Archive for November, 2009

Vide Cor Meum

November 27, 2009

Vide Cor Meum, “See My Heart” in Latin, is the title of this beautiful aria written by Irish composer Patrick Cassidy.  It is fashioned after an early sonnet of Dante’s from his La Vita Nuova (“The New Life” in Italian).  The poem recounts a dream of Beatrice, his first love.

Dante but crossed paths with a nine year old Beatrice and was so smitten that he wrote: “Behold a god more powerful than I… from then on love governed my soul”.  Nine years later to the day he came across her again and she addressed him “virtuously”.  Then, “I left the crowd as if intoxicated and returned to the solitude of my own room”.

There he fell asleep and had the dream.  Love embodied held a burning heart in his hand and said to Dante “Vide Cor Tuum” (“see your heart”), woke the sleeping Beatrice, and fed it to her.  She died and they rose toward heaven.  In life they married others and she did die young – at 24.  Dante must have believed that Beatrice so felt the great power of his love that unable to requite, perished.

Guess my roommate is lucky to have me.  Anyway, what is truly incredible about this ethereal piece of music is that it was composed specifically for the film Hannibal and is an essential part of it.  How could the character of a sophisticated cannibal be better shaped than with prosimetrum from Dante employing the metaphorical eating of a heart? “Then he (love) woke her and that burning heart he fed to her reverently.”  Dante!  OMG

The scene around its performance underscores Dr. Lecter’s erudition and sheds light upon his feelings for Clarice.  He has loved her from the first moment of their first meeting, cherishes every encounter, but knows that it can never be consummated and that he must take great care toward her protection.

In the bit below we see such depth of feeling that one unfamiliar with the story line would find the Giancarlo Giannini character caddish and Lecter movingly urbane.  Indeed, Inspector Pazzi’s wife Allegra seems quite taken with Dr. Lecter when from memory he gives the sonnet from La Vita Nuova.  The short shrift given by Giannini’s Pazzi seals his fate as much as anything else.  Ironically, in Lecter’s company bad taste can be fatal.

Vide Cor Meum (Translation from the Italian/Latin)

Chorus: And thinking of her
Sweet sleep came over me
I am your master
See your heart
See your heart
And of this burning heart
Your heart
Chorus: She trembling
Obediently eats.
Weeping, I saw him then depart from me.
You is converted
To bitterest tears
Joy is converted
To bitterest tears
I am in peace
My heart
I am in peace

See my heart

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”*

November 20, 2009


    At least two august publications, the Economist and Harvard Business Review, chose to prominently mark the centennial celebration (yesterday, November 19) of the birth of Peter Drucker.  HBR asks on its November cover, ”What Would Peter Do? How his wisdom can help you navigate turbulent times.” The Economist says that “Four years after his death Peter Drucker remains the foremost management guru”.

  Author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles, he engaged me first in 1980 with his Managing in Turbulent Times just as the farm belt entered a difficult decade.  He advised: “A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.”  I was green, didn’t get it right off and the glue of our business model slowly dissolved.  But for a friendly banker we might have gone under.  Finally a light went on, I reread, and have been a fan ever since.

  Drucker was born in Vienna, moved to London in 1933 after falling into disfavor with the incipient fascist movement and moved to the US in 1933.  In 1939 he published his first bestseller, The End of Economic Man, in which he held that there was more to being a boss than worrying about the cost of payroll.

  Through the ensuing years, he was always out front.  “Management by objectives” and “knowledge worker” were his.  He foresaw the postwar rise of Japan and the tremendous importance of marketing.  He warned about public perception of oversized management compensation – in the mid eighties.  He famously said that the major consideration is not to figure out what to do, but “what to stop doing”.  Drucker devoted a significant part of his career to nonprofits which he thought formed a crucial part of a dynamic society.

  His take was always holistic and it will forever be fascinating to read him connecting disparate dots.  His preternatural perspicacity had to have been related to his interest in art.  During his forty year tenure at Claremont College he gave courses in both management and Japanese painting.

  An interviewer once took note of a “few black smudges on a yellow piece of paper” on a wall in his study.  Drucker said “I bet you don’t see much in that”.  Nope.  He then said that a Zen contemplative could offer the essential nature of a tree or whole landscape with a few quick strokes of a brush.  Forest gets lost in the trees all too often.

  Drucker was also an avid mountaineer.  He once said that: “I have always been a loner… I work best outside.  That’s where I’m most effective.  I would be a very poor manager.  Hopeless.”  Uh, yep, yep, and yep.

  Reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  When they’re in the mountains of Bolivia looking for work, the Strother Martin character asks the Kid to shoot a few blocks of wood he tossed out so as to test Kid’s skill set.  Kid misses – to Martin’s disgust.  Kid asks “Can I move?”  Martin says “huh?”  Kid rolls into action with Smith and Wesson shock, awe, and accuracy.

  ‘Scuse me while I step outside.

*If you don’t feel like reading any of his books, search for quotes and you’ll find something that resonates:

– “Management is doing things right.  Leadership is doing the right things.”

– “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

– “Follow effective action with quiet reflection.  From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

– “People who take risks generally make about two big mistakes every year.  People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes every year.”

– “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.

– “The computer is a moron.”

Old Friends

November 13, 2009

  Last weekend wife and I traveled north to visit a friend with whom I had crossed paths but once in the thirty-five years since college.  Make that twice – as I told his wife, last time I’d seen her she was all wrapped in white.

  Our college years were quite the mix of intellectual rigor and ribaldry.  Malheureusement, I’ve forgotten everything I learned, but can still be gross and disgusting with little trouble.  For example (and the only one I’ll provide) I’m still a urinary artiste.

  He met his wife when she was three days old.  I had to wait till kindergarten to find mine.  We exchanged that info after regaling each other with memories and new developments.  We agreed that it was an incredible stroke of something that we ever got a second date with any female, let alone a life long commitment from a girl with the advantage of a long view.

  Anyway, my friend and I both sought thrills and latterly careers and deep meaning.  He’s now a farmer quite close to the earth.  He raises grass fed cattle, humanely, gently even.  And is justly proud of his family’s stewardship of their rolling bit of Wisconsin.

  Before lunch we helped separate out a few head and then move the rest to a new pasture.  The process was beautiful.  There was rhythm.  No prodding or loud noise.  Like a shaman, farmer friend moved the cattle with softly shaken long handled rattles.  That’s all it took.

Cates 1a 

  “Cattle here have a great life up until that last day” he said.  For what more could one hope?  Herd eagerly entered the new pasture and its  fresh grass.  They change every other day or so.  I look out the same window every flippin’ day…

  Lunch was a fine repast of lean grass fed Angus hamburgers, pesto, and applesauce.  All procured by them, from their land, with care.  I had seconds.

  After lunch we hiked across fields and through timber for several hours.  I was amazed at his concern for the state of even remote bits of his land.  He’d bend, scoop, and toss sticks and small branches over the fence so as not to impede the verdancy. 

  Then, in the forest, he explained about the driftless area and how the nature of the landscape had evolved over the eons.  How the flora and fauna changed through the stewardship of the Native Americans and  now his. At dusk, we entered a clearing atop the last tallest hill open to the sky and through the leafless trees, beyond.  It had an aura, an incredibly palpable sense of place.

  Throughout our perambulation we talked about our lives through the years since graduation.  A lot of shit has happened.  Paul Simon’s song Old Friends came to mind. 

Old Friends,
Old Friends,
Sat on the park bench
Like bookends. 

  But, though creaky we’re neither ready for a park bench.  What struck me was a metaphorical take on that verse.  By graduation there were a few text books between us. Now pushing sixty however the volumes are many and the shelf bends under their weight.  Some were light and quick reads, some tumescent, several revelatory and wonderful, and, well, a few drew toward denouement with relentless and terrible power.

  Late in the lyrics Paul Simon wrote, “how terribly strange to be seventy…” But he was only twenty-seven then and might as well have written about what he knew about life on Mars.  Me?  Now forty plus years closer to that mark I’d say why look up from the book I’m reading now – might lose my place.

Hearts and Hope

November 6, 2009

  This week, courtesy of NPR, I had occasion to listen to a fascinating program about stem cells on Speaking of Faith.  Host Krista Tippett visited the regeneration lab of Fr. Doris Tayor at the University of Minnesota.

  Problem with organ transplants is rejection.  Patient has to take powerful drugs for life to avoid a new heart from making an Alien-like exit.  Ms Taylor is working on a method to build a new heart out of one’s own cells. 

  Not yet in human trials, she starts with a heart from a rat cadaver and washes out all cells leaving an interstitial “scaffold”.  Then she uses stem cells to build a new heart upon that structure.  Below you can watch a video showing steps in the process culminating in a new beating heart!*

   Speaking of Alien: the video reminded me of the horrible part of Alien Resurrection where Ripley stumbles upon a lab filled with disturbing experiments with/on humanoids eerily similar in presentation to Dr. Taylor’s rat hearts in beakers.

  For her part, Taylor says she wouldn’t undertake anything she wouldn’t do on her mother.  People tell her that “she isn’t building hearts, she’s building hope”.  “The universe has given me tools: I’m going to use those tools.”  Progress is a series of discoveries.  When ill, our ancestors chewed on willow bark which we now use in the form of aspirin.

  Marveling over the beauty of the natural architecture of a heart with Dr Taylor, moderator Tippett said that “One of the things that I’ve been fascinated in… with scientists in general is how scientists have such a regard for beauty”.  Reminded me of a post far above in which I discuss nuclear weapon development by scientists eager to push forward savoring the “sweet technological problems…” 

  I’m all for progress and favor stem cell research, but I’m beginning to disagree with Keats’ famous lines from Ode to a Grecian Urn

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.  That is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know 

  This here universe is a whole lot more complicated than that.   Billowing cumulus might be beautiful, but so is a mushroom cloud.  Taylor indeed does give us hope.  We can make ourselves sick (physically or metaphorically), but we can also make ourselves well.

  All parts of our bodies are continually regenerating and the stem cells do the work.  Taylor calls it “endogenous repair, internal repair”.  Ageing of tissues and bodies is the failure of stem cells.  Stress ages stem cells by a known process. Decrease stress increase the life of a cell and a body.

  “… there’s a spiritual component to all of this” Taylor says.  “What we think impacts who we are.  She recruited well known Tibetan Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard and measured stem cells in his blood before and after a meditation session.  “What we found was a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in blood.”

  In an unrelated study of the neurological correlates of happiness at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Ricard was subjected to an extensive  examination with hundreds of sensors affixed to his noggin for a three hour ride in an MRI.  He was so far outside normal parameters that he was dubbed the “happiest man on earth”.  Wonder what he knows.

*Interestingly (but I guess not surprisingly), process sounds very much like morphogenetic architecture in which a pattern or process is observed in nature, algorithms developed, computer let loose, and voila: an, uh, as yet unbuilt research lab for the Santa Fe Institute designed by son and friends.

Andrew Surface 1


** For the complete interview and more video go to: