May 29, 2020

Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.

Andrew Cuomo’s Daily Address on YouTube

If you want to feel informed and inspired, catch some of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily public addresses. Bear in mind, the state of New York is a few weeks ahead of much of the country in the pandemic curve so their experiences may be predictive for other states with densely populated areas.

I find that a laptop or tablet allows you to exercise or do household tasks while you listen/watch to these broadcasts.

Today’s Friday, May 8, 2020 program was especially informative. COVID-19 most likely came to New York much earlier than we thought through Europe and not China. Fake news? Cuomo endeavors to use hard data and advice from medical and science professionals.

May 8, 2020 broadcast:

Governmental Gratitude

After seeing CNN journalist Anderson Cooper’s interview with Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, I am even more appreciative of Chicago’s capable mayor, Lori Lightfoot.

I am also grateful for reasonable governors, such as J. B. Pritzker of Illinois and Andrew Cuomo of New York State, who give me equal measures of truth and hope.

Let me express particular gratitude to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) for her informative constituent emails and her responsive staff members.

Likewise, kudos to Republican governors Larry Hogan (Maryland) and Mike DeWine (Ohio) who have bucked their party line and continue to keep non-essential businesses shuttered.

My admiration also for Sen. Mitt Romney, who having tested negative for COVID-19, nonetheless put himself in self-quarantine for two weeks after being in contact with Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As a musician who thrives on live performances, no one could want the economy to open back up more than me – but not at the expense of countless lives exposed to this dreaded virus.

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

Bag Man podcast on Agnew’s departure as VP

Sometimes I just want to get away from current political news and escape to……political history.

I confess to being quite ignorant of what happened during Watergate so I’m always open to learning more about that storied time in our country’s history.

I knew even less about Spiro T. Agnew’s departure from the Vice Presidency.
Along comes Rachel Maddow with Bag Man, a seven-episode podcast shedding light on this constitutional crisis that happened 45 years ago.

As Nixon was teetering towards impeachment or resignation, it came to light that our second-in-command was a big-time crook having taken bribes in Maryland and subsequently as VP in DC. Justice Department professionals were horrified at the possibility that Nixon could be ousted, only to have another suspect person slipping into the White House.

Bag Man not only recaps what happened but sheds new light on who was involved and how decisions were made. Particularly fascinating are interviews with members of Agnew’s defense team and the prosecutors who faced off with Nixon, Agnew and crew.

You can download the podcast app on your phone or find Bag Man at the MSNBC site to listen to the recordings or read the transcripts. However you access this fascinating story, you will feel just a little bit more “in the know.”

https://www.msnbc.com/bagman

The Week paper magazine

downmagaz.com

Just when I had given up all paper news sources, along came The Week, a weekly magazine that a friend started giving me when he was done reading it. Their tag line below the title says “The Best of the U. S. and International Media” and that about says it all.

This is a concise news source for quick overviews of world and national politics, along with blurbs on issues of culture, science, technology and the arts.There are also editorials from around the world on mainstream and lesser known subjects.

For in depth articles, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and magazine web sites like The Economist and The New Yorker take me further into selected topics, but for general news, The Week is easily perused in one sitting and gets me up to speed on most of the current hot button topics.

Curiously, I have visited The Week’s electronic magazine site, but greatly prefer their old-fashioned paper magazine format. They amply use both eye-catching photos and drawings for many articles, including the always amusing cover color cartoon.

downmagaz.com

A black and white cartoon page slants toward the political and is always hilarious. The crossword puzzle on the back page is like dessert after a several course meal of various issues.

Some may criticize the thumbnail approach to hard news, but in the words of Sgt. Friday on Dragnet,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”As far as I know, The Week is giving me just that in one digestible format.

downmagaz.com