eight movements. It has erroneously been called "Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2," a 1938 three-movement work that was lost during the Second World War and rediscovered in 1999.


Factory Fire In Bangladesh Kills More Than 100

Factory Safety

A fire at a garment factory outside the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, has killed at least 111 persons, and injured many others who suffered burns and smoke inhalation. More than 500 Bangladeshi garment workers have died from fires at garment factories, says an article in the New York Times:
It took firefighters more than 17 hours to put out the blaze at the factory, Tazreen Fashions, after it started Saturday evening, a retired fire official said by telephone from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. At least 111 people were killed and scores of workers were taken to hospitals with burns and smoke inhalation injuries.
“The main difficulty was to put out the fire; the sufficient approach road was not there,” said the retired official, Salim Nawaj Bhuiyan, who now runs a fire safety company in Dhaka. “The fire service had to take great trouble to approach the factory.”
Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor record of fire safety. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in garment factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group based in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have been easily avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods, have too few fire escapes and widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, mostly women.
This is reminiscent of what took place in New York City's garment industry a century ago—notably the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, where 146 persons, mostly women, died; many jumped to their death from the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the Asch Building, at 23-29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building—a historical landmark. The fire became a symbol of poor workplace standards, and ultimately led to both legislation requiring better safety conditions for factory workers and the catalyst for union representation for workers.

Wanda Landowska: Bach's Toccata

Wanda Landowska performs J.S. Bach's "Toccata" in D major, BWV 912; this is from a recording of September 28, 1936.

Wanda Landowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, on July 5, 1879, to Jewish parents, Marian and Eva Landowska (nee Lautenberg), who had converted to Catholicism. Her father was a lawyer; and her mother was a linguist, translating Mark Twain into Polish. She started to play piano at age 4, and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory under Jan Kleczynski and Aleksander Michalowski.

She moved to Paris around 1900, and eventually established a school, École de Musique Ancienne, in 1925. Within a couple of years, her home in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, a few miles north of Paris, became a center for the performance and study of old music, and was affectionately called The Temple of Music. Then things took a turn for the worse:
When Germany invaded France, Landowska, a naturalized French citizen of Jewish origin, escaped with her assistant and companion Denise Restout, leaving Saint-Leu in 1940, sojourning in southern France, and finally sailing from Lisbon to the USA. She arrived in New York on December 7, 1941. The house in Saint-Leu was looted, and her instruments and manuscripts stolen, so she arrived in the USA essentially without assets. They had arrived in New York City on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. You can imagine the pandemonium at Ellis Island. She and her companion arrived with $1,300, of which $500 each went to secure their release, in the form of a surety bond. That left them with $300 to start a new life.
Landowska, for her part, acted like so many immigrants and refugees from Europe and started to rebuild her life. She did so by doing what she knew best, by playing beautiful music. Wanda Landowska played until her death on August 16, 1959. She was 80. Even so, her memory and music lived on, due in great part to the efforts of Denise Restout, herself a music teacher, who kept the flame burning until her own death in 2004.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Protests In Egypt Over Presidential Decree

Domestic Policy

An article in The Jerusalem Post says that Egyptians took to the streets to protest President Morsi's decree, which grant him unprecedented powers that many say are reminders of the previous autocratic government. The protests, which have gone on for three days, has divided the nation.
Youths clashed with police in Cairo on Saturday as protests at new powers assumed by President Mohamed Morsi stretched into a second day, confronting Egypt with a crisis that has exposed the split between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents. A handful of hardcore activists hurling rocks battled riot police in the streets near Tahrir Square, where several thousand protesters massed on Friday to demonstrate against a decree that has rallied opposition ranks against Morsi. 
Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, the smell of teargas hung over the square, the heart of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.
More than 300 people were injured on Friday. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Morsi to power, were attacked in at least three cities. Egypt's highest judicial authority said the decree marked an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, the state news agency reported. Judges in the Egyptian city of Alexandria decided to go on strike on Saturday in protest of Morsi's decree, the state news agency reported. The judges' club in Alexandria said work would be suspended in all courts and prosecution offices until the decree was reversed, the agency reported.
This comes so soon after President Morsi's successful brokering of a mideast truce between Israel and Hamas. This shows, among other things, that a victory on the international stage, no matter how great, has little effect on domestic matters. All governments, ultimately, succeed and fail by what they do for their citizens.

In many ways this is a battle between the old regime and the new one, between the political Islamists and  the secularists, and among the various factions trying to get some say in the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. It is also about dueling legitimacies, and a natural and normal result of a nation undergoing transformation to a constitutional democracy after a long history being otherwise. No one says democracy is without its messiness, rancor and rhetoric.

Egypt is no exception, and Morsi, who seems like a pragmatic leader, might have to retract his decree, or at least those parts of it that bypass the judiciary. The international community is watching with great interest. These are important times, and what takes place in the next few days, and weeks, will tell us much about which direction Egypt is heading.

You can read the rest of the article at [JPost]

Arabella Steinbacher: Beethoven's Violin Concerto

Arabella Steinbacher performs from the second movement of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, opus 61, Walter Weller conducting, at the Teatro Monumental, in Madrid, Spain. Beethoven completed the work in 1806; it was first performed at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on December 23, 1806.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cézanne's Small Brushstrokes

Artistic Criticism

Paul Cézanne now ranks as one of the great painters of the modern era, the link between Impressionism and Cubism; such was not always the case, says a book review in The Telegraph, by Hilary Spurling, of Alex Danchev's book, Cezanne: A Life:
Outrage was for years the default reaction to Cézanne’s clashing colours, coarse brush strokes, and a construction so ugly that “he could paint bad breath”, according to a critic in 1907. Rilke said you had to go on looking: “For a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes.” It was the evenness of Cézanne’s vision as much as its intentness – his rejection of conventional hierarchies of subject and style – that shook both factions, for and against. Rilke saw in Cézanne’s self-portraits “the unquestioning, matter-of-fact interest of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks: there’s another dog”. Or, as Heidegger put it: “If only one could think as directly as Cézanne painted.”

It would be virtually impossible for anyone now to get back behind the wrong eyes, and the great strength of Alex Danchev’s book is that it doesn’t try. This is a biography for an age that takes Cézanne’s supreme clarity, balance and pictorial logic for granted. Far from putting him back in the context he came from, it explores his relations with a world he shaped. Its cultural references range from Socrates to Wallace Stevens, Kafka to Beckett, Chaplin to Woody Allen. The tradesmen of Aix-en-Provence among whom the painter spent his life barely get a look in.

Partly, this is a documentation impasse. The fellow painters closest to Cézanne – chief among them Pissarro and Monet – maintain a formidable presence here. His tough, hardheaded father, a banker who kept the painter dangling financially on a short string for almost 50 years, emerges with unexpected brio. But Cézanne’s own son remains sketchy, as does his sister Marie who lived with him for most of his life without anyone noticing much more than her sharp tongue. “Look, Paul, this isn’t the time to play games,” she said when her brother started drawing their father on his deathbed: “If we want to capture the look of your dear father, we need a proper painter.”
It is the rare family that supports the aspirations of an artist still unknown and not earning money from his art; this only happens later when biography paints a far different picture. That this biography on Cézanne has sketchy details on his son and sister tells us that either the biographer considered them essentially unimportant to telling the story of Paul Cézanne, or that there is not much information on them. Equally important is that most artists are uninvolved in the mundane tasks of parenting.

Painters, like many artists, are interesting in that they tend to lead unconventional lives, that is, they are more independent in their habits of work and thought. What this also says is that humans in viewing the work of painters like Cézanne not only enjoy the fruits of their labor, which are many and beautiful, but also the fact that they defied convention, faced adversity and gained some sort of victory. Of course, we hear only about the ones that succeeded.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Telegraph]

Yefim Bronfman: Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2

Yefim "Fima" Bronfman performs Camille Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, opus 22, accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kurt Sanderling [1912-2011]; Saint-Saëns completed the piece in 1868, when the composer himself was the soloist and Anton Rubinstein conducted the orchestra. Rubinstein is known for many things, not least of which is his founding of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first music school in Russia, in 1862


Friday, November 23, 2012

Mammograms Ineffective In Detecting Breast Cancers

Annals of Medicine

An article in The National Post says that mammograms are not as effective in screening for breast cancer as its advocates initially thought.
Mammograms have done surprisingly little to catch deadly breast cancers before they spread, a big U.S. study finds. At the same time, more than a million women have been treated for cancers that never would have threatened their lives, researchers estimate. Up to one-third of breast cancers, or 50,000 to 70,000 cases a year, don’t need treatment, the study suggests.
It’s the most detailed look yet at overtreatment of breast cancer, and it adds fresh evidence that screening is not as helpful as many women believe. Mammograms are still worthwhile, because they do catch some deadly cancers and save lives, doctors stress. And some of them disagree with conclusions the new study reached.
But it spotlights a reality that is tough for many Americans to accept: Some abnormalities that doctors call “cancer” are not a health threat or truly malignant. There is no good way to tell which ones are, so many women wind up getting treatments like surgery and chemotherapy that they don’t really need.
Men have heard a similar message about PSA tests to screen for slow-growing prostate cancer, but it’s relatively new to the debate over breast cancer screening. “We’re coming to learn that some cancers — many cancers, depending on the organ — weren’t destined to cause death,” said Dr. Barnett Kramer, a National Cancer Institute screening expert. However, “once a woman is diagnosed, it’s hard to say treatment is not necessary.”
Even if she doesn't have a malignant tumor? What this also says is that suspicious and abnormal "lumps" do  not necessarily equate to a malignant cancer. Many women—the study says up to one-third— undergo stressful and unnecessary follow-up biopsies, and in some cases treatments, as a result of false mammogram interpretations.

Yet, like all such new and controversial findings, it's not conclusive; not all cancer specialists are nodding their heads in agreement and confirming the finding. As the article adds:
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the cancer society’s deputy chief medical officer, said the study should not be taken as “a referendum on mammography,” and noted that other high-quality studies have affirmed its value. Still, he said overdiagnosis is a problem, and it’s not possible to tell an individual woman whether her cancer needs treated.

Perhaps so, but the good doctor admitted that overdiagnosis is a problem. What can one conclude, then? The study's author's noted: “We are left to conclude, as others have, that the good news in breast cancer — decreasing mortality — must largely be the result of improved treatment, not screening.” What this finding shows is that medicine and its many practioners now need to come up with better guidelines on how to clearly define cancer and treat it. There has to be some agreement on approach.

What also needs greater attention is training physicians to take greater responsibility for their actions, to understand that it is humans they are treating and not symptoms or diseases. Although this issue has been raised countless times over the last few decades, including in the mass culture of film and TV, it needs further action, or attention. There has been too little attention paid to the emotional effect of delivering false results to individuals.

You can read the rest of the article at [National Post]

A Sense Of Smell

Sense & Sensibility

"Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel."

Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Beef Brisket: The smell of a juicy roast beef brisket,with potatoes and vegetables, only improves its taste.
Photo Credit: Evan Sklar/Getty
Courtesy: Esquire

Mr. Holmes is right. Of all the senses, smell holds the most memories. Some individuals can remember the smell of certain events as if he were there now. Smell is not only indicative of time, but also of place. The smell of smoke, for example, is pleasant at a camp-fire during the summer, or when grilling hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks on the barbecue, but not inside your kitchen when toast or a pot roast has burnt to a charcoal crisp.

Some persons can enter into a period  of time from decades past by sniffing a whiff of a particular fragrance, a perfume or a cologne. I always love the smell of a freshly mown lawn; I am not sure why, but it makes me happy, as does the scent of fragrant flowers. So does the smell of certain foods, like a chicken soup cooking on the stove-top; chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven; or a roast brisket with potatoes in the oven. Or a beet borscht with dill or baked salmon with Teriyaki sauce.

For some, if not many persons, the smell alone is so powerful that it can get the saliva juices going, beginning the gustatory experience. It's a sure bet to say that those who love food also love particular smells and relish them. That being said, you undoubtedly have your own pleasant memories of smells that draw you into a good place—a feeling of bliss. The company you keep and whether the meal was a particularly joyous one can and often influences the memory of it and the sensory experience. (e.g., I can still recall some exceptional meals I have eaten over the years, including one of a rack of lamb that was cooked to perfection.)

So, what is it about smell that makes such connections? Well, science offers an explanation, which makes perfect sense, and is easy enough to understand. In an article published in  PsychCentral, Rick Nauert writes about some noteworthy research at the Weizmann Institute in Israel:
Weizmann Institute scientists posited that the key might not necessarily lie in childhood, but rather in the first time a smell is encountered in the context of a particular object or event. In other words, the initial association of a smell with an experience will somehow leave a unique and lasting impression in the brain.
Given that many pleasant food experiences, and others such as the smell of a freshly mown lawn or the smell of fragrant flowers, occur in early childhood, the connection is made and sealed in the memory early in our history. And once these memories and associations are stored, they can be brought up for future use.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Theft At The Salvation Army

UnCharitable Behavior

An article in The National Post says that the Salvation Army, the well-known Christian charity famous for its Christmas kettle drives, is investigating two thefts at its Canadian operations: in Ottawa where $250,000 in cash, and in Toronto where $2-million in donated toys, are both missing.
Mere days into its high-profile Christmas kettle drive and a busy donation season, the Salvation Army is grappling with two separate scandals that have led to senior personnel losing their jobs. On Tuesday, the Salvation Army in Toronto announced $2-million worth of toys had disappeared from one of its major warehouses over a two-year period. It ordered an internal audit into the “irregularities” at the Railhouse Road warehouse and on Monday fired executive director David Rennie, said Major John Murray, spokesman for the Salvation Army’s Ontario Central East Division.
A day earlier, news broke in Ottawa that the executive director of the Salvation Army Booth Centre had been fired after an internal audit found nearly $250,000 had gone missing over an eight-year period. Perry Rowe had headed up the centre for the past eight years. Both cases have been handed off to their respective police departments — no charges have been laid in either case. “I think it’s important for people to understand that in both cases … the Salvation Army has been victimized,” said Maj. Murray, who characterized this as a “troubling time” for the organization in terms of leadership.
This is old-fashioned theft, and a sad testimony on human nature, where even children's toys and charitable donations are not sacred. Perhaps, the Salvation Army ought to get rid of cash donations as a way to both protect its interests and keep a better paper trail. I expect that the police will soon be laying charges in both cases.

You can read the rest of the article at [National Post]

It Couldn’t Happen—But It Did

Book Review: Modern Hebrew

Resurrecting Hebrew
by Ilan Stavans
New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2008, 223 pp., $21.


by George Jochnowitz

Try to imagine it. You decide to revive Latin by speaking it to your spouse and isolating your children so that they won’t hear other languages. Your children grow up speaking Latin, and soon enough, everybody else is doing so as well.

That never happened. It couldn’t have. Nevertheless, that’s what happened with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Hebrew.

Hebrew, like Latin, was a language of prayer and scholarship, and to a certain extent a lingua franca. Jews from different parts of the world speaking different languages might be able to communicate with each other in Hebrew. Something analogous to that happened with Primo Levi, who wrote that after he was liberated from Auschwitz, he was able to communicate with a Polish priest in Latin.

Ilan Stavans has written a readable, interesting, and extremely personal book about how Eliezer Ben-Yehuda resurrected Hebrew. After reading the book and enjoying it, I have no better idea of how this happened than I did before. To a large extent, the book is a series of conversations, each one going off in a different direction. One such conversation was with Bernard Spolsky, a professor emeritus in the humanities faculty at Bar-Ilan University, who expresses his admiration for those who participated in the revival of Hebrew: “To have embraced a strange, incomplete tongue, one signaling their biblical heritage but still in the process of formation as a vehicle of modern communication, when the hardship of daily life (building nascent communes, working an arid soil, battling an unwelcoming environment) begged for relaxation, seems like a season in Dante’s Purgatory” (p. 81). But how did Ben-Yehuda get anybody to embrace this purgatory?

Stavans has written a book about the dream of Ben-Yehuda, and so, appropriately, he talks about his own dreams in this very introspective book. He tells us of a dream about an imaginary creature with an imaginary name: Liverant. The dream inspires him to ask himself why we should call a car automobile instead of sugar or a nonsensical word like kraspurgis (pp. 167-68). Stavans is correct that the relationship of sounds to meaning is generally arbitrary, as is shown by the fact that different languages have different words. In the case of automobile, however, we are dealing with a logical combination of auto (self) and mobile (moveable). Stavans has chosen an example that is not at all arbitrary. Nevertheless, has had a dream which led him to explore the dream of Ben-Yehuda.

At the same time, Ben-Yehuda, who dreamed of reviving Hebrew as a native language, is portrayed as somebody who is not a dreamer at all. Another conversation in the book is with a tour guide named Naim. Naim thinks the real founder of the Hebrew language was Bialik, who was a poet. Naim dismissed Ben-Yehuda’s abilities, saying, “He didn’t have any talents. What talent do you need to browse through books and make lists?” (p. 188). Naim also stated, “Bialik himself said that knowledge of the Torah ranks higher than priesthood or kingship. … Bialik made poetry out of this view. Ben-Yehuda did nothing close” (p. 189).

Perhaps it was because Naim had convinced Stavans that Ben-Yehuda did not understand poetry and had no interest in the Torah that Stavans chose to translate the name of a magazine put out by Ben-Yehuda, Mevasseret Tziyyon, as The Zion News (p. 37). That is, to be sure, a possible way to translate it. Another way would be “good tidings to Zion,” which is what we find in the Soncino translation of this phrase in the Book of Isaiah, 40:9. In fact, in Handel’s Messiah, we hear the words, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up unto the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid.” The words are heard every year in the synagogue on the Sabbath after the 9th of Av, the Sabbath of Consolation (Shabbat Nachamu).

Since Stavans’ book is quite personal, I too shall be personal at this point. I first heard Handel’s Messiah in Carnegie Hall when I was 14 or 15, when I went with a high school friend. I was overwhelmed by the music, bought a recording, and eventually learned most of the words. Later I learned that they came from the Book of Isaiah and were part of the reading from the Prophets on a very special Sabbath, which led to my learning some of the words in the Hebrew original. Many years later, I was on a bus to Jerusalem. There was an exit ramp and a sign for the town “Mevasseret Tziyyon,” pointing to a road leading up unto a high mountain. A few miles later, there was another exit and a sign saying “Mevasseret Yerushalayim,” good tidings to Jerusalem. I was overwhelmed to learn that Handel, Isaiah, and towns in Israel were all linked together. When Ben-Yehuda chose the name Mevasseret Tziyyon for his magazine, he certainly must have known that he was citing Isaiah. The translation of the magazine’s name as The Zion News is a real letdown.

Another of the conversations Stavans reports is with Eliezer Nowodworski, a translator and interpreter from Argentina who lives in Tel Aviv. Stavans and Nowodworski talk casually about a variety of subjects, one of which is alphabets. This leads to a discussion of other writing systems, such as pictographs, which we are told are used for Mandarin and Korean (p. 49). The comment is not quite accurate, since Korean writing is basically syllabic. We then wander on to minority languages, described as “spoken by small bastions of people, such as Welsh and Cantonese” (p. 51). Again, the comment is not quite accurate, since Cantonese is spoken by about 66 million people. Nowodworski then refers to a poem about Ben-Yehuda, which is cited, but states that he doesn’t know how many young Israelis are able to recognize the fathers of Zionism. This inspires Stavans to test the next person they met. He asks a shop clerk why there is a Ben-Yehuda Street (p. 58). “How should I know? Am I an encyclopedia?” she answers. All this wandering conversation is interesting, but the issue of how Hebrew was revived never came up.

Stavans writes that Ben-Yehuda was “born Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman into a Hasidic family in the Jewish Quarter in the small village of Luzhky” (p. 26). Luzhky is in Belarus today, an area where Jews spoke Northeastern Yiddish and were known as “Litvaks,” an Anglicization of the Yiddish word litvakes. In Yiddish, Belarus is part of Lite, usually translated as “Lithuania,” reflecting the fact that before 1386, Belarus was part of the Kingdom of Lithuania. After that year, when King Jagiello of Lithuania married Queen Jadwiga of Poland, it became part of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. Later, it became part of the Russian Empire. It is therefore a bit anachronistic to refer to the entire area where Northeastern Yiddish is spoken as Lithuania, although it makes sense in terms of Yiddish dialects.

Yet when Stavans writes about Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, born in Bialystok, he says he was born to “parents of Lithuanian Jewish descent” (p. 54). This simply means that they were Litvaks, that is, Jews who spoke Northeastern Yiddish. Jews in Bialystok spoke Northeastern Yiddish and were therefore Litvaks, although they didn’t come from what is now Lithuania. Stavans even tells us that Ben-Yehuda “enrolled in a yeshiva in Plotzk, which at the time was a center of Hasidic learning in Lithuania” (p. 29). Plotzk, spelled Płock in Polish, is in Poland. Centers of Hasidic learning did not exist in Lithuania unless they were part of the Lubavitcher movement.

The fact that Jews from Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Northeastern Poland were all identified as Lithuanians reflects not only pre-1386 history but linguistics. Perhaps it is significant that Jews, who had no country of their own, identified their regional pronunciation with national identification. The variety of Yiddish that people speak or spoke is what determines the way that Jews from Eastern Europe define themselves. Identity is complex, involving politics, culture, geography, and history. Language, however, seems to be the most noticeable of these factors, and is often thought of as the most important. For Ben-Yehuda it became the meaning of being Jewish. A major incident in his life was discovering that The Adventures of Robin Hood had been translated into Hebrew. “Ben-Yehuda understood then what Hebrew was capable of” (p. 31). Another incident was learning about the novel Daniel Deronda.

The idea of turning Hebrew into a native language is implicit in Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans). This work of fiction, written by a Christian, helped to inspire Ben-Yehuda. George Eliot’s novel appeared in 1876, before the word “Zionism” existed, and before Theodore Herzl, generally considered the founder of the movement, had completed his famous manifesto, Der Judenstaat, in 1895. Herzl’s book was written in German, not in Hebrew.

Returning to the Holy Land and speaking Hebrew are part of the subplot of Daniel Deronda. The main plot is about a complex character named Gwendolen, who is not Jewish and is the real heroine of the book. If Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was inspired by the brief mention of Hebrew in George Eliot’s novel, it was probably because he was looking for inspiration. The novel doesn’t ever get into the question of turning Hebrew into a native language.

George Eliot was knowledgeable about Jews and Judaism. She wrote about Zionism before the word existed. She also apparently knew about klezmer music, a type of folk music found among East European Jews, long before it became known in Western Europe and America in about 1980. There is a character in the novel, a Herr Klesmer, who is a musician and a voice teacher. His name is clearly from Yiddish klezmer ‘musician’, which in turn is from Hebrew kley zemer ‘instruments of song’. Eliot also made her character Mordecai a follower of Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, and a believer in its theory of reincarnation. Kabbalah, to be sure, goes back to the 12th century, but in Eliot’s time, it was an esoteric movement, known only to scholars and to a few adherents, many of whom were Hasidic Jews. It was popularized in the 21st century and attracted famous figures, most notably the pop star Madonna.

How did the rebirth of Hebrew happen? George Eliot can’t tell us, despite her knowledge about klezmer and kabbalah. She wrote her book in 1876, before people were speaking Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda and his wife did not arrive in Jaffa until 1881. At that time, the Jewish population of the area that later became the British Mandate of Palestine was about 24,000, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica. There were Ladino-speaking Jews, descendants of those who had been expelled from Spain in 1492; there were Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe; there were even Arabic-speaking Jews descended from those who had escaped the massacres at the time of the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099, in addition to immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere. 1881 was the year when a series of pogroms took place in the Russian Empire, but Ben Yehuda had made his decision to move there four years earlier.

Yael Reshev explored the question in an article written in Italian called “La rinascita della lingua ebraica” (The Rebirth of the Hebrew Language). She informs us that there was no obligatory education in the Ottoman Empire and no state schools (Reshev p. 589). The Ben-Yehudas spoke only Hebrew at home, and their first son, Ben-Zion, became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew in history. Language is linked to the idea of nationalism. Since Hebrew is the only language that Jews have in common, it was the only possible choice for a national language. Furthermore, Ben-Yehuda felt that a Hebrew-speaking state was the only means by which the contradiction between the Enlightenment and Jewish identity could be bridged (Reshev p. 575). He decided he would revive Hebrew as a spoken language.

Benjamin Harshav is another author who explored the how-did-it-happen question. He tells us that since there were no public schools in the Ottoman Empire, Ben-Yehuda was free to establish schools in which the language of instruction was Hebrew. Such schools came into existence in the 1880s. How they functioned when there were no existing textbooks and no native speakers is something of a mystery. The textbook Hebrew in Hebrew was not published until 1901, and in Warsaw, not in Palestine. The author of the book, Yitzhak Epstein, wrote that the child should be taught a small vocabulary of 200-300 words. A student named Yehudit Harari wrote about her education in the year 1896, “We first began learning Hebrew in Hebrew in the Ashkenazi accent; at first, our teachers too had difficulties speaking Hebrew and very often used foreign words” (Harshav p.103). An immigrant named Ze’ev Smilanski, who arrived in 1891, wrote, “Even the few fanatics, who devoted themselves with excitement to the revival of speech in the new Yishuv [permanent settlement], were stammering and speaking with utmost effort” (Harshav p. 108). Ben Yehuda himself admitted that he occasionally caught himself thinking in Yiddish or Russian or French (Harshav p. 87).

In the 1890s, nursery schools were established where Hebrew was used by the teachers. This was a turning point. The toddlers and pre-schoolers began to converse with each other in Hebrew. When they entered elementary school, they already had a decent knowledge of the language of instruction (Reshev p. 590). Despite this major change, the number of Jewish children who attended such schools was perhaps 5% of the Jewish population. As for secondary schools in Hebrew, they simply did not exist (Reshev p. 591).

In 1903 there was another wave of pogroms in Russia, and between 1904 and 1914, immigration increased. This period was known as the Second Aliya[immigration]. It is at this time that we can speak of a degree of Jewish autonomy. The real government remained the Ottoman Empire. Some of the immigrants from Russia, however, were socialists, and established their own communities. The first kibbutz, Deganya, came into existence in 1909. The city of Tel Aviv, at first a suburb of Jaffa but today the biggest metropolitan area inIsrael, was founded the same year. In addition to an independent, albeit small, Hebrew-language school system, there were now towns and rural communities committed to speaking Hebrew. The Hebrew-language movement became popular. When a charitable movement based in Germany, the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden, decided to establish a technical college in Haifa in which German would be the language of instruction, there were protests. The Turkish police had to be called in to allow classes to be taught. The protests spread, and the Jewish population all over Palestine supported them. The Jewish community of Ottoman Palestine had in effect passed a law saying that higher education had to be in Hebrew (see Reshev p. 593). Texts, teachers, and technical terminology had to follow.

Chaim Weizmann, in his autobiography, informs us:
By 1914 we had increased the Jewish population from eighty thousand to one hundred thousand, our agricultural workers from five hundred to two thousand…. The Hebrew language, thanks in part to the magnificent work of Eliezer ben Yehudah, had been revived, and was the natural medium of converse for the majority of Palestinian Jews, and wholly so for the young…. (p. 128)
After World War I, the Ottoman Empire fell and the British Mandate of Palestine was created. Ben-Yehuda somehow persuaded the first British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, to declare that Hebrew was one of the three official languages of the country, together with Arabic and English.

Hebrew had become an official language, but was it really Hebrew? It had lots of new words, many of which were created by Ben-Yehuda himself, such asmilon, meaning “dictionary,” based on milah, meaning “word” (p. 101). As Stavans tells us about Ben-Yehuda, “His talent wasn’t in defining old words but in inventing new ones that were etymologically sound” (p. 108). But are words enough? What about pronunciation?

Stavans includes an anecdote told by to him Ghil’ad Zuckermann and originally told by the linguist Haim Blanc. His personal story coincides with mine. I too heard the anecdote, from Blanc himself. After a performance in Hebrew of My Fair Lady, in which Eliza is taught to pronounce the r-sound as an apical flap or trill (as in Italian) as opposed to a uvular fricative (as in most varieties of German or Modern Hebrew), Blanc’s daughter asked him why Eliza was being taught a low-class pronunciation. The apical consonant is almost certainly the one used in ancient times; the modern one, from Europe, has become the de facto standard. Stavans describes the apical trill as Sephardic and the uvular fricative as Ashkenazic, which is not quite correct.

Many Ashkenazic Jews pronounced their Hebrew (and their Yiddish) with an apical r, in particular, Jews from Hungary, Romania, and Belarus. Some Sephardim, especially those from France, use a uvular or a velar r. Ben-Yehuda wanted the Hebrew language he was reviving to sound like Sephardic Hebrew. To an extent he succeeded; Israelis say barukh, stressed on the final syllable, and not borukhor burekh, stressed on the first syllable. But in many other ways, Israeli Hebrew is not traditional. It doesn’t have the th-sound (unvoiced interdental fricative) inbayith (house) that is found among Jews from Arabic-speaking countries or among the Romaniote Jews of Western Greece. It has, to a large extent, lost the h-sound; most Israelis say olekh (walk) rather than holekh. The book could have used an editor who knew more about Hebrew and Yiddish linguistics, who could have helped with this discussion, and who would have known about the boundaries of modern Lithuania.

It is not only Modern Hebrew pronunciation that has been strongly influenced by European languages; so have Modern Hebrew tenses, which reflect European categories. In fact Ghil’ad Zuckermann believes the language should be called “Israeli,” which he describes as “the name I use for so-called ‘Modern Hebrew’” (Zuckermann p. 30). Does it matter? Nobody much cares whether we call the language in which Beowulf was written “Old English” or “Anglo-Saxon.” Languages change. It is probably easier for an Israeli to read Book of Isaiah in its original language than it is for an English speaker to read Chaucer or for a Chinese to read Confucius. The problem with calling the language “Israeli” is that it ignores the fact that its existence is miraculous. It couldn’t have happened, but it did.



Harshav, Benjamin (1993). Language in Time of Revolution. Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress. (My review of this book may be found in the AJS Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, 1996).

Reshev, Yael (1998). “La rinascita della lingua ebraica.” Clio, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.573-597.

Weizmann, Chaim (1949). Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.

Zuckermann, Ghil’ad (2004). “The Genesis of the Israeli Language: mosaic or Mosaic?” Midstream Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 30-32).

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
Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Midstream; it can also be found on George Jochnowitz. It is published here with the permission of the author.


Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends & readers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vienna Philharmonic: Dvořák's Symphony No. 9

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performs from the second movement of Antonin Dvořák Symphony No. 9 in E minor ("New World Symphony"), opus 95, Herbert von Karajan at the podium. The "New World" is as it always was, America.

Antonin Dvořák, a Czech composer of Romantic music, composed the symphony in 1893 during his time in the United States from 1892 to 1895, where he was the artistic director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Jeannette Thurber, a wealthy music patron, brought Dvořák to America and to New York in particular. He was paid $15,000 a year, twenty-five times what he earned in Prague. It was a princely sum, in keeping with a high-minded purpose.

The expectation was that he would create a particularly American musical style. Dvorak didn't disappoint, writes "Dvořák took this last charge to heart. This inaugurated Dvořák's "American" phase, which produced his Ninth Symphony "From the New World," the String Quartet #12, the cantata The American Flag, and the String Quintet in Eb"

Dvořák returned to Europe and Prague in 1895, when the Thurber fortune was affected by the economic depression of the 1890s. The building housing the conservatory, located at 126-128 East 17th Street, was demolished in 1911 and is now a high school.

The home where Dvořák resided and wrote the symphony, a three-story Italianate style row house constructed in 1852, at 327 East 17th Street near Perlman Place, was also demolished, in 1991, to make room for an AIDS hospice.

The buildings connected to Dvořák 's history in New York City are gone, yet Dvořák's music remains.

Paul McCartney & Billy Joel: I Saw Her Standing There

Paul McCartney with Billy Joel perform "I Saw Her Standing There" at New York City's Citi Field on July, 17, 2009. It's good old-fashioned rock 'n roll.


Harry Chapin: Cats In The Cradle

Harry Chapin [1942-1981] sings "Cats in the Cradle," a song of my generation and of any generation. I also have two young boys, aged ten and four, and I think about how much influence I can have on them. It's more than just genetics, much more.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Beatles With Dusty Springfield

The Beatles on Ready, Steady Go!, a British rock/pop music TV programme, with Dusty Springfield on October 4, 1963, performing "Twist & Shout" and "She Loves You."


Humans Not The Only Primates To Have Mid-Life Crisis, Scientific Study Says

Animal Behavior

The Orangutan, a species of great ape, might also go through a mid-life crisis.
Photo Credit: Zyance, 2004; at the Schloß Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria.
Source: Wikipedia 

An article in the Smithsonian blog says that humans are not the only species to suffer a mid-life crisis; it seems to be common in chimpanzees and orangutans:
A team led by psychologist Alexander Weiss of the University of Edinburgh asked zookeepers and researchers around the world to keep track of the well-being of resident chimpanzees and orangutans—508 animals in total. The results of all that record-keeping, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that, like humans, these great apes generally experience a U-shaped pattern of happiness and well-being, starting off with high ratings for happiness as adolescents, declining gradually during middle age (bottoming out in their late 20s or early 30s), and then rising back up again in their elder years.
Although popular conceptions of human mid-life crises focus on material acquisitions, psychologists believe they’re driven by an underlying decline in satisfaction and happiness as we go through middle age, and reflected by increased antidepressant use and suicide risk. In this sense, the primates studied went through a similar pattern. The chimps and orangutans studied went through a human-like U-shaped pattern for happiness over the course of their lives. Image via PNAS/Weiss et. al.
Of course, unlike with humans, no one can directly ask chimps and orangutans how they are feeling. Instead, the researchers relied upon surveys, filled out by zookeepers and caretakers, that rated the animals’ mood and how much pleasure they took from certain situations. They acknowledge the ratings are necessarily subjective, but they feel that the size of the dataset and consistency in the trends as reported from the different zoos with different animals suggests that the pattern is legitimate.
Weiss’ group originally embarked on the ape study to answer the question of why mid-life dissatisfaction is so common in humans. “We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life?” Weiss said in a statement.
Of course, one study, no matter how meticulous the reportage is, does not prove anything. But like many initial scientific findings, it does raise interesting questions that might lead to conclusive results, or at least a questioning of current research related to human happiness. Such is one of the strengths of science, its ability to auto-correct.

In this case, the argument of material acquisitions or career satisfaction does not apply to the chimpanzees and orangutans, since their interests likely lie in other pursuits; it might just be that unhappiness is part of both the human and animal condition, notably for primates as far as we can tell, and the U-shaped pattern for happiness is a normal part of human development. If this turns out to be valid and true, then humans can be better prepared for the bottom part of the "U."

You can read the rest of the article at [Smithsonian]

Western Europe: The Best Place In The World To Live

Urban Life

Some cities are better than others in terms of how they are designed for human inhabitation. One of the measures is how well a city preserves both its historical landmarks and its use of space. One of the defining features of large American cities is high-rise office buildings and residential complexes—maximizing the efficient use of space, cramming humans into the smallest space possible. The latter might be necessary; the former is not and is a concession to efficiency and greed, if not ugliness. Such is reason alone to make the American city a poor place to live, with little connection to the past. Lorna Salzman writes: "The notion of both history and aesthetics having value in themselves seems to have died out in the US starting in the 19th century, replaced by the winner-take-all pioneer mentality that routed out the old mercilessly. The continuation today of the practice of constructing edifices to last no more than a generation and then be replaced is not only a function of aesthetic philistinism but of ruthless economics that does nothing to penalize the destruction of history and heritage."


by Lorna Salzman

I wrote this upon receiving a posting about the USA having the worst quality of life in the developed world. After living two years in Italy and a year in Paris (with subsequent long visits) one tends to agree. Though the article pretty much proved its point, I am not sure that the US is a worse place to live than southeast Asia, where megacities with their extensive slums are the rule as they are in most of the world, but it is certainly far worse than just about anywhere in western Europe (except for the UK). Measures of well-being include public transportation, higher education, accessibility of cultural institutions, parliamentary democracy, the cultural/artistic heritages of the European countries in which new development is channeled into existing towns rather suburbs, universal health care, prime farmland preservation, regional and local food supplies, and of course assiduous preservation, at great public cost, of old buildings, museums, churches, palaces, and medieval and classical structures and ruins.

The notion of both history and aesthetics having value in themselves seems to have died out in the US starting in the 19th century, replaced by the winner-take-all pioneer mentality that routed out the old mercilessly. The continuation today of the practice of constructing edifices to last no more than a generation and then be replaced is not only a function of aesthetic philistinism but of ruthless economics that does nothing to penalize the destruction of history and heritage.

Connected with these are the intangibles that make living in western Europe a daily delight rather than a chore, such as bans or restrictions on cars in central districts not to mention whole cities like Venice and Amsterdam. One vital (in all senses of the word) characteristic of much of western Europe is the concept of public spaces where people can meet, relax, and just hang out. Italian cities excel in this respect, far more than Paris and London, not because of any explicit plan or forethought but because of the spontaneous nature of development in which the preservation of old residential areas, both affluent and poor, was a requirement. We love Paris because its old neighborhoods can't be demolished and because the whole city has a height limitation placed on it. Without these, Paris would have become an instant high-rise slum like so many American cities. Contrary to American preferences, the Parisian middle class and wealthy have hung on to their homes in the central city; they rarely if ever sell their apartments. The poor were pushed out to the suburbs.

When you visit an Italian city like Rome, you truly feel that the city, even its churches and Roman ruins, belongs to you. In Italy you need not walk very far to find a church, a piazza, a fountain, or even a small space where several streets happily intersect (the better to allow cafes) and encourage socialization, plus hidden surprises like the tiny and unpretentious Via della Pace in Rome. This very short street a bit west of Piazza Navona is easily overlooked and has one structure of historic significance: a narrow Baroque church, Santa Maria della Pace, squeezed in at the end at a slight angle, whose facade and wings (which connect it to the adjoining buildings visually) were designed by Baroque painter Pietro da Cortona. Yet this single feature changes the whole character of this dead end street. You can have an espresso in an old cafe there, which is like any other of the hundreds in Rome, but this small church alone elevates this dead end street to stardom.

I think it is clear that the physical and aesthetic environment of a place are strong factors in how individuals view their place in society and in their community. Public spaces provide not just beauty but a sense of sharing and therefore of greater mutual and social responsibility, towards structures and forces that have persisted for centuries. Americans, having destroyed most of their history and replaced it with repulsive fake surrogates like Disneyworld and Williamsburg VA, have little left, except for their national parks, all of which are too far from most people to provide the daily succor offered by just about any continental European city.

One other neglected aspect of European life is the fact that the destruction of western Europe by World War II resulted in a birth of a sense of social responsibility out of that shared suffering. What were formerly a collection of monarchies and aristocratic entitlements became a model of social democracy with a dedication to individual freedom in a context of social justice. Some of the excesses of unbridled capitalism are deplorable, as exemplified by Greece, Ireland and poor little England where squalor and socio-economic decay have all but destroyed commerce and the social fabric. But these in no way tarnish what is great about western Europe: the sense that its people, not the plutocrats and financiers, come first. How many Americans feel this way about this country?

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2012. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Elton John: Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me

The cold weather and the onset of winter, with its shorter days, reminds me of this pop classic. Elton John sings "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," in a modern performance from Montserrat; you can compare this more mature performance from an earlier one from 1977 here. Elton John remains one of the greatest pop singers and writers, able to tap into the modern sensibilities; this is one of his best songs. It is a single from John's 1974 album "Caribou."


Ireland's Abortion Law Needs More Scrutiny

Irish History
An article in The Guardian sheds more light in the case of Savita Halappanavar, a young married woman who died in an Irish hospital after doctors refused her pleas to abort her miscarried baby. It is safe to say that Ireland's laws on abortion need a serious review.
Mrs Halappanavar died in agony at University Hospital Galway after doctors refused her pleas to abort her miscarried baby and told her that Ireland was a Catholic country and that she had to abide by its laws on abortion. Her family say their only solace is that her husband was able to tell her, moments before she was rushed into intensive care, that she had been carrying a baby girl – which had been her greatest desire.
The case has prompted a furious reaction in Ireland and around the world and brought calls for the law to be clarified to allow an abortion to be carried out if the mother's life is in danger. Even the Catholic church in India has expressed surprise at the hospital's refusal to permit the abortion. In their first full interview with a British newspaper, her parents described their heartbreak and devastation at the loss of a beautiful and vivacious young woman who had brought only joy to their lives until her death on 28 October.
Of her treatment at the Galway hospital, Mr Yalagi said: "They are doctors but they were not humane. If they had been humane, they would have treated her. I do not want this to happen to other people. I am very angry." He said that his daughter and her husband, Praveen, had pleaded with the hospital to carry out an abortion after she began to miscarry, but doctors refused because they could still detect a foetal heartbeat. Only when that stopped did they finally carry out an emergency operation to remove the foetus, but by then it was too late to save the mother.
That the doctors acted wrongly is not debatable; that they acted inhumanely is also not arguable. But the heart of the problem lies in Ireland's abortion laws, which are both out of step with and unnecessarily strict in the modern age. Even practicing Catholics would admit that the life of the mother takes precedence over that of an unborn child. Even so, such shows the problems when religion clashes with both modern science and modern sensibilities. Let's hope that this is the last such needless death of this type. It's time for Ireland to change its abortion laws.

You can read the rest of the article at [The Guardian].

Alliances, Relations & Marriages Between Nations

International Relations

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the LORD, and the wall around Jerusalem.
 1 Kings 3:1, The Bible

It is said that nations do not form friendships but alliances: sometimes the alliances are without apparent rational and appear incongruent, such as the Marxist-Islamic alliance; other times they make sense, such as the alliance between western liberal democracies and the military alliance forming the basis of NATO. Alliances are not friendships, although nations can have long-standing friendly relations based on the necessities of trade and commerce and mutual defense against a common enemy or threat; the defense of shared and common interests, such as the maintenance of open trade, is often how alliances are initially formed.

Whether such arrangements are always maintained is often based on many factors, necessity and long-term strategic interests being important considerations for heads of state. How and why alliances are formed initially is a field of study that can include political scientists, historians and military experts, and religious-studies scholars in particular if we are looking at ancient treaties. Marriage was a common way to form alliances between nations.

In the pre-modern age, for example, kings and queens married to cement an alliance between kingdoms. It is said that King Solomon, for example, married many of his wives for such political reasons, often entering into marriages with his enemies; love was hardly the reason. The biblical account said that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines; that's a lot of political alliances. According to the bible, and the Jewish commentators writing about the period of the Jewish monarchs, these alliances eventually became problematic:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:1-6

Apparently, the many wives and their foreign traditions had undue influence on Solomon, to the detriment of Israel's declared dedication to its sole and jealous god; such was the thinking of the prophets, who subsequently judged Solomon's failures in the harsh light of devotion to a singular idea. Yet such political alliances, often through marriage, continued—with the best of intentions and reasons. During the middle ages and later, for example, kings and queens continued the same marital and political alliances, with court officials continuing to remain suspicious of outside or foreign influences. Marriage between rival monarchies mixed the two ruling houses, and thus the two bloodlines.

Notable examples include the mythological marriage of Helen of Troy and Menelaus of Sparta during ancient Greece's Bronze Age; Catherine the Great of Germany and Peter III of Russia in the early 18th century; Queen Victoria of England and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, Germany, in the mid-19th century; and the modern example of Olav V of Norway and Princess Märtha of Sweden in 1929; Juan Carlos I of Spain and Princess Sophia of Greece in 1962; and Constantine II of Greece and Princess Anne Marie of Denmark in 1964. There are many more examples, thus making it hard to prove the claim that someone's blood is pure of any foreign "contamination"—a specious argument put forth by nationalists and extremists.

While today such arranged marriages are not the norm, as monarchies do not hold the same power in general that they once did, it is still done among religious sects, including prominent Jewish Hasidic families, where leaders of long-term Hasidic dynasties arrange marriages for reasons other than romantic love. Perhaps the solution to the current and continuing conflict among nations is to return to such political alliances through marriage.