Service of Beating the Odds: Paul Wittgenstein & Joe Biden

July 28th, 2014

Categories: Beat the Odds, Music, Politics

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein

These instances aren’t news. I became aware of them recently inspiring today’s post and me.


In NPR’s coverage of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this morning, Tom Huizenga focused on the “Music of Conflict and Remembrance.” He also covered Austrian-born pianist Paul Wittgenstein whose career was literally shaped by the war.

Wittgenstein [1887-1961], lost his right arm when he was shot in the elbow yet he was determined to perform and “commissioned composers including Maurice Ravel to write pieces for the left hand alone.” Huizenga reported that Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith and Sergei Prokofiev also wrote such pieces.


Vice President Joe Biden stuttered as a child. Evan Osnos wrote in “The Biden Agenda,” in The New Yorker: “When Biden reflects on his childhood, he lingers on the experience of having a stutter.” His nickname was Joe Impedimenta.

Biden told Osmos he overcame the stutter by anticipating “what you think you’re going to be confronted with.” He’d practice the response as in, “how ‘bout those Yankees?” And he “Took to reciting passages—Yeats, Emerson, the Declaration of Independence—and by his sophomore year in high school the stutter was giving way. He won a race for junior-class president and won again the next year.”

Today Biden doesn’t like reading aloud so he avoids teleprompters–and written speeches–and prefers to speak extemporaneously.

There are countless inspirational examples like these in which people pursue a goal regardless. Please share some of your favorites.

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden

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4 Responses to “Service of Beating the Odds: Paul Wittgenstein & Joe Biden”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Blind musicians abound, the most famous of which may have been pianist, George Shearing. Country has Ronnie Millsap and Jazz, Ray Charles. Former New York guv David Paterson was also blind. Blindness and other crippling conditions often trigger determination resulting in unexpectedly high achievement in varied fields.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Great examples! After being NY Governor David Paterson was a talk show radio host. I marveled at what a great interviewer he was–he had a remarkable memory.

    I well remember Ray Charles and just saw on that he was a poor, blind, newly orphaned teen–a person about whose future a betting person might not offer super odds. Determination–the word you chose–is crucial.

  3. JPM Said:

    How about President Roosevelt?

    Because of polio, “FDR” quite literally had no use of his legs. He could not walk, although he faked it. Despite this, he returned to politics after being gravely ill, and the rest is history.

    I did not like his politics, and think he is much to blame, 70 years later, for some of our current problems. However, he will never be surpassed, when it come to his bravery, determination, courage and character.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    FABULOUS choice. FDR’s doctors no doubt told him to take it easy to extend his life as Mary Soames wrote her father Winston Churchill was.

    My parents had a friend–a gifted surgeon–who burned candles at all ends and he opted to live a crazy social life in addition to a grueling operating schedule. He died years too soon as his physicians warned him would happen.

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