Testing the status of this blog.


National Defense

Here's a new concept for national defense. Instead of patrolling the world's seas with monstrous death machines, why not fill our boats with artists. Dancers, musicians and others to delight people wherever they go. We could sew goodwill instead of death and destruction. I was thinking of this ideal this morning watching George Balanchine's "Union Jack". Watch, it's wonderful: "Union Jack".


Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet

In this post I’m going to write a little about Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) and why I believe it’s a uniquely valuable cultural and educational institution. The immediate stimulus for this brief reflection is simply, as so often the case, my morning walk with Waldo. While leisurely following our habitual path around the neighborhood one day last week, I was offered a stark reminder of what an awkward time early adolescence can be for many teens. On our way home Waldo and I passed a neighborhood girl who was walking to the local middle school. Shoulders slumped, head down and generally moving with a gait that suggested extreme discomfort, my neighbor seemed to want nothing more than to disappear. I’m no expert, but “body language” is often an eloquent indicator of one’s general state. In an article published in Psychology Today, popular author Joe Navarro, who does claim expertise on this subject, suggests that one of the things parents should teach their children about body language is that “What your body says to me is more accurate than what you say and it speaks to me before you do. So always be aware that often we can tell what you are thinking or feeling before you speak.” (Note the strange mind/body separation Navarro’s statement presupposes; maybe he should take some dance classes...) Yes, we all know that a gesture can communicate more forcefully than words. Precisely one of the great difficulties of adolescence is the frequency with which body language escapes our conscious control. Fortunately, the awkwardness and insecurity of adolescence passes and most of us seem to muddle through it and survive into adulthood. But it’s not easy. (The inspirational and popular video project It Gets Better is no doubt the most poignant contemporary example of this vital message.)  And here’s where CPYB came into my thinking: how fortunate, I said to myself, that two of my daughters have had some dance education and been rewarded with a “body awareness” whose core benefits apply most valuably and enduringly outside the dance studio and far from the performance stage. I have no dance education myself, but as a casual observer there is no mystery: from the most basic notion of good posture to the subtleties of gesture and eye contact, ballerinas are in command of their physical presence in a way that communicates confidence, connectedness and ease of being. Let’s not underestimate the value of having these particular qualities.
            Anyone who has taken beginning Spanish will recall that the language of Cervantes has two verbs that mean “to be,” ser and estar.  Mastering the usage of these verbs takes much practice, but the general concept, in simple terms, is that ser refers to inherent existence and estar refers to presence or condition.  So, in Spanish you can know how to estar, but not how to ser, since in the latter there is no knowing, you just are or aren’t.  You exist or you don’t, there’s no skill involved. And now to my point: one of the truly great compliments one can be paid in Spanish is to be told that you sabe estar. It’s like being told you know how to act in any given setting, but it’s more than that, for it entails having all the attributes so often observed in dancers: poise, ease of being, self-assuredness, awareness.  These qualities are essential if one wants to estar a la altura de las circunstancias or, as we might say in English, to rise to the occasion. Dancers, literally and figuratively, know how to rise to the occasion.
            It seems that when discussing the benefits of training in classical ballet, fans of this art are inclined, quite reasonably, to point to the great discipline it instills in its students and practitioners. Indeed, I have observed repeatedly the remarkable discipline that typically accompanies ballet dancers. And I’m not referring here to my daughters, although I believe they, too, have these qualities: I see it again and again with my Dickinson students. Almost without exception, those students of mine who have dedicated some extended time to ballet are well organized, have no difficulty completing assignments, and stay focused in class. These anecdotal observations are confirmed by much research. The key is focus, an ability to pay attention. Excessive speed and excessive choice are central characteristics of contemporary life, and so it stands to reason that an ability to stay focused affords one huge advantages. Educators talk often about the importance of changing how and what we teach to prepare our students for success in a fast-changing world.  We may want to reconsider the value of simply filling our classrooms with lots of technology. Let’s keep this in mind: a recent study whose results were published in the journal Pediatrics found that “the greater a child's attention problems at age 6, the more likely that child will perform poorly on tests of math and reading in the last few years of high school.”  Finding a direct correlation like that in a rigorous study is significant and we should take notice: young children must be able to focus, and in today’s world it seems to be an ever growing challenge. So, my advice to parents of young children in the Carlisle area: send your kids to CPYB starting at a very young age. It doesn’t matter if they show no interest in dance, just have them do it for a couple or few years, then let them decide if they want to continue or not. After two or three years the biggest prize, the ability to focus, is already safely hardwired in their still developing brains.
            It takes many, many thousands of hours of formal training to prepare for a career as a professional ballet dancer. It is a tremendously difficult, highly demanding path. And it’s hyper competitive, especially for the girls: for every young dancer fortunate enough to be invited to join a major company there are hundreds, even thousands, who share the same aspiration and don’t make it. Dancers at CPYB have a distinct advantage: no other ballet school in the country (actually, in the world) located in a community comparable in size to Carlisle has a record even remotely approaching CPYB’s in terms of preparing future professional dancers. Stephen Manes, in his recently published book The Land of Ballet, refers to CPYB as a “ballerina factory.” Although the metaphor has some dehumanizing connotations, Manes meant it as a great compliment to CPYB and a tribute to the inspired teaching of founding Artistic Director Marcia Dale Weary. Hundreds of CPYB students have gone on to professional careers in ballet, and many have had or are now in the midst of brilliant careers at major companies.
            Any community our size would be proud to be home to a great school like Dickinson College. In this regard Carlisle is quite fortunate. Everyone knows that in addition to Dickinson, Carlisle is also home to the Dickinson School of Law and the U.S. Army War College. That’s a lot of higher education for a community our size. Yet, it’s truly unfortunate that there is not much greater awareness regarding CPYB’s exceptional place in the world of ballet. With all due respect to Dickinson College, where I’ve been happily employed for over 20 years, CPYB is not to ballet what Dickinson is to higher education; CPYB is the Harvard or Princeton of ballet education.  So, carlislians, let’s take pride in our ballet school and performing company: they know about it in San Francisco, Boston, and New York; they know about it Madrid, in Tokyo... let’s know about it here at home.
The best way to learn about CPYB is to go see one of their performances. And it is as a performing company that CPYB shines as a stellar cultural institution, putting on several times a year amazing productions of professional quality right here in our area. I’ve been attending CPYB performances for many years now and, frankly, at the beginning I could not have imagined that they could keep getting more and more impressive.  But they do. Their shows at the Whitaker Center and Hershey Theatre really do compare favorably to what is done by professional companies. Giselle is coming up, April 21 and 22. Don’t miss it.


Beauty on a large scale

I just came across a spectacular photo created at the Paranal Obser- vatory in Chile. This is the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, photo- graphed in infrared light.  NGC 1365 is a member of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, which is a mere 60 million light-years from Earth. 60 million light-years! The immensity of that distance is cause for great marvel. It also makes me feel, perhaps, a little helpless: we'll never get there! It turns out the Milky Way may be a barred spirall also. NGC 1365 is 200,000 light years in diameter! That makes it much bigger than our milky way. The complete story is here.


Groundhog Day

As good a time as any to make another attempt at blogging.  I don't know what Phil's handlers declared this morning and I really don't care.  But seeing one's shadow from time to time is important. A shadow is a good friend. Poor Waldo, he's so close to the ground he rarely projects a shadow.  But here's a basset who does manage to project a nice shadow: watch the video.


ETA's Endgame

Terrorism is a much abused term in our day, often invoked shame- lessly by political leaders to manipulate a passive public. Big Media goes along meekly. (After all, what exactly is "The War on Terror" if not a  magnificent, Hollywood inspired title to cower a population into accepting one of the most outrageous war mongering, war profiteering scams ever?)  However, the term does have appropriate uses and, unfortunately, "Basque Terrorism" has been one of them. For over thirty years the imposition of fear and, yes, terror, on one part of the population by another has been a fundamental strategy of ETA. Imagine, for example, you are a Basque living in a small town in the province of Guipuzcoa. You are a socialist and decide to run for town council. You will live in fear because automatically ETA will declare you fair game. Because in ETA's worldview any person expressing an ideology that does not jive with theirs is a legitimate candidate for assassination.  ETA is very good at assassination. Experienced. They've murdered over 800 people in their long, bloody campaign. And, yes, they have inspired much, much fear. Enough fear to silence some, make others go into exile. That's terrorism. But not everyone gave in. Many, many Basques resisted. Some especially brave individuals, such as novelist Raúl Guerra Garrido, refused to be silenced and withstood years of violence, intimidation and death threats.  In the late 1970s and early 80s, during Spain's transition to democracy, ETA was a potent killing machine and successfully goaded the state into responding with violence of their own. It was a dark time, but democratic values prevailed and slowly, slowly, ETA's ultimate defeat became more and more evident.
On Thursday ETA announced the definitive end of violence, a recognition of defeat that has seemed inevitable for some time. Their leadership has been arrested and jailed repeatedly, their ability to bring in the money through extortion seriously eroded. It's good news, even though the statement is a pitiful example of their habitual double speak. So now it's the beginning of what will likely be a protracted and messy process to definitively do away with the organization.


The Martyr

Yesterday Khadafy was captured and then assas- sinated in Sirte. That extra- judicial execution is un- fortunate, but not very surprising. People are violent and vengeful. Khadafy himself was a ruthless dictator who killed with impunity. I just read that Hugo Chávez has declared that Khadafy is a martyr. Is that the Bolivarian Revolution? A martyr! As Chávez lamented the loss of his close friend hundreds of thousands of Libyans celebrated the fall of the Khadafy regime.  (But we should be fair: Tony Blair also referred to Khadafy as a good friend.)


William (not the stats guy) James and Baseball

I guess being a fan, that is, a fanatic, is in some ways much like having a religious faith. It's a common notion, even a cliché because often when invoked the analogy serves nothing more than to emphasize zealous devotion. But the comparison can be more interesting: fans implicate themselves emotionally (like small children? older children showing arrested development?) with a group in whose activities they have no part. (Well, in fact, I guess by showing enthusiastic support at a sports venue, sometimes fans can, in fact, impact the outcome, but if we're talking about baseball that is rarely the case.)  Fans care deeply about people they don't know personally. (Yes, there are exceptions). If the team screws up the fan may feel screwed. These are not all-powerful gods, so it's a very curious faith indeed. The willful submission to irrational behavior is fascinating, strange, sometimes depressing. (Fans, do you think the players care about you?) But also quite endearing. After all, we are familiar with the studies that suggest faith is good for your health. I chose the easier path: faith in baseball itself. And this seems to get me closer to that all-powerful god idea. The game never fails to provide transcendence.  I'm always waiting for that never-ending game, but meanwhile, the games we do have occasionally provide such unlikely and dramatic narratives they make me ask to which of James' varieties of religious experience they pertain.


Oh, the Winter that Awaits!

Just contemplating last night's cosmic shift will keep me busy all winter!

One more strike!

Mike Vacarro just wrote that last night's baseball events add up to the greatest day in baseball history. And it's quite possible that's no exaggeration. What transpired included both some fantastic baseball and without a doubt unexpected and unlikely events that kept getting stranger and more preposterous. Adrian Gonzalez's God does indeed have a plan. And an identity: author of baseball melodramas so far fetched no publisher will touch them. Now, if you're a Braves fan or a Red Sox fan, just cross out "greatest," pull out your dictionary and get to work. "Worst" doesn't come close to describing it. That goes without saying. Otherworldly. Ghoulish. Torturous. Simply unbelievable. Etc. (No uneasy sleep for me: in the wake of 1986, I opted out. From then on I vowed to become a mere observer of baseball. Some might say I lost the faith. True. But I prefer to think of it as a conversion: if it doesn't matter to me who wins, I win with every single game.)
With time the details fade and last night was tremendously rich with singular moments. Just in Baltimore, which is where my attention was: how about those double plays in the bottom of the 2nd and bottom of the 6th! (Pedroia: sterling defense and a 3 for 4 night, including go ahead homer in fifth!); Ortiz trying to reach 2nd in the top of the 7th (bone-headed!!); the rain-a splendidly extended seventh-inning stretch, allowing events down in Florida to catch up with events in Baltimore!; Scutaro stopping between second and third in the 8th (really bone-headed: Marco, if the ball is caught you're not making it back to first in any case... just keep running!! First man fired: Tim-go-stop-go-whatever-Bogar); Ellsbury stranded at third with no outs in ninth(!); Papelbon, Papelbon, Papelbon. (Gee, I wonder what he's going to throw?); Carl Crawford: catch it, no, not quite... Oh, did we ever blow it! Can it get any worse? YES: the Rays did the impossible and your season is over! Now. And of course we will always remember that when Papelbon struck out Jones and Reynolds to start the 9th and got two strikes on Davis, it really looked like the Sox were headed for Detroit or Dallas. One more strike!

In short, you get what you get. And we haven't even addressed the just as incredible events in Atlanta yet!