Monday, September 30, 2013

ELIE WIESEL ~ September 30, 1928

Elie Wiesel (born Eliezer Wiesel on September 30, 1928) is a writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps. His diverse range of other writings offer powerful and poetic contributions to literature, theology, and his own articulation of Jewish spirituality today.

When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind," noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps," as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace," Wiesel had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.

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(It is very sad that Elie Weisel's foundation was almost completely wiped out in the Bernard Madoff swindle. I'm sure he'll recover eventually, but it was so unfair. I guess even noble charities can be greedy. Madoff's investments were just too good to be true.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29 ~ Stan Ziegler

Today is my friend Stan Ziegler’s birthday.

Stan played a role in the psychodrama that was my second junior-year Whiffenpoof tap. (They audition today.) Admittedly, it was a very difficult choice that year. Ironically, I may have ended up creating the formula they reportedly used. The problem was there were too many musically qualified Spizzwinks. I think we had nine. And my changing classes had made it even worse than it would have been.

Today there are many more informal singing groups at Yale. But then there were seven all-male groups, I believe. The unwritten rule, was that at least one singer would be selected from each group. Since there were fourteen Whiffs, if all nine Spizzwinks were tapped that would exclude one of the other groups. It was a politically impossible situation.

I remember Jon Nygaard came to see me in my dorm room, to use me as a sounding board. I said it was obvious: the highest number of Spizzwinks they could select would be seven. They couldn't take all. And it would be cruel to take all but one.

Then I casually let drop: “If it came to a choice between Stan Ziegler and me, I would prefer they take Stan.”

I figured I was the most obvious choice to be tapped as a Whiffenpoof. After all, the people selecting were from my own original class. And I had previously been pre-tapped to be pitchpipe (director) of that group. I thought I had sufficient leverage to make a difference.

When Marie Bronson (my 79 year old friend and summer landlord, whose husband Clarence had been Yale Class of 1900) heard what I had said, she implored: "Don't do that Rob. It will impact all your class reunions. You'll end up regretting it for the rest of your life."

I thought I had leverage. They heard: I really wasn't interested. I had taken them off the hook—and inadvertently ended up sinking George Hardy’s chances too.

The reason I said what I did about Stan was that he was out of the country and needed, I felt, to be connected with some organization on his return. Stan was taking a Junior Year Abroad, studying with Anna Freud in London and with another woman psychologist in Norway. Yale didn't have a Junior Year Abroad Program for credit. As my brother Sherry had studied in Paris for a year on his own, and then had to continue for two more years at Princeton, so Stan would normally have been required to take two more years at Yale. But Stan –as anybody who knew him—had chutzpah up the kazoo. He had a New York State disability scholarship for his asthma. He used to run around the block before his annual interview, in order to be sufficiently winded. When he was accepted at Cornell –and should have been required to attend to get the New York Scholarship— he got his sister –who was a senior at Cornell, and a student member of the admissions committee— to get him unselected. He then pleaded his case to the scholarship board, and talked his way to a New York sponsored scholarship out of state. I should have known Stan could take care of himself. He ended up getting full credit for his year in Norway (where he also learned how to knit – I still have mufflers and mittens he designed and knit for me).

The reason I made my offer was that just before spring break, Stan's father had committed suicide on the second anniversary of Stan's mother's natural, if painful and unexpected death. I thought it absolutely essential that Stan not be alone his senior year. As it turned out, Stan already had other people advocating for him. My offer was a futile and unnecessary gesture. He even had one of the slots in Skull and Bones.

Then senior year he was so busy…I never saw him.
But after college, he became one of my best friends and maintained that special relationship with Mrs. Bronson until her death at the age of ninety-seven.

Stan later became a successful teen psychologist with a celebrity clientele, which included Jason Gould and Greg Louganis. (Once he talked to me about autistic patients. Not familiar with the term, I thought: can there be art without neurosis?) He was a friend of Paul Petersen, who had been Jeff on the Donna Reed Show. Paul had formed a support group for former movie and TV child stars—a group for which Stan was a consultant. He also had been a guest on several TV talk shows, including Oprah. The last time I saw Stan, I visited him at his new home in West Hollywood, when he took a group of troubled teens to Tippi Hedren's Big Cat Shambala Preserve. The final time we talked was Christmas Eve 1994, when I was home between services.

Stan and I were friends until his death – can it be?—nearly seventeen years ago. I went to his memorial service in West Hollywood. George and I were asked to join the Whiffs there in singing the Whiffenpoof song. It was only the second time I had ever sung it. (At Yale, only Whiffs sing it.) The first was back in the summer of 1969, on the first Spizzwink tour to California. It was in a VW bug with Russ Thomas and Bill Correll, who had just been tapped for the Whiffs of 1970, and Jon Nygaard, who along with me was considered likely for the Whiffs of ‘71. We realized that we had a quartet, so up in the hills above Saratoga, we sang: "To the tables down at Morys……"

(BTW I finally became a member of the Whiffs of '72 when I went back to my 40th Class Reunion in New Haven last June. My official Whiff name now is Rob "More Cow" Bell -- a reference to a classic Saturday Night Live skit.)

Stan had been very sick for years with Crohn’s disease. I think it had originally manifested after his mother's death. He was valiant, and put up with excruciating pain. At his memorial service, his own therapist implied that Stan had committed a passive form of suicide. Evidently, he had had a major attack, and decided not to call for help. He had been in the hospital so many times, he just didn't want to go through it again. I can't begrudge him that.

At the memorial service, I saw his sister and met his nephew. Stan had had a troubled relationship with his only nephew. Both parents were brilliant. The boy was rather dull. Stan's sister was a deputy district attorney in Brooklyn and a law professor. Her ex-husband had been the chief prosecutor in the ABSCAM case, and had worked on the defense team for Claus von Bulow.

Only a few weeks after Stan's service, I heard from John Rouse, I think, that tragedy had struck again. Stan's nephew had been learning how to drive with his father at the Westport, Connecticut Yacht Club. Evidently, he put the car in reverse by mistake, and backed off the dock. His dad got out. He drowned. I wrote a note to Stan's sister. But what can you say?

Saturday, September 28, 2013



San Giorgio Maggiore in Venezia is one of my favorite churches in the world. Of course, it was designed by Palladio. I think I prefer it even to the magnificent Redentore close by on the Judaica. The view from the bell tower is spectacular, and much more accessible than the campanile by San Marco -- meaning it's not so crowded. I guess that is partly because the island itself is not so accessible -- but certainly worth the trip.

The interiors of both San Giorgio and and the Rendentore with their interplay of Istrian stone and stucco-- grey and white-- emphasizing light and shadow -- demonstrate the structural elegance of Palladio's design; and foreshadow what Sir Christopher Wren had intended for the interior of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. Although I adore Byzantine mosaics, particularly at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (which I visited for the second time three years ago) and in several churches in Ravenna (which I visited thirty-two years ago, when my brother Sherry had a year at the University of Bologna), I very much disapprove of the colorful mosaics above the Quire at St. Paul's. They were added in the Edwardian era, and are completely wrong for that space. They would be much more appropriate in Westminster Cathedral, the Byzantine-style Roman Catholic Cathedral in London.

But to return to Venice... the picture above of San Giorgio Maggiore -- with Palladio's double temple portico-- is one of the classic views in all Venezia... and indeed the entire Western World. Just three years ago today I was in Venice with my sister Julie, her husband Tom and my wonderful friend Debbie!

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Dennis and I stayed a number of times in a former monastery in the Zattere in Venezia. Whenever we were there together, the three cloisters were filled with construction equipment during renovation projects.

When I returned with some of Dennis' ashes six years ago last August, most of the work was done and several trees already planted. I gave a donation for this olive tree and sprinkled some of Dennis' ashes around its base.

Debbie, Julie, Tom and I stayed at the Artigianelli for two nights four years ago.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BILL OF RIGHTS passed in Congress~ September 25, 1789

On September 25, 1789 the U.S. Congress passed twelve amendments to the United States Constitution: the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, the Congressional Compensation Amendment, and the ten that are known as the Bill of Rights. Only the Bill of Rights was ratified at the time, while the other two were proposed by James Madison but not ratified. In 1992, the Congressional Compensation Amendment was finally ratified as the 27th amendment to the Constitution.

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(Note: there was no time limit placed on the 27th amendment -- unlike the Equal Rights Amendment, which was allowed to expire before the necessary number of states had ratified it.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GRIGORI POTYOMKIN ~ September 24, 1739 ~ October 16, 1791

Prince (Reichsfürst) Grigori Alexandrovich Potyomkin-Tavricheski (Russian: Григо рий Алекса ндрович Потёмкин, pronounced Patyómkin) (September 24 [O.S. September 13] 1739) – October 16 [O.S. October 5] 1791) was a Russian general-field marshal, statesman, and favourite of Catherine II the Great.

He is primarily remembered for his efforts to colonize the sparsely populated wild steppes of Southern Ukraine, which passed to Russia under the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (1774). Among the towns founded by Potyomkin are Kherson, Nikolaev (Mykolayiv), Sevastopol, and Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk). He is also widely associated with the "Potemkin village", a method of ruse that may or may not be grounded in historical events.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

SIEGE of VIENNA ~ September 23, 1529

The Siege of Vienna in 1529 was the first attempt by the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, to capture the city of Vienna, Austria. The siege signalled the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire's power and great rivalry with Europe as well as the maximum extent of Ottoman expansion in central Europe. Thereafter, 150 years of bitter military tension and reciprocal attacks ensued, culminating in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, marking the start of the Great Turkish War by European powers to remove the Ottoman presence within central Europe.

The siege's ultimate failure and the Ottoman's exhaustive efforts to capture the bastion of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, turned the tide against almost a century of unchecked Ottoman conquest throughout eastern and central Europe, which had previously claimed Southeastern Hungary as a vassal state in the wake of the Battle of Mohács. The event is often referenced as the downfall of the Ottoman Empire's once unbridled military hegemony across Europe and Asia, as well as a rather humiliating defeat for the Ottomans at the hands of a far inferior and smaller force.

There is speculation by some historians that Suleiman's main objective in 1529 was in actuality to reassert Ottoman control over Hungary, the western part of which still held out as an independent monarchy known as Royal Hungary. The decision to attack Vienna after such a long interval in Suleiman's European campaign is viewed as an opportunistic manoeuvre after his decisive victory in Hungary. Other scholars theorize that the suppression of Hungary simply marked the prologue to a later, premeditated invasion of Europe.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

NATHAN HALE ~ June 6, 1755 ~ September 22, 1776

Nathan Hale (June 6, 1755 – September 22, 1776) was a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Widely considered America's first spy, he volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission, but was captured by the British. He is best remembered for his speech before being hanged following the Battle of Long Island, in which he said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give my country." Hale has long been considered an American hero and, in 1985, he was officially designated the state hero of Connecticut. A statue of Nathan Hale is located at the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Fairfax County, Virginia.

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Nathan Hale had gone to Yale College. There's a handsome life-size bronze statue of him outside Connecticut Hall, the sole surviving brick building from the original campus in New Haven.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

VIRGIL ~ October 15, 70 BCE ~ September 21, 19 BCE

Publius Vergilius Maro (also known by the Anglicised forms of his name as Virgil or Vergil) (October 15, 70 BCE – September 21, 19 BCE) was a classical Roman poet, best known for three major works—the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics and the Aeneid—although several minor poems are also attributed to him. The son of a farmer, Virgil came to be regarded as one of Rome's greatest poets. His Aeneid can be considered a national epic of Rome and has been extremely popular from its publication to the present day.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

JEAN SIBELIUS ~ December 8, 1865 ~ September 20, 1957

Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity.

The core of Sibelius's oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies. Like Beethoven, Sibelius used each one to develop further his own personal compositional style. Unlike Beethoven who used the symphonies to make public statements, and who reserved his more intimate feelings for his smaller works, Sibelius released his personal feelings in the symphonies. These works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and are often recorded.

In addition to the symphonies, Sibelius's best-known compositions include Finlandia, Valse Triste, the violin concerto, the Karelia Suite and The Swan of Tuonela (one of the four movements of the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by the Kalevala, over 100 songs for voice and piano, incidental music for 13 plays, the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, 21 separate publications of choral music, and Masonic ritual music.

Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. However, soon after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music to The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he produced no large scale works for the remaining thirty years of his life. Although he is reputed to have stopped composing, he did attempt to continue writing, including abortive attempts to compose an eighth symphony. He wrote some Masonic music and re-edited some earlier works during this last period of his life, and retained an active interest in new developments in music, although he did not always view modern music favorably.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The BATTLE of POITIERS ~ September 19, 1356

The Battle of Poitiers was fought between the Kingdoms of England and France on 19 September 1356 near Poitiers, resulting in the second of the three great English victories of the Hundred Years' War: Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt.


On 8 August 1356, Edward, the Black Prince began a great chevauchée (raid) north from the English base in Aquitaine, in an effort to relieve allied garrisons in central France, as well as to raid and ravage the countryside. His sortie met little resistance, his Anglo-Gascon forces burning numerous towns to the ground and living off the land, until they reached the Loire River at Tours. His army was unable to take the castle nor could they burn the town, due to a heavy downpour. His delay there allowed John II, King of France, to attempt to catch Edward's army and eliminate it. The King, who had been confronting Henry of Grosmont in Normandy, arranged the bulk of his army at Chartres to the north of the besieged Tours, dismissing around 15,000–20,000 of his low-grade infantry to increase the speed of his forces.

Upon receiving reports of the French army on the move, Edward decided a retreat was in order. He marched south pursued in earnest by John. The French caught up to the English a few miles southwest of Poitiers. A veteran of the battle of Crécy, at which he had fought when he was only sixteen years old, the Black Prince decided on the same tactical scheme employed at that earlier battle. He positioned his troops in a strongly defensive position, in a plain surrounded by natural obstacles, such as a creek on the left and a wood on the back. The luggage wagons, with a great amount of plunder, remained along the old Roman road, the main route from Poitiers to Bordeaux, to give protection to his weak right side. All his men dismounted and were organized in two, or perhaps three units, with longbowmen placed in a V-formation on both flanks. The Black Prince kept a small cavalry unit, commanded by Jean de Grailly, the Captal de Buch, hidden in the woods at the rear.

The attacking French forces were divided in four parts. At the front were around 300 elite knights, commanded by general Clermont and accompanied by German mercenary pikemen. The purpose of this group was to charge the archers and eliminate the threat they posed. These were followed by three groups of infantry (dismounted cavalry) commanded by the Dauphin (later Charles V of France), the Duke of Orléans and King John.

The Battle

At the beginning of the battle, the English simulated flight on their left wing. This provoked a hasty charge by the French knights against the archers. However, the English were expecting this and quickly attacked the enemy, especially the horses, with a shower of arrows. Belgian chronicler Jean Froissart writes that the French armour was invulnerable to the English arrows, that the arrowheads either skidded off the armor or shattered on impact. English history of the battle disputes this, as some claim that the narrow bodkin point arrows they used have been proven capable of penetrating most plate armour of that time period. While tests have been done to support this with fixed pieces of flat metal, armour was curved, so the point is debatable. Given the following actions of the archers, it seems likely Froissart was correct. The armour on the horses was weaker on the sides and back, so the archers moved to the sides of the cavalry and shot the horses in the flanks. This was a popular method of stopping a cavalry charge, as a falling horse often destroyed the cohesion of the enemy's line. The results were devastating.

This attack was followed by the Dauphin's infantry, who engaged in heavy fighting, but withdrew to regroup. The next wave of infantry under Orléans, seeing that the Dauphin's men were not attacking, turned back and panicked. This stranded the forces led by the King himself. This was a formidable fighting force, and the English archers were out of arrows: the archers joined the infantry in the fight and some of both groups mounted horses to form an improvised cavalry. Combat was hard, but the Black Prince still had a mobile reserve hidden in the woods, which were able to circle around and attack the French in the flank and rear. The French were fearful of encirclement and attempted to flee. King John was captured with his immediate entourage.


John II, the Good, being captured.The result was a decisive French defeat, not only in military terms, but also economically: France would be asked to pay a ransom equivalent to twice the country's yearly income to have the king returned. John, who was accorded royal privileges whilst being a prisoner, was permitted to return to France to try to raise the required funds. He subsequently handed himself back to the English, claiming to be unable to pay the ransom, and died a few months later. In many ways, Poitiers was a repeat of the battle of Crécy showing once again that tactics and strategy can overcome a disadvantage in numbers. As the Black Prince wrote shortly afterward in a letter to the people of London:

“ …it was agreed that we should take our way, flanking them, in such a manner that if they wished for battle or to draw towards us, in a place not very much to our disadvantage, we should be the first… the enemy was discomfited, and the king was taken, and his son; and a great number of other great people were both taken and slain…"

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TRAJAN ~ September 18, 53 CE ~ August 8, 117 CE

Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, commonly known as Trajan (18 September 53 – 8 August 117), was a Roman Emperor who reigned from A. D. 98 until his death in A. D. 117. Born Marcus Ulpius Traianus into a nonpatrician family in the Hispania Baetica province (modern day Spain), Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian, serving as a general in the Roman army along the German frontier, and successfully crushing the revolt of Antonius Saturninus in 89. On September 18, 96, Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva, an old and childless senator who proved to be unpopular with the army. After a brief and tumultuous year in power, a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard compelled him to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Nerva died on January 27, 98, and was succeeded by his adopted son without incident.

As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public building program, which reshaped the city of Rome and left multiple enduring landmarks such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market and Trajan's Column. It was as a military commander however that Trajan celebrated his greatest triumphs. In 101, he launched a punitive expedition into the kingdom of Dacia against king Decebalus, defeating the Dacian army near Tapae in 102, and finally conquering Dacia completely in 106. In 107, Trajan pushed further east and annexed the Nabataean kingdom, establishing the province of Arabia Petraea. After a period of relative peace within the Empire, he launched his final campaign in 113 against Parthia, advancing as far as the city of Susa in 116, and expanding the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. During this campaign Trajan was struck by illness, and late in 117, while sailing back to Rome, he died of a stroke on August 9, in the city of Selinus. He was deified by the Senate and his ashes were laid to rest under Trajan's Column. He was succeeded by his adopted son (not having a biological heir) Publius Aelius Hadrianus—commonly known as Hadrian.

As an emperor, Trajan's reputation has endured - he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived the scrutiny of nineteen centuries of history. Every new emperor after him was honoured by the Senate with the prayer felicior Augusto, melior Traiano, meaning "may he be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan". Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a virtuous pagan, while the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors, of which Trajan was the second.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

DAVID HACKETT SOUTER ~ September 17, 1939

David Hackett Souter (born September 17, 1939) served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1990 until his retirement from the Court on June 29, 2009. He filled the seat vacated by William J. Brennan, Jr.

Appointed by Republican President George H. W. Bush, Souter served on both the Rehnquist and current Roberts courts, and was often considered a member of the court's traditional liberal wing.

At the time of Souter's appointment, John Sununu assured President Bush and conservatives that Souter would be a "home run" for conservatism. In his testimony before the Senate, Souter espoused the concepts of originalism (as Bork had done) and was thus thought by conservatives to be a strict constructionist on constitutional matters. However, in the state attorney general's office and as a state Supreme Court judge, he had never been tested on matters of federal law.

Initially, from 1990 to 1993, Souter tended to be a conservative-leaning justice, although not as conservative as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas or William Rehnquist. In Souter's first year, Souter and Scalia voted alike close to 85 percent of the time; Souter voted with Kennedy and O'Connor about 97 percent of the time. The symbolic turning point came in two cases in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Court reaffirmed the essential holding in Roe v. Wade, and Lee v. Weisman, in which Souter voted against allowing prayer at a high school graduation ceremony. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Anthony Kennedy considered overturning Roe and upholding all the restrictions at issue in Casey. Souter considered upholding all the restrictions but still was uneasy about overturning Roe. After consulting with O'Connor, however, the three (who came to be known as the "troika") developed a joint opinion that upheld all the restrictions in the Casey case except for the mandatory notification of a husband while asserting the essential holding of Roe, that a right to an abortion is protected by the Constitution.

After the appointment of Clarence Thomas, Souter moved to the middle. By the late 1990s, Souter began to align himself more with Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on rulings, although as of 1995, he sided on more occasions with the more liberal justice, John Paul Stevens, than either Breyer or Ginsburg, both Clinton appointees. O'Connor began to move to the center. On the abortion issue, Souter began to vote to override restrictions he believed in back in 1992. On death penalty cases, worker rights cases, criminal rights cases, and other issues, Souter began voting with the liberals in the court. So while appointed by a Republican president and thus expected to be conservative, Souter came to be considered part of the liberal wing of the court. Because of this, many conservatives view the Souter appointment as a major error on the part of the Bush administration and have gone on to intensely scrutinize future potential Republican appointees on the standard of whether they would be reliable conservatives.

In April 2009, Souter announced that he would be retiring at the end of the current Supreme Court term in June. On May 26, 2009, President Obama announced that he was nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice Souter on the Court. Sotomayor was confirmed by by a 61 to 31 vote in the Senate on August 6, 2009.

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Today is also the birthday of my first cousin Claora Styron. Clae grew up in Lincoln, Mass.-- not far from David Souter's New Hampshire-- and now lives just a few blocks from me in the Mission District of San Francisco.

And appropriately-- considering Justice Souter's birthday -- it is the 226th Anniversary of the United States Constitution.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)