24 January 2015 / Never Thought I’d See the Day

24 January 2015

Mind has wandered off trying to pre-solve the challenges awaiting me at the office while glazed eyes subconsciously take note of flickering digital numbers on the gas pump. The loud click of the auto-shutoff jolts me back to the present moment. I blink a couple times as the numbers don’t seem quite right. Holy smokes, I never thought the day would come again when the tank on my Tahoe could be filled to the brim for under $40. Often over the past several years, as I’ve watched the numbers spin past 70, I’ve reminisced fondly about the days when my truck was young and shiny and smelled good and could be filled up for around 36 bucks. Remember those days when we paid with cash and had to stop the pump precisely on zero-zero?

Upon leaving the filling station, one part of my brain did the driving while another mulled over other things I thought I’d never see. Two things came immediately to mind. Growing up I never, ever, considered the possibility that one day the Berlin Wall would cease to exist, that I’d witness people tearing it down with bare hands as GDR Border Guards stood passively by. Nor did I ever think that I’d see the restoration of diplomatic relations with our neighbor Cuba in my lifetime. Both of these events caused me to reflect upon the Cold War world of my youth. Today’s world – my children’s world – has its own international dangers. Less institutional, the threats are less clearly defined and the dangers perhaps scarier by virtue of their being less predictable, more indiscriminate, more ethnic, more fundamentalist. Violence is less about territorial gain than it is about identity and feeling marginalized. But there was definitely something ominous about those years before the Wall collapsed and the Soviet Union rotted from within and imploded upon itself.

It’s amazing how quickly and thoroughly the feeling of that time has dissipated. It’s a struggle to recall what it truly felt like to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation, except that it was an ever-present pall. I never knew when it might come, sometimes it seemed so imminent in my young mind, but I knew where it would come from. Some days I’d look up into the perfectly clear, brilliantly blue sky and all I’d see were dark grey clouds of nuclear missiles.

Back then it seemed like the only things on Earth that mattered could be identified with just these four letters: U, S, A and R . . . USA/USSR. Or five, if you preferred USA/CCCP. The rest of the world had no say as these two superpowers held the fate of the world, the survival of life on Earth, in their hands. As Tom Clancy would write in his novel Red Storm Rising, “our survival would be at the mercy of whichever NATO (or Warsaw Pact) leader is the LEAST stable.” Back to letters, peace and life itself proceeded against the backdrop of the insane concept dubbed MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. If you incinerate  my country, my people, my ideology, you can be assured that my missiles – ICBMs – will instantly blot out you and yours.

The competition for world dominance was reflected in the world of sports, as well. In 1980 the United States and 59 other nations boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, citing security concerns and anti-Soviet hysteria in the US, the Soviet Union and 14 other countries boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. But when American and Eastern Bloc athletes did meet in Olympic competition, it made for some of the most epic, and sometimes controversial, sports matches and performances in history: the 1972 Soviet victory over perennial basketball Gold Medalist Team USA; the ’72 redefining of gymnastics by Olga Korbut; the surprising dominance of American boxers and Romanian Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in 1976; and the US’s 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ victory over the powerful Soviet hockey team. Fierce competition even extended to the cultivated world of chess where, in 1972, American Bobby Fischer wrested the World Chess Championship from Boris Spassky of the USSR.

Since the end of those bad old days, my own level of sports fan passion has rarely risen to the level of those Cold War sports contests, with the exception of the great Cowboys-Redskins and Cowboys-Niners rivalries. How things have changed. Who could have ever foreseen the day I’d cheer on a forward for the 2014 Russian Olympic Team?

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( Dallas Stars in 2014 Winter Olympics: Jamie Benn and Coach Lindy Ruff, Canada; Kari Lehtonen, Finland; Valeri Nichushkin, Russia)

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12 January 2015 / Play Nice

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(Photo by Matt Hutton Photography)

12 January 2015

Here on Planet Earth, nay the whole damned universe, humans reign supreme, for we alone amongst every other form of life were created in the image of God Almighty Himself. As such, we get to make the rules and reserve the right to change them to suit our needs or mood at any given moment. We get to define what is right and wrong, good and evil, worthy and worthless, what lives, what dies. Only we have the knowledge of how all things work and, better yet, how to improve upon what God just threw together in a week. We understand the nature of nature itself. Damn, we’re good.

We judge the relative intelligence of species by how much they indulge in play. Creatures who are at leisure to play rather than having to spend every waking moment of their existence in a struggle to survive have clearly attained an advanced level of development. In other words, the more closely they act like us, the smarter they are, obviously. So why, then, do we humans just plain suck at playing?

When as children we play, we experience skinned knees and black eyes, grow strong through disappointments and humble through defeat, gain confidence and affirmation through triumph and, most importantly, learn how to interact positively with other human beings. And in our child’s mind, we need only one word to describe all of these combined experiences: FUN.

Then, as grownups, sometimes sooner, for player and spectator alike, play becomes sport, which so often devolves into stress, tension, anger, suspicion, resentment, selfishness, divisiveness, life, death. “Foul! Cheat! No Fair!” we cry. Well, to borrow a favorite adage, ‘The Fair comes but once a year, in October.’

One of the finest pieces of advice I’ve received on keeping life in perspective is ‘Relax, they can’t eat ya.’ Our ‘Boys lost a well-played football game to a worthy opponent. Yet let us be thankful, at least, that we are such an advanced species, for in that other world of the less-evolved, they don’t play around. Losing means you just became lunch for something higher up the food chain.

Thank you Dallas Cowboys. Football hasn’t been this fun in years!

7 January 2015 / Conn Smythe

 

 

7 January 2015

I have to admit, after the handful of earthquakes we experienced yesterday, all I could think of as I sat at my desk was, “Do it again!” I say that half-jokingly, for the human arrogance that I believe is at the root of these north Texas quakes is the sort of thing that makes me wonder whether Earth wouldn’t be better off without homo sapiens. Anyway, we did experience a couple more slight rumbles in the morning, but nothing on the scale of yesterday’s events. So there I sat doing my creative thang, one part of my brain anticipating the slightest sound or shake out of the norm. The life of the modern day designer -this one, at least – is an overly sedentary one, and it’s important to change things up physically and mentally throughout the day. Get out of the chair, walk down a couple doors to bullshit with a colleague, roam the warehouse, give your eyes something different to focus on and release the brain from the rut in which it finds itself, hoping that when it returns to the task it’ll choose a slightly different path which will take us both to the promised land.

During one particular break, I came across an article about the origin of the name of each NHL hockey team. Actually not a very interesting article as most were simply submitted and voted on by fans, with little to do with much of anything. When I came to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it mentioned a man named Conn Smythe, who purchased the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927 and changed the team’s name to Maple Leafs.  Almost every hockey fan has heard the name Conn Smythe, for the trophy which is awarded each year to the player judged most valuable to his team during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is named The Conn Smythe Trophy. The Dallas Stars’ own Joe Nieuwendyk won the trophy in 1999. But beyond that, who is Conn Smythe and why did they name a trophy after him? So, as stated in my intentions for 2015, I did some research on this question for which I had no answer. The Conn Smythe Trophy was introduced in 1964 by Maple Leaf Gardens, Ltd, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, to honor Smythe, the former owner, general manager, and coach of the Maple Leafs. Beyond that, nothing I learned was interesting enough to repeat.

United Church - St. Patrick's hockey team - group of four.  -  December 3, 1926

(Photo: Constantine Falkland Cary Smythe, 1895-1980)

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(Photo: Joe Nieuwendyk)

So let’s just talk a sec about hockey itself. When you say the word ‘hockey,’ it should come out sounding like ‘khaki.’ That’s how the people up north pronounce it, and it’s their game. But this ice sport has caught fire down south. Who would ever have believed that ice hockey would survive, much less thrive, down hea where King Football rules? But the Dallas Stars have done just that, and delivered Lord Stanley’s Cup to the city in the process. I have become a die hard hockey fan, as have my kids, my wife, my sister. Actually, it was my sister Kelli who first piqued my interest in the sport, with her love for the New York Rangers. I love the speed and brutality of the game, and the grace, agility, awareness, deftness and toughness of the players. Hockey offers me the best value of any sport, providing far more action and excitement for the buck. Any time we travel out of town, if it happens to be anywhere near an NHL town, the first thing Stac and I do is check to see if the locals are playing. Last month we had the opportunity to catch two out of town games, one at The Garden and another in Philly. In the process, we created another hockey monsta, Toni Mesina.

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(NY Rangers v. Pittsburgh Penguins, Madison Square Garden, NYC)

 

 

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(Stacie and Toni Mesina, newest hockey fan, rockin’ their Stars beanies)

 

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(Philadelphia Flyers v. NJ Devils, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia)

While Dallas sports venues are all upper echelon facilities – we thoroughly enjoy the Platinum section at American Airlines Center (when we can), where sightlines are excellent and servers deliver your mixed drinks to you in your seat – there is something really special about experiencing a game in a historic arena, even if ‘historic’ in a particular case simply means old and dilapidated. Even the term ‘barns,’ as these old arenas are known, evokes visions of a more raw game, horrible acoustics, poor lighting, uncomfortable seats, rabid fans and players without helmets, goalies without masks. Unfortunately, these old barns are being steadily replaced by slick new stadiums which can generate huge revenues with their swanky suites and Corporate naming rights. We were fortunate to be able to see the New York Islanders play last season at their old barn Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, for next season the team will leave their home of 40+ years for the bright, shiny Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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(Stacie at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island NY)

 

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(Rangers v. Devils, Nassau Coliseum)

Here’s a great article on hockey barns, and check out these old photos below . . . the charm of the barn.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-demise-of-the-nhls-barns-1412706057

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6 January 2015 / What the Frack?

quake

6 January 2015

In the 1970s a tornado ripped roofs off the homes across the street while leaving our house untouched. Texas is one of those states prone to tornadic activity. They say a tornado sounds like a freight train. I could verify that except that I slept through the entire ordeal, damn it all. I remember one night, leaving my daughter’s place after dinner. The area was under a tornado watch, and the night was pitch black. Suddenly we heard the approaching sound of a freight train. I was about to experience my first tornado with my eyes open. The only thing is that in the darkness we couldn’t see which direction it was coming from, and that was pretty terrifying. Needless to say, when the headlight of a freight train suddenly emerged from the darkness, we were greatly relieved and felt more than a little silly.

I’ve always imagined that an earthquake would have a similar sound – a low rumble gradually growing in volume, becoming a roar which turns into a physical sensation. Likewise, the world would become an ever-increasing vibration, escalating in intensity until things starting falling off of shelves, cracks would race across walls and streets and then we’d all fall down. But my first experience with an earthquake was nothing like that. It started with an incredibly loud bang, as if said freight train had crashed into the building below my office window. This was followed immediately by a sound I’d liken to a 500-pound mad wearing clod-stompers running madly down the hallway outside my office. Simultaneously, there was the feeling that someone had grabbed the back of my chair, twisted it a quarter-turn counterclockwise and then wrenched it back before my brain could fully comprehend what had happened. And in less than 5 seconds it was all over. No time to climb under a desk or move into a door frame for protection. Not that protection was needed in this 3.5 mag quake. The girl in the next office experienced a similar twisting sensation, while the one in the next office down looked up as if someone was sledgehammering her ceiling. I was in the office until 9:30 pm and felt three additional tremors before leaving the office. All in all, through the morning of the following day, the area experienced 10 separate events.

There is a great debate in north Texas about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, known popularly (or unpopularly, depending on your views) as ‘fracking.’ Fracking is a well stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically-pressurized liquid. A high-pressure fluid (usually chemicals and sand suspended in water) is briefly injected into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminum oxide) hold the fractures open once the deep rock achieves geologic equilibrium.

Fracking is very controversial. Proponents advocate the economic benefits of more extensively accessible hydrocarbons. But the environmental impact includes contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, degradation of air quality, noise pollution, surface pollution and the consequential risks to health and environment. Also among the potential consequenses is the triggering of earthquakes. Increases in seismic activity following fracking along dormant or previously unknown faults are sometimes caused by the deep-injection disposal of hydraulic fracturing flowback (a byproduct of hydraulically fractured wells), and produced formation brine (a byproduct of both fractured and nonfractured oil and gas wells). For these reasons, hydraulic fracturing is under international scrutiny.

Seismologists from SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College are investigating the earthquake sequences in north Texas. But as a buddy of mine says, “I’ve lived here all my life and this shit never happened when we were growin’ up.” What more evidence do you need than that?

http://www.smu.edu/News/2015/earthquakes-study-irving-06jan2015

5 January 2015 / The Barnes Foundation

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(Photo: Albert Coombs Barnes 2 Jan 1872 – 24 Jul 1951)

5 January 2015

A few weeks ago Stacie, our friend Toni and I went to see the collection of art at The Barnes Foundation. Never have I seen a collection of such exquisite pieces, arranged with such thought and care. Dr. Barnes assembled his collection before any museum had an interest in Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist styles of art. Hence, no collection anywhere holds a candle to this one. The original home of The Barnes Foundation was in Lower Merion PA. In 1930, when Henri Matisse first visited the Foundation, he wrote in his notebook that it was the only sane place to view art in America. The collection is now housed in a beautiful new building and the architects have taken care to reproduce the rooms as closely as possible to the original home so that the pieces can be displayed with the relationships to each other that Dr. Barnes felt was so important to the viewing and learning experience.

At the time of our visit I was unaware of the story behind the movement of the Foundation from Lower Merion to Philadelphia. Watching the movie The Art of the Steal I became aware there was a very big story. Though I am thoroughly jaded where politicians and rich power brokers are concerned, I will not list here any of the facts and points made in the movie because the film is blatantly one-sided. Nevertheless, the story it tells is riveting and may be of interest to anyone who has had the privilege of visiting the Barnes Foundation. Despite my tendency to believe that altruism is simply a word in this day and age, I am thankful that with the Foundation’s move to Philadelphia, the opportunity was created for one such as me to view and experience this unique collection, put together and arranged by a remarkable man.

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(Photo: Original home of The Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion PA)

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(Photo: New home of The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia PA)

Here is a link to an article with a rich description of The Barnes Foundation in its original home:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/no-museum-left-behind

4 January 2015 / Dallas Cowboys

Photo Jan 04, 6 47 20 PM

(Photo: Quarterback Tony Romo and Head Coach Jason Garrett)

4 January 2015

We Dem Boyz

Finish the Fight

This particular Sunday was all about the Dallas Cowboys.

Hours of agonizing anticipation leading up to three hours of all the edge of my seat excitement, panic, hope, despair, agony and, finally, ecstasy I could stand, followed by now ’til bedtime monitoring of my blood pressure to be sure it returns to normal.

Next week, Divisional Playoffs and a house divided: Packers (Stacie) v. Cowboys (me). Loser has to . . .

3 January 2015 / A Reluctant Student of Art

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(Photo: Comedy and Tragedy at Kimbell Art Museum)

3 January 2015

Tied up, kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car, driven away at high speed. It is Museum Day for Anastasia. One might think that her aversion to museums in general, and art museums in particular, would take the shine off of it for those of us who appreciate such things. On the contrary, it is quite entertaining and only adds to our overall experience. Once she’s exhausted all her escape options, it’s a real treat to see how she deals with it and makes the best of it.

We were joined at today’s torture session by Stacie’s twin Beth – my art buddy – and her beau Adrian, who were up from Austin for the weekend. Our destination was the Kimbell Art Museum to see the exhibition Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from the Musee d’Orsay. The collection from Paris was most impressive, with many of the famed pieces I’ve seen in books. Viewing originals in person is always fascinating as I am able to see the master’s sketch lines and brush strokes, the depth or brilliance of color and the true scale of the work. No reproduction ever does justice to an original.

Stacie’s approach reminds me of the Hidden Pictures page in children’s Highlights Magazine, in which you must find the individual pictures hidden in the overall image. It’s a joy to watch her eyes light up when the dots begin to connect and the meaning and magic of a piece or series is revealed, or when she gains insight into the artist’s life, his techniques and influences, and the world (time period) in which he lived. Before you know it she is excitedly educating me, the art student. I appreciate the fact that she accompanies me in experiencing things that are important to me and I’m secretly pleased that, more often than not, she enjoys the experience, too, without even realizing it.

And did I mention the entertainment factor? Yes, I did. We were greatly amused at Stacie’s public SOS, pleading for someone to rescue her from the Kindle Art Museum. Hence the following image . . .

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2 January 2015 / Gustave Caillebotte

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2 January 2015

Anxiously awaiting the safe arrival of my twin-n-law Beth and her best beau Adrian this evening. It should be a weekend full of great food, drink, conversation and, of course, art. One twin loves art, the other . . .  well, let’s just say she’s a great sport and indulges her sister and her husband. As such, one likely destination this weekend is The Kimbell Art Museum. So I took a moment to browse online through their current and future exhibitions. Coming to Fort Worth in November is an exhibition called “Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye,” which prompted today’s query: who is Caillebotte?

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Gustave Caillebotte, 1848-1894

Born into a wealthy family, Caillebotte trained to be an engineer but became interested in painting and studied at L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He met Renoir and Monet in 1874 and showed his works at the Impressionist exhibition of 1876 and its successors. Caillebotte became the chief organizer, promoter and financial backer of the Impressionist exhibitions for the next six years, and used his wealth to purchase works by other Impressionists, notably Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, Sisley, and Berthe.

Caillebotte was an artist of remarkable abilities, but his posthumous reputation languished because most of his paintings remained in the hands of his family and were neither exhibited nor reproduced until the second half of the 20th century.

Viewing his work online, I was immediately struck by his severe perspectives, dramatic points-of-view and the almost-photographic framing of his scenes. Evidently so, too, have historians and critics. Amongst the comments I came across:

” . . . some of the movement’s most daring and bold paintings.”

“Experimenting with radical points of view and audacious perspective . . . ”

“extraordinary vision”

” . . . paintings were quite controversial due to their exaggerated, plunging perspective.”

“Cropping and “zooming-in” may also be the result of his interest in photography . . . ”

I was pleased to note that among the pieces on display in November will be the one painting I appreciated the most, Floor Scrapers.

Caillebotte_Rabotteurs_1875rue-halevy-seen-from-the-sixth-floor Gustave-Caillebotte-Villas-at-Trouville-1884-Impressionism-Paintings-281 Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Rooftops_in_the_Snow_(snow_effect)_-_Google_Art_Project Gustave Caillebotte oil paintings - The Pont de L Europe, 1876, ml0004  a-road-in-naples

1 January 2015 / Five Stars

Five Stars

1 January 2015

Feed the cat, start the coffee. When does the “new” in year begin?

Fifteen! This year my son will turn 25, Mom and Dad 70, and my parents will be blessed with their first great-grandchild, Malia her first grandchild, courtesy of Ian and Jessica.

We got the vodka, amaretto, champagne and ice last night but forgot the chocolate milk for this morning. Mom swears by it as a hangover remedy, though Dad advocates a Frosty from Wendy’s. An unusual New Year’s Eve for Stac and me, as it was spent in our own home, just the two of us. It had been a busy holiday season, lots of family, food and fun but very little rest. The thought of going out on NYE was exhausting in itself. But the evening was no less fun for staying in. In this amazing electronic age, sharing laughs and experiences in near-realtime with friends anywhere on Earth is possible. Stac had her wine and I had my martini, and the four of us sang and danced the night away in our socks on the living room hardwood floor. In the morning we discovered (1) just how sticky spilled almond liqueur really is and (2) an empty vodka bottle brings 5 cents in Iowa! And why is there no computer key for the cents symbol?

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions. It’s just a prelude to failure, in my case. But in 2015 there are some goals I wish to accomplish, so I might as well label them “resolutions.” They include:

  • A daily journal entry
  • Completion of the books I’ve begun for each of my children
  • Plunking on the guitar every day
  • Learning Italian and Portuguese
  • Following up on the unanswered questions that arise each day (ie: learning something new)

So, unanswered question number one, which came up during yesterday’s staff lunch at Oddfellows in Bishop Arts District: who are the soldiers who attained 5-star rank? If you are wondering why 12 designers would be discussing army generals over lunch, it began with the statement, “Robert E. Lee and . . . the other guy,” and went downhill from there. Responses were quick to follow: “You mean Robert E. Lee and The Winner?” “Don’t tell me, you were born in the South, right?” In short order, some of the greener members made the connection between CSA General Robert E. Lee and the car with the horn that played “Dixie” from Dukes of Hazard. Ah, youth. It was established that “the other guy” was Ulysses S. Grant, and that he did NOT also command in World War I, but did become President of the United States. During this free-for-all it was, at some point, suggested that George S. Patton was a 5-star general, which brings us back to the beginning of this paragraph: who are the soldiers who attained 5-star rank? They are Generals George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Hap Arnold (Army Air Corps) and Omar Bradley. Contrary to popular belief (at this table, at least) Old Blood and Guts Patton was a 4-star. In addition, there have been four sailors who have attained the equivalent naval 5-star rank of Fleet Admiral: Admirals William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz and Bull Halsey.

The Army 5-star rank is that of General of the Army. Surprisingly, it is the 2nd highest rank. The highest is that of General of the Armies, plural, though the meaning and perception of this rank is thoroughly muddled. Another interesting fact I discovered in my quick research is that the U.S. briefly considered the rank of Field Marshal. But besides the fact that the term marshal is associated with law enforcement in this country, it would also have resulted in George Marshall being referred to as Field Marshal Marshall, which was considered quite undignified.

Now then, Rose Bowl, Go Marcus!

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