Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice Storm


We had quite an ice storm here in the Hudson Highlands last night. They had predicted a layer of ice up to 1/2-inch thick overnight, and I think we achieved that, easily.

I was dismayed, this past Spring, when I realized I needed to spend $3000 to take down five large, dead trees, all dangerously close to the house. Thank goodness I did it. Every dead branch came down last night, including some big ones. I am glad the huge chestnut that used to rise outside my bedroom window wasn't there last night trying to bear the weight of this ice!

"Just Press Play" on your Palm Pilot?!

If you know a preschooler who watches The Upside Down Show , the fact that little kids love to play with the imaginary Remote Control will not have escaped your attention.


Palm is offering freeware for download from their website that will put "Just Press Play" (the phrase typically uttered by Shane and David on the show) on your Palm Pilot.Just Press Play v5.1a freeware

Now there is a picture. A rabid, 3-year-old Upside Down Show fan with your Trēo in his hand, refusing to cede control. Sounds like a tantrum waiting to happen!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Panwapa Word of the day is......PING PONG!

What a great word to learn in five languages! Panwapa is Sesame Workshop's new multimedia project, teaching Global Citizenship to 4- to 8-year-olds. That is a complex curriculum, and it's sorely needed. I think this is a very good effort, and I know it will just keep getting better. See for yourself at www.panwapa.com.
This is my avatar and my Panwapa home - I live on a boat! And as you can see from my Panwapa Island flag, I like rice, dogs, books, riding my scooter, playing the piano, and making shadow puppets! Every child who registers as a citizen of Panwapa makes their own avatar who represents them in this world. Try it - it's fun, and I guarantee you, that little avatar is irresistible!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Major Website Update Today

I've spent my day updating and expanding www.liznealon.com to reflect the professional activity that's occupied my time this fall. I now have links to some of the writing I'm doing (hired as an "expert" columnist covering Family Travel and Informal Education for eHow.com), as well as a section about the seminars that I am teaching (how to reserve a space in my mediabistro "Executive Producing seminar or book me to speak to your group).

I've been at it all day, am fairly pleased with the results!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Life With My X-Men" - A blog about the Upside Down Show

Kristie Meyer, describing her boys and their love of the Upside Down Show, writes "We used to have to get a napkin out for Shane and David at supper. Thankfully they started taking their meals elsewhere." Read her whole entry here: Life With My X-Men: Adventures of Shane and David:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Neopets Christmas Gallery

I have been collecting for many years, and if I do say so, I have one of the best Christmas collections in Neopia! I also take advantage of the season to send a message of peace to anyone who visits. My teenager says it's the "old hippy" in me. Guilty as charged.


(For residents of neopets.com, my username is lrn_jbk945. Use IE for the full effect with graphics and music)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Abby Cadabby Debuts in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Photo: Macy's
I have to say, I am so tickled to see our "girly" muppet, Abby Cadabby, looking so gorgeous in this bigger than life version! As I'm fond of joking, I only lasted long enough at Sesame Street to create one muppet, but she's a hell of a muppet! As usual, the Muppet Wiki provides the most in-depth information about the character (including a quote from yours truly) Abby Cadabby - Muppet Wiki

I think the fact that I was an outsider who did not come up through the Henson shop was an asset in the creation of Abby. Early on, I was spending a day at the studio, hanging back at the puppet table with Jason, the muppet wrangler. Curious, I asked if Henson muppets must always have those signature, "ping pong ball" eyes. He said no, which really got me thinking. I've always felt that the eyes were the main reason the previous female Sesame muppets were less than attractive. The pop eyes are funny on a guy (Cookie!), but not so flattering on a girl. I asked them to try Abby with wide, flat eyes, and prominent eyelashes. The first day the prototype puppet was brought into rehearsal, Fran Brill (the puppeteer who performs both Prairie Dawn and Zoe) took one look at the beautiful new puppet, and groaned "Look at those eyes. Damn you, Liz Nealon!" Sorry, Fran. I plead guilty as charged - she's a beauty and little girls want to be Abby's friend. Now, let's hope they buy lots of products at Christmas and give Elmo a run for his money!

Memoirists Pageant Tonight in NYC

If your Thanksgiving weekend is slowing down and you don't have plans for Saturday night, here's an option. The Best Memoirists Pageant Ever

Monday, November 19, 2007

Come and Find Panwapa Island!

These are the irresistible avatars that kids are building to represent themselves on Panwapa Island! We tested these all over the world - the appeal is universal. This avatar was designed by Geoffrey Fowler, and he nailed it.

Click on the link below to hear the title song, which, as I've mentioned previously in this space, I think is a commercial, compelling sing-a-long, which is key because we embodied the Global Citizenship curriculum in the words. I will confess, though, that I almost didn't post this because of the terrible quality - they need to allocate more bandwidth to these streaming videos. We spent a lot of time and money creating these original muppet characters - it's a shame to have them look like this. Nonetheless, enjoy the song! SONG: Come and Find Panwapa Island

Just when we finally saw some Autumn colors...

It has been such a late autumn here (because we didn't have enough cold nights, below 40 degrees, to turn the leaves) that most of the leaves are still on the trees. Finally this weekend I was thinking that we had some reasonable colors! It's actually kind of pretty, the snow on the red Japanese maple......

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Best Memoirists Pageant Ever! 11/24 in NYC

Mark your calendars! On Saturday, November 24th at
3 PM The Bowery Poetry Club will host five writers reading excerpts from their memoirs-in-progress. As the flyer says: True stories! You'll laugh, you'll cry...you'll pay $5 at the door. Cash bar, refreshments for sale and great coffee.

Featuring:
Kim Brittingham (NYC)
Neil Cotter (Brick, NJ)
Chrys Buckley (Washington State)
Heather Maidat (Los Angeles)
Radmilla Suleymanova (NYC by way of Turkmenistan)

Kim Brittingham, who is organizing the evening, is in my writers' group, and I can testify to the fact that she is a wonderful writer who is working on a powerful memoir that fairly crackles with teen angst. If you are lucky, she'll read some of the material pertaining to her Duran Duran obsession - hilarioius!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Dangerous Lame Duck

There is a powerful piece of commentary about the Bush agenda today on TomPaine.com: 14 Months of Danger

If you prefer a progressive view on current affairs and don't know this site, you should check it out. They describe themselves thusly: TomPaine.com is an online public affairs journal of progressive analysis and commentary. Every weekday, we go beyond the news to deliver well-informed, provocative and credible progressive perspectives on the pressing issues affecting the nation and the world. TomPaine.com combines depth with immediacy to equip progressives to compete effectively in the 21st century’s marketplace of ideas.

TomPaine.com was founded in 1999 by John Moyers in conjunction with a series of hard-hitting opinion page ads in The New York Times. We take our inspiration from Thomas Paine—the revolutionary thinker and activist known for his incisive, biting commentaries.


It's good stuff.

An afternoon of discovery at MoMA

I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York yesterday to see the powerful collection Georges Seurat’s drawings (MoMA: Georges Seurat - The Drawings. The exhibition runs through January, 2008, and it is definitely worth the trip). He was a master of this form. Working with simply a conté crayon on paper, it is extraordinary to see the nuanced images, particularly the subtle play of light, that he was able to achieve. The Errant Æsthete, a self-described "blog for culturally curious," has an in-depth article about this memorable exhibit. If you are interested in art and culture, you'll probably want to bookmark this blog.

While we were there, we stumbled on an exhibit of sculptures by the African American artist Martin Puryear, and his work is simply wonderful. The sculptures are whimsical and irresistible - I was drawn from one to the next to the next with exclamations of delight!


In fact, there are signs everywhere instructing parents that they must hold their children's hands at all times while in the Puryear exhibit. How many installations are so compelling that the curator has to worry about children not being able to control themselves while in the space? It is that wonderful.


Ladder for Booker T. Washington
Martin Puryear, 1996.
Wood (Ash and maple. 432" x 22.75", narrowing to 1.25" at the top).


Some of the sculptures soar so high into space, I had to wonder where the heck this guy works, that he can produce on this kind of scale? I found it to be a joyful, uplifting experience simply being in the same room as his work.

MoMA has a virtual tour of the exhibition on their website - click this link MoMA.org | Exhibitions |Martin Puryear. Check it out.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Word of the Day on Panwapa? ORIGAMI!

I have been spending more time this week on the Panwapa Island site, which is Sesame Workshop's new broadband site, designed to teach global citizenship. I've written about it previously in this space Check out Panwapa Island

It has been a very gratifying week as I've heard from a number of former Sesame colleagues who want to know what I think, or who are hoping I'm happy with the site. As one person put - "I am eager to know what you think about it because there's so much of you in it."

Raising children as global citizens who are aware of the broader world and who accept their responsibilities as citizens of that world is indeed a passion of mine. I feel so privileged to have been able to work on a project as rich and full of promise as this one. And, our team worked long and hard to create Panwapa across three types of media (video, broadband, and print) It was not easy, but they persisted, and the outcome reflects their effort and dedication.

And on the subject of what I think? I like it very much. My one regret is that we wrote very catchy, compelling songs for this project. They are irresistibly singable, in my view, and the lyrics embody the curriculum that we were trying to teach. Any virtual world is somewhat daunting when you first try to enter - whether you're a kid visiting Panwapa or an adult first encountering Second Life. And, since this is a rich media site and there is often loading time when children need to wait. I wish that the songs were present from the moment you click on the world, and there for you to sing while you are waiting for data to load. It's a missed opportunity, but there is plenty of time to fix it. This is a five-year project, and it will continue to expand, develop and roll out in additional territories. I have no doubt it will get better as it goes.

Teachers and caregivers - there are materials available if you are interested in using this media. Like the website itself, everything has been produced in five languages - Arabic, English, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. Click on the "For Caregivers" button on the Panwapa site to learn how to use this highly engaging content with your children.

Calder-Eye View of Autumn

My camera and I have been on the road this week, most recently photographing at the Storm King Arts Center (which, if you haven't seen it, is a magnificent, world-class, outdoor sculpture park that we're so lucky to have right here in Cornwall). The installations are so artfully conceived that the contrast of man-made with the natural environment often creates a third, "enhanced-natural" reality. I love this place.


Black Flag, 1976, Alexander Calder

As I wandered amidst the towering sculptures, I started photographing autumn as framed by these whimsical, sheet metal "windows."


I like this symmetrical stand of trees, framed by one of the ovals in Gui, a 1976 Calder sculpture.




Every autumn, when the Storm King Arts Center closes for the winter I feel a pang of guilt, knowing I haven't taken advantage of it as I might have in the previous year. Will take another shot at it in the Spring.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the subject of Photography.....

One of the photographs that I exhibited this Fall was called "Claymation Scraps," an image that I shot in Florence, Italy, where Sesame Street is producing a new series of Bert and Ernie stories, realized in claymation.


My friend Steve attended the opening of the show, and he was particularly drawn to this image. Steve is an actor who had a successful career on a popular soap opera.....until he was about 45. Then they wrote him out in favor of a new "young stud" whom they assumed would be more attractive to their female viewing audience.

Steve paused in front of the Bert & Ernie photograph, and then said "I know exactly how they feel."

Autumn in the Hudson Highlands



I've done a lot of hiking this Fall, and although it has definitely been a muted Autumn (Global Warming and all that.....), there were still some beautiful sights. Check out my new portolio at Autumn in the Hudson Highlands

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More on FEMA's Fake Press Conference

This is the San Francisco Chronicle's take on the fake FEMA press conference during last week's California wildfires, writing that this was a doozy even by the standards of an administration that has created a culture of contempt for the role of the press in the workings of democracy. S.F. Chronicle: FEMA follies

The Great Beyond: Robot takes over nursery

This is a fascinating story about a robot placed in a preschool class. After a "breaking in" period, the toddlers related to the robot as if it were one of themselves. The Great Beyond: Robot takes over nursery

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Review of my Review

A couple of days ago I posted a review of Lois Hicks-Wozniak's premiere performance of John Mackey's CONCERTO FOR SOPRANO SAX AND WIND ENSEMBLE. I am tickled that the composer not only read the review, he linked to it posted his own comments in his blog.

Read Mackey's Blog Here

I particularly like the part where he writes: I’m linking to it because a) it’s well-written and she makes good points, b) even though it’s a blog-based review, her take is no less-valid than it would be had it run in the Star-Ledger or another big paper.

;-)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Last Chance to register for my Executive Producing Seminar



This Tuesday, November 6, I'll be teaching a 3-hour seminar on The Art of Executive Producing at mediabistro in New York. Check it out (and refer your friends) at How to Become an Executive Producer - mediabistro.com Courses and Seminars

This is a subject I'm truly passionate about. The transition from producing or writing shows yourself to becoming an Executive Producer - that is, assembling a highly qualified, skilled group of people and rallying their hearts and minds around a concept that is yet not fully known - is a huge one. In my experience, very few companies offer much support or training in how to become a successful production executive. Done well, magic happens and the concept comes to life as envisioned, or better. In this seminar I will give many practical examples from my years with MTV, Disney Channel, Sesame Street, VH-1, etc, and delve deeply into what skills are required, how to acquire those skills, and the best habits and practices of successful EPs.

This seminar is specifically designed for the East Coast market (news, sports, soaps, children’s or cable/reality programming) where budgets are lower and politics are slightly less fraught. Commensurately, the opportunities for originality and creativity are higher. I'm looking forward to teaching it, and from what I last heard, there are still a few seats available.

Saxophonist Lois Hicks-Wozniak Dazzles in Concerto Premiere

John Mackey's latest composition, the CONCERTO FOR SOPRANO SAX AND WIND ENSEMBLE, lives up to his reputation for rhythmically challenging, jazz/dance influenced, audience-pleasing pieces for wind ensemble, and then some. Local saxophonist Lois Hicks-Wozniak rose to the challenge, playing the premiere performance of this powerful work with passion, fire and virtuosity.

Lois Hicks-Wozniak is a member of the excellent Ridgewood Concert Band, which joined with consortium of 27 bands ranging from the U.S. Navy Band to the Dallas Wind Symphony, as well as a whole slew of universities, to commission the work. Dallas had the World Premiere with the composer in attendance several weeks ago, but each commissioning ensemble gets its own "premiere," as well. On Friday night Lois did the honors for Ridgewood, with a performance so electrifying that she may well have recorded the definitive performance of this memorable new work.

Lois and I have been friends for a number of years (and in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that on occasion I sing with her in a vocal trio ensemble). One of the things I love about her as a saxophonist is the range of tone and styles that she handles with ease, ranging from classical to jazz and beyond. The Mackey piece enabled her to exhibit the full extent of her formidable technique.

The Concerto is in five movements, and between the Prelude and the Finale are three movements whose elemental titles suggest that we might be in a Zen monastery rather than an acoustically-optimized church sanctuary in Ridgewood, New Jersey: (II) Felt, (III) Metal, and (IV) Wood. To my ear, the Prelude was the least successful of all the movements, with Mackey writing a dense wall of sound for the wind ensemble that obscured the sound of the soprano sax. It was evident, looking at Lois, that she was playing a series of complex, powerful runs on the saxophone, but it was impossible to hear. She told me later that she said ruefully to the composer, “John, you can’t write quadruple Forte for a wind band — that’s like throwing meat to the lions.”

Fortunately, the Prelude was brief, and then we were into “Felt,” a jazzy movement that allowed Hicks-Wozniak to showcase the smoky, sultry edge that she can bring to her tone. This movement was also striking in its technical demands, as she appeared to be grabbing big handfuls of notes that covered the full range of the instrument in a single run. It ended with an abrupt, ascending run by the sax and the wind section that was almost a throwaway — seemingly casual, perfectly executed…and then silence. If there is an award for sheer numbers of notes on the page, Mackey may have garnered it for this movement, and the quality of the playing by this ensemble was flawless throughout this very difficult piece.

I suppose “Metal” received its title because it opens in classic Mackey fashion with percussion in the dominant position, in this case metallic instruments such as chimes and xylophone. However, “Metal” is an odd name for a movement that opens up into a hauntingly beautiful, heartbreakingly lyrical series of musical “conversations” between the sax and several soloists in the orchestra. The thematic statements were powerfully emotional, but never sentimental. Particularly moving were the exchanges between First Clarinetist Richard Summers and Hicks-Wozniak’s plaintive soprano sax.

As I listened to “Metal,” I began to feel that we were experiencing a breakthrough for composer John Mackey. He is still quite young — just 34 — and when music historians look back, I suspect this Concerto for Soprano Sax may be a turning point. I heard significant differences from his previous, signature work (award-winning, popular pieces such as Redline Tango and Turbine). Mackey’s earlier work is characterized by intricately difficult rhythms and huge, percussion-driven walls of sound, but to me, they are somewhat lacking in lyricism….bereft of memorable themes or melodies. That is no longer an issue. Listening to these memorable, affecting themes, I felt as though we were hearing a maturing Mackey.

“Wood” opens with a hushed, sultry exchange between the soprano sax and marimba, and it is simply an extraordinary tango. Listening, it was easy to imagine that Mackey was born and raised in Buenos Aires, rather than in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Hicks-Wozniak played the sensual melodies with relish, seeming at times to dance with her instrument. She laughed later, telling me that “For a minute, I considered bringing a rose with me onstage, to hold between my teeth.” The illusion was there, rose or no rose. And again, rather than typical Mackey fireworks, this movement ends quietly, with the marimba and double bass restating the theme a final time. Hicks-Wozniak would like to see this movement published as a reduction for piano and soprano sax. “It will get played, over and over.” She’s right.

Like the second movement, the Finale was an exercise in virtuosity, with huge cascades of notes for the entire ensemble. It appeared that balance would again be an issue, but conductor Dr. Christian Wilhjelm did a masterful job, his sensitive conducting enabling the soprano sax to be heard over the signature Mackey wall of sound. It was at times humorous to watch him — with one hand urging the ensemble into a crescendo, while the other hand, palm outstretched, gingerly pushed them back. It was an exercise in “come here/go away” that was ultimately quite successful in fine-tuning the sound.

The cadenza was brilliantly played, and in a surprising moment, ended quietly, on a half-tone dissonance held by the sax & a single, E-Flat Clarinet — a dissonance so exquisite that I felt as though I had bees buzzing in my ears as the sound gradually died away. The concerto ended with a huge, saucy blast of sound from the entire ensemble.

As the audience erupted in applause, Hicks-Wozniak turned to the band, her arms thrust above her head in triumph, acknowledging each section by pumping her fists in the air. Her instinct to acknowledge the tremendous accomplishment of her bandmates before accepting her own accolades from the audience was spontaneous and touching.

Geocaching - The sport where YOU are the search engine!


This past Friday, I taught a seminar called "Introduction to Geocaching" at the 40th Annual Conference of the New York State Outdoor Education Association. NYSOEA Conference

For those of you not familiar with geocaching, think of it as a HIGH TECH TREASURE HUNT….a hide-and-seek game where you get clues from websites like Geocaching.com and then go out and search for caches using a handheld GPS. It is variously described as a sport, a game, or a hobby - it really depends on the interests of the user. No matter what you call it, this is an activity in which you not only enjoy the outdoors, you learn navigation skills, follow encrypted clues and use your wits! When you find the cache and open it, you sign the logbook, if you take something you leave something (there are all sorts of little treasures), and then you go back to the web and log your visit.

This has spawned a whole range of specialized types of caches - I particularly enjoy finding the ones known as "hitchhikers." These are items designed to travel. When you find one in a cache, you take it and move it to another cache site, logging the journey both in the logbooks and online. For teachers, this presents a digital "Flat Stanley" opportunity, where a class could stash an item, give instructions and background about what they are trying to do (e.g. see if an item can touch down in all 50 states), and then follow the progress online. There are currently 479,630 active caches worldwide - so the range of possibilities is truly endless.

We're all struggling with how to get kids outdoors - they are locked to their computers, TV, IM, cell phones. Gecaching brings it all together, fueled by the thrill of a game/search /treasure hunt. Along the way, you can teach about respect for nature ("Cache in, Trash Out" is the geocacher's motto), and have fun outdoors. I have worked for many years in educational kids' media, and this kind of multisensory engagement around natural sciences, mathematics, and decoding of clues (the underpinning of early Literacy) is a powerful learning tool (to say nothing of being totally addictive!).

Following the seminar on Friday, I took five people out to Rip Van Winkle Lake, where I had pre-scouted two good caches - scenic location, not too far from each other, both with hitchhikers (one a registered "Travel Bug"). They all handled the GPS and found both caches without any help from me - it was very satisfying. And, it was delightful to be in the woods with these professional naturalists. They identified everything - plants, leaves, berries, tracks, scat (droppings). I learned at least as much in an hour in the woods with them as they learned from me about geocaching.

The New Sanctuary Movement

I write a monthly column for my church newsletter, and I thought this month's topic was suitable for more general consumption.


ST. JOHN’S AS A PLACE OF SANCTUARY AND CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
In 2007 we have been exploring the promises in our St. John’s Vision Statement and how they relate to the decisions we each make in our daily lives. This month I would like to look at two powerful statements, specifically:


We are a sanctuary, a haven where people can come, knowing their needs will be met and they will be safe.

and,

We are a School for Christian Education, where we use our resources to study, learn, and understand the word of God and the Holy Scriptures…to challenge ourselves and seek the answers to the great questions of our time. More importantly, we provide our children the moral foundation to know the peace of God’s love, a faith that will guide them throughout their lives.


The idea of church as sanctuary has taken on new meaning in recent months, as Americans have followed the case of Elvira Arellano, an illegal Mexican immigrant who holed up in a Chicago Methodist church for nearly a year before being deported this past August. She had sought sanctuary in the church because she was being called to a deportation hearing and did not want to be separated from her seven-year-old son, an American citizen. The legalities of the case are clear. Arellano had twice entered the country illegally, had already been deported once before, and the traditional belief that people are protected from arrest in a church is not recognized under U.S. law.

The morality of her situation is less cut and dry, and poses a dilemma for all of us who call ourselves Christians as our nation struggles to re-define its immigration policies. Pastor Walter Coleman said his congregation offered Arellano (an active parishioner) refuge after praying about her plight, saying he did not believe Arellano should have to choose between leaving her son behind or removing him from his home (to take him with her to Mexico). "She represents the voice of the undocumented, and we think it's our obligation, our responsibility, to make a stage for that voice to be heard," he said.

We are unlikely to be called on to shelter an illegal alien here at St. John’s, but our delegates will be called to vote on a resolution at the annual Diocesan convention in New York next week. The resolution, submitted by Rev. Richard Witt of the Rural & Migrant Ministry, reads as follows:

Pledge Of Support For The New Sanctuary Movement


Resolved, That the Episcopal Diocese of New York acknowledge that the large-scale immigration of workers and their families to the United States is a complex historical, global and economic phenomenon that has many causes and does not lend itself to simplistic or purely reactive public policy solutions.

That we stand together in our faith that everyone, regardless of national origin, has basic common rights, including but not limited to: 1) livelihood; 2) family unity; and 3) physical and emotional safety. We witness the violation of these rights under current immigration policy, particularly in the separation of children from their parents due to unjust deportations, and in the exploitation of immigrant workers. We are deeply grieved by the violence done to families through immigration raids. We cannot in good conscience ignore such suffering and injustice.

Resolved, That we in the Episcopal Diocese of New York commit ourselves to:
1. Support the New Sanctuary Movement and;
2. Promote the New Sanctuary Movement within our denomination and congregations and among our other allies.

Explanation:
The Diocese has long welcomed immigrants and championed their just treatment. Many of our congregations have worked hard to ensure that the humanity and dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters are upheld. The New Sanctuary Movement is a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States. The New Sanctuary Movement pledge outlines three goals including taking a public, moral stand on behalf of immigrant families and workers; opening the American people’s eyes to the suffering of immigrant workers and families under current policies; and protecting immigrants against hate, workplace discrimination and unjust deportation. The Movement aims to enlist millions of people of faith through signing of the New Sanctuary Movement pledge and other moral and material support.
(end of Resolution)

One of the things I love about St. John’s is our commitment to Adult Christian Education, where both scripture and cultural issues are discussed and prayed about. This issue of sanctuary is likely to be on the table for some time to come, and I look forward to our discussions of what we believe Christ calls us to do.

And, as our nation grapples with these issues, we here at St. John’s can and will be true to our Vision Statement, challenging ourselves to seek answers to the great questions of our time.

Respectfully submitted,
Liz Nealon

Thanks, Thinks!

Andi, writing in her blog called "The Thinks I Think" (very Seussical) recommended my blog as a good example of one she found using Google's "Next Blog" feature.

Thanks, Andi!

The Thinks I Think: Next Blog

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Check out Panwapa Island

One of the most exciting projects that I worked on when I was with Sesame Street was a new project called "Panwapa" - a sprawling undertaking for 4- to 7-year-olds, introducing them to the idea of worldwide citizenship (not an easy concept for this age group). Because the target audience was older than Sesame Street's audience, we created a whole new cast of muppets, an older-skewing illustration style, and interactive broadband experience, all designed to appeal to older children. The original music is appealing and catchy, carrying the message of the curriculum right in the lyrics. And to pump up the degree of difficulty, the whole thing was created in five languages across all these media - Arabic, English, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish! it was extremely challenging, but our intrepid, multimedia Panwapa team persisted, and the outcome is quite wonderful.


I particularly like the "create your own avatar" feature. These little characters are absolutely irresistible....this is the little "me" that I made when I was on the project. Jump online and create one yourself!

Panwapa Island

Merrill Lynch funded the whole project and were hands on throughout the process - this is a topic they are passionate about. Merrill Lynch Global Philanthropy - Whoopi Goldberg and Elmo Help Unveil Panwapa Program in New York

And by the way, "Panwapa" means "here on this Earth" in Tshiluba, the national language of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A perfect name for the project!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

FEMA spokesman's new job on hold

The continuing of the arrogance of this administration, and their blatant dishonesty with the public, is simply breathtaking.

FEMA spokesman's new job on hold - The White House - MSNBC.com

The day after the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was apparent, we called an emergency meeting at Sesame Workshop, pulling department heads from Production, Interactive & Wireless, Educational Content, Research, Outreach, and Foundation Funding. Sesame Street is hardly a "first responder" in a natural disaster, but in fact, the organization makes a very meaningful contribution in the "second wave" of response, when children and families are affected. Sesame can get into a disaster site with books, videos, support materials for parents & caregivers....many, many resources to help adults get preschoolers back to a feeling of routine and safety. And, the wonderful Sesame puppeteers volunteered weeks of their time in the aftermath of Katrina, visiting shelters and cheering up children (as well as their discouraged parents).

What does this all have to do with FEMA? That day when we called all our Sesame department heads together, we challenged ourselves to get into the field with a response within 24 hours, since tens of thousands of preschoolers were homeless & frightened, and millions more around the country were being traumatized by seeing all the coverage on television. We went around the table, asking questions of various department heads. "Production - don't you have a short, edited version of Big Bird's "Hurricane" story?" "Interactive - can we get that short story up on Verizon wireless V-CAST right away?" (a better solution than video in the immediate aftermath, since no one in the affected area had electricity). Then I asked, "Who's talking to FEMA?"

Silence.

I asked it again. "What is FEMA saying about how we can help?" The answer was disheartening. "We haven't been able to develop a new contact at FEMA since it was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security. We talk to someone, and then they are gone the next time we call back." My heart sank. "Oh my God, FEMA is broken," was all that I could think....a realization that within a matter of days was apparent to the whole world.

Two years later, we are still obsessed with spin and manipulation of the facts, rather than with getting this absolutely critical agency to work well again. It is a crucial component of our national readiness in this time of heightened vulnerability. What are they thinking?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cornwall Halloween House Not to be Missed

This is Old West Point Road…


A forsaken, forgotten dead end road near Kendridge Farm.

















No one ever trick or treats here…so no one ever sees.

















HEY! Is that a witch in the trees?


Let’s get a little closer…



Yep, that's a witch, all right.



I wonder if Charlie Brown will be here later, waiting for the Great Pumpkin?




As darkness falls, the pumpkins glow, sparking to life.


The skeleton bones chatter in the trees...










Chris Kelly, take a bow!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Autumn in the Garden

Today is a chilly, grey day - it finally feels like Fall! I had expected to be writing this morning, but instead spent the entire morning poking around, raking and preparing the garden for the winter. While I was at it, I clipped armloads of dried hydrangeas to bring into the house. LOVE this time of year!

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Neopet's halloween costume

Yes, I actually spent $10 on PayPal to buy Halloween clothes and accessories for my NeoPet. I have one of the best Halloween collections in Neopia (I've been working on it for five years - takes time to earn the neopoints to buy those rare items!). And, since I hope people will come to see Halloween Gallery, I decided that Harper Lee (my neopet) simply had to be dressed for the occasion.

Click on this link to have a look. Cute, right?
Harper Lee's Halloween Costume

And by the way, if you want to see my Halloween Gallery on neopets (username is booradley2121), be sure to log in through Internet Explorer and have the sound UP, to get the full effect.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Role for Al Gore in Obama White House?

I have to say, this is a very intriguing thought. I can't really get behind Gore as President, but wouldn't he be a fabulous vest pocket advisor? Or a senior cabinet role.....

Role for Al Gore in Obama White House? MSNBC.com

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lord & Taylor's Lily White World

Posted from my mobile phone

Every train station in New York is currently plastered with billboards for Lord & Taylor's fall campaign. The scenes are very Ralph Lauren - shot on the lawn of an elegant, imposing country estate, selling a nostalgic, British-accented, invitation-only world. Though this kind of tailored clothing is not my thing, I can appreciate the powerful art direction of the campaign. They are effectively marketing a lifestyle, not just selling another tweed jacket with a velvet collar.

What is shocking, however, is that there is not a single non-white person in any of the ads. In fact, not only is everybody white, they're all Northern European and fair-skinned. I've just walked the length of the platform, scrutinizing all 8 scenes, certain that I'd eventually come across a suitably snooty, long-necked, stunningly beautiful equestrienne of African-American descent...or a Latino rugby player handsome enough to rival Reynaldo...but no. Nada.

Who exactly do the geniuses at Lord & Taylor think lives in New York? Have they paid any attention to the list of young, affluent, minority professionals who contributed the initial cash that jump-started Barack Obama's campaign and vaulted him into the position of being a credible, national contender? For goodness sake - look at the cover of Oprah's "O" magazine. She's living the landed gentry lifestyle that they're simulating in their ads.

These billboards reek of nostalgia for the days when the "club" was exclusively White. They are an insult to everyone who lives in our rich, diverse city. I'm disgusted.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Toddlers Demand The Upside Down Show!

I have programmed a "Google Alert," so that I'm notified when items about The Upside Down Show appear on the Internet. I receive an average of two to three alerts daily, and almost always they are parents blogging about their toddler's connection to the show.

I thought this one was worth sharing. A Toddler Obsessed

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My mediabistro Seminar is coming up



On November 6 I'll be teaching a 3-hour seminar on The Art of Executive Producing at mediabistro in New York. I really enjoyed the process of putting together this seminar, which I hope will function a bit like a toolbox for people at various stages of their careers. For those starting out, I'll address the kind of skills and experience one needs to accumulate in order to prepare for a career as an E.P. For those already moving down that road, I will be sharing tips and techniques for being most effective in the job.

Check it out (and refer your friends!) at How to Become an Executive Producer - mediabistro.com Courses and Seminars

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogging from Havana

Interesting story about Cubans (less than 2% of whom have Internet access) who are finding ways around the system and managing to blog. Going to Unusual Lengths - MSNBC

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tough Day to be in Beantown

I have a business meeting this morning in Boston, and I just passed a car on the Mass Pike with a license plate reading "Beat NY." Ugh. Not a good day to be a Yankees fan heading north.....

Posted from my mobile phone

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An Artist Encounters Censorship

I have been working on improving my photography skills during this "creative sabbatical" year, and have been toying with the idea of exhibiting some of my photographs. The opportunity arose when I saw a call for entries for the annual Cornwall Photography Show, held annually at Town Hall. My daughter, Jules Kelly, is a also a good photographer, and we decided that it would be fun to enter the exhibit together. So on Monday morning I took four of my photographs and three of hers into town.

The organizer took one look at Julia's photograph entitled "Bush Poster," and declared that it could not be hung, as "this is a government building." I asked her to check with the Town Supervisor Richard Randazzo, since Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right in our consitution. She did, and he also refused.

Granted, Julia's photograph is quite edgy, and it does represent her political point of view. On the other hand, art has long had an important function in our national discourse. The earliest recorded American political cartoon ran in Ben Franklin's newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754, accompanying an editorial by Franklin urging the colonies to unite against the British.


I was with Julia in Amsterdam when she took the Bush photograph, and I know that one of the things that struck her was how surprising it is to see the deterioration of the United States' relationship with the Netherlands. They have always been a staunch U.S. ally, and from our many visits to Amsterdam, we know that the Dutch people typically embrace Americans. To Jules, this photograph represents not only her own feelings about Bush, but also how far we have fallen in our relationships with our European allies.

To me, the knee jerk conservative reaction of Randazzo's Town Hall is simply an extension of the national atmosphere created by the Bush administration, which is filled with political appointees who, qualified for their jobs or not, were hired because they are in lockstep with the administration's positions. We observed the consequences in New Orleans, with FEMA headed by people who didn't know how to coordinate an emergency response, and in post-war Iraq, with the reconstruction staffed with Bush loyalists who neither spoke Arabic nor had any experience with restoring a country's infrastructure. It's been well documented that people were asked about political loyalty as a condition for receiving those jobs. Somehow, in our post 9/11 world, the only way to show patriotism is to stifle dissent. This is a condition we accept at our peril, for in fact, this is contrary to how democracy is meant to work. A healthy democracy is populated by engaged citizens who have a point of view, who challenge authority when they don't agree, and who vote. If we are lucky, we will find our way back to that place, where people don't define themselves as Democrats or Republicans, but as American citizens, with all the privileges and responsibilities that it entails.

Despite this disappointment, the photography exhibit was a success. At opening reception on Friday Jules got very positive feedback from many people on her photograph entitled BREAK CONFORMITY BREAK STEEL.






Break Conformity Break Steel by Jules Kelly


















She was one of two teens exhibiting there. The other, a SUNY New Paltz freshman and photography major named Emily Waterfield, also had a striking series of photographs of Adirondack chairs, photographed at the Mohonk Mountain House. The organizer is considering mounting a show next year featuring just the two of them, which was a very exciting development.

And, Jules' Bush photograph will soon be hung at the 2 Alices Coffee Lounge, so her voice has not been silenced after all.

Building Leaders of the Future

My 16-year-old daughter is packing for a week in Washington, DC, where she will participate in the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security. They've been given a significant amount of background reading as preparation for a simulation exercise in which they will role play and debate the United States' response to a hypothetical situation in the Eastern Congo.

The rape epidemic plaguing this region is on the front page of today's New York Times.

Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War - New York Times

The whole story is horrifying, but for me, it was a tiny detail down near the end of the article that brought tears to my eyes. The U.N. peacekeepers have devised a new strategy to try to stop to the nocturnal raids on the villages. They go to a village and park their vehicles in the bush, headlights on all night, to signal that the peacekeepers are present. According to the article, sometimes in the morning they find 3,000 villagers curled up on the ground around them.

I emailed the story to Jules with this note. Honey, since your case study is about the Congo you should read this story. I am sorry to say it is very disturbing. but we need to know these things because we need to be part of figuring out a solution.
xo
mom


I'm proud that Jules is thinking about a career where she can make a difference in foreign affairs and human rights. Juxtaposed with this tragic story today is an Op Ed piece by Thomas Friedman Charge It to My Kids - New York Times. He puts an historical perspective on the Bush administration's free-spending approach to the war on terrorism, which is pushing the entire cost of the war onto future generations, with no sacrifice required of us today. As I urge my daughter to be a leader and make a difference, our commander in chief sends an entirely different message about turning a blind eye to consequences and accountability. It's an outrage.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Meez: Your 3D I.D.

You have to check out meez.com, Meez: Home
where you can quickly and easily create a 3D avatar. Jules turned me onto it (of course) and we've been sitting here all evening creating "ourselves."

I have to say I'm quite pleased with my avatar, Lisabet1212.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Going Against History

One of the classes I visited at Parents' Night this week was AP American History, taught by family friend Nancy Larkin. She told us that her class was going to debate the Articles of the Constitution the following day. My daughter Jules loves history, and she really gets into these situations where history is dramatized, so I was curious, the following afternoon, to hear how it went. Here is a report, in her own words.

Everybody was lining up on the “FOR” side of the room, and all of a sudden I yelled “I AM OPPOSED!” And I ran across the room to the other side. People know I’m a good debator, so five kids followed me. When we got over there, they all said “Jules, what are we doing?!”

I asked Mrs. Larkin, since we were on the tough side, if she could find out who was doing the opening argument for the other team. So she casually went over, asked them, came back and told us it was Jack. I said “Michelle, do you still want to do our opening?” She said “No, if it’s Jack, you’d better open, Jules.” So I did. I raised my voice big and strong and dramatic, and did the opening argument. We had plenty of facts to support our position.

We went against history and we tied the debate, 5-5!

Mrs. Larkin
(who married into a family of powerful NYS legislators) said, “Jules, you’re going to be a politician.”


It's no wonder I occasionally get a little discouraged with the teenage battles that go on in our house. I'm living with a naturally contrarian personality who never saw a debate she didn't believe she could win.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Columbia Controversy: Call for Humility

My friend Daoud Kuttab (Executive Producer of Hikayat Simsim, the Palestinian "Sesame Street" production) is a guest professor in residence at Princeton this year. His perspective on the controversy surrounding the appearance of the Iranian President at Columbia University caught my attention because of my experience as an American visiting the Middle East last year. The Arab culture is unfailingly courteous, and I enjoyed repectful courtesy and hospitality throughout my visit, despite the fact that Americans are not exactly favorites these days. Daoud's perspective on the fiasco at Columbia likely reflects the way this incident was perceived throughout the Middle East.

We have to do better than this kind of shallow posturing if we want to reclaim the high road as champions of human rights and dignity.

A LITTLE HUMILITY

By Daoud Kuttab
Guest Columnist, Daily Princetonian
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The controversy surrounding an academic invitation to the Iranian president reflects one of the more serious problems that is
negatively affecting the image of the United States around the world.

It was clear that Columbia president Bollinger and his staff wanted to boast that their university respects freedom of expression by inviting a controversial head of state. But when this academic exercise was challenged (mostly by radical pro-Israeli elements), he was forced to tweak this right in order to satisfy his critics and more importantly, the university donors. The way in which this problem was handled (nasty irreverent and unprovoked attack at a guest you invited) made the Ivy League university lose any credit it could have gained by what was otherwise a courageous decision.

The funny thing is that it didn't have to be like this. Columbia didn't have to invite Ahmadinajad even if he expressed interest in speaking at a U.S. school of higher learning within the 25-mile radius of the United Nations. But once the invitation was made, Bollinger should have had the decency to deal with this guest as they would any other guest. There is no evidence that Iran's human rights record has worsened in between the invitation and the speech. If anything, a few academics were released a few days earlier.

It is easy to be for freedom of expression when it is convenient and when everyone agrees with you. The problem is when one simply wants to have it both ways: wanting the appearance of defending freedoms yet intervening the moment it starts to hit your pocket. Serious students of U.S. foreign policy regularly feel this American schizophrenia. Take the case of Iraq and Palestine. The United States went to Iraq to free its people from a tyrant dictator only to find itself stuck in the middle of a civil war. Instead of letting the people of Iraq decide their fate, America decided to stay in order to protect its longterm interests in the region.

Instead of practicing the Wilsonian doctrine that guarantees the rights of peoples to determine their future, America approaches the issue very selectively. For example, the Kurdish people's right to determine their future is sacrificed to please America's powerful Turkish NATO member and ally.

The Palestinians' decades-long quest for freedom and independence is pushed aside because of domestic pressures from the pro-Israel and Christian right lobbies. Other examples abound. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush has taken taken rightly up the case of the people of Myanmar, but Taiwan is not memtioned because of America's interest in China.

It is natural for countries to defend their interests. It is also fair for a university president to try and respond to the desires of
his donors. But such posturing lacks the "intellectual courage" ( Bollinger's words) to pretend you are doing it in the name of
people's freedom (as in the case of Bush) or freedom of expression (as in the case of Bollinger.)

200 years ago, Voltarie said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Last century, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to demonstrate in the predominantly Jewish city of Skokie, Illinois. The Executive Director of the ACLU was Aryeh Neier who is Jewish and lost most of his family in the Holocaust. Neier is today the president of the Open Society Institute, George Soros's foundation which supports freedoms around the world. One of the people working for the society is Dr. Kian Ajbakhsh, an Iranian American social scientist and urban planner, who a few days earlier was released from an Iranian jail but has not been allowed to leave Iran. Bollinger
announced that Ajbakhsh has been invited to teach at Columbia next year and called for his freedom of movement. It is unlikely that such a call will have much effect following the unwarranted, humiliating and disrespectful statement Bollinger made. Clearly, the university president was more interested in pleasing his university funders than in securing the professor's exit visa.

It is difficult to expect genuine fighters of freedom such as Neier and Kian in today's political and academic world. If living up
to such ideals is difficult, a little humility would serve all of us well. It would be more honest for the presidents of countries and universities to be truthful about the challenges of balancing interests and values rather than attempting to paint themselves as the heroes of freedom — which they are not.

Daoud Kuttab is a Ferris Professor of Journalism and an award-winning Palestinian columnist. He can be reached at dkuttab@princeton.edu.

The Ugly Side of the G.O.P. by Bob Herbert

This powerful Op Ed piece by Bob Herbert was in yesterday's New York Times. Herbert - New York Times

It makes me think of the opening of Michael Moore's flawed but fascinating documentary Fahrenheit 911. I sat and wept as I watched his montage of one after another African-American member of the House stood to try to convince the Senate not to ratify Bush's 2000 election, because Black voters in Florida had been denied their right to have their vote counted. No one was willing to take a stand. As a child of the 60s, when blood was shed to gain African Americans' right to vote, it broke my heart to watch it.

Herbert points out in this powerful piece that it is not only not getting better, it's getting worse. How do people of conscience vote for members of this party? It's beyond me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Barack Obama's Fascinating Electronic Campaign

Barack Obama is pursuing an interesting campaign fund-raising strategy this week. Between now and Sept. 30, they are recruiting new donations, which will then be matched by an Obama supporter. You have the opportunity (optional, of course) to be in email correspondence with the person you are matched with. BarackObama.com | Contribution Matching

I did both this week - I donated, and was matched by a man in Ohio. The site gave me the opportunity to sign up to match someone else, so I matched B. Todd Jones, in St. Paul, Minnesota, sending him this message. Hi. I first got excited about Barack Obama when I read his book "Dreams from my Father." I was inspired by the young man who wrestled with his lack of a father figure, and pursued his destiny as a community organizer despite many setbacks that challenged his youthful idealism. I believe our country needs a real leader - someone who, like FDR or JFK, is not afraid to tell us what we really need to know, and challenge us to do what we need to do to pull ourselves out of our national malaise. I believe Obama is the only candidate in the field who has this ability. Thank you for supporting him - I am happy to match your donation.

I got an email back inviting me to be "B. Todd's Friend" - there is a full-fledged social network on obama.com.

They've also been very savvy re mobile communication. He registered the text address is 62262 (OBAMA), and you can sign up not only to receive text when there is Obama news on specific issues, you can also download ringtones with his voice/speeches.

Whether all this will pay off is a question - this kind of approach appeals to younger voters, who are notoriously difficult to get to the polls. No matter what, it is fascinating to watch a Web 2.0 campaign gathering steam.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fracaswell Hyman directs brilliant "To Kill a Mockingbird"



My friend Cas Hyman is working in the theater again - and are we lucky to have him back in that genre! Cas directed a stage adaptation of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," which opened this past Wednesday night at the Intiman Theater in Seattle (Intiman wins Tony as best regional theater). I traveled to Seattle mid-week, arriving in time to catch a preview performance as well as opening night, before hopping on a red eye and heading back to NY.

I have worked with Cas on and off for many years in children's television, and one of his great strengths has always been casting and working with child actors. That talent was critical in this production, since the story is told from the point of view of 8-year-old Scout, along with her brother Jem and friend Dill. Young Kealon Whittaker shone in the role of Scout - she convincingly portrayed the cocky tomboy to frequent laughter from the audience, and was heartbreakingly bewildered as she tried to understand what was happening when the lynch mob threatened Atticus as he sat guard outside the jailhouse where the accused rapist, the Negro Tom Robinson, was being held.

Cas and scenic designer Alec Hammond went way out on a limb with the set, which was a heightened, symbolic representation of small town Maycomb, Alabama, dominated by a blood red tree and red kitchen chairs, of all shapes and sizes, suspended from the ceiling by nooses. The dangling, "lynched" chairs overhead served to pull the audience straight into the drama, which we were to be anyway, as the lawyers argued their cases to us, the jury.

I was particularly moved by the musical choices he made for the play. Hyman opened up the script to include the hymn "Blessed Assurance." We first hear it when Calpurnia (in a warm and nuanced portrayal by Josephine Howell) sings it under her breath as she folds laundry on the front porch. Rev. Sykes (William Hall Jr.) arrives to ask for extra donations to help Tom Robinson's family, and he joins in. Then the white neighbor, Maudie Atkinson (Patti Cohenour, known to Broadway theatergoers in the role of Signora Naccarelli from The Light in the Piazza), joins in from her nearby porch. Both women are powerful singers, and the moment is transcent - until they are angrily shushed by Mrs. Dubose for making so much confounded noise! Later in the play Calpurnia reprises a halting, poignant version of the song, her arms sheltering the children, when they hear the terrible news that Tom Robinson has been killed.

I asked Cas how he had chosen this piece of music, and he said that he'd been listening to his iPod on "shuffle," and Blessed Assurance came on, sung by Gladys Knight. "I listened to the words," he said, "and I knew that I had to use this song." He went on to say that he believed that the promise in these words would have enabled Calpurnia and other Negroes in Maycomb to endure the daily injustices and cruelty of life in the Alabama in the 1930s.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God.
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

refrain:
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angles descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.


In addition, Cas asked composer and harmonica virtuoso Grant Dermody to write an understated "Scout's theme" and other incidental music for the production. Sean Phillips, the actor who played Tom Robinson, also appeared as an anonymous harmonica player, who casually played from various spots (up in the tree, leaning on a fence) at critical moments in the story. Talking to Dermody later, I was stunned to learn that he taught Phillips how to play harmonica for this production! To hear his haunting, soulful playing, one never could have guessed that he's only been playing for a few weeks.

A word here about the Intiman Theater and its relationship to the greater Seattle community. I was invited to the opening night, pre-theater dinner, where I was seated next to actor Tom Skerritt ("A River Runs Through It"), a longtime Seattle resident and charming, if somewhat ascerbic, dinner companion! Of course, all the theater's patrons and sponsors were being feted. But also present were the members of the "Community Committee," a number of whom spoke to the assembled group. The Intiman is particularly proactive, with each of their plays, in trying to discern the core message of the work, and then reaching out to try to bring that message (along with the production) to numerous schools and other community groups. In the case of "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus' admonition to Scout and Jem that they need to "walk in the other person's shoes" before criticizing them is a powerful community rallying message. The passion and diversity of the committee members was moving and inspiring. I filled out my card and became an Intiman supporter right at the table.

Cas has many friends in the television industry in both NY and LA. Most of them will probably not see this production, but they would not be surprised at its excellence. I hope he is able to work in the theater again and often.

Mourning THE UPSIDE DOWN SHOW

One of my most enjoyable creative experiences in recent years was traveling twice to Australia to oversee production of the pilot and then the early episodes of The Upside Down Show. This extraordinary show teaches creativity via imaginary play (with powerful literacy, vocabulary, and mathematical concepts thrown in along the way) for preschoolers. Actually, describing the audience as "preschoolers" sells it far short. Creators and performers David Collins and Shane Dundas are so uniquely talented that these episodes tickle older brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents as well! And the awards reflect this success. The Upside Down Show has won an Emmy Award, a Parents' Choice Award, and Australia's Logie (the equivalent of the Emmy) for "Best Children's Program."

Sadly, although at its debut it was instantly one of Noggin's top-rated shows, this brilliant program is caught in the politics and economics of the increasing consolidation of the children's media industry. Nickelodeon/Noggin do not own the show outright, as it is partially financed and owned by the company that created it, Sesame Workshop. My hunch is that Nick is simply not willing to put their powerful promotional machine behind making a hit out of a property that they do not own outright. Sesame Workshop, on the other hand, is too uncomfortable with any kind of conflict to take the kind of aggressive approach that I believe it should to reclaim those rights and find another way to finance and continue to produce the show. And so, this exceptional piece of educational programming (in my opinion as radical and ground-breaking as Sesame Street was back when it was created back in 1968) will disappear with just the barest hint of a whimper.

The Upside Down show airs on Noggin daiily at 7:30 am and 3pm ET/PT. Since the folks at Nickelodeon show no sign of getting it out on DVD, I'd strongly advise that you tape it and keep it for posterity (as well as any occasion when you might want to entertain and stimulate the imaginations of young children).

I recently stumbled across this long chain of parents talking about the show and how it has benefitted their children. In particular, check out the July 8 entry re child with Asperger's Syndrome. Although the show is not going to have the longevity it so richly deserves, at least, reading these words, I know that we accomplished what we set out to do.
UpsideDownShow Parent Chat Boards

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iraq Through China's Lens: Thomas Friedman

This is a very insightful piece. And, I think when even Tom Friedman has conceded that we can't win in Iraq, it's time to throw in the towel.

Read this column. Iraq Through China's Lens - New York Times

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Love This Global Village: : Messaggio da YouTube

I opened my email and was intrigued to find a message from You Tube, written in Italian (although, as we decided years ago with "MTV," "You Tube" is iconic and stays in English, regardless of the language).

From: service@youtube.com
Subject: Messaggio da YouTube: women in art elektro
Date: September 11, 2007 11:39:41 AM EDT
To: liz@liznealon.com

Riogoldriver ti ha inviato un messaggio

Fai clic qui per passare direttamente al messaggio, oppure controlla la tua Posta in arrivo su YouTube per visualizzare tutti i tuoi messaggi.

Arrivederci su YouTube!

— Il team di YouTube


So, I clicked on the link ('clic qui per passare') and found this message from a user that I had queried the day before (in English) about the source of the music on his video.

Messaggi inviati: 11 settembre 2007
Oggetto: women in art elektro
Messaggio:
hi liz
the music is "Narita made" by tujiko noriko
thanks for your comment and if you can help me to diffuse that video I really appreciate it
ciaoooooo
rio


I am happy to direct you to Rio's video, search "Women in Art Elektro." But before you go there, his video is a response to one called simply "Women in Art." It is stunningly animated - my only quibble is that a visitor from Mars would think that only white women have ever been seen as beautiful enough to feature in art.

After you've enjoyed "Women in Art," check out Rio's response, "Women in Art Elektro." He needs to spend more time on the visuals, but the music mix and overall mood are quite captivating.

I really love the way the internet connects us with kindred souls everywhere. What a wonderful world we're living in!

My Little Town

People in the city often ask me "Where do you live, again?" Not too many people have heard of tiny Cornwall-on-Hudson, but we're featured today in this New York Times article. I guess is is a small town - I know nearly everyone quoted in the article!

Worried Town Recalls a Young Petraeus - New York Times

Monday, September 10, 2007

As Gen. Patraeus Testifies, Join the SURGE of PRAYERS

Jim Wallis, on his "God's Politics" blog, is organizing a surge of prayers directed to members of Congress. See his rationale (and join in if you wish) at: God's Politics - Jim Wallis blog

My prayer?

Almighty God, we beseech you to kindle in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility your dominion may increase till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love.

Lord, guide those who serve in Congress in the ways of your justice and peace, grant them wisdom and courage as they make their decisions and take action so that the death and suffering in Iraq might come to an end.



9/11 - Where Are We Now?

I've decided to mark this sixth anniversary by going back just three years, to the day I met a New York City cop-turned-flight attendant named Patrick Marcune. His perspective on 9/11 is personal, powerful and painful. Here, in his own words, is his story.

"The aircraft door is closing. Please be sure that all cell phones are turned off, and any electronic equipment should also be turned off at this time. My name is Patrick and I just retired after 22 years as a New York City police officer. I’m having a ball with Continental – thanks for flying with us."

I see heads pop up all the way down the aisle when I say it. People are talking, reading their magazines, not really listening because it’s the same old routine. And then their heads pop up and they clap. I walk back because I have to do my inspection, make sure everybody’s seat belt is on, and everybody offers a handshake and congratulations.

After 9-11, and after I’d gotten my friends out of the rubble that was down there, I retired and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to visit a friend down in Florida and on my return trip I was speaking to a flight attendant. I asked her “How do you like the job?” She said, “It’s a wonderful job. You get to see the country, it’s exciting, you get to meet a lot of people.” And those are things that I like. So, when I got home I went online, put in an application, and they called me a few days later. That’s how it started.

The pilots like the idea that I’m on the plane….it makes them feel more at ease. I watch who comes on the plane. The pilot comes out and wants to use the lavatory, I go right in the middle of the aisle, making sure everyone is sitting down, no one is going to threaten the pilot while he’s walking around the cabin. That’s a natural instinct. So far, I haven’t had a problem. But I watch.

The first month I became a flight attendant I had an emergency landing. Some flight attendants don’t go through that in their whole career. It happened to me in one month. I was sitting in the jump seat, we just took off from Newark. As we were going up, the chimes started – the signal that tells me that there’s a serious emergency. I’m thinking “Oh, no. I just became a flight attendant…one month.” (laughing) “I can’t go now. I don’t want to go now.”

So, I pick up the phone and say “Cap, what’s up?” He says “it’s showing that we have a fire in the cargo. Go back there, check it out.” People hear the chimes going off, they see me jump out of my seat and run to the back of the plane. They’re looking at me, scared. This lady starts crying – she has three young children with her and she says “We’re going to die… Mister….are we going to be okay?”

It felt like I had my firearm out as a cop and somebody was looking to shoot me. You get the adrenaline flowing and your heart is pumping and you just have to calm yourself down. It was the same feeling I had. But, you learn how to say “All right. This is the problem. Let’s see how we’re going to fix it.” That’s what the police department trained me for. I brought it right into the airline. And it works.

I get those four chimes, I was nervous. I thought about my family, too…what’s going to happen here? But I had no time to think about that. I had to worry about making sure those people were safe, and that I’d do the proper procedures if we have to make an emergency landing. The whole point of that job is safety and to protect everyone’s life. God forbid.

I got to the back, and didn’t smell any smoke. I went up and tried to calm that lady down. “Everything’s going to be ok, it’s probably just a malfunction – there’s no smoke.” I held her hand and said, “Don’t worry. I’m a New York City police officer, the pilot’s got 35 years of flying experience, everything’s going to be fine.” Turned out the problem was somebody had a can of hairspray in the cargo. And the smoke detectors don’t just pick up smoke – they pick up any particles in the air. That’s what it was – just a can of hairspray.

~

I was off on 9-11. The precinct called, they wanted everybody in. I saw what happened on TV – I was already getting dressed. I got into the precinct and they shipped us down to the World Trade Center. I remember walking down Washington Street, and the only thing I was finding was body parts – four blocks away. I found out later on that two close friends of mine were in there and they got killed.

I ended up working there for six months. We were called the Bucket Brigade. Any time the front-end loaders were digging, we were standing right there watching the debris being picked up. If we saw anything we would stop the bulldozer from working, and then we would dig by hand to get the people out.

Then I was transferred to the Staten Island Landfill. We sifted through the debris with our hands, looking for body parts and pieces of the aircraft ⎯ any evidence we could find. We worked up there for about a month, and then Flight 580 crashed in Rockaway. And all of us from the World Trade, the guys are there. That was just as horrible cause there was about five children on that plane. Women and children.

I saw a firefighter pick up a lady with a shovel (long pause). I said “Don’t do that. Don’t pick her up with a shovel.” I mean, if that was my Mom, or somebody else’s mom, you don’t want to pick her up with a shovel. So, I picked her up with my hands, and I put her in the bag. That’s uh…you know, you think those things don’t bother you, and I always thought I was okay.

Then I got very sick after that. I was stressed out. You never know. I thought I was fine. But, it stays up in that brain of yours. You don’t realize how it affects you. I mean, so much stuff you see. God. Two good friends. One was a firefighter. One was a police officer. That’s when I said, “I think I’ve been around too long.”

And I retired, one year after.

~

The guys tease me about being a flight attendant. By the same token, they realize that it’s such a great job. I have my pension and now I can go anywhere I want, like I have my own private plane. They tease me about it, but then they say, “You know what? It’s a great idea. It’s a perfect job for you.”

I always liked to fly as a kid, and I always was infatuated with the planes and travel. But I never had dreams of being anything but a New York City police officer. I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice and my Master’s degree was in Public Administration, so I devoted my whole life to public service.

I loved being a cop. (long pause) You know….I wanted to stay. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life, to retire. I miss all my friends. When you have a partner, you’re like brothers. You spend most of your life together.

I made the leap. I miss it something terrible. People tell me it gets easier. You get to adjust.

Yeah. At least nobody’s shooting at me any more.




Sunday, September 09, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle as Poet

I honestly don't think that L'Engle was as powerful a writer of poetry as she was of prose.

Yet, I read her poems, because in her poetry she gamely wrestled with God, in all the joy and pain that comes with trying to be a person of faith.

Late tonight I pulled down yet another book, THE WEATHER OF THE HEART, a book of L'Engle's poems published in 1978. This one is a beauty, and particularly appropriate at the moment of her death. It is titled LOVE LETTER.


I hate you, God.
Love, Madeleine.

    I write my message on water
    and at bedtime I tiptoe upstairs
    and let it flow under your door.


When I am angry with you
I know that you are there
even if you do not answer my knock
even when your butler opens the door an inch
and flaps his thousand wings in annoyance
at such untoward interruption
and says that the master is not at home.

    I love you, Madeleine.
    Hate, God.


(This is how I treat my friends, he said to one great saint.
No wonder you have so few of them, Lord, she replied.)

    I cannot turn the other cheek
    It takes all the strength I have
    To keep my fist from hitting back
    the soldiers shot the baby
    the little boys trample the old woman
    the gutters are filled with groans
    while pleasure seekers knock each other down
    in order to get their tickets stamped first.


I'm turning in my ticket
and my letter of introduction.
You're supposed to do the knocking. Why do you burst
my heart?

    How can I write you
    to tell you that I'm angry
    when I've been given the wrong address
    and I don't even know your real name?


I take hammer and nails
and tack my message on two crossed pieces of wood:

    Dear God
    is it too much to ask you
    to bother to be?
    Just show your hindquarters
    and let me hear you roar.


Love,
Madeleine



Madeleine L'Engle on Writing for Children

There is nothing that annoys me more than how little respect people have for children's media. I will meet someone at a cocktail party, and when they ask me what I do, and I reply, "I'm a television producer." That always elicits a bright, engaged reaction, "REALLY? What do you produce?"

When I say I make television for kids and teens, the response is a dull "Oh." End of conversation. As if great story-making for kids is any easier than it is for adults, especially because the budgets are exponentially smaller! I am proud of my craft and resent the assumption that because I try to change the world for kids with meaningful media, I'm somehow not "in the game."

The brilliant writer Madeleine L'Engle wrote books for both audiences. Her adult books, both prose and poetry, explore issues of faith and spirituality. I have been thinking about her work all day, and tonight I pulled one of her books, WALKING ON WATER: REFLECTIONS ON FAITH AND ART, from the shelf. It has a wonderful passage about this topic.

One summer I taught a class in Techniques of Fiction at a midwestern university. About half way through the course, one of the students came up to me after class and said, "I do hope you're going to teach us something about writing for children. That's really why I'm taking this course."
"What have I been teaching you?"
"Well - writing."
"Don't you write when you write for children?"
"Well - but isn't it different?"

No, it is not different. The techniques of fiction are the techniques of fiction. They hold as true for Beatrix Potter as they do for Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Characterization, style, and theme are as important in a children's book as in a novel for grown-ups. Taste, as always, will differ (spinach vs. beets). A child is not likely to identify with the characters in Faulkner's "Sanctuary." Books like "A Wrinkle in Time" may seem to difficult to some parents. But if a book is not good enough for a grown-up, it is not good enough for a child.