Category Archives: Current Events

Happy 97th Birthday Simone!

From the Editor….Here’s a video of Simone coming down the middle part of the 52 stairs from her front door to the street (taken about two weeks ago)  Our author turned 97 on January 14th and we wanted you to see her in motion. I complimented her on how well she was navigating. She replied, “I’m even better on the way up.”

Happy birthday to our dear author.

Simone On The Stairs

Send In The Women


Political scientist Valerie M. Hudson wrote: “Men agreed to be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women.” It is because of male domination at home and in the political arena that women’s march toward full equality has been painfully slow and tortuous.

This year 110 women, nearly all Democrats, were sworn in as members of Congress. Among them is 29-year-old Alexandra-Ocasio-Cortez of New York who has cheerfully taken arms against the cavemen, including Caveman-in- Chief Donald Trump. At the same time, Nancy Pelosi has regained her gavel as Speaker of the House and Elizabeth Warren has stepped forward as a Presidential candidate.

Our valiant “leader” has taken up arms. He is leading the battle against women as he revives his kindergarten tactics of name calling and personal insult. Trump has also boasted of groping and making unwanted advances toward women. Other politicians have had to leave the political scene after admissions of sexual harassment, but Trump survives (for now), sitting defiantly in his chair with arms crossed and glaring.

During the campaign, Trump tried to silence two women by paying them off. But Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal have now told their stories and others have been encouraged to speak up.

Elizabeth Warren

In the global arena, dictators have bolstered their power using overt sexism. In Brazil, newly elected President Jair Bolsanaro includes in his “revolution” the fight against “uppity women.” In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte allowed his soldiers to each rape three women on the island of Mindanao. Viktor Orban in Hungary instructs women to bear more children. In Italy the right-wing regime seeks to eliminate child support and domestic violence laws.

Of course, it isn’t just now. During the French Revolution, the next order of business after toppling the monarchy was to ban women from inheriting property and holding senior teaching jobs. When fighting for their rights and liberties men have a willful blind spot. They do not include women in their demands and even go out of their way to remind them of their inferior status.

Before we give in to despair, let me mention that there are countries in Western Europe where women have a significant representation in Parliaments: 48% in Iceland, 44% in Sweden, 42% in Finland and 40% in Norway. These countries have a long tradition of gender equality at home with household chores and child-rearing shared equally. I think this is part of the reason for the political equality in these Parliaments.

Research shows the women in Congress have been more effective than their male counterparts at securing spending for their districts (The New Yorker, January 2019). This is good news for possible infrastructure projects.

Nancy Pelosi

Whenever and wherever possible we should find ways to contribute to the advancement of women in politics. This can only lead to the betterment of women overall.

Here are some names and links to organizations that help women run for political office at all levels:

Emily’s List

She Should Run

Mozart and Mambo

Gustavo Dudamel Conducting

Music is a contact sport. An electric current passes through the conductor to the orchestra and through the orchestra to the audience. Audiences clap or shout “Bravo” (unless they boo and hiss.) This response in turn rebounds back to the performers. Gutsavo Dudamel understands this phenomenon extremely well and maximizes the connection.

Dudamel is the conductor and music director of the Orquestra Sinfonica Simon Bolivar and (by the way) of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. He was born in Venezuela in 1981. His mother was a singer and his father a trombonist. He played violin but showed an early aptitude for conducting.

Watching him conduct, hopping, jumping, dancing, with curls bouncing, you are struck by his enthusiasm, immense energy and sheer joy at sharing his passion.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and its Ode to Joy is the perfect vehicle for a man who throws himself into the music with such abandon.

Dudamel’s introduction to classical music was through a program called El Sistema founded by Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela, which features total immersion of children in ensemble music – a hundred people working as one.

Dudamel believes that music can transform lives. He has become a champion of the arts for young people around the world. He is also committed to exposing audiences to new and nontraditional music. In 2012 he set up the Gustavo Dudamel Foundation to promote access to music as a fundamental human right.

In 2007, Dudamel founded YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, which provides access to music to underserved communities. He then worked closely with architect Frank Gehry who has designed a new facility for YOLA. It’s a glass fronted box with a glass pop-up roof which allows sunlight to stream into the 260 seat hall below. The facility will be located in Inglewood, California with construction expected to begin in 2019.

YOLA Concert Hall

Gustavo Dudamel has been criticized for his continued ties to Venezuela. This is a country suffering from a horrific economic and social crisis most of it engineered by former President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. These regimes have insisted on adhering to authoritarianism and to outdated communist values. As a result most of the population lives in poverty.

Dudamel performed at the Hugo Chavez funeral, but otherwise tried to remain uninvolved with the woes of his country of birth. Then in 2017, a group of musicians was protesting Chavez rule and during an ensuing riot, an 18 year-old  viola player and El Sistema pupil Amando Canizcle, was killed.

Dudamel was moved and in a New York Times article, he condemned the violence and denounced the Venezuelan Government’s planned Constitutional Assembly as outside the law.

It is not easy to be involved in too many battles and every person must decide how and where to devote their energy so they can participate in what matters most to them.


Editor’s note: Below is an exciting and inspiring clip of Dudamel conducting a Venezuelan youth orchestra through some classic mambos. The whole scene is a feast of joy. It will make you happy for sure.


Putin Frolics in the Sea of Azov – The World Yawns


Last month, Russian forces seized and shot at three Ukrainian vessels attempting to cross through the Kerch Strait, a narrow passage between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Six sailors were injured.
The Russians then boarded two warships and a tugboat, detaining more sailors and completely blocking the Strait. Some of the seized Ukrainian sailors have now been flown to Moscow.

Now two Ukrainian Azov Sea ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol are under complete control by Russia and others are forbidden to enter the area.


Vladimir Putin very recently inaugurated a new twelve-mile bridge over the Strait connecting Crimea to mainland Russia. Russia’s aim is to completely control the land and water around Crimea, a highly populated area.

President Poroshenko of Ukraine, accused of corruption and running for reelection, has reacted by threatening total war on Russia and declaring martial law. So now we have two snarling dogs glaring at each other across the Azov Sea.

President Poroshenko

Ukraine would like NATO to intervene which it does not seem eager to do even though Ukraine had previously given up its nuclear arms in exchange for a promise of Western protection.

So why is Putin flexing his muscles now? For one thing the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has never been as dormant as the West would like to believe. Russia is backing a separatist revolt in southeastern Ukraine where more than 10,000 people have already been killed. The region of Donbass is controlled by pro-Russian secessionists and is in a constant state of conflict. The Western World has been focused on other important matters.

Why is the conflict now escalating? One explanation is that Putin’s popularity at home is low. He has just instituted a retirement reform which would raise the age at which people are eligible for pensions. At the same time, the Orthodox Ukrainian Church wants autonomy from the Russian Church. There is discontent in Georgia and in Armenia.

According to President Poroshenko, Putin’s nostalgia for the Greater Russia which existed both in the Czarist Empire and in the Soviet Union has never abated. This greater Russia cannot exist without Ukraine .”He sees us as his Colony” says Poroshenko. And now Ukraine would like to turn its back on Russia. This is intolerable to Putin.

Vladimir Putin


It could also be that the Russian President is testing the resolve of the new American President who does not seem to be particularly interested in Ukraine or in intervention. The European Union needs Russian gas so it will not want to intercede.

I believe the carefully plotting Vladimir Putin has decided to seize this opportunity and to engage in a little adventure while putting all the blame on Ukraine.

Using Blasphemy To Maintain Power



Assia Bibi, a Christian woman living in Pakistan, was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy for having participated in a protest march.

Even though she was exonerated by the Supreme Court, she must now flee if she wants to avoid being attacked by an angry mob of people who fully intend to murder her. I believe their intent is to hang her.



Did this happen centuries ago? No. This is going on right now and the state of Pakistan will not protect her.

In Saudi Arabia Raif Badawi is in prison for the blasphemy of being an atheist.

In Indonesia, Jakarta’s Governor faces a two-year prison sentence for saying that the Quran does not mandate that voters support any Muslim over any non-Muslim.

In the US the activist Desiree Farooq was tried for “disrupting Congress” and faced a term of up to a year in jail. Her principal crime was that she laughed at something said by a Senator during the confirmation hearing for now former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions. The charges were subsequently dropped by the Department of Justice, which had brought them.

So what exactly is blasphemy? According to Wikipedia, it is: “The act of insulting or showing contempt for or lack of reverence toward a deity or something sacred or inviolable.”
The Bible does not explicitly mention blasphemy.
In fact there is no Hebrew word for it. In Exodus it only says: “You shall not revile God or curse a ruler of your people.” But the Bible does warn against taking the Lord’s name in vain. Moses asks God “what is your name?” and God replies :”I am who I am” (a nice cryptic answer).

The Bible does not say that one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is guilty of an unpardonable sin.

Who is this “Holy Spirit” (in Hebrew “Ruah Hakodesh”) It appears to be one manifestation of God in the Holy Trinity. Who invented the Holy Trinity and why is it needed?

Let us just say that people like to group things in threes: The three little pigs, the three Stooges, three blind mice, three men in a tub…..

I suspect that at the root of all these injunctions is the fierce determination of the religious authorities to establish rules that will keep them firmly in control and not let anything undermine their authority. Dissent must be prevented.

Blasphemy came late to Islam and was imported there by the British Empire. In the Islamic religion, blasphemy is an impious utterance against God or the Prophet.
The Quran admonishes against blasphemy but does not specify a worldly punishment for the offense.
Closely related to blasphemy are the concepts of heresy or idolatry which centuries ago were punishable by torture and death.

As the Western world is becoming more secular such ideas are slowly fading. In the United States the First Amendment prevents Government from making laws about religion and speech and gives citizens freedom to exercise and express their religious beliefs.

In places where religion still pervades everyday life the concept of blasphemy is alive and well.

Jackie and Daniel



Hillary and Jackie is a 1998 film about the two British sisters Jacqueline and Hilary du Pre, one a cellist, the other a flutist. The film pretty much mirrors their actual lives.

Jackie became a virtuoso at an early age and rose to international prominence. Hilary struggled and eventually gave up performing to become a wife and mother.

Jackie was sent to Zermat, Switzerland as a teenager to attend a master class with Pablo Casals who called her a genius. She traveled extensively and in the sixties after returning from a Moscow concert she met Daniel Barenboim. (see previous blog) They recorded and made documentaries together.

Jackie and Daniel complemented each other very well. Both had been child prodigies and virtuoso performers. Their greatest joy was to play together. In 1967 they were married. She converted to Judaism and went to Israel with Barenboim where she met Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Pinkhas Zuckermann.

Barenboim said of her: ” Music was not a profession for her. It was a way of life”. The couple has been compared to another famous classical music duo, Robert and Clara Schumann.


Robert and Clara Schumann


Here’s an excellent quality video of Jackie playing the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Barenboim conducting the London Philharmonic in 1967. Well worth a listen.

Jackie Plays Elgar

Then two years after their marriage, Jackie was beset with physical symptoms and in 1973, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She tried to go on playing, but her body turned against her. Jackie lived for fourteen years after she stopped playing and died in 1987 at age 42.

Jackie said of herself: “In a sense I was lucky. Because the cello repertoire is small I had done most of what I loved and I can look back on a full musical life”.

During the last two years of Jackie’s life Barenboim moved to Paris to become director of the Orchestre de Paris and started an affair with Elena Bashkirova who eventually became his second wife.


Jackie du Pre

Who is he really?


He lists his nationality in this way: Palestinian, Argentine, Spanish, Israeli.

He was born in Argentina in 1942.

His Russian-Jewish parents emigrated to Israel when he was 9. He had already performed his first piano recital.

Like so many musicians, he was precocious. He started playing the piano at age five, but his greatest achievements were to be as a conductor.

In 1954, Daniel Barenboim took conducting lessons. His teacher, Wilhelm Furtwanger said, “this eleven-year-old is a phenomenon.”

Barenboim traveled all over Europe and America giving piano concerts and making recordings. As his career matured, he started to spend more and more time as a conductor.


Music is a universal language and its practitioners can live and be creative anywhere in the world. They can also choose their allegiances and the ones he chose are interesting in their priorities.

Barenboim is now director of the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskepelle Orchestra of Berlin. In addition, he is musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In 1999 he and Edward Said (a Palestinian-American Professor of Literature at Cornell) founded the West- Eastern Divan Orchestra. Headquartered in Seville, Spain, it is made up of young musicians from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Israel and Spain. It is meant to be a model of cooperation across political and religious divides. The intent is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.


West-Eastern Divan Orchestra


The Orchestra is named after a collection of poems by Goethe inspired by Persian prophet Hafez.

Barenboim says, “Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance and to create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.” Barenboim is a critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

In 2012 the West-Eastern Divan orchestra performed for Pope Benedict XVI in the courtyard of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in Italy.

This year, Barenboim’s book, The Sound of “Utopia was published. It traces the history of the orchestra from its beginning.

In the next blog, I will further explore Barenboim’s life and career including his association with the cellist Jacqueline du Pre.



Editor’s note: Here is a link to an interesting YouTube about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Very compelling personalities in this group.

Intro to West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

The Man Who Repairs Women

Denis Mukwege

His name is Denis Mukwege. He is a doctor at Panzi Hospital which he created in Bukavu in the Eastern Congo (formerly Zaire) near the border with Burundi. This beautiful region, (parts look like Switzerland and parts like the Caribbean), is being ravaged by more than 20 years of ethnic conflict, tribal wars between rival groups of thugs’ intent on plundering Congo’s vast riches.

View of Bukavu

Mukwege’s father was a pastor and, as a child, he used to accompany him on his visits to the sick and wounded. He was struck by his father’s inability to help them except by praying with them and, encouraged by his mother, he decided to study medicine. In the first hospital where he practiced he came to work one morning and found that all the patients he worked so hard to treat had been murdered. He could not understand it. Why kill helpless people in their beds?

After his first experience of treating a woman who had been raped and savagely mutilated, he traveled to France to study gynecology and obstetrics. He soon realized the full extent of the ongoing violence. The destruction of women’s genitals was systematically used as a weapon of war. After he performed reconstructive surgery on the same woman for the third time he understood that more than surgery was needed to deal with such extreme cruelty and systematic violence.

The uncontrollable military groups were operating with impunity because the State did not intervene. In fact, there was no State It had been taken over . It was complicit. When there is no rule of law the law of the jungle prevails.

Those brave women got up again and again despite being raped by their own husbands, despite being rejected by their families for having dishonored them. Mukwege mobilized them, encouraged them to speak out, to support each other, to educate their sons and their husbands, and raised their spirits. “Be outraged! Say NO to violence,” he taught them,

Still because there was no support from any lawful authority, Mukwege himself was discouraged in a menacing way from speaking at the UN General Assembly, His life was in danger as well of that of his wife and children. Mukwege and his family went into exile in Europe.

Meanwhile, the women he was helping organized themselves, raised enough money by selling their crafts and sent him a ticket back to Africa. Thousands of women greeted him on his return. They called him The Messiah. He could have stayed in Europe, but he came back to continue his work. He now sleeps at the hospital, has a permanent guard that protects his every step and travels in a convoy of several vans. “The Man Who Repairs Women” (The Wrath of Hippocrates) is the title of the film he made of his experience. It was at first censored but has since been released. Denis Mukwege has received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
Panzi Hospital now treats more than 3500 women a year and Denis Mukwege performs more than ten operations a day.

We are often discouraged from judging people by their appearance but when I look at a picture of Denis Mukwege, I see the face of a man who cares.

(Editors note. Here is a link that will allow you to learn more about Mukwege’s work)

Music, Emotions and the Brain

In a video clip, a round-faced baby -no older than 2- is shown staring fixedly ahead, big tears slowly forming in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. He seems to be in a trance. He is listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It is as if he had known sorrow in a previous life and is being reminded of it. For where else would he have encountered sadness and been touched by it at such an early age?

On a city street an adolescent, violin tucked under his chin, is performing a lively tune, some passing teenagers have stopped to listen. Suddenly and spontaneously they start performing the most intricate steps, stomping, swirling and creating their own dance in tune with the music. It is as if the sounds were flying straight to their feet, and directing them to bend, turn and clap. Where did those joyful sounds find a home?

In all popular songs the heart is supposed the repository of all emotions especially romantic love. It is your heart that feels joy desire, distress, sorrow and fulfillment. At the risk of greatly disappointing young lovers, one must recognize that the heart is nothing but a tireless blood pumping machine, it is all happening in our head. or more exactly, in the brain. Listening to music creates emotions that increase the amount of dopamine in the brain.Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

When a mother sings a lullaby to a newborn child the hormone oxytocin is released and results in a soothing effect and an uplifting mood. Autistic children can react to music beause it goes directly
to the brain and the subconscious.It helps in dealing with grief and sadness.Even joyful music can make us cry because it nostalgically reminds us of gone happy times. And we like melancholic music
and sometimes take pleasure at being sad.

Mozart wrote his first sympnony when he was 8 and already had a distinct voice. Chopin started composing at age 7. How emotionally mature were they? Could they have been merely mimicking feelings of sadness or longing?

And where did the voices in their heads come from? The pianist Lang Lang tells us that at age 2 he was watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on television when he heard Franz Liszt Rhapsody No,2 and ran to the TV, entranced by the music.

What about background music?It is supposed to create a mood even though we mostly half listen to it and at tims forget that it is there. What if restaurants stopped playing it? Would we suddenly be startled by the sound of our own voices ? And why do we get tired to the point of boredom by some music (I no longer enjoy Grieg and even Dvorak) but can listen endlessly to some other? (For me it is all 18th century and especially baroque music)

It looks like I have more questions than answers but I know there will always be music in my life. But at times there will be complete silence too.


We often think of ourselves as unique and different from other living beings and mostly for the wrong reasons. We are not the only animal capable of compassion and empathy. We are not the only animal capable of living in organized societies. We are not the only animal capable of trickery, deceit or betrayal.

But we do have one remarkable trait which I think is unique to humans. Other animals use sounds and gestures. to communicate, but no other living being has ever invented symbols representing sounds, no other animal has organized those sounds into words and phrases to express thoughts and describe events.No other animal has invented writing and created a literature.

We should not give up this capability out of mental laziness and rely on primitive catch phrases to express ourselves.

But Google has a new idea about all that.

I recently noticed that my Gmail has taken it upon itself to offer me “one click” answers to my email. Has Big Brother arrived, and is he looking over my shoulder? Not quite. No human being is reading my mail. It is only an Artificial Intelligence Device, a sort of Mr. Robot who has been programmed to (timidly ) propose a choice of three bland replies like

1.How interesting!
2.Thanks for letting me know.
3.I did not know that.

Robot Man does not presume to reply himself but is giving me a chance to pick the reply I like best. I can see the usefulness of such features in business situations. Pre-built phrases or types of responses for often asked questions are a useful shortcut. When people are away from their desks or on vacation they can leave prepared set responses to routine queries.

But today I am more interested in personal email interchanges between friends and regular correspondents. In such situations, if the question is a simple one (How are you feeling? or Are you back at work?) you don’t need the help of Mr. Robot to respond. Even if he suggests what I would have said, it feels rather creepy.

And if it is a complicated response, you definitely want to do your own answering. Devices like “Smart Reply” have been made human-sounding and on-topic, but how will they deal with “What is your opinion of this film?” “What do you think of the latest book? ” There are just no pre- set answers to such questions.

I do love the way Mr. Robot takes all the spam out of my inbox, but for replying to personal emails, I think I’ll handle that myself.