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Showing posts from 2014

A New Year's Resolution Starts Early

I always vote, but otherwise I’ve rarely engaged in governance matters. Sure, I go to pro-Israel marches and community events, such as after the Sandy Hook killings. Officials, however, rarely hear from me directly. I’m more of a wordsmith In the digital age, spouting off on Facebook mostly. That creates an ersatz sense of action, but I know I’m just honing my pithy writing skills and having zero impact on public affairs.

So my New Year’s resolutions started two weeks early for 2015. I contacted my district members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and I signed up for mailings from my U.S. Representative, Jim Himes, and U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. I’m already on the mailing lists of my Connecticut state legislators, Representative Jonathan Steinburg and Senator Toni Boucher.

The outreach came after the fateful November elections, which didn’t see any political upheavals in blue-as-ice Connecticut but will still create political pressures on state …

The Madonna and Mr. Klinghoffer

I recently visited the New Museum in New York, which has a multi-floor exhibit called "Chris Ofili: Night and Day" with the colorful and at times massive paintings of the British artist, who has strong African influences. One of the works looked very familiar to me, something I had seen or heard about, if not viewed up close and personal. The piece must have had some significance, since it had its own jocular security guard standing next to it.

After I read a caption for the painting, I remembered the painting. I was in the presence of the notorious 1996 work titled "The Holy Virgin Mary." It had caused massive controversy when displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999, when Rudy Giuliani was the Mayor of New York and part-time art critic. One description of the the piece states,
The central Black Madonna is surrounded by many collaged images that resemble butterflies at first sight, but on closer inspection are photographs of female genitalia; an ironic reference t…

A Retro-New Look for the Rocketman

All the distracting uproar over the colorful beach shirt worn by Matt Taylor, the Rosetta project scientist for the European Space Agency's successful effort to put a probe on a comet, sent me to my bookshelves, pawing for a paperback my father gave me 40 years ago as I (or rather, he) planned my post-college corporate life: "Dress for Success", by John T. Molloy.

I couldn't find it, but from reading the Amazon comments on the book I could recall its advice on suits, shirts, shoes and how clothes should fit. It served me well in the years when I had jobs that required wearing a more corporate look. When I started in the firmwide communications department at blue-chip accounting firm Price Waterhouse in 1996, everybody wore suits, with a casual Friday.

Then that morphed into casual summer and by the the time I left in 1999, casual 24/7. And so the code remains with even more looseness in the corporate circles I've encountered. I thought, too bad that Taylor didn&#…

Art for Art's Sake, with Irving Harper and Judith Scott

Everybody's agog at the Christie's auction this week where Andy Warhol's "Triple Elvis (Ferus Type)" sold for $81.9 million and his "Four Marlons" brought in $69.6 million. Impressive numbers, but the art didn't do much for me. What has impressed me lately, however, was art from two creators who had no interest in selling their art or even displaying it.

The Brooklyn Museum's retrospective of pieces by Judith Scott, "Bound and Unbound," runs through March 29. The Rye (New York) Arts Center just extended its densely packed exhibit "Irving Harper: A Mid-Century Mind at Play." Both exhibits show art created purely for art's sake, expressions of personal passion unconcerned with commercial success. I highly recommend both exhibits.

This marks the second time I've seen an exhibit of Scott's work. She takes the concept of "outsider art" to the level of the platonic ideal. Scott was born with Down's syndrom…

What Would Uncle Miltie Say?

I’m having a serious flashback to my days as an undergrad economics major at Princeton University in the late 1970s. Two data points came together in recent weeks to make me to think about the concept of the "Multiplier Effect," part of the academic baggage that I put behind me as soon as I graduated in 1980 as the most mediocre economics major in Princeton’s long history.

First, I read a profile of Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow in the September issue of Finance & Development magazine, published by the International Monetary Fund. Writer Janet Stotsky, formerly with the IMF and now a consultant on fiscal, women and development, and microeconomic topics, outlined Arrow’s contributions to economic thinking. She wrote of Arrow’s 1972 prize,
The Nobel committee cited the work of Arrow and British economist John Hicks in two areas: general equilibrium theory, which seeks to explain how prices are set across an economy, and welfare theory, which analyzed the opti…

A Farewell to Camo

I couldn’t sign in to Gmail. I couldn’t check street directions. My cell phone photos were lame. I couldn’t IM on the run.

In short, I had a very old cell phone that worked well for calls and texts and not much else. While my LG Chocolate had served me loyally since early 2010 (early Jurassic period in cell phone years), I felt increasing pressure to trade up (way up) to a new-fangled smart phone. Every time I looked at the Verizon Wireless site, I promptly got emails and even calls enticing me to get something fresh and new.

Finally, something clicked, or snapped, and last weekend I became the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S5 from Costco.

The oddest part of the change involved not the phone, but the cell phone holder. While the Galaxy is my fifth cell phone since 2001, I have had the same cell phone belt holder since 2003. It’s been a faithful companion, literally by my side for 11 years through untold tens of thousands of miles of train commuting plus trips to Brazil, Mexico, Cana…

1969, the Summer of the Astros

Think Major League Baseball in 1969, and everybody rightfully remembers the Amazin’ Mets who went all the way and won the World Series. For me, however, 1969 was the glorious summer of the Houston Astros. The apogee of their great ride for the year took place exactly 45 years ago today, July 30, 1969 -- more on that in a moment.

The Mets and the Astros grew up together as expansion teams in the National League. The Astros began in 1962 as the Colt .45s, then changed their name when they moved into the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome. I remember going to the Dome in 1966 and being stunned at the enormous structure with the colorful seats, air conditioning and soaring rounded roof. Coming from Mission, Texas, pop. 11,000 at the time, this first-hand exposure to the Big Leagues made me a confirmed Astros fan.

I had an Astros poster in my bedroom, and I read the Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook cover to cover. For my 12th birthday in 1969 my mother delighted me with the mass…

A Shared Cultural Moment

On Monday night I attended a program of storytelling at the Westport Library called "Naughty or Nice: In Literature and Life," presented by the groups Write Yourself Free and the Storytelling Circle. I enjoyed the stories, and one in particular struck me not just for the story but the audience's response to part of it.

Steve White, a photographer from Norwalk, Conn., talked about attending a private boarding school in the 1960s. He linked his miserable experiences to the movie Cool Hand Luke, in which Paul Newman had a problem with authority. The boys at the school similarly rebelled. Once, at the dreary daily chapel session, they were instructed to sing "God Bless America." White revved up the singing to a boisterous yet sincere level -- not the low-wattage rendition the school administration wanted and demanded.

The audience of 75 at the library responded -- when White sang part of the song -- by singing along, and, when he forgot a line, providing the next wo…

Playing Reporter at NPR

National Public Radio wins plenty of criticism but the complaints usually have a vague tone. Grumbling without content. I listen to the news regularly, on WNYC in New York and WSHU in Connecticut. I usually shrug off the criticism; if you want any news on the radio, this is the place.
On Sunday I heard two stories on All Things Considered that got my antennae, as a former journalist, quivering. I never talk about to NPR but this time the marshmallow-style reporting sounded so blatant and skewed that I decided to share some thoughts.

Both stories dealt with issues that need attention. One focused on the difficulties faced by renters in a market with high demand and static supply. As a renter myself, my ears pricked up when I heard the story. The second was on a program in Los Angeles about a program to help young dads -- as in mid-teens to mid-20s -- cope with all the new pressures they face as fathers.

Let's look at the new-dad story first. With the headline on the NPR site of &qu…

Jack Brabham and the Car-Crazy Kid

I read recently of the death of Jack Brabham, 88, a renowned Australian race car driver who was active from the 1940s to 1970. The name and the news took me way back, 45 years at least, to when I was a car-crazy kid who avidly read Car and Driver, Hot Rod and other car magazines to keep up with the racing news.

My father, a racing enthusiast who named my brother Cooper and me after cars or drivers, must have influenced this interest, although he lived far away. As a somewhat-typical American boy, cars fascinated me, anyway. I built plastic and metal models; my mother used to take my metal parts to the Tipton Chevrolet dealership in Mission, Texas, where the guys in the repair shop would happily prime the pieces before I painstakingly painted them (a big thanks to my friend Renee Zamora-Hernandez for confirming that Tipton was the name of the dealership in the 1960s). I avidly collected the glossy marketing brochures from Tipton and Spikes Ford in Mission. Salesmen sometimes found me i…

Junior High Confidential: Teenage Dance Party, 1971!

Hormones + a dark room + Jackson 5 records = a fun evening for all, according to my notes from autumn 1971, a Facebook ThrowBackThursday special.
November 6, 1971. Tonight is Lois' party, + I guess I'll go. It's from 7:30 to 11:30 pm, at Lois' house (I guess) + I'm looking forward to it. The only problem is since I've never been to a party like this, I don't know what to expect, what to wear, + how to get home. Mom says I can call her, but getting her up from bed at 11:30 (if I stay that long) or later isn't too appealing.

November 7, 1971. Last night I went to Lois' party + had a lot of fun. Good many people there: me (of course), Daniel, David, Joe Sietz, John N., Tito, Abel, Johnnie Martinez, Ridling, Dean Williford, Pee Wee, some high school guys, Robert Rojas, Joe Gonzales, Ricky Garcia, Eli Ochoa, + others I don't know or remember. Oh, yes, Larry Bray was there, as was Gabby Garza + Ricky Hinojosa. The girls were: Lois, Angie, Sylvia, Dee …

John Paul II, a Saint and an Inspiration

The elevation to sainthood of Pope John Paul II gives me a happy feeling. In his long and eventful papacy, he spoke to me on political and human levels.

He became the Pope from Poland on October 16, 1978 (my 21st birthday, by the way) when communism still ruled over Eastern Europe and Russia. He was subtle and tactically brilliant in confronting the Evil Empire and its lackeys in Poland. I recall that after martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, John Paul II warned Soviet leaders that if the Red Army invaded Poland, he would personally go to Poland to lead the resistance. Having lived in Poland during the Nazi occupation, he knew the value and costs of resistance. I hope I'm remembering the story accurately; I can't find documentation for it, but the thought remains deeply lodged in my associations with John Paul II. He was fearless.

Fast-forward two decades. Poland is free, the USSR has been swept into the dustbin of history, and John Paul II is dying. Cancer, Parkinson&…

Junior High Confidential: The Young Literary Reviewer Looks at "Across the Tracks"

Reading old journals offers endless pleasures. I found my inner literary critic at an early age, and I especially wrote about books that touched on the world around me. In the early 1970s, tales of vampires and werewolves and Hunger Games were decades in the future. Social realism attracted me. From September 18, 1971, at Mission Junior High School in Texas. I was 13 years old and had just started the 8th grade:
Finally, yesterday 2nd period, Mrs. Smith let us go to the library. I checked out a book, a paperback, that I noticed but never got around to reading. It's called "Across the Tracks," about this senior at a high school in South. Cal, Betty Ochoa, who wants to: 1) be accepted by the top social group at school (the Anglos) 2) help the tough, bitter gang leader, Pete Flores, before he gets killed. 3) she wants to bring gringo and chicano together. Though it has some faults (the author can't go a page without having Betty  blush) + everyone's always hugging e…

“The Son” Also Rises

When last I wrote, I lamented the difficulties I have finding books I really like. I struggled through sci-fi, winners of glittering international awards, Jewish historical fiction, Latin American books. The list of grim hikes through trails of directionless prose discouraged me.

But, with hope springing eternal, I rolled the reading dice on “The Son,” by Phillip Meyer, published last year and weighing in at 561 pages. The book gripped me from the beginning, as it rolled across 170 years of Texas history, seen through the eyes of members of the McCullough family, with tortured and violent interactions with their neighbors, the ancient Garcia family, on ranches in South Texas.

How firmly did the book hold my attention? I stayed up, fully awake, until 2:30 a.m. one night last week to finish it, and I wasn’t just skimming the pages either, as I have with other massive recent tomes. No, Meyer’s clear style , sure sense of landscape and unblinking view of his subject material took me on th…

A Reader's Lament: Beware Book Award Winners

I finally powered through the sci-fi novel Rainbows End by by sci-fi legend Vernor Vinge. I had earlier read his novel A Fire Upon the Deep, which I found to have great ideas but sluggish execution. Still, I liked Vinge’s short stories, so I decided to give Rainbows End the old college try.
I didn’t give up, but Rainbows End was more of a challenge than a reading pleasure. Again: great ideas presented with blah characters and a plot that never grabbed me, despite a promising spy vs. spy techno-war beginning.

And this novel won a Hugo Award.

I should know better by now than to get seduced by high profile books. Winners of fiction prizes sing a siren song to me, enticing me to dive into their crisp pages of critically praised copy. I'm seekng both reading enjoyment and writing approaches tghat I can apply to my own writing. Yet, I have had consistently poor experiences with the novels that racked up the awards. My hopes crumpled time and again against the plotlessness, lack of empat…

"Nothing But Trash" = Nothing But Fun

Showing once again that you don't have to drop a bundle to enjoy high-quality live theater in New York, I had a great time on Saturday night viewing "Nothing But Trash" at the Theater for the New City at 155 First Avenue. Trash is set in the late 1950s on a summer-resort island, as hunky teenage guys toss footballs, engage in horseplay, and check each other out. In one highly amusing scene, lead characters Troy and Tab (played by Rory Max Kaplan and Tim McGarrigan) assess each other's reactions to, shall we say, certain stimuli to determine whether or not they're "queer."

But complications ensue involving the alcoholic mother Beatrice (played by playwright Andy Halliday), old flames, questions of paternity, snooping by gravel-voiced grumpy resort caretaker Lucas (played with piratical glee by Jeffrey Vause in one of his three roles in Trash) and then a "crime" that lands lovers Troy and Tab in -- horrors! -- the juvenile justice system. But tr…

Jan. 23 BlogTalkRadio Interview Coming Up on "Last First Date"

I'll be interviewed on the BlogTalkRadio program "Last First Date" on Thursday, January 23 from 2-3 pm. I'll be speaking with host Sandy Weiner on the topic of "Role of Religion and Spirituality in Dating."

Weiner is a speaker and dating coach who helps people achieve their goals. She writes about her approach on her website
I walk my talk. As a woman actively dating after my divorce, I bring first-hand knowledge and wisdom about what it’s like to be over 40, dating in the 21st century. Like you, I am navigating through the sometimes confusing world of online dating. I am always learning new ways to talk to men and get different results. I share my extensive knowledge with my clients. I am a woman of action. I kick butts, but always from a place of love. I want you to rise up to your highest self. Therefore, I don’t settle for the same old answers or excuses. I challenge you to push yourself to do things differently and attract the love you want. And, I bri…

Rolando Hinojosa's Valley, and Mine

I can read, say, Philip Roth or Chaim Potok novels about Newark and Brooklyn and enjoy the literary qualities and the cultural sense of Jewish life in the New York region. I can hear the people talking, sense the family dynamics. But in reading Klail City, one of the short novels in the Klail City Death Trip series by Texas writer and academic Rolando Hinojosa, I’m reading about something more visceral and evocative — the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where I grew up, in Mission. Even if, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, you can’t go home again, Hinojosa gets me close enough to feel the Gulf winds blowing across the fields.

Set in fictional Belken County, Klail City’s short, kaleidoscopic chapters recount the Hispanic experience in deep South Texas from the 1940s on, with historical glances even further back. Hinojosa grew up in Mercedes, Texas, about 25 miles east of my home town, Mission, both in Hidalgo County (I associate Mercedes with its annual Livestock Show and Rodeo, held every March for…