“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Maya Angelou (1928–2014) was one of this country’s most beloved writers and poets. She won international acclaim for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings(1969). Later in her career she would publish two additional autobiographies, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) and A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002). Her poetry collection, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Before she began writing, she was an actor and musician, and she always was an activist for civil rights. Combining all these talents, she won a Grammy Award for the spoken word presentation of “On the Pulse of Morning,” a poem she had created especially for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the play Look Away (1973) and an Emmy Award for her work in Roots (1977). She also published books of essays and cookbooks.
In the mid 14th century, bubonic plague killed more than 20 million people in Europe––or from one-third to one-half of the population. The disease is caused by a bacteria named Yersina pestis and is spread primarily by bites from infected fleas. Following the European catastrophe, bubonic plague spread eastward on the fabled Silk Road and has now been linked to an outbreak in contemporary Russia. But a new and astounding hypothesis––presented in current media reports and at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in April 2016––is that the Black Plague pathogen somehow managed to lurk undetected in Europe for centuries. Hundreds of years after its first deadly assault on Europe, it emerged again in the 17th century, ravaging such cities as London, Seville, and Vienna; it was responsible for the death of tens of thousands. It’s final murderous appearance was an 18th-century outbreak in Marseilles. Following this French flare-up, the medieval strain of plague appears to have become extinct. However, the pathogen served as the ancestor of more modern strains that afflicted 19th-century China and current-day Madagascar. As of February 2015, the World Health Organization confirmed that bubonic plague was responsible for 71 deaths (and 263 cases) on Madagascar. In March 2016, TheWashington Post reported on the Madagascar disease outbreak. Driving research into the historical characteristics of Yersina pestis are new DNA analytical and sequencing techniques that are used on human skeletons from the distant past. Understanding the ways in which plague has existed and interacted with humans could lead to methods of halting its spread in the future. Today, plague is not inevitably the killer it has been in the past due to quick medical isolation, respiratory support, and treatment with antibiotics, oxygen, and intravenous fluids.
After his victory in the Indiana primary on May 3, Donald Trump became the “presumptive” Republican candidate for President in 2016, which means that although he has not yet officially won the nomination, he is expected to triumph. As we contemplate millions of committed Republicans voting for the Donald in November, it’s instructive to review some of the comments made about him when the outcome of the candidate selection process was still in doubt. Sen. Ted Cruz, who had a bizarre pas de deux with the Donald, has excoriated Trump as, “utterly amoral…a pathological liar,” and “a snivelling coward.” Sen. Marco Rubio called Trump, “absurd…offensive…ridiculous,” and “a con artist.” Jeb Bush, whose campaign was a lead balloon from the beginning, whined that Trump “was one part unhinged and one part foolish.” Sen. Lindsay Graham didn’t mince words, terming the Donald “a nutjob…and a loser as a person.” The Des Moines Register was quite creative in criticizing Trump as “a feckless blowhard,” while Germany’s Der Spiegel chose to highlight Trump’s potential danger in headlining a story: “America’s Agitator: Donald Trump Is the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” The vast majority of Americans seem to agree with all of this negative character assessment since nearly three-quarters of a poll conducted in early April revealed that Trump’s unfavorable rating is above 70%. However, as vulgar and disheartening as the politics of insult has been in this election cycle, it’s important to remember that mud-slinging has been part of the U.S. electoral process since the time of the Founding Fathers. For example, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson grew to hate each other and their campaign invective in 1800 mirrored their feelings. In the Civil War, George MecLelland, the commanding general of the Union Army, called Lincoln “a coward…an idiot,” and “the original gorilla.” And in a quote sometimes attributed to Theodore Roosevelt (which referred to the run-up to the 1896 election), it was said that one of the candidates “had no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.” Former President Harry Truman cut to the chase in his description of Tricky Dick Nixon. Truman called Nixon “a shifty-eyed God-damned liar.” Former President Lyndon B. Johnson also was known for his insults and scatological language. Referring to President Gerald Ford, Johnson quipped: “”Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”
The other night I had one of those great Netflix experiences where you take a chance on a film you know nothing about and are rewarded for your curiosity. The movie I discovered was Begin Again and I was so enchanted with it that I impulsively shared my reaction in a Facebook post:
“If you love movies, music, people, home, children, and a sense of authenticity I turn you on to Begin Again. It’s a 2014 film streaming on Netflix that stars Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, and many others. It’s about second chances, discovery, talent, love, betrayal and much more. It is probably the greatest love letter to NYC since Woody Allen’s Manhattan. It’s gritty. It’s drunk. It promises that if you stay alive you might get a shot at redemption. It believes people can change. It gives music an extraordinarily immediate quality–as if you were a fly on the wall at a studio session. It captures passion–both between human beings and in song. It’s about overcoming doubt and believing in your talent whether you are 15 or 50. The plot’s as old as romantic comedy. But the execution is as new as a great bootleg heard for the first time.”
In addition to posting on FB, I also immediately ordered the soundtrack––which I think is good but not great.
One of my vices is smoking cigars. I enjoy about two per day, lighting one up, smoking it for a few minutes, and the putting it out to reignite later. I feel like I have found a diamond in the rough in the cigar I choose. It is called “Factory Throwout #99” and is sold in “bundles” of 20. Ostensibly this cigar was at first destined to be much more expensive, but then some color blemish in the tobacco-leaf wrapper (which I have trouble noticing) caused it to be banished to the #99 pile. The # signifies what type of “throwout” it is; in my case, #99s are “Churchills,” named after Winston Churchill, the cigar and cognac-loving British Prime Minister. The cost of each of my cigars is $1.40. Typically, good cigars are not mentioned at this price point; when people think of good cigars, they tend to “think expensive,” and in perusing this list of some of the most priciest cigars, you’ll see they are they are justified. The wealthy have always spent more on their pleasures, and this tiny bulletin from the income inequality universe merely confirms that “the rich are different.”
Gurkha Black Dragon, $1,150 per cigar
Gurkha “His Majesty’s Reserve,” $750 per cigar
Cohiba Behike, $450 per cigar
Arthur Fuente Opus X A, $80 per cigar
Arthur Fuente Don Artura Edición Aniversario, $78 per cigar
Arthur Fuente Opus X BBMF, $55 per cigar
Goldwin Louixs, $50 per cigar
Davidoff Royal Salomones, $48 per cigar
I just completed my latest art work, which I call “Circle Mountain.” I plan to bring the piece to the printer in the next few days to produce prints which will become available in my wordsandabstracts shop on Etsy.com. “Circle Mountain”: 2016, 14 x 17, acrylics and artists’ markers on paper.
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