Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brave Thinkers from the Decade that 'Was': The All Electric Car and Shai Agassi

Shai Agassi introducing Renault's Electric Vehicle
to the media on May 11, 2008 in Tel Aviv

His name is Shai Agassi and The Atlantic Monthly has singled him out as one of 27 Brave Thinkers as the decade ends. A former software company executive, theIsraeli-American has raised nearly $500 Million to start his venture, A Better Place.

His company has forged an alliance with Renault/Nissan in which the latter has agreed to build a fully functional electrical car by 2011. Shai's plan is to develop 'filling' stations across the globe where drivers of the new vehicles such as the Chevy Volt will be able to charge their batteries or be able to swap batteries in seconds with the aid of a robot . These stations are needed because current battery charging allows vehicles to travel only about 60 miles after a 5 hour charge.

He has signed agreements with Canada, Denmark, Israel, Japan and the US to start testing the roadside stations. Perhaps one day, the familiar logos of Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, BP, Amoco and Citgo will be replaced by A Better Place

Good luck, Shai, your venture surely has the potential to wean us from our dependence on a depleting fossil fuel and help clean up our polluted atmosphere!
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Reviving the Jamaica High School Hilltopper Newspaper

Jamaica High School located in south Queens, New York

We all have special times and moments that have helped define the decade that 'was' for us. Here's the first of mine.

Jamaica High School was established in 1892 in Queens New York. Its alumni include Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame and Art Buchwald the humorist and cartoonist journalist.

Its journalism department was perhaps the best of any U. S. High School. And its' student newspaper, The Hilltopper, garnered more prestigious Columbia University Scholastic Press annual awards for excellence in journalism than any other school in the country. To graduate from JHS as a member of the Hilltopper staff guaranteed admission to any Ivy League School.

What an honor to be invited in September 2002 to join the English Department as an instructor of ESL, English and Faculty Advisor to the Newspaper. The AP English made sure that reviving his baby, The Hilltopper, was a priority for me. You see the paper had not been published for three years.

I felt it was payback time for me and I shared with the students my passion for fine writing and meeting deadlines which I learned while publishing Brooklyn's Community Magazine.. This meant for me meeting editors at 7:30 AM and staying often to 6:30 PM. It meant energizing and pushing the sometime lazy students to their limits.

Together, we got the job done. We were able to publish two issues!
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Miles Davis Kind of Blue Turns 50

Side one of the Kind of Blue was recorded on March 2, 1959 and side two 51 days later. Jimmy Cobb, the drummer, says he did not expect the album to be the top selling jazz album of all time. "How do you go in to the studio with a minimum of stuff and come out with eternity," commented Carlos Santana. And Dave Leibman the musician says, "If there's one record--we will say it, but it's true--that captures the essence of jazz for a variety of reasons it is Kind of Blue." The accolades go on and on as I watch the DVD that accompanies the Columbia Record Collector's Edition of the historic album released earlier this year.

Miles Davis came to New York in 1944 to study music at Julliard School of Music "with his charm his good looks and his unique if not fully formed approach to the trumpet."

The amazing thing is that the whole album was recorded with one take.

Monday, December 21, 2009

CNN's Heroes: Jorge Munoz, Guardian Angel for the Hungry

This is Jorge Munoz in the kitchen of his home with his sister to his left
and his mom behind her. Courtesy of CNN

He feeds up to 150 every night on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens New York. He drives a school bus all day in New York City and then comes home to cook with his family pots of rice, beans and chicken At 9:30 at night he hand out meals--one by one-- to the people who are always waiting. He is called the Angel of Queens, the Superman of Roosevelt Avenue.

He gets up at 5:15 AM to get ready for the first job and starts driving at 6AM. He finishes at at 5 PM, gets home at 6 PM to start his second job.

It all started because as he drove his bus, he saw people lingering on corners for day jobs--and asked them "Are You Hungry?"

He has handed out over 70, 000 meals free of charge since 2004

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Earning my Pilot's License: Part II: The Time Machine

My destination: Trinity Center Airport along Trinity Lake
with the Trinity Alps in the background

My pilot's logbook records my second flight with my instructor on May 27th, 3 days after my maiden flight on my birthday (see my blog for November 19, 2009). Before pre-flighting Cherokee N33570, the other trainer in Chico Aviation's fleet of planes, he tells me we are doing a dual cross country to Trinity Center Airport in the beautiful Shasta/Trinity Wilderness Area in far Northern California.

I quickly learned what a time machine even my entry level trainer could be!

I made a half dozen car trips to Trinity County either to do business in Weaverville or in passing through on Route 299 on my way to Eureka and Arcata along the California coast. I had also been to Coffee Creek to visit Michael and Cora Sue Swords, who ran a Trinity Alps Camping business that employed mules for packing in. Each trip from Chico to Weaverville (about 18 miles south of our airport destination) took me no less than two and a half hours. My logbook records total time for the air trip is 2 hours.

We did one touch and go at the airport and then returned to Chico airport. Timed saved each way was an hour and a half or a total of three hours for the round trip. In addition, I had the opportunity to get a bird's eye view of scenic rugged Northern California landmarks: Mount Shasta, the Trinity River, the Siskiyou Mountains into Oregon, etc.

Hail to my newly discovered time machine. This discovery would come in handy less than 2 years later when I would fly my own time machine, Cherokee N1029h, a Piper Archer II.

By the way, the British author James Hilton claimed that visiting Weaverville had inspired the remote Eden of Shangri-la in his novel Lost Horizon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jimmy Doolittle

Today we celebrate Jimmy Doolittle's birthday. He was born in Alameida , California in 1895 With a PHD earned at MIT in aeronautical engineering, he gained fame as a daring aviator who restored US military morale after the devastating bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. He convinced his US Army Air Corps boss General Henry 'Hap" Arnold that he could successfully lead a squadron of B-25 Mitchell bombers on a surprise air raid over Tokyo.

So, in April 1942, 16 bombers, each with a crew of 5 took off from the carrier Hornet with Doolittle the pilot of the lead plane. He and his fellow pilots bombed factories in Tokyo and then headed for neutral China, but had to bail out to safety when they encountered fog and clouds.

None of the planes were recovered intact and all but 2 crews found safety as they all headed for China and Russia. The pilot of the #2 plane was able to land safely in a rice patty.

Doolittle earned The Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and went on to lead the 8th Air Force from England on bombing raids over Berlin, oil depots, munitions factories, etc.

Among his favorite quotes are:
"The Mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a lamp to be lighted."
(see Carolyn Murphy at http:// www.

"If we should have to fight, we should be prepared to do so from the neck up instead of from the neck down."

"The first lesson is that you can't lose a war if you have command of the air, and you can't win a war if you haven't."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Frank Sinatra's Birthday

Frank Sinatra 42 cent stamp which debuted in 2008

You google Frank Sinatra the number of songs recorded and discover a list of songs so long that it's a labor of love to count the hundreds and hundreds he recorded spanning 1939-1994.

Perhaps the one song that epitomizes the career of he who is nicknamed "The Voice" and "The Chairman of the Board" is I've Got the World on a String and if you click on the link you'll be entertained with a rare 1965 TV performance clip so beautifully preserved by TCM.
How can you not admire Frank as he belts it out the starting lyrics:

I've got the world on a string sitting on that rainbow
Got that string around my finger
What a world what a life I'm in love.
I've got a song I sing I can make the rain go
Anytime I move my finger
Lucky me can't you see I'm in love.

Happy Birthday Frank your songs are forever!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mccoy Tyner's Birthday

December 11, 2009

This is improvisational jazz as good as it gets. Tyner has only improved with age (MT is first shown as the side view piano man in the above video)

Mccoy first joined the Coltrane quartet which featured John Coltrane on sax, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums in 1961. Both Coltrane and Tyner had their roots in Philadelphia so it was inevitable they would meet and perhaps, inevitable they would be share and complement their respective geniuses for a number of years with their timeless classics of Afro Jazz (on You Tube video above, Tyner solos at 1:10), My Favorite Things and Naima.

My discovery of this memorable quartet was in San Francisco in 1969, when a friend lent my their LP; I was so haunted and enchanted by this melody as well as Out of This World; with permission, I recorded the LP on tape which I still have.

I recommend to all jazz lovers, the 2001 recording of Mccoy Tyner plays Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

John Milton Redux: Professor Edward 'Ted' Tayler Revisited

Today John Milton would be 401 years old. He was born in a house in Breadstreet in London to John Milton a scrivener by profession and considered to be an "honest, worthy and substantial citizen..." and "cast out by his father, a bigoted Roman Catholic, for embracing, when young, the protestant faith, and abjuring the popish tenets." (from the Life of John Milton by his nephew Edward Phillips who became his pupil).

He started St. Paul's school when very young and according to his brother "he studied very hard , and sat up very late; commonly till 12 or one o'clock at night, and his father ordered the maid to sit up for him, and in those years (10) composed many copies of verses, which might well become a riper age. And a very hard student in the university (Christ's College, Cambridge) and performed all his exercises there with good applause." (from John Aubrey, F.R.S.)

With this brief intro to the early life of a great blind poet, theologian, writer of prose, drama and and civil servant/statesman, I wish this year to pay tribute to a formidable Miltonist, Gadfly Teacher and mentor at Columbia Graduate Faculties, Professor Ted Tayler, who guided me through my two year stint with Milton and 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry and Verse, while I pursured my Master's Thesis on Milton's dramatic poem, Samson Agonistes.

Ted Tayler was born in Berlin in the early 30's; his father was in the business of setting up wallboard factories in Europe and was later pressured to take his family to the US due to harassment by Nazi brownshirts. Tayler grew up in Westfield, New Jersey where he was an average student; the last 2 years of High School, he attended the Gunnery, a prep. school in Connecticut. His grades improved and he was accepted at Amherst. He then went on to Stanford, to earn his PHD in English and Humanities. He came to Columbia in 1960 and retired 39 years later earning the distinction of Lionel Trilling Professor of the Humanities Emeritus. He is a five foot four inch, blond hair, blue eyed, tweed jacketed Marlin Brandoesque charismatic figure with the military aura of a tough cane bearing Lieutenant Commander Queeg played to the hilt by the inimitable Humphrey Bogart.

In his year long Milton Course, he organized the literary canon from early works, such as Christ's Nativity, Lycidas, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, Comus to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained into a vast year-long argument that developed themes that were progressively experienced and developed by Milton: the clash between academic University Life and the practical mercenary City Life, the natural, simple pastoral genre versus the political, religious prosaic turmoil that culminated in the regicide, the traditional Catholic dogma versus the Protestant and Episcopal winds of change, the moral ethical life versus the evil corrupted satanic ways.

The highlight of the course was when, Prof. Tayler would turn away from his copious notes and begin the dialectic by calling on individual students to interpret specific texts: suddenly we his students were in the spotlight, we were asked to make Milton come alive in the context of our lives. We were forced to find the meaning-as if Tayler himself and only Tayler knew the one correct answer- when we knew there were only approximations. How exciting...I knew I would be called on and I hoped I would be able to find the truth through a give and take dialog with Tayler through my mere prosaic literary discourse... And it would help if I could make an allusion to Wallace Stevens who I knew was his favorite modern poet (The Idea of Order at Key West was his and my favorite poem).

Prof. Tayler taught me a method of investigation, of searching for my truth, of asserting with a positive forceful voice my discovery of truth, my own discovery of order out of seeming chaos. He made Milton come alive for me and made Milton relevant to the themes of modern life and verse. He inspired me to tackle Milton's grand imaginative poetic style for my Master's thesis in a self-enlightening essay: The Psycho-Sexual Tragedy of Milton's Samson.

Check out my blog on remembering another Ted, another Professor Emeritus at Columbia University: A Colloquium in honor of Ted Reff

Thank you Professor Tayler.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Heros of my Bronx Neighborhood: Hank Greenberg Part I

We grew up at 1928 Prospect Ave (corner of Elsmere) in the shadow of Crotona Park, P.S. 44, The RKO Chester, the Loew's Fairmont and the Bronx Zoo in the East Tremont Section of the Bronx. Crotona Park, up the block from our house, is where pop and his cronies went to play handball and where we kids loved to go sledding on winter day.

Once encompassing 155 acres ( but now 127.5) it's where a Bronx born teenager 'Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, loved to hang out and shag balls in the mid 1920's.

Hank Greenberg attended Monroe High School where he excelled at basketball and baseball. He played the big leagues from 1930-1947, was twice voted the Most Valuable Player, hit 58 homers in 1938 and happened to live across the street. By the time I was born, he was already in the Big Leagues for 10 years.
My grandmother, dad's mom, would tell me she would often sit in Crotona Park along with Hank's mom and the two would qvell about their boys. My bubbe would proudly hand out business cards for my dad's new medical practice and Hank's mom loved to tell all their friends how proud she was of her son.

This blog on Greenberg will be continued on Hank's Jan. 1st birthday

Monday, December 7, 2009

Discovering Stamford's Oldest Home: The Hoyt Barnum House

It's a home that I pass several times a week on my way home to Belltown. And a piece of Stamford history that is over 310 years old. The Hoyt Barnum House is located at 713 Bedford Street here in Stamford, just a few steps down from the Police Department.

The home was built by Sam Hait along with help from his children and grandchildren. It was built of wood, because lime was in short supply for making mortar and the latter was needed for holding bricks together. Clay and hair were used to put the chimney and fireplace together.

The home is administered by the Stamford Historical Society and can be visited by appointment.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Merritt Parkway Blog II: a Welcome New Honor at 69!

The view of the Merritt from the bridge at Round Hill Road, Exit 28 in
Greenwich, Connecticut

On the eve of its 70th birthday, the World Monuments Funds Watch List has included the Bridges of the Merritt Parkway on its list as one of the most endangered man-made structures in the world. This designation is because its infrastructure is in serious need of upkeep and so funds must be allocated for necessary maintenance. (see earlier blog on Capturing Fall )

It was the vision of landscape architect Weld Thayer Chase that created this archetypal American Highway laid out in a natural setting of "native trees and plants, including maples, birch and wildflowers" that meander along the serpentine roadway that runs 37.5 miles from Greenwich to Stratford.

With this important citation, the Merritt's bridges joins Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin (Wisconsin's Driftless Area), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, Arizona) and Taos Pueblo (New Mexico) amongst dozens of worldwide monuments on the watch list.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In Case You Missed Roam Around in Stamford

The 2009 Stamford 16th annual downtown Outdoor Summer Arts presentation, Art in Public Places, featured 42 sculptures created by 18 different artists.
Alas, what a beautiful and inspiring show and a pity the show has come and gone so quickly. Fortunately, on September 3rd, I was able to catch the last hours of some of the 42 'stars' of the show in our community as they were being assembled and loaded onto moving trucks on their way to Loveland, Colorado.

All the pieces are incredible including some my Power Shot was fortunate to capture for this slide show; of particular interest is Del Pettigrew's Gracle Mania (blackbirds) and Two's Company, Kent Ullberg's bear Waiting for Sockeye and Thomas Ottenberg's But, I Feel Fine (the upside down gymnast balancing on a horse with one hand) and Tundra by Virginia Sperry.
For more photos and information about the show, log onto the Stamford Downtown website Enjoy this year's show. See you next year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In case you missed The 2009 UBS Stamford Parade....

Here are two of Stamford's notables: First, that's the famous forty- foot plus Beetle Bailey balloon that has made an appearance in many many UBS Stamford downtown parades ; and next, that's Beetle's creator for almost 60 years, Mort Walker, giving his audience a high five on the passenger side of the Military Police Jeep.
We look forward to being there next year

Monday, November 30, 2009

Winston Churchill at 135: The Two Chartwells

What better way to celebrate Winston's birthday (1874-1965) than to introduce readers and tourists to the two Chartwells. The first is his country home located in southeast England in Kent, now a National Treasure and open to the public.

The young military officer, statesman, politician, First Lord of the Admirality and burgeoning artist first alighted on the property in 1922; he immediately fell in love with the modified Elizabethan Manor House and bought the property for his wife Clementine who was likewise enchanted with it. So much work had to be done to refurbish the home that Churchill hired the architect Philip Tilden to transform the structure into a home. The couple finally moved into their homely abode two years later in 1924. (Photo at left is the young Churchill with his fiancee Clementine Hozier, shortly before their marriage in 1908; Photo upper right is Chartwell Manor)

In this very private retreat, where he wrote his memoirs and painted most of his 500 pieces, two rooms of particular interest are the dining room and Churchill's study. A short film produced by the WPA two years after his death takes you into both. There are many videos available online that afford a marvelous tour of the Kent countryside, the Koi ponds, cattle and swans that abound amidst the beautiful display of flora on the grounds. One can only marvel about the view that he had from his study as he composed his memoirs and histories.
The dining room is also the screening room where Winston would entertain his guests with movies.

The other Chartwell is right here in the United States. It is the only bookstore devoted exclusively to books and memorabilia about WC. It is located appropriately along a strand of high ceilinged windowed public arcades that run continuously from 56th to 49th street between Madison and Park Ave in New York City: the booksellers are at the Park Avenue Plaza building on 52nd Street.
I have been in the shop many times and there are many book collections and letters that are personally signed by WC. It's well worth the outing to enjoy the best kept secrets in NYC: the arcades, the flora and the many shops along the way; however, Chartwell is the jewel of them all.

Image source (1)
Image source (2)

Goldman plans $16.7 billion in bonuses for 2009

The $16.7 B in bonus money that Goldman Sachs plans to distribute to its employees after a windfall profits year equates to nearly $700,000 to each of its 31,700 employees.

This would be a staggering amount during more stable economic times; it is even more unconscionable during these turbulent times when Goldman was teetering on the brink of collapse and the Feds determined the 140 year- old firm, deemed too big to fail, needed a bailout. And so the US Taxpayer pumped in $22 Billion to save the sinking ship.

Consider this: $12 B was loaned to Goldman to protect its investments in credit default swaps created by AIG-- an extremely risky move by Blankfein's firm. Goldman then turned around to use the total US aid package of $22B to reap profits, to a certain extent, in the very investment vehicles-CDW's- that purportedly was going to sweep it under.

What an outrageous situation. Since she used our money as insurance to further leverage her investments in other less risky investments, we the 300 million citizens of our country deserve to share in the profits as well. That means each US citizen would reap about $70 in profits.

What hubris (and of course, irony) for those whose own greed brought them to the brink of disaster should even consider receiving any profit, let alone any bonus, when 300 million of us are lend our 'full faith and credit' behind her to insure success, when 1 of 3 homes is less worth than the mortgage that secures it, when unemployment is reaching 20% in many areas, the once rich are lining up for food stamps, and the homeless swell the streets.

We cannot fault the greed of those with the capital, nor can we fault the innocent home buyer who is sweet talked into a deal that any prudent lender would reject. Greed will always prey upon the innocent. What we need is for Congress to quickly enact emergency legislation to tax these bonuses at a 90% rate. That way America can earn her just due and perhaps Goldman may still live to see the light of day!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Remembering Dad's passion for sports: 10 Years after his Passing

This year marks the 10th year of the passing of my dad, Dr. Saul Schwartz and the 20th year of the passing of my brother, Dr. Gabe Schwartz. I would like to recall their passionate involvement, not only as physicians and researchers (Dr. Gabe wrote over 150 papers) but as sports enthusiasts. (Look at my next blog on remembering brother Gabe).

Dad attended CCNY in Manhattan graduated in 3 years pursuing a busy pre-medical program. Yet he found time to play on the varsity baseball, basketball and field and track teams. He was a fierce competitor, extremely fast around the bases, up and down the court and was a sprinter. He spoke glowingly about doing the hurdles and playing catcher for hard ball pitchers. He did not have time to play tennis, but as soon as he built up his practice in the Bronx, he joined a golf foursome organized by some medical friends and played at Mosholu golf course, Saxon Woods and other NY Metro courses.

I recall his aggressiveness and speed during a parent/son baseball game sponsored by Emmanuel in Mount Vernon. He was so quick going around the bases that he slipped and fell injuring his ankle and so had a cast on his leg for about 6 weeks. In his late 70's and 80's he had to have knee replacement surgery on both legs-a result of all that stress running so much.

I taught him tennis which he picked up rather quickly in his late 50's. On one occasion we were playing at Boothbay Harbor, Maine. And playing on the court near us was young Senator Ted Kennedy who was fond of hitting stray balls onto our court. I don't know how he knew dad, but he kept running onto our court in his blue Bermuda shorts and all the time saying: "Sorry to bother you, Doc!" This was a year after the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne when the Senator's car rolled off a bridge at Chappaquidick.

As part of his athletic agility and his dedication to service of others, Dad continued to make house calls into the early 1960's. Those who knew him called him 'The Concourse Flash' going up and down flights of steps at the numerous apartment houses lining the broad thoroughfare--even though elevators were in common use; he simply preferred the exercise. Frankie Frisch another Bronx boy who played major league baseball and was extremely fast was nicknamed "The Fordham Flash" as a result of his playing four sports-one more than dad-while at Fordham.

Dad lived until 92 and only retired from his one-man practice on the Grand Concourse a few years earlier. He walked with a cane until his last days. G-d bless your soul, dad!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Remembering Brother Gabe's Passion for Sports 20 Years Later

In this blog and the next, I pay tribute to milestone family anniversaries: the 20th year since the passing of my brother Gabe and the 10th year since the passing of my dad. See the next blog for my discussion of Dad's connection to sports.
My brother was a gridiron genius. While living in Chicago and the chief physician at a renal dialysis center, Gabe struck up a friendship with Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears. Mike often relied on Gabe to suggest plays and running patterns. During their friendship from 1984-1989, Iron Mike-- with a 67-12 win loss record --was the best coach in professional football.
How did Gabe communicate to Iron Mike? Through the use of an apple computer, Gabe, with a flick of his index finger would tap on a key that connected directly to Mike.
This was quite a feat for Gabe was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease in 1984 and progressively lost all virtual motor functions in his extremities. The Bears team hailed him as "Doctor Gabe." Gabe, you are a legend!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Those ESPN Guys: Cliff Drysdale and Pat McEnroe a Class Act at the US Open

After watching the Grand Masters of Tennis play: Stan Smith, Mary Jo Fernandez, Ille Nastase, Hana Mandlikova etc., I was wandering about the grounds at the US Open; and so it was a delightful surprise to run into two of the finest tennis broadcasters in the game and to swap a joke or two with them. In the photo above that's Drysdale giving me a thumbs up for my badinage and Patrick McEnroe, the last man standing (the brother of the court terror, explosive John Mcenroe)

Here, my camera catches them during some 'down time.'

I told the obviously tired and droopy eyed Cliff and his partner that "You guys haven't put in real day's labor since you put your rackets down years and years ago (to focus on business). When are you guys going to get a real job?" This levity brought some smiles.

Actually, each of these 2 broadcasters brings a class act demonstrating his love of the game.

Drysdale was in the top ten for six years and contested in the finals of the US Open National Championships at Forest Hills against Manolo Santana of Spain in 1965. His smooth voice "combines precise South African diction with a natural ease on air that recalls James Bond engaged in a game of backgammon." (see interview in on 1/10/08) He combines his love of broadcasting tennis with his passion for developing' pied pipers': masters of the game such as Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Owen Davidson and Aaron Krickstein, to name a few, to create enthusiasm in spreading the game anywhere and everywhere. He says it best:

"You can grow tennis anywhere; give us a tennis facility--even in some place where no one has played tennis for a long time--and if you put the right person in charge of that place who can energize people it will catch on because it's a great game that everyone--kids, adults, men and women--can play."
In a short You Tube video, Cliff demonstrates his incisive low key analysis of the similarity of the Steffi Graff and Ana Ivanovic forehands.

John McEnroe and his brother Pat teamed up at the US Open and its very clear that Pat is as analytical as his brother and comes across like a smooth quaff on a hot summer's day: pleasant, informative and entertaining. Pat has worked hard both as a player of renown, particularly in doubles and has come into his own as a formidable broadcaster, as Captain of the US Davis Cup Squad and as general manager of the United States Tennis Association's player development program. Besides displaying his aura as a gentleman of tennis, he is a unique serious promoter of the sport.

Hats off to both of you. You guys are a class act! And great for the sport.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joe Dimaggio's Birthday: November 25th

"where have you gone Joe Dimaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes on you.."
From Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson

Joe was a larger than life guy--my childhood hero. He was the very image of grace under pressure. He was the Bronx Bomber (even though Hank Greenberg a neighborhood homegrown Bronx boy-- oversized slugger went to PS 44 on Prospect Ave., shagged flies on my turf, Crotona Park, and went on to star at Monroe High School )
My memories touch upon seeing Joe in black and white TV; as a starry eyed 7 year- old, I would eagerly wait for Mel Allen ( the voice of the Yankees) in his pitched excited voice to cry out... "next up is Dimag (deemaj), here comes the pitch and its swung on by Joe and it's a long one toward right's going, going, gone." I would watch Joltin Joe round the bases in his inimitable graceful stride --all the while tipping his hat to the adoring shouting fans. A rare, individual who knew how to play up to the audience.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Agassi: The Punk Kid, but more much more than a "haircut and a forehand"

He is the only tennis player to win a career grand slam (winning Wimbledon, The French, US and Australian opens) and Olympic Gold Medal.

He precipitously fell from #1 in Tennis in 1995 to #141. He could have quit then at age 27 and dealt with his demons off the court.

No, he chose--he had no other choice-but to face his demons square face to face-on the very turf that generated them. He battled his addiction to crystal meth, his hatred of the game, his hatred of his dad Mike (who shoved a tennis ball in his crib before he turned 1, and was evidently behind Andre's winning $500 from Jim Brown in 3 sets at age 9!) and his self disgust

No he did not give up; he played the qualifying circuit all over again, practiced day and night, with a passion for the game that propelled him to the top of the tennis world again. And he won more slams after the late age of 29, than before.

He learned to love the game, love his dad, love the fans who adored him; he found the elusive peace he sought within himself

He accumulated over $100 million from tennis and is now giving much of it back: he has established a tuition free charter school in Las Vegas for 623 disadvantaged/at risk kids. His foundation has raised over $70 million so far for these kids

Andre should know the value of an education gathered painfully by experience --he got his education the hard way-- by pushing back, by rebelling at the often brutal, aggressive upbringing at the hands of his dad; his denim court wear and his mullet style hairpiece and his short lived tumultuous marriage to Brooke Shields were the outward signs of internal turmoil.
He is one 9th grade dropout who is paving the way for other 'at risk' kids with more formal schooling. The first graduates are now off to college.

Why did he write his autobiography, Open, when he could have avoided the limelight? In an interview with Jim Chairusmi of the Wall Street Journal, Andre says, "...anything worthwhile in life comes with work and risk. This was part atonement, as well. I had something that most people don't get, which is a second chance. Everyday has been a form of atonement. And this book is that."
image source (1)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Warren Buffet's Company Triples Earnings in Third Quarter

Photo of Warren Buffett addressing students at
Kanas University from Wikipedia

As reported in a front cover story in the Financial Times of Saturday, November 7, 2009, Buffet's Hathaway reported earnings of over 3 billion dollars.
The conservative Mr. Buffet had once characterized derivatives as 'financial weapons of mass destruction.'
Yet his group earned over $1.1 billion by windfall appreciation of credit default swaps of which Hathaway has a portfolio of over $30 Billion. The CDSs rose in value as rising markets reduced the likelihood that the company would have to pay out on the insurance-like instruments.'
So much for the pot calling the kettle black...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Earning my Wings: My First Flight

That's me above with Cherokee Cruiser PA 28-140 (2+2), N8387C at
Chico Municipal Airport in May, 1978

2009 marks the 30th year since I earned my Private Pilot's wings at Gansner Field, Quincy, California in Plumas County with Tom Rahn, my instructor and Johnnie Miller, CEO of a crop duster business and Certified Flight Examiner.

My inaugural flight was at Chico Municipal Airport (CIC) on my birthday May 24, 1978. I flew Cherokee Cruiser 140 N8387C (November 387 Charlie). My logbook simply records: 1.5 hrs, dual, up Deer Creek.

My instructor is the first of many instructors I will have over the course of the years. He is tall, lean and fair haired. He boasts that his other students include TV Soap Opera stars who have moved to Chico from New York. He introduces me to Teal Nichols, a good looking well built blond lady. (Teal is a member of a group of 14 adults and 15 children who left New York in 1961 to avoid the fallout from a nuclear holocaust in the east, which never happened). I later learn that he is building time for his commercial license and that his real motivation is flying large jets.

An aerial view of Lassen Peak, locale of my first dual flight

Deer Creek is a scenic route that that follows Route 32 as it winds upward from Chico to Chester (near Mt. Lassen National Park, scene of a 1914-1915 volcano). The average altitude of the terrain is 3000 feet so we fly at 5500 feet The California terrain is awesome and Lassen Peak is stark dominant!

We logged 1.5 hours. As pilot in command, my instructor controlled all aspects of the flight from the initial check and visual inspection of mechanical systems, propellor, fuel tanks, oil level,
pitot tube, ailerons, flaps etc of the plane while still tied down, followed by firing up the engine, checking the basic instruments, magnetos, electrical readings, tuning radios, then radio communication to the tower requesting permission to taxi into position to hold and then tower command to take off. It was a sunny, clear day with little wind and my first takeoff is awesome: first pushing the throttle full forward to accelerate to lift off speed with rotation at 70-80 knots and then climbing out at 90 knots until we reach flight attitude.

Total cost $49. A great introduction to flight

Look for my next post in this series: The Cherokee Cruiser as The Time Machine and then followed by a blog on earning my wings .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Breaks in the Berlin Wall: Behind the Iron Curtain 1962-1965

Celebrating at the Hindenberg Gate, Berlin, November 9, 2009
Notice the Dominoes poised to fall

Enough hype about the Berlin Wall, 20 years after its fall.

Clearly, there were cracks in the wall long, long before

In 1962, I visited Berlin at the height of the Cold War. The wall was erected a year earlier, tensions were running high and each side was flaunting its parade of soldiers, its long and short range missiles, its hidden missile pads/silos. ( Dr. Strangelove or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb would soon be the craze.)

With my American Passport in hand, I was able to cross over to the Communist side of Berlin or East Berlin.

I was struck by the run down neighborhoods and decrepit homes that showed the devastation of the City at the end of World War II. (this was in contrast to the West Berlin side where building cranes were re-erecting buildings all over and the Kurferstandamm or Ku-damm for short, the city's central hub was alive with tourists, cafes and boutiques day and night.)

I boarded the S-Bahn and got off at the Pergamon Museum where ancient Greek freizes, colums and human sculptures had been transported and preserved by the Soviets during World War II. (click here for Pergamon Museum flicker slide show.)

I had studied this exhibit 2 years earlier in my core curriculum art humanities course and what an experience it was to be able to witness these awesome freizes 2500 years old--miraculously saved from Allied bombings and now resurrected like West Berlin.

As I was touring the museum, I was approached by a museum guard who asked me in German:
"Haben Sie Amerikanische Zigaretten, bitte?!" (do you have any American cigaretttes, please?) while offering me some deutsche marks. I begged off and gave him a couple of Gauloises which he gladly accepted. The experience brought home to me the poverty, the isolation that separated W. Berlin from E. Berlin (By contrast, along the Ku-dam, the tobacconists carried all brands of cigarettes, international newspapers, etc.)

In 1965, my dad lead the first group of American Doctors 'to tour' and visit Russian health facilites behind the iron curtain at the invitation of the Soviet Government. He told me that he was approached by dissidents outside the Central Synagogue in Moscow who tried to pass him letters to take back to relatives. They communicated in Yiddish even while KGB agents were milling about.

My dad realized the 'consequences' --certain apprehension and possible jail if he cooperated- as he refused to accept anything from these ordinary citizens who literally had been cut off from the outside world.

These were grim times indeed!

Check out an 'Ugly American' experience that occurred about 40 years later in East Jerusalem just after 9/11/01.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Celebrating Claude Monet's Birthday

The Wild Poppies
Oil on Canvas, 1873
Shown at First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874

Today is Claude Monet's birthday (1840-1926). He is one of the seminal artists of the Impressionist movement in art which flourished notably in France from the early 1860's until the early 1900's. His art is dominated by three principles that he adhered to for his career. First, he advocated the concept of "en plein air"--the artist must go outside to paint. The second, related to the first, is that the artist must capture the various nuances of light. (This he did in his various portrayals of the Houses of Parliament and the Rouen Cathedral) Third, the artist must respond spontaneously to his subject and so there is no time or requisite for accurate lifelike representation which is the fundament of classical painting. The artist- far from expressing eternal fixed principles-captures an impression of the moment.

In "The Wild Poppies" (above), one can see these principles clearly demonstrated. Note the strong diagonal movement from upper left to lower right by his repeating his 'wife and child motif' above and below.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Housing Crisis is Shameful

In my election day blog of November 3, 2009, Election Day Thoughts, I alluded and concluded my observations with mention of a C-Span Video on the pitiful state of our nation's housing crisis.
With the elections concluded, I want to address the remarks made by a wonderful orator, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia who is personally schooled in the nuts and bolts of the crisis Before coming to the Congress in 1999, Johnny had a 32 year distinguished career in the real estate industry. The main points he makes are

1. In metro Atlanta there is an average of a 10 year supply of developed lots, vacant and unsold!

2. With 1/3 of the existing mortgages valued more than the value of the home, ie. there is no equity in the homes, homeowners are finding it easier to walk away from their homes than continue paying high monthly payments.

We are past the point of blame. We must urge our lawmakers to aid those homeowners who continue to meet monthly payments with renegotiated terms. We must urge our congressman to enact much stiffer regulations to halt the rampant greed, speculation/margin financing, lack of integrity that spawned this crisis. The cure must be done swiftly. Time is running out.
Those who we put in office must act to protect the vast majority of hard-working American citizens who are at their breaking point.

Here is the link to Sen. Isakson's opening testimony. Find the section entitled Transcript and go to the the 11 minute 15 second mark and click on it to hear 10 minutes of heart wrenching testimony.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frank Woodruff Buckles, The Last Living American Soldier from World War I

Frank Buckles receives French Legion of Honor Medal at 107
Photo courtesy of Karen Kasmauski
Smithsonian Magazine, October 2008

At 107, Frank Woodruff Buckles is the only US doughboy survivor of World War I, a war in which 4.7 million American boys were recruited or conscripted and which claimed 8.5 million lives. It was supposed to be 'The War to End all Wars.'
Frank was too young at 16 to be a recruit and so after a number of turndowns by Marine and Navy recruiters, he headed from his native Missouri to Oklahoma City where he told an Army Captain that his birth certificate would not be a matter "...of public record. It would be in the family Bible." Frank continues, "You wouldn't want me to bring the family Bible down here, would you?" And with that the Captain said we was going to take him.
He was posted to England where he shuttled officers in the sidecar of a motorcycle and delivered dispatches. He did not get to the front to engage the enemy in live combat. However, after the war, he was ordered to accompany 650 prisoners of war back to Germany. This was the closest he got to combat.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he was a civilian in Manila, Phillipines and, ironically, was- himself- taken as a prisoner of war for 39 months eating his meals out of a tin cup.
He was honored by President Bush in a White House ceremony in 2008 and now lives on his family's cattle farm in Charles Town, West Virginia, named after the youngest full brother of General George Washington.
May you keep up the fighting spirt, Frank!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Salute to all American Veterans:

Today is a special day to honor the living and the deceased warriors of our country who have laid down their lives in the defense of liberty.
Being an aviator myself, I wish to commend all the aviators and related personnel including, pioneers of aviation such as Orville and Wilbur Wright, Glenn Curtis, Leroy Grumman, Igor Sikorsy, Donald Douglas, Jack Northrup, Allen and Michael Loughhed, Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle. Let's also commend all the navigators, bombardiers, radar operators, two-way radio communicators, parachutists, Rosie the Riveters, WACs and all the veterans of every war we have fought.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Capturing Fall along the Merritt Parkway

She is turning 70 years old next year and she has 68 Bridges along her mellow meandering 38 mile path, but to me The Merritt displays her inherent beauty from exits 35 to 27., especially in fall.
Twice a week, amidst a busy schedule of servicing clients, I manage brief excursions to visit two homebound friends of mine in Greenwich. It is mid day and I can take a leisurely drive at 65MPH, and behold the roseate, rusty, redness of an autumn in bloom, diamond shimmering lakes and golf course(s) and the neo-modern bridges at exits 33 (Den Road, Stamford), Exit 31 (North Avenue) and Exit 28 (Round Hill Road).
So, one day I had to stop and do a photomontage and video shoot to share the beauty of my trip.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Congratulations Michael Pavia, Our New Stamford Mayor

Nov. 8, 2009

The election results are in and Michael Pavia is new Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut. He beat his opponent Democrat David Martin to become the first Republican Mayor in 14 years. The tally was 12,680 votes to 10,024, which translates to Pavia's capturing 56% of the vote to Martin's 44%.
Sadly only 39% of eligible voters participated: of 57,304 registered citizens, 22,689 went to the polls. And, I can only wonder how many residents of voting age simply refuse to register--perhaps feeling so alienated from the safeguards of our democracy to participate. So, perhaps, only about 1/3 of us actually feel we can make a difference. The rest feel disenfranchised. Doesn't that make the average American citizen the real loser here?
According to the Stamford Advocate: the reasons for Pavia's success are three fold: money/fund raising, organization (Pavia started with greater name recognition) and backlash against high taxes.
Several observations are in order. When I went to my local polls at Dolan Middle School, mid-afternoon, there were some 15 campaigners outside asking for my support and handing me literature (which I had to discard before entering) and inside there some 20 volunteers and only 3 voters. Thus the voters were outnumbered by 35 to 3 or 12 to 1. A sad state of affairs.
Though I am a renter, I can relate rather strongly to property tax increases. About a year and a half ago, the house in which I live was reassessed from about $200,000 to over $400,000--suddenly doubling the property tax of my landlord. Naturally, my rent suddenly went up. Querie: what took the assessor's office so long to do their homework?

On the bright spot, the day after elections, I had the privilege of meeting one of Mike Pavia's campaign lieutenants while shopping at the local supermaket. Dan Mccabe is lawyer here in town and has been friendly with Mike from their days in Stamford Catholic School (Trinity). Dan is one of the most upbeat guys, I have met lately. And he waxed with so much genuine enthusiasm and praise for his life-long friend that I know our city will be in strong hands.
Another bright spot is that voter turnout where Pavia lives in District 18 (covering North Stamford and Newfield) was just under 50%.
Finally, hats off to David Martin, who leaves the Board of Representatives after 26 years of service. Dave, who arrived in Stamford in 1983 from his native Kansas City, Mo. ran for for this office as a Democrat in a Republic district after 6 months residence; amazingly enough, he won the seat! So good luck, Dave, who now returns to his consulting firm, Michael Allen & Co. in Darien.

Overheard on CNBC : Job Growth in time for X-Mass?

This past week I saw the following prediction flashed across the screen of CNBC:

"Employers can only push their current workforces to do more with less for so long. If output growth remains strong as we expect, hours worked and payrolls should be rising around the turn of the year." - Dean Maki, Barclays Capital

Thinking about Tony, the subject of my blog for October 19, who is working much longer hours for the same pay in order to keep his job, I wonder whether he will be able to work fewer hours by end of the year.

I seriously doubt so! This is wishful thinking for the American Worker. The US Labor Dept. just released figures this past Friday, November 6th that unemployment is now topping 10% and could climb higher.
With more workers unemployed, the economy will weaken in the next few months. This means fewer dollars to spend for holiday gifts, a weaker demand for goods and services and further layoffs.

Let's brace for the worst, America. We are still in for hard times.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November 3, 2009: Election day thoughts..

It's election day here in Stamford, CT. And a balmy 63 degrees at 2 PM. Electors are going to the polls to elect a new Mayor. Dan Malloy is 'retiring' after 12 years to seek a higher office--the Governorship of our state, to serve us in Hartford.

It's a toss-up between Dave Martin and Michael Pavia. Martin is a senior partner and owner of Michael Allen Co, a management -consulting firm whose clients are primarily Fortune 500 companies. He has served 26 years on the Board of Representatives. In the Advocate Voter's Guide 2009 supplement, published on 10/30/09, Dave says:

"....I have a deep understanding of our city and experience with issues. We have become one of the country's safest, most successful small cities--with an active downtown, a quality school system, and wonderful parks--a great place to live and work...'

I do agree with Dave's remarks. A recent transplant to CT in 2005, via No. New Jersey (10 years) Texas (2 years), Maryland (2 years), Oregon (Eugene is a close contender with Stamford for quality of life), both No. and So. California (18 years) and New York City and NYS, (30 plus years), I can attest that our City is indeed safe with a quality education system ( I have substitute taught in all schools in Town) and an excellent place to start a mentoring business here with clients in CT, NYS, FLA and Texas.

Sparring off with Martin is Michael Pavia. He is Founder/owner of a commercial real estate development group and is a residential home builder. I met Michael about a year ago at a diner where he was campaigning; though we did not discuss issues, he impressed me with having a certain charisma. In the Advocate, Pavia says he will

"....change the status quo Day one...I created 1,000 local jobs and built 200 homes that add over $1 million/year to our tax rolls."

My vote is going to Martin for two reasons. He had dedicated so many years to local government public service; secondly, I am inundated almost daily with costly 4x6 direct mail slick 4-color pieces from Pavia, which I throw away. I get 10 pieces from him versus one, maybe two from Martin. With these tough times, I find it quite offensive that he is so lavish in his spending whereas all that money could go into feeding the homeless, providing more shelter for the dispossessed, etc. There are less ostentatious marketing tools to get our attention.

(I wonder if any of the candidates has seen this video about our Nation's housing crisis , which I will discuss in my next blog. It is introduced by our own, Sen. Chris Dodd:

They are both qulified individuals. May the best man win!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Celebrating The P-51 Mustang 65 Years Later

16,766 were built making them the most numerous fighter plane ever built. Perhaps, the most memorable event occurred on October 7, 1944 when US Army Air Force Lieutenant Urban Drew flying his P-51D Mustang named Detroit Miss (pictured above) shot down two ME-262's (Nazi Jet Planes, the first air combat jets produced, nicknamed Der Schwalbe, "The Swallow') as they were taking off from the German base at Achmer in Czechoslovakia.

Why single out this event as being significant? After all the Mustangs, first produced by North American Aviation in 1942, had been engaged in aerial combat and bomber escort duty over Europe and flew tens of thousands combat sorties.

The hard facts of war are this: most Mustang pilots had at most 60 hours of flight time in the plane before heading on their first mission . Drew had about 700 hours in the model because he began his WWII career as a flight instructor--thus he knew the craft. Second, the ME-262 was a superior craft since it was a jet plane capable of flying at over 560 MPH, whereas the Mustang was a propeller- driven air machine with a top speed 438 MPH. ( In fact, while on a mission the same month, Drew first saw a German jet, gave chase, fired his guns, but the jet outran him). Third, the deployment of ME-262's was a failed mission. Though first flown in 1942 and hampered by a lack of suitable engines, they were first introduced into air combat in July, 1944 and then only in small numbers; they failed to help the German offensive because by this time, the allies had virtually demolished the Nazi Air Force and there were little or no resources for further production or for purchase of adequate supplies of fuel.

While we laud the skills of Drew, let's recall some of the Aces that flew her in the Europe Theater in 1944: Colonel Donald Blakeslee (15 victories) and Commanding Officer for the famous 4th Fighter Group (which destroyed over 1000 German aircraft), Captain Dom Gentile (32 victories), Captain John Godfrey (31 victories total, 18 with 4th Fighter Group); On March 8, 1944, the 4th Fighter Group group was back in Berlin relieving P-47's escorting B-17's and were approached by 60 enemy craft. Teaming up together, Gentile and Godfrey knocked down 6 opposing planes as parachutes dotted the sky and several B-17's went down. Winston Churchill called Major Gentile and his wingman, Captain John T. Godfrey, Damon and Pythias, two legendary Greek characters who symbolized trust and loyalty in a solid friendship.

Let's also hail General Chuck Yeager (the first to break the sound barrier). At the October 17. 2009 Air Show at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager, 86, broke the sound barrier again flying an F-16 at 30,000 feet.

Next, we recall Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston (23 victories) who was commander of the 354th Fighter Group of the Ninth Tactical Air Force and top ace of the 9th. He gets special mention as an ace who mastered aerial combat in two different wars piloting different machines in each--a piston performer, the Mustang in WW II and a high powered Jet, the F-86-Sabre jet in the Korean theater. On January 5, 1944, his 354th Fighter Group was escorting bombers withdrawing from Keil when they encountered a gaggle of Luftwaffe fighters. Flying at 23,000 feet, Eagleston peppered a Focke Wulf 190 with short bursts. The enemy craft dove away steeply as he gave pursuit. Then the FW-190 entered into a violent uncoverable spin and crashed into the ground; this gave him his first victory. In all, the 354th downed 18 enemy aircraft on that January 5th.

Major James Howard was also in the 9th and the only American ace in both theaters of the war (6 victories in China flying P-40's and 6 victories in Europe flying P-51's). The following letter written by Col. Howard B Bowman is recorded in the June, 1944 article for TRUE Magazine by Christian Gilbert, titled "One Man Air Force"; the letter describes the awe Howard was held by other airman who witnessed his sensational exploits in fighting off 20-30 Luftwaffe Messerschmitt 110's attack planes and protecting a group of tight knit B-17 bombers over The Oeschersleben Halberstadt Brunswick area, on January 11, 1944:

"In the full knowledge that words can not be found which will adequately express our feelings, I wish to convey on behalf of our group the heartfelt appreciation which we feel as a result of the unbelievable courage and heroism you displayed on the recent Oeschersleben mission. "Your unprecedented action in flying your P-51B alone and unaided into a swarm of German fighter planes estimated at between thirty and forty in an effort, to protect our Fortresses in the target area is a feat deserving of the highest commendation and praise. The fact that the odds were overwhelmingly against you and that you had no hope of receiving assistance in your unequal struggle did not deter you in your determination to engage the enemy. As one officer put it, 'It was a case of one lone American taking on the entire Luftwaffe.' Members of our group were lavish in their descriptions of the way you shot down enemy planes and, in particular, spoke in glowing terms of the attempts made to protect the combat wing against enemy attacks. I personally feel that your exploits that day evidenced the spirit of team work which is the sina qua non of successful military operations. Let me assure you that should you ever have occasion to visit this station your welcome will be a warm one. There is not a man in our group who hasn't sung your praises . ."

Lastly, the Tuskegee Airmen deserve recognition for their heroism as Mustang pilots flying in the 99th Fighter Squadron .. On January 27 and 28, 1944, a formation of FW-190 Luftwaffe warplanes raided Anzio, Italy. The 99th was one of eight fighter squadrons involved in the air defense. All together, all squadrons shot down 32 enemy war planes. The 99th alone accounted for 13, the highest score, whereas the second highest score by another squadron was seven. This proved that Black fighter pilots were equal to their white counterparts in shooting down enemy planes.

Nor were their exploits over; on Feb 5th and 7th, 1944, the 99th chalked up four more aerial victory feats. And during July 1944, the Tuskegee airmen claimed 36 enemy aircraft victories, the most ever scored in single month.

Picasso and Kandinsky at the Guggenheim's 50th Anniversary Exhibit

Today is Pablo Picasso's birthday. Along with Braque, he pioneered the way to cubism. His Demoiselles d'Avignon (shown above) portrays 5 prostitutes from Barcelona that could be based on his memory or a representation of actual models he used in his Rue Vignon studio. He did hundreds of sketches and studies in preparing for this seminal work.

Le Moulin de la Galette, 1900
Pablo Picasso
Guggenheim Museum
New York City

I am an admirer of Picasso because his art stands out, head and shoulders, above all other artists currently displayed at the Guggenheim's 50th Anniversary Exhibit. Two Picasso paintings particularly impress me. One is the Le Moulin de La Galette which, amazingly enough, was painted at age 19, when he first frequented Paris night clubs that brought together the bourgeois Parisiennes side by side with numerous streewalkers of Monmartre. There is a vibrant energy that pervades this intriguing evening scene; he cleverly contrasts the lively clad ladies with their top-hatted gentlemen dancing partners

Three flirtatious smiling seated ladies dominate the left front portion of the scene and they are subltly contrasted with three top-hatted single standing gentlemen at the top left. The connection between the two trios (they are seemingly poised to potentially hit on eachother) is strongly suggested and offset by the dancing couples who seem to be moving counter-clockwise in a merry go round motion.

There is a slight suggestion that Picasso may be influenced by the nascent photographic portraiture as some of his 'subjects' appear to be staring at the 'aperture' of the painter's imaginary camera. And off to the front is some kind of dandy with a sharply sculptured chin taking our line of sight off scene to some event that intrigues me. So, Picasso has represented many scenes each of which could be the subject of its own painting. All done in a very representational mode. He is very focussed on the pedestrian life around him with its infinite energies.

Woman with Yellow Hair, 1931
Pablo Picasso
Guggenheim Museum

New York City

Picasso's Woman with Yellow Hair painted 31 years later depicts, in contrast, a more sedate, peaceful less representational scene. The focus is on the flowing, sensuous, upper torso of this sleeping lady. Detail is submerged into the predominant lilac, sweet-scented mood. Her features lack detail and her hair, only partially yellow, suggests a fish tail, repressed energy waiting to swish-swash with vibrant music upon her awaking.

Fast forward now to the featured artist, with nearly 100 paintings, improvisations, compositions, etc. Vasily Kindinsky. His art is at once bewildering, overwhelming, puzzling and full of chaotic energy. It is well known how Hilla von Rebay urged her patron Solomon Guggenheim to buy as many Kandinskys as she could locate and he happily obliged. There are simply too many of them in this exhibit for us to absorb as we walk up the 'swirling' staircase' which was supposedly designed to mimic the artist's own sense of disorientation). Each composition is so full of energy, so replete with clashing and contrasting colors, tones, hues, etc and so many different vignettes (or cels--read on). All of which creates dissonance, strident sounds, atonal disharmony and reflect Wagnerian operatic expressionism (we know that Lohengrin inspired the budding artist).

Composition VII, displayed below is according to the artist the most complex painting he ever did. Unfortunately, it is not a part of the exhibit, though it best serves our purpose in showing the most number of cel-like structures in any one painting. It is the largest of all Kandinsky's paintings and part of 10 compositions painted between 1919-1939. It "reflects Kandinsky's quest to affirm the need for spiritual awakening in art, as in society, and places biblical references at its core. Its apocalyptic themes--the Deluge, Resurrection and Day of Judgment--are not expressed in a narrative but in a rising and plummeting Universe in which identifiable objects are almost totally subsumed by some greater force. (See Art, Over 2500 Works from Cave to Contemporary, DK Publishing, 2008, NYC, pages 436-439. Excellent 'dissection' of the work into discrete cels and enlightening commentary. Totally awesome!)

Composition VII, 1913
Vasily Kandinsky
The Tretyakov Gallery


So, how can we properly assess Kandinsky next to the 'stars' of the calmer cubists, impressionists and expressionists in the museum's Thannheuser Collection?

Perhaps, the best way to start one's appreciation of Kandinsky is to watch Roberta Smiths NYT Slide Show; Kudos to her comments that he was not really interested in creating perfect paintings, he was not interested in establishing resolutions. Indeed, as I see it, his paintings are composed of a collage seemingly infinite and disconnected cels (yes, cels as in the predigital old way of creating animated cartoons ala Disney)--each cel is a work of art unto itself. And so each of his 99 represented works is in a state of transformation and each work has many many cels that are themselves incomplete, in that they are in constant motion and the whole painting is thus incomplete, imperfect-- since composed of so many disconnected cels or foci of activity.

Quantum physics is another avenue of exploring and understanding the genius at work here. The BohrAtom Theory postulated in 1913 the existence of atoms composed of electrons (the source of energy) in orbit circling around a central nucleus. We can visualize the constant motion of atoms that may have intrigued and inspired the youthful artist (who had a known scientific bent) with the incessant restless movement found in all his creations Then about 10 years later The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle challenged the wave theory of energy by saying in simple terms that we cannot predict the location of electrons at any moment in time. This constant flux of energy is, perhaps, the only underlying constant within Kandinsky's works. There is no finality, no perfection, just endless transformation of all kinds of energies: in sound, light, color, movement, etc. Microcosmic universes, depicted here, mimic cosmic universes which are constantly morphing into other shapes, multi-verses, parallel universes, etc. How totally modern!

Enough said! You must experience these polymathic artists...

It's definitely worth a trip to this exhibit which runs through January 13. 2010.

"Art Washes Away From The Soul The Dust of Everyday Life" Picasso