Monday, July 29, 2013

The Culture of Possibility

Another friend has written a book - The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & the Future by Arlene Goldbard.

Arlene's premise is that our culture is influenced perhaps even defined by how we support art and creativity. None among us will argue that art has not been diminished in our schools owing to the never-ending budget cuts. The Culture of Possibility suggests that we ignore Art at the peril of our Culture. There is a timely even timeless message that we would do well to consider.

What Arlene has written is an antidote to the despair many of us feel about the direction of our culture. Her work is not only anti-consumerism but it demonstrates how the current state of work and consume is itself both anti-social and anti-community.

I would point out that some of us hear very different things and conjure very obscure images when the word "art' is invoked. But Arlene makes the strongest of her points when she reminds us that music is art. Who of us has not been moved by music, who doesn't still drift back to "brighter days" and "happier times" when hearing the refrains of music from our adolescent years.

When you encounter dark nights, when politicians and Wall Street make you despair for our future. Take some time to heed a simply yet powerful message. We collectively can take it all back, there does exist a Culture of Possibility where the greed and avarice of today's economic machine do not dominate the future.

Arlene has written a guide to those times that will uplift your spirits and have you humming a happy tune, though it might be Woody Guthrie or Holly Near you hear.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Berkeley Book List

Living a few blocks of the UC Berkeley campus means I pick up a fair amount of academic detritus. Recently I ran across the 2013 Summer Reading list for incoming freshmen, the class of 2017. The theme of the list changes each year, in the past decade or so the topics have included: Social Media, Books for Future Presidents, War & Peace and Banned Books. For most of the 90s the books were picked by select groups: Berkeley librarians, Faculty who teach freshman introductory courses, Chairs of departments.

They've reverted to this older tradition this year, the list is titled: What Would Seniors Read and was selected by the graduating class of 2013. Here's this year's list, the webpage includes a few words of recommendation from the recommender:

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (2008)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (2008)

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (2010)

Saturday by Ian McEwan (2008)

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (2009)

Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer (2005)

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997)

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken (1999)

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Ablom (1997)

Garbage by A.R. Ammons (1993)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life by Robert B. Reich (2007)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1946)

The Plague by Albert Camus (1948)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodward (2011)

Confessions of St. Augustine (397)

War and Peace by Leon Tolstoy (1869)

Interesting what current graduates see as relevant today.

Monday, July 15, 2013


For a variety of reasons, I have become familiar with the various "lists" used by Amazon books. You probably know about the Top 100 Books and perhaps the Top Kindle sales list but Amazon literally has hundreds of these.

Take for instance How to Win Friends and Influence People written by Dale Carnegie, first published in 1936. It is currently the 387th best selling book on Amazon. But it also qualifies on three other uniquely Amazonian lists:

Then there is the current hot summer offering from Dan Brown - Inferno. Currently the best selling book on Amazon (well at least it is this hour, Amazon updates all of its list every hour). Inferno also rates a #1 on several other lists.

How can the #1 book be #7 on the U.S. Literature and Fiction list? Blame it on the algorithm that runs the lists. But my point today is not about how Amazon rates every book it handles but what I have discovered about the Young Adult reading category. YA for those not yet in the know, refers to books marketed to the age demographic 12 to 18.

And what are the teens and pre-teens reading these days? Very dark fiction. Stories lean heavily to dystopia, post-apocalypse, plague, collapse, invasion and oh yes, vampires. Sure there is young love mixed in but a lot of heroes and heroines go the way of Romeo and Juliet, who if you forgot, ended up quite dead.

Psychologists and anthropologists are having a field day with the overwhelming rise of darkness in teen fiction. All kinds of phobias, psychosis and ominous predictions are being forwarded. My only suggestion is that you give The Lord of the Rings to any teenagers who cross your path. I considered Dante's Inferno since they are almost there anyway but if you really want to stir the morose, why not just give them Atlas Shrugged.

Yikes! that darkness stuff tends to rub off on you.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Nasa's Cassini spacecraft produced this view of Saturn, taken while Cassini was in Saturn's shadow. The Sun blocked by the planet backlit both Saturn and its famous rings.

Larger view of NASA photo (#35) and other intriguing space shots.

Monday, July 08, 2013

More Tax Revenue - Fewer People Incarcerated

A new report issued last week by the National Lawyers Guild:

“The NLG believes that ending the prohibition of cannabis would offer multiple benefits. Legalization would help transform the marijuana industry … into a stable regulated one. It would significantly reduce infringements on civil liberties and lower the arrest and incarceration rates of people of color. Changing the criminal status of marijuana would lower the costs of law enforcement and protect people from entering the criminal justice system. Finally, legalization would remove restrictions currently impeding [the] study of medical marijuana and allow more users to acquire treatment if necessary. Each of these goals is consistent with sound economic, criminal justice, and public health policies.”

Monday, July 01, 2013

Who Is Worthy of Your Tears?

"Sometimes you think things are going in one direction 
and then they don't." -Me

A couple of weeks ago I saw the double documentary about Billy Joel and the closing of Shea Stadium. Billy Joel live at Shea Stadium. A nostalgic presentation both of the singer's life and the history of Shea. The show ends with an appearance of Sir Paul McCartney and a rendition of Let It Be to close the show.

In the aftermath/afterglow of the performance I was pondering the connection of my generation to the Beatles and to rock & roll in general. It struck me that the death of Sir Paul would affect me. Which got me to thinking about who represented our generation, who iconically stood out and would saddened me when they are gone. My answer is Paul McCartney.

I couldn't stop there, not only were there others on my short list: Woody Allen, the Dali Lama, George McGovern; but being an inveterate researcher I just had to ask others my question. I emailed 44 members of my generation and briefly outlined my question, promised if I quoted them to do it anonymously; ending with: 

"So - who is the one singular person who will bring you to tears of loss or joy when they are gone?" I exempted family members and friends.

I must admit I was completely unprepared for the chord I struck. Hint - don't ask people about death, loss and grief unless you are prepared to deal with a tsunami of emotions. Here are just some of the responses I received:

"I've lost so many already. Christopher Hitchens, Molly Ivins, etc. But I know I will cry for Barney Frank when he dies. I didn't always agree with him. But when he dies, one of the last politicians to actually give a fuck about the people he represented will be gone."

Steven Martin and Woody Allen: "Both incredibly gifted people who shared their talents with us …blockbuster comedians, actors, accomplished authors and film directors,  intellectuals, musicians…true Renaissance men. Felt the same way over a decade ago when the other “Steve” and “Allen” combo died….Steve Allen."

"To be honest, I can't think of anyone 'iconic' that I would shed actual tears for, tears are reserved for loved ones in my world." *This was the most common feedback I received, nearly a third of those I asked expressed some form of this response.

Doyle Brunson: "The more I learn about him the more I am in awe of the man. This has very little to do with poker but a lot to do with his class and life experiences."

David Robinson - former NBA star with the San Antonio Spurs.

"Professor Walter Primeaux, professor emertius at University of Illinois,  an old Texas kinda guy, home spun and adept at making me understand how to get along with diverse cultures and people, and to realize things are not: 'Right or wrong just different.'"

"The Dalai Lama and Willie Nelson - the latter for his sense of humor. And the later, not the earlier, Leonard CohenNelson Rolihlahla Mandela for sure, who carried on the Gandhi/King tradition."

"A couple of years ago this would have been easy: Christopher Hitchens."

"The Canadian actor Donald Sutherland. I knew nothing of him when, in the 60's, I wandered into a local movie house with a pal, and saw a British horror film in which he played a character who is royally and totally screwed over." [the remainder of this tribute has been kept private for the benefit of the weak of mind and the lame of thought]

Noam Chomsky: "I will cry when he dies. He is 80 and, although I never agreed with is linguistics and a generation of neuroscience research, I think he has made a major contribution as a public intellectual in challenging prevailing hegemonic 'truths' in political economic terms."

Joanna Macy - another controversial selection from the academic world.

"No person would affect me in such a way."

"I pick President Obama because he gives me hope." One of three votes for Barack not meeting his maker.

"Michael Ovitz is the first one that came to mind. I admire how far he rose before greed brought him down."

"James Levine (famous in the music world, currently the main conductor at the NY Met Opera), having watched him practically his entire career. He is a true 'bubbie' who happens to be a musical genius."  

"The only people who would cause great sorrow would be family or close friends.  There are movie stars and musicians I would feel sad about and miss, but it wouldn't be great sorrow."

"I would pick Rachel Maddow for the fact that in an age when both the Right and Left wield Battle-axes and War-hammers in the political sphere, Rachel is often able to smash her opponents’ viewpoints with a deftly applied Bataka-bat. She is able to demolish her opponents without ever coming across as vicious. Rachel is magical in that way, which shouldn’t be a surprise as she looks suspiciously like Harry Potter. I would sorely miss her style of political combat."

"The first person who came to mind was Paul McCartney – even more than John. Not because I particularly identify with or look up to him, but because of what he represents or symbolizes to me and its importance in my life. I actually got a bit verklempt thinking about it. I would definitely be very sad to see him go." (I have always shared a musical affinity with this friend)

Stephen King:  "Some of his material so resonates with me and so engulfs me that I will be saddened when faced with the reality that this author will be producing no more works."

"A tie between Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking." 

I would add that the recent passing of Jonathan Winters was mentioned by several including myself. Finally, yes there were several responses too heart wrenching to share.