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 www.youtharewesome.com

    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.  

    LET THE CONVERSATION(S) and FORUM(S) BEGIN! 

   
 

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Summer without end seen through the imagination of Wallace Stevens, Poet

Wallace Stevens, Poet, Insurance Executive (1879-1955)

We are still in the throes of summer this day, the 30th of August 2015.

Though fall is only three weeks away, the temperatures today in lower New England are in the low 90's and more of the same is forecast for the first week in September.

That 'summer's lease hath all too short a date'  seems not in accord with our current weather cycles; yet 'Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines.' (both quotes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18)

So what's going on?

We have emerged from one of the worst winters going back to the blizzard of 1947.

Indeed, the winter of 2015 is one  that no one here in the East will ever forget.

Poets from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot and William Wordsworth have written paeans to the dramatic entry of spring.  (For my celebration of National Poetry Month and the Anticipation of Spring: click here.)

These poets powerfully recorded  the transition from harsh spring (e.g 'April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out the dead land,' T.S.Eliot) to the sudden appearance of flora ('When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils,' William Wordsworth.)

So I thought it befitting to celebrate summer with some verse from one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens, pictured above.

Farm in Oley Valley, Pennsylvania near Reading where Stevens was born.
Stevens writes: 'One of the limits of reality Presents itself in Oley when the hay, 
Baked through long days, is piled in mows.' 
From Wikipedia Oley Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania

Stevens (1879-1955) was a New Englander who attended Harvard and built a career as an executive at a Hartford, Connecticut  insurance company.

When the the dead heat of summer arrives, when the sun beats down daily on our human landscape, when life, as we know and experience it slows down to a crawl--a 'snails pace,'  the sun is magnified into a reigning omnipresent Sun-God.

Truth is illuminated ... by the very light, the very brilliance, the very permanence of the sun.

In 'Credences of Summer' (click here to hear Stevens read the poem) Stevens brings together many images, frozen in time by the relentless heat, that serve to exalt and capture in an iphoto instant image, the majesty and the squalor ('And last year's garden grows salacious weeds') of the universe and the divinity inherent in the Rule of the Sun ("of sapphires flashing from the central sky, As if twelve princes sat before a king.")

The 'author' of summer is not only the active, concerned and caring  choirmaster of '...happiest folk-land, mostly marriage-hymns'  and of '...last choirs, last sounds...Pure rhetoric of a language without  words.'

He can also be seen as a more passive  'inhuman author' who 'does not hear his characters talk,' and who meditates With gold bugs, in blue meadows, late at night.'

The poem ends on a high colorful note;  he sees his characters 'mottled, in the moodiest costumes,

Of blue and yellow, sky and sun, belted
And knotted, sashed and seamed, half pales of red,
Half pales of green, appropriate habit for
The huge decorum, the manner of time,
Part of the mottled mood of summer's whole,

In which the characters speak because they want
To speak, the fat, the roseate characters,
Free, for a moment, from malice and sudden cry,
Complete in a completed scene, speaking
Their parts as in a youthful happiness.




Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Modest Proposal: My 2015 Summer Reading List, Part I

A Modest Proposal:  a partial display of my summer reading 

Here is a short description of why I chose these 22 + books of which only 11 are briefly discussed.  

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (not shown) This is great read told by eight-year old Scout from Maycomb Alabama. She is the daughter of Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer who is unsuccessful at defending a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is masterpiece of World War II 'concise' prose which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Read my review for more details.



3. Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel. This is riveting fantastic story that begins with a production of Shakespeare's King Lear in which the lead actor falls victim to heart failure on stage. This event sets the stage for a futuristic scenario in which mankind is 99.9% destroyed by a Russian flu. The play is redeemed by a roving band of Shakespearean actors and symphony musicians managing to survive by their wits, acting and instruments.  

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This 1925 classic was recently turned into a big, big bucks  Hollywood production (which I did not see). I choose to imbibe the life of the ultra rich through the timeless prose of a master writer.



5. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader  by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. This book is on my shelf because of a  recent Fast Company Magazine review entitled The Steve Jobs You Didn't Know: Kind, Patient and Human. So let's learn about the other side of Steve that contrasts with the more limited egotistical, brash and greedy character presented in Walter Isaacson's biography.



6. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A recent  Wall Street Journal Saturday essay  by the author spurred my interest in reading her thesis. She is now a fellow at the Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. (There are 875 Comments about the article)
     The subtitle of the WSJ article reads:  "To defeat the extremists for good, Muslims must reject those aspects of their tradition that prompt some believers to resort to oppression and holy war."



7 Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership by Susan Butler. It is 1943 and World War II is winding down after huge losses of human life by the Russians. Stalin is eager to have the Allies open up the Second Front (the D-Day Invasion) and Roosevelt is keen on getting Stalin, especially, and Churchill to agree on a world peace keeping force open to both small and large nations.
     Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill and their aides meet in Tehran in December, each with his game plan on the table. FDR uses his enormous diplomatic skills, charm and superior bargaining position to overcome Stalin's mistrust and paranoia and Churchill's reluctance to forge the framework for a lasting peace both at Tehran and Yalta in February 1945, just two months before FDR's death.
   This book is  highly recommenced  not only for its engrossing drama, but its beautifully and intricately developed narrative.


8. Strangers in the Bronx: DiMaggio, Mantle and the Changing of the Yankee Guard by Andrew O'Toole  The year is 1951 and the legendary  Yankee Clipper Joe D's last season. On the scene arrives the 19 year old boy wonder slugger, fleet footed Micky Mantle from  Commerce, Oklahoma. The story is enlivened by the many quoted interviews with noted  sports journalists of the day. There are great portraits of Yankee owners Dan Topping, George Weiss as well as the Ole Professor Casey Stengel who led the Bronx Bombers to the second straight World Series win.


9. The Innovators:  How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. The author, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute introduces us to Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter who was an early computer programmer in the 1840's. He then continues the digital revolution with personality portraits of Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing (subject of the cinematic success The Imitation Game), J.C.R Licklider, Doug Engelbert, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tom Berners-Lee and Larry Page.
   This is a must read for anyone wishing to track what the superhighway of information hath wrought.


10. The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams by Phyllis Lee Levin. My interest in this biography was sparked by  the 'remarkable' biography of JQA's father President John Adams by David Mcullough (2001) and a subsequent tour of The Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Most recently, I published a review of another JQA biography, John Quincy Adams, American Visionary, (click here)  by Fred Kaplan--discussed in a New Yorker Magazine article

   My passion for unearthing the amazing contributions of this family to the growth of our republic from its earliest times is endless. John's son John Quincy was "The Greatest Traveler of His Age."
At age 14,  JQA accompanied the Minister to Russia, Francis Dana who sought Catherine the Great's aid for the American cause. He later became this country's minister to the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia and Great Britain.

 ....and now a 'breath of fresh' air as I digress to discuss some poetry books. My reader may recall that I celebrated National Poetry Month (April) quoting T.S Eliot, William Wordsworth, and Haiku and later William Butler Yeats (click here), as we, in the East Coast were emerging from one of the most brutal winters.  (click here for my postings



11. From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 by Jorie Graham. Her honors include winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the 2012 Forward prize. one of the UK's "most prestigious poetry accolade."  The Poetry Foundation has called her "perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation," She teaches English at Harvard where in 1998,she was appointed Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a chair that dates back to John Quincy Adams, who was appointed as its first recipient in 1805 before his presidency.

  The best introduction to her poems is to hear her public recitals. It is best to hear the rhythms and pauses and hold the images in your mind, however brief. (click here to listen)


Tune in to Summer Reading List, Part II.

  

Friday, July 24, 2015

E.L. Doctorow passes: One of my favorite authors (1931-2015)

He had the marvelous facility of transporting me back in time to the Bronx of my youth, the East Tremont Avenue of the 1940's with full rounded characters that roamed, breathed and possessed the streets of my youth.


 E.L. Doctorow (1931-2014)
Courtesy of Wikipedia


He will be remembered for his many novels including Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989) and World's Fair (1985). 


I recently read World's Fair and here is my review.(click Here)

Kudos to Random House which published a full page notice in the New York Times, Thursday, July 23, 2015. After referring to him as BELOVED AUTHOR AND FRIEND, the ad goes on to quote George Saunders' accolade, from the citation for the 2012 PEN/SaulBellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction:

"We salute him, and we thank him
for his courage, his playfulness,
his fire; for reminding us with 
every book that language is 
infinite, and essential. What 
an inspiration and an astonishment
to see how much beauty can be
 made by one amazing artist." 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rediscovering Jazz Pianist Red Garland at the Keystone Korner: San Francisco 1978

Red Garland (1923-1984) at Keystone Korner Jazz Club
San Francisco, California, May 1978
Photo Brian McMillen, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Kudos to Todd Barkin, who ran the the Keystone Korner in North Beach from 1972 until 1983 and Ze'ev Feldman.

They  produced and recently released the Elemental Label 2- CD album featuring performances of Red Garland accompanied by bass virtuoso Leroy Vinegar and legendary drummer "Philly" Joe Jones (Red played with the latter in the 1950's with the Miles Davis Quintet).

Not only have these 16 pieces never been released before, but this is the first and last time the trio played together. The group played the Korner from December 6-10, 1977. 

Love for Sale (Cole Porter), On Green Dolphin Street (B. Kaper-N.Washington) , Straight No Chaser (Thelonius Monk), Bag's Groove (Milt Jackson and Autumn Leaves (Prevert-Mercer-Kosman) are among the classics featured on the album. 

The accompanying liner notes booklet features photographs and accolades to Red by Nat Hentoff, Ze'ev Feldman, Benny Green, interviews with record producer, photographer and label executive Don Schlitten, Kenny Washington and Ira Gittler.




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

As Jurassic World sets new box office records, Dinosaurs dominate the downtown area of Stamford




In its second weekend since opening, Time Magazine reports that  Jurassic World has garnered over $981 million in global box office gross according to Box Office Mojo.

The film is slated to reach the one billion dollar mark this Thursday, less than two weeks after its release.

What an amazing run! (Watch out Furious 7, which reached the billion dollar mark in 17 days)

Just as amazing is Stamford Downtown's presentation of the Dinosaur's Rule outdoor art show.

40 originally designed and painted fiberglass dinosaurs are on display for free viewing throughout the summer months.

Here are examples from the Downtown art exhibit:



                                               





Monday, June 15, 2015

In Celebration of the 150th Birthday of William Butler Yeats, Perhaps the Greatest Poet of the 20th Century.

My introduction to William Butler Yeats (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1839) was as a Freshman at Columbia College. Alan C.Purves, my English instructor, assigned our class Yeats's  Second Coming to explicate.

The first stanza was very disturbing to say the least. It begins with a disruptive image of a falcon not being responsive to its trainer, the falconer and

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

The poem was written in 1919 at the end of  the "blood dimmed tide" of World War I and "anarchy is let loosed" as the the Russian Revolution has gripped the attention and toppled the stability of the world.

My appreciation of Yeats was greatly enhanced by studying some of his great poems under the aegis of Professor William York Tindill of Columbia University's Graduate Faculties English Department.  He brought the rhythms of Yeats's poems alive by reading significant passages out loud.  His favorite was September 1913 and his favorite lines:  

Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave. 

The poem was occasioned by the lockout in September 1913 of employees by the employers and merchants of Dublin. The poem also pays tribute to those early Irish revolutionaries and  patriots who tirelessly devoted their lives to the futile cause of creating a free Irish Republic;

Here is a video animation of Yeats reading September 1913:


Other Yeats poems that I suggest one read include: Adam's Curse, The Lake Isle of Innisfree and The Wild Swans at Coole.

Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. 

Happy Birthday Mr. Yeats. 




Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Gem of Masterful Prose: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr



This novel is a tour de force! 

This novel has it all- and I mean it has it all-- delivering short doses of suspense in tight, terse, taut, one and half page chapters- replete with 'star'tling  metaphors. (emphasis mine!)  

It demonstrates the epitome of brevity in a 500 page plus book! 

The result- a magnetic style that leaves the reader breathless--is admirable. 

Set for the most part during a five- year span of  World War II, Doerr's novel takes us back and forth between Paris and St. Malo, a coastal community located in France's Brittany Provence.

The central character is Marie Laure, a six year old blind Parisian girl in 1940 whose father is an eminent locksmith at a Natural History Museum.  As Hitler's armies draw close to Paris, she is evacuated with her dad to an uncle's home in St. Malo.

In St. Malo, she becomes enlightened to the realities of war at such a tender age. (Her father has a gemstone that confers miraculous powers upon the holder and he must leave her as the Nazis are in hot pursuit of this precious object.)

Her father builds a miniature replica of the city (as he did for her in her Parisian neighborhood) which includes all its hundred plus houses and streets.

Marie Laure learns to navigate the city moving her cane back and forth counting drain holes; in a loaf of bread she purchases daily from the local boulangerie is a slip of paper with coded messages.


World War II Model Suitcase radio for 
sending and receiving shortwave messages
courtesy of the Museum of World War II

Her uncle has set up a surreptitious radio transmitter in his attic and Marie gives the coded numbered messages to her uncle who daily broadcasts local news events and classical music with these numbers interspersed.

Werner Pfennig is a fifteen-year old precocious German living in an orphanage in a Ruhr Valley coal mining town. He has an avid interest in building and fixing radios. While here, he hears beautiful strains of music and captivating science facts along with messages encrypted in sequences of numbers--all delivered by Marie Laure's uncle.


Hitler Youth
from Pinterest.com 

He is tapped by the Nazis to join an elite Hitler Youth training camp where he builds and fixes radios; his job is to travel throughout Poland and the Ukraine to get 'fixes' on illegal transmissions by resistance forces, partisans and enemies of the Third Reich. 


It is thus inevitable that in the final scenes of the book, the now 18 year- old Werner Pfennig will cross paths with now 10 year- old blind girl. This occurs just as the Nazis close in to destroy St Malo and the Allies advance into Brittany after D-Day in June 1944.. 

At the same time, the Nazis are hot in pursuit of the Uncle's transmission 'tower' and the miraculous gemstone that Marie Laure may possess, secreted in a miniature replica of her St. Malo home.

What happens is pure drama and verbal alchemy which I leave to the reader to experience and enjoy--as I did! 


Anthony Doerr has just won the Pulitzter Prize for 
his recent novel, All the Light We Cannot See
photo courtesy of Shauna Doerr

Here is a sample of Doerr's writing. The reader, may, pick up traces of Bob Dylan's Rolling Stones as I did. 

"All the next day the pleasure of his success lingers in Werner's blood, the memory of how it seemed almost holy to walk beside big Volkheimer back to the castle down through the frozen trees, past the rooms of sleeping boys ranked like goldbars in strongrooms --Werner felt an almost fatherly protectiveness for the others as he undressed beside his bunk, as lumbering Volkheimer continued on toward the dormitories of the upperclassman, an ogre among angels, a keeper crossing a field of gravestones at night."



Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kudos to Frontier Communications of Stamford: Exemplifying the Art of Giving Great service


Welcome Frontier Communications: At Last a  breath of fresh air and great service in the Cable Industry!  

Yes, we have the bundle and are very satisfied with outstanding service we are receiving and most affordable pricing

Movies galore, I  have my tennis channel at request and C-Span 24/7.

 And they have agreed to extend my existing contract for another 3 years--with NO PRICE INCREASE.

Wow that's  knock the socks off your customer service 


No more hassle,  no more arguing over pricing with disgruntled phone reps from Cablevision for over an hour!

And their phone reps are a pleasure to deal with. They told me they sense the upbeat mood, the sea change, in their company.

Thanks for the hand off ATT U-Verse.

GO FOR IT FRONTIER and KEEP HITTING THE BALL OUT OF THE BALLPARK. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebrating National Poetry Month: When Springtime breaks in Oregon's Willamette Valley--Poet Samuel L. Simpson

In celebrating National Poetry Month, I must confess that the advent of Spring in Eugene, Oregon is  a spectacular, remarkable and memorable event.

Springtime arrives in Eugene, Oregon:set against
the backdrop of the Pacific Cascades
photo by Mike Wagner

Nestled in the Willamette Valley of Southern Oregon, Eugene is bombarded almost daily with persistent bleary Northwest winter showers from late November onward.

The rains  cease in April and the sudden arrival of spring  transforms the area into a shimmering emerald paradise.

It is for this reason that I chose Samuel L. Simpson's poem, The Beautiful Willamette to celebrate the dramatic arrival of spring

Here are the opening lines of the poem:  

From the Cascades' frozen gorges,
Leaping like a child at play,
Winding, widening through the valley,
Bright Willamette glides away,
Onward ever, 
Lovely river, 
Softly calling to the sea;

Spring's green witchery is weaving
Braid and border for thy side;
Grace forever haunts thy journey,
Beauty dimples on thy tide;
Through the purple gates of morning.... (italics and enlarged type- mine)

The Willamette River runs through Eugene, Oregon, Photo 

The emerald green campus of the University of Oregon, Photo





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

EARTH DAY REVISITED WITH HAIKU POEMS AND ANSEL ADAMS WHO DIED ON APRIL 22, 1984

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH AND EARTH DAY
TRYING MY HAND AT HAIKU
Signs of awakened Spring
In trees tinged with pink purple hues
Wraith boughs-winter begone.


I have been celebrating National Poetry Month with poems reminding us of our brutal, horrific and long-lasting winter and the long-awaited advent of a dramatic spring. You can find poems and lines by T.S.Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Camus William Wordsworth, Rachel France (Haiku) and by yours truly (Signs of Awakened Spring, Haiku).

Click here to see my Twitter Poetry Selection.

Click here to read my blog introducing National Poetry Month.

So what is a Haiku poem and why did I choose this form?

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines of verse. The first line usually has 5 syllables, the second has 7 and the third has 3. The message is strongly visual and concise.

The reason I favor this form of poetic expression is because it is conducive to twitter's maximum of 140 characters including a four color photo . And most important, "brevity is the soul of wit." (Shakespeare's Hamlet )

Why convey a message in over 40,000 lines of verse (the approximate length of Dante's Inferno) when you can convey a strong message in three lines?

Won't your reader be more amenable to reading and understanding your poem, especially with a graphic?

The reason I wrote my above Haiku is simple.

As I was driving in my neighborhood on a recent, rainy and dreary day, an amazing scene caught my attention. I was surrounded by stark skeletal wraith-like arms of trees soaring into the darkened skies.

Lo and behold, right before me were purple pink budding leaves of a magnolia tree 'firing' into life. It was a REBIRTH OF SPRING.

I pulled out my i- phone and quickly captured the scene. The event inspired me to translate this heightened experience into a Haiku. A simple, dramatic, sensual visual event-- instantaneously perceived--became the basis of the Haiku.

So, perhaps my reader will share my sense of wonder and amazement of spring's late--but dramatic- arrival expressed in the Haiku.

Enjoy, the ceaseless cycle of the seasons, especially today Earth Day.

Late Spring:wraith-like boughs 
contrasted with burgeoning pink buds 

Click here for my homage today-- EARTH DAY-- to the poignant photography of the environmentalist and photographer Ansel Adams. He died this day, April 22, in  1984.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Celebrating National Poetry Month and the Anticipation of Spring




National Poetry Month was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

It was designed to "increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States."

My mom instilled my love of poetry often quoting-- by memory-- from the sonnets of William Shakespeare and John Milton.

After majoring in English at Columbia University where I wrote my Masters Thesis on John Milton's extended poem, Samson Agonistes, I taught poetry and prose at Wisconsin State University, Essex County Community College and  Montclair State University.

Epic poems and dramatic verse included in my survey of Western Literature included The Iliad, The OresteiaThe Aeneid, The Song of Roland, Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost. Biblical verse included The Psalms as well.

Why am I posting poems this month on my twitter page?

First, April is designated as National Poetry Month. So why not create a buzz for poetry?

A seven foot  wall of a snow/ice mixture lines my 
driveway just a few weeks ago in March, 2015

Next, this winter has been long, cruel and has been delaying the onset of spring. (Witness the photo above.)  Spring is officially upon us almost three weeks as of this writing, but you would never know it.

We are enduring cloudy, rainy wintry days with temps barely rising into the 40's.

 T.S. Eliot's opening lines from The Wasteland ring true:

     April is the cruellest month, breeding
     Lilacs out the dead land,  mixing
     Memory and desire, stirring
     Dull roots with spring rain.
     Winter kept us warm, covering
     Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
     A little life with dried tubers. 

So I thought it appropriate to select poems that herald the start of Spring starting with lines from William Wordsworth's Daffodils.




Here is a link to my twitter page to inhale the aroma of Spring from some outstanding poets and noteworthy authors like Albert Camus.

https://twitter.com/rj_schwartz

Enjoy, as I will likewise do -  my posting poems several times weekly.








Tuesday, March 31, 2015

World's Fair: by E.L.Doctorow beautifully captures aura of The Bronx, Youth, Hope, Dreams, Despair,etc of the 1930''s


This book is strongly recommended. 

I cherished Doctorow's command of prose and the scenic autobiographic chapters of this book depicting and describing the Bronx of my youth, its vibrant street and family life.

 In truth, I prolonged my reading of the book to savor the narrative. 

For the most part, this memoir is told from the point of view of young Edgar as he makes the transition from the limited perspective of his pre-school years into a more awakened awareness of life.

We get to know the intimate lives of his brilliant, musical older brother Donald who attended the prestigious Townsend Harris High School (before the building of the Bronx High School of Science), his lovable father, unreliable in his conduct of his business, his possessive and doting mom Rose and grandparents who live further up the Concourse and his rich Westchester aunt and uncle.



Often a photographer would come to our
Bronx neighborhood with his pony 

Here are some quotes about Edgar's dad:

"My father was not a reliable associate, I was to gather. Too many things he said would come to pass did not...He was full of errant enthusiasms and was easily diverted by them. He had, besides, various schemes for making money that he did not readily confide to my mother."

"I knew he was unreliable, but he was fun to be with. He was a child's ideal companion, full of surprises and happy animal energy. He enjoyed food and drink. He liked to try new things. He brought home coconuts, papayas, mangoes, and urged them on our reluctant, conservative selves. On Sundays he liked to discover new places, take us on endless bus or trolley rides to some new park or beach he knew about. He always counseled daring, in whatever situation, the courage to test the unknown, an instruction that was thematically in opposition to my mother's."

What about the World's Fair?  The book culminates in some eye-opening scabrous events at the 1939 Queens, New York site.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Drones here, drone there, drones everywhere. In the absence of federal enforcement more are taking to the skies


DHL parcel service tested a "microdones md4-1000"
for delivery of medicine in December 2013
from wikipedia

Earlier this year, I identified drones as a leading story. Under the title DRONES ARE HERE TO STAY, I discussed their military use in fighting global terrorism.

Last summer when Napa, California suffered a sizable earthquake, a low flying drone captured video clips of the damage.  The clip is stunning to behold with over 239,000 views.

Just last week mystery drones have been spotted in Paris, flying over such treasured landmarks as the Eiffel Tower  Les Invalides Museum and the American Embassy.  Here is an NPR broadcast covering the story.

Now drones are are taking to the skies flouting FAA rules prohibiting unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes.

Thanks to Jack Nicas of the Wall Street Journal for his providing examples of the widespread flouting of the FAA bans.

They are being used to photograph and promote high end residential properties to wealthy buyers.

They are being used by companies such as Barrick Gold and Rio Tinto to map mine sites in California and Nevada.

BMW, Walmart Stores, General Mills and Nike have produced TV commercials using drones.

There have been a few fines imposed by the FAA, but we will have to wait over a year for the government agency to finalize their rules.

These unmanned aircraft have undoubtedly beneficial uses.

Drones have the capacity to perform humanitarian functions such as delivery of  medicines to remote areas as suggested by the photo shown above.  However, many issues need to be discussed

One question is at what point do they interfere with commercial aviation flights.

Another key issue involve threats to our right to privacy that these low flying aircraft pose.

Do we want them snooping above our homes and government buildings?

Finally should predator drones be used to carry missiles to take out terrorists?

As they take to the skies, all these issues must be addressed.






Friday, February 27, 2015

Sexual Assault on Campuses Update:Will allowing students to carry concealed weapons prevent rape?


from washingtonmonthly.com

I previously recorded the hurdles facing campus administrators in dealing with campus rape and the banning of hard liquor on certain campuses. You can read the story here under 2014-2015 issues.

Now comes a new twist in dealing with the problem of campus rape.

The New York Times has recently reported that "Colorado, Wisconsin and seven other states allow people with legal carry permits to take concealed firearms to campus, some with restrictions..."

Presently 41 states have a ban on carrying concealed weapons on campus by law or by University policy.

However, many states including Florida, Nevada, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. have introduced legislation  that would allow guns on campus.

Of course, the key issue is whether allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campus will prevent rape.


Monday, February 9, 2015

2014-2015 Issues and Individuals that resonate: Bullying,Sexual Assaults on Campus,Civility in America, Governor Gerry Brown

This blog is a continuation of my prior article on Notable Stories of 2014 Continuing to Resonate into 2015. 





9. BULLYING CONTINUES TO BE A MAJOR NATIONAL CRISIS FOR ALL AGES, IN MANY FAMILIES AND IN ALL PROFESSIONS.

Here in Connecticut, Greenwich High School has responded to the suicide of a GHS sophomore following some allegedly severe incidents of bullying.

The use of social media apps such as Yik Yak, Whisper, Confide or Secret have been magnets for bullying abuses. GHS has taken steps to shut down access to Yik Yak on the school district's wireless network. This is a small first step because students can still access these networks on their own data plans.

The root problems lies with educating the parents who often are poor role models in displaying verbal, physical and mental abuse. Bullying is indeed a hand-me-down disease.

Finally, kudos to the Stamford Advocate for its publicity and the town of Greenwich's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee for holding a writing contest encouraging students to discuss whether society can bring an end to bullying.

The contest winner, Ruis-Jimenz, 11th Grade, describes the dilemna:

Bullies are broken, too.

And until we can Unbreak what's Broken
and Unspeak what's Spoken
Policies and laws
are all going to have flaws.

In a late breaking story, three AITE High School students were named winners in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship's World Series of Innovation. They have developed an app that aids students to combat bullying, depression and suicide by contacting volunteer counselors via video chat.



from Washingtonmonthly.com

10.  SEXUAL ASSAULTS ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

     College administrators have been slow in dealing with the rising reports of sexual assaults on campuses. A New York Times article highlighted the enormous hurdles facing those who do have the courage to report incidents.

    It is thus encouraging to hear that Dartmouth College President Phillip Hanlon just announced that beginning March 30, hard liquor will be banned on campus for all students regardless of age. In addition the students will be required to learn about sexual violence prevention each year.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1825 college students between 18-24 die each year from alcohol related unintentional injuries and more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Other colleges have likewise banned hard liquor on campus. They include Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia and Brown University.

It was recently reported in the New York Times that "Colorado, Wisconsin and seven other states allow people with legal carry permits to take concealed firearms to campus, some with restrictions.."
Furthermore "In addition to those in Florida and Nevada, bills that would allow guns on campus have been introduced in Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming."

The key issue is whether allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campuses prevent rape?

Henry Timms speaking at Ferguson Library 

11. CIVILITY IN AMERICA SERIES AT STAMFORD'S FERGUSON LIBRARY CONTINUED INTO ITS FOURTH YEAR. The last speaker was Henry Timms  who spoke about Civility in the New Media  on Tuesday, February 10th. 

    Here is a summary of his speech from the Stamford Advocate.


Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Brown
34th and 39th Governor of California
from wikipedia 


12.GOVERNOR GERRY BROWN OF CALIFORNIA, now turning 77,  won an historic fourth term last November. He has taken a state with a massive debt of about $27 billion and turned it around so that he has a surplus. To help alleviate the pervasive drought that has plagued California, he has successfully urged the voters to approve a $7.5 billion plan that provides for new reservoirs, dams and water tunnels.
    He was elected governor in 1974 and then re-elected in 1978. He served as Mayor of Oakland (1999-2007) and recaptured the governor's seat in 2010.

    Kudos to Gerry for his leadership and stamina in leading the bellwether state.