Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2



Sergei Rachmaninoff plays from the first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, opus 18, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting; this is from a 1929 recording of RCA Victor. The complete work was first performed, with the composer as soloist, on November 9, 1901; Rachmaninoff's cousin Alexander Siloti was the conductor.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Vladimir Horowitz: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3




Vladimir Horowitz performs from the first movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, opus 30, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, in 1978.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Philadelphia Orchestra: Gustav Holst's Planets—'Mars'



The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the baton of Eugene Ormandy [1899-1985] performs from Gustav Holst's Planets—"Mars," the bringer of war, in a 1975 concert.  by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Coates in Queen's Hall, London, on November 15, 1920.



Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky; and his philosophical and spiritual ones astrology and theosophy
Gustav Holst seemed to consider The Planets a progression of life. "Mars" perhaps serves as a rocky and tormenting beginning. In fact, some have called this movement the most devastating piece of music ever written! "Venus" seems to provide an answer to "Mars," it's title as "the bringer of peace," helps aid that claim. "Mercury" can be thought of as the messenger between our world and the other worlds. Perhaps "Jupiter" represents the "prime" of life, even with the overplayed central melody, which was later arranged to the words of "I vow to thee, my country." "Saturn" can be viewed as indicative of Holst's later mature style, and indeed it is recorded that Holst preferred this movement to all others in the suite. Through "Saturn" it can be said that old age is not always peaceful and happy. The movement may display the ongoing struggle for life against the odd supernatural forces. This notion mat be somewhat outlandish, but the music seems to lend credence to this. "Saturn" is followed by "Uranus, the Magician," a quirky scherzo displaying a robust musical climax before the tranquility of the female choir in "Neptune" enchants the audience.

Add this to Holst's passionately felt socialism and his profound understanding of Hinduism, and The Planets begins to make sense: not as an astrological chart à la Mystic Meg, but as a pilgrim's progress from the ferocity of industrialised capitalism (Mars) towards a karma of enlightenment (Neptune). Holst called the work Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra; the names of the planets were added later


Gustav Holst [1874-1934]: "If nobody likes your work, you have to go on just for the sake of the work. And you're in no danger of letting the public make you repeat yourself. Every artist ought to pray that he may not be 'a succes'. If he's a failure he stands a good chance of concentrating upon the best work of which he's capable."
Artist Credit:  Herbert Lambert; 1921 [© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

S. Richter, O. Kagan & N. Gutman: Tchaikovsky Piano Trio



Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Oleg Kagan (violin) and Natalia Gutman (cello) perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor, opus 50, for piano, violin, and cello at a recital in Moscow on December 30, 1986. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky completed the piece in Rome, Italy, in January 1882. The work carries the subtitle: "In memory of a great artist," which refers to Nikolai Rubinstein, his close friend and mentor, who died on March 23, 1881.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gil Shaham: Haydn Violin Concerto No. 1



Gil Shaham performs from the first movement of Haydn's Violin Concerto  No. 1 in C major with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Dan Etinger conducting. Joseph Haydyn wrote the piece in the 1760s. Gil Shaham is an Israeli violinist who was born in Urbana, Illinois, in 1971. His parents, both academic scientists, were on fellowship at the University of Illinois. The family returned to Israel when Gil was two.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jewish Humor: Food & Eating

Monday Humor


Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.


The focus this week is on food and eating. 

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An old Jewish man goes to a diner every day for lunch. He always orders the soup du jour. One day the manager asks him how he liked his meal.

The old man replies (with Yiddish accent) "Wass goot, but you could give a little more bread."

So the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him four slices of bread. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks. "Wass goot, but you could give a little more bread", comes the reply.

So the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him eight slices of bread. "How was your meal today, sir?" the manager asks. "Wass goot, but you could give a little more bread", comes the reply.

So ... the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him a whole loaf of bread with his soup. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks, when he comes to pay. "Wass goot, but you could give just a little more bread", comes the reply once again.

The manager is now obsessed with seeing this customer say that he is satisfied with his meal, so he goes to the bakery, and orders a six-foot-long loaf of bread. When the man comes in as usual the next day, the waitress and the manager cut the loaf in half, butter the entire length of each half, and lay it out along the counter, right next to his bowl of soup. The old man sits down, and devours both his bowl of soup, and both halves of the six-foot-long loaf of bread.

The manager now thinks he will get the answer he is looking for, and when the old man comes up to pay for his meal, the manager asks in the usual way: "How was your meal TODAY, sir?"

The old man replies: "It wass goot as usual, but I see you are back to giving only two slices of bread!"

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Sid and Al were sitting in a Chinese restaurant. "Sid," asked Al, "Are there any Jews in China?" "I don't know," Sid replied. "Why don't we ask the waiter?"

When the waiter came by, Al asked him, "Are there any Chinese Jews?" "I don't know sir, let me ask," the waiter replied, and he went into the kitchen. He returned in a few minutes and said, "No, sir. No Chinese Jews."

"Are you sure?" Al asked.

"I will check again, sir." the waiter replied and went back to the kitchen. While he was still gone, Sid said, "I cannot believe there are no Jews in China. Our people are scattered everywhere." When the waiter returned he said, "Sir, no Chinese Jews." "Are you really sure?" Al asked again. "I cannot believe there are no Chinese Jews."

"Sir, I ask everyone," the waiter replied exasperated. "We have orange jews, prune jews, tomato jews and grape jews, but no one ever hear of Chinese Jews!

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A woman enters a kosher butcher shop and tells the kid behind the counter,

"I would like a Long Island Duck!"

The kid runs in the back and brings out a duck. She immediately sticks her index finger up the duck's tuchas, and twirls it. She then looks at the kid and yells,

"This is a New Jersey duck. I said a Long Island duck, Dummy!"

The kid runs in the back and comes out with a second duck. After sticking her finger is the second duck she yells,

"This is a Rhode Island duck. I said a Long Island duck. How dumb can you be?"

The kid runs in the back again and comes out with a third duck and says,

"I hope this is what yu want lady. It's the last duck we have.

After sitcking her finger up the behind of the third duck she says, "Ah! This is a Long Island duck. I'll take it! Wrap it up!"

As the kid is wrapping the duck, she says

"Your'e not too bright, are you! Your'e new around here. Where are you from, any way?"

The kid bends down with his tuchas toward her and says, "Here lady! You tell me!"

High Hopes

Society & Faith

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Man (1733)
It is not easy to be optimistic these days; it takes a lot of faith to be so. Truly, there is much to worry about, both locally and internationally. Truly, things could be worse, and that's the fear: a nuclear Iran; a volatile Syria about to erupt into civil war that spills over into other nations; increasing poverty and civil unrest in Europe; a declining middle class in the United States and Canada; and continuing assaults on democracy and freedoms in many nations of the world— all this taking place 20 years after the collapse of  communism and the optimism and promises of the early 1990s.

When will this madness end? is a fair question to ask. For an increasing number of persons, comfort is found in the religious life. Alexander Pope was a man of his time and generation, where his Christian faith informed his secure views of the afterlife, the only place or position where true rest and repose would be found. No more striving and struggle; it all sounds relaxing and appealing. No doubt, religious people often place their hopes in the afterlife, in a messianic age where truth and justice will prevail. That's a comforting thought for people who view that life achieves a perfect state of redemption only later.

But for persons who look and live in the here and now, change is wanted, even demanded, in our lifetime. Such a view is what engenders change, since the promises of later do not always move people to better the world in the hear and now. In some cases, however, it does, as in the central beliefs in Judaism to perform tikkum olam, repairing the world now, while at the same time preparing and living your life in accordance with the dictums of doing mitzvot, or good deeds. Doing good is always a good thing to practice, to observe, whether or not you believe in the afterlife.

Truly, it takes courage and diligent and conscientious effort to better the world now without any belief in an afterlife. This is it; it's all we have, and we ought to make the best use of our time on earth. In truth, all persons hold some sort of faith, whether it is religious or secular. For example, it also takes faith in the institutions of democracy and science to advance humanity. That explains why in every election, there is at least a hint of optimism that things will change and get better. That this candidate will strengthen the institutions of democracy and increase the level of opportunity for all of its citizens.

It takes optimism to believe that such institutions are not only good but operating effectively and fairly for all. The current failure in optimism, some would say, is a reflection that we are not doing a sufficient job in bringing persons to a clear understanding on why democracy is the best and fairest system for the greatest number of persons. That means a liberal democracy that has within its confines an economic system, and government policies that emphasize and deliver fairness to all of its citizens. As I have written previously in a number of articles, these ideals have been stretched thin, if not distorted to fit narrow special interests.

That doesn't mean that Western values are the problem, though some might think so. It is quite the opposite, namely, the attack and erosion of Western (moral) values that has led to our social unrest, uncertainty and inequalities. Western values, derived in large part from the Jewish and Christian religious traditions, are the underpinnings of our modern liberal society, without which humanity would be all the poorer and mired in the Dark Ages. Some might disagree but they can't honestly point to a better political or economic system.

Yet, optimism is not the same as hope. The former has a secular component; the latter a religious one. Optimism places its faith in secular society and what it can accomplish, whereas hope tends to place its faith in God and his judicious and (often) unknown ways. But the observant and faithful hold on tenaciously to the promises. Such promises contained in the Jewish Bible have given and continue to give comfort to Jews the world over. In To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, writes:
A morality of hope lives in the belief that we can change the world for the better, and without certian theological beliefs it is hard to see where hope could come from, if not from optimism. Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue; hope an active one. (166)
In uncertain and dark times, when the human instruments of morality seem weak, people tend to have less optimism and turn to religion for hope and certainty. Today, it might be easier to have hope than optimism.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vladimir Horowitz: Schumann's Kinderszenen



Vladimir Horowitz performs Schumann's Kinderszenen ("Scenes from Childhood"), opus 15. Robert Schumann [1810-1856] completed the set of 13 pieces as a retrospective look at childhood in 1838. It is one of Horowitz's favourite encore pieces.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Arthur Rubinstein: Beethoven Concerto No. 3



Arthur Rubinstein performs from the first movement ("Allegro con brio") of Beethoven's Concerto No. 3, C minor, opus 37, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, August 1973. [The rest of the first movement can be found here.]

Friday, March 23, 2012

Making Beautiful Music

Univesal Language


If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.
Gustav Mahler
There have been many noble attempts throughout human history to construct a universal language, Esperanto being the latest effort with limited success. The idea behind such an effort of universality is the same as that behind the League of Nations and the United Nations—to promote world peace and harmony through a neutral constructed language. Such good intentions have had limited results despite, or because of, their lofty ideals. Such shows that ideals are never enough, just a necessary starting point.

For many reasons I doubt that the human effort to construct a universal language will ever succeed, the least of which is historical national pride and the human need to separate into nations, tribes and tongues. But if you think about it, we already have a non-verbal universal language with its own script, rhythm and cadence—it's music.

When a nation wants to appeal to its citizens, it more often than not uses music to bring persons together. Think of your nation's anthem, good or bad, but you know it, even though you might not sing it aloud in public. Or of your nation's historical and folk songs. It's true that dictators and authoritarians also use music, in a very narrow sense, to reduce persons' humanity for nationalistic aims and use.

Even so, music has the power to unify in a positive way, where songs can and have transcended national, political and ethnic boundaries. There is a beautiful relationship between language and music. Music in many ways exceeds the ability of language to speak to both the mind and heart of individuals. I like what George Steiner writes in Errata: An examined life (1997):
The two forces, that of music and that of language, quintessentially conflictual, meet in the human voice when it sings. Language can only yield abstractions or images when it attempts to define the cardinal wonder of a singing mouth (that mouth whose unquenchable song outlives Orpheus' death and decapitation). Song is simultaneously the most carnal and spiritural of realities. It enlists diaphragm and soul. It can, with its very first notes, reduce the listener to desolation or transport him to ecstasy. (67)
Such is one of the chief reasons that I enjoy putting music on this site, for everyone around the world to enjoy.  And people do. Certain classical compositions, for example, appeal to a wide variety of persons from a multitude of nations. I am sure science has a wonderful explanation for why this is so, having to do with the mathematics of harmony and sound and its effects on the ear and the brain. But there are times when science has no need to explain, in tune with Mahler's thoughts on the limitations of language. Beautiful, harmonic music has no boundaries; it brings people together to enjoy something indescribable.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Milk & Honey: Hallelujah



In 1979, Israel's Gali Atari and Milk & Honey won the Eurovison Song Contest with "Hallelujah" (in Hebrew: הללויה), a song of praise. The group consists of  Re'uven Gvitrz, Shmulik Bilu and Yehuda Tamir. The band was initially put together for the contest. The song was composed by Kobi Oshrat, with lyrics by Shimrit Orr.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Legacy: A Human Desire For Immortality

Human Desire
A name is chosen above great wealth; good favor over silver and gold.
Mishlei (Proverbs) 22:1

I was speaking to a close friend, of my age and generation, who confided that he wanted his life to have meaning. That in itself is not surprising, since that desire animates most of us. But he shared something that some might not say aloud, but remains in our thoughts as individuals: he wanted to establish a legacy. That is, that his name would be remembered long after his death. As he put it, "We were talking about Albert Einstein in our day, even though he was no longer alive."

It's true that some notable persons remain in the public discourse long after their death, and in many cases, become more popular after death than in life. We can all name such persons: Moses, Jesus, Aristotle and Plato all easily come to mind. Their names have significance and meaning  thousands of years after their death. There are others in the fields of arts, science, music, politics and business who still arouse interest and debate.

What is revealing is our human desire to live on long after we die. Such speaks, at least to me, of the human desire for immortality, an immortality that  might just be encoded into our DNA. Whether or not one believes in the immutability of the soul or in the spiritual life does not stop persons from considering what happens after death, after we pass from this world. Or to put it in more poetic terms, as Shakespeare's Hamlet does,  "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil."

Death cannot be the end, and no matter how many years are granted us on this planetary plane, it never seems sufficient, enough to satisfy our desires. Some use the time well, and achieve great things; some squander it on foolish endeavors and pursuits, while most go about their business oblivious and unaware, unthinking and without curiosity as to what awaits them in the future.

But there is a future and there is an end of life, at least as it pertains to our knowledge of it here. How many years we have granted us to accomplish certain things is unknown, but we do know that it goes too fast. The human is a unique species in many respects, notwithstanding our similarities to other mammals. No other animal has an awareness, a consciousness of death as humans do, and thus explains the desire for long-term planning, including establishing a mark, a legacy in the annals of history. We speak of accomplishments, and this is often a measure of a man.

Writers can leave their mark with their words, which in the best cases outlast them centuries later. Think Shakespeare, Milton and Maimonides. In terms of a legacy, one of the best ways to leave a mark is to do something great to better the human condition through science, art or religion. That is obviously out of reach except for the select few who have that gift. Not everyone can be a Mozart, a Salk or an Einstein.

That does not mean we can't establish a legacy in a more modest, limited manner that touches our family, friends, associates and community. Such includes raising children to become hard-working, generous and moral persons, contributing to the community and betterment of society. To raise a generation of good decent individuals is often not considered noteworthy or great, since many persons do it unnoticed and unheralded.

Even so, it is a wonderful and essential legacy; a good name is established in the process.  Truly, there is a decided benefit to doing good, and to be remembered as an individual who valued good deeds above all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Itzhak Perlman: Vivaldi's Four Seasons— 'Spring'



Itzhak Perlman performs and conducts Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Spring) concerto in E major, with the string section of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Today marks the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere; the vernal equinox is at 1:14 am EDT.

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Antonio Vivaldi composed the four violin concertos in 1723; it was first published in 1725 as part of 12 concertos known as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione ("The Contest of Harmony and Invention") Each movement evokes a sense of the season, or at least how Vivaldi imagined it when he composed the work in his native Venice, Italy. It's coloured by birds breaking out in song, meadows murmuring and leafy branches rustling overhead.

Allegro
Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de' Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon' coprendo l' aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl' Augelletti;
Tornan' di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:

Largo
E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme 'l Caprar col fido can' à lato.

Allegro
"Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all' apparir brillante.

[English Translation]

Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring,
roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence,
and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow,
with leafy branches rustling overhead,
the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,
nymphs and shepherds lightly dance
beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

[The sonnet and translation can be found at Baroquemuisc.org.]


Antonio Lucio Vivaldi [ 1678-1741]: He was nicknamed il Prete Rosso ("The Red Priest") because of his red hair, and had many talents" an Italian Baroque composer, priest, and virtuoso violinist. Vivaldi is credited with  composing 500 concertos.
Artist Credit: François Morellon la Cave; painted in 1725.
Source: Wikipedia

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jewish Humor: Knowledge

Monday Humor

The focus this week is on what to know and how to know, or knowledge.
 

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The President turned to one of his advisors, who happened to be Jewish, and asked, "How come Jews are always so well informed?"

Advisor: "What do you mean sir?"

The President: "It just seems that Jews are always up on the latest news. How do they do it?"

Advisor: "An interesting observation. It could be because when Jews go to the synagogue to daven (pray), they always turn to the person sitting next to them and say "Nu?" (What's up?).

The President: "What? Is it that simple?"

Advisor: "I think so sir."

President: "Well, let's put it to the test. Take me to the nearest Synagogue."

The two board a limousine and are driven to the nearest Synagogue. Once inside, the President sits down among the congregation next to an elderly Jewish man. He looks around, then turns to the man and says softly, "Nu?"

The elderly man leans toward him and replies, "You know, I hear the President is going to daven with us today."

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After months of negotiation, a Jewish scholar from Odessa was granted permission to visit Moscow. He boarded the train and found an empty seat.

At the next stop a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and thought: This fellow doesn't look like a peasant, and if he isn't a peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, he must be Jewish because this is, after all, the Jewish district. On the other hand, if he is a Jew where could he be going?

I'm the only one in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.

Wait - just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and you don't need special permission to go there. But why would he be going to Samvet? He's probably going to visit one of the Jewish families there, but how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Only two - the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. The Bernsteins are a terrible family, so he must be visiting the Steinbergs. But why is he going? The Steinbergs have only girls, so maybe he's their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry?

Sarah married that nice lawyer from Budapest and Esther married a businessman from Zhadomir, so it must be Sarah's husband. Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I'm not mistaken. But if he comes from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name. What's the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? Kovacs. But if he changed his name he must have some special status. What could it be? A doctorate from the University.

At this point the scholar turns to the young man and said, "How do you do, Dr. Kovacs?"
"Very well, thank you, sir" answered the startled passenger. "But how is it that you know my name?"

"Oh," replied the scholar, "it was obvious"
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An elderly Jewish man is sitting on a park bench reading Farrakhan's newspaper. His best friend walks by, sees the paper, and stops -- in shock. 

"What are you doing reading that paper?" he says. "You should be reading the Washington Jewish Week!" 

The elderly man replies, "'The Washington Jewish Week' has stories about intermarriage, anti-Semitism, problems in Israel -- all kinds troubles of the Jewish people. I like to read about good news. Farrakhan's paper says the Jews have all the money... the Jews control the banks... the Jews control the press... the Jews control Hollywood. Better to read nothing but good news!"

Farms, Cattle, Linguistics, and Me

Guest Voice

We welcome back a regular Guest Voice, Prof. George Jochnowitz, who writes about language, geography and dialects. When he was a young boy in the 1940s, he worked on his parents' farm, learning to harvest onions and how to drive a tractor. More important, he learned about people and the different languages they spoke and the significance of regional dialects. Instead of becoming an engineer, as his parents might have hoped, Jochnowitz became a professor of linguistics. As he put it, "the farm was a good place to study linguistics."
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by George Jochnowitz

I was born on August 1, 1937, just like Senator D’Amato. When I was five, my parents bought a farm in the Town of Goshen, Orange County, New York State. Starting in the summer of 1943, my parents and I spent summers and weekends there, although we usually didn’t go there during the winter. My parents, who believed in work for its own sake, worked in the city during the week and worked on the farm on weekends. At first they raised potatoes, but soon they realized that part of the farm was in the black-dirt area of Orange County, the nation’s largest onion-growing region at that time, and we switched to raising onions.

Sometimes I would work weeding onions, on my hands and knees, but it was a job I didn’t like, especially in the hot sun. At harvest time, however, I helped with screening the onions (scraping off the outer skin and dividing them according to size). Then when they were being weighed, I would put in or take out a few onions from the bags in order to make sure each bag weighed exactly 50 pounds. And then in the fall, the fields were disked with a disk harrow before they were plowed. I learned to drive a tractor when I was about nine years old, and I actually could disk a field by myself. A bit later, I learned to drive a car on the dirt roads that ran from field to field. Of course, I couldn’t drive on a public road. But I did learn to drive, and I took the New York State driving test the day after my 18th birthday and passed.

Most of the onion farmers in the area were from Poland or descended from people who had come from Poland. My parents, who had come from Poland, sometimes spoke Polish to them, but never enough for me to pick up the language. They never never spoke Polish to each other. When we visited my grandparents, everybody communicated in Yiddish, since my grandparents had come to America in their 50s and weren’t too good at English. I learned some Yiddish, but the only Polish words I knew were words my parents had never learned how to say in English: ropucha (toad), pokrzywa (stinging nettle), rusztowanie (scaffolding), etc.

In addition to the onion farmers, there were dairy farmers in the area. Some were descended from people who had lived there for generations. Others were recent arrivals from Holland. And then there was another group: cattle dealers. Cattle dealers also had to be dairy farmers, since they had to care for and milk the cows they hoped to sell. The cattle dealers were generally recent arrivals from Germany—Jews who had fled Hitler. Unbeknownst to me, they had a dialect of their own, a type of West Yiddish with lots of words pertaining to their business.

I was passionately interested in dialects, even though I didn’t know the word. It was quite obvious to me that the people we knew in Orange County didn’t speak like the people in New York City. In the city, bad and bared sounded the same. They didn’t rhyme with had. In Orange County, bad and had rhymed, and the r in bared was pronounced, just like on the radio. I learned to switch back and forth between my city and country pronunciations, but nobody noticed or cared.

My parents would have liked me to study engineering and take over their metal-products factory. They would have wanted me to be able to do real farm work. I did neither. I became a professor of linguistics instead. But it turned out that the farm was a good place to study linguistics. We had some bungalows on the farm, and after I had my degree in linguistics, we rented them to a group of Lubavitcher Hasidim. I noticed that the girls spoke English like Americans but some of the boys had Yiddish accents. I noticed that the Yiddish of the parents wasn’t uniform, but the children all spoke Yiddish the same way. In 1967 I questioned every parent and child about how they said different words and wrote an article, “Bilingualism and Dialect Mixture among Lubavitcher Hasidic Children,” which was later published in American Speech.

The following year, after discovering that Italian Jews had their own dialects of Italian, I went to Italy to do research on the subject. I learned that the Hebrew root ganav, meaning “thief,” and the Italian infinitive suffix –are had led to the Judeo-Italian word ganaviare, meaning “to steal,” just as the same Hebrew root and a Yiddish infinitive suffix had led to the Yiddish word for “steal,” which is ganvenen. It was certainly a worthwhile experience to travel to Italy and record Judeo-Italian dialects. What I didn’t know yet was that West Yiddish cattle-dealer dialects were spoken in the very area where my farm was.

Most people don’t know about West Yiddish. We associate Yiddish with Eastern Europe, which is where a majority of the world’s Jews lived before World War II. Yiddish—a language very close to German—was spoken in areas where the surrounding populations spoke Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Belarusan, and other languages. The language was brought to the area by Jews fleeing from German-speaking areas during the Middle Ages. Most of them moved into the enormous Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, where they were relatively secure. Their Yiddish, a Germanic language with lots of words of Hebrew and Aramaic origin, adopted many local words, mostly from Slavic languages.

But before there was East Yiddish, there was West Yiddish. The earliest text dates from 1272, but the language may be rather older. West Yiddish, like Judeo-Italian, was a language very close to its surrounding language but included words of Hebrew-Aramaic origin and was typically written in the Hebrew alphabet. After the Enlightenment, German Jews became increasingly assimilated, started speaking German, and generally lost their knowledge of Yiddish. The only people who continued to use Yiddish were cattle dealers, although they too spoke German most of the time. Many of them managed to get out of Germany before World War II, and some moved to Orange County. I knew that there were Jews from Germany living in the area, but I didn’t learn that they spoke a rare, historic variant of Yiddish until it was almost too late.

I had read articles about West Yiddish, and I knew that it existed. Then one day, I heard a friend use a word or expression—I forget the details—and I realized it was West Yiddish. I started asking him questions. I started asking whether there were other people in the area who knew the language. I was told there were three. I decided to interview them all. One died before I ever got to meet him. The other two provided me with a great deal of information.

I learned that three letters of the Hebrew alphabet—daled, yud, and lamed—could be pronounced dales, yus, and lames. I learned that numbers were sometimes expressed by the names of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, following the ancient tradition of writing numbers in the years before Arabic numbers became almost universal. I learned that there was a word for “cow” pronounced bore, from the Hebrew para, all different from East Yiddish, where either ku, ki, or beheyme is used. I learned that instead of the word sider for “prayerbook” (from Hebrew siddur), the word tfile or pfile, from Hebrew tefila (prayer) was used. The word tefilà is also found in Judeo-Italian.

I have heard people speak of the Law of Unexpected Consequences. When my parents bought our farm, they thought it might enable me to combine the professions of agriculture and engineering, or to have the opportunity to choose one of the two. Instead, they furthered my career as a linguist by putting me in touch with Lubavitcher Hasidim and letting me hear West Yiddish while it was still spoken.

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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 george@jochnowitz.net.
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Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This memoir appeared in And Then, Volume 15, 2010. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.  It is republished here with the author's permission.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Leonard Bernstein on Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4



Leonard Bernstein [1918-1990] explains to the younger generation at this Young People's Concert on what music means and gives some insight into Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. It's about emotions and desire, or "wanting," Bernstein says. This is from the first episode, shortly after Bernstein became the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958. "What Does Music Mean?" was broadcast on the CBS television network on Saturday January 18, 1958. Leonard Bernstein made 53 such episodes, aimed primarily at young people but enjoyed by all ages, between 1958 and 1972.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Israel Philharmonic: Glinka's Ruslan & Ludmila—'Overture'



Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs from Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmila — "Overture," Paavo Järvi conducting in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2001.

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The Overture is the most well-known and -played piece from Ruslan and Ludmila (or Ruslan and Lyudmila), an opera in five acts that Mikhail Glinka [1804-1857] completed in 1842. Valerian Shirkov, Nestor Kukolnik and N. A. Markevich all contributed to the Russian libretto. The opera itself is based on the 1820 poem of the same name by a 20-year-old Alexander Pushkin, whose death by duel, in 1837, prevented him from writing the libretto. It made its opening debut at the Bolshoi Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 27, 1842. (The synopsis can be found here.)

It is noteworthy that the reconstructed Bolshoi Theatre  in Moscow, Russia, offered as its first operatic staging (November 2011) a highly sensual and modern production of the classic tale in three acts. (You can read a review from the Financial Times here.)


Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka [ 1804-1857]:  Glinka during the composition of the opera "Ruslan and Ludmila;"this was painted 30 years after Glinka's death.
Artist Credit:
Ilya Repin (1844-1930): Painted in 1887:  Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Source: Wikipedia 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kirov Opera: Shostakovich's 13th Symphony—'Babi Yar'



The Chorus and Orchestra of The Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov Opera), under the baton of Valery Gergiev perform Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, opus 113, 'Babi Yar' at the 2006 BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London, England, on August 19, 2006. The soloist is bass Mikhail Petrenko. The 2006 Proms marked the centenary of Shostakovich's birth [September 25, 1906].

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The first thing that must be said is that Dmitri Shostakovich was not Jewish. Neither was the poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Some persons have speculated that one or both must have had some Jewish blood flowing in their veins to write about a Jewish subject.  Yevtushenko didn't, and neither did Shostakovich, but he undoubtedly had sympathies of the grand sort. This is Shostakovich most severe criticism of the Soviet regime and its policies of anti-Semitism.  

You see, anti-Semitsim (and its current incarnation, anti-Zionism) is a form of hatred that is demeaning to both the persecutor and the persecuted. Disagreement of a policy is always possible and acceptable, but when it crosses a "red line," when it turns nasty and brutish and becomes hatred of a people, it is against humanity. Such was the situation and inspiration when Yevtushenko wrote his poem and later on when Shostakovich used it, in part, for his musical masterpiece. People with vision always seek the air of clarity that only truth can provide.

This work, a choral symphony, includes settings of poems that Yevtushenko wrote in 1961 that touched upon the Second World War massacre of mainly Jews by Nazis and their collaborators at Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, on September 29-30, 1941. This work was first performed by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and the basses of the Republican State and Gnessin Institute Choirs, under Kirill Kondrashin, in Moscow on December 18, 1962. (Yevgeny Mravinsky refused to conduct the work.) 

Despite being heavily censored, to remove the preeminence of the Jews and their unique suffering in the work, the audience was not fooled, and the opening was a rousing success. Understandably, the musical work became problematic for the Soviet regime, the Thaw ended, and it was performed only a few times before being banned in the entire Eastern bloc. In a letter to his pupil Boris Tishchenko dated October 26, 1965, in which he defended Yevtushenko, Shostakovich wrote:
As for what "moralizing" poetry is, I didn't understand. Why, as you maintain, it isn't "among the best." Morality is the twin sister of conscience. And because Yevtushenko writes about conscience, God grant him all the very best. Every morning, instead of morning prayers, I reread —well, recite from memory—two poems from Yevtushenko, "Boots" and "A Career." "Boots" is conscience. "A Career" is morality. One should not be deprived of conscience. To lose conscience is to lose everything.
Below are the original versions, now performed, and the heavily censored version, which was not enough to satisfy the Soviet leaders and calm their fears.

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Original Version
I feel myself a Jew. 
Here I tread across old Egypt. 
Here I die, nailed to the cross. 
And even now I bear the scars of it. ... 
I become a gigantic scream 
Above the thousands buried here. 
I am every old man shot dead here. 
I am every child shot dead here.

Censored Version 
Here I stand at the fountainhead 
That gives me faith in brotherhood. 
Here Russians lie, and Ukrainians 
Together with Jews in the same ground. ... 
I think of Russia's heroic dead 
In blocking the way to Fascism. 
To the smallest dew-drop, 
she is close to me In her being and her fate.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Leonard Cohen: Waiting For The Miracle



Leonard Cohen performs "Waiting for the Miracle," the second song on his 1992 album, The Future. We all in some form wait for the miracle of love to come into our lives, sometimes waiting too long for perfection when the right person slips through our fingers. To my wife, I wish you a Happy Anniversary, and thank you for the miracle of your love.

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Waiting For The Miracle
by Leonard Cohen

Baby, I've been waiting,
I've been waiting night and day.
I didn't see the time,
I waited half my life away.
There were lots of invitations
and I know you sent me some,
but I was waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
I know you really loved me.
but, you see, my hands were tied.
I know it must have hurt you,
it must have hurt your pride
to have to stand beneath my window
with your bugle and your drum,
and me I'm up there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Ah I don't believe you'd like it,
You wouldn't like it here.
There ain't no entertainment
and the judgements are severe.
The Maestro says it's Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you're waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Waiting for the miracle
There's nothing left to do.
I haven't been this happy
since the end of World War II.

Nothing left to do
when you know that you've been taken.
Nothing left to do
when you're begging for a crumb
Nothing left to do
when you've got to go on waiting
waiting for the miracle to come.

I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah but some of you was light.
The sands of time were falling
from your fingers and your thumb,
and you were waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come

Ah baby, let's get married,
we've been alone too long.
Let's be alone together.
Let's see if we're that strong.
Yeah let's do something crazy,
something absolutely wrong
while we're waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Nothing left to do ...

When you've fallen on the highway
and you're lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you're doing
of course you'll say you can't complain --
If you're squeezed for information,
that's when you've got to play it dumb:
You just say you're out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fifty Years Of Memories

Childhood Memories

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.
Albert Schweitzer

If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize lecture
"Hope, Despair and Memory," December 11, 1986


It's hard to take in, but I have accumulated a little over 50 years of memories. I am 54, and my first memory dates to around age three. My mother was polishing the linoleum with Johnson wax, using one of those two-brush floor polishers, a green machine that seemed to my young imagination a giant monster trying to devour me. [There is a YouTube clip of a similar machine, circa 1959.] Naturally, I hid under my parents' large double bed, and stayed there for the duration of my mother's cleaning operation.

Such is my earliest memory, which some today would doubt. It's been well-documented by scientists who study such matters that memories are not always reliable, particularly those that are unimportant. The brain seems to play tricks with the mind, the mental processes that are necessary to form an image and capture it in our psyche. The generally accepted scientific theory is that memories are stored in greater detail and with more staying power when they are tied to emotion.

I am sure, with a high degree of confidence that this memory of my mother's floor polishing, is accurate. You see, many years later, when I was a teenager, I recalled the memory and mentioned the incident to my mother. She was surprised that I had remembered it, and said it was indeed true. My wife has memories that are much earlier than mine, which date to when she was barely a year old, and again her mother confirmed her early childhood memories involving a teacup and its placement on a windowsill.

And then there are the exceptional cases of persons who remember all kinds of incidents, even those not tied to emotion. Consider the case of the Californian woman, Jill Price, who can't forget and remembers every detail since she was 12, says a November 2008 article by Samiha Shafy, "An Infinite Loop in the Brain," published in the international edition of Der Spiegel:
No one can imagine what it's really like," says Jill Price, 42, "not even the scientists who are studying me."

The Californian, who has an almost perfect memory, is trying to describe how it feels. She starts with a small demonstration of her ability. "When were you born?" she asks.

She hears the date and says: "Oh, that was a Wednesday. There was a cold snap in Los Angeles two days later, and my mother and I made soup."

Price is sitting in The Grill, a restaurant in Beverly Hills. She's a heavyset woman with blonde hair and big blue eyes. She wears large amounts of jewelry —gold Creole earrings, silver bracelets and a Star of David dangling from her necklace, which she often rubs with her fingers as she talks. Price runs a religious school at a synagogue near Los Angeles.

She says the restaurant has been one her favorites for the past 23 years — since Sept. 20, 1985, to be exact. It was a Friday. "And I was sitting with my father at that table over there, eating garlic chicken. I was wearing a big hat."
Scientists have called this ability or the condition of having a superior autobiographical memory, Hyperthymesia. Having a good memory certainly has its upside in terms of being a reliable witness in court cases and international tribunals, such as in cases of human genocides and crimes against humanity. Bearing witness can act as an effective moral weapon against denial of mass murders sanctioned by the state (e.g. in the 20th century that includes the Jewish Shoah, the Armenian Genocide, the Soviet-instituted purges and the Chinese Great Leap Forward and resultant death by famine). Of course, Holocaust deniers exist, but their efforts are weakened by reliable witnesses and an extensive written and electronic archive.

In that case Elie Wiesel in his Nobel lecture is right to say that "memory will save humanity." Such memories of evil, despite their unpleasant associations, not only remind us that humanity's weaknesses are great, but that human leaders need a reason to make the right moral decision. The failure of memory in such cases are consequential and dangerous.

But there is also a downside, notably on the individual level. Sometimes there is a human need to forget, notably bad memories, traumas and simple insults and offenses. Forgetting is also a necessary condition, say neuroscientists, to allow the brain to keep functioning in a viable and reliable manner. Otherwise, the brain essentially slows down.

So, would you want to remember every detail, important or not?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Evgeny Kissin: Chopin Étude No. 12 —'The Revolutionary'



Evgeny Kissin performs Frédéric Chopin's Étude Opus 10, No. 12, known as either the "Revolutionary Étude" or the "Étude on the Bombardment of Warsaw," coinciding with the Polish uprising against Imperial Russia (1830-31), which Russia eventually crushed.

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A solo piano work, Chopin [1810-1849] composed this work around 1831, making this the last in his first set of a dozen Études ("Douze Grandes Études"), which were dedicated "à son ami Franz Liszt" ("to his friend Franz Liszt"). The 12  Études were written when Chopin was between the ages of 19 and 23. As Fred Yu in a music site dedicated to Chopin notes:
The Revolutionary Etude holds its place as one of the most eminent and well recognized of all of Chopin’s compositions. Beginning with the first dramatic chord all the way to the impassioned conclusion, this piece is an outpouring of emotion. It is immediately apparent that most of the technical difficulty is in the left hand, with rapid runs and frequent turns. However, this difficulty is perhaps easier to resolve than those in many other etudes, as finding a comfortable fingering wins half the battle with this piece. (If, by any chance, one wishes to seek a greater challenge with this etude, perhaps one could do what Alexander Dreyschock did – learn to play the left hand in octaves, without losing any tempo!) Other difficulties include polyrhythms and cross-rhythms that are used more and more to convey a sense of conflict and struggle towards the end of the piece.

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jewish Humor: Mothers

Monday Humor

The focus this week is on Jewish mothers.

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Three Jewish mothers are sitting on a bench in an indoor mall talking about (what else?) how much their sons love them.

Sadie says "You know the Chagall painting hanging in my living room? My son, Arnold, bought that for me for my 75th birthday. What a good boy he is and how much he loves his mother."

Minnie says,"You call that love? You know the Mercedes I just got for Mother's Day? That's from my son Bernie. What a doll."

Shirley says "That's nothing. You know my son Stanley? He's in analysis with a psychoanalyst in Harley Street. Five session a week. And what does he talk about? Me."


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A man calls his mother in Florida. "Mom, how are you?"

"Not too good," says the mother. "I've been very weak."
The son says, "Why are you so weak?"
She says, "Because I haven't eaten in 38 days."
The man says, "That's terrible. Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?"

The mother answers, "Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call." 

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Three sons of a Yiddishe Mama left their homeland, went abroad and prospered. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their ageing mother:

AVRAHAM, the first, said, "I built a big house for our mother."

MOISHE, the second, said, "I sent her a Mercedes with a driver."

DAVID, the youngest, said, "You remember how our mother enjoys reading the Bible? Now she can't see very well. I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the whole Bible--Mama just has to name the chapter and verse."

Soon thereafter, a letter of thanks came from their mother:"

AVRAHAM," she said, "the house you built is so huge. I live only in one room, but I have to clean the whole house."

"MOISHE," she said, "I am too old to travel. I stay most of the time at home so I rarely use the Mercedes. And that driver has shpilkas--he's a pain in the tuchas."

"But DAVID," she said, "THE CHICKEN WAS DELICIOUS!"


Blasphemy Laws Belong In The Dark Ages

GUEST VOICE

We welcome back Gad Saad, writing on a topic, a way of life if you will, that we have come to take for granted in a modern democracy: free speech. Yet, this hallmark of a liberal secular society is under attack by certain groups, chiefly those who hold ideologies and theologies that oppose open and transparent communication and the free exchange of ideas. On that note, Prof Saad writes: "The bottom line is that we should all go about our lives trying to be polite, respectful, and kind to one another. That said irrespective of one's religious belief system, no one has an unalienable right from being religiously offended."
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by Gad Saad

One of the defining features of a free, liberal, and secular society is the fact that individuals have the unalienable right to criticize every imaginable scientific theory, belief system, political ideology, religious narrative, political figure, etc. without fear of persecution (or prosecution). No one has the birthright to be protected from being offended. Rational discourse and the scientific method are the means by which enlightened societies resolve their debates. This has been one of the foundational tenets of liberal democracies, and it is uniquely enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In the recent past, a disturbing global trend has begun to materialize. For example Ireland has instituted a new blasphemy law. I wonder if under such a law, it might be illegal to criticize or mock the Catholic Church for the numerous sex scandals that its priests have been involved in. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC; recently renamed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), which consists of 57 member states, is trying to supersede the existing UN Declaration of Human Rights by arguing that any criticism of religion (they really mean of Islam) in any country that is a signatory of their proposed charter would constitute a punishable offense. Hence, if the United States were to sign the charter, and if an American journalist were to write an article (in an American outlet) criticizing some aspect of Islam deemed religiously insulting, he/she would be liable under this universal law. Incidentally, Hillary Clinton is hosting several dignitaries from the OIC (December 12-14) to discuss ways by which "religious defamation" might be curtailed (see here). None other than Barack Obama appears quite sympathetic to the OIC's stated agenda.

It is difficult to imagine how such a reality would fit within the notion of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. If the First Amendment cannot guarantee one's right to criticize any and all religions in the most forceful of manner, the United States is no longer a free country. Incidentally, the Secretary-General is Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turkish diplomat and academic. Turkey has repeatedly rejected the undeniable fact that the Armenian Genocide took place. Turkish citizens who publicly proclaim that the Armenian Genocide has taken place have been arrested for the crime of "insulting Turkish honor." One wonders how this Turkish law fits within the OIC's mandate.

The Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders was recently prosecuted in the Netherlands for having exercised his right to free speech by producing a movie titled Fitna that was highly critical of Islam. He stated that he could not imagine how in a free country such a trial could take place, let alone that according to him the facts in his movie were veridical. The Dutch magistrates retorted that the truth was irrelevant. Rather, his movie had hurt the feelings of a specific group of individuals by attacking their religion, and in so doing he was libel (he was apparently fomenting religious discrimination by criticizing a religion's doctrines). The veracity of the information contained in Wilders' movie should rightly be judged, be it in the court of public opinion and/or in his case by the electorate (since he is a politician). The judicial system has no place in this debate. One need not be a sophisticated constitutional scholar to appreciate the dangerous precedent that such a trial establishes.

During my time as a doctoral student at Cornell, I remember a heated debate that had raged across campus regarding whether the university should allow an infamous holocaust denier from speaking at a particular venue. Clearly, such a person is espousing a highly objectionable, offensive, and astonishingly false position yet it would have been antithetical to the tenets of a free society to arrest him on the ground that he was offensive to Jews. On a highly controversial episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David accidentally "splashes" (with his urine) an image of Jesus hanging in a bathroom. The "humor" was rather puerile if not offensive and crass, yet it seems unimaginable that he would be arrested for his comedic choices. A 1987 photo by Andres Serrano titled Piss Christ received huge critical acclaim, and yet it was extraordinarily offensive to the sensibilities of hundreds of millions of Catholics. Should we prosecute Holocaust deniers, Larry David, and Andres Serrano? Should they be violently silenced? Curtailing "offensive" speech is a very dangerous slippery slope.

A while back I had a lively debate with a fellow PT blogger about the right to offend on religious grounds. I argued that in a free society, it was untenable for a group of people to threaten (if not engage in) repeated violence should their religious sensibilities be hurt. He did not seem to agree with me. Political correctness is a very dangerous weakness. Empires have fallen for lesser cancers. Countless luminaries (e.g., Socrates, Galileo, and Spinoza) have had to suffer at the hands of institutional decrees that determined that their teachings, ideas, and/or scientific theories were heretical. Do we wish to return to such dark eras?

The bottom line is that we should all go about our lives trying to be polite, respectful, and kind to one another. That said irrespective of one's religious belief system, no one has an unalienable right from being religiously offended. One cannot discriminate on religious grounds (e.g., an employer refusing to hire an employee because he is a scientologist) but everyone is allowed to criticize, analyze, or mock any religion in the most forceful of manners. Such are the guarantees of a free society. Once we give up this right, it is a very quick path to totalitarianism.

I'll leave you with three poignant quotes regarding the import of free speech:

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
—George Washington

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
—Voltaire

Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.
Salman Rushdie

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Dr. Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing, holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption, and advisory fellow at the Center for Inquiry. He has published 55+ scientific articles in numerous disciplines including in marketing, consumer behavior, advertising, medicine, economics, and bibliometrics. He has authored two books, The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007), and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (Prometheus Books, 2011), as well as edited a third book, Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences (Springer, 2011). His Psychology Today blog, Homo Consumericus, has thus far garnered 1,505,000+ total views.

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Copyright ©2012. Gad Saad. All Rights Reserved. This post was originally published in Psychology Today on December 14, 2011. It is  republished here with the author's permission.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Virginia Zeani: Rossini's Otello—'Desdemona's Willow Song'



This is from an Italian Radio (RAI) performance of 1960. The singers are drawn from the highly successful production staged by Rome Opera, of the same year. Giorgio de Chirico made the sets, both striking and surrealist.

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Gioachino Rossini's Otello was first staged at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples, Italy, December 4, 1816, ten months after Il Barbiere di Siviglia ("The Barber of Seville"). Otello is rarely performed today for two reasons: the difficulty of finding three principal tenors with very high voices and coloratura techniques, and  Giuseppe Verdi's later masterpiece is considered better, if not easier to mount.

No doubt, Giuseppe Verdi's Otello, first performed in 1887, is more popular and more known. In a review of a current production at the Zurich Opera, starring Cecilia Bartoli, Zachary Wolfe for The New York Times writes:
Rossini’s work, from 1816, is different in almost every particular. He even omits the classic detail of Desdemona’s supposedly incriminating handkerchief. But despite its divergences from Shakespeare and that it can never quite live up to Verdi’s 1887 version — the culmination of the Italian operatic tradition — Rossini’s “Otello” was a milestone: his first attempt to use his gifts for energy and melody on the broader canvas of three acts, rather than his previous one or two.
Responding to the pool of singers available for the opera’s premiere in Naples, Rossini surrounded his Desdemona with a trio of tenors: Otello, Iago and Rodrigo.
Some will nevertheless enjoy Rossini's interpretation. This beautifully rendered "Willow Song" with its haunting melody and dramatic incident, transports you to another time and place. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Shostakovich Symphony No. 5



The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs from the 4th movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No 5 in D minor, opus 47, Gustavo Dudamel conducting, at the opening concert of the "Festival of Two Worlds" in Spoleto, Italy, in the summer of 2006. Dudamel is arguably the most exciting conductor today.

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As for this symphony, Dmitri Shostakovich [1906-1975] completed this orchestral work in July 1937 under tremendous personal and artistic pressure to make the work comply with the narrow strictures of Soviet realism. There was a huge personal danger for failure under the inhumane Stalinist regime, the knife-edge of terror being the Stalinist Purges, it alone responsible for millions of its citizens, chiefly males, being murdered, and similar numbers exiled to long sentences into the blackness of the Gulag, its forced-labor camps.

This was the conditions to which Shostakovich had to compose music, an art form that usually requires better conditions. Yet, the human spirit can rise to the challenge of dark times, and this composition—a masterpiece—is no exception. Its first performance was in Leningrad, Russia (now Saint Petersburg) by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Yevgeny Mravinsky on November 21, 1937. It was a huge and monumental success; the public deeply identified with its musical themes, including its melancholy and grief. Even the Soviet leaders could not ignore it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Tattered Social Contract

Society & Politics

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One believes himself the others' master, and yet is more slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? I believe I can solve this question.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Of the Social Contract: Principles of Political Right
(1762)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique, which in English is known as Of the Social Contract: Principles of Political Right, or simply The Social Contract. It was first published in 1762, and influenced the French Revolution [1789-99]. It has been a highly influential document, and depending on your political views, a good document that advanced individual humanity and the equality of individuals; or a terrible one in which the state becomes subject to the infallible will of the tyranny of the majority, or totalitarian democracy.
Source: Wikipedia
For many years democratic society has been ruled by a set of rules and theories that date to the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among many notables. Of the four, Rousseau, the Geneva-born French political philosopher, has been a polarizing figure, yet his theories and sentiments have greatly influenced Western thinking and democracy, despite his writings being misunderstood and maligned, notably by social conservatives.

For one, Rousseau has been wrongly credited for expressing the idea, "the noble savage," an oxymoron that dates in the English world to John Dryden, the English poet, in The Conquest of Granada in 1672. Rousseau never used the term and was not a primitivist. Quite the contrary. In Rousseau's thinking, a well-working society and a reformed system of education could make men good. Another point worth mentioning is that I have cited a much longer version of his famous phrase, which shows a more fuller understanding of his reasoning.

Needless to say, you can  and ought to read Rousseau's most influential work, known in English as The Social Contact (1762), whether in the original French or in translation. If you read political sites and writings, you will soon find that ideological conservatives don't like Rousseau and his writing. That in itself is telling.  One can rightly argue that there is much to dislike in his writing, including his views on women, the state and how his writings led to the excesses of the French Revolution. But, Rousseau, like his contemporaries, was a man of his time. How many of us today can say that our ideas are ahead of our time?

In other words, believing that participatory democracy in some form is an ameliorating force for good. One could rightly and fairly argue about Rousseau's thoughts on what form democracy ought to take, but not whether he considered it a valid political system. For Rousseau, democracy would being about a "community of equals," the opposite of the increasing move toward political elites and plutocracy.

In Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals (Oxford UP, 2010), Joshua Cohen, a professor of political science, philosophy, and law at Stanford University, writes:
In strikingly spare, intense prose, he gives us a picture of a free community of equals, a social-political world in which individuals realize their nature as free by living together as equals, giving laws themselves, guided in these lawgiving judgments by a conception of their common goal. Moreover, a free community of equals, Rousseau tells us, is not an unrealistic utopia beyond human reach, but a genuine human possibility compatible with our human complexities, and with the demands of social cooperation. (10)
Some would find this idea of equality perplexing, even scary and hard to fathom, considering a free community of equals a recipe for disaster if not anarchy, making it an untenable political system that is both absurd and undesirable. Yet, it's an ideal, and as such it's in view for all to consider, debate and criticize or try to put into practice in some viable form. For the critics of such a system, who have already made up their mind, it shows how far we have moved from the ideal, that we can't even dream it possible, let alone deem it so.

Sadly so, such views of equality and participatory democracy, which influenced the Western way of thinking in the 18th century, has been discredited if not torn to shreds, thanks to the work of hardened ideological conservatives in the United States, Canada and England. We have in effect a social contract that is in tatters, eviscerated of all meaning and intent.

In the face of globalization, increasing unemployment, poverty and the shrinking of the middle-class, the effect of the social contract's weakening, if not outright demise in moral spirit, is evident today. We ought to be in tears. The majority of us are poorer for it, even if we are unaware of the consequences.