Identity Theft

Yesterday a federal judge sided with the Obama administration in its challenge to the Arizona immigration legislation that was to become effective tomorrow. The legal argument in the challenge is centered not on human rights but rather on administrative prerogatives: the federal government claims constitutionally mandated exclusivity in matters of immigration, border control, etc. Regardless, my own interest is oriented towards the lives of real people: the difficult choices impoverished families face and the extreme hardships they undergo. Maybe, if more people gain an understanding of the realities of poverty and injustice then meaningful immigration reform will be achieved. To anyone who reads this, please read the linked articles. The first is rather lengthy, but is outstanding. It is more than outstanding, it is courageous. It is an essay by a court interpreter involved in the infamous 2008 raid on a meat processing plant in Iowa. (Here.) This link begins with brief testimony by the author, Eric Camayd-Freixas (in the photo, above), before a congressional subcommitee; the essay follows the prepared testimony. Camayd-Freixas meticulously exposes the gross injustice perpetrated on hundreds of Guatemalans and Mexicans by a government agency (the little known Immigration and Customs Enforcement) gone rogue. The second article is from today's New York Times and describes the situation of a county morgue in Arizona. (NYT: here.) Together, these articles offer glimpses into the extreme drama faced by some of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. My real hope is that the realities described in these articles will become familiar to people who a) can't get past referring to immigrants with a generic, vaguely derogatory "they", or b) who really think that immigrants are "stealing jobs from Americans" (as if these immigrants weren't just as American, and more, than those who would like to believe otherwise), or c) who simply feel threatened by non-English speaking, darker skinned people. Unfortunately, I don't think I've got my intended audience, but I'll keep trying...


A Good Deed

On Monday afternoon I called our youngest daughter, who is spending some time in Manhattan. A man answers the phone. For a split second a dark cloud takes over my brain. What the...? But in a moment I understand: our little knucklehead had left her phone in a taxi. The driver was very kind and helpful. He explained that our 15 year old had been his last fare of the day and that he had just dropped the car at the garage and was now headed home on the subway. He offered to return the phone the next day and would call when he ended up near Lincoln Center. And it worked: he met Daniela down on the street and returned the phone. It would have been so easy for this guy to just blow it off, but he didn't. He was polite and accommodating. So, three cheers for New York cab drivers! It reminds me of a driver from West Africa we had on a recent trip. Very nice. And this guy, a good man! I trust our daughter gave him a very sincere thank you. And hopefully a good tip.
Speaking of tips, at the time I was trying to call Daniela on Monday, Asun and I had just checked in to a very nice Bed and Breakfast in Oxford, Maryland. Beautiful! Right on the water. An extremely relaxing setting. Anyway, one little detail I couldn't help noticing was the envelope/note suggesting we leave a tip for the cleaning lady. I suppose there are two ways to look at this: one is, if you can afford to stay here you can certainly afford to tip the help. True enough. On the other hand, and I subscribe to this latter mentality: hey Mr. Innkeeper, if you can charge really luxury rates, you should be paying your help a living wage. Or just charge even a little more if the balance sheets are really so tight, but tipping is, in most instances, an undignified custom that we should be working to end. Our "housekeeper"? We were at this inn for one night. Why would you tip someone just for doing their job? In any case, we did have a most enjoyable stay and had fun discovering an area that was completely new to us. Outstanding.


In the Neighborhood

Not much news in our neighborhood. Now and then I've considered doing a blog in Spanish, mainly for friends in Spain, on the premise that I could make observations about daily life here that some may find curious. Bur what can one say about sleepy Carlisle? No doubt there are lots of interesting goings on to ponder, but it requires some imaginative thinking and perhaps some distance. At the moment I have neither. I do appreciate the sense of place I get here, a pleasure I experience frequently, especially on walks with Waldo. Some parts of our lives need familiarity, and the local landscape, so little changing here in the historic district, certainly offers that. My eight minute walk to work, for example. In the nineteen years we've been here, nothing has changed on that walk: no new houses, no buildings torn down, it's just as it was in 1991. Yesterday we were thinking about that as we passed through the fields behind Mooreland Elementary School: first Alma there as a kindergartner, then Cristina, then Daniela... now Waldo.
Dialogue. Me: Our big problem is there are too many humans.
She: Well, there are a lot more insects than humans. That's a problem.


People en Español

Yesterday I was waiting in line at Wal-Mart (Ben & Jerry's attack) when I noticed a new addition to the magazine rack: People en Español. Yet another sign of our changing demographic. There have been lots of Hispanic migrant workers just south of here, in Adams County, for many years. (Asun helps out in some clinics they have for the workers, and will soon be bringing her students along, continuing an initiative started by a colleague who is on sabbatical this year.) But there was not a noticeable Hispanic presence in Carlisle until much more recently. The change was subtle and I first noticed it about three years ago in... Wal-Mart. Clearly the local management has noticed the change too. I'm curious about the degree of overlap between the migrant worker community in Adams county and the more recent immigrants who came to provide cheap labor for the construction and service industries. This latter group is much more visible to the general population, at least in this area. Not many people make it out to the orchards and actually witness the hard labor that very few are willing to perform. And who among us witnesses the work in the slaughterhouses? And of course, we don't see the conditions of extreme poverty in Mexico or Guatemala these workers are fleeing in the first place.
I was thinking about that earlier this morning: Carlisle is our little bubble, for the most part, a very pleasant environment. I always get that notion, for example, when I'm in the Dickinson library. Wow! It's a little piece of heaven.


Poetry and Science

For the past several days I've been dedicating a good amount of time to the work of Manuel Alcántara, a poet and essayist from Málaga. His work will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sirena. Last night I was translating one of his newspaper columns in which he makes a remarkably simple yet astute and eloquently expressed observation regarding our world. He says, "the whole world is home (patria), beyond the flags that mark dominions and the boundaries that stitch together territories." Alcántara's context is a brief reflection on the occasion of Earth Day, 1990. His concerns are most familiar: parochial and selfish interests threaten our future; our survival as a species (as well as that of all other species!) depends on cooperation. His use of the word patria is most significant: it's a term associated with national identification, but is also frequently used in the expression patria chica to indicate the importance of local identities. Alcántara is reminding his readers that we've got it all wrong, of course: the only true home, in a geological sense, the one that counts, is Earth.
This morning I was reading in the New York Review of Books a review of Rewilding the World by Caroline Fraser. Contemporary conservation science makes the same point as Alcántara: creating islands doesn't work. We need connectivity. (Do we ever!) The reviewer, John Terborgh, offers this quote from the book: "We are realizing that conservation is not about managing wildlife as much as it is about managing ourselves–our appetites, expectations, fears, our fundamental avariciousness." Well, the same can no doubt be said of art: it's about managing ourselves, although most would say art is about understanding ourselves. And I'd say that to understand, to truly understand, is to manage. Donne's Meditation XVII, where you will find his famously quoted lines "No man is an island..." makes a similar point within a Christian context.


Back at City Island

Last night I got to my first Senators game of the year. It was a nice evening and the ball park looked great. And I had the good fortune to be seated next to a very kind gentleman who enjoyed discussing baseball. Our conversation began with him asking me if I were a season ticket holder. He explained that he he had tried to get the seat I was in but that it was already taken. I guess he asks everyone the same question, trying to figure out why he got stiffed. (I had the aisle seat, and that's no doubt why this guy wanted it.) It was, in fact, a wonderful seat, fifth and final row of the field boxes, just behind first base. And at City Island, where there is minimal foul territory behind the plate and along the base paths, you are really close to the players.) In any case, the game started off horribly for the Senators (down two zip before they had recorded a single out, shoddy fielding in the top of the first, poor base running in the bottom half...), slowly settled down (good pitching), then turned fun with a five run seventh. The highlight was watching shortstop Danny Espinosa go 5 for 5, including two homers. (Bristol right fielder Mark Dolenc absolutely crushed one way over the left field everything in the fifth inning.) Even the most routine games involve something memorable. In this case, in addition to seeing Espinosa go 5 for 5, I had the opportunity to see pitcher Loek Van Mil, who just happens to be 7 ft. 1. But that's not all. He's originally from the Netherlands and he pitched quite well for the Dutch team in the World Baseball Classic. He's moving up in the twins organization. But he had a bad outing last night. Speaking of relief pitchers, it's time to check in on the progress of Atahualpa Severino. He's still in Syracuse, apparently having a good but not great year. His ERA is 3.65 (44.1 innings pitched), but his walk to strikeout ratio is not good. I'm rooting for him! (In the photo, Danny Espinosa, playing for the US in the Pan American Games.)


The Bird Feeder

When I bought a bird feeder a while back I also purchased a two or three pound bag of seed. It lasted a few days. I went back to Wal Mart and came home with a ten pound bag. It didn't last long either. So the other day I came home with a forty pound bag. I'm not certain what amazes me more, the astounding ability of these little creatures to consume one hundred percent of their body weight in very short order, or the impressive economies of scale involved in buying bird food. I don't remember the exact prices of the varying bags of bird food, but the differences are wildly out of proportion to the sizes. $5.99 for 10 pounds and $7.99 for forty pounds (!), something along those lines.

We have been getting great enjoyment from observing these birds just outside the window. And also receiving the occasional fright when one turns from the feeder and flies right into the window. Bang! It's happening with some regularity, but they don't seem to be hurt by it. We've all seen photos of summer tourists feeding the bears in parks, that's a standard image of our popular culture. And for a long time now we've been thinking, oh how stupid we were, how ignorantly intrusive on the ways of nature! So why is it ok to feed the birds? Is it ok? In any case, I have very quickly incorporated the newly enlarged bird population into my sense of "garden aesthetics." They help define the spaces at and above eye level in ways I would not have imagined just a short time ago. Their colorings, mainly grays and browns, are subtly pleasant. The occasional cardinal adds a welcome touch of airborne red, which is otherwise only to be observed in the geraniums. And their songs! Most are, in fact, uninteresting musically (chirp, chirp, chirp...), but now and then you catch a gem. At his very moment I'm seeing a little bird perched right at the pinnacle of a little tree (oh, to not even know the names of the plants in my garden!) and, oh, a squirrel just leaped from the Japanese maple onto the roof, oh my, it's a ballet!


Creative Genius

Just a few minutes ago I was walking down the street with Waldo. I was in poor condition, feeling both physically and mentally down. Rafael Pérez Estrada saved me. Really, that's the power of poetry. I started bringing to mind some of his verses, but, what a luxury!, also recollections of his presence. Now I'm back home, and a jewel of a poem appeared at just the right moment. The poem is "Demasiadas cosas para un solo poema" ("Too many things for a single poem") and it's classic Rafael: our reality is overpopulated with wonder. In this poem the poetic voice is observing nuns and seagulls at the beach. He posits that they'll have to post a sign prohibiting so many nuns and gulls from flying around at the same time! The poem's central metaphor is compelling: "It's as if all the stars in the sky insisted on coming out on the same night." Saved again!

Joy amid the Tragedy

Good for Spain. I'm not much of a soccer fan, but we did watch the World Cup final with much interest. The Dutch were intimidated by Spain's superior talent and tried to level the field with hard fouls to disrupt Spain's game of precision passing and ball control. It almost worked. This was a final between two countries with magnificent painting traditions, but in this game only the Spain was Picassian.

I was a little surprised that the tv commentators made no references to the colonial history of the countries involved: Spain's occupation of the Netherlands in the 16th century and the violent legacy of the Dutch in South Africa.

Tragically, terrorism is alive and well: the horrible attacks in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, are unspeakable crimes committed almost certainly by enfeebled minds deeply poisoned with fanatical hatred. Discouraging is way too understated. How does one respond to such madness?


How To Make A Fool of Yourself (Exhibit A)

Go Dan! An open letter to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert:

Dear Dan, thanks for making the rest of us look good!

OK, that's my letter. If you are a sports fan, you may well have read the impressively stupid (and poorly written) rant that Gilbert made available for our collective entertainment. The open letter to Cavaliers fans is an excellent example of an immature adult channelling the inner child.
(Spurned? I'll get you, you stinking dope!) When I read the text at Yahoo Sports I could hardly believe it. This guy tops George Steinbrenner. You can read the letter here.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty for reading the sports pages of the New York Times and The Boston Globe, but I justify my behavior with the argument that the sports pages offer frequent life lessons. Today's lesson for anyone who may have missed it earlier in life: strong emotional responses to life's ups and downs (anger, joy, envy, depression...) create momentary obstacles to rational, reflective thinking. So, as one of my colleagues succinctly suggested many, many years ago in a pre-internet age: "file that note and sleep on it".


Plan B: First Position

"Not many had a plan B." This line got my attention a few minutes ago. It's a comment from a real estate broker and refers to high income people defaulting on their mortgages. The article in this morning's New York Times is about the high default rate on mortgages of over a million dollars. It turns out the rich are defaulting much more readily than the working poor. Yes, it's good to have a plan B. This idea was on my mind recently when I became familiar with the circumstances of a young dancer who has been in Carlisle for the past few years, training at CPYB. This young person seems to have had very weak adult guidance and education does not seem to have been a priority. (This may be quite an understatement, but I don't want to get specific...) In any case, I did find myself thinking, what's the plan B? Ballet as a profession is a very tenuous proposition: only the most elite dancers are going to earn a living wage exercising their passion. And even for those select few, dancing for income is often a matter of relatively few years. Fortunately, our thoroughly unprepared dancer is extremely atypical at CPYB. It seems to me that for the great majority of the kids doing this intense training, the endless hours of dedication have provided a very solid Plan B. And that's my point: education in general is Plan B. Classical ballet training affords its students skills and knowledge that certainly do transfer to just about any sphere of life. Adults who question the value of classical ballet training by pointing out that it's just so much snake oil, a cruel taking advantage of childhood dreams, are sadly missing the point. Can you listen? Can you follow instructions? Do you understand that mastery requires seemingly endless practice? That's just the beginning. These kids also learn great lessons about language, communication, and, ultimately, creativity and beauty.

I'll write more on creativity and beauty later, but for now, just a thought on one of the central benefits derived from serious ballet training: the ability to focus. Small children at CPYB are engaged from an early age in 90 minute classes. That's a long time for a kid, but they learn quickly to stay focused on the teacher's instructions. They also come to understand that the big deal is in the small detail. Those amazing things that professional ballerinas do? They learn that it's not magic and that you don't start at the end, you start at the beginning. There are a million pieces to the puzzle. And, here's a key: the pieces must be mastered in a specific, sequential order. You can't go to step two until you have perfect mastery of step one, and when you get to step two you stay there until it too is perfectly mastered.* And on and on and on... (To this day, I feel quite moved when I see the level one students perform their simple dances on stage: yes, so simple. And so flawless!)

There are skeptics, of course. One argument goes something like this: but there's no creativity, you're turning the kids into little machines. It's stultifying! Let them have fun! Let's start at the end and work back: oh, they do have fun! Simple observation makes this quite obvious. The kids love it. Performing a seemingly simple dance in a group gives these children a very well earned sense of accomplishment. Many hours of practice have been necessary to achieve the desired effect of synchronization, harmony, and, ultimately, beauty. The small children may still be too young to know the word "dignity", but they get the idea. There is something noble about being on stage, participating in a well rehearsed, polished work. (And I very strongly suspect there is a much deeper lesson which they may not become fully aware of until many years later: a satisfying sense of high purpose may result from participating in something bigger than yourself.) Finally, the children learn that creativity is not about "self-expression"; it is not instinctual or even autonomous. Creativity finds expression in language, be it verbal, musical, visual, or kinetic. So, first master the language. That's a life-long lesson that many of us never quite get, but these kids at least are on the path.

*In her citation on the occasion of the honorary degree awarded this year by Dickinson to CPYB founding artistic director Marcia Dale Weary, my colleague Sarah Skaggs alluded to this phenomenon most articulately: "With a Zen-like approach, she breaks down each step into its infinitesimal components. Marcia is a sculptor of the ballet student body. She shapes the body through precise articulations. Her students repeat and repeat and repeat the constituent components of a steppiece by pieceuntil each part of the whole is perfected. Only then does a student advance to the next level. Similarly, Marcia’s system includes 10, not three levels of competence. Each student moves through a finely graded series toward perfection. No one is “passed through” her system."


Popular Media (Lindsay dunks over LeBron!)

Over the past couple of weeks I have watched a non-story grow into a full blown international media production: "Where will LeBron James play basketball next year?" Or, perhaps the title should be "Where
goes the King?" This basketball player's designation as "King James" is one of the stupidest and most witless examples yet of contemporary sports hype/marketing. But I suppose also fabulously profitable. Only hardcore NBA fans (and that's a pretty small demographic) really care about James' contract status, but if you expose yourself to popular media you cannot escape the constant attention given to the question of where this guy will end up playing basketball next year. Such is the degree of overblown hype that James is teaming up with ESPN to present his very own prime time program tonight, sixty minutes of air time dedicated to revealing the answer to this fabulous mystery. Insufferable.

I confess I find of greater interest the latest woes of Lindsey Lohan. Off to jail! (And everyone cheers.) It's hard to imagine this impetuous little brat ever growing up. And that's the sad part. Clearly no one ever gave her an education.

Back to sports: in this morning's EL PAIS José Samaño refers to Carles Puyol's winning header yesterday against Germany as a "gol racial". You've got to be kidding me! José, what the hell is a "racial goal"? Is this related to the "furia española"? Such nonsense. (And yesterday the ESPN announcers made some stupid comment about the Spanish players not singing the national anthem and suggesting it might have something to do with nationalist politics, you know, many of the national team's players are on the Barcelona club team... hey idiots: Spain's anthem has no lyrics!! That's why they don't sing.) The notion that there is something essentialist going on here is truly repugnant. EL PAIS used to be a serious newspaper and it played a magnificent role in Spain's transition to democracy in the late seventies. Don't they have any editors? (Doesn't Puyol look a little like Jim Morrison?)

Catching Up

This post is just notes to help my memory: following the conclusion of the June Series, after Alma and Cristina went back to Ithaca and Daniela was installed at SAB, we had a short week in Carlisle. Friday morning it was off to Little Compton for the 4th of July weekend. Beautiful! We had a big, wonderful gathering on the 4th. And we got to meet our 'new' cousin, Janet Barako. She drove down from Westfield, MA with her husband Joe. That was really nice. On Monday we drove back to Carlisle and left Daniela back at SAB on the way. It was HOT, the traffic getting into the Lincoln tunnel was infernal and I lost my temper in very stupid fashion. It's still very hot, with temperatures near or at 100F. Spain beat Germany to reach the World Cup final for the first time. Last night we had a nice dinner with Mickey, who today is off to California.