Saturday, June 21, 2008


And I use the word “texture” in photographs in its broadest sense, extending to composition. Light, shadows, contrasting gradations in scenes, sometimes provide the illusion of a three dimensional picture, or the passage of time, things wearing away, a rusty object or an abandoned place, the shape of flowers in the light of the day, glaciers receding to bedrock, things just evolving. Look at these long enough and they seem to take on a life of their own, even though they are merely two dimensional and fixed.

The 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway is probably one of the most scenic roads in America. Striking mountain views are to be seen from its various rest stops.

Mile after mile there are the metamorphic rock formations, including this one, which could pass for a Bonsai plant, nature “imitating” art.

Also, from the Carolina’s are these two photographs, one from the first School of Forestry, a minimalist photograph of the shingle structure, the stark door and simple steps. The other is the Historic Grove Park Inn in Asheville, built from the granite boulders of Sunset Mountain.

When we were in Alaska we helicoptered to the Denver Glacier, and hiked on this magnificent but receding bulwark. As we were hovering a few dozen feet over our landing site, it felt as if we could have been in a lunar landing vehicle.

When glaciers recede, new bedrock is exposed.

Glaciers are constantly moving and calving, the colors and textures mesmerizing.

Also “moon-like” is a scene from Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park

These flowers were photographed at the Butchart Gardens in Greater Victoria on Vancouver Island and the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, NC.

Note the bee in the upper right corner of this photograph.

Green iguanas are now considered an invasive species in South Florida. One visited our dock, the sun highlighting the texture of its row of spines along its back, its finger/claws, and powerful body.

From the vertical lines of a rusty cleat on an old barge that is now a breakwater for a marina on the Hudson River, to the disarray of an old service office at a marina, things wearing away.

A Chihuly glass sculpture and the mosaic of the inside of a hot air balloon display an array of colors.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We are the Enemy

On that unspeakable day of September 11, 2001 we were in Connecticut, packing for an overseas trip. While the horror unfolded we could see the smoke from the Twin Towers more than fifty miles away across the Long Island Sound against the clear blue sky. I had thought we were confronting the worst of all possible enemies, one that cared not at all about its own life – in fact reveled in martyrdom – one that shared none of our moral values and would be content to wage war guerrilla style with no time constraints.

But, since then, we seem to be waging the battle for them. They no longer have to hijack planes to fly into our buildings as we have hijacked our own economy and can now be held hostage by any dictatorship du jour.

Here’s what we’ve done since that horrific day:
■ Wage an unnecessary war in Iraq that has cost more than one half trillion dollars to date, or $341 million each day.
■ Consume more than 20 million barrels of oil each day of which we produce only about a quarter, meaning we have to send about $2 billion abroad each day a majority of which finds its way to the Middle East, Russia, and South America.
■ Increase our unfunded Social Security and Medicare programs by $33 trillion (yes, trillion) since 2000 to a total of $53 trillion at the end of last year – a liability of about $455,000 for every American household

There is a litany of others that could be added to this list, but suffice it to say, our national debt is increasing at $1.59 billion per day. No wonder the dollar continues to sink which just increases the cost of our imported oil and leaves us even a greater debtor to other countries.

In other postings I’ve cited the work of Bill Gross, the talented bond manager at PIMCO, and John Hussman an economist who runs his own mutual fund. Their two most recent articles touch upon our inability to fess up to the reality, how we continue to report chimerical inflation statistics and focus on monetary policy when our fiscal policy is rotten to the core

If we cannot even acknowledge these economic truths, there can be no national plan to deal with the dire consequences. Then we will not only lose the war, but also be the architect of our own defeat.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

College Years

As mentioned before in these pages, I was totally unprepared for college, having squandered most of my time in high school, and lacking the encouragement of my parents. They did not want to see me go out of state and so I was accepted on probation by Long Island University. To make matters worse, that first year I lived at home and had more than a one-hour subway commute to Brooklyn from Queens. (

But with my sophomore year I achieved my objective of living on campus, settling into my new life in the dormitory. I also switched my major from advertising/business to psychology rationalizing that motivational research is best learned from that perspective. I was persuaded to make the switch because Gustave Gilbert was then Chairman of the department and as a psychology major I would be able to take his popular course the The Psychology of Dictatorship. Later in my career I reprinted his book of the same title. Gilbert was the author of the Nuremberg Diary and was the American Military Chief Psychologist at the trials.

However, thanks to the influence of my friend, Bruce, I again switched my major to literature during my junior year ( This is where my heart took me. That same year I became a dormitory counselor, which provided free room and board, and at that time I met Carol, who was to become my first wife.

I think we were drawn together because we were both lost souls (although at the time I did not see that). She too came from an emotionally “broken” home. We adopted one another and my mother saw in her a “daughter,” whom she hoped to mold and influence. Before long, we were planning our marriage. We dove into that commitment without any doubts, especially me as I saw an opportunity to “teach” my parents how to have a marriage and it was a permanent ticket out of my home.

So, in June 1963 we were married in the Church in the Gardens in Forest Hills. Only a few people attended the wedding, my immediate family, my Uncle Phil, and my friends Bud and Ed. Even her mother did not go to the wedding.

That day started ominously. Carol was staying with my family in Queens and I was in our new apartment in Brooklyn. I decided to cook myself some bacon and eggs that morning before getting on the subway. We had one frying pan in which I first cooked the bacon and when that was finished I nonchalantly discarded the grease into a wax water cup that promptly melted around my thumb. The Brooklyn Hospital was across the street and I rushed there, trying to get someone’s attention in the emergency room. My story of having to make my own wedding in a few hours was met with, “Oh, yeah.” Finally, between a couple of gunshot wound victims I was seen, treated for 2rd degree burns and my right thumb was bandaged so it was twice it’s size. Nice “touch” for the wedding night I thought.

That summer we moved into the section of the dormitory for faculty and married students and we both worked full time. The following year we maintained part time jobs to support ourselves while we finished our senior years, me at the university library and she in a variety of jobs.

By this time I was taking mostly English courses and had several with Prof. Martin Tucker who is still my friend to this day. Martin was more than a teacher. He was a mentor who gave me confidence in my abilities. And, today, more than 40 years later, I work with him as executive director of Confrontation Press. He just turned 80 and is still going strong, as a poet, as a playwright, and as the Editor of the literary journal, Confrontation, that has just published its 100th issue. About twenty years ago he asked me to write a piece about my LIU student experience for a special issue of Confrontation, "Brooklyn and the World." This was intended to be more of an evocative portrayal than a history, and I include the essay below.

When the time came for graduation, I found I lacked the necessary credits, with too many credits from too many majors (Business, Psychology, English) and too many minors (Education and Music), but not enough required courses. So during the summer of 1964 I had to take those courses to graduate while Carol worked for Dell Publishing. Upon graduation, she became pregnant, thus changing my thought of going to graduate school, either to pursue teaching or library science.

So life had other plans for me and I began my working career, but that is another story.

L.I.U.-My World in the Early'60s

Downtown Brooklyn sandwiched between the placid decade of the 50s and the Vietnam War was not unlike other communities in having a sense of optimism about its future. A thriving commercial center for small merchants, it had major islands in the same sea: the New York Telephone Company headquarters, the Brooklyn Hospital, Abraham and Straus department store, the Fox and Paramount movie theatres, the Board of Education, Fort Greene Park, and Long Island University.

It was September 1960 when I emerged from the DeKalb Avenue subway stop and made my way for the first time to L.I.U. Standing at the comer of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb Avenue, waiting for the light to change, Junior's and the Dime Savings Bank behind me, I faced a drab office building rising above the ornate but faded Brooklyn Paramount movie palace.

Farther behind me was a middle-class Queens community, my universe until this moment: a community of hard-working people imbued with the conviction that all things were possible in this society if one tried hard enough; it was with this sense I was going to college to learn business. But this seeming past eternity of punch ball; the Bungalow Bar man; picture-card trading; piano and guitar lessons; grammar school report cards that included grades for penmanship, neatness and posture; the Bunny Hop, Elvis ("a-wop-bom-a-lu-bop ... "); Ike; and high school (" ... if you don't take Latin, you won't be able to get into college .. ") was possibly fading, for I stood on the border between two lives, two cultures: was my background going to be my future, could I emerge out of this bland and benign landscape into myself? Brooklyn would have much to do with the answer.

Sitting in my first class on the 8th floor, becoming a regular occupant of that same seat, I could see the digital clock on top of the Dime Savings Bank blinking at me. This and another clock on top of the Williamsburg Savings Bank farther up Flatbush Avenue became lighthouses in my Brooklyn experience. When, the following year, I lived in the dormitory, returning late in the evening from a night in Manhattan in a blinding snowstorm, I sensed these silent timepieces watching me scurrying home.

In later years I lived in downtown Brooklyn, worked in Manhattan for a publishing firm, and regularly flew to the mid-west. Coming into LaGuardia Airport, we would sweep over Brooklyn and see the downtown area reaching out to Prospect Park while the fingers of the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges bound Brooklyn to Manhattan. Below was the beacon of the Williamsburg Savings Bank clock. Then, as now, I am drawn to that unique community I once called home.

I remember the student union on the ground floor of the small building adjacent to the Paramount building. Smoke hung in the stagnant air, bodies slumped on worn lounge chairs and elbows rested on Formica tables. Nixon versus Kennedy was the subject of heated discussion. These students, mostly from Brooklyn, seemed confident in their belief that politics could remake society. Eventually I found myself caught up in political causes as my apathy of the past waned.

With John F. Kennedy our new President-elect, the campus had a new vibrancy. A professor, delayed by listening to Beethoven's Eighth Symphony in his office, entered the classroom gesticulating those glorious rhythms. One professor challenged us to an exam: think of a question and answer it, the grade being as dependent on the nature of the question as on the answer. Another accepted a twisted pretzel from a student on the school quadrangle and published a poem on the experience.

Meanwhile I moved into the dormitory, severing remaining ties with a prior somnambulistic life. My room faced the front of the campus, with the monolithic slab of a factory that would become the shell of the architecturally renowned Humanities Building to be constructed a short time later. Behind the factory stood downtown Brooklyn, my microcosm of the real world.

The lack of classroom space mandated that the university rent space at Brooklyn Polytechnic, a neighboring institution where some of my classes were held. We made our way there along Myrtle Avenue, the elevator line rumbling over our heads, past furniture stores and shells of buildings. Decay was evident, but it was defiant decay: people stubbornly made their homes and pursued their lives here.

The return trip was frequently along Fulton Street, connecting the City Hall area with Flatbush Avenue and downtown Brooklyn. There, the cacophony of tiny record stores blurted out" ... baby, baby, baby, baby don't you leave me ... " merging with" ... be-bop-a-lu-la, she's my baby ... " The Chinese restaurant on the second floor beckoned, but I moved on toward the Dime Savings Bank, past shoe, appliance, fabric and other stores.

Across from the Dime Savings Bank was McCrory's, which embodied most of the merchant's downtown Brooklyn expectations. Here I was greeted at the door by the aroma of newly manufactured goods mixed with those of different foods cooking in various sections of the store. In the basement was a grocery where we bought food to supplement the fare in the dormitory. Shoppers would scrutinize the merchandise with almost-total seriousness as the IND subway loudspeaker announced, through corridors connecting to McCrory's, a train's arrival.

Opposite Junior's restaurant, then as now the neighborhood's most famous food emporium, was another restaurant, Soloway's, a luncheonette run by a Greek family. Hamburgers sizzled in grease while french fries were bathing in deep fat. Students gathered around most of the tables and at the counter while strains of "Run Around Sue" thumped from the jukebox.

Junior's itself was reserved for special occasions when only the most obscene dessert would suffice. Also, late at night, when we could study no more, some of us went across to Junior's bar to chat with Pete, the bartender, who offered a different education: would Maris hit 60 home runs? Mickey Mantle was the better ballplayer, Pete opined. Pete had a thick neck with a trim gray crew cut. He was a kindly father to us, probably not realizing the important role he played in our student lives.

Manhattan was a short shuttle over the Manhattan Bridge via the BMT, and occasionally we went there. Perhaps on a date, sitting at the back of St. Patrick's Cathedral until dawn to beat the curfew for female residents of the dorm; or to Greenwich Village for a Black Russian or to see a production at Cafe LaMama or on the second floor of Max's Kansas City restaurant, where the Theatre of the Absurd played; but Brooklyn seemed to be all the world we generally needed and that was where we usually stayed. We sat on the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, and took in the vista of the Brooklyn Bridge, downtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and further up, the spire of the Empire State.

During club hours we crowded into the auditorium to hear Malcolm X speak. Or we listened to local political candidates, heated debate overflowing the classroom after the speaker left.

The Cuban Missile crisis brought us back to days when, as schoolchildren, shades were lowered, lights turned out, and we were instructed to get down on our knees below our desks and cover our heads. Our mortality, and civilization's could be ended by design or by caprice. We frantically darted about the dormitory, discussing whether we might soon be drafted.

I remember other areas I did not know until those days in Brooklyn. Working as a receptionist at the Brooklyn Tuberculosis Center several evenings a week, I participated in a too-common side of Brooklyn life: poverty. Sick, helpless people came, seeking assistance. I processed forms and offered reassurance, but felt ineffectual.

As a dormitory counselor I sometime had to accompany students to the emergency room at the Brooklyn Hospital behind the university. I spent a week there myself, with pleurisy, in a ward. The squalor and the human tragedy I witnessed are echoed in the works of Theodore Dreiser which I read in the hospital for a term paper, seeing Frank Cowperwood's lobster and squid locked in deadly combat as symbolic of our struggle with life in this land of Brooklyn.

Next to the hospital was a prison. There, from the upper floors of the dormitory, the prisoners could be seen endlessly marching in circles. The prison was later destroyed to make room for a bigger hospital, the demolition ball pounding the 19th-century slabs into rubble, crushing the infinitely trodden steps in the courtyard.

Walking past the Admissions Office one Friday afternoon, a friend came running toward me. "Did you hear, Kennedy was shot?" Incredulous, I rushed to my dorm to listen to the radio. It was true.

I had tickets for a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that night, one of the few cultural events in New York City that was not cancelled. An unrehearsed version of Beethoven's Egmont Overture was performed rather than the regular program. We filed out, silent, stunned, weeping openly. In quick succession Oswald was apprehended, and while we watched it on TV, Jack Ruby assassinated him.

With the advent of these acts, in particular as the Vietnam War encroached on all our lives, I knew the life I had known in Brooklyn could not remain the same. What changed, some years later, was often for the better for me. But whatever the benefits and the sad moments, I shall remember Brooklyn most as the place that allowed me to change into myself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day

It’s already started: media advertising inundation announcing Memorial Day sales. It is bad enough that every holiday is turned into a shopping opportunity, but converting Memorial Day to a quick buck is especially disturbing. How many of us will stop to remember, pay homage to the millions who have given life or limb, or have made extraordinary sacrifices to establish our freedoms and protect them? Instead, we head off to the malls or the beach and hardly give a thought to the true meaning of the day. “Lennar Homes announces a Sell-a-thon Memorial Day Weekend Savings!!!”

I think of my father, just a “regular Joe” as he described himself, newly married and having a young son (me), who like so many others went off to WWII. It was not something he wanted to do, and he was ill prepared for the experience. As he said at the conclusion of the war with many soldiers being held in Europe for possible police action, “my desire is so strong, the urge so great to be able to come home again.” But he made those sacrifices.

He never talked much about the war. Maybe that was because he had seen atrocities filming one of the concentration camps at the war’s end as a Signal Corps photographer. Stars and Stripes featured a photograph OF him in one of its pages: “Signal Corps cameraman T/4 Robert Hagelstein, assigned to Ninth Army, ignores the German warning, ‘photography forbidden,’ to shoot movies of activities along the Rhine River March 5, 1945.”,%20Fall/Fall%2001/images/NONO.JPG

Thanks to some of his letters I know how he felt about making the sacrifices of those years:

I, on the other hand, through a number of coincidences, never served in the armed forces. I was married before the VietNam conflict escalated and although I had planned to go into the US Army Reserve, President Kennedy then declared married men “3A” so I did not enlist. By the time they were calling up married men, I already had a son, and continued to be deferred from the draft. Truthfully, I was greatly relieved at the time. But friends of mine were called, and today I feel a sense of self-reproach about not having been among them.

This heightens my great respect for those who served and I think we as a nation owe more to them than just a tip of the hat and a Sell-a-thon. And, I think it behooves us to reflect on the ideals and freedoms our founding fathers so valiantly and brilliantly struggled to establish. David McCullough’s magnificent biography of John Adams provides a behind the scenes view of the birth of our nation and those sacrifices.

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” -- John Adams

Friday, May 16, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I’ve written about this many times in this space: the United States has no national plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And it’s only because we have no leadership and, therefore, our tax structure and incentives are inadequate. China, Japan and Germany are the leaders in solar cell production. Below is a link to a recent New York Times article "Germany Debates Subsidies for Solar Industry." Ironically, the dispute in Germany is whether to curtail some incentives, as they’ve been “too successful,” and this in a country that has less annual sunlight hours than much of the United States.

To briefly quote from the article, “with wind, biomass and other alternative energy also growing, Germany derives 14.2 percent of its electricity from renewable sources…At the moment, solar energy adds 1.01 euros ($1.69) a month to a typical home electricity bill, a modest surcharge that Germans are willing to pay.”

The fear in Germany is that surcharge will have to rise to continue to underwrite the expansion of their solar industry. Seems like a small price to pay for energy independence. Strange that the United States will have to follow the leadership of a country that was an adversary only a few decades ago.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Open Letter to Senator Obama

Dear Senator Barack Obama:

Does history make the man or does man make history? Rarely is there a confluence of events which might help answer that question and, with your presumptive Democratic nomination for the Presidency, you have the opportunity to make the kind of difference our founding fathers did at the birth of our nation, or Lincoln did bringing our nation back from the brink of self destruction, or Roosevelt’s seeing us through the most destructive war in history.

Although one could cite a litany of maladies our nation now suffers from, at the core is our loss of credibility abroad, our lack of a national plan for energy independence, and the ongoing irreconcilability of conservative and liberal values and its resultant impact on the social fabric of race relations, religious tolerance and educational opportunities.

Your life reads like a microcosm of the United Nations, born to a black, Kenyan father who was raised a Muslim, and a white mother who you described as being “detached from religion,” who later divorced your father and married an Indonesian; thus you attended schools in Jakarta until you were ten years old. But you then lived with your white grandmother’s family in Honolulu until you graduated high school. You met your wife Michelle, an African American, while you interned in a law office and you were married at the time you became a Christian.

I came of age during the tumultuous late 50’s and 60’s as the civil rights movement and the cold war raged, as we became mired in a senseless war in Viet Nam, and painfully endured the assassinations of beloved leaders, John F, Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King. Then, we succumbed to the national disgraces of the 70’s, a wrecked economy, becoming hostages to countries that hate us in the Middle East, American prestige sinking to new lows, and the age of Watergate politics. The one thing we could point to with pride was our ability to set a national goal as John F. Kennedy did in 1961, to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade and actually doing the unthinkable, the impossible.

Today is not too far removed from then. Our economic difficulties of mounting national debt and a declining dollar, a decaying infrastructure, and the lack of better healthcare for our sick and better education for our young can be traced to a needless war, and to being hostage, once again, to oil producing nations. Racial and religious divisiveness still erodes the fabric of our society. The view of America abroad has undermined our ability to effectively deal with terrorism and to address global environmental issues. Politics again slithers along a slippery Machiavellian slope.

It is extraordinary that we could be at the brink of electing you, our first African American President. If these problems were less extreme, this moment may not have arrived. Senator Obama, seize the day, and use this unique opportunity as a conciliator, to help bridge the abyss between races and religions, leading us away from Iraq and towards energy independence. We have the alternative energy technology, the clean natural gas resources, and nuclear capability to substantially decrease our dependence on fossil fuels if only we could develop the backbone to sacrifice short-term gratification for long-term gains, declaring it as a national objective. By achieving energy independence, our economic problems will diminish.

Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy. Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage. Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own “team of rivals” as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.

Some people have pointed to 9/11 as a manifestation of the clash between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Given your personal background, you have what may be a unique opportunity to establish a dialogue between these two worlds and in so doing begin to restore our international standing. Just electing you will demonstrate to the world that we can put our ideals into action.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Friedman for President

It is not surprising that the most emailed article from yesterday’s New York Times, is Thomas Friedman’s “Dumb as We Wanna Be”

I’ve missed reading Friedman who just completed a sabbatical book-writing project that expands an article he wrote for the magazine section a year ago:
The book version, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America, will be published in August.

Why not start a write-in campaign to elect Friedman President? He always seems to have the right perspective on foreign policy and our economic and energy crisis. I also like his even-tempered demeanor. Someone once said you have to be crazy to want to be the President of the United States. Maybe that is the problem with a plan for his Presidency. Friedman is not crazy.

He calls Clinton and McCain’s proposal for a summer gas tax “holiday” political pandering (Amen) and a form of money laundering, borrowing from China, moving it to the oil producing nations, leaving a little in our gas tanks as the broker for the transaction, but also leaving our children with the debt. The analogy would be funny if it were not so sadly true.

But the rest of the article goes to the core of the problem, not having a game plan to achieve energy independence, and helping to repair our decaying environment along the way, something I’ve also ranted about:

The ongoing political shenanigans over this issue and the lack of a plan are enough to make me sick. I had thought our current administration was just too clueless to grasp the importance of leading our nation to energy independence through alternative solar, wind, and geothermal technologies. Imagine my shock at seeing Laura Bush recently conducting a TV tour of their home in Crawford, Texas, which is replete with geothermal heating and cooling and a system for capturing rainwater and household wastewater for irrigation. I would have expected this from Al Gore, but George Bush?

His public environmental policies are in direct contrast to what he has done in his own home. So it is not a question of not knowing better, it’s knowing better but not leading our country to a better place, an immoral travesty of the public trust. Where would we be today if we had thrown down the gauntlet at the beginning of his Presidency? By delaying a commitment to energy independence, we have made the goal even more difficult as we must now start with massive debt, and a devalued dollar.

Instead, we pour resources into ethanol with the unintended consequences of food shortages and burgeoning food prices. Sounds like a good plan, subsidize the farmers to buy seeds and fertilizer (at triple the cost vs. last year), squeeze out food crops and tax our water resources, buy oil for the energy needed to convert crops to ethanol (be sure to take on more debt to get that oil), and continue to watch fuel prices escalate in spite of increasing ethanol additives, while paying much more for all food staples (hoarding rice along the way).

Yesterday the Federal Reserve laughably said, “readings on core inflation have improved somewhat” (which excludes food and energy). Maybe it’s time we go back to the Consumer Price Index as a fairer measurement of inflation so government has to face the real facts.