Plasma Physics Lab Makes Progress Towards Fusion Power
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have made advances this year towards the long-term goal of making fusion power a viable source of electricity. The lab outlined various scientific achievements in Quest, its annual research magazine.
“Achievements range from discoveries of new ways to produce efficient fusion reactions to insights into the process that triggers northern lights, solar flares, and violent geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service and electrical grids,” wrote Steve Cowley, PPPL director, in the annual magazine, published in July.
Among the stories are descriptions of how scientists are finding ways to tame the instabilities in plasma that can lead to the disruption of fusion reactions. Such research is critical to the next steps in advancing fusion energy to enable fusion devices to produce and sustain reactions that require temperatures many times hotter than the core of the sun.
Fusion, the power that drives the sun and stars, fuses light elements and releases energy. If scientists can capture and control fusion on earth, the process could provide clean energy to produce electricity for millions of years with no greenhouse gases.
Plasma, the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion reactions, is the common thread in PPPL research from astrophysics to nanotechnology to the science of fusion energy. Much of the research described in the magazine is relevant to ITER, the large multinational fusion device under construction in France. For example, in the section “New Paths to Fusion Energy” scientists describe that understanding the heating of electrons and ions — as ITER will do — can improve fusion reactions.
Quest details other efforts to understand the scientific basis of fusion and plasma behavior. For example, in the section on advancing fusion theory, physicists describe how artificial intelligence can help predict and tame disruptions, thereby improving fusion reactions. The PPPL’s new artificial intelligence program will run on Aurora, the nation’s first exascale computing system — capable of one quintillion calculations per second.
In “Advancing Plasma Science,” learn how low-temperature plasma can be used in nanosynthesis — a tool for creating nanostructures that can be used in industries from pharmaceuticals to microchips and consumer electronics. These structures are thousands of times thinner than the diameter of a human hair but have enormous potential in many consumer industries.
PPPL scientists and engineers have worked on fusion devices around the world. These collaborations include other devices besides ITER, including research on devices in China, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere in the U.S.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton University, James Forrestal Campus, Box 451, Princeton 08543. 609-243-2000. Steve Cowley, director. www.pppl.gov.
Alliance Calibrations Group, 656 Georges Road, Suite 1, North Brunswick 08902. 732-956-7543.
Alliance Calibrations Group has expanded, buying an 11,000-square-foot facility on Georges Road in North Brunswick
ACG provides calibration, setup, installation, repair services, and preventive maintenance for analytical instruments that are used in the laboratories of pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetic companies, as well as criminal investigation labs throughout the country. Its clients include businesses of all sizes — from the largest of pharmaceutical companies to the smallest of biotechnology startups.
Fredi L. Pearlmutter, a partner at the law firm Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, in Westfield has been named to the board of directors of YWCA Princeton. Pearlmutter’s practice focuses on environmental and public health issues. She is also actively involved with the community-based organization Sustainable Princeton. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a law degree from Harvard.
John Goodyear, 88, on July 5. A Lambertville-based visual artist whose career spanned more than 60 years, Goodyear was the former chairman of the art department at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and a founding member of the Princeton area MOVIS arts group. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New Jersey State Museum, and Whitney Museum. He also created work for the New Jersey State House through the New Jersey Arts Inclusion Project.
Steven J. Zahirny ‘Proze,’ 40, on July 3. He was a graffiti artist and acrylic canvas painter whose graffiti talents were displayed at TerraCycle and during the annual Art All Night celebration in Trenton. He was also known for his custom kitchen and bathroom designs and finishings.
Joan Ann Abbotts, 88, on June 7. She was a realtor for Weidel Real Estate and a board member of Union Industrial Home for Children and Children’s Home Society, both in Trenton.
Rev. John V. Bowden, 82, on July 3. He was an ordained priest of the Diocese of Trenton, serving in various parishes.
“Be strategic,” Dorothy Mullen said to a board member of Suppers. “There’s nothing better for fundraising than having your founder come down with metastatic cancer.”
Tears wiped. Business plan meetings scheduled. Moving forward.
This is the story of “Dor” Mullen, founder of Suppers, a learn-by-doing program where people learn to cook, taste, and feel their way to vibrant health.
Here is her story. And here are some of our stories. We are among the many who want to keep Suppers going. Not just to honor and remember Dorothy, not just because Suppers is so important to so many people, but because we believe Suppers — and its principles — have the power to make Princeton — and New Jersey — and the nation — healthier.
— Marion Reinson, member of the Suppers transition team
by Dorothy Mullen
‘No” I wrote next to line 7. The phlebotomist was assembling vials. “I don’t give permission for disposal of my tissue specimens.”
Three of us sat for an hour waiting in areas progressively closer to the phlebotomist, who handed me eight pages of fine print to sign while he put on his gloves. “Don’t people read these documents?”
The phlebotomist — whose profession I just learned how to spell — said, “People just sign them without reading them.”
It’s a cultural expectation — similar to signing the work order for getting my car serviced — that documents prepared with the benefit of attorneys be signed with a straight face by everybody else.
This time it was different. At age 63, I was two weeks into the surprise diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer. The doctors had said that someone with my diagnosis had a median survival time of 10 months without the new immunology treatments and two years with the therapies.
With my 26-year-old daughter and my RN girlfriend standing by me, I entered a system I’d managed to avoid for decades. The phlebotomist’s gloved hands notwithstanding, I divvied up the documents for us to read. He called Central to find out what he was supposed to do so he could get blood from a patient who wrote “No” on line 7.
My time line of medical problems started with ear infections and antibiotics; a mouth full of silver mercury amalgam in adolescence; followed soon but with no observed connection to previous treatment by anxiety, digestive pain, phenobarbital, and ulcer diets. In my early 20s, gagging every morning was average; abdominal pain was a given; and I was diagnosed as a universal allergy reactor, reacting even to the saline solution that was supposed to be the negative control.
When I was 29, married and with one child, I entered a psychiatric hospital. I had been to a dozen different practitioners for my laundry list of ailments, and each had found something to treat. None of them figured out what was really wrong. By all accounts, I was a hypochondriac, depressed, and with suicidal ideation.
When the social workers in the psych hospital told me to weave a basket, I wove a basket. When they told me to hop like a bunny I hopped like a bunny. I was a model patient for a month. I wanted to get out of there. “This feels so medical,” I told myself. I was certain that I was not the crazy one, that I had not been diagnosed properly yet, and that mental illness was only one aspect of this larger issue.
I coped the best I could when I got out. As I weaned myself off enough Xanax to sedate a horse, I used daily exercise to keep panic at bay. I ate better and better and started vegetable gardening. I read books and accumulated a lot of wisdom that would help other people later but didn’t help me then. I couldn’t resolve my own health problems, but I was gathering information and messages that would lead to the program design years later when I founded my nonprofit organization, the Suppers Programs (U.S. 1, November 26, 2008, and May 2, 2012).
Suppers has grown from five people eating at my kitchen table to a network of support groups with 30 volunteer facilitators. We provide local solutions to the global problems caused by processed foods and environmental toxins.
When I founded Suppers, I put myself out there as a model of healthy eating in my community. Now, I asked myself, what would the diagnosis of stage four lung cancer do to my reputation? Did I turn overnight from a model to an imposter?
So I am motivated to write this article by a desire to do damage control: I don’t want anybody giving up on green living just because Dorothy Mullen got cancer. I don’t want anyone giving up on supporting their gut biomes with homemade sauerkraut just because my microorganisms didn’t save me. Given my history, it makes sense to me that I got cancer, even though there is none anywhere in my family.
Picking up the history: In my late 40s I was hobbled by joint pain I could no longer conceal. A friend who works with autistic children said I had a lot of the same symptoms as her mercury-toxic patients and told me where to test for it.
I took a semester off from TCNJ, where I was getting a master’s degree in counseling (see sidebar, page 26), and went to a detox specialist. I didn’t have to establish my credibility; my lab work spoke for me: “You’re a walking thermometer,” said the doctor who looked at my mercury numbers.
That was 15 years ago. I had been poisoned, poisoned by mercury.
It explained decades of nausea and digestive distress.
It explained why I was a universal allergy reactor, reacting with pink blotches even to the saline that was supposed to be the negative control.
It explained why I landed in the psychiatric hospital in my late 20s when the labs and inventories of a dozen practitioners couldn’t find another explanation for my illness, depression, and panic disorder.
It explained the crippling joint pain.
Imagine my peace of mind when another mercury-toxic patient said, “You know, the element mercury is second only to radioactive plutonium in its toxicity to human tissue.”
How comforting! I was relieved to uncover the cause, not only of my current illness, but also my longstanding mental health problems.
Nothing matched the sense-making pleasure I found in learning I was loaded with neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters that are second only to radioactive plutonium. That was 2007. Equally happy-making was learning two years ago that I had a bad gene for methylating (detoxing) heavy metal.
I was lucky I lived in New Jersey where the therapy I needed was available. I was lucky to be able to afford to pay for both health care insurance and health care.
For years and years, the treatments that didn’t work were reimbursable. The treatments that gave me my brain and my joints back were $30,000 out of pocket. (This has become typical mealtime conversation at Suppers: insurance companies pay out a lot of money on things that don’t work and don’t cover what does.)
Determined to stay positive and focused on solutions instead of complaining about the medical system, I took all that undifferentiated energy that could have become anger and channeled it into building the Suppers model.
At Suppers, we tell stories. Story telling is central to the therapeutic value of Suppers. My stupid experience (insurance-paying-for-what-doesn’t-work-and-not-paying-for-what-does-work) made a very good story to repeat at Suppers meetings. At our support groups, we often help each other avoid wild goose chasing within the medical system by recounting our experiences with it.
My history of wrong diagnoses, dumb psychological explanations, and addiction is why I needed to devote my life to not judging the addicted, the sick, and the mentally ill. I needed to help people find their paths to health by living closer to nature and to each other. “Dorothy, you take those lemons and make lemonade.” The message was clear: Take whatever you would have spent on anger and get busy on solutions.
To the rest of the world, people like me look like hypochondriacs.
I don’t believe in hypochondria. Hypochondriacs are people who don’t make sense yet to the people who are judging them.
And if their judges would give up their need to comfort themselves by assigning labels and listen more, they might be able to look at these people’s symptoms and realize that how they feel is important data.
Listening has been required at Suppers programs for 14 years. First we cook and eat together; then everyone sits under no-judgment zone signs while we speak and listen.
When I started Suppers I was doing “school gardening” at Riverside School in Princeton and was supporting teachers and parents and throughout New Jersey by teaching workshops and conferences on garden-based education (U.S. 1, August 20, 2014).
Children are easier to work with. Children eat flowers, vegetables, and weeds if you stay out of their way.
Figuring out what Suppers needed to be for adults was more complicated. Everything depended on vegetables.
That includes my family.
While I didn’t grow up growing food, my dad was a farmer at heart, and I guess he passed on the gene. He was born on Lexington Avenue in 1907 and moved to New Jersey as a child. His father died in the flu epidemic in 1918, leaving my young father to grow food for his mother and brother in their backyard in Teaneck.
The best recollection I have from his childhood is the storied dung bucket. My terrible Irish grandmother — the eldest of eight orphaned children — booted him out the door to follow the milk wagon and capture the droppings. Woe betide the lad who came back without the goods for the garden.
At the same time, my mom — a German, French, English, and journalism teacher — tended another type of garden. She made me come in all hot and sweaty from the playground to write poems. Following her path, I majored in German at Upsala College in East Orange, where I also studied Swedish.
Soon after graduation I married my college sweetheart, who made his career in the recycled paper industry, based in the ironbound section of Newark. We started a family. I have three children, ages 36, 31, and 26, and they all eat their vegetables. We lived in a beautiful home overlooking Carnegie Lake for eight years. When my husband and I divorced, I brought the children to my current garden on Patton Avenue, which incidentally also contains a house.
Patton Avenue is the mother garden to Riverside and, by now, probably hundreds of flower beds and vegetable gardens in our community. I run gardening workshops there for adults. My healing mission built on vegetables runs the continuum, from prevention with children to treatment with adults. I’m serving the same population — people who get sick on processed foods — separated by about 30 years of exposure.
Teachers and storytellers collect messages and bright sayings. I’ve always been a collector of messages, but my hands were usually too full to write them down properly. My pockets, file folders, and penny jars contained torn-off corners of newspaper with jotted bits of wisdom. Some survived.
Now, as I abruptly focus on end-of-life planning, the remembering part of my brain has gone into over drive.
I hear my mother’s voice. Her favorite pastime was correcting things, particularly my grammar. She was in her element correcting papers with a red magic marker. She loved correcting my misplaced modifiers (“Throw momma from the train a kiss”). Her insistent “Sit up straight, Dorothy” is serving me very well now.
Another message repeated often in my childhood was from my father. “When I get old, take me behind the barn and shoot me like an old horse.” He lived to be 102. Oh well. The farmer in me finds his message very appealing.
My family is very plainspoken. I had a few choice messages for my children: “You’ll die of vegetable malnutrition if you don’t eat your asparagus.” Probably my now six-month-old grandson will one day hear his father say, “The Pot Pie Police will give you a ticket if you pick the peas out of the chicken pot pie.” I raised three kids before I read that we aren’t supposed to feed them threats. I used bribes, too: “I’ll pay you $1,000 if you can look me straight in the eye on your 21st birthday and tell me you never smoked a cigarette.”
I’m running out of things my friends can do for me and can drink only so many cups of tea. So I asked them to share their favorite messages and started a chain based on what a close friend said:
“‘In hard times, we do more of what we’re good at, regardless of the need.’ In other words, in hard times, everyone remains intensely in character. ‘The runners run, the hiders hide.’ (I think I stole that line from a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom.) The cooks bring soup. The gardeners weed. The judgmental criticize. The hopers hope. Don’t important messages reside within you, messages you’d like to outlive you? I’d love to hear them!”
The messages are coming in: “Why are you so calm!” “Aren’t you in denial?” “Aren’t you angry?”
“No,” I reply. “I have no unfinished business.” I have to love everyone, especially the people who don’t feel like life gave them a good deal. They’re remaining intensely in character in hard times too. One of my kids — the one who got Type 1 diabetes — voiced my new favorite message: “If I had a chance to re-roll the dice, I wouldn’t take it. I’m satisfied with the life I got.” I am too.
Much as I’d love to make anatomical gifts of my organs, I’m not sure they’d even want mine. I keep thinking my tissue specimens have value to some researcher who is trying to establish a link among heavy metals — in my case, mercury — cancer, and my bad genes for methylating heavy metals. That’s why I relied on internalized messages, “Sit up straight, Dorothy.”
That’s why I wrote “No” on line 7.
Aside from my children and a couple thousand people who eat more vegetables now, there is one more person I’d like to send a message to: my English teacher mother now sending transmissions from her grave with her red magic marker
Mom, I have a magic marker too. It lives next to my toothbrush. I use it after showers to write DNR on my left breast.
It was my friends, Susan Schor and Les Fehmi at Princeton BioFeedback Center, who put me up to getting a master’s degree, not in nutrition, but in addictions counseling. Everybody knows you’re supposed to eat less junk and more vegetables; the larger question for me was — why don’t we?
Midway through the degree program, I was complaining to the head of the department about Alcoholics Anonymous and how they really missed the boat by ignoring their own founder’s research on nutrition. “Recovering alcoholics require real food. What this world needs is ‘Suppers for Sobriety.’”
With a passion for growing vegetables, a new devotion to the models Stages of Change and Motivational Interviewing, and intimacy with the 12-step process, I had almost everything I needed to create Suppers. It is a heretofore well-kept secret that I don’t enjoy cooking. But cooking is necessary and so I do it. I’m finding a lot of people like me at Suppers; we don’t care for cooking alone but enjoy it as a social experience.
The first Suppers for Sobriety meeting ran in 2005. I knew from the outset that we would end up focusing on diabetes, but we started with the people who know how to “work a program.” Recovering alcoholics excel at this.
Suppers has adapted the work-a-program model to people with diabetes, autoimmune diseases, emotional eating, and brain health concerns, among others. What we do is elegantly simple: We cook together. We eat together. Share experiences and stories. And we run experiments to support each member’s efforts to collect data from our bodies that will help us heal.
Fourteen years later, the founding assumptions are holding up: People feel attached to the foods that harm them because of the tight relationship between stressors and pleasure chemistry. That makes food the primary addiction.
The good news is that it is easy, cheap, and fun to learn how to feed yourself deliciously for health because How You Feel is Data! (our slogan). We can teach anyone to enjoy the foods that will make them well, as long as they’re willing to work a program.
Disclaimer: Suppers meetings are no substitute for therapy or treatment. Suppers is about support for diet and lifestyle changes. Members take responsibility for getting professional help as needed.
— Dorothy Mullen
The Art of Diagnosis
“If I knew how to contribute my body for this research I would do it,” says Dorothy Mullen. Mullen learned to question the medical establishment when her mercury poisoning went undiagnosed. As a young mother she was labeled “hypochondriac, depressed, and with suicidal ideation” and ended up signing herself in for psychiatric treatment in a mental institution.
If a mental state can’t be explained, psychiatrists need to check for physical ailments, says Michael B. Schachter, an orthomolecular psychiatrist and founding medical adviser to the Suppers Programs. “Psychiatric issues are always multifactorial and may involve issues of toxicity (such as mercury), infection (such as Lyme and the numerous co-infections), sensitivities (such as gluten sensitivity in some people and reactions to sugar and other foods), and relative deficiencies of various nutrients including magnesium, iodine, and many other vitamins or minerals.”
But if the patient also presents with some kind of loss or stress in relationships, the psychiatrist is likely to link a diagnosis with a drug that can be prescribed. “Unfortunately, when this is done, many important causal factors may be missed, and the health and mental health consequences of the toxin, infection, or deficiency continue to develop,” he says. For mercury toxicity, he might prescribe removal of amalgam from the teeth (with special precautions to avoid absorption of mercury vapor), chelation therapy to remove the metal from the system, nutritional supplements to restore digestion and immune function, and counseling.
Mullen’s first-person account tells how she went through this process and embarked on a regimen that restored her health and inspired her to help others to eat and stay healthy.
Then came her diagnosis of lung cancer. More women are killed by lung cancer than die from breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. Compared to breast cancer, which has a survival rate of more than 90 percent, lung cancer survival rates are only 18 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet funds for breast cancer research are almost double the monies available for lung cancer research.
Lung cancer often hits younger women — ages 30 to 50, and not just those who were smokers. According to Dr. Kirtly Jones of the University of Utah, one-fifth of the women who develop lung cancer have never touched a cigarette.
The symptoms for women and men are different, says Jones. Men’s symptoms might look like a persistent respiratory infection or they might cough up blood. Women with lung cancer might just think they are short of breath — and attribute that to being out of shape.
Mullen’s shortness of breath sent her to the doctor just before her 64th birthday. She has a strong feeling that there is a link between her cancer and her sensitivity to mercury. Her oncologist looked at her tumor and her smoking history (light) and said, “that’s not what did this to you.”
“Do you know about Suppers? Do you know Dor Mullen?” When I answered “no” to both questions, my friend responded, “You need to go to Suppers.”
So I attended a signature Suppers meeting where 10 of us gathered around the table. Some had helped prepare the meal while others cleaned up when we finished. With Dorothy Mullen (known to everyone as Dor) at the head we shared in Suppers’ principles: non-judgment, whole food preparation, non-commercial messages, restoration of the family table.
We also shared the reasons for attending. A few participants had diet-related health issues, others wanted to cook healthier meals for their children, while others, like me, were looking for that support in preparing healthier options for “eaters” who weren’t yet ready to get on board with my journey to better health. And, in the Suppers way, we shared our appreciation for the food that nourishes our mind, body, and spirit.
One of the goals of Suppers is to help people feel comfortable in the kitchen so that preparing healthy, nutritious, and delicious food isn’t so difficult. One of Dor’s mantras is that if you can make a cup of coffee, you can make a pot of soup.
There are three signature Suppers meetings: diagnosis-specific (for diabetes, autoimmune diseases, emotional eating, and brain health concerns), prevention-oriented (for parents of young children or people who want to learn to cook), and eating style-based (vegan).
Meetings are hosted in people’s homes or public gathering spaces such as places of worship and community centers. What is needed is a host, a meeting facilitator, people to work on meal preparation, a functioning kitchen, and a place to gather.
Over the past 10 years hundreds of meetings have been held, many in Dorothy’s kitchen.
This now needs to change, and I and other board members are asking for the community’s help.
The motivation for Suppers is based on caring and sharing and finding the right foods to support your bio-individuality. There is no profit motive. Nothing is being sold other than the belief that we need to be consuming a healthy variety of non-processed foods in order to remain healthy.
Through my involvement I learned that Suppers understands that diets are varied. A ketogenic diet may work for one person and dairy-free or vegan for another. And often people aren’t ready to give up something they crave and that is completely fine; they are in a no-judgement zone. In fact, some start by adding a salad to their dinner or replacing a sugary drink with a healthier option. Incremental change is encouraged, as small differences lead to the ultimate goal of long-term behavior change.
When Dor offered a garden workshop, I learned it was time for me to get back to playing in the dirt. The eight sessions, spring through the fall harvest, provided everything I needed for my garden with the exception of the dirt. We started plants from seed, transplanted items from Dor’s garden, rooted lemon rose geraniums, and harvested other goodies along the way. What I learned, is that if you have a sunny spot where you can fit a pot or a straw bale, you can grow a garden.
Through Suppers, I also learned the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic, and that you need them because “you are what you eat.” More accurately, you are what you feed the trillions of little microbes that live in your gut. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. And though we don’t really notice it’s there, it plays an oversized role in your health and can even affect your mood and behavior.
There are two ways to maintain this balance: helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic — specialized plant fibers like dark leafy greens) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotic — containing live organisms and found in fermented foods and yogurt).
Suppers also collaborates with organic farmers and medical and health practitioners to address issues that relate to both agricultural and health care practices.
And then there are the facilitators who pull a delicious meal together for a group of people and create harmony at the table. It’s because of the time and energy of our trained and devoted facilitators we are able to provide a safe and welcome environment to help support and heal others.
By spending time with Dor, I realized I had an opportunity to help with the structure of the organization and to prepare it for growth. I joined the program as an advisory board member and was asked to officially join the board of trustees in March.
Since then I attended as many Suppers functions as possible and have seen that health and behavior changes happen where we work, live, pray, and play. That includes our expansion into Trenton. Aided by the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Trenton, we helped to create a program for communities in need, including Trenton-based signature meetings and establishing a presence at the Trenton Farmer’s Market.
By the beginning of April the board had created an inventory of everything Suppers; the signature meetings, Suppers labs programs (focused on managing blood sugar and improving brain health), facilitator training programs, workshops, garden program, farmer appreciation dinner, medical partner appreciation dinner — and more.
And, the more work we did, the clearer it became that Dor had put in place almost everything needed to have the organization run without her.
Interestingly enough, our plans to scale the business already focused on ensuring that Suppers was not so Dorothy-centric and in the process of developing a succession strategy.
Then came the diagnosis of Dorothy’s Stage 4 Lung Cancer and the fear Suppers will cease to exist — leaving the Suppers nowhere to go.
So now we are asking for community support as we restructure a Suppers program without Dorothy.
That includes finding suitable venues in which to hold the meetings that were being hosted in Dorothy’s home. A functional commercial kitchen or large residential kitchen with meeting space for 12 to 15 is needed.
And just why should one think of supporting Suppers?
That is simple: We support members of our community the choice to explore and experiment with food as a solution to modern health and social challenges.
As a child I was unhealthy and overweight, weighing 200 pounds by the time I was 10. As an adult, my heaviest was 310. I was sick with multiple autoimmune issues. My rock bottom came in 2012, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I remember feeling powerless. But once I started to do my own research into nutrition, my true journey began. I was converted to eating well and regained my power.
Four years later, when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I immediately searched for nutrition options and began the autoimmune protocol, a restrictive nutrition plan that reduces inflammation. But it wasn’t easy. I struggled over the loss of community around food. It was nearly impossible to eat out, and if I did, I had to bring food with me. I felt uncomfortable in most social situations.
My health coach recommended that I attend a Suppers meeting. At first I was hesitant. The closest meeting was an hour away, and I was intimidated that I wouldn’t know anyone. Now, more than a year later, the friendship, support, and acceptance I’ve found is like nothing I receive elsewhere, these people have had a profound impact on my life.
Today I feel comfortable in any social setting, arriving with a lunchbox on my hip or a can of sardines in my purse. Through Suppers I have learned that nothing comes before my own nutritional need for food that I can enjoy safely.
There is even a ripple effect. I use the model I discovered to share healthy meals with family and friends. My father-in-law has even commented that after dinner in our home, he never has to use his insulin.
Today I am grateful to have a mind clear enough to share my journey. I am grateful to have a healthy relationship with food. I couldn’t be more proud to say that I’ve gone from a size 26 to a size 8, losing and maintaining a 125-pound weight loss. I was blessed celebrating six years cancer free, and my rheumatoid arthritis is in remission. Today I am living free from the effects of disease — all because I believed in the healing power of food.
Thank you, Dorothy, for creating an organization that has impacted all of our lives so deeply. Thank you for making a place where we all truly feel at home.
Recent visitors to Philadelphia’s Independence Mall may have noticed a woman’s closet encased in glass and gazed at the shelves of meticulously pressed linens, neatly hung blouses and pants, and even folded white bras and underpants.
Those familiar with the artist Maira Kalman and her son, Alex Kalman, will recognize this as “Sara Berman’s Closet.” They may also connect it to the exhibition “Sara Berman’s Closet: a small and monumental story,” on view through September 1 at the National Museum of American Jewish History, also in Philadelphia.
In addition to the arrangement of garments the exhibition includes new paintings by Maira Kalman, Berman’s daughter, and sculptures by Alex, her grandson, and will include occasional interventions — a type of performance-like engagement — as well as in-person appearances by the Kalmans throughout the run.
Previous iterations of the installation appeared in New York City’s Mmuseumm (founded by Alex in a repurposed elevator shaft in lower Manhattan), in the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing period rooms, and in the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
Who was Sara Berman, and why should we care so much about her linens and things, which have been making their way around the world? How does her closet fit in Philadelphia’s Independence Plaza, where our nation’s independence is portrayed as coming from the accomplishments of men?
Born in Belarus, Berman (1920-2004) left Europe for Israel, where both Maira and her sister were born. In 1980, at age 60, Berman left both her home and her husband, taking one suitcase into the night. She moved to a studio apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, where she was happy in a room of her own.
Wearing white was her personal expression. She starched, ironed, folded, and stacked her minimal belongings with precision and loving care. Sara’s closet represents the universal pursuit of creating beauty and order and finding meaning in the everyday, say the curators. When Berman died, her family saved the contents of her closet, knowing that one day it would become an exhibition.
Filled with her fastidiously organized personal effects, Sara’s closet tells “How a life is formed. How meaning is found. How mistakes are made. And how we have the courage to go on,” as the Kalmans write in the recently published book, “Sara Berman’s Closet,” published in 2018 by Harper Design, and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award finalist.
The closet is not just about an eccentric old lady’s obsession with order and with white, but a story of finding independence at the age of 60 (and that’s why it fits in Independence Plaza — the closet represents Sara’s liberation. It puts her humble 20th-century immigration story on par with that of the Founding Fathers). Berman had lived to sew, press, cook, and clean for her family members ever since her childhood in Belarus. Finally, at an age Maira once considered “old” — in fact an age similar to Maira’s was when she first began this project — Berman was reveling in the joy of doing these things for herself.
Berman’s objects tell not only the story of Sara, but of us all. Says Maira: “Sara taught us that you don’t have to be bound by what is correct, but by imagination and humor.”
For those who have seen the closet in previous incarnations, this exhibition offers much more. Based on Maira and Alex’s book, “Sara Berman’s Closet” unpacks more of Sara’s story, starting with her childhood in Belarus. “Yes there were Pogroms. Yes there was deprivation. But Life was not all bad.” Children ran wild in the blueberry forests. They ate cake (ornately decorated cakes are a Maira Kalman trope, representing a kind of the-hell-with-it-all happiness), sang, and danced. Sara had a grandfather with a six-foot-long beard who used it to rescue her from the muddy river Sluch. (The exhibit includes a bottle of water labeled as being from the Sluch.)
“Men were fine but women were Wondrous.” They took care of everything and everyone. People weren’t trying to be creative, it was just the way they lived, Maira said about their embroidery, their hut building (there’s a hut replica built for the show, with white feathers covering the floor), their cooking and baking. There’s even a wall of white coats that visitors can borrow to experience what Sara experienced.
One day Sara’s cousin was sitting in his shack and was struck by lightning and killed. “And still, life goes on. Just like that.” Sara and her family lived every day thinking that something might happen to take their lives.
On the journey from Belarus to Israel, all that survived without breaking were three white plates, shown in the exhibition. These are the objects that survive us, including her father’s embroidered shirt. It’s the type of stuff people discard, and yet here these things are, reminding us of our own past, the things we threw away, and what they meant.
“The objects that we choose to place in our homes, those that follow us through our daily lives, carry our stories,” says NMAJH Director of Exhibitions Josh Perelman.
Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv in 1950 and moved to New York with her parents when her father decided to expand his diamond business in 1954. The family resided in Riverdale in the Bronx. “We didn’t have money to buy books, so we went to the library and I started reading everything beginning with A. When I got to L. for Pippi Longstocking I decided to be a writer.”
She studied art at the High School of Music & Art, now LaGuardia High School, and at N.Y.U. After her parents moved back to Israel, Maira remained in New York and married designer Tibor Kalman, with whom she founded the design company M&Co., creating work for Interview magazine, Talking Heads, and the Museum of Modern Art. Tibor died in 1999 at age 50 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Maira published her first children’s book in 1985, “Stay Up Late,” which illustrated the lyrics of musician David Byrne. A frequent contributor to the New Yorker magazine, where she has created covers, Kalman has published more than 28 books, including “The Elements of Style,” and has designed stage sets for theater, dance, and opera.
Alex Kalman is a designer, artist, curator, and director of Mmuseumm. “I have been collaborating with my mother since the day we met,” he says. “If I was bored as a child she would say ‘write a book.’” He remembers visits to his grandmother’s apartment where “we sat in small chairs and threw around an inflatable globe. She was singular, tough, smart, and funny.”
This exhibit includes not only Maira’s illustrations of Sara’s life, but ceramic objects Maira made for this show: an orange that Sara saw for the first time while on the boat to America (it was the only story that survived the boat ride); the white mole Sara’s sister brought into their house (“which made everybody crazy”), placed on a white lacy tablecloth in the wooden hut; the potatoes her father loved — “He burnt the potatoes in the pot.”
“The ability to digress — that’s the best part of the story,” is another bit of advice from Sara.
Maira describes her mother as “courageous, funny, and ravishing,” and according to this exhibit and the book, everyone was madly in love with Sara. “Gandhi was GAGA for her…KaFka was KRAZY about her… Toscanini proposed marriage (a pair of Toscanini’s pants, purchased at auction, hangs here)… and Miss Gertrude Stein thought she was SUBLIME.” Menachem Begin hid in their apartment and chased Sara around the couch. (Sara had a flair for telling a good story, whether or not she let the truth get in the way. “Everything here is true… mostly,” says Maira. “Things that bend truth are part of the family lore.”)
When Sara left her husband to come to the U.S., she packed everything into a single suitcase (also here). She edited out of her life the useless distractions. She cherished the small, sweet moments. Every action was done with care; every day was filled with precise and brilliant actions. She ate herring (emblazoned on the museum’s elevator doors). “There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.” And as minimalist as she was, she wore three watches at once, all designed by Tibor’s M&Co. Time mattered. Her motto: “Don’t look back.”
The closet out on the plaza has “The Great Gatsby” and other books on the top shelf (as a child Sara loved to read the classics), an aluminum pot amid the linens, a recipe box with “Ann Landers world famous meatloaf,” Chanel No. 19. “The closet was an expression of something that went back to her life in the village of Lenin. (There’s a sample of moss from Lenin.) A way to create a life of beauty and meaning…”
When Alex was studying film at Bard, he took his camera on a family visit to Israel for the high holy days. Presented here as a three-channel video installation, we see Sara hugging her sister Shoshana and singing songs with her. “It was an enchanted night.” But the next morning Sara did not come down to breakfast. “Her end had come in a whisper.”
Sara Berman’s Closet, National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 South Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The exhibition includes an installation on the Museum’s Kimmel Plaza outdoors, and inside on the Museum’s 5th floor special exhibition gallery. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., $12 to $15. 215-923-3811 or www.nmajh.org.
When my own mother died and left behind a precisely organized closet, composed of carefully curated mostly white clothes and rows of polished oxford-style shoes, I never imagined that anyone else would find these interesting, and yet it is through “Sara Berman’s Closet” that I can mourn my mother. She is a maternal archetype: a generation that was, in Maira’s words, too devoted, too self-sacrificing. “It’s complicated to figure out how to make your own life.”
Thinking of my mother’s closet, and her clothes I gave away to a homeless shelter, I wonder: what did I lose? Why didn’t I hold on to these precious mementos of my mother? I continuously search for my mother and other ancestors in the things other families left behind in antiques shops. Here, in Sara’s closet, I find her.
The advent of bike sharing programs means it has never been easier to get a bike when visiting a city: just download an app, find a bike at a station, and ride away. This innovation has been slow to reach the suburbs, but thanks to the presence of the university, Princeton has been home to a robust bike-sharing network, with 14 stations all around campus and at key locations in town, since 2014.
To create this network Princeton University contracted with Zagster, a venture-funded company based in Boston that creates bike share programs for companies, organizations, and communities around the country. Zagster bikes area now spreading along the Route 1 corridor via corporate and government clients. NRG, Princeton Shopping Center, the Institute for Advanced Study, Courtyard by Marriott in Princeton, Plainsboro Township, and Carnegie Center now boast Zagster stations.
The latest client to embrace bike sharing is the Mercer County parks system, which has opened a station at Mercer Lake and another at Maidenhead Trail Pole Farm, which connects to the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail. Novo Nordisk, on Scudders Mill Road in Plainsboro, plans to introduce a Zagster station next month. All together there are about 160 bikes in the area (all maintained by a single independent contractor hired by Zagster).
“It’s been going really well from a business development standpoint,” says Karl Alexander, marketing manager for the company. Alexander will speak at the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 17, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Tickets are $40, $25 for members. For more information, visit www.princetonmercerchamber.com.
Alexander says the company has seen a 42 percent increase in usage year-over-year since being introduced. He credits this with students becoming more familiar with the system alongside a general greater interest in biking from the public.
Contrary to the typical tech company ethos of “disruption,” Zagster tries to move slowly to avoid breaking things in the communities where it operates. That’s why its has been slow to introduce another innovation that has been foisted upon cities in the past few years: e-scooters. In cities like Los Angeles and Washington D.C. anyone can rent small electric scooters and leave them at their destinations. Because the scooters are “dockless,” meaning they don’t need bike racks, they get tend to get left everywhere. Another frequent complaint about the scooters is that riders tend to use the sidewalk, annoying pedestrians.
Alexander says that is why Zagster is testing out electronic bikes instead of scooters — they still use a dock, and their place in the public right-of-way is much better understood.
“E-scooters as a product are very convenient for users and relatively affordable. However, management of right-of-way has been the biggest negative outcome that certain communities have seen,” Alexander says.
Zagster plans to continue adding more stations and bikes to its network. Trenton could be the site of future expansion. The company has been having discussions with municipal governments as well as the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association to discuss ways to get more people out of cars and on to bikes.
Alexander says communities looking to become more bike friendly should prioritize building bike infrastructure that is fully separated and protected from car traffic. Companies can also encourage biking by building “bike infrastructure” for their employees, such as showers and locker rooms so people can shower once they get to work.
A good example of successful bike infrastructure in the region is the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, a circular trail that, when complete, will run in a 22-mile loop through Lawrence and Hopewell townships. Currently, more than 20 miles have been built of the planned route. It is already popular among employees of companies along the trail route, such as Educational Testing Service and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Alexander bikes to his job at Zagster’s Boston headquarters. He grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his mother was a children’s librarian and his father was a graphic designer and account manager. He is a 2012 graduate of Bates College in Maine and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he earned a master’s degree in urban planning and community development.
Alexander sees the personal transport sharing industry changing rapidly as technology improves. Even bike technology is rapidly evolving — a company called Cyclotron recently introduced a bike with spokeless wheels and airless tires.
But in keeping with Zagster’s ethos, Alexander says the adoption of this technology will not simply be to dump it in unprepared communities. “You have to take the time to look at what works best for the community, whether that’s bikes or scooters, or if it is something else entirely, like increasing walkability,” he says. “You have to think before you act. You’ll probably be better off in the long run.”
Because Zagster contracts through the communities themselves, the communities ultimately control the branding of its bike sharing networks and have a say in how they operate. “It’s a more successful approach,” Alexander says. “We’re innovating for people, not for technology.”
Ira Levin, within the text of his intricate and frequently self-referring thriller, “Deathtrap,” has a character look up from a script and pronounce it “foolproof,” so well-constructed even a “smart director” can’t ruin it. Oh, Levin’s prophetic soul!
As if in a scientific experiment, his sardonic line is proven by Annika Bennett’s production of “Deathtrap” for Princeton Summer Theater.
Bennett understands the mechanics of theater and the play — a plot twisting thriller that opens with a faltering star playwright musing murdering his gifted student in order to steal his guarantee hit play. Physically, her staging makes sense. Characters are in the right positions when crucial incidents occur. Sequences with impact receive their dramatic due (if not the full intensity they could muster). Levin’s plot twists are clear and impress with cleverness and dexterity. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s set denotes the tone and taste of a Connecticut farmhouse where a playwright and his wife live, props, pretensions, and all.
Enough works for “Deathtrap” to survive and provide PST audiences a good time.
Bennett’s production is not marred by her misunderstanding Levin’s intentions or absence of tight traffic control, but by a juvenile approach to the material and characterization that shows no acquaintance with the time in which “Deathtrap” is set (1979, as revealed by the dial telephones, manual typewriters, and the amount of money that can be made by a hit play), or the people who populate it.
“Deathtrap,” as Levin says among those self-references, has comic moments, mostly witty lines and naughtily sophisticated attitudes incorporated into Levin’s general scheme, but it is primarily a thriller with characters who know their world and fit comfortably within it.
Sidney Bruhl (C. Luke Soucy) is a successful playwright whose wit is brittle in keeping with him being an integral and respected member of New York literary society. He needs an easy, contemporary confidence and sophisticated air of one who has made it in a tough, ruthless profession (even as he copes with writer’s block and financial woes).
Bruhl is not Oscar Wilde. Or even Noel Coward. “Deathtrap” has nothing to do with either of those playwrights or their personal or literary styles. Yet Wilde is the one who comes to mind when Bruhl makes his entrance wearing a red velvet robe and ostentatiously pleated white shirt with a bow at the neck. The image is exacerbated when Soucy speaks and behaves as if he’s channeling Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff.
This conceit, misguided to begin with, escalates with the appearance of one of Bruhl’s playwriting students, Clifford Anderson (Dylan Blau Edelstein), a prodigy/protege who submits a mystery Bruhl would kill to have written. He is also given to poet’s blouses and bright scarves tied with exaggerated flourish, and, yes, a bow.
These glitches don’t take away from “Deathtrap’s” story, but they distract and seem ludicrous because they deny the stage the presence of characters who have the sensibility to play out Levin’s designs and replaces them with self-conscious caricatures who carry on like petulant children and lack the chic, urbane New York polish of “Deathtrap’s” time and place (in fairness, not stated in the PST program). They create an extra layer that diminishes more than it enhances.
Jules Peiperl’s costumes are a constant source of horror, even more questionable than the red nail polish on Bruhl.
Peiperl is generous to “Deathtrap’s” woman characters, Myra Bruhl (Kathryn Anne Marie) and a world-renowned psychic, Helga Ten Dorp (the blessedly on-pitch Abby Melick), dressing them in character and avoiding the outlandish excesses they (Peiperl, non-binary, prefers this pronoun) foist on the men.
Peiperl could have made Bruhl individualistically elegant via a smoking jacket and foulard, but they went overboard with outfits that harken mostly to Peiperl’s imagination or the Wilde canon.
Hats are preposterous. Each man appears in some showy headpiece that makes no sense to the character or anything he wears. A lawyer (Justin Ramos) arrives from New York in a stovepipe chapeau that screams “Alice in Wonderland” souvenir shop. Its ridiculousness is compounded by it being tan when the lawyer is clad totally in black, except for a printed scarf tied in a fashion the conservative attorney would never choose.
Clifford dons a Tom Sawyerish straw hat at first entrance (worse even than his high-hemmed pants) and a crushed black fedora later, both absurd.
That’s the point. “Deathtrap” is convoluted and tricky, but it is not absurd. Logic and its overuse, perhaps to the point of psychosis, are at its core. It doesn’t need embellishment in its tone, dress, or characterization. No benefits derive as Bennett and company apply their “improvements.” Rather, a well-oiled, slickly honed piece is junked up with hokey antics that defy need or reason. It’s as if Bennett didn’t trust “Deathtrap.”
Luckily — miraculously — Levin’s plot and Bennett’s need to adhere strictly with some of it prevail, and the excesses annoy and confuse but don’t fatally damage.
One sadness is the sense Bennett’s cast could have done a creditable “Deathtrap” if unhampered by ruffles and flourishes.
Soucy has undeniable stage presence, a commanding voice, and a knack for finding the humor within his lines. He is the right leading man and looks able to convert his Wildean interpretation to a more standard mode. One wishes he had the chance.
Melick is fulsomely comic as Helga, but for once, the overdoing works. Antic behavior fits Melick’s character, and Melick skillfully foreshadows upcoming events and demonstrates the verity of Helga’s gifts.
Edelstein almost pulls off Bennett’s overkill. His energy is right for Cliff. Some subtlety might help. Marie and Ramos are appropriately basic.
Deathtrap, Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University. Through Sunday, July 21, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. $29.50. 732-997-0205 or www.princetonsummertheater.org
When Bora Yoon’s “The Wind of Two Koreas” is performed at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, July 20, it will be unique among her body of works.
Yoon, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, describes herself as an interdisciplinary composer. Typically her works assimilate classical, electronic, and cross-cultural elements and employ unconventional instruments and technologies. In this instance, however, she will be taking a more traditional approach, though not to the detriment of exploring some of her usual artistic concerns.
“This is my first foray into the solely orchestral world,” the Princeton resident writes via email. “Inspired by Stravinsky’s early orchestral works and his inspiration from Russian folklore, ‘The Wind of Two Koreas’ excavates this idea of cultural blood memory and epigenetics.
“In this symphonic expression I further explore the musical connection to my heritage, as a Korean in the diaspora, whose ancestry is from Jeollado Province.”
She points to the paradoxical tensions of Korean identity — past and present, ancient and future, North-and-South political tensions, and the tension between Eastern and Western aesthetics.
The work will be heard on a concert that is the public face of this year’s New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Edward T. Cone Composition Institute, which takes place from July 15 through 20.
The Cone Institute, now in its sixth year, brings together representatives of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Princeton University Music Department to offer four emerging composers a unique laboratory experience. Opportunities include intensive consultations and evaluations, one-on-one coaching sessions, refinement of presentations and networking skills, and live performances of new music.
Members of the NJSO will rehearse and perform under Cristian Macelaru. Macelaru has enjoyed a close relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra, first as its assistant conductor (2011), then as its associate conductor (2012-’14), and most recently as its conductor-in-residence (2014-’17). In the upcoming season he will assume the post of chief conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany.
At the time of our conversation, Yoon was globetrotting from Croatia, where she was interviewing the architect of the Zadar Sea Organ for her dissertation; to Greece, where she was studying Byzantine chant in an Orthodox monastery; to Alberta, Canada, where she was heading to the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity for a performance with Ensemble Evolution and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).
It might be surprising to learn that she, a Korean-American born in Chicago, comes from a “nonmusical” family — her father a salesman and her mother a neonatal ICU nurse — but Yoon credits her parents’ heritage, originating as they did from Jeollado Province, “where Korean pansori and folkloric shamanistic forms of traditional music emerged,” as a kind of intuitive thread that influences how she creates, employing materials around her. She herself plays piano, violin, guitar, percussion, electronics, found objects, and what she describes as “sonic sundries.”
Yoon completed her undergraduate studies at Ithaca College’s Conservatory of Music and Writing School, Class of 2002. At Princeton she has studied with Steven Mackey, Dan Trueman, Jeff Snyder, Donnacha Dennehy, Juri Seo, and R. Luke Dubois. She is working toward her Ph.D. in interdisciplinary humanities and music composition. “I’m writing my dissertation about musical architecture, or the intersection of sound and space,” she writes, “whether that is architectural space, cultural space, memory space, evoked spaces, or otherwise.”
Clearly, she made an impression when she utilized the Princeton University Chapel space in spring, 2016, and again in fall, 2017, with her site-specific sound installation and durational performance, “Of Matter & Mass,” conceived in celebration of the opening of the Lewis Center for the Arts. The work, which drew its inspiration from a newly discovered apocryphal text of Mary Magdalene, featured a low heartbeat and ambient sounds correlating to different times of day and night within the sacred space, with the composer singing and chanting the daily offices of prayer, culminating in a duet sung with Gabriel Crouch, Princeton’s director of choral activities.
Yoon may be an “emerging composer,” but already she has attracted the interest of the Wall Street Journal, WIRE Magazine, and the Huffington Post, among others. Her works have been presented by Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, TED, and any number of international venues. She has been awarded a music/sound fellowship with the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Asian American Arts Alliance. She has been artist in residence at the Park Avenue Armory, the Hermitage, and Ringling Museum, HERE Arts, and Harvestworks.
Among her other spatial works have been the sound mural “Doppler Dreams” for seven sopranos on bicycles in the empty McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, and the aerial dance piece “Rapture,” in which her live sound score echoed off the rounded exteriors of the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.
Her current commissions and upcoming performances include new pieces conceived for the chamber ensembles Alarm Will Sound, Hotel Elefant, and Sandbox Percussion, and the percussionist Ji Hye Lee. She is also planning a multimedia song cycle, titled “Casual Miracles: The Invisibility of Female Labor,” to be performed “as a kind of radio opera.”
In addition, she is a cantor and psalmist who sings Gregorian chant with Voices of Ascension and the Church of Ascension in New York City as part of a weekly Sunday night Service for Meditation and Sacrament. This, in part, influenced her decision to travel to Greece. “I am curious to learn about other forms of chant and their notational styles and aesthetics,” she writes.
Her choice of Stravinsky as a springboard for her Cone Institute creation was calculated to push her outside of her comfort zone. “The compositional directive was to respond to a composer whose work is antithetical to one’s typical aesthetic and approach to music, in order to grow as a composer,” she writes. “Since I have spent the last decade in the experimental electroacoustic world, that’s mainly studio-based, I went the route to respond to a composer, Igor Stravinsky, whose music is angular, employs fast-changing rhythms and always lands with a fantastic sense of finale and ending (everything my ambient electroacoustic solo work is not). There was an angularity and brusqueness I wanted to learn.”
Also participating in this year’s Institute will be Dan Caputo and Patrick O’Malley of the University of Southern California, and Ivan Enrique Rodriquez of the Juilliard School. Caputo’s “Liminal” aims to reflect the psychological behaviors people experience during transitional states. O’Malley’s “Rest and Restless” draws its inspiration from the push and pull of opposing concepts. Rodriquez’s “A Metaphor for Power” attempts to address the turbulence of ideologies, dreams, and hard-hitting realities.
As always, the concert will conclude with a work by Cone Institute director Steven Mackey. Mackey, a professor of music and former chair of the Princeton University Music Department, will be represented by “Portals, Scenes, and Celebrations,” which will be heard in its East Coast premiere.
The institute looks beyond the mere honing of a score, as it falls under the scrutiny of industry professionals, who help shepherd it to public performance. The composer-participants also receive invaluable advice and instruction on the nuts and bolts of what it takes to make a living as a composer, including the less glamorous arts of networking, public speaking, and music editing.
Though the institute is in its sixth year, the relationship between the NJSO and Princeton University is a longer one. The musicians are well-seasoned in the practice of mentorship, by way of the orchestra’s regular participation in reading sessions of music by Princeton University Ph.D. composition candidates.
When asked what she likes to do when she is not composing, Yoon writes, “Bike riding — it’s God’s gift to humans, closest to flying.”
Edward T. Cone Composition Institute Concert, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Saturday, July 20, 8 p.m. $10 to $15. 1-800-355-3476 or www.njsymphony.org.
In this week’s cover story, Dorothy Mullen tells the story of a group whose survival is in question and whose success depends on in-person meetings: the Suppers Programs, which she founded more than a decade ago and which, for reasons she explains, is need of new supporters from the community to carry on her legacy.
Suppers is not the only endangered group in a world where face-to-face interactions are increasingly uncommon. The letter below — like many received in the past few months — illustrates the fight to save another important community organization.
To the Editor: PCTV Isn’t Necessary, But It’s Vital
We’re Princeton Community Television veterans of long-standing who have a few words to say about the disturbing news that the lights may go out in the studio.
Let’s be frank: Princeton Community Television is not necessary. It’s not a school, or a bridge, or a municipal building. If it didn’t exist tomorrow, Princeton Township would not dry up and blow away. But as we’ve come to realize during the 21 years we’ve been producing and hosting “A Fistful of Popcorn,” our movie-discussion show, this small station has been a large part of the cultural melange that makes Princeton unique.
Our main focus has been the small-budget independent features that are the bread and butter of the Princeton Garden Theater and other local art cinemas. But we have also featured guests: local and international filmmakers have sat with us to talk about their work, discussions that had no other platform. We have promoted film festivals on the Princeton campus and in town, as well as the Trenton Film Festival, which has a growing worldwide reputation. In addition, we have been excited to promote each year several of Princeton Public Library’s film festivals, including its acclaimed Environmental Film Festival and its Student Film Festival, coming up this year on Wednesday and Thursday, July 17 and 18.
We’ve heard it said that our show and others could simply be produced cheaply in our own homes and posted on YouTube. Technically, that’s so. But unlike YouTube, Princeton Community Television is a place with an identity. At a time when community get-togethers and face-to-face interactions are dwindling, the station is like the old general store with a cracker barrel around which the neighborhood gathered. It’s where life happens. It’s where Princeton assumes its real nature, beyond what the rest of the world thinks we are.
No, Princeton Community Television is not necessary. But it is vital. And without it, a light goes out and further dims the sense of community that binds us together. We need to keep the lights on.
Marilyn Campbell, Janet Stern, Bob Brown, Carol Welsch
The fiscal future of New Jersey is fragile and, as such, will challenge those who want to fund ongoing programs, and make needed infrastructure improvements.
We have struggled to balance our budget for a number of years. We have the second-lowest credit rating of any state. Our pension system(s) are one of the worst funded in the nation; some consider it the worst.
Our infrastructure is graded D+ and getting worse — and our projected future costs are estimated at $135 billion.
New Jersey is at a critical juncture with large fiscal gaps projected in both the annual and capital budgets. Short term financial fixes have been proposed, but we need a long term strategy of reform.
The good news: The current year’s budget is balanced as is the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. A $1 billion surplus is projected.
Outlook. Now some not good news: Based on reasonable projections of future revenue growth and future spending demands, the gap in the state budget will reach between $3.3 billion and $4 billion in the next few years, principally driven by increasing pension needs and health benefits but also by other demands such as funding for the K-12 school aid formula, Medicaid and health costs, higher education, and transportation needs.
If the economy stumbles the situation will be worse.
The story at the local level is also stressful. Property taxes are very high — usually viewed as the highest in the nation. Unless we make significant changes, property taxes will increase each year — they have done so every year for the past 40 years, albeit in recent years the increases have mellowed, thanks to local spending caps and limits on arbitration. Last year the increase was 2.2 percent, about the same growth rate for the last seven years.
Many argue we simply have too many municipalities and school districts and numerous state and local authorities. Sadly, most do not share services. And, of course, a driving cost at the municipal and county level is also pension and health benefits.
Most would say that we need a plan to address this problem. Some argue that economic growth will cover the shortfall. Others say: “Cut the bureaucracy.” Some say: “increase taxes on the rich”; still others insist we should reduce taxes and not worry about the impact on programs.
Each of these recommendations is a poor and incomplete prescription.
In my view we need to address the pension and health benefits systems; the school financing formula; the number and configuration of our K-12 schools, and the way our municipalities and counties deliver services. And then, maybe more revenues — but not until these key issues are addressed.
Where most of our tax money is spent. Total spending in New Jersey by the state and local governments and school districts is approximately $79 billion. The majority of this spending is at the local levels of government (schools, municipalities, and counties) — 72 percent versus 28 percent by state government.
Remember that by a constitutional amendment the state income tax ($16 billion) and half a penny of the sales tax ($750 million) must be used for property tax relief and consequently is returned by the state to local units of government where it is expended, principally for K-12 schools.
The local property tax, the largest single revenue source in the state — $29.5 billion (more than the income, sales and corporation taxes combined) — is collected and expended at the local level; again, principally for schools.
An additional observation: In addition to paying for pension and health benefits for its employees the state pays for the pension and retirement health benefits for all K-12 teachers, plus the school districts’ share of Social Security, totaling approximately $4 billion.
Infrastructure and capital planning. Let me observe two critical items about our infrastructure — the second half of our fiscal dilemma. First, the American Society of Engineers rates our infrastructure as D+. Furthermore, based on the report titled “State Budget Crisis Task Force,” co-chaired by Paul Volcker, the total infrastructure needs for New Jersey are projected to be in excess of $135 billion over a 10-year period, including large sums for transportation, wastewater treatment, storm water management, and drinking water.
Second, New Jersey does not have a comprehensive and effective Capital Improvement Plan. One would think in the six-year capital plan (which is issued each year) the above $135 billion would appear. It does not. Furthermore the last several bond issues approved by the voters were not in the plan. It seems as if the governor and the legislature come up with the bond-issue-du-jour approach and ask the voters to approve certain current hot-button items without informing the voters that there are many other critical needs. I am sure the recent items approved were desirable, but I bet if you stacked them up against the other $135 billion, they would not have been the first priority.
And, yes, we already have very high levels of debt. Annual debt service on bonds issued is 11 percent of the budget, one of the highest among the 50 states, and we rank fourth in debt per capita.
Final observations. The Path to Progress bipartisan report developed by the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup (full disclosure I was part of the working group) and chaired by Senator Steve Sweeney is an excellent start as it addresses many of the above issues. The report recommends changes to the structure of pensions and health benefits, the consolidation of certain school districts, leveraging of state assets, and requiring expanded shared services among municipalities and counties.
Making decisions on where to allocate limited budget dollars is critical as are decisions on overall tax policy — including how much taxes are needed, from what source, and who should pay.
And so too is the need to have a comprehensive handle on the state’s capital needs and costs as these decisions will require the issuance of substantial amounts of new debt.
The fragility of our fiscal situation is clear. We need to step back and approach these problems more comprehensively. We must project our spending needs and funding sources over a five-year period — not just in the traditional one-year-at-a-time manner. As noted, we are looking at a $3.5 billion to $4 billion future budget gap and a capital investment need of almost $140 billion. We need a new and more thoughtful approach.
Richard F. Keevey is the former budget director and comptroller for New Jersey. He held presidential appointments as CFO at HUD and deputy undersecretary of defense. He is currently a distinguished practitioner at the School of Planning and Policy, Rutgers University, and a lecturer at Princeton University.
A version of this op-ed originally appeared on the policy news website njspotlight.com.