Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Profiling, Racial

As the effects of the recent incident in Cambridge, MA ripple out from the regular press and cyberspace, it can be hard to find a rational, considered discussion of the events. However, I have read two very fine op-ed pieces reprinted in the Akron newspaper. Unfortunately, both escaped into the recycling truck before I could get the names of the authors. Both essays covered the same ground essentially, using the term "personal narratives" to analyze the possible states of mind of Dr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley. I like this concept because it makes the "teachable" moment suggested by President Obama operational.

The idea is that these two men each brought his own set of experiences to the interaction. For Dr. Gates it could be the story of what has happened to black men in confrontations with police in the past and his sense of his identity as a scholar and a man in his own house. For Sgt. Crowley the narrative has to do with the uncertainty and danger of what may confront a policeman in the situation of a possible break-in and his own vulnerability as a husband, father and cop. Both stories seem to involve fear of the Other. Both these narratives are emotionally loaded and when emotions take control, rational behavior disappears. I am oversimplifying this and cannot put it as eloquently as these writers did. Is racism involved? Probably, but just labeling it as such doesn't help us explore and learn what needs to be done. (Personally, I think Dr. Gates was unnecessarily handcuffed and arrested and justifiably angry.)

How can we use these powerful personal narratives ( back in the 60s we called it "where you're coming from") we all carry especially when they have an impact on race and other cultural differences? We are all so proud that we elected an African-American as president that we think we have the racial issues in this country signed, sealed and delivered - and we haven't. Maybe this incident will be a catalyst to do some significant and hard work, honest work.

By the way, I heard a conservative on the radio discussing this and he said he'd never heard of Henry Louis Gates. That's not hard to figure out: Gates is well-known outside academia to people who listen to NPR and PBS and read Harper's or The New Yorker, not media popular with conservatives.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Favorite Road

When I have to drive back and forth to the same place frequently, I like to vary the route to relieve boredom. Twice a week, early in the morning, I drive over to my water aerobics class in Ravenna. This is located at the hospital rehab center which happens to have a nice warm pool in which to do exercises. This is also the same place where I drove every day for 6 weeks to have the radiation treatments this spring. I could drive it in my sleep, which is tempting at 6 a.m.

There are four different ways to get to Ravenna from my house. One had many traffic lights, one has a lake view, one goes by the university and has traffic even early in the morning and one is not practical when the mornings are dark, since the road is a bit rough and popular with deer, ground hogs and the occasional coyote.

When I am late, I take the one with traffic lights, since at 6:30 a.m., there's no traffic and the lights stay green almost the whole way. This road is the straightest shot to Ravenna, but it is also the one with the WalMart , a couple of strip malls and a bunch of new student apartments. No scenic value at all. When I am early, I take the one that goes by the lake -actually a large pond. It's twisty and a bit pathetic. I almost never take the one by the university or the very dark one, at least not on the way there.

However, the dark one is the one I love to take on the way home, by which time it is quite light. It's part of the Akron water supply system. It goes through a real lake, or reservoir, formed by the damming of the Cuyahoga River. The road is almost like a causeway in parts, with water on both sides. Then you go through a tunnel formed by enormous maple trees. In the fall, you're under a canopy of brilliant gold and it's magical. It turns your whole car interior golden. In the spring and summer you are enveloped in a cool, dark green cylinder, so dark you need to put your headlights on. Behind you is a circle framed by the branches of the trees, back lit and gleaming At the end of this green tunnel, you come out into the sun sparkling on the water beside you. It's like a bright "Good morning!" greeting. It's a great way to start the day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Does My Garden Grow?

I don't know if it's all the rain or all the cool weather, but my garden is already producing. Today I had the first BLT of the summer. I have never had tomatoes this early. These today came from a plant that Cynthia gave me, a huge thing that lots of fruit. Th lettuce is like Strega Nonna's pasta pot. Cynthia put in three little plants a couple of months ago. They have grown and I pick a bunch of leaves every few days, and in a few more days there are more ready for salad. I planted spinach rather late, but have already had several salads and side dishes from that. I like to saute it in olive oil and garlic with a little lemon juice Tuscany style. Tonight I'm putting it in Portuguese kale soup with spinach instead of kale.I love having a garden. Mine is quite small.

This year I have planted three heirloom tomato plants and three green pepper plants that I bought at the Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath. It's a former retreat that some nuns changed a few years ago to a farm which specializes in Green agriculture. Their buildings are even earth friendly. They have a huge plant sale every May which is very popular. You have to get there early to get the good stuff.

In my small garden I also have a nice collection of herbs: thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley and chives. By August we'll be having pesto. I found a number of recipes for all sorts of pesto - oregano and parsley even. I love to use thyme and rosemary in spaghetti sauce. Both of those are great with chicken or potatoes, too.

I remember when it was so hard to find pine nuts, among other "exotic" ingredients. Now I can find all sorts of things like that at my local supermarket: fresh ginger, capers, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, all sorts of mushrooms, etc. It seems that when I was learning to cook many, many years ago, there was salt and pepper, chili powder and McCormick's seasonings, like sage and the spices for pies and cakes. Now I have access to the kinds of things once only available at specialty stores in big cities.

It's so nice to have food from my own back yard. I know it's free of pesticides and chemicals and it's right from the garden to the table. Like many towns, Kent has a couple of community gardens for people to grow their own produce. You can see whole families out weeding and watering their crops. Most of them also provide food for the food banks, or ask folks to plant a row for the poor (although I don't think they call it that). I don't have enough room, though the way the tomatoes are producing this year I may be able to take some down to the local free lunch place.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Who Me, Old?

Friend Chris in California sent me an article about how people view old age. It seems that most people consider old age a number 20 years older that they happen to be. So that makes my idea of old age 102.

Back when I was still working, one of my colleagues (who was around 45 at the time) referred to someone as "elderly." I asked her how she defined that word. She replied that it meant people around 65. I was 62 at the time myself and hardly thought of myself as elderly.
I guess I am more than elderly now and my body is indeed, elderly, old, ancient; I am a senior citizen, a golden ager - in short, a geezer. My ears have grown longer, my toenails are the consistency of rhinoceros horn, and if I get down on the floor, I must perform a few gymnastic didoes to get up again. I can no longer run, leap in the air, play hopscotch or jump rope.

The thing is, in spite of those limitations, I still don't think of myself as "elderly." Like many people of advanced age, I forget about it until I see that old person in the mirror, or until I hear people of my age referred to as old. Someone recently mentioned seeing this old lady walking her dog. That "old lady" is one of my neighbors who is a few years younger than I and in perfect shape. I've never thought of her as an "old lady" fa cryin' out loud. So what does that make me? Oy!

Age is a state of mind, I think. Some people are old at 40. We're all much younger than our parents were at our age, aren't we? So no matter how decrepit, we are probably all old-age deniers unless we dwell on the negatives that come along with surviving. Oh, and people in California just pretend it doesn't exist, thus making plastic surgeons very wealthy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Death and Infidelity

I have received a crabby note from a distant relative that she is tired of reading the same old rant about twist-ties. Well, not much has happened in my life of late, while celebrity deaths and scandals and resignations have swirled about the mainstream media.

As I write this Terry Gross is re-running an interview with Robert McNamara who died today. Even after admitting that perhaps the Vietnam War was a mistake, he is still justifying it. I can't listen to that. It's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra explained.

So lets look at the last two weeks' last bows: Farrah Fawcett, whose work I enjoyed, and Michael Jackson whose work I enjoyed but not his weirdness as a crypto-human.

I heard Al Sharpton (who really needs to get a life) say that Jackson paved the way and made it possible for African Americans like Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey to become what they are. Has this man never heard of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, or Count Basie? Compared to them, his music is a mouse squeaking in the wilderness. And, of course, there are hundreds more who led the way: civic leaders, writers, actors, educators, comedians, composers, etc., etc.

And I wonder why the contribution of Quincy Jones to his success is not more prominently mentioned. There's the genius behind "Thriller", for instance. Yes, he could dance, but to compare him to Fred Astaire is ludicrous. Geez! He had been an extraordinary singer as a kid and as a young adult but he was not the Messiah. Hell, he wasn't even Sammy Davis, J.!.

One person grateful for Jackson's death had to be that idiot governor of South Carolina. Jacko's death and the concomitant press frenzy did take a bit of attention away from his bizarre tale of infidelity and sniveling contrition. And he has made hiking the Appalachian Trail a new code word for cheating on your spouse.

And what to make of Sarah Palin? Not much I hope. Perhaps she'll just disappear and leave Tina Fey without another career boost. As I wrote on my Facebook Wall, perhaps her husband is on the old Appalachian Trail. Her speech was on a par with the S.C. governor - rambling nonsense about nothing really. Actually, I wish her well. It's not her fault that McCain chose her as a way of discreetly throwing the election once he realized what a complete mess the country was in , thanks to 8 years of his fellow Republicans. I am convinced that he chose Sarah to avoid having to cope with what Obama is now struggling with.

Well, away from twist-ties and into current events, and what have you got? Necrophilia and adultery?