Saturday, May 24, 2014

A visit to the National Zoo

Having spent the last two weeks a short walk from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Woodley Park, I took that walk today, to and around the Zoo. It was good. I like zoos. Pat doesn’t, I think because of the fact that the animals are trapped in cages. I think this attitude mellowed a great deal many years ago after we spent the night at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, part of a program called Roar and Snore. It is remarkable how many species would now be extinct if they only existed in the wild, and have been restored by breeding programs in zoos.

Zoos also have a lot of families, with kids and strollers, which can be inconvenient. Strollers take up a lot of room, and while large groups of teenagers (like the band from Toronto HS in Toronto, OH, who are apparently here to take part in the Memorial Day parade, and are identifiable by their T-shirts) reduce their impact by dividing into groups of 5 or 6, families (even as small as 3, and frequently quite a bit bigger, especially with grandparents) have a way of blocking things up. Someone – an adult, let us be clear -- is usually leading the way off, while looking back at the group rather than in the direction they are headed. 

I like the kids. I like them most of the time even when they are crying, or walking back and forth across the path following a line that may be imprinted on the ground in elephant footprints or may be only in their head. Even if they bump into me, although usually I see them coming. I think, unsurprisingly, it brings me back to when I had young children, and how wonderful and exciting it was to go to places like the zoo. (And, sadly, those good memories also lead to other ones, not so good.)

Of course, my boys were wonderful and – this is actually true – we didn’t have strollers. When they were too big for a backpack, they walked (ok, spelled sometimes by being carried). What is it with these strollers, sometimes for kids who look 4 or 5 years old? I am amazed about their ubiquity all over the city. At one time strollers were a step forward, in the sidewalk-space-occupying sense, from the big perambulator-type baby carriages, but now they have grown larger, so that many (especially the ones for two kids) approach the size of a motorcycle with side car. 

Which reminds me that other groups were wearing their motorcycle club colors (all the ones I saw from outside DC, MD, or VA) another nice thing; people of all kinds enjoy getting out in the zoo. Incredible numbers of races, ethnicities and national origins, not infrequently mixed in the same family. 

It helps that it was a nice day. I saw lions, and tigers and bears (oh, my!) and apes and wolves and ibises and alpacas and Przewalksi horses and Amazonian sting rays. Now I have had lunch and am headed toward downtown to see some memorials.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Santa Fe April...Fry and the coyotes

Well, I’ve been in Santa Fe pretty continuously for more than 6 weeks, and have a routine. Wake, take dogs out (Fry on leash) for shortish hike, have breakfast, work, then maybe go to Eldorado to work out. Nap, work, take a longer hike.

It is beautiful. This will be mostly a vehicle for pictures.

We do worry about Fry; he goes off and comes back in his own time, and there are coyotes out there. Why I don’t like him out at the dawn and dusk times when they are more active (like deer; the word is crepuscular). Last summer, he got attacked by coyotes and had some bites, so we have reason to worry; haven’t seen many in a while, but that means little. Also means little to him; he really doesn’t learn.

Monday, I took Pat to the airport in Albuquerque. It snowed last night, not a lot, but the morning walk was colder than it has been in weeks, about 23. Gray skies and some flurries. The snow is good; we need all the moisture we can get; several years of drought. By the time we got past Santa Fe, no snow on I-25, and down a little more bright sun. Albuquerque nearly 50 when I dropped Pat off about 10:30, 10:45, and the trees that had had white and pink flowers last time we were down there were now green.

But as we came back up the hill toward Santa Fe, the skies got grayer and the temperature dropped. By the time we hit home, it was 27 and flurrying. I opened the back of the car just a little, as I usually do, to tell them to sit before I opened it all the way and with maybe 8-10 inches open Fry was out and gone. Yonkel out too, but not gone. Didn’t see Fry back for about 2 hours. 

So I worked for a while, and about 4:30 got ready to go for a walk. Sweatshirt, windbreaker, tie on boots (may be muddy out there), sunscreen, sunglasses, hat – getting ready to walk out. But they are barking like there was a rabbit out there. Because there is a rabbit out there. I decide to wait for a couple of minutes, presuming the rabbit will be wise enough to run off. He is not. I am getting antsy. I open the door, and the two of them are off, giving chase, even Yonkel looking young. They do not, I think, catch the rabbit but they are gone. I had assumed that 1) Yonkel would come with me after a few minutes, and 2) Fry would go off on his own as usual, so what’s the difference?
Neither one came to join me. I kept calling. Hike was very lovely, around and back through the valley. Took about an hour. Yonkel sitting on the deck when 
I got home. No Fry.

About a half-hour later, up Fry runs being chased by two big coyotes. I open the door to 1) let him in, and 2) chase the coyotes off, and, instead, Yonkel bolts out and the two of them chase the coyotes off. After a minute or so they come back, with me frantically yelling. Yonkel comes in, Fry stays out, avoiding me. Looking out for the coyotes to chase! Licking at his sides. Must have been bitten again, but he won’t let me get near him.

I leave the door open and about 20 minutes later, needing a drink, Fry comes in. I examine him. Pretty big gouge out of his left hip, smaller cut down by right groin. I sponge them out with peroxide. (You think it’s easy, one person, holding a dog and putting peroxide on his wounds?)

I hope they don’t get infected. Obviously, having been chased and bitten, he’s learned his lesson – not! DIdn’t they immediately – and with Fry wounded -- both immediately give chase after them? It was heroic of Yonkel to go out after the coyotes, to protect Fry. It was brave of Fry, chased home and bitten, to immediately respond and join Yonkel in chasing them off. (It is unknown whether my presence on the deck had more to do with the coyotes’ departure.) Stupid, yes. Foolhardy, also. But heroic and brave. Heroic and brave often go together with foolhardy and even stupid. In dogs, and in people.

Leash for the next few days for sure. Leash and peroxide.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Geese at the Lake

It has been a long time since I have been down to the cabin at Lake Fort Scott; winter has been either too cold or we have been traveling and trying to get things done. But this weekend, with Pat out of the country, and the weather predicted to be in the mid-40s, I thought it was a good time to come down and clean up a little and winterize the house – or at least empty and turn off the refrigerator, both to keep stuff from going bad and keep our electric bill down, as it is old and inefficient -- in case we don’t come back for a while. As it turns out, we had guests a few weeks back and they left it cleaner than I ever do, so it is mostly shoveling out leaves and dirt from behind the house, and picking up stray branches.

My neighbors had written to me that there were flocks of geese gathered in front of my house, which apparently was the only unfrozen part of the lake (some combination, I guess, of shallowness and where the sun shines). When I got here mid-day on Saturday, it was obvious. Hundreds of geese sitting on the ice, but close to the open water to swim and feed. And, as the day warmed up into the mid 40s, the ope

n patch of water began to expand, and by sunset the amount of ice for the geese to sit on began to decrease. I was told that they put up a great racket at night, and I guess they might, but I didn’t hear them enough to bother my sleep!

And then, this morning, walking the dogs this morning the open area seemed even bigger. OK, let’s get this straight. Giving permission for the dogs to go on a walk, especially Fry. They won’t leave the area around the house alone, but will jump all over me to accompany them up the drive and to the road. Once there, however, while Yonkel will usually stay with me, or near enough to come when called, Fry is gone and one his own and comes back when he is good and ready. A great blue heron sat on the edge of the lake as we returned, and when startled by us, took off, scattering geese!

And now, at 11:30am, and temperatures in the low 50s, there is almost more water than ice! This afternoon it is supposed to get up to 61, so I imagine that this pattern will just increase. And the day is sunny, so it would be a lovely time to sit on the deck and read and watch the geese and the dogs cavort – were it not for the really high wind that makes being outside kind of unpleasant. I guess I’ll watch from inside. And soon time for lunch and a nap.

THEN I’ll clean out the refrigerator!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Roosevelt University: Diversity and Social Justice

On December 13, 2013, I attended the winter Commencement ceremonies at Roosevelt University in Chicago. As a new member of the University’s Board of Trustees, it was my first such event at Roosevelt; the Board had met the day before. I have, of course, been to other graduations. Some have been of family and friends, but most have been as a faculty member in medical school. I have sat on the stage looking out at the assembled graduates and families before, but never in the role of a Trustee, and never at Roosevelt.

Graduations are pretty special events. At the medical school graduation ceremony, we look on as our future colleagues march across the stage, many of them people we know and have taught, while their families watch and clap and sometimes cheer. We have pride in them, and also wonder how fast the time goes, remembering when they were just starting a few short years earlier. But the Roosevelt graduation was different, and not just because it was not a medical school and not just because I was there as a Trustee.

For starters, it was in Chicago’s beautiful Auditorium Theater, in the Auditorium Building designed by Louis Sullivan, opened in 1889 and about to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. I have been there before but only in the audience; sitting on the stage looking out at this gorgeous auditorium whose balconies soar 6 or 7 stories, filled with 4,000 people, was amazing. Roosevelt owns the Auditorium, and the building has long been its home, but recently the 40-story Wabash Building has been built next to it, rising 40 stories, the top 27 dorms with priceless views, its own architectural splendor complementing in a very different way that of Sullivan.

There were also some special events during the graduation. The honorary degree recipient was Joe Segal, a Roosevelt alumnus who for 60 years has run Chicago’s Jazz Showcase, bringing all of the great jazz artists of those years to perform at a series of venues; I began attending his shows in the 1970s. Danielle Smith, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education (and a minor in Spanish) was the first-ever current student to be commencement speaker. She was joined on the stage by Sheree Williams, receiving a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, who was the 85,000th graduate of the school (it took 60 years to get to 65,000 and only 6 for the next 20,000).

Those of you who read my last post, Suicide: What can we say?, know that the date, December 13, was also the 11th anniversary of my son Matt’s suicide. While the two facts are coincidental, they are not unrelated; my presence on the Board and thus at the graduation was entirely about Matt. A few years after leaving his first (quite elite) college and then obtaining an associate’s degree, Matt moved back to Chicago and enrolled at Roosevelt. He loved it. It was, and is, a school, originally established to focus on returning GIs and people of color, that both educates young (and older) people from all backgrounds and prides itself on its diversity, and its explicit commitment to social justice. This resonated with Matt, and does with me. I later met President Charles Middleton though the sponsorship that Matt’s mother and I do of the annual Matthew Freeman Lecture in Social Justice (see, most recently, Matthew Freeman Lecture and Awards, 2013, April 26, 2013), and later when he hosted my group of American Council on Education fellows at the university. Dr. Middleton calls Roosevelt the “most diverse private university in the Midwest”, and sitting there as the graduates cross the stage it is not hard to believe. Virtually every race and ethnicity was represented by the graduating students, many obviously first-generation Americans, and the pride in their faces was unmistakable.
In her speech, Ms. Smith spoke about coming to Roosevelt from an all-white, middle-class, suburb, in large part to play tennis – which she did. She also, however, learned about diversity, and met fellow students from all races, religions, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups, and made them her friends. She talked about a concept that she had never heard of before but was omnipresent at Roosevelt, social justice, which she says will guide the rest of her life. Ms. Williams’ presence on the stage, as 85,000th graduate, may seem like a quirk, but she also is “typical” of Roosevelt; an African-American woman who received her bachelor’s in education there and now her Master’s, and will be teaching second grade in Chicago, before, she plans, to get her doctorate. Wow.

President Middleton, in his closing address, asked several groups to stand. They included the international students, who had to add learning English in addition to their studies, and the families, friends and other supporters who jammed the Auditorium. Most impressive, to me, however, was when he asked all the graduates who were the first members of their families to get a degree at their level to stand. Some were getting doctorates and master’s degrees, but the large majority of the graduates were receiving bachelors. Two-thirds of the graduates stood, to rousing cheers.

There are plenty of colleges that offer the opportunity for students from working-class and poorer backgrounds to get an education, for first-generation students to learn. They include the our community colleges (I still remember a talk at the 2008 ACE Conference by the president of LaGuardia College in NYC, where she said -- as I remember it -- “there are two kinds of colleges; those that try to select the students who will be the best fit at their institutions, and community colleges, that welcome students”), and our state universities. And some are private schools, like Roosevelt. And others may have the explicit commitment to social justice that Roosevelt does.

But I am proud to be associated with one that so overtly and clearly demonstrates it.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

“Oh, what a beautiful city!” (Oaxaca Part 1)

As far as I know there are not 12 gates (or any, actually, unlike, say, Florence), and it is not heaven by any means, but Oaxaca is quite something. The state of Oaxaca is very far south in Mexico, the south side of which borders on the Pacific. It is west of Chiapas where Guatemala and Central America attach. The city of Oaxaca is in its center, with mountains to the north and south. It is very Mexico but very different from the border and even the Yucatan further east. A colonial city with many beautiful old buildings, including the converted mansion we are now staying in two blocks east of the zócalo, Casa de Sierra Azul.  It is a UNESCO world heritage city (see more later) and the zócalo is lined with restaurants and cafes, many on the second floor. Adjacent to it is the beautiful Cathedral, and several blocks north an even more impressive church, the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. Impressive, indeed, although it is hard to think about them and  incredible amount of gold used in decoration without thinking of how many Indian lives it cost, to mine the gold and build the temples. There is a Plaza outside the Temple also, and many more through the city. The food is wonderful, Oaxacan cuisine based in large part on molés, red and green and, especially, black. Oaxacan chocolate (the unsweetened basis of the moles) is also ubiquitous. The city and the surrounding pueblitas are famous for their textiles (the Muséo de Textils is across the street) and their pottery – black from Coyotepec, green from Aztompa, etc.  The most famous wool weaving are from Téotitlan del Valle, but there are others as well.

But for now, walking around the city! What a lost art in the US! Very few cities are walkable any more in the US, but the existence of historic “centers” still characterizes European and colonial Mexican cities, with plazas, courtyards, and places to sit and rest, as well as, of course, stores. Lots of them here, but most sell either the regular necessities of life (provided your life requires two shoe stores, zapatarias, per block!) or the crafts and foods of the region. Very few chains (mostly “Italian Coffee”, as ubiquitous as Starbucks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and apparently using Italian syrup not Oaxacan chocolate for their hot chocolate!) and none of the American ones. Frankly, I have not been in Guanajuato or Puebla and it has been a while since I was in Mérida, so I can’t compare the historic colonial center of Oaxaca to those, but it is very nice. They have closed a major street, Macedonio Alcalá, to traffic from the zócalo to the plaza of Santo Domingo, so it is a great place to stroll. Given that Oaxaca is a poor state, and that tourism is about 1/3 of the economy, it is an area that they want to focus on; were I an advisor to the city fathers, I’d suggest that it would be even more inviting to tourists if they’d close much more of the historic center to non-commercial traffic, say at least 2 blocks in every direction from the zócalo.
So walking around is great, however not completely hazard free. The beautiful slate paving stones on the sidewalks provide an uneven surface for the inattentive walker; they are also (typically) narrow and when a streetlight or mailbox or public phone (yes! There are public phones!) takes up half the width and a pair of people is going the other way, it can be a squeeze.

But who cares! So much to see! So many places to try the molé! The zócalo is always great for strolling around, promenading. We saw two formal concerts there, one by a band of mostly young people that was more like song—45min interlude—song, so we didn’t stay for a lot of it; the other was the state marimba band, much more fun and exciting, with the interludes filled with digressions into the history of Oaxaca but the elderly (now wheelchair bound) man who directs it. One evening, we actually attended an indoor concert at the lovely Téatro Macedonio Alcalá. And even when no concerts, there is always interesting stuff happening. The first day we were there there was a demonstration in front of the municipal

palace that lines the southern side of the zócalo. The city was hosting a big meeting of the UNESCO “patrimonio” cities, and the demo seemed to be about the fact that while Oaxaca gets lots of money from UNESCO for this designation, the state is still very poor and the money is spent on – no one seems sure what. But not helping the poor.

The conference certainly generated a major police presence; police, both municipal and state, patrolling on foot, in cars, and on trucks with machine guns mounted on every corner within several blocks of the zócalo. After the weekend, the end of the conference, the police presence dramatically decreased, but there was still an obvious presence in the streets of the historic centró. Other political activity continued in the zócalo, particularly a booth advocating for communal benefit, rather than privatization, of the nation and  state’s oil resources. Also the zocálo and adjacent square outside the cathedral were full of stalls selling many goods – food, textiles, pottery – that had been apparently “cleaned up” for the UNESCO conference. In addition to the stalls, many individual vendors have returned.

Stalls in the zócalo are small manifestations of the huge markets, Juárez two blocks away, and 20 de Noviembre, on the block beyond that. Also, to the north, the Mercado Pascua Sanchéz, with the huge fig tree in front. Near to that market is the escalera, section after section of steps lined with houses going up the hill toward the Guelaguetza arena at the top. But, before reaching the arena, in a covered area under the highway, a beautiful group of murals portraying history and music of the region. And, north of that, the small street of Rufino Tamyo lined with the arcos supporting the old aqueduct that brought water into Oaxaca from the foothills of the Sierra Juárez, and the village of San Felipe del Agua, now with stores and houses built into the arches, along with an occasional shrine and a small street guarded by a statue of the archangel Gabriel.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Matthew, we miss you

November 5, 2013

Matt, it is 35 years since you were born. I remember that day very well, anticipating whether you would turn around or if your mom would need a Caesarean section. Turned out you didn’t, and she did, and when you came out I can never remember being happier. I called your grandparents and when asked what (i.e., what sex) I said “It’s a baby!”. I loved you so much, and I still do and I miss you because you are not 35 years old, you are no longer with us. I can only imagine how you might be now that would be different from you were at 24. I can look around at your friends and lovers, at Erin and Tequia and Joe and see what they are doing, and look at Adam who is 31 and has a good and interesting job and is going to be marrying Jess and wonder how you might be, and all I can think of is that you would be you. Smart, and caring, and kind, and sometimes, unfortunately for the rest of us, too silent about the most important things that were going on in your mind.

The world is in many ways a different place than it was 11 years ago, at least measured by the rapid pace of technological change. You never had a cell phone (that was by choice); now everyone has one, and a “smart” phone at that, and is on Facebook and email. Of course, you wouldn’t have liked the intrusion into your life when you didn’t want it; you were the original “12 messages on the answering machine! Too many! Delete all!”.  You have also been spared the 1984 intrusion of both government and corporations into all our email and web activities and phone calls, which you would have hated. But, I think, fundamentally, you would have been the same, both because who you were, we all are, is much deeper than these ephemeral changes, and because you never had great optimistic expectations for how the world would change. Yes, values, no question about it, but you never let your values cloud your understanding of the probable direction in which we were headed. Indeed, while I can never know this, I believe that this was no small part of the most significant decision that you ever made, to end your life.
Andrea is now married to Cheryl; we went to the ceremony in DC where they live now, and Stefanie and Paul came as well as Sarah, and her husband James who you never met, and their daughter Sabine who I had never met. Andrea and Cheryl seem so happy!
But, you see, we needed you, and we need you. The world has Adam, and Jess, and Erin, and lots of other wonderful people, but there are never enough. You wisdom is missed, and your love. At the last (outstanding) Matthew Freeman Lecture in Social Justice, I talked with Heather, and she told me about how some things you had told her long ago were helpful to her now. I can’t talk about the details, but you know. They have asked me to be on the Board of Trustees of Roosevelt, and I have accepted, and now I have an excuse to go to Chicago to see Adam and Jess four times a year, and (at least for now) see the block where they live, that Cathy and I lived on before you were ever conceived!

I see other people’s children, and young people that I work with, medical students and residents growing ever younger, younger mostly than you or Adam, and I think about you every day and I miss you so much. I wish you were here. And I love you.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A working class hero is something to be just turned 64, and so it was natural, I suppose, that several people (beginning with my sister) sang to me or quoted the Paul McCartney song (credited to Lennon-McCartney) “When I'm 64”. It was recorded in 1967 when McCartney, now 71, was 25 (his father had just turned 64 the year before, perhaps when he wrote it). It's a light, fun song with a good melody, discussing a seemingly far-off future centered around a stable and loving relationship, with children and “grandchildren on my knee”. So I found myself walking around singing it and was struck by the lines “every summer we could rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it's not too dear); we will scrimp and save...”. Although he had already achieved a lot of success and money, McCartney's positive vision of a far-off future was a decidedly working-class one, natural based on his background. And it's good, and right, and much more likely to be something his fans could hope for than images of wealth and luxury such as the older Sir Paul was able to enjoy. It spoke to and speaks to the people.

All the Beatles came from working-class backgrounds, and far from being ashamed of it, were proud of where they had come from, who their fan base was, and, while enjoying their wealth (and often using it to support good causes) never portrayed themselves as better than the people they had come from. This is expressed most explicitly in John Lennon's anthem “A working-class hero is something to be”. While the concept of “class” is a consciously more English than American one, consistent with their history of aristocracy (we talk more of “socioeconomic status”) the reality is that today class (measured as the probability that someone will stay in the same socioeconomic group as their parents) is more entrenched in the US than it is in Britain. Still, Britain has a Labor (“Labour”) Party, consciously acknowledging the working-class. It has a powerful legacy; in the late 1940s, it led to the creation of the National Health Service, guaranteeing access to medical care for all its people, while the US labor movement sought to use bargaining for health insurance through union contracts as a way to enhance itself. This was fine when most Americans were in unions, or even employed in jobs with health insurance, but has created some problems since. Many other British singers have advocated even more assertive working-class values, most notably Billy Bragg, but also Dire Straits and many others.

This is not to say that there is an absence of such working-class consciousness among US performers. Clearly, the exemplar is Bruce Springsteen who, 3 days younger than me, also is just turning 64. His songs do not general espouse an overtly political message but rather tell the stories of people like those he grew up with, who work in factories, get laid off, get pregnant young, get divorced, have drinking problems, have fun in lots of ways, and mostly are defined by an economic uncertainty about the present and the future. Whether a vacation in a cottage on the the Isle of Wight (or its US equivalent) is what they look forward to – perhaps it is a bass boat at the lake – but their visions of retirement are generally not Palm Beach or skiing at Gstaad.

Springsteen is of course not the only US rock musician to consciously sing of working-class roots, but other American musical traditions. American folk music, whether of English/Scottish/Irish roots though the Appalachians, or African roots through slavery and the African-American experience, or the more recent Spanish language (but of many cultures), or all of the many ethnic and language groups that make up this country, has always told the story of the people, and the people have always been mostly workers. The descendants of these traditions are still vibrant not just in the small bin labeled “folk music” (with Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs, and others), but “rhythm and blues” and “country music”, all of which tap into the experiences of regular people for their strength and their identity. The blues are certainly about poor and working people, and so is most of country music. Sometimes folks like Billy Bragg record songs that are explicitly political (“The Internationale” or “The Worker's Flag”), or tributes like “I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night”, based on an earlier paean by Alfred Hayes to a working-class hero, Joe Hill, who didn't get rich but was, rather, hanged for his songs about workers. But, mostly, these songs are about people who work hard and, if they're lucky, are just making it.

In a recent article in Salon, “Millenials hate Bruce Springsteen”, EJ Dickson tries to show them why they are wrong. This is not my focus, but rather it is on some of the comments on the article (and I recognize that finding moronic comments on almost anything posted on-line is easy pickings!) which suggested that Bruce “pretends” to sing about workers, but was a phony because he had “made millions”. Sure he has, but he hasn't forgotten where he comes from hasn't stopped thinking about them and their lives, and that is a good thing. What would be a bad thing would be for him to have changed his loyalty to defend the folks of his newly-acquired social class. As some have. Frank Sinatra, a working class kid from Hoboken, was a New-Dealer, who sang (and made a film of) the progressive patriotic “The House I Live In” and opposed HUAC, but later became a Reagan Republican. Even Sir Paul no longer writes about workers. It is OK to be a class traitor like FDR, to defend regular folks from those who run everything and need no defending, but not the other way around.

As John Lennon wrote, “A working-class hero is something to be”!