Saturday, August 30, 2014

Quick Take

One of the most succinct and accurate observations I've heard all week about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and the terrorist threat they represent all over the globe involved the use of a famous quote from John F. Kennedy.  Fascinating how decades later, it applies perfectly to so many uprisings violent reactions, and tyrannical leaders currently on the scene.  I'd love to use this quote as the basis for an essay or better yet, group discussion in classrooms this year.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke, 1963



Seems like things have been particularly difficult the last few weeks.  Hamas/Israeli conflict, execution of an American journalist by ISIS, Ferguson, Mo.  Afghanistan, veterans care at home, natural disasters- mudslides, forest fires, bizarre climate change whether, drought, floods, loss of Robin Williams, Ebola virus, Nigerian girls kidnapped, biased media coverage, ignorance/intolerance, pervasive violence in everything from sports to gaming to "entertainment," Immigration/humanitarian crises...
I was telling some young friends the other day to remember what I learned a while back, that no matter how bad things seem, how down/depressed we get, that some things will always be here.  This Sam Cooke tune is timeless and ever available.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When I Die

With the nation's eyes on Ferguson, Missouri this week, the dialogue, defense, and disintegration of race and racism in America continues.  Every hour of every day brings new and questionable revelations about the incident that caused the death of Michael Brown.  Trying to figure out how and why an unarmed individual took six shots is tricky business.
So many of the lessons learned from the 1960s have served me well in trying to make sense of this latest episode of the tragedy that is American race relations.  Granted, so much has changed in the last 50 years, but astonishingly, some things remain the same.
Best to distinguish between a riot and a rebellion first.  Both elements are at play here.  Also important to recognize who and where some of the protesters are, and are from, and what views they represent.  There will always be those elements who desire confrontation, and those who will depart with the slightest sign of conflict.
In the end, the personality of the real Michael Brown, whoever he is/was and the personality of the officer who fired the shots will probably get buried beneath all the tear gas canisters, all the ashes, and all the confused, disillusioned notions of righteousness.  Still, some things remain abundantly clear:  There is such a thing as police brutality, and we all have miles to go before we can even begin to sleep.
Some ironies abound as well.  This area, near East St. Louis, was the focal point of one of the most important and disastrous "Race Riots" just about 100 years ago.  Roots go deep.
And while we're in the last century, I was thinking the other day of a song lyric that kept rambling through my head.  From the classic St. James Infirmary Blues, come the lines:

     Oh, when I die, please bury me
     In my ten dollar Stetson hat;
     Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
     So the boys'll know I died standin' pat.

That last line...about standing pat in death is most intriguing.  The expression traces it's origin from poker players who took a stance with the cards they were dealt.  It's a kind of honesty or integrity to stand pat.  So it is with human beings.  To die with dignity is, in another way, like the gambler in St. James Infirmary with his hat in place and the gold piece in his pocket.
No dignity, no peace.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Backstory

The small university where I supervise and mentor beginning teachers is hiring a new teacher.  A professor, if you will.  It's a process that invites all members of the Ed. Dept. to participate by attending a formal presentation of the candidate's research, followed by an informal interview type discussion.  I'm not sure who makes the final decision, but I know I can provide feedback from my perceptions and that it will be considered by the dept. head and the other faculty.
There were three candidates, and I only attended one of the presentations because of schedule demands.  No matter.  I don't really work all that closely with the profs and I may not do this very much longer.  Of course, I say that every year and then go back for another round.
So, I decided to attend the presentation/interview for a candidate who attended two branches of the University of California, like me, and then lived and worked in and near the Bay Area.
I was not disappointed.  I say this because this woman had a backstory I found most unusual.
Before the reveal, let me just say that we endured the Power Point about her research, asked pertinent questions, calmed her nerves a bit, and then proceeded to have a concluding discussion that included feedback from everyone from current grad students to other profs and even the much qualified Dept. Secretary.  (She's the one who holds everything together.)

OK, here comes the real story.  This woman, whose research concerns the non-traditional support systems in a Latino community elementary school, was herself a member of a similar community.  In short, she was a white woman, adopted by a family of Latino migrants after receiving foster care in their home.
Ever heard of that?
She is also a first generation college student, as far as she knows.
People assume all sorts of things about migrant workers and their sub-culture.  This woman's life, in my view, has the potential to inspire and inform on a whole other level.  If it hasn't been done already, it should be.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Like what?

His obituary was on the front page of my local paper.  Robin Williams commanded that kind of attention.  Shortly after news of his apparent suicide, the internet lit up like a 50-1 longshot.  But there were really no surprises here.  The price of massive talent, massive intellect, massive sensitivity and genius is often depression.
And yet, this is a different kind of denial.  I'm more angry than sad right now.  The shock and empathy will come later on.  It always does.
There will, no doubt, be testimonials for months to come.  Unlike other celebrities, I won't tire of them.  he was so different.  More like Richard Pryor, the kind of comedian that didn't need to say anything to elicit laughter.

There is a haunting image this morning.  The media shows Robin Williams star on the Hollywood walk of fame.  It is surrounded by people and flowers and all manner of messages and tributes.  Only the stoney monument looks back.  The golden letters that spell out his name stare back too.  Solidified.  This is as close as anyone can get...could ever get.
There will be explanations and analyses.  There will be tears and unfortunately copycats.  Maybe someone will get help for their own depression because of Williams death...many more will not.
The questions swirl around, up and over all the flowers.  How can someone who brings so much laughter suffer so much?
I remember some years ago that I met a woman who was Robin Williams high school English teacher.  I'd been invited to give a workshop for Marin County teachers at Redwood HIgh School.  The room assigned was the classroom of this veteran teacher.  In casual conversation at the end of the day, someone asked her if she had ever had Robin Williams in class.  When she replied that she had, the obvious question sprang from everyone's mouth: "What was that like?"  She smiled softly and said, "You all know what that was like?"
Just as we surely all did, so it appears that most of us still don't know what he was like.

Monday, August 4, 2014

At Your Feet

Like most people I know, I've been following the recent flareup between the Israelis and the Hamas led Palestinian government insurgents.  I guess that's what they should be called.  It's such a complex situation to begin with, so the terminology is always dicey.
I know the roots of this seemingly ageless conflict.  I know the convoluted series of viewpoints and most importantly the glaring contradictions.  I've read, with interest, many articles and op ed pieces detailing all manner of solutions or bleak forecasts.  In recent weeks, the glaring problem here is the continual maiming and killing of women and children in Gaza.  Today alone, another report came of 10 death at a U.N. sponsored school in Gaza.  If the thought of that is troubling, then the pictures available are more so.  Tenfold troubling.  With the technology available today the carnage is PTSD worthy.
     Like all wars, this conflict seems to be bringing out the worst and the best in humankind.  Some people remain grounded in their inflexible beliefs, while others cut to the ethical chase.  At what point, I would ask, is it morally acceptable to bomb schools and hospitals?

Of course the media coverage ranges from fairly objective to downright deceptive.  But this morning, as I walked a few blocks from my car to the coffee shop I found myself atop the issue-literally standing on it.  Someone or ones had chalked the sidewalk on both sides of the street for blocks.  Written in white, pink, yellow and blue chalk were the names of Palestinians recently killed in the conflict.  "Killed by Israel" was written near some of the names.  Here and there the age of the victim accompanied the notice.
Many people failed to see or read the chalk marks.  I always knew people rarely looked up when they walked, but apparently they don't often look down either.  I wonder how long these messages will last?  We don't expect any rain for the next few weeks, so that won't be a problem.  I suppose it's possible the chalk scrawling will offend some.  Will they take action?
Tomorrow, at 8:00 a.m. a ceasefire is slated to take effect.  Shortly thereafter, I'll make my way down the sidewalk to the coffee shop to begin my day.  Like those people in Gaza and Israel, I'll be looking carefully...up and down.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

John Fahey-Red Pony 1969

When I stopped in at my local Powell’s bookstore this morning I noticed a new biography of guitarist John Fahey. I guess I knew died a few years ago, but looking through a few chapters and some of the photos of the book confirmed it for me. One thing that caught my attention was the author saying he regretted having only seen Fahey in concert one time and toward the end of his career at that. I realized that I hadn’t seen him or even heard about him for years but what was even more striking was the fact I used to see him often in the early days of his career. That would be the mid to late 1960s. John Fahey was a master guitar finger picker and had a he following back in the day. He also had a few albums out there and played a variety of venues from small clubs to large theaters. I recall seeing him in The Ashgrove, the famous L.A. folk club a few times but also while a student at UCLA. Fahey played a few times in Royce Hall, the UCLA landmark of Italian Romanesque architecture so prevalent in Hollywood films and now commercials. This morning I sifted through a few You Tube clips to see if I could find what I recall was something unique to Fahey. No luck, but you deserve to know. Back then he was a smoker. He’d often light a cigarette, take a few drags and then place the filter end into the guitar strings near the tuning pegs. It would sit quietly there, burning down until he stopped in the middle of a song, take a few drags and then begin again. He did this with Coca Cola too. Fahey would often come onstage with his guitar and then have two large bottles of Coke just to the left of his guitar mike. He’d take a break, in mid song, guzzle down about half the bottle, and then resume. At first the audience would react or laugh. After they got used to it, it just happened. RIP John Fahey, American original.