Category Archives: Guest Post

Book Review: Simona L. Brickers

levineSimona L. Brickers, my colleague on the board at Not in Our Town Princeton, reviewed this book by Caroline Levine. Thank you, Simona, for drawing my attention to Forms: Whole, Rhythms, Hierarchy, Networks (192 pages, $19.95, Princeton University Press).

Levine’s book is a fascinating journey through Forms, defined as the “fluid overlap of social and cultural order, patterns, and shape that open up to the “generalizable understanding of political power” (Chapter 1).  It brings together, nicely outlined, literary work by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Jacques Derrida, and Ralph Waldo Emerson along with many others. It weaves the literary examples into accounts of lived examples of institutionalized, systemic, freedoms and constraints that influence social collaboration and chaos.

In relating the act of punishment to rhythm, Levine highlights African music as repetitive, cyclical, polyrhythmic and dialogic and expressing pleasures that produce a participatory and embodied collective singing.  Rhythms turned out to be the repressive form used against African captives by slave masters to impose solidarity, control, and subjugations through chain gang songs (Chapter 3).

Levine’s central concern, as reflected in her title (Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network), was to present a platform to explore the phenomenon called “path dependency.”  Path dependence is learned helplessness depicted as a systematic composition that constricts diversity (race and gender) with barriers that prohibit reversal because of social and organizational cost.  The mechanism of sex is a device that produces hierarchical distinction (Chapter 4). The implicit disconnect in the various forms creates constraints and differences. Various forms overlap and intersect. They travel and influence political policies in particular historical contexts (Chapter 1). 

Nevertheless, the whole theoretical concept is misleading when it is carefully examined to reveal the social advantages that differ according to the traditional rhythms of the hierarchical color-coded network . Levine quotes Derrida’s work because the desire for bounded wholeness has grave political consequences (Chapter 2). Levine addressed the underpinning of social order, pattern, and shape by examining the dysfunction of forms. She also studied how the web translates into “literature as landmarks,” depicted as advanced transgression.  “Repetitive temporal patterns impose constraints across social life…standard repetition, durations, and arcs of development organize our experiences of everything from sleep and sex to governments and the global economy (Chapter 3).

 Levine writes brilliantly. Each word captures an essence of social order, patterns, and shapes (norms) that have become invisible, taken for granted without acknowledgement of the transhistorical or macro-environmental influences on society and the policies governing our daily routines.  The reader learns that we are not authentic — but domesticated, trained to behave, believe, and act according to a socialized outline that serves some differently than others , with no regard to how overlapping forms influence injustice.

Her masterful last chapter discusses The Wire (2002-2008),  the David Simon HBO series. This conventional cop drama exploration of the ways that social experience is structured within African American communities (Chapter 5).  The Wire rendered radically unpredictable and overlapping social forms. Levine ends the book by leading readers to contemplate the unsettled, unexpected and bewildering effects of an ideologically coherent society with power lodged in the hands of a few.  The challenge is self-reflective, aiming to push the reader to seek beyond what is controlled by a few — the societal whole, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks that influence social order, patterns, and shape individual and collective Forms.

Levine asked this question on page 18: “Which form do we wish to see governing social life, then and which forms of protect or resistance actually succeed at dismantling unjust, entrenched arrangements?”

The book is a masterpiece. It offers an opportunity to read, reread, and discuss the forms that are accepted as “unchangeable.”

Simona L. Brickers

Marathon Singing Today

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For anyone who appreciates outstanding music, please join the community at Nassau Presbyterian Church (at the top of Palmer Square) anytime from 11 am Tuesday, January 31 (yes, that’s today) to 11 am Wednesday, February 1. Westminster Choir College is one of Princeton’s crown jewels, and we cannot afford to lose it to the Lawrenceville campus of Rider University. The musical equipment, the recital rooms and even the culture simply cannot be duplicated in another location.

There is no cost to attend, and you won’t be asked to do anything but enjoy — John F. Kelsey. 

Here is the back story: 

Marathon Performance To Save Westminster Choir College’s Princeton Campus 

Hundreds of performers including dozens of choirs, prominent opera voices, quartets, organists, pianists, students, alumni and other members of the music world who support Westminster Choir College will hold a 24-hour marathon choir performance on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 11 a.m. at the 180 year old Nassau Presbyterian Church located at 61 Nassau Street in Princeton. The performance will last through Wednesday morning.

The marathon performance will be held so the performers, who will come from throughout the New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia areas, can show their opposition to Rider University’s plan to close Westminster Choir College’s Princeton campus and consolidate all students onto the Lawrenceville campus. It is being considered in order to avoid a possible $13.1 million deficit by 2019.

“The announcement has outraged current Westminster students, parents and alumni because the historic Princeton campus is unique in the world in preparing performing artists for the rigors of concert halls, classrooms and recording studios,” the Coalition to Save Westminster College said in a release announcing the event. “Over the last 90 years, Westminster Choir College choirs have performed with premier orchestras and conductors, welcoming the likes of Arturo Toscanini, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Mazur, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.”

Rider University first announced this possibility in December. After that, the coalition was formed. Additionally, a change.org petition that has launched, known as Keep Rider University’s Westminster Choir College Campus in Princeton Open, and there is a Keep Westminster Choir College in Princeton Facebook group.

Earlier this month, the coalition made its case to the Princeton Historic Preservation Committee that the Princeton campus is worthy of historic designation.

“At a time when arts, music and theatre programs are being threatened across the United States, this ninety year old institution which has trained many of our nation’s leading artists cannot be allowed to become a victim of the accountant’s balance sheet,” the coalition said in its statement issued this week. The final decision, expected next month, may come at a later date.

Please do not respond to this…but attend if you care about music.

Very sincerely

John F. Kelsey, III

 

 

March, call, write!

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What do I do, personally, about reacting to Trump? March? Tweet? Write letters? Make calls? Many of my Trump-resisting friends will go to Washington on January 21. Many more will carry signs in Trenton.

At first I resisted resisting. I espoused the views of an Italian on the  Right Way to Resist Trump ?

“The Berlusconi parallel could offer an important lesson in how to avoid transforming a razor-thin victory into a two-decade affair. If you think presidential term limits and Mr. Trump’s age could save the country from that fate, think again. His tenure could easily turn into a Trump dynasty. (the opposition) was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity.”

So, no, insults don’t work. Focus on issues, like how healthcare can be improved by patient-centered healthcare, whether under the ACA or another system.

But a good friend, a Washington insider, tells me that “the op-ed from the Italian is already outdated (we’ve learned a lot about Trump’s future government since 11/18) and shows the folly of the approach he advocates. Trump’s made  most of his cabinet picks, so we now have the benefit of actual decisions to use to evaluate whether there is really any interest in bi-partisan governing that would be consistent with his campaign promises. 

“It will easily be the most extreme cabinet ever sworn-in.  The Department of Labor nominee opposes the idea of a minimum wage and required overtime pay, not exactly economic populism.  The AG was rejected by the Republican majority senate in 1986 when he was nominated to the bench.  And the details of the infrastructure plan that he says Democrats should work with Trump on have been announced and will amount to a massive give=away to corporations and the privatization of public infrastructure. 

“The NYT has run an excellent series on the potential consequences of that policy choice.  A recent article was on the Bayonne water authority.   

Will Trump himself pay attention to the marchers? I don’t think so. But the march can put the legislators on their guard.

“I agree with you that Trump will care little about the protests nor will he care what Democrats think of him.  The key are those people and institutions that are enabling him and necessary for him to govern. NeverTrumpers who worked hard to defeat him in the primaries did the good work, the Republicans that have continued a public stance against him after the election are true heroes and that opposition is mainly from the foreign policy and national security wing of the party.  They have put country ahead of party.

“Unfortunately, the broader so-called Republican establishment, if that still exists, has decided that the opportunity to get its policy wish list through is more important to them than the dangers that will come from giving this man and his followers the keys to the country with little oversight or accountability.  The only thing that will change that will be if they believe there will be electoral consequences as a result of Trump’s unpopularity. 

“To that end, protest, including the occasional massive protest like the woman’s march, is an important action but of course cannot be the only thing. Mass protest is a piece of movement building AND people need to contact their elected officials.

“That needs to be followed up with intensive grassroots organizing in the places that Republican elected officials represent, like Pennsylvania, including reaching out with empathy towards those that are suffering economically and need help.  Help that Trump has already shown he has no interest in delivering at a systematic level. 

This article for the Guardian tells how progressives should use Tea Party tactics. Former Congressional staffers have created the Indivisible Guide for resisting the Trump agenda. “Unless you worked in congress the summer of 2009, you cannot fathom the volume of phone calls [that came in],” said a former staffer. The Tea Party “slowed federal policy making to a halt.” 

Call your own members of Congress. If you like and agree with their decisions, call  the lawmaker’s office and say so. Rally the troops behind them. Say  ‘Thank you for opposing Trump’s agenda but also speak out at every turn.’

If you need help learning to make a difference, and you live near Princeton, put this workshop on your calendar for Wednesday, February 22 at noon at Princeton Public Library: Sam Daley-Harris: Writing Checks, Signing Petitions, and Protest Marches: Is That All There Is?

Shall I march? call? write? I’m glad for the marchers –my prayers go with you! We marched in DC 25 years ago (photo above). But this year I will find other ways to ‘speak out at every turn. ‘

Silence and Scooplets: Eileen and Barbara

HERE’S A DUAL POST — FROM ME AND GUEST WRITER EILEEN  N. SINETT.  EILEEN GOES FIRST...

“Stories Still Matter: In Print and Online” was the theme of the Princeton Chamber’s Business before Business breakfast networking meeting this morning.  Richard K. Rein, founding editor of  U.S. 1 Newspaper, shared stories that only dig-deeper news people would know. His speech was informative, entertaining and well-delivered.

As a Speech Coach, I was especially taken by his smart opening which was void of verbiage.  Yes, Rein opened with silence, four seconds worth (as the audience later learned).  He created the “verbal white space”™  that level-sets audience attention and highlights opening remarks.  Silence is often scary for societies that talk a lot.I noticed one or two people in the audience getting antsy after 2 seconds of quiet, but saw the other 90 people in the audience palpably poised to listen and patiently await the stories that would soon unfold.

Starting a speech with silence makes perfect sense.  It can feel risky and uncomfortable at first, but the positive impact is quite rewarding. Silence is to speech, what margins are to writing.  The ability to be present without words in speaking and in life, can be a strong differentiator.

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Eileen Sinett  with Rich Rein

Rein pointed out that his four seconds of silence equals the four seconds needed to read a Tweet of optimal length, 100 characters. Other statistics show that our focused attention is just 8 seconds, one second less than that of a goldfish. We want instant gratification and can google just about anything and be instantly satisfied.  

In this digital age, we have become great multi-taskers and short-cut communicators.

However, I’m not sure that these gains offset our low tolerance for silence or our reduced listening attention.

— Eileen N. Sinett, Speaking that Connects

Narratives can change opinions, said Rein, citing the late John Henderson (a former reporter who built his real estate business on the lyrical descriptions of his listings) and Jerry Fennelly, who issues real estate analytics in story form. Long form narratives can also clarify the thinking of the writer (as well as the of the reader) and help establish credibility for both writer and subject.

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Barbara Fox with Richard K. Rein and freelancer Michele Alperin

Then it was story time:  Rein told of almost-missed stories about Colin Carpi, lawyer Bruce Afran,  and Muhammed Ali (as written by himself and fellow Princetonian sports writer Frank Deford) and he related a bit of gossip about Larry L. King. (Based on observing Ted Kennedy at a party, King vowed to do everything he could to keep that Kennedy from being president.)

In a lively Q&A Irv Urken asked about the value of print in a digital world: Brandishing the articles he used in his speech, he said, “you don’t have to worry about your batteries going down.” He also cited “the science of touch” and suggested that some presentations and pictures “require a bigger screen.” That print media has a limited space means that somebody must edit it to fit the space, and when editors get to do more than just run a spell check, readers read more carefully. Then Rein gave a shout out to Urken’s offspring who have media careers — one works for Newsweek and Street, the other for Yahoo.

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Hurley-Schubert

Former reporter Vickie Hurley-Schubert (now with Creative Marketing Alliance) asked which was his favorite story. Hard to pick, but Rein cited one early in his career, for New Jersey Monthly, on the scandal surrounding Circle of Friends.

I liked his answer about whether the media has a liberal bias: “When you spend time with people, you begin to assimilate their values. Media does have an ego, but it also bends over backwards to present other points of view.”

So — down with ‘scooplets,’ which, as Rein explained, are what Jill Abramson calls the focus on quick content that spawned $1.9 billion in free publicity to the Trump campaign.

Up with narrative journalism. Long live the long form stories in the likes of U.S. 1 and Princeton Echo.

But I still get good info from Twitter.

— Barbara Fox 

 

Review: Puerto Rican Soundscapes

Princeton Comment is delighted to welcome Oscar J. Montero, professor emeritus at Lehman College. He reviewed the improvisations staged by Alicia Diaz (a Princeton native) and Hector Coco Barez on May 14 at Hunter College.  

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Princeton Comment is delighted to welcome Oscar J. Montero, professor emeritus at Lehman College. He reviewed the improvisations staged by Alicia Diaz (a Princeton native) and Hector Coco Barez on May 14 at Hunter College.

During Puerto Rican Soundscapes, a music colloquium at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Alfonso Fuentes tapped a key on the piano to launch into a compelling improvisational riff. Improvisation, he said, is at the core of his musical work.  Iranian scales led to melodic asides echoing the traditional Puerto Rican plena in recurring counterpoints.  In his performance Fuentes underscored the tensions in his work between improvisation and tradition, that is, between the individual’s creative quest and collective forms that belong to no one but are shared and reshaped from one generation to the next.  The work of dancer Alicia Díaz and musician Héctor Coco Barez brought to the “soundscape”of the colloquium its own improvisations.  The dancer and the musician centered their performance on suggestive counterpoints between body and sound, between movement and music, between the visual and the aural.  

In her comments throughout the performance, Alicia Diaz suggests identities that take shape precisely, and perhaps only, through improvisation and dialogue.   Notions about identity as a fortress to be defended have been contrasted to identities as series of ongoing personal and political negotiations. Especially for dwellers in one form or another of exile, national identity as a place of origin is at best a nostalgic narrative; at worst, the troubling memory of violence and loss.   The vibrant collaboration between Barez and Díaz maps out other places in the complex field of our identities, inviting the audience to see in them not the finality of theplace we can name as our origin but the ongoing creation of shared spaces where our own pleasures and anxieties about who we are and where we come from may be performed.

diaz 2016Díaz’s agile, remarkably precise movements are flowing at times, cut sharp at others.  During the question/answer period, a person in the audience mentioned the pioneering work of José Limón, implicit in Díaz’s highly personal choreography.  Yet while fluent in the vocabulary of modern choreography, Díaz dances bomba, steeped in the traditions of Puerto Rico, and riffs on the resonance of such a loaded quotation in her work.  Bomba’s relationship to a Puerto Rican identity may be said to be seamless.  Its roots are found not just in specific locales and well-known historical circumstances but in Puerto Rican families.  Díaz mentioned the teaching of Tata Cepeda, a member of one such family and one of the contemporary heirs of the legacy of bomba.  Yet a folk dance, performed today in various settings, may approach stereotypes that can flatten identity for easy consumption, a process evident to me, a Cuban, as I see dancers in Havana dressed in Brazilian costumes entertaining a new wave of tourists with our famous rumbas.  The physical replies danced by Díaz to Barez’s music demonstrate the possibilities and the limits of an improvisation informed both by the individual’s quest and by powerful traditions.  Their work suggest to me that when words fail us, and their destiny is to do so, the body and its music can help us reconsider other options, help us perhaps to come back around to words and new narratives that might see us through.  In a moment of political uncertainty and economic turmoil, not only for Puerto Rico but for the world we live in, the value of our traditions and their inflection through our own experiences, indeed our own bodies, informs the urgent quest of these Puerto Rican dancers, musicians and writers, a quest valid in its own right and for what it might offer to others now and down the road.

Oscar J. Montero

Professor emeritus, Lehman College, City University of New York

NY NY May 15, 2016

Jim Looney: Science educator extraordinaire

I’m happy to share good this news, offered by Dr. Karen Zumbrunn. Karen – and Jim and Anna Looney -are good friends of mine at Princeton United Methodist church. Congratulations to all involved in this exciting project, and good luck in Wisconsin! 

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For the second year in a row, the Science Olympiad team at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School will represent New Jersey at the National Science Olympiad to be held May 19 to 21 at the University of Wisconsin-(Stout campus) in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

The team is coached by Dr. Jim Looney, who has taught in the West Windsor-Plainsboro system since 1999. He was recently named Teacher of the Year by his colleagues at WW-P North.

From a pool of 60-70 students two teams of 18 members each are selected. For the state competition each school can bring only one team to compete. For the nationals 15 members and 7 alternates are selected. During the year the teams went to invitational tournaments in CT, PA, NJ, NY and also prepared at the local public library and in each other’s homes.

The Science Olympiad has 25 events in all aspects of Science.  Some events are tests, such as Disease Detective, and Dynamic Planet. Other events, such as Forensics, Anatomy, Fossils, have a lab component. Still others require building a device, such as a Robot Arm or Protein Modeling. Participants can win individual medals; the team score is based on the total score from all events.

At the national tournament the WW-PN team will meet teams from all over the country and have challenges at a high level of competition. The Science Olympiad provides opportunities to develop leadership skills and learn the value of teamwork.

“As a coach, I am responsible for the tests, team selection, mentoring and organization” says Looney, but he credits physics teacher Regina Celin, biology teacher Holly Crochetiere, and chemistry teacher Kerry Pross, who are indispensable help in organizing, coaching and attending competitions. Looney acknowledges, “Coaching is such a time and labor-intensive job that it would be impossible to do all we do without their help” and assistance of other faculty as well as supportive parents. He himself brings extensive science experience in laboratory work in molecular biology in both commercial, medical  and academic contexts. He holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics from Columbia University.

Dr. Looney is active at Princeton United Methodist Church. For several years he went with church youth for an Appalachian service project. He has served  as president of the United Methodist Men’s Group. He is married to Dr. Anna Looney, an assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. They have one child, Emily, a family physician who lives in the Pacific Northwest and is completing a fellowship in hospice and palliative care.

Science Olympiad team North

Bob Doll: Financial Entertainment vs Financial Education

Kudos to Karen L. Johnson CPA CGMA PMP for filling in for me to file this guest post. For more economic input, the Princeton Regional Chamber holds its economic and technical summit on Tuesday, March 8.   When he was still at BlackRock, Doll was the keynote speaker. 

bob doll A man of finance, family and faith spoke at the Princeton Chamber’s luncheon on March 3. Fresh from CNBC’s Squawk Box, Robert Doll, senior portfolio manager and chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management,  sees one factor in the purpose identified by some media:  financial entertainment and not financial education, in an environment where bad news sells. What was wrong with the market?  A fear funk.

What’s really the biggest risk to the market? That we will import deflation from the rest of the world. Doll suggests we keep in mind that the US is the most isolated economy in the world, 87% domestic, and we’re letting the tail, 13%, wag the dog.  Consider first some positive tailwinds for the US consumer, such as the biggest generation of jobs in history over the last five calendar years, with 89% full-time, along with average earning up 2.5%, to be 3% by the end of 2016.

Look too at corporate balance sheets, where debt has been paid down, and the powerful impact of oil going from $100/barrel down to $30.  As of now, we’re spending a third and saving two-thirds.  Add up those gas savings and it’s “Time for vacation, honey.”

Hand-wringers are citing the decline of manufacturing.  We had Cassandras when we moved from agriculture to manufacturing, just as we do now as the economy has moved from manufacturing to technology. And keep in mind our 2.4% growth, last year and this.

What about Washington? There’s the good, bad and the ugly. [my phrase, not his]  The Good: over about the last 7 years, the Federal deficit has collapsed from $1.4 trillion to $0.4 trillion.  The Bad: Corporate America has the highest marginal tax rate in the world.  The Ugly?

Is this choir director (Doll is listed as such on the website of Stone Hill Church) preaching to the choir? Hard to tell.  What’s sure — it was education and entertainment as he captivated the full house at the Forrestal Marriott.

He wasn’t a funny guy but he did have amusing parts – and he did have the undivided attention of the audience — which puts into question CNBC Squawk Box’s contention that being entertaining means you can’t also have an educational purpose.

So get rid of the fear funk. Don’t confuse the stock market and the economy.

karen johnson
Karen L. Johnson