Friday, December 28, 2007

Navigating ferocious seas

When it comes to our families, we sometimes see only our differences. We see the way our parents cling to ideas we don’t believe, or act in ways we try not to act. We see how practical one of our siblings is and wonder how we can be from the same gene pool. From Daily Om: We Are Family

For me, visiting home (it's surprising that in my mind the house I grew up in still resonates as home given I haven't lived there in over 15 years), spending time with siblings and parents and especially over holidays generally means fear and sometimes nightmares.

Definition -- in my lifetime, I have had only one or two of the typical nightmares where someone chases me or I fear for my life/well-being in some way. My nightmares usually consist of someone (usually a family member) being "mean" to me or not sticking up for me when someone else is being "mean" to me. Clearly a window into my insecurities and perhaps into the beliefs I hold about myself and how I developed them.

So, Christmases and Thanksgivings are fraught with tension for me -- I want to be there but I am afraid of what will happen. We all seem to regress into our worst teenage selves as we cross the threshold of my parents' house. It doesn't help that my mother enjoys drama, especially if it means pitting one against another. Perhaps this is the lingering side affect of watching too many soap operas and/or novelas.

Each journey for me, then, must begin with prepping -- I have tried many strategies, but, invariably, all my good plans fall apart. Either I am not strong enough or I just misjudge the number of days my strength (and plan) will hold out. Eventually, the rubber band snaps, striking both me and the nearest target. This may or may not be the one who broke through my armor, flimsily attached as it was.

I alternate between swearing off seeing them and recommitting myself to "not letting them get to me." I guess what I have realized (or maybe just stopped fighting the realization) is that my achilles' heel is hope. Every time I believe this will be the time when they and I will behave in such a way so as not to cause irritation, anger, hurt feelings, and/or bitter resentment/utter disgust. Then one of us falls and when the anger or hurt subsides, I am left feeling utterly bereft and disillusioned. Ah, failure. Limiting my time there can sometimes avert the crash and burn, but it hardly seems like an adult solution. There goes the hope again. Maybe denial or lackof grounding in realityare better ways to describe it. Perhaps recognizing my and their limitations is a very adult solution.

Still hoping for the universe to grant me the patience, compassion and love for all of us in this situation -- though I know it is a question of me working through it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


It's a long article, so I won't re post it in its entirety. But, I recommend this article as the antidote to cynicism, hopelessness and overall malaise. This is my Christmas present to you (dear readers, the universe, Santa Claus).

Here are some of my favorite parts:

Parents at an elementary school here gathered last Thursday afternoon with a holiday mission: to prepare boxes of food for needy families fleeing some of the world’s horrific civil wars.

The community effort to help refugees resembled countless others at this time of year, with an exception. The recipients were not many thousands of miles away. They were students in the school and their families.

The three conceived of a school that would include hours of individual attention and an empathetic environment. They hoped to model it on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s notion of “the beloved community,” where people of all races, nationalities and classes were accepted, and on the common schools established in the 19th century by Horace Mann.
“The mission,” Ms. Thompson said, “was never to create an enclave for refugees only, because that would just separate them more.” The founders saw this formulation as not just idealistic but practical. Studies have shown that low-income students benefit academically from exposure to middle- and upper-middle-class students. And Ms. Thompson and her colleagues believed that exposure to a wide range of cultures and ethnic backgrounds would appeal to affluent, socially minded parents....

Despite these challenges, the school grew. A new grade was added each year. A second campus was opened in space rented from another church a few miles away. Volunteers poured in, mostly retired teachers and students from nearby Emory University and Agnes Scott College.
All the while, administrators and teachers said, the school took its energy from the optimism many of its students had toward their new lives in the United States. Sometimes that optimism was hard to miss. One second grader from Congo is named Bill Clinton. ...

Parents from low-income families tend to choose the school over other nearby public schools because it is safe and has small classes. More affluent parents seek it for the potential benefits of exposure to so many cultures. Most of the middle- and upper-middle-class parents are social progressives from Decatur, a liberal enclave. But not all. Harvey Clark, whose son Zade is in the fifth grade, is a veteran of the Persian Gulf war and a Nascar fan. “They’re getting exposed to cultures that they normally would not be exposed to except in National Geographic,” Mr. Clark said of the American children. “Instead of my boy having to go off to war to meet foreign people, he can do it here in town.” ...

All good. But nothing beats the story about the friendship between Dante (American born student) and Soung (recently arrived refugee from Burma), these are excerpts, not the whole thing.

Consider the friendship between Ms. Ramirez’s 9-year-old son, Dante, and Soung Oo Hlaing, an 11-year-old Burmese refugee with dwarfism. Dante likes to read Harry Potter books and to play Shrek on his Wii video game console. ... Until he arrived last summer, Soung had lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. He spoke no English. ... The two boys met on the first day of school this year. Despite the language barrier, Dante managed to invite the newcomer to sit with him at lunch. “I didn’t think he’d make friends at the beginning because he didn’t speak that much English,” Dante said. “So I thought I should be his friend.”

I mean, come on, how sweet is that? Though we often make the observation that children have a great capacity to be cruel, we could just as easily comment on their infinite capacity for love and compassion.

I would say this of all children, and this continues to be my protest against going overseas to do "good" work before doing it here at home:

“When you see those kids who are as positive as they are, and you know what kind of problems they’re going through,” Mr. Moon said, “you just say, ‘This is worthy of my best shot.’”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I realized as we were pulling out of my childhood hometown today on our way to my sister's new town that I had not gone to the cemetery this trip.

One of my Christmas rituals is to visit the cemeteries. My mother's parents and a host of friends and relatives are buried in one and my father's parents and a few other relatives are buried in another.

It must be said that I enjoy going to cemeteries as you may have noticed. I have included famous cemeteries on my vacation trips and routinely visit the cemetery in my neighborhood though I don't personally know any one buried there. I find them calming in a way that I am not sure I can describe fully.

This trip, though, with no car of my own and a severely limited timetable, the trip to the cemetery didn't happen.

I feel sad and guilty. As a child, we would regularly visit my grandparents, clean their area, bring them flowers, say a little prayer. My parents didn't like to linger at the cemetery, but they seemed to have a commitment to the visit. I felt close to those grandparents, all gone from the earth by the time I was 12, in an odd ethereal way. In the cemetery, those grandparents could be whatever I wanted them to be and I was whoever they want me to be. It's an odd way to look at it, I am sure, but there you have it.

A classmate, friend and old crush died twenty years ago this Christmas. He is on my regular visit cycle. Every year at Christmas, and sometimes other times of the year too, I spend a little time with Jaime at his grave. I feel guilty about not spending more time thinking about him and the waste it was for him to die when we were 17. Certainly at some times of my life, his death has weighed heavier on me than others. It was always comforting to go to his grave and find it decorated. I was reassured that though I may be far away there were others remembering and loving him from closer by. Last year, at his grave, there were little or no decorations. I wondered if his family might have moved. I was sad to think they had moved on emotionally, though you couldn't really fault them for it. How many years would it take to not feel guilty that this is where his life had led him when our lives had gone on? I wept this year recalling that it had been 20 years. He's been dead longer than he was alive and he is still that fresh young face in my memory.

To be completely honest, Jaime lives on in my life not only out of guilt or sad nostalgia; his spirit is frequently present with me. I know that he has long been one of my guides, watching over me with my grandparents. Truthfully he watches my life more like a soap opera than as a sage offering advice, but when I remember, thinking about his presence lightens my load.

Perhaps that is why it was all the more sad for me to not have made it to visit him this year. He doesn't forget me and I don't want him to think that I have forgotten him.

Merry Christmas, Jaime.

The Happiest Place on Earth

Originally from 12.19.06

Lest you think I am just another sheep following the bell, I know that there is more to life. There are many parts of the day that made me wonder about how much fun I was having and what this all meant in terms of the many counter-culture beliefs I hold dear. Though, I am strong enough to know the difference between enjoying and believing. I do, however, understand the importance of teaching our children this difference.

The fact is I had a great time. The parts that stand out in my mind:
1) helpful, cheery employees (frankly, I don't care if they were faking it; it is a nice reprieve from the many sullen teenagers I must deal with in any retail establishment).
2)The rides at Disney are designed to fill your senses, not just provide spills and thrills. The advent of 4D only adds strategies and components, the same love of a stor is present.
3) mental health issues aside, it is still awe inspiring to me that one man made his dream a reality; even if his dream was all about fantasy. It really can be a good thing -- in moderation.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Giving Season

At this time of the year, those of us who have a little change rattling in our pockets (or savings accounts) may turn our thoughts to charity, end of the year giving and, of course, tax benefits.

I read with interest this little article (also heard something on NPR about the topic) about those who try to tease out which charity is doing the best with the least amount of money.

Don't get me wrong, I check into the charities before I give. Rather, I do now after realizing that some of my favorite charities weren't living up to the hype.

Listening to a conversation on the radio, though, about this, I came to the conclusion, as did the guests, that the best you can really do is be involved with the organizations. Get a bird's eye view. So, it is hard to do with national organizations, but really possible with local organizations.

At the moment, I am down to only two charities, though in more flush times, there was at least one more that I routinely supported. (The little donations to support friends and colleagues with a particular fundraiser don't count for me. I am supporting the person running or walking not so much the organization.) My two are NPR (my local station KQED) and Family Builders.

I feel as though I really do owe NPR/KQED lots of cash. I am a news junkie and would have the news programs delivered directly into my ears if I could. Oh yeah, I kind of do. Sometimes I stream the local radio station. Love The NEWS Hour at 3pm. But, I also use NPR's media player where I can add in all the stories I want to hear and if I don't get to it or the browser crashes, well, it remembers what I wanted to hear. The small amount of money I set aside for these services, well, it just doesn't compare to the hours of listening pleasure. That is not even mentioning the many, wonderful shows I catch on the PBS TV station (also KQED). As soon as I have more money, I will be augmenting my gift. Except for during the pledge times (where I have been a volunteer, what fun!), where there is an incessant stream of musical offerings (not MY cup of tea), I love to watch PBS. Free, no cable needed, and usually a good picture with my antenna.

I sit on the board of Family Builders, so I see first hand the incredible work they do. This is a case where quantity is not the issue. You could spend a tiny bit of money on a lot of people with so so results and call it a success (I have worked at these such organizations). Creating lasting families and relationship bonds between people is simply not a low cost proposition. Family Builders makes a lifetime commitment to the families it brings together, modeling the behavior it would most like to see its clients emulate. When I chose to sit on Family Builders and not some other adoption agency/foster care organization the biggest selling point was the after care.

No other agency that I investigated took the time to both train the families (preplacement) AND support those families for life (postadoption). In the intervening years, the organization has continued to show foresight and compassion for the children in foster care. Long committed to finding homes for the "hard to place" child, read over 4 years old or physically/mentally disabled or just not whte, Family Builders has led the way in helping those youth who are still in foster care in their teens and facing the possibility of "aging out" of the system. For those not in the know, that means getting put on the street to take care of yourself at the age of 18, often with no money in your pocket and all of your belongings in a garbage bag. Family Builders has crafted programs and advocacy campaigns around this issue. You can and should read more about it on the website, though it is in process of being updated so bear with it if it's light on content at the moment.

All this to say, it is good to worry about where your money goes, but getting the most out of a dollar is not always the BEST you can do. And the best way to find out about an organization is to spend some time with its constituents and its employees.

Find the one you love and trust and give what you can.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas and Family

If you have time, listen to the clip... it will bring tears to your eyes, I promise. And it will be worth it.

For all of you who, like me, sometimes have a hard time getting ready for Christmas...for all of you who, like me, feel battered by the commercialism...for all of you who, like me, want to feel warm and fuzzy about Christmas, but have a real hard time doing it, you need to hear Carrie Conley and her son talk about Christmas in their single-mom, low-income family.

If you don't have time to listen, you can read most of the text below, but you won't be able to hear the love in their voices.

Happy four days before Christmas, y'all...

p.s. just heard this one...too funny; listen and get into the spirit.
Generous jewish man plays santa.

Morning Edition, December 21, 2007 ·
When Carrie Conley's husband left in the early 1960s, she started raising six children on her own. She took a job at a hospital, delivering meals to patients as what was called "a tray girl."
Jerry Johnson, the youngest child in the family, was 5 years old when his dad left. Speaking with his mother recently, Johnson heard his mother repeat the question she asked at that time.
"Lord, what am I going to do with all these kids, by myself?"
The answers came in the form of lima beans, black-eyed peas and low prices on chicken necks. "Something to boil for every day of the week," Conley said.
"I cannot remember one Christmas that I didn't feel like the luckiest kid in the world," Johnson said. "Even though now I realize, we had hardly anything in terms of money."
"How did you hold all that together?" he asked his mother.
Conley said she would save up her sick days at work, going in no matter how she felt. Then in December, the company would pay her for the unused sick days.
More help came in castoffs, when wealthy families would clean out their toy chests at Christmastime and take a load of toys to the Salvation Army.
Conley would pick through them, finding the best ones for her children.
The result of those sacrifices: a big, happy Christmas for Conley and her kids.
"But I never did tell you it was a Santa Claus," Conley said, "because I said that I cannot give no man credit for what [I'm doing.]"
Johnson thanked his mom for her sacrifices, and for the good example she set for him and his siblings.
"I think it's helping us all be better parents," Johnson said.
"You know, my whole heart was my kids," Conley said." And the Lord blessed all of them. And I'm so grateful."
In 1975, Conley retired from Detroit's Outer Drive Hospital. Jerry was a sophomore in college at that time.
He later graduated from Washington University Medical School and received a degree in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.
Produced for 'Morning Edition' by Selly Thiam. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

now you're talking my language

Just when I was thinking that my graduate school goals were going to be another exercise in futility... I see this article about the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and their new president's dream to remake teacher education.

Little signs from the universe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Headline Says It All

"Lynne Spears' Book Delayed Indefinitely"

I did go on to read the article, though it was really unnecessary. If you feel the need, I gave you the link.

One -- I am less interested in the fact that this woman's 16-year-old daughter is pregnant than I am in the increase of teenage pregnancy in general or the latest phenomenon of single women wanting to be mothers without partners.

Two -- These are the days when I am so glad not to have cable. I am sick to death of having to hear about the details of the lives of young women who feel the need to not only ruin their own lives and poison their bodies but who also want to ruin the lives of their children. Please, don't give me any more details about this young woman's pregnancy and don't tell me what she does with the kid when she has it.

I do care about children forced into foster care because their parents lack the ability or will to care for them. I do something about it... ... you can too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Little Presents

Love this story. In a time when I feel like many reporters are writing the easy story with the widely available information and no depth, it's nice to know that there are folks out there getting to know a community, finding a hero and writing about it. Thanks, Erik!

It's definitely worth the complete reprinting. Enjoy!

December 17, 2007
American Album
Working Hard to Give Others a Better Beginning
PHILADELPHIA — Lorenzo Compton did not have a promising start. His parents kicked him out at 17 for refusing to obey, he dropped out of the 12th grade when he got a girl pregnant, he served almost two years for drug dealing and he carries a bullet in his thigh.
At 43, Mr. Compton is again a force in the Frankford section of northeast Philadelphia — but this time as a one-man block patrol, as a mentor to countless young men, and as keeper of the keys to the fancy new football field that helps bring a ragged neighborhood together.
He rises at 5 a.m. to drive a school bus, his paying job. After work, he makes sure his three younger sons do their homework.
And then, most every weeknight and weekend, Mr. Compton makes the short drive from his house to Gambrel Field to inspect the turf before practice begins. Mr. Lorenzo, as he is called with respect, has been deputized to watch over the $2 million field, an emerald oasis of AstroTurf with night lighting and an electronic scoreboard.
It is home to the Frankford Chargers football teams, which occupy the evenings, weekends and dreams of 400 local boys ages 5 to 14, mainly low-income black and Hispanic children from single-parent households, including many from the rough public housing project next door.
On a recent evening, Mr. Compton unlocked the gate a little before the flood of boys in red uniforms and helmets arrived. Like an overprotective parent, he slowly walked up and down the field to pick out sunflower seeds or pebbles, cursing when he saw a splash of Gatorade, which he said can hasten decay of the turf.
Mr. Compton seemed to know everyone and be known by all. The children refer to him, with awe, as “the field general,” because he brooks no nonsense. “Clear out of there!” he yelled to children encroaching on the turf out of turn. “Don’t eat near the grass!”
He can be loud and gruff, but as one old friend of his put it, “Sometimes you need someone loud,” and as one young player put it, “He makes me feel like a professional.”
Another side showed, too, when after a heartbreaking loss in regional playoffs, he walked with a teenager, hand over his shoulder, and said, “Son, you got no business crying, not after that game you played today.”
During practice, nobody even took notice of the sirens blaring on nearby streets, the nervous beam of a police helicopter’s searchlight.
Murders in Philadelphia jumped last year by 8 percent, to 406, giving it the highest per-capita homicide rate of the nation’s largest cities, and a shortage of male role models is often cited as a contributor to crime and drug use.
But on this field, more than 40 volunteer coaches are there every night during the season, putting nine teams, sorted by age and weight, through their paces. The teams have been frequent champions in the Pop Warner and other youth leagues, and are Frankford’s claim to fame throughout the city.
The players must keep a C average or better to play.
A burly man whose shaved head and neat ear-to-ear beard make him look even rounder than he is, Mr. Compton and his wife, Dorina, an administrative assistant with the city, have put potted flowers and seasonal decorations in front of their own house, a sharp contrast with the boarded-up buildings on either side.
The corner by their house, with a small food market, used to be a drug bazaar. But for the last 15 years it has been quiet, with none of the loitering hustlers visible a few blocks away. “I go right up to them and say, I don’t want to see you around my house,” Mr. Compton said.
Rick Ribera, 20, who stopped by the store, said that “a lot of the old guys here don’t get that respect, but with him it’s, ‘Yes, sir.’” Mr. Compton says he gets respect because “they know I’m cut from the same cloth.”
The Chargers teams were started 40 years ago by Bill Gambrel, 71, a building contractor whom Mr. Compton considers a second father. When Mr. Compton got out of prison in his early 20s, Mr. Gambrel gave him a job and an apartment.
Mr. Gambrel still shows up every evening to watch the games.
For years, the Chargers played on scraggly, bumpy ground. The new field was paid for with city money and donations from more than a dozen organizations. Mr. Compton was one of many who volunteered to help with construction.
Mr. Gambrel put him in charge of the field.
Matthew Herbert, 21, who played on the Chargers and now coaches, called the field “our little sanctuary,” where street disputes are left behind, and called Mr. Compton “Frankford’s uncle” because he has taken so many young men under his wing.
Mr. Compton, Mr. Herbert said, helped him stay out of trouble when he was younger. Once when Mr. Compton caught him cutting school, he said, “he grabbed me, gave me a little body shot to the ribs, talked to me and took me to school.”
“I never cut school again. I was too scared,” said Mr. Herbert, who now works as a bus driver.
Still, football does not save everyone from drugs and violence. Mr. Compton himself was a player who went astray. Once in prison, though, Mr. Compton said, he changed his ways. “I realized this isn’t for me, sitting in a small room and working for three cents a day.”
One particularly gratifying thing, Mr. Compton said, is that otherwise absent fathers show up at ball games.
“That’s enough to make a kid play extra hard,” he said. “That’s enough to turn to their dad with a smile, like, ‘Dad, look what I did.’”
Perhaps the father will realize, Mr. Compton said, that “man, his mom is doing all this, I’m not a part of this.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

You couldn't find a sadder story on a gloomy Monday

I have sort of been following this story, and the headline broke my heart. Isn't there someone out there missing this young man?

Still no ID for young man murdered Saturday in Oakland
From Staff Reports -- Article Last Updated: 12/17/2007 10:33:28 AM PST [Oakland Tribune]

OAKLAND - Homicide detectives and the Alameda County Coroner are
still trying to identify a young man, possible a 16-18-year-old teenager, found
shot to death early Saturday.
He had no identification on him; no one in Oakland has reported him missing and he had injuries to his hands, so fingerprints are difficult, Oakland Homicide Detective Sgt. Jim Rullamas said this morning.
"We've got nothing on him, no ID, no suspects, no motive for why he was shot," Rullamas said. "He looked young to me, between 16 and 18, he could be older," he said.
He was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, slender build, an African American with medium, light skin Rullamas said. He was wearing a black jacket and blue jeans, he said.
The victim was found in the 2700 block of Harold Street not far from the Fruitvale onramp to southbound I-580. A passerby saw the victim lying against a wooden fence beside the street about 3:15 a.m. Saturday. The other side of the street is the sound wall barrier for the freeway.
The victim could have been there for several hours, Rullamas said. It appears that he was shot there, not dumped, he said. The killing was Oakland's 117th homicide this year. Last year there had been 145 homicides on the same date.

Anyone with information about the shooting or who might be able to identify the victim can call Sgt. Rullamas at 510-238-6790 or the Alameda County Coroner's office, 510-268-7300. Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest of the killer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


If you have not read, run, don't walk to her blog right now.

I will post this again, here, because it is so worth reading.

Both for the openness and truthfulness with which Heather relates her story and the way she describes how one feels when he/she needs to be honest with a friend about his/her life.

I love to read Heather's blog. Not everything she writes resonates. But I enjoy it all nonetheless.

I even stop by just to check out her pictures of Chuck...and I am not a pet person, certainly not a dog person. Chuck and I would probably get along great.

UPDATE: Heather's husband posted his side of dealing with chronic depression. It's worth the read. Truthfulness reigns. Thanks again to Heather and special thanks to Jon for their openness and willingness to share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Courting the Middle Class

In case you haven't heard, Harvard doesn't want to be misunderstood. They are not just looking for qualified low-income applicants. They want qualified middle-income applicants as well.

Don't get me wrong, these new financial aid proposals are good and necessary ways to make college more affordable, even more, to make great universities appear more attainable to all students.

I only take mild issue with the fact that everything they do with regard to financial aid ends up on the front page (ok, an exaggeration) and on the radio and the news.

Princeton replaced loans with more grants quite a few years ago... I could look up the year, but I am not sufficiently interested. Suffice to say, for those who can get into the richer of the ivies, there are good financial aid packages. It is definitely worth the application fee to see if you can get in and the kind of package they will offer.

Don't let money ever stand in your way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Messages from the Universe

I swear the universe would text and im me if it knew how.
From Daily OM:
What We Are Made of: Choose Love
Love is often presented as the opposite of fear, but true love is not opposite anything. True love is far more powerful than any negative emotions, as it is the environment in which all things arise. Negative emotions are like sharks swimming in the ocean of love. All things beautiful and fearful, ugly and kind, powerful and small, come into existence, do their thing, and disappear within the context of this great ocean. At the same time, they are made of the very love in which they swim and can never be separated. We are made of this love and live our whole lives at one with it, whether we know it or not.
It is only the illusion that we are separate from this great love that causes us to believe that choosing anything other than love makes sense or is even possible. In the relative, dualistic world of positive and negative, darkness and light, male and female, we make choices and we learn from them. This is exactly what we are meant to be doing here on earth. Underlying these relative choices, though, is the choice to be conscious of what we are, which is love, or to be unconscious of it. When we choose to be conscious of it, we choose love. We will still exist in the relative world of opposites and choices and cause and effect, and we will need to make our way here, but doing so with an awareness that we are all made of this love will enable us to be more playful, more joyful, more loving and wise, as we make our way. Ultimately, the choices we make will shed light on the love that makes us all one, enabling those who have forgotten to return to the source.
This world makes it easy to forget this great love, which is part of why we are here. We are here to remember and, when we forget to remember again, to choose love.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

All Brains Are the Same Color

A friend, who reads this blog (one of the three people), told me about an interesting lecture one of her professors gave in which he defended his belief about possible difference in intelligence based on race. His chief defense was that he was simply repeating comments about this made by a black friend of his who happened also to be a professor of economics. Well... as you can imagine, just because his black economist friend thinks there are research-based facts on this issue does not persuade me. I would be more inclined to even respond to that comment if his friend were a biologist or a psychologist or anyone more capable of conducting research and analysis in the study of the brain or intelligence.

I mean, really, I think these kinds of comments are so ignorant that I try to ignore them.

As my friend pointed out, though, these are comments being made by professors to policy students who may go on to use these arguments as the basis of making decisions to deny access to education to those "inferior brain" people (read people of color).

So, as much as it pains me to take this seriously, every time I come across some good research, I have been sending it along.

This op-ed trumps everything I have found so far. It's fabulous because it directly takes on all of the specious claims and studies with other studies.

Read it. It's worth it. Yes, I gave you three links to the same article. That's just how valuable I think it is!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

24 hour news fame

I went to the gym yesterday morning. I am still trying to get the routine just right; I have headphones now so that I can watch something on the little tvs as I exercise. But I haven't mastered the cable television schedule. So, there I was stuck in morning "news" show hell.

Every channel was doing its best to give this poor young man (yes, there is a wikipedia entry on the tragedy) as much fame, much more than the infamous fifteen minutes, as it possibly could with little thought to the countless other souls who are contemplating how to make their marks on the world.

Disgusted, I finally opted for a sitcom. I dislike most modern sitcoms (that is to say, I Still Love Lucy, etc.).

That is not to say that I don't think we shouldn't discuss the issues that drive young people to these drastic actions or that we shouldn't continue to debate the usefulness of relatively easy access to weapons. I just don't think that the spotlight coverage is doing anything to further the important discussions our society needs to be having.

I could go on and give statistics, but it should not be necessary... we should care enough to find out. There are lots of kids like Robert out there either already on their own or about to be on their own. If you want to help, Family Builders (of which I am a board member) is doing terrific work to find permanent connections for youth before they leave the foster care system. If you are not in a position to take in someone in need, please offer financial support to the organizations who find families who can take them in.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hard to Love People

I thought about calling this post "the conversations that go through my mind" -- it's a subtitle.

I was on the bus this morning, reading my book, not thinking about anything in particular when a woman flagged the bus down.

First, she was irritated that the bus driver did not stop right in front of her. She was carrying a yellow card that said LIFT in all capitals. Yellow, read neon. She was not in a wheelchair, she was pushing a little cart. She was white.

I point these two facts out only because it has been my experience that the bus drivers will invariably stop in front of the non-white bus patron regardless of where he/she is standing; that is to say that if the non-white person is four feet from the line of people waiting at the bus stop, that's where the bus driver will stop. This is an aside, but it is an important part of the action.

By the time the bus stopped, not right in front of her and didn't open the back door especially for her, she was already irritated.

I fully admit that I don't know what was truly going through her head, but it's my blog and it's my story, so I am going to put whatever thoughts I want to in her head, and she will have to read the blog and refute it in comments if she (or anyone else) has a problem with it.

This lady, let's call her Mabel for the sake of not having to say the lady with the LIFT card, exhibited her irritation by yelling loudly what she wanted. Mabel is the kind of impatient old lady who is CONVINCED that she is always getting the short end of the stick and not nearly the amount of respect that anyone her age should be accorded. Wildly waving the card, and yelling, we all became involved in waiting for the bus driver to get her on the bus.

I had a very visceral response to Mabel's sense of entitlement, her irritation and her sense that she is not getting and never has gotten her due. In many ways, she is both my mother and the person I desperately NEVER want to be. She is the spector of the person I might be someday that keeps me up at night. She is the reason I try to bring perspective to what I experience so that I don't fall into the depth.

Did I forget to mention that before Mabel ever got on the bus, she also was motioning to me to let me know that I was sitting in HER seat and that I better move. Point, point, wave, wave = get out of MY handicap seat, lady.

So, when Mabel wanted to get off the bus, pushed the button and started yelling about how this was her stop and she needed help to get off, I wanted to crawl out of my body. I was afraid I might start clawing the doors to get off that damn bus. I didn't want to hear her say it one more time. And, worst of all, I needed to get off at this stop too. Who would go first? What indignity would I have to face if I got off first or violated anymore of Mabel's rules?

I am sitting on the bus, or at this point standing on the bus, with many various thought lines churning through my mind. My first instinct was to feel irritated back at her. I sized up her insecurity and the fact that she had used this "I always get the least respect, least this, least that" attitude immediately. I tried to soften this thought by composing very calm responses to Mabel that would counsel her about it would be easier to get what you want by being nice.

I was horrified at myself at this point. Glad that no one could read my mind on the bus. Thinking about all those awful comments on the newspaper where there are no filters because no one can see you.

It wasn't that long of a bus ride, but it was long enough to process these emotions.

Ultimately I did find my way to compassion.

I left the bus with the realization (again) that loving nice people is easy, being compassionate to the downtrodden is easy, but having compassion and loving those hard to love people is what we are really challenged to do.

It was a lesson I was needing to remember and the universe delivered it right on cue.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

connecting the dots?!

Ok, ok... I know I have said this is a must read before, but this really is a must read.

I got this far before I had to blog it:
A prosecutor explained the theory to the jury at Mr. Holle’s trial in Pensacola
in 2004. “No car, no crime,” said the prosecutor, David Rimmer.
No car, no consequences. No car, no murder.”

The thing is, if you believe this simplistic logic, then you must also believe that every murder weapon is just like the car. No gun, no crime. No gun, no murder. Lalalalala

Certainly if any prosecutor used that line of reasoning, his/her ass would become the target of every card-carrying NRA member.

Well, as a car owner, let me affix the target to this prosecutor.

When "justice" becomes "vengeance" or just "get anyone you can," I simply cannot support it.

Terry Snyder, whose daughter Jessica was the victim in Mr. Holle’s case, said Mr. Holle’s conduct was as blameworthy as that of the man who shattered her skull.
“It never would have happened unless Ryan Holle had lent the car,” Mr. Snyder said. “It was as good as if he was there.”

I know that crime and murder are horrible events and that the victims' families feel completely justified in wanting blood. That is why they are not prosecutors.

I really want to believe in JUSTICE, that is Justice with a capital J. You know, the kind that actually takes into account blame, responsibility and restitution. I just don't think that is what our justice system does, maybe ever has.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Innocence lost

It is, indeed, truly sad to see that the LA transit system feels the need to install turnstiles... there was something uniquely Southern California about not having this on the metro. It is a sense of community. A belief that the person next to you really would help you if you needed it. We still open doors, hold elevators and greet our fellow citizens. And we trust each other and the powers that be trust us to follow the rules: stop at red lights, allow pedestrians to walk, pay for our metro ticket.

Though I don't live in SoCal anymore, I'd like to think that it runs through my veins.

It irritates me to no end to be right behind someone who half opens a door for him/herself to enter and then lets the door slam in my face.

I test my fellow pedestrians on the way to work... I greet them all with a cheery GOOD MORNING. Most mornings I get 90% of them to respond...but it is almost never the other way around, where I would get to choose or not to respond to a stranger greeting me. Invariably I can tell before I get to the person on the street whether or not he/she will respond. It's a cultural thing (read folks always respond and almost always with a smile), and it's a generational thing -- anyone over 60 responds, again almost always happily. There are those I catch off guard who respond a greeting hastily with no trace of a smile. And there are those that surprise me... the teenagers, the hurried/scared looking person... but it's still me initiating contact.

Where I grew up, when I was growing up there, people spoke to you no matter what. If you were standing in a line, by the end of your wait you would know a substantial amount of information about the person in front or behind of you, except his/her name.

You can maintain your anonymity and still be polite and even friendly. You are not giving anything up by greeting people you don't know. If we could get past that fear and believe in each other and ourselves enough to follow basic rules, I wonder if civility could have a resurgence.

Perhaps...but I still haven't written my piece on the comments on the online newspapers...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

brewing, stirring, waiting

So, I have been working on, at least in my mind, on a long, long piece titled "Se Solicita Esclavos" which means, for those of you are not in the Spanish know, Slaves Wanted.

It's a harsh title. Purposefully.

Perhaps that is why it has been so hard to put pen to paper.

I will rant a little here anyway.

So, we are educating more non-English speakers than ever in our history?
---Just where are the facts to back up this claim??
---Has anyone who says and writes these claims ever studied the history of public education in the United States. For your information, compulsory and free public education resulted from a desire to Americanize immigrants who were from non-English speaking countries (read German, mostly).
--Oh, and by the way, when we count the number of non-English speakers, what we call English Language Learners (ELs or ELLs), has anyone stopped to check that we are counting accurately? I mean, it's fishy to me when I see lists of ELs whose primary language is listed as ENGLISH! If their primary language is English, just how are they ELs?? How many of those listed as ELs also have their primary language listed as English?

I could go on, but, hopefully, you get the picture.

The article to which this entry links gives the basics from the Pew Hispanic Center's latest round of polls around bilingualism, English acquisition in immigrants and their children who are from Spanish-speaking countries. It shines a little bit of light on the potentially inaccurate numbers of non-English speaking students being educated...

Why does it matter?

Well, in just about every newspaper article and so-called research paper, education reformers and anti-immigrant groups alike are blaming low test scores on non-English speaking students.

If you spend all your time blaming the students for why public education doesn't work, it will be very difficult to look for solutions beyond we don't have a moral responsibility to educate them, lock the doors or throw them out (even if they are citizens). Perhaps that is overstating the situation; on the other hand, perhaps it is not stating the issue forcefully enough.

Oh, and one last little piece of info, quite a few years ago, back in 1999 or 2000, the United States ranked as the fourth largest Spanish speaking country in the world. That was without Kansas and its xenophobic English only law.

Only in racist America would being bilingual be a negative thing.