Contact:

      Marjorie Kaufman

      The Hilltop Cares Foundation 

      (646) 637-2964

      info@hilltopcares.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 1, 2016 

HORACE MANN ALUMNI MUSICIANS TO PERFORM FOR HILLTOP CARES

Benefit Concert Brings School Community Together to Support Abuse Survivors

MAY 1 2016, BRONX, NY:   The Hilltop Cares Foundation is pleased to announce that on Saturday May 14th, Broadway conductor  and Tony award winner Ted Sperling, Grammy award nominated pianist Claudia Knafo, acclaimed jazz musician Jon Seiger, and other Horace Mann alumni will perform at the Fisher Recital Hall on the Horace Mann campus as part of a benefit concert for survivors of abuse at the school.

Proceeds from the concert will support The Hilltop Cares Foundation, a 501(c)3 charitable organization which assists alumni survivors and their families who are in need of therapeutic treatment. The concert is being held in memory of 1982 Horace Mann alumnus Dominic Kulik who passed away earlier this year.  Kulik’s classmate, writer Amos Kamil, author of the 2015 book Great Is the Truth covering the history of abuse at Horace Mann, will share reminiscences of Dominic with the assembled guests, who are expected to include alumni, students, staff members and parents.

Marjorie Kaufman, Chair of the Hilltop Cares board, said the concert will be “an incredibly powerful and emotional evening of music and camaraderie in support of a great cause: helping fellow alumni in need and letting them know they are not alone.” Kaufman is a 1978 graduate of Horace Mann as well as the parent of two boys currently at the school.

Pianist Claudia Knafo, who is credited with the idea of having alumni musicians perform in support of Hilltop Cares  remarked “Bringing together exceptionally talented alumni to share their music on campus is a small step on the road to healing the Horace Mann community, which has been so profoundly affected by revelations of abuse.”

Daniel Miller, a lifelong friend of Dominic Kulik, member of the board of Hilltop Cares and current parent, said, “Dominic was an inspiration to us. He was a friendly, caring classmate and his work as a member of the Horace Mann Board of Trustees paved the way for constructive dialogue between a group of abuse survivors and the school.

The event, the second such undertaking for Hilltop Cares, will begin at 6:30 pm with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres sponsored by the school.  Alumnus Cantor Gregg Luchs ’78, a board member of Hilltop Cares, will conduct a pre-concert spiritual service at 7:30 pm. The concert itself will begin at 8:00 pm and include performances by alumni Ted Sperling ‘79, Claudia Knafo ‘82 and Maryl Cannon ‘79 and remarks by Dominic Kulik’s classmates Amos Kamil and Daniel Miller.  The event lineup includes two survivors of abuse: Steve Fife, Class of 1971, who will read selections from his poetry collection, “Twisted Hipster”, and Jon Seiger, Class of 1979, who will perform jazz numbers with his band, The All Stars. The concert will conclude with a reunion of the Horace Mann Jazz Band from the late 1970’s, featuring Jon Seiger, David Kahn ’77, Dr. David Silbersweig ’78 and Dr. Steve Odrich ’80.

Tickets beginning at $10 for students are available at the Hilltop Cares website, www.hilltopcares.org.

About The Hilltop Cares Foundation:  Hilltop Cares was formed by Joe Rose, a 1977 graduate, and other Horace Mann alumni to help survivors of abuse at the school and to promote healing.  Led by Marjorie Kaufman, a 1978 graduate and parent of two children currently at the school, Hilltop Cares funds therapy for survivors and their families who are in need of assistance, provides resources on sexual abuse of children through its website, www.hilltopcares.org, and seeks to bring together the Horace Mann community in a spirit of healing.

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Hedge-Funder Bill Ackman Is a Star at Tribeca Film Festival, Even As He’s Losing Billions

By Michelle Celarier

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/ackman-makes-a-star-turn-while-losing-billions.html?mid=twitter-share-di

In one of the more surreal events in Bill Ackman’s now almost four-year battle to take down diet-shake seller Herbalife, the New York billionaire found himself in a weathered church in Chicago’s South Side on a bitter January night in 2015.

As the snow fell outside, the hedge-fund titan worked the pews, shaking hands and listening to tales of woe, then stood in front of the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows, where he gave nothing short of a sermon on why Herbalife was a pyramid scheme that was, as he put it, “stealing the American Dream” from new Latino immigrants, who make up the bulk of Herbalife’s U.S. ranks. A spontaneous chant, “Ackman amigo,” sprang from the largely Hispanic crowd.

As the improbable night unfolded, award-winning filmmaker Ted Braun (of Darfur Now fame) was shooting it all — part of a nearly three-year effort that is coming to fruition in Betting on Zero, a documentary about Ackman’s much-debated Herbalife short bet that will have its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Thursday.

A wider public lens on the drama could help push regulators to take action on Herbalife, which has been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for more than two years. In addition to filming Ackman, director Braun spent months following grassroots activist Julie Contreras, a fierce opponent of Herbalife who invited the hedge-fund manager to speak at the Chicago church and has helped dozens of former sales representatives, called “distributors” or “members” — some of whom appear in the documentary — file complaints with the FTC.

But it’s the six-foot-three, green-eyed, silver-haired Ackman, a made-for-Hollywood hedge-fund legend if ever there was one, who is the main attraction. Whether he’s loved or hated, making money or losing it, Ackman, who turns 50 next month, arguably has more star power than any other money manager of our era. All five showings of Betting on Zero sold out 15 minutes after ticket sales opened.

Off-screen, however, Ackman is being pounded, not only on Herbalife, but also in his even-bigger bet on troubled drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Both companies are facing multiple regulatory investigations over alleged improprieties, not to mention financial pressure. And the shares of both have done the opposite of what Ackman was betting they would do: Valeant has collapsed, while Herbalife is higher than when he announced his short position in 2012.

The two controversial positions helped turn last year into the worst ever for Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management. His largest fund was down 20 percent in 2015 and has fallen another 25 percent this year. But even some of Ackman’s harshest critics aren’t counting him out. Hedge-fund manager Robert Chapman of Chapman Capital in Los Angeles, who went up against Ackman on Herbalife in early 2013, has recently invested in both Valeant and Pershing Square Holdings, Ackman’s publicly traded hedge fund. “I don’t think Ackman is ‘done,’ just maimed,” Chapman said in an email. “That dude is RESILIENT!”

Indeed Ackman, has been taking body blows on his Herbalife effort for years. Armed with a mountain of research, he lobbied members of Congress to press the FTC to investigate Herbalife, which the regulator finally agreed to do in 2014 after Latino activists also took up the cause. Since then, Ackman has spent millions on his own investigation, which is continuing, and produced several slick videos, PowerPoint presentations, and two websites tracking his efforts to expose what he believes are Herbalife’s immoral and illegal pyramid practices. Herbalife, he says, preys on the most vulnerable, enticing them into a false business opportunity with promises of riches and health. In the end, the vast majority — about nine out of ten — lose money. The few who do profit, Ackman argues, make the bulk of their income recruiting others into the scheme, which is illegal.

Distributor beware. Photo: Courtesy of Herbalife

For its part, Herbalife insists it is not a pyramid scheme and has long enjoyed support in Washington, largely from Republican pols like Orrin Hatch of Utah. Since Ackman came along, though, it has spent millions shoring up support on the other side of the aisle. Last year CEO Michael Johnson promised its top salespeople that the company would “seize the narrative,” after hiring Beltway Democrats to beat back Ackman, painting him as a manipulative Wall Street villain out to destroy a company helping solve the global obesity epidemic. (Hillary Clinton’s campaign also has ties to the Herbalife camp: Her surrogates Hilary Rosen and Madeleine Albright are advisers to the company.)
So far, despite the 1,200 alleged victims who have filed complaints with the FTC and other regulators, no action has been taken in the Herbalife matter. (One of them, Julio Ullio, who lost $50,000 and his marriage trying to make a go of it in his Herbalife business, also appears in the film.)

Ackman has hung on, at great financial cost, and remains adamant he will be vindicated. “We do not believe the FTC will deliver a ‘slap on the wrist’ in light of the enormous harm Herbalife inflicts on its victims, which will continue if it is not forced to stop its pyramidal practices,” he told investors in March.

In February, Herbalife said it was in “discussions” with the FTC and warned investors it might be sued by the regulator — which means the FTC could seek an injunction to shut it down, as it has with others. Even if Herbalife does ultimately reach a settlement with the FTC, the question is just how hard the regulator will come down on Herbalife’s controversial business practices. Last year, in a groundbreaking case, the FTC accused an Arizona multilevel marketing company called Vemma of being a pyramid scheme. While the case is winding through federal court, Vemma has been forced to set up a new compensation plan that ensures that most sales are to outside customers — to prove true retail demand instead of recruiting-based pyramid sales. Industry insiders and experts alike believe it is impossible for most MLMs (including Herbalife) to live by that standard.

For Herbalife, the scrutiny has already taken a toll: Net sales fell 10 percent last year, and the distributor ranks are in decline. “The pyramid has quit growing,” says Ackman. The stock has been a stomach-churning roller coaster, with shares still down 25 percent from a high of $81 before the FTC probe began, despite a 45 percent surge over the past 12 months.

The hedge-fund mogul’s jaw-dropping $1 billion short on Herbalife, a 11 percent position, seemed extraordinarily risky when it was unveiled in December of 2012. Short sellers betting on a stock’s decline borrow shares, hoping to pay them back at a lower price and pocket the difference. If the stock rises instead, theoretically the losses are unlimited. Yet taking a huge bet on high-flier Valeant, which once comprised 25 percent of Pershing Square, has proved a bigger black hole — and far more damaging to his reputation.

“We made a number of mistakes on Valeant,” Ackman admitted to investors on his April 6 quarterly call. “It has caused some soul searching.”

Ackman raised the ante for outlandish shareholder activist plays by hooking up with then–Valeant CEO Michael Pearson to press for a takeover of Botox-maker Allergan, where he took a 9 percent stake in the spring of 2014. While that deal fell through, Pershing Square made $2.2 billion on Allergan’s sale to rival drugmaker Actavis, giving his fund an astonishing 40 percent gain that year. Thinking more deals for the acquisitive Valeant were on the horizon, Ackman sold out and reinvested the proceeds in Valeant a year ago. No sooner had he done so than the drugmaker began to gain public notoriety for its hefty price increases on two heart drugs, exposed in The Wall Street Journal last spring, and later mentioned by Clinton as she lambasted the price gouging. (Ackman says he knew nothing about the price hikes until reading it in the newspaper.)

Valeant was already a target of short sellers wary of its acquisition-driven strategy and related accounting practices. Pearson insisted “organic growth” was driving profits. But some of that growth came through a new, secret relationship with captive specialty pharmacy Philidor. When its shady practices were exposed in October, the stock nose-dived, and Valeant ended the relationship.

Ackman was more than a billion dollars in the hole and stuck with the company, even buying more shares to amass a 9 percent stake. This year, however, things took another turn for the worse when Valeant said an internal investigation revealed a major accounting error. Shares are now down 80 percent.

The hedge-fund manager swung into action as his losses mushroomed. In March, he helped kick out Pearson, joined the board, and announced last week that hiring a new CEO could be only “weeks away.” The stock has gained a bit off recent lows. “We should be able to recover the lion’s share of our investment — if not all of it — over time,” he promised.

It has become a popular game on Wall Street to take the other side of Ackman’s bets — especially being long Herbalife and short Valeant — in what has been called a “Schadenfreude” trade. The Street’s denizens are merciless, and some who’ve been on the opposite side of Ackman’s many successes are publicly gloating over his losses and boldly hoping for his demise. “I still have it in for him with Pre Paid Legal,” short seller Marc Cohodes, whose Copper River hedge fund went bust in 2008, wrote in a Twitter exchange with another professed Ackman-hater recently. (Prepaid Legal was popular among short sellers when Ackman was long its stock — some 15 years ago.)

It is easy to go after him. While most hedge funds still shroud their activities and performance in secrecy, Ackman cannot. His holdings are all publicly traded stocks, and his returns have been publicly available ever since the 2014 IPO of Pershing Square Holdings.

Fortunately for Ackman, he has created a moat to protect himself: a fund structure where about half of Pershing Square’s capital is his own or was raised through the IPO, meaning it’s not going anywhere, and the bulk of the rest can only be withdrawn in quarterly intervals over two years. “That setup is brilliant,” says veteran hedge-fund marketing executive Marjorie Kaufman, who also says Ackman has created a “bond of trust” with his investors. Despite the huge losses recently, over the past 11 years he has earned them multiples of what the S&P 500 returned. So far this year, they have asked for only $240 million, or 2 percent, out of the firm’s $12 billion.

To keep investors happy, Ackman now needs to show substantial progress on Valeant. “There’s enormous upside to us if we can recover our value,” he says, knowing that if he succeeds in fixing the company, his stock will rise. On top of that, a movie that flashes the stories of Herbalife’s alleged victims on the big screen could be a godsend for him. Says activist Contreras: “It’s not just about the stock market. People need to see the human aspect.” She, like Ackman, is hoping the FTC is paying attention.

Le Courrier published my image of Afro-Cuban dancers in Havana

Passeurs d’arts

Samedi 04 juillet 2015

Photo. En musique et danse, l’Amérique latine a bénéficié des influences amérindiennes, européennes et africaines. Ici, une troupe de danse à La Havane.
MARJORIE KAUFMAN

 

MIGRATIONS (I) De tous temps et partout, les mouvements de population ont permis le renouveau des arts. Premier épisode de notre série d’été sur les rapports entre migrations et culture.

Sur quelles notes le XXe siècle aurait-il swingué sans les musiques étasuniennes sous influence africaine? Le cubisme de Picasso aurait-il été le même sans les masques congolais? Que serait la culture à Genève sans les huguenots? Le mouvement dada aurait-il émergé au Cabaret Voltaire zurichois sans les exilés Marcel Janco et Tristan Tzara? Et que dire des colonies et autres empires, par définition tyranniques et prédateurs mais qui ont aussi été synonymes
d’échanges et de diffusion des savoirs?
L’art s’est de tous temps inspiré et nourri des propositions venant d’autres horizons, ramenées sur les fiers navires des Marco Polo et Christophe Colomb autant que sur les frêles esquifs des migrants irréguliers de la Méditerranée. Sans les mouvements de populations et les échanges qu’elles provoquent, les cultures du monde entier se seraient depuis longtemps atrophiées, ce qui est d’ailleurs arrivé à nombre d’entre elles. Et bien sûr, tous les domaines artistiques sont concernés, de la musique à la littérature en passant par les arts plastiques, le cinéma, le théâtre, la danse, l’architecture, la mode, etc.

«Les cultures ne sont jamais des cellules imperméables: elles se construisent de manière constante, explique Federica Tamarozzi, conservatrice Europe au Musée d’ethnographie de Genève. Certains folkloristes, considérés comme les premiers ethnologues, étaient partis à la recherche de traditions suffisamment isolées pour ne pas avoir été influencées par d’autres cultures. Or ils se sont rendus compte qu’aucune culture n’est ‘pure’.»

MASQUES HARD ROCK
Conservateur-adjoint au Musée d’ethnographie de Neuchâtel, Grégoire Mayor abonde, constatant par ailleurs que «certaines populations continuent à mettre en avant le caractère unique de leur artisanat local, parce que c’est valorisant.» On peut entendre ce type de discours autour des masques du Lötschental, en Valais. «Derrière leur ‘authenticité’ de façade, on trouve de nombreuses influences extérieures. Dans les années 1970, l’ethnologue Suzanne Chappaz a constaté qu’un sculpteur avait affiché comme source d’inspiration des reproductions d’œuvres de Jérôme Bosch. Plus récemment, des artisans ont puisé des motifs sur internet: durant une période, l’esthétique du cinéma fantastique ou celle du hard rock ont fortement influencé la production de masques de la vallée.»
Les échanges ont été facilités il y a fort longtemps par les empires et leurs voies de circulation, faisant de ces communautés politiques des plaques tournantes pour les savoirs, à l’image de ce qui s’est passé durant le règne d’Alexandre le Grand (Ve siècle av. J.-C.). L’absence d’artères dignes de ce nom n’avait toutefois pas empêché l’Homo erectus de sortir d’Afrique il y a un million d’années déjà. Plus proche de nous temporellement, l’Homo sapiens aurait pour sa part colonisé le continent africain il y a 150 000 ans, pour se répandre ensuite à travers l’Eurasie, jusqu’en Océanie. Combien étaient-ils, nos ancêtres migrants? Impossible à dire. Aujourd’hui, les flux migratoires incluraient quelque 230 millions de personnes.
«De tout temps, le fait d’être ouvert à la culture des autres s’est avéré être un plus», insiste Jacques Berchtold, professeur de littérature et directeur de la Fondation Martin Bodmer, à Cologny. Il rappelle que «le meilleur du théâtre classique romain a été influencé par les érudits de culture grecque.» Quant au poète latin Virgile, il s’est fortement inspiré des Hellènes. Aujourd’hui, en France, ce sont par exemple des écrivains d’origine antillaise, maghrébine ou – plus généralement – africaine qui proposent un renouvellement de la langue de Molière. Alors que pendant longtemps, c’est l’Hexagone qui influençait ses colonies d’un point de vue littéraire, ne serait-ce qu’en imposant la langue française. Ou en faisant dire «nos ancêtres les Gaulois» aux populations des territoires d’outre-mer!
Spécialiste de Rousseau, Jacques Berchtold pointe aussi les nombreux écrivains qui ont écrit dans une autre langue que la leur, au siècle dernier, pour cause d’exil ou de simple déménagement: «Venant d’ailleurs, ces écrivains se sont montré particulièrement enthousiastes à embrasser la nouvelle culture, alors que ceux qui la vivent au quotidien ont parfois une attitude un peu mollassonne.» Ce faisant, les nouveaux venus ont contribué à enrichir les langues d’accueil. Jacques Berchtold cite l’Irlandais Samuel Beckett, qui a rédigé en français ses œuvres théâtrales les plus connues, à commencer par En attendant Godot (1948-1949). Quant à Vladimir Nabokov, c’est en anglais qu’il a écrit Lolita (1955). Enfin, l’Autrichien Rainer Maria Rilke a choisi le village de Veyras (VS) pour composer en français «parmi les plus beaux poèmes valaisans».

FIGEE, LA MUSIQUE MEURT
Le métissage peut être envisagé comme un «processus dynamique, né de l’interaction entre personnes ou groupes qui n’étaient pas supposés se rencontrer», formule Madeleine Leclair au sujet de la musique. Conservatrice du département d’ethnomusicologie du Musée d’ethnographie de Genève, elle observe qu’«il en découle un processus de transformation. Aussi aucune culture musicale traditionnelle n’est-elle exempte de l’influences de ses voisins, aucune n’a évolué dans le temps sans se modifier. Si elles restent figées, elles meurent.»
Pour cette Française d’origine canadienne, les exemples les plus parlants sont à chercher du côté de l’Amérique latine, où se sont rencontrées les traditions amérindiennes, européennes et africaines. Rumba et boléro (Cuba), calypso (Venezuela), samba (Brésil), cumbia (Colombie) ou tango (Argentine): toutes ces musiques sont le syncrétisme de leurs origines diverses. Madeleine Leclair ajoute que si ces métissages ont de tout temps existé, ils se sont bien entendu multipliés au cours du XXe siècle, avec la radio, la télévision, puis internet.

NOUVELLE DONNE
Plus généralement, Federica Tamarozzi souligne les influences, très courantes en Europe, entre culture savante et culture populaire. Difficile d’ailleurs
d’établir une dichotomie nette: «Est-ce que ce sont les arts culinaires de la cour de France qui ont influencé la cuisine populaire, ou l’inverse? Les échanges sont toujours fluides, avec des résurgences régulières d’anciens savoirs, qui se mêlent à des innovations, parfois injectées de manière plus abruptes.» L’ethnologue cite en exemple la peinture sur verre, pratiquée depuis l’Antiquité mais qui acquiert ses lettres de noblesse à la Renaissance. Art d’une élite, il se popularise dès le XVIIIe siècle, figurant les codes de la culture savante, l’imagerie de l’art mais également les coutumes du peuple.
On critique à très juste titre les colonies. Mais, comme les empires auparavant, elles ont aussi débouché sur des échanges constructifs, pas simplement sur des pillages. «Les migrations humaines ainsi que les circulations d’objets et de valeurs qui leur sont liées ont des origines et des conséquences multiples», concède Grégoire Mayor. Et si le nombre de migrants a explosé dans le monde ces dernières décennies, les ethnologues ou anthropologues s’intéressent logiquement à cette nouvelle donne et à ce qu’elle peut impliquer au niveau des formes inédites de métissages culturels: «Ces thématiques font partie des questionnements de l’ethnologie contemporaine, en particulier à Neuchâtel, où se trouve par ailleurs le Forum suisse pour l’étude des migrations et de la population.» Des problématiques qui interpellent évidemment les musées d’ethnographie: «Comment les évoquer intelligemment dans des expositions? Comment se reflètent-elles dans nos collections?»
Lorsqu’on parle de métissage culturel, d’aucuns redoutent qu’il mène à terme à une uniformisation planétaire. «On a souvent tendance à poser sur le métissage le même regard qu’on porte sur la mondialisation de l’économie, qui impose à la planète entière des logiques qui n’ont pas forcément de sens localement, estime Federica Tamarozzi. Or il faut faire la distinction entre l’uniformisation imposée par des marques commerciales et l’appropriation que peut opérer un artisan local, qui s’inspire d’une autre culture pour sa propre production. Aussi les voyageurs se plaignent-ils parfois de ne pas trouver suffisamment de pittoresque lorsqu’ils se rendent à l’autre bout de la planète, sans se rendre compte qu’ils sont eux aussi un vecteur d’une certaine uniformisation.»
Pour Federica Tamarozzi, même un métissage important n’enlève rien aux spécificités d’une culture, «qui adapte ses propres codes, s’en approprie d’autres, par exemple en les rendant plus efficaces pour ses propres besoins». Et en quelque sorte, nous pratiquons toutes et tous un mécanisme de métissage. «Passivement, nous subissons notre culture, qui nous est inculquée par le cadre familial, social et national. Puis nous la faisons évoluer, en puisant ailleurs notre inspiration.» A un moment ou un autre, on a tous besoin d’un horizon élargi.

Thrilled to be honored by Institutional Investor’s Alpha “Marjorie Kaufman and the Whole Girl Approach to Education ” this month as one of the “good guys” in the industry for my work with Young Women’s Leadership Network and Hilltop Cares.

EPSON MFP image

 

On May 1st, Horace Mann alumni, parents, students and faculty came together to celebrate their shared connections through music and raise funds for Hilltop Cares.

Please see articles covering the event in the Riverdale Press and The Horace Mann Record.

Over 150 were in attendance.

See photos at the Hilltop Cares website of participants Claudia Knafo, Jon Sieger, David Kahn, Rob Kahn, David Silbersweig and other Horace Mann alumni.

MGK at HTC

Marjorie Kaufman greeting guests at the May 2015 Hilltop Cares concert

Knafo

Pianist Claudia Knafo performing on campus

2015_05_HilltopCares_3

Rob Kahn and Jon Sieger at the Hilltop Cares Concert May 2015

2015_05_HilltopCares_29

Jon Seiger, David Silbersweig and David Kahn at the Hilltop Cares Concert May 2015

White Sands, New Mexico

March 7, 2015

Presentation of images from White Sands, NM taken by Marjorie Kaufman with Tony Bonanno/Santa Fe Photographic workshops, Feb 2015

White Sands in Black and White Slideshow

White Sands in Color Slideshow

Wheeler House photographed by Marjorie Kaufman

The Wheeler House at Pond Spring, built in the 1870’s (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The Civil War left more than 300,000 Southern widows.  In 1864, Confederate General Joe Wheeler, a West Point graduate originally from Georgia, married Daniella Sherrod, one of the richest widows in Alabama and moved into the Sherrod estate known as Pond Spring in Hillsboro, AL, about 20 miles west of Decatur. Originally developed in the early 1800’s by the John Hickman family, Pond Spring at one time was home to more than 300 slaves. Today it is a historic museum run by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Dogtrot log house built in 1818 at Pond Spring (Photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Dogtrot log house built in 1818 at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The 50-acre site includes the original log house built around 1818 pictured left, which was alter used as a slave cabin, a circa 1830 Federal-style house, the 1870s Wheeler house pictured above, eight farm-related outbuildings, two family cemeteries, an African-American cemetery and a small Indian mound.

Following the Civil War, Joe Wheeler served in Congress for nearly ten years, rising to become Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.  During his time in Washington, Wheeler’s fame during the Civil War  “made him something of a symbol of the reunion of the North and South in that period,” according to his biography on the Arlington Cemetery site.  

Joe Wheeler uniforms from the Civil War and the Spanish American War (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Joe Wheeler uniforms from the Civil War and the Spanish American War (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The 5’2″ Wheeler continued his military exploits at the turn of the century as a General in the Spanish American War, serving in Cuba as Commander of a cavalry division which included Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  The excellent Ken Burns series The Roosevelts, Episode 1 includes a wonderful photograph of the diminutive Wheeler standing alongside Roosevelt in Cuba. Wheeler is  described as a somewhat confused elderly former Confederate who roused his troops at the Battle of Las Guasimas against the Spaniards by shouting “kill the Northerners.”

Left, Joe Wheeler’s Confederate and US uniforms, guns and swords exhibited at Pond Spring. A mold of his foot for shoe making can be seen in the middle right shelf.

Wheeler proceeded to serve in the Philippine-American War in 1899,  commanding the First Brigade in Arthur MacArthur’s Second Division. He  moved to New York City, where he died in 1906 and was buried at Arlington Cemetery. His son, Colonel Joseph Wheeler, Jr, was later buried alongside him.  Wheeler is one of only two Confederate Generals buried at Arlington. Belying his small physical stature,  Wheeler’s memorial stands out as the tallest one at Arlington. A similar memorial marks the grave of his wife Daniella at Pond Spring.

Antique doll and crib at Pond Spring. (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Antique doll and crib at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

One of the Wheeler daughters, known as Miss Annie, lived at Pond Spring until her death in 1955. She served as a Red Cross Nurse in three wars and was a major benefactor to Decatur area causes.  Right, one of Annie’s dolls lies in a doll crib next to an antique Wheeler baby crib in an  upstairs bedroom.

Below, original lighting fixtures grace Pond Spring’s center hallway.

Original lighting fixtures at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Original lighting fixtures at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Pond Spring was donated to the State of Alabama in 1993 by Wheeler’s descendants. Amidst beautiful antiques from the 1800s, family portraits, military books and elegant china are remnants of Annie Wheeler’s household, including packaged sundries and medicine from the 1930’s pictured below.

1930's household items at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

1930’s household items at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Above images taken by Marjorie Kaufman as part of a Tillman Crane photography workshop entitled Alabama Revisited, January 2015.

I’m not your typical sports fan. In fact, I’m really not much of a sports fan at all. Except when it comes to my two boys. I’m the embarrassing Mom who cheers passionately for their soccer, track, basketball or football teams while aggressively elbowing aside other parents to snap photos on my Nikon.

To be sure, there have been times when my sons’ sports interests have aligned with my career in hedge funds. For example, when 13-year old Matthew got drafted for David Einhorn’s Harry’s Burritos basketball team two years ago. It was thrilling to get Einhorn’s detailed post-game analysis direct from Greenlight Capital. He was an incredibly dedicated coach, the kind of guy who not only taught the team cool, strategic plays and encouraged the slackers to excel but also once waited with my son outside the Larchmont gym in the freezing cold for 20 minutes until I belatedly swung by to collect my offspring.

No-one was surprised when the Burritos won the league championships that season. David Einhorn is a winning coach, in addition to being a pretty amazing hedge fund manager and poker player.

Back to our story. I hadn’t gone to a pro basketball game in decades. But last week I found myself at the Garden watching the Knicks get utterly destroyed by the Houston Rockets and loving every single minute.

Here’s how it happened. I discovered through the parent grapevine that other perfectly normal homework abiding families take their kids to pro basketball games on school nights. My husband and our 15-year old Grant were invited by another dad to see a Nets game in December. They loved it. It was a night out. The action was fast paced.  They spotted a bunch of other kids from their school across the court and several celebrities in the stands. There was ice cream and popcorn to be had at the concessions.

I started thinking, why not go to a Knicks game as a family? So what if they stink.  This is about New York spirit. And getting everyone out of the house, away from their computers on a frozen January night.

Happily the Knicks’ dismal record this year presents the casual ticket buyer with a cornucopia of choice seats on StubHub. The prices are still ridiculous – it’s NY – but the markups for really good seats have deflated from Crazy Eddie certifiably insane to almost tolerable.  (Don’t worry if you don’t get the Crazy Eddie reference, it’s a 70’s thing.)

So last week, I picked Grant and Matthew up at Horace Mann, rendezvoued for dinner at Brother Jimmy’s with husband David, stepdaughter Michele and her boyfriend Nick, and spent the evening at Madison Square Garden cheering on the Knicks, drinking $11 beers and doing everything possible to catch a tee shirt hurled into the stands by the Knicks crowd-warming events staff.

I’m ashamed to admit this was my first time at the Garden to watch a basketball game.  A frequent habituant of the Garden in earlier years for pleasing, albeit deafening concerts from the Who to the Dead, I’ve slacked off in recent decades and now go to just a handful of shows a year. The grimy escalators, crushing hordes of people and general concrete vibe make MSG one of my least favorite music venues.  A brief, depressing stroll through the adjoining underground commuter post-industrial wasteland otherwise known as Penn Station is sufficient to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. The Beacon on the Upper West Side provides a superior musical experience, as fans making annual pilgrimages to catch the Allman Brothers readily attest to. The more intimate and, for Westchester residents, geographically desirable Capital Theater in Port Chester and the nostalgically charming and cheap Tarrytown Music Hall have better acoustics, and honestly no bad sight lines wherever you end up.

But even my few recent jaunts to the Garden prior to last week’s Knicks game have been special experiences. The 2009 star saturated marathon two day Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary extravaganza was beyond fantastic.  I loved seeing the sultry voiced Stevie Nicks swirling to Rhiannon a few years ago, several decades post Rumours.  Billy Joel’s shows are sacred ground for New Yorkers who grew up in the 70’s.  Ditto for Paul Simon, the quintessential cool, hip, sarcastic yet soulful New Yorker.  There’s nothing cheesy about the whole Garden singing along to Sounds of Silence.  And happily a business trip interfered with taking my younger son to see Robin Thicke last year, which would have been the only sour note in the lot. (David went and was underwhelmed)

But I digress. This is about sports, and specifically, the Knicks.

Over pre-game ribs and margaritas at Brother Jimmy’s, the extended Kaufman family reviewed the sorry state of NY sports fans. I didn’t quite realize how bad things had gotten. In football, both the Jets and the Giants have had lousy seasons. In baseball, A-Rod was suspended for drug-related reasons. The Yankees failed to make the playoffs. And then there are the Knicks, who currently hold the distinction of being the worst team in the league. At this juncture, they’d lost all but 5 of their 40 games.  Star Carmelo Anthony needs knee surgery and the rest of the starters are sidelined. The team has failed to develop younger players into the new generation of stars. There’s been a failure of leadership. Of coaching. Of talent. Of skill.

The high spirits at dinner turned more sober as we got closer to leaving for the game across the street.  Brother Jimmy’s ribs were delicious but the margaritas were cloyingly sweet. We were going to watch a lousy team lose big.  It was going to be a downer of an evening.  Expensive too. Why were we bothering?

Yet from the minute we stepped into the Garden, it was bright lights big city glitzy fun. Well, almost. First we had to navigate through the sullen neon and linoleum vibe of Penn Station and make it up to the arena’s main entrance, then survive the trifecta of MSG Security: the full body pat down, the up close and personal scrutiny by a drug sniffing dog, and the final humiliation, the Poland Spring water bottle confiscation.  (Just watch, xray screening and shoe removal is coming next).

Once inside and settled into our seats we were bombarded with NY team spirit.  A happy, mostly white crowd bedecked in orange and blue Knicks jerseys, tee shirts and hats filled the stands. Lots of Dads and sons. Couples out on dates, some of whom were later called out by the official MSG Kiss Cam (more on that later). The Knicks retinue of warm up staffers rambled around the stadium throwing Knicks-branded goodies to the excited crowd. Upbeat music streamed out of the excellent speaker system.

The concession stands had undergone a gourmet upgrade since last I visited. There were tacos from Jean Georges Vongerichten and burgers by Drew Nieporent. Defying worldwide economic deflationary trends, food prices tat the Garden have soared in recent times.  Replacing that confiscated fresh from Maine Poland Spring bottle with a like sized bottle of purified Dasani tap water cost $5.50. The concession ladies insisted on keeping the cap, which must either be some weird security measure or a pointless way of preventing consumers from enjoying their Dasani post-game.  (Note to self: bring spare Dasani water bottle cap to next event at MSG.) Every time I gave my kids a $20 for a pretzel and soda they came back without any change.

But then the game began and the action was fast paced and infectious. Every Knicks basket was met with wild applause and joy.  So many gorgeous 3-pointer shots – when did the game start revolving around those?  Not a lot of close court battling and dunking, except for the official Dunker Championship Playoff contest in between quarters.

But something about the team was off.  They trailed the Rockets from the get go. All of their stats posted on the big board painted a nuanced numerical picture of mediocrity.

No wonder the Knicks were in last place.

But amazingly everyone seemed to be having a great time. The Knicks staff kept an upbeat tempo during breaks with contests and more crowd give-aways. First up was a shuffleboard standoff. This was no blue-plate Miami Beach special.  The stakes were big. A trip to London for two.

To our surprise, the first contestant called down to the floor was a friend of ours, another school parent – the very one who had taken the guys to that Nets game a few weeks back. “Dean!! You rock!” we all shouted, as he stepped up to the shuffleboard puck.  And he won, armed with superior shuffleboard skill, easily trouncing his opponent.  We all felt bad for his fellow contestant, a pleasant looking woman in her 40’s.  But then, it was announced that she would also get the same prize.  The crowd cheered. Nice touch. Everyone’s a winner.

This was turning into a great evening.

As the numbers on the scoreboard climbed and the Knicks’ margin of loss widened, the carefully choreographed fun continued. First, the aforementioned dunking contest. Let me refer to it by it’s proper copyrighted name, for this was no mere dribble and dunk one on one. This was The Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, the “premier amateur dunk contest”, according to its official Facebook page.

Two talented dunkers competed for best in show. We watched as former Harlem Globetrotter Leon “Space Jam” Sewell eviscerated “Los Smothers”. Not the most exciting display of dunking talent, according to my group. It seemed a little manufactured and over hyped. The crowd yawned.

But then we were inspired to cheer once again as the Douglas Elliman Celebrity Row close-up camera zoomed in on the one and only Daryl Strawberry.  We were definitely sitting amongst the gods. Later in the game, we cheered every time the Elliman camera showcased another celebrity, even some minor actor from the Sopranos whom I’d never heard of. It was a good distraction from the terrible game being played by the Knicks, and confirmed to our smug satisfaction that we were indeed privileged New Yorkers, spending the evening with talented stars from the sports world (in the stands, not on the court) and miscellaneous actors.

Next up was the Kiss Cam. SO cute. A couple out on date night watch the screen as the camera pans the stadium and zoom up to land on their own faces, at which point they are supposed to respond with intense excitement and delight, then turn to each other and smooch.  Good clean fun.

Until we witnessed the controversial incident which made the news the next day.

“Kiss Cam Takes Crazy Turn At Knicks Game As Girl Smooches Total Stranger” www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/kiss-cam-knicks_n_6453928.html

Yes, sports fans. The girl’s date was busy texting on his iPhone and couldn’t be bothered to look up at the screen or respond to her urgent arm shaking.  But she felt the crowd’s pressure to come through with a kiss. So she grabbed the guy sitting next to her and assaulted his lips.

Huffington Post’s Ed Mazza deemed it “possibly the best thing at any Knicks game, all season” but wondered if perhaps the incident had been staged.

In fact, while I was excitedly patting my husband’s arm saying “awwww how sweet”, I heard various people around us mutter “staged”.  Matthew turned to me with one of his world weary Mom-you’re disappointing/embarrasing-me expressions and set me straight. “Mom, get real, a lot of these things are staged so they’ll go viral.”

I generally have a hard time winning arguments with Matthew as he’s inherited my Dad’s litigator genes, so I shut up.   For the last word on this topic, I turn once more to HuffPost’s Ed Mazza, who writes that if this Kiss Cam incident turns out to have been staged, “it’s still a better performance than anything the team has managed to put together this year.”

To be sure, the Knicks ended up losing to the Houston Rockets by a score of 120-96, cementing their last place status.

We left in the middle of the 4th quarter, not because of the crowds but rather because I looked at my watch and saw that it was way past bedtime for my 8th and 9th graders. Michele and Nick stayed behind to cheer on the losing Knicks, reveling in every basket.

Last January, after attending an Afro-Cuban dance rehearsal amidst the ruins of two dilapidated buildings in Havana, my friends from the Santa Fe workshop and I wandered down the narrow pot-holed street. A few blocks away I caught sight of a girl waving to us from her 2nd floor balcony. I waved back and asked how old she was.  She said 7, that today was her birthday. Her mother came down the stairs and invited us up. Their apartment consisted of one cramped room with a tiny stove and refrigerator at the entrance. The birthday girl,  Gretchen, was having cookies and milk for her birthday and there was a little pink plastic birthday bouquet in top of the ancient TV set. We spent an hour talking to Gretchen and her family and decided to return the next day with Barbie doll presents for her birthday. Not so easy to shop for dolls in Havana! We found a dilapidated toy store on one of the main tourist streets that looked like it had been forgotten in time since the 1950’s. So little inventory in the glass display cases, and what was there seemed to all be imported from Taiwan. We bought two dolls and carried them back to Gretchen’s room.

See more images from Cuba at my photography site http://www.marjoriekaufman.com/havana-2014.html

Gretchen's 7th Birthday

Gretchen’s 7th Birthday

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