Sunday, July 12, 2020

Keeping the Workers In Line


I read an excellent op-ed (“Trump Would Like to See You Now,” July 10) in The New York Times, by Jamelle Bouie, which reminded me of the olden days, showing me that not much has changed in 40 years when it comes to the relationship between workers and their bosses. Workplaces are every bit as demanding as they were then, chiefly to ensure productivity goals are met, and, as the thinking goes, to make the bosses happier and richer. The tactic, it seems, is to keep workers off-balance and in fear of losing their job.

This tactic to keep workers on edge, which goes hand in hand with the politics of selfishness and greed if not cruelty, is deemed acceptable by employers as a way of doing business, supported by a Republican Party that sees no wrong in it, even with the Covid-19 pandemic raging in America. Bouie writes (note that the Florida senator in this passage is Rick Scott, a Republican): 
Most Republican senators voted to remove the unemployment expansion at its full size, but it survived. Billions of dollars of benefits have gone to tens of millions of Americans. The increase in aid was so great that, as The New York Times reported last month, the federal poverty rate declined even as the jobless rate reached incredible heights. And there’s also no evidence that additional benefits are keeping people who want to work from working.
The Florida senator (and former governor) wasn’t so much concerned with the ability of people to work as much as he was with the ability of employers to discipline them. Workers are kept on edge — and willing to accept whatever wage is on offer — by the threat of immiseration. This, for politicians who back both big business and existing social relations, is a feature and not a bug of our economic system, since insecurity and desperation keep power in the hands of capital and its allies. Even something as modest as expanded unemployment benefits is a threat to that arrangement, as they give workers the power to say no to work they do not want.
Precisely, and ever since workers lost a measure of say in the workplace—although it is important to note that workers never really had much of a say—a process that started decades ago, employers have used the big stick approach to keep workers in line. In other words, workers have little to no say in how they work, including in workplace safety. The fear of immiseration is real.

Failure to adhere to the boss’s dictums; failure to say “yes, you are right, I am on it” and you may be out of a job, possibly cited for worker insubordination at worst or not being a team player at best. You have become redundant. Outside the workplace, this sounds absurd, the need for workers to bend to unreasonable demands; but inside it, it sounds normal, the way of business. Such is the particular culture of the workplace.

When I was a young man, in the late 1970s, I worked many low-wage (i.e., minimum wage) jobs to pay my way for both college and university. Then, minimum wage was about $2.50 an hour. I had jobs packing and schlepping 50-lb boxes in a factory in the middle of summer; unloading 50-ft trailers filled with these same heavy boxes in sub-zero temperatures; driving a truck; working in an open pit copper mine; painting garages; sanding plaster without a mask or respirator; installing smoke detectors; cutting grass and raking leaves; cleaning bathrooms and washing floors; picking orders in warehouses; and all manner of demanding physical labour. 

Most of it was hard and dirty work. Truly, back-breaking work. Rarely did I receive a compliment. Few workers did. The thinking was that if you were still there, the bosses were not unhappy with you. And in turn you worked hard for a low wage, because that was what was expected of you. To do a day's work for a day's wage, no matter the circumstances.

Workplace safety was almost non-existent in many of these places. I probably breathed my share of toxic and unhealthy chemicals and other body-damaging poisons, including second-hand smoke, which was the norm, it seems. Such was the way it was. To complain was to be deemed a troublemaker. This was 40 years ago, and today it seems as bad as it was then, or it might be worse now for the low-wage worker. After all, if I was fired or let go, I could always find another low-wage back-breaking job. Or maybe it is the same today for those on the bottom. 

Oh, and if your foreman said that the boss wanted to see you, well, you knew it was not good news.

For more, go to [NYT].

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Many Americans Need Some Financial Help

Economic Security

An article (“The Pandemic Proved That Cash Payments Work;” July 10, 2020), by Annie Lowrey, in The Atlantic says that giving workers on the bottom of the economic ladder extra money does reduce anxiety and gives people and families some measure of control in their lives, notably when such control is in short supply. In other words, cash payments work.

Lowrey writes:
The UI bonus in the CARES Act expires at the end of July, and Congress is in the midst of a roiling debate over whether to extend it, winnow it down, or end it entirely. Democrats largely favor keeping the bonus payments in place, given the scope of the recession. Republicans have argued that, by allowing workers to stay home rather than look for jobs, the bonus is harming the recovery. White House officials are pushing for it to end, too.
This article shows that for people on the bottom, which is actually a majority of people in America, even a few hundred dollars a month can make a huge difference in how people live. The top 10% probably do not realize this salient fact in how most people, how most families live with the constant stress of economic insecurity, of not being able to pay their rent, pay their utilities, buy enough food, get gas for the car. The list is endless, and so is the fear. An unplanned expense, which happens a lot, just adds to the stress. It’s real. It’s unhealthy. It’s something that I live with every day.

What is telling is the difference in response between Democrats and Republicans on this issue; the latter is chiefly looking out for the interests of Business while the former those of the Common People. It is not hard to figure out which argument is not only more popular but also more appealing.

Now might be the time that the little guy is going to get more than a few crumbs falling off the table of the wealthy businessman. The pandemic is reshaping many areas of public and working life; and despite the existing dreadful situation in rising Covid-19 cases and in continuing deaths—which is of course regrettable and in many cases avoidable if there were leadership in the White House and an adequate federal response—we might find some good down the road. Not yet, though. Now the situation is bleak.

I know that hope is not a strategy, so governments (in this case, the American Congress) will be compelled to act in the interests of its citizens, notably for the 80% to 90% who do not comprise the top money earners in America. Often, and for long, governments have not considered the importance of legislating policy in the interests of the vast majority of Americans. Giving a few hundred dollars a month would be a good start.

This might soon happen. With new leadership. In a few months. For the common good might become a normal everyday phrase.

For more, go [here].

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Frances Perkins & The New Deal

Economic Insecurity

Frances Perkins [born in Boston in 1880–died in New York City in 1965] on the cover of Time: August 14, 1933. Perkins “was an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, the longest serving in that position, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet,Wikipedia writes. It was as Secretary of Labor that she nailed down the many planks of the New Deal, most notably a shorter work week (54 hours), the  Fair Labor Standards Actunemployment insurance, retirement pensions ( Social Security Act,) and welfare.

The contours of the story are well known, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. It was March 25, 1911, in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan in New York City. Late that afternoon, around 4:40 p.m., a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was occupied the eight, ninth and tenth floor of the 10-story Asch Building at 23–29 Washington Place, near Washington Square Park.

Trapped and nowhere to go, 62 people either fell or jumped to their death, the rest died from a combination of burns, blunt trauma and asphyxiation. On that fateful and horrible day day, 146 people died; 123 women and girls and 23 men. The youngest victims were 14.

When Frances Perkins watched women—mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants— jump to their deaths to escape the raging fire, it made such a strong impression on Perkins that it would become the impetus for legislation to protect workers, which is among many of her outstanding accomplishments. When she was appointed the Secretary of Labor 22 years later, she pushed for many of the progressive programs that would become a prominent part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

I was aware of the New Deal. Yet, I was not aware of Frances Perkins. I was not aware of her large role in drafting legislation to ensure workers’ rights, that is, until I read Hannah Steinkopf-Frank’s article (“Frances Perkins: Architect of the New Deal;” July 8, 2020) in JSTOR. In it, Steinkopf-Frank writes:
In the midst of the catastrophic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, more than 100 million Americans are accessing financial assistance and medical care. These vital services are available in part because of the efforts of a woman many have never heard of.
Frances Perkins was the first female presidential cabinet secretary and the central architect of the New Deal. She designed Social Security and public works programs that brought millions out of poverty. Her work resulted in the construction of hospitals, public schools, and related infrastructure. A social worker by training, Perkins also implemented workplace regulations that are standard to this day.
Bravo to this woman and the outstanding work that she undertook on behalf of the American people. Most notably, what she accomplished improved the lives of well-being of the common people, those that toil at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, those that struggle daily to make ends meet—in other words the vast majority of people. With this, everybody benefits.

Perkins’ accomplishments are so many and so important that she ought to be remembered for what she did, including going against the perceived wisdom of her peers. Here is a notable example. Steinkopf-Frank writes that she also “helped some 20,000-30,000 Jews enter on visitor visas, and rescued around 400 Jewish children. She intervened in hundreds of individual cases, from Sigmund Freud to the Von Trapp family.” 

A true humanitarian; a true advocate of the greater good. Her many accomplishments ought to be taught to every high school student in America. I now know of some of her good deeds and applaud her work.

For more, go to [JSTOR].

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Now’s a Good Time for Canadians To Consider Universal Basic Income

The Pandemic Economy

An article (“Has enthusiasm for the CERB paved the way for a universal basic income? July 8, 2020), by Nadine Yousif, in Maclean’s says what I have been thinking and writing about for years. Now’s a good time for Canadians to seriously consider Universal Basic Income, or UBI.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused democratic governments around the world to confront inequalities and change the way that they think about its citizens and how to support them and liberal democracy in general. This is no small matter, and the implications for the future are significant. In Canada, the federal government came up with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB. Without question, this is a good start. Millions of Canadians applied and have been receiving income support during a time of economic crisis.

Yousif writes:
The taxable, $2,000-per-month federal benefit for people whose incomes had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic was initially available from March 15 to Oct. 3, but Trudeau has since extended the benefit by eight weeks as economic uncertainty looms. A staggering 8.4 million Canadians—22 per cent of the country’s population—have applied.
This is a large percentage of Canada’s working population. There is growing consensus among Canadians that such a program ought to become a permanent fixture: “62 per cent expressed support for a government-funded guaranteed income program in a May survey conducted by Toronto-based Public Square Research in collaboration with Maru/Blue,“ Yousif weites.

Such a finding is not surprising, with so many Canadians either out of work or working for less money. Let’s face it; we will be living with this pandemic for a long time. Its effects will be felt for a long time. Even before this pandemic, the vast majority of Canadians did not have tons of money socked away; do not have unlimited resources to survive three months of non-income, let alone longer.

Truth be told, people tend to support income-support programs when they themselves have been affected by an economic downturn. In other words, when you lose your job and can’t find a similar one in your field of training, you become open to the idea that we can all use a hand up. It is estimated that UBI would cost the government between $47.5 billion and $98.1 billion. Although some would argue otherwise, this is worth it for social peace and prosperity.

For more, go [here].

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Goose With One Eye Open

Water Fowl

Goose With One Eye Open at Mill Pond, which was taken earlier today.
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Welcoming Summer (2020)

June Solstice

Summer 2020: Yellow irises (Iris pseudacorus) in my backyard started blooming a few weeks ago, following a late beginning to Spring, which has been the case for years now. Spring in these parts begins sometime in May. When an event happens often, it becomes the norm. Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, arriving at 5:43 pm EDT. The forecast high is 31°C (88°F), and there is a heat warning lasting till Monday. I think it is going to be a hot summer, not necessarily a long one, but a hot one. While things are opening up in the economic sense, Covid 19 is still a strong and enduring presence, and will likely remain so until well into next year, until Science produces a viable and effective vaccine. Until then, or even then, things will not be the same; there will be changes, some of them possibly for our benefit. There are still many unknowns, but still many things that we can rely on, like the changing of the seasons, the magic of flowers blooming and the sight of bees going about their business. 
Photo: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Backyard With Frost: May 9th (2020)

A Canada Spring

Backyard With Frost: May 9th (2020): Photo taken around sunrise today, approx. 6 a.m. This is what I awoke to. While waiting for my morning coffee, I took this snapshot. Temperature was minus 4°C (or 25°F). Spring is just around the corner, probably hiding from the virus. I will have to wait to bring out the tomato plants that my son and I started from seed in February. Possibly, it will be another couple of weeks before I can think about it. I wonder how the geese and goslings are doing at nearby Mill Pond. The ducks, too. And our friend George the mute swan. I hope that all are doing well. 
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Kakapo of New Zealand

Rare Birds

The Kakapo of New Zealand: Nature writes about this beautiful and rare bird: “Andrew Digby works to protect the kakapo, a critically endangered New Zealand bird. To know them is to love them, Digby says of the large, flightless, nocturnal parrots. During the breeding season, which happens every few years when the rimu tree fruits, Digby spends months on the four predator-free sanctuary islands that are the kakapos’ last refuge. For more, go [here].
Photo Credit: Nature via Deidre Vercoe/New Zealand Department of Conservation

Friday, April 24, 2020

Our Mute Swan Friend, George

Mill Pond

Our Mute Swan Friend, George; During our regular walks in and around Mill Pond, we saw George, a mute swan (Cygnus olor), for the first time this year. George appears to be in fine form. He is part of a couple that we call George and Georgina. We have yet to see Georgina. 
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, April 20, 2020

Isolation in Canada’s North

Covid-19 Pandemic

Quarantine at the Edge of the World: Portraits from the Arctic follows Pat Kane, a documentary photographer from Yellowknife, a city of about 20,000 persons situated 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle and the capital of NWT.
Via: The Atlantic & Youtube

Like everywhere else, the residents of Northwest Territories are staying indoors and staying apart from each other: In an area that is already geographically isolated from the rest of Canada in the best of times, this pandemic brings about a double isolation. Its residents, however, take it in stride, a reminder of the historic relationship that we Canadians had with the land and how we adapted to its remoteness and harshness.

Truth be told, Canada has much untouched natural beauty to behold. In many ways, this defines Canada—a large land of forests, fields, wild life and waterways with a small number of people residing within its borders. The vast majority of Canadians reside along the 100 km (60 mile) ribbon of land close to the U.S. border, chiefly in large cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

This makes Canada's North an exceptional place in a number of ways. The Atlantic writes:
The Northwest Territories encompasses some of the northernmost regions of Canada and extends high into the Arctic Circle. It is about twice the size of Texas but home to only 44,000 residents, who live in small communities spread across its vast area. The capital city of Yellowknife is 1,500 kilometers from the next-closest major city. It’s cold, ruggedly beautiful, and very isolated. 
For some, this is the appeal. Its remoteness.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Voices Rock Canada!: Rise Again (2020)

Covid 19 Pandemic

Voices Rock Canada!: Rise Again (2020). This is a choir made up of women physicians working in Toronto, Canada, who got together virtually to perform “Rise Again,” a well-known Canadian song written by Leon Dubinsky of Sydney, Nova Scotia. This song gives us a respite from the bad news and despair, where the voices of hope sing out.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Reaching Out By Phone

Human Speech

The phone conversation is making a comeback during this pandemic, as people are returning to the need to hear the human voice while in quarantine and isolated for the most part in their homes. In an article in The New York Review of Books (“A New Connection with the Lost Art of Phone Conversation;”April 15, 2010), Daphne Merkin writes:
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds myself spending hours on the phone with friends and editors I used to converse with minimally, if at all. Surely this has everything to do with the limited and mediated intimacy provided by our more recent modes of communication—email, texting, Twitter direct messages, chat apps, FaceTime, and now the suddenly ubiquitous Zoom—as well as with our longing for a more immediate, audible sense of connection in these harrowing times. (It may be a generational thing, or my own intractable Luddism, but video-chats just don’t do it for me; they seem stagy and artificial. Besides, who wants to look at oneself bobbing up on a screen that much, even with helpful hints from the likes of Tom Ford on how to look good on camera. Whatever the lighting and the angle at which one tilts one’s phone or screen, one always looks somewhere between wan and ghoulish.)
I agree; I too find that video-chats and the like have an unreal quality about them. I tend to avoid communicating in such manner, and prefer the warmth and intimacy of phone conversations to other more modern modes of communication. Only a face-to-face conversation is better, and while this is not currently possible, we always have the phone. Yes, I still have a landline. And, yes, I do remember Bell’s campaign to “Reach Out and Touch Someone to encourage long-distant phone calls with its catchy jingle.

Email, texts and other electronic written modes of communication are efficient and quick, and certainly have their place in our modern world, especially for non-personal conversations. These modes of expression are, however, not really ideal for sharing personal feelings and often lead to misunderstandings. When you want to just talk, when you want to hear the human voice of family or friends, there is nothing like the old-fashioned phone, Sarah Larson writes (“In Praise of Phone Calls;” March 18, 2020) in The New Yorker:
The phone calls have reminded me, with new clarity, about the things that are expressed in tone, beyond words. Last night, I listened to a younger co-worker friend tell me a story he’d planned to share over a drink, about a burial he’d arranged for an elderly friend who’d died. As he described the series of kindnesses he’d encountered—of a city worker, of volunteers at a Jewish service organization, of the men in the minyan who came to the burial—I could hear a whole bouquet of notes: amazement, respect, quiet gratitude, affection, his own understated kindness.
That’s a good explanation as any. It just might be that talking on the phone is important, and that it is missed when it is missing in our lives. It is the same reason many of us like to hear podcasts or the radio—we have a need to hear the human voice, with all its inflections, timbre and turn of phrases. Voices are particular to a person, and we can quickly recognize a person who we know well by his or her voice. The human voice meets us in a familiar place and tells us that we are not alone, even in our isolation.

For more on the return of the phone call, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Pesakh, Covid-19 and Freedom

Jewish Ideas

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is here sharing some ideas, which discuss the Covid-19 pandemic in light of Pesakh (“Passover”), the bread of affliction and community suffering, and the general meaning of herut (“freedom”). Today is the seventh day of Passover. This video was posted on April 1. It has some good insights, which are not only timely, but also timeless. The story of Primo Levi’s last days in Auschwitz, in the lager, is instructional. We can no longer continue our selfish ways; we must not continue business as usual. We must do better, because we can do better. This crisis will test our resolve to do better, to be better. It will, in the end, show our humanity, and, I hope, our humility and our humaneness.
Via: Youtube

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Influenza 1918 (1998)

Influenza Pandemic

A Word dropped careless on a Page
May stimulate an eye
When folded in perpetual seam
The Wrinkled Maker lie

Infection in the sentence breeds
We may inhale Despair
At distances of Centuries
From the Malaria —

Emily Dickinson [1830–1886],
“A word dropped carelessly on a page” (1873)

Influenza: Chapter 1. The 1918 Influenza pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. This documentary, first aired in 1998, is narrated by David McCullough and Linda Hunt. It is produced & directed by Robert Kenner and written by Ken Chowder. To get an idea of what is often remembered, even decades later, you ought to watch the complete documentary [here].
ViaPBS Youtube

Pandemics and national health emergencies bring to light much about people’s fears, which are easy enough to understand; the number of people infected rise as do the corresponding number of people dying. Even in the face of such large and growing numbers, some decide that denial is best, deciding it is better to carry on. I am not part of this camp, chiely because of the numbers.

The numbers are revealing. PBS’s American Experience writes:
In September of 1918, soldiers at an army base near Boston suddenly began to die. The cause of death was identified as influenza, but it was unlike any strain ever seen. It was the worst epidemic in American history, killing over 600,000—until it disappeared as mysteriously as it had begun.
In Canada, some 50,000 people died between 1918 and 1920. The influenza pandemic understandably caused general and widespread fear, a disorienting fear that we are now only beginning to appreciate and understand with our Covid-19 pandemic. There is the fear of infection and death, of course. There is the fear of growing numbers, the fear of it unrelenting and continuing for many months, past this summer and fall, and well into next year. Unpleasant and gnawing feelings of the unknown.

There is also the palpable fear about loss of control brought about by great unplanned changes—social, economic and political—to our way of life, which might become long lasting and permanent. Our current pandemic is the kind of seminal event that I suggest will long be remembered by a great majority of people living today. It will be hard to forget, despite efforts to do so, often by keeping busy and establishing routines. All of this might be good and enviable and maybe necessary for mental health.

But will this be enough? I am not so sure. You see, I have these gnawing feelings of doubt that it will not be a return to business as usual, even when people eventually return to work, school, etc. Sure, we will try to act normal, with family, friends and colleagues, valiantly trying to forget what just took place, but there will be the invasive memories of what was and what still is with us, what remains before us.

There are certain truths we need to acknowledge. This will be with us for a long while. This is an opportunity to examine and re-examine., to reflect and make changes. A thousand and a million times over. Again and again. Words said; words that could’ve been said, but was it fear that has taken over? Powerful emotions. Not a time for victim blaming or shaming; we will have to get past that. It will not help; it will only hinder.

There will be memories of the losses. There will be memories of what could’ve been, including whether it was possible to show more kindness, more generosity, more love during these difficult and disorienting times. And more care. Aren’t these always in short supply? I wish that I was better at it. I need to be. Don't we all? For great changes are upon us; this is only the beginning.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Covid 19: What Doctors Are Afraid Of (2020)

Coronavirus Pandemic

What Doctors Are Afraid Of (Emily Buder, Jeremy Raff, and Annalise Pasztor; The Atlantic; April 4, 2020) says what must be heard. It is emotional and heart-wrenching to watch what doctors and nurses are now going through at the front lines, knowing that this is taking place and understanding that this will not be ending soon. Not soon enough.

This is a very good video of how serious this virus is; what it has already done and what it can do. This will, without a doubt, change the world in myriad ways. It will for one change the way that we think and the way that we behave with people that we don't know for at least a generation. Think about hand shaking; think about hand washing; think about personal space and its importance.

Moreover, it will change the way our governments view the importance of essential items like gloves, masks, respirators, gowns, face shields, and ventilators. among many others, and speaking as a Canadian why these must be manufactured here in Canada, so as to avoid the shortages that are now common and that are putting our front-line workers in precarious positions, i.e., danger. Needlessly. These same views apply in the United States, no doubt, and in New York City, the epicenter, all the more so. And also in so many other nations, like Italy, France and the U.K. that face serious shortages.

Without a doubt, these are essential items. One of the many outcomes of this pandemic is that it will change the discussion on globalization, particularly on the importance of having domestic manufacturing capacity to make personal protective equipment (PPE). A nation must first provide for its citizens; making PPEs here will not only ensure well-paying manufacturing jobs and a solid industrial base, but equally important, also make sure that supplies are on hand here, nearby, and when necessary give us the ability to ramp up production easily and quickly to meet need. 

The absence of domestic capacity shows itself clearly in a crisis, as we are now witnessing. It is the moral responsibility of our governments to protect us in such cases, as it seems that they are now doing, but it is still in catch-up mode. We are in this together. Cost should not matter. It is a responsibility of us, of our society, to do all that is humanly possible to ensure that our front-line workers have all the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need, so as to do their jobs safely and without fear.

We all benefit when this happens.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Our Cockatiel


Our Cockatiel is Arya, a white faced male. Arya has a wide palate; besides the regular bird fare of seeds, he enjoys homemade spaghetti with red sauce, fresh chicken soup with lokshen (noodles) and traditional matzah ball soup.
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry . Greenbaum

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Neil Diamond: Hello Again; The Jazz Singer (1980)

Neil Diamond: “Hello Again,” in a touching scene from the 1980 movie, The Jazz Singer, directed by Richard Fleischer and produced by Jerry Leider. This movie touched me when it first came out, shortly after my father died from cancer. One notable critic gave it a horrible review (one star). So much for critics; many are unhappy people, failed artists, puffed up self-important people. I no longer read critical reviews or care what these critics write or say. I have my own taste and know what I like or enjoy. I think that this is the case with most people.
Via: Youtube

Friday, April 3, 2020

Another Visit to Mill Pond (March 2020)


We returned to Mill Pond last Sunday. It was still open, and we saw our friends the ducks and the geese going about their business--duck and goose business, that is. Such is a beautiful, reassuring and calming presence in these troubling times. It is good to get out and walk about when you can. These walks in nature, always enjoyable, are more so now and so precious.

All Photos: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Thursday, April 2, 2020

April 1 at Twilight


April 1 at Twilight, which was yesterday at 6:29 a.m. Photo is taken facing in a southeast direction under clear blue skies and a temperature of 0°C (32°F).
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Neil Diamond: Brooklyn Roads (2008)

Childhood/The Good Times

Neil Diamond: Brooklyn Roads (2008) describes my childhood in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood in the 1960s. This song is the last track (no.5) on Side 1 of the album, Velvet Gloves and Spit, released on October 15, 1968. Neil Leslie Diamond was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, NY, to a Jewish family descended from Polish and Russian immigrants.
Via: Youtube

It, my childhood, was by no means perfect or without trials, but it was good and it was filled with hope and opportunity and the common belief that it was possible to achieve one’s dreams, if only one worked hard enough and applied himself in the right direction. A young person’s dreams, no doubt. Even so, I grew up during the Golden Age in America and Canada, which roughly lasted from the end of the Second World War till the late 1970s—a period of 30 years. Looking back, those were truly good years for me and for many others, I imagine. Such was then; this is now. We are now in transit (figuratively) from one place to another, a transition some would call it.

Change is inevitable, to be sure; and yet, the many changes and the pace of change in the last 30 years or so has been so overwhelming that there has not been enough time to take it all in. Things are coming to a head; one thing home isolation provides us is time, and in particular time to think. The current health pandemic is already bringing about great changes for all of us—many of these disruptions to daily routine difficult in their own right. It is not easy to witness. Gone for now are the many certainties that we counted on. What certainties will remain?

This we cannot know, not just yet. We have to wait and see; do all that we can, all that is humanly possible and hope for the best. Still, how we grapple with it in the here and now will provide us a glimpse, an idea, a sense, of how monumental a change we will all be facing once it is behind us—this pandemic caused by a tiny virus. It might be a good change over-all, a change for the better. I am glad that I am older now, having known some good times, some better times to carry me through to the future.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Klezmatics & Chava Alberstein: Zayt Gezunt

Health & Wellness

The Klezmatics & Chava Alberstein [born in 1946 in Poland and moved in 1950 to Israel]: Zayt Gezunt (“Be Healthy”) from a poem by H. Levick [1888–1962]. This is the 15th and last  track on the album, Di Krenitse (The Well), released in 1998. To say zayt gezunt is also a way of saying good-bye or farewell, but with the added emphasis on leaving with a good feeling.
Via: Youtube

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ute Lemper: Shtiler, Shtiler (2017)

Shtiler, Shtiler (Quiet, Quiet) is performed here by Ute Lemper [born in 1963 in Münster, West Germany] in Mantova, Italy, which was filmed by RAIU. The site, Music and the Holocaust, says about this song the following interesting tidbit: It was “composed by the 11-year-old Alek Volkoviski [1931–2019; changed last name to Tamir] with lyrics by Shmerke Kaczerginski [1908–1954], was one of the best-loved songs of the Vilna ghetto. The lullaby was first performed in April 1943, at one of the last Jewish Council-organised concerts before the ghetto’s liquidation. The poignant lyrics chronicle the murders taking place at Ponar, a forest near Vilna, and lament the pain and suffering of the ghetto inmates.”
Via: Youtube

Musical Ensemble

Piano: Francesco Lotoro Bass: Giuseppe Bassi Bandoneon: Victor Villena Violin: Daniel Hoffman Clarinet: Andre Campanella Ute Lemper writes about this song's importance, and others like it, as a reference point to history:
Especially as a postwar German native, married to a Jewish man here in NY since 20 years, I am eternally sensitive and tortured by the history of the Holocaust. It is my responsibility and utmost ethical longing to honor the culture of the Jewish people and stimulate the dialog about the terrible past. This is a mission that I have adopted already in 1987 when I became the protagonist of the big recordings series on DECCA "Entartete Music" that presented the Jewish composers and their music catalog banned by the Nazies. With SONGS FOR ETERNITY this mission continues and finds its most touching extension. I am overwhelmed by the stories behind each of the songs.
I studied a most unique book, a song collection by Vevel Pasternak from 1948, that gathers heartbreaking songs from the Ghettos and Concentration Camps as well as the songbook of Ilse Weber, finally published by her husband in Israel in the 90s long after he survived Auschwitz. Both music collections were given to me by my dear friend Orly Beigel who is half Mexican, half Israeli and a child of a Holocaust Survivor.
In 2015 I met Francesco Lotoro in Rome. He had dedicated many years to the research of music written in the concentration camps. It was an honor to present some of his collections with him playing the piano at our concerts.
It is an honor to share it with you.

Shtiler, Shtiler
by Shmerke Kaczerginski & Alexander Volkoviski (Tamir)

Shtiler, shtiler, lomir shvaygn
Kvorim vaksn do.
S'hobn zey farflantst si sonim:
Grinen zey tsum blo.
S'firn vegn tsu ponar tsu,
S'firt keyn veg tsurik,
Iz der tate vu farshvundn
Un mit im dos glik.
Shtiler, kind mayns, veyn nit, oytser,
S'helft nit keyn geveyn,
Undzer umglik veln sonim
Say vi nit farshteyn.
S'hobn breges oykh di yamen,
S'hobn oykhet tfises tsamen,
Nor tsu undzer payn
Keyn bisl shayn.
Friling afn land gekumen,
Un undz harbst gebrakht.
Iz der tog haynt ful mit blumen,
Undz zet nor di nakht.
Goldikt shoyn der harbst af shtamen,
Blit in undz der tsar,
Blaybt faryosemt vu a mame,
S'kind geyt af ponar.
Vi di vilye a geshmidte
T'oykh geyokht in payn,
Tsien kries ayz durkh lite
Glaykh in yam arayn.
S'vert der khoyshekh vu tserunen
Fun der fintster layktn zunen
Rayter, kum geshvind
Dikh ruft dayn kind.
Shtiler, shtiler, s'kveln kvaln
Undz in harts arum.
Biz der toyer vet nit faln
Muzn mir zayn shtum.
Frey nit, kind, zikh, s'iz dayn shmeykhl
Itst far undz farrat,
Zol dem friling zen der soyne
Vi in harbst a blat.
Zol der kval zikh ruik flisn
Shtiler zay un hof…
Mit der frayheyt kumt der tate
Shlof zhe,kind mayn, shlof.
Vi der vilye a bafrayte,

Vi di baymer grin banayte
Laykht bald frayheyts-likht
Af dayn gezikht,
Af dayn gezikht.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shpielberg: Arum Dem Fayer

Shpielberg performs Arum Dem Fayer (“Around the Campfire”) featuring  the voices of Svetlana Kundish and Mendy Cahan. Shpielberg is Daniel Hoffman (violin), Tal Kuhn (contrabass), Eli Preminger (trumpet), Yair Salzman (drums), and Ira Shiran (accordion). This is a traditional Yiddish song.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Eric Clapton: Over the Rainbow (2001)

Eric Clapton: Over the Rainbow (2001) playing at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in August 2001. Joining him onstage are Billy Preston, Andy Fairweather Low, Steve Gadd, Nathan East and Dave Sancious playing together a song about future possibilities of security and safety, which seems so appropriate today, when so many share the same dreams and hopes. You can see and listen to the original by Judy Garland, in The Wizard of Oz (1939) [here].  This song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Yip Harburg. For more about this song and its meaning then and now, go [here]. “Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...”
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Watching the Geese


A Canada Goose in Tarrytown, NY: In an article in The New York Times, James Gorman writes about the benefits of watching geese, which is something our family has been doing for years. Yes, the geese do provide entertainment and a respite from the coronavirus news. Gorman writes: “What gladdens my heart about geese, and helps fend off the virus blues, is their complete self-absorption. They really don’t care about much outside of goose life. It’s very satisfying to listen to them honking away as usual, crowding together without a worry in the world. And they do like crowds.” I can say as a long-time watcher of geese that all this is true.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Confronting Coronavirus (2020)

Community Health

Confronting Coronavirus is a PBS-TV Newshour special on what we are all now facing. It writes: “Novel coronavirus has, in just a few months, grown into a full-blown pandemic. It has stressed governments and health systems around the globe, ended an era of economic expansion and reshaped public life.” I think it bears saying that it is in our best interests to listen to the scientists and experts of public health. Listen. Learn. Do. Repeat. The situation is in flux; as the experts share with the public more of what they are finding out through science, they share it with us both through government officials and through responsible media. Thus, in this process of information transmission, we are learning more about the virus and Covid-19 and how best to respond. I trust the information transmitted is valid and good. I have no reason not to. We will not give up; we will persevere; and we will endure. We are truly in this together—all of us. This science-based show (approx 1 hr) aired on Thursday March 19th 2020
Via: PBS-TV & Youtube

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Metropolitan Opera Offers Free Viewing of Past Operas


The Metropolitan Opera Offers Free Viewing of Past Operas
Courtesy & Credit: Metropolitan Opera 

Opera fans, rejoice. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is making your stay at home more bearable and enjoyable. This famed institution writes:
During this extraordinary and difficult time, the Met hopes to brighten the lives of our audience members even while our stage is dark. Each day, a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series is being made available for free streaming on the Met website, with each performance available for a period of 23 hours, from 7:30 p.m. EDT until 6:30 p.m. the following day. The schedule will include outstanding complete performances from the past 14 years of cinema transmissions, starring all of opera’s greatest singers.
The performances are being made available through the Met Opera on Demand streaming service, and are also accessible through Met Opera on Demand apps on all of your favorite devices.
It started off the week with Monday's showcasing of Bizet’s Carmen, Tuesday's of Puccini’s La Bohème, and Wednesday's of Verdi’s Il Trovatore.


Sunday, March 22
Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin Starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev. From February 24, 2007.

Week 2: Wagner Week

Monday, March 23
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde Starring Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stuart Skelton, Evgeny Nikitin, and René Pape, conducted by Simon Rattle. From October 8, 2016.

Tuesday, March 24
Wagner’s Das Rheingold Starring Wendy Bryn Harmer, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Gerhard Siegel, Dwayne Croft, Bryn Terfel, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by James Levine. From October 9, 2010.

Wednesday, March 25
Wagner’s Die Walküre Starring Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by James Levine. From May 14, 2011.

Thursday, March 26
Wagner’s Siegfried Starring Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, and Eric Owens, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From November 5, 2011.

Friday, March 27
Wagner’s GötterdämmerungStarring Deborah Voigt, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Iain Paterson, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From February 11, 2012.

Saturday, March 28
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Starring Annette Dasch, Johan Botha, Paul Appleby, and Michael Volle, conducted by James Levine. From December 13, 2014.

Sunday, March 29
Wagner’s Tannhäuser Starring Eva-Maria Westbroek, Michelle DeYoung, Johan Botha, Peter Mattei, and Gunther Groissböck, conducted by James Levine. From October 31, 2015.

This was made possible by benefactors like The Neubauer Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Jacqueline Desmarais in Memory of Paul D. Desmarais Sr and Toll Brothers.

To access these wonderful performances and for more, go [here].

Yo Yo Ma: Dvořák’s Going Home


Yo Yo Ma [born in 1955 in Paris, France] performs Antonin Dvořák’s Going Home as part of his #SongsofComfort, a beautiful artistic gesture during this pandemic. Going Home is part of the second movement, the main theme from the Largo of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World," Op. 95, B. 178, which the Czech composer wrote soon after arriving in America in 1893. After three years in America (1892–1895), Dvořák did return home. For more, go to PBS Newshour [here], where Jeffrey Brown interviews Yo Yo Ma on March 18th 2020. There is something comforting about this piece. Music does soothe the soul. Thank you, Mr. Ma.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Visit to Mill Pond (March 2020)

Natural Beauty

My right arm is healing nicely, and I decided that now I am ready to return to my blog. Like many others, I have been busy reading much about the Covid 19 pandemic caused by the cororovirus, SARS-CoV-2, knowing that it is serious and it is prudent to heed the advice of public health experts. Like many other places in the world, Ontario declared a state of emergency (March 17) and instituted community measures, such as handwashing, surface cleaning, avoiding crowds of greater than 50 persons  and “social distancing,” to help “flatten the curve.”

While I have not noticed much fear or panic in people that I have been in contact with, I have noticed a healthy level of concern among my fellow Canadians. Will life return to normal, to the way it was before?  What changes can we make? should we make? What can we as a society of humans learn from pandemics? There is the future and there is the present—the here and now. What do we do today in the here and now? We spend time with the people that we love and care about. We talk, we listen, we think, we read and we reflect. We help others as we help ourselves. We also mourn our losses.

Consider this thought. We will persevere, we will overcome and we will endure, and it will be over--the pandemic--but life will not be the same. It cannot be, since so much has changed in such a short period of time. It will not be "business as usual," and for very good reasons, including that business as usual has not been good for most. We can do better; and this pandemic shows us not only why but also how through the actions of front-line workers like doctors, nurses, teachers, police, cleaners, sanitation persons, delivery drivers, grocery store and pharmacy cashiers and shelf stockers, pharmacists and the many men and women who keep the supply chain functioning by coming to work daily.

We thank also our government officials and political leaders, like our prime minister, our premier and our mayor, for doing their job, our public health officials and our scientists and researchers for diligently working on prevention and on a vaccine. So many people helping us out. All of us in this together. This is what I often think about.

When there is time to think, there is also time to observe and come to some important conclusions about this life that we value. This life, our life, has undoubtedly slowed down, many buildings closed, including schools, libraries, government offices, places of business, restaurants and retail outlets; and as a result, we are spending more time indoors with our families, although there is no current ban here on going to parks and other places of nature. Two weeks ago, we went to Mill Pond to take in a bit of nature, to view the Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and the mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) doing what they naturally do. I share these photos with you on what is now the third day of Spring.

All Photos: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Living in Our Crazy Disordered World

Our Society

My arm injury, and my desire to return to full functionality, has revived an interest in how we perceive the world, and in particular how we view order and disorder. When things are in order and operating as they should, we hardly notice it and tend to take it for granted. When they don't, we immediately notice and complain and view it as if something is wrong with the earth's natural order, if not that of the universe.

Is there a reason we respond to disorder in this way? I believe so. Disorder, though common and normalized in so many ways, is not our preferred way of operating or of being. We actually crave order, so when the world seems crazy and out of order (e,g., greed, corruption, etc.), people will look for answers. Many will harken to a past that seemed better and will seek answers and comfort in religious and secular ideologies, whether fascism, nationalism, illiberalism, messianism, the New Right, the Catholic Right, the Evangelical Right or (ultra)Orthodox Judaism.

While differing in beliefs, all operate on and share the principle that individual freedom is secondary to obedience to authority, which is enforced through the use of strictures and the many restrictive and punitive laws, whether religious or secular. Another equal and important principle is separation from the other, primarily defined as those individuals who think, look and act differently. The central idea is to have group conformity and no dissent or intellectual discussion, only agreement.

One commonality behind these right-wing populist movements is the anxiety about order and the seeming lack of it today. The appeal is a restoration of order, both personally and societally. Such, no doubt, is a strong appeal and understandable. There is a stronger pull to conform now than there was 25 to 30 years ago, less individual freedom today than was evident then. So strong is the need for order.

There is a price, however, to pay for such order. It is not without cost; it is not without consequence; it is not free. The cost is Individual Freedom: Freedom of Thought; Freedom of Conscience;  Freedom of Speech; Freedom of Dissent; and Freedom of Being. All are important; all operate on the same principle of freedom; and when they are denied or diluted, so is the individual.

Thus, I can't comprehend why anyone today would so easily and willingly give up the human rights and freedoms that others fought for (and in some places still fighting for), beginning with the 18th century Enlightenment, where philosophers, writers and thinkers unshackled themselves from submitting to arbitrary authority by questioning its necessity and veracity, doing so with good reason. Order, which is necessary for a liberal democratic society, has to be inclusive and contain bedrock ideas of individual freedom, free and fair elections, justice and equality.

Sadly, and much to my dismay, the last decade has seen a marked decline in such fundamentals of  western liberal democracy. The last decade of the 2010s was not a good period for me personally, a good part discussed in these pages. Nor has it been a good period for many for similar or different reasons, including loss of faith in the halls of government, in the chairs of justice and in the institutions of organized religion.

This last decade (“Decade from Hell”), which brought to the mainstream media and the public the reality of rising economic and social inequalities (“Occupy Wall Street”; "Black Lives Matter") and of mass government surveillance (“Edward Snowden”), also saw the rise of right-wing populism. This was preceded by and is a result or byproduct of another bleak decade (“Decade of Fear”), which began with an erosion of freedoms and ended with a global economic crisis (2008-2009) created and fueled by corporate arrogance and greed underscored by “too big to fail.” Well, such an idea has failed the people. You and Me. Us. Has anything changed?

Well, not anything of importance that I can see or know. Not yet. This being the case now, it is not hard to predict how the beginning of this decade is shaping up, especially since the same forces of greed and of the lust for power and money still dominate the hearts of our nations’ leaders, with very few exceptions. Truly, nothing will change until money gets out of politics, and thus its ability to influence power becomes inconsequential, unalluring.

This is not likely to happen soon, but such are ideas that dreams are made up, and are necessary ideals, to know the kind of world that we would want and in which we want to live. That such ideals cannot be currently met does not mean we ought to give up. We ought to do what we can to make the world a better place; but we must also be mindful that the forces of greed and power are as insatiable and maddening as ever. It seems demonic; it just might be.

Which brings to mind the latest Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker; it has a political message that will resonate with you. We are not alone; we are more than them. Resistance to lack of freedom in all its forms can start with that thought and build from there, becoming larger and larger. We are not alone. We are worthy. This is a well-known American film, part of a series, which any Jewish Labor Bundist would find agreeable. We are not alone.

That central idea includes you and me, the vast majority of people on this planet, who are neither wealthy nor powerful and who have no aspirations in this direction. We just want to provide for our families and live modestly.  Yet, we have to live in the chaos created by the wealthy and politically powerful. This means that we have to find a way to live in a broken, disordered world full of broken, imperfect people, such as me and you. We must do so without giving up our individuals freedoms. This explains the last decade’s many mass protests against corruption, greed and injustice—all of which is rampant.

Such protests, such citizen involvement is all good and necessary, notably as a meaningful way to bring the ideas of justice to the forefront. Many of us are tired and dispirited, seeing that the type of change and progress that we would like to see appears far away in the distance; so much so that it seems as if we have somehow failed. Thus, there is also something else that we might consider, internalize. If we can, we must find a way to also forgive ourselves (and sometimes, others) for our brokenness, for our imperfections, and for our failures. We must find the path of mercy and come to the conclusion, although counter to our thinking, that failure is not the end.

It might be the beginning of something new and unexpected. For one, that we are not alone; that “success” (as defined by money and power) is an emphremal state and is not as real as it seems, hence the reason that no one can hold on to it for long. Moreover, glorifying money only distorts reality, making it harder to see what is happening in front of us.

Failure will visit all of us at various times in our lives. One of the lies that we tell ourselves is that failure is bad, that failure can be avoided with determination and will. This in itself is a failure in understanding. It can't be avoided if all of us fail at one time or another. No, failure is as normal as the disordered crazy world that we all inhabit. It is how we view failure that reveals what we believe, where we are going and who we are.

Failure will humble us and humanize us; and in the end, this is what and who we all want to be. We want to view ourselves as kind, generous and helpful human beings (“prosocial”) who see the need and value of working together. We want to be the kind of individuals who want to step away from and not participate in a world that dehumanizes and acts callous and cruel toward others; this includes acts of exclusion and separation. We are much better than that; we all have in us a higher better way of being.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Ruthie Henshall: I Dreamed A Dream


Ruthie Henshall sings "I Dreamed A Dream" for Les Miserables' 10th Anniversary Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1995. Even or especially in failure ("life kills the dream"), one must continue, however difficult, to dream and imagine a better world, both individually and with others. Failure and defeat is not the end, although there is much pain and suffering involved, and of course loss of hope; this is often the beginning of starting over, starting something new and beginning again. There is no other choice if we are to rise again. Happy 2020 Everyone.
Via: Youtube