Thursday, April 28, 2016

National Poetry Month: To appreciate verse, You must hear and feel its rhythms. A Tribute to Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West"

Wallace Stevens 

In his review of Paul Mariani's recently published biography ("The Whole Harmonium" Simon and Schuster, 2016)  of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955),  New Yorker Magazine critic Peter Schjeldahl exudes awe and admiration for "The Idea of Order at Key West": 

"It may the finest American modern poem....(It gets my vote, with perfectly paced beauty that routinely squeezes tears from me.)"  

Schjledahl could not have said it better.

I dedicated my Columbia University  master's thesis on John Milton's Samson Agonistes with these concluding lines from the poem: 

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, 
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds. 

You must hear Stevens recite the poem in its entirety!!!

Celebrating National Poetry Month: Shakespeare at 400

Title page of First Folio, 1623
Copper engraving of Shakespeare by 
Martin Droeshout (from Wikipedia)

In celebration of the 400 anniversary of the death of  William Shakespeare (April 23, 1616), I salute the Bard of Avon with some of his more memorable quotes: 

"Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
 (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2:  Spoken by Cassius to Brutus)

                                   "All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII: Spoken by Jaques)

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although is height be taken."
(From Sonnet 116)

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form, and moving how express
and admirable, in action, how like an angel, in apprehension
how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals-
and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not
me-nor woman neither..."
(Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2, Hamlet speaking to Rosencrantz)

For my prior articles celebrating  National Poetry Month, click here.

The best way to appreciate poetry is to listen to you tube readings of famous actors reciting their favorite poems. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Continuing Accolades for Stephen Spielberg who directed and produced Bridge of Spies

Continuing accolades for Stephen Spielberg who produced and directed Bridge of Spies-- a captivating movie that depicts the tense, oppressive and bellicose spirit of the Cold War Era with excellent acting and cinematography. (click here for first-hand reporting of my 1962 visit to East Berlin during the Cold War)

U-2 Pilot Gary Powers held in custody
being grilled by Soviet interrogators

The hero of the movie, lawyer James Donovan ( Tom Hanks), recruited by the CIA, is on a (personal) mission to secure the release of two American citizens/hostages held behind the Iron Curtain: Gary Powers--a U-2 surveillance pilot-- was shot down by a Soviet missile at 70,000 feet while filming enemy defense sites and held in a Russian prison; US citizen Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) an economics graduate student is in an East German prison on trumped up charges that he is a spy.

The CIA is adamant that Donovan seek the release of only Powers in return for convicted Russian spy Rudolph Abel apprehended and convicted in the US.

Donovan, seemingly acting on his own, is hell bent to secure the release of both Americans in an unequal exchange for Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) imprisoned on American soil. (a TWO FOR ONE deal!!!)

The climax of the film-- in my opinion-- occurs just after the East German Attorney General, Herr Herman Ott turns down Donovan's request that Pryor be released (Donovan just cut a deal with the Soviets to exchange Abel for Powers).

The East Germans insist the the deal be a unilateral one with them: Abel for Pryor only--no Powers!

Deal or no deal??? How does Donovan play his cold war 'hand'?

Ott gets an urgent phone call and Donovan is asked to leave the AG's office and await continuation of negotiations in the hallway outside the office.

A young aide comes to inform him that his boss is no longer available.

Here is the brilliant dialog that ensues.

Aide: I'm very sorry sir. The attorney general regrets that he had to leave on some urgent business.
Donovan: He left?
Aide: Yes, many apologies.
Donovan: I've been waiting for over an hour!
Donovan: Young man. Come here (the aide turns around). Come here, it's all right.
Do you like your job here?
Aide: It's a very good job, sir.
Donovan: It must be interesting.
Aide: Oh, yes sir.
Donovan: And important, too.
And your English good.
Aide: Yes, I hesitate to say. But, it's excellent.
Donovan: Good, good, good. See, I just lost my negotiating partner and I need somebody to talk to and you seem like a reasonable young man.....Can I talk to you?
Donovan: It's all right. (CHUCKLES) It's all right. I just need you to give this message to your boss and it has to be very, very very clear. You understand?
Aide: Yes. sir. But perhaps you should wait until he......
Donovan: No, no. the thing is. I have this cold and I wanna get home.
Can you give him the message?
Aide: Certainly.
Donovan: Well, this is the message. There is no deal for Abel unless we get Powers and Pryor.
Do you understand?
Aide: Yes sir.
Donovan: It's arranged for tomorrow morning. It will not happen unless we get two men.
Those two men. Two, two, two.
Aide: Yes, sir.
Donovan: If there is no deal, your boss must tell the Soviets. He must tell the Soviets that they are not getting Rudolf Abel.
Aide: Yes, sir.
Donovan: Oh, and tell him this. (DONOVAN STANDS AND PEERS AT THE AIDE STILL SITTING) Thus far Abel has been a good soldier, but he thinks he's going home. (COUGHS) If we had to tell him that he's not going home, that the Soviets don't even want him...that he's never going home.... Well, I imagine his behavior might change. And who will be held responsible for that? (CHUCKLES)
That's a long message. Uh, did you get it all?
Aide: Yes, sir. Got it.
Donovan: Good. You're a good man.....Oh....And also tell him no deal unless we hear before the end of this business day. He has the number.... If the exchange isn't gonna happen, there's no reason for anyone to get up first thing in the morning.
Aide: (CHUCKLES) No....sir. That would be pointless.

Congratulations to the author Gelles Whittell for his non-fiction book Bridge of Spies upon which the movie is based; to co-writers Joel and Ethan Coen along with Matt Charman; to Janusz Kaminski for his riveting cinematography and to Stephen Spielberg, director and co-producer.

Kudos to Mark Rylance who won an academy award for Best Supporting Actor.

Here is the link to the official movie trailer:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

In Celebration of the 35th Year of earning my wings: Accolades to The Glenn Martin Company, builder of the WW II B-26 Maruader Bomber, to Peyton Magruder designer and Stephen Spielberg archivist

B-26 Marauder built by the Glenn Martin Corporation
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

It's time to celebrate my 35th year of earning my wings at Gansner Field in Quincy, California. 

Just five years ago, I celebrated my 30th anniversary of earning my wings by recalling my first flight at Chico Municipal Airport and then completing my training under two crop duster pilots, Tom Rahn and Johnnie Miller, operators of Sugarpine Aviators.

Today, I would like to pay tribute to a World War II 'hero', the B-26, Marauder, a  Twin-Engine Medium bomber designed by Peyton Magruder, then built by the Glenn L.Martin Company and first used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, then in North Africa and finally in Western Europe.

5,288 of them were built by the Glenn Martin Corporation between February 1941 and March 1945 at a cost of $102, 000 per plane.

They were known for their high survival rate. The Marauders flew on over 130,000 missions and had a loss rate of LESS than 1 per cent, the lowest of any USAAF bomber. 

"Above All"-- they were  instrumental in destroying the Nazi war machine.

Stephen Spielberg

Click on the above you tube video to watch 1945 footage 
of B-26 Marauders in flight with soaring music
(courtesy of the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, 
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Kudos to the AOPA PILOT MAGAZINE on its  feature article  B-26 Marauder: World War II's Unsung Hero , Mastering Martin's Marauder  in its September 2015 issue. (click here to read)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My first blog of 2016: Civility in America series continues at Stamford's Ferguson Library with Hope on the Horizon: featuring Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont

Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont 
Courtesy of Wikipedia 

Before an attentive and appreciative audience at Ferguson Library Tuesday night, Governor Jim Douglas, Republican of Vermont  (2002-2009), captivated the crowd with examples of  bi-partisan cooperation in his state.

He thus created positive visions and paradigms that could and will break the congressional gridlock, between the Democratic and Republican parties and even within the fractured latter group--schisms that have paralyzed passage of bills.

He began his discourse with noting that without compromise there is, of course, gridlock. Gallup Polls findings illustrate the alienation of the American voter: 42% of Americans identify themselves as Independents. Locally, collegiality has decreased in Vermont state government as fewer and fewer congressman meeting in  Burlington, the state capital, are electing to board for the week to engage in political give and take. The political debates are more and more often held in chambers devoid of politicians.

Yet there is hope if we attune to changes that are occurring.

For instance, the 2010 budget impasse in Vermont was resolved by bipartisan pressure on the teachers' and other civic unions to accept a decrease in salary.

Photo of Calvin Coolidge while attending Amherst College
He was born in Plymouth Notch, Windsor County, Vermont 
He served as our 30th President from August 2, 1923-March 4, 1929 
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 

Vermont furthers public discourse on major issues. He noted that the 30th President of our country, Calvin Coolidge, Vermont's favorite son, was silent on most issues when in national office (hence he is nicknamed "Silent Cal'); however, while he attended Amherst College, he exemplified the give and take of discourse by distinguishing himself in his debating class.  

So, following his lead, Vermont hosts a World Schools debate camp for Team USA at the Coolidge Foundation located at Plymouth Notch, the President's birthplace.

The Vermont Health Care Reform Bill was passed in 2000 as a result of the common objective that led to a compromise. 

He urged that Congressional districts must be redrawn to reflect a balanced system that reflects the paradigm of one man/one vote.

This program marks the fifth consecutive year the Ferguson Library, The  Dilenschneider Group, Purdue Pharma LP. and Sacred Heart University have sponsored the Civility in America series here in downtown Stamford. 

The series has brought such notables as Olympia Snow, the retired Senator from Maine (click to read her presentation), Baseball Commissioner Faye Vincent ,  NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, former NYC Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein and, at least, 25 other additional speakers.

Amity Shlaes, who was the 13th speaker in the Civility in America series (on May 7, 2013) attended Tuesday night's event. Ms. Schlaes, an author and columnist is on the board of trustees of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. She is also author of a recent biography of our 30th President.  She addressed the topic of civility in history

The next Civility in America presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, March 8th at 6 PM at Ferguson Library and will feature Financial Times reporter Gillian Tett. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jonathan Franzen's Purity: 21st Century's familial and digital Society and its Discontents laid out on a far reaching canvas with broad strokes of satire and comedy

What author Wallace Stegner has beautifully  laid out in Angle of Repose-- the often destructive creations of civilization on the pristine naturally-faced wonder of the western frontier, so too, Jonathan Franzan dutifully and brilliantly digs deep below the surface of his characters to reveal the intimate psychological motivations, feelings and nuances and dark uncovered secrets that are our defenses, our bulwarks against the reality of facing our true selves.

This novel is a masterpiece and --along with Angle of Repose-- exhibits some of the best writing on issues that affect us all: the need for enlightened conservation, global warming, information overload and the leaking of classified information via spyware, the after-shocks of the fall of the GDR in 1989, the dilemma of trust fund babies, the magnification of student debt, the seamy side of communal living a la Berkeley/Oakland/ Haight Ashbury, the perversion of charisma and above all, the Socratic maxim "know thyself."

The main character is Pip (nickname for Purity), the  20- something millennial age  daughter of a reclusive mom, herself an estranged wife and unwilling heiress to a billion dollar inheritance. Mother Anabel has been working 10 years in a local supermarket as a check out clerk,  living in a small cabin in the California Redwoods in the mountains near the Ocean.

Pip's passion is to uncover the identity and whereabouts of her father who she has never met and who mom refuses to reveal. Pip is living in a communal house in Oakland and is recruited to work for an Julain Assange like character in Bolivia, Andreas Wolf.

The Hindenburg Gate on November 9. 2009

In a section entitled The Republic of Bad Taste, Franzen  takes us back to the Stasi dominated repressive post WWII  poverty- stricken era in East Germany before its fall on Nov. 4-9, 1989 (148-153).

As a counter play to Pip's obsession with finding her dad, shades of Hamlet are suggested with the appearance  of a ghost-like figure, a real apparition who shadows the 14 year old Andreas and his buddy Joachim (a Horatio -like guy)  for over a week and claims to be his father. Here is some brief dialogue occurring near railroad tracks under the Rhinstrasse Bridge

     "What would say," the ghost said "if I told you I am your father?"

     "I'd say you are a lunatic."

      "Your mother is Katya Wolf, nee Ebersfeld. I was her student and colleague at Humboldt  University from 1957 until February 1963, at which time I was arrested, tried and sentenced to ten years in prison for subversion of state."

     "....I went to prison for the crime of having relations with your mother before and after she was married. The after in particular was a problem." 

     " Listen to me, dirtbag, " he said.  "I don't know who you are, but you can't talk about my mother that way..."

     "Andreas," the dirtbag called after him. " I held you when you were a baby."

      " Go fuck yourself. You're filthy and disgusting."

      "Do one thing for me," the dirt bag said."Go home and ask your mother's husband where he was in October and November of 1959. that's all.  Just ask him and see what he says."   (114-115)
Later on, the  brilliant and quirky Wolf, embarrasses his apparatchik stepfather, a high official in the GDR government, and his mom Katya, a University Professor of English, with his publishing a mocking poem entitled Muttersprach/ Mother Tongue (194)  and then goes 'underground' doing social work for disturbed teenagers out of the basement of a local church. 

We are exposed to his excessive libidinous energy, his discovering the internet as a way of exposing stories with moralistic undertones and his involvement with the most beautiful, sensual and ravishing of female teenagers, Annagret,

And so begins the impetus for an action, the secret that obsessed-driven Wolf must contain at any cost--which I won't reveal.

Tom Aberrant, an investigative reporter for a Denver online newspaper runs across Wolf in Berlin, befriends him and gets deeply involved his Wolf's secret. It turns out that Tom is the father of Pip and the one person who can expose Wolf's heinous deeds to the world.

The unraveling includes sending Pip to work for Tom in Denver with spyware to read all Tom's files to see if there is a leak!

The world of Franzen shows the impurities, the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies and  the tainted lives of those living behind walls, behind secrets. He reveals the sheer brutality, bullying and sexual predatory behavior of those in positions of power.

His mastery of language is formidable! 

The novel ends on a high note of Tom and Anabel being reunited in Anabel's cabin after all these years of separation and Pip uncovering the truth about the mystery of her paternity by her surreptitiously reading Tom's memoir in which he reveals all.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Stamford Advocate: Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down: Coverage of our failing educational administration

During my ten years of living in this great city (click here for more), I have enjoyed reading the Stamford Advocate.

1. Thumbs Up. Local news is covered in depth  The writers bring a wealth of talent to exposing stories that besmirch the quality of our institutions and stories that enhance the reputation of our city.

     Kudos to Angela Carella  who is persistent  in  covering the ongoing sex scandal case at Stamford High School and  Evan Simko-Bednarski, the alleged ongoing sexual harassment case at AITE.

These writers and others have been  exposing the apparent incompetency of our elected School Board and poor record keeping by the  Human Resources Department,  knee-jerk cover-ups by Stamford High School and Board of Education officials and the shortcomings in the legal advice of four teams/firms of lawyers hired by the district.

2. Thumbs Down
     The coverage of the school management crisis over the sex scandal at Stamford High School has fallen short of excellent because several other crucial topics have not been explored and covered.

     The exploration in depth about these shortcomings would, in my opinion, expose root fundamental causes and thus open up a conversation that would, in itself--over a period of time- lead to an improved culture.

    This in turn would give each citizen of our great community pride in the quality of our public school system--which would add another reason why Stamford is ranked in the top 100 Best Places to live in 2015.

     Here is what the Advocate needs to cover in greater depth.

      Our educational management system is corroded--for want of a better word. It is filled with many incompetent leaders, hiring and promoting other incompetent leaders--from the upper echelons down starting with the Superintendent and filtering down to administrative appointees, especially in Human Resources, then to many principals and assistant principals.

   This is turn affects the morale of both teachers, parents and all members of our community.

Circling the wagons is an admission of failure

   The message of the top city administrators seems to be: "Cover your asses and let's work together to circle the wagons. Let's make believe that nothing has happened and maybe the scandal will go away without public exposure."

   Leadership begins with people who not only espouse and orate about high standards of conduct and procedure,  but take it upon themselves to follow with immediate communication to Department of Children and Families  (DCF) and our local Police Department  as soon as the suspected behavior is detected.

   Circling the wagons and pretending nothing has happened harms every single student in our school system, which now numbers over 16,000.

   It is imperative that Human Resources (HR), itself a victim of high executive turnover, record maintain and update employee records that can be immediately accessed.

  How can we be assured this will happen starting now?

  How can we be assured that selection of Executive Director of Human Resources (who was recommended by the Superintendent of Schools with the approval of the Board of Education) --with a salary of $171,000--be based upon merit?

  Should we be settling for individuals who appear-one individual after another- to be 'rubber stamped' by the Board of Education upon recommendation by the Superintendent?

  Consider the hiring of the latest Executive Director of HR, Steven Falcone, who was charged with the duty (among others) to "recruit and retain the most highly qualified employees for the Stamford Public Schools"  according to a press release at the time.

The Darien Times bombshell: Why did not superintendent
Hamilton vet Steven Falcone properly? 

  The Darien Times (click here for the full story)  reported that Falcone was employed by the Stamford School District within 30 days of resigning from a similar post in Darien.

  He left under a cloud of many unresolved issues including his withholding from the Board of Ed a "state desk audit, which found the district out of compliance with Title IX, bullying and sexual harassment policies"  (italics mine)

   Why hasn't The Advocate reported on this story, especially as Falcone omitted to inform the Darien Board of Education  of  "a scathing letter from a former special education professional highlighting a litany of problems that led to several respected employees leaving the district?"

   Why recommend hiring an individual who ostensibly cannot comply with bullying and sexual harassment problems in Darien so that he should not comply with similar sexual guidelines here in nearby Stamford?????

  Here are a few key issues and suggestions that merit consideration to eradicate a besmirched system that cannot hold on to a superintendent, let alone a Human Resources Administrator,  for more than a few years.

   1. Stamford parents and involved citizens should be demanding much more of  our failing system.  Granted that our community ranks as third highest area in the cost of living index; forcing both parents to hold down full time jobs. Consequently, they do not have much time to be involved with choosing those who run our educational system--EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO BE INVOLVED.

   Remember the days that parents with High School age students- the age when the adolescent sex hormones are kicking in-- had time to be involved in Parent Teacher Associations and actually collectively watched over and 'supervised'/advised and spoke directly to those responsible for educating their children.
   2. The Board of Education is a failure and clueless about the business of protecting the interests of our 16,000 plus students. Its members are endorsed for office by a flawed system.
Too often, it's you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. It's politics as usual.

    Traditionally nominees for board positions are endorsed by  local Democratic or Republican City Committees.  Each party's slate is chosen according to party loyalty and favoritism (Who has done more favors for our party? Who has consistently helped raise money? Who has served as a party delegate? Who has served as a campaign manager?  Who has a relative that is a respected employee of the City of Stamford? Who stumps for the party? e.g.who has turned out at the polls to promote party candidates? Who  promotes candidates in their local clubs, churches, synagogues, etc?)

   Is there any interest in vetting candidates on their CONCERN  and ABILITY TO CARE for the welfare of 16,000 plus students in our system?

    Candidates need to carefully sorted through and be nominated to office based upon merit by answering the following questions: Who has the most knowledge and experience in education? Who has had a career in education? Who has been a full-time parent intimately involved in their children's welfare and education from birth to adolescence?  Who has been thoroughly vetted  by those appointing or electing our representatives?

    The City Committees are also oblivious to endorsing candidates with apparent conflicts of interest. At least two members have resigned casting a cloud of confusion over the whole Board selection process. 

     3. The superintendent position is again up for grabs, yet again! 

      Joshua Starr lasted only six years, Winifred Hamilton lasted not even three before deciding to resign rather than face more ignominy for her failed leadership. Can we rely on this board to evaluate and then choose the next superintendent when its present and past track record is so scarred?
    4.  Stamford should try a radical approach (therapy)  of locating a strong respected administrator to appoint  the members of the Board. These would be people that have a track record of responsible civic  leadership and would naturally follow the guidance of their leader.  This is especially recommended when our system (the patient) has been so debilitated.

     Two years ago, Stamford Achieves sponsored a Success Symposium held at Ferguson library. The program featured key note speaker Dr. David Kirp who has written a book on the success of the Union City, New Jersey School System. This article is a must read; click here to read.

   The key to this amazing turnaround in a Garden State educational district that was the second worst in overall performance in New Jersey was a devoted Superintendent a man with a 40 -year track record who- himself - chose Board members who he personally knew would place the interests of the students above any other interests: personal, political, patronage, party loyalty, power, etc.

   It may take years for our civic leaders to enact this enlightened scenario; it may take more failures and more scandals--but our politics as usual habit needs this radical surgery to occur.

   5. Where is the Teacher's Union? Why has a great powerhouse been sidelined for so long? What is the Union missing out on? 

        The Teacher's Union needs to play a more active role to demand a tougher code of conduct from teachers and substitutes to protect the interests of over 16,000 students.

        Unions have sprung into being as great institutions for protecting the rights of those they represent--teachers. The latter are often vilified for their hard earned summer vacations, but they are hard working and under appreciated heroes for many students who see them as being repositories and communicators of knowledge deemed valuable for future success and who, by the way, act often as surrogate parents.

       The teachers'  job is indeed herculean and exhausting.
      Thus, Unions came into being to protect the interests of the teachers on such issues as salaries, maximum teaching course load, mandated preparation periods, allowable sick days, paid maternity leave, health care and dental insurance, supplementary pay for per session coverages, grievances, 10 month employment terms, etc
        Both full time teachers, paraprofessionals  and substitutes, far outnumbering administrators, are on the front lines. They are the eyes and ears of the system, the antennae, the first to pick up on incidents of bullying and sex abuse. So, they should not only report inappropriate activity,  but demand that the union be their representative to follow through on procedure for reporting bullying and aberrant sexual behavior. 

6.  New York State  legislated Dignity of All Students ( DASA), Act five years ago. This is New York State's Anti-Bullying Law to protect all public and secondary school students from harassment and bullying by students and by school personnel. Bullying most definitely includes sexual relations between a teacher and a minor student

     In essence, to comply with the law, New York City Department of Education has mandated that all its employees- all teachers, substitutes and paraprofessionals - must attend a four hour course discussing how to spot bullying issues and how to go about reporting them.

   This classroom course is supplemented by a four hour interactive online video course that each employee must participate in.

    To read the highlights of the law and watch a power point presentation click here 

   There are many issues to discuss in this letter to the Advocate and to the Citizens of our great community.

Courtesy of

    Attention editors and writers of the Advocate along with enlightened Stamford citizens:  At this critical junction when confidence and interest in the upcoming selection of the new Board and Superintendent are at an all time low, when will you roll up your sleeves and initiate the cure for the malady entrenched in our educational district.