Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,
‘Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.’

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

‘Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.’

Richard Wilbur is 90 years old today

The world is fundamentally a great wonder.

1 March 2011

The Second Greatest Czech Composer

We imagine what a challenge Beethoven had in composing music when he was deaf...  Smetana composed some of his greatest work while suffering from tinnitus.

Dance of the Comedians, full orchestra
Same dance arranged for three harmonicas, by MASPESOS on YouTube

Bedrich Smetana was born this day in 1824.

2 March 2011


What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.

Alexander Graham Bell, born this day in 1847

3 March 2011

Tashi delek

This Tibetan phrase expresses a depth of good feeling and wellwishing that defies translation.  Tonight is the new moon that marks Losar, beginning the Tibetan year 2138.

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk in Nepal who was originally trained as a French biochemist.  He exudes a calm and The following is excerpted from a talk he gave at University of British Columbia four years ago.  You can hear the whole talk on YouTube.

How to transform oneself to better transform the world?

To benefit others genuinely, is quite difficult even when we have the sincere intention, unless we have the capacity and basic human qualities to achieve that. That’s the whole scope of the Buddhist path. The goal is not to become a Buddha. The goal is the enlightened capacity and activity that the Buddha can display, to remove the suffering of sentient beings. That’s really the bodhisatva vow. The goal is to gain enlightenment in order to help others.

Of course, that is a very lofty goal, but in our everyday life, how much are we impaired in our wish to help others by our own limitations? Lack of wisdom, lack of maturity sometimes, our own emotional upheaval and burden, the mental toxins that sometimes overpower us and both make us miserable and unable to help others, out of fear, insecurity. If we are self-absorbed, ruminating relating everything that happens to our own hopes and fears, then that preoccupation keeps us in a narrow world of self-concern. Anything that interferes with our comfort – when we encounter aggression or a threat, when our smallest desires or fancies are not fulfilled, then we think something is missing and we cannot be happy. This makes us very vulnerable to outer conditions.

Our self-absorption makes our happiness a very fragile thing. It leads to a state of insecurity and fear. That in turn makes us less ready to empathize with others. So being overly concerned with having this successful, triumphant self is a recipe for torment. It’s like a magnet that attracts all kinds of troubles, or like a target that is wide open to the arrows of success and failure, praise and blame, worldly preoccupations that keep us always in that tension between hope and fear. When it comes to helping others, we are like the beggar who wishes he could serve a banquet to a hundred friends.

Everything that we achieve, everything we understand comes from training. Do you think this mind within us can spontaneously turn itself to inner peace? Why would we would assume that the spoiled brat who works in our mind is capable of happiness, or of giving to others?  We cannot expect to gain this inner stability, inner strength, freedom, clusters of human qualities that support general happiness just because we wish to be happy. 

This is why we look within.  We develop a practice of studying ourselves to find the mechanisms of happiness and suffering.  It takes courage but the rewards are great. It works.  We develop the capacity to be happy, no matter what happens to us or around us.  This is also the beginning of our ability to help others. 

Toward the end of his talk, Ricard offers us his prescription: Cultivate compassion. Reach for lovingkindness.  Engage your strongest wish to relieve suffering.  In time, this will become a habit, and it will become easy and natural for you to return to this state of mind.

4 March 2011

Embrace the dying

“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed. 
We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant. 
His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall. 
He left us a key, but how did it fit? “Feel me 
to do right.” Did it mean that, though he died, he would be felt 
through some aperture, or by some unseen instrument 
our dad just then had come to know? So, to do right always, 
we need but feel his spirit? Or was it merely his apology 
for dying? “Feel that I do right in not trying, 
as you insist, to stay on your side. There is the wide 
gateway and the splendid tower, and you implore me 
to wait here, with the worms!” 

Had he defined his terms, and could we discriminate 
among his motives, we might have found out how to “do right” 
before we died—supposing he felt he suddenly knew 
what dying was. “You do wrong because you do not feel 
as I do now” was maybe the sense. “Feel me, and emulate 
my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right 
for the first time.” And then the vessel burst, 
and we were kneeling around an emptiness. 

We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us, 
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm, 
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek 
his meaning. “Feel me,” he said, and emphasized that word. 
Should we have heard it as a plea for a caress— 
a constant caress, since flesh to flesh was all that we 
could do right if we would bless him? 
The dying must feel the pressure of that question— 
lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot 
cowards there above protesting their love, and saying, 
“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens 
and the blue night pours through. “What can we do? 
We want to do what’s right.” 

“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be 
with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.” 

May Swenson

5 March 2011

A great thought*

Fact: Physicists discovered about 40 years ago that the recipe for the universe is finely tuned in a number of ways that make life possible. The masses of the elementary particles, the strengths of the four physical forces, the quantities of matter and dark matter and dark energy in the universe, the tiny imbalance of matter over antimatter – if any of these had been a tiny bit different from what it is, then the universe would be an uninteresting place. It’s not just that ‘life as we know it’ would be impossible – it’s far more serious. There would be dull uniformity, or thermodynamic equilibrium, or no stars at all, or no chemical elements besides hydrogen, etc.

Interpretations: There are two competing interpretations. They are both wild. One passes as standard science, and the other as edgy mysticism. To my mind, they are both in the realm of philosophic speculation, and your preference is a matter of intuition and aesthetics rather than evidence.

1- There are many, many universes. (The number can’t be estimated easily, but certainly dwarfs billions of billions, for example.) Of these, most (again, the vast, vast majority) can’t support the existence of evolved beings with the complexity to have brains and senses and science to observe and think about them from the inside out. It’s no accident that we live in one of these tiny minority of universes, because otherwise we wouldn’t be asking the question. (This is the ‘conservative’ option! It is sometimes called the Weak Anthropic Principle.)

2- Consciousness has an existence of its own, apart from matter and physical reality. Consciousness is operating under the veil of the quantum uncertainty principle to guide the progression of the universe toward living beings with complexity and brains and enough neural machinery to support observation, analysis, etc. Consciousness has worked with the laws of physics to create embodiments of itself, of which we are examples.

This is the edgy option. It is sometimes called Biocentrism, and it hearkens back to a time before Galileo told us that man was not the measure of all things.

Why do I prefer the second? There are emotional and scientific reasons. Emotional reasons are that it allows greater scope for the imagination, support for a faith that our lives matter and that we are part of a larger progression toward life integrated on a vast scale. Scientific reasons come from research in the paranormal, evidence that minds can do some things that are unexplained by the physics and chemistry of the brain. I am particularly impressed by the work of Jahn and Dunne measuring the effects of intention on ‘random’ quantum events, and of experiments with telepathy and precognition, some of which are done by smart scientists with integrity and meticulous experimental design and statistical analysis. These are widely reported but have been blocked almost completely from mainstream scientific journals.

— Josh Mitteldorf

*A hundred years ago, physicist Sir James Jeans wrote: ‘The universe is beginning to look not so much like a great machine, but like a great thought.’

6 March 2011

Over the top music

Maurice Ravel invokes a Viennese palace shrouded in clouds, in which glimpses of The Ball can be seen from time to time through the mist.  But this is no staid gathering of nobles – something macabre is unfolding.

Listen to Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire play (Ravel’s original) 2-piano version of La Valse.  Maurice Ravel was born this day in 1875.

En composant La Valse je ne songeais pas à une danse de mort ni à une lutte entre la vie et la mort. ...J'ai changé le titre, Wien, en La Valse, qui correspond mieux à la nature esthétique de la composition. C'est une extase dansante, tournoyante, presque hallucinante, un tourbillon de plus en plus passionné et épuisant de danseuses, qui se laissent déborder et emporter uniquement par la valse. (Ravel interviewed in De Telegraaf, 30 sept. 1922, reprinted in Orenstein, [1989], p.345).

In composing La Valse, I thought not of a death dance or a battle between life and death...I changed the title from Vienna to The Waltz, which corresponds better to the aesthetic nature of the composition.  These are dancers, twirling to an ecstatic exhaustion, almost hallucinating, transported by their waltz.
— interview quoted in Frontispiece

7 March 2011

Do we need another reason to exercise?

Exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases and extends life expectancy. Whether endurance exercise can attenuate the cumulative systemic decline observed in aging remains elusive. Here we show that 5 mo of endurance exercise induced systemic mitochondrial biogenesis, prevented mtDNA depletion and mutations, increased mitochondrial oxidative capacity and respiratory chain assembly, restored mitochondrial morphology, and blunted pathological levels of apoptosis in multiple tissues of mtDNA mutator mice. 

— from a recent study at McMaster university, Tarnopolsky’s research group

Translation: Mitochondria are organelles within the cell that trigger apoptosis or cell suicide.  They are linked to aging in mice, humans and other mammals.  Mitochondria have their own DNA, and when new mitochondria are created, the DNA needs to make copies of itself.  When mice are mutated deliberately so that DNA copying is sloppy in the mitochondria, they age prematurely...BUT...

If these same mice are induced to exercise hard each day, they can have normal life spans (for a mouse).

Article by Gretchen Reynolds in the Science Times last week

8 March 2011

So thin a veil

SO thin a veil divides
Us from such joy, past words,
Walking in daily life—the business of the hour, each detail seen to;
Yet carried, rapt away, on what sweet floods of other Being:
Swift streams of music flowing, light far back through all Creation shining,
Loved faces looking—
Ah! from the true, the mortal self
So thin a veil divides!

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was a proponent of a "larger" Socialism, one that embraced the liberation of the emotional and spiritual life along with the economic.

9 March 2011

Kinetic wave sculpture

Reuben Margolin invented his own art form.

10 March 2011

You think I’m pretty great.  You’re probably right.

There’s an article in PNAS this month warning us how easy it is to deceive ourselves.

Using experiments where people could cheat on a test, Chance has found that cheaters not only deceive themselves, but are largely oblivious to their own lies. Their ruse is so potent that they’ll continue to overestimate their abilities in the future, even if they suffer for it. Cheaters continue to prosper in their own heads, even if they fail in reality.
— from a popular interpretation in Discover Magazine

I have never done this of course, because I am far too self-aware; nevertheless, I thought it my duty to write this up, in case it might be useful in your case.

 “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest one to fool.”
—Richard Feynman

11 March 2011

How amazing...

are the countless states of mind, so compelling yet so transitory; urgent in one moment and a dream in the next.

Bo Lozoff

12 March 2011

The Great Truth is veiled in mystery, but no matter – we have plenty to occupy us with the little truths, hiding in plain view. 

— Josh Mitteldorf

13 March 2011

Reflections on the violence of childbirth

How can we reconcile our aspirations for universal peace with our reverence for nature?

And I am still imperially
Male, leaving you with pain,
The rending process in the colony,
The battering ram, the boom burst from within.
The act sprouted an obsinate fifth column
Whose stance is growing unilateral.
His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum
Mustering force. His parasitical
And ignorant little fists already
Beat at your borders and I know they’re cocked
At me across the water. No treaty
I foresee will salve completely your tracked
And stretchmarked body, the big pain
That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again

Seamus Heaney


14 March 2011

What does it take

to shake us out of our boredom with the ordinary and remind us that our lives are an celebration of reverence and wonder?

Listen to Karl Jenkins Gloria, movement I, a grand extravaganza, performed by the Really Big Choir and a for huge orchestra in Albert Hall, London,

and  Psalm, movement III, in a more intimate setting.

15 March 2011

Do not delay

 Es ist als wenn sie sagte: „Stund um Stunde
Wird uns das Leben freundlich dargeboten,
Das Gestrige ließ uns geringe Kunde,
Das Morgende, zu wissen ist’s verboten;
Und wenn ich je mich vor dem Abend scheute,
Die Sonne sank und sah noch was mich freute.

Drum thu’ wie ich und schaue, froh verständig,
Dem Augenblick in’s Auge! Kein Verschieben!
Begegn’ ihm schnell, wohlwollend wie lebendig,
Im Handeln sey’s, zur Freude, sey’s dem Lieben;
Nur wo du bist sey alles, immer kindlich,
So bist du alles, bist unüberwindlich.“

— Wolfgang Goethe, from Marienbader Elegie

Hour by hour, life kindly offered us.
We have learned but little from yesterday.
Of tomorrow, all knowledge is forbidden,
And if ever I feared the coming evening,
The setting sun still saw what brought me joy.

Do like me, then: with joyful wisdom
Look the instant in the eye! Do not delay!
Hurry! Run to greet it, lively and benevolent,
Be it for action, for joy, or for love!
Wherever you may be, be like a child, wholly and always;
Then you will be the All; and invincible.

— tr Pierre Hadot

16 March 2011

Why must we answer the call to awaken?

Why must we follow the questions of our soul? Because it is through habitual, non-inquisitive living that we lose our sense of wonder. Because eventually, even the strangest or most magical things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety, and contentment. Without conscious intention, curiosity dims and fear of the unknown binds us; we cling to the known. Only seldom does the haze lift, as we glimpse for a moment the amazing plenitude of being here in the heart of the greatest story ever told—our own lives.

John O’Donohue

17 March 2011

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.

Henry Miller

18 March 2011

Animal morality

Do animals have a sense of morality? Do they know right from wrong? In the book, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, philosopher Jessica Pierce and biologist Marc Bekoff argue that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. Ought and should regarding what’s right and what’s wrong play important roles in the social interactions of animals, just as they do in ours.

Darwin suggested that human morality is continuous with similar social behavior in other animals. He paid special attention to the capacity for sympathy, which he believed was evidenced in a large numbers of animals. Darwin wrote, ‘Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts ... would inevitably acquire a moral sense of conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or nearly as well-developed, as in man.’

Consider the following scenarios. A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a rambunctious hormone-laden teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk.

Eleven elephants rescue a group of captive antelope in KwaZula-Nata.  The matriarch elephant undoes all of the latches on the gates of the enclosure with her trunk and lets the gate swing open so the antelope can escape.

A rat in a cage refuses to push a lever for food when it sees that another rat receives an electric shock as a result. A male Diana monkey who learned to insert a token into a slot to obtain food helps a female who can't get the hang of the trick, inserting the token for her and allowing her to eat the food reward.

A large male dog wants to play with a younger and more submissive male. The big male invites his younger partner to play and when they play, the big dog restrains himself and bites his younger companion gently and allows him to bite gently in return.

Do these examples show that animals display moral behavior, that they can be compassionate, empathic, altruistic, and fair? Yes they do. Animals not only have a sense of justice, but also a sense of empathy, forgiveness, trust, reciprocity, and much more as well.

Wild Justice

19 March 2011


How can we better manage our lives?  How can we better care for the people we love and the world around us?

We spend so much emotional energy trying to make the right decisions, but do we make better decisions as a result?  Or are our decisions better when they come from a clear, intuitive center?

It may be that all we can do is to observe our experience and our actions, to witness our process.

It may be that that is enough.

— Josh Mitteldorf

20 March 2011

First days

Don’t expect a blanket of wildflowers; spring begins with a bud.

Don’t expect the sky to open in deep azure; but look for a break in the mist.

Look forward to basking in the sun’s full glory, as today you revel in the melting snow.

21 March 2011

Birthday Moon

The moon is full tonight, an illustration for sheet music, an image in Matthew Arnold glimmering on the English Channel, or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield in one of the history plays.   It’s as full as it was in that poem by Coleridge where he carries his year-old son into the orchard behind the cottage and turns the baby’s face to the sky to see for the first time the earth’s bright companion, something amazing to make his crying seem small.

And if you wanted to follow this example, tonight would be the night to carry some tiny creature outside and introduce him to the moon.   And if your house has no child, you can always gather into your arms the sleeping infant of yourself, as I have done tonight, and carry him outdoors, all limp in his tattered blanket, making sure to steady his lolling head with the palm of your hand.  

And while the wind ruffles the pear trees in the corner of the orchard and dark roses wave against a stone wall, you can turn him on your shoulder and walk in circles on the lawn drunk with the light. You can lift him up into the sky, your eyes nearly as wide as his, as the moon climbs high into the night.  

Billy Collins is 70 years old today

22 March 2011

Hope is a Revolution

Revolution is as unpredictable as an earthquake and as beautiful as spring. Its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be.

Revolution is a phase, a mood, like spring, and just as spring has its buds and showers, so revolution has its ebullience, its bravery, its hope, and its solidarity. Some of these things pass. The women of Cairo do not move as freely in public as they did during those few precious weeks when the old rules were suspended and everything was different. But the old Egypt is gone and Egyptians’ sense of themselves—and our sense of them—is forever changed...

The voice of the street has been a bugle cry this year. You heard it. Everyone did, but the rulers who thought their power was the only power that mattered, heard it last and with dismay. Many of them are nervous now, releasing political prisoners, lowering the price of food, and otherwise trying to tamp down uprisings.

Rebecca Solnit

Expect the unexpected, but don’t just to wait for it. Sometimes you have to become the unexpected.

23 March 2011

Neural Plasticity

My father had polio in his leg, and his upper body developed powerfully to compensate. We are not surprised. But when the brain remodels itself, growing new neurons and new connections among the existing neurons, it is cause for wonder.

For people who suffer a stroke, this means that lost capabilities – language or motor or coordination – can be re-learned in a different part of the brain.

And for those of us who haven’t had a stroke, it reminds us of the power of our habits of thought. Whatever thoughts we entertain habitually become gradually hard-wired into the brain.

Geoffrey Murphy and Jack Parent of University of Michigan recently demonstrated neural plasticity in mice.    News article from Science Daily   Research article in PNAS

24 March 2011

La Luna – The Moon

La luna se puede tomar a cucharadas
o como una cápsula cada dos horas.
Es buena como hipnótico y sedante
y también alivia
a los que se han intoxicado de filosofía.
Un pedazo de luna en el bolsillo
es mejor amuleto que la pata de conejo:
sirve para encontrar a quien se ama,
para ser rico sin que lo sepa nadie
y para alejar a los médicos y las clínicas.
Se puede dar de postre a los niños
cuando no se han dormido,
y unas gotas de luna en los ojos de los ancianos
ayudan a bien morir.

Pon una hoja tierna de la luna
debajo de tu almohada
y mirarás lo que quieras ver.
Lleva siempre un frasquito del aire de la luna
para cuando te ahogues,
y dale la llave de la luna
a los presos y a los desencantados.
Para los condenados a muerte
y para los condenados a vida
no hay mejor estimulante que la luna
en dosis precisas y controladas.

— Jaime Sabines, born this day in 1926
You can take the moon by the spoonful 
or in capsules every two hours. 
It’s useful as a hypnotic and sedative 
and besides it relieves 
those who have had too much philosophy. 
A piece of moon in your purse 
works better than a rabbit’s foot. 
Helps you find a lover 
or get rich without anyone knowing, 
and it staves off doctors and clinics. 
You can give it to children like candy 
when they’ve not gone to sleep, 
and a few drops of moon in the eyes of the old 
helps them to die in peace. 

Put a new leaf of moon 
under your pillow 
and you’ll see what you want to. 
Always carry a little bottle of air of the moon 
to keep you from drowning. 
Give the key to the moon 
to prisoners and the disappointed. 
For those who are sentenced to death 
and for those who are sentenced to life 
there is no better tonic than the moon 
in precise and regular doses. 

— tr. W. S. Merwin

25 March 2011

Maybe were all Martians

According to many planetary scientists, it’s conceivable that all life on Earth is descended from organisms that originated on Mars and were carried here aboard meteorites. If that’s the case, an instrument being developed by researchers at MIT and Harvard could provide the clinching evidence.

The idea is based on several facts that have now been well established. First, in the early days of the solar system, the climates on Mars and the Earth were much more similar than they are now, so life that took hold on one planet could presumably have survived on the other. Second, an estimated one billion tons of rock have traveled from Mars to Earth, blasted loose by asteroid impacts and then traveling through interplanetary space before striking Earth's surface. Third, microbes have been shown to be capable of surviving the initial shock of such an impact, and there is some evidence they could also survive the thousands of years of transit through space before arriving at another planet.

read article at PhysOrg

Here’s an earlier Scientific American article that offers an even higher estimate for the rate of Martian rock falling on earth.  How can anybody know, when examining a meteorite, that it came from Mars?  How much scientific effort is being devoted to finding these earthly missives from Mars, and how does the budget compare to the cost of a Mariner space probe?

26 March 2011

Whom to trust?

Almost all our experience is vicarious.  It wasn’t always so.  When we were animals, our experience was overwhelmingly direct, and it was not hard to extrapolate to similar experiences in others whom we observed.  With so much of our experience second- and third-hand, we’ve had to become experts in judging where to place our trust, and where to remain skeptical. 

Here is a fictional account of the experience of satori.  It was written by a playful and rebellious 27-year-old who had never had the experience himself, but projected his imagination, combining other accounts he had read.  Here is another experience, more artful and mature, but equally vicarious and perfectly fictional.

When you have an experience that takes you past the illusion of separateness and assures you that our one Great Soul is caring for us all, you may be transformed and suffused with an ever-accessible sense of love and well-being.  But suppose you hear of someone else’s experience – Do you take it on as your own, and embrace the transformation that it offers?  Do you wonder if the person is telling you the truth? and even if he is faithfully conveying his experience, does this experience tell you something real about our world, or is it some kind of neurological hallucination, or wish-fulfillment based on the power of suggestion?

Do you devote a portion of your life to seeking such an experience for yourself?  And if you decide to do so, how do you go about it, and whose guidance do you trust?

— Josh Mitteldorf

27 March 2011

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

28 March 2011

The Great Turning

  • Collaborative living arrangements such as co-housing and eco-villages
  • Community gardens
  • consumer cooperatives,
  • community-supported agriculture,
  • watershed restoration,
  • local currencies...

    These structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. They require, in other words, a profound shift in our perception of reality—and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening.

    The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are accelerating, and they take many forms. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of rugged individualism, the essential separateness of the self. They arise as glad response to breakthroughs in scientific thought, as reductionism and materialism give way to evidence of a living universe. And they arise in the resurgence of wisdom traditions, reminding us again that our world is a sacred whole, worthy of adoration and service.

    Joanna Macy

29 March 2011

Peace Corps turns 50

After President Kennedy was sworn in in 1961, he lost little time putting out an idea to send volunteer emissaries for peace and goodwill around the world.  The Peace Corps began operations in March, and its first director was Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, because ‘if the program fails, it would be easier to fire a relative’.

The program didn’t fail.  It has provided 200,000 Americans with a way to express their caring and to experience cultures very different from our own.  It has persisted at a nominal budgetary level – about 1/20 of 1% of the military budget – through Republican and Democratic administrations, through prosperity and depression, through all the cultural shifts that have occurred since 1961.

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps – who works in a foreign land – will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Wikipedia article
Video of Kennedy proposing the Peace Corps in a campaign speech
50th Anniversary Web Site

30 March 2011

It’s not fair

to listen to Haydn with the music of the intervening 250 years in our ears.  Before Haydn, there was only baroque music, and his innovations in style and structure were every bit as radical as Beethoven’s or Debussy’s or Stravinsky’s.

It’s difficult for us to hear the drama in Haydn, because it seems understated compared to Tchaikovsky.  Suppose we compared it to Bach?  And you might think humor might be the most dated, but I think some of it comes through, even though composers in the 19th and 20th centuries were free to do much more outrageous things on stage than instructing the performers to pack up and walk off, one by one. (This stunt was actually a political statement, reminding his patron patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy that his musicians needed holiday leave to be with their families.)

Haydn, inventor of the symphony, wrote more of them than Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler put together.  And they’re all good, too.

Listen to a movement from the Frog Quartet with 18th century ears.  This performance is, in my opinion, entirely too graceful and restrained.

Here’s the Finale from piano trio Hoboken XV:28, played by Jamie Laredo &Co.

Watch a pre-teen piano trio performing Haydn like pros.

Franz Josef Haydn was born this day in 1732. 

Bach’s collected works are catalogued at the Gesellschaft in Vienna. 
Haydn’s humor continued after his death, as he chose Hoboken, NJ as the archive for his opera.

31 March 2011

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design