Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Perception - missing much

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. 

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule. 

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk. 

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. 

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. 

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. 

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. 

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100. 

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? 

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: 

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

HAILEY:  This may sound silly, but I wonder if the economy was doing better, would more people have stopped?more people willing to stop and smell the roses?

MARK GANZER: Possibly, but, I think, unlikely.

Certainly, when we are beset by worries about whether or not we will have a job (and any health insurance benefits attendant) tomorrow, we will miss much of what today offers, but, when we are comfortable, and enjoying life, and can afford the time and money to go to a $100 / seat concert, we would not, in general, think much of the street musician playing in the the metra station.

There is a saxaphone player at O'Hare airport. He is fantastic, he actually makes quite a bit more than $32, but then, he plays for hours and hours - near the international terminal, but, of course. In America, we hurry about (flit about) from one unfulfilling trivial thing to another, and barely have time for our children (witness the 8 suicides in Barrington, Illinois, in the year 2010).

VERY few of us saw the beauty of the snow flakes that fell, just last Friday, the widest, thickest, snowflakes that God ever lightly tossed over the clouds from heaven.

Who (save me) has seen the rainbow sunlight shimmerings off the nets of the spider webs woven connecting the blades of grass as sun sets in the evening?

Who has listened to and heard the drummings on the chair in the Social Security Office in Waukegan, Illinois, of the not yet three year old boy as he beat out ... duh duh duh duh rest rest duh duh duh duh, and recognized it as the perfect recreation of Caremn's Bolero! (as happened to me, just today).

There is a reason that in the present world, musicians auditioning for orchestras do so ... behind a veil, so that the evaluators CANNOT KNOW IN ADVANCE THEIR GENDER ... so much of what we take for granted is merely perception, and not very accurate perception at that of preconceived notions, biases, and prejudices that most of us are unaware that we carry.

The same, too, applies to literature ... how can one possibly judge the value, worth, or even relevance of a piece of writing if one does not know the author, even if the author were Byron, Keats, Shelley, or Shakespeare?  

And, trust me, words as well crafted have been put to page hundreds, even thousands of times before and after the appearance on earth of that particular pantheon, but authors who lived and died in obscurity, whose unpublished works never saw the light of day.

We would do well to slow down, to see the good in people, the glory in their creativity: to see the Jesus that resides in each and every one of us IN each and every one of us, and to see the Glory of God's creation even in creation where only those created by God (and ones quite humble and of lowly means at that) have done the creating, so that, the Lord's signature is virtually nowhere to be found on the creation (and yet, at the same time, is to be found everywhere).

Monday, February 27, 2012

This week in history: February 20-26

20 February 2012
This Week in History provides brief synopses of important historical events whose anniversaries fall this week.

25 years ago: Brazil debt moratorium rocks world finance

SarneyJosé Sarney
On February 20, 1987 Brazil’s President José Sarney announced a moratorium on payment of the country’s debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The action, in effect, a default, shook the world financial system. Bank stocks fell on Wall Street after the announcements; among Brazil’s biggest creditors were Citicorp, Bank of America and Chase Manhattan.
Sarney made the announcement in a 15-minute televised speech. He indicated that his regime intended to resume the payments at some future date, while explicitly warning the international bankers that the type of austerity measures they were demanding would drive Brazil to the brink of social revolution.
It was estimated that Latin America and Africa collectively had outstanding debt of $973 billion. Governments on both continents had been soliciting some form of debt relief for at least the previous two years.
With a total foreign debt of $110 billion and interest payments of over $8.3 billion annually, Brazil was Latin America’s largest debtor nation. Sarney’s attempt to control inflation, called the “Cruzado Plan”—a system of price and wage freezes, modelled on similar plans in Argentina and Israel—failed because of resistance in the working class.
Brazil’s announcement was followed by a statement February 22 from the politically unstable Cordero regime in Ecuador—Latin America’s eighth largest debtor—that it would postpone interest payments until June, after failing to make its $38 million January payment. Additionally, on the same day as Sarney’s speech, Argentina—with a foreign debt of $53 billion—announced that it might suspend payments if it did not get new loans. Mexico, Chile and Venezuela were at the same time renegotiating their terms with foreign banks.

50 years ago: John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth

orbitPhoto taken by Glenn from space
On February 20, 1962 NASA astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth when his satellite, Friendship 7 of the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, passed three times around the earth in a span of 4 hours and 55 minutes.
The satellite was blasted off from an Atlas LV-3B launch vehicle in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After a month of delays due to minor design and mechanical errors, the flight proceeded with minimal problems, and Glenn landed in good health in the waters of the Caribbean about 40 miles from the expected location.
Glenn was promoted as a national hero by the Kennedy administration and the US media (which eventually took him to the US Senate). His achievement, very much bound up with the Cold War, came after a breakneck campaign to catch up with the Soviet Union’s space program, which had sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit nearly a year earlier. (see: Fifty years since the first manned spaceflight)

75 years ago: Sit-down strike wave spreads

FlintFlint sit-down striker
Two weeks after the Flint, Michigan sit-down strikers forced General Motors to offer concessions and recognize their new union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), workers across the US and in other countries occupied their workplaces, including coal miners in both Hungary and Australia.
On February 20, 1937 strikes broke out at GM plants in St. Louis, Missouri and in the province of Ontario in Canada.
On the morning of the same day, 120 police and deputies failed in an attempt to evict sit-down strikers from Fansteel Metallurgical Corporation facilities in Waukegan, Illinois. When hundreds of teargas canisters were fired into the Fansteel buildings, the strikers responded by spraying their assailants with acid from converted fire extinguishers.
On February 23 sit-down strikes broke out in shipyards at Groton, Connecticut owned by the Electric Boat Company (EBC). Work on four submarines being built to US military specification was brought to a halt. The strike was called by the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America to force the shipyard owners to recognise the union as the exclusive bargaining agent.
Also on February 23, production at the Douglas aircraft factory in Santa Monica, California was brought to a halt when 5,500 workers downed tools and occupied the factory after the dismissal of two employees for union activity.
The occupations at Douglas and Fansteel were suppressed by massive police interventions, bringing to the fore the revolutionary implications of the sit-down wave. In both cases, the courts awarded employers eviction orders, which were then followed by large-scale and heavily-armed police threats against the occupiers.

100 years ago: The Battle of Beirut

BeirutPostcard depicting Battle of Beirut
On February 24, 1912, Italy attacked the Ottoman port of Beirut as part of its bid to annex Ottoman territory in the Italo-Turkish war. The Italian armoured cruiserGiuseppe Garibaldi and the gunboat Volturnobombarded the harbour, sinking an Ottoman casemate corvette, Avnillah, six lighters and a torpedo boat, Angora.
The Turkish naval presence at Beirut was completely destroyed, with heavy casualties on the Ottoman side. Fires broke out on shore as a result of stray gunfire, destroying buildings, including the city’s customs house and several banks, and resulting in civilian casualties.
Italy’s attack on Beirut was an attempt to widen the theatre of war in its conflict with the tottering Ottoman Empire. Only five months earlier, Italy had annexed the provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica, which form modern-day Libya.
In January 1912, Italy had used its cruisers and destroyers to sink seven Turkish gunboats and a yacht in the Battle of the Kufunda Bay in the Red Sea. In retaliation for the attack on Beirut, the Ottoman government ordered the vilayets of Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut to expel all Italian citizens within their jurisdictions. Around 60,000 Italians were deported after being given 15 days to leave.
Having achieved naval supremacy in the South Mediterranean Sea as a result of the attack on Beirut, Italy gained unrestricted access to the Suez Canal. It was also able to strengthen its forces in Eritrea without threat from the Ottoman Empire.