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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Respite from Politics, a Short Story and a Quiz for the Well-Informed

Politics Takes a Vacation
Until after the nominating conventions this Summer, there is no further need for commentary on the elections in this blog.  I said all that I have to say in my March 1, 2016 posting.  I urge you to click on that posting (March 1, 2016) over to the right and scroll down a bit so that you can read it again.   It's the bottom "Headline" from the five March 2016 postings you will see when you click on March 2016.

 This is more fun than politics

Once the Presidential campaign between the two major party nominees is underway and the primaries, caucuses and conventions are history, I will resume political commentary.  There is no more to be said at this time.  But please, re-read that March posting now.
Jack Lippman 

Toward a Well-Informed Public and a Quiz

A well-informed public is important to the welfare of the country.  Therefore, let’s take a look at how people can be well-informed.

Traditionally, people got their information from daily newspapers.  But their circulation is plummeting and despite their availability online via computers and smartphones, they are not reaching as many people as they once did.  Furthermore, their staffs are shrinking and while they still can concentrate on local news, they depend on the big national news sources (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, etc.) for national and international news, but only for “major” stories. If one does not actually read these major papers, they miss a lot of what is going on.

News magazines like Time and Newsweek are shrunken or gone from the scene. Granted, there is real news on the internet, but seeking it out amidst all of the other material there is difficult, and often sources are vague or unreliable.

Local television news may briefly focus on local issues, but never in real depth.  Similarly, national TV news on the major channels (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) does not go very far beyond the headlines.  The total news channels, FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC, tend to focus in great depth on major stories, such as politics and disasters, but ignore less dominant subject matter, and they often are heavily opinionated.

Commercial radio is worthless as a news source, other than for traffic and weather. It is worse than the six o’clock or eleven o’clock local news on television.  Public radio, on the other hand, is an excellent source of worldwide and national news, but is not available everywhere and doesn’t appeal to the general public.  Public television also is a good news source, but it presents it in very limited quantities.

When “comedy” shows on television interview people on the street about serious topics, as is done for example on the Jimmy Kimmel Show (late night on ABC), their ignorance is appalling.
How well-informed are you?  As a reader of this blog, probably far better than most.  Nevertheless, see how well you do on this quiz.  Then try it on some of your friends and neighbors.  You’ll be in for a surprise as to how well-informed they are or are not.

  1. Who is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?
  2. Who, or what, are La Nina and El Nino?
  3. What is the name of the terrorist group operating in northern Nigeria?
  4. What very large country is about to impeach its President?
  5. How many seats are there on the U.S. Supreme Court?
  6. Whose faces are on the United States $10 bill and on the $2 bill?
  7. What State was home to the recently deceased singer “Prince”?
  8. What is the capital of Afghanistan?

Shubert in El Paso
As some of you may know, I run a Writers' Group in my local community.  I am no more skilled than most of the other participants, but I feel leadership is needed to keep the Group going, so I am its head or moderator or whatever you want to call it.  Here is a recent contribution which I made to the Group. 

                                                 *     *     *

(Assignment is to recall a true incident in your life or that of a friend or relative and develop a fictitious short story from it.  Fictionalize a bit of reality.  See the “reality” note at the end.)

Shubert in El Paso

Jack Lippman

  Franz Shubert

“Dr. Saslow, we have a problem.”

“So you’re asking me to help solve it?” Max replied.

During the day Dr. Saslow practiced chiropody (today they call it podiatry) in a downtown office.  Nevertheless, he still found time to play in the second violin section at the old Plaza Theatre where the El Paso Civic Symphony performed and practiced.

“Max, our soloist for the concert just cancelled on us. Laryngitis, she says.  It’s too late for us to hire a replacement and the concert is tomorrow night.  What should we do?”

“And why are you asking me,” Max queried. “As if I don’t know.”

“Your daughter still sings, doesn’t she, Max?”

“Yes, she does.  But only in the choirs of two churches and at the Reform temple on Stanton Street during the Jewish High Holidays.”

The 130 year old Plaza Theatre where the El Paso Symphony practices and performs

“Max, the orchestra has been practicing this program for weeks.  Shubert’s Unfinished Symphony followed up by half a dozen of his greatest lieder.  We even booked a special accompanist for the songs too; paying him four thousand dollars just to show up. Look, we just lost our soprano and we just don’t have time to plug in something else for the orchestra to play to fill out the program.  We can’t afford to start refunding tickets.  There’s no other healthy soprano around, either, Max. Help me.”
“I’ll talk to her, but no guarantees.  I’ll call you tonight.”  Max packed up his fiddle and his music and went out the door of the rehearsal hall.

Once back in the house which he shared with Grace and her husband, he cooked himself a soft boiled egg which he was spooning out of the shell with a piece of buttered toast when she walked in.

“How was school today, Gracie?  Anyone willing to learn anything show up?”

“Okay, Dad. No reason for your to be sarcastic. But how come you’re home so early?  Wasn’t there a rehearsal this afternoon?”

“Yes, there was.  Went pretty well too.  Gracie, do you remember when you were singing German lieder a few years back?”

“Sure.  I loved doing it.  Do you remember the Shubert we did together with you on the piano and me singing?  But why are you bringing it up?  I see that twinkle in your eye.”

“Gracie, we have a problem with tomorrow’s concert.  Our soloist cancelled out and we need a replacement.  The program is all Shubert, including some of the same lieder you and I did together for years. They have a first rate pianist to accompany the singer, too.  Do you think you could give it a shot?”

“You’re crazy, Dad.  It has been years … but I think I remember it well enough.  Sure, I’d be willing, and we could use the money, whatever it is.”

For the rest of the evening, Grace and Max practiced the six Shubert lieder which were on the concert’s program.  Fortunately, they still had the sheet music in the piano bench in the front room.  Her voice, kept sharp by its weekly workouts with hymns and harmonic praise of the Lord, was as resonant as ever.

The next evening in at the Plaza, in a white gown with a rose pinned on it, Grace sang Shubert lieder.  The audience applauded.  The orchestra applauded.  Even the accompanist applauded.  She hadn’t practiced an encore, so she repeated the final piece of the program, “Lachen und Weinen,” and again it was met by thunderous applause.  The critics, and even in El Paso they had critics, applauded too.

In about a week, the calls started coming in.  They included one from the New York  agent with whom she had worked when they were living in East Orange.  They wanted her back.  And just like the scenes in those old show business movies showing the names of the cities as the trains rolled through them, she quickly had bookings in Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington and finally, at Alice Tully Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center.

That fall, her husband was transferred to his company’s corporate office in Chicago and Grace, giving up her tour after one season, had a baby, after which she was happy teaching voice and performing in local concerts there as well as in church and temple choirs.   Max moved there too, working on people’s feet part time, but most of the time  playing in two local symphony orchestras, and telling everyone how his daughter had filled in with one day’s notice on that wonderful evening back in El Paso. 

(Reality Note:  My Uncle Max, a chiropodist, played the violin with local orchestras.  His daughter Grace had operatic training but never amounted to much more musically than being a soloist in church and temple choirs.  Widowed, he lived with his daughter and son-in-law in El Paso where the son-in-law served as an Army officer.  Once he was discharged, they moved to Chicago where he got a job.  One day, Max played a recording for me, telling me it was Grace singing with the El Paso Symphony, made while they were living there.  I believed him.  He was conning me.  It actually was a recording made by Lily Pons, a prominent soprano of the time.)


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Jack Lippman