Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inaugurating a President

The Event: January 20 marked the culmination of an incredible two years in American political history. From his declaration as a candidate in February 2007 to his nomination and election in 2008 to his inauguration on Tuesday, Barack Obama has astonished the world. In a vicarious way, we have accompanied him on this journey. We started our trip with a fundraiser in our apartment two years ago, a trip that culminated with the swearing-in ceremony this week at the Capitol. Starting as one of the most improbable candidates, Barack Obama has become the nation’s first African-American president.

swearing in
Taking the oath

We just spent four days in Washington. We experienced high points and low points, and I mean some that were really high and others that were really low. But the unquestioned zenith occurred noon Tuesday when Obama took the oath of office. To witness it in person was a thrill that far overcame the inconveniences and discomforts of the crowds, the lines, and the bitter cold.
 Recieving his first salutes from the troops
President Obama leads the parade

crowd from podium
A few others joined us to witnesses history

The Speech: Is there anyone who has not yet weighed in on “the speech”? Unquestionably, it had substance, including a litany of the domestic and international challenges that we face. But did it soar, did it meet the high expectations that we all had for what many thought might become “the speech of all time”? Clearly, not. The bar had been set too high, particularly by Obama himself. His earlier speeches, and particularly his coming-out speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, engendered the hope for a ringing address, one for the ages. But as it turned out, there was no particular part of the speech, not even a phrase, that will live in history. Nothing he said will equal, or even come close to, the emotional impact of the opening line of his Iowa caucus victory speech: “They said this day would never come.” That, my friends, is a line for history.

Overall, it was a fine speech, an appropriate one, and one that received mostly accolades from across the political spectrum. Yet there were critics, even among his supporters. Paul Krugman, one of his most enthusiastic champions, weighed in with what could be called at best
 faint praise: “…there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong…”

Adlai Stevenson: Most analyses of Obama’s speeches have focused on comparisons with presidential predecessors, particularly Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. But the speaker with whom I think he is closest, both in style and substance, is Adlai Stevenson. In 1952, I was a 19-year-old, too young to vote under the then law, but nonetheless a campaigner for Adlai Stevenson in his losing battle against Dwight Eisenhower. Re-reading some of Stevenson’s speeches today, they still evoke thrills, even a half-century later. His 1952 Democratic nominee acceptance speech, “…Let’s talk sense to the American people. Let’s tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions, not easy decisions…” evoked the language and message of Obama’s inaugural address.

By the way, before he was a presidential candidate, Stevenson served as Illinois governor (at a time before they routinely served in prison). His wit and quickness are illustrated in an appearance he made on a television quiz program. He was asked to give a ten-letter answer to the question, “What is a synonym for security”? After a short pause, he responded, “For a man, employment; for a woman, engagement.” Yes, I know, politically incorrect, but this was almost 60 years ago, and damn, it was
 quitean answer.

A small quibble with Obama’s speech. The third paragraph in the speech begins “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath…” In actuality, Obama is the forty-third American to have taken the oath. Because Grover Cleveland servednonconsecutive terms, he is usually double counted when compiling the number of presidents in our history.

Depression-era song, Obama-era suggestion: As a fan of film and theater, I was amused by the following advice he offered (without attribution) in his speech to those suffering in this economic crisis:

“Starting today,
we must pick ourselves up,
dust ourselves off,
and begin again the work of remaking America.”

Some of us old-timers recognize that these words were appropriated from the song
Pick Yourself Up, written by Dorothy Fields (lyrics) and Jerome Kern (music), and sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the 1936 film, Swing Time. The lyrics of the song offered a lift for those suffering in the depths of the Depression. An excerpt:

“Nothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again

Watching the inauguration – Plan B: We never made it to the Capitol grounds. Because of a sticky situation (see Purple Gate hell below), we were unable to get to our reserved viewing area, even though we had tickets. So we went to our fallback position, an office building located conveniently close to the ceremony. From a high window perch and from the roof – move over, Secret Service – we were able to witness the proceedings. What’s more, we enjoyed the additional conveniences of food, drink, and bathrooms. In life, Plan B sometimes triumphs over Plan A.

Terrific dinner party: A highlight of our Washington stay. On the night before the inauguration, we attended one of the ten charity dinners in private homes that featured a celebrity chef. I don’t know about the other dinners, but ours had all the elements of a top Washington soirée. The guest list came from central casting, and included a newly minted cabinet secretary, a top member of the new economic team, several best-selling authors and Pulitzer Prize winners, a sprinkling of business execs, an assortment of NGO type, a few not-for-profit doyennes, and at least one unemployed blogger. The tony Georgetown venue was, of course, perfect.

Our host gave us the rules of the evening: “All conversation is off the record. All, that is, unless it’s really juicy.”

And then there was the dinner itself. Well, the food that was served by our celebrity chef turned out to be an acquired taste, and I haven’t yet acquired the taste. Included among the five courses were pig snout, lamb’s neck, and an egg cooked for one hour forty-five minutes at very low temperature (115°). The chef explained the rationale for this unusually long and low-temperature method. But after eating the egg, I could not for the life of me figure out why this protracted technique beats boiling one for three minutes. But then what do I know about
 Slow Food?

West Side Story: Another high point of the trip. We caught the penultimate Washington performance of a new production that’s headed for Broadway in a month. This classic 1957 musical offers the great Bernstein-Sondheim music and lyrics, the remarkably faithful re-creation of the original Jerome Robbins choreography, and Arthur Laurents’ book and direction. But a new twist was added to this production that was designed to enhance the verisimilitude. The Sharks (the Puerto Rican gang) sing and converse in Spanish. Even for those of us who for some reason took French in high school, it works.

The (ugh) Inauguration Balls: Inaugurations are famous for the black-tie balls. They’re plentiful, they’re big, and they’re forgettable, not necessarily in that order. We had tickets to the Eastern Ball, one of the seven “official” geographical balls; there were a host of others. Ours was located in Union Station and was one of the smaller balls -- only 3,000 attendees. The Mid-Atlantic ball at the dreaded Convention Center had 8,700 attendees. Trés intime, n’est-ce pas?

Because of security, cars could not drop off guests at the front door of Union Station. So we took a several-block walk in the frigid weather. Arriving frozen, we entered the massive space, assaulted by the amplified music that was deafening in what was, in effect, a giant echo chamber. After all, a train station is not exactly a concert hall.

We headed for the nearest bar. The bartender: “You need drink tickets.” Me: “You
must be kidding.” He wasn’t kidding. After contributing and raising a lot of dollars for the campaign, after giving money to the transition committee, after buying VIP tickets for the ball, and after getting dressed up in black tie and arriving frozen, we were greeted (if that is the term) with a cash bar. Very classy.

Aha! We discovered we were not in the VIP area. Surely that would be different. Reaching the VIP area, such as it was, same greeting: no ticket, no drink. The buffet table, however, was ticket-free. It was also taste-free. We bolted.

So here’s the bottom line on inaugural balls. There is
 no reason – none – for ever going to one. Noisy, crowded, impersonal, lousy food, endless coat-check lines, lots of standing around waiting for the First Couple to arrive. Sound good? Don’t be tempted.

Howard Dean Reception: Another low point. On Saturday evening, fresh from the glorious West Side Story performance, we attended a reception at the National Museum of American History honoring the outgoing DNC chairman, Howard Dean. If you can conceive of a downscale version of an inaugural ball, this was it. I assume that Howard Dean eventually made it there. We were long gone.

But before leaving, we did get to see fragments of the original
 Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the National Anthem. It inspired us, and is well worth seeing.

Purple Gate hell: A low point of our trip. Donna and I had received purple tickets to witness the inauguration ceremony.
Purple ticket

Now understand, these were not tickets for seats; these were just entrée into the standing area on the Capitol grounds designated on the
 inaugural map as purple, immediately behind the seated guests. Nonetheless, we were happy to get them, and looked forward to watching the ceremony from ground level. It was not to be.

As has been reported since in newspapers and a lot of angry blogs, tens of thousands of ticketed attendees were unable to get through the Purple Gate (or the Blue Gate on the other side of the viewing area, which had the same problem). It was a massive management failure. Too many tickets were issued, gates opened too late, too few screening magnetometers were in place, there were too few police or security people, and fewer still who had a clue as to where we should go.

Many of the people waiting to enter had been in line outside or in a nearby tunnel for hours in sub-freezing cold with zero information. And the lines didn’t move. They were getting angrier and angrier as inauguration time approached.

It was not a pretty sight, as documented by the photos below from a Facebook group, “Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom.” Note in particular the comments of frustration and anger below the photos. Hundreds of photos were posted.

By the way, the D.C. chief of police stated after the inauguration that everyone who wanted to get into the viewing area was able to do so.

Not true.

purple 2
purple 1
purple 4
purple 6

The purple gate happened to be within yards of the entrance to our Plan B office building. We gave up on trying to get through the gate. We just wanted to go the thirty yards to the building. We started with polite “excuse me” requests. These soon escalated to strong imprecations, not suitable for a family blog. Thirty minutes to go thirty yards. Anyway, we finally got to the building and didn’t venture out until long after the crowds dispersed.

The poem: Elizabeth Alexander delivered an original poem, Praise Song for the Day, at the inauguration ceremony. Hearing it, and later reading it, the poem reminded me of why so few of us pay much attention to contemporary poetry. I felt very little emotional impact or intellectual stimulation. It was a modest message with little rhythm and, of course, no rhyme. (I believe you get drummed out of the poets union if your poems rhyme.) To me, it sounded and read and looked more like a modest few paragraphs of prose (with a lot to be modest about).

In grammar school, we read (okay, we were forced to read) and recited poetry; I even remember some of those poems to this day. My guess is that little poetry is read or recited in schools today. I also suspect that Ms. Alexander’s inauguration poem will do little to reverse that trend.

To get a flavor for it, here are the last seven lines of Elizabeth Alexander’s
 Praise Song for the Day:

“…Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.”

Let’s compare this with a poem written for an earlier president. I dug up the 77-line poem,
 Dedication, that Robert Frost wrote for John Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. (Frost, when he got to the podium, was unable to read it because the sun reflected too brightly on his paper; instead, he delivered a different poem from memory. Try that one, Mr. Chief Justice.) The last eight lines of Dedication are:

“ …It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.”

Perhaps a new golden age’s beginning hour began noonday January 20.

Lilly Ledbetter: During the course of our four days, we couldn’t help but run into alot of bold-face names. They were everywhere. To their credit, they all respected my privacy; none asked for an autograph.
Lilly Ledbetter

But one who impressed us greatly was not a famous actor, or TV personality, or politician. She was a former Goodyear factory worker, Lilly Ledbetter, who is now on the cusp of bold-facedness (is this a word?). At a luncheon we attended on Sunday, orgnized by our friend Sunny Goldberg and her Mamas for Obama group, we met this Ms. Ledbetter. She had led an unsuccessful equal-pay fight for many years that finally ended up in the Supreme Court. The adverse ruling was based not on the merits, but rather on the court’s denying her right to sue on what was, in effect, a technicality. That will change. In the next few days, one of the first acts that President Obama will sign into law is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The bottom line? Was our excellent adventure in Washington worth the inflated hotel prices, the frozen toes, the numb fingers, the endless lines, the intrusive security, the ridiculous balls. The answer is, absolutely yes. We relate to the ubiquitous person-in-the-street interviews we saw and conducted during our stay. When asked, why are you here, every answer was the same: “This is history.” Indeed it was. For them, for us, and for the nation. We were there.

Our favorite wrap-up: The following advertisement from Hammerstein Light and Power (no kidding) appeared in a half-page display ad in the Jan. 21 New York Times. Its message, drawn from the musical theater, is succinct and perfect.

Beatiful mornin'

Would we ever do it again? Absolutely not. There will be more inaugurations, but there will never be another moment like this in our lifetime. So here’s our plan: On January 20, 2013, we’ll be sitting in front of our widescreen TV with drink in hand in our warm apartment and we’ll toast the president – from 200 miles away. As to doing it again, we share the sentiment of the woman who gives this view of love in Stephen Sondheim’s cabaret song, I Never Do Anything Twice.

“…Once, yes, once for a lark
Twice, though, loses the spark
One must never deny it
But after you try it you vary the diet…

Once, yes, once can be nice
Love requires some spice
If you’ve something in the view
Or something to do, totally new
I’ll be there in a trice
But I never do anything twice…”

ay before
The day before

line 2
Lines everywhere

ice walk
Celebrating on the Reflecting Pool ice after the ceremony

Taken on Jan. 19. The lines were longer on Jan. 20.

A Georgetown shop window

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inaugurating a New Year


This weekend, we’re heading for Washington, D.C., to partake in the inauguration and some of the associated festivities. Like many of our friends, we have long felt that this is an historic event and should not be missed. But to be honest, we’ve seriously considered avoiding it. Only recently did we change our minds and decide to join in. Our waffling about going there reflected our trying to weigh the good news with the bad news.

The good news is that we are going to watch history. The bad news is that so are one to four millions others (pick a number; nobody knows).

The good news is that we have a hotel room reserved, and it’s only a dozen blocks from the Capitol. The bad news is that to walk there on inauguration day (cars are out of the question), the hotel concierge has warned us not to leave any later than 5 AM or else we may not make it though the crowds and security checks in time for the ceremony or the parade.

The good news is that there will be a lot of security to ensure the safety of all. The bad news is that there will be a
 lot of security, meaning delays and inconvenience.

The good news is that we have a car reserved for the five days that we’ll be in Washington. The bad news is it may well be useless.

The good news is that we have tickets for one of the seven official balls Tuesday evening. The bad news is that 3,000 guests will be at each ball. That will probably make Donna’s dream of dancing with the president on inauguration night just that -- a dream.

The good news is that the presidential inauguration committee plans to have 5,000 portable toilets deployed on inauguration day. The bad news is that if one uses the guidelines of the US Army -- one commode for every 21 people -- even a low-end estimate of one million visitors would suggest a need for 48,000 portable toilets. (OK, no coffee, no water,
 nothing to drink on January 20.)


Groundswell vs. stay-at-home: An article in the Dec. 18 issue of the New York Review of Books by Michael Massing highlighted an interesting result in Ohio. Prior to the election, the conventional wisdom was that the excitement engendered among youth by the Obama candidacy would greatly swell the vote total for Democrats in the election. Well, Obama did get 7% more votes than Kerry did in 2004, and that’s a non-trivial gain. But that wasn’t exactly a groundswell when contrasted with Kerry’s remarkably lackluster campaign four years earlier. As Massing points out, the real surprise in Ohio wasn’t so much the increase in Democratic voting but the decrease in Republican voting -- McCain drew 6.5% fewer votes than Bush did in 2004. In other words, the Republicans stayed home in Ohio. That was the story. It was as big a driving force in the Democrats’ victory, both in swing-state Ohio and nationally, as was the growth of the Democratic vote.

Picture 7

Modest national turnout: Another surprise to me was that contrary to earlier expectations – stemming from the huge crowds at Democratic election rallies – the national voter turnout of eligible voters was only modestly higher in 2008 than it was in 2004, 56.8% versus 55.3%. Going back to the 1960s, we regularly had voter turnout above 60%. My guess is that in addition to Republicans’ disillusionment with McCain, there was also a shortfall in Democratic totals, possibly attributable to some latent racism, and probably among older voters.

Picture 6


December and early January are not the optimal periods weather-wise to remain in New York City. Indeed, we and many of our friends often leave the city during the holiday period for warmer climes. This year, however, we decided to stay home and soak in the cultural scene in New York. Some comments:


Slumdog Millionaire – Wow, some movie! One can quibble with a few of the tough parts of this movie, as Donna did with torture and other upsetting scenes early in the film, but overall I agree with Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern who termed the movie “genuinely new and immensely entertaining.” While it’s not a great travelogue for Mumbai, it sure gives great insight into that city and its culture. Wonderful acting and directing.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – It’s based (very loosely) on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who chronologically moves backward. He is born is an octogenarian, albeit in a baby’s body, and gets younger as the film progresses. Even with the enormous leap of faith required to engage one in the story, it was possible to get emotionally involved with the characters. The fine acting, remarkable digital makeup techniques, authentic New Orleans background, first-rate direction and screenplay all contributed to a rewarding movie experience. (BTW, among the other works that come to mind using the time-going-backward conceit are the movie Memento; the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along; and the Jason Robert Brown musical The Last Five Years.

The Reader – I listened to the book (on my iPhone) and saw the movie on the same day, a first for me. It’s a quite commendably done transformation of a novel that’s not easy to make into a film. Kate Winslet was remarkably good, particularly during the trial scenes, with a more impressive performance than in her more Revolutionary Road role.

Revolutionary Road – Donna enjoyed this more than I did, although I believe it was worth seeing as a good attempt at portraying a dysfunctional couple. (How novel! A dysfunctional family in a movie!) But I must say that I agree with the piece in the Dec. 27 Wall Street Journal that asked the question, Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs? Certainly director Sam Mendes is an old hand at exploiting this genre, with his 1999 American Beauty dealing similarly with screwed-up suburbanites.

Milk – the biggest story here is Sean Penn, who is simply a most remarkable actor. A well-done film as well, one that offers an excellent historical depiction of the gay movement.

The Pope’s Toilet -- No kidding, that’s the name of the movie, at least in its English translation from the Spanish. It’s an affecting story of life in a poor small town in Uruguay that was turned upside down by the visit there of the Pope (a visit that actually occurred in 1988). On reflection, I can now rank The Pope’s Toilet as my all-time favorite Uruguayan movie.


The Seagull – After seeing sensational productions in London last fall of Chekhov’s Ivanov and Strindberg’s Creditors, we developed the itch to see more of the classics by the gloomy northern European playwrights of an earlier century. The current New York version of Chekhov’s The Seagull is simply terrific, not the least of it attributable to the stellar acting of Kristin Scott Thomas and a universally outstanding ensemble.

Hedda Gabler – We were three for three until we met Ibsen’s Hedda. Even though it has the same British director, Ian Rickson, as The Seagull, we were disappointed. To be fair, the play just began previews and we saw perhaps its sixth or seventh performance. It will undoubtedly get better by the time it formally opens in a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, the contrast in the casts of Hedda Gabler and The Seagull was vivid. Though Michael Cerveris performed well and Mary Louise Parker adequately in the lead roles, neither they nor the very weak supporting cast could pull it off.

Becky Shaw
 – A new off-Broadway play that just opened at Second Stage Theatre (full disclosure – Donna is on the board of Second Stage). This is a must-see drama, sharply and wittily written by Gina Gionfriddo and well acted by the entire cast. EvenThe New York Times’ Charles Isherwood was won over: “Ferociously funny… engrossing… a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling across the stage from its first moments to its last…” (That’s known as a money review.)

Speed-the-Plow – I would gladly watch any play or film written by David Mamet. And this is one of his best. Well cast and well directed. There is no one who skewers Hollywood as sharply as Mamet, and he’s at his best here. The fastest and most entertaining 80 minutes on Broadway.

Road Show – Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s newest musical, directed by John Doyle. It follows the fabled Mizner brothers over four decades, their relationship with each other and their quest for the American dream. Some terrific songs, both melodically and lyrically, with wonderful performances by Michael Cerveris and Alexander Germignani as the brothers. After a limited run at the Public Theater, it will probably follow the path of earlier Sondheim works such as Assassins and Merrily We Roll Along that had short opening runs followed by greater public acceptance and longer runs as the years went by.

Pal Joey – A few top-notch songs by Rodgers and Hart (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; I Could Write a Book), potentially intriguing story (original by John O’Hara), but a difficult show to do unless it’s cast with the perfect Joey. The Joey in this production was okay, but he wasn’t Gene Kelly, who created the role in 1940. Still, it’s worth seeing.

 Gypsy – one of the best musicals ever, and in its best version ever (and I saw Ethel Merman in the original and many since). This was our third time to see this production of the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical. It’s a star turn for Patti LuPone, and she makes the most of it. And with Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti in the supporting roles, it’s no wonder the show accounted for three of the top four Tony acting awards for musicals. Unfortunately, it closed January 11.


On New Year’s Eve, we enjoyed a
 New York Philharmonic Pops concert (not called that, but that’s what it was). It’s always a pleasure to hear a world-class orchestra play some of the best-known short classical warhorses. And the treat was enhanced further by guest performer and Met Opera star Susan Graham. By the way, next week we’re going to see Gustavo Dudamel guest conduct the New York Philharmonic prior to his taking over the music directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic next fall. Dudamel, of course, is the wunderkind (27-year-old) Venezuelan conductor who is electrifying the classical music world.

The only opera we saw during this frenzied culture marathon was the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Massenet’s
 Thaïs. (It was last produced 40 years ago with Beverly Sills in the title role.) If one can get over the creaky plot – and they don’t come much creakier than this – it’s worth it to listen to Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson at the top of their games. I have to admit that Massenet is not one of my favorite opera composers, but he did write one great tune that is featured in Thaïs. In fact, it’s a familiar melody (Méditation from Thaïs) that I and many others have known forever, but didn’t have a clue as to where it came from. Now I know.


We indulged ourselves with British TV series over the last month. The
 House of Eliott [sic] is a 34-episode BBC series from the early 1990s involving two young women in 1920s England who start a fashion house. The series was conceived by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, the team that was involved in creating Upstairs, Downstairs a generation earlier. The production values, acting, and writing made it possible for me to sit through all 34 episodes and actually enjoy myself. (Donna, of course, lovedthe fashion.)

We’re now halfway through a four-episode series entitled
 Foyle’s War. It takes place in southern England in 1940 as the war in Europe is seriously threatening Britain. A local detective finds himself involved in cases that weave between local murders and war-related events. Absolutely spot-on, as the Brits might say, in every respect. My only regret is that it’s only four episodes, not thirty-four.


I just finished reading two business biographies.
 The Man Who Owns the News, by journalist Michael Wolff, an authorized biography of Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp. It’s an awkwardly written book about a truly uninteresting person – a person who has few discernible interests beyond his business. The awkwardness includes both the author’s writing style as well as the book’s organization -- chapters alternating between non-chronological biographical events and excruciatingly boring details of the Wall Street Journal purchase by News Corp.

By contrast, Ken Roman’s
 The King of Madison Avenue is a treat to read. (More full disclosure – Ken is a long-time personal friend.) The writing is crisp and entertaining, and David Ogilvy – one of the giants in advertising industry history -- is a hell of a lot more interesting person than Rupert Murdoch.


Since its formation in 1997, the Clinton Foundation has been reluctant to disclose the names of its donors. But with Hillary Clinton scheduled to face confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, the foundation has finally relented to public pressure and has disclosed on its website
 the names of all 200,000-plus donors.

Following the disclosure, the press has focused primarily on the “controversial” donors, particularly the many Middle Eastern and Asian governments that saw fit to make donations (for whatever reason). But more interesting to me, particularly because of my involvement in a number of not-for-profit organizations, is the disclosure that a surprisingly large number of not-for-profits have made significant contributions to the Clinton Foundation. This revelation was brought to my attention by Martin Peretz, former
 New Republic owner and Harvard professor, in his December 23 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. Here are some of the donors to the Clinton foundation that he highlighted in his piece:

Cambridge University
Liverpool University
United Way (four of their organizations)
National Opera of Paris
Tufts University
Columbia University
Georgetown University
Iowa State University
University Of Texas
Brown University
Rensselaer Polytechnic
University of Judaism
Maimonides Medical Center Brooklyn
Human Rights Watch
Feed the Children
World Bank
World Health Organization

Now my question, and Peretz’s, is what is the rationale for participating in a de facto fund-of-funds foundation? Why does a not-for-profit organization give money to another? When a donor contributes money to a charitable group, the donor doesn’t expect this organization then to contribute some of those funds to yet another organization. Among other issues, it results in the layering of expenses (and inefficiencies) of two organizations onto a single gift. It makes
 no sense.

Very strange, indeed. I wonder if the board members of -- or donors to -- any of these institutions is aware that their funds are being donated to yet another organization.


There’s a not-infrequent coincidence of people’s names coinciding with, or relating to, their activities. Personally, I’m amused by them. Witness:

The op-ed page of the January 10
 New York Times carried a piece on cocaine use, written by Charles Blow.

The former head of pain and palliative services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was
 Dr. Richard Payne.

The first American woman to take a ride in a space vehicle was
 Sally Ride.

The kicker/punter for the University of Southern Mississippi football team is
 Britt Barefoot. (I got a kick out of this one.) Alas, he kicks wearing a shoe.

I believe that there is a word that has been coined for this type of coincidence. Do any of you know it? Or do you have any more examples?


In my
 October 6th blog, in which I railed against the conservatism of NFL football coaches, I singled out “the reluctance to go for it on fourth down, choosing instead to punt…”

Imagine my delight when I saw in a December 12
 New York Times NFL Blog this quote from Kevin Kelley, head football coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas:

“I take a no-punt philosophy into each game. We don’t punt on fourth down, ever. We did not punt once this year.”

By the way, Pulaski Academy won the 5A Arkansas state high school championship.

My kind of coach.


It’s the start of a new year. Which means it’s the season for making predictions -- no expertise or track record required. So for what it’s worth, here are three predictions – guesses would be more appropriate – on where crude oil, the stock market and the Euro will be by year-end. (Looking at my predictions, it’s apparent I wasn’t wearing my Rosen-colored glasses.)

Picture 4


A good friend and contemporary, Roger Berlind, recently related to me why he’s played only one round of golf in his life. Some years ago, playing for the first time, he managed to shoot an 18 on the par 4 first hole. On the second hole, a par 3, he hit a wild tee shot that caromed off a tree, bounced through the rough onto the green, then dropped in the hole for an ace.

He never played again.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Archeos and Elyn Zimmerman

Three years ago we commissioned Elyn Zimmerman to create a site-specific work at The Falls, our home in Litchfield County, Connecticut. In 2007, she completed and installed the work, Archeos 2005.



The story of
Archeos 2005 is one of how an artist conceives a work of art and then brings it to fruition. It also illustrates the opportunities and challenges of having an outdoor artwork complement and enhance its surroundings.

Elyn is well known for site-specific projects she has created around the world. She is perhaps best known for her use of stone, often in association with water and landscape elements. Born in Philadelphia and educated at UCLA, Elyn is a resident of New York City, Rockland County, New York, and Ojai, California.

The 15-minute video that follows attempts to flesh out the story of Archeos 2005. It addresses these questions, among others, of how the artist:

Selects the site?
Copes with a sloping terrain?
Relates the sculpture to the landscape?
Relates the sculpture to the waterfall?
Relates the imported to the indigenous stone?

I hope you enjoy it.