Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mainstream Media is in its Death Throes

The so-called mainstream media, once defined as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the three major network TV stations, no longer have a monopoly on the opinion making process in American life.

Why belabor the obvious? We all know why. Eyeballs are migrating to the Internet, that vast endless, timeless cloud of information that assaults us 24/7 from every corner of the globe. When eyeballs migrate, the money as defined by the advertisers migrates with them. The less eyeballs, the less revenue, the less revenue, the less investment by the media.

When the revenue decline reaches the tipping point, money dries up, shrinkage occurs until there is nothing left to shrink and the media entity dies or morphs into something else. That is what is happening now. The old media is dying. The new media is building on the corpse of the old media and it is too early to tell if the business paradigm for the new media will ever prosper. It might even die faster than the old media.

Television and radio has split its audience into tiny pieces. There are now hundreds of television channels and thousands of radio channels, and gazillion channels on the Internet. The Tower of Babel now extends into infinity.

Mainstream journalists, many of them now in save-the-world mode (ever since Watergate made celebrities out of investigative journalists) truly believe that we are losing our ability to prod the government into transparency, to uncover corruption and generally serve the public good. Thus, they contend, that the resources to expose the sins of government are drying up, splintering, becoming less effective. They have a point.

The new media now on the Internet e.g., the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Politico and on and on believe that they will fill the gap and become, if not what was once known as the mainstream media, the go-to media. Maybe. Politico is now morphing back into print with a local angle news sheet. They had better have deep pockets.

Those of us who grew up with the traditional mainstream media have, to say the least, mixed feelings about its demise. With fewer outlets we were more like a family, more connected. We knew what each outlet stood for. The public conversation was limited by comparison with today, but comforting since those of us who cared could embrace the information flow. We thought we were getting all sides of all arguments, that our press and speech freedoms were secure. We probably were. Sooner or later, corrupt politicians were exposed by the press and many removed or incarcerated. It amazes me that one crop of crooks are quickly replaced by another crop.

In New York when I was growing up there were eleven dailies. Now, there are three and who knows how long they will survive?

Were we unduly influenced by those who controlled the media? I’m not sure, since the line between the business side of the press and the news side seemed like a pretty wide chasm. Economic desperation may be diluting that ethic. Ideological lines have blurred and the media appears to manipulate its content and layout to favor the particular bent of its sixties influenced editors and reporters. Their nostalgic output seems a lot less subtle than it used to be.

As an ex-newspaperman, I know that editorial placement, headline writing, and the way stories are constructed by length and detail, can make spin often hard to spot. As a former practitioner both as editor and reporter, I can spot a bent story at a hundred paces. On the Net, the same process holds, but usually we know the ideological zone upfront.

In today’s media environment a few big public companies actually control a vast array of competing media. When one conglomerate owns a big basket of unruly entities, it is difficult to get them all to dance to the same tune. Besides, it doesn’t really matter to the operators. Their principal objective is revenue and profit. By and large, they are not selling ideology. They are selling eyeballs and ears. The more they deliver, the more they can charge advertisers. That’s business, and the business of business is business. If it sounds crass, it is.

So far, the migration of the mainstream traditional media to the Net has been a rocky road. It is also a rocky road for the so-called new media e.g. Politico, Huffington, and many others. I’m sure they’re credible but I’m not certain that they have as much influence as they claim. They, like many of their on-line competitors are still in start-up mode and have not yet reached a sustained profit, without which they will eventually fold or become something else.

An exception is the Wall Street Journal, which has paid subscribers on the Net, a lucky early choice with its mostly upscale target base. But most of the on-line media is free and dependent on advertising. I’m still uncertain, despite the hype, whether the advertising is paying off. In other words, everything on the Net that is defined as media e.g. the news business, and other forms of information peddling is still up for grabs.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain. Everything, not only media, is changing. And I do mean everything; delivery systems, marketing, content, medicine, the whole ball of wax. No sooner than we think we have it in our grasp then it moves somewhere else with the speed of light, perhaps faster. Everything that is, perhaps even what is commonly known as human nature.

The center is not holding because there is no center. Marshall McLuhan was spot on. The media have become the message. Google has proved the point. It and its copiers are swiftly becoming the media.

I suppose the trick will be how to keep up. Even this attempt at analysis will be obsolete the moment it is written. Remember that play: Stop the World- I Want To Get Off.

Forget it. It’s spinning too fast. It’s making me dizzy.

How about you?

Next Blog: The Dying of the Celebrity Culture

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dumb and Dumber in the White House

Growing up in New York in the thirties and forties, there were at least eleven daily newspapers, all spouting varying opinions from both left and right perspectives. Offered by the news organizations were a potpourri of praise and anger, mostly anger, at perceived abuses, both social and governmental.

The din was loud, a Tower of Babel of opinions. There were public parades and protests. The Daily Worker was at its zenith. Hate speech and hate news outlets were commonplace. It was one big free speech and free press orgy, a massive free- for-all.

Having grown up in that atmosphere, I am appalled by the White House’s attempt to put the squelch on Fox News. Free speechers and free pressers should be up in arms. Every media outlet in America should be castigating the administration for instigating such a desperate act of deliberate discrimination. It cannot masquerade as merely depriving access. You and I both know the dirty word, censorship, the enemy of free speech, the scourge of a free press.

Indeed, the first act of a dictatorial power grab is to silence critics. Hitler did it. Stalin did it. Chavez is doing it. Castro did it. And on and on, wherever a nation is under the heel of a dictatorial government. If the so-called powers that be can get away with this, then every outlet for free expression will soon be under siege.

This is the way dictatorships acquire absolute power. If it works, expect other outlets to follow. It’s like a virus and, heaven forbid, it might even extend to the Internet, as it does in such places as China, Iran, Russia, and other nations that restrict free speech, especially in many Arab lands and Africa.

By the so-called acceptable media not standing up to this distasteful and dangerous act by a new and obviously inexperienced administration, the media is collaborating in this travesty. Where the devil are the critics? Where is the outrage? Does the President get a pass on this?

And since when does the White House decide who qualifies as a news outlet? Obviously their definition is based on a blatantly false and ridiculous premise that Fox is “merely” nothing more than talk radio. Is that the next step? Muzzling talk radio hosts?

My defense of Fox News is based solely on their right to say whatever they damned please, whatever their biases and predilections. I once got into a fist fight in a Washington bistro with a major newscaster after alleging that TV News was becoming little more than entertainment. Pow! was the newscaster’s immediate response. He considered himself a serious journalist and he was. It happened around midnight and we were both two sheets to the wind, but, in an odd way, we were both partially right.

Nor is this the first time that Presidents have tried to isolate their critics. Imagine if George Bush decided to take action against his critics. His press conferences would be the least attended events since Mark Twain cancelled a performance because of a sore throat.

It was Harry Truman, when President, who said if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Our new President and his advisors, who are obsessed with control, just can’t get it through their heads that an open society demands differing opinions, debate, protest, rudeness, emotional outbursts, loud noises, strained nerves and bad tempers. Democracy is a sloppy form of governing. But our shrewd founding fathers instinctively knew the dangers of forced censorship and made the free speech and our free press the very first amendment to the Constitution.

Don’t think our Constitution came easy to those august participants. They were a recalcitrant group of strong minded cunning argumentative individuals and what they hammered out was nothing short of a miracle. The sycophants around the President should reread the travails of President John Adams and how his attempt at censorship trampled his political career.

The President has said he doesn’t lose sleep over this attempt to throttle a free press. He might slumber peacefully, but there are a lot of us out there whose worries about encroaching governmental attempts at censorship interfere with our tranquility and do induce some bad dreams.

Frankly, I do believe that there are many journalists who are offended by the White House’s heavy-handed tactics. It has got to make them uncomfortable, even if their bosses are not losing any sleep over this tactic. The fact is that trying to pull the curtain down over Fox news, whether you agree with their predilections or not, is an egregious wrong-headed stupid, dumber than dumber and chilling idea.

Perhaps this rant might seem somewhat hysterical. No, I don’t believe the White House has a sinister long term plan to control the media, although it certainly might want to slap down its opponents. But perception presents its own dangers and to be perceived as deliberately punishing one’s critics does induce in some of us an inflammatory reaction….like this one.

Worse, as was true of all Presidents who tried this before, it does reflect a certain naivete and inexperience and is bound to create, aside from outrage, a loss of credibility.

Maybe some smart staffer should poke the President in dreamland, disturb his sleep and tell him that this action was a stupid idea.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The President's Secret Thoughts-a Speculation

Perhaps it is merely force of habit, but I often find myself imagining what powerful public figures are really thinking as they act in ways that impact on our lives. Unlike psychologists and psychiatrists, who make a lifetime study of human motivation and rely on data that has been acquired scientifically by repetition, experimentation, observation and insight, the novelist operates purely on instinct and imaginary license.

That said, I can’t help wondering what our President is thinking as he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. He surely knows in his gut and admits that the prize is aspirational, based on his rhetoric and not on his accomplishments.

In his private thoughts, I truly believe he is sincere in that he wants to do everything he can to realize his aspirations as he has defined them in his speeches; to make the world a better place, to persuade people to put down their arms, to compromise, to rely on peaceful means to resolve conflicts and bring warring factions together for the common good. Surely, he is sincere when he aspires to ban all nuclear weapons, and, in general, help banish starvation, disease, and inspire governments to operate with compassion and decency.

His thoughts, too, surely reflect the obvious, that he is the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, with the persuasive clout to provide the guidance to accomplish his sincerely stated goals. Yes, he thinks that the Nobel Peace Prize, while premature at this stage, puts a respected world stamp on his intentions and gives him permission to take bolder steps to bring peace to the world, and to create a legacy that will celebrate his name as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, peacemaker in the history of the world.

That is certainly a noble goal and why shouldn’t he privately think that this is within the realm of possibility. After all, he has risen from obscurity at practically warp speed to become the most powerful leader in the world. He has got to think that he has been blessed, that he has been chosen, anointed perhaps, to save the world. People have responded to him with worshipful adoration. Does this baffle him? Perhaps it did at the beginning. Surely he must be asking himself: “Why me? Where has all this adoration come from? Have I been anointed?” Dare he deny by whom? It is impossible for him, or anyone with such a record, to deny the spiritual component of this question.

He has got to be thinking: “I have been chosen to achieve a mission of peace. I must now do everything in my power to fulfill that mission.”

To do this, he surely thinks and believes that people are more good than evil; that the various manifestations of cruel manipulation by tyrants, dictators, despots and oppressors can be ameliorated without bloodshed; that cruelty, selfishness and fanaticism can be banished by reason and example; that suicide bombers and those who brainwash them can be rehabilitated; that borders can be redrawn and protective walls demolished by reasonable compromise; that terrorists can be reborn into good citizens--that fanatical religious leaders can be redirected into tolerance and respect for other faiths, and that through powerful rhetoric and eloquent persuasion, mortal enemies can learn to live peacefully with one another.

He must believe that he now has been given permission to move ahead and attempt to force compromise, assure warring parties that there is more to be gained by peaceful negotiation and cooperation than by bloody confrontation. He must think that to do this, America has to act more like a brother among nations, an equal partner, rather than an elite exception. He must think our hope for a peaceful future lies with the concept that created the United Nations, which he believes is still the organizational structure, the ultimate forum, that will bring about world peace.

It is time, he must believe, that America must exercise humility and dispense with any action that might seem heavy handed or self-righteous by others. He must see this not only as a rejection of his predecessor’s legacy, but an endorsement of his own stated ideas.

He must believe that he has been licensed as preacher, moral arbiter, a kind of world trigger for mass inspiration which commands that we must all learn tolerance for all religions, and accept our differences and our various ways to acknowledge a supreme being. Instinctively, I sense that he believes in such a divine force, which would cover the mystery of who anointed him.

Surely he has read the Old and New Testament and is reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s immortal words: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

As a politician, he believes he is a realist, understands history, and knows that the story of civilization is a long blood drenched narrative of good versus evil, with good, in the end, destined to be the ultimate victor. Indeed, the word destiny he knows lives deeply in his psyche. He must see his destiny as a well-lighted path ahead, which he has been called to follow. Indeed, is it possible for any man to resist such glorification? I don’t think so and it is a cause for concern.

Yes, he knows that he is wise to the ways of politics and he has assembled a team of experts to advise him about how best to implement his message into action. He trusts them to tell him the practical truths but knows that he must make the hard decisions. He is well aware that the buck stops with him. Or, he speculates, is there some mysterious force that guides him?

Of course it is impossible to know the truth about his secret thoughts. Nevertheless, considering his miraculous rise, his visible glorification, the admiring crowds, the endless applause, the magical wonder of it all, can he resist the temptations of this mass adoration and the illusion of anointment?

How he answers that question within the deep confines of himself and acts on its personal implication, can very well determine the fate of America and, perhaps, that of the whole world.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Google To The Rescue

If you are a living author or the heir of a dead author, the confusing legal battle between those who support and those who oppose the Google objective of digitizing all out-of-print books must be a daunting task indeed.

As someone who has been wrestling with the idea of keeping my works “in print” for more than a decade and has attempted to keep my authorial name viable via the opportunities afforded in cyberspace, I will attempt to wade through the mucky underbrush and offer my own assessment of the process. Bear in mind that I am an author not a lawyer.

The bottom line is that Google will digitize all out-of-print books both in copyright and out of copyright, published by, one assumes, companies or individuals, whether still in existence or long gone. Most of the books will be “orphans”, the product of long dead authors and disappeared publishers that have been moldering on the shelves of libraries, public and private.

How far back they will go is anybody’s guess. My assumption is that Google will begin the process in the English language and go from there. Indeed, Google’s maw is infinite and it will undoubtedly attempt someday to put every book ever written in every language into its digital coffers.

For the author or his or her heirs, the process is a cause for celebration. The fruit of their mind, their writing and their good name will find its way into a data bank. Their work will indeed be rescued from obscurity, neglect or anonymity. There is a provision for the author or his or her heirs to opt out of the registry of author royalty recipients if they so choose . If the authors are registered, they will share a royalty with Google, who will, of course, have what could amount to a virtual monopoly on this vast cyber library.

Google’s investment in the process will be enormous and, realistically speaking, it is doubtful that any company presently constituted will expend the energy and investment required to back this vast chore. Google’s financial recoup strategy will be through advertising and sharing in the royalties of those digitalized books that will be bought. In my opinion, it will be an eventual bonanza of enormous proportions. Knowledge and information is a valuable commodity and bound to attract entrepreneurs with ideas beyond one’s present conception.

After all, Google is a business, a public company, and quite obviously it sees in this move an excellent financial opportunity. While they might couch this idea in high- minded terms of being a boon to humanity, which it is, the business aspect cannot be ignored. In my opinion, the risk for them will be well worth the reward.

As for the individual authors and their heirs, the financial benefits will be more problematic. Those books containing passed over but valuable knowledge and missed innovation will undoubtedly attract consumers. Marketing by interested parties, meaning individual authors, rights holders and publishers will be critical and expensive.

Fiction writers like myself might find miraculous resurrection based on unpredictable and unintentional consequences. Such a hope has very long odds even if the living authors or their heirs are willing to risk making a major investment to re-acquaint a fickle public or to revive an author’s name long forgotten by a living generation.

The Authors Guild and other organizations who were adversarial to the Google idea at first did negotiate a royalty settlement that seemed fair to authors, although, in my opinion, few, unless they can enlist marketing skills that are costly and innovative or through as yet unknown miraculous events, will ever see much in the way of royalties.

That said, it is better for an author to have one’s works alive and available, then dead and forgotten. Yes, Google is bound to recoup its investment and probably make a respectable, perhaps a giant sized profit. Good for them.

In many ways, what they are doing is astonishing and bold, and for an author, dead or alive, it is a gift that is priceless. An author’s work will be accessible and swiftly available to anyone who is interested, whether by accident or design Only an author knows how difficult and all-consuming a task it is t0 write, the hours of sweat and toil, the research and energy required to produce a book. Most come on the scene like a butterfly and quickly disappear into oblivion. No longer if Google’s plan goes ahead. If the planet lives so will an author’s work.

Every author who ever struggled to create form and content to an idea or a story through words should applaud Google for its courage and innovation. They stepped up to the plate and are taking the risk. Let them reap the rewards.

I’m not quite certain I’ve got it right or considered all the ramifications. I speak as an author delighted by the prospect. I hope that all issues can be resolved and move this remarkable task forward.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

By Hook or Crook, Now Comes The Vook

The new charge by the panicked book publishing industry to combine video with text and create a hybrid book, cutely named a “Vook”, reminds me of that great line from Superman comics “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman.” Or is it?

Such an innovation was, of course, inevitable considering the astounding success of electronic books and its various delivery devices, led by Kindle and the SONY Reader now penetrating the market. It is certainly worth the experiment, especially for instructional books where movement might be helpful to explain the text.

Indeed, I can understand the marketing concept. Let’s attract book straying younger readers who are habitués of the short video format of YouTube and texting and try to win them back to reading longer works, meaning real books that have been the staple of the industry since Mr. Gutenberg came up with movable type. By real books, I mean traditional “content”, whether distributed via electronic text or through the printed page.

The concept, as it evolves, might be a way to partially fill the hole developing in the publishing business during this transitional phase between the decline of the paper book and the rise of the electronic book.

But for the dedicated reader who glories in delving into the world of fiction, and is the core consumer of works of the literary imagination and responsible for the bulk of adult fiction sales, I doubt if the Vook will penetrate this group. I base this assumption strictly on my own experience as both a reader and a writer of such works.

This does not mean that there might be a growing appetite for the Vook among those who yearn for the next new thing, and there is a good chance that it might become a profit center, although I wonder about its long term durability.

Speaking for what I believe is the majority of dedicated readers, I do not want my reading interrupted by an intrusion on my imagination as I immerse myself in the author’s story by someone else’s idea of how the characters appearance, background and reaction to whatever turn of events the author may want us to follow and understand.

The author’s purpose in creating his or her story is to bring us behind the scenes of a character’s life, his or her thoughts, emotions and an understanding of why he or she is acting in a way that motivates the action. It is exactly this insight that motivates the dedicated reader and gives literature its life force.

When reading a work of fiction, I want to imagine myself what the character looks like to me, what the environment in which these characters operate appears to my mind’s eye, and what and why the character portrayed is thinking while he or she acts.

I don’t want a middle man, via a video clip, actors and contrived sets, to tell me how to see the author’s story. In my opinion, such an intrusion is a diminishment of the author’s intention and waters down the reading experience. It suggests putting a steak in a blender and drinking it instead of getting the real thing, sizzling in bulk on the plate.

Having had three of my books made into films, I offer some modest authority on the process. Filmed content has its place. It can keep you interested for a couple of hours, even enthralled, but no matter how you slice it, it is not the real thing, meaning a true rendition of the author’s intent. Frankly, as a dedicated reader, I prefer the figurative movie in my mind, based on the way my imagination “sees” the author’s work.

This may be a convoluted way of expressing my point of view. As an author of works of the imagination I am obviously biased and conflicted, perhaps even somewhat stiff necked in my opinions. Bottom line: The Vook might work well for others, but it won’t work for me.

I doubt it will make younger people, addicted to the short blip, become dedicated readers, although they certainly might buy the idea at the beginning, perhaps long after. Brought up on low attention spans, this demographic is always in danger of enthusing mightily then coasting quickly away looking for whatever else is coming down the pike.

After all, this group has certainly bought into the “graphic novel”, an idea I personally could never embrace since the product strikes me as a comic book in a reincarnated binding. Having grown up as a pre-teen on comic books I can’t quite embrace it as serious fiction despite its pretensions, nor does it absorb my interest. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but having once read bible stories in classic comics garb I can’t bring myself to take it seriously.

I know this will offend devotees of the genre, but I suspect that the dedicated reader might eschew such a contrivance, despite its obvious success. There is certainly a fertile market out there for this kind of “reading.” Indeed, its popularity, judging from the way it’s eating up book catalogue and shelf space, seems to be burgeoning.

As for the dire warnings I have been hearing for years about the declining reading public, especially among young people, I have always rejected such alarms. It may be that the offerings are not attractive enough to induce the younger people to step forward. Who knows?

As many of us know, the quality of a thing is not always to be judged by its popularity. For example, while I congratulate Dan Brown on his popular success, I wish I could be complimentary about its quality. In my opinion, the characters are cardboard cutouts, the narrative drive is B-movie exploitation, the clichés are beyond count and the mystery seems stilted and far fetched. On the other hand, the hype was beautifully executed and if money is the great measure of success, then good for Dan and his publisher.

Hell, I bought the book for my electronic reader and slogged through it determined to show my loyal support for a fellow author. Indeed, many of my publisher and writer friends believe that anything that brings people into the reader’s tent is a plus. I suppose the business bet is that the Vook will also increase traffic to the tent. It might.

As for its contribution to the wonders of books consumed by the dedicated reader, I doubt it will make the slightest dent.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Address before NYU Alumni after receiving Alumni of the Year Award

Address before NYU Alumni after receiving award as Alumni of the Year for 2009 on October 3rd.

Dean Santirocco, fellow alumni, students, family and friends:

It is with great humility and some measure of astonishment for me to accept this wonderful honor 62 years after earning my degree at NYU. I guess Woody Allen was right when he said you earn your success by just keep showing up.

Nor am I the only alumnus in my family. Sunny, my lovely wife of more than half a century is a graduate of the School of Commerce and my son David, then a tiny embryo was present at her graduation ceremony.

I can remember vividly my college days at University Heights, that stunningly beautiful campus in the Bronx that was regrettably sold by NYU in 1973 .

I entered the Heights in February 1945, the only graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School registered. I knew nobody in my class. I was 17 years old and my prospects were dim since I expected to be drafted soon after my 18th birthday. World War 2 was still raging.

When I first visited the Heights, I was overwhelmed by the sight of those architectural jewels of that campus, Stanford White’s peerless Gould Library, its attached Hall of Fame of Great Americans and the breathtakingly beautiful landscape. For an urban boy raised in the neighborhood ghettos of Brooklyn at the height of the depression, I really felt that I was entering the kind of sublime college life depicted in the movies of the thirties to which I was, like all the kids at that time, totally addicted.

My parents somehow begged and borrowed the three hundred dollars a semester for tuition, 12 dollars a point, and I worked odd jobs at 50 cents an hour after classes. Be aware, the value of money was different. A subway ride was a nickel, a Broadway show was 55 cents. Textbooks were a little over a buck. And I was more than sixty years younger.

I’m beginning to sound like an object to be evaluated for the Antiques Roadshow.

I would leave the family apartment in Brooklyn armed with the lunch my mother made me each morning, two egg salad sandwiches and an apple. I suppose, from a loving son’s now politically incorrect perspective a stay at home mother was a most treasured gift. Armed with my sustenance I would walk the six blocks to the subway, spend the hour and a half on the journey to Burnside Avenue in the Bronx, walk another ten blocks to this little campus oasis plunked square in the middle of a very urban environment.

It was hardly a hardship since I used the subway time for reading and homework. Marching soldiers in uniform in the army’s officer training program attended classes and were housed in the dormitory. I was automatically registered in the ROTC program and we drilled daily on the campus.

I truly felt that I was going to what my parents would describe as an out of town college. My mother believed that there were only two places in the world New York and out of town. Having lived out of town for forty years wandering like Moses in the desert, I can honestly say she was right.

In fact, I was so inspired by the Heights campus that I ran for President of the Freshman class on the platform of bringing back the old customs of college life that I had learned from those Hollywood versions. I actually remember a reference from that strange campaign speech, something about the romance of gold fish swallowing and wearing pork pie hats. I must have touched a weird nerve and was miraculously elected.

My father carried the clipping of my victory from the Heights newspaper in his wallet until the day he died, as if I had been elected President of the United States.

My freshman year was rather eventful to say the least. I entered in February. The Germans surrendered in May, the atomic bombs were dropped in August and soon after the Japanese surrendered freeing me from the immediate prospect of military service. I’ve spent the last six decades searching those Times Square victory celebration pictures hoping to find that skinny NYU student. I was there, both times, mostly shouting with joy and kissing strange girls.

Ironically, four years after graduation I was drafted serving two years during the Korean War. It was, after all, the only war we had at the time.

I was in an accelerated program and spent summers attending classes in Washington Square and because of the time frame never attended graduation ceremonies but picked up my degree in one of our campus buildings.

So what did I get from my college years at NYU? Treasure beyond words. For it was here in this institution that I discovered my calling.

My freshman English teacher Professor Don Wolfe set the course for my future, as if he had lashed the tiller of my life’s sailboat in a fixed position. I’m sure he never knew it, but it was his little complimentary scribbling comments in red ink written on my compositions and the way he had taught us the power of the written word and introduced us to that vast mysterious world of the creative imagination that set the course my life would take.

Believe me, that is a gift beyond rational comprehension. Like love, you only know it when it happens.

No, I was not singled out as being anything extraordinary, but somehow the light of providence found me and embraced me ever since. Thanks to this inspired teacher, I knew almost at once who I was and I knew what I absolutely needed to become. That moment alone is enough to endear me to my alma mater forever. I’m sure I am not alone. To have the astounding luck to find a sainted Professor who impacts powerfully on one’s life is, I truly hope, not as rare an experience as I describe.

Instantly, I became an English major and reveled in those wonderful classes taught by Professor Ranney who introduced me to the European novels which I still read again and again to re-charge my literary batteries and the course in the Bible as History taught by Dean Baer. To this day I am an avid student of literature and the bible, in my view one of the greatest novels ever written whose narrative drive continues to engage my interest.

Perhaps I am still trying to figure out how a book written nearly three thousand years ago continues to be a best seller.

Yes, I am gratified to receive this honor, but somehow I believe the award should be in reverse. The real honor should go to NYU, the college that provided the environment and those inspiring teachers who gave me purpose and stubborn unfailing and enduring aspiration, however modest my achievements.

In fact, I stand here as a living symbol for those who choose the teaching profession here in this great school and why it is a truly worthy undertaking. Indeed, the folks who chose violet as our school’s colors were prescient.

Violet, after all, is the most vivid color in the rainbow. It has been called the color of creativity, strength and spirituality. It was a great choice for a great school.

Esteemed faculty and administrators of this institution-- this isn’t my award alone, it’s yours as well.