Patti Smith, the Nobel Ceremony and a Turn of Beautiful Grace

It was announced on October 13th that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The discussion of whether his work was worthy of such an honor ensued. It is, if not for his Himalayan body of work, at least for this song alone.

It seemed as if Mr. Dylan wasn’t much interested in recognizing the honor. The committee heard nothing from him for nearly a week. They gave up trying to contact him. A member of the committee called his silence “impolite and arrogant.”

He finally contacted the Nobel folks and graciously told them their honor “left him speechless.” No wonder they hadn’t heard from him. However, he told them regretfully he would not be able to attend the ceremony in Oslo. In the speech he sent to be read in his absence, he admitted this recognition was something he “never could have imagined or seen coming” and that his chance of winning this coveted award was equal to standing on the moon one day.

He also turned down President Obama’s congratulatory invitation to the White House.

As a fix, it was announced that the elegant Patti Smith would attend the ceremony and perform in Dylan’s stead. Imagine the equal honor/pressure being chosen for such an assignment. On December 9th, she performed Dylan’s cataclysmic prophecy Hard Rainwritten in 1962 by the 21-year-old kid from the frozen, no-where iron-ore fields of northern Minnesota.

It was Smith’s performance of this difficult song that was the most remarkable thing about this whole remarkable story.

Patti is a uniquely beautiful woman with a rare heart-melting voice. She was the perfect choice. But the most extraordinarily wonderful part of her performance is curiously where she lost her place in the lyrics. It happened about a third of the way into her performance (at 2:03 below).

She tried her best to recover and move through it without notice but without luck. She was too far off the trail. After a number of stumbling tries, you can see in her face the calculation of whether to stop, get her bearings and start over.

She looks to the conductor with deep embarrassment offering a helpless “I’m sorry. Can we start again?” She’s a soul laid bare, putting in mind a terrified high-schooler asking to start over in her try-out for the school musical. It’s humiliating but also requires a ton of personal presence.

Smith then turned to the audience and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so nervous.” She buried her face in her hands.

patti-smith-oslo2That simple, humble admission transforms the cavernous theater. Her audience, filled with some of the most important people in the world, erupts in a thunder of empathy. Their forgiving applause are a warmer assurance than if they were each able to hug her and offer assuring words like, “I run an entire country and don’t possess a fraction of the bravery you do. Don’t give it another thought my dear!”

It’s a moment of raw, stripped down human honesty in a setting of over-the-top pomp and positioning. A lovely collision of two worlds. We have Patti Smith, by day clad in simple knit cap, tattered black coat, well-worn work boots, her majestic mane, colored grey only by the years, combed straight down with no fuss whatsoever, living her humble life in Greenwich Village writing in coffee houses.  She performs, accompanied by a young man playing a well-worn folk guitar, for thousands of people decked with jewels, crowns and medals, any of which could fund the daily needs of a family for years. But they all connect so personally in this awkward, honest moment of humanity.

It’s really something beyond words.

As she starts again, she’s freed to give so much more of herself in the song and to her audience. Her audience daubs at tearing eyes.

Nothing speaks to the wonder of the performances like the performance itself. It’s just simply exquisite.



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Why Your Beliefs About Homosexuality Don’t Kill People

kills-gay-youthIt is deeply concerning that health measures are significantly lower and suicide attempts higher among LGB people, but it is also concerning that people who cannot celebrate homosexuality are said to cause these things. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve been told with great anger that I (me, myself) am responsible for such tragedies…

Here’s an article I have at the Federalist showing there is no objective connection between the two in the current research literature. In fact, much of the research shows it’s simply not true.

It’s a story that needs telling.

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In Tribute to the Great Leonard Cohen

INDIO, CA - APRIL 17: Musician Leonard Cohen performs during day one of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2009 held at the Empire Polo Club on April 17, 2009 in Indio, California. (Photo by Paul Butterfield/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Leonard Cohen

Last Thursday evening, the human race lost an important member, Leonard Cohen, at age 82. He had a long and tremendously successful career, celebrated and appreciated by every one of his peers. He started out as a young poet, a novelist, then a song writer and a deeply reluctant (jump to the 3:32 mark) musical performer. It was this last talent that ironically became his most successful endeavor, giving the world so much beauty from an honest heart.

Read the rest here

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2016 Dem Convention: Not Brought to You by the Letter “Q”

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It’s a curious turn-about in an extremely bizzaro-world presidential election season.

Democrats being scolded by Democrats for being less inclusive than the Republicans.

In his convention speech, Donald Trump proclaimed,

 As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.

There were wild cheers from the floor of Republican hard cores, as there should have been. No one can condone such violence against anyone.

But this story from Buzzfeed’s national LGBT correspondent shows some Democrats are greatly miffed that the DNC couldn’t be as inclusive. They excluded the “Q” from their party’s LGBT platform. David Braun, a DNC platform committee member complained,

It is very unfortunate that queer people have to fight to be identified properly by a party that is supposedly paying lip service to our community.

Qs under the bus. The larger question is why is neither standing up for the rest of  those in the LGBT alphabet soup. Why should the other Q and the IAAP2Ss get thrown under there as well?

Could it be that who can really keep up with it all anymore?

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This is What Police Do


Dallas Police Chief David Brown reported in a press statement this morning that “…we cornered one suspect and we tried to negotiate for several hours.”

This simple phrase struck me deeply in light of all the terrible things we are hearing about our nation’s police officers lately. Terrible things, and some of them might be true. We should always wait until all the facts are known before condemning our public servants. That’s what a civilized society does. Those who break the law should be punished, even if they are tasked with enforcing the law. But these tragic incidences should be judged in contrast to what Chief David Brown said his officers did.

While more of our nation’s police officers were killed and wounded in Dallas last night than on any day since 9/11, Dallas police officers negotiated for hours with the lone gunman. …Negotiated with him for hours. …As a large number of their fellow officers lay dead and severely wounded in the streets. …As other officers risked their lives, working the scene to move citizens safely from danger. …Even as this man could surely have still murdered other officers and civilians. They didn’t shoot. They negotiated with him for hours. The same happened in Orlando.

This is what police in every city of our nation are trained and commissioned to do.

It’s police standard operating procedure to shoot only as a last resort. Even when faced with murderous suspects. The wrong actions of a few policemen don’t erase the truth that our city’s cops are heroes who put themselves on the line for us every day, even when often abused by those very citizens. How many of us have shown anger at getting a speeding ticket?

Let’s show our appreciation for these men and women.

  1. Thank every cop you see for their selfless service.
  2. Buy their lunch when you see them ordering at the counter on their break.
  3. Ask them to thank their families for their own significant sacrifice.
  4. Correct others when they speak negatively about the work our officers do.

Our officers are what stand between peace and chaos in every one of our own local communities. Let’s all do what we can do to make their jobs easier and safer.

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The Super Fab Four – The Kinks

PM3062314Those who know me know I tend to take the road less traveled. In that spirit, I want to finally declare my allegiance to a provocative and controversial thesis. When it comes to early 60s, pop-rock, British bands with four mop tops lads sporting cool unnies, its not the Beatles who rule, but The Kinks. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to consider seven core points.

First. They rocked harder and earlier.

Two. They didn’t think they were all that.

Three. Two brothers started the band.

Four. They stayed together longer, making influential music longer.

Five: They didn’t do silly movies.

Six: They didn’t have John.

Seven. Frontman Ray Davies chased down two muggers in NOLA, earning him a gsw to the thigh.

Hate me, but that’s my take.

BONUS: Here is a wonderful performance by Ray at the 2010 Glastonbury Fest singing a humble salute and tender remembrance to all those who gave them such a rich history and amazing experience as a band.  Beautiful, soulful, emotional performance.


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How Heisenberg’s Mom Saved His Bacon…and Ours

heisenbergAnyone who knows Heisenberg knows he’d gotten himself into some deep dung on account of the work he did. What nearly everyone doesn’t know is how his mom saved his life in the midst of a grand high-stakes drama. I’m not talking about that Heisenberg; but the other one.

Ask most people who Heisenberg is and you will be told the story of best television series ever created: Breaking Bad. As the story of Walter White grows increasingly dark and dicey, he adopted the crisp and curious pseudonym: Heisenberg. Hardcore Breaking Bad fans learned White didn’t just pull the name out of thin air. As a scientist, he took the name one of the most consequential scientists of the 20th Century who craftily operated in the midst of great evil. This is the Heisenberg (and his mom) of our story here.

The Breaking Bad Heisenberg is an Albuquerquean chemist. The real Heisenberg – Werner Heisenberg – was a German physicist, who among many accomplishments, is noted for developing the uncertainty principle, a foundational truth of quantum physics. It holds that at the elementary level, nature likes to play tricks on us, leading us to believe we can measure atomic particles with certainty, but in actuality we cannot because they are mischievous little tricksters. They are inherently uncertain, thus the principle. It was this discovery that brought Einstein to disapprovingly remark, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Werner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 at the age of 30 for the creation of quantum mechanics. He published more than 600 academic articles by the time he died of cancer at age 74.

He was German by birth – a luke-warm Nationalist – but given his academic work he was thick as thieves with the leading Jewish physicists – Bohr, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli among many – and his lectures were filled by Jewish students. This earned him the title and suspicion of being a “White Jew”, a Jew by mentality rather than birth. Heisenberg was deeply tarred as such in an infamous 1937 editorial in a major SS newspaper entitled ‘White Jews’ in Science describing him as “this puppet of the Einsteinian ‘spirit’ in the new Germany” and as such “…the puppets of Jewry in German intellectual life…must disappear just as the Jews themselves.” Serious stuff.

But he was politically sophisticated. While he had great love and admiration for his Jewish professional friends and owed the older ones – particularly Neils Bohr – a great debt for his education under them, he also aligned himself as best he could the German Nation without actually having to participate in the Nazi machine. As a German Nobel Laureate, he was pressured to sign a statement of allegiance to the Fuhrer but refused, protesting that even though he could “personally vote ‘yes’’ to such an allegiance, he refused because, in his words, “political declarations by scientists seem to me improper because this was never a normal practice” before the rise of Hitler. Shrewd.

Now, to his mother.

The public call for his death in a concentration camp as a “White Jew” was of course a great concern to his family. His mother Annie knew the power and influence of the motherly heart, so she paid a visit to Heinrich Himmler’s mom for tea with whom she was long acquainted. Annie’s and Himmler’s fathers were friendly as members of the same Bavarian hiking club so she exploited that bridge, such as it was. With the power of one mother’s heart speaking to another, Annie saved the life of her son when Himmler wrote to Heisenberg nearly a year to the day of the “mothers’ summit” explaining,

…I have had your case examined with particular care and scrutiny, since you were recommended to me by my family. I am happy to be able to inform you today that I do not approve of the offensive [editorial that condemned you] and that I have put a stop to any further attack on you…

– With friendly greetings and Heil Hilter!

Yours H. Himmler.”

This favor was influential in his being drafted as a leader of the Third Reich’s effort to build an atomic bomb, as he was the German Robert Oppenheimer. He put himself wholeheartedly into the project, but with a curious spin; the well-being of the rest of world forefront in his mind.

Thomas Powers explains in his masterfully written and deeply researched book, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb, that Heisenberg communicated interest in and zeal for the project, but practiced a tactic of deliberate stalling. Germany had a notable head start on the United States in the race for the atomic bomb, but Heisenburg and his team craftily created numerous highly technical “problems” to hobble the pace of the project. Their explanations could hardly be contested – much less understood – by their military whip-crackers. The result was, as Powers explains, that despite the apparent industry around the project “…no serious effort to build a German bomb ever began” because “Heisenberg did not simply withhold himself [or] stand aside… He killed it.” And the Reich had failed to realized it had never really started. And the history of the Western world and its citizen’s was all for the better.

All because one mother thought to appeal to the motherly heart of another over tea one handsome summer morning.

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