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!
Image source(1)

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