Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Louis Kahn

When I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960's, Louis Kahn was a god.  He was a professor of architecture in the School of Design.  His classes were attended only by gods-in-training.  To us simple undergraduates, those who studied with him were destined to see the world in multi-dimensional harmony that the rest of us could not understand.  They took notes in lovely blocky letters illustrated with quick (perfect) drawings.  Valhalla for these creatures was the Furness Library.  The library itself is a Gothic marvel, both fascinating and intimidating to those not called to design.  To enter and study in the cavernous core was to tempt fate.  Kahn has been dead almost 40 years.  Last year his final accomplishment was completed.  On Roosevelt Island, the thin strip of land lying in the East River between Manhatten and Queens, now sits Kahn's visionary Four Freedoms Park, his memorial to Franklin Roosevelt.  In case you have missed notice of this spectacular achievement, visit the website and feast your eyes.  And when you have been seduced by the granite slabs, the little leaf linden trees and the massive steps, then you will want to know more about Louis Kahn.  Watch the video below to hear him talk to a brick. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is the Victim to Blame?

The case of the Jane Doe raped by two boys in Steubenville OH received extensive media coverage.  Here is a link to an excellent analysis of that coverage.  The author is Megan Carpentier, Executive Editor of Raw Story, a progressive news site that focuses on stories often ignored in the mainstream media. You might enjoy the site's tilt.  Ms. Carpentier's piece about the rape is thoughtful and powerful. She demonstrates that the majority of press coverage sympathized with the two rapists and their lost opportunity for football and college.  She wonders why and offers her view.  It appeared in the Guardian.  Give it a read. 

Children's Storytime

Every Friday at 10:30 AM.  Placerville Main Library (California).  I was there with my daughter-in-law and grandson.  He is 3 1/2.  Thirty five children sat without moving, enthralled.  I was, too.  Two librarians offered the program of story books and puppet skits.  They invited the children to stand and sing along.  They urged all to respond to simple questions raised in the books.  No one cried.  No one left early.  The program captured us. Storytime at the library is a women's world.  Mothers and grandmothers, many with babies in their arms guided the children to the craft tables after the program.  The craft was with coffee filters and magic markers.  Each child colored a filter, and then took it to the librarian who sprayed it with water, causing the colors to blur into a pretty pattern.  Groups of children moved outside to play on the lawn.  Women followed, finding a place to sit along a stone wall.  This is a safe world.  These mothers make it safe.  They are vigilant.  Their job is mothering.  They do it well.  I'm glad I had a chance to spend the morning with them.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lives We Do Not Save

The young man may have mingled briefly in the lobby of the luxury hotel. He may not have slept well at home.  His mother had sought medical help for him, but even with the help of 911 responders, no hospital bed could be found for him. He was sent home.  Wandering the hotel lobby, he may have helped himself to the coffee and pastries set out for early risers, or looked into the solarium where breakfast soon will be served.  He eventually made his way to the elevator, or perhaps climbed the stairs.  He stopped at one of the highest floors.  While the pampered guests in the lobby read their papers, he threw himself out of a window and plunged to his death.  His grieving mother testified this week before our state legislature during a debate over funding for psychiatric detention beds so that the existing involuntary commitment law could be enforced.  There is agreement about the need, but little evident support for the money.  Public health officials warn that more beds would require more funding, and might short change other programs. We don't talk this way about medical services for heart attack patients.  We don't even conside a "do nothing" alternative for those whose bodies are mangled in a car crash.  Had the young man survived his desperate fall, we would have provided the necessary care for his physical injuries.  His psychotic break was every bit as life threatening.  But because it is a "mental illness" he did not receive the life saving treatment he needed.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wima way Wima way

Or, "Hey, hey, bum di da di da di da di".  Or even "Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum, dumbe doodi".  Or, reaching back a bit farther, "Hey nonny ding dong, alang alang alang, Boom ba-doh, ba-doo ba-doodle-ay".  Do you recognize these opening lines?  The wave of baby boomers who are moving into retirement communities do.  They were the vanguard of the back seat burners, the sock knockers of the late 50's.  They were the songs we heard as we entered  puberty.  We jitterbugged our way through school in the acoustical age of bee bop.  For those who can't make out the songs, the Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps tonight" starts with the "wima way" line.  Dion and the Belmonts opened their barn burner, "Keep Away from Runaround Sue" with "Hey Hey bum di da...".  Easy to recognize is the "Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum..." from the Del-Vikings "Come and Go With Me", "wah wah wah wah". And one of the earliest, by the Crew Cuts, "ShaBoom" with the lyrical " Hey nonny ding dong..".  Armed with this information, click onto YouTube and enjoy a walk down memory lane.  Whee ah mum ah way to you.
Here's my favorite:

Friday, March 8, 2013

About the Falcon and Starling

Last summer I wrote about starlings.  There is a video included in that post which shows their stunning mass flight displays called mumurations.  I had not read an explanation when I wrote that post.  Here is a good one, published in the current issue of the magazine "Living Bird".  It is written by Grainger Hunt with spectacular photographs by Nick Dunlop. Hunt is a falconer, with a Master's thesis on Peregrines and a doctorate in Zoology. As a pilot, he has radio-tracked Peregrines on long-distance migrations and conducted aerial surveys of ranging, survival, and habitat selection.  Luckily for readers like me, Hunt teamed up with Dunlop to illustrate his no-nonsense theory of individual self-interest driving the startling behavior of the scruffy starling.  Dunlop is a wildlife photographer and naturalist who spends hours in cold windy fields, snowy forests and wherever else he can capture "wild" and "natural" on his lens.  He has done it here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye

One moment I was confident, doing things that come naturally and enjoying myself.  The next moment I had torn the anterior cruciate ligament, and meniscus in my left knee.  The psychological injury hurt as did the awful physical damage to my knee.  In that blink of an eye my plans changed.  Like the other 95,000 Americans who suffer this injury each year, I will heal.  Interestingly, women are more prone to ACL damage than men.  It is not clear why.  The rehabilitation takes months - sometimes close to a year.  I promise not to bore you with details.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thinking about my Father

We had an early spring day this week.  One of those windless mornings when there is a slight warmth coming off the ground.  I watered my houseplants and thought about my father.  He died in 2001.  He was 84.  Together my parents grew and trained bonsai.  My father tended them.  He carefully pruned, re-potted, watered and protected them from the hot eastern coast summers.  He buried the hardy ones deep in a cold frame for the winter.  He built a greenhouse for the less hardy.  He bent branches slowly,securing each with wire pulled taught to shape the tree.  He protected the branches with tiny rubber patches so the wire would not cut into the bark.  He created landscapes with his trees, made to look very old and gnarled from pruning and wiring.  In the spring he brought them all out into the garden.  Many were displayed atop a stone wall where an old grape arbor provided shade.  The stones in the wall warmed up during the day.  Once in a while, not frequently, but just often enough that you should always look to see, a garter snake would come out between the rocks in the wall and slowly make its way up, over the edge of a pot, and wrap itself in a neat coil around the base of one of his trees.  And stay, just so, in the warm sun.  It was magic for him.  For me, too.  I have a bonsai.  It is an ornamental fig, ficus benjamina.  It has a magnificent trunk, 13 inches around.  It has been dwarfed to a mere 21 inch height.  It sits in a pot just 3 inches tall, its roots, too, dwarfed by repeated pruning and potting.  I sat on that warm morning and watched it.  The tree is inside my house, in a bright window.  I knew that there could not possibly be a snake there.  But I watched anyway.