Friday, September 30, 2011

Who is Counting?

The Denver Post:  More Latinos listed as white in census
. . . new 2010 census figures show an unexpected reason behind a renewed growth in the U.S. white population; more Latinos listing themselves as white in the once-in-a-decade government count.

The Washington Post:  Census count finds decreasing white population in 15 states
Non-Hispanic whites are a dwindling share of the U.S. population, with their numbers dropping in the Northeast and Midwest.

Both these articles are sort of about the same thing: the growing number of Hispanics who filled in the box 'White' in the census.  But the difference in the titles is intriguing. Do you want to find out which 15 states have fewer white people than in 2000, or do you want to know why Latinos are considered white?
One article gives a possible reason why the number is growing:  The US government first decided in 1980 that Hispanic is not a race, so many people who considered themselves Hispanic filled in the 'some other race' box.  The other article suggested that most Hispanics identified themselves as white, but still distinguished between Hispanics and white.  Why this craziness?
In 2010, census forms instructed Latinos to select a recognized category such as white or black. Now I ask you, given the trickiness of the American government and the mis- and dis- trust of the census itself, what would you choose?  Black or white?  I'd stay on the safe side, and choose white.  I just don't trust what anyone is going to do with ethnic or racial identity. And, for now, I'd prefer to be in the power box, thank you.
I understand that Hispanic is not a race, and remember the huge arguments within my cohort of census-taking volunteers over the term 'race' as identity.  I guess I thought we had all figured out quite a while ago that race is a social construct, not a biological identity. 
From what I can deduce, if the census questions and categories stay as they are, the 'white' population in the U.S. will continue to grow as the majority.  In the meantime, all sorts of experts are predicting that whites will become a minority in the US within fifty years.  I guess it depends on what one means by 'white.' And what it means to be Latino.  And who's doing the counting.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Morning Walk

Finding I was a bit early for a meeting this luscious fall morning, I decided to stop the car and take a short walk in Washington Park.
This season the park is peopled by stroller moms and their kids, all sorts of people with all sorts of dogs,older people walking briskly, serious runners, and a good number of bike riders. I guess you'd consider me 'older person not walking briskly.'  Almost everyone appears to be Caucasian.
Diagonally across the street is a high school - males and females of all sizes and dress walk toward the school from four different directions. The population appears extremely diverse, except for the near absence of Caucasians.  Can't imagine how many countries are represented by these little groups of teenagers. Two different worlds.  I head to the park and notice several Canadian geese standing in a puddle, splashing and gulping some of the water in the puddle.  Just across the park's narrow street is a big, full lake. No geese near the lake. I see another puddle, remains from the watering system, and more Canadian geese in the puddle.
Don't they see the lake?  Are we all in our own puddles, oblivious to the lake awaiting us?
My attention is diverted by two large vans that come into the few parking spaces. Down come the ramps and out come the wheelchairs.  The drivers and caretakers help everyone out, and soon there's another diverse group in the park. Some are in wheelchairs, some shuffle, and others need help to be seated at the nearby picnic table.  The group is not only challenged in a variety of ways, but also ranges in age from pre-adolescent to older.  Men and women. Almost everyone smiles, some are talking, others off alone, silent. I am reminded of the wisdom and forethought of the people who created public spaces and parks. Seems like a basic human right and need to be out in the world. 
I continue walking and watch one of the teenagers in a wheelchair roll by me.  Ten minutes later he is on his way back, but this time he is rolling the wheelchair backwards. He's moving his arm muscles in a different way, pushing backwards instead of forward.  I rarely cry. But the sight of him pushing those wheels backwards is so poignant, so beautiful,  my eyes well up.
I feel as if I have been in a movie for the past thirty-five minutes, but I don't quite grasp its meaning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You Built a Factory?

Gotta love her. Elizabeth Warren, running for Senate in Massachusetts, doesn't believe anyone becomes wealthy on her or his own. She says:

"You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "
But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did."
She continues: "Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."
 I've posted this everywhere, because it says so clearly what needs to be said here, there, everywhere.  Pay it forward.
On another note, pretty innocuous, I read on the internet that Andy Rooney, the 92 year-old guy on 60 Minutes who seems to be drooling while he is pontificating, is retiring. I've never figured out how and why he has been allowed to hold court every Sunday for as long as I can remember. I try to imagine the 92 year-old woman who would be allowed to age in every way possible on screen. Helen Thomas got a bit too rambunctious, didn't she?  I hope Elizabeth Warren is still speaking out at 92.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Winter Pilgrim On the Road

Well, Ann, our winter pilgrim, isn't on the road right now, but she will be after two planes and a train to Compostela de Santiago.  Then the winter pilgrim puts on her backpack (so light I could carry it) and heads off for eight months by herself.  Again, relying on the kindness of strangers, monasteries, and the desert, and some skills in many languages, she'll do what she always does: walk by day, immersed in nature, and envelope herself in the culture and ways of the people she meets during the evening. A pilgrim for good in the world.
From Santiago, she's off to Toledo, Avila, Cordova and into Morocco. From Tetouan to Algiers; from Algiers to Annaba  (Hippo), from Hippo to Tunisia and on then on to Tripoli. She'll cross from Libya to Egypt, one way or the other (foot if freedom allows, boat otherwise).  Then the long trek through Egypt, to Alexandria, and finally to Jerusalem.  She's been told to buy a donkey and cart for the haul through the Egyptian desert and to leave the donkey and cart at a monastery before getting to the border and walking towards Jerusalem.
Is it possible for one woman, on her own, not relying on hotels, motels, guest houses and economic barter to do this?  If anyone can, it's Ann.  Final good-byes today. I've spent the summer months meeting up with her at coffee houses on Friday mornings, pondering many an idea. Now we've said farewell for a while, to meet up on her blog for the months ahead.  Don't know how often and when she'll be posting, but I'll let you know how the pilgrimage is going - and you can always check in at
Buen Camino, Ann.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Funeral Homes

Strange topic, I know. But last week I received mail from several funeral homes and crematories. Must be the season. I didn't open any of them, so don't know what the specials are if one dies in September or October.
Then Sunday morning, skimming through the Denver paper, I noticed the following large print in a funeral home ad featuring Veteran services.                    
                                          Because we don't put our veterans in Chinese-made caskets.
Complete services - from visitation to hearse to death certificates and an American casket. Sounded a little pricey to me, but what do I know about such things?
                 Are we at war with the Chinese? I missed that part. Oh, I know we might be in an economic war with them, and we seem to be losing, so let's boycott their caskets?  Are we making a stand for Made in America caskets for veterans only? I never thought about where military uniforms were made, but this makes me think that they are all US products. Not sure about the buttons, or brass and other things, but maybe it's all American, all the time.  I tried to imagine the marketing team that came up with this particular branding device, but let it go and went on to the New York Times, imagining Maureen Dodd or Tom Friedman reading about Chinese-made caskets being banned.
                   Then this morning, crossing Colorado Blvd., I noticed an extremely well-dressed man, black creased pants, crisp blue shirt, blue/black/yellow tie, and well-polished black shoes standing in front of a well-known funeral home with a sign in his hands. "He must be signaling some bereaved folks from out-of-town to make the right hand signal" or "Pray for my beloved deceased," I thought. No. That wasn't it. Taking a quick trip around the block so I could read the sign, I saw the familiar 'Out of work. Anything will help.'  What made him get all dressed up, as if going to a funeral, and stand with his cardboard sign?
And my final question for the day, is why do we call them funeral homes?

Friday, September 23, 2011

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - no better description of fall than Keats' Ode to Autumn. So that's what you get from me today.  The sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward bringing autumn to the northern hemisphere.  Today, on the autumnal equinox, day and night are nearly the same. Just about twelve hours of each.  Here's to mist, mellow fruitfulness, harvest, and abundance.

                                 TO AUTUMN.
    SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
        Until they think warm days will never cease,
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
        Steady thy laden head across a brook;
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats (1795-1821)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


You probably think this is going to be about the stock market and the international markets plunging, but it's just a little confession.  I was fortunate enough to have a tenured position and a retirement fund where I gave some of my earnings to TIAA_CREF  and some mysterious person did something with my funds so I wouldn't spend them.  The money was safe because I couldn't withdraw from the funds, and I didn't have to choose where to invest those dollars.
My responsibility was handing over the money; someone else took care of the details. I've never known what the stock market numbers meant to me personally.  Not intentional, not out of stupidity (well, maybe a bit of both), but just out of a 'I don't think this has much to do with me.'  Even today, with news alerts from every major paper bemoaning the huge loss on Wall Street, I still am not sure what those 300 points mean to me. Should I despair, and then when the market goes up should I jump for joy?  Should something so abstract and ever-changing affect my mood, the way I see the world?  Should I be filled with fear or hope?  Better yet, should I just not go on-line and read the news?  All questions for a rainy, dreary day, but this day is the quintessential fall day, so I am not going to hang out for a couple of hours in the sunshine and save the U.S. Blues for another day.
But. . . speaking of money, I was walking earlier today, stopped at a coffee shop, and then turned a corner.  In front of me was a delightful white Cape (Denver adaptation) house with sea-blue trim around the front porch. A law firm resided in the house, a firm specializing in divorce and child custody. "Walk-ins Welcome" was at the bottom of the sign.  Does someone just walk down the street, decide he/she wants a divorce, open a door and start the proceedings? Isn't life easy?  Aha, even easier than I imagined. Sitting on the quaint little porch, diagonally across from the comfortable bench, stood a big, bold ATM machine. Really. You've got the money, we've got the time.  5% discount for cash?  I have no idea. All I know is that one doesn't have to ring a doorbell, just the ATM machine. Should have taken a photo.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Internation Day of Peace

It's International Peace Day, so I'm going out to do something peaceful, and more importantly (and far more difficult) to be peaceful. That's my challenge for the day. Blog early, then do something for peace.
Barack Obama will be addressing the UN today, as President and Noble Peace Prize winner.
It's a big week for peace initiatives, especially as Palestine is seeking statehood status. I trust it isn't serendipity, but good timing that led The Huffington Post to have an article on Swapping Stories for Peace, an article about the storytelling initiative between Israelis and Palestinians. Reza Aslan is the author. It's a long piece, but if you believe, as I do, that stories can change the world and that storytelling is the most powerful ways of communicating, I think you'll find the organization and concept powerful.  As Muriel Rukeyser, the poet reminds us, "The world is made of stories, not atoms."
From Reza Aslan, The Huffington Post, Wednesday September 21st.
"Israelis and Palestinians may be as far apart from each other as they have ever been, certainly when it comes to the never-ending saga that is the Two-State Solution. Yet as the Palestinian Authority heads to New York this week to confront the Israeli government at the United Nations with a declaration of statehood, back in Israel a group of Jewish and Arab kids are laying the foundations for a more hopeful future through the art of storytelling. They are taking part in a groundbreaking program called Story Swap International (SSI).
Story Swap is an innovative educational project that uses storytelling to foster understanding among diverse populations, whether in conflicted territories or in an English classroom. Established in 2007 by the Aspen Writers' Foundation (AWF) Story Swap has since taken place all over the world: within neighborhoods, across economic divides, over state lines and in numerous countries.
The Story Swap in Israel is just the most recent incarnation of the program, which the AWF has expanded to an international level in partnership with Global Nomads Group (GNG). "Nowhere else does a program like Story Swap hold the potential, not to end the conflict, but rather to build a dynamic that might allow a resolution to survive," said Mickey Bergman, SSI advisor and director of Middle East Programs at the Aspen Institute. According to program's leaders, there is no more important place to test the hypothesis that knowing the story of another allows us to better understand each other.
This is how Story Swap works. Two groups of individuals from different backgrounds come together to form partners. They are seated face-to-face, sometimes through the lens of interactive video conferencing, and asked to share an important story from their life that, in some way, represents who they are. They then take turns writing each other's story as though it were their own. It's a simple yet profound process. By receiving the story of another, making it their own and, then, exchanging the recreated stories, participants experience the transformative process of walking in each other's shoes and sharing the view they see from another's eyes.
"The program's model taps into the creativity of youth and engages them not through the lens of their conflict, but rather through their storytelling and listening. The methodology allows participants to genuinely take in perspectives without the 'threatening' proposition of agreeing with one another," said Bergman.
Past swaps have demonstrated that the transformative effect of the program lies in imagining the potential in their partner, which allows swappers to imagine the potential in themselves and, in turn, the world.
"Story Swap is powerful precisely because it harnesses storytelling -- the most accessible and universal of all human activities -- to open the doors of communication that might otherwise be closed," said Lisa Consiglio, executive director of the AWF. "It works because when listening to stories, we suspend argument, engage our imagination, and, walking in the shoes of another, experience compassion."
Bridging divides is not exactly part of the Israeli-Palestinian narrative right now. Fear, anger, pessimism -- these are the dominant emotions among Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe it is too much to think that decades of mistrust and misunderstanding can be washed away simply by telling each other stories. But since nothing else has had much effect in bringing these two people closer together, perhaps just sitting down and simply listening to each other is not such a bad place to start."
Peace out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

One minute past midnight today, gay men and women could actually be themselves and not get thrown out of the military. I remember the disappointment of many of us, when Don't Ask, Don't Tell came into being, but justified it as a step along the journey. It's been a long journey and a long time coming.
We all know from history that changing the law or public policy doesn't change all minds right away, but slowly.
I was born into a world where Negroes (and that was the nice way of talking) couldn't eat, sleep, drink or be educated the same place Whites were, a world where sailors and other tough guys beat up on fags and fairies, a world where people who learned differently were considered dumb and dropped out of school at 16; a world where women were only housewives, support staff, or elementary school teachers; a world where males played sports; a world that has evolved in so many good ways. The Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Title Nine, Women's Rights, and Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transgender Rights have become critical to our culture.
So let's celebrate that.
Now - with all that said - someone explain to me why two of the new prime time shows on television this season are about the Playboy Club and Airline stewardesses in the days where youth and beauty were the only qualifications for the job. To check it out, I watched the Playboy Club or whatever it is called last night, and sure enough there were the girls/women in their skimpy bunny outfits dancing and mini-slutting for tips.
At first I thought it might be a satire; a take off on the bad old days. But it isn't. It's like Mad Men, only worse and less well done. What is the interest or fascination with the retro shows? Are those supposed to be the 'good old days?'  Are people yearning for the days when men were men, women knew their place, gay people didn't exist, and there was no handicap access? The days when men married women, and unmarried women were old maids? Days when Afro-Americans knew their place? I don't get it. 
But enough ranting. I'm joining the celebration of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and reminding myself there is still work to do in the trenches where social justice gets acted out - or not.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Risk A or B?

The last couple of blogs have been about moving from black and white into the gray areas of life. Philosophically, intellectually, or emotionally, it's pretty easy to see the complexities that make it difficult for us to take an either/or side.
But yesterday, in Nicholas Kristof's article 'Glimpses of the next Great Famine' in the NYT, commenting on the plight of starving Somalians, 
                          Kristof says:  The . . . choice comes down to for many Somalis:
                          Do they risk starvation at home or torture and rape while fleeing?"

That's an either/or question that demands a response. No time to sit around the seminar table for the semester reflecting on the choices.
That horrible choice got me thinking of all the people who have had to make the 'Do I Stay or Do I GoNow?' decisions that come with famine, war or natural disasters.   What to do with the crying baby in the Underground railway, whether to send a child off to the unknown during the wars, the Cuban crises, to go back for the elderly in Katrina, to act or not to act?  I've been spared the big Either/Or situation, never had to choose between a Capital A or Capital B risk, so probably shouldn't feel quite so smug while pondering the complexity of life.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Classist or Classless?

Another one of those either/or situations. Is the USA classist or classless?  I know we, as a nation, consider ourselves classless. But really.
Talking with Ann today at Peet's, we wandered into the topic of money and categories.She was talking about a friend in England who is quite comfortable with the lower/working/middle/upper/upper middle class way of categorizing people and their money. Most of us know those terms and can place ourselves under a heading.
But what about upper class?  Does the concept of upper class no longer fit in America?  Politicians, pundits and just plain people like the rest of us have shifted from using the term 'upper class'  to using 'wealthy' as a definer.
Coming from the east coast, it's easy to remember the time when upper class meant wealthy with old money, educated, pedigreed (some relative came on the Mayflower or something similar). Absolutely not ostentatious. But everyone knew.
People with 'new' money could never be considered upper class.  Old Joe Kennedy, with his millions, could buy his kids ways into prep schools, colleges, political seats, even the presidency, but not into upper class. Over time, the WASPy, upper class old money phenomenon has been replaced by the entrepreneur, cable cowboy, college dropout, athlete, rock star, famous for being famous folks of new money. The Wealthy.   
What intrigues me is that I didn't notice when the language changed from upper class to wealthy.  Certainly, the working class exists in the minds of every politician trying to gather votes. We can visualize those members of the working class, and if we can't, all we have to do is turn on the television.
So are we classist or classless? Even better, perhaps, the question should be 'Are we classist and classless?'

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Either/ Or

Standing on the walkaround at 6th and Uinta about 6:45 this morning, I felt as if I were right at the dividing line. To my west, skies were dark and foreboding. To my east, the sun was rising from behind the light clouds. Who would win? I don't know why I jumped right into an either/or mode of thinking, "Oh, it's either going to be warm and inviting all day or those dark clouds would overcome the light clouds, hide the sun, and offer up some rain." I was betting on the dark clouds reigning from about noon on.
Finishing up my circular walk, I headed home for some coffee and the newspaper. Australia tenders 3 gender choices on passports was a small filler headline on an inside page. The two sentence article said Australian passports will now have three gender options: male, female and indeterminate.  Yea for Australia.
Now, what's the connection between the 6:45 sky and the Australian passport, you must be thinking?
It's that conniving, manipulative, pouncing Either/Or thinking that connects the two. What made me first leap to 'it'll be dark and gloomy' or 'sweet sunshine'?  Rarely does black and white or either/or thinking serve anyone well.  Of course, the day was a perfect blend, a gentle combination of clouds, a little sun, a little rain, uneven, transitional, and not to be captured by 'this or that' thinking.
I am impressed by Australia, as a country, and its ability to move beyond the male or female dichotomy and include indeterminate in its gender categories on passports. It was comforting and easy to be able to say boy or girl, man or woman.... comforting, but not always true. The truth all too often, or so it seems to me, goes beyond either/or.  It's true that 'you can't have your cake and eat it too,' but there are many thoughts and ideas that call on us to think in more complex ways. Yes? No? Maybe?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Phantom Money

What is phantom money? I thought I knew, but I don't. Last night I was part of a discussion group on the topic. As a group, we didn't even come to a consensus about real wealth.  Here's what David Korten, author of
Agenda for a New Economy says about phantom wealth:

Phantom Wealth refers to financial assets that appear or disappear as if by magic as a result of accounting entries and the inflation of asset bubbles unrelated to the creation of anything of real value or utility. The high-tech-stock and housing bubbles are examples. Phantom wealth also includes financial assets created by debt pyramids by which financial institutions engage in complex trading and lending schemes using fictitious or overvalued assets as collateral for loans in order to feed and inflate asset bubbles to create more phantom collateral to support more borrowing to further feed the bubble to justify outsized management fees. Those engaged in creating phantom wealth collect handsome “performance” fees for their services at each step and walk away with their gains. When the bubble bursts, borrowers default on debts they cannot pay and the debt pyramid collapses, along with the bubble, in a cascade of bankruptcies.

Those who had no part in creating or profiting from the scam are then left to absorb the losses and to sort out the phantom-wealth claims still held by the perpetrators against the marketable real wealth of the larger society. It is all legal, which makes it a perfect crime.
From Agenda for a New Economy, p. 21

I sort of get it, especially the first paragraph. It's all magic to me - stocks go up, stocks come down. People get rich and others go bust. I remember my Aunt Mary, who had little envelopes with different names on each tab: Savings, Christmas, electricity, rent, birthdays, food. That was how she organized her money.  Sometimes I'd be visiting when she'd be dividing the money up and putting the $10 bill for savings into its envelope. I understood that kind of accounting. Nothing phantom about it at all. But times change and so do the ways in which we handle our money or let someone else handle our money. My little retirement package, through TIAA-CREF, is in all sorts of stocks and bonds. I don't know what they are, and up until recently, never cared or never thought to look. I thought it would just all go up incrementally each year. Modest, conservative and part of a large system.
Well, my bubble burst in 2008, along with hundreds of thousands of others. And mine was just a baby burst compared to what other people suffered or are suffering right now. I know greed is the driving force behind a lot of what has gone wrong, what is part of phantom money.  Maybe some day I'll really understand the concept.
Now, on to real wealth. Our group could not agree whether financial security is part of real wealth. I happen to think it is -- sort of on a Maslow's Hierarchy sort of framework. Real wealth includes food and healthcare.
Right now those things cost real money. Without the financial security to provide, it seems to me there isn't real wealth.  I know, I know, friends, family and community are part of real wealth. I strongly believe that. But I do fall into the pool of people who feel that security (which includes financial) is part of real wealth until there is healthcare and food for everyone. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Skein of Yarn

I don't usually advertise or market things, branding isn't my game. But...if you live in the Denver area, I strongly suggest you take yourself to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the new exhibition by Fred Sandback. The entire building is dedicated to his work, and it is stunning. Hard to explain how a man can take skeins of yarn, string a few pieces here and there and create sculptures that change the space and all the visual aspects of a room.  And seeing that he died in 2003, it's pretty hard, at first, to understand how it all happened.
Turns out Fred Sandback left plans, designs, strong suggestions on how museums or other curators could replicate his work in the future, plans that include how to use hypothetical space, how to create shapes and bifurcate rooms.  This particular exhibit was curated by the late Sandback's wife and Adam Lerner, Chief Animator and Director of MCA.
And, as one of the guides told us, the Sandback exhibit requires a modest amount of work - some nailing, placing the acrylic yarn around wires, etc.- and little expense.  The skeins of yarn can be purchased at Walmart or any other big store and can be re-used. No expensive insurance to ship these pieces of art across the country - any carry-on paper bag will do.
Several rooms, using maybe eight to ten strings of yarn very strategically, really were dis-orienting at first, somewhat vertigo inducing in one room in particular. Just imagine yourself shaping and re-designing a room, or your whole house, with a couple of skeins of yarn.
You won't be disappointed in this exhibit. I'll send you a string of yarn if you are.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Public Confessions

A Day in the South Florida Life - Rob Wright

  "So I'm sitting outside the Starbucks on a sweltering (that means hot) Saturday afternoon.  The lady next to me it turns out is a counselor or psychologist of some sort, seeing her "patients" in her "office" outside at a table under an umbrella.  One "client" came and told his sad tale, then walked off as sullen as he came.  The next client who had been sitting patiently at another table, reading a magazine, took his place.  I was trying to not hear what was being said, as I was reading a book about cattle herding in Florida in the early 20th century.  It was hard to ignore however, something about a woman who turned down a marraige propoasal, then began dating his friend or whatever.

Meanwhile, some silly old lady shuffles over to the table on the other side of me . . . with two huge, bright blue parrots who she plops right down on the table.  The beak on these things could tear your eyes out in a second and would.  I am just getting to the fascinating part of my book where Flagler's railroad was messing up "open ranch" cattle herding, what with those fancy train cars, when the aforementioned jilted fellow begins wailing hysterically, embarrassing and loud sobs and squeals of utter grief.  The shrink is admonishing him to get over it, she was no good for him etc., but that just angers the parrots, who begin screeching wildly.

I'm like, wtf is wrong with people?  Is there no shame left in our society? Didn't we used to tell our sad tales in private, air-conditioned offices after telling friends or family we had a dentist appointment or something? Weren't these sessions done on late Tuesday or Thursday afternoons, not Saturdays?  And the lady with the crazy birds didn't stir a bit.  Like a mother allowing a child to squeal violently on an airplane, she just let it go on.  I'd had enough, so I slammed my book down hard, startling the parrots into silence for a second, but having no effect on the crying man.  The birds went back to their rants and so I went inside. . . ."

Now I'm imagining matching therapists with the right coffee/tea shop. Cognitive-behavioral at Starbucks; Family Systems at Daz Bog's; Anger Management at Stella's; experiential at St. Mark's?  Pick your shop, pick your mode of therapy.
As some of you know, I like to listen to people's conversations at coffee shops, restaurants, anywhere. I've heard lots of business deals get done, gossip get regurgitated, but never a therapist-client conversation. But rent being what it is, why not take the counseling session to Starbucks? As for the parrots, they could have had my iced chai. Not big on things that claw or bite.
Life is abundant with irony. Who ever thought I'd be lifting writing from my son Rob's facebook page? We've come a long way from me trying to sneak in my own sentences on his various school applications. 
Anyway it's a great tale, and perfect follow-up to my adventure with the marshmallow and my head scarf. You never know what you'll find on a walk or hear at a coffee shop. Drama is just a footstep away.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Today must count as one of the most perfect days ever in Denver. Fall temperatures, just enough clouds in the sky to grant covering from the sun when necessary. Oh to be a pilgrim when fall seems to be here.
Walking to Cherry Creek this morning, I followed 6th Avenue across Colorado Blvd.  Last week, I picked up a Catholic Register, wrapped in plastic, sitting in front of a house. This week, new paper sitting there, I decided it wasn't very spiritual of me to take someone's newspaper just because they were sleeping late, according to my standards.
Walked by some of the green and white Styrofoam packing pieces randomly sitting on various laws or curbsides. Last week I was seduced into thinking of the silliness of the 'greenness' of some of the pieces. Was that to make us think these little things were natural and good for the environment? This morning I focused on the white one, reflecting that a couple of them looked like marshmallows. And that reminded me of s'mores at the beach and blah, blah, blah. The mind wanders every which way.
Finally met Ann at Peet's and talked about her upcoming pilgrimage from Spain to Jerusalem and next summer's pilgrimage to Chimayo.  She returned three books to me, books that fit neatly in my left arm. Undid my headscarf, stuffed it under the books, and headed out.
Got on 6th a couple of blocks down from where I had turned on my incoming trip and headed up the street, past 7-11, past the artisan cheese shop, the new bakery, Hallmark cards, and Barolo's, wondering how these places survive.
Stopped at the corner of Madison and 6th, looked left, right and then down (don't know why the down).
There, two inches below my feet, curbside, was a perfect marshmallow. You think I am making this up.
Well, I thought it was a styrofoam illusion myself, so kneeled on the curb, put the books down next to the alleged marshmallow and touched it. It was a marshmallow. Truly. Perfect. No indentations, no bruising, just a perfect looking marshmallow. How could I possibly be thinking marshmallow on a perfect September day and bump into one three hours later? And what in the world was that lone marshmallow doing there?
And what about the irony of walking in the beauty of nature on such a glorious day and being consumed by the most synthetic, artificial of things?
Another half hour of walking and I shifted the books into my right hand. Something was missing. My head scarf, or kerchief, as my grandmother would have called it. Must have left it curbside, next to the marshmallow, when I put the books down to do a reality check on the marshmallow. If someone hasn't taken it already, now there is a headscarf and marshmallow sitting together, curbside, Madison and 6th. What stories will that scene conjure up?  "Kidnapped girl leaves marshmallow and scarf behind as clues,"  "Woman who stole marshmallows at 7-11 loses scarf in her escape?"   "Marshmallows and Headscarves new symbols of terrorists preparing for 9/11 attack."  You choose the story.
All in a day's walk.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that awaits us." - Joseph Campbell

I'm a great fan of Joseph Campbell's - he's the man who also suggested we follow our ecstasy. As a lover and student of myth and ritual from around the world, he helped many of us, over the years, understand the deeper and more philosophical meanings of people and cultures.  But this particular quote always gives me trouble when I once again stumble across it or intuitively find my way to it.

Just an hour ago, I was looking at my outlook calendar for the fall, and wondered what the calendar really says about me. Will I look back and see it as similar to Prufrock's lament: I have measured out my life with coffee spoons?  Is it so neat, so symmetrical, so planned that there is no time to fit it the life that allegedly awaits me?
And just how and who has prepared this life that apparently has my name on it? I know people who believe that everything happens for a reason (that someone/somehow/ spirit or otherwise), that somehow when things go awry there is some reason for this to have happened.

I'll grant you that no-one has gotten more in my way of some visions and dreams than I have. Self-sabotage is one of those sports far too many of us play, and it turns out not to be a very recreational sport. I get it. But I stand bewildered. On the one hand, I love the idea that there is a 'life awaiting' me. On the other hand, I loath the thought that it's all pre-destination. I think I've strayed from Campbell's original intention in my interpretation. Of course' he's right. Our illusion of control is one of the most profound illusions of all. Even when I think I've finally let go, I find some part of my mind, body, soul grasping and clinging to an idea or belief.  It's not easy being open, knowing how much or what to measure out with coffee spoons (our schedulers) and knowing how much time, space and energy to leave available for the life that is awaiting us.
Still not sure what that calendar says about me, nor am I sure it was just a coincidence that rummaging through a folder I found the Campbell quote on a page from July 26th daily calendar that I had saved.
What does your calendar say about you?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Prime Time

Fifteen (15) percent of prime time television shows are written by women, according to the LA Times. The research study cited focused on dramas, comedy, reality shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW. That's for 2010 - 2011.  I don't know a whole lot about prime time, prime channel tv, but I am not surprised that women aren't penning those bizarre reality shows where people swim with sharks, sabotage one another, eat lizards, and roll in the mud.  And it's not surprising that women aren't penning a lot of half hour drama or comedy. As most women know, family drama rarely lasts only half an hour and comedy, unless it's self-inflicted, is rare.
What's shocking to me is the fact that in 2009 - 2010, according to the same study, twenty-nine (29) percent of prime/prime time shows were written by women.  What happened to almost half of those women from 2009-2010?  Were they disappeared, have an epidemic of writer's block, quit because they were rich or bored? I doubt it.  Do so few women really know what people want to watch on their major channels after dinner? Twenty-nine percent is hardly a respectable or equitable number, but fifteen percent is downright depressing. I need to send myself to the original research to learn more and see what the hypotheses and/or conclusions are.
Speaking of depressing/prime time/ television, tonight is the big kick-off for the Republican presidential candidates. Wonder which prime shows will be bumped by tonight's debate? And then there is President Obama's prime tv address on jobs tomorrow. Don't worry, the speech will definitely not bump the primest of prime time prime television shows - the opening game of the professional Football season. Prime the pump.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Just learned this today:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 2011 as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  I encourage all Americans to take action by learning about and engaging in activities that promote healthy eating and greater physical activity by all our Nation's children.
     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
BARACK OBAMA   - from the White House website.

It's a little late in September for me to just be finding out that it is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Not sure if this means that every September from this month forward will be dedicated to childhood obesity awareness or if we'll have an awareness of something new next September. But there is great irony, for me, in it all.

Just this morning, around 11:45, I stopped in the Tattered Cover on Colfax to pick up a book. My parking space in front of the bookstore gave me perfect viewing site of the hundreds (or so it seemed) of kids eating lunch across the street from their high school.  Up and down the street and passing by my car all I saw was a sea of white plates, rolled up, with pizza slices in them. The young men seemed especially adept at turning the paper plates into funnels so the pizza would slide down into their mouths, saving their left hands for the bottles and cans of soda they were carrying.  More often than not, it seemed as if the young women were eating chips, cheetos, or big chocolate chip cookies.  Almost everyone was walking, talking, and eating at the same time.  It would not be easy to eat a salad, walk and talk at the same time. Not easy at all. I spent ten minutes of my parking meter time sitting in the car, observing.
I know adolescents by definition are not children. But these all were children, just a while ago. I suddenly had visions of all the well-meaning parents or providers packing nice healthy lunches that were just pitched every day in favor of foods across the street from the school. Maybe someone should sit in front of the school asking for food for the homeless. Might be some healthy lunches that are found.
But my real question is: Who's going to police people's choice to eat what they want? Who is going to do battle, fight the good food fight, with adolescents?  Ever try to outsmart an adolescent? Ever try to monitor an adolescent's behavior?  It's your basic 'I fought the law, and the law won' scenario.  Why wouldn't I eat pizza and chips for lunch if you told me not to do so? Why not simultaneously eat, walk, talk, text, tweet, and sing your way down the street?
With this morning's scene still in mind, I somehow managed to come across National Childhood Obesity Awareness month on the web. Truly, I can't tell you how one finger led to the next, but there I was.
I salute anyone and everyone involved with National Childhood Obesity Awareness month. I congratulate those who were smart enough to call it Awareness month instead of Obesity Action month.  Hope the action does take place in the childhood arena, because adolescents are just too daunting a constituency.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Capital Day ?

E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr.
Opinion Writer

The last Labor Day?

Let’s get it over with and rename the holiday “Capital Day.” We may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil — the phrase itself seems antique — as worthy of genuine respect.
Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Writes about politics in a twice-a-week column and on the PostPartisan blog.
Cartoon Animation: Anticipating the president's jobs speech.
Cartoon Animation: Anticipating the president's jobs speech.
These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the Tea Party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, who offered those words in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech this week?
As for the unions, they are often treated in the media as advocates of arcane work rules, protectors of inefficient public employees and obstacles to the economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose if only they were free from labor regulations.
So it would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.”
That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens.” Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”
That the language of Lincoln and John Paul is so distant from our experience today is a sign of an enormous cultural shift. In scores of different ways, we paint investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the gains from capital — resistance to continuing the payroll tax cut is a case in point — and we hide workers away while lavishing attention on those who make their livings by moving money around.
Consider that what the media call economics reporting is largely finance reporting. Once upon a time, a lively band of labor reporters covered the world of work and unions. If you stipulate that the decline of unions makes the old labor beat a bit less compelling, there are still tens of millions of workers who do their jobs every day. But when the labor beat withered, it was rarely replaced by a work beat. Workers have vanished.
But we are now inundated with news (and “news”) about the world of capital. CNBC and the other financial media are for investors what ESPN is for sports junkies. We cheer the markets, learn the obscure language of hedge fund managers and get to know some of the big investors in off-field interviews. Workers are regarded as factors of production. At best, they’re consumers; at worst, they’re “labor costs” cutting into profits and the sacred stock price.
Workers have faded away in both high and popular culture, too. Can you point to someone “who makes art out of working-class lives by refusing to prettify them”?
The phrase comes from a 2006 essay by the critic William Deresiewicz, who observed that we have few novelists such as John Steinbeck or John Dos Passos who take the lives of working people seriously. Nor do we have television shows along the lines of “The Honeymooners” or even “All in the Family,” which were parodies of an affectionate sort. “First we stopped noticing members of the working class,” Deresiewicz wrote, “and now we’re convinced they don’t exist.”
In his extraordinary book “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class,” Jefferson Cowie spoke of how little we identify working-class people with their labor. “Workers occasionally reappeared in public discourse as ‘Reagan Democrats’ — later as ‘NASCAR Dads,’ ” he wrote, “or the victims of another plant shutdown or as irrational protectionist and protesters of free trade, but rarely did they appear as workers.”
With the worker disappearing from our media and our consciousness, isn’t it only a matter of time before Labor Day falls off the calendar? As long as it’s there, it should shame us about our cool indifference to the heroism of those who go to work every day.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day

Dedication to the long weekend and all the workers who make things happen.
I have uncles, cousins, and a brother who were union men, so have strong sentiments for the unions - when and if they are working for the people and the vision behind unions. Terrified and saddened by the strong anti-union sentiment being voiced around the political country.
So, just for you:
 A longer-than-you-want to read review of the new book on Labor Hero Joe Hill (from the New York Times)
At Woodstock, Joan Baez sang a famous folk ballad celebrating Joe Hill, the itinerant miner, songwriter and union activist who was executed by a Utah firing squad in 1915. “I never died, said he” is the song’s refrain.
Paul Robeson sang an equally powerful version.

Used under a Creative Commons license, available from
Joe Hill was executed in 1915 for a murder the year before. More Photos »
Photo courtesy Susan Tuttle family
Mr. Hill's girlfriend, Hilda Erickson, wrote a letter that might explain what really happened the night of the killing. More Photos »
Hill’s status as a labor icon and the debate about his conviction certainly never died. And now a new biography makes the strongest case yet that Hill was wrongfully convicted of murdering a local grocer, the charge that led to his execution at age 36.
The book’s author, William M. Adler, argues that Hill was a victim of authorities and a jury eager to deal a blow to his radical labor union, as well as his own desire to protect the identity of his sweetheart.
A Salt Lake City jury convicted Hill largely because of one piece of circumstantial evidence: he had suffered a gunshot wound to the chest on the same night — Jan. 10, 1914 — that the grocer and his son were killed. At the trial, prosecutors argued that he had been shot by the grocer’s son, and Hill refused to offer any alternative explanation.
Mr. Adler uncovered a long-forgotten letter from Hill’s sweetheart that said that he had been shot by a rival for her affections, undermining the prosecution’s key assertion. The book, “The Man Who Never Died,” also offers extensive evidence suggesting that an early suspect in the case, a violent career criminal, was the murderer.
Hill, who bounced around the West as a miner, longshoreman and union organizer, was the leading songwriter for the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, a prominent union that was widely feared and deplored for its militant tactics. He penned dozens of songs that excoriated bosses and capitalism and wrote the well-known lyric “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”
His conviction was so controversial that President Woodrow Wilson twice wrote to Utah’s governor to urge him to spare Hill’s life, and unions as far away as Australia protested on his behalf.
After his death, Hill was immortalized in poetry and song, including the 1936 ballad embraced by Ms. Baez, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson and others: “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.”
In the letter found by Mr. Adler, Hill’s sweetheart, Hilda Erickson, wrote that Hill had told her he had been shot by her former fiancĂ©, Otto Appelquist — someone she had broken off with a week earlier and who had asked her “if I liked Joe better than him.” In her letter, she added, “I heard Joe tease Otto once that he was going to take me away from him.”
Historians say the letter is groundbreaking because it is apparently the first time anyone has stepped forward to explain exactly how and why Hill was shot. Neither Hill nor Ms. Erickson testified at his trial, although Hill did tell the doctor who treated his wound that a rival suitor had shot him.
The prosecution maintained that Hill had been shot by the grocer’s son, even though the police never found any bullet cartridges or traces of blood, other than the victims’, at the murder scene. Prosecutors used Hill’s silence to persuade jurors that he must have murdered the grocer.
Ms. Erickson wrote the letter in 1949 to Aubrey Haan, a professor who was researching a book on Hill. The book was never published, and Mr. Adler found the letter in papers stored in the professor’s daughter’s attic.
“When I first read the letter, it was a ‘holy cow’ moment because all these years people wondered about what happened that night,” Mr. Adler said in an interview.
In his book, which Bloomsbury will publish on Tuesday, Mr. Adler also lays out what historians say is highly incriminating new information about the person police originally suspected of the two murders, Frank Z. Wilson.
The police arrested Mr. Wilson the night of the murders after they found him walking without an overcoat near the grocery. They also found a bloody handkerchief on him.
Mr. Adler said Mr. Wilson had lied repeatedly to the authorities after they arrested him, but they soon released him for reasons that remain unclear. Mr. Adler also discovered that Mr. Wilson had used at least 16 aliases during his many arrests and convictions, several for robbing trains. He was later involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, with a getaway car registered under an alias he often used.
“His research is just incredible — it expands what we know in really dramatic ways,” said John R. Sillito, co-author of a new book on radicalism in Utah and a retired archivist at Weber State University in Ogden. “It builds a strong case that Wilson should have been the prime suspect.”
Hill declined to testify at his trial, standing on the principle that he should not have to prove his innocence, especially when he believed that the prosecution could not possibly prove he was guilty with the limited evidence it had.
Mr. Adler’s book suggests that Hill also did not testify partly because he wanted to safeguard Ms. Erickson’s privacy. She was in her early 20s at the time, the niece of the two Swedish brothers he was boarding with.
Rolf Hagglund, a grandnephew of Hill’s who lives in Stockholm, has read galleys of the new book and welcomed its findings.
“From the start, people knew he was set up,” Mr. Hagglund said in a telephone interview. “This book presents the strongest case so far that there was an alternative shooter and how Joe was shot and why he was shot.” (Hill immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1902, changing his name from the original, Joel Hagglund.)
But John Arling Morrison, a grandson of the murdered grocer, put little stock in Mr. Adler’s findings. “Joe Hill was the one who murdered our grandfather and destroyed the economy of our family,” said Mr. Morrison.
Mr. Adler, a Denver resident, decided to write about Hill after reading Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles,” which argued that the Hill case was a miscarriage of justice.
“Initially I saw the book as a murder mystery, and I saw myself in the role of gumshoe,” Mr. Adler said. “I also wanted to explore how Hill went from being an anonymous worker to finding his voice as a songwriter to becoming a working-class hero to becoming, ultimately, a martyr.”
Like many historians, Gibbs M. Smith, author of a Hill biography, said the trial was unfair. “Under today’s laws of evidence, he never would have been convicted and executed,” Mr. Smith said. Historians have observed that the judge unjustifiably ruled against Hill on evidentiary questions and that the prosecution coached witnesses to say they saw Hill near the grocery that night.
Some students of the case say one reason for Hill’s silence may have been a belief that he could do more for labor’s cause as a martyr than alive. At the time, the I.W.W. had fewer than 20,000 members, but it was detested by business leaders because it pushed miners, lumberjacks and railway workers to use strikes, slowdowns and sabotage to pressure employers to improve pay and conditions.
Shortly before his execution, Hill wrote supporters an emotional note, saying, “Don’t waste time mourning, organize,” which later became the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 1, 2011
A picture caption on Saturday with an article about new questions surrounding the murder case that resulted in the execution of the union activist Joe Hill in 1915 misidentified the city in Colorado where some of his ashes were scattered at a cemetery. It is Lafayette, not Denver.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Scarf is gone, as are the wigs.
On this spitting hot September 1, I want to acknowledge that people who know these things have declared that August was the hottest August in recorded Colorado weather history. My plans to not turn on the air conditioner this summer, to acclimate to the weather, were overturned by my comfort-seeking self. I justified it all by saying 'Oh, just air conditioning for the afternoon, none at night and none in the morning.' Still. . .
But all this heat has made me think about labor, landscapers, workers who sweat through their jobs in summer.
And, with Labor Day just around the corner, I'm thinking a lot about work, economics, and lack of work in so many places.
I know enough about economics to know that people need jobs, so it is a good thing all these townhouses, housing associations, cities and suburbs take pride in keeping lawns manicured and bushes and flower beds landscaped.
In fact, I love Wednesday mornings when the truckers hauling trailers of mowers line up behind our garage.
 The landscapers in our area rarely speak English, but I love to hear them chat in Spanish, to hear the give and take about who is doing what on this particular Wednesday (at least that's what I think they are speaking about so earnestly).
And if I am home, I'll go upstairs where the window is open and listen to them as, in little groups, they find shade under the baby trees and eat lunch.  Again, I don't know much of what anyone is saying, but I love the sound of the chuckling and laughter. It's such a cliched response, but I always think "How can they be so happy when they are working so hard?"
Once I erase the feelings about my own laziness or sluggishness, I find these Wednesday morning interludes quite beautiful.
BUT. . . other moments and visions are more unsettling. For the past week or so, I've watched some landscapers hauling dirt, re-arranging bushes, planting plants appropriate to the coming season, and planting new sod at some gigantic houses (McMansions). The work has been happening on a street near me, a street I drive by if I want to get anywhere in Denver. I know it's a very good thing that the men doing the work are employed, and I hope they are making decent wages. Unemployment and underemployment are high in CO, so work is good. And it is probably good that some people have huge houses with good chunks of landscaping that needs to be done. BUT. . .it all just seems so strangely unfair to me. I never drive by without thinking that the men digging and hauling the dirt, putting in the bushes look like slaves. The McMansions look like large imitation plantations, and the workers look little and overheated from working too hard and too long in the sun. I have no idea what the real story is with the landscapers in our area or the landscapers at the private homes. Only have my prickly imagination. Still wish I knew more about economics and labor, the wealthy and the poor.