Music in the Time of the Pandemic 2020

During the 2020 Caronavirus pandemic I lost my job and spent many leisure hours at home. A wise person would have focused fiercely on searching for a new job, but I spent my hours listening to operas, oratorios, sacred music from the Baroque era. Music that I have always loved but I have never dug so deeply into before. It started randomly but soon I started keeping a list which I present below. I am not a scholar, just a music lover so this is not a complete list and probably misses many import works and deviates sometimes from the Baroque era. But it is all beautiful music. I have included many links (some are to paid streaming services but others free) so I hope others can enjoy.

I think the one item that stands out the most is the madrigal Ecco mormorar l’onde which comes from Monteverdi’s 2nd book of madrigals. There is a personal story behind it. When I was in college in Vermont about 50 years ago I spent hours in the library listening to music and one line from a beautiful madrigal stuck in my mind, “e tremolar le fronde”.

Ecco mormorar l’onde
e tremolar le fronde
a l’aura mattutina e gl’arborselli.
E sovra i verdi rami i vagh ‘augelli
cantar soavemente
e rider l’oriente.

Ecco gilà l’alb ‘appare
e si specchia nel mare
e rasserena il cielo
e ‘imperla il dolce gielo
e gl ‘alti monti indora.

O bella e vagh ‘aurora
l ‘ aura è tua messaggiera,
e tu de l’aura
ch ‘ogn ‘arso cor ristaura.

My quick translation:

See the rhythm of the waves
and trembling of the branches
the morning breezes entwine the trees
Above songbirds fly
With sweet song
And the eastern sky smiles.

See how the dawn now erupts
And the reflection flashes on the sea
And what a joyful sky
And those sweet gems of frost
And far off the gilded mountain ranges.

Oh, the radiant and shining dawn
the breeze is the messenger
And you are that breeze
Come to restore my withered heart.

In Italian there is added meaning because Torquato Tasso wrote the text as a love poem to a woman named Laura, thus the pun with the many instances of l ‘ aura (translated here as “breeze”) in the text.

The following is the link to the music listings.


A Right-wing Republican’s thoughts on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sometimes you like someone even if you disagree with them on many issues. That describes my feelings about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think the reason is that I agree with many of her core motivations such as gender equality and civil liberties. At the same time, I feel many of her opinions were not well-founded on constitutional law and would be more appropriately decided by the legislatures. Perhaps she should have been a senator. In fact, I think the Supreme Court has become too much like a super legislature instead of a court interpreting the constitution – that process started before Justice Ginsburg and likely will continue.

I will miss her voice in the public square. While I hold different political opinions on many issues, I believe our nation is best served when wise, articulate people of all persuasions come together and reason.

Happening in America

Do Black Lives Matter?

Before we start, a declaration and a disclosure.  I am going to approach this issue as if it were newly presented to us and politically correct positions were not already set in concrete.  My disclosure, my views are generally on the right.  But I believe good ideas and information come from everywhere and will not base the paths I take on any ideology or sacred positions.

So do black lives matter?  Of course they do, is there anyone who disagrees?  Some object to the slogan and say all lives matter which of course they do.  But the point of the slogan is that more of our black fellow Americans die than other races.  If you look at deaths per capita by race, black Americans die more frequently.  I think this is a problem.

The slogan black lives matter has come to the fore recently mainly concerning innocent black people being killed by police which is said to be a sign of systemic racism in our police departments.  Anytime this happens it is, of course, a miscarriage of justice, but it is a tiny number compared to the other high causes of death among black Americans.  Of the 3 million black people arrested in 2019, 14 who were unarmed were killed.  The percentage is about the same for white arrestees.  I must say that I am still bothered by these incidents because I have heard many black people, including well to do, well educated, professional black people, who say they live in fear of the police.  Yes, that is anecdotal evidence and I do not know their reasons, but it is widespread enough that there must be something there.

If we look at the broad statistics, there are many reasons for this higher death rate among black people. If you compare causes of death between whites and blacks, there all the same causes, but blacks die at a higher rate and there is some difference in the ranking of the causes.  The biggest discrepancies are hypertension, HIV, diabetes, and homicide.  In my opinion there are three interconnected factors that cause this difference.

  • Poor Education
  • High Crime Neighborhoods
  • Poverty

Education:  We have public school systems that provide free education to all American children.  But let’s face it, the public schools in most black neighborhoods are inferior to those in white neighborhoods.  I think much of the reason can be traced to the last factor on our list, poverty.  I have no proof, but I suspect more money and resources go to the neighborhoods that pay more taxes.  Another factor to consider is that children learn much from their parents and thus children with wealthier, thus better-educated parents are likely to be better educated.  School segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the 50s but many schools still have high concentrations of one race.

High Crime Neighborhoods:  Poor neighborhoods tend to have more crime.  It is true that, according to statistics, blacks commit more crimes in proportion to their percentage in the population.  I don’t think that is because black people are somehow inherently crime like, the most likely factor is again poverty and education.

Poverty: Black people, on average are poorer than white people.  While I believe we have mostly eliminated systemic race discrimination in our country, there is still the left-over damage of two hundred years of slavery and a hundred years of Jim Crow.  Since the major breakthroughs of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, many blacks have advanced into the middle class or higher, but many are still left behind.  Poverty brings poorer medical care which might explain the hypertension, HIV, and diabetes death rates.

In the 1960s we launched the war on poverty but the poverty level in America has not changed much since then.  Most of the programs started then were to provide relief to people on poverty which of course, helps with the difficulties of life in poverty but does little to end poverty itself.  The key is to solve the problem rather than treat the symptoms.

The steps I think we need to take are as follows:

Jobs:  The first step to reduce poverty is to have more and better jobs.  Since most jobs are in the private sector, creating an environment for businesses to grow is the best solution.  Cutting business taxes and regulation for example.  In fact, just these policies were working well to lower black unemployment before the COVID-19 crisis hit.  To specifically address black unemployment, opportunity zones in poor neighborhoods is one idea.  Also increasing job training programs would help, especially since many of the new jobs being created require more advanced knowledge.  Community Colleges have done a good job of directly addressing career skills, let’s expand on that

Education: School segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the 1950s but up to today education in America is still largely separate and not equal.  We need to figure out how to educate our less fortunate fellow Americans.  The right proposes school choice and charter schools, the left advocates more money.  There is merit in both approaches, and we need to come together without dogma and figure it out.  I believe a big part of the problem is that poor children start out behind and need some extra help – lets figure out how to do that.

High Crime Neighborhoods:  There is much focus on black men as perpetrators of crime – it is true that they commit more crimes in proportion to their percentage in the population.  I don’t know, but that probably correlates to more poverty and less education.  But a number I find more important is that black people are far more likely to be victims of crime.

This brings us to a difficult contradiction.  As I mentioned previously, many black people tend to fear the police and have bad experiences in their interactions.  So blacks need more police protection but need a feeling of security in their interaction with police.  As I said previously, I think systemic racism is a thing of the past, but even a small number of bad actors can create an adversarial atmosphere.  We need to work on ways to create working relationships between the cops and the black community.  One obvious idea that comes to mind is hire more black cops.  I’m not big on quotas, or preferential hiring, but what prevents us from recruitment programs in predominantly black schools and neighborhoods?  We need people who know and understand those neighborhoods, so let’s hire the people that live there.

Black lives matter and all Americans are concerned when some among us need help.  There was a time – actually a large part of our history, when our fellow Americans who were black were considered less than human.  We can be grateful that those days are over, but let’s get to work on the residual problems that are still with us and bring the American dream to everyone.

Happening in America

I Didn’t Do It

I Didn’t Do It.  As a kid we always said that when we were caught in the act, but in the case of racism in America, I didn’t do it, I am not doing it, and do not accept any guilt for it.  Yes, the United States has a long history of racism against blacks and also a long history of struggle to change it.  Including hundreds of thousands who died in a war to abolish slavery (I have in my possession discharge papers of my ancestors who served the cause in that war) and many years of struggle against Jim Crow, de jure discrimination in the South and de facto discrimination in the north.

Does this mean racism is abolished in America?  No.  There are still pockets of it – let’s find them prevent their power to do harm.  I think, more importantly, many of the results of that racism are still with us.  Lack of quality education and jobs for black Americans would be my top two.  Now, as I have said before, I am on the right which means I want less government spending and interference in our daily lives.  But I make exceptions where key elements of public welfare and security are concerned.  Do we need to spend more on schooling?  If so, my answer is show me that the spending will be effective and show me what spending we should cut instead.  Since the Great Society programs started in the 60s trillions have been spent and the poverty rate has stayed about the same.  Surely there is something there that isn’t working that we can replace.

Let’s take spending on education.  Schools in primarily black neighborhoods are inferior to those in largely white neighborhoods.  What do we do about that?  Equalize spending?  Desegregate neighborhoods (yes there are still many segregated neighborhoods)? Set up special tutoring services? More school choice?  I don’t know the answer, but let’s have the dialog.  Burning down grocery stores and pharmacies obviously is not the answer.

If someone wants a one-way shouting match where I get accused of racism, I have better things to do with my time.  But if we want to have rational discussions of real practical solutions, I am ready.


America is not a Racist Country

Out of the outpouring of justified rage at the death of George Floyd there is a growing claim that our country is systemically racist. That is not true. The numbers do not support the claim. The country has unanimously reacted in horror to what happened to Floyd. But, as the numbers show, murder of black people by cops is rare. Unfortunately, murder happens every day which means we have some bad people in our country, and they need to be brought to justice regardless of the race of the victim or the perpetrator.

Do we still have racism in America? Yes. And we probably always will because in a country of 300 million people there will always be outliers. It has been a long time coming, but we have reduced racism to a few individuals and pockets. We must work together to be sure that racists are prevented from turning their perverted beliefs into violent or illegal actions. I think we need to help disadvantaged minorities to get the education and training to move into the middle class.

Maybe one pocket of systemic racism we should look at first is Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered. From what I read this was not the first time these police officers abused their powers. Minneapolis is a very liberal, progressive city and is completely controlled by the Democratic Party, so how could this have happened? It also has among the highest racial disparities in poverty, education quality, and employment in the country. It seems to me the progressivism there is only good intentions, not good actions.

The leaders in Minneapolis proposed solution to the problem is to abolish the police department. Once again a policy that might appeal to an angry mob in the heat of the moment. But one that every sane person knows would lead to even bigger disasters.


I Hate Racism

Racism is a terrible emotion and a prime topic of discussion these days. White racism against black Americans is the focus. This is an important issue because it has been a core defect of our democracy. Racism is an ugly but natural human trait. We evolved as tribal animals where we hated those outside our group. We also evolved as intelligent, cooperative animals capable of cooperating. This enabled us to enlarge our tribes – eventually to nations, alliances, and hopefully eventually to a peaceful world. But we have been Homo Sapiens for only about 200,000 years which is microseconds in evolutionary time. The old instincts are still in us.

Racism will continue to exist for all our lifetimes. We can’t disinfect it from people’s brains, but we can work to make it a disfavored point of view and make any physical or economic implementation of it illegal. All racism is evil, but for Americans rasism against blacks is the worst because of our history. For the first hundred plus years they were slaves. We fought a great war to free them, but after a brief period of Reconstruction, a long period of Jim Crow (blatant in the South, subtle in the North) began. The civil rights movement started in the 1950’s and accomplished much in confirming and protecting legal rights for blacks. Paralell cultural changes brought blacks more into the mainstream of American life.

So are we done? No. I think claims that there is still wide spread sociatal and system bias are wrong. But there are still pockets of it that need to be cleaned up. There is still inertia from the old days. One example I notice is that police forces in many major cities are still overwelmingly white despite growing black populations. Even years after desegregation I noticed in my home town of Houston there are still schools that are 99% black.

While I think we need to continue work on the mindset work, our main focus should be bringing blacks into mainstream society economically. Part of our success has been bringing many blacks into the middle class, but so many are still left behind. Poverty tends to beget poverty so braking the train is difficult. Now might be a good time to get to work. Changes in society and technology are changing what work is and will require retraining for everyone. Let’s make sure plenty of that training gets to the black community. This will need to be supported by improved school education as much of the new work will involve technical and math skills.

When it comes to employment, the best solution is more jobs. In fact, the job growth just before the COVID19 was slowly diminishing the discrepancy between whites and blacks. The new opportunity zones now being introduced in distressed areas will help bring jobs.

Bringing blacks into the American manstream has taken to long. The Irish, Italians, Germans, and other immigrats came after the blacks. They had their struggles but integrated much faster. Let’s finish this job.

Happening in America

Minneapolis – Look in the Mirror

Minneapolis is known as among the most liberal cities in the country. Their elected officials are diverse and there are many laws, policies, and programs to support the poor and disadvantaged. There is tolerance for cultural diversity. As I have said before, I am on the right, but in these areas, I am with my liberal friends. I want all to participate in the wealth this country has to offer and Minneapolis has more to offer than most cities.

But good intentions are not enough. According to a New York Times article I just read, “disparities in employment, poverty, and education between people of color and white residents are among the worst in the nation.” Black representation in the police force is about half the percentage in the general population. I don’t think any of us in the rest of the country are in a position to cast stones – we have had problems of racial intolerance and inequality everywhere.

While this short article is not the place to come up with the solution to racial inequality that has eluded us for four hundred years, I would like to throw in my support for two of the items mentioned in the Times quote above. Employment and education. We have tried addressing poverty directly through transfer payments (food stamps, welfare, public housing, etc.) and while these have helped address the symptoms, they have not helped solve the core problem.

Education in America is still very unequaal. From the founding of our country we came to a consensus to provide public education to everyone but to this day the difference in quality is dramatic based on the socio-economic make of the neighborhoods. Money is part of the solution but there are many other problems poor neighborhoods have that contribute such as high crime and poor infrastucture. Children learn largely from their parents so the problem is pepetuated from generation to generation. We need special programs with the purpose of raising the educational standard in these neighborhoods.

The first thing to improve employment is to have more jobs. In fact the improved jobs situation of the last few years has decreased the disparity in employment and income between whites and minorities. We can promote this by improving the environment for companies to grow and hire more people such as lowering corporate taxes, especially for small businesses. Improved education can help with employment, but many of the skills needed in today’s economy are not learned in school. Community colleges have become very focused on vocational learning and we might look into other job training programs and apprenticeships. The needs of industry are rapidly changing which means everyone needs more learning, but especially poorer communities.

Ok, the title of this article might not be fair, perhaps it should have been America Look in the Mirror, but I did want to catch your eye.

Covid 19 When You Get Old

The Iceberg Solution

The standard title for a COVID 19 article these days is something like “Open up the Economy while Protecting our Elderly and Vulnerable Population”. That sounds like a plan to me. But then the article then goes on to talk about opening businesses with certain precautions and returning to regular activities then usually contain little about the elderly and vulnerable other than that they should stay shut up. They rarely address the biggest problem for the elderly and vulnerable and that is stopping the spread in nursing homes and other elderly care facilities. These facilities are the perfect spreading ground for the virus and I hear of little concerted effort to address that. 43% of virus deaths have been in homes. Some states have even been forcing nursing homes to accept still infected patients released from hospitals. Why is the nursing home problem not a major component of every opening up plan?

There is an old myth that Eskimos used to abandon their elderly on icebergs so that they would no longer be a burden on society. What I detect in all these articles and plans is what I call the iceberg solution. Let the expendable elderly population die as they will soon anyway. I even saw one comment that many of the people dying are over their life expectancy anyway. Well, I am one of those over their hill folks. I’m not dead yet and still have lots of plans for things I am going to do in life. I fully support my younger friends getting back to normal lives but don’t except being a human sacrifice to get there.

There are many things we could be doing to make nursing homes safe. I am no epidemiologist, but a few things are obviouse to me:

  • 100% COVID 19 testing of residents and employees
  • Frequent temperature checks of everyone
  • Test people before admission
  • No admission for infected people
  • Find or create comfortable facilities to isolate infected patients- most homes will need outside help for these.

I don’t care how much compassion I see for the elderly until concrete plans like these are in place I to believe that the mainstream plan for the elderly is the iceberg solution.

40,600 deaths tied to U.S. nursing homes

When You Get Old

When Your Over 64

When we get to a certain age many of us just start thinking we are waiting out our final years. We lose interest in things that used to thrill us. We fill our time with meaningless activities. We sleep more, go shopping for stuff we don’t need, or watch TV shows that don’t interest us. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I think the reason is that we don’t think we will succeed in any meaningful endeavor because we don’t have enough energy or time left. Unfortunately, there is some truth to those thoughts but not all is lost. First, look at your life expectancy – I read that if you live to your 60s or 70s you still have 15 – 20 years to live. That’s probably not enough to do everything you want to but it’s enough time to do a few important things.

Forget the bucket list concept – who cares if you never make it to Machu Pichu. Pick something that you could enjoy during these years and forget the rest. Pick something that is doable but also challenging. If you get around on a walker, you are not going to run a marathon but learning to play Clair de Lune on the piano is not out of the question. It is amazing what we can get done when we focus.

How do we choose that one thing? Sometimes we think passion to do things is something that comes down from heaven. That might be true for some people, but for many of us a passion is built up with effort and persistence. Small successes and then bigger ones. I have thought about this a lot and I think I could become passionate about any number of things as long as they involved a challenge, a possibility of achievement and some meaning to me and maybe others when I am successful. As a mental experiment pick something you have never really been interested and visualize what it would be like to achieve some level of mastery. Take for me, embroidery. I have never sowed a stitch in my life. But then if I picture myself creating the multicolored image of a fire breathing dragon on the back of my motorcycle jacket, I can see how this is something I could get into.

You can start with a list of things you do now and narrow down to the one that you think will give you the most satisfaction and, though a stretch, is obtainable. Or maybe reach outside of things you do now and grab something you would like to do. Maybe just make a random list of things that take effort but a certain level of achievement is possible. This might take some research but it will be worth it.

Then choose. Maybe through visualization exercises or maybe through some random selection process. Establish objectives and plans to achieve them. Devote your working hours only to this endeavor. What do I mean by working hours? You still might have a family or a social life. Or maybe even one of those things called a job (like me). But it is amazing where the time comes from when you get focused. There is lots of time out there that we waste. How about that TV series you got hooked on because you keep wanting to know what happens next, but you could easily do without. How much time do we spend on reading mindless posts on social media sites? When you catch the fever you will be working away and suddenly realize morning is already dawning.

It will be hard at first. Before you have hit those small successes and maybe even some of the big ones, you will find every excuse to avoid what you need to do. Years ago when my (unsuccessful) focus was writing a novel, I found myself washing dishes to avoid what I needed to do. Use determination, self bribery (for me it was a nice bottle of Belgian beer), or what ever it takes to get past these hesitations. And I hate to give you the bad news, but the resistance will never disappear completely because complete mastery is not achievable. But the exhilaration can be realized when we know we are on the road.

You may have only decades left, but that is time to im·merse youself in something incredible. Something that will brighten your days. Even when you hit frustrations and roadblocks you will feel so alive. These could be some of the best years of you life.


Garlic Shrimp with Garlic

What could be more common place than shrimp cooked in garlic? And yet tonight stands out. A few things that might have made the diference. Shrimp cooked fast and hot. My aluminum pans ( Professional pot and professional pan manufacturer, Ballarini Professionale ) being a big contributor to precise control of temperature. Fist cooked shrimp very hot for only 1 minute added cracked chile pepper flakes and a montain of garlic (more garlic rule applies), salt – one more minute – slightly lower heat. Add some lemon juice and (something I stole from someone on the internet) caper brine. Add butter (I use butter more as a flavoring and sauce conditioner than oil these days). Add chopped Italian parsley simmer for minute or two. Remove shrimp and get sauce just right (added little wine to loosen). When ready to serve add shrimp back to warm and scater more parsley.

Serve on Penne.