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I have been following with great interest the controversy caused by ” Fearless Girl”, a 50- inch high bronze statue of a little girl, standing in a defiant pose with her fists on her hips. The problem is not the with the statue itself but with its location : it has been placed just a few feet away from a 7000 pound, 11 foot high statue of a Charging Bull which has been there since December 1989. Both statues are located in Manhattan’s Financial District.

But perhaps a little background is necessary…

Charging Bull is the creation of an Italian artist Arturo di Modica who conceived the statue as a tribute to America’s rebound from the 1987 stock market crash. Spending        $ 320,000 of his own money, he created the statue and illegally plunked it down near Wall Street  in the middle of the night in December 1989. Because the statue did not have a permit, it was removed by the  N.Y.C. Parks Department. Because of public clamor, it was later brought back and installed at its present location in Bowling Green. It is very popular with tourists who often pose with it for souvenir photographs.

Fearless Girl is a creation of the sculptor Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors and installed last month in conjunction with International Womens Day. It is intended to support gender diversity and greater representation for women in leadership roles and on corporate boards. It was initially installed under a one month permit that has since been extended to one year. It too has become a great hit with tourists and office goers.

Arturo di Modica, the sculptor of Charging Bull, claims that the placing of Fearless Girl so close to his own statue and in juxtaposition to it violates his rights and changes the creative dynamic because she ( the Fearless Girl) appears to be ” attacking the bull”. His lawyer adds that the Bull ” no longer carries a positive optimistic message” and has been transformed into” a negative force and a threat”. Therefore, he argues, Fearless Girl should be removed and relocated elsewhere.

I used to work downtown for more than thirty years and I often walked past the Charging Bull and admired it. It is a powerful sculpture, projecting power, strength and optimism, but I never thought  it was spreading a message of ” Freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” as its creator claims. If anything, because of its location, I saw it as a symbol of capitalism ( as in ‘ the bull market”). Nothing wrong with that, capitalism has made this country what it is. I also have no doubt that the placing of the Fearless Girl statue was deliberate and intended to play off the sculpture of the bull. What I fail to see is how it violates the copyrights of the Bull since it is located perhaps 30 feet away. No one has a right to dictate what may or may not be placed close to the location of one’s  artwork. At least that’s my opinion. Let’s see how this dispute gets resolved.

Aside from that, I genuinely like the Fearless Girl Statue. Even if it does not lead to a greater role for women in Wall Street, it has already struck a chord with young girls many of whom love the feisty pose of the little girl and her fearless demeanor. That is what will be needed if women are to breach the overwhelmingly male bastions of Wall Street.

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At the library, I came across a book with the arresting title “ Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate” by Brad Warner. How could I resist it ? I didn’t and it was an interesting read. One passage that I found particularly striking was this:

” Those who hope for purity and righteousness always try and destroy that which disturbs them. They think the disturbance comes from outside themselves. This is a serious problem. Wars, suicide bombings and all sorts of nasty things start from the premise that we can destroy ” evil’ outside ourselves without dealing with the evil within.”

How true. The example that leaps to mind is the societies of the Middle East where men try to avoid temptation by forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe. It is a custom that is doomed to fail. One Western visitor noticed that in Kabul, young men hang around hoping for a glimpse of an ankle as women raise their chadors or burqas  when stepping over a high roadside curb. Enough said.

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(In a previous post, I had written how Denmark is judged one of the happiest countries in the world, year after year. Last year, in 2016, it was the happiest and this year , in 2017, it is third. I also mentioned  Hygge,( pronounced Hue-gah), the term that Danes use to describe their happy state of mind. It is a word that has no exact equivalent in the English language though ” cozy” comes closest. Hygge is best described in terms of examples: Sitting before a roaring fireplace while it snows outside. Curling up with a good book . Having dinner with family and friends. Enjoying coffee and cake with a loved one).

A Danish friend wrote to tell me of hyggelistic parties for example, a big birthday bash  in a rented hotel ballroom, where one is served the exact same food ( soup, pork roast and ice dessert) to be  enjoyed in the company of the same group of friends as the previous year. The prospect gave me pause. While I understand the comfort that one feels in the familiar, the prospect of attending such parties is not one that appeals to me. No matter how enjoyable an experience, it is not one I care to repeat ad infinitum.

Some thoughts on the subject …

In the nineteen seventies, time-shares were very popular in the U.S. For what seemed a bargain amount, families could spend a week (or two) at their choice of dream destinations. Hawaii, San Diego, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or wherever. However, the prospect of  staying  in the same furnished condo at the same time every year was one that never appealed to us. Why would we want to tie ourselves down, vacation wise, to the same place again and again when they were so many different destinations that we wanted to visit ? ( The time share companies did allow customers to trade their slots with other customers but it was a hassle and the transfer fees were not cheap). We never went in for a time share  and many of our friends who did later regretted their decision. The only  one who didn’t was a chap who lived  in Los Angeles and who purchased a time share at a resort very close to his home. The time share included use of the gym facilities year round  and he was able to enjoy them at less than it would have cost him to join a gym. Besides, during those two weeks every year, he was able to put up friends who were visiting Los Angeles if he didn’t have place for them at home. Smart.

Another example: We used to attend a community picnic at a nearby park on the first Saturday in August. We did it for perhaps fifteen years but each year it became less and less a pleasure. The same people, the same conversations, the same food. It soon began to pall. The picnic still is held in the same place every August but we haven’t been there for the last twenty years.

When it comes to restaurants, one very soon develops a list of favorites that one goes to again and again but even here we take care never to order the same dishes every time. Some of the dishes we order are tried and true favorites but each time we make sure to try something new. If it’s a flop, we won’t order it again but if it’s good it is added to our list of favorites. The same goes for the dinner parties we have at our home. Neither the menu nor the guest list is ever exactly the same.

Coziness is fine, familiarity is good… but, in my case,only up to a point.  After a while, the prospect of the new eclipses the charm of the tried and true. How is it with you?

 

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Last week, I  published a post ( The Happy Society) about the happiest countries in the world in 2016 as per a U.N poll. The top 5 countries in that poll were ( in order) Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland. Well, the 2017 poll results are out and it is not surprising that the same countries are at the top. The 2017 poll toppers are : Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. The first four were in the top four spots last year, though the order was different, and Finland which was in fifth place is till in the Top 10 this year.

At the bottom of the list: Togo, a small West African country beset by lawlessness, large scale ivory poaching and corruption. Only slightly better than it are Burundi, Syria, Benin, and Rwanda, all of which suffer from civil war/genocide, power struggles, poverty and corruption.

To get back to the Swiss:Why are they so happy? One article gives 19 reasons, several of which seem to be facetious: the scenery, Swiss chocolate, Swiss cheese, coolest sportsman ( Roger Federer), high IQ ( most Nobel laureates/ capita) and trains that run on time. Others make more sense: Neutrality ( no fear of wars or invasion), true democracy ( even ordinary citizens can propose changes to the constitution; cantons have great autonomy), livable cities and multilingualism ( perhaps it instills a world view).However, the reason that stands out most ( to me) is universal healthcare which has resulted in one of the lowest obesity rates in the world and a sense of security. It is noteworthy that this is a feature of all the top countries on that list. Of all developed countries, the United States is the only one that does not have a single payer system that guarantees its citizens affordable healthcare.

Last year, the United States was 13th on the list; this year it has fallen one place to 14th. Among the reasons cited by poll respondents: rising income inequality, a drop in social support systems and a rise in mortality rates. How I wish our politicians ( Republicans and  Democrats) would open their eyes as to what is happening ! Unfortunately, our new administration seems to have a blinkered view and its initiatives bid fair to make the situation worse instead of better. How far will the U.S fall in the 2018 poll? We’ll have to wait and see.

P.S  It’s not that I like everything about Switzerland. For one thing the Swiss seem to live under a very restrictive set of rules. I was amused to learn that in Switzerland there is an ” approved” list of baby names, and that it is illegal to flush toilets after ten pm.

Ten pm – c’mon!

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, the book 100 Photographs : The Most Influential Images of Our Time is worth more than a hundred thousand. A Time publication, it offers readers a valuable retrospective of our lives and times. Many of the photographs we have seen before; I myself recall seeing at least 80 of them at one time or another and being deeply impressed by them. You too will remember many, if not most, of them.

The format of the book is simple. The photographs are on the right hand pages and opposite each, on the left hand page, is a description of the circumstances in which it was taken, its historical significance and its back story. While the photographs are rivetting, the stories behind them  are no less interesting. This is a book to be read, not merely looked at.

The photographs themselves are divided into three broad categories _ Icons, Evidence and Innovation. Under Icons, there are such memorable images as ” Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”. It shows 11 construction workers casually eating lunch or reading newspapers while perched on the narrow beam of a skyscraper under construction, their legs dangling over 800 feet of air. Just looking at the photo gives me vertigo. Other photos in this category include Winston Churchill’s portrait by Karsh of Ottawa, Betty Grable’s saucy pinup pose which gladdened the hearts of GIs during WWII, Flag Raising on Iwo Jima and Babe Ruth’s farewell appearance at Yankee Stadium. Under Evidence, we have searing images such as Burning Monk ( the self immolation of a Buddhist Monk protesting the Vietnam war), Jewish Boy surrenders in Warsaw, Saigon Execution and A Man on the Moon. Some of these in Somalia, Biafra, Iran, Vietnam and Iraq are so disturbing that I had to quickly turn the page. In the last category, Innovation, there are pictures of Salvador Dali’s hijinks, an X-Ray of the Hand of Mrs. William Rontgen, the First Cell Phone picture and the Oscars selfie. While I understand the iconic nature of the photographs in this section, I found them less compelling than the others.

All hundred photos though are ” important”, chronicling as they do important moments in the human experience. The photographers who took them constitute a virtual Who’s Who of photography. They include Margaret Bourke White, Robert Capa, Karsh of Ottawa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Richard Avedon and Edward Steichen.

The book is notable not only for the photographs but for their back stories and the feelings and emotions that they evoke. For instance, ” Country Doctor” shows Dr. Ernest Ceriani of Kremmling, CO walking home through a weed strewn lot after a hard day of home visits.  Looking at the stark photograph, you can see how bone-tired the doctor is, sense his dedication and innate goodness. You know that no matter how exhausted he is, he will be making his rounds again tomorrow. This is a man who loves what he does; he is not in it for the money.” VJ Day in Times Square” shows a sailor who has grabbed a nurse, bending her back and planting a passionate kiss on her lips. The moment captures perfectly the sense of exuberance and relief that the war was at long last over.

Sometimes the descriptions correct long held impressions. ” Saigon Execution” shows the South Vietnamese chief of police firing a bullet through the head of a bound prisoner. The photo symbolized the brutality of war and galvanized American public opinion against the Vietnam war. What I did not know, and what the book reveals, was that the prisoner was the leader of a terrorist squad that that had just killed the family of one of the police chief’s friends. This is not to excuse the chief’s action but it provides the context for it.

Sometimes, my feelings were at variance with widely held views. One such photograph is ” Muhammed Ali vs. Sonny Liston” It shows the 23-year old Ali towering over Liston whom he has just kayoed and taunting him ” Get up and fight, sucker”. As the write-up explains, the ” perfectly composed image captures Ali radiating the strength and poetic brashness that made him the nation’s most beloved and reviled athlete”. True enough, but what I also remember is that there have been persistent rumors that the fight was fixed, that Liston played dead after a phantom blow to the chin. To my mind, the photo also captures Ali’s arrogance and the cruelty he displayed particularly in a later fight with Ernie Terrell.

This book will evoke myriad emotions in its readers… nostalgia, exhilaration, pity, fear, awe, anger, loathing  and disgust. But above all, it will arouse  a feeling of wonder at the vagaries of human behavior.

You can see the entire project at http://www.TIME.com/100photos.

 

 

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At the recently concluded Australian Open, 82 year- old tennis icon Rod Laver presented the trophies to Federer and Nadal. A good  of mine from Malaysia watched the match and the trophy presentation and was moved to send me a list of Aussie greats from the fifties and sixties who are still with us. It is a remarkably long list. Here it is :

Frank Sedgeman  …89

Rod Laver               … 82

Roy Emerson         … 80

Neale Fraser          … 83

Mervyn Rose           .. 87

Mal Anderson         .. 81

Ashley Cooper       … 80

Fred Stolle              … 78

Bob Hewitt              … 77

This is by no means a complete list. Others include Margaret Smith Court ( 74), John Newcombe ( 72), Tony Roche (71) , Colin Dibley( 71) and Owen Davidson (73). The only Aussie players of that era who passed away early are Lew Hoad , who died at age 59 of leukemia, and Ken Fletcher who succumbed to cancer at age 65. I can’t think of anyone else.

When I got this list I  marveled at it.  What was the secret of the longevity of these players ? But as I thought about it, I began to understand that it was not all that remarkable, that were plenty of good reasons . Here are some:

  1. Tennis is a non-contact sport. There is no danger of life threatening injuries as in football, wrestling or boxing. Since the players are on opposite sides of the court, there is no chance of collisions as in soccer,basketball or baseball. And because the ball is not being hurled at a player, there is little chance of getting beaned and seriously injured as in baseball or cricket. When a tennis player does get hit ( a rare occurrence), the ball is comparatively soft and doesn’t result in lasting injury.
  2. Tennis requires a combination of speed, agility, strength  and endurance. Players are not oversize, overweight behemoths as in football. They don’t have to be excessively tall as in basketball. They are slightly bigger and taller than the average and the combination of attributes required to play tennis ensures that they are very fit.
  3. Tennis players do not have guaranteed contracts or signing bonuses. In other pro sports many athletes, unaccustomed to having large sums of money, go berserk. They start spending like there is no tomorrow, acquire a coterie of hangers-on and not infrequently take to drugs or drink as they party. They run through their cash very fast and live the rest of their lives in poverty, lucky to get jobs if at all. The stress takes its toll and shortens life spans. In tennis, on the other hand, the players have to continue to play well to make a good living. They do not get sudden windfalls but their careers are longer and the money comes in regularly.
  4. Tennis players compete almost year round. In the U.S, football, basketball and baseball seasons last between six and eight months ( including training camp). The extended off-season means plenty of time for players to indulge in their appetites, get overweight and out of shape.. and then go on a crash diet to get fit for the coming season. Not good for their bodies or their health.
  5. Tennis is a game that can be played almost to the end of one’s life. Many tennis pros continue to be associated with the game even after they retire. They become coaches, run training academies or camps. Even when they don’t, they keep playing  for love of the game, often well into their seventies. Tennis doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or facilities and it is not difficult to find another friend or two or three to play regularly. It shows. Did you see how trim Rod Laver looked at eighty-two?
  6. . Tennis players, in general, have a more stable family life. Because of the almost year round playing season, they travel with their wives and are not subject to the same temptations as , say, pro football or basketball players.Lest you wonder if this applies only to Aussie players, here are some stats about tennis players from other countries. Among those still alive: Vic Seixas  93, Budge Patty  92, Bob Falkenburg  91,Dick Savitt 89 and Tony Trabert 86. Don Budge died at age 84, Ted Schroeder 85  Ellsworth Vines 82, Jack Kramer 88,Bobby Riggs 77 and Fred Perry (England, 85). Almost the only ones who died comparatively early were Chuck Mckinley ( d. 45) Bill Tilden( d. 60) and Pancho Gonzales ( d.67) but they were not the norm. McKinley succumbed to brain cancer. Tilden was dogged by suspicions that he was gay and it ruined his later life. Gonzales had a tumultuous life during which he was married and divorced six times and died in poverty.The reasons then  for the longevity of tennis players are  no secret. They would seem to be regular exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, stable finances, a fulfilling family life and continued devotion to exercise and fitness even in retirement.

    Happily, these are things that we all can do or aspire to.

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After his splendid performance in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady is being hailed as the Greatest QB of All Time. It seems we sports fans are not just content to watch a great game; we have to grade our sports heroes, compare them to those of previous eras, make up lists of the all-time greats and select The Greatest. In tennis we have Federer camps and Nadal  camps, each avowing that their man is the Greatest. In NBA basketball, Michael Jordan sits alone at the top but in a few years LeBron James will no doubt be touted as  the Best ever. And in NFL football, Tom Brady is being anointed the Greatest Of All Time..

It is bad enough to try to choose the Greatest in an individual sport; in team sports, it is just plain ridiculous. As I had written in one of my previous posts, there are many factors that make it impossible to compare players from different eras. In the case of tennis, these include equipment, playing surfaces, quality of opposition, Open era or not, travel conditions and training methods but at least we are comparing one individual player to another. In team sports, the player is only one of many on a team. No matter how great he is, he cannot win unless he has a good supporting cast. Many elite players never played on a good team and never won even one ring. On the other hand, some so-so players won multiple rings though they were only bit players championship teams. Robert Horry was part of six NBA championship winning teams but no one would consider in the same class as Michael Jordan who won ” only” five. My point: Don’t use stats to declare someone the Greatest, particularly in a team sport.

Tom Brady is a terrific passer, a fierce competitor, a great decision maker with a wonderful feel for the game situation and has had a long glittering career. But don’t tell me that his seven Super Bowl appearances, his five Super Bowl rings and his four Super Bowl MVP awards qualify him as the best ever. Consider how much his career has been enhanced by having Bill Belichick as the Coach -GM of his team. Belichick is a masterful coach who has no peer when it comes to making in-game adjustments and confounding opposing teams who thought they had the game won ( Think Atlanta Falcons). He is not just a defensive genius, he is also a master motivator who consistently gets the best out of his players.  As  good a coach as he is, Belichick is an even better judge of talent and of working within the salary cap limitations. Time and again, he has picked up players from the scrap heap and coaxed one or two more good seasons out of them. He has also used trades and lower round draft picks to build the team and he has no peer in knowing when to cut a player. As a result, Brady has had a good supporting cast throughout his New England tenure. How many fewer rings would he have had if he was playing in San Diego ? How many more Super Bowls would Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning have won if they had Bill Belichick in their corner?

Brady’s situation reminds me of Bill Russell’s career with the Boston Celtics. Russell was a terrific defensive player, relentless on the boards and possessor of a fierce desire to win. He was limited offensively but he didn’t need to worry about scoring points. Red Auerbach, the coach- GM pf the Celtics, was the basketball version of Bill Belichick. A shrewd horse trader and a great judge of talent he was consistently able to put together great teams that meshed into unbeatable juggernauts. Good as the L.A. Lakers were, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor just did not have the supporting cast to compete against the Celtic teams of Russell, Cousy, Sharman, Nelson, Heinsohn, Havlicheck, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and others. Bill Russell was a great player but I would not consider him the Greatest. Even among centers of his time, I would rate Wilt Chamberlain ahead of him.

This is not to put down Bill Russell or Tom Brady. If you want to say they are the most successful players in their respective sports, I would agree with you absolutely. The numbers of rings they each won prove that beyond a doubt. If you want to call them the Greatest ever, you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t expect me to agree with you. There is no such thing as the Greatest, and definitely not in a team sport. .

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