Did We Thank Title IX on Thanksgiving?

imageThere’s a beautiful breakfast buffet at the hotel we stayed at for Thanksgiving weekend; Wednesday morning was a pretty thin crowd so there was a lot of easy chat from table to table and in the buffet line. Just in front of me at the omelet station was a very tall young woman — around 30 or 35.

“My husband and I together aren’t as tall as you are!” I teased. ”Did you hate that in high school?”

“Oh, no” she replied, “I played basketball so I was fine about being tall.”

“WOW – Thank you Title IX“ I laughed.

You can guess what came next: she’d never heard of 42-year-old Title IX and had no idea what it was or why it had been so necessary or what would have become of her basketball opportunities without it. Like my most-admired friend Veronica Arreola,  we all need to help the girls coming up behind us understand how far we’ve come and how very far we still need to go.


Ferguson, Age, and Loss

kneeling sizedVery seldom do I notice my age.  But as I have read the outpouring of grief and rage (which I share) over the Michael Brown grand jury verdict, I am deeply aware of the decades I lived before most of these friends, and other writers who are otherwise strangers, were born.  Things they learned about, but I lived through.

With deep sadness and disgust,  I watched Robert McCullough in his starched white shirt and dark suit with his half-glasses perched on his nose like a college professor and knew what he would say.  His endless prologue foretold what was coming with an ego and naked self-interest that was dreadful to see.  But it wasn’t a surprise.  I expected nothing else.

I remember the murders of  James Earl ChaneyAndrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner,, (see Awesomely Luvvie) of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Viola Liuzzo.  Brutality, incarceration, death.  I remember George Wallace in the school-house door,

and Willie Horton

and the ads that NC Sen. Jesse Helms, in a re-election bid, ran against African-American candidate Harvey Gantt .  
I remember scores more for every one of these.

It’s really terrible to witness, and share, the heartbreak described by so many I love.  Read this post by Kelly Wickham that expands on that, or this by Rita Arens.  Or go back and hit the #ferguson and #blacklivesmatter hashtags one more time if you can bear it.  A Greek chorus of agony.

I am by no means connecting this weariness of mine with reasons to stop taking action and writing and reaching out and making noise.  No.  I’m just thinking about how different it feels when you’ve sat in front of black and white TVs and listened on transistor radios the first times you learned of each desperately painful incident of even the past half century. We know we will keep working, trying.  Even so, how hard it is to feel shock or surprise or anything other than a bone-chilling validation of the presence of those ugly creatures of hate and injustice that still hide between the stars and stripes that represent our country.

Ada Lovelace, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Google and Where They Took Us All

handshake ccflickr smYou know what?  Not only did Al Gore never say that he invented the Internet, but he was one of its best advocates and understood the importance of the slew of people who really did.  They’re part of a surprisingly exciting and remarkable story told by Walter Isaacson in The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.   It’s a fast-paced tour through the evolution of modern technology, from the prophetic work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (aka Lord Byron’s daughter) through the first computers, programming, the unsung (big surprise) but enormous contribution made by women technologists, transistors, microchips, video games, the Internet and the Web, as well as personal computees to access it.  The story is pretty amazing and yes, inspiring.

The people behind these developments, and the process that carried them, provide a rich narrative and a couple of surprising through-lines.  First, about patents and Nobel prizes: the men (and women) who brought us from The Difference Engine to the microchip to the Internet of Everything were not hoarders.  Although many of them received patents and made money from their work, rather than withholding developments, most shared them, even precise details.  They collaborated to build upon the genius of the ones before.  Secondly, much of their work, basic development and science as well as more sophisticated details, was funded by governments; a lot of the American work was funded under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He saw American science leadership as a national security issue, and, as we consider what emerged from that federal funding, it’s hard to argue.

There are dozens of anecdotes as well as illuminating biographical profiles in The Innovators, including Alan Turing, currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the highly anticipated film The Imitation Game (Isaacson interviews the cast below).   Each story is a worthy candidate for inclusion here.  Better though, that like these heroic creators of what became our present and future, you read the book and discover them for yourself.





John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers REDUX

JFK Inaugural tickets

I wrote this piece right before the Obama Inauguration.  This, the 51st anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, seems like a good day to share it again.

I seem to be living in the WayBack Machine this year.  Lots of memoriesof 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet anotherlooms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snowon the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integrationsoon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander in Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.*  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change the world.

*I know, I thought of Christina-Taylor Greene as I re-read this too.

This post also appears in PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America


One Account of the Jerusalem Violence

Israel deathThe murders in Jerusalem were, I believe, the first time terrorists had struck inside a synagogue.  The story is terrible; what follows is a truncated account sent to friends of a woman in the neighborhood.  I know some of the word are unfamiliar (I have explained a couple) and the names are unfamiliar sounding. I hope you can get past them and, whatever your politics, try to imagine this happening in the neighborhood where you live.

Dear friends,

Yesterday at about 7am my daughter Miri called. “Mordechai just came home from shul    (synagogue) . He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone. Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help”. The twelve year old had hit the floor along with everyone else when the bullets began to fly. He was fully aware of what was going on, and what it meant. He somehow found the courage to let go of his father’s hand, crawl towards the exit and break into a run.

Mordechai is blonde, freckled, and a soft spoken somewhat introverted and studious boy, much like his father, Shmuli. He is not Huck Finn, and the courage he found at those moments were a gift straight from G-d. By the time he finished telling Miri what happened, sirens from Hatzalah ambulances, police cars, and Magen David could be heard telling her that there were casualties.

“Where’s Shmuli” was the thought that entered her mind again and again as the seconds which felt like hours began to tick. She called me and said, “Say Tehillim (NOTE that’s Psalms –  often read as a prayer in such circumstances.) There is shooting in Bnei Torah”. I began to say the ancient prayers, knocked on my neighbor’s door and told her to do the same. Chani called and told me to look at the news to see what was really happening. Nothing was reported as yet. Of course not. It was only 7:10.

I realized that the whether or not the attack was over, that no one as yet knew whether the murderers escaped. I called again, asking that everything be done to see that no one leaves the campus, and then called Miri. Thank G-d she had the sense to stay indoors and not run to the besieged synagogue. When Mordechai came home, the shooting was still happening. By 7:20 we both realized that if she didn’t hear from Shmuli, something was very wrong. The police and other services had no information as yet to give to the public, but a family friend who had seen the terror with his own eyes, said that Shmuli had been taken to Haddassah EIn Karem. When Mordechai let go of his hand, he instinctively ran after the child placing himself in the sight of the terrorists. One of them attacked him with his axe, hitting him on the left side of his head, his back and his arm. Somehow he made it to the door. Josh White, a student of Machon Shlomo was riding down Agassi on his bike. He noticed what he described later as “a lot of confusion” in front of Bnei Torah, asked someone what was going on, and the man answered him in Hebrew.

In the midst of what to him was gibberish, he picked up the word Aravim (Arabs) and immediately grasped what was happening. He approached the shul and saw Shmuli who was still aware. The Machon student took of his shirt and stopped the bleeding, a move which may have saved Shmuli’s life. The shooting was still happening inside. It was about 7:15! The emergency crew drew back, but because SHmuli was already outside, they evacuated him thus making him the first of the wounded to be taken to Hadassah, another factor in his survival. Before collapsing, he asked where Mordechai was, and when he was told that the boy ran away from the carnage, he said, “Baruch Hashem”. Inside, the terrorists were continuing their “work”.

When they entered they turned to their left, and immediately cut down Rabbi Twerski and Rav Kalman Levine who were standing in the corner. Reb Kalman was the husband of Chaya, formally Markowitz who was a student and later a madrichah at Neve. Her husband was not a regular attendee of Bnei Torah. He would generally daven (pray) in the earliest possible minyan so he could get in a couple of hours of learning before beginning his day. Yesterday he had a question about something he had learned and had gone after davening to Bnei Torah to put the question to its erudite rav, Rabbi Rubin. The question will now only be resolved in the Heavenly Acadamy. Rev Avraham Goldberg, the third man to be killed is Breina Goldberg’s husband. Many of you know Breina as the warm caring efficient secretary cum mother figure at the front desk in the afternoon. I don’t as yet know how her husband, or Reb Kupinski the fourth victim met their deaths. The only thing that I know, is that it was brutal and swift.

The first policemen to enter were traffic cops who knew what they were facing, and also knew that they were not wearing protective gear. They entered anyway and together with the forces that came afterwards ended the bloodbath. By 7:30 the murderers were apprehended.

Miri, my daughter Guli, and her husband were in Hadassah. Miri’s other kids were watched by relatives and friends for the day. Mordechai was urged to speak about what he saw again and again in order to diminish the damage of the trauma he had undergone. The rest of the family flowed in, saying Tehillim and waiting for updates. The hospital social worker, Aviva, who is blessed with the rare gift of being empathic without being overbearing, and the women of Ezer Mitzion (a volunteer organization) kept us well supplied with food, calming conversation and practical advice. We were allowed to see Shmuli who was put under anesthesia. We don’t know if he heard us or not, but we were talking to him stressing that Mordechai was fine. In the hours before the surgery was done, we found ourselves with Risa Rotman. Her husband, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, was also attacked, and the extent of his wounds are very serious. Some of you may know Risa (who if I am not mistaken also is an OBG) and those of you whose husbands learned in Ohr Sameach or who recall Reb Meir Shuster who he helped unstintingly for years, may know him as Howie. The policeman who entered first, passed away. May Hashem (God) avenge his blood.
Please please continue saying Tehillim (praying) for Shmuel Yerucham ben Baila and the other victims. Daven that Hashem give strength to the five new widows and 24 new orphans.

NOTE: Some of what I removed is about news coverage, which was not exemplary.   Some other material of a personal nature and I felt that I did not have the right to post it.


Tears for the Music (and Cheers too.) So Many Emotions

WHY is it The Girls in Their Summer Clothes?  Of all songs.   My heart is in my throat – I really might cry.  It’s just one of many Spotify ambushes.  Mark Knopfler’s Cannibals.  Nils Lofgren’s Black Book.  About 30 other Springsteen songs including Thunder Road, Jersey Girl (Yes I know Tom Waitts wrote it, but still) and My Hometown ( I just don’t listen to that one anymore.)  Oh and from another end of the universe, of Scarlet Begonias.

Every once in a while Peter Rothberg at The Nation posts Top Ten Songs (from a The Nation perspective of course:) Top Ten Veterans Day SongsTop Ten Back-to-School SongsTop Ten Songs About the EnvironmentTop Ten Labor Day SongsTop Ten Death Penalty Songs (In Tribute to Troy Davis),Top Ten Songs About ClassTop Ten Songs About Nuclear War, Top Ten July 4th Songs, Top Ten Memorial Day Songs.  They always inspire a lively conversation on his blog, including nominees to join his own ten.  Many of these are offered with deep feeling and conviction, the power of music spread across issues as well as hearts.

Nothing original here; we all know it.  In a stadium, at a demonstration, a party, the beach, the gym, in a car, a crowd or a quiet moment, it’s always there for us when we need it – often taking us places we didn’t mean to go.


Facing the Political Future: a Sadly Personal Perspective


Harold Ickes

I’ve been hiding from the news, which is weird since I spent most of my life as a journalist.  I’m not sure though, that after 8 agonizing years of W and then 6 frustrating ones with President Obama (much of it not his fault) I can face what the next congress will do.

Do you remember the various, endless Clinton hearings?  Even more than the impeachment battle, the moment that I keep remembering was deeply personal: Sen. Alphonse D’Amato questioning Deputy Chief of Staff (and my longtime friend) Harold Ickes, whose father, also Harold, had been Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt Administration, and credited with implementation of much of the New Deal.

His father, D’Amato told Harold, would have been ashamed of him.

I had worked with Harold when we were all young, so along with political anger came real pain that, beyond the issues, he had faced such very cruel personal grandstanding.

That’s not important in policy terms and is probably mild compared to the harshness that any witnesses at the pending, inevitable deluge of hearings under a Republican congress will face: two years of destructive power escalating the politics of obstruction to that of destruction.  Beyond what that will mean to our country, poor people, women, immigrants, ACA users, voting rights, Supreme Court nominations,  and the jeopardy we face around the world, none of which will receive much attention except as political weapons, it’s just not something that will be easy to watch, especially for an unrepentant dreamer like me.

Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck, Whole Antivax, Holy Cow!

whole foods idealist. . . Whole Foods’ clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion… until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says ‘NAMASTE’. Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.    on The Huffington Post

You know it’s true.  I’ve asked many Whole Foods workers about the rude entitlement of so many of their customers and they roll their eyes and nod.  Now there are efforts to organize these workers, against major C-Suite opposition, and it won’t be pretty.

 It’s all starting to piss me off.  Between the company, its image and its customers, it’s easy to get angry.  I’m a Sixties product with all the baggage that that implies, including the right to organize, and basic kindness and respect from one person to another, but at my most granola I didn’t question the responsibility of public health, of immunization, first for me and later for my kids, and wasn’t predictable enough to produce this:

I talked to a public health official and asked him what’s the best way to anticipate where there might be higher than normal rates of vaccine noncompliance, and he said take a map and put a pin wherever there’s a Whole Foods. I sort of laughed, and he said, “No, really, I’m not joking.” It’s those communities with the Prius driving, composting, organic food-eating people.  Science journalist and MIT professor Seth Mnookin in a 2011 interview

So here I am, cranky and irritated after an emergency trip to one of the many Whole Foods in the Bay Area, astonished at the alleged vaccine/Whole Foods connection and up to my ears in fair trade, cruelty free, organic, shade-grown, beautifully displayed, hugely costly foods, vegetable prices determined partly by the cost of workers piling and re-piling them in perfect order (not that it’s not pretty, it just seems so….)

These are cruel and dangerous times.  We have substantial issues to confront.  We should be healthy and well-fed when we face down these crises but how did we get to a place where it is also a virtue to be smug and self-satisfied about being able to do that?

I will be a proud Progressive with my last breath, but please try to get those rude, cart-pushy, deli-line crashing, parking place stealing people to behave a little more socially conscious about the people in their immediate environment (um, your store),  oh Whole Foods, so the harmony you sell (see image at the top of this post) in your ads can emerge inside your stores, too.

#Whiteprivilege, San Francisco Style (Not Big Things, Just Wrong Anyway)

The Street In Question

The Street In Question

It happened three times in one week; things that would have happened very differently to people of color.  First came a real, seriously sizable pack – yes pack – of teenage boys running down California Street after dark, screaming and cursing — looking maybe like all of them were chasing the first one.  Except for the dog and me, nobody seemed to care.  No one yelled “slow down” or “quiet down” in this family-rich neighborhood.  No one called the police to report a dangerous group of boys intent on making, if not trouble, at least way too much noise — and on a school night!  Did I mention that they were white?

Mt Lake trail 1

The Trail in Question

This morning, for the zillionth time, a very large off-leash dog came at our very large, protective, on-leash one. He feels helpless when he’s on a leash and approaching dogs aren’t, and gets very agitated.  When I called to the owners to please call their dog back toward them, they yelled at me!  Why does this matter?  The park trail is strictly for dogs on a leash.  Almost no one follows the rules. When we moved here, I asked our dog walker about it; she smiled indulgently and told me to “just turn around and go the other way.”  Each culprit, it seems, sees this particular infraction as ok – for them, and raising the issue would do no good.  Did I mention that they were white?

Night time crosswalk edited

One of the Crosswalks in Question

Finally, there’s this: California law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.  Our non-commercial street is pretty busy despite being almost totally residential.   At least one in four drivers rush right through even when pedestrians are already into the street.  At night it’s more than that, and since they don’t see people as quickly in the dark, far more dangerous.  Did I mention that many of them are white?

We live in this neighborhood because it is diverse.  Signs in the library are posted in three languages (see below) and we hear more than that on the street, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Russian.  Even so, the people involved in this law-breaking  –  did I mention that they are all white?

The Library in Question

The Library in Question

For months I have had the privilege of listening to sisters of color speak and write among themselves and to the rest of us of the moment after moment, incident after incident, that are part of their lives.  Many are desperately terrifying or heartbreaking, or both.  Like the ones described here though, they are automatic assumptions of white privilege, of the right to break an inconvenient law without consequence and to censure people of color for similar infractions.  As  small as these examples are, or maybe because they are, they teach us how much we all presume, how automatically we assume it’s ok for us to break the law or the social contract.  What they haven’t taught us yet – horrible huge assault or small presumption, is how much each one diminishes us all.



Art, Truth, Feminism, JD Salinger, Lena Dunham and Sex

LENA about authorwhen 
From Lena Dunham’s Website

 Lena Dunham was just a little older, when she wrote this, than she was in the currently infamous story from her new book; it’s been raging through right-wing and/or feminist (?!) blogs for days.  If you’ve been offline for the past few days, her new book Not That Kind of Girl, includes material about sexual curiosity, sisters, vaginas and sexual limits, all in the form of what were, to many, uncomfortable anecdotes.

Dunham and her book have been brutalized in the press and on blogs – mostly for telling the truth – a truth which some claim is the sexual abuse of a younger sibling.  It seemed more like a less-than-attractive set of events and not, to child development experts, worthy of the outrage it generated.

Beyond that, it’s honest, real and revealing, so: is this cacophony of condemnation how we modern readers reward a writer’s honesty?  It shouldn’t be – and JD Salinger told us why:

Since [writing] is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? … I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions.’ Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.”   (Seymour, an Introduction)