Saturday, April 30, 2016

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (1987)



Whitney Houston [1963–2012] performs “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” which is the first single and title track from her second studio album, Whitney. The single was released on February 3, 1987; and the album on June 2, 1987. The song won a Grammy for Houston at the 30th Grammy Awards, in 1988, for “Best Pop Vocal Performance.” Whitney Houston, a mezzo-soprano, was referred to as “The Voice.” She died tragically and accidentally, on February 12, 2012. The official cause of death is drowning due to drug intoxication. She was 48.

It is within the realm of human nature for people to cast harsh, unforgiving judgments on her life choices, particularly her long use of narcotics, which led to in her spiral downward and her eventual death. But I am not one of those people; for one, I do not know the circumstances of how and why she made such choices, as self-destructive as they might be and as foolish as they seem today. It is not that I am condoning it, but I am also not able to condemn it. Judgment is easy when the focus is on someone else and never easy when the spotlight is on you.

Honest self-examination and -appraisal often leads to a more forgiving view of others. This is always true, even when it is given little credence or denied. Why is it so easy to judge and so hard to forgive? Are humans hard-wired this way? Who knows? You do know, however, the (moral) story of what takes place when you point a finger of accusation at someone else. It comes back to haunt you.

So, I continue to remember Whitney Houston chiefly for the joy that she gave me (us) with her singing and with her exceptional musical performances, and also be reminded that without love there is something important, essential, missing in the world, including in the world of our personal lives. Rare is the person who wants to be completely alone. This is not mere sentimentality, or romanticism, but a time-tested fact of life. This is the title track of life. There are times when I am at odds with it, with its sentiments and declarations, but I soon return to it.

If some of us are lucky to find it—“love”—we have indeed found something valuable and need to hold on to it with dear life.

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I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)
By George Merrill & Shannon Rubicam

Clock strikes upon the hour,
And the sun begins to fade.
Still enough time to figure out,
How to chase my blues away.

I've done alright up till now.
It's the light of day that shows me how.
And when the night falls...
The loneliness calls.

Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.
Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.

I've been in love,
And lost my senses,
Spinning through the town.
Sooner or later the fever ends,
And I wind up feeling down.

I need a man who'll take a chance,
On a love that burns hot enough to last.
So when the night falls,
My lonely heart calls.

Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.
Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.
(Somebody who somebody who)somebody who loves me,
(Somebody who somebody who)to hold me in his arms.
I need a man who'll take a chance,
On a love that burns hot enough to last.
So when the night falls,
My lonely heart calls.

Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.
Oh I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody.
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody,
With somebody who loves me.
Yeah,
Don't you wanna dance with me baby?
Don't you wanna dance with me boy?
Don't you wanna dance with me baby?
With somebody who loves me,

Don't you wanna dance
Say you wanna dance
Don't you wanna dance... X3
Uh-huh
With somebody who loves me

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Shifting Fortunes Of Life In Mongolia

Old Traditions

Herding Cultures: Mongolian herder culture is becoming rarer, in large part due to changing weather patterns, marked by increasing dzuds (a summer of drought followed by a winter of cold and snow)which have killed many animals. It is safe to say that in such places the dictates of weather play an important part in the (mis)fortunes of life. Thus, it is also safe to say that life on the steppes, or grasslands, can be rewarding, but it can also be harsh, compelling many to abandon this way of life. Nathan VanderKlippe writes (“Dying Steppe;” April 29, 2016) for the Globe & Mail: “Driven in part by the emotional toll of losing animals under their care, herders themselves are abandoning the steppe. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of Mongolian herders fell from a half-million to 300,000.” The caption for this photo says and explains much: “Gantumur, a 51-year-old Mongolian herder, rides past a dead cow near Adaatsag, Mongolia April 16, 2016. Gantumur has already lost 60 of his 100 goats and sheep, after a fierce winter that has taken a grim toll on the Mongolian steppe.
Photo Credit: John Lehmann, Globe & Mail
Source: Globe & Mail

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Olmsted’s Trees & The Life Of Parks

Urban Parks

Central Park Site: The Library of America (LOA) writes: “A rendering of the area surrounding the lake in New York’s proposed Central Park, 1858. Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux, Greensward Study No. 5: View Southwest from Vista Rock on Reverse Line of Sight from Study No. 4.” Frederick Law Olmsted [1822–1903], the father of American landscape architecture, is responsible for the design of New York City’s Central Park (1856) and of hundreds of others in the United States and Canada, including the U.S. Capitol Grounds (1875), Chicago’s Jackson Park (1893), and Montreal’s Mont-Royal Park (1876), a place where I spent many happy hours as a child. We can thank Olmsted, who was also a journalist and social critic, for making urban living more bearable, more beautiful and more breathable. It is all about trees and what they bring to us humans, LOA writes in showcasing Olmsted’s 1882 essay, “Trees in Streets and in Parks”: “Olmsted explained his aesthetic, and the central role of trees in it, in an 1882 essay, in which he resisted colleagues and tourists who saw ‘nothing in a park but an airing apparatus, to be made attractive by decorations’ and argued instead for something more holistic: ‘scenes and objects [that] touch us so quietly that we are hardly conscious of them.’ ”
Image Credit: NYC Municipal Archives; digitally enhanced by Library of America
Source: LOA

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The World Is A Lousy Person

Short Story

Ms. Blumenthol:
Image Credit: Rolli
Source: The Walrus

A short story, by Rolli, in The Walrus gives an insightful view of humanity; it depends on whom and what you encounter and take in. At times, all it takes is one person and what he has to offer. It might be a different hat or a cigarette. In “Ms. Blumenthol,” Rolli begins:
The World Is a Lousy Person. I want that to be my epitaph. Hooman’s is At Last . . . Peace, which is idiotic; he was in perfect health when he dropped dead. His daughter picked it out. She paid for the headstone. Hooman and I weren’t technically married, which was fine by me. Marriage is a solemn vow that you’ve run out of ideas. I’ve still got a few.
When Hooman died, I gave up smoking, though I still smoke. Only when I get—grippy. I get grippy, and if I don’t lay my hands on a cigarette fast . . .  If I were hanging from a cliff and someone held out a cigarette, I’d take the cigarette. I only met Hooman, really, my soulmate, because of cigarettes. That was ten years back. On the worst day of my life.
Let’s face it: Life is often shit; people are often vile assholes. Such is the story of our lives; filled with too many horrible days to count or even remember, and filled with encounters with nasty and vulgar people who would never do anything for another, except take the shirt off his back. You make judgments based on collected experiences, the most recent having the greater power of persuasion. Even so, it can turn on a dime. But this takes an encounter with humanity.

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For more, go to [TheWalrus]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Financial Confessions Of A Middle-Class Writer

Financial Insecurity

Money Talk: It is far easier to talk about anything in America than about money, Neal Gabler writes for The Atlantic: “So I never spoke about my financial travails, not even with my closest friends—that is, until I came to the realization that what was happening to me was also happening to millions of other Americans, and not just the poorest among us, who, by definition, struggle to make ends meet. It was, according to that Fed survey and other surveys, happening to middle-class professionals and even to those in the upper class. It was happening to the soon-to-retire as well as the soon-to-begin. It was happening to college grads as well as high-school dropouts. It was happening all across the country, including places where you might least expect to see such problems. I knew that I wouldn’t have $400 in an emergency. What I hadn’t known, couldn’t have conceived, was that so many other Americans wouldn’t have the money available to them, either.”
Image Credit: Hugh Kretschmer
Source: The Atlantic

An article, by Neal Gabler, in The Atlantic says that almost half of Americans suffer financial insecurity, and it more than likely that a good number feel some sense of shame and failure about it, perhaps thinking that they are in poor company.  In “The Shame of Middle-Class Americans” (May 2016), Gabler writes:
Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.
I also know what it’s like, joining million of others in the U.S., Canada, etc. Like the writer of this article, I, too, used to earn a decent living as a for-hire writer until about 2008, when assignments became harder to get and fees plummeted—the Internet changed everything for freelancers. What was previously considered a rewarding yet precarious profession suddenly, and without warning, became an unsustainable and unrewarding one.

So, yes, I understand. I have made similar confessions of the difficulty of being a middle-class writer on this very blog, starting five years ago, even though at first I did so with some hesitation and a great deal of reluctance. Life, however, became worse, more precarious. Against your will and your noble ideals on the value of hard work, you find yourself being dropped into the rabbit hole of a parallel universe, where the reality is foreign and unknown. Truth be told, it takes time for the new reality to sink in, to permeate through the lies and fictions, to take root in the fertile imagination of desire that well-paying gigs are not at hand and are not likely to ever hit your inbox. Eventually, the anger, the denial and the self-abasement ebbs, since it serves no real purpose. Self-doubt and fear turns to quiet acceptance.

Even so, it is not easy to admit that you are failing, that you are not winning the fight against poverty or financial insolvency. That you have no savings, no retirement income, no money for children’s college. It is hard to admit that your higher education hasn’t saved you from the embarrassment of not having a full-time job (or its equivalent) the last number of years. Most of all, it is not easy to admit to your children. Or to your community. (What do you do with your time? some people ask. Most avoid the subject altogether.)

But, then you read more articles and find out that few are winning, that many are losing, despite their best efforts. The middle-class is finding out what the working poor have known for decades. The shame is that there ought to be no shame. The more that articles like this are published, the greater awareness there will be of this long-term problem. (It will not go away soon, not with any new American president or Congress, since a known reality is that no one has any genuine interest in fixing a broken system that favors only the wealthy.) The fault lies elsewhere: in a system that is no longer able to keep the promises it made long ago. It is no longer sustainable. Here is a fact worth thinking about: There are not enough (bread)winners to keep it going.

Isn’t that shameful?
*******************
For more, go to [TheAtlantic]

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Maccabeats: Dayenu



The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group, perform Dayenu, a Passover song, which the group performs in various ways with humor. The group was originally formed in New York City, in 2007, as Yeshiva University’s student vocal group.

Toronto’s Two Aprils (2016)

Changes

April is the month of surprises and changes; it is much like October but it moves in the opposite direction. It sits between the past and the future, carrying with it both memories and hope. “Hope springs eternal,” the British poet Alexander Pope said, and such is April. The two photos tell the story, the poetic story of the two Aprils, it being the fourth month of our solar calendar.

April 6th at 11 a.m. Temperature: –1°C (31°F); Direction: North. Snow is falling, and April is shaping up as a month with greater snow accumulation than December. 
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016


April 18th at 7:30 a.m. Temperature: 9°C (48°F); Direction: North. The forecast is sunny and a high of 24°C.(75°F). Tree buds are clearly visible.
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016


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Happy Passover (Pesach) to all who are celebrating this eight-day Jewish festival of freedom. The first seder begins tonight after sundown, which coincides with the 15th of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. And remember that if you are in the midst of overeating, you can take comfort in the words of the immortal song, Dayenu.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Scientific Sleight-Of-Hand

The Public Good


Masters of Illusion: Both science and religion will attract charlatans, who will use their considerable powers to make people believe that something false is true. Moreover, both are prone to the use of reward and punishment, have persons within their ranks that are arrogant and patronizing to outsiders, and have persons who hold unwavering faith in their ideas. This is to say that scientists and monks might have more in common than many would first think, a proposition put forth by William A. Wilson for First Things: “Which brings us to the odd moment in which we live. At the same time as an ever more bloated scientific bureaucracy churns out masses of research results, the majority of which are likely outright false, scientists themselves are lauded as heroes and science is upheld as the only legitimate basis for policy-making. There’s reason to believe that these phenomena are linked. When a formerly ascetic discipline suddenly attains a measure of influence, it is bound to be flooded by opportunists and charlatans, whether it’s the National Academy of Science or the monastery of Cluny.”
Image Credit: Akiyoshi Kitaoka; Ritsumeikan University

An article, by William A. Wilson, in First Things points out one problem that plagues science today. While science and the long-standing and accepted method that undergirds it has the potential to do good and advance our understanding of the universe, much of science today does neither. It adds nothing to our knowledge; it squanders public funds for ill-conceived ideas; and it adds nothing for our public good.

In “Scientific Regress” (May 2016), Wilson writes of concrete examples of science’s very real failures:
The problem with ­science is that so much of it simply isn’t. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field. Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field’s results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers. Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing 65 percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.
Their findings made the news, and quickly became a club with which to bash the social sciences. But the problem isn’t just with psychology. There’s an ­unspoken rule in the pharmaceutical industry that half of all academic biomedical research will ultimately prove false, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate. These were not studies published in fly-by-night oncology journals, but blockbuster research featured in Science, Nature, Cell, and the like. The Bayer researchers were drowning in bad studies, and it was to this, in part, that they attributed the mysteriously declining yields of drug pipelines. Perhaps so many of these new drugs fail to have an effect because the basic research on which their development was based isn’t valid.
And so the argument goes. If you have been following science as I have, you will find that there is much truth in this argument, particularly on how statistical analysis can be artfully and selectively applied to “prove” almost anything. (The results are in the data.)  There is also the incentive to publish, even if the results are questionable, or misleading or plainly wrong, thus explaining scientific fraud, which might be on the rise.  This desire to cheat is nothing short of scientific sleight of hand, whose purpose is to deceive within the greater aim of entertainment—not something serious scientists seek to (or ought to) emulate. Most scientists, however, have until recently dismissed such genuine concerns, often for the very reasons that this writer says. Or for other reasons that speak of fear of loss.

Yet, most of the public non-scientists can understand the public-policy implications of fraudulent science, including on how fraudulent science affects us all, notably since much of science today is funded from the public purse. This status quo arrangement is precisely what will keep science from progressing and finding out the answers that humanity seeks. This is not to say that good sound science does not take place—it does, and we are all better for it—but that bad corrupt science often gets more attention than it deserves, which is none. Bad science does a disservice to the public, which is whom Science ultimately serves. Science serves not itself or the cohort of scientists within its ranks, but serves humanity.

Too many scientists have either forgotten or dismissed this idea—a noble one—in their quest for fame and fortune. A dose of humility might be the necessary antidote.

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For more, go to [FirstThings]

Monday, April 18, 2016

Eyes On The Prize: Civil Rights Movement (1954–1956)

American History



Eyes on the Prize: No. 1: Awakenings (1954–1956). This is the first episode of a multi-part PBS-TV production—part of its American Experience series—created and produced by Henry Hampton, an influential American documentary filmmaker. This television series was first broadcast in two parts, Wikipedia notes; the first part (six hours) in 1987 and the second (eight hours) in 1990.

The public broadcaster writes about this series:
Eyes on the Prize is an award-winning 14-hour television series produced by Blackside and narrated by Julian Bond. Through contemporary interviews and historical footage, the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985. Series topics range from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954 to the Voting Rights Act in 1965; from community power in schools to “Black Power” in the streets; from early acts of individual courage through to the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions.
When Eyes on the Prize premiered in 1987, The Los Angeles Times called it "an exhaustive documentary that shouldn't be missed." The series went on to win six Emmys and numerous other awards, including an Academy Award nomination, the George Foster Peabody Award, and the top duPont-Columbia award for excellence in broadcast journalism.
Eyes on the Prize was created and executive produced by Henry Hampton (1940-1998), one of the most influential documentary filmmakers in the 20th century. His work chronicled America's great political and social movements and set new standards for broadcast quality. Blackside, the independent film and television company he founded in 1968, completed 60 major films and media projects that amplified the voices of the poor and disenfranchised. His enduring legacy continues to influence the field in the 21st century.
I highly recommend that you take the time to watch the entire series; it is an important and essential part of modern American history. All schoolchildren in America ought to watch this series. Episode No. 2 (“Fighting Back” (1957-62)) can be viewed here; and Episode No, 3 (“Ain’t Scared of Your Jails” (1960-61)) here. There is no guarantee that knowing history will make you a better person, but it will defeat the power of ignorance.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Good Luck, Gratitude & The Common Good

Personal Fortune

Dr. Seuss: NPR writes in 2012, referring to an interview with Guy McLain, who works at the Springfield Museum in Geisel’s Massachusetts hometown: “McLain has become a local expert on Dr. Seuss. He says Mulberry Street might have never been published — if it hadn't been for a chance encounter Geisel had one day as he was walking home in New York City. ‘He bumped into a friend ... who had just become an editor at a publishing house in the children’s section,’ McLain explains. Geisel told the friend that he’d simply given up and planned to destroy the book, but the editor asked to take a look. He said if he had been walking down the other side of the street, he probably would never have become a children’s author. It was a moment that changed Geisel’s life.‘He said if he had been walking down the other side of the street, he probably would never have become a children’s author,’ McLain says.The book was published in 1937. It got great reviews, and the rest is history. ”
Photo Credit & Source: NPR

An article, by Robert H. Frank, in The Atlantic says that good luck (and its counterpart) plays more of a part in people’s lives than many, including the wealthy, would like to admit. And those that do so have a greater amount of gratitude than those who believe in the myth of the self-made man, thus having a tendency to see the benefits of the common good.

“Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think” (May 2016), Frank says luck played a role in his survival from cardiac arrest and gave him cause to look into the subject:
My having cheated death does not make me an authority on luck. But it has motivated me to learn much more about the subject than I otherwise would have. In the process, I have discovered that chance plays a far larger role in life outcomes than most people realize. And yet, the luckiest among us appear especially unlikely to appreciate our good fortune. According to the Pew Research Center, people in higher income brackets are much more likely than those with lower incomes to say that individuals get rich primarily because they work hard. Other surveys bear this out: Wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.
That’s troubling, because a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited. It may even make the lucky less likely to support the conditions (such as high-quality public infrastructure and education) that made their own success possible.
When people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they become much more willing to contribute to the common good.
True enough. Luck plays an important part in people’s lives, and, yes, even in the lives of the gifted, the talented, and the geniuses; and if you are among those fortunate enough to have a surplus of good luck, so much the better for you. Luck comes in many forms, including chance encounters and meetings with persons who could influence your life for the better. Consider the story of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and his chance encounter with a friend (a book editor) while walking down a NYC street. His good fortune led to our collective enjoyment, as many parents worldwide can attest.

The annals of human history record many such similar chance encounters that were life-changing, to say the least. There are many more that are non-recorded, yet the anecdotes are the same. Good luck intervened or visited in some fashion. A turn here, a turn there; a delay here, a hurried response there, and things would have been different. The view of some, including the hyper-religious and the hyper-scientific, to downplay or deny the importance of luck, explains much of their political and socio-economic views of charity and of the common good. Yet, only a thoughtless fool thinks that he has complete control of his destiny.

The thoughtful person, on the other hand, is thankful with gratitude and shares his good fortune with others.

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For more, go to [TheAtlantic]

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bizet’s Carmen (1978)



One of the world’s most beloved operas is the four-act Carmen by Georges Bizet [1838–75], with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, itself based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. (The synopsis can be found here.) When the opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March  3,1875, it was poorly received, it straying too far from the conventional tastes of Parisians. The opera fared better in Vienna and elsewhere, including London and New York, thus becoming an international success. Bizet, however, never saw its success, having died on June 3rd, despondent of his creative failure. He was 36.

Here is the 1978 Franco Zeffirelli production, directed by Brian Large and conducted by Carlos Kleiber, in front of the Vienna Staatsoper (the Vienna State Opera) on December 9, 1978. Kleiber rarely conducted opera, so this is a special treat. The opera’s chief characters are as follows:

Don José: Plácido Domingo
Carmen: Elena Obraztsova
Escamillo: Yuri Mazurok
Micaela: Isobel Buchanan

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Working Out Loss In The Garden Of Greenery

The Garden: Detail from Work out in Mississippi Grove, c. 1900, oil on linen, by American artist Kate Freeman Clark (1875–1957). Library of America (LOA) writes in its Story of the Week: “Seven years after her father’s death, Eudora transformed her mother’s grief into a story. Rather than a source of therapeutic comfort, yardwork in ‘A Curtain of Green’ becomes an unhealthy, almost destructive obsession. (One can only wonder what Chestina thought of the autobiographical elements of her daughter’s story.) Mrs. Larkin’s isolation is not only social but also physical—the ‘hedge, high as a wall’ forming a curtain of green between her and her neighbors. In a recently published appraisal of Welty’s fiction, literary scholar Sally Wolff examines the themes of this story and writes, ‘In the painful balance between loving and losing, Welty asks the most probing questions about life without love.’ ”
Image Credit; Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery, Holly Springs, Mississippi; The Athenaeum
SourceLOA

The Library of America’s Introduction to the short story “A Curtain of Green” (Eudora Welty: Stories, Essays, & Memoir) provides some background information on how Welty turned personal experience into a published story and, equally important, how she viewed personal and professional loss, including what some would consider as lost opportunity: 
After completing a one-year advertising course at Columbia University Graduate School in New York, Eudora Welty found her new career stymied by the lack of job openings, and so she returned to Mississippi in 1931. Soon after she arrived home, her father became critically ill with leukemia and, with Eudora at his bedside, died while receiving a blood transfusion from her mother. While working at a series of jobs, Eudora consoled her mother who, as biographer Suzanne Marrs notes, “discovered solace in gardening.” With her daughter as helpmate, Chestina Welty spent hours in her garden, nearly every day; she wrote in an unpublished essay (quoted by Marrs) that “its peace and fragrance are soothing to frayed nerves when we are weary from contact or perhaps conflict with the everyday world.”
Such is often the way it is, or becomes. If death of a loved one cuts you off from the land of the living, it is only natural to find a way to return to the land of life, which is the garden of greenery. Welty’s story, however, raises questions in the finding of answers. For one, how something with roots in therapy can turn into an unhealthy and socially isolating obsession. I can understand that there is some appeal, at least initially, to surround one’s self with a hedge of greenery and to work out the grief by seeing the growth of greenery. But the danger, so to speak, is that the grief is nurtured; the distance is increased, and the isolation made complete and beautiful. And anything that threatens this is viewed as unhealthy, including human relationships and companionship. Which, despite the thorns, are necessary.

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For more, go to [LOA]

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

San Francisco Opera: Verdi’s Aida (1981)

Italian Opera In America



The San Francisco Opera, starring Luciano Pavarotti (Radames) and Magaret Price (Aida), perform in Sam Wanamaker’s 1981 Hollywood production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera (the libretto is by Antonio Ghislanzoni), Aïda, at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, which can seat more than 3.100 patrons. In the pit is Garcia Navarro, a conductor from Spain; and in the director’s chair is Brian Large from England. The four-act opera, set in ancient Egypt, was first performed in Cairo, Egypt, on December 24, 1871; it was an immediate success. It opened at Milan’s famed Teatro Regio di Parma on April 20, 1872, and at New York’s Academy of Music on November 26, 1873. [A synopsis can be found here.].

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Leontyne Price: Aida’s ‘O Patria Mia’ (1985)



In Verdi’s Aida, Leontyne Price performs an incomparable “O patria mia” (Act 3) at The Met, conducted by James Levine, on January 3, 1985, in NYC. This was her farewell performance; and to say that this is laden with emotion is to say what is necessary, but not enough. The performance ended with 25 minutes of applause. It has been said that Price past her prime is better than most today in their prime, more a testament to her voice and stage presence than anything else. You can hear the “love” in her voice. At least I can.

Here is what Donald Henahan of The New York Times wrote of this event in history (“Leontyne Price‘s Final Stage Performance;”January 4, 1985):
THE farewell appearances of great singers are generally exercises in patience for their admirers. Happy to say, last night's performance of ''A"ida'' at the Metropolitan, billed in the program as ''Leontyne Price's farewell to opera,'' might just as well have been entitled ''Patience Rewarded.'' The 57-year-old soprano took an act or two to warm to her work, but what she delivered in the Nile Scene turned out to be well worth the wait. In her most taxing aria, ''O patria mia,'' there were powerful reminders of the Price that we remember best and want to remember, a Price beyond pearls. It was, intermittently but often enough to make the evening a memorable event, the singing of an artist of distinctive vocal timbre and personality.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fear Of Failure Will Cost You

Career Choices




Personality Types: Laura Pappano writes for The New York Times: “The psychologist John L. Holland’s theory of career choice is more than a half-century old, but it remains an essential tool for vocational batteries and career counselors. Personality types and interests are sorted into six categories and matched with suitable careers. A three-letter Holland Code is often used to identify a cluster of strengths, and linked to particular majors for use in counseling. The O*NET job center website, sponsored by the Department of Labor, has a quick test to reveal your Holland profile. Where might you fit in? Consider these Holland-based personality/career matchups.”
Image Credit & Source: NYT

An article, by Laura Pappano, in The New York Times shows how far parents will go to ensure that their children will achieve success; and while the fear of failure or parental investment or career testing is not new,  it has potentially become more expensive for parents of 20 somethings to get them out of the house and on the right track. Having more choices, although generally good, can also be confusing for many today, who fear that making a wrong choice can result in negative (perhaps irremediable) long-term consequences.

Fear has always proven a strong motivating factor in creating commercial opportunities in niche markets. In “Career Coaching for the Playdate Generation” (April 7, 2016), Pappano writes:
Cue the career coaches — onetime tutors, test preppers and executive coaches who have created a blossoming industry to guide students in choosing majors, landing internships, exploring careers and seeking first jobs.
“Students are more confused than ever about what the next step is,” said Nicole Oringer, co-owner of Ivy Educational Services, a New Jersey company that began career coaching four years ago, often to students they had helped with college applications. Turning to experts seems only natural: “This is a generation of students that has been given a lot of resources and advice.”
Personal career guidance is not cheap. While help finding a job can cost a few hundred dollars, some companies charge $300 an hour for services that might involve deciphering strengths, arranging job shadowing and working on résumés, interview techniques and job search strategies. Walking a student through an extended exploration can run $5,000.
This might be money well spent, if only to allay any fears, perhaps more on the part of parents who deem shelling out 5K “a good investment.” The article further points out that  younger people today face greater choices of careers than previous generations, yet some things remain the same: personality types. Although the career choices have ballooned, it is likely these still fit within a dedicated but limited number of personality types. Knowing their personality type can help students determine what career/vocation is best suited for them (I have taken a number of such tests in my working life, including one that said I should become a lawyer, which I quickly disregarded; all the tests were comprehensive and yet free of charge.)

After many decades of work and life experience, I can see that career planning has its limitations. (As does success; a little failure is good for the soul, a teacher of the realities of life, which can often be harsh and unforgiving.) For example, one can be too cautious, too careful, too risk-aversive, relying too much on mathematical algorithms and the results of psychological testing. While it might be prudent to take such tests, or to work with a coach or consultant, and to seek advice and counsel, this does not guarantee success. Or longevity. Or happiness. It only gives you more information, or as some would say, more data. There is a thing, however, as too much information; and at such times the best advice is to take a leap of faith. This is what real people do.

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For more, go to [NYT]

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bananarama: Venus (1986)



British pop group Bananarama perform “Venus” in this official 1986 music video; the song was written in 1969 by Robbie van Leeuwen of the Dutch band Shocking Blue. In Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love, sex, beauty and fertility—a counterpart to the Greek goddess, Aphrodite. The band is considered the most successful all-female group in pop history.


Venus
By Robbie van Leeuwen

Goddess on the mountain top
Burning like a silver flame
The summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name

She's got it
Yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Her weapons were her crystal eyes
Making every man mad
Black as the dark night she was
Got what no one else had, wah

She's got it
Yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

(Venus)

She's got it
Yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Goddess on the mountain top
Burning like a silver flame
The summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name, wow

She's got it
Yeah baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire
Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

(Venus was her name)

Yeah baby she's got it
Yeah baby she's got it
Yeah baby she's got it
Yeah baby she's got it

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An April 4th Day In Toronto (2016)

Canada’s Spring


Looking East: We got snow yesterday afternoon and overnight, an accumulation of between 10 cm and 15 cm. (4 in. to 6 in.). This is a photo taken from my kitchen window, looking east towards the park. It is 7 a.m.; the temperature is –6°C (21°F). This is Canada, after all, and we Canadians are supposed to be used to cold and snow, One can become inured to many things, but this does not always necessarily lead to its enjoyment. By next week, I can expect that this image, and what it represents, become a forgotten & distant memory, replaced by one that is more becoming of a Spring Day. It is time for the trees to bud, the greenery to appear, and the flowers to bloom.
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016

Monday, April 4, 2016

Bee Gees: Stayin’ Alive (1977)



The Bee Gees performing “Stayin’ Alive” in this 1977 video, a song that pretty much reflects the emotions and sentiments (the vibe) of the Disco era [c.1970–1980], hitting its peak in mainstream culture around the time the song and the movie was released. (Two years earlier, New York City faced bankruptcy, saved by the teachers’ union pension fund on October 17, 1975.)  Could this have had some influence on the song and the movie? (Life goin’ nowhere/Somebody help me/Somebody help me, yeah.) The movie in question is Saturday Night Fever, a film set in gritty NYC, and considered an important American film, Wikipedia writes, “by the Library of Congress and therefore preserved for all time in their National Film Registry.” It captures and presents a mood that might be unfamiliar and foreign to many people today. If disco is defined as anything, it is as dance music—the freedom to “move to the groove” despite the realities around you.

Stayin’ Alive
By Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman's man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm, I've been kicked around
Since I was born.
And now it's all right. It’s OK.
And you may look the other way.
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You're stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.

Well now, I get low and I get high,
And if I can't get either, I really try.
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes.
I'm a dancin’ man and I just can't lose.
You know it's all right. It’s OK.
I'll live to see another day.
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You're stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.

Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
Stayin’ alive.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman's man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm,
I’ve been kicked around since I was born.
And now it’s all right. It’s OK.
And you may look the other way.
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man.

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You're stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.

Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
I'm stayin’ alive.

[Repeat 3x]


Sunday, April 3, 2016

New York City Saves Itself (1975)

Looking Back

Questioning The Mayor: Jeff Nussbaum writes for The New Yorker: “While New York City Mayor Abraham Beame was described by allies and adversaries alike as kind and honorable, he also seemed paralyzed by the intensifying challenges of his office.”
Photo Credit: Clarence Davis; NY Daily News
Source: The New Yorker; Getty Images

An article, by Jeff Nussbaum, in The New Yorker looks at a seminal event in the history of one of the world’s great cities: New York City, and how it came close to declaring bankruptcy in October 1975. In  “The Night New York City Saved Itself From Bankruptcy” (October 15, 2015), Nussbaum writes about the time when Mayor Abraham Beame found himself in an unenviable position:
On October 16, 1975, New York City was deep in crisis. At 4 P.M. the next day, four hundred and fifty-three million dollars of the city’s debts would come due, but there were only thirty-four million dollars on hand. If New York couldn’t pay those debts, the city would officially be bankrupt.
At the Waldorf-Astoria, in Midtown, seventeen hundred guests were gathering for the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation benefit dinner, a white-tie fund-raiser for the Catholic charities named in honor of Al Smith, a former governor and the first Catholic candidate on a major-party Presidential ticket. As day turned to night, the bad news continued to come in. Banks were refusing to market the city’s debt, which left New York unable to borrow. Federal help was repeatedly refused by President Gerald Ford and his advisers. The only hope left was pension funds. And the only one that had committed to buying the city’s bonds—the Teachers’ Retirement System—was now pulling back.
In the end, the teachers’ union, led by Al Shanker, came through and committed its pension funds to help the city. President Ford’s speech and his hard unsympathetic refusal to help New York also contributed to his election loss the following year. This would suggest that one ought to never underestimate New Yorkers or the importance of the city, not only economically but also politically and culturally.

I am not a New Yorker, but I love the city, having visited in many times since the late 1970s. Then, it was an easy six-hour ride by car from Montreal, when crossing the border was not as big a deal as it is today. A passport was not necessary. I remember the city’s grittiness the first time I visited as a young man in 1977, feeling a combination of thrill and energy with ominous threats of violence and aggression. Much of that, however, might have been a result of reading too many newspaper and magazine stories and watching too many crime shows on TV. Even so, there were many boarded up buildings and abandoned burned-up cars on streets and bridges as well as lots of graffiti—not a pretty sight. As the saying goes, “you had to be there.”

I continued to visit in the 1980s and ’90s, mostly on business, and saw its transformation, notably the area around Times Square [so named after the newspaper], a 30-year project that was initiated in the 1980s under the leadership of Mayor Ed Koch [1978–89], who is credited with revitalizing the city. It felt different, yet familiar, albeit with less feelings of grittiness and with less visible abandoned and boarded-up buildings—and also less graffiti. It became, without a doubt, cleaner and safer; but it also became more expensive and, perhaps, as some say more sanitized and “Disneyfied.” Sure, gritty might be honest, but honesty can also be brutal and distressing.

It is my view that New York generally benefited. Whether this translates to better for everyone, I leave to New Yorkers to say. It is true that buildings characterize a city, but then again, so do its people.

I last visited New York a little more than 10 years ago, in 2005, when my wife and I took a short weekend trip to Manhattan. The people we met were as friendly and warm, with a good sense of humor, as has always been the case, or at least this is what my memory informs me as reality. My reality. I guess that the city and its inhabitants somehow resonate with me. A visit might likely be long overdue.

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For more, go to [NewYorker]

Friday, April 1, 2016

Tom Friedman’s ‘Looking Up’ In NYC (2016)

Modern Sculpture

Looking Up: Among the many tall buildings of Manhattan there resides a 33.3-foot-tall metal figure by American artist Tom Friedman, it representing the part of humanity who seeks guidance of sorts from the Heavens. It is largely created from aluminum cast-offs—an excellent representation, in my view, of Man today, who, despite the circumstances, makes every attempt to keep looking up. The Luhring Augustine gallery writes: “Looking Up is by far the most ambitious sculpture from Friedman’s ongoing body of work involving the use of crushed aluminum foil roasting-pans to create figures, which, through a process of molding and lost wax casting, retain the original material's imprint and markings. A charming yet magnificent piece, the quasi-human figure gazes up to the heavens, inviting others to stand at its base and do the same. The first example of this edition is permanently installed at the Laguna Gloria campus of The Contemporary Austin in Texas.” The human-appearing sculpture is on exhibit on Park Avenue and East 53rd Street, New York, until July 15, 2016.
Photo Credit & Source: Luhring Augustine