Never Satisfied

Out with the old 459 pages

Out with the old 459 pages

As revolutionary and transformative as the technological innovations of the 19th century were–and they were— they didn’t demand much effort from those who benefited from them. I mean, how hard is it to learn to turn on the lights, dial a telephone, or flush the toilet? And what’s more, the beneficiaries didn’t have to learn different ways of using these inventions every other year. It was 44 years—44 years!— from the introduction of rotary telephone dials to touch tone dialing, and even then, that innovation was pretty intuitive. Even the elderly could do it. Nowadays, of course, telephones are much more complicated. For one thing, they’re not just for talking. They can get you in a whole lot of trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. And like everything digital, the current version is never good enough.

Last week,  our printer died after four years of service. I don’t know how old that is in human years, but I’m pretty sure it’s well past the age of retirement. The telephone rep warned me, if I understood her correctly, which wasn’t easy, that to have it repaired might cost more than a new printer, especially since as loyal Epson customers, we were entitled to a discount.

To find out though, we’d have to lug the printer to the Bronx, there not being a single Epson service center in the entire borough of Manhattan, which tells you something right there.

In with the new 857 pages

In with the new 857 pages

Well, we never liked that printer anyway so we bought a new one. But uh oh, our operating system wouldn’t support the new printer. As Mac users, we were a little late to the OS X party; we came on board with Jaguar, having missed out on Cheetah and Puma. We then ignored Panther, Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard. But somewhere along the line, we bought a new computer and in the process acquired Lion, not to be confused with Mountain Lion, which came next, followed by Mavericks. Having run out of exotic animals and there being no logical successor to Mavericks, Apple has now transitioned to national parks, Yosemite being the current version of OS X to which we have dutifully upgraded.

Mark my words: before long, they’ll be promoting Shenandoah. But, trust me, we won’t be making the trip. We’ll just wait for Yellowstone or Denali or Glacier. Or maybe we’ll just stay home.

P.S. Seems I have made the mistake of jumping to a logical conclusion. Steven (the best Apple guru one could find—well, after David Pogue, maybe) informs me in the comment section that the cats were left behind with Mountain Lion and the new series is named after California landmarks, of which Mavericks is one. So what’s next? Alcatraz?


Filed under Technology

My Kitchen Window Garden

avocado (no flowers), amaryllis, violet,and orchid

avocado (no flowers), amaryllis, violet,and orchid

At the tail end of a long, hard winter, you gotta have flowers! Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme just don’t cut it. Only eight days until the official arrival of spring and then—the countdown to forsythia begins.


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Fifty Years Ago Today the Children Marched in New York City Streets

The Children's March

The Children’s March

On March 6, fifty years ago today, munchkins from the Downtown School in the East Village grabbed their banners and wended their way to the steps of the Old Merchant’s House, an 1832 historic house museum in New York City,  singing protest songs all the way. This was the sixties, after all, and when you saw an injustice, that’s what you did, even if you were just a little kid.

Here’s an explanation of the crisis that prompted the children’s march and how it all turned out..

For several years, a small group of New Yorkers had become alarmed at the number of architecturally significant old buildings that were falling victims to the wrecker’s ball. In June of 1961, Mayor Robert Wagner appointed a committee to come up with recommendations on how New York City’s old buildings could be protected. Their advice was that the mayor appoint an advisory Landmarks Preservation Commission to survey potential landmark buildings and draft legislation to help preserve them.

Th old Pennsylvania Station—heartbreakingly beautiful

Th old Pennsylvania Station—heartbreakingly beautiful

Fast Forward to the spring of 1964. The advisory commission appointed by Mayor Robert Wagner had finished drafting landmarks legislation. It called for a Landmarks Preservation Commission that would have the power to designate landmarked buildings. Such designated buildings could not be demolished until a series of alternatives had been explored, and then only with permission of the Commission.

But months passed without action on the proposed legislation, and then on September 17, 1964, it was announced that a prized New York City landmark, the former Brokaw Mansion at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, was going to be demolished and replaced with a high rise apartment building. The public was outraged; the press was outraged; pressure for action became intense.

But the Landmarks legislation had still not been passed, and so on a Saturday morning in February of 1965, the Brokaw Mansion began to come down. New Yorkers winced and howled as stained glass, carved architectural moldings and marble ornamentation were shattered.

The Brokaw Mansion at 79th and Fifth Avenue.

The Brokaw Mansion at 79th and Fifth Avenue.

At the same time, a developer who hoped to assemble East Fourth Street lots for commercial use offered to buy the Old Merchant’s House. It had survived as a museum for three decades, most of those years by the skin of its teeth and now it was on its last legs. The Board was tentatively eyeing the offer.


Children from the Downtown School were aware of the outrage of their parents. They understood that somehow the final enactment of the Landmarks legislation might help save the Old Merchant’s House—the destination of many of their field trips. So they, too, were outraged. And with the encouragement of their teachers, they decided to do something about it.

Lilliputian protesters, some playing guitars, some carrying placards, marched through the East Village singing, “Where have all the landmarks gone? Gone to ruins, most every one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” After weaving their way through East Village Streets, they gathered at the Old Merchant’s House where they collected petitions of protest to be sent to the mayor and recited original poems on the steps: “Save the Old Merchant’s House, please. Or else it will fall on its knees.”

Whether it was the destruction of the Brokaw mansion or the Children’s March that finally prompted action on the part of the City Council and the mayor, I really couldn’t say. But on April 6, 1965, the legislation passed unanimously, and the mayor signed it into law on April 19, 1965.

The children had their wish. On September 21, 1965, the Commission met for the first time all day and into the night. By nine o’clock, 20 structures had been designated. The Old Merchant’s House was one of them. Though it did not exactly have a new lease on life just yet, the landmark designation bought it some time. It had escaped being sold and razed. For seven years, it limped along, and beginning in 1972, it was closed for almost a decade while a thorough structural restoration was undertaken. Today the Merchant’s House Museum is one of the City’s most valuable historic documents.


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Imagine That!

Once upon a time, refrigerator-sized radios streamed fairy tales into our ears.

Once upon a time, refrigerator-sized radios streamed fairy tales into our ears.

Before the Mickey Mouse Club— before the Flintstones and Batman and Captain Kangaroo, there was the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, and the Green Hornet. The serial adventures of the 30s and 40s had kids glued to the radio from the time they got home from school  until dinnertime. But best of all was a Saturday morning show called Let’s Pretend, a 30-minute dramatization of a different fairy tale each week.

These programs were not a feeble prelude to children’s televised fare of later years. In one respect at least, I think they may have been even better because they demanded that we cultivate the power of our imaginations. That’s me in the picture at the age of 8 or 9; the book on my lap is a prop introduced by my father,the photographer. He probably thought I should look like I was doing something. But listening to these stories was doing something, something intense. We didn’t need the help of illustrations to create imaginary worlds of enchantment in great detail. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the subterranean kingdom I envisioned as a little girl where the trees had leaves of silver and gold and twelve beautiful princesses (with curly hair, I might add) danced all night in a glittering palace with their handsome partners.

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, contends  that unlike any other form of story, the fairy tale meets the psychic needs of children. Before the child can rationally understand what troubles him or figure out what he must do to be a good independent person, he unconsciously identifies with the symbolic elements of the fairy tale and is comforted and instructed.  Separation anxiety, feelings of powerlessness in an adult world, sibling rivalry, fear of growing up—this is the sort of thing the repeated telling of a specific tale can ameliorate.

Even though one might not accept the Freudian concepts underlying Bettelheim’s analysis, it’s hard to argue with the idea that fairy tales are unique in their ability to meet some of the conscious and unconscious requirements of the listeners. How else to account for their ubiquitous appearance in all cultures and their phenomenal staying power. The oldest record of a variant of Cinderella dates back to the ninth century—in China!




Filed under Education, Folklore

A Valentine Story

2000px-Heart_corazón.svgOne of our many neighbors recently buttonholed Herb in the elevator and asked him if he would consent to be interviewed for a video she was helping her son make for his high school English class, which was researching “The key to happiness.”  He said he would (how could you not?) and when the elevator deposited them in the lobby, she escorted him to the little niche where the mail boxes are, and . . .”Roll ‘em!”

He dutifully gave his name, his age, and revealed that he thought the key to happiness was to have a person who loved you.

“Oh! the woman squealed. That’s sooooooo good!”

I hope the kid gets an “A.”


Filed under Uncategorized

“I Believe in the Profession of Journalism”

University of Missouri

University of Missouri

A former student and Facebook friend asks me what I think about Brian Williams. “I have been wondering what thoughts you have on Brian Williams. Journalism today is not the journalism we learned in your classroom.”

Indeed, journalism has changed since Barbara, her fellow students and I were responsible for putting out the Balboa high school paper, The Parakeet, some 40 years ago. I tried to teach those students the principles I had been taught at the Unversity of Missouri School of Journalism. The current flap over NBC’s anchor and Barbara’s question led me to remember what that education was like.

For one thing, to earn the coveted B.J. degree, we were required to memorize “The Journalist’s Creed,” written over a hundred years ago by Walter Williams, the school’s founding dean.  I think it is worth reading and asking ourselves how closely those we depend on for the news live up to these ideals. I confess I could only remember the first two sentences, but Wikkipedia came to my rescue. You won’t have to read far to discover where Brian Williams went astray.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public, that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman, that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleasing another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a  single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success-fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride or opinion or greed of power; constructive, tolerant, but never cruel; self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privilege or the clamor of the mob,seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship, is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

If Walter Williams were alive today, observing what goes on in the medium of television,  he might warn journalists to resist our lazy  desire  to be constantly entertained. The purpose of journalism (broadcast or print) is to inform, not to entertain. Unfortunately, journalism  is subject to a kind of Gresham’s law: entertainment drives out information. When the journalist yields to the temptation to be entertaining when reporting hard news, it’s all over. Sooner or later, entertainment will prevail and since it is not necessarily compatible with truth, truth will inevitably be sacrificed. It happens too often.

Jennifer Griffin, Fox News

Jennifer Griffin, Fox News

This is not to say that there are not good journalists out there doing a great job. Sadly we lost one of the best this week, Bob Simon of CBS News, who was killed in an auto accident here in New York.

Two practicing journalists today who are outstanding in their reporting  are Catherine Herridge, chief intelligence correspondent for Fox News and Jennifer Griffin, national security correspondent, also of Fox. I am in awe of the professionalism of these women.

Catherine Herridge, Fox News

Catherine Herridge, Fox News

So what do I think about Brian Williams? As we learn more, it becomes apparent that Brian Williams did not “misremember”—he lied.  I think he should go. Now. Not six months from now. Now. Because I still believe in the profession of journalism.


Filed under Uncategorized

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Opening of the 1939 World’s Fair

2014-04-29 21.13.37We weren’t there, but our wastebasket was! It’s a souvenir brought back to Kansas City by Herb’s parents and it occupies a place of honor in our home beside Herb’s easy chair where he reads, sometimes writes, and seems to generate a lot of waste paper. Herb’s dad was in the lumber business and this walnut wastebasket no doubt appealed to him for that reason.

The Fair was located in Flushing Meadows, Corona Queens, and “The World of Tomorrow” was its theme. Fairgoers were awestruck by the latest inventions that within one lifetime (mine) have become so commonplace that we don’t even think of them as anything special: television, electric refrigerators, fluorescent lights, automatic dishwashers, nylon stockings, to name a few. With the rapid acceleration of change in technology that is now taking place, you can’t help but wonder what will be available in the next 75 years when the World’s Fair of 2089 (if there is one) rolls around.

The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World's Fair

The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair

It’s not clear to me what the walnut wastebasket had to do with “The World of Tomorrow.” It does not strike me as futuristic even by 1939 standards. In fact, it makes me think of  William Morris, who in the 19th century transformed the world of decorative arts, reestablishing the value of handcrafted work and natural materials. True, the wastebasket is made by machine, but it certainly is a wonderful natural material and it seems to me to adhere to Morris’s golden rule of decor: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Certainly the wastebasket is useful and I do believe it is beautiful. And it has the added advantage of connecting us to a brief episode in our family’s history.















Filed under Technology