Monday, February 29, 2016

With Pen & Paper: Telling Stories & Other Fictions

Memory

Paper Agenda & Journal: I have been a faithful buyer of paper journals and agendas for more than two decades; here are my recent additions (2016): my Pierre Belvédère agenda and my Moleskin notebook and journal. They are everything one requires: light, portable and accessible.
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

An article, by Sophie McBain, in the New Statesman looks at how we have come to rely on electronic devices, in particular, to keep a record of our important events and dates. And, although much has been written on the many advantages of such accurate record-keeping, it can have a downside, notably to our self-identity and views of ourselves as an individual.

Such views of self-identity are not necessarily static, but change in accordance to events that take place in our lives—those seminal events— and the importance one places on them. In “Head in the cloud” (February 23, 2016), McBain writes on memory and our perceptions of ourselves, which I found both relevant and personal:
Memory is closely linked to self-identity, but it is a poor personal record. Remembering is a creative act. It is closely linked to imagining. When people suffer from dementia they are often robbed not only of the past but also of the future; without memory it is hard to construct an idea of future events. We often mistakenly convert our imaginings into memories – scientists call the process “imagination inflation”. This puts biological memories at odds with digital ones. While memories stored online can be retrieved intact, our internal memories are constantly changing and evolving. Each time we relive a memory, we reconfigure it to suit our present needs and world-view. In his book Pieces of Light, an exploration of the new science of memory, the neuroscientist Charles Fernyhough compares the construction of memory to storytelling. To impose meaning on to our chaotic, complex lives we need to know which sections to abridge and which details can be ignored. “We are all natural born storytellers. We are constantly editing and remaking our memory stories as our knowledge and emotions change. They may be fictions, but they are our fictions,” Fernyhough writes.
True enough. It has been said that no one could live with the complete “truth” about himself; that an version, edited over the years with changing circumstances, is necessary and mentally healthy. People have private views and private worlds where secrets reside. Total recall can be a curse, as can living in a society that talks constantly about the primacy of “truth” (e.g., totalitarian societies), and where privacy is deemed as suspicious and wrong. That forgetfulness in some details is both good and necessary, as is forgiveness and mercy.

That being said, the idea of a large electronic or digital database of someone’s life might feel right for some people, but it leaves a lot to be desired over-all. At least. I think so. I suspect that in future editions of the DSM, there will be a few mental disorders related to the use of electronic devices. Technological progress often results in an increase in new diseases, including those related to the mind. It might be that the mind takes longer to adapt than the body, and that too many changes over a short time can have a debilitating effect. We shall see if this is, indeed, true.

I still rely on pen (and often pencil) and paper to keep track of appointments in my paper agenda; and I still write my thoughts in a leather-bound journal, a practice that I have maintained for almost 25 years. There are a few of us old “dinosaurs” left, as this article suggests. In all fairness, I have tried electronic versions, albeit briefly, but they are lacking (as is the Kindle on my shelf).

Whether this view is based on creativity (“the art of handwriting“) or aesthetics (“plastic is not beautiful”), I am not sure, but it is based on what feels right and what I find to my liking. The paper suits me. It is not so much that I have resisted the urge of “progressing” to electronic devices or what are referred to as digital diaries, but, truth be told, that I have never had such urges in the first place.

Can you resist something that has never held an attraction for you?

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For more, go to [NewStatesman]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Zucchero & Pavarotti: Miserere (2004)



Zucchero Fornaciari and Luciano Pavarotti perform, in Italian, “Miserere” at London’s Royal Albert Hall on May 6, 2004. The voices soar upward, Pavarotti’s slightly more than Zucchero’s. This is a video clip of one performance of many found on Zu & Co.: the full performance here, and the accompanying list of 24 songs with artist names here. A studio album of the same name was released on October 1, 1992. A small aside: Those of you familiar with the Bible will recognize hints of Psalm 51 in this song, itself a heartfelt prayer (or petition) of King David to the Heavens for mercy and forgiveness. There is something profoundly beautiful and touching in these words of contrition.

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Miserere
by Zucchero 

Miserere, miserere
Miserere, misero me
Però brindo alla vita

Ma che mistero, è la mìa vita
Che mistero
Sono un peccatore dell'anno ottantamila
Un menzognero

Ma dove sono e cosa faccio
Come vivo?
Vivo nell'anima del mondo
Perso nel vivere profondo

Miserere, misero me
Però brindo alla vita

Io sono il santo che ti ha tradito
Quando eri solo
E vivo altrove e osservo il mondo
Dal cielo

E vedo il mare e le foreste
Vedo me che
Vivo nell'anima del mondo
Perso nel vivere profondo

Miserere, misero me
Però brindo alla vita

Se see’è una notte buia abbastanza
Da nascondermi, nascondermi
Se see’è una luce, una speranza
Sole magnifico che splendi dentro me

Dammi la gioia di vivere
Che ancora non see'è

Miserere, miserere
Quella gioia di vivere
Che forse ancora non see’è

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Death Valley Blooms

Desert Life

Desert GoldDeath Valley is the driest and hottest place in North America, where its average annual precipitation is 2.36 inches (60 mm) and the average temperature in July is 116°F (47 °C). Death Valley National Park, straddling the U.S. states of California and Nevada, is blooming with 20 kinds of wildflowers, including the desert gold (Geraea canescens), which is also called the desert-sunflower. Although this desert area receives sparse rainfall (it did receive a substantial rainfall in October 2015), it is full of biodiversity (incl. roadrunners, red-tailed hawks and bighorn sheep) and it is an area where wildflower blooms are not uncommon. This year, however, it is a super bloom. Tatiana Scholssberg writes for NYT: “It’s the best bloom there since 2005, according to Abby Wines, a spokeswoman for Death Valley National Park, and “it just keeps getting better and better.”The flowers started poking up in November, but the particularly colorful display emerged late last month in the park, which is mainly in California but stretches across the Nevada border.”
Photo Credit: National Park Service

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Brain’s Hippocampus: On Time & Spatial Memory

Neuroscience

Place & Time Cells: Memory is located in various places of the brain, including the temporal lobes, and the structures of the limbic system. But it is the hippocampus that plays the most prominent role in a particular type of memory called spatial memory, which is used, for example, to find one’s way around a city. The website, The Brain From Top to Bottom writes:“Unlike our memory of facts and events, however, our spatial memory appears to be confined to the hippocampus. And more specifically to the right hippocampus. This structure seems to be able to create a mental map of space, thanks to certain cells called place cells.” The hippocampus might also be responsible for mapping time in what are referred to as time cells.
Image Credit & Source: McGill University

An article, by Emily Singer, in Quanta Magazine says that the area of the brain responsible for spatial mapping and memory is also responsible for time mapping and memory. Such is the conclusion of neuroscientists at Boston University in a research study led by Howard Eichenbaum. In “New Clues to How the Brain Maps Time” (January 26, 2016), Singer writes:
Over the last few years, a handful of researchers have compiled growing evidence that the same cells that monitor an individual’s location in space also mark the passage of time. This suggests that two brain regions — the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, both famous for their role in memory and navigation — can also act as a sort of timer.
In research published in November, Howard Eichenbaum, a neuroscientist at Boston University, and collaborators showed that cells in rats that form the brain’s internal GPS system, known as grid cells, are more malleable than had been anticipated. Typically these cells act like a dead-reckoning system, with certain neurons firing when an animal is in a specific place. (The researchers who discovered this shared the Nobel Prize in 2014.) Eichenbaum found that when an animal is kept in place — such as when it runs on a treadmill — the cells keep track of both distance and time. The work suggests that the brain’s sense of space and time are intertwined.
The findings help to broaden our understanding of how the brain’s memory and navigation systems work. Perhaps both grid cells and other GPS-like cells aren’t tuned only to space but are capable of encoding any relevant property: time, smell or even taste. “It probably points to a broad thing the hippocampus does,” said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies memory and the hippocampus. “It figures out the relevant axis for encoding experiences and then uses the cells to map those experiences.”
It could well be that the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, which help an individual’s spatial orientation— might also be the centre of temporal management. The hippocampus, in particular, might play a very broad role in both spatial and temporal recognition and in how we account for and remember events—a result of both place cells and time cells firing hippocampal neurons. Although the idea might not sound revealing or surprisingly new, the article points out that time and space are connected, not only in our experiences (and long-term memories), but also in how different regions of the brain function.

One of the benefits of such research is that it might lead to ways to reverse the damage of memory loss and function in such degenerative diseases as dementia and Alzheimer’s. The entorhinal cortex, for example, is the first area of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer's disease.

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For more, go to [Quanta]

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Masterpieces From The Guggenheim Bilbao Collection

Contemporary Art


Yves Klein: Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) (La grande Anthropométrie bleue [ANT 105]), ca. 1960. Dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper mounted on canvas, 280 x 428 cm. 
Image Credit: ©2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa
Source: Guggenheim Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is one of the wonders of modern architecture, one of Frank Gehry’s most famous designs, and perhaps his crowning achievement in his long and illustrious career. It sits along the Nervión River in downtown Bilbao. Inside are housed some of the best works of modern and contemporary art, including this Yves Klein painting in which the painter used, Nancy Spector writes for the Guggenheim in New York, “nude female models drenched in paint as brushes.” 

The reason? Klein found brushes “too psychological.” I am not sure what this means, but I do find the work striking for its lack of any other colour except blue. There is also a sense of upward movement. As a note of interest, Wikipedia says that anthropometry (from Greek ἄνθρωπος anthropos, “human”, and μέτρον metron, “measure”refers to the measure of the human individual.

The Guggenheim in Bilboa writes on its site about this collection: “Featuring works including Mark Rothko’s luminous Untitled, Yves Klein’s Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) (1962), Robert Rauschenberg’s large silkscreened painting Barge (1962–63), and Cy Twombly’s Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), this exhibition presents highlights from the collection of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. German artists Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter and Americans Jean-Michel Basquiat and Clyfford Still are also represented, and sculpture by Basque artists Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza is set in an international context.” 

Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Bilbao Collection will run until April 3, 2016. 

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For more, go to [Guggenheim Bilbao]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Earth: A Planet Like No Other

The Known Universe

Multiple Galaxies: This is from a Hubble image that captures a small sampling of the galaxies within the universe. There are, according to current estimates, at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe containing about a billion trillion stars, and substantially more planets. That only one is like Earth is not shocking, but might be disappointing to some people. Nathaniel Scharping for Discover Magazine writesStill, the model is based on what we currently understand about the universe, and if there’s one thing we have figured out so far, it’s that we still don’t know very much. The model creates exoplanets based only on the ones we have discovered, which is an extremely small sample size that probably doesn’t provide a representative cross-section of all of the planets in existence.”
Image Credit: NASA/ESA

An article, by Nathaniel Scharping, in Discover Magazine says Earth is truly unique, so unique that it defies the mathematical odds and expectations of coming into existence. Such is the findings of a model worked up by one astrophysicist, Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden

In “Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place” (February 22, 2016), Scharping writes:
A new study suggests that there are around 700 quintillion planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. It’s a revelation that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden arrived at this staggering figure — a 7 followed by 20 zeros — with the aid of a computer model that simulated the universe’s evolution following the Big Bang. Zackrisson’s model combined information about known exoplanets with our understanding of the early universe and the laws of physics to recreate the past 13.8 billion years.
Zackrisson found that Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand. In a galaxy like the Milky Way, for example, most of the planets Zackrisson’s model generated looked very different than Earth — they were larger, older and very unlikely to support life. The study can be found on the preprint server arXiv, and has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.
[…]
But according to Zackrisson, most planets in the universe shouldn’t look like Earth. His model indicates that Earth’s existence presents a mild statistical anomaly in the multiplicity of planets. Most of the worlds predicted by his model exist in galaxies larger than the Milky Way and orbit stars with different compositions — an important factor in determining a planet’s characteristics. His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist.
Yet, we do. Which not only shows the limitations of statistics and relying on them for validating a view or even a scientific thesis. Although the model is limited in scope and information, I suspect that astronomers, cosmologists and astrophysicists will not find any planets that match ours, containing all the necessary chemical and biological ingredients to form life as we know it.  It might forever remain in the realm of science fiction.

Perhaps a more important argument to be made is that there might be no other planet remotely like Earth; and our search for other habitable planets that can support us (and our understanding of “life”) might be fruitless. Such a view might make us come to the realization and conclusion that our planet is precious.This is not giving up. This ensures that we protect and preserve our planet for what it offers us. Life.

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For more, go to [Discover

Monday, February 22, 2016

Photos By Blind Artists: Cdn. Museum For Human Rights

Images

Sight Unseen: Many people would think that it is not possible for blind persons to take photographs, but this is not so. When I first heard, only a few days ago, about this exhibit, I, too, wondered if I had heard right. But there is an exhibit to prove it is, indeed, true. The “impossible” becomes possible with the right mix of determination, talent and technology. The technology in question is by 3D Photoworks, which the museum site says “creates three-dimensional, tactile versions of the photographs for people with vision loss.” The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg, writes about the exhibit, which features works by 12 artists—all whom have varying degrees of vision loss: “Sight Unseen invites visitors to reconsider their views on blindness and perception. It reveals how sight can make us blind to reality. It shows the potential everyone holds when we’re free to express ourselves. View a video about photographer Pete Eckert, who says ‘the eye is not always the most important thing in taking a picture.’ ” The exhibit runs until September 18, 2016. For more, go to [CMHR]
Photo Credit: John Woods; Canadian Press

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Roman Vishniac: Retrospective In San Franscisco

Pre-WWII Europe

Roman Vishniac [1897–1990]: Inside the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany, 1929–early 1930s. Ink-jet print. 
Photo Credit: © Mara Vishniac Kohn. Courtesy International Center of Photography, NYC.
Source: Aesthetica

Roman Vishniac was born in Russia (near Saint-Petersburg) in 1897, moving with his family to Berlin around 1920 to escape the harsh realities of the Russian Revolution. Again, in the midst of war and upheaval, he immigrated to America, arriving in New York City on New Year’s Eve, 1940. Vishniac is credited with capturing—through photos—a world of east-European Jews, or at least his understanding and interpretation of it.

Commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Vishniac, between 1935 and 1938, travelled eastward from his home base of Berlin to the centres of Jewish life in Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania, where he took thousands of photos. Vishniac is best known for A Vanished World (1983) with a foreword by Elie Wiesel, capturing many of the everyday realities of religious Jews, the photos depicting economic poverty and hardships, having a combined effect of symbolizing shtetl life.

Vishniac’s artistic endeavors, poignant and powerful as they are, have received their fair share of criticism, including a well-written and -researched piece by Alana Newhouse (2010) in The New York Times Magazine. A good part of the criticism is that the photos depict a narrow view of life in eastern Europe, supporting the mythology found in Sholem Aleichem’s novels and in the Broadway musical (1964) and Hollywood movie (1971), Fiddler on the Roof.

Yet, these are stylized stories, and as such cannot be taken as historical reality. Nostalgia is not the same as history, even though the former tends to have a hold on our imagination, enlivened by the human need for myths. Jewish life, however, has always been diverse; in the NYT article, Newhouse writes:
“Jews should be absolutely elated — and not at all surprised — to discover that Jewish life in Poland was like human society anywhere, in that it contained all the human types and all of the human experiences,” Wieseltier, the New Republic literary editor, says. “Will they resent being deprived by the full historical record of the holy beards and the mystical sparks, or will they have the wisdom to say, ‘Good, they were blessedly like all of us’?” 
So it continues today. This is not to deny that Vishniac’s photos do deserve a place of recognition, but knowing that he took artistic license in pursuit of the greater narrative: the threats to continuity in the face of upheaval and change. As the International Center of Photography in New York City says: “More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac’s images have profoundly influenced contemporary notions of Jewish life in eastern Europe. Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of that world on the eve of its annihilation, yet only a small fraction of his work was published or printed during his lifetime.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered: at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until May 29, 2016.

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For more, go to [TheCJM].

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Phil Collins: Against All Odds (1984)

1980s Music



Phil Collins sings “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” a song and film that has personal meaning for me. It resonates with millions of other sentimentalists, those who are quietly and sincerely romantic and who have large hearts full of longings and regrets. All human emotions of genuine and open persons. Here are a few other versions: at Live Aid (Wembley Stadium, London, July 13, 1985); at the Seriously, Live! World Tour (Waldbühne, Berlin, July 15, 1990); and at the Finally, the First Farewell Tour (Montreux, Switzerland, July 7, 2004.

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Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
by Phil Collins

How can I just let you walk away,
Just let you leave without a trace?
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh ooh
You're the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave?
'Cause we've shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now
Well there's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face
Ooh, Take a look at me now
Well there's just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds
And that's what I've got to face,

I wish I could just make you turn around
Turn around and see me cry
There's so much I need to say to you
So many reasons why
You're the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now
Well there's just an empty space
And there's nothing left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face

Now take a look at me now
'Cause that's just an empty space
But to wait for you is all I can do
And that's what I've got to face

Take a good look at me now
'Cause I'll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It's the chance I've got to take
Take a look at me now

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stop Force-Feeding Antibiotics To Farm Animals

Food Animals


Antibiotic Trough: Keeve Nachman for Scientific American writes: “People born in the past 70 years are fortunate enough to live in a time when major medical and public health advances, including antibiotics, have allowed us to live long enough to die from chronic diseases instead of infectious ones. The misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture threatens to hurtle us into a postantibiotic world, where even the most routine infections may become deadly. We must take meaningful action—and fast.”
Image Credit: Scott Brundage
Antibiotics are good and have been a boon to humanity. These drugs have saved countless number of lives from infections that before Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, in 1945, would have resulted in death. The overuse of antibiotics (and other antimicrobials), however, can have long-term consequences, not only for human but also for food animals. Despite unregulated guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that such drugs cannot be used to promote growth, they are still used for “disease prevention” or what is referred to as sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.

In “Curb Antiobiotic Use in Farm Animals (March 1, 2016), Keeve Nachman for Scientific American writes:
In 1945 Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, warned that overuse of his miracle drug could make bacteria immune to it. He was right—and not just about penicillin: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than two million people a year, at least 23,000 of whom die. A significant part of that overuse, the cdc says, involves feeding the drugs to the animals we eat. Farmers do this not to cure or prevent disease but simply to make livestock grow bigger and faster.
Which ranchers and farmers then bring to market, which then end up in store shelves. This raises an concern, which is whether it is ethical to raise/sell food that has the potential to eventually reduce the efficacy of antibiotics? Some would argue that there always is an inherent risk in living, and, moreover, if people are aware that conventional farm-raised animals contain antibiotics, they have been forewarned. Moreover, one can argue that the benefits outweigh the risks.

My response to this is that this might be true, but there is a caveat. What are the ethics of using antibiotics (instead of, for example, grain or grass) as means of increasing growth? Such farming practices, despite being common for decades (since the 1950s), ought to be seriously reviewed, with possible provisions for regulation. If not, farmers, who state that they are concerned about profits, might see people protesting where it counts: at the cash register. (Yes, I am aware of the economic reasons why farmers have been using antibiotics.)

For some, this might turn people away from any consumption of meat, which requires a more-carefully managed diet. For others, this might mean organic is an option, which requires spending more money on meat. Even so, organic meat might not be more healthy than conventional meat and that the meat they purchase at the supermarket might still harbor bacteria like Campylobacter (chicken) and E. coli (pork). Cooking according to guidelines kills the bacteria, an easy-enough solution.

It seems confusing, doesn’t it? Such is what happens when the choices for consumers are many, and the science supporting it is not completely understood. There is comfort, however, in knowing that nations like Canada and the United States have excellent regulatory and inspection systems for meat.

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For more, go to [ScientificAmerican]

For an example of labeling guidelines, see the USDA guidelines [here].

For the USDA (2013) report, see [here].

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Making Of Moral Decisions

Public Good


The Thinker’s Brain: With a view of Rodin. Philip Gorski writes for Public Books:“Keane tacitly distinguishes at least four levels of social reality. Let’s call them the physiological, the psychological, the sociological, and the anthropological. Each emerges out of the other. Human culture emerges out of human interactions; human interactions depend on psychic capacities; psychodynamics are rooted in our bodily makeup.”
Image Credit: Bill Sanderson, 1997; The gyri of the thinker's brain as a maze of choices in biomedical ethics

In a book review article in Public Books, Philip Gorski looks at the issue of where morals emanate, an important question for anyone interested in such ideas as public good and making good individual decisions. The book being reviewed is Webb Keane’s Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories. In “Where Do Morals Come From?” (February 15, 2016), Gorski, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Yale University, writes:
The social sciences have an ethics problem. No, I am not referring to the recent scandals about flawed and fudged data in psychology and political science.1 I’m talking about the failure of the social sciences to develop a satisfactory theory of ethical life. A theory that could explain why humans are constantly judging and evaluating, and why we care about other people and what they think of us. A theory that could explain something so trivial as the fact that social scientists care about data fudging.
Not that there are a lack of theories, or a lack of effort in trying to define morality and the moral instinct. There are no shortage of theories found in the academic writings of social sciences and the humanities (as well as in the biological sciences and neuroscience), but the author notes that despite their brilliance (in some cases), none are completely satisfying to us humans. It is worth reading this complete article, if only to see what is out there.

This might lead you to an understanding that when it comes to the roots or history of morality, you will probably have more questions than answers, and that you will probably return to the beginning of it all. This might happen a number of times during your lifetime, as new knowledge adds to “old” knowledge. Understanding is always preferable. Even so, one central question worth asking is whether it is necessary to know the source of human morality to act morally.

Might this define a case where understanding is not a necessary precursor to action. Even a basic understanding of right and wrong can go a long way, at least for the average person; since most persons do not face the moral dilemmas of presidents, prime ministers, business leaders and scientists engaged in bio-ethical issues. This is one of those cases where, in particular, knowing the roots of morality is less important than making good moral decisions, or to put it another way, “to enact morality.” In other words, one can act moral without (completely or sufficiently) understanding from where morals come. Understanding might come later.

For now, moral action will suffice.

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For more, go to [PublicBooks]

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sarah Smith: As The Crow Flies

Expressionist Art

Flying Crows: There is a number of myths associated with these black birds, including one of Aesop’s fables, “The Crow and the Pitcher,” attesting to their intelligence and ingenuity. Crows are intelligent, science confirms, but as myths and fables go, it is untrue that crows are attracted to small, shiny objects. As for the expression, “as the crow flies,” it suggests the shortest distance between two points, that is, a straight line. This is what crows tend to do. For this artist, the crow represents transition and transience. In an interview with Aesthetica (posted February 12, 2016), Sarah Smith says: “Crows (in fact all corvids) have always intrigued me. They are fascinating and intelligent creatures. I find their habits, rituals and flying displays utterly compelling and I really am in continual pursuit, forever attempting to capture their very essence. For me, they’re about communicating our fleeting presence upon this planet.”
Photo Credit: ©Sarah Smith, As the Crow Flies (III), 2013, 80cm x 55cm.  
SourceAesthetica

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The True Self

OurSelves

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” 
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Does a true self exist? This question is not superfluous in light of the necessity of role-playing today. As conventional thinking goes, we tend to conform to the expectations of societal norms and to the social groups that we consider important to our sense of identity and well-being, including but not limited to school, work, and religious affiliation. The question of a “true self” is raised in a short two-minute video produced by BBC Radio 4 that has been posted in Aeon (“Erving Goffman and the performed self”):
The 20th-century Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman believed that we adapt to roles – lover, customer, worker – based on circumstance, and are constantly concerned with how we’re appearing to others. This short animation explains why Goffman’s view of humanity left no room for a ‘true self’ – an actor behind all the roles we play.
I agree with Erving Goffman [1922–1982] when he says that people play roles in accordance with circumstances and with the realities of being part of the many social group they encounter, part of what he refers to as “the sociology of everyday life.” It is true that we tend to have many selves, and we put our best self forward, in accordance with what we view as necessary and in keeping with our view of our identities. It is also true that when the individual is part, in some way, of a large number of diverse social groups, it encourages people to have many public selves.

It might be true that the various public selves all contribute to an individual’s character. A healthy individual, however, is an integrated one, which might take a lifetime to achieve, if at all. Perhaps we are all, to some, degree, fractured. It might be that acting is a necessary form of social survival, or being a part of a group or groups, that it feeds and fulfills our need to conform and fit in. A healthy self, however, is integrated and balanced. The opposite is true for a self with overweening ambition.

Such might explain one reason why politicians have the hardest time with finding a genuine self. The many interest groups to please make this a near impossibility. One exception is if public good, including bringing together diverse groups, is a primary goal. A devotion to others; a devotion to a higher cause. For many, this is not the case, particularly in the seeking of higher office. I am not sure if politics is good for either the Soul or the Self. Still, there seem to be enough people interested in it, who are willing to try their hand at it, in their mind the trade-offs (of power and influence) worth the “risks” of a loss of authenticity.

Yet, this does not negate the idea that a genuine self exists, and this is where I might part company with Prof. Goffman. Just because something is hidden, does not mean it does not exist. It might take great effort to discover this true self, and even greater effort to reveal it to society. Whether this is accepted is another matter altogether; this requires both trust and affirmation. The true self is precious, and as such is worthy only for your intimates.

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For more, go to [Aeon]

Monday, February 15, 2016

Byron’s ‘She Walks In Beauty’



Sissel Kyrkjebø, a Norwegian soprano. sings the first stanza of “She Walks in Beauty,” Lord Byron’s poem of the same name, published in 1814. This video clip is from the opening credits of the 2004 British-American film production of Vanity Fair, an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s well-known novel, Vanity Fair (1848), which had the subheading, “A Novel without a Hero.”  

This Victorian novel is, in many respects, a satire of early 19th century British life—making its setting the time when Byron penned this poem. The music in this video is by Mychael Danna, a Canadian film composer. What interests me the most, however, is not the film, which is good enough to suit modern sensibilities, but the story of Byron’s poem. In “She Walks in Beauty Poem” (April 19, 2015), Marilee Hanson writes a short analysis of the 18-line poem by the Romantic poet:
This is perhaps the most famous of Byron’s short poems. On 11 June 1814, Byron attended a fashionable party at Lady Sitwell’s, and met – for the first time – his cousin, Lady Wilmot Horton. The young lady wore a mourning dress and it was the contrast between her youthful beauty and her somber attire that sparked the poem. He wrote it that same evening, and it was included in his 1815 collection, Hebrew Melodies.
It is written in iambic tetrameter, a style typically used for hymns. This makes perfect sense for the Hebrew Melodies collection was intended to be – literally – a collection of Old Testament-themed melodies. Lyrics were to be provided by Byron, and music by Isaac Nathan, a Rabbinical student lately turned composer who was four years Byron’s junior. Their collaboration was encouraged by Byron’s friend (and banker), Douglas Kinnaird. Byron quite generously gave Nathan copyright to his ‘lyrics’. Nathan’s music was intended to reflect the spirit and style of old Hebrew folk songs.
You can read more about Isaac Nathan [here & here]; and you can listen to a full rendition of this Romantic-era song as well as a selection of Hebrew Melodies [here].

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She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day (2016)

On Love


Valentine’s DayEmily Allen, and Cameron Macphail write for The Telegraph:”In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine. They would wear the name of the person on their sleeves— hence the expression ‘to wear your heart on your sleeve.’”
Image Credit: Alamy
Source: The Telegraph

Happy Valentine’s Day to my wife; and to all those lovers who celebrate and enjoy this day of love. I acknowledge that not everyone feels the way that I do, but I enjoy this holiday. It is about gift giving and sharing, about declarations of love and affection, about eating chocolates and other confections, about buying flowers and sending gifts and cards with declarations of love. 

The people who like Valentine's Day might be sentimental (or they just might enjoy a good box of chocolates and beautiful flowers, as I do!). The holiday might be commercialized or trite, but this argument can be made for almost any celebration today. This comes at a time when some organized group or another will find one thing or another distasteful or disapproving. If this describes you, why not start your own celebratory traditions? Or decide to ignore the day altogether, if this is your declared desire.

As for the holiday, it is associated with Cupid (Latin Cupido, meaning “desire”), who in this vintage card is flying an airplane in possession of a stolen heart. He is carrying the heart to someone with amorous expectations, apparently to the heart’s beloved—a gesture suffused with poetry and romance. In “Valentine’s Day: Night in or night out? A guide to the day itself and how to celebrate it” (February 11, 2016), Emily Allen, and Cameron Macphail write for The Telegraph:
Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. Cupid is also known in Latin also as Amor (“Love”). His Greek counterpart is Eros and he is just one of the ancient symbols associated with St Valentine’s Day, along with the shape of a heart, doves, and the colours red and pink. He is usually portrayed as a small winged figure with a bow and arrow which he uses to strike the hearts of people. People who fall in love are said to be ‘struck by Cupid’s arrow’.
It is said that it is good to celebrate your victories. It is always good to celebrate your loves. Such are my thoughts. I leave you with Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” which he composed in June 1814 after attending a party given by Lady Sitwell. Some say this is not a love poem, per se, but a poetic observation of beauty; yet, others argue that it, indeed, is. You be the judge.

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She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Updated Periodic Table

Earth’s Elements

More Elements: The Periodic Table of Elements is now bigger with the addition of four elements to the table’s seventh row (or period as it is formally known), thus completing it, reports the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), in Zurich, Switzerland. The nations responsible for the discoveries—Japan, Russia and the USA—have been invited to suggest permanent names and symbols. These elements have atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118. Nathaniel Scharping writes for Discover Magazine: “The elements’ existence has been documented by researchers from Russia and the United States, as well as a separate team from Japan, for several years, but they awaited official review by the IUPAC to be formally accepted. Now that the confirmation process is complete, the researchers will submit permanent names for their elements. The IUPAC states that elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist. The elements are currently known by placeholder names, such as the ever catchy ununseptium for element 117. The four newest discoveries will join other “superheavy” elements in the seventh period of the periodic table, including flerovium and livermorium, which were added in 2011.”
Image Credit: Maximilian Laschon
Source: Discover Magazine

Friday, February 12, 2016

Trick Photography & Performance Art

Camera Sightings

Sense of Freedom: Yves Klein’s “Saut dans le Vide” (“Leap into the Void”), Fontenay-aux-Roses, Paris, France, October 1960. 360 x 280 mm. 
Photo Credit Shunk-Kender (Harry Shunk and János Kender). Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in memory of Harry Shunk and János Kender. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photograph: Shunk-Kender © J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Source
: Aesthetica


Performance art is used as mode of expression, often presenting some inward reflective reality; photography has many purposes, not the least of which is to capture a sense of some outward reality. When combined, the results are not always predictable, often a mix of seriousness and humour, poking fun at the self (personal identity) and of accepted traditional mores (community standards). When the world “tilts” a certain way, it invites both commentary and social critique. Even so, performance art has a lighter side, it examining how expectations can shape our views; and the camera in its capturing of still images, can allow the imagination to run with wild abandon, as this famous image undoubtedly does. The void can represent anything unknown, as this image suggests, which can upset or surprise the viewer’s expectations of reality. 

The story of how Yves Klein [1928–1962], a French performance artist, achieved this “flying performance” in a Paris suburb is told here by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It involved a photo-montage and the use of trick photography. There were many others, Aesthetica writes in announcing the upcoming exhibit at the Tate Modern in London, England: “Performing for the Camera” at Tate Modern will examine the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of photography in the 19th century to the selfie culture of today. Bringing together over 500 images spanning 150 years, the exhibition will engage with the serious business of art and performance, as well as the humour and improvisation of posing for the camera.” 

The exhibit will run between February 18, 2016 and June 12, 2016.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Deep Purple: Child In Time (1970)

Anti-War



Deep Purple, the English rock band, perform “Child In Time,” which is the third track on side one of the studio album Deep Purple in Rock, which was released on June 3, 1970. It is an anti-war song, its anger and pain addressing, in particular, the Vietnam War [1955–75] and the United States’ increased involvement and participation in it. This song raises the question of whether being anti-war is the same as being pro-peace. My view is that the former might be the first step toward the latter, which is a much more profound, thoughtful and mindful position to hold.

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Child in Time
By Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice.

Sweet child in time
You’ll see the line
The line that's drawn between
Good and bad

See the blind man
Shooting at the world
Bullets flying
Oh taking toll

If you’ve been bad
Oh Lord I bet you have
And you've not been hit
Oh by flying lead

You’d better close your eyes
Ooohhhh bow your head
Wait for the ricochet

Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Ooo, ooo ooo
Ooo ooo ooo

Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Ooo, ooo ooo
Ooo ooo ooo

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh
Aah I wanna hear you sing

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh
Aaahhhh

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh

Sweet child in time
You’ll see the line
The line that's drawn between
Good and bad

See the blind man
Shooting at the world
Bullets flying
Mmmm taking toll

If you’ve been bad
Lord I bet you have
And you’ve not been hit
Oh by flying lead

You’d better close your eyes
Ooohhhhhhh bow your head
Wait for the ricochet

Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Ooo, ooo ooo
Ooo ooo ooo

Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Oooooo ooooooo ooooooo
Ooo, ooo ooo
Ooo ooo ooo

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh
Aah I gotta hear you sing

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh
Aah

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh
Aah

Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aaaahh aaaahh aaaahh
Aahh, aahh aahh

Oh..God oh no..oh God no..oh..ah..no ah
AAh..oh..
Aawaah..ohh


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Finding Encouragement In The Doctor’s Office

Book Review
Compassionate Medicine: There is healing power in words; if you have been on the receiving end of encouraging words, when needed, you will understand their meaning and power to both soothe and heal. Dr. Bomback writes in Los Angeles Review of Books: “In The Lost Art of Healing, Lown recalls the simple advice he received from a Siberian physician — ‘Every time a doctor sees a patient, the patient should feel better as a result’ — and spends most of his book trying to convince his readers that physician-patient dialogue is the only reliable way to ensure a positive medical outcome.”
Photo Credit & Source: LARB

Never underestimate the healing power of compassionate words, and all the more so when they are part of the traditional physician-patient dialogue taking place daily in the doctor’s office. How a doctor conveys medical news can affect a patient’s well-being and health. Such is the essential point of a book review article, by Andrew Bomback, in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Doctor: On Epigenetics, Placebos, and ‘The Lost Art of Healing’ ” (February 4, 2016), Bomback, a medical doctor practicing in New York, writes:
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Bernard Lown’s The Lost Art of Healing. Lown, now 94 years old, is a retired cardiologist best known for developing the direct current defibrillator used to resuscitate victims of cardiac arrests. He also accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization he co-founded with a Russian cardiologist. Lown’s 1996 memoir, though, will also be one of his lasting legacies. The book is still distributed to first-year medical students around the world, part pleasure-reading gift and part instruction manual for the career they’ve chosen.
In The Lost Art of Healing, Lown recalls the simple advice he received from a Siberian physician — “Every time a doctor sees a patient, the patient should feel better as a result” — and spends most of his book trying to convince his readers that physician-patient dialogue is the only reliable way to ensure a positive medical outcome. “I know of few remedies more powerful than a carefully chosen word,” writes Lown. “Patients crave caring, which is dispensed largely with words.”
I took care of Lillian before reading The Lost Art of Healing. When I read Lown’s memoir a few years later, her case kept popping into my head. My colleagues and I published the largest case series of fibrillary glomerulonephritis patients treated with rituximab to date, and Lillian is the clear outlier, the only patient with advanced kidney failure who responded to the drug. We had no explanation for her success. Lown probably would argue that my optimistic words were a key player. “I attempt to discover a silver lining in the cloudiest situation,” he writes. “This has little to do with truth or falsehood. It flows from the deepest intent of doctoring, to help a patient cope when a condition is hopeless and to recover whenever it is remotely possible.”
True enough; and truer words have never been spoken on the beneficial effects of compassion. Can it be that a good part of the illnesses that are present in our society are due to lack of compassion? This human emotion, an action on behalf of the other, can help not only in the prevention of some illnesses, but also improve the outcomes of individuals who are suffering illnesses. Again, compassion is part of what I would call complementary medicine. As the placebo effect shows, it is a powerful anodyne. As are healing thoughts.  (Rationalists beware. Optimists fare better when faced with a life-threatening medical diagnosis.)

We do not understand why this is so from a scientific point of view, but we do feel emotional satisfaction and find it a benefit to our being when in the presence of someone who cares. As is the emotional connection made, when someone shows a personal interest, especially if that person is a medical doctor who has specialized knowledge. How this works is less important than why it works, or, more to the point, that it works. This is not a warm. fuzzy feeling; it is bettering emotional health, which has an important place in modern medicine.

Alienation and loneliness are often seen as social ills, as abnormal behaviours, when in fact they are normal responses to modern life today. Such “negative” feelings are accentuated in times of change and crisis. Many times people feel very alone in the doctor's office, afraid of the news. When doctor’s act as a patient’s advocate, working together, to get a positive outcome, I suspect that the results are significantly better. As are acts of kindness.

I was fortunate to have found an excellent and compassionate family physician (Dr. G.) before I began chemotherapy. (Our family had recently moved to Toronto.) Dr. G. was encouraging and also used soothing words. I still can remember this time in my life; and I believe that I will carry this memory forever, such is its importance.

Kindness does not have to be the enemy of science or of reality.

***************
For more, go to [LARB]

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Mid-Winter View (2016)

Half-Way Points

We are now a few days into the second half of the winter season of 2016; midwinter officially took place here in the northern hemisphere on Thursday, February 4th at 6:21 p.m. Eastern Time. This photo (unedited), as many of my posted photos are, is taken from my sixth-floor apartment (on the afternoon of February 4th); but this time the view is from my kitchen window—facing northeast. Another perspective of the park, which we can view from all of our windows. If you do not notice any evidence of snow, it is because we have received so little of it this winter. This is a new experience for me, where in February the grass is visible and not covered in snow. (Although the forecast is for a for some snow today; an inch or two.) We have had a number of mild unwintery days, unseasonable for this part of Canada. As a notable example of this, it was 16°C (61°F) on February 3rd. Winter began on December 22, 2015, and will end on March 20, 2016, with the arrival of spring.
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, February 2016


Monday, February 8, 2016

Jewish Humor: A Subversive Force For Social Change

Book Review

Humor can be funny, but it can also be serious and a force for social change, which is what essentially describes the aims of  political satire, namely, a targeted attempt to offend those in power who have committed some wrong, moral ethical or otherwise. Depending on whom one offends, this can be career-damaging for comedians, which is not generally the case today in the United States, but was so during the McCarthy era. Prof. George Jochnowitz writes: “As noted above, humor is a subversive force. This led to the persecution of some comedians who were viewed as dangerous during the era of McCarthyism. One of the victims was Philip Loeb, who was blacklisted and lost his job as Molly Goldberg’s husband on The Goldbergs. (There were also attempts at blacklisting coming from the left, as in a January 1949 article in Jewish Life, the predecessor of Jewish Currents, in which Sam Levenson, who had distanced himself from communist activity, was denounced by Louis Harap, a former editorial board member, ‘for being like a Nazi stormtrooper.’ ”)

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by George Jochnowitz


Kvetching and Shpritzing: Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture
by Joseph Dorinson,
Foreword by Joseph Boskin.
McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015, 248 pages.



When I first saw the title of Joseph Dorinson’s book, I was a bit puzzled. I know that Yiddish kvetshn means “to squeeze” and can be used figuratively to mean “to complain.” Complaining goes well with humor. As for shpritsn, I only knew the meaning “to spray.” I looked it up in Uriel Weinreich’s Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary, but all I found were synonyms: splash, sprinkle, spurt, squirt. Dorinson, however, explains it all: As a term of comedy, shpritzing means spitting all over your objects of scorn, “dogmas, institutions, celebrities, and enemies,” by bubbling up and spilling over like a shaken bottle of seltzer. And Jewish humor, adds Dorinson, “does not even spare God.”

Why, indeed, should God be spared getting wet? Dorinson cites Woody Allen as saying that “Jews celebrate Yom Kippur to honor a God who broke all of His promises to His people.” So true: After the Israelites left Egypt, they wandered in the desert for forty years. A generation died there and never saw the Promised Land. Eventually, the Israelites built an army and fought their way in — a process that took centuries.

“The Bible,” Dorinson writes, “is allegedly devoid of humor,” but his cautious use of “allegedly” indicates that he has doubts about this statement, as indeed he should. The Hebrew Bible is generally not funny, but there are some great and subtle wits at work in the text. When David flees to escape from King Saul, he is captured by the servants of King Achish of Gath. David then pretends to be insane, leading the king to ask this ironic question: “Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?” (1 Samuel 21:15). After Job is struck with catastrophe after catastrophe, the comforters come to him and ask, “If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? But who can withhold himself from speaking?” (Job 4:2). And when the Prophet Isaiah speaks about the daughters of Zion, he describes the day when “my Lord will strip off the finery of the anklets, the fillets, and the crescents; of the eardrops, the bracelets, and the veils; the turbans, the armlets, and the sashes; of the talismans and theamultets; the signet rings and the nose rings; the festive robes, the mantles, and the shawls; the purses, the lace gowns, and the linen vests; and the kerchiefs and the capes” (Isaiah 3:18-23). This Rabelaisian list was clearly meant to be sarcastic.

Dorinson observes that humor “also serves as a deeply subversive force.” Perhaps the Biblical tradition of wrestling with God (Genesis 32:28) and arguing with God (Genesis 18:22-33) are connected with Jewish involvement in revolutionary movements. Certainly kvetching constitutes an attack on the status quo and therefore has subversive potential. He points especially to Broadway theater, in which Jews have been leading creators, as playing “an important role in heightening America’s awareness of social issues.” Among the plays he discusses is the musical Finian’s Rainbow, with words written by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, whose original name was Isidore Hochberg, about whom we read, “Though tainted, painted, and red-listed, ‘Yip’ persevered, indeed prospered.” The fact that the play was about race and sharecroppers did not prevent it from running for 725 performances after it opened in 1947.

Like Yip Harburg, Jewish comedians were often bold about their views but timid about their names. Jack Benny was originally Benny Kubelsky. Woody Allen was Allan Stewart Konigsberg. Lenny Bruce was born Leonard Alfred Schneider. Was there a fear that being funny, which is what a comedian wants, would be confused with being scorned? We can laugh with people because they are funny; we can laugh at them because they are undignified. Jewish names are often viewed as lacking ‘class.’ Was there a subconscious need to avoid a lower-class name in order to separate laughter from scorn? Be that as it may, Jewish scientists, who have also loomed large in their fields of work, are unlikely to change their names. Nobody would have expected Albert Einstein to change his name, and he didn’t, yet everybody thought it natural for Kubelsky to become Benny—and so it went, as by 1970, according to Dorinson, “Jewish practitioners represented 80 percent of the top comedians in America.”

On the other hand, Gertrude Berg, who created and played the role of Molly Goldberg on a radio program called The Goldbergs about Jewish life in New York, did not change her name. Neither did actors on the Yiddish stage who eventually played roles on the radio, like Menashe Skulnik. If you are enacting a Jewish character, you may as well have a Jewish name. The Goldbergs was one of several programs about minorities, as Dorinson reminds readers. There was also Life with Luigi, about Italian-Americans, and I Remember Mama, about Norwegian-Americans. Peggy Wood, the star of that show, was not of Norwegian descent. The radio program Amos and Andy, about African-Americans, had white actors when it was on the radio, but needed to change its cast when it appeared on television.

For much of the 20th century, there were resort hotels in the Catskill Mountains that catered to predominantly Jewish guests. Many of these hotels regularly had entertainers, and many of the entertainers were comedians. A significant percentage of the well-known comedians discussed in Dorinson’s book began their careers in the Catskills. During the same period, there were comedy shows on the radio, and variety shows on television that featured comedians. The Texaco Star Theater, starring Milton Berle, known as “Mr. Television,” was enormously popular, as was Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar, who was Jewish, and Imogene Coca, who was not. I watched the program regularly, which was broadcast live, and I never saw any indication that Sid Caesar was occasionally violent, so I was surprised to learn from Dorinson that once in the Catskills, when the comedian Jackie Michaels “flung tomatoes at Caesar, drenching his new white suit, he chased the offender into the audience, where gleeful onlookers thought it was part of the act.” Equally surprising was that Caesar “also developed a destructive dependency on alcohol.”

This is just one example of the many details about comedy stars and their careers discussed in Kvetching and Shpritzing. We learn about comedian after comedian, actor after actor, writer after writer—and since the book is about comedy, we read joke after joke. Dorinson is a scholar utterly devoted to the subject of the joke.

As noted above, humor is a subversive force. This led to the persecution of some comedians who were viewed as dangerous during the era of McCarthyism. One of the victims was Philip Loeb, who was blacklisted and lost his job as Molly Goldberg’s husband on The Goldbergs. (There were also attempts at blacklisting coming from the left, as in a January 1949 article in Jewish Life, the predecessor of Jewish Currents, in which Sam Levenson, who had distanced himself from communist activity, was denounced by Louis Harap, a former editorial board member, “for being like a Nazi stormtrooper.”)

Writers can be humorous, but they are not generally thought of as comedians. Sholem Aleichem was called the Jewish Mark Twain. When Mark Twain heard this, he replied, “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.” Philip Roth, one of the greatest novelists of our time, is often humorous. He should have won the Nobel Prize in literature. Perhaps there were already too many Jewish Nobel winners, and Roth was excluded for reasons of affirmative action.

To err is human. Fortunately, in this age of computers, we can catch our errors and have them corrected with relative ease. In future copies of the book, we can do away with slip-ups like the misspelling of Yetta Zwerling’s surname on page 60, although it is correctly spelled elsewhere on the same page. Another case of a correct and an incorrect spelling is found on page 72, where Hans Christian Andersen is referred to twice. Michiko Kakutani’s name is misspelled on page 130. Senator Joseph McCarthy is mistakenly identified as representing the state of Washington on page 110, although he is correctly described as being from Wisconsin elsewhere. There are other small slip-ups, but they can all be changed quickly and easily so that they will not distract the reader from the scholarship that went into the book. We shouldn’t be given any reason to kvetch about this fascinating work of history, scholarship, and philosophy.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2016. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in Jewish Currents (February 2, 2016). It is published here with the author’s permission.