Sunday, January 31, 2016

Natalie Cole: The Unforgettable Concert (1992)





Natalie Cole [1950–2015] gives a masterful concert at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California in January 1992. The songs are recorded on the album, Unforgettable…with Love, released on June 11, 1991. The “Unforgettable Concert” is a tribute to her father, Nat King Cole, who died from lung cancer (age 45) on February 15, 1965, when Natalie was 15. Jump forward 27 years. The concert ends with the song, “Unforgettable,” where, with the aid of digital technology, Natalie sings a duet with her father. Yes, I find this touching. Natalie Cole died of congestive heart failure on December 31, 2015; she was 65.

“The greatest thing you will ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”

The Songs:
  1. The Very Thought of You
  2. This Can't Be Love
  3. Paper Moon
  4. Nature Boy
  5. Mona Lisa
  6. Lush Life
  7. Non Dimenticar
  8. Almost Like Being In Love
  9. Route 66
  10. Straighten Up and Fly Right
  11. This Will Make You Laugh
  12. Frim Fram Sauce
  13. For All We Know
  14. The Song Is ended
  15. Smile
  16. That Sunday That Summer
  17. L-O-V-E
  18. Orange Colored Sky
  19. Thou Swell
  20. Medley: For Sentimental Reasons, Tenderly, Autumn Leaves
  21. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
  22. Dance Ballerina Dance
  23. Unforgettable (with Nat King Cole)
  24. Avalon (encore)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Bond Between Abandoned Parrots & Broken People

Animal Healing

Kookie and Mandy, male and female eclectus parrots. Charles Siebert for The New York Times Magazine writes:Up and down the aviary-lined corridor of Serenity Park are the winged wreckages of such broken bonds. On and on they go: the ceaseless pacing and rocking and screaming, the corner-cowering, self-plucking and broken-record remembrances. And yet at Serenity Park, the very behaviors that once would have further codified our parrot caricatures — ‘birdbrained,’ ‘mindless mimicry,’ ‘mere parroting’ and so on — are recognized as classic symptoms of the same form of complex post-traumatic stress disorder afflicting the patients in the Veterans Administration Medical Center. They’re also being seized upon as a source of mutual healing for some of the most psychologically scarred members of both species.”
Photo Credit: Jack Davison

An article, by Charles Siebert in The New York Times Magazine proves once again that animals have a special place in our lives and can do amazing things in the areas of healing and companionship. This is chiefly a story about how parrots (psittacines) make bonds of healing with broken people, in this case military veterans who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Where this takes place is Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, a part of  the 27-acre Veteran’s Garden, which is part of West Los Angeles’s Veterans Administration Medical Center, a large sprawling complex. What is more remarkable is that most of the parrots also suffer psychological disorders; all are former pets abandoned by their owners. One can say that there is in this bond a shared loss of something valuable, and of finding redemption of identity and being.

In “What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD” (January 28, 2016), Siebert starts the story by writing about Lilly Love, 54, a former Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer, who lost her way almost 30 years ago, with half the time being treated via traditional means, including counselling and  psychotropic drugs, for PTSD. Then Love discovered the parrots in 2006, a year after the bird sanctuary opened, a program initiated by Lorin Lindner, a clinical psychologist and preventative health educator involved with animal rescue and disabled veterans.
‘‘They had me loaded up on so many kinds of medications, I was seeing little green men and spiders jumping out of trees,’’ Love continued, as a six-inch-tall female caique parrot from the Amazon Basin named Cashew dutifully paced across her shoulders. Back and forth she went, from one side to the other, in determined, near-circular waddles.
For the next 10 minutes, Love, her eyes closed, her arms still at her sides, continued to engage in one of the many daily duets she does with each one of Serenity Park’s winged residents, listing her shoulders up and down like a gently rocking ship, Cashew’s slow, feather-light paddings all the while putting Love further at ease. Now and again, Cashew would pause to give a gentle beak-brush of Love’s neck and ear, and then crane her head upward toward Love’s mouth to receive a couple of kisses. She made a few more passes, back and forth, then abruptly climbed atop Love’s head. Smiling broadly, Love let her loll around up there on her back for a time, Cashew using the same upward scooping wing flaps that caiques employ to bathe on wet rain-forest leaves.
Both parrot and person derive a benefit; each becomes for the other an agent of care and compassion and, yes, of friendship that crosses the boundaries of species. If the parrots have been rescued, so then have the humans. From the demons of despair and other horrible unspeakable things. Serenity Park becomes the sanctuary for both humans and birds.

There is much to be thankful in this story. Charles Siebert has written a truly beautiful story that might make you cry; I know I did. Lorin Lindner, the person behind the parrot sanctuary and so much more that is good and beautiful, deserves much thanks and praise. When someone does good, she deserves recognition. So, thank you, Dr. Lindner for doing such a wonderful thing, not only for humanity, but also for the other species that inhabit our world.

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For more, go to [NYT]

Friday, January 29, 2016

Healing Thoughts

The Human Mind


Heal Thyself: One of the ways of testing the mind’s effect on the body is to give patients placebos openly and honestly. Medical researchers do know that expectations play a role in their efficacy; why they work in certain cases requires further study. In an interview by Gareth Cook for Scientific American, Jo Marchant says: “Future questions include teasing out the psychological factors that shape placebo responses, and investigating why honest placebos (where someone knows they are taking a placebo) seem to work — this research has barely begun. Scientists also want to pin down exactly what conditions placebos work for (most research so far is on a few model systems, like pain, depression and Parkinson’s), and who they work for (both genes and personality seem to play a role). And then of course there is the question of how we can maximize these responses, and integrate them into routine clinical care in an honest way.”
Image Credit: Eraxion/iStock

Scientists are beginning to concede that the mind and body are entwined, and that healing thoughts can and do actually take place, where these influence the health of the human body. How this works is not completely understood. Such is the crux of the discussion between Gareth Cook and Jo Marchant, science journalist and author of Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body (2016), in an interview for Scientific American. Marchant holds a doctorate in genetics and medical microbiology.

In “The Science Of Healing Thoughts” (January 19, 2016), Cook writes:
You have taken on a topic where, historically, there has been a tremendous amount of quackery. What convinced you that there was a compelling scientific story to tell?
The misunderstandings and false claims were one of the elements that drew me to the topic of mind-body medicine in the first place. The mind influences physiology in many ways — from stress to sexual arousal — so it has always seemed reasonable to me that it might impact health. Yet the question has become so polarized: advocates of alternative medicine claim miracle cures, while many conventional scientists and doctors insist any suggestion of “healing thoughts” is deluded.
I was interested in those clashing philosophies: I wanted to look at why it is so difficult to have a reasoned debate about this issue. What drives so many people to believe in the pseudoscientific claims of alternative therapists, and why are skeptics so resistant to any suggestion that the mind might influence health?
At the same time, I wanted to dig through the scientific research to find out what the evidence really says about the mind’s effects on the body. That took me around the world, interviewing scientists who are investigating this question (often struggling for funding or risking their reputations to do so) and their results persuaded me that as well as being an interesting sociological or philosophical story, this was a compelling scientific one.
Examples include trials demonstrating that hypnotherapy is a highly effective treatment for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and studies showing that perceived stress correlates with telomere length in cells. But what I personally found most convincing were studies suggesting an evolutionary rationale for the mind’s influence on health.
There are now several lines of research suggesting that our mental perception of the world constantly informs and guides our immune system in a way that makes us better able to respond to future threats. That was a sort of ‘aha’ moment for me — where the idea of an entwined mind and body suddenly made more scientific sense than an ephemeral consciousness that’s somehow separated from our physical selves.
This is an important and noteworthy statement that has serious ramifications for the future of science, and in particular medical science. That there is a mind-body connection is something that non-scientists have long “felt” as true, but of course this has long been considered by scientists and medical researchers as mere anecdotal information.  And understandably so, since they could not measure the pathways or modes of effect in the same way that blood flow from the heart, or lung capacity or neuronal activity in the brain could be measured.

Modern medicine has been governed by Cartesian dualism, where the body is viewed as a machine and the mind has no measurable effect on the body. But such views are slowly changing, as scientists gather evidence that the two are not separate. For example, there have been a few scientific studies on the “placebo effect,” including a famous one by Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard which show its efficacy, even when patients were told that they were taking a placebo. The mere fact that they were given “something” improved both patients’ views and the results. Does it also matter that the giving by a health professional shows care and concern? That the act of giving is in itself essential to health and wellness?

This is hard to understand and accept for some. Yet, what we do know is that optimists live healthier and better lives than realists, as do people who are not socially isolated and feel love and compassion. It is likely that the latter influences the former, at least to some degree, if not more.  Again, how to measure or quantify this is not easy; thus, this is still an open question. No one here is suggesting that the human mind can in all cases act as a substitute for medication or surgery, but it can act as an effective and affirmative complementary way for humans to help themselves heal.

And that is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

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For more, go to [ScientAmer]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Recreating Miró’s Majorca Studio In London

Artistic Work

Joan Miró [1893–1983] at his atelier in Palma, Majorca, Spain, in 1976: Where you work has great influence on your outlook and perception, and this is all the more so for a creative individuals like painters. In the case of Miró, he got his wish at the age of 63, in 1956, when his studio came into fruition. He had commissioned Josep Luís Sert to build a studio of his dreams: light, airy and open. Matthew Wilson writes for Aesthetica: “Joan Miró moved into his own purpose-built studio on Mallorca at the age of 63 after decades of working in cramped spaces in Barcelona and Paris. The new atelier – designed by the Spanish modernist architect Josep Luís Sert – was big, airy and a magnet for the expansive Mediterranean sun, and must have struck the artist profoundly. He marked the occasion by destroying 80 percent of his extant work and for the next 26 years, he produced paintings and sculpture that surpassed his earlier work for fearlessness, anger and experimentation with media. Such was the significance of the studio that upon his death it was preserved, and has survived to the present day without alteration – even his empty champagne bottles still stand in the places they were left. The Barcelonan Galeria Mayoral has recognised the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Mallorca studio, recreating it in London. The show contains 25 original paintings and drawings, alongside correspondence between the artist and architect and various ephemeral ornaments, postcards, photographs, paints and furniture that strew the studio.” The exhibition, Miró’s Studio, is on at Mayoral Galeria d’Art, in London, until February 12, 2016.
Photo Credit: Archivo Successió Miró. 
SourceAesthetica

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The New Atheists: On A Mission For Rationalism

On (Non)Religion

The Fall of the Titans [1588-90]: John Gray writes for New Statesman: “For some, atheism may be no more than a fundamental lack of interest in the concepts and practices of religion. But as an organised movement, atheism has always been a surrogate faith. Evangelical atheism is the faith that mass conversion to godlessness can transform the world. This is a fantasy. If the history of the past few centuries is any guide,a godless world would be as prone to savage conflicts as the world has always been. Still, the belief that without religion human life would be vastly improved sustains and consoles many a needy unbeliever – which confirms the essentially religious character of atheism as a movement.”
Image Credit: Cornelis van Haarlem [1562-1638]; Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen 
SourceNew Statesman

An article, by John Gray, in the New Statesman says in a precise way why religion and religious faith will always be a part of human experience, much to the dismay of the New Atheists who as a group have cloaked atheism with religious fervor. Their desire to replace religion with rationalism will fail for the reason that it denies the reality of what religions, notably ancient organized ones, present to humans.

Science’s narrative is in the main too complex and filled with arcane language (typically mathematical symbols), which can be apprehended by only a few, to gain as secure a place in people’s minds as religion does, with its mystery and a narrative that can be apprehended by all at some level or another. This is a simple dichotomy, but it explains one of the chief differences between religion and science as it applies to accessibility. That religion is more accessible to humans might have evolutionary reasons, an idea worth exploring, if only to provide scientists with some reasons why religion and human existence go hand in hand.

What is also true is that when it comes to the larger questions of life, science does a masterful job of explaining how, and religion a masterful job of why. When science tries to explain why, it becomes as lame as when religion tries to explain how. Or as Albert Einstein once put it in an article, “Science and religion,” published in 1954: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” This is illuminated in Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA (Non-overlapping Magisteria), his 1997  model of the science-religion relationship, each representing a dedicated view or way of inquiry.

Moreover, there might be solid evolutionary reasons why a belief in the supernatural might be natural and normal for humans across the globe and across the span of time. In “Why human find it hard to do away with religion” (January 20, 2016), Gray, an English political philosopher, writes in a book review article on Dominic Johnson’s God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human about the human desire for a moral order:
Reward and punishment may not emanate from a single omnipotent deity, as imagined in Western societies. Justice may be dispensed by a vast unseen army of gods, angels, demons and ghosts, or else by an impersonal cosmic process that rewards good deeds and punishes wrongdoing, as in the Hindu and Buddhist conception of karma. But some kind of moral order beyond any human agency seems to be demanded by the human mind, and this sense that our actions are overseen and judged from beyond the natural world serves a definite evolutionary role. Belief in supernatural reward and punishment promotes social co-operation in a way nothing else can match. The belief that we live under some kind of supernatural guidance is not a relic of superstition that might some day be left behind but an evolutionary adaptation that goes with being human.
It’s a conclusion that is anathema to the current generation of atheists – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others – for whom religion is a poisonous concoction of lies and delusion. These “new atheists” are simple souls. In their view, which derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory, the human mind is a faculty that seeks an accurate representation of the world. This leaves them with something of a problem. Why are most human beings, everywhere and at all times, so wedded to some version of religion? It can only be that their minds have been deformed by malignant priests and devilish power elites. Atheists have always been drawn to demonology of this kind; otherwise, they cannot account for the ­persistence of the beliefs they denounce as poisonously irrational. The inveterate human inclination to religion is, in effect, the atheist problem of evil.
I would not know if the “new atheists” are simple souls, but they do seem determined to make people think. Combined with an unimpeachable unquestioning faith in science and you have men on a mission: to convert others to their way of thinking, which essentially is to turn people away from any belief in God and toward secularism and a belief in Rationalism. Do they not see the irony? I doubt that they have had great success, but not for lack of trying. They might be as successful as Christian missionaries today trying to convert Jews.

As many of you know, but it bears repeating, there exists within greater Christianity a large influential sect called evangelical Christianity, which is popular in the United States; it operates with a type of messianic zeal and fervor that is often accompanied by a level of rancor and disdain toward science, which makes genuine discussion or engagement an impossibility. Its narrow interests also undermine political and social stability necessary for a viable and healthy democracy. This is no better portrayed than in this season’s Republican presidential campaign. The theatre of the absurd, perhaps.

While some revel in buffoonery, I find it a turnoff when applied to democratic politics. It can be both tiresome and sad to watch, and I am sure moderate and rational Christians must be embarrassed by this public spectacle. It also provides ample evidence not only to atheists but to anyone else why they would want to stay far away from such beliefs. These Christians are surely not helping the cause of Christianity as a universal “religion of love.” It makes Christianity appear small.

In contrast, the new atheists are neither fools nor buffoons, but, rather, intelligent individuals who are without a doubt excellent scientists. Thus, I question their “need” to persuade others of what to believe, or rather of what not to believe. Can one love science and not hate religion? Can one love religion and not hate science?

I think so, just as one can love one person and not hate another. In any case, when such belief is made militant, it is no longer cloaked in the kind of mystery that humans both seek and enjoy. (Rationalism has its limits; humans, including those that espouse rationalism, can’t always be rational.) Yes, this is unequivocally true; humans do enjoy a good mystery; and to deny this is to deny a reality that is as evident as anything else science has proven as true in the last few decades. Humans love to gaze at the stars, at the heavens. And wonder. Or to withdraw into their minds, their thoughts. And imagine.

There is a place in our world for both Science & Religion. I suspect that many would agree with this premise.

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For more, go to [New Statesman]

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Janet Mendelsohn: Varna Road, Birmingham (1968–69)

Prostitution

Untitled (c.1968): This showcases some of the fine work of American academic and documentary filmmaker Janet Mendelsohn (b. 1943), who took these photos while a student at University of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), which was established in 1964. Note that this is the other Birmingham, not the one in America, but in England. Varna Road was at the heart of Birmingham’s red light district, then called “the wickedest road in Britain.” In this photo is Kathleen at work. All major cities had such places, where sex-trade workers would congregate, with the knowledge of the police, who would often tolerate the women’s presence on the street. The photos in this show are neither happy nor sad, but present a realistic representation of what was and what is for many people, who for various reasons make such choices. We might judge quickly and harshly, but when we do we might not understand. Ikon Gallery writes on its site: “During the late 1960s Balsall Heath was Birmingham’s largest red light district, a place of work for some 200 prostitutes. Mendelsohn provides an extraordinary insight into these women’s lives, their domestic arrangements and personal relationships as well as the nature of their profession. Kathleen is seen in her upstairs bedroom window soliciting passers-by, and poignantly, in one photograph, standing, waiting in the street–her vulnerability heightened by her silhouette and long sunset shadow thrown onto a pavement made shiny with rain.” The exhibit, Varna Road, is at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, from January 27 to April 3, 2016.
Photo Credit: ©Janet Mendelsohn
Courtesy Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Symmetry: Basis Of Fundamental Laws Of Nature & Beauty

Aesthetics

Natural Beauty: Steve Paulson for Nautilus writes: “The E8 Lie group, pictured above, is a perfectly symmetrical 248-dimensional object. (Lie groups are used in math and physics to model symmetries.) Symmetry, Frank Wilczek says, is prominent in the fundamental laws of nature, and ‘connotes harmony and beauty.’ ”
Illustration Credit: Dea, R.Casnati; Getty Images
Source: Nautilus

In an article in Nautilus, Steve Paulson interviews Frank Wilczek, a quantum physicist who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics. Unlike many other current physicists, Wilczek sees a place for philosophy in science, and in particular whether “the world embodies beautiful ideas.” When it comes to ultimate questions posed by western philosophers throughout the ages, starting with the ancient Greeks, the place of beauty has always been prominent, it joining a short list that includes truth, goodness and justice among the ultimate values in human philosophy.

Symmetry is beautiful. When you see a symmetrical flower or a geometrical object, you can't help but notice its beauty. Why this is so can be studied on various levels, including by neuroscience on what is taking place in our brains. Even so, it can also be studied in a much broader way by philosophy. The nature of beauty (as is the nature of art) remains a fundamental issue of philosophical aesthetics.

Such prominent philosophers as Hume, Burke, Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer investigated the nature of beauty. That science again is taking up the mantle is thus not surprising, given physics’ return (after a silence of four decades) to fundamental questions. There are good historical reasons why this is taking place just now. [For more, see “Physicists Do Need Philosophers.”]

In “Beauty Is Physics’ Secret Weapon” (January 14, 2016), Paulson writes:
You say there’s beauty in the design of nature. That seems to be a matter of aesthetics. Is it a scientific question?
It is a scientific question. The exact question I’m trying to address is whether the world embodies beautiful ideas. That’s a question about the world on the one hand and beauty on the other. Beauty is notoriously subjective and comes in many forms, but there is a historical record in art and philosophy that one can consult to see what people have objectively found beautiful. We can consult science and compare whether the concepts that emerge from the fundamental laws of nature have something in common with what people find beautiful.
Does it matter to a scientist if the world is beautiful?
I don’t think science is walled off from the rest of life. So yes, it matters to me a lot whether the world is beautiful. It’s also a practical question for physicists, engineers, and designers. At the frontiers of physics, we’re dealing with realms of the very small and the very large and the very strange. Everyday experience is not a good guide and experiments can be difficult and expensive. So the source of intuition is not so much from everyday experience or from a massive accumulation of facts, but from feelings about what would give the laws of nature more inner coherence and harmony. My work has been guided by trying to make the laws more beautiful.
Well put; it is not necessary for science to be walled off from the rest of life for its success. Science can succeed and become accessible to many when it takes its proper place within society, not above it. When scientists act like the high priests of ancient times, talking at people instead of to people they are in effect doing a disservice to science, reducing its place in greater society. Equally cogent a thought is that science based on epistemology, which contains ideas of symmetrical beauty, is a science that in my view is worth pursuing. Wilczek speaks about human intuition emanating not so much from facts and experimentation, but “from feelings.” He is a scientist who is not afraid to use his whole being. There is something objectively beautiful in such a pursuit that has in it hints of poetry and of truth.

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For more, go to [Nautilus]

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Phil Collins: Another Day In Paradise

Homelessness


Although both homelessness and mental illness are complex, modern ideas, we have fallen into the habit of using phrases such as ‘housing the homeless’ and ‘treating the mentally ill’ as if we knew what counts as housing a homeless person or what it means to treat mental illness. But we do not. We have deceived ourselves that having a home and being mentally healthy are our natural conditions, and that we become homeless or mentally ill as a result of “losing” our homes or our minds. The opposite is the case. We are born without a home and without reason, and have to exert ourselves and are fortunate if we succeed in building a secure home and a sound mind.”
Thomas Stephen Szasz
Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted (1994)



Phil Collins and band perform “Another Day In Paradise,” which is the first track on the flip side of the album, ...But Seriously (1989). It is clear from watching this video what this song is about. The homeless, as is the case with the poor, are seen but are not visible. There are more than 500,000 people in the U.S. who have no permanent place to call home; the chief cause is a lack of affordable housing, which is especially problematic in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

True, a good number (about 33%) are mentally ill, or abuse drugs or alcohol (about 40%), or have some physical disability (38%). Among the homeless are military vets (about 8%) and young people under the age of 18, many of then running away from abusive homes. The large majority of homeless are males under the age of 40; this is true not only in the U.S., but also in other western nations.

The numbers are as follows: Canada (30,000 homeless), Britain (52,000 families), France (142,000 homeless), Germany (860,000 homeless) and so go the numbers in so many other “wealthy” nations of the world. It is hard to get an accurate figure, but there are an estimated 100-million homeless people in the world. All have, for a number of reasons, fallen through the cracks of a caring and wealthy society. This stands beside another sobering figure: some 60 million persons worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of wars, conflicts and persecutions.

Such are the numbers, the statistics. One wonders whether it a matter of satisfying the cruel and capricious gods of statistical probability that a percentage of society must be homeless or poor, which often go together. These are the unlucky ones, the unfortunates, winners of the lottery of the forsaken and the forgotten.

Is there a reason for this? Some have made poor choices, no doubt, and the results are tragically evident. Some have not (e.g., mental illness, domestic abuse, poverty, etc.), and the results are also tragically evident. Some have jobs, but they are low-paying and insufficient to pay for housing. Do these men and women belong on the street? I do not think any healthy caring person believes these men and women do.

The song evokes an emotion of sadness, and much more. It is a song of comparisons; if you have a permanent place of your own to call home, when some do not, you are “living in paradise.” A hyperbolic statement? Perhaps. but it is a matter of perception? of awareness of your surroundings and of others? Is this not true? I am also aware of the criticism levied at Collins, who is wealthy, writing about a subject that he does not “own.”

I understand, and yet I disagree with this view in the same way that I disagree with the idea that someone can’t write about cancer if he hasn't had cancer or about poverty if he hasn’t experienced it. An artist can go beyond his experiences, which is what makes him an artist. The song and the imagery speak to me.

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Another Day In Paradise
By Phil Collins

She calls out to the man on the street
“Sir, can you help me?
It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?”

He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, ’cause it's just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she’s been crying
She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can’t walk but she’s trying

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it

Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do
Oh Lord, there must be something you can say

You can tell from the lines on her face
You can see that she’s been there
Probably been moved on from every place
’Cause she didn’t fit in there

Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, just think about it, think about it

It’s just another day for you and me in paradise
It’s just another day for you and me in paradise, paradise
Just think about it, paradise, just think about it
Paradise, paradise, paradise

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Studying Boredom

Human Psychology

I’m Bored: Until recently, boredom was not considered a serious scientific subject, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker for Nature News: That began to change in 1986, when Norman Sundberg and Richard Farmer of the University of Oregon in Eugene published their Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS)6, the first systematic way for researchers to measure boredom — beyond asking study participants, ‘Do you feel bored?’. Instead, they could ask how much participants agreed or disagreed with statements such as: ‘Time always seems to be passing slowly’, ‘I feel that I am working below my abilities most of the time’ and ‘I find it easy to entertain myself”. (The statements came from interviews and surveys that Sundberg and Farmer had conducted on how people felt when they were bored.) A participant’s aggregate score would give a measure of his or her propensity for boredom.”
Illustration Credit: Patrycja Podkościelny
Source: Nature


An article, by Maggie Koerth-Baker in Nature News discusses why scientists are taking more interest in boredom, which effects all of us, but some to greater degrees and with greater consequences than others. Boredom is explained as a lack of stimulation, and it is not the same as apathy, ennui or depression.

Researchers are trying to understand more about boredom, including whether it has scientific basis that neuroscience can explain. In “Why boredom is anything but boring” (January 12, 2016), Koerth-Baker starts the discussion by writing about a case of an individual suffering a traumatic brain injury:
In 1990, when James Danckert was 18, his older brother Paul crashed his car into a tree. He was pulled from the wreckage with multiple injuries, including head trauma.
The recovery proved difficult. Paul had been a drummer, but even after a broken wrist had healed, drumming no longer made him happy. Over and over, Danckert remembers, Paul complained bitterly that he was just — bored. “There was no hint of apathy about it at all,” says Danckert. “It was deeply frustrating and unsatisfying for him to be deeply bored by things he used to love.”
A few years later, when Danckert was training to become a clinical neuropsychologist, he found himself working with about 20 young men who had also suffered traumatic brain injury. Thinking of his brother, he asked them whether they, too, got bored more easily than they had before. “And every single one of them,” he says, “said yes.” Those experiences helped to launch Danckert on his current research path. Now a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, he is one of a small but growing number of investigators engaged in a serious scientific study of boredom.
There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But whatever it is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant — a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioural, medical and social consequences.

In studies of binge-eating, for example, boredom is one of the most frequent triggers, along with feelings of depression and anxiety1, 2. In a study of distractibility using a driving simulator, people prone to boredom typically drove at higher speeds than other participants, took longer to respond to unexpected hazards and drifted more frequently over the centre line3. And in a 2003 survey, US teenagers who said that they were often bored were 50% more likely than their less-frequently bored peers to later take up smoking, drinking and illegal drugs4.
Boredom even accounts for about 25% of variation in student achievement, says Jennifer Vogel-Walcutt, a developmental psychologist at the Cognitive Performance Group, a consulting firm in Orlando, Florida. That's about the same percentage as is attributed to innate intelligence. Boredom is “something that requires significant consideration”, she says.
This article suggests that boredom is a result of changes occurring in the brain, whether by accident or by design—that some individuals might have a greater tendency to boredom and that some traumatic brain injuries replicate this tendency. Such is worthy of study, since it can and does affect so many areas of our lives. In the matter of young persons, neuroscience has already confirmed that the decision-making and executive control comes from an area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, which is not fully developed until individuals are past their teen-age years, usually by the mid-twenties. Persons who are prone to boredom seek novelty, sometimes in ways that are not only risky, but harmful.

Also noteworthy, “bored to death” might be more than an idle expression (see Int. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 39 (2):370-371). No doubt, boredom affects health in a negative way.

Boredom is correlated with high-risk activities, including smoking, drinking and drugs. Broad social conditions, including poverty and lack of work, can explain some of the reasons why, for example, older middle-aged adults engage in such risky behaviours. A perceived lack of usefulness can be debilitating, notably when everyone else around you is engaged in an useful activity. Other psychological reasons for boredom revolve around either an increased need for stimulation or a perceived lack of control over one’s environment, such as waiting for a medical appointment or an airline flight.

Allow me to bring this discussion to an important point, to wit, on the value of work, which provides meaning and purpose for most persons, and all things being equal is an antidote to general boredom. Remove an activity that has occupied people most of their adult lives, you are then removing a sense of purpose that is linked to personal identity—it is akin to figuratively cutting off a part of their body, such is the pain and hurt. Work often provides a good amount of social engagement, a healthy and worthy necessity for most persons.

When there are too many people who are locked outside the gates of such gainful and healthy activities, one can expect a troubled society, or to put it another way, a society with a large amount of troubled persons. (If we know something is a problem and yet we fail to address it sufficiently, what does it say about us? If the problem persists what does it say in general? That we have not yet found a good and viable solution?)

“Work”: It would be good and beneficial if every single person who wants to work can get a job, and one that is in keeping with his education, skills and qualifications. Again, if I am being idealistic I do so with good reason. This alone will change the mood in a nation, and remove many of the problems that plague it, including boredom and what it often leads to. This is not suggesting that boredom will be completely eliminated—it likely can’t—but, rather, that it will be diminished. Thus, so would many societal ills.

That would be something worth applauding, wouldn’t it?

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For more, go to [Nature]

For the Boredom Proneness Scale test, go to [BPS].

Friday, January 22, 2016

Physicists Do Need Philosophers

Scientific Collaboration

Boundaries: The speculative nature of modern physics departs from the scientific method, which says that theories have to be proven using evidence-based methods. Ideas such as string theory and multiverses, for example, are outside the boundaries of evidence. In other words, there is no current way within science to prove them valid and true. The use of Bayesian statistics moves physics further away from reality.
Image Credit: Tynan DeBold; Icons via Freepik
Source: Quanta

An article, by Natalie Wolchover, in Quanta brings to light the possible future of physics, one marked by collaboration between theoretical physicists and philosophers on some of the thorniest problems in science, including debating the boundaries of science. Contrary to the hubris displayed by physicists today, dating to the recent past (the last four decades), such a collaboration will ultimately prove fruitful.

The way I view it, epistemology, the study of human knowledge, will find a welcome place in physics and thus energize it. What will then follow is an opening of physics to new ways of thinking that will benefit humanity. But first, physicists have to overcome their irrational fears and welcome outsiders. This process has begun. In “A Fight For the Soul of Science” (December 16, 2015), Wolchover writes:
Physicists typically think they “need philosophers and historians of science like birds need ornithologists,” the Nobel laureate David Gross told a roomful of philosophers, historians and physicists last week in Munich, Germany, paraphrasing Richard Feynman.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Fundamental physics faces a problem, Gross explained — one dire enough to call for outsiders’ perspectives. “I’m not sure that we don’t need each other at this point in time,” he said.
It was the opening session of a three-day workshop, held in a Romanesque-style lecture hall at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU Munich) one year after George Ellis and Joe Silk, two white-haired physicists now sitting in the front row, called for such a conference in an incendiary opinion piece in Nature. One hundred attendees had descended on a land with a celebrated tradition in both physics and the philosophy of science to wage what Ellis and Silk declared a “battle for the heart and soul of physics.”
The crisis, as Ellis and Silk tell it, is the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories, which they say reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them. Ellis and Silk accused these theorists of “moving the goalposts” of science and blurring the line between physics and pseudoscience. “The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable,” Ellis and Silk wrote, thereby disqualifying most of the leading theories of the past 40 years. “Only then can we defend science from attack.”
They were reacting, in part, to the controversial ideas of Richard Dawid, an Austrian philosopher whose 2013 book String Theory and the Scientific Method identified three kinds of “non-empirical” evidence that Dawid says can help build trust in scientific theories absent empirical data. Dawid, a researcher at LMU Munich, answered Ellis and Silk’s battle cry and assembled far-flung scholars anchoring all sides of the argument for the high-profile event last week.
At least both sides are talking. Speculation, if it leads to a verifiable theory is both necessary and good and is at the heart of scientific research. But if it not testable, then it remains a theory that has not been verified by the scientific method, the fundamental basis of modern science. Yet, modern science has hit a boundary of sorts when it comes to some of the hard problems in science. This will require a re-thinking of how to approach speculative ideas that are on both ends of the size spectrum: very tiny and very large.

Many argue, with good insight and reason, that physics today has lost its way and is not really discovering anything new, just repackaging old discoveries, or working in the realm of “escapist science.” This is symptomatic of a loss of meaning and purpose, a malaise of the mind.This is where philosophy might help, since it is concerned with asking hard questions that cannot be easily answered. One such question is whether the universe has meaning. (Such a question becomes more pressing in light of so much suffering in the world.) The asking of the question is itself important, as is the pathways to possible answers. Science can ill afford to be walled off from the rest of life.

One can take as an example Albert Einstein, whose search for truth underpinned his scientific work. In a 1916 memorial note for Ernest Mach, Einstein wrote:
How does it happen that a properly endowed natural scientist comes to concern himself with epistemology? Is there no more valuable work in his specialty? I hear many of my colleagues saying, and I sense it from many more, that they feel this way. I cannot share this sentiment. When I think about the ablest students whom I have encountered in my teaching, that is, those who distinguish themselves by their independence of judgment and not merely their quick-wittedness, I can affirm that they had a vigorous interest in epistemology. They happily began discussions about the goals and methods of science, and they showed unequivocally, through their tenacity in defending their views, that the subject seemed important to them. Indeed, one should not be surprised at this. (Einstein 1916, 101)
Yes, indeed.

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For more, go to [Quanta]

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Space Station Welcomes Orange Zinnias

Plants

Zinnias In Space: These zinnias, common to the southwest United States and which are edible, are the first plants grown entirely from seed to maturity in space. Scott Kelly, station commander of the International Space Station (ISS), tweeted this photo to Twitter on January 16th. The plants were grown in the space station’s Veggie Facility, which was not an easy task. When Kelly arrived on the ISS on December 18th, the plants were partially dead. Yet, Kelly was able to “nurse” two of the four zinnias back to health. CBC News writes: “The whole space gardening enterprise is designed to help scientists study how plants react to being grown off Earth, and to prepare astronauts for a future trip to Mars. The prospect of a Mars trip was one reason Kelly felt justified in taking over the plants’ care (and why he made a reference to The Martians Mark Watney). ‘You know, I think if we're going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water,’ he said to the ground team, according to NASA. ‘Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say “Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.” I think this is how this should be handled.’ ”
Photo Credit: Scott Kelly; Jan 16th via Twitter
Source: NASA

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Herman Wouk: The Well-Adjusted American Jewish Writer

American Dream

Herman Wouk at his desk in Palm Springs, California (2012): Lynne Neary for NPR writes: “Now, Wouk has written that story. He calls it Sailor and Fiddler — the sailor representing his life as a writer, the fiddler his spiritual side. Growing up in the Bronx, Wouk knew he wanted to be a writer, but Judaism was always important to him as well. He loved Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas, and he also fondly remembers listening to his father read the stories of Sholem Aleichem on Friday nights.”
Photo Credit; Stephanie Diani; New York Times; 2012
An article, by Adam Kirsch, in Tablet looks at the latest book by Herman Wouk [born in 1915], who is an American Jewish writer; he is also religiously observant and content with his life. There is no evidence of alienation or existential angst, no deep inner agonies present in his work. This makes him a rarity among Jewish writers, notably his endorsement of happiness and contentment.

He has has achieved longevity, both as a writer and as a human being. Wouk turned 100 in May; his latest book, his 17th, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, was released in January 2016. It is a slim volume of 138 pages. In “Herman Wouk, the American Jewish Writer Who Wrote Huge Best-Sellers and Wasn’t Especially Neurotic” (January 7, 2016),  Kirsch writes:
Looking back on it, the triumph of American Jewish literature in the 20th century seems like something foreordained. Take a people, Eastern European Jewry, that had always cherished literacy and give them a freedom they had never been granted before, and the result is a creative explosion—Death of a Salesman, The Adventures of Augie March, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Catcher in the Rye (not to mention the Broadway musical, Tin Pan Alley, and Hollywood). Why is it, then, that the American Jewish writers who were most successful, whom we now regard as classics, did not make success their theme? On the contrary, they generally wrote about failure, alienation, neurosis, and guilt—to the point that these subjects came to seem stereotypically Jewish in American culture. If the American Jewish story is, on balance, a very happy one, why are our books so miserable? Where are the well-adjusted Jewish writers?
The answer is that such writers did exist, but the critics who dictate literary posterity had little use for them. Just look at Herman Wouk. Bellow and Roth, for all their popularity, never dominated the best-seller lists for years at a time the way Wouk did with books both explicitly Jewish, like Marjorie Morningstar, and completely non-Jewish, like The Caine Mutiny. Indeed, the sheer number of his readers, over a span of four decades, means that Wouk did more to shape Americans’ image of Jews than any other Jewish writer. In his World War II books The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, and in his Israel books The Hope and The Glory, and above all in his best-selling primer on Judaism, This Is My God, Wouk presented a vision of Judaism at one with itself: proud of tradition, pious toward the past, devoted to Zionism, yet totally open to the American experience and all its rewards.
In his slight but charming new memoir, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, Wouk shows that this description of his Judaism was also a description of himself. If ever a man lived the American Dream, it was Wouk. Through the sheer power of his imagination, he became rich, famous, and beloved, while enjoying a loving marriage (just one, unlike many writers of his generation). The only tragedy he records was the accidental death of his first son, who drowned in a swimming pool at the age of 5. Wouk has never written about this experience before and alludes to it in this book in only the most restrained terms. Overall, however, Wouk was so fortunate that, when Isaiah Berlin suggested he write his memoir, his wife—“Betty Sarah Wouk, the beautiful love of my life”—discouraged him with the words, “Dear, you’re not that interesting a person.” Wouk agreed but thought that a memoir by a contented writer might be interesting simply as a contrast: “Biographies of writers were then much in fashion, confessional books by or about Jewish authors all shook up with angst. I was not one of those, and might that not be a piquant novelty?”
Like many millions of others, I read This is My God (1959), first as a teenager and later in middle age, where I posted a few thoughts [see here]. Wouk is on record as saying that his maternal grandfather (Mendel Leib Levine from Minsk, Belarus,) who took charge of his Jewish education, and his military service during the Second World War in the U.S. Navy were the two most important influences in his life. One had an effect at home in his years as a child; the other away from home in his years as an adult. The former strengthened his Jewish identity, his sense of self; the latter directed his sense of purpose onto a wider stream of life, which in Wouk’s case was an openness to American culture and what it both represented and offered.

This in many respects defines modern Orthodoxy; observe the rules of Judaism (Shabbat, kashrut, etc.), but do not deny the reality and significance of the surrounding culture. What Wouk says in so many words is that you can be a doctor, lawyer, professor or writer and follow the traditional laws of Judaism while moving around freely in the great and large secular culture, which does have much to offer. This includes success and happiness, If there was a conflict between the two, it was not great or apparent in Wouk’s case, as it was in Bellow or Roth or, to a lesser extent, Potok. (Malamud belongs in a different category, one closer to my heart.)

If misery begins at home, then so does happiness.

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For more, go to [Tablet]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Chris De Burgh: A Spaceman Came Travelling



Chris de Burgh sings “A Spaceman Came Travelling,” which is the fifth track on his his second album, Spanish Train and Other Stories, released in 1975. The song is a conflation of the alien-visitation narrative and the Christian nativity narrative, which show the power of myths on our collective consciousness. Whether or not such myths are true are not as important as the message they contain. I find the words of this song, its rhythm and hope comforting, as I do the memories it conveys.

The song will begin once again....

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A Spaceman Came Travelling
By Chris de Burgh

A spaceman came traveling on his ship from afar
’Twas light years of time since his mission did start
And over a village he halted his craft
And it hung in the sky like a star, just like a star

He followed a light and came down to a shed
Where a mother and child were lying there on a bed
A bright light of silver shone round his head
And he had the face of an angel and they were afraid

Then the stranger spoke, he said, “Do not fear
I come from a planet a long way from here
And I bring a message for mankind to hear”
And suddenly the sweetest music filled the air

And it went la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la
Peace and goodwill to all men and love for the child
La la la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la, oh

This lovely music went trembling through the ground
And many were awakened on hearing that sound
And travelers on the road
The village they found by the light of that ship in the sky
Which shone all around

And just before dawn at the paling of the sky
The stranger returned and said, “Now I must fly
When two thousand years of your time has gone by
This song will begin once again to a baby’s cry”

And it goes la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la
Peace and goodwill to all men and love for the child
And I hear la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la la
This song will begin once again to a baby’s cry

Oh the whole world is waiting, waiting to hear the song again
There are thousands standing on the edge of the world
And a star is moving somewhere, the time is nearly here
This song will begin once again to a baby’s cry

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Elementary School Education: The 1960s

Personal Reflections


Me & My Mother: In front of the store, Frank’s Grocery, which my parents ran at 4597 Park Avenue, in Montreal. This is taken sometime during the summer of 1967, the year of Canada’s centenary and Expo 67, a world exhibition. I was nine. The store was in the front and our residence in the back of the building. This is less than a block from Mont-Royal Avenue in an area, now trendy, known as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. We had no idea or awareness of trendy or cool; we were just ourselves. The store was a place where, in the evening, people would drop in and discuss ideas, including politics, with my father. I would listen quietly, finding these conversations fascinating, if not illuminating and instructive.
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

I attended elementary school in Montreal in the 1960s. From 1963 to 1970 (from kindergarten to Grade 6), I was at Bancroft School, which opened in 1915 and which still exists today as a public school in the area of Montreal known as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. When a fire, in February 1970, made our house inhabitable, we moved out of the neighbourhood to a west-end area of Montreal called Côte-des-Neiges, an area that was considered “more Jewish.” I still attended public school, just a different one.

The schools were part of what then was called the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, or simply PSBGM. This was at the time when public schools in Quebec were divided between Catholic Schools and Protestant Schools in what were confessional lines (Since 1998, they have been divided by linguistic lines: French and English). All Jews who attended public schools attended Protestant Schools, since they were more open to non-Christians. Catholic schools required that parents follow the Catholic tradition and faith.

Back to my education at Bancroft. Every day we followed a certain ritual, which I remember well. After entering the classroom, we went to our desks, which were neatly lined in rows. each person had an designated place, which the teacher assigned at the beginning of the year. We first sang our national anthem, “O Canada,” then “God Save the Queen” and then said the “Lord’s Prayer” [Catholics call it “Pater Noster”] aloud. I can sing and recite all three, even today, but of course I have no reason to do so.

We were also taught biblical stories, both from the Old Testament and New Testament, including the stories of David & Goliath, of Job and of King Solomon. There were moral instruction from the Books of Proverbs and from The Psalms. We also sang Christian songs; the only one I hated with a  passion was “Onward Christian Soldiers.” (I do not like military songs of any kind.) I did not then understand that it was related to the Crusades, but it nevertheless gave me the chills. Young minds can understand.

Other than this unpleasant moment, there was not too much to complain about: we all sang the songs, said the prayers and learned the moral stories from the Bible. During Christmas, we sang the traditional hymns in a school-wide assembly. I was the only Jewish kid in the class and one of the few Jews in the school. Yet, I can still recall memories of “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls, and “Good King Wenceslas.”

Yet, I was not the worse for wear, and I do not think the other non-Christians were, either; I have no recollection of having been traumatized by learning Christian or more broadly speaking biblical moral principles. I might have benefited to exposure to such ideas; even so, I do not advocate a return to those days of “school prayer” since its time has passed.

Is this a surprise? We live in a time when identity has become politicized and where people place themselves into ever-increasing smaller groups. While this can be comforting and nurturing, it can handicap understanding of others and become a force of alienation. Differences become areas of conflict or at least of contention and non-agreement; and these differences become magnified as the groups become smaller, more particular and see themselves as more principled in their views. This is not the way I grew up, or at least I have little memory of what today is called “identity politics.” This is also far away from the thinking of “go along to get along,” which in the best of cases can lead to harmony among various peoples. (Is this a “gift for surrender?”)

Perhaps we as a society have placed too much emphasis on individuality and group identities and not enough on our commonalities and our communities. Have we made what defines us more important than what unites us? One does not have to navigate far to see how this has become true, much to humanity’s detriment. Who is humanity? Is it not us? We forget the little that is essential and remember much that is not.

As for Jewish identity, I always knew that I was Jewish, not only because my mother lit candles on Friday night; not only because our house was filled with the sounds of Yiddish;  not only because my father read The Forward (“Forverts”); and not only because our family “did” the main Jewish holidays like Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, but because of all these acts and memories and the thousand other little things, many of them unsaid.

That being said, I did so many other things that kids of my generation did, including playing and watching sports, following the “Space Race” and having dreams of being an astronaut, and watching TV shows and movies that everyone else in Canada (and of course the U.S.) were also viewing and enjoying. To say that I was “plugged in” to the wider culture is as true a statement I can make. Thus, it is no surprise that being Jewish did not, in my case, translate to a type of Jewish chauvinism or Jewish nationalism or Jewish religiosity found today in places (and understandably so, to some degree, because of history), where these act as substitutes for personal achievement, intellectual pursuit and the development of tolerance of others. This does not come easy for most adults; it is (re)learned and takes considerable work and mental effort. (Although it is more natural for children.)

What I am saying here, and perhaps I am doing so in an awkward way, so please forgive my clumsiness, is that one can acknowledge the importance of one’s religion, culture and tradition in the formation of one as a human being without disregarding or negating other important cultural and intellectual influences. In short, I do not want to live a life based on triumphalism, whether it be cultural, religious or nationalistic. I know: I am going against the strong flow of current thinking, which seems to grant fear a more prominent position than love. No wonder I often find myself adrift in my own thoughts, having longings of harmony and peace. Am I the only person who thinks and feels this way?

So, even as I can acknowledge Judaism’s importance, I do not negate the importance of so much more that falls outside of Judaism’s orbit of influence. This has had (and continues to have) equal and profound effect on my thinking, including but not limited to a curiosity of human psychology and human nature, a thirst for scientific and medical knowledge and a love for music and literature. I also think it is necessary and important for humans to find ways to get along; I have come full circle.

Yes, my friends, there is a large beautiful world out there. It becomes smaller when viewed through a lens of identity. The forces of identity are as strong as the fears of assimilation, and it requires the summoning of the forces of love and all that it supports to overcome it (“fear”)—one primal urge over another. Identity can be as wide and as inclusive and, yes, as open as the individual wants it to be. Large circles are bigger than small circles; it’s a mathematical axiom. It’s the poetry of life, of love.

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To my American friends, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Deathfugue by Paul Celan

War-Time Poetry

This is the 2,000th post of this blog, which began in August 2010.

Paul Celan [1920-1970] was the pen name of Paul Antschel, born in Czernovitz, Romania, on November 23, 1920. Celan, the son of German-speaking Jews, spoke several languages, including Romanian, Russian, and French. Celan wrote the German-language poem, Todesfuge (“Deathfugue”) around 1945. It is clearly about Jewish prisoners helpless in the hands of a German commandant. It was first published in its original German language in 1948 (and in Romanian translation in 1947). The poem is an excerpt from John Felstiner’s biography, Paul Celan, Poet, Survivor, Jew, published in 2005 by Yale University Press. Prof. Felstiner is Professor Emeritus of English at Stanford University. The death of his parents (at an internment camp in Transnistria, then part of Romania) and The Holocaust (Celan was taken to a forced-labour camp during the war) are evident in Celan’s poems, as is the dark, brooding mood of someone who has suffered the kind of losses that he cannot ever recover or even reconcile as acceptable. Such might describe the antithesis of life, a failure of the poet, but how can we judge? Is it not the sensitive souls, who, even if they survive tragedy, carry their sufferings internally and cannot mask it well? (“Death is a master from Deutschland.”) Perhaps, he was courageous for 25 years, and his courage ran out. Celan committed suicide by jumping from the Pont Mirabeau, thus drowning himself in the Seine River in Paris on April 20, 1970. He was 49, leaving behind a wife (Gisèle de Lestrange, a French-Catholic woman from a noble family) and son (Eric, born in 1955).
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Todesfuge
by Paul Celan

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sie nachts
wir trinken und trinken
wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng
Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete
er schreibt es und tritt vor das Haus und es blitzen die Sterne er pfeift seine Rüden herbei
er pfeift seine Juden hervor lässt schaufeln ein Grab in der Erde
er befiehlt uns spielt auf nun zum Tanz

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich morgens und mittags wir trinken dich abends
wir trinken und trinken
Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete
Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng

Er ruft stecht tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt
er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind blau
stecht tiefer die Spaten ihr einen ihr andern spielt weiter zum Tanz auf

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich mittags und morgens wir trinken dich abends
wir trinken und trinken
ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith er spielt mit den Schlangen
Er ruft spielt süsser den Tod der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in die Luft
dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da liegt man nicht eng

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
wir trinken dich mittags der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
wir trinken dich abends und morgens wir trinken und trinken
der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau
er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau
ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete
er hetzt seine Rüden auf uns er schenkt uns ein Grab in der Luft
er spielt mit den Schlangen und träumet der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith

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Deathfugue 
[Trans. John Felstiner]

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling, he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us to play up for the dance.

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
Your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped

He shouts jab the earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are so blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margareta
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly this Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then as smoke to the sky
you'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland

dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

Saturday, January 16, 2016

See Comet Catalina This Weekend

Earth Astronomy

Comet Catalina: Emily Chung for CBC News writes: “Paul Klauninger took this close-up of comet Catalina on Jan. 6 in his backyard in Lanark Highlands, Ont., using an 11-inch telescope. You can see a slender blue gas tail on the left and a diffuse fan-shaped dust tail on the right. Your only chance to see a green, two-tailed comet named Catalina is almost over, as the comet makes its closest approach to Earth this weekend. On Sunday, the comet, officially named C/2013 US10 will pass within 110 million kilometres of Earth (not very close — about 72 per cent of the distance between the Earth and the Sun) on its way to leave our solar system forever after a one-time visit. For the next few days, it should be visible with binoculars near a very well-known constellation.” More at [CBC News]
Photo Credit: Paul Klauninger
Source: CBC News

A Conversation About Rainforest Conservation

Climate Convervation

Carbon Sink: Dr. Paul Salaman makes an argument that conserving the tropical rainforests would have a great beneficial effect on our planet, including on reducing the ice caps from melting in the northern Arctic. Salman writes for The Guardian: “Reducing carbon emissions, as the nations of the world promised to do in Paris last month, is essential, but simultaneously pulling carbon out of the atmosphere (which is what rainforests do) would immediately and significantly reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) at a surprisingly low cost, providing a crucial bridge to a post-fossil fuel era. The potential of rainforest conservation to address global warming should be enough to galvanize massive worldwide rainforest conservation efforts. The natural regrowth and subsequent protection of hundreds of millions of acres of degraded rainforest would result in massive absorption of carbon as the trees grow. While it is crucial that we transition away from the use of fossil fuels, the reality is that rainforest protection can happen much more quickly.
Photo Credit: Peter van der Sleen; University of Texas, Austin
Source: The Guardian