Thursday, May 31, 2018

Are the Liberal Arts dead? The Start of the Conversation

The news is rife with announcements that well known Ivy League Universities as well as state universities are cutting back on their budgets for the support of the Humanities. 

It is well know that Yale has dramatically curtailed funding of many of its liberal arts departments in recent years.
Wisconsin State University, Stevens Point likewise has recently proposed a plan to shut down majors in more than a dozen (12)areas including history, political science and geography as a cost cutting measure.

Many others are beefing up courses in practical "hot demand" areas such as informational technology artificial intelligence, deep learning and practical medical courses for much needed personnel in the fields such  as Occupational,  Physical and Speech Therapy.

Is the "Rush to Judgment" to condemn the values of courses in Philosophy, English, Art History, Classics in Western Civilization, etc. justified?

Here is a story that offers a most refreshing answer: the start to THE CONVERSATION

Robert E. Rubin. 

A  recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article spotlighted  Robert E. Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.  Prior to the appointment, he  spent 26 years at Goldman Sachs.

 Rubin describes how his philosophy professor at Harvard prepared him for his career in government:

 "His approach to critical thinking planted a seed in me that grew during my years at Harvard and throughout my entire life." Then he goes on: "I'm asked from time to time which undergraduate courses best prepared me for working at Goldman Sachs. People assume I'll list courses in economics or  finance, but I always answer that the key was Professor Demos's philosophy course and the conversations about existentialism in coffee shops around campus."

Read the article for yourself and let the conversation continue. 

By the way, Rubin's net worth is in 9 figures.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two Feel Good Stories You Might Have Missed: Extending the limits of living through Meditation Music and Poetry

1. 106 year old Eileen Ash, from Norwich England drinks two glasses of wine daily does Yoga daily  and just recently passed her driving test;  she  drives around in her bright yellow Mini.sports car-- yes, at the ripe 'young' age of 105. Click here for a video celebrating her 106th birthday by flying in an open cockpit Tiger Moth.

    Kudos to Eileen....

Eileen Ash drives a yellow Mini Sports Car 
(Courtesy of the Daily Mail)
      2. An announcement during National Poetry Month: With much gratitude to organizer Relly Coleman.  Yael Stolarsky, Shlicha, and I have been invited to inaugurate the First Connecticut Hebrew Book celebration on Sunday, June 10th, 1-6 PM  as part of the second annual  Israeli Food Festival to be held at Temple Israel in Westport. Besides vendor and demonstrations, there will be 2-3 breakout sessions: one about Hebrew short stories with Susan Boyar, a professional book discussion leader and another about Modern Hebrew poetry and music  that Yael and I will lead.

      In prior years, I have led  three  Modern Israeli Poetry and music discussions at the Stamford JCC with Or Berger, Shaliach, and Yael. sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of Fairfield County.

      Here is a podcast link to our last event held at Curley's diner--an event hosted by Poem Alley  and introduced by its leader Ralph Nazareth and , Eleni. Begetis, the poet/owner of Curleys.

Curley's Diner is alive with Israeli Poetry and Music presented
by R.J. Schwartz and Yael Stolarsky, Shlichah


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Brother Mike Celebrates 30 Years of Cantorial Service

At Sabbath Services,  Saturday March 17, 2018, my brother Michael Schwartz celebrated his completion of 30 years of cantorial service at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center (JHJC).

It was the culmination of a career that began  when Mike led services at Genesis Agudas Achim in Tuckahoe, N.Y  and then became Torah reader at Temple Israel in White Plains.

Mike always had a love of music as we all did. My mom was a passionate lover of opera and we were surrounded by stereo LP renditions of Carmen, Barber of Seville and Pagliacci. Mike could often be heard singing arias in a booming voice as he showered.

The event at JHJC drew a large attendance and the service was followed by a sit down hot luncheon organized by President Steven Knoble.

 Although New York City Councilman Danny Dromm could not attend, former Councilwoman Helen Sears did attend and lavished praises upon the many outreach community events hosted by the JHJC.

Kudos to Michael and all those who attended to honor him. And, Michael, keep taking singing lessons with Cantor Sherwood Goffin of Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Below is a framed letter from New York City Councilman Danny Dromm extolling Michael's service as part of the cantorial tradition that dates back nearly 2500 years.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

National Poetry Month: To appreciate verse, You must hear and feel its rhythms. A Tribute to Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West"

Wallace Stevens 

In his review of Paul Mariani's recently published biography ("The Whole Harmonium" Simon and Schuster, 2016)  of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955),  New Yorker Magazine critic Peter Schjeldahl exudes awe and admiration for "The Idea of Order at Key West": 

"It may the finest American modern poem....(It gets my vote, with perfectly paced beauty that routinely squeezes tears from me.)"  

Schjledahl could not have said it better.

I dedicated my Columbia University  master's thesis on John Milton's Samson Agonistes with these concluding lines from the poem: 

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, 
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds. 

You must hear Stevens recite the poem in its entirety!!!

Celebrating National Poetry Month: Shakespeare at 400

Title page of First Folio, 1623
Copper engraving of Shakespeare by 
Martin Droeshout (from Wikipedia)

In celebration of the 400 anniversary of the death of  William Shakespeare (April 23, 1616), I salute the Bard of Avon with some of his more memorable quotes: 

"Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
 (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2:  Spoken by Cassius to Brutus)

                                   "All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII: Spoken by Jaques)

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although is height be taken."
(From Sonnet 116)

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form, and moving how express
and admirable, in action, how like an angel, in apprehension
how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals-
and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not
me-nor woman neither..."
(Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2, Hamlet speaking to Rosencrantz)

For my prior articles celebrating  National Poetry Month, click here.

The best way to appreciate poetry is to listen to you tube readings of famous actors reciting their favorite poems. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Continuing Accolades for Stephen Spielberg who directed and produced Bridge of Spies

Continuing accolades for Stephen Spielberg who produced and directed Bridge of Spies-- a captivating movie that depicts the tense, oppressive and bellicose spirit of the Cold War Era with excellent acting and cinematography. (click here for first-hand reporting of my 1962 visit to East Berlin during the Cold War)

U-2 Pilot Gary Powers held in custody
being grilled by Soviet interrogators

The hero of the movie, lawyer James Donovan ( Tom Hanks), recruited by the CIA, is on a (personal) mission to secure the release of two American citizens/hostages held behind the Iron Curtain: Gary Powers--a U-2 surveillance pilot-- was shot down by a Soviet missile at 70,000 feet while filming enemy defense sites and held in a Russian prison; US citizen Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) an economics graduate student is in an East German prison on trumped up charges that he is a spy.

The CIA is adamant that Donovan seek the release of only Powers in return for convicted Russian spy Rudolph Abel apprehended and convicted in the US.

Donovan, seemingly acting on his own, is hell bent to secure the release of both Americans in an unequal exchange for Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) imprisoned on American soil. (a TWO FOR ONE deal!!!)

The climax of the film-- in my opinion-- occurs just after the East German Attorney General, Herr Herman Ott turns down Donovan's request that Pryor be released (Donovan just cut a deal with the Soviets to exchange Abel for Powers).

The East Germans insist the the deal be a unilateral one with them: Abel for Pryor only--no Powers!

Deal or no deal??? How does Donovan play his cold war 'hand'?

Ott gets an urgent phone call and Donovan is asked to leave the AG's office and await continuation of negotiations in the hallway outside the office.

A young aide comes to inform him that his boss is no longer available.

Here is the brilliant dialog that ensues.

Aide: I'm very sorry sir. The attorney general regrets that he had to leave on some urgent business.
Donovan: He left?
Aide: Yes, many apologies.
Donovan: I've been waiting for over an hour!
Donovan: Young man. Come here (the aide turns around). Come here, it's all right.
Do you like your job here?
Aide: It's a very good job, sir.
Donovan: It must be interesting.
Aide: Oh, yes sir.
Donovan: And important, too.
And your English good.
Aide: Yes, I hesitate to say. But, it's excellent.
Donovan: Good, good, good. See, I just lost my negotiating partner and I need somebody to talk to and you seem like a reasonable young man.....Can I talk to you?
Donovan: It's all right. (CHUCKLES) It's all right. I just need you to give this message to your boss and it has to be very, very very clear. You understand?
Aide: Yes. sir. But perhaps you should wait until he......
Donovan: No, no. the thing is. I have this cold and I wanna get home.
Can you give him the message?
Aide: Certainly.
Donovan: Well, this is the message. There is no deal for Abel unless we get Powers and Pryor.
Do you understand?
Aide: Yes sir.
Donovan: It's arranged for tomorrow morning. It will not happen unless we get two men.
Those two men. Two, two, two.
Aide: Yes, sir.
Donovan: If there is no deal, your boss must tell the Soviets. He must tell the Soviets that they are not getting Rudolf Abel.
Aide: Yes, sir.
Donovan: Oh, and tell him this. (DONOVAN STANDS AND PEERS AT THE AIDE STILL SITTING) Thus far Abel has been a good soldier, but he thinks he's going home. (COUGHS) If we had to tell him that he's not going home, that the Soviets don't even want him...that he's never going home.... Well, I imagine his behavior might change. And who will be held responsible for that? (CHUCKLES)
That's a long message. Uh, did you get it all?
Aide: Yes, sir. Got it.
Donovan: Good. You're a good man.....Oh....And also tell him no deal unless we hear before the end of this business day. He has the number.... If the exchange isn't gonna happen, there's no reason for anyone to get up first thing in the morning.
Aide: (CHUCKLES) No....sir. That would be pointless.

Congratulations to the author Gelles Whittell for his non-fiction book Bridge of Spies upon which the movie is based; to co-writers Joel and Ethan Coen along with Matt Charman; to Janusz Kaminski for his riveting cinematography and to Stephen Spielberg, director and co-producer.

Kudos to Mark Rylance who won an academy award for Best Supporting Actor.

Here is the link to the official movie trailer: