Saturday, December 29, 2018

Impressions of The Bund

Humanism & Humaneness

The Jewish Labor Bund poster in Yiddish says: “There, where we live, there is our country! A democratic republic! Full political and national rights for Jews. Ensure that the voice of the Jewish working class is heard at the Constituent Assembly,” Kiev, circa 1918.
Via: NYRB & Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement, New York



In an article (“My Great-Grandfather the Bundist;” October 6, 2018), in The New York Review of Books, Molly Crabapple writes and reminisces about her family’s historical ties to the Bund—via way of her maternal grandfather (the post-Impressionist artist Sam Rothbort)—giving detailed and general impressions of a political party and organization whose humane and humanistic values echo those of my upbringing, ones that still ring true many decades later:
Founded in 1897 in Vilna (Vilnius in modern-day Lithuania), and reaching its height in interwar Poland, the Bund was a sometimes-clandestine political party whose tenets were humane, socialist, secular, and defiantly Jewish. Bundists fought the Tsar, battled pogroms, educated shtetls, and ultimately helped lead the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Though the Bund was largely obliterated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the group’s opposition to Zionism better explains their absence from current consciousness. Though the Bund celebrated Jews as a nation, they irreconcilably opposed the establishment of Israel as a separate Jewish homeland in Palestine. The diaspora was home, the Bund argued. Jews could never escape their problems by the dispossession of others. Instead, Bundists adhered to the doctrine of do’ikayt or “Hereness.” Jews had the right to live in freedom and dignity wherever it was they stood.
As a Jew, I can applaud this statement; and as a human being with wider humanist sentiments I can say that such ideas ought to apply to all peoples of the world, no matter where they live. The Bund as an organization promoting universalist ideas in Yiddish, a language that has fewer speakers than it once did, now lives on chiefly in archives and in articles like this one. Its relevance snuffed out by the Holocaust, the Stalinist Gulags and entho and religious nationalism, whose primal sources—fear and hatred of the Other— are as old as humanity itself.
We also witness its effects today as the rise of the reactionary right, of illiberal movements and of authoritarian populism. Such movements cannot be ignored, but seen for what they are and understood for why they exist—they draw their purpose and their power from the discontent of everyday people who feel they have long been ignored and marginalized by “liberal” democracies. Yet, despite all this, despite feeling the suffocating power of its presence, we are mindful and are aware that it is imperative to act, with renewed vigour, to ensure that the modern high-minded values of freedom, tolerance, justice and dignity remain a vital part of our everyday lives.

Such are as important now as they were in 1897. Perhaps even more so. As a reminder, the history of the 20th century is instructive of what can happen when such values are ignored or pushed to the margins. Hope is the wellspring of liberal democracies; hope is the antithesis of hate. Hope opens doors and builds bridges.

Final thought: We reside with hope that the new year of 2019 will be one where we can all live with dignity as free men and women. For now, given what is taking place in many parts of the world, this seems a far-away dream. But dream we must, and moreover act with good conscience on such  dreams.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge: Christmas Carols

Winter Festival


Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England, with Stephen Cleobury as music director, perform the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. As is tradition on Christmas Eve, a lone boy is selected by the choirmaster to sing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
Via: Youtube


It is that time of year again, to commemorate and celebrate a musical winter tradition that is this year marking its centenary. In an article (“Every Christmas Eve, a Lone Choir Boy Sings to More Than 370 Million;” December 23, 2018), in The New York Times, Michael White writes:
A serene liturgical parade of music, words and wonder that expounds the Christmas story, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the high point of the year for King’s, a University of Cambridge college with a celebrated choir that sings in its chapel almost every day while classes are in session.
And this year will be special: Partly because it’s the 100th Lessons and Carols, but also because it’s the last time Mr. Cleobury — who has held one of the most coveted jobs in church music for longer than most people can remember — will be in charge.
Something about the Lessons and Carols’ serene liturgy of music, words and wonder touches a nerve. It seems embedded in the DNA of Christmas, a tradition from the ancient past. Except it isn’t.  
It was started in 1918 by a young Anglican priest who had returned to Cambridge after serving in the trenches of World War I. He called it a “festival,” but it was also a commemoration for the war dead, with a so-called Bidding Prayer for “those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light.”
It established a precedent, and churches and cathedrals copied the new liturgy for themselves — to the point that the format of Nine Lessons and Carols became a standard at Anglican churches around the world.
And a beautiful one, too, that all peoples of the world can enjoy. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice 2018

Winter



Winter solstice (hibernal solstice) will begin today at 5:23 p.m. EST here in Toronto, which is well within the northern hemisphere. As for its significance, the Farmer’s Almanac says what many of us Canadians know and experience all too well, and, might I add, for far too long: “The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, meaning the one in which we experience the least amount of daylight in 24 hours; it is also the time when the Sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky. Although this part of Earth is cooling, its great thermal mass still retains some heat from the summer and fall.” On the shortest day of the year, today, Toronto receives 8 hours, 55 minutes and 46 seconds of sunlight. (Sunrise: 7:47 a.m.; sunset: 4:43 p.m.). It is dark when you leave and dark when you return. The good news is that starting tomorrow the days get longer. Spring is around the corner, but a long corner it is—only four months or so to go. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Al Stewart: Year of the Cat (1976)


Al Stewart & band perform  Year of the Cat on the Old Grey Whistle Test on November 30, 1976 (BBC2; 1971–1988).
Via: Youtube


Year of the Cat
by Al Stewart & Peter Wood

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

She doesn’t give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow ’till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There’s a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through
The year of the cat

While she looks at you so cooly
And her eyes shine like the moon in the sea
She comes in incense and patchouli
So you take her, to find what’s waiting inside
The year of the cat

Well morning comes and you’re still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you’ve thrown away your choice you’ve lost your ticket
So you have to stay on
But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you’re bound to leave her
But for now you’re going to stay
In the year of the cat

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Birds Offer Hope During Winter

Comfort of Song

Winter Sparrows on Tree Branches.

A beautifully written opinion piece (“The Solace of Birds in Winter;” December 15, 2018), by Margaret Renkl, in today's New York Times captures my sentiments; Renkl, who lives in Tennessee, writes:
In the search for comfort in the face of so many 21st-century dangers — to democracy in the age of fake news, to the natural world in the age of climate change — I don’t normally think of winter as offering much in the way of consolation.
Many of the most interesting creatures have gone to ground now. The cheery chipmunks are asleep in their tunnels beneath my house. The queen bumblebees have made themselves a little sleeping chamber deep in the soil of my garden. Somewhere nearby, the resident rat snake is also sleeping underground, and, at the park, the snapping turtles and bullfrogs have settled themselves into the mud at the bottom of the lake.
All the loveliest insects are gone now, too. The honeybees are huddled up in their hives, vibrating their wings to keep warm and feeding on the honey they’ve stored for just this reason. The monarch butterflies have long since migrated to their Mexican wintering grounds. My flower beds are nothing but a jumble of dried stems and matted clumps, a collection of dead vegetation I’ve left undisturbed for my tiniest neighbors to shelter in. But even remembering the purpose behind this untidiness, I take no comfort from my garden anymore.
But there are the odd winter birds who remain, local birds who never leave, loyal to the area, like the sparrows (Passer domesticus) in our neighbourhood. Yesterday was a grey rainy day here in Toronto, the kind that makes you feel sad. Then, at a local shopping mall of all places, I heard birds chirping, singing—sparrows. Loudly and joyfully. It was beautifully inspiring and my mood quickly changed. I recommend that you read the complete article [here].

Friday, December 14, 2018

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Canon (2004)


Christmas Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra from their album The Lost Christmas Eve (2004), the last album of a Christmas trilogy performed by the band. It is set set to the tune of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D major with new lyrics added. A memorable Christmas song and performance.
Via: Atlantic Records & Youtube

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christopher Hogwood Academy of Ancient Music: Handel’s Messiah (1980)


Handel’s Messiah, by the Christopher Hogwood Academy of Ancient Music (AAM), conducted by Christopher Hogwood, in this 1980 rendition and recording is considered one of the finest performances of this Christmas classic performed and recorded at the grand and magnificent Westminster Abby in London, England. Also present and predominant are the Choir of Westminster Abby, with Simon Preston as organist and master of the choralists; soloists Simon Preston, Judith Nelson, Emma Kirkby, Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Elliott and David Thomas. This masterpiece was composed by George Frideric Handel [1685–1759] between August 22, 1741 and September 14, 1741 in  London; and the libretto-compiler by Charles Jennens, who used the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer for his source inspiration. It premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and a year later in London. This oratorio transcends the boundaries of religion, culture and geography.  For a fine background piece on Christopher Hogwood [1941–2014], see the article (“Reconstructing Messiah performances;” August 2, 2007) in Gramophone [here].
Via: Youtube

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Jacqueline du Pré and the London Symphony Orchestra: Dvořák Cello Concerto (1968)


Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, opus 104, B. 191, performed by by Jacqueline du Pré and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, England, on September 2, 1968. For more, see [here].
ViaYoutube

This concert was held in tribute to the people of Czechoslovakia, taking place days after the Soviet Union invaded this country (August 20–September 20, 1968), thus crushing the people’s aspirations and hopes for freedom. It would take another twenty years, with the Fall of the Soviet Union, for this to be realized. Such is a hopeful reminder that evil regimes do not last forever, even if at the time they seem that they will never end, causing much misery to those under its boot. But they do end, and when they do, they collapse for the reasons that they no longer have the support of the People. Music and the Arts go a long way to keep People mindful of this, bringing beauty, truth and justice to the forefront. Enjoy this wonderful performance.

The Concert

1. Allegro 0:00
2. Adagio, ma non troppo 16:10
3. Finale 29:01

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (2014)


Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A major, opus 92, by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer, at the Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on January 9–10, 2014. Beethoven completed this four-movement symphony around 1812 in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice, where he went to improve his health. Beethoven himself conducted this piece in Vienna, Austria, on December 8, 1813. In Notes on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Christopher H. Gibbs writes for NPR as to its immediate appeal, one that continues two centuries later: “After its premiere, the Seventh Symphony was repeated three times in the following 10 weeks; at one of the performances the ‘applause rose to the point of ecstasy,’ according to a newspaper account. The Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reported that ‘the new symphony (A major) was received with so much applause, again. The reception was as animated as at the first time; the Andante [sic] (A minor), the crown of modern instrumental music, as at the first performance, had to be repeated.’ The Symphony's appeal is not hard to understand. In scope and intensity, it is fully Beethovenian, and yet it does not place quite as many demands on the listener as does the ‘Eroica.’ The ambition of the first movement, beauty of the second, the breathlessness of the scherzo, and relentless energy of the finale did not fail to impress audiences. Beethoven himself called it ‘one of the happiest products of my poor talents.’”
Via: Youtube

Friday, November 30, 2018

Queen & George Michael: Somebody to Love (1992)


Queen & George Michael: Somebody to Love (1992) in a tribute concert for Freddy Mercury at Wembley Stadium in Wembley, London, England, on April 20, 1992. As Eagle Rock Entertainment on Youtube writes: “On April 20th 1992, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon, the surviving members of Queen, took to the stage at Wembley Stadium for the start of one of the biggest events in rock history, which the band had organised to pay tribute to their former colleague—the incomparable Freddie Mercury. Queen were joined by some of the greatest musical talent in the world to celebrate Freddie's life and work and to increase public awareness of AIDS, the disease that had prematurely ended his life the previous year. As well as being great entertainment, the concert raised a huge and still growing sum of money for the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity formed at the time whose charter is the relief of suffering from AIDS throughout the world. Now for the first time both halves of the concert are being made available on Digital video. 
    “Special guests include David Bowie, Gary Cherone, Roger Daltrey, Def Leppard, Joe Elliot, Extreme, Bob Geldof, Guns 'n' Roses, James Hetfield, Ian Hunter, Tony Iommi, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Metallica, George Michael, Liza Minnelli, Robert Plant, Mick Ronson, Axl Rose, Seal, Slash, Lisa Stansfield, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Young & Zucchero.” Truly, it really all comes down to love, and many of our actions in life are in pursuit of love, and in finding somebody to love, one who will return this love.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, November 29, 2018

An Ordinary Man Speaking For Ordinary People During These Changing Times: Harry Leslie Smith [1923–2018]

The Common Good

Harry Leslie Smith [1923–2018] dedicated his life to the common good, raging against poverty, fascism and the dismantling of public health care—such becoming all too common among western democracies that once were liberal and now are neoliberal, unduly and perniciously influenced by corporations and elitist corporate interests who had the money and the means to change the way governments governed and made policy—a downward slide for the common man that began in the late 1970s. No doubt, Smith’s upbringing during the Great Depression, his service during the Second World War and his life experiences as a working man guided his views, as is the case with us all, including me. Smith was neither an elitist nor a politician, but, rather, a person with a moral vision. We can all look to his example; and many happily did. The CBC writes: “‘I am the world’s oldest rebel,’ said Harry Leslie Smith, a prominent anti-poverty activist who authored several books on the Great Depression, the Second Word War and postwar austerity, has died in an eastern Ontario hospital.” He was 95.
Via: Youtube & CBC News

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Flower Duet by Joan Sutherland & Huguette Tourangeau (1976)


The Flower Duet (Sous le dôme épaisfrom Léo Delibes’ Lakmé, wonderfully sung in Act 1 by Joan Sutherland and Huguette Tourangeau in what in my view is one of the most beautifully rendered duets in opera. The French libretto is by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, completed in 1882. The operatic drama found inspiration in Pierre Loti’s autobiographical novel, Le Mariage de Loti (1878),  following his experiences in Tahiti a few years earlier; Loti is the pen name for Louis Marie-Julien Viauda French naval officer and author. The three-act opera was first performed by the Opéra Comique, at the (second) Salle Favart in Paris, France, on April 14, 1883. The setting is late nineteenth century India when it was under British rule (1858–1947). The libretto can be found [here]; and a a synopsis can be found [here].
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ray Stevens: Everything Is Beautiful (1970)


Ray Stevens: Everything Is Beautiful (1970), a song from the past, which just popped into my head the other day, so I thought I would share it with you. Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Georgia, in 1939. He won a Grammy Award for this beautiful uplifting song in 1971. Enjoy.
Via: Youtube

Monday, November 26, 2018

Green Bins, Composting & Vegetable Gardens

Planet Ecology

Keeping it Green: Now that we no longer reside in a high-rise building, but live in a townhouse, we can take part in putting food scraps and other biodegradables in our green bin, which is collected weekly by the City and used for green purposes. We can also start composting, which we will add to the vegetable garden we expect to plant in our backyard in the upcoming Spring. Nature will do what it does best. Such is one of the advantages and benefits and might I add, pleasures, as well as responsibilities, of living in a house that has a parcel of earth-based land. It might be a small plot but it will serve our purposes for a small garden and a bit of greenery.
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

Proposed Vegetable Garden: This narrow strip along the fence will make an excellent site for our new vegetable garden; it is near here where our small composter will be placed, not far from our kitchen, from where the food scraps “feeding it” will emanate. I can’t wait till Spring to turn over the soil, to get my hands into the black earth to plant seeds. I can’t wait till Spring to start planting tomatoes, cukes and bell peppers. Maybe even some raspberries, a favourite of my ten-year-old son, although I understand this plant takes a little more preparation and care. Even so, only less than six months to go. I am already imagining in my mind what it will look like.
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Many Ways Climate Change Affects Us All

Earth Our Only Home



The Many Ways: Scientists have come up with an all-encompassing and clever graphic to show how climate change affects us all. The journal Nature writes: “Researchers found 467 ways in which human health, water, food, economy, infrastructure and security have been recently impacted by climate hazards such as warming, heatwaves, precipitation, drought, floods, fires, storms, sea-level rise and changes in natural land cover and ocean chemistry. ” Earth, after all, is our only home, and apart from science fiction and fantasy fiction, it shall remain so indefinitely. But what kind of home has it become in the face of extreme climate that is to a large part human-induced? The current way of life is imperilled by the current way that we live and go about our daily lives; the scientific evidence is both conclusive and unequivocal. The planet will not change back by itself; this is wishful thinking and there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support this assertion. It will take human effort. There is work that can be done now to mitigate against the changes now upon us. As a minimum, we have a moral and ethical obligation to take care of our home—the only one we know and love. This will require a change in habits on our part, even ones that are deeply ingrained in our thinking. This will not be easy, especially for us older ones, but with imagination and will, it can be done. More on this subject in another future post.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (1992)


Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre symphonique de Montréal) perform Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” opus 35, with Charles Dutoit at the podium, conducting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 11, 1992. During the winter of 1887,  Wikipedia notes, “Rimsky-Korsakov decided to compose an orchestral piece based on pictures from One Thousand and One Nights as well as separate and unconnected episodes.” He completed it in the summer of 1888; it premiered in St. Petersburg on November 3 of that year, with the composer himself conducting. In a piece for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Richard Freed writes about this musical period in which drama and descriptive power drew in the listener: “The year in which Rimsky completed Scheherazade was the very year in which the young Richard Strauss completed the first of his great tone poems, Don Juan, and Gustav Mahler completed the score of his First Symphony. Strauss and Mahler, of course, knew a thing or two about exploiting the orchestra to paint a picture of tell a story, and Strauss even brought out his own edition of Berlioz's book on orchestration, but the Russians and the French were drawn to two particular sources of tales to be told that provided very conspicuous opportunities for new degrees of exploration in the world of orchestral color: fairy tales and legends in general, and more particularly tales from exotic cultures, distant in both time and place.”
Via: Youtube

Friday, November 23, 2018

Moscow City Symphony: Tchaikovsky’s Italian Capriccio (2012)


P. I. Tchaikovsky’s Italian Capriccio, opus 45 by the Moscow City Symphony—Russian Philharmonic, conducted by Michail Jurowski, at the Moscow International House of Music, Svetlanov Hall, on June 20, 2012. This symphony orchestra was founded by the City of Moscow in 2000. Tchaikovsky [1840–1893] completed this fantasy piece in May 1880; it premiered on December 18,1880, with Nikolai Rubinstein [1835–1881] conducting in Moscow the Imperial Russian Musical Society (so named between 1873 and 1917; see [here].
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

We Moved (2018)

New Beginnings
Our Backyard: We moved last week from a Toronto highrise to a townhouse in Maple, a bedroom community 30 minutes north of Toronto. We are, as can be expected, slowly getting accustomed to our new home. I plan to explore the neighbourhood and post some photos in the next few weeks. Here is one close to home: a photo taken the day after our move of our snowy backyard; we got about 10 cm (4 in) of snow. Yes, winter’s coming to Canada.
Courtesy: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, November 5, 2018

My Cracked Tooth

Oral Health

Since the beginning of the summer, I have had tooth pain in one of my upper molars, a second molar to be precise. My hope and my intent was to save the tooth. Yet, one dentist, then another, pointed out that I had a cracked tooth and it could not by any known means be repaired. The same conclusion from an endodontist, who had done a root canal on an adjacent tooth. (Yes, it has been a summer of multiple visits to dentist offices.)

The only option, the only recourse, all three dentists had said, was one--extraction. So dutifully, I had an appointment scheduled for early August, but cancelled it when I thought that my pain had diminished. I was wrong; I was mistaken; I had hope for a different outcome. In reality, I had just become inured to it: pain Moreover, by doing so, I was only delaying the inevitable.

So, last Wednesday, after prodding by my wife and a consult with an oral surgeon, I was left with no choice but one: he confirmed what all three other dental professionals had said. There was no possibility of saving the tooth; it had to come out, and better sooner than later. There was no escape; so, on Friday afternoon, with the analgesic aide of nitrous oxide (i.e., “laughing gas”) and a local anesthetic he pulled out my damaged tooth; it seemed like the whole procedure took only a few minutes.

The tooth had multiple fractures, the good doctor said, adding that “it was a bad tooth.” I was holding on to a bad tooth. As reluctant as I was to take the tooth out beforehand, I am quite happy now, a few days after the procedure that I did. My sinuses are starting to feel better, as is my overall health and outlook. Pain, even if it minimal and manageable with Tylenol or Motrin or Advil, is not something I ought to endure.

My only question, four months after indeed enduring such unnecessary pain is, What took me so long to act? In my case, I think it was a combination of three human factors: denial that my tooth could not be saved, fear of post-surgical complications, and holding unrealistic and unfounded expectation that the status quo was acceptable, that somehow the issue of a cracked tooth would resolve itself.  Thank goodness for modern dentistry. A lesson well learned, even at my age.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Dazzling Male Duck of Manhattan

Natural Beauty

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata): Des Shoe writes for the New York Times about a rare and beautiful sighting of a male duck not native to NYC: “He’s a Mandarin duck, and his species is native to East Asia. He should not be paddling in the Pond in Central Park, and yet there he is. Nobody is sure how he got to Manhattan, but he appears healthy and is getting along well with the local mallards. His glorious plumage is already attracting fans. ‘As far as the colors are concerned, only nature can provide that,’ said Juan Jimenez, a 74-year-old photographer who has been taking pictures of the park for decades. ‘We could try to paint it, but you won’t be able to.’” There has also been a sighting in Canada, in Vancouver, British Columbia, of another male with equally colorful plumage. Perhaps one or two can come to Toronto to brighten up our city. For more on these beautiful ducks, go [here].
Courtesy: EJ Bartolazo; NYT

Friday, November 2, 2018

On Business Negotiation

B2B Deals

When I was a young engineer working in a sales position, my boss gave me some good advice about negotiation in a business-to-business (B2B) environment. Both sides have to come out of it feeling as if they gained something; both sides have to think that they won. This has long been considered the gold standard in business negotiation. This is the win-win situation that everyone talks about. If this is not the case, then the negotiation is not a success, but a failure, even if one side considers it or claims it “a success.”

In my view, this is still good advice. I remember when back in 1990, when I was 32, I was sent by my company to negotiate a large multi-year contract with its largest customer, Texas Instruments in Dallas. I was nervous to have such a large responsibility on my shoulders, but my boss had confidence in me and my abilities. I prepared well in advance, which is never a bad thing and always a good thing to do. Moreover, I was joined in the negotiations by a senior American company representative, so I felt much better, that we would share the responsibilities.

The negotiations lasted three days; they were tough and at times exhausting. At the end of the day, however, we both negotiated in good faith and a large multi-million dollar deal was signed—one in which both companies found to their benefit. Such is always a good thing. This was a lesson that I have carried with me for the rest of my professional life. Afterwards, I negotiated many such deals, some large; some small, but the same principal of mutual respect informed all such negotiations. Then, and only then, is the handshake a sincere and good one, based on good long-term relations.

There is a problem with a winner-take-all approach, which although acceptable and expected in a sports competition, is a poor way of conducting business affairs. It leaves one side of the negotiations feeling unhappy or slighted; this is not a good thing. You can be assured that the relationship afterward will be rocky. It is always better to get what you truly need, and also ensure that the other side also get what it truly needs. (To be sure, this is not the same thing as getting what you want or think that you can get.)

When both sides win, it is the sign of a successful negotiation; this is the sign of a successful and enduring deal and one of an enduring relationship. And in business, this is what it is all about.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Engineer Journalist

The Professional Life

The title sounds incongruous; two words that do not usually go together, yet they do when describing the professions I have chosen. First engineer, then journalist. Both appeal to me; both require certain practical and analytical skills and certain modes of thought, i.e., rational and ethical, which come easily to me. Both require problem solving abilities or skills; both require the respect for facts, for knowledge and for truth—all necessary in a free and democratic society.

This is why I have decided to combine my two career paths into one—the Engineer Journalist. Admittedly, such is an uncommon melding of two distinct professions, which does increase my uncertainty as to the viability of the whole new enterprise—pioneers can hardly ever be certain of the rightness of their actions. As a matter of clarification, this is not the same as the Journalist Engineer, or Data Journalist, whose job it is to use data sets to explain a story and make graphs, such as is explained and found [here].

While the result provides the reader information, this seems more engineer than journalist, more data than prose, which no doubt has its purpose. Engineering developed my thinking, and journalism my writing—both are important, yet I primarily see myself as a writer/journalist who was first trained as an engineer, and recognize the value of such training, the value of receiving a technical education 10 years before deciding to enter journalism school, where my interviewing, editing and writing skills were nurtured, advanced and honed. Such a distinction might seem like hair-splitting, but it is a distinction worth noting.

I see my role as using the engineering skills I have acquired to understand the implications and benefits of technology, and to write about such in a clear way, and to use words to explain to the reader in a humane way, free of arcane and specialist language; data sets and graphs are one way to communicate such ideas, but some people are turned off by graphs, and still look to words to tell a story.

While facts are facts, and without them we are lost, they require both analysis and interpretation. This is where journalism comes in, providing the who, what, where, when and why (5 Ws) and how to tell a persuasive and powerful story. This is still important today, as is an understanding and respect for facts, knowledge and truth, which more often than not comes in the form of scientific facts. Science today cannot and should not be denied its proper place.

Such would not be the case, I suggest, if people understood Science’s (and also its cousin, Technology’s) important contributions to the betterment of humanity, especially when such is encased in a moral and ethical framework. Science generally has a good story to tell.

This is where someone like me can help, who still sees the value and necessity of of words, even if these are employed in the form of long prose. So, it would seem that the joining of my chosen career paths remains unusual, even distinct; it is true that I have not yet met someone like me.

Yet, as western civilization moves further into the technological realm and its reliance on it becomes greater, and the need for clear communication becomes all the more necessary, so it will be that persons like me will not be unusual. We will become necessary and might become popular.

I would like to hear what others, notably engineers or journalists, think about the conflation of two old and distinguished professions into a new one. If so inclined, drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Open Mind: George Soros on Laissez-Faire Capitalism (1997)


The Open Mind: Richard D. Heffner, host of “The Open Mind” interviews George Soros (CUNY-TV; December 4, 1997), financier and philanthropist, discussing such ideas as the role of market capitalism, also called laissez-faire capitalism, in democracies such as the United States, and that of monied interests in politics and its threat to the democratic political process, back when such ideas were keenly, earnestly and rationally discussed. Soros has long been an advocate of  the “open society,” made famous by Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), a critique of totalitarian societies. This interview follows an article that George Soros wrote for The Atlantic, “The Capitalist Threat” (February 1997). Soros was prescient, since unfettered capitalism and its self-serving belief in the market economy has led to the situation that today we have hyper-capitalism; and with it all of its economic, social and political ills. As well, the blind acceptance and growth of financialization of the economy (Colin Gordon; Dissent; April 2014) has led to even greater economic inequality and the diminishment of opportunity. The results for western society are not positive, particularly if one values opportunity, equality and social cohesion. Speaking of which, on a social level, it seems that (almost) everything had been reduced to the acquisition of money—it being the sole measure of “success.” Better would be capitalism with a human face.
Via: Youtube


Monday, October 15, 2018

Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse (1979)

British Comedy


Fawlty Towers: “The Kipper and the Corpse” (S 2; Ep 4; March 12, 1979; BBC2) starring John Cleese as Basil Fawlty and Prunella Scales as Sybil Fawlty, inept owners of the namesake hotel in the seaside town of Torquay on the “English Riviera.” Connie Booth as Polly Sherman, a waitress and general helper; and Andrew Sachs as Manuel, a waiter, round out the cast of this British comedy. Only 12 episodes were made in total: Six in 1975 and six more in 1979. For more, go [here].
Via: Youtube

***************
I am taking some time off to rest & recharge; I expect to return in November.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Dead Parrot (1969)


Monty Python Flying Circus and the "dead parrot” episode. Wikipedia writes: “It was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman and initially performed in the show’s first series, in the eighth episode (‘Full Frontal Nudity’, which first aired 7 December 1969).[1]” I am old enough to remember seeing this comedy skit when it first aired; my brothers and I found it so amusing that we often acted it out with, and in front of, our friends.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mordecai Richler’s Belling the Cat

Book Review

Belling the Cat: Essays, Reports & Opinions (1998)by Mordecai Richler [1931–2001], a Montreal native who grew up in the working-class streets of the Mile End neighborhood, as I did a generation later. Such lessons and the memories they create never leave you; they remain and speak in your ear. 
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

The further one finds himself from good and great writing, both temporally and spatially, the better one appreciates it when it is close at hand. Such is the case when one dips his mind into Mordecai Richler’s essays, which highlight and discusss the absurdity of modern western life that all too often, over time and repetition, passes for and becomes the accepted norm; and in contrast the truth (and the reality it both protects and projects) becomes buried, hidden and forgotten. Richler, with his trained eye for nonsense, notably of the social and political kind, rightfully and faithfully employs his caustic wit—aimed squarely at the nincompoops and dolts who are as bland as toast, yet "evil in their acts of omission and commission"—to uncover, unearth and raise the truth out of the deep dark pit of confusion. Satire involves both the heart and the mind. Reading Richler’s essays are a good reminder of humor that makes us think, and, perhaps, provoke us to act in a moral fashion. But first comes the thinking, preferably one placed in a moral frame of reference emanating from the long history of western civilization, whose purpose is to differentiate right from wrong. Richler was, without question, one of Canada’s finest writers, and he was as courageous as he was honest; his death in July 2001 left a gaping hole in the realm of political and social commentary. To see what I mean, read this collection of essays; and for more on Richler, go [here], [here] and [here].

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1975)


Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” in a 1975 West German film version of the well-known Italian opera directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Fast forward 20 years later and you might wish to view another film version [here], the 1995 one directed by James Conlon and with the Orchestre de Paris. For more on the opera in general, go [here].
Via: Youtube

Friday, October 12, 2018

Vienna Philharmonic: Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 (1976)


Vienna Philharmonic: Mahler’s Symphony No 6 in A minor, with a bearded Leonard Bernstein [1918–1990] conducting, at Musikverein in Vienna (“the Musikverein”), in October 1976. There is a fitting and beautiful convergence taking place here. This musical performance was directed by Humphrey Burton.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Jascha Heifetz: Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (1949)


Jascha Heifetz [1901–1987]: Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, opus 64, Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic, on June 10, 1949. This was Mendelssohn’s last large orchestral work. Mendelssohn first thought of it in 1838 and it premiered six years later, in 1845, when he was thirty-six. The concerto, considered an important work and one of the first concertos of the Romantic period, is a popular piece of music. Heifetz has been considered one of the preeminent and prominent classical violinists of the 20th century—the violinists’ violinist; his playing here in this recording ought to leave no doubt as to why he is so well-regarded, even or especially by other wonderful violinists. What a joy it is to listen to this: Mendelssohn and Heifetz together.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Marc-André Hamelin: Gershwin Concerto in F


Marc-André Hamelin: Gershwin Concerto in F with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, with Leonard Slatkin at the podium. (This is a Dutch radio orchestra, based in Hilversum, which gives public concerts in Amsterdam and Utrecht.) This piece captures the zeitgeist of America of the time it was written, in 1925, by George Gershwin: The Jazz Age of the 1920s and '30s. Gershwin, a talented composer, died in 1937 at the age of 38.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Kissin, Maisky & Bell: Mendelssohn’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano No. 1 (2009)

Evgeny Kissin, Mischa Maisky and Joshua Bell perform Mendelssohn’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano No. 1 in D Minor, opus 49 at the Verbier Festival in the mountain resort of Verbier, Switzerland, during the summer of 2009; the festival runs for two weeks in late July and early August. Felix Mendelssohn [1809–1847] completed the work in July 1839; this is still one of the most popular chamber works in the world. In a short piece about this work for the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C., Dr. Richard D. Rodda writes: “Mendelssohn's duties kept him close to Leipzig for most of 1839, but he did manage to escape in May to conduct at the Lower Rhine Music Festival in Düsseldorf and in September to oversee the presentation of his oratorio St. Paul in Brunswick. The D minor Piano Trio was completed in July, between those two engagements. The work has remained one of Mendelssohn's most popular and beloved instrumental creations —Pablo Casals chose to play it with Mieczyslaw Horszowski and Alexander Schneider when he was invited by President John F. Kennedy to perform at the White House in 1961.”
Via: Youtube

Monday, October 8, 2018

Israel Philharmonic: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (1972)


The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with Leonard Bernstein on the podium, perform Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde [“The Song of the Earth”]; with singing by Christa Ludwig (alto) and René Kollo (tenor). This was recorded at the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 18, 20 & 23, 1972; and subsequently released as an LP in 1974. Mahler [1860–1911] completed the work in 1909, following a period in his life where tragic losses overtook him, including the loss of his eldest daughter, Maria (age 4), from diphtheria and scarlet fever, the loss of position & status in Vienna, and the loss of his health. The work premiered in Munich on November 20, 1911, with Bruno Walter conducting; this was six months after Mahler’s death due to heart problems, at the age of 50, in May of that same year. The text for the work can be found [here].  Leonard Bernstein is credited with bringing Mahler to wider public acceptance, primarily in America but also outside its borders. It might also be true that nations on both sides of the Atlantic were then ready to take in and consider Mahler’s “tragic truths” of the human condition—of the human soul, to speak of matters spiritual—one predicated on the “belief” that art requires constant and courageous effort while residing in a “foreign land,” where truth is hidden, requiring strenuous intellectual effort to find it, and that rest (and reward) only comes after all this is achieved or done, only after the effort is made. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Israel Philharmonic: Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (1998)

Jewish Composers


He was not a man who ever deceived himself, and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it.
Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946), p. 90


Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Lorin Maazel, perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, in Tokyo, Japan, on October 20, 1998. The work was first performed at the Vigadó Concert Hall, in Budapest, Hungary, by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra on November 20, 1889, with Mahler [1860–1911] himself as conductor. Having read much about Mahler over the years, I view him without question as a Jewish composer. This remains true despite his late-in-life conversion, at age 36, to Christianity (i.e., in particular, Roman Catholicism), baptized at St. Michael's Church in Hamburg, in 1897. This was done only as a necessary means to obtain a coveted position as director of the Court Opera in Vienna (the Hofoper)—a position for which he was eminently qualified but nevertheless disqualified because he was a Jew and not a Christian. Such is, in my opinion, a conversion done under duress. Even so, or rather perhaps as a result, Mahler was routinely assaulted by acrimonious, rude and vitriolic comments from the Viennese press for being precisely what he was: Jewish. This is apparent in his music, which resonates beautifully with this writer. There is another added beauty to Mahler’s music—its universality. You need not be Jewish to appreciate it or love it.
Via: Youtube

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Rav and The Rebbe: Rabbi Hershel Schachter Recounts (2007)


The Rav and The Rebbe: Two great Jewish leaders meet. Rabbi Hershel Schacter [1917–2013], former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, recounts the story of he accompanying the Rav, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik [1903–1993], to visit the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson [1902–1994], in 1980. (Note: This is the same Rabbi Schacter who, as an Army Chaplain, participated in the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945; and stayed on for months administering to the material and spiritual needs of the Jews. He led Pesakh and Shavuot services. He left the army with the rank of captain.) For more on the friendship between the Rav and the Rebbe, see [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith (1965)

Book Review

“All I want is to follow the advice given by Elihu the son of Berachel of old, who said, ‘I will speak that I may find relief” (Job 32:20); for there is a redemptive quality for an agitated mind in the spoken word, and a tormented soul finds peace in confessing.”
—p. 2, The Lonely Man of Faith 


The Lonely Man of Faith (originally published in 1965; revised edition of 2012)
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

A slim volume of deep penetrating insight, by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, “The Rav” (born in Pruzhany, then Poland and now Belarus in 1903–died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1993). This book contains many places where one is struck by the thoughtful and sensitive writing, no less important today than when it was first written and spoken, first at a Catholic seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts; and then at Yeshiva University in New York City. After reading it you will undoubtedly come out of it understanding more than you did before embarking on this “journey of faith.”

You will understand the dialectical tension between the two biblical Adams: Adam the first, Majestic Man of Culture; and Adam the second, Covenantal Man of Faith. It is the latter Adam, the lonely man of faith, who invites the Divine, “The Lonely One” in the work of creative redemption. In contrast, the former is invited to subdue the earth and by doing so feels the power of his hands, his creation, his works and he witnesses the beauty of it all and is well pleased. There is no resolving the two. Lonely is the man of faith.

Such is the considered view of the writer of this work, a confessional of sorts from a man living later in life, around the age I find myself now, who might not have been appreciated as he is today after his death, his passing from our world, his ideas and ways not sufficiently understood. Small wonder, then, that few enter into such a covenantal world, since it is full of uncertainty, unease and unpleasantness, in contrast to the world of the first Adam, who by dint of his efforts rises to the top. He makes covenants of a material nature and achieves a measure of success.

Even so, despite all that this entails, Rabbi Soloveitchik argues that both are required for Western Man’s understanding and growth as a human, not only materially but also spiritually. Yet, Western Man has moved in a certain direction, mistaking and replacing religion for faith. It is for this reason that towards the end of this 77-page book, Rabbi Soloveitchik writes:
Western man diabolically insists on being successful. Alas, he wants to be successful even in his adventures with God. If he gives of himself to God he expects reciprocity. He also reaches a covenant with God, but the covenant is a mercantile one. In a primitive manner, he wants to trade “favors” and exchange goods. The gesture of faith for him is a give-and-take affair and reflects the philosophy of Job which led to catastrophe—a philosophy which sees faith as quid pro quo arrangement and expects compensation for each sacrifice one offers. Therefore modern man puts up demands that faith adapt itself  to the mood and temper of modern times. He does not discriminate between translated religion formulated in cultural categories—which are certainly fluid since they have been evolved by the human creative consciousness—and the pure faith community which is as unchangeable as eternity itself. 
—(p. 71)
So it is and so it must be with Western Man—he overpowered by the modern secular ethos, at its root pragmatic and utilitarian, where success is everything, something that one must achieve, even in religion—i.e., where “success” is both the beginning and the end of Man’s ambition, an ambition that can appear demonic in its pursuit that failure is viewed with dread. Still, there is also an old truth, emanating/springing forth from the ways and traditions of old, that speaking one’s heart is good for the tormented soul, even if the heart still aches afterward.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Adi Ran: Ata Kadosh (2005)


Adi Ran: Ata Kadosh (2005), a song, in the form of a prayer, from the wonderful Israeli film Ushpizin. Ata Kadosh (אתה קדוש; “You are Holy”) acknowledges our (Man’s) place in the world in which we live, Olam HaZeh (עוֹלָם הַזֶּ֗ה; “This World”). The word kadosh (קדוש; “holy”) implies separation, notably from the mundane, the profane, the vulgar—in the same way that Shabbat is separated from the other six days of the week. The Jewish People are repeatedly told in the Torah (e.g., Exodus 19:6; Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:26; Deut. 7:6; Deut 30:11-14; I Kings 8:53; Ezra 10:11; Neh 9:2, etc.) to acknowledge this and emulate this in their lives—in other words, to put this into practice. To make it an everyday reality. It is true, at least to me, that to what degree we understand and devote ourselves to this idea of kadosh and its understood meaning of separation and sacredness is how much we will find meaning and direction on how to live our lives as Jews. This thought, although simple and yet difficult—at least in the beginning—is itself the beginning of understanding.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Happy Sukkot 5779

Sukkah


“For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23: 42-43


Garden of Eden Sukkah by Yoram Raanan, captures the essence of the the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Raanan writes on the Chabad site: “The experience of dwelling in a sukkah is about moving out of the material comforts of our homes, to be exposed to nature and to live in the ‘shadow of faith’. In this intriguing Garden of Eden Sukkah, a flowing light radiates under a starry sky in an enchanting primeval forest. The ushpizin, the festival’s mystical guests who visit the sukkah each night, are depicted in the shadow of blue, reflecting how they empower us to connect to seven different dimensions of our soul each night.” Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת‬; “Booths”) is a weeklong festival that begins after sundown tonight (15 Tishrei) and lasts till September 30th (21 Tishrei) or October 1st (22 Tishrei) outside Eretz Israel). Outside Israel, the eighth day of Sukkot coincides with Shemini Atzeret. It is a joyous holiday that leads to Simchat Torah. For more on Sukkot, go [here].
Courtesy: Chabad-Lubavitch and Yoram Raanan

Ushpizin: ‘We Need a Miracle’ (2004)

Ushpizin (2004): “We Need a Miracle” from a scene in the Israeli film, Ushpizin directed by Gidi Dar and written by and starring Shuli Rand and his wife Michal Bat Sheva Rand, which looks at the meaning of Sukkot, particularly as to the power of faith when material circumstances make it more difficult to believe. Yet, one still wants to believe. In Judaism this requires both emunah (אמונה; faith) and bitachon (בטחון; trust ), essentially not only having knowledge of but also retaining trust in Hashem. In His goodness, mercy and justice, or as one article, by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and Sara Yoheved Rigler, in Aish.com, puts it (“Trusting God;” November 18, 2000), “believing that there is an end to the story, and that if we could know the end we would have no doubts now.” Bitachon means not surrendering to such doubts, but to see a plan, a grand plan if you will, and to move forward to fulfill it. As for the film’s title, Ushpizin ( אושפיזין; “guests“) is an Aramaic word for guests, but just not any guests. They refer to the seven supernal guests, holy guests, “the founding fathers” of the Jewish people, who come to visit us in the sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. See this film if you already haven’t done so already. Or see it again. You will surely find it an inspiring delight. Chag Sukkot Sameach.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Thinking About Teshuvah

Return

“There is no sin that cannot be mended and remedied by teshuvah. Teshuvah removes a burdensome past and opens the door to a new future. It means renewal, rebirth. The ba'al teshuvah becomes a different, new, person. It is much more than correction, more than rectification. Teshuvah elevates to a status even higher than the one prior to all sin. Even the perfectly righteous are surpassed by the ba'al teshuvah.”

Rabbi Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet [1935–2013],
The Dynamics of Teshuvah;”
 To Touch the Divine (1999);
as posted on Chabad.org

In a few days will be Yom Kippur (יוֹם כִּיפּוּר‬; Day of Atonement) and also called “Sabbath of absolute rest” (Leviticus 16:31), the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance. It is a holy day. During this period of rest, Jews throughout the world are free to think about the merits of teshuvah (תשובה; return). The article, by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, which I quote above,  is worth reading in its entirety. 

I also like what Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene, writes (“Yom Kippur: Of Angels & Men;” October 7, 2005) on the subject of return for Torah.org:
The literal translation of the word teshuvah, repentance is “returning to oneself”. Where a person has deviated from the pathway of life by not observing the Torah laws, to achieve forgiveness, it is imperative that he “returns back on track”. This means identifying himself with his soul and not associated himself with his body.
In other words, the return is to Torah Judaism, not always an easy task, and often not an appealing one for many Jews in the world, who know not where the soul is or where it can be found. The body we all can both see and feel; the soul, on the other hand, is not tangible, and yet it is very much a part of us. Thus, I sense that it is important that each Jew ought to move in such a direction, step by step, if he is to find some meaning and a sense of peace in life. If he is to rediscover his true self.

The same rabbi ends this brief article with the following piece of good advice: 
The way to national and personal forgiveness is to confess and repent by declaring complete detachment from one’s past failures, when the external kernel and layers of sin are discarded. This is Yom Kippur’s atonement, when the true nature of every Jew, his pristine spiritual soul, is of paramount importance.
This is an encouraging thought, one that helps to better one’s mental heath and move us away from discouragement and despair. Past failures do not and should not weigh us down, and equally important should not define who we are. Each Jew can return to himself or herself, the way he or she is meant to be. Each mitzvah is an accomplishment for the soul, helping us to ascend higher. This is very freeing, and a thought that can lead to peace of mind; and more so if one could put this into daily practice and live like this.

The rabbis say not only that we should but also that we can.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Making Smart Choices Regarding Vaccines (2018)

Parents & Children

I am reposting this article/book review, which I first wrote & published in March 2011 (“Informed Parents: Making Good Choices”), more than seven years ago. Nothing has changed in how I view the efficacy of vaccines and how they are beneficial to humanity. Should scientific evidence prove the contrary I will be pleased to post it. Yet, in many ways anti-vaxxers are already winning, by spreading fear and disinformation through the use of pseudoscience. Any win of theirs, however, is humanity’s loss. 




Title: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
Author: Paul Offit, MD
Date: 2011
Publisher: Basic Books: New York City, NY

*******************

“The modern American anti-vaccine movement was born on April 19, 1982, when WRC-TV, a local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., aired a one-hour documentary titled DPT: Vaccine Roulette.”
Paul Offit, Deadly Choices, p. 2

“To the contrary, I was pro-vaccine. But I was pro-vaccine safety. I was knowledgeable enough to know the history that many more people's children and adults have been saved by vaccines than have ever died from them.
John Salamone, who effectively changed polio-vaccine policy
in the United States after his son, David,
suffering a crippling side-effect from the Sabin vaccine.”
—Deadly Choices, p.81

“Parents need to understand that when they choose not to vaccinate, they are making a decision for other people’s children as well.”
Brendalee Flint, whose daughter suffered bacterial meningitis in Jan 2008. They resided  in Minnesota, which had seen a sixfold increase in parents refusing to give their children the Hib vaccine.
—Deadly Choices, p. 214

IDeadly Choices, Paul Offit pushes back against the threats, allegations and fear-mongering of the anti-vaccine movement. His weapons of choice are historical evidence, reams of scientific studies and court cases, which individually and collectively prove, with acute clarity, that vaccines in general are not only considered safe, but are necessary for the sound health of our children and society in general

Offit's well-balanced book offers us a detailed example how ignorance and distrust of science and medicine, ignited by grass-roots politics, has led to a step backwards in health-care policy and prevention, notably in the United States. Throw in a few medical doctors and health officials raising the alarm bells, and fear-mongering from a willing media, and an entertainment industry built on sensationalism, and you have a witch's brew that has had and will continue to have deadly consequences for children.

Much of the credit for the modern anti-vaccine movement dates to 1982, when an NBC station in Washington, the nation's capital, aired a program, called DPT: Vaccine Roulette. Its focus was on the dangers of the pertussis vaccine, used to immunize children from whooping cough. The  program showed many images of children, both mentally and physically handicapped, easily provoking viewers to draw the conclusion that the pertussis vaccine for whooping cough caused this. Case closed.

Except for one thing. The show's images of children were as compelling as the science behind it was false. Scientifically False. It would take fifteen years of epidemiological studies in England, Sweden, Denmark and the U.S. to show no causal link between the vaccine and any long-term consequences.  But it would also take a 1988 court case, (Loveday v. Renton and Wellcome Foundation Ltd.), a class-action lawsuit that included two hundred other children in England to put the matter to rest.

The ruling by Lord Justice Murray Stuart-Smith concluded: "On all the evidence, a plaintiff has failed to establish, on a balance of probability, that pertussis vaccine used in the United Kingdom and administered intramuscularly in normal doses could cause permanent brain damage in young children." Another landmark case in Canada came to a similar verdict.

As for the likely cause of the seizures and mental retardation noted in Vaccine Roulette, Samuel Berkovic, a neurologist at the University of Melbourne and director of the Epilepsy Research Center, determined that a genetic defect in a gene (SCN1A) that regulates the transport of sodium in brain cells was primarily responsible. It was an important discovery, and such results ought to be good news for all parents, especially those who second-guessed themselves for vaccinating their children.
Berkovic wrote, "The identification of a genetic cause of encephalopathy in a particular child should finally put to rest the case for vaccination being the primary cause."
But, of course, there's money to be made. In this case, billions of dollars to doctors, lawyers and other special-interest groups, when accusations can be made and legal proceedings instituted against Big Pharma. Another example cited in the book is the MMR-autism controversy. One of the persons responsible for stoking the fears is Andrew Wakefield, an academic gastroenterologist and a medical doctorwho had published a controversial paper in the respected British medical journal The Lancet in February 1998, linking the MMR vaccine with autism.

It would take solid investigative journalism in England and a court case in the U.S. to again prove no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which has no known cause. After a thorough investigation, first by the media (Brian Deer for the Sunday Times) and then by the General Medical Council (GMC), which licenses doctors in Britain, 12 years after initial publication, the paper was retracted by The Lancet on February 2, 2010.

Equally important, Wakefield has been struck off the Medical Registrar and may no longer practice medicine in the U.K. (For more information see On Vaccines: a Matter of Life.)

In 1988, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, or VICP, was set up by the U.S. federal government to protect vaccine makers from expensive civil lawsuits. Under VICP, cases are heard in what has been called Vaccine Court, a no-fault forum for legal proceeding in front of special masters.

The result? None of the allegations have been proven in this court in what was essentially a class-action lawsuit involving 5,000 cases and tens of thousands of pages of documentary evidence. In its first ruling, on February 12, 2009, all the masters unanimously "rejected the notion that MMR plus thimerosal-containing vaccines caused autism, finding not a shred of evidence to support the theory," Offit writes.

In the second ruling, on whether thimerosal alone was responsible for autism, the Vaccine Court, on March 12, 2010, called the plaintiff's arguments "scientifically unsupportable." Yet much damage has been done, clouding if not outright confusing the issue for parents.

In his book, Offit boils down the problem to one of trust: :
Unfortunately, nothing will change if the push to vaccinate comes only from doctors, vaccine advocates, public health officials, and hospital; administrators. Some parents will always view these groups as biased; and it hasn't been hard for anti-vaccine groups to appeal to the sentiment that they can't be trusted.
Undoubtedly, this has been the case thus far. Yet, it can change if parents make informed choices on the importance and necessity of vaccines. Offit's book in its purest form is a plea to parents to make a fully informed choice, based on scientific evidence, and to weigh this evidence against the fears and hysteria offered by anti-vaccine advocates. (Anti-vaccine movements have appeared periodically throughout modern history, first in England in the 1860s, and then in the U.S. in the 1890s.)

Herd Immunity

The necessity centres on reams of statistical data from credible sources, which posits that a certain percentage of the population are required to be vaccinated to take advantage of the protection afforded by herd immunity. If we want to avoid any epidemics of diseases like measles, mumps and diphtheria, the only proven method are vaccinations. And the scientific data supports this contention. Yet, too many parents remain unconvinced.

Conspiring against herd immunity are a number of important factors, including 1) The prevalence of international travel, in which travelers returning from nations with low immunization rates, increasingly are returning to North America with cases of such diseases; 2) Lack of scientific literacy;  and 3) The success of the anti-vaccine movement in lowering vaccine rates, thus depriving the population, which includes you and I, the protection offered by herd immunity.It's also important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective.

In herd immunity, a proven scientific concept, if more people are immune to a certain virus, either through vaccination or having already had the disease, then more people in the population, even if they themselves aren't immune, are protected from the disease.The greater the percentage of people vaccinated, the smaller chance of having an epidemic. Diseases are typically transmitted from a person who's been infected to another person. If that person has been vaccinated, he does not become a transmission point.

That percentage of the population that requires vaccination varies, from 85% for mumps, rubella and diphtheria to 95% for measles and pertussis or whooping cough. Because of emphasis on vaccines in the 1960s and 1970s, many of these diseases, once considered a rite of passage for childhood, were considered almost eliminated in North America.

But then came the assiduous efforts of the anti-vaccine movement, and their success in convincing parents of the validity of their message has translated to lowering vaccination rates, Offit says:  "Some aren't giving any vaccines at all; since 1991 the percentage of unvaccinated children has more than doubled."

On a personal note, I experienced first-hand on the effects of Offit's subtitle: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. When  children remain unvaccinated, others remain unprotected as herd immunity breaks down. I contacted  chickenpox (varicella) at a conference for families in Schroon Lake, New York, in June 2002, at age 45. My oldest daughter (then 12) and wife had already had chickenpox as young children, before the varicella vaccine became licensed for use in the U.S. in 1995. My four-month-old son had garnered immunity from my wife's antibodies while being breastfed.

My reaction was far more serious. It left me debilitated for almost four weeks, where I suffered hundreds of vesicular lesions, or blisters, over my entire body, a fever hovering above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and general discomfort. After I recovered, I found out that the consequences of adult chickenpox are more severe than in young children, sometimes leading to pneumonia, transient hepatitis, and encephalitis.

That experience marked me for life. I have always been convinced of the need for vaccinations, but after that I was an advocate. Equally compelling, I had thought that everyone, especially parents, favored vaccines. But I was wrong and ill-informed. Unknown to me at the time was that the effects of the anti-vaccine movement was being felt across the United States.

Paul Offit: “The fear of vaccines, the choice to act on that fear, the consequences of that choice, and the voices rising in protest are the subject of this book.”
CourtesyPaul-Offit.com

Recent Outbreaks

Here's only a few examples that Offit has mentioned in his book:
  • Washington: An outbreak of pertussis (whopping cough) on Vachon Island, a small commuter island in Kings County, home to ten thousand people, most wealthy and and well educated. About one in seven children are unvaccinated. In 1994, 48 cases of whopping cough were reported. It increased to 263 in 1995, and 458 in 1999.
  • Indiana: In May 2005, a seventeen-year-old unvaccinated girl from Indiana traveled to Romania on a church mission. She visited an orphanage and hospital in  Romania, which was then undergoing a measles epidemic.On the way home, she felt ill, but unaware that she had contacted measles and  excited to share her overseas experience, she went to a church picnic attended by 500 people. Of the 35 unvaccinated people at the picnic, 31 contacted measles. "The girl who had contacted measles in Romania—after spending only a few hours in a crowd of 500 people—had managed to infect almost every person susceptible to the disease," Offit says.
  • New York & New Jersey: In June 2009, there was an outbreak of mumps among Hasidic Jews in New York and New Jersey. An eleven-year-old boy traveled to England and contacted mumps. Then, thousands of British children had not received the vaccine for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), afraid that it caused autism. The boy flew back to New York, attended a summer camp for Hasidic Jews, and, unfortunately, started a massive epidemic. By January 2010, fifteen hundred people had been infected with mumps, the book's author says: "When it was over, mumps was found to have caused pancreatitis, meningitis, deafness, facial paralysis, or inflammation of the ovaries in sixty-five people; nineteen were hospitalized."
And the cases continue.

The Changing '80s

How things have changed. Vaccinations, once considered the gold standard of a health-care prevention policy, are now often looked at suspiciously by parents, who want the best for children. When most of the developed world were once looking at the United States with awe and envy at how they improved the lifespans of children, they must now wonder what is going on.

When the U.S. was once at the forefront in the battle to eradicate many of the diseases that debilitated children, including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and polio, many parents have decided to not vaccinate their children.

Pharmaceutical companies, so-called Big Pharma, have made mistakes in manufacturing vaccines, particularly in the early history of production. In his book, Offit cites cases where huge mistakes were made, resulting in severe outbreaks and death.
Yellow fever vaccine: American soldiers receiving this vaccine in the 1940s were inadvertently given a vaccine that contained hepatitis B. Offit writes: "In March 1942, the US Surgeon General's Office noted a striking number of recruits were infected by hepatitis; more than three hundred thousand soldiers were infected with what we now know as hepatitis B virus; sixty-two died from the disease."

Polio vaccine: When the Salk vaccine was licensed for sale, one of the three manufacturers, Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California, had done a horrible job, in 1955, of producing the Salk vaccine, failing to inactivate the live polio vaccine. "As a consequence, Offit writes, "one hundred and twenty thousand children were inadvertently infected with a vaccine that contained a live, potentially deadly poliovirus: seventy thousand suffered mild polio, two hundred were severely and permanently paralyzed, and ten died. It was one of the worst biological disasters in American history."
Two things resulted from this disaster: Cutter Laboratories ceased making polio vaccines (It was bought by Bayer in the 1970s), and the creation of a vaccine regulatory system. As well, not cited in the book since it's not about a vaccine, but about an antibiotic, penicillin, is the recent discovery of research experiments conducted on prisoners, mental patients and soldiers in Guatemala during the 1940s and 1950s to test the efficacy of penicillin.

This was done without informed consent, despite stringent regulations in effect after the drafting of the Nuremberg Code in 1947 (see Unwilling Participants).  Such are the issues that tarnish the otherwise exemplary work going on in today's medical- research establishments.

The Evidence is Solid

Despite such mistakes, they are rare, and many controls are in place to reduce such incidents. For persons who hold particular ideologies, facts don't generally persuade them. Yet, their solution of zero vaccines falls short of a sound and proven health-care policy, and is be a menu for epidemics that would result in many more family tragedies and deaths.

Consider the following: If you speak to an older generation of adults, those born before the 1940s, before the widespread availability of vaccines, you will get a different picture. This generation is thankful for the benefits that vaccines offer to humanity.

Dr. Offit does an excellent job of explaining the history of vaccines and why they are necessary, effective and safe. For this, he ought to be commended. His book is well-researched and well-documented tour-de-force on his area of expertise.

He is a scientist with not only a fine mind, but a well-operating heart. He would prefer that people were united, and refers to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, as a time when people were more united toward a common good. "And if we can recapture it—recapture the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of a large immunological cooperative—the growing tragedy of children dying from preventable infections can be avoided."

As a writer and journalist, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to be well informed on vaccines and the history of the anti-vaccine movement. As a parent. I recommend this book to other parents who want to be well-informed on making the best choices for your children's health and well-being.

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Paul Offit, MD, is the chief of the division of infection diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a professor of pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. Dr. Offit is a founding advisory board member of the Autism Science Foundation, to which he is donating the royalties to this book. He resides outside Philadelphia.