Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waldemar Haffkine: Ending the Plague

Great Advances in Science

The government of His Imperial Majesty prefers peasants to die with a prayer for the czar on their lips than to owe their lives to a Jew
Message of the Russian government, delivered to Waldemar Haffkine,
after he offered his assistance to Russia during a cholera outbreak in Russia, in 1892

Alone of all religious and philosophic conceptions of man, the faith which binds together the Jews has not been harmed by the advance of research, but on the contrary has been vindicated in its profoundest tenets.
Waldemar Haffkine, in A Plea for Orthodoxy, 1916

Unlike tetanus or diphtheria, which were quickly neutralized by effective vaccines by the turn of the century, the immunological aspects of bubonic plague proved to be much more daunting.
Myron Echenberg, Journal of World History 13:2 (2002): 429


Waldemar Mordecai Wolff Haffkine [1860-1930]: "The journey we make here upon the earth is so short. Before we know where we are, we are at the end, and called upon to answer an inner voice: ‘Have you finished the work you had to do?’ Happy are they who can think, yes, they have finished their work.”
Waldemar Haffkine, a 19th century microbiologist,  invented the vaccines for the bubonic plague and cholera. He spent a good part of his life in India, where his discoveries greatly helped reduce the incidences of both infectious diseases. While other measures are now in place to prevent both plague and cholera, Haffkine's vaccines undoubtedly contributed greatly to the efforts to better humanity, thereby saving many millions of lives.

Small wonder, then, that Lord Joseph Lister of the United Kingdom called Haffkine “a savior of humanity.” Lister himself was no stranger to medical achievement, having made great contributions to humanity's betterment as a surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Yet, many people in England, Canada and the United States would have a hard time not only knowing who Haffkine was, but also what his great contributions to science meant to the prevention of infectious diseases and epidemics.

Less than one hundred years ago, however, the audience was intimately familiar with the name of Haffkine, a point that Edythe Lutzker and Carol Jochnowitz made in an article for the American Society of Microbiology News published in 1987:
Writing in the 1920s and 1930s, Sinclair Lewis (in Arrowsmith) and A. J. Cronin (in The Citadel) mentioned his name as one with which their readers would be automatically familiar. It is hard today to find anyone in this country who has ever heard of him.
All the more reason that Haffkine deserves greater recognition.

The Early Years

Waldemar Mordecai Wolfe Haffkine, born Vladimir Aronovich Havkin, in Odessa, Russia, on March 15, 1860, was the fourth of five surviving children of Rosalie Landsberg and Aaron Havkin, a schoolmaster.The family was Jewish and of modest circumstances. Haffkine’s mother died just before his seventh birthday and his father was frequently absent on business. His childhood was therefore lonely. Haffkine never married.

Haffkine received most of his early education in Berdiansk, where he attended the local gymnasium (school)  and excelled academically. Afterward, he enrolled in the Department of Natural Sciences in Odessa Malorossiysky University and studied physics, mathematics and zoology. He supported his studies with small sums he earned as a tutor and graduated with a doctorate in science in 1884.

During his formative years studying, Haffkine came under the influence of Élie Metchnikoff, who was one of his professors and mentors. Metchnikoff left Russia for good in 1888, and joined the Pastuer Institute in Paris, where he worked the rest of his life. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1908 for his work on phagocytes, the body's white blood cells that protect it against infections.) Haffkine would also make his way to the Pasteur Institute and join his mentor there in 1889.

Haffkine, for a short time, was a member of Narodnaya Volya ("The People's Will'), but after the group turned to terrorism against public officials, including the assasination of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881 Haffkine left the revolutionary movement. He also was a member of the Jewish League for Self-Defense, which became more relevant after pogroms directed at the Jewish people became more pronounced in the 1880s. Haffkine was injured while defending a Jewish home during a pogrom. He was arrested but later released due to the intervention of Metchnikoff.

After graduation, Haffkine was offered a teaching position at the university, with the condition that he convert to Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church, which given the importance that Judaism played in his life, he refused to do:  
Instead he accepted an appointment as kustos—assistant—in the Odessa Museum of Zoology, which he held until 1888. While there he wrote two articles that were published in the Annales des sciences naturelles of Paris, and he became a member of the Society of Naturalists of Odessa.
In 1888, Haffkine was allowed to emigrate to Switzerland and taught for one year at the University of Geneva under Moritz Schiff. A year later, he garnered a position at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, joining Metchnikoff. Haffkine was offered the only position open, a librarian, which he gladly accepted. In 1890, he became assistant director at the institute. His focus was on cholera, a deadly disease.
Haffkine in India: In 1894, Haffkine inoculated almost 25,000 people with his cholera vaccine, most who survived the disease. After contacting malaria, Haffkine returned to France to recuperate; he later reported his findings to the Royal College of Physicians in August 1895. After which,  Haffkine returned to India, in March 1896, and vaccinated an additional 30,000 people in seven months.
Source: http://www.hafftka.com/haffkine/haffkine.jpg
The Cholera Vaccine

By the time Haffkine had arrived at the Pasteur Institute, Robert Koch, a Prussian physician, had isolated the bacterium Vibrio cholerae as responsible for cholera, in 1883. Although the bacterium had been previously isolated by Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini in 1854, the prevailing view was that of miasma theory of disease, a Medieval-era theory related to poor air quality, and not the germ theory of diseases, which would take a few more decades to become the accepted scientific theory. Such were the conditions at the time.

In 1888, during an epidemic, Haffkine had taken up cholera research. By the time he arrived in Paris, he produced an attenuated form of the bacterium by exposing it to blasts of hot air. A series of animal trials confirmed the efficacy of the inoculation. Then came the human trials, which he performed on himself:
Risking his own life, on July 18, 1892, Haffkine performed the first human test on himself. He injected himself with a dose of four times the strength that was later used, recorded his reactions, and determined that his vaccine was safe for human use.

On July 30 he reported his findings to the Biological Society of Paris. His success brought him congratulations from Koch, Roux, and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895).
Even though his discovery caused enthusiastic stir in the press, it was not widely accepted by his senior colleagues, including both Mechnikov and Pasteur, nor by European official medical Establishment in France, Germany and Russia.
That being the case, Haffkine decided that he needed to test the vaccine under real-life epidemic conditions. He offered the vaccine to his nation of birth, Russia, but was rebuffed in that now-famous response from the Russian Imperial Court, that "His Imperial majesty prefers peasants to die with a prayer for the czar on their lips than to owe their lives to a Jew."

I am unsure if Russian peasants died with a prayer for the czar on their lips, but die they did. The fifth cholera pandemic claimed more than 250,000 lives in Russia; and the sixth pandemic in the first quarter of the twentieth century another 500,000 individuals. The vaccine could have prevented some, if not a good many, deaths.

So, Haffkine went to India, arriving in March 1893. At first, Haffkine was met with suspicion by the locals, but eventually he won their trust, vaccinating almost 25,000 people, with great success. After contacting malaria, Haffkine returned to France, and dedicated his successes to Louis Pastueur, who had recently died (September 1895).


Cholera Still Prevalent

In seven pandemics beginning in 1817, cholera has killed millions of people worldwide, says a CBC report. It still affects three to five million people, resulting in between 100 000 and 120 000 deaths [source: WHO]. Cholera still exists in the world, and can make a home where poor sanitation exists.

Such is the case in Haiti, more than a year after an earthquake devastated the poor island nation of ten million inhabitants. Health officials from the Harvard Medical School predict that there will be 800,000 persons suffering from cholera in Haiti alone this year. (see article: VOA).

The problem can be boiled down to inaction, a point that one of the study's authors, Jason Andrews of Harvard Medical School, makes clearly:
Certainly, if more aggressive interventions were done, such as vaccinating a larger proportion of the population or a faster rollout of clean water, the impact of interventions could be greater. But what we found was by doing all three of these interventions, you could avert a substantial burden of cholera and a substantial burden of deaths over the coming year, and that's one of the main messages of my analysis.
And vaccinations, along with a clean water supply, ensures that a cholera epidemic can be averted.

The Plague Vaccine

Haffkine then turned his attention to the plague. In October 1896, an epidemic of bubonic plague struck Bombay (now Mumbai) and the government asked Haffkine to help. In 1894, Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute, had isolated the bacteurium, Yersinia pestis, responsible for the plague. Humans are incidental hosts and are usually infected by the bite of rodent fleas.

The Plague, also linked to the bubonic plague, was feared, and many stories have been written about it, a testament to the fear it instilled in the hearts of humanity. It killed an estimated 200 million people through three major pandemics: the Plague of Justinian (541-542), which might have killed 100 million people in the eastern Roman Empire; Second Pandemic, or Black Death (1347-1351), a massive pandemic that hit Asia, Africa, Europe, killing as much as 75 million people and contributing to the destruction of the feudal system in Europe; and the Third Pandemic (1855-1959), which originated in China in 1855 and killed more than 12 million people in India and China alone. (Haffkine's vaccination efforts greatly kept the numbers lower than in previous outbreaks.)


The Black Death: Burning of the Jews, 1349. As was common during the Medieval Age in Europe, Jews were often blamed and killed for various diseases and plagues. To avoid such horrible libels and the resulting tragedies, both on the Jews in particular and humanity in general, drove Haffkine's search for a vaccine for the plague.
SourceWikipedia: A History of the Jewish People by H.H. Ben-Sasson, ed. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1976) p.564-565

The Development & Human Trial 

After arriving in India, the British authorities gave Haffkine a tiny research space in the corridor of the Grant Medical College in Bombay. On January 10, 1897, Haflkine again became a human test subject, the first to test the efficacy of the vaccine he had developed. He gave himself a dosage four times greater than what he would normally use, as he did with the cholera vaccine. He experienced a painful week of fever, and then announced his findings to the authorities, Edythe Lutzker and Carol Jochnowitz said in an excellent article on Haffkine:
Two weeks later, when plague struck the Byculla Jail, he put his vaccine to a controlled test. (The British had originally regarded prison trials as morally impermissible, but had relented in the face of a virulent cholera epidemic in 1894.) There were 154 volunteers, 3 of whom were found to have been suffering from plague at the time of inoculation; those three died. Two more volunteers developed plague but recovered. Of the 170 controls, 12 caught plague; 6 of them died.
In the next five years, from 1897 to 1902, Haffkine met continued resistance from the British authorities on many fronts, and rarely supplied him the manpower and equipment he needed to produce increasing dosages of the plague vaccine. This despite Haffkine's position as Director of the Plague Laboratory in Bombay (now called Haffkine Institute). But Haffkine persisted despite the animosity and jealously shown by British officials toward what they considered an "upstart" and his new ways.

In what has been called The Little Dreyfus Affair, an allusion to Haffkine's Jewish background, in 1902 Haffkine was falsely accused of administering an unsafe vaccine when nineteen Punjabi villagers died of tetanus. After having been relieved of his position. Haffkine returned to England to clear his good name. It took four years, but it came together when eminent scientists from Britain, including Ronald Ross, the Nobel laureate, signed a letter in Haffkine's defense that was published in the (London) Sunday Times in July 1907. The letter declared that the case against Haffkine was “not only not proven, but distinctly disproven.”

That was enough for the Indian government to reverse its earlier findings. Haffkine's good name remained untarnished. He returned to Calcutta, India, where he remained for eight years at a reduced salary and position, a humbling experience for such an eminent scientist.

Even so, his contribution was great. By the turn of the century, the number of persons inoculated with Hafflkine's vaccine in India alone reached four million.  The World Heath Organization considered the pandemic active until 1959, when deaths dropped to 200 per year.

In a very interesting article in The New York Times titled "Europe's Plagues Came From China, Study Finds" (October 31, 2010), scientists have determined that all three major plagues have their origins in China.

The Latter Years


In 1915 Haffkine reached compulsory retirement age of fifty-five and left India to spend some time in London and then in Boulogne-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris. Although he occasionally wrote for medical journals, he devoted a great part of his time to Jewish affairs, which is evident in an article he wrote for The Menorah Journal: April 1916, titled A Plea for Orthodoxy.

As the title intimates, the article lays out the appeal of traditional ways. In such traditions steeped in history, Haffkine found not only community and comfort, but the "only possible foundation of an orderly and prosperous life." For Haffkine, that order came from the Commandments given at Mount Sinai. The reach and depth of the Commandments was open to all humanity.

Some honors came his way, some before and some after his death. Queen Victoria made Haffkine a Companion of the Indian Empire, the Tata Institute of Science in Bangalore elected him to its Court of Visitors, the Plague Research Institute that he founded in Bombay (now Mumbai) was renamed in his honour in 1925, and still bears the name Haffkine Institute. In commemoration of the centennial of his birth, Haffkine Park was planted in Israel in the 1960s.

Haffkine moved to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1928, and in 1929, he created the Haffkine Foundation, which still exists, for fostering religious, scientific, and vocational education in Eastern European yeshivas, or Jewish religious schools. To the foundation, he bequeathed his personal fortune of $500.000.

In his rented room in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the evening of October 25, 1930, Waldemar Haffkine died from the heart condition he had been suffering for 10 years. He was seventy. In an obituary in Science magazine (Vol 73: 1881), published a few months later, on January 16, 1931, the writer, F. G. Benedict, said:
As a scientist, Haffkine was meticulously careful and accurate in his work and well as ingenious in his methods. As a man his character would be summed up in the following words, a quotation from a letter received by the writer from Dr. M. Archer, Bex, Switzerland, who attended the funeral: "Great was his scientific work in that he literally saved millions of lives but equally great was the personal character of the man and, most particularly, his modesty and humility. He never asked for help from any man but he was always ready to help."
Those are words worthy of a man who did his utmost to help better the human condition of all people. On a personal note, for Haffkine, a practicing Jew, ending the plague, the biological disease, was important on two fronts: to alleviate the suffering of all humanity, which he was successful; and to end the plague of hatred that has often been directed at the Jewish people. It's a virulent strain, and that work still continues.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John Lee Hooker: Boom Boom

The Blues Brothers

This is a video clip from the film, The Blues Brothers (1980), set in Chicago, home of the blues.The film starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, two of the pioneers of Saturday Night Live, an American television show.

Written by: John Lee Hooker
Recorded: Late 1961
Released: May 1962
Album: Burnin'
Label: Vee-Jay Records
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From Wikipedia:
Boom Boom is an uptempo stop-time blues song that does not follow a typical twelve-bar blues pattern. "Hooker's sense of timing was his and his alone, demanding big-eared sidemen".[2] Backing John Lee Hooker (vocal and guitar) are members of the Funk Brothers (Joe Hunter (piano), James Jamerson (bass), and Benny Benjamin (drums)); plus Larry Veeder (guitar), Hank Cosby (tenor saxophone), and Andrew "Mike" Terry (baritone saxophone).

The song became a hit, reaching #16 in the Billboard R&B chart where it spent eight weeks in 1962.[3]Billboard Hot 100 (1962 at #60), one of only two Hooker singles to do so.[3] Thirty years later, after being featured in a Lee Jeans commercial in 1992, the song reached #16 in the UK Singles Chart.[4]
In 1995, the song was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of "The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[5] "Boom Boom" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009 in the "Classics of Blues Recording" category.[6]
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Boom Boom
By John Lee Hooker

Boom boom boom boom
I'm gonna shoot you right down,
right offa your feet
Take you home with me,
put you in my house
Boom boom boom boom
A-haw haw haw haw
Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm
Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm

I love to see you strut,
up and down the floor
When you talking to me,
that baby talk
I like it like that
Whoa, yeah!
Talk that talk, walk that walk

When she walk that walk,
and talk that talk,
and whisper in my ear,
tell me that you love me
I love that talk
When you talk like that,
you knocks me out,
right off of my feet
Hoo hoo hoo
Talk that talk, and walk that walk 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sandy Koufax: A Dodger True and Blue

Great Legends of Sport

The game has a cleanness. If you do a good job, the numbers say so. You don't have to ask anyone or play politics. You don't have to wait for the reviews.
Sandy Koufax

The only time I really try for a strikeout is when I'm in a jam. If the bases are loaded with none out, for example, then I'll go for a strikeout. But most of the time I try to throw to spots. I try to get them to pop up or ground out. On a strikeout I might have to throw five or six pitches, sometimes more if there are foul-offs. That tires me. So I just try to get outs. That's what counts - outs. You win with outs, not strikeouts.
Sandy Koufax, My Greatest Day in Baseball by John P. Carmichael

There is among us a far closer relationship than the purely social one of a fraternal organization because we are bound together not only by a single interest but by a common goal. To win. Nothing else matters, and nothing else will do. 
Sandy Koufax, What Baseball Means to Me by Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax, in 1961, was a big fan of spring training: "People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball."
Photo Credit: Baseball Digest, front cover, October 1961 issue
Source: Wikipedia

One of the greatest pitching battles in professional baseball took place between Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers and  Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium on September 9, 1965, before 29,139 fans, undoubtedly the vast majority rooting for the Dodgers that evening. The fans weren't disappointed, witnessing a pitching classic on both sides they soon wouldn't forget.

Bob Hendley of the Cubs pitched a masterful game, allowing only one hit and two batters to reach base. Hendley had a no-hitter going until the seventh inning. Usually, that would have been good enough for a victory. Unfortunately for Hendley and the Cubs, Koufax was perfect that night, throwing 113 pitches, facing 27 batters and retiring all of them—striking out the last six batters.

In all, Koufax struck out 14 batters, the most recorded for a perfect game. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0, scoring an unearned run (see boxscore).Sandy Koufax became the sixth pitcher of the modern era, and eighth overall, to throw a perfect game, the first by a left-hander since 1880. The game was Koufax's fourth no-hitter, setting a Major League Baseball record (later only broken by Nolan Ryan).

If there were any doubt about Koufax's abilities, that game at the tail end of his career established Koufax among the greatest pitchers of all time. Called "the man with the golden arm," he struck out batters with uncanny regularity. He pitched with a straight overhand motion, which differed from the traditional three-quarters arm motion of pitchers. In terms of body mechanics, such a delivery style would later wear out his arm prematurely.

Although his pitching arsenal consisted mainly of two pitches: a four-seam fastball that had a rising motion due to its underspin, and a curveball that dropped as much as two feet, Koufax became a pitching legend. Even though hitters could guess which pitch was coming, they still couldn't hit it.  "Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork," Willie Stargell, a slugger with the Pittsburgh Pirates, once said.

Initially in his career, Koufax pitched wildly and erratically, trying too hard to overpower hitters, But when catcher Norm Sherry in 1961 advised Koufax to take a little off his fastball, he settled down and became one of professional baseball's greats. He struck out fourteen batters twice in his career: (in 1959 and 1962). Koufax played his entire career with the Dodgers (1955-1966), first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles to where the team moved in 1958.


In twelve seasons with the Dodgers, the six-foot-two, two hundred and ten pound lefthander compiled a career 165-87 won-loss record a stellar 2.76 earned run average (ERA) and had 2,396 strikeouts in 2,324.4 innings pitched, an average of about one strikeout per inning. He currently ranks 38th on the list of the most strikeouts by a pitcher, which Nolan Ryan leads with 5,714 strikeouts in 27 years as a player.

No 32 for the Dodgers: Koufax had a straight over-the-top pitching motion.
Source: http://www.craigliebenson.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/sandy-koufax.jpeg

A Man of Principles

He won the Cy Young Award as baseball's best pitcher three times: 1963, 1965 & 1966. He was on four World Series championship teams and played in seven All-Star games. In four World Series, he had a cumulative 4-3 record, a 0.95 ERA, 61 strikeouts, and two shutouts. (For a full list of his stats, go here.)

One of the most memorable moments came later on in 1965, this time testifying to his religious beliefs. As a Jew, Koufax decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series between the Dodgers and the (Minnesota) Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement.

Koufax said that personal beliefs took precedent over professional obligations, and it was not a surprise, he recounted in his 1966 autobiography: "There was never any decision to make…because there was never any possibility that I would pitch…the club knows that I don’t work that day.”

His choice, a natural by-product of who he was, not only made national news, but it fleshed out the conflict between personal belief and societal norms—very much in evidence today. The decision didn't affect his performance. Koufax pitched two complete game shutouts in Games 5 and 7, and the Dodgers won the Series four games to three.

The Early Years


Sandford Braun was born in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, New York to Evelyn Braun (nee Lichtenstein) and Jack Braun on December 30, 1935. It was a middle-class Jewish neighborhood.

When Sandy was three, his parents divorced, and his father abandoned the family. His mother, Evelyn, moved in with her parents, Max and Dora Lichtenstein, who instilled a sense of Jewish culture in the young boy. Sandy's mother worked long hours as an accountant to support her family. When Sandy was nine, his mother married Irving Koufax, a lawyer, and Sandy took his name. The family moved to Long Island's Rockville Centre, a suburban enclave with lots of parks and green space.

In his new family Sandy got a sister, Edie. Of greater importance for a young boy, he grew close to his stepfather, whom he fondly considered his father and role model. As Matt Doeden wrote in Sandy Koufax: "When I speak of my father, I speak of Irving Koufax, for he has been to me everything a father could be."  His father was there for the young boy and encouraged him.

Before tenth grade, Koufax's family moved back to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, where Koufax attended Lafayette High School. Koufax initially preferred basketball to baseball.  When he did play sandlot baseball in Brooklyn, he initially played as a first baseball, only taking up pitching when he was fifteen. Koufax spent much of his time playing basketball at the Jewish Community Center in Bensonhurst.

After graduation, Koufax attended University of Cincinnati, studying architecture, on a basketball scholarship. In the spring  of 1954, he made the college baseball varsity team. He compiled a 3-1 record with 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 31 innings, a pattern that would continue for the first years of his professional career.

That year, Koufax tried out with the New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers. 


No hits: Sandy Koufax pitched four no hitters in his twelve-year career with the Dodgers.
Signs with the Hometown Dodgers

He signed with his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers in the summer of 1954 for $6,000 a season and a $14,000 signing bonus, a contract worth $20,000. Koufax, 19, played his first game a year later on June 24, 1955. In his first game, Koufax pitched two scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Braves. His first start was July 6, where he pitched only 4 ⅔ innings, giving up eight walk.

That year, he appeared in 12 games, pitching  41.7 innings. He had five starts with a 2-2 record, with two complete games and two shutouts and a 3.02 ERA. The Dodgers won their first-ever World Series in 1955. Koufax received a ring, but did not participate in post-season play.

The next year was similar, and Koufax still struggled to find a regular place on the rotation as he struggled to control his blazing fastball. Koufax made the regular rotation in 1957, his third year in the majors, but as was his record in the earlier years, it was still marred by control problems, erratic outings and wild pitches. Although he had a blazing fastball and he could strike out batters, he had problems controlling it. For example, in 1957, Koufax led the National League with 17 wild pitches and 105 walks.

In 1958 the team left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, after historic Ebbets Field became unsuitable for the ball-club, and  Walter O'Malley, the team's owner, couldn't come to an agreement for a new stadium in Brooklyn with the city of New York's politicians, including city planner Robert Moses.

Gaining Control


Out west, Koufax's pitching woes continued. Koufax, a pitcher with great promise, was not living up to his potential. It finally came together in Koufax's mind after he had a talk with Norm Sherry, the Dodgers backup catcher during spring training in 1961:
Entering the 1961 season, Koufax had a record of 36-40 and had walked 405 batters in 691.2 innings in his first 6 seasons. At spring training, it seemed that like nothing had changed as Koufax still had a blazing fast ball, but little control.

Then, Sandy had a conversation with backup catcher Norm Sherry (brother of the Dodgers' 1959 World Series MVP), who told him, "Sandy, you could solve your control problem if you'd just try to throw the ball easier. Just get it over the plate. You've still got enough 'swift' on it to get the hitters out."

Although he had heard that advice before, for some reason, Koufax listened this time and said, "In the past I'd go out there and, every pitch I threw, I'd try to throw harder than the last one. From then on, I tried to throw strikes and make them hit the ball. The whole difference was control. Not just controlling the ball, but controlling myself, too."
During the next six seasons, 1961 to 1966, Koufax was without argument the best pitcher in baseball. He won 129 games against 47 losses, and striking out 1,713 batters. In 1961, he posted an 18–13 record, and led the league with 269 strikeouts, breaking Christy Mathewson's 58-year-old National League mark of 267.

In 1963, Major League baseball extended the strike zone, which helped reduce the total number of walks by pitchers. In that year, Koufax won the pitchers' Triple Crown, leading the league in with 25 wins, 306 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA.  In the World Series, The Dodgers swept the Yankees in four games. Koufax was the Series MVP.

In 1965, Koufax played most of the season with pain, his arm suffering from traumatic arthritis. He took painkillers and soaked his arm in ice after each start. Despite this, Koufax led the Dodgers to another pennant, pitching 335⅔ innings. He won another pitcher's Triple Crown, leading the league with 26 wins, a 2.04 ERA and 382 strikeout. Despite not pitching the first game of the World Series for religious observance of Yom Kippur, Koufax led the team to another victory against the Minnesota Twins, and again was Series MVP.

The Later Years & Post Retirement

But his arm couldn't continue taking the punishment from pitching, which team physician, Robert Kerlan, had told Koufax at the beginning of his last season. In his last year, Koufax pitched 323 innings, compiling a record of 27 wins and nine losses (27-9). After the 1966 World Series, which the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games, Koufax, 30, announced his retirement due to his arthritic condition.

His last game was on October 2, 1966. His over-the-top pitching style took a lot out of his arm. As Koufax said in his famous retirement speech: "I've got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with the complete use of my body."

In Baseball Digest (May 1985), Koufax said that although the perfect game was important, it was not the highlight of his career.  His last regular season game in 1966, in which the Dodgers beat the Phillies 6-3, was:
Really the highlight of my career was the last game of 1966. We were playing a doubleheader in Philadelphia. We needed to win one of the two to clinch the pennant and I knew it was my last year. We won and it meant an awful lot to me to win the last one.
Rightfully, many honors followed such a great player. Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility, the youngest inductee at age 36, five months younger than the Yankee great Lou Gehrig. In 1999, The Sporting News placed Koufax at number 26 on its list of "The 100 Greatest Baseball Players." That same year, he was named as one of the 30 players on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Sandy Koufax married Anne Widmark, daughter of movie star Richard Widmark, on January 10,1969, in a civil ceremony at the home of actor Richard Windmark in West Los Angeles. He was 33; she was 23.The couple divorced in the early 1980s. He then remarried and divorced his second wife in what has been described as a brief marriage. He has no children, Koufax is an intensely private man who wants his baseball exploits to speak for themselves. He is also known as a decently nice individual.

Koufax lives in Vero Beach, Florida,  a few miles from Dodgertown, where the Dodgers held spring training for sixty years until they moved to Glendale, Arizona, a few years ago. As for his fairly short career, due in large part to his pitching style, Koufax offered the following in the same 1985 Baseball Digest interview: "Maybe my ability to throw hard might have brought my career to an end. Maybe if I have saved myself it would have affected my pitching. I don't know. But I have no regrets."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Does Wall Street Really Do?

Money & Society

A collapse in U.S. stock prices certainly would cause a lot of white knuckles on Wall Street. But what effect would it have on the broader U.S. economy? If Wall Street crashes, does Main Street follow? Not necessarily.
Ben Bernanke, Current Chairman of the Federal Reserve in the United States

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.
Gordon Gecko, Wall Street, a 1987 film by Oliver Stone

The 400 of us pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you're in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.
Warren Buffet, speaking at a $4,600-a-seat political fundraiser in New York,
as quoted in "Buffett blasts system that lets him pay less tax than secretary",
Times Online, June 28, 2007.

The Stock Exchange, the Gambling Pit:  As Vince Cable, British cabinet minister, said: "Investment banking has, in recent years, resembled a casino, and the massive scale of gambling losses has dragged down traditional business and retail lending activities as banks try to rebuild their balance sheets. This was one aspect of modern financial liberalization that had dire consequences."
Source: Reuters



In yesterday's post, I played the song by Paul McCartney, Live and Let Die. Although the song was made for a James Bond film of the same name, I have been thinking about the expression itself.

Live and let die essentially means that you take a self-centred approach to life, taking everything for yourself and not caring about the welfare of others. It could also mean having a callous disregard for others, ignoring their plight, sticking to bureaucratic rules and forms, policies and procedures, but in the end really doing nothing for others. Or pointing to expediency, to inhumane rules and to policy so as to, in the end, deny aid.

Such are the conditions that many of us live with ... daily. Although they would not likely admit to it, this might be the theme song for all those greedy self-important people, who casually and easily take such sentiments to heart, and whose policies of self-aggrandizement  and self-enrichment have made the world a much poorer place for the vast majority of persons.

Instead of  using their power and position to help humanity, which is central to the essays and music contained in this blog, such insensitive, avaricious and voracious individuals have contributed contemptible acts of inhumanity to humanity. In their calculations and homage to self and self-interest, such men and women rarely if ever consider the merit of working or thinking for humanity's sake. 

Live and let die, a horrible expression if there ever was one, is the opposite of the saying, "Live and let live," which means you want to live in peace and to allow others the same right. Economic terrorism, a tough word no doubt, but that is essentially what the policies of the financial world of bankers, Wall Street traders and high financiers has resulted in. Most of the world reaps the (dis)benefits of their decisions. (see Dante's Inferno: A Modern Reading & The Rich Shall Always Be With Us.)

The Less Fortunate: Children sleeping in Mulberry Street, 1890. As bad as things were, things would get worse a few years later with the Panic of 1893, an economic depression that hit the United States, chiefly a result of speculation in railroads and bank failures.  In its comment on its effects, Vassar College said:  "In its impact on industry and employment, the depression of the 1890s was on a par with the Great Depression of the 1930s."
Photo Credit: Jacob Riis [1849-1914]
Source: Wikipedia
Gambling With the Future

I have always wondered what such people on Wall Street really do. The images of the trading floor seems pure bedlam, screaming, gesticulating and scurrying about like mice with pieces of paper in their hands. Today, it might be in digital form, but you get the idea. In short, what value do they contribute to society?

It seems to me that their job is a form of gambling and betting on certain outcomes, albeit financial ones. They might use fancier more sophisticated computer-generated algorithms than the casino gambler, but isn't betting still betting? I am not sure how gambling and betting does good for the average Jill or Joe.

Etay Zwick made this point in an article, "Predatory Habits: How Wall Street Transformed Work in America," in ThePointMagazine.com:
Twenty-five years before the recent financial crisis, Nobel Laureate James Tobin demonstrated that a very limited percent of the capital flow originating on Wall Street goes toward financing “real investments”—that is, investments in improving a firm’s production process. When large American corporations invest in new technology, they rely primarily on internal funds, not outside credit. The torrents of capital we see on Wall Street are devoted to a different purpose—speculation, gambling for capital gains.
It would be better economically if this wasn't so, if Wall Street invested money in companies that produced something tangible. Such policies and actions would undoubtedly create jobs, bolster newer technologies, say, alternative energies, and generally increase confidence among the citizenry. It would place America once again among the forefront of nations dedicated to scientific, medical and technological advancement.

Yet, like gamblers who have an addiction or an affliction (or a genetic disorder as some might say), these men (and it's mostly men) find it exciting to bet with other people's money for personal gain. It's an adrenaline rush of the junkie.

And even if they bet wrongly, there are no real repercussions. There's always the government to bail them out with tax dollars, as the TARP program did for Wall Street in 2008. And these fine men from fine colleges get richly rewarded. Is there something wrong with this picture?

Perhaps someone from Wall Street would do me the courtesy of explaining in simple terms what exactly they do. At least athletes, actors, musicians and performers do something positive: entertain and make people forget their misery. Even the court jester had a purpose.
Homeless Shelter in Los Angeles: A cardboard box serves as a home for some people in Los Angeles, California, not far from the luxurious and more sturdy homes of the privileged and super-wealthy classes. This photo was taken a few years before the housing bubble and the financial crisis of 2008. Homelessness has increased since then by a large degree. (see Tent Cities.)
Photo Credit: Chris Sansenbach, 2005.
Source: Wikipedia


The Results Are Poor

But for this class of super-elites, the bottom line is a bottom line of personal enrichment and self-aggrandizement. Consider the following sobering news. The effects of the recent housing bubble and economic recession, which started in December 2007 in large if not all due to Wall Street's reckless ways,  is still being felt by millions of Americans and inestimable number of millions around the world. Eight million jobs lost, likely never to return. The result? 6.6 million Americans have lost their homes since 2007, and 12 million more expected nationally within the next five years.

It gets worse. No job. No home. What you get is homelessness. Recent estimates say that up to one-quarter of American children are essentially homeless or living in squalid poverty, reaching the levels of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Such, however, is little concern for such individuals, who blithely carry on as if nothing has changed.

That in rich industrialized America many millions of people fall through the cracks, and die as a result of such harsh monetary and fiscal policies, seems to not bother such individuals at all. They drink their champagne and eat their caviar with insouciance.

But it doesn't stop there. Many not only carry on, business as usual, but take money that rightfully does not belong to them. Stealing money in any form is a crime. Billionaires Warren Buffet and Charles Munger, both considered astute investors, have observed how the pen is mightier than the sword, but not in the sense of writing for a noble cause:
Over the years, Charlie [Munger] and I have observed many accounting-based frauds of staggering size. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many have not even been censured. It has been far safer to steal large sums with pen than small sums with a gun.
The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America (2001)
Did Warren Buffet turn in these fraudsters? Or did he keep silent, afraid to offend his wealthy associates, his conscience cleared by writing about it in general non-concrete terms? As for Charlie Munger, he is no friend of the middle-class homeowner, as is evident in a Bloomberg Business article in 2010, entitled "Munger Says `Thank God' U.S. Opted for Bailouts Over Handouts:
There’s danger in just shoveling out money to people who say, ‘My life is a little harder than it used to be,’” Munger said at the event, which was moderated by CNBC’s Becky Quick. “At a certain place you’ve got to say to the people, ‘Suck it in and cope, buddy. Suck it in and cope.’” 
Of course, good old Charlie Munger is coping nicely. It's not surprising that such people respond in such an insensitive manner. Wealth has hardened their hearts and clouded their thinking, making them less than human. Perhaps one day such people will awaken from their self-induced narcotic slumber and come to the realization that there is much more to life than enlarging the bottom line of a bank by another billion dollars per quarter, or pouring money into another hedge fund, or issuing derivatives or more junk bonds through some computerized trading scheme.

The American Nightmare

Neither does  the average citizen on Main Street really care or understand the abstract importance of increasing a nation's GDP, its productivity numbers, bettering balance of payments, or reducing the deficit— if they are scrambling to make ends meet—living from paycheque to paycheque.  Millions are not living the American Dream. It's more like the American Nightmare.

To use the language of accounting, let's see what Wall Street has accomplished so far in America alone: Eight million job losses. Almost seven million foreclosures. One-quarter of children living in a non-permanent residence.

For Wall Street, whose companies lost thirty-five billion dollars in 2008, such results translated to more than eighteen billion dollars in bonuses, the New York Times reported. Some bankers gave themselves bonuses of millions of dollars. The average bonus was $112,000. Nice work, if you can get it.

No, not really.  Not if you have a working conscience. There's much more to life. There's much more to living. There's a world of humanity out there. We can only hope for a change to a better order of things. People deserve better. The Jews call it teshuvah. The Christians call it repentance.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ofra Haza: Yad B'Yad




Lyrics by: Bezalel Aloni
Music by: Zvika Pik
*************************

Ofra Haza, of Yemeni-Jewish descent, was one of the most popular singers from Israel in the 1980s until her death in 2000. As a testament to her qualities as both a performer and individual, Haza's singing was able to bridge the divide between Israel and the Arab countries. Sadly, Ofra Haza died on February 23, 2000 at the age of 42, of AIDS-related pneumonia.

In this video clip, Haza sings with some school children about the need to work together, hand in hand.

יד ביד
 אם המים גועשים
וחייך כה קשים
אל תיפול ברוחך
בוא גלה את עצמך
רק בך עוצמה רבה

כמעיין המתגבר
יד ביד הן שיר חוזר
שתי עיניך ועיני
הן הכוח עד בלי די
הן האור באפלה

יד ביד אם רק תיתן לי יד
יד ביד נצעד את כל הדרך
יד ביד אם רק תיתן לי יד
יד אם רק תיתן
יד ביד לאורך כל הדרך
יד ביד

יד ביד לאוהבים
אין תקווה לבודדים
יד ביד לחיילים
אל הבית שוב חוזרים
שוב חוזרים

יד ביד לנדכאים
עצובי מבט תוהים
אל האור במרחקים
אל האור שבמרומים
לתקווה בחלומות

יד ביד אם רק תתן לי יד


Yad B'Yad (Hand in Hand)

If the waters are raging
And your life is so hard
Don't let your spirit fall
Come, discover yourself
Within you there is great strength

Like an everlasting fountain
Hand in hand, like a repeating song
Your two eyes in mine
They are an endless strength
They are light in the darkness

Chorus:
Hand in hand,
If only you'll give me your hand
Hand in hand,
We'll march down the entire road
Hand in hand,
If only you'll give me your hand
A hand, if only you'll give it to me
Hand in hand,
Down the whole length of the road
Hand in hand

Hand in hand, for lovers
There's no hope for those who are alone
Hand in hand, for the soldiers
Who are returning home again
They're returning home again

Hand in hand for the depressed
Sad-faced, wondering

To the light in the distance
To the light in the heavens
To the hope in dreams

Chorus...




Transliteration

Im hamayim go'ashim
V'chayecha ko kashim
Al tipol b'ruchacha
Bo galeh et atzm'cha
Rak b'cha otzma raba

K'ma'ayan hamitgaber
Yad b'yad hem shir chozer
Shtei einecha b'einai
Hem hako'ach ad b'li dai
Hem ha'or ba'afela

Chorus
Yad b'yad
im rak titen li yad
Yad b'yad
nitz'ad et kol haderech
Yad b'yad
im rak titen li yad
Yad, im rak titen
Yad b'yad
l'orech kowl haderech
Yad b'yad

Yad b'yad l'ohavim
Ein tikva labodedim
Yad b'yad lachayalim
El habayit shuv chozrim
Shuv chozrim

Yad b'yad lanidka'im
Atzuvei mabat, tohim
El ha'or bamerchakim
El ha'or shebamromim
Latikva bachalomot

Chorus

Paul McCartney: Live And Let Die




Written by: Paul & Linda McCartney
Recorded: October 1972
Released: June 1, 1973
Album: Live and Let Die
Label: Apple Records

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


Live and let die: Paul McCartney & Wings: 45 rpm single cover, 1973.
Source: Wikipedia

The song was written by Paul & Linda McCartney for the 1973 James Bond film of the same name. It was produced by George Martin of Beatles fame.



Live And Let Die
By Paul & Linda McCartney

When you were young
And your heart was an open book
You used to say, "Live and let live"
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die

What does it matter to ya,
when you've got a job to do,
you gotta do it well
You gotta give the other fellow Hell

You used to say, "Live and let live'"
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say, live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die
Live and let die

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Wonder Years: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Reflections & Recollections

Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.  
Saul Bellow

Every man's memory is his private literature.  
Aldous Huxley

Memory is the way of holding onto things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.
Daniel Stern, narrator, The Wonder Years, a TV show
 




Receiver: The Harman Kardon 330 B receiver is the one on top.
Photo Source: http://www.canuckaudiomart.com/uploads/1/148801_thumb_2f5373ff9b152e6fe74fd699a98f8e7b.jpg

I fondly remembered an American TV series that aired between 1988 and 1993 called The Wonder Years, which faithfully captured the turbulent years between1968 and 1973. The series, created and written by Carol Black and Neal Marlens, is narrated by Daniel Stern.

It traced Kevin Arnold's development in suburban America from 1968, when he was 11 years old, until the summer of 1973, his junior year in high school. Here are two examples of the show's writing and sentiments: Steady as She Goes, and The First Kiss.

The show's theme song  is by Joe Cocker, With a Little Help From My Friends, a Beatles classic from 1967.  Although it was American suburbia in character, my formative and wonder years in Canada were similar to the period in history that the show explored. Similar except mine was urban Montreal, and extended to the late 1970s. A lot of that period focused around music, and rock music in particular.

As I got older and my tastes in music changed, so did the radio station that I listened to: from 1470 CFOX-AM in the mid-to late 1960s with Roger Scott and Andy K, to 98 CKGM-AM in the early 1970s with Ralph "The Birdman" Lockwood to 97.7 CHOM-FM in the mid-to late 1970s with Doug Pringle and Benoit Dufresne.

There was some jazz, blues and pop thrown in to the mix of music that I listened to, but the early-1970s rock was the reigning favourite. And although I learned to appreciate classical music and opera in my later years, then it was rock. That meant a steady diet of  The Beatles, the Stones, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John and David Bowie.

So, naturally, one of the things that I coveted was a good stereo system. It was becoming embarrassing and very "square" to  invite friends to play rock and pop records on our parents' RCA Victor console, a large cabinet hi-fi system, essentially rectangular wooden box that my father happily purchased from a furniture store across from where we resided in 1966.

In those days, cool and groovy meant a good powerful receiver blasting at least 12 watts per channel, a turntable with excellent wow and flutter numbers to play records and 3-way speakers with suitably matched woofers, mid-range and tweeters, all encased in a beautiful dark-colored wood.

The summer after graduating from high school, in 1975, I remember buying, with my older brother, a stereo system, a real stereo system, which was a definite coming of age. And it was a fairly good home system for what we paid for it. It was a Harman Kardon 330 B receiver, with either a Technics SL-1350 direct-drive turntable or a Garrard 301 turntable, and EPI 100 speakers.

(A 1982 review from the New York Times mentions the speakers as an excellent low-cost alternative. As well, here's a July 1965 article from Gramophone on the Garrard 301 turntable)

Serious turntables: The Garrard 301 turntable is a classic turntable from the 1950s and '60s. There is a market for such turntables. Among audiophiles, such turntables are sought after, not because of sentimentality, but because many knowledgeable persons consider them superior in many ways to what is being produced today. (see review,)
Source: http://www.classiquesounds.co.uk/Images/garrard301_lrg.jpg



Dual Turntable: Dual CS505 turntable is a typical home turntable popular during the 1970s
Photo Credit & Source: http://www.hembrow.eu/personal/cs505.html
We earned the money in the summer of 1975 working hard, doing any odd job that we could to scrape together the money that we needed, including painting balconies, garages and kitchens and bathrooms.

Together, we earned about $500. The system we wanted, which was at a high-fidelity shop near our house (named Custom Sound or something to that effect), was $575 tax included. We convinced our father to contribute the difference. So, come late August 1975, we installed the stereo in the bedroom my brother and I shared, and played the music of the era. We bought hundreds of albums, many of the artists can be found on this site.

EPI 100 Speakers:
Photo Source: http://tributeaudio.com/images/Built%20EPI%20100%20speakers.jpg

When I moved out in the early 1980s, I left the stereo system with my older brother. I think he lugged it around for a while through various moves, and then the receiver stopped working. And with that ended the wonder years. Yet, I hold them in memory.

Some, including my older brother, might conclude that this trip down memory lane is pure nostalgia, a longing for the past. That's not exactly the case. Although I enjoyed many things in my past, I enjoy many things in the present. It's natural to have more hope when you're younger, just entering adulthood and not yet marked by disappointments, both major and minor.

But that's not precisely why memories are important. The memories, although not completely accurate, help define where I have come from, who I am, and what I cherish. I do not think it's nostalgia that informs memory. It's the memories that inform my being, and allow me to mature as a human being. A person with memories is a person who has greater self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-identity.

Memories are essential to learn from the past, to reflect on the present, and  to help make informed decisions for the future. No one ought to take your memories from you. They are to be cherished. My thoughts can be summed up as follows from a Bob Hope signature song: Thanks for the Memory (1938).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Supertramp: The Logical Song

You can listen to Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” here.

Written by: Roger Hodgson
Recorded: May—December 1978: The Village Recorder/Studio B, Los Angeles, California
Released: March 29, 1979

Album: Breakfast in America
Label: A & M Records

************************************
Although the song is overtly about the pains of lost idealism, imagination, play and childhood, it also speaks about what was replaced in its stead: a life that says being logical, sensible, rational, conformist and self-censoring is necessary for the collective societal well-being. For some, that might be the case. For others who want more meaning and individual expression, it's not.

The song might be considered an adolescent rant by many, but if you examine the words, you might think otherwise.


Breakfast In America: Album Cover, 1979. This was Supertramp's sixth album.
Source: Wikipedia


The Logical Song
by Roger Hodgson

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world's asleep,
the questions run too deep
for such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
but please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
acceptable, respecable, presentable, a vegtable!

At night, when all the world's asleep,
the questions run so deep
for such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
but please tell me who I am.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Benny Goodman: Bei Mir Bist Du Schön



From that famous concert at Carnegie Hall: January 16, 1938, with Martha Tilton singing a truncated version. It's arguably the best version of this Yiddish classic. This song, originally written in Yiddish by Jacob Jacobs (lyrics) and Sholem Secunda (music), was for the Yiddish operetta, "I Would If I Could, written in 1932 by Abraham Bloom.

The  English lyrics were written for the Andrews Sisters in mind (their version here) by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin a few days before their  recording on Nov 24, 1937. (There is a good article, SHOLOM SECUNDA: The Story of Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, on the song's history, and how Secunda had sold the rights to the song for $30.).

The word Schön is not traditionally Yiddish but German, and it was inserted into the title to appeal to a German-buying audience during a time when there was rising anti-Semitism in the United States (the 1930s). The song was so popular that it was sung by the Nazis, until they discovered the song's writers were Jewish. By many accounts, the correct Yiddish title is Bei Mir Bist du Shayn, which translates as "By Me, You Are Beautiful." But I leave it the way it was originally published for historical accuracy.

Bei Mir Bist Du Schön
by Shalom Secunda & Jacob Jacobs (Yiddish)
Sammy Cahn  & Saul Chaplin
(English)


Of all the boys I've known, and I've known some
Until I first met you, I was lonesome
And when you came in sight, dear, my heart grew light
And this old world seemed new to me

You're really swell, I have to admit you
Deserve expressions that really fit you
And so I've racked my brain, hoping to explain
All the things that you do to me

Bei mir bist du schön, please let me explain
Bei mir bist du schön means you're grand
Bei mir bist du schön, again I'll explain
It means you're the fairest in the land

I could say "Bella, bella", even say "Voonderbar"
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are

I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schön
So kiss me and say you understand

Bei mir bist du schön, you've heard it all before
but let me try to explain
Bei mir bist du schön means that you're grand
Bei mir bist du schön, it's such an old refrain
and yet I should explain
It means I am begging for your hand

I could say "Bella, bella", even say "Voonderbar"
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are

------ instrumental break ------

I could say "Bella, bella", even say "Voonderbar"
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are

I've tried to explain, bei mir bist du schön
So kiss me and say that you will understand

The Barry Sisters: Tumbalalaika



The Barry Sisters, Clara and Minnie Bagelman, first known as the Bagelman Sisters, were popular Yiddish jazz singers in the 1940s to 1960. The sisters performed on the New York Radio Show "Yiddish Melodies in Swing," on WHN (Sunday at 1 pm),  which would play songs incorporating a fusion of jazz, swing and klezmer in the Yiddish language.

Tumbalalaika is by no means a standard jazz song, but a Russian- Jewish folk and love song in the Yiddish language. There are versions in English and a number of other languages.Here is a cantorial version in Yiddish by three famous cantors. Benzion Miller, Alberto Mizrahi and Nathan Herstik. Here's another version in Yiddish by the Tum Balalaika Klezmer Band in Chicago.

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


Tumbalalaika

Original lyrics
(Yiddish)
שטײט אַ בחור און ער טראַכט,
(או: שטײט אַ בחור, שטײט און טראַכט)
טראַכט און טראַכט אַ גאַנצע נאַכט:
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען,
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען?
טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע,
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!
(או: שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!)
מיידל, מיידל, כ'וויל בײַ דיר פֿרעגן:
וואָס קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן?
וואָס קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן?
וואָס קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן?
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
נאַרישער בחור, וואָס דאַרפֿסטו פֿרעגן?
אַ שטיין קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן,
ליבע קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן,
אַ האַרץ קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן!
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
וואָס איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז?
וואָס איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז?
וואָס איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל?
וואָס איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל?
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
אַ קוימען איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז,
אַ קאַץ איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז,
די תּורה איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל,
דער טויט איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל!
טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...
Transliteration

Shteyt a bokher, un er trakht (also shteyt un trakht)
Trakht un trakht a gantse nakht
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farshemen
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farshemen

Chorus

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, shpil balalaika
Tumbalalaika (also Shpil balalaika), freylekh zol zayn

Meydl, meydl, kh'vil bay dir fregn,
Vos ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
Vos ken brenen un nit oyfhern?
Vos ken benken, veynen on trern?

Chorus


Narisher bokher, was darfst du fregn?
A shteyn ken vaksn, waksn on regn.
Libe ken brenen un nit oyfhern.
A harts ken benken, veynen on trern.

Chorus

Vos iz hekher fun a hoyz?
Vos iz flinker fun a moyz?
Vos iz tifer fun a kval?
Vos iz biter, biterer vi gal?
((chorus))
A koymen iz hekher fun a hoyz.
A kats iz flinker fun a moyz.
Di toyre iz tifer fun a kval.
Der toyt iz biter, biterer vi gal.

Chorus
Translation:
 (English)
A young lad stands, and he thinks
Thinks and thinks a whole night
Whom to take and not to shame
Whom to take and not to shame




Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy


Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?




Foolish lad, why do you have to ask?
A stone can grow, grow without rain
Love can burn and never end
A heart can yearn, cry without tears



What is higher than a house?
What is swifter than a mouse?
What is deeper than a well?
What is bitter, more bitter than gall?
A chimney is higher than a house
A cat is swifter than a mouse
The Torah is deeper than a well
Death is bitter, more bitter than gall


English Lyrics Version


A young lad is thinking, thinking all night
Would it be wrong, he asks, or maybe right,
Should he declare his love, dare he choose,
And would she accept, or will she refuse?
Chorus: Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika
tumbalalaika, play Balalaika,
tumbalalaika - let us be merry.
Maiden, maiden tell me again
What can grow, grow without rain,
What can burn for many years,
What can long and cry without tears?

Silly young lad, why ask again?
It's a stone that can grow, grow without rain,
It's love that can burn for many long years,
A heart that can yearn and cry without tears.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mark Rothko: The Colour of Myth

Great Artists

Silence is so accurate.
Mark Rothko


If our titles recall the known myths of antiquity, we have used them again because they are the eternal symbols upon which we must fall back to express basic psychological ideas.

Mark Rothko

We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.
Mark Rothko
 

Mark Rothko [1903-1970]: Visiting the Scotts (see William Scott) at Hallatrow, in 1959.  Rothko's philosophy of art can be summed up by the following quotation: "I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on."
Photo Credit: © James Scott 2009. Courtesy of the William Scott Foundation
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d0/Photo_of_Mark_Rothko_by_James_Scott_in_1959.jpg
Although Mark Rothko rejected the label, as he eventually rejected all such descriptions and descriptive labels about him or his work, Rothko was considered one of the finest artists of abstract expressionism of the twentieth century. Much of his works, imbued with liberal use of vibrant colours and a sense of myth, were initially representational in form, then became more abstract and darker, even brooding in sentiment, as he aged and matured as an artist.

This transition likely reflected his fluid and ever-changing emotional state. There is a progression, a change, from one state to another. Few people, particularly those in artistic vocations, remain static. Experiences all come together, notably those encountered during the formative years of childhood and youth, and in the best artists are transported to their works. Rothko often said his art was a medium to reveal religious and emotional experience, much of it transcendent in nature.

His major works include Entrance to Subway (1938),  a view of the modern city, in this case New York City;  Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944), a surrealist period painting showing influences of Miro; and Four Darks in Red (1958), in which Rothko said the rectangles represented a new way of viewing spirits, thereby touching the viewer with a higher spirituality.

Rothko drew upon a number of written sources, including Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, Friedrich Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy and Carl Jung's theories concerning dreams and the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Rothko's work matured from representation and mythological subjects into rectangular fields of color and light, that later culminated in his final works for the Rothko Chapel, a sanctuary in Houston, Texas, for people of all faiths to meditate, worship and pray. The chapel opened in 1971, a year after Rothko's death.

It's not surprising that Rothko's desire was a public space, far removed from New York City, where ordinary people could make a pilgrimage of sorts to art. Art was a medium of religions and mystical communication. For Rothko, his paintings were not merely about playing around with forms or colours, but more about communicating the human emotion and the religious experience:
The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions.. the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point.

Rothko: Untitled: Oil on canvas, 66 1/2 x 52 3/4 in. (169 x 134 cm), 1953. Rothko abolished the use of frames, and eventually abandoned giving his works titles. The reasons centred on his desire, so it seems, for viewers to impose their own interpretation on his work. It was his understanding of purity.

The Formative Years

Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia (today Daugavpils, Latvia), on September 25, 1903, the fourth and youngest child by eight years, of Jacob Rothkowitz, a pharmacist and Kate Goldin Rothkowitz, who had married in 1886. The family was highly educated and spoke Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. Dvinsk then was a town of 75,000, half the inhabitants were Jewish. It was part of the Russian Pale, to where Jews were confined by government decree.

Unlike many other places in Czarist Russia, Dvinsk had been somewhat spared from violent outbreaks of anti-Semitic pogroms. But there were pogroms and other violent activities directed at Jews nearby. This hostile environment was little comfort for the family in a nation where Jews were often blamed for many of the evils that befell Russi. As such, Rothko’s early childhood was plagued with fear, and perhaps more important, placed in his mind the thought that he was an outsider. Such a feeling was easy to understand, and hard to uproot, once instilled and reinforced at a young age.

After the father returned to Orthodox Judaism when Mark was five, he was sent to a Jewish cheder, a school for young boys to learn the basics of Talmud and Judaism.

When Jacob Rothkowitz feared that his sons would be drafted into the Czarist army, not an uncommon or a pleasant occurrence, Rothko and his family immigrated to the United States. They arrived at Ellis Island in New York in 1913 when Mark was ten years old. The family settled in Portland, Oregon, where two of Jacob's brothers had established a clothing manufacturing business. 

Tragedy hit the family a few months after arriving in the United States, when Mark's father died. The family had to find ways to survive and support themselves as immigrants in a new country: Mark's sister, Sonia, worked for a store as a cashier, and young Mark sold newspapers. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Portland in June 1921, aged seventeen.

From 1921 to 1923 Rothko attended Yale University on a full scholarship, but dropped out after two years, finding the university too racist and overly imbued with a WASP culture. He then moved to New York City. In 1924 he enrolled in the Art Students League, studying with George Bridgman and Max Weber, whose influence was seen in his earlier works, It was due to Weber that Rothko began to see art as a tool of emotional and religious expression. This was Rothko’s only formal artistic training.

New York's Fertile Ground

New York City's burgeoning art scene proved to be the place where Rothko thrived under a fertile artistic environment. He also kept up a long relationship with teaching art to children. In 1929 Rothko began teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a position he retained until 1952.

During this time, he met Adolph Gottlieb, who, along with Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, Louis Schanker, and John Graham, was part of a group of young artists surrounding the painter Milton Avery, fifteen years Rothko’s senior. Avery’s stylized, natural scenes, utilizing a rich knowledge of form and color, would be a tremendous influence on Rothko.

This group of painters along with their mentor, Avery, spent a lot of time together, vacationing at Lake George, New York, and at Gloucester, Massachusetts. They spent their days painting and their evenings discussing art. It was during one of these vacations in Lake George that Rothko met Edith Sachar, a jewelry designer, whom he married on November 12, 1932.  This was at the height of the Great Depression, and Rothko's family were worried about him, notably why he would consider such an unstable career like an artist.

While her career as a designer flourished, his career moved glacially slow. He and Edith Sachar separated on June 13, 1943, divorcing soon after.

His first solo show took place at the Portland Art Museum in 1933. A few months later, he exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York. Rising fears of anti-Semitism in the United States prompted Rothko to do two things: On February 21, 1938, Rothko finally became a citizen of the United States, prompted by fears that the growing Nazi influence in Europe might provoke sudden deportation of American Jews; and in January 1940, he abbreviated his name from Marcus Rothkowitz to Mark Rothko.

From 1935 to 1940  Rothko was associated with The Ten, a group of American Expressionists including Adolph Gottlieb who exhibited together in New York and Paris. (The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has a good time-line on Rothko's life and work.)

Rothko said he cared deeply and intimately about what he painted, notably in his early period when he focused on myths. Such is borne out in the National Gallery, Washington, website, which says:
In a 1943 letter to the New York Times, written with Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, Rothko said, "It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints, as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess a spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."
 Why is that?  In the early 1940s Rothko worked closely with Gottlieb, developing a painting style with mythological content, simple flat shapes, and imagery inspired by primitive art. By mid-decade his work incorporated Surrealist techniques and images. Peggy Guggenheim gave Rothko a solo show at Art of This Century in New York in 1945.

The winter and spring of 1945 were personal highs for the painter. Rothko, who met Mary Ellen ("Mell") Beistle in 1944, married her in Linden, New Jersey, on March 31, 1945. They would have two children together: Kathy Lynn, or Kate, born on December 30, 1950, named after Rothko's mother; and a son, Christopher, born on August 31, 1963.

Rectangles as Religious Communication

By then, he had left representational forms altogether, and moved toward art that expressed transcendence. In 1949, he arrived at his signature style of large rectangular fields of color stacked one above another and would work within this format for the rest of his career.

Rothko and his wife, Mary Ellen, travelled to Europe for five months in early 1950, which Rothko hadn't seen since his childhood. He visited the museums of England, France and Italy, much admiring European art.It was said that he was deeply taken by the frescoes in the monastery of San Marco at Florence done by Fra Angelico ("Beato"), the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance painter.

Rothko: "A picture lives by companionship. It dies by the same token. It is therefore risky to send it out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling."
Source: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6hO8ZMRz7os/SoIxK90KQ3I/AAAAAAAAB08/WbVM7BJSjuc/s400/mark_rothko_372x280.jpg

His return to New York was met with good fortune. After a favorable article in Fortune magazine, clients began to purchase his paintings. Although Rothko’s financial situation began to improve, he was conflicted as an artist. He didn't want people to purchase his works as fashionable commodities. Although he had a few private commissions, he seemed to find fault with the process, and they were never completely happy endings. Such was his temperament, formed in youth and by life's often bitter experiences.

Chiefly, he grew less enamored by critics and the academic exercise of describing art in a certain language preferred by certain segments of high society. Rothko did not want his art to have labels attached to them, thus he rejected the idea of  giving titles to his works.  His idea was that works spoke for themselves, conveying a religious experience.

From 1968 on, he worked in acrylic on canvas and paper, reducing his palette to brown, gray,deep red and black. These are not the vibrant oranges and blues of before. This change possibly coincided with bad news regarding his health. In the spring of 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm. Rothko ignored the doctor's advice, and continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet.

He continued painting, but avoided the larger forms that he was used to, and painted much smaller, less demanding works. Things took a further turn for the worse, when Rothko and his wife separated on January 1,1969, and he moved into his studio in Manhattan. Physically ill and suffering from depression, Mark Rothko committed suicide in his Manhattan studio on February 25, 1970. He had overdosed on anti-depressants. Rothko was 66.

Rothko's was buried in East Marion Cemetery on the North Fork of Long Island, New York. After his two children petitioned the court, Rothko's remains were re-interred with his wife's remains in 2006 at Sharon Gardens in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

If Rothko's work didn't fetch high prices when alive, it did so decades after death. In early November, 2005, Rothko's 1953 oil on canvas painting, Homage to Matisse, broke the record selling price of any post-war painting at a public auction, fetching $22.5 million (US). And in May 2007, Rothko's 1950 painting White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), broke this record again, selling for $72.8 million (US) at Sotheby's New York. The painting was sold by philanthropist David Rockefeller, who attended the auction.