Monday, December 26, 2016
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay all about,
Deep and crisp and even....
So begins what is, to most of us, a very familiar Christmas carol. What, though, is the Feast of Stephen, and who was Wenceslas?
The Feast of Stephen is, in fact, today (a day which, where I am, in Eastern Standard Time, is rapidly fading), December 26, the day after Christmas. It is the day established to celebrate Saint Stephen, reckoned to have been the first martyr for the Christian faith (his story is told in Acts of the Apostles, chapters six and seven). "Good King Wenceslas", then, is really not a Christmas carol, but a day-after-Christmas carol. Nevertheless, it expresses what those of us who celebrate Christmas consider the true spirit of the holiday: bringing comfort and joy to others, especially to those less fortunate than us.
Wenceslas, sometimes spelled Wenceslaus, wasn't a king, at least during his lifetime. He was a Duke of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Emperor Otto I, of the Holy Roman Empire (later famously declared by Voltaire to be none of the above) bestowed on him the regnancy posthumously. Wenceslas was born around 908, and assumed ducal authority in 924 or 25. He was in contention with his younger brother Boreslaw (sometimes called "the Bad" or "the Cruel"), who had Wenceslas murdered in 935.
During his brief life and dukedom, Wenceslas was known for Christian piety and for deeds of kindness to the poor and unfortunate. We don't know if the words of the carol accurately reflect one of these deeds, but it seems intended to reflect his nature. Wenceslas was, like Stephen, declared a martyr for his faith and canonized as a saint.
The clip above is of a superb performance of "Good King Wenceslas" by the Roches at a Christmas concert at the long lost and lamented Bottom Line, in Greenwich Village, in 1990. Suzzy ("the Humble Servant"), on guitar, gives a long spoken introduction, evoking the sisters' late father and his love of the carol, which is well worth a listen. She's joined by sisters Maggie (the "Rich King") on keyboard, and Sarah (the "Lovely Narrator"), also on guitar.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
That a bluegrass musician should sing an Irish song is no surprise; the Appalachians and the bluegrass country to their west attracted immigrants from Ireland, most of them Ulster Scots, or "Scotch Irish", descendants of Protestant Scots whose ancestors had been "planted" in northern Ireland in an effort by the British crown to subdue the Catholic Irish.
As for Maestro Ma, listen to him in the Celtic groove with Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer on "The Green Groves of Erin/The Flowers of Red Hill".
Thursday, November 10, 2016
The first song of his I knew was "Suzanne", written for his friend Suzanne Verdal, a dancer who lived in a warehouse made into a studio on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. In the clip above, he sings it solo, after a spoken introduction in which he tells how he was cheated out of his rights to it.
The first version of "Suzanne" I knew was by Judy Collins, from her album In My Life. It was played on WBCN, Boston's first "underground" album oriented rock FM station in my delirious spring of 1968 when, as a Florida resident of many years, I had endured my first Massachusetts winter and, being helplessly but hopelessly in love, saw the earth come again to life. I was fortunate to find the clip above, in which Leonard and Judy joined in the song.
Erratum and addendum: when I wrote this, I assumed that the song "Suzanne" was about Suzanne Elrod, mother of Cohen's two children. Thanks to my friend Stephen Crews Wylder, I now know that it was about Suzanne Verdal, a friend from before he met Elrod, and I've corrected the post above to reflect this. Stephen gave a link to this NPR piece, which tells of the origin of "Suzanne", explains that the reference to "tea and oranges" is to Bigelow's "Constant Comment" tea, and tells the story of the tea's origin. By coincidence, the agency where I've been working keeps a supply of Bigelow teas in the break room, and of late I've become fond of Constant Comment. There's more about Cohen and Verdal here.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Unfortunately, there is no video or audio available on line of Repast doing any of the works that were included in Friday's concert. The clip above, which gives audio along with a still image, is of them (with Claire Jolivet instead of Ms. Wenstrom as guest violinist) performing Sonata No. 6 by Carolus Hacquart, one of the two Low Country composers included in their Friday concert, although the work they played there was Hacquart's Sonata No. 3. It does give you a good sample of their sound.
Another piece I especially enjoyed was "Susana", by the Spaniard Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde, which featured the bassoon; de Selma was a bassoonist. There's no video of Repast doing anything by this composer, but I found the clip above of his Canzona Terza performed by a group led by Pedro Sousa Silva, who plays recorder. The bassoon plays an important role in this piece; unfortunately, the bassoonist is not identified.
After the concert, I met both Stephanie Corwin and Amelia Roosevelt, and said to both, "You rock!" In each instance, this evoked a slight wince, but I think Repast plays with something of the spirit of a rock band. They play off each other with great alacrity, and their music swings, as I believe baroque music was intended to do. I'm looking forward to the rest of their 2016-17 season performances; the schedule is here.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Friday, October 14, 2016
Tuesday, October 04, 2016
So, tomorrow's sudden death wild card National League playoff game can be seen as a reprise of the 1951 best-of-three tiebreaker series for the NL pennant (there were no divisions back then), a mini subway series that pitted the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Giants. The Giants won the opening game 3-1 on Brooklyn's home turf, Ebbets Field. Game 2 was at the Giants' home, the Polo Grounds, and the Dodgers pounded their rivals 10-0. They returned to the Polo Grounds for Game 3. The Dodgers, who were the betting favorite to win the pennant, led 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. One run had scored when the Giants' Bobby Thompson came to bat with one out and runners on second and third.
Thompson's three run walk-off homer, known since in baseball lore as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World", gave the Giants the pennant and allowed them to advance to the World Series, where they would lose in six games to that other New York team, the Yankees.
I'm hoping that the 1951 result gets reversed tomorrow, with the "Dodgers Continued by Other Means" prevailing. There are others, though, including my friend Dermot McEvoy, whose loyalty to the Mets is based on their ties to the New York Giants. When the Mets were established as an expansion team, the owners decided to adopt the colors of both of the previous New York City NL teams. The Dodgers' colors were blue and white; the Giants' were black and orange. The Mets cap (photo above) is blue with orange lettering. For those like Dermot, tomorrow's game will be the New York Giants Continued by Other Means against the Apostate Giants, who deserted New York for San Francisco.
Update: Unfortunately, it is 1951 again, with Conor Gillespie as this year's Bobby Thompson.
Saturday, October 01, 2016
Seven years before South Street acquired Peking, it bought Wavertree, a wrought iron hulled bark built in England in 1885 that lost her topmasts in a gale while rounding Cape Horn in 1912. She then spent many years as a floating warehouse in Punta Arenas, Chile and later as a sand barge in the harbor of Buenos Aires. When she was brought to South Street her hull was sound, but her topmasts and spars were still missing, and she required extensive work to be put into condition for public touring. The Museum made her restoration a long term project, then acquired Peking which, having served as a floating school after being retired from trading, arrived in almost turnkey condition. For over forty years Peking was the centerpiece of South Street's ship collection, while Wavertree sat forlornly at a neighboring pier, off limits to all but museum workers, and still missing her topmasts and spars.
South Street's galleries, shops, and other facilities on land suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy, which in turn caused complete loss of revenue from admissions and sales for a long period of time. Although the museum was able, with government assistance, to repair the physical damage, the financial damage, partially ameliorated by private contributions, remained. Because of her size, Peking is a very expensive ship to maintain. Consequently, South Street entered into discussions concerning Peking's disposition, hoping to find a new owner that would maintain her as a public museum piece. Fortunately, the German government was able to fund her return to Hamburg, and South Street was able to fund the restoration of Wavertree.
John J. Harvey, now privately owned. For my earlier encounter with Harvey see here.
Lettie G. Howard, part of South Street's ship collection but lso used as a sail training vessel by the New York Harbor School.
Friday, September 09, 2016
Peking's place at Pier 16, and as centerpiece of South Street's historic ship collection, will be taken by Wavertree, which returns to South Street on September 24 following extensive restoration and maintenance work.
I took the photo above as Peking glided past the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina on Wednesday morning.
Sunday, September 04, 2016
In 1958 the American folk singer Pete Seeger set the words of The Bells of Rhymney to music. In the clip below he performs it live in concert, on a twelve string guitar, which gives the impression of pealing bells, rather than the six string shown in the still photo that accompanies the clip.
The best known version of the song is not the one performed by Seeger, but that by the Byrds on their 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Jim (later a.k.a. Roger) McGuinn's jangling Rickenbacker electric guitar gives a chiming quality similar to that of Seeger's twelve string.
There's an odd thing about the Byrds' rendition: it changes one repeated word from Davies' poem. Instead of "Who robbed the miner?" it asks "Who killed the miner?" Davies was inspired to write "The Bells of Rhymney" by his experience as a participant in the 1926 strike. The liner notes to the Byrds' album say it was about a "mine disaster." I can only speculate that someone--perhaps the album's producer, Terry Melcher (son of my first childhood celebrity crush, Doris Day), or more likely someone higher up at Columbia Records (although Columbia released the earlier Seeger version)--decided that a song about a strike, accusing mine owners of robbing miners, was just a little too Bolshie for the American mass market.
Happy Labor Day!
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
In the clip below you do one of my favorites of your many great songs, "Saint Dominic's Preview":
Monday, August 29, 2016
This move was crucial to the success of our War of Independence. Two days earlier Washington's army had engaged British forces in what is now Prospect Park. Park Slope, and Green-Wood Cemetery. This was the first time regular Continental troops, under Washington, instead of local militia, had faced Royal Army troops. Despite valiant rear-guard actions, one of which, by a Maryland regiment at the Old Stone House, was especially effective though resulting in 259 casualties, the Americans were forced to retreat. They camped on Brooklyn Heights, and rainy weather protected them from a British advance while Washington planned his escape. Had they not succeeded in crossing the East River to Manhattan that night and early morning, an improvement in the weather could have allowed the British fleet, anchored off Staten Island, to sail into the East River. This would have cut off Washington's escape route, and effectively ended the colonies' bid for independence.
Friday, August 12, 2016
In my previous post I opined that the cruiser conversion was likely the Big U's last chance to avoid the fatal trip behind towboats to the beach in India where she'd be cut to bits like an enormous stranded whale. The story linked above notes that Crystal will donate $350,000 to the SS United States Conservancy as a good will gesture to help with the ship's preservation. Proposals to bring her to New York, possibly as a hotel, a museum, or just a static display, are still being considered. The cost of doing that wouldn't be nearly as great as for making her a cruise ship, but they would still be substantial. I'm hoping one or more of our local grandees will see the value of bringing back this part of our city's history, and that the fate Oliver Wendell Holmes feared for "Old Ironsides"--"The harpies of the shore shall pluck/ The eagle of the sea"--will not befall S.S. United States.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
The photo shows him in profile, in 1964 with the composer Harold Arlen.
My choice of a song to commemorate this event is perhaps a banal one, but I love the song anyway. The clip below shows him singing it at the sprightly age of 85:
Addendum: I've now learned, thanks to the Brooklyn Eagle, that the song was written right here in Brooklyn Heights by an expatriate San Franciscan gay couple who were feeling homesick. The story of how Bennett picked it up, and made the couple rich enough to move home, is wonderful.
Photo by CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Unfortunately for Kibble and his collaborators, two other papers--one by the Belgian physicists Robert Brout and François Englert; the other by Peter Higgs himself--stating essentially the same theory were published earlier that summer. Higgs also posited the existence of a mediating particle, which became known as the "Higgs boson". A boson is an elementary particle that conforms to certain requirements set out in the Standard Model physicists have developed over the past half century to explain the "fundamental structure of matter" (for a more complete explanation, see the CERN website linked immediately above).
The existence of the Higgs boson wasn't confirmed until 2012. The following year, Higgs and Englert (Brout had died, and Nobel prizes aren't awarded posthumously) shared the Nobel prize for physics. In the Guardian story linked immediately above, Kibble is quoted:
My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen, and I contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published ... and it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the prize cannot be shared by more than three people.
My sincere congratulations go to the two prizewinners, François Englert and Peter Higgs. A sad omission from the list was Englert's collaborator, Robert Brout, now deceased.The discovery of the Higgs boson wasn't the only work to which Kibble contributed that led to a Nobel Prize. The 1979 award to Abdus Salam, a fellow Imperial College faculty member, along with the Americans Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, as well as the 1999 award to Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus J.G. Veltman, were made for work that drew on insights of Kibble's.
He was, in full, Sir Thomas Walter Bannerman Kibble, but he is almost always simply called "Tom", and that's how I'm sure this brilliant but hard-working and humble man liked it.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
At the beginning of spring training the New York Times' baseball writer Tyler Kepner wrote a piece in which he began by noting how, at that time of year, all fans can imagine their teams, no matter what problems they had the preceding season, having a shot at winning it all. He then gave a worst case forecast for each MLB team (except the Cubs, for whom he wrote, "a championship is inevitable"). I quoted his forecast for the Mets in an earlier post, but will repeat it here:
The starters try hard to keep the ball out of play -- to minimize the impact of the team's shaky defense -- but their 2015 workload wears them down. David Wright's spinal stenosis limits him again, and while Yoenis Cespedes struggles in center field, he hits well enough to exercise his opt-out clause and repeat his protracted free-agent dance.Here we are at the All-Star Break, and some of Kepner's predictions seem accurate. Wright's back and neck problems have more than limited him; they've led him to have surgery that, at best, may allow him to return to play in September. While Cespedes hasn't struggled much with fielding, he is batting well, so Kepner's prediction of another "protracted free-agent dance" may prove spot on. Indeed, the "shaky defense" prediction may be the one most off the mark, while the surmise that the starting rotation would be worn down seems an understatement. Matt Harvey, following a mostly miserable three months plus, is having surgery and will be out for the rest of the season and probably much of the next. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz both have bone spurs in their pitching elbows. This leaves Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, and the recently called-up Logan Verrett as the only completely (for now) healthy pitchers in what was, at the season's beginning, considered MLB's most fearsome starting rotation. Zach Wheeler, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was expected to rejoin the roster about now, but his return keeps getting delayed.
Following the Nationals' having taken three of a four game series just before the All Star break from the Mets, putting the Mets six games behind in the NL east and tied with the Marlins for second place in the division, Kepner wrote another Times piece, with the title "The Baseball Gods Clobber the Mets". He began by noting that Nats ace Stephen Strasburg, who pitched against and beat Syndergaard and the Mets during that series, had, along with Nats management, decided that he would not pitch in the All Star Game in view of his recently having been on the disabled list with back problems. By contrast, Kepner quoted Mets skipper Terry Collins, who would manage the NL team, as saying Syndergaard would pitch because his was "not a muscular situation", that "he deserves it", and that "I think the world needs to see him...."
As it turned out, Syndergaard didn't pitch because, as Kepner put it, "instant karma" got the Mets. In Friday's game, Syndergaard started strong but by the fifth inning his velocity had plummeted and he had given up three runs. He left the game, claiming his problem wasn't related to the bone spur but instead to shoulder fatigue. In the same inning Cespedes, also slated to appear in the All Star Game, strained a quadriceps.
Kepner quotes Syndergaard as saying after the game that this would be his first full season in the majors and that so far he had pitched more innings than any other Mets pitcher. Kepner then noted Strasburg's record to date: 12-0 following the Friday victory over the Mets, and after a year in which he was taken off duty before the playoffs "because of a post-surgery innings cap." To counter the argument that pitchers today "just break" Kepner then turned to another Nats starter, Max Scherzer, who has pitched nine seasons without missing a start because of injury, and this season tops the majors in strikeouts.
Scherzer stands out as a pitcher now benefiting from uncommon youthful maturity. He pitched many big games for the Detroit Tigers, but never allowed his competitive drive to overrule physical warnings. Scherzer cited that trait — as well as his innings program and work habits going back to the University of Missouri — as reasons for his durability.Kepner concludes:
This is not to suggest that the Mets’ pitchers are reckless, or lack the relationship with Collins that Scherzer has had with his managers. But Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz (who has a more troublesome bone spur than Syndergaard) and the slowly recovering Zack Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Another major injury could be catastrophic.I have to wonder: does the Mets' status as an almost perpetual (exceptions: 1969 and 1986) second place team in New York City cause them to "try harder"? Has it inculcated a team culture that makes players extend themselves beyond reasonable limits? Are they really plagued by the "injury bug" more than most other teams? I haven't done a statistical search to see if this is true.
Thursday, July 07, 2016
The clip above shows Ringo joining country legend Buck Owens to do Ringo's song "Act Naturally".
Sunday, July 03, 2016
The photo above shows Cracker State Mariner after she left government service in 1956 and became part of the American President Lines fleet, renamed President Coolidge, She remained with APL until 1974, when she became Export Defender of American Export Lines. Four years later she reverted to government ownership and to her original name. As breakbulk freighters were quickly going out of style at that time, I suspect she went out of service and was laid up in the government's reserve fleet. In 1992, having survived a respectable 38 years, she went for scrap in India.
Sometime in the mid 1970s I was taking a mid-day stroll around Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and saw the Thomas Jefferson, of the Waterman Steamship Corporation, heading outward through the channel between Manhattan and Governors Island. I didn't know it, but this was to be my last view of a Mariner class ship. She was originally Golden Mariner, completed, like Cracker State Mariner, in 1954, but on the opposite coast. Golden Mariner named for California, the Golden State, was built at Bethlehem's San Francisco yard; Cracker State Mariner at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. In 1955 Golden Mariner became part of the Pacific Far East Line fleet, and in 1961 she was renamed California Bear. She was acquired by Waterman and became Thomas Jefferson in 1973, not long before I saw her. She was broken up at Kaohsiung, Republic of China, in 1980.
No doubt I'll get some disagreement with my calling the Mariners the handsomest of cargo ships. There are many rivals, American and foreign. My nominee for runner up in that category is the Victories, the war emergency class that preceded the Mariners and succeeded the "ugly duckling" but much loved Liberties. I've written before about American Victory, one of three surviving members of that class, that is now a floating, and sometimes mobile, museum in my old home city, Tampa.
Photo of President Coolidge ex Cracker State Mariner: Photographer / Collection: Bar, Marius / Boman, J. Robert – Source: Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden – (Swedish Maritime Museum), via 7seasvessels.com, from which I got historical information about the ship, as well as about Thomas Jefferson ex Golden Mariner.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
My favorite Guy Clark song, given that I'm a train buff, is "Texas 1947", which you can hear in the clip above, along with "Let Him Roll", also from his first album, Old No. 1. "Texas 1947" is autobiographical, telling of his going at the age of six to "the depot" in his hometown, Monahans, Texas, to see something new.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Today (Saturday, May 14) is Spring Astronomy Day. I almost missed it. There's also a Fall Astronomy Day--this year it's Saturday, October 8--which makes sense because we see different nighttime skyscapes in spring and fall. I'm celebrating it by posting a photo of one of my favorite astronomical objects, the Ring Nebula, found in the constellation Lyra, which constellation can be seen in the night sky from here in spring.
The photo is by The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA),
Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Rising did not immediately stir the Irish people to resist British rule, which had been in place for many centuries. The executions, however, did have an effect. Michael Collins led a successful guerrilla campaign, which gained popular support, and which led to the treaty, negotiated by Collins with Winston Churchill, that led to the foundation of the Irish Republic. These events are well described in Dermot McEvoy's The 13th Apostle.
Perhaps the best known remembrance of the Easter Rising is William Butler Yeats' poem "Easter 1916", read in the video below by Tom O'Bedlam:
Thursday, April 07, 2016
As the Times obit tells it, he was a California native who spent his first few years living in an abandoned boxcar his father had fixed up during the depression years as a family home. His teens and early adulthood were marked by scrapes with the law, culminating in 1957 in his his being sent to San Quentin Prison for burglary.
He was paroled in 1960, and went on to become one of country music's most influential stars. Early on, he worked with Wynn Stewart, a Missouri native who moved to California and was the first exponent of what came to be called the "Bakersfield Sound", named for a city near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, north of Los Angeles. Country music from Bakersfield was more hard-edged than that coming from Nashville at the time, when Nashville was trying to broaden its appeal with what guitar wizard and producer Chet Atkins called "countrypolitan". Bakersfield music provided the roots for what in the late 1970s was called "outlaw" country, exemplified by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, along with Merle.
According to the Times obit, Merle included among his influences Lefty Frizzell, who gave Merle's career a boost by inviting him onstage after hearing him sing along from the audience; Elvis Presley; Jimmie "The Yodeling Brakeman" Rodgers, considered one of the founders of modern country music; Chuck Berry; and the King of Texas Swing, Bob Wills.
He influenced many, including Waylon and Willie, and my great favorite, Gram Parsons. The song in the clip above, "Sing Me Back Home", one that Merle wrote based on a prison experience, I first heard sung by Gram with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Goodbye, Merle. I like thinking that you, Waylon, and Ol' Possum George Jones are singing great harmony now.
Photo at the top of this post is public domain: Merle Haggard dressed for Kennedy Center Honors at the White House, December 2010.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
This year I didn't follow spring training very closely; I had a day job that was keeping me busy, along with the Brooklyn Heights Blog. It's just as well; I missed some embarrassing moments. This seemed to bear out what the New York Times' Tyler Kepner wrote back at the beginning of spring training, in his analysis of what could go wrong for each team. I quoted in an earlier post what he wrote about the Mets, but will repeat it here:
The starters try hard to keep the ball out of play -- to minimize the impact of the team's shaky defense -- but their 2015 workload wears them down. David Wright's spinal stenosis limits him again, and while Yoenis Cespedes struggles in center field, he hits well enough to exercise his opt-out clause and repeat his protracted free-agent dance.In yesterday's opening game, the Mets were fated to face the Kansas City Royals, the team that had beaten them in last year's World Series, at Royals Stadium. Hopes for revenge were high. Matt Harvey, the ace of what is regarded as the most fearsome starting rotation in the Majors, was to take the mound despite an earlier medical scare. All else seemed well.
Kepner's prediction seemed to be mostly accurate as to what happened in the opener. Perhaps it was Harvey's efforts to keep the ball out of play that contributed to his miserable start; he gave up eight hits and was tagged for three runs--a fourth was unearned because of a fielding error by, you guessed it, Cespedes--over five and two thirds innings. Wright's throws--especially one on a grounder to third with a runner headed for home and another on a bunt--seemed less than perfect. Cespedes managed one hit and drew one walk; he scored once but did not have an RBI. Most importantly, he ended the game by swinging at an outside fastball after having dueled the Royals closer, Davis, through seven pitches. He stranded runners at third and first, with the Mets down by one.
On the bright side, the Mets bullpen was perfect, allowing no runs, one hit, and no walks over three and a third innings. Conversely, Mets batters were able to mount a rally against the Royals' pen, scoring three runs on three hits and two walks.
While this game may not have been an omen for the whole season, a loss in April counts as much as one in September. As usual in season opening series, the teams had today off and will meet again tomorrow evening. The Mets will have Syndegaard on the mound. We can hope.
Update: the Mets are now a .500 team, thanks to a fine outing by Syndegaard, who had to work out of a couple of jams but allowed no runs, to a two run blast in the fourth by Neil Walker, and to another perfect showing by the bullpen. Oh, yes, and no errors. Downside: no scoring, apart from Walker's homer. In the seventh and eighth the Mets managed to mount scoring threats, only to leave runners stranded.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Nine years ago and again eight years ago I posted at the beginning of Lent about my state of mind entering that most profound of Christian liturgical seasons. Mostly these were about the doubts I held, both about Christian doctrine and about myself. This past December I posted at the end of Advent, noting that it had seemed more like Lent to me, reflecting as I was on the loss of friends and my own advancing age, and on the disastrous turn I saw our civic discourse taking.
As in Lents before, this year I didn't undertake any traditional "discipline" in the form of giving up something. I thought that by reading the Lenten devotions supplied by Grace Church along with the scripture readings by which they were inspired, and meditating on them I would get somewhere. After two weeks, I gave up on the devotions and scripture. I put this down to the demands of my paying work and of the Brooklyn Heights Blog. The world was too much with me.
I also attended a class, given after church service by our resident seminarian, She guided us in writing a "spiritual memoir". I didn't get far. After our first session, I managed to write this, which gives a clue as to why, besides the distractions of everyday life, I stopped reading the Lenten devotions:
In the Lenten readings, there are several passages the belittle the role or efficacy of human wisdom, e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:19 ("For the wisdom of the world is as foolishness to God" and "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,that they are futile.") Is wisdom or intellect futile, or even an impediment, in trying to understand God?
As an extension of the thought above, a thread that runs through much of Christian teaching is paradox. One must lose one's life to gain it, the first shall be last, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the nature of Christ as fully human and fully divine.The "paradox" part didn't bother me; indeed, I rather liked it. As I acknowledged in an earlier post, I have an attraction to paradox, to the tension between the known and the unknown; between, as Steve Muncie put it, "mastery and mystery." While I prize intellect and knowledge, I also cherish the quotation Steve gave me from the "born-again paradox" Anne Lamott: "“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”
Image: Locus Theologicus.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Paintings by Mollie Keller:
Mollie is a long time friend of my wife's and, more recently, of mine. The photo above shows her standing among an array of her more recent paintings, which are in a more abstract, floral-inspired style than her earlier ones. As she wrote in her artist's statement accompanying the exhibition:
In these pictures I have traced my personal relationship with flowers. I began as a careful observer, eager to catch every line and lilt of a petal so that the viewer would really see the bloom. I moved on to more painterly portraits in which I used watercolor to convey the interplay of form and light in a blossom. And now I am using oil to capture the sensations I feel when I contemplate the particular essence of each bud.The paintings in the photo above are, from left to right: Blossom, Kaddish for Ruth, Vine, and Kaddish for Deni.
Paintings by Suzanne Andover Keany:
Suzaanne Andover Keany, whom I met for the first time at the exhibit, works in what, on the surface, seems a very naturalistic style. The paintings above are, from left to right: Amaryllis, Wish I Was There, and Before the Rain (all oil on canvas). Her artist's statement includes the following:
Painting is a surprising journey...All the literary meanings come into play. Flowers greet us and send us off. They mark our journey. They celebrate love and commemorate grief. They are everywhere for everyone.Painting for me is a luxury, a dialogue with what is.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
"Not the most appealing of characters," I thought. At least I had more than one or two lines. This got me to thinking about the enigmatic character of Pilate. The image above, by Giotto de Bondone (1266-1337), shows him looking devious--note the averted eyes--but also weak, as indicated by his soft, fleshy features. No one who didn't see Pilate in the flesh knows what he looked like; there are no surviving portraits, drawings, or sculptures from life, if indeed any ever were made. Giotto's fresco comports with the accounts in the gospels, which describe Pilate as vacillating, initially appearing to sympathize with Jesus, although willing to have him flogged before releasing him, but later yielding to the demands of the crowd and ordering him crucified.
To most contemporary Christians that yielding and that order cements Pilate's characterization as a Very Bad Guy. I remembered, though, having read that Coptic Christians in Africa consider him a saint. The Biblical Archaeology Society gives an account of how this came to be. St. Augustine of Hippo, an African, believed Pilate to have been a convert to Christianity. Pilate's washing of his hands and declaring himself "innocent of this man's blood" (Matthew 27:24) is seen as a parallel to Jesus' sacrifice washing away the sins of humanity. Pilate's wife was also canonized in the African and Greek Orthodox churches on the basis of her message to Pilate, reported in Matthew 27:19, that he should not harm Jesus because "I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."
Some biblical scholars have argued that the quasi-sympathetic portrayal of Pilate in the gospels is a result of the gospel authors' seeking to shift the blame for Jesus' crucifixion from Roman authority to the Jews. This was because, at the time the gospels were written, Christianity, which initially had been a sect within Judaism, was beginning to separate itself from its Jewish origin and was seeking Roman approval, or at least a measure of tolerance. The starkest indication of this is in Matthew 27:24-25, where Pilate washes his hands, declares his innocence, and gets the response, "His blood is on us and on our children." For many centuries, it was Christian doctrine that the "us" in that statement meant all of the Jewish people, at least apart from the few who were Jesus' disciples or followers. This was the basis for many centuries' persecution of Jews in pogroms and ultimately in the Holocaust, although the latter also had non-religious origins. On October 28, 1965 Pope Paul VI promulgated Nostra aetate ("In Our Times"), a declaration of the Second Vatican Council that the Jewish people as a whole, including all Jews living since the time of Jesus, were innocent of Jesus' death.
The vilification of Pilate appears to have begun with the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, and a concomitant desire to break with Rome's earlier paganism, to which Pilate bore allegiance. It has been years since I read (in translation) Dante's Inferno, and I was curious to recall where in the circles of hell the poet placed Pilate. As it turns out, Dante nowhere mentions Pilate by name in the Inferno, or anywhere else in the Divine Comedy except in Canto XX of Purgatorio, where Dante calls Phillip IV of France "the new Pilate" for his having delivered Pope Boniface VIII to his enemies. There is an ambiguous reference in Inferno Canto III, where Dante sees the vestibule of hell to which the uncommitted--those who did not choose between good and evil--are condemned. Here he sees "the shadow of that man who out of cowardice made the great refusal." Some readers have interpreted this to refer to Pilate, whose "great refusal" was not to defy the crowd's demands to crucify Jesus. Others think it refers to Pope Celestine V, whose abdication of the Papacy led to the accession of Boniface VIII (the same mentioned in Purgatorio XX), whose policies led to Dante's being exiled from his native Florence.
Consideration of Pilate's nature brought me to an uncomfortable realization. In an earlier post, I noted that the then Episcopal Bishop of Alabama had joined other prominent local Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy in calling on Dr. Martin Luther King, then jailed in Birmingham, to call off the peaceful demonstrations against segregation and for civil rights that he led. Reading that letter, with its calls for moderation and patience, I realized that, had I been in the position of that bishop at that time, I would have been strongly tempted to sign the letter. While my heart was on the side of those demonstrating for justice, my inclination has always been to avoid confrontation where possible, and not to alienate those in power, in the hope that in time they can be persuaded to do the right thing. What would I have done had I been in Pilate's position? Could I have mustered the courage to defy the crowd? Can I find that courage now?
Addendum: see John Wirenius on Pilate.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Tomorrow (St. Patrick's Day), I'll be at B.B. King's to hear Larry and a partial reunion of Black 47, along with David Amram and others. I'm looking forward to a great evening.
Photo: by Wes Washington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sunday, March 13, 2016
I was delighted to discover the clip below, which documents a meeting of Sir George and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sir George credits the Beach Boys as an influence on the Beatles; surely there was a complementary one in the opposite direction. The Beach Boys' early work was built on Chuck Berry riffs and vocal harmonies from quartets like The Four Freshmen, whose music today would be classified as "easy listening". The Beatles were influenced by Berry (they covered "Roll Over Beethoven") and other American rock and rockabilly stars, but also by skiffle--the Beatles grew out of a skiffle group led by John Lennon called the Quarrymen--and by something that didn't come to the fore until Sgt. Pepper, the British music hall tradition.
In the video, Brian begins the conversation by talking about songwriting; about how songs seem to burst from his chest. Then they repair from the piano to the mixing board, where Sir George plays with the knobs, first reducing the song "God Only Knows" to its bare essential: Brian's vocal. Sir George then plays with the knobs some more, adding bits back in and changing the balance, until he creates a mix that Brian credits as better than the one that was used on the Beach Boys' most critically acclaimed album, Pet Sounds.
Oh, and I do love Sir George's early 1960s red Caddy convertible.
Photo: By Adamsharp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
1950s to mid 1960s: ads were aimed at my parents' ("The Greatest") generation. The basic theme was, "If you use our product, your family will adore you, and your neighbors will turn green with envy."
Late 1960s through early 1970s: my generation reached puberty and beyond. Ad message: "If you use our product, you will be attractive to the opposite sex, and maybe even get laid" (or vice versa). There was an undertow of "If you use our competitors' products, you will be perceived as queer." (I'm thinking of Camel Filters ads circa 1970-71.)
Late 1970s through 1980s: my generation graduated, got jobs, got married, got kids, got mortgages. Ad message: "If you don't use our product, you will fail in your career." (Think of the Hertz "Not Exactly" ads.)
1990s: "If you use our product, you will prosper and enjoy a comfortable retirement, and your ride will make neighbors and old friends turn green with envy."
Today: "If you use our product, your digestive system will function properly, and you can still get laid (but watch out for those side effects)."
Thursday, March 03, 2016
When I looked for a clip of the song below, a 1960 hit that I remember fondly, my search term was "Hello Josephine", the song's opening words. I immediately found the clip of a live performance, which has the same words in its caption. Some research showed that the song's actual title was "My Girl Josephine". This seems odd, as the words "my girl" don't appear anywhere in the lyrics. Indeed, the song implies that Josephine is anything but the singer's "girl" at the time of their encounter, evidently many years after what seems to have been a lopsided childhood friendship in which the singer's devotion was not reciprocated.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Sunday, February 14, 2016
So, what's there for a Mets fan to worry about? As The Baseball Project (see clip below) remind us, the beginning of spring training is when fans of all teams, even those with the most discouraging recent records, can be optimistic; when it's "All Future and No Past":
Having been a Mets fan since 1985, I early enjoyed the thrill of 1986. Since then, over a 29 season course, I've seen them advance to the postseason only five times, although they made it to the World Series twice, losing both times in five games. In 2000 they lost to the Yankees in a Series that featured the Mike Piazza/Roger Clemens thrown broken bat incident. Other years I've seen them come tantalizingly close but succumb to end-of-season swoons. Some ballyhooed free agent acquisitions have failed to live up to their billing. Injuries seem to be a persistent problem. To be a Mets fan is to come to believe in Murphy's Law.
Consequently, each year at this time I try to follow Larry David's advice and curb my enthusiasm. For my take pre-spring training last year, see here. But this year the New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner has done that work for me. In his "Extra Bases" column, "Ah, Spring! What Could Go Wrong?", Kepner answers the question in the title for all thirty Major League teams. His prognosis for the Mets:
The starters try hard to keep the ball out of play -- to minimize the impact of the team's shaky defense -- but their 2015 workload wears them down. David Wright's spinal stenosis limits him again [Note: G.M. Sandy Alderson has just announced that Wright will be limited to 130 games], and while Yoenis Cespedes struggles in center field, he hits well enough to exercise his opt-out clause and repeat his protracted free-agent dance.For what it's worth, I think Kepner is right about Cespedes, though I hold some hope that his fielding will improve. In any event, I think we're likely to see him testing free agency again this year.
If you're not a Mets fan and want to see what Kepner thinks may be in store for your team, go here. If you're a Cubs fan, you may take heart. After mentioning several downside possibilities, e.g. "the left side of the infield collapses under the weight of strikeouts" and "Joe Maddon switches to contact lenses and bans zoo animals from the clubhouse", Kepner concludes, "Nah, who are we kidding? These are the Cubs. A championship is inevitable." In the immortal words of the late Sidney Morgenbesser, responding to the assertion that an interesting aspect of the English language is that, while a double negative is always properly construed as a positive, there is no instance in which a double positive is a negative, "Yeah, yeah."