In A Basement At Yale

If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing.

I headed to Yale earlier this afternoon. My friend Frank Clifford works there. You’ll never find his office by accident. It’s down hidden stairs then through narrow hallways in the basement of Sterling Library.

It’s worth the trip. If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing. He is digitizing videos from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.

The survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust are diminishing in number. Each year their recollections become more important, but each year moves them farther away from the original experience. This gives special urgency to the effort to collect as many testimonies as possible – now.

At one point Frank put a video clip on his computer’s screen. A Belgian woman began to speak. She was attractive, probably in her fifties when the interview had taken place 30 or so years ago. As the camera locked in she told a chilling tale of her childhood.

The Gestapo had come to her town. As a Jew she and her family were their target.

I told Frank to stop the clip as she described the last time she’d seen her father. It was too sad, too emotionally taxing. It was impossible not to be touched deeply.

Frank is transferring analog video cassettes to a variety of digital formats simultaneously. The interviews are being carefully preserved as you’d expect in the research oriented atmosphere that is Yale. It’s all cataloged and documented in excruciating detail. The videos are worthless if their stories can’t later found later.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy my trips on campus. This was no different. Sterling Library is exactly what you’d expect an Ivy League library to be.

I could explain, but this is one of those things better left to pictures.

I’m The Dumb Guy At The Smart Bookstore

Oh no! I knew times were tough in print magazines, but this is horrible.

Helaine and I were in Downtown New Haven this bitterly cold afternoon. First a little clothes shopping, then we headed to Broadway. Helaine had an errand to run for Stef and suggested I go to the Yale Bookstore. No objection there.

I enjoy bookstores a lot though this one always leaves me feeling a little inadequate! It’s a bookstore specifically set up to serve the brightest from Yale with esoteric titles you won’t find elsewhere.

Shhh. Don’t tell. Behind the learned collection it’s really a Barnes and Noble.

I headed to the back first and Starbucks. A little coffee, a little shmoozing (Michael Bolton’s sister stopped me to say hello) and then to the magazines.

Oh no! I knew times were tough in print magazines, but this is horrible.

The Yale Bookstore used to have hundreds of magazines. No more. The magazine rack has been pared like a half dead shrub you’re trying to save. Most of the interesting little titles are gone.

There are winners and losers in the digital era. Unfortunately when so many of these narrowly focused publications disappear we all lose right along with the publishers and staff.

I Should Have Gone To Yale

OK, they weren’t taking undermotivated, underfinanced, underachieving “C” students at the height of Vietnam, but I still ask.

On this reasonably beautiful night Ann and I went to dinner on Broadway in New Haven. Though school’s out for summer Broadway puts you in the middle of the Yale campus surrounded by its iconic buildings. There are worse places to go.

We hit a burger joint then walked down the street for some coffee. There’s a little place called the Blue State I like. Every time I walk in I ask myself the same question: “Why I didn’t go to Yale?”

OK, they weren’t taking undermotivated, underfinanced, underachieving “C” students at the height of Vietnam, but I still ask.

Students sit around tables in the back room. Many have laptops. Often discussions are taking place in front of the computers over cups of hot coffee. It’s what you’d expect from a coffee house in a college town. It’s right out of central casting.

There’s one feature of Blue State I like a lot. They donate 5% of the proceeds (not 5% of the profits) to charity. Four have been chosen. Customers pick up a little wooden token at the register then drop it in a slot representing where they want the money sent.

The coffee isn’t Dunkin’ Donuts worthy but the atmosphere is enough to keep me coming back.

I really should have gone to Yale. Can I get a high school do over?

Best Day For Bad News

When a company or governmental agency wants to bury some information they release it late on Friday. It then enters some netherworld where it’s exists, but quietly. If the news is exceptionally bad it gets released on or just before Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas. People’s minds are elsewhere.

When a company or governmental agency wants to bury some information they release it late on Friday. It then enters some netherworld where it exists–but quietly. If the news is exceptionally bad it gets released on or just before Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas. People’s minds are elsewhere.

With this in mind two stories that should be heard but were released to be buried:

From Forbes.com – “Wal-Mart Stores has settled 63 wage and class-action lawsuits, and just in time for Christmas.

The company expects the settlement to costs between $352.0 million and $640.0 million. “

The suits had to do with employees being required to work when they were “off-the-clock.”

Wal-Mart is fiercely anti-union. It closed one Canadian tire center when its employees voted to organize. Wal-Mart is not looking forward to the Obama administration.

Our other under-the-rug story centers on Yale University. You could shoot a cannon across campus the day this story hit–the 23rd.

From Yale Daily News – “Yale has agreed to pay $7.6 million for allegedly making false claims on federal research grants, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven said Tuesday, concluding a two-year investigation of Yale’s grant administration. ”

I’m sure there are other similar stories, but there’s just so much holiday cheer one guy can spread.

The Physics Olympics

Working down the street from Yale University must be somewhat like living next door to Jessica Alba. It’s easy to see what’s so special. You’re seldom invited over.

An exception was made Saturday. Dr. Steve Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and Applied Physics&#185, asked me if I’d like to attend the annual Yale Physics Olympics. How could I say no?

Students from high schools in Connecticut and nearby states sent teams to Yale to compete in fun, though intellectually challenging, physics based games.

They built bridges, redesigned electrical circuits and tried to predict movement in a virtual stock market. I’m sorry – did you mention what you did Saturday?

If your local school board ever asks for a new facility to further education, send them to Yale. Sloane Physics Lab, where the competition took place, is an ancient building. The lecture hall we occupied was probably outmoded 50 years ago. It is still a center of exceptional education.

Education is dependent on an open exchange of ideas and knowledge, not furniture.

The kids who gave up their Saturday afternoon are the smart kids. Their intellect probably makes them socially awkward now, but they’ll be the one’s we’re all working for later. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban.

I did a lot of helping out Saturday. I’m not sure they really needed me, but I was thrilled to be a part of the action. I poured liquid nitrogen (somewhere around 325&#176 below zero Fahrenheit) into a Styrofoam vessel for a demonstration on electrical conductivity, rode a bicycle powered by CO2, and a hovercraft lifted by a very noisy leafblower (as immortalized in the attached youtube video).

As someone who works in TV news, where the easiest way for a teenager to make air is to kill or be killed, this Saturday afternoon was a breath of fresh air.

&#185 – My knowledge of academia is limited, but I do know an endowed chair is a big deal… even bigger at Yale. As it turns out, he’s a great guy and not at all pretentious about the fact he can think us all under the table.


Classier Audience Than I Deserve

I look forward to some public appearances more than others. Tonight was a ‘look forward to’ event. I was asked to introduce an operatic performance on the New Haven Green.

Scratch the Green. Too chilly. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra doesn’t perform outside when the temperature drops below 65&#186. Can you blame them?

Unfortunately, that shrinks the house somewhat.

This was to be part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Though some ‘big’ commercial acts play, it is mostly smaller performances across many genres.

A crowd of thousands sees these opera performances on the Green. Tonight, we were moved inside to Yale’s University Theater – one of many performance spots on the Yale University campus. The theater sits a little over 600.

With my leg still sitting inside the Velcro fastened boot, I asked for special parking dispensation. The organizers of the event had no pull, but the Yale Police (yes, they have their own police department – guns and everything) was extremely helpful. A motorcycle officer blocked off a space right alongside the theater with a wooden sawhorse.

An opera crowd is quite eclectic. They are likely to know what they’re getting into. I sense there are few casual opera fans and many rabid ones.

By the time I arrived, a line had already formed, stretching down York Street toward Broadway. This part of New Haven, surrounded by the Yale campus is really beautiful. The buildings are very stately… very Yale.

As the crowd stood, a group of street performers from the Meter Theater began to put on a show. I was too busy taking pictures to really follow what was going on, but the crowd got into it.

Finally the doors opened and the crowd moved in. I headed backstage, standing with (but having no contact with) tonight’s performers. I knew who they were by the tiny stage mics which curled from their ears.

On stage the New Haven Symphony was tuning up. This is quite an accomplished orchestra and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching them get limber by playing exercises and running scales.

A live performance of classical music is so powerful, even someone who is not a fan will still enjoy. I can’t explain it, except to say it can be unexpectedly overpowering.

The curtain was scheduled for 8:00 PM, but as is often the case, it was held for 8:05. I walked to the front of the stage, crossed the apron and walked down a few stairs to the narrator’s microphone. There was a polite smattering of applause.

I welcomed them to Opera on the Green and then looked around at the surroundings. “Damn weatherman,” I said. Nice laugh.

I read a little from the prepared script I’d be given and then looked up for some remarks of my own. I don’t have my exact words, so let me paraphrase.

“I’m thrilled to be with you tonight, but I am a little embarrassed. I mean, it’s wonderful to see this great opera… but I accepted this thinking I was introducing Oprah.” Big laugh.

That little joke had been a bone of contention in the Fox house and at work where my friends and family were sure it would bomb. I told it anyway. I’m glad I did.

I did the rest of the intro for the performance. Most of it had been written by others, but I threw in a little mention of Milton Cross, who used to host the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, and who I knew this crowd would relate to. I also added some historical context to the actual operetta to be performed, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which was originally panned by the critics back in 1858.

As I walked toward the back of the house, the actual narrator took his place and the orchestra began to play. Though the opera was written by Offenbach, a German by birth, it was written in French and first performed in Paris.

As the singers, all Yale students, performed, an English translation flashed on a huge screen behind the orchestra.

I’m not going to claim to be an opera fan. But, what I saw tonight was very entertaining, especially an amazing young soprano singing the part of Eurydice. I have searched everywhere, but cannot find her name nor the names of anyone in the cast!

With two more newscasts to go, I had to leave while the performance was underway. I was sorry to go… even if Oprah wasn’t there.