Benny's World

Friday, March 24, 2006

JRE: Doing the Hard Work

Challenging the Two Americas: New Policies to Fight Poverty - UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity Conference

Photo courtesy of NC Dem, OAC Blog

Expert panelists from varied backgrounds joined Sen. John Edwards, the center's director, to discuss policies that local and national policy-makers could put in place to alleviate the plight of the working poor.

"No matter what your political views are, we can surely all agree that we must address the fact that so many people are living in poverty in this, the wealthiest country in the world," Edwards said. "This conference, with its fantastic group of experts from all over the nation, is in response to what we at the Center on Poverty believe is a moral duty to tackle the issues that have created the shameful existence of the two Americas that exists today."

I'm looking forward to viewing the videos to be linked on the UNC Law School Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity web site, where Edwards is the Director. One OAC blogger attended yesterday and said the conference sessions were very enlightening and walked away with hope. It is her picture of JRE that is posted above.

The RDU news had a quick clip about it too, along with a kewl initiative about Kids Cafe, a way for children after school hours to keep learning, motivated, and not to be latch-key kids. .

Indeed this 2-day conference had many good scholars there. The session I would have liked to have seen was this morning: "Economic Impact of Globalization on Poverty".

Globalization has led to the emergence of new economic powers and new challenges for America. This panel will assess the impact these changes are having on the American economy, with particular emphasis on the American worker.

Moderator: Senator John Edwards, Director, Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, UNC School of Law

Lael Brainard, Vice President and Director, Global Economy and Development Center, Brookings Institution, New Century Chair for Trade and International Economics

Patrick Conway, Professor of Economics, UNC Department of Economics

James K.Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations and
Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin

I'm betting they touched around the themes of Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat."

Associate Press produced a sardonic article about JRE and this conference. I'm not posting a link because one can find it in Yahoo in 2 seconds. I liked the pictures though.

JRE has been on the go for 3 weeks. Earlier this week, he was at Vandy speaking on Tuesday, then had to get ready for this conference.

Last week, he was with 700 students picking up debris in St. Bernard's Parish.

JRE posted his own log about his experience in NOLA:

"It would break your heart to see what we've seen. Block after block, each home is completely full of debris and it's infuriating to know that these families haven't been getting the help they need.

What is truly inspiring was seeing how determined and committed these college kids are to helping the families there. Kids from coast to coast - from over 80 schools from 27 states - have rolled up their sleeves and done the hard work that needs to be done. We were able to meet some of the homeowners and it's wonderful to know that these kids really did make a difference for these families.

There's much more work to be done, but please know that these kids were breaking their backs and making a big difference. We can make progress and get things done when we work together."

In two weeks, he will be on the road again: in Florida and Iowa.

Good job, JRE. I don't know how you do it--even with handlers. You are as you aptly put it on your OAC diary, "Doing the Hard Work that Needs to Be Done"--and leading others as well--for all of us.

Update for 3/25/2006: OAC blog was one of a few websites featured on faux news yesterday.
Click here to watch (hopefully this will work). Hat-tip to Wee Gordee and NCDem on the OAC blog for passing this on. Great pics of the blog and of course, JRE!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


This weekend my spouse and I went to the Windy City for a long weekend (Fri AM-Sun PM). We made plans to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler's #2, aka "Resurrection". However, we were encouraged to go because Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT as he is known to insiders and marketers), the musical director of the SF Symphony, was the guest conductor, and we had heard him and his "band" perform Mahler's #5 two years ago. It was a wonderful concert.

I had not heard this Mahler work all of the way through, and I knew very little about the history or the circumstances why Mahler felt he needed compose something about a funeral. I suspect that artists have a great understanding about the turmoil or conflicts that can occur on the macro and micro levels of familial relationships. Chicago Tribune Entertainment beat correspondent John von Rhein scribed his view this way:

Mahler's five-movement Second Symphony sets out to answer some of the most profound questions of human existence. Why do we live? Why do we suffer? It begins with a grim funeral march and ends, 90 event-laden minutes later, with a stage full of players, choristers and vocal soloists grandly invoking the Christian belief in heavenly rebirth.

I wanted to predict what would come to me in this Symphony. After 4 minutes into the concert, I realized MTT had command of the music, so did the professionals, and I would just allow myself to drink in the surprises, among them to embelish certain parts: 2 tympanies, 2 harps, 2 of nearly every instrument. MTT would swerve his body left to right, letting the players know what should be flourishes within the piece. Again from Von Rein:

Tilson Thomas brought a genuine sense of occasion to the performance. He stressed sweeping dramatic force over histrionics, majesty over bombast, poignancy over vulgarity. He made vivid Mahler's inner conflicts without distorting the line or the larger architecture.

"The mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's entry in the "Urlicht" was so soft, so gentle, as to hold the audience at rapt attention." The mezzo-soprano sang as if utterly transfixed. Von Rein believed that she portrayed what Mahler perceived her voice to do, which was to be of a child's in heaven. I didn't have that impression; my hearing of her instrument was that she had a beautiful, lamenting, but also joyful voice that motivated us about life's (and maybe, afterlife's gratitudes) struggles and how at times we may be able to get through them: through art, nature, contemplation.

The choral part was fabulous. During the 5th movement,in which it was nearly halfway through the movement of 34 minutes, the chorus sat down during their collective voices; then within 5-8 minutes, they stood up: hark, they were alive. They were speaking to us, in group of spirits, who understood all of us. It was marvelous to behold.

I had thought MTT had understodd Mahler's soul in him in conducting this sensational work. After revisiting the definition of dybbuk this evening: "In Jewish folklore, the wandering soul of a dead person that enters the body of a living person and controls his or her behavior", recognized that MTT may be the medium who does understand Mahler, but that during this symphony and sometimes in life, I may possess Mahler's dybbuk--and the music resonated in my heart.

Mahler spoke to every emotion I felt and I had to have many tissues to keep my face dry. The audience gave a 15 min ovation without any expectation of an encore. MTT and the rest had given their best.

Anyway, I enjoyed this concert and the Girodet Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago today.

Great bookends. I need them to refresh my thoughts and re-energize my batteries. The Arts do feed my soul, or perhaps, my dybbuks.