Re an article on amblyopia by New York Times personal health columnist Jane Brody:


“Add Depth to Life, With Early Eye Exam”

By Jane E. Brody

The New York Times

May 17, 2005



My husband, Richard, now 72, was 11 when an eye examination at school revealed that the acuity in his left eye was a mere 20/200, far less than the 20/40 in his right eye.

Though glasses improved the vision in his left eye, they could not restore what he lost – depth perception gleaned from binocular vision – because this defect had not been found and corrected much sooner.

By the time Richard was 11, his brain had learned to ignore the blurry image from his left eye, and he was unable to coordinate the images from both eyes to form a view of the world that clearly shows how near or far objects are. As a result, he could never learn to catch or hit a ball, and he must concentrate hard to navigate highway exit ramps.

Richard was an early and avid reader who excelled in school, so no once suspected his eyes were not functioning normally. But without depth perception, he never would have made it as an airline pilot or interstate truck driver. Also, for unknown reasons, as an adult with amblyopia, Richard is at higher than normal risk of suffering an injury in his good eye and, in effect, becoming functionally blind.


How Amblyopia Develops

The visual cortex of the brain develops rapidly in babies and young children until about age 6. Interference with the image that forms on the retina during this critical time can cause the brain to favor one eye over the other. The great disparity in acuity in Richard’s eyes caused the visual cortex of his brain to rely only on the input from his right eye.

This condition – amblyopia, which is sometimes called lazy eye – can result from strabismus, crossed eyes that turn in or eyes that turn out. When eyes turn in, double vision results and the brain discards the image from one eye to “fix” the problem. When eyes turn out, the brain receives input from only one eye at a time and learns to favor the better eye.

An eye that drifts off center by just a degree is enough to cause amblyopia, but the untrained eye will not notice a disparity until one eye turns in or out by about five degrees.

Other causes of amblyopia include a significant difference in acuity between the eyes (Richard’s problem), an astigmatism in one eye, or severe visual blurring in both eyes caused by nearsightedness or farsightedness. Occasionally, amblyopia is caused by other eye disorders like cataracts.

Despite the great increase in understanding and recognition of this condition since Richard was a child, even now the vision of far too many children remains impaired for life because amblyopia is not detected until it is too late.

Amblyopia is the most common cause of visual impairment in childhood, affecting 2 to 4 percent of children. According to the National Eye Institute, “Unless it is successfully treated in early childhood, amblyopia usually persists into adulthood.”

Dr. David G. Hunter, an ophthalmologist at Children’s Hospital Boston, recently noted in The Journal of the American Medical Association that “amblyopia is an important public health problem, causing unilateral vision loss in 2 percent to 4 percent of the population” and “may be the leading cause of monocular vision loss in children and adults up to age 70.”


Early Detection Is Critical

If a “lazy eye” is not detected and treated at a young age, the vision in that eye gets worse because it is not being used. Chances are, when Richard was a toddler, the acuity in his left eye was better than 20/200, but it lost ground through years of disuse.

Dr. Hunter’s journal article concerned the results of a 49-center study sponsored by the National Eye Institute that sought to determine whether treatment of amblyopia after age 7 might be effective. The study found that some improvement in visual acuity was possible in the “lazy eye” up to age 12, and in some children up to age 17.

But, Dr. Hunter said, it is not yet known whether the improvement will last once treatment stops or whether the loss in depth perception can be reversed.

‘”The sooner amblyopia is detected and treated, the better,” Dr. Hunter said in an interview. “Amblyopia gets less fixable with each passing year.”

Ideally children’s vision should be tested even before they can talk and identify letters on an eye chart. At the very least, during well-child visits, the primary care doctor should perform some basic tests on the eyes of infants and toddlers, he said. Do the child’s eyes look straight and do they reflect light equally when a flashlight is shined on them?

“There needs to be a high index of suspicion in the pediatrician’s office until we finish developing and evaluating instruments for use in a doctor’s office that can measure whether a child’s eyes are in focus,” Dr. Hunter said.

One early detection method, photoscreening, is in use in some places. It relies on cameras designed to get red-eye reflections. One eye may light up red and the other not, suggesting that the child’s eyes are not properly aligned or that one eye is out of focus. But Dr. Hunter said, “This technique does not yet work well enough to become a standard of care.”

Parents, too, can be on the alert for signs of amblyopia in young children. Do the child’s eyes cross inward? (It’s normal for a baby’s eyes to drift out up to 3 months of age.) Does the child tilt his head at a funny angle when trying to see something? Does the child squint to see clearly?

Also, Dr. Hunter said, “if an older sibling has been treated for amblyopia, the child should be examined by an eye specialist who is qualified to work with children.”

The standard treatment for amblyopia is to block the vision temporarily in the stronger eye to force the child to use the weaker one. Two methods are commonly used: an adhesive patch worn over the stronger eye for two or more hours a day or the insertion of eyedrops of atropine, which blur the vision in the stronger eye for most of a day.

Of course, if visual acuity in the weaker eye is abnormal or an astigmatism is present, this too must be corrected with glasses.

The patch or drops are used for weeks, months or even years, until the weaker eye catches up to the stronger one and the child is able to use both simultaneously to produce a united image.

If strabismus (crossed or drifting eye) fails to be corrected with a patch or atropine drops, surgery may be needed to repair the muscular abnormality.


Just a Drop a Day

Multicenter studies sponsored by the Eye Institute have shown that atropine drops used once a day work as well as an eye patch and may increase compliance with the treatment. This is especially so with older children and teenagers, who may resent wearing a patch and having to explain it to others.

An institute-sponsored study also indicated that for moderate amblyopia, patching the unaffected eye for two hours a day works as well as patching for six hours, a change that should also increase compliance.

During the time the eye is patched, the child should do at least an hour of close-up visual activities, like reading, drawing or working puzzles.





In one of my blog posts:

Roger W. Smith, “My Boyhood”


I wrote:

A discussion with an ophthalmologist with whom I had an eye examination yesterday (March 27, 2017) seemed to confirm some of my suspicions about what caused me to develop the condition of amblyopia, also called “lazy eye.” It is quite rare, affects a very small percentage of the population. I asked him about its causes.

He said it could be caused by various factors, ranging from genetic factors to environmental factors at the time of birth. I told him that I was about six weeks premature and that I was kept in an incubator for a long time. I asked him, could this be a possible cause? He said it certainly could.

I then did a bit of research on my own on the Internet. It appears that deprivation of oxygen to blood vessels in the eye of a newborn can impair development of vision in the retina. This seems to confirm what I have always suspected, and it also uncannily underlies the antipathy I have always felt over being denied fresh air and confined in spaces with poor ventilation.

The doctor was Ronald Gentile at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

I had another eye examination with Dr. Gentile recently. He said the vision in my left eye has improved. My right eye is basically useless. If I cover my left eye, everything — even things close up, such as person a few feet away — is a blur.





I was very sensitive about my eye problems as a kid. I thought it meant something was wrong with me. The school bully in junior high school, Bob Dudley, called me a “cross eyed monkey” once. A girlfriend I had once whose father, Herbert Katzin, was a prominent ophthalmologist was constantly bringing up my vision problems and making me feel embarrassed and ashamed of them.

Times columnist Jane Brody article says that early detection of amblyopia is critical. As far as I was concerned, this did not seem to matter. My eye condition was detected very early, and I was always making trips to Boston with my mother to visit Dr. Carl Cordes Johnson, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Every treatment that was tried did absolutely no good.

I can’t help saying that, in my opinion, these personal health writers are often out of their depth.





Jane Brody writes:

The standard treatment for amblyopia is to block the vision temporarily in the stronger eye to force the child to use the weaker one. Two methods are commonly used: an adhesive patch worn over the stronger eye for two or more hours a day or the insertion of eyedrops of atropine, which blur the vision in the stronger eye for most of a day. …

The patch or drops are used for weeks, months or even years, until the weaker eye catches up to the stronger one and the child is able to use both simultaneously to produce a united image.

This was tried on me in my early school years. Wearing a patch was a complete pain. It did NO GOOD whatsoever.



— Roger W. Smith

    May 2018

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on happiness vis-à-vis sadness (and the other way around)




“We are more apt to feel depressed by the perpetually smiling individual than the one who is honestly sad. If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself.”


— Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscence of a Friendship (1973)





These thoughts, this post, are occasioned by a film I saw about beleaguered people in a foreign country.

I was transfixed — totally engrossed in the people’s stories and the picture the film gave of their daily lives.

I shared my enthusiasm for the film with someone close to me and suggested that she see it with me.

She said no, she had no interest (despite my strong recommendation) in seeing the film.

“Why?” I asked.

She answered (perhaps she was looking for excuses), “I don’t want to see something that will make me sad.”

This struck me as patently ridiculous. Since when has it been imperative to avoid things — in life, in art — with the potential to make oneself sad?





It should be obvious that true art mixes joy and beauty with pathos.

In his Poetics, Aristotle developed the theory of catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις, catharsis, meaning “purification” or “cleansing” — the purification and purgation of emotions — especially pity and fear — through art”; as explained on Wikipedia). Note that, as explained in the online encyclopedia article, catharsis represents an “extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration” (italics added).

The film which I saw was a documentary about North Korea entitled Under the Sun. More about this below.





So much for theory. Let’s consider some examples. But first, a digression about happiness in PEOPLE.

To what extent is happiness a desideratum? Can we expect it? Is there even such a thing — is it real? How should we regard others who are, seem to be, or claim to be happy?

My father, Alan W. Smith, thoroughly enjoyed life, on many levels: an interest in things (including the delight he took in little things, such as observing what happened once to dry ice when he threw a chunk of it over the side of a ship into the water; he wanted us to see it), including intellectual curiosity; a love of music (chiefly as a performer); a delight in people and their company; a delight in little amusements; pleasures such as eating, drinking, and the outdoors (experienced as an everyday citizen, not as a woodsman; e.g., raking leaves in the fall, a walk with his wife or the dog on the seashore, a blizzard). He had a keen appetite for life.

Unlike a lot of adults, he loved his work. He never begrudged, never complained about anything. Welcomed everything and anyone who came his way.

He could loosen and cheer up a group simply by being himself and by virtue of his presence. He didn’t mind looking ridiculous, making fun of himself (or being made fun of), or being regarded as extravagant or incautious.

Oftentimes, he would enter a parlor with people leaning forward in their chairs — tight lipped, looking uncomfortable.

“What’s everybody looking so glum for?” he would say. The complexion of the group would change just like that and people would begin talking and joking. In the words of Louisa May Alcott*, he “pervaded the rooms like a genial atmosphere, using the welcome of eye and hand which needs no language to interpret it, … making their [his guests’] enjoyment his own.”

He took the weather with equanimity, be it a blizzard, a hurricane, or an earthquake.

My father happened to be in the Bay Area, visiting my older brother in the late 1980’s, shortly before the former died, when an earthquake struck. “I’ve always wanted to be able to experience what an earthquake feels like,” he told me afterward. As my former therapist pointed out, such an attitude showed an appetite for life and an eagerness to experience it.

A hot summer’s day? A great excuse for setting off a few fireworks in our back yard, or for a lobster cookout (which both my parents loved) in the front yard of our rented summer house on Cape Cod.

I remember a blizzard in my home town of Canton, Massachusetts when I was in high school. Everything was shut down. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do. An idea came to my father. Wouldn’t it be great to toast marshmallows and cook hot dogs in our living room fireplace? There was a problem, however — we didn’t have the ingredients. Such niggling problems never seemed to stand in the way of the fun planned by my father. Come to think of it, how about a walk? We walked, tramped about two miles each way through snowdrifts, found a store that was open, and bought marshmallows, hot dogs, and buns.

There was, of course, another side to him. He could be pensive and gloomy. He could be irascible and had a bad temper. His cheerfulness was only one side of the coin.

When something untoward happened to him — an argument with his second wife, for example — he would say to himself through gritted teeth (as she used to tell me), “I’m not going to let it ruin my day.”





Phony Cheerfulness


A truism: no one is happy all the time.

There was a nice looking, perky girl in the class a year ahead of me in college: Marie E______.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say this. It will sound petty and perhaps mean spirited. But Marie’s perpetual cheerfulness grated on me.

A friend of mine, who lacked emotional depth and (often) insight into human relationships, was eager to get to know Marie and had several tennis dates with her. The relationship went no further.

“The thing I like most about her,” he told me, “is that she’s always cheerful.” This comment seemed obtuse and fatuous. It nettled me. I would be willing to bet that Marie’s perpetual cheerfulness was her way of dealing with insecurities that she probably felt.





Happiness in a person without an admixture of sadness seems to be inimical to the human condition. One wants to get to know both sides of a person — to hear about their highs and lows from him or herself.

What about my father? you might ask. Didn’t I just wax rhapsodic over his cheerfulness and capacity to enjoy life?

I noted that he had another side that, while it was less often seen, would suddenly be displayed in bursts of anger. And, my father knew profound grief from family tragedies for which he did not bear responsibility but in which he was the chief mourner and suffered the most.

A capacity for joy does not preclude an awareness of sadness, does not obviate sadness.

Who wrote the Ode to Joy? The same composer who in his late quartets, beautifully, incomparably, expresses pathos, sadness.





The film mentioned above is Under the Sun (2015), a documentary about North Korea. It was directed by the Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky.

It is beautifully done and tugs and pulls at the viewer emotionally on many levels. The central person in the film, who is unforgettable, is an adorable eight-year-old North Korean girl named Zin-mi. The plot is ostensibly about Zin-mi going through steps, including school, as she prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union. At the film’s conclusion, she breaks down and cries upon being admitted to the children’s union. She is perhaps crying from relief that the stress of achieving the goal is over and, it seems, from what one would call joy mixed with sadness.

As I noted in a previous post:

re “Under the Sun” (a film about North Korea)


The compelling thing about the film is that you come away caring about the people and touched by the film’s PATHOS — despite the fact that one is aware that the people live incredibly hard, regimented lives in a totalitarian state where they have been effectively brainwashed and reduced almost to automatons (or so it often seems).

The film features beautiful, elegiac music composed by a Latvian composer, Karlis Auzans. It captures the pathos musically, for example, in a scene where you see North Koreans having family photos taken in a sort of assembly line fashion. A couple stands proudly in front of an automatic camera with their children. The photo is taken and another couple poses. And so on. As they stare into the camera, one sees expressions of pride but also feels a great sadness. The music rises to an emotional pitch and captures this. One feels empathy with the people posing, with the North Koreans! One feels that they are people, just like us. That, despite very hard lives, they experience feelings like ours. One feels like crying oneself, but one, at the same time, experiences a kind of joy in contemplating the miracle of human existence, and how this elemental reality links us all, regardless of circumstances.





This got me thinking about pathos in literature and music. About the comment “I don’t want to see something that will make me sad.”

Anna Karenina ends sadly. Does that make one any less desirous of reading it? It seems that in most operas the plot involves a tragic love affair, often with someone committing suicide, dying of grief. Art (in the broad sense of the word) is full of grief, so to speak, as well as happiness — as depicted by the artist drawing upon a profound knowledge of human life. Would one wish all art to be reduced to the level of a situation comedy?

What about music? Ever hear stirrings of pathos? In Beethoven’s late quartets, in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, and so forth?

Case closed.



— Roger W. Smith

  February 2018; updated May 2018



*In her novel Work: A Story of Experience (1873).






Posted in Alan W. Smith (Roger W. Smith's father), essays (by Roger W. Smith), general interest, personal psychology (Roger W. Smith observations re) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

the particular matters; quotes from famous authors



“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”


“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell


“To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit — General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess.”

— William Blake, Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses


“AND many conversèd on these things as they labour’d at the furrow, Saying: ‘It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery; It is better to prevent error than to forgive the criminal. Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones; And those who are in misery cannot remain so long, If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.… He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars, And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity. Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falsehood continually, On Circumcision, not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion!”

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”





”Dear Hugo, you must write to me often as you can, & not delay it, your letters are very dear to me. Did you see my newspaper letter in N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4? About my dear comrade Bloom, is he still out in Pleasant Valley? Does he meet you often? Do you & the fellows meet at Gray’s or any where? O Hugo, I wish I could hear with you the current opera – I saw Devereux in the N Y papers of Monday announced for that night, & I knew in all probability you would be there – tell me how it goes – only don’t run away with that theme & occupy too much of your letter with it – but tell me mainly about all my dear friends, & every little personal item, & what you all do, & say &c.”

— Walt Whitman, letter to Hugo Fritsch, dated Washington, DC, October 8, 1863; from Selected Letters of Walt Whitman





“[I]n these lives of ours, tender little acts do more to bind hearts together than great deeds or heroic words. …”

— Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience





“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.”

— Henry Miller, Plexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965, pg. 53)





“In the ordinary is the extraordinary. In the particular is the universal.”

— Frank Delaney (1942–2017), Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster; blog post re James Joyce’s Ulysses



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2015; updated May 2018






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some of my best friends …




“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

“A watched pot never boils.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”



“Some of my best friends …”





I grew up with these sayings, all of them except the last one.

These commonplaces are not indicators of stupidity or poverty of thought. There is much wisdom in them. Many of them were used by my mother.





What about some of my best friends …?

First of all, it’s not an adage. It’s a cliché.

In the online Urban Dictionary, some of my best friends are … is defined as follows:

Something prejudiced people say when they’re called out on their prejudice. Smacks of tokenism and hypocrisy.

Person A: You can’t trust those goddamn crackers.

Person B: Don’t be prejudiced against white people.

Person A: Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are crackers.

It’s an oft ridiculed line, perhaps justly so.

But I would be inclined to take — at least in my own case (from which I would be inclined to generalize) — a contrarian view.

I would not be inclined to trot out the phrase. But, like the adages I quoted above, the phrase seems to contain some truth in it as a reflection of the actual experience of many people.

Which is to say.

Everyone has prejudices; no one is perfect. One can still hold — buried within oneself — prejudices toward certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Anyone who is honest about human nature will admit that they are hard to overcome.

It is true in my case, though people would not call me prejudiced or racist.

What I have found is that if one is honest about self-examination and introspective, one can find prejudices that one harbors. That’s where one might find oneself having a “some of my best friends” experience, though, in my case, I would be embarrassed to use the term; not inclined to do so for fear of being ridiculed.





You may have limited experience of certain religious or ethnic groups. I did. I grew up in New England. Practically everyone was Christian, Protestant or Catholic; there was one black student, as I recall, in my high school; I had one Jewish friend (not a close friend); and I probably did not even know what the term Hispanic meant, having never met as I recall someone whose ethnicity was so designated.

I live in New York City now. I went to a liberal college with a majority of Jewish students. I have experienced ethnic diversity in the workplace and my adopted city.

Still, I harbor prejudices. And, my experience of some religious and ethnic groups has been limited.

But then you or I meet someone from one of these groups and the two of you have immediate rapport. The buried prejudices, old thoughts that you never quite dealt with, don’t matter. Experience for the moment has trumped old animosities, fears, resentments buried within you and directed toward an amorphous group, not toward individuals.





A final thought. It doesn’t involve friendships, but it seems pertinent.

I love the ethnic diversity of New York City: the mixture of races and creeds and of the native and foreign born.

I often experience positive interactions with strangers. I can’t get over how helpful and nice people are in this big, supposedly impersonal city, where everyone is supposed to have little time for one another.

I try to — and in fact do — respond in kind.

These positive experiences — most often with people who are not of the same race, class, religious or national origins, and so forth — are incredibly edifying. And, what’s most significant, from the point of view of this post, is that they trump any need to address prejudice issues on an abstract level.

Abstractions become irrelevant. It’s the personal interaction in the here and now that matters, and one experiences a wonderful feeling of common humanity.

A dimension of actual lived experience I love. Because, as William Blake said: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer. …”

Translation (or should I say extrapolation): You will never be able to overcome prejudice in the abstract; you will — society will, can — on the individual and personal level.



— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018


Posted in Elinor Handy Smith (Roger W. Smith's mother), essays (by Roger W. Smith), general interest, my city and neighborhood, personal views of Roger W. Smith | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carl Nielsen, “Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde” (song)










Posted here is a song by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen: “Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde” (Often I am glad, still may I weep from sadness). The text is by the Danish novelist and poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862).

“Tidt er jeg glad” was included in a collection of songs: En Snes danske Viser (a Score of Danish Songs), published in 1915, which included songs composed by Nielsen and Thomas Laub, a Danish organist and composer who was a friend of Nielsen’s.

Nielsen’s output of songs was prodigious. They are well known in Denmark and show Nielsen’s indebtedness to Danish literature.



— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018






Tidt er jeg glad

Often I am Happy


Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog geme gæde
thi intet Hjærte deler helt min Glæde.
Tidt er jeg sorrigfuld og maa dog le,
at ingen skal dem bange Taare se.

Tidt elsker jeg, og vil dog gerne sukke,
thi Hjærtet maa sig tavst og strængt tillukke.
Tidt harmes jeg og dog jeg smile maa,
thi det er Daarer, som jeg harmes paa.

Tidt er jeg varrn, og isner i min Varme;
thi Verden favner mig med frosne Arme.
Tidt er jeg kold – og rødmer dog derved;
thi Verden slukker ej min Kjærlighed.

Tidt taler jeg – og vil dog gjeme tie,
hvor Ordct ej maa Tanken oppebie.
Tidt er jeg stum – og ønsker tordenrøst,
for at udtØmme det beklemte Bryst.

0, du, som ene dele kan min Glæde!
du ved hvis Barm jeg turde frit udgræde!
0, hvis du kjendte, hvis du elsked mig,
jeg kunde være som, jeg er – hos dig.



Often I am happy and yet would like to cry,
for no heart shares completely in my joy.
Often I am sorrowful and yet must laugh,
so that no one will see my frightened tears.

Often I love, and yet would like to sigh;
for my heart must silently and tightly seal itself off.
Often I feel angry and yet must smile;
for those I feel anger toward are fools.

Often I am warm, and shiver in my warmth;
for the world embraces me with frozen arm.
Often I am cold and yet feel flushed;
for the world cannot extinguish my love.

Often I speak and yet wish to be silent,
when my words don’t wait for my thoughts.
Often I am silent and wish for a thunderous voice,
in order to empty my tortured breast.

Oh you, the only one who can share my joy!
the only one upon whose bosom I could freely cry!
Oh, if you knew me, if you loved me,
I could always be as I am … with you.





“Tidt er jeg glad” (Often I am Happy) provides an example of how Nielsen establishes musical expectations and then, as the melody follows its natural course, smoothly undermines the fulfillment harmonically. And yet, at first hearing there is nothing particularly remarkable about this song: its rhythms are regular, the melody mostly stepwise, the harmonic progressions are normative, and the text-setting is syllabic. Indeed, the song is simple almost to the point of sounding amateurish. Yet closer attention reveals that these ordinary features result in a creation more ingenious than immature, and that the momentary lapses between expectation and fulfillment contribute to the expression of both the structure and the meaning of the poetry.

The point of the poem is to suggest that things are not what they seem, that the protagonist’s inner reality is exactly the opposite of his outward appearance. The poem’s veneer of well-being masking dark truths is a feature of much Scandinavian literature and film—no wonder, in a region of the world where “decorum” is a veritable maxim to live by. In his aphoristic presentation of contrasting emotions and images, Ingemann conveys the turmoil suffered and energy expended in hiding one’s deepest feelings. Surely it was this tension between extremes of emotion that attracted Nielsen to his poem.

In the song, the general sadness of the poem is conveyed through the minor-mode context, consistently serious tone, and plaintive melody. Even though phrase after phrase presents opposing adjectives—happy/sad, sorrowful/laughing, warm/freezing, loud/soft—the music maintains a single somber mood throughout. In the following analysis it will become apparent that Nielsen chose more subtle musical means than the simple vacillation between major and minor modes, or slow and lively rhythms to underscore these polarities.

Each of the short phrases of text is supported by just two measures of music. Even though these small units are equal in length, the song does not come apart at the seams because Nielsen has arranged the harmony so that the end of one phrase is at the same time the beginning of the next. Each phrase ends on the dominant of one key or another that progresses into the next phrase; this musical dependency matches the poetry’s string of dependent clauses. …

Thus, in as concentrated a fashion as Ingemann himself, Nielsen has matched the poem’s balanced presentation of polarized emotions with the perfect musical counterpart: a pattern of alternating harmonic poles – dominant and tonic – the circle-of-fifths harmonic sequence. Further, as an analogue for the protagonist’s emotional deception, he interrupts this sequence with deceptive motions, translating into musical terms the dichotomy between what the person appears to feel and is actually experiencing inside. The continual fluctuation between anticipation and retrospective reinterpretation in the harmonic domain, then, serves to intensify the poem’s emotional zigzaggery. … By underscoring the contrasting emotions with opposing harmonic functions, … Nielsen succeeded in fusing the musical and poetic syntax.


— Annie-Marie Reynolds, Carl Nielsen’s Voice: His Songs in Context

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“They Spoke Spanish in a Montana Store. Then a Border Agent Asked for Their IDs”

By Matthew Haag

The New York Times

May 21, 2018




This kind of profiling and harassment of the foreign born is inexcusable, incredibly stupid, and unproductive. In a word, it’s deplorable.

What was the agent thinking?

The Times article notes:

An agency spokesman declined to discuss the specific episode but said that the officer’s actions were under review.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” a spokesman at Customs and Border Protection said in an email on Monday. “Decisions to question individuals are based on a variety of factors for which Border Patrol agents are well-trained.”

This is reassuring (meant sarcastically).





I am totally against vigorous anti-immigrant enforcement and President Trump’s no nothing, get tough on immigrants policy. (On May 16, Trump launched into a riff about “people trying to come in” and being deported who are “not people.” “They’re animals,” he said. “It’s the latest in a series of statements stretching over Trump’s entire national political career that carelessly conflate immigration, criminality, and violence,” it was noted in a Vox post.)

As noted in previous posts of mine (see links below), I feel that such a policy is not only uncalled for, not justified by any facts, and mean spirited, but that it goes against our foundational principles as a nation and against fundamental concepts of decency and humanity.

And, I believe that following the opposite policy would ensure that we continue to remain a strong country — that, besides inflicting undue hardship on people, it drains us culturally and spiritually and hurts us economically — that it is neither fair nor humane or advantageous from an economical or practical point of view. (See, for example, reference to Wall Street Journal article below).

To say nothing of the pain it has inflicted upon individuals.





Regarding over-zealous border patrol actions: Last month, I was detained by air traffic controllers while changing planes at the Stockholm airport.

I asked why. Was I under suspicion? You get no answer.

I was detained for about 25 minutes, thoroughly searched, and asked innumerable questions, such as what places had I visited, what hotels had I stayed in and what were the room numbers, had I given anyone else access to my luggage, what companies have I worked for. My passport was taken away and returned to me just before the flight departed. There are two stickers on the back of my passport now, one saying “SECURITY” and the other ‘DELTA SECURITY 7/16.” I am afraid to remove them.

I fit the profile of a _______. Shoe bomber? There was nothing about me or my trip, or my carry on items (a laptop computer and a tote bag with a book or two, my passport, an audiobook, and nothing much else) — my suitcase had already been checked in — that was suspicious.

It was very stressful and helped to ruin my trip.




— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018







See also my posts:



“extreme vetting” of immigrants?



“prevarication; institutionalized cruelty”



“immigration policy, Walt Whitman, and Donald Trump’s wall; or, the Berlin Wall redux”







See also:



“Coveted exemptions from Trump’s travel ban remain elusive for citizens of Muslim-majority countries”

by Abigail Hauslohner

The Washington Post

May 22, 2018





See also:


“Immigration Is Practically a Free Lunch for America; Tax cuts are well and good, but the surest way to spur economic growth is to let in more people.”

By Neel Kashkari

The Wall Street Journal

January 19, 2018

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a poem




In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool.
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.


— Ralph Waldo Emerson; quoted by Louisa May Alcott in her novel Work: A Story of Experience



We call this flower rhododendron.

This poem speaks to me. I was not familiar with Emerson’s poetry. My loss (up till now). I can see why Emerson is admired as a poet; I have some prior knowledge of it from his essays and can see similar qualities.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2018




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