Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful



Happy Birthday, Mary Beth!


May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young


(Bob Dylan, of course)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How we choose to remember




Below, an excerpt of a post from my first blog, dated November 15, 2004, in which I write of a visit to the WW II Memorial with my two sons. I read in today's NY Times that the State of New Jersey is moving ahead with its own WWII memorial. I hope the Garden State will be inspired to excape from fascist symbols of victory and militarism that plague the WWII Memorial in our nation's capital.
(Photos by Richard Latoff)

Jim, Dan and I headed over to the Mall to see the WWII Memorial. None of us had been to see the new monument, and it was a cool, pretty day in DC, so it seemed like the thing to do with our afternoon.
I had seen pictures, and I was not expecting to be impressed.

From the images, I had formed an impression of the Memorial as a boring, cold, and stony throwback to Third Reich triumphalism. In person, the impression was even stronger.

Perhaps on a warmer day, the effect would have softened somewhat, but on Saturday the fountains seemed to spew ice-water. All around people milled about aimlessly in the emptiness of the space around the pool at the center of the Memorial.

The unifority of the columns surrounding the space and the laurel wreaths emphasized a militarism that was reinforced by some of the texts chosen to be carved in a few places in the Memorial -- one by General Marshall was striking in its tone -- it seems unfair to a man whose vision and leadership in the post-war period was credited with a swift and generous rebuilding effort in Europe that his contribution to the Memorial should be this quotation:

WE ARE DETERMINED THAT BEFORE THE SUN SETS ON THIS TERRIBLE STRUGGLE OUR FLAG WILL BE RECOGNIZED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AS A SYMBOL OF FREEDOM ON THE ONE HAND AND OF OVERWHELMING FORCE ON THE OTHER.

-- General George C. Marshall


There are very few human figures in the Memorial -- these are limited to the bas relief panels lining the entrance walls. The panels include scenes from the war period -- I can't say that they made any impression on me at all. Was I supposed to be moved, or informed? Were they simply meant to be decorative?


At each of two ends of the Memorial stands a pavilion, one dedicated to the vicory in Europe ("Atlantic") and the other to the victory in the Pacific.
Inside each pavilion, and hidden from view from outside the pavilion, are figures of Eagles carrying victory wreaths.

By hiding these figures, the creators of this Memorial ensured that the view from the center of the Memorial is dominated by granite blocks, a pool with fountains, and victory wreaths on the 56 granite pillars.

The absence of any representations of human forms is striking -- the place is lifeless.

There are 56 granite pillars for each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and three other minor US territories who contributed to the war effort.

Each pillar bears a wreath of victory and the name of the State / Territory it represents.




There is very little mention of our allies here, and the strong impression of a unilateral and triumphal militarism is hard to escape -- perhaps the backdrop of current events affects my perception, but the impression is overpowering.

I wonder what a British visitor would think of this Memorial. There is no doubt that America saved the world from tyranny in Europe and Asia, but we fought alongside many nations and when the war was over, we sought to build the foundation for lasting peace and security through the United Nations and alliances such as NATO.

Today, Germany and Japan are our friends. Where in this Memorial is there any nod to the rest of the world, or to our hopes for the future? The message seems to be "WWII - We kicked ass. Don't Tread on Me, or I'll kick yours too."

There is a pool and a wall with 4,000 gold stars, each one represents 100 Americans who lost their lives in the war.

The gold star was the symbol of family sacrifice in WWII, but today it looks very cold -- the 4,000 stars look like nuts and bolts or some other cookie-cutter stamp.

I looked at those stars and felt a deep sense of disappointment that the lives of all those men and women had been represented with so little feeling.

Perhaps in order to make the Memorial accessible to the WWII generation, the Memorial is set alongside a roadway. Unfortunately, this just contributes to the sense that the Memorial has been jammed into an increasingly crowded space on the Mall. Unlike the Vietnam Memorial, which is so powerfully moving, the overall effect of the WWII Memorial is one of disappointment with the physical monument that we have created.

Our WWII veterans deserve a better Memorial than this.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No wonder we can't compete

From Brandon Keim at Wired Science:

One in eight U.S. high school teachers presents creationism as a valid alternative to evolution, says a poll published in the Public Library of Science Biology.

Of more than 900 teachers who responded to a poll conducted by Penn State University political scientist Michael Berkman and colleagues, 32 percent agreed that creationism and intelligent design should be taught as scientifically unsound. Forty percent said such explanations are religiously valid but inappropriate for science class.

However, 25 percent said they devoted classroom time to creationism or intelligent design. Of these, about one-half -- 12 percent of all teachers -- called creationism a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species," and the same number said that "many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory." (The full study makes for interesting reading: Evolution and Creationism in America’s Classrooms: A National Portrait.
Only 7% of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim. As dumb as those people are, they're smarter than high school science teachers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fantasy will set you free


Today's NY Times includes a report from Ohio of a speech by John McCain in which McCain describes his vision of success in Iraq:

“By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom,’’ Mr. McCain said at the Columbus Convention Center. “The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.’’

The United States, Mr. McCain added, “maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.’’
Missing from the speech was an explanation of how this notion of "four more years" in Iraq is any different than what George W. Bush would promise if he could run for a third term.

Also missed out in this speech was any recognition of the cost of continuing this war until January 2013: the thousands of lives to be lost, the hundreds of millions of dollars to be borrowed from China - perhaps a trillion dollars over four years, the need for a draft to fill the recruitment gaps, the need to forgo major social spending programs - such as universal health care - in order to replace the munitions and equipment consumed by the war, and the tax increases needed in case China refuses to lend us another trillion dollars.

Oh yeah - he forgot to mention his little war with Iran. Misremembered, I suppose.

A reporter asked the Maverick if his fantastic vision did not amount to a "Magic Carpet Ride" - how rude! The man has a dream, that's all. He dreams of flying a Navy jet onto an aircraft carrier, and unfurling a big "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Four more years?

Let the sound take you away!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mothers Day


Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870

by Julia Ward Howe

(An excerpt below - full text here)


As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Mother's Day has several roots, but in the US the early Mother's Days were as much about pacifist activism as they were about feminism in general and affection for our mothers, in particular. Mothers who had lost sons, brothers and husbands in the Civil War were, for at least a few years after that bloodbath, moved to speak out against the evil of war and to consider how they might be able to ensure that peace would be sustained in the future.

Today, as we slog our way through another mind-numbing exercise in wanton war-making, I wish mothers were one half the instrument of peace that Julia Ward Howe imagined. In the years after Howe's pacifist Mother's Day declaration, women achieved the vote and realized their political potential. We have all seen how little that has mattered in matters of war and peace - women are as likely as men to vote to authorize the use of force against nations that have not attacked us and had not the ability to do so.

I wonder what Julia Ward Howe would think of Hillary Rodham Clinton's vote in 2002 to authorize the use of force against the people of Iraq. It is, fundamentally, a flawed question, based on an impossible assumption. Were Howe alive today, she would no doubt be supporting Hillary, cheering for a gas tax cut, and threatening to obliterate Iran.

Surely it is unfair to blame women for the Iraq War, and it is hardly gallant to make that argument on Mother's Day. In any case, Mother's Day is no longer dedicated to the cause of peace. Americans are no longer much worried about peace at all. Poor kids with no other options do all the fighting; their wives and mothers are no concern for the rest of us. And the mothers of Iraq? Our attention span does not reach that far; the antennae of our compassion are not touched by their weeping.

If feminism was ever about more than the empowerment of women - if it ever held the promise of a more compassionate, peaceable and just society - then we need that kind of feminism today. Not merely the feminism that results in the rise of women like Condoleeza Rice or Hillary Clinton, but a feminism that shouts down the Abu Ghraibs, that closes Gitmo's gulag, that brings justice to immigrant families in our neighborhood, security to refugees in Darfur, and peace to those suffering another year of war in Iraq - the families of our soldiers and marines, the mothers of the streets of Baghdad.

Here's hoping you, and all mothers everywhere, have a good, peaceful, and loving Mother's Day.

Neil

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dad's Birthday


We celebrated Dad's 81st birthday - who's counting. He is healthy and enjoying life - may I do as well one day! A man I admire, respect and love dearly. Maybe I will write more on this someday. Not today.

Saturday is my mother's birthday. How lucky I am that I still have them both.

Life is good.

Dad's Birthday


The Queen of our Hearts

Dad's Birthday

Dad's Birthday


Christine, MaryBeth, and John. Dad's birthday - April 19, 2008

Yes We Can

Next to "I love you", are there three better words?

Hillary's folks responded with "Yes, we will" - a smart retort, with a point they wanted desperately to make. They were about "doing", not "hoping".

For the privileged few in this country, such an attitude is probably fitting, necessary even. For some of us, "can" has to come before "will".

For those of us who dream smaller dreams, whose ambitions are much more modest, and whose worries hover ominously over humble aspirations, "can" means so much more than "will".

Believing that we can is essential to escaping the terrible. dark and ugly fear and belligerence of the Bushies and their followers. Why would any human being whose emotional capacity and faith in our capability had not been neutered by the fear-mongering and the lies and our Dr Strangelove warrior culture have voted in 2004 for George W Fucking Bush?

Why? Why, if not because we had lost all faith in ourselves, and in our capacity as the leading nation of the world to do what leaders do - to lead the world into the light instead of darkness?

Why did we let Osama bin Laden push us into this demented state?

Why did we allow Dick Cheney and George Bush to invade Iraq? Why do we allow them to hold and torture people at Gitmo? When did we lose our commitment to the rights of man? By what black magic were we deluded into all of this evil?

We are a big country. Some of us are not well-educated. But what has happened in the past 7 years is a terrible disgrace. We can be better than this. I know we can.

Yes. We can.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Intentions


Recently, I re-joined my friends at The Blue Voice (TBV), and have started posting there on a variety of subjects connected with politics and the liberal agenda. That might sound pretty broad, but in fact it leaves out a number of things I might like to write about, so it is my intention to continue this blog.

My focus here, going forward, will not be on politics - although I may choose to cross-post some of my TBV material here, whenever I feel like doing so (ie, no strong editorial boundaries here), I would like this to be more personal in feeling, less confrontational, and somewhat more fun.

The image above, of a Tibetan sand painting, is here because I like the fundamental idea behind such temporary works of art, and because I am fond of sand painting. It is sufficient, as they say.
Neil

Dedications


Fred Hersch, the composer and jazz pianist, gave a performance of a new set of compositions entitled "Dedications: Suite for Trio" on Saturday night at Montclair State University, my alma mater. Mary Beth and I attended the concert and thoroughly enjoyed the musical program, which consisted of 13 pieces, in 12 different keys (only C major is repeated, in the first and the last compositions), each dedicated to an individual who in some way inspired the composition.

Montclair State University has an arts program that features a series of events under the banner of "Peak Performances" which are open to the general public. Tickets were free for MSU students; $15 each for everyone else. I was familiar with Hersch from his recording of compositions inspired by Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", and at $15 a pop I could not pass up an opportunity to see and hear him perform in person.

We parked on Valley Road, off campus, and took the long staircase that runs up to Newman House and behind the house to the campus, a familiar path I followed regularly 35 years ago when I started at what was then Monthclair State College. Catching our breath, we found our way to the Alexander Kasser Theater - a relatively new building on the MSU campus, and a nice venue for a concert - not too big, good lines of sight from our balcony seats, attractive, comfortable, decent acoustics.

The first piece, "Free Flying" (C major) is dedicated to Egberto Gismonti, the Brazilian pianist, guitarist and composer. Hersch's notes, included in the program, speak of Gismonti's impeccable sense of rhythm and fusion of Brazilian dance music with classical music. True to his source of inspiration, this piece may have been the brightest and most rhythmically appealing piece of the 13 in the Suite. In any case, the piece was a strong opening number.

Mary Beth enjoyed a slower, more complex "Poem in a Cloud" (B minor) inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous, wonderful, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author. Though I have read several of his books, and value his wisdom, I was not as impressed with this piece. It had its lovely moments, but on the whole it was less appealing to me.

Perhaps my favorite piece came late in the program, a D major composition dedicated to J. S. Bach called "Invention #1". If Bach had written some jazz music, it might have sounded like this. This was a fun piece of music that clearly delighted the audience -- fugue and jazz chords blended beautifully. Two other pieces were notable for pleasurable listening on Saturday night - "Tahira's Smile" and "La Principessa" - two pieces dedicated to women Hersch met in Italy, during a one month residency at Bellagio, the Rockefeller Foundation villa on Lake Como.

Other compositions were dedicated to Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Billy Drewes, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ornette Coleman. The Bb major "Sartorial", dedicated to Coleman, which featured some Coleman-inspired improviation by Hersch, was the only disappointment of the evening. In this piece, and occasionally in a couple of others, Hersch slowed down the music with one-handed improvisations that left me unimpressed. Clearly his compositions are beautiful, and his talents in performing these pieces are exceptional, but improvisation is not his strongest suit.

Hersch was accompanied on Saturday by Joe Martin on bass and Richie Barchay on drums / percussion. Martin had a couple of appealing solos and sounded really good on one piece in which Hersch played only the right hand and Martin filled in underneath. Martin also played well in one extended duet between the bass and drums. Barshay, on the other hand, was both dazzling and aggravating in his energetic, showy and sometimes bizarre manner with the drums. Entertaining to watch, Barshay injected some of the music with an energy and dynamism that pulled the trio and the audience into the music, but sometimes his playing was just a mystery and distraction. Imagine someone playing Led Zeppelin loudly on his iPod , while you are trying to listen, quietly, to some chamber music on yours.

In short, aside from some minor quibbles, this was a lovely night of new and interesting music. I'll be looking forward to my next return visit to Montclair, and hope to see a recording of this music by Hersch on my shelf someday soon.

Neil

Friday, May 02, 2008

Worst President Ever


So say Americans, according to a CNN poll. Bush's 71% disapproval rating is the worst since polling began in the 1930s -- and is worse even than that of Richard Nixon in the lowest moments before his resignation.

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup Poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark," said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director.

File this under things you already knew.


Cross-posted at The Blue Voice

A Rational Response

Michael Bloomberg, NYC Mayor, on the McCain-Clinton gas tax cut proposal:


It’s about the dumbest thing I’ve heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view.

While the candidates debate the ridiculous gas tax cut proposal, Americans in large numbers are voting with their wallets, and the winners are smaller cars and better gas mileage. Rather than save 5% through lower taxes, Americans are hoping to cut their fuel costs by 30 - 40% through better fuel efficiency.

Today's NY Times reports that 1 in 5 cars sold in the most recent auto sales reporting was a compact car; just a few years ago the ratio was 1 in 8. The article quotes George Pipas, chief sales analyst for Ford, saying "It's easily the most dramatic segment shift I have witnessed in the market in my 31 years here.

Two other quotes from that NY Times article:


"The era of the truck-based large S.U.V.’s is over”

-- Michael Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation

And, my favorite:

“I had to smile the other day when I filled my tank for $18 and the guy next to me had a Ford Explorer and the pump was clicking past $80”

-- Dave Strom, retired manager of a Chevrolet dealership


Cross-posted at The Blue Voice

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You Scratch My Back...


Noam Scheiber at The New Republic's campaign blog, The Stump, comments today on the Tom Friedman article criticizing the knucklehead gas tax cut Hillary and her partner-in-crime John McCain have been touting.

Says Friedman:

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way.
Scheiber adds this comment:

Obama has been double-teamed by Clinton and McCain for over two months now. But there's an upside to getting hit by two people at once: it allows you to tie them together in unflattering ways.
Actually, I think Hillary and McCain are doing the tying-together part themselves, and it seems worse to me than unflattering.

Is it me or is it hard to tell Clinton from Lieberman these days?


Cross-posted at The Blue Voice

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