Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day . . .

May 31st, 2010
photo by Charlie Woodroof

A picture instead of the usual thousand words. . .

Friday, May 28, 2010

Civic Soapbox Friday: Supremely Delighted by Denise Zito

It feels like a new day now that a third woman has been nominated to the Supreme Court. And then it pains me to think that I need to be shocked, or honored, or excited to feel this way. It’s 2010 and here I sit, feeling all blessed and grateful that we might actually have three woman appointed to the Court.

When you only have nine options, it’s difficult to balance all the forces clamoring for equality: gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education and let’s get right to it: political viewpoint. Though Harvard and Yale seem to be the only law schools able to produce a Supreme Court Justice these days, and though it seems a bit odd that with the departure of Justice Stevens, we could have an exclusively Jewish and Catholic Court, the compelling force behind the selection remains the balance of liberal versus conservative bent of the proposed Justice.

In truth, Elena Kagan, the current Solicitor General, is probably an early replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is known to be in declining health. How cynical of me to think this way. But now, President Obama can have the notoriety of nominating two consecutive women, and for a time we’ll probably have three women on the Supreme Court.

And as a reason to protest her appointment, the other side will find plenty to argue. They’ll claim that Ms. Kagan doesn’t have enough judicial experience. No matter that until fairly recent times, Supreme Court justices came from many areas of public service, not just from those with previous experience as a judge in a lower court; the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, being the most recent example.

Over the next weeks leading up to the vote on Ms. Kagan’s nomination, we’re likely to hear lots of opinions on what makes an ideal Supreme Court Justice. What I would put forth is this: we need justices who understand the law, have inquiring minds to look at complex issues from many aspects and who can render opinions that hold to our constitution. And I would add, looking at issues from many aspects is enhanced when the makeup of the Court reflects our diverse democracy.

When I first heard the news of Kagan’s nomination, I tried to picture what it would be like to have four or five women in that role. Would Supreme Court decisions be different? We’re learning that women and minority senators and representatives don’t vote in lock-step on any issue. But slowly, slowly our nation has evolved and been nudged along by having a truly more representative democracy in all branches of government. Having more women and minorities at the decision making table has brought points of view that had not previously been given voice.

The years since the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme, and then Sandra Day O’Conner, the first woman, to the present are like a time-lapse photograph turning our highest court into a multi-dimensional decision making body, more closely resembling our struggling, raucous democracy.

So close your eyes for a moment and picture a Supreme Court not dominated by aged white guys, but having women, men, African Americans, now a Latina and maybe some day an Asian member.

I like it.

                                          -- Denise Zito lives in Free Union

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Drill where? Drill when? Drill how?

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The ever irreverent has a post this morning containing the inadvertent poetry of Sarah Palin. Among the ditties it cites is this one from a speech in Hamilton, Ontario on April 15th of this year.
"On- and Offshore"
There are hundreds of trillions more
undiscovered both on shore and offshore.
Just piles of energy in that part
of North America that again
can be tapped responsibly
@@@@and make us all secure!
Ah, yes. . . offshore drilling for oil. Oh, what a difference a few weeks have made in the popularity of that idea for solving our dependency on foreign oil.  The Obama administration has now moved to un-ease the restrictions on off-shore drilling it had just eased on April 2nd. This was big enough news that even the LA Times, half a continent away from the BPoil mess, took note on today's front page.

I was on the road a lot of yesterday, capturing this week's Civic Soapbox and getting lost in Albemarle County. As soon as I made it back, I turned on my computer, immediately checked the BP spillcam, and asked colleague Matt Bingay to fill me in on what I'd missed.

And it seemed to me that everyone I talked to yesterday was keeping an eye on the spillcam, waiting to see whether the attempted top kill would work.

Stopping the oil gusher out of that 9-inch broken pipe will turn off the spillcam, but it will do nothing to stop the damage that the already-spilled oil is causing or to heal the flawed system that's responsible for that damage.

It is so important that we address and solve the manifold problems that the BP oil spill illuminates; that our focus on them not end with our viewing pleasure. E.J. Dionne, who's a regular Friday guest on All Things Considered, has what is, in my opinion, a must-read column on a few of these problems in today's Washington Post. It begins thusly . . .
So who is in charge of stopping the oil spill, BP or the federal government?
The fact that the answer to this question seems as murky as the water around the exploded oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that this is an excellent moment to recognize that our arguments pitting capitalism against socialism and the government against the private sector muddle far more than they clarify.
Mr. Dionne goes on to lay out the shifting views of the federal government's role in our lives that people and politicians have demonstrated in the face of this disaster. He ends his column this way:
"Deregulation" is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren't issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is.
But the truth is that we have disempowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions.
 In my opinion, Mr. Dionne's column is well-worth considering. You can read it with the eye that's not glued to the spillcam.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dinner in a garden. . .

Last evening I was in Waynesboro to hold another personal essay-writing workshop sponsored by the Waynesboro Cultural Commission; which for me, as someone who loves to write and talk with others about writing, is about as good a time as times get.

Before the workshop I met my friend and fellow journalist, Theresa Curry, for a quick and early supper at Waynesboro's Stone Soup, a quirky, lovely restaurant/bookstore that occupies an old farmhouse perched high on a hill beside Main Street.

I parked in front on the street. Climbing the steep steps to the little old house felt like climbing into a fairytale; flowers, flowers everywhere, and a small striped snail climbing with me. I was flanked on either side by mounds of  lavender and small green sprawling plants I can't name, but will look out for at nurseries so I can bring them home to sprawl in my own gardens. Who knew there were so many shades of green?

Theresa and I ate our soup and sandwich out on the back patio. There was garden, garden everywhere around us: nothing formal; every flower seemingly brought forth with a dowsing rod.

It wasn't a garden to admire as much as a garden simply to be in. And sitting there, talking with Theresa about books and words and life and journalism, I, for that one hour, did just that. I turned off the chatter in my head, let the to-do list fly away on the breeze, and stopped worrying about how to save the world through public radio. I became, for that hour in that garden, a kind of whole-person smile, at peace with myself and with the world.

I thought again about Devan Malore's fine Civic Soapbox essay last Friday about moving more slowly. This is not something I do easily, but last night I did it accidentally. Once again the wisdom of the Rolling Stones asserted itself: If you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.

If you are over-busy, over-worried, and most particularly, like me, occasionally overly self-important, I highly recommend dinner in a garden.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We're done here . . .

I'm not a heavy commercial television watcher. I enjoy thinking -- mental engagement -- and most of the commercial shows I've tried to watch don't ask me to think. They invite me to slump down in my chair, eat popcorn, and watch. They seem fueled by melodrama and violence. People get badly hurt even in the comedies.

I just can't make the slight entertainment I get from watching such shows worth wading through all those ads.

Not so Law and Order. You present me with an episode of that show, and I am right there, glued to the tube, as it were, ads and all.

There was a great deal of on-air hoopla yesterday in public radio world about a couple of long-running TV shows airing their final episodes. On Point devoted an hour to "Lost." Fresh Air spent an hour on what BBC radio referred to as the best advertisement ever for the use of torture, "24." Both are programs, I'm forced to admit, that I've never watched. I did try to watch "24" once, but there were too many advertisements between scenes of Jack racing around with his cell phone to his ear for me to finish even that one episode..

What I want to know is where was all  the hoopla yesterday for Law and Order? A 20-year old show that also aired its final episode last night. A show where physical violence was rare and melodrama was non-existent.

I remember watching L & O for the first time. Chris Noth, Michael Moriarty, George Dzundza,  Richard Brooks and the inimitable Steven Hill, doing their thing as the first Law and Order cast of many. It was 20 years ago. I  was tucked up in my bedroom at my little house in Sweet Briar, Virginia, and decided to give the show a try because I liked Steven Hill as an actor. I remember sitting there once the show was over and thinking, wow, I'm going to have to do some thinking about what just happened on my TV. This show is, like, complex.

And there you have what, for me, is one of  the two great appeals of  Law and Order. It takes on society's most challenging issues -- immigration, the "war" on terror, abortion, suspect rights, freedom of the press, what constitutes legal insanity, the death penalty, and -- and explores them. I never watched an episode that collapsed into a simplistic, black and white presentation of a complex situation. I never watched an episode that offered a pat answer for a complicated societal question.

The second reason I love the show is because of the actors who were in it. Go no further than long-termers Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Van Buren is one of my personal role models) and Jesse Martin.  Take a look at their stage credits sometime. These aren't movie stars, slumming in television; they are real, live, trained, disciplined working actors who want parts in which they can disappear.

penultimate L & O cast 

Jan Maxwell had a wonderful OpEd piece in The New York Times about Law and Order from a working stage actor's point of view. 
For two decades the show has been a staple gig for New York actors, a reliable way to make money between stage roles — which is why tonight, when what is likely to be the final episode is broadcast, New Yorkers might hear a collective wail emanating from the theater district. What will we do without “Law & Order”?
When the show first appeared in 1990, actors in the city rejoiced. Before then, cost and concerns for film crews’ safety usually meant that “New York” was played by Vancouver or Toronto. “Law & Order’s” producers took a risk and immediately started casting local actors for the sort of one-off jobs that we rely on to subsidize our theater habit.
I recognize a lot of the actors on the show from other roles or from seeing them on stage, but then I quickly forget I've seen them before because they so fully inhabit their Law and Order characters. 

So there you have my assessment of the now-wrapped Law and Order: It offered nuanced presentations of complex societal issues, peopled by actors who really knew how to act. And sadly, as the L & O defense lawyers were always saying to the L & O prosecutors at the close of their frequent meetings, “we’re done here.”

As I said, where’s the hoopla?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The backstory of a story

Martha note: In today's WMRA Blog post, Tom Graham tells the story of his gathering of today's Morning Edition story. I've cut and pasted his e-mail directly onto the blog, because I think it says it all . . .
This may be too much “insider radio” for our blog friends.  Then again, one of the most frequent questions I hear is, “How do you first find out about the stories you cover?”

So here’s the tale of the news segment that finally ended up on WMRA this morning.  The one about the Free Acupuncture Clinic.

It began at 3:57pm on Monday, March 15, 2010.

We were just wrapping up that day’s broadcast of the Virginia Insight talk show. 
 “Treating Pain” had been the focus.

A family physician, a physical therapist, a psychologist, a pain management medical doctor, and an acupuncturist were the guests. 

It was acupuncturist Jody Forman who got the final word that day.  As the show wrapped, she quickly blurted that a free clinic serving military veterans and their families was available in Charlottesville every Monday evening.

Intrigued, when the show ended, the other guests and I asked Jody for more.

It turns out a number of Chinese medicine specialists - mostly from the Charlottesville area, but some from as far away as Winchester and Richmond - had decided they wanted to give thanks to U.S. military folk and their families.

So they began offering a specialized form of acupuncture treatments, for free, to any active duty military personnel, any military veteran, and their families. 

The problem was, while the clinic could treat close to two hundred people at a time, generally only about a dozen clients were showing up. 

“Ah, a story !” I thought.

Problem is Mondays are the most hectic day of the week for me.  I often don’t get home to Charlottesville until after 9 or 10 at night.  How was I going to visit a one hour clinic that only occurred Mondays evenings at 7?

Eventually I worked it out.  I recorded interviews with some of the acupuncturists, some of the military personnel.   Then put together a story and sent it to WMRA’s designated approver-of-all-things-that-get-on-the-air -- program director Matt Bingay.

Matt didn’t like it.

In retrospect, he was right. 

[Wanna know how hard it is for me to admit that?]

I had focused on the irony of a free service that hundreds, if not thousands, of people could be taking advantage of - but after a year’s worth of Monday nights, almost no one was.  This despite the fact that those who did go spoke in glowing terms of all the health benefits they’d received.

But my approach was just too quirky.  I really hadn’t focused enough on the people in this story.

So back to the drawing board.  And the editing bay.

I will resist the temptation to discuss how many more machinations had to be experienced before an acceptable [to Matt, at least] story got created. 

But one finally was. 

It aired this morning [Monday, May 24]. 

And if the result is even just one more person getting the kind of health benefits from this free clinic that other people have gotten, it will be worth all the days off I spent worrying away at this story.

I am going to keep telling myself that. 

And if I should stress out too much about it, at least I know where I can go for a highly acclaimed Monday night destressification session with needles in my ear.



[P.S.  Martha -- if you want to add some specifics:
The Free Acupuncture Clinic -- available to any one currently in the military, anyone who’s ever been in the military, and their families -- is held Mondays, 7pm, at the JABA Center, 674 Hillsdale Drive, Charlottesville.  For further detail, clinic founder Jody Forman can be reached by email at]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moving More Slowly by Devan Malore

Recently, I’ve been thinking of our consumer obsession with getting to where we want to go. We move quickly, in comfort, multitasking with music, tech toys, travel mugs of coffee, fast food.

Once up on the parkway I did an experiment while camping. I traveled the same stretch of road first driving, then biking and finally walking. Driving got me quickly from point A to destination B with little effort. Biking was more fun and challenging. Walking was more sensual, an experience of sun, wind, earth under foot. Walking was harder but was eventually more fulfilling.

Classic works of literature, like The Wizard of Oz, are about journeys rather than destinations. If Dorothy had taken a trek through the magical kingdom in an SUV loaded with name brand gear the story wouldn't have much meaning. She would never have met the odd characters, experienced personal trials and revelations from behind the safety of shatter proof glass, traveling at 65 miles an hour. Sometimes a little heat, cold, rain, bugs, bathroom behind a tree, is a good thing.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell often spoke of the Hero’s Journey. Cultural stories of descending to underworlds, getting lost, wandering without maps. Even today, some make fortunes promoting the cult of efficiency then pay big money to take dangerous challenging treks, climbing Mt. Everest, under their own power. I have friends with busy, efficient lives planning once a year diving trips. They are bonded by slowly descending into deep, often dangerous, foreign waters.

Two years ago I took the Virginia Master Naturalist training. A naturalist’s challenge is learning to move slower. We watch, listen, get down on knees to study critters and earth bound plants. The efficient life of getting to that one special mountain view or fishing hole means less while learning of life all around and finding interest in it.

Cults produce opposites too. The cult of efficiency is, I think, producing increased demand for hand made crafts signed by local artists, home grown foods sold by real live humans we can talk to at farmer’s markets. A new young generation is hiking, biking, floating. Even sitting in silence on meditation pillows in a Zendo, going no where, but traveling inside again, is becoming trendy.

If we chose breaking the spell of the “cult of efficiency" we’ll have to learn again the value of moving and doing slowly. Mystics, artists, lovers, even scientists remind us of the illusion of time, as we experience it. I’m trying to slow down, take a breath and enjoy the scenery more. Often when driving I pull over and let cars pass. I’m very capable of driving fast. Driving slower may not be good for business but can be good for the soul.

Efficiency won’t go away. We need machine-like efficiency for some goods, gear, especially computers and electronics we can’t live without. But we don’t need to be enslaved by efficiency.

As one saying goes, “Life is short, we should move very slowly.”

          --Devan Malore lives on the fringe of Lexington, where he's busily working at slowing down.

NOTE from Martha: I'm happy to report that the WMRA blog gets a lot of traffic. I'm less happy to report that the WMRA Civic Soapbox blog gets much less. So, in an effort to get the  excellent C.S. essays more out there on the blogosphere, I'm going to experiment with posting them Fridays on the WMRA blog.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anita Hill redux . . .

When I think of Arlen Specter, it's impossible for me not to think about Anita Hill (pictured left, testifying before the Senate in 1991). And Specter's treatment of her during the 1991 Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings.

This is how the Philadelphia Inquirer remembered their interaction yesterday.
In 1991. . .Specter helped win confirmation of conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. And the way it happened became one of the enduring and most controversial episodes of his career.
After Anita Hill, a law professor who had earlier worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accused Thomas of sexual harassment, Specter shredded her on cross-examination before the Judiciary Committee. He concluded that Hill had been guilty of "flat-out perjury" because she made allegations at the confirmation hearings that appeared to contradict her sworn statement to the FBI.
Specter's treatment of Hill enraged millions of women and motivated an election challenge in 1992 by Democrat Lynn Yeakel, who had no political experience. Specter only narrowly defeated her that November.
Evidently, I'm not the only person on whom Specter's aggressive  handling (he's shown here during the 1991 hearing) of Ms. Hill left a lingering impression. NPR's  Don Gonyea was in Pennsylvania to cover Tuesday's primaries, and he had this to say yesterday on Talk of the Nation . . .
GONYEA: I talked to a lot of voters in Pennsylvania over the last couple of days, and Anita Hill's name came up as often as anything else when you're talking to people who were voting for Joe Sestak and against Arlen Specter.
In the immediate wake of Arlen Specter's defeat, journalist Howard Megdal felt moved to write this on The Perpetual Post.
I was surprised that of all the emotions I felt Tuesday night, watching Arlen Specter give his concession speech, sympathy wasn’t one of them. In short, it was just too hard to develop feelings of attachment for Arlen after decades of thinking of him as a man apart from what I wanted to happen in the country. I’m guessing that’s as good a reason as any for his defeat in the Pennsylvania Senate primary.

For me, Arlen Specter was at first the guy who was mean to Anita Hill. The Clarence Thomas hearings were the first public policy debate I remember being fully engaged in. I recall thinking what a waste of time it was for me to be at Hebrew School on the night Thomas accused the Senate of conducting “a high-tech lynching.”
With sex ed still a few months away, I got to learn about pubic hair in the public forum instead, and in a foreshadowing of the liberalism I came to follow, I knew that there was something creepy enough about Thomas, and truthful about Hill, that this was not a man who should serve on the United States Supreme Court. Yet Specter’s manner toward Hill was so condescending, it was hard to see him as anything other than an agent for the opposing side.
Arlen Specter got the boot Tuesday from Pennsylvania voters for a number of reasons deeply imbedded in the here and now. So, whatever impact he's to have on American history and culture has probably been made. But in going back and reading about his long, long career in the Senate, it seems to me (and I don't think just because I'm a woman in the workplace) that the part he played in the Clarence Thomas hearings may, ironically, do as much good as anything he ever did.

Here's a perspective on the impact of that hearing, offered by the Center for History and News Media at George Mason University.
To the many people who believed Anita Hill's claims or opposed the Thomas nomination on other grounds, Thomas's appointment was a defeat. Yet, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy had other long-term consequences beyond Justice Thomas's life-term on the Supreme Court. Foremost, national awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace heightened considerably. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings, sexual harassment cases have more than doubled, from 6,127 in 1991 to 15,342 in 1996. Over the same period, awards to victims under federal laws nearly quadrupled, from $7.7 million to $27.8 million.
Another repercussion of the Hill-Thomas controversy was the increased involvement of women in politics. The media heralded the 1992 election year as the "Year of the Woman" when a record number of women ran for public office and won. In the U.S. Senate, eleven women ran and five won seats--including one incumbent candidate. In the House of Representatives, twenty-four women won new seats. Many commentators saw this increase as a direct reaction to the Thomas nomination. His appointment dismayed many women, who felt that Anita Hill's allegations were not taken seriously by a Senate that was 98% male.
In the end, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy acted as a flash point that illuminated many of the central tensions of life in late twentieth-century America. Justice Thomas's nomination to replace Justice Marshall prompted new retrospection on the accomplishments of the modern Civil Rights movement and sparked more debate about Affirmative Action policies. Anita Hill's accusations heightened public awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and women's unequal representation in the political sphere. The media frenzy surrounding the event marked a new trend of obsessive and often tabloid-style coverage that has only worsened through subsequent news events such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton sex scandal. Historians will always turn to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy to understand race relations, gender politics, and media influences in America at the brink of the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The oil is coming . . .

The of Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, ran this story yesterday. And I thought I'd just cut and paste it into this blog as it's so short and, to me, makes such a powerful comment about the damage being wrought by the BP oil spill.
BP opens claims office in Chauvin
Published: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.
HOUMA – A new BP claims office has been set up in Chauvin.
At the outreach office, 5703 La. 56, you can make a claim for damages or loss of income because of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico spill, which has resulted after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and killed 11 workers April 20.
To file a claim to BP, you can call 800-440-0858 or visit local claims centers. Be sure to bring a picture ID and other business records to prove your income over previous years.
- Grand Isle Community Center, 3811 La. 1, Grand Isle. Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Sunday
- Plaza Caillou Shopping Center, 814 Grand Caillou Road, suites 2 and 3, Houma. Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Sunday.
- Old marine business, 5703 La. 56, Chauvin. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Sunday.

If you've got a moment, read Betsy Gordon's paper for the Louisiana Folklife Society on decorating for the annual Shrimp Blessing in Chauvin, Louisiana. It's a good way to take a look at shrimping country people, celebrating their way of life.

Chauvin, a part of Terrebone Parish, sits (as you  can see in the map above) precariously in the Louisiana swamps, where the BP oil appears to be headed.  I think it's fair to say that its economic viability is already marginal. The median income for a family is $28,897. About 17.1% of families and 20.1% of the population live below the poverty line, including 22.3% of those under age 18 and 27.5% of those age 65 or over. These appear to be people without many resources to fall back on now that fishing activity is curtailed.

The lead story today in the Miami Herald, at the time I'm writing this post, is called The Oil Spill is getting worse. There are also stories headed Oil spill fears focus on Florida Keys, and Gulf oil spill leaves scientists in uncharted territory. And there's a front-page editorial that opines Don't allow emotions to stifle oil-spill options, which begins,
The term ``nuclear option'' has become synonymous with a last-resort action in trying to solve a problem. When it comes to the Gulf oil spill, its meaning is quite literal.
Talk of using an underwater nuclear explosion to seal the oil well leaking from the ocean floor has been gathering momentum since news reports emerged recently that the Russians have used the tactic at least five times to seal off gas-well fires. Now the idea is being pushed by some U.S. observers as well.
``It would definitely work,'' says Christopher Brownfield, a visiting scholar at Columbia University who studies global nuclear policy . . .
I'm normally obsessed with politics, and today I was all set to write about the aftermath of yesterday's primaries. But then I saw that article in about Chauvin, and that other article in the Miami Herald about the threatened Florida Keys, and that editorial about the nuclear option, and I got to thinking about oil, instead -- about the massive destruction and the many wars we've fought because of our complete societal and financial dependence upon it. Oil literally fuels our economy, faltering as it is under the weight of greed and mismanagement. And those four primaries began to look fairly unimportant next to this massive blob of oil that threatens Chauvin, the Florida Keys, and who knows what else in and around the ocean.

All these politicians running for all these offices, offering solutions to every problem other than our oil dependence. Perhaps it's time for every last one of them to pay a visit to Chauvin.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thoughts on the WMRA community conversation . . .

About WMRA, our community, and you . . .

I've been heavily participating in, and reporting about, on-line socializing, conversing and information exchanging for  three or four years now, both for WMRA and NPR. My conclusion? The internet = the Blob. It's where we journalists go when we want to boldly go where none have gone before. There simply are no established rules (in the way that journalists have long understood them) out there on the information highway. 

That being said, there's no place I'd rather be professionally than out there with the rest of most of us--out there on the I.H., figuring out what's possible as we whiz along. It is a professional life based on what works, what gets the job done, what effectively delivers that which people want to know.

What excites me most about the I.H. is that it's a conversation. Out there on it, we can effortlessly (and cheaply) converse and exchange information with people everywhere. We are, indeed, the world. I can have ongoing conversations with people in California or Paris or Timbuktu without leaving the comfort of my chair.

But even more intriguing and exciting  for me  is the possibility for community-building (yes, that is such a hackneyed term)  in our own communal backyard.  -- i.e. the WMRA listening area.

Here's how I see it. WMRA listeners (I'm talking about you) know a lot about a lot of things. You have thought deeply on many subjects, read many books, created a lot of art and crafts, had lots of experiences. And over the last few years, it's occurred to me that  the more WMRA draws you into an active, on-going conversation with everyone else who listens to the station, the better job we're doing of adhering to our mission statement.
WMRA and WEMC are committed to fostering informed, engaged and culturally enriched communities.
We add, on the WMRA website that we can only do this with your help, and here's what I'd like to get across. I don't think that last phrase should be taken to mean only with your financial help (which, heaven knows, is what keeps us going).

I think it also means we need your thoughtful, informed, conversational help. We've been relying on it through the WMRA Civic Soapbox for years. But I think you have an awful lot more to offer the rest of us, through this blog and our relatively new Facebook page. All exist to draw you into what we've come to think of as the WMRA community conversation. We who work at WMRA think that the more you participate in the conversation with us-- bringing to it your knowledge, experience and informed opinions -- the stronger that conversation is.

Last week we began to integrate what you say on Facebook and this blog into what goes out on the air. Our first step has been to read comments on the air. We like the way it sounds. How about you?

Times have changed and we've changed, as well. WMRA is now, I think, best described as a community conversation. My question is how can we draw you -- yes, you -- further into that conversation?

Monday, May 17, 2010

One story at a time . . .

Alexandra de Havilland

I met Alexandra de Havilland, Medical Case Manager and Housing Program Administrator for the Valley AIDS Network, back in March when I joined a bunch of Harrisonburg Dream Act Activists for tea at a downtown cafe. I was invited to meet the group by Sandy Mercer, who'd just written a fine Civic Soapbox in support of the Dream Act. I blogged about my evening with the group in a post I called "The Inadvertent Activist."

Alexandra will be one of Tom Graham's guests today at 3 p.m. on WMRA's Virginia Insight, the subject of which is to be the Dream Act. Alexandra, herself, will not benefit directly from the passage of the Dream Act, but her story mirrors the stories of young people who will benefit.

Here is Alexandra de Havilland's story, told in her own words.
My dad took a job in Northern VA when I was eight years old.  I remember when he sat my brother and I down to tell us about moving, and how terrified I was about living in a different country.  

My family came to the states in early spring 19 years ago. My brother and I had no problem adjusting to life in Virginia.  In the space of a couple months, we lost our accents, met new friends, learned to play American football and fell in love with suburban American life.  I remember how everything seemed so much bigger, and better, and we had so much more freedom to run around outside all over the neighborhood. 
My father never talked to us about immigration issues.  I never  knew I was any different from my American friends, until I turned 16 and tried to get a job.  My dad then had to explain to me that because of the type of visa he was on, I was not allowed to work in the USA.  That was really difficult for me to accept, especially as all my friends were working their first jobs and experiencing that rite of passage.
I managed to get around that barrier by becoming the neighborhood’s most sought-after babysitter, but it never felt the same as having a “real” job.  I did really well in high school, worked hard, played sports all year round and became a volunteer EMT with the fire department during my senior year. 
When it was time to apply to college I choose JMU and got accepted.  Filling out JMU’s paperwork was another wake-up call to the fact that I was not even close to being American --  even though American life, history, and culture was all I really knew at that point.  At JMU, I was  considered an International Student and so had to be monitored by the International Student Office. 
I chose to live in the international student dorm during my Freshman year. Looking back on it, that was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  The friends I met in that dorm are still my best friends today -- some are American and some are from other countries.  All of them have played a role in helping me keep my sanity when faced with the immigration problems I have had to work through. 
Then, when I was a Sophomore at JMU, my parents suddenly had to move back to the UK after 13 years of living in Virginia, because my dad’s job fell apart and their visas were also up for renewal.  My parents, my brother, and my dog all had to go back to the UK.  This was especially hard for my brother, as he was 23 at the time and had not taken the steps necessary to secure his stay in the USA. 
I had always been really close to my family and often went home on weekends, so when they went back to the UK my whole life changed.  I could have gone with them, but that would have meant leaving college and moving back to a country I knew nothing about. 
Without the support of some truly amazing friends I would never have made it by myself in Harrisonburg.  I graduated in 2005 with a degree in Health Sciences and had three months to find a job that would sponsor me for a work visa.  Three months is simply not enough time to accomplish that task when you’re still a kid without any connections and with so many other thoughts about traveling the world in your head. 
As the summer of 2005 went on, I began to realize that although I really wanted to travel and do all the crazy and exciting things my friends were doing, if I left the USA now and got off the immigration treadmill (as I like to refer to it) I was never going to have another opportunity to get back in.  I had to find a way to secure my right to remain in the country I considered home. 
Once my student visa ran out I had to go back and forth to the UK every three months and re-enter on a tourist visa.  Each time I came back to Virginia, I stayed with a really good friend who has since become my American mom. 
Once again, it was the love and support of friends that got me through the hard times.  In the Fall of 2005 I sat down with an old JMU professor who recommended applying to grad school at JMU.  I knew I didn’t have the money, but then she mentioned they also needed a graduate assistant (a position that would pay tuition and provide a stipend).  I applied to grad school and took the GREs just before my allotted time in the US ran out! Amazingly…I got into grad school and I got the job as a graduate assistant and so was able to return to the US in the summer of 2006 to begin grad school. 
I will always look back on that as one of the biggest accomplishments of my life…free grad school and the chance to remain in my home country.  I went back to school and moved in with my American mom and her family.  During my time in grad school I started to build valuable connections within the Harrisonburg community and began to prepare and position myself for the next round of immigration hurdles.  I graduated in May of 2008 and spent the next eight months beating the street to find the right job.  I was working part time for an agency at JMU when I found the ad for my current position at the Valley AIDS Network.  I knew it was the perfect job for me, and the fact that it was a JMU/state job was not lost on me either.  I was looking almost exclusively for JMU jobs as I wanted to remain in the area and I knew JMU could handle my immigration paperwork. 
Some things are meant to be and I think my job at Valley AIDS Network (VAN) was one of those things. That's not to say that I didn’t work my rear end off to get it, though.  It’s now been just over a year since I started with VAN, and last month I went back to the UK to have the much coveted work visa officially placed in my passport, which means that I can now travel freely back and forth to the UK and the US or any other country for that matter. 
It had been four years since I had been back to the UK and it turned out to be an emotional trip.  While I was back, I discovered that my mum was once again having heart problems, and leaving her knowing that was incredibly difficult for me.  For all of her previous health issues I'd always been by her side, but now I am locked into a life that is 3,000 miles away from her. 
Everyone says that you have to live your own life and I know that’s true, but as my mum’s only daughter I definitely feel a certain amount of guilt for not being there for her and also guilt because my brother is there helping and I’m not.  It’s complicated, it’s difficult and I suspect that it is a problem that is only going to become harder to cope with.  
As of right now my immigration situation is legal and stable. My work visa comes up for renewal in 2012, and hopefully I will be able to renew it and possibly begin working toward Green Card status. A Green Card would give me the ability finally get off that immigration treadmill.

Alexandra's story is only one of millions. There is probably no more combustible and complicated issue in our society right now than the presence of  "illegal immigrants." Yet, it's not an issue, in the same sense that banking reform is one. Instead it's a constellation of individuals, each with his or her own story.

I do hope you'll tune into WMRA's Virginia Insight today at three. Perhaps listening to more of  these stories is a first step for each of us toward helping our country with the situation in as constructive a way as possible.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The man got skills. . .

David Kestenbaum, on high

I came to WMRA just over ten years ago to host All Things Considered and immediately became a David Kestenbaum groupie. When you are the local host of an NPR news show, you listen to every story. In my opinion, all were good, but some were terrific, and for me the terrific ceiling was pierced most consistently by David Kestenbaum.

At the time, he was an NPR science reporter (his Harvard PhD is in physics), but as public radio guru Jay Allison put it  in (Allison's showcase and workshop for new public radio), David Kestenbaum
somehow got hooked on public radio. He worked for WOSU in Ohio, and "really just did radio and slept.That was about it." He got very good at it, especially at the job of taking difficult subjects and making them interesting. In four minutes and thirty seconds.
Ten years ago when I joined his posse, David Kestenbaum was a science reporter. Science stories are not ones to which I automatically hyper-attend. There I'd be, Ms. ATC local host, listening to the news, waiting for the next announcer break. And whenever one of David's science stories came on, I'd focus in on it with the same laser-sharp attention I usually reserved for political or book pieces. Why? Because the guy was, to my mind, the most delightful, informative writer for public radio that ever spoke into a microphone. Plus, he appeared to be having a good time talking to his interviewees, and they appeared to be having a good time talking to him.

High praise, I know. And yes, I'm given to hyperbole. But I really do think, in this case, I mean exactly what I say. Jay Allison is not, in my opinion, going far enough in saying David makes difficult subjects interesting. In my opinion, through his writing, his delivery, and his story telling style, David makes difficult subjects entertaining, as well.

As I'm also not shy, I fired off an e-mail to Mr. (Dr.) Kestenbaum announcing that I was his groupie and explaining why. I got an immediate response in which he said he'd never had a groupie before and, as I remember it, rather liked the idea.

We began a desultory correspondence. Once, when I was wrestling with how long to spend on one of my own NPR stories, I wrote D.K. and asked him how long he took on his stories. He wrote back to say usually about a week. Unless he was going for art. If he was going for art, then the sky was the limit. Art, he ventured to say, was never done.

Once, when I was up in Washington, I went over to his cubicle and introduced myself. He jumped up and gave me a big hug. As I'd always thought he rather wrote like a hugger, I was not surprised.

About two years ago, David joined NPR's Planet Money team and began reporting (story-telling?) almost exclusively about financial issues. And low and behold, he brought the same quirky clarity to money that he'd brought to science.

Okay, you ask. Why is Martha writing a confessional about her status as David Kestenbaum's groupie?

Well, here's why.

Yesterday, on the way home, I heard a D.K. Planet Money story about Greece's debt which made me want to hug my car radio. Oh the writing! The writing! The quirkiness of setting and and delivery, and the clarity of story-telling! In my opinion that story just needed a dose of public praise.

In case you missed it, here's a transcript of the beginning minute or so of "Greece, Breaking the 'Orbital Pull of Stupid.'"
May 13, 2010 - MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Greece now, where that country's economic outlook has improved, but it will take a long time before its books are in order. The Greek government is facing a problem a lot of ordinary people can relate to: too much debt and not enough money coming in. So David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money team called up a well-known personal finance guru to get some advice for Greece.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: If you've got credit card debt or teenagers who overspend, there is always one place you can go, one man you know can help you out.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of TV show, "The Dave Ramsey Show")
Unidentified Man: Live from Financial Peace Plaza, it's "The Dave Ramsey Show," (unintelligible) cash is king.
KESTENBAUM: Dave Ramsey, mega popular radio host, TV host, author of multiple books, balancer of family checkbooks. And starting right here, informal financial adviser for Greece.
Mr. DAVE RAMSEY (Host, Financial Adviser): Hi, how are you?
KESTENBAUM: Hi, good. Thank you so much for doing this. Greece, really, is not so different from the mothers, retirees, small business owners who call into his radio show behind on their bills. I explained to Dave that I have this friend--I'm calling because I have a friend who's in--he's in a lot, a lot, a lot of debt.
Mr. RAMSEY: Okay. How much?
KESTENBAUM: $405 billion.
Mr. RAMSEY: Wow, that's a little bit. So, what's his annual income?
KESTENBAUM: He's a pretty high wage earner, actually, $343 billion.
Mr. RAMSEY: So he owes more than he makes in a year? Wow. So, we're throwing around billions, but, I mean, let's just put that in perspective. This is a guy making $100,000 a year who owes 150,000 in credit card debt
(Soundbite of scream) . .
What followed was a wonderfully accessible presentation of one large aspect of the global financial mess.  It was vintage David Kestenbaum.

You go, guy! Much has changed in my life over the past ten years, but I am still your groupie!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What do we want from Facebook . . .

Change has long been recognized as difficult.  W.H. Auden (left)  in "The Age of Anxiety" opines we would rather be ruined than changed.

Since you're reading this blog and I'm writing it, it's easy to assume we're aware (and most likely grappling with) the change in our social networking universe occasioned by the launch of  Facebook Connect. Touted by Facebook developers as "the next iteration of Facebook Platform that allows users to 'connect' their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site."

ABC news explained the changes this way:
On thousands of sites, including, a "social plug-in" now lets users "like" content and see what their Facebook friends have liked, directly from those sites.
On three sites piloting an "instant personalization" feature, a user's profile information and friend list are automatically read by the site and used to shape the user's experience. On music site Pandora, for example, you can see what your Facebook friends like to listen to. On Yelp, you can see which restaurants they've reviewed.
In the wake of this change, there has been considerable alarm expressed about Facebook in general and Facebook privacy issues in particular. There has also been considerable applause for the changes accompanied by accusations that those concerned  are over 35 and thus suffering from old fogeyism.

Facebook responded to user concerns through The New York Times' blog "Bits." SFGate, the on-line home of  The San Francisco Chronicle summed up what Elliot Schrage (right), Facebook's vice president for public policy, had to say this way:

  • Facebook is very sorry that the changes confused people, and it will do a better job ensuring that its privacy settings are more transparent in the future.
  • Facebook is not at all sorry about the substance of the changes. No one is being forced to join Facebook, and no one who does join is being forced to list their interests. "If you're not comfortable sharing, don't."

Mr. Schrage's on-line session was not well received. A Facebook page formed to protest the changes has attracted 95,000 members in 16 days. The Register (independent news, views, opinions and reviews on the latest in the IT industry; offices in London, Edinburgh, San Francisco, etc.) reports this morning that Facebook has called a "privacy crisis" meeting to deal with user grumblings bordering on rebellion.
The "all hands meeting" of Facebook staffers is due to take place at 4pm PDT on Thursday. It follows a critically panned attempt by Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, to justify its privacy stance in an online Q&A with readers of The New York Times earlier this week.
The unofficial blog speculates that the meeting may result in the social network taking an opt-in approach to features that potentially expose users' private details, photos and opinions more widely. A temporary suspension of the recently introduced “Instant Personalization” service that involves the sharing of profile details with selected third-party websites is also a possibility.
Controlling individual privacy settings on Facebook has become an arcane process over recent weeks, as this visualization of the 150+ privacy options the site offers by the NYT illustrates. 
This all interests me so much, mainly because our society in general seems to court celebrity, exposure, notice, and on-line interaction. Has our romance with notice begun to sour? Has Facebook gotten too powerful and uppity? Is it the obvious tie-ins with Facebook ads that bothers us?

What, exactly do we want from Facebook?

Politics, George Washington, and Elena Kagan . . .

It's politics, stupid . . .

It seems that for the second time in a few short weeks, I feel moved to riff on James Carville's famous 1992 phrase about the economy that may just have sent George H.W. Bush down into the flames of defeat to Bill Clinton. Only today, I don't want to talk about the economy, I want to talk about politics.

As I've also said frequently in this blog, I'm sent books by publishers because I do book pieces for NPR. Last week, a big box arrived from Bloomsbury Press, and among the books inside it was John Ferling's The Ascent of George Washington, which is subtitled "The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon."

George Washington 1782

Our first president is generally held to have operated above the political fray. As historian Michael Beschloss writes,
Washington's dream [was] that America might forever be governed by natural consensus--no parties, no factions, just patriots.
Indeed, once he'd obtained great power, George Washington quite frequently strove to position himself apart from any and all power brokering, having famously stated,
I hope that I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. (1783)
Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness. (1783)
All see, and most admire, the glare which hovers round the external trappings of elevated office. To me there is nothing in it, beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its connection with a power of promoting human felicity. (1790).

I haven't finished Ferling's book, but I'm far enough along to think that he makes a pretty good case that George Washington appears in history as such a non-political animal mostly because he was such a skilled one.

In my reading, he's just finished his first years of service in the Virginia Militia (picture at left shows Washington in Militia uniform), attaining dizzying heights mostly by skillful milking of family connections (along with occasional  flashes of bravery counterbalanced by incidents of military bungling). In other words, John Ferling is making a fully documented case that the Father of our Country was as skillful a political animal as anyone else who's served as an elected official in America.

I find finding out that our first president was as enmeshed in politics as the rest of them comforting as we brace ourselves for Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Obama nominated her the Monday after conservative Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett's stunning failure to get himself renominated because he wasn't deemed conservative enough. As Howard Fineman writes for MSNBC:
The farther to the right the GOP moves, the less willingness it will have to vote for any Obama nominee, even one with a hard-to-pin down track record (and reputation for team play) like Kagan.
Tea Party pressure is particularly important in the context of the Kagan nomination when you give it a close eye in the Senate. For example, Bennett’s Utah buddy, Sen. Orrin Hatch, is a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct televised hearings on the Kagan pick.
Hatch loves to play the role of the reasonable guy, willing to cut deals across the aisle. But Bennett had that reputation, too — which is why he just got whacked. Hatch, who is up for reelection again in 2012, may not want to play the go-between role again.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has never filibustered a court pick and prides himself on levelheadedness when it comes to the judiciary, but he is feeling pressure from his right as well.
His handpicked candidate for the GOP Senate nomination in his state, Trey Grayson, is likely to lose to Dr. Rand Paul (son of Ron), who is Sarah Palin's pick and a Tea Party favorite.
Party leaders like Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" are siding with Paul, and McConnell is scrambling to build ties to Tea Party-types he refused to take seriously a year ago. He may want to seek favor with them by giving Kagan a hard time.

According to historian John Ferling, such power-mongering was good enough for George, so who are we to quarrel with history?

What are your thoughts on this process for figuring out who is truly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just for fun . .

I was all set to blog about Elena Kagan's nomination or Lena Horne's death or Utah Republican Senator Robert Bennett's defeat at the hands of Tea Partiers, when it occurred to me that the blogosphere already had those three subjects pretty well covered.

So, I decided instead to drag out another anecdote from my old freelancing days -- back when I drove a pickup with a camper and cruised around looking for stories. I thought perhaps on a Tuesday in the merry month of May, I might not be the only person ready to take a break from keeping up with the news.

The following is what I think of as a "hollar story" -- a story that involves a person who lives up in the deep crevices of this country and doesn't particularly want to live anywhere else. I've spent quite a lot of time chatting on front porches with such folks about bear and rattlesnake hunting, cooking, making a living, and family. The following, I think, tells the story of the only time I got relationship advice.

This story comes from fairly far back in the vault. Here you go. . .

Sex Education

There was once an old squatter who lived west of Charlottesville, up in one of the hollars. I'd met her doing a freelancing assignment the year before this particular afternoon took place. She lived in an unpainted shack beside a dusty road, and she spent her summer days sitting on the front porch of her house spying on her world.
Her name was Maggie. I have no idea what her age was or how she ended up in that house. She had kin in Criglersville who checked up on her once a month or so. In between these visits, she just survived and stayed vigilant. I think it is not impolite to say Maggie was pretty much out there, viewing the world from a different vantage point than most of the rest of us.
I pulled up in front of Maggie’s house late one summer afternoon and asked if I could stop and chat for a while. Everyone has their price, and Maggie’s price for her conversation was a large bottle of Pepsi. So I drove to the nearest store, got her a Pepsi and brought it back.

We settled on the porch and Maggie started talking. Her first subject was her family and what they had done to her. Then she moved on to her neighbors and what they had done to her. Cars rolled by occasionally and kicked up dust that covered us and the porch. Maggie hated the dust and told me all about all the things she did to try to keep it out of her house.

Suddenly, right in the middle of our housekeeping discussion, she asked if I was married.

“No, Maggie,” I replied. “I’m not married.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I felt that Maggie was studying me, making a decision as to whether I was suitable for girl talk.

Finally, she spoke again. “Better off, ain’t you?” she asked.

I didn’t understand. “Pardon?”

“Better of,” Maggie repeated. “Ain’t got nobody to boss you.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking of the two nice men to whom I'd  been briefly married. “I guess so, Maggie.”

Silence again.

“I was almost married once,” Maggie said. She grinned. “I used to go with a fellow. I did.”

“So, why didn’t you marry him, Maggie,” I asked.

“Didn’t want to.”

“Why didn’t you want to?”
Another silence.
Then Maggie leaned over and lowered her voice. “You know what men do with you at night, don’t you?” she asked. She was so dusty her lined face looked eroded.

“No, Maggie,” I said. “What do men do with you at night?”

“They take you out,” Maggie said, leaning even closer. “They take you out in the dark . . . and then they kill you.”
 I do not remember what I said in response. I guess I was speechless. Which, as you might imagine, does not happen very often.

Monday, May 10, 2010

For Mother's Day Monday, the big business of birthing . . .

Hodnett ED, Downe S, Edwards N, and Walsh D did a study in 2005 on  "Alternative [homelike] versus conventional institutional settings for birth." The study concluded, "home-like institutional birth settings reduce the chances of medical interventions and increase maternal satisfaction, but it is important to watch for signs of complications."
Early last month, I posted something rather silly on Facebook, and I think it was WMRAer Suzanne Keene who suggested I report on something important, such as the closing of the Birthing Center at Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington. Okay, it took a while, but in light of the forum taking place today in Lexington, I felt today was finally the day.

Stonewall Jackson Hospital is more properly known as Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital. Its birthing center closed on the first of this month. Coincidentally, the Bedford Memorial Hospital (which operates "in partnership" with Carilion) announced the closing of its Birthing Center in October.

The hospitals are both critical access hospitals -- federally certified to meet the needs of under-served (rural) areas.  This means that they do not offer state-of-the-art emergency care for baby and mother should there be birthing complications.

The two Birthing Centers are contrasts in busy-ness. Seventy-three percent of Bedford women are already traveling to other, larger hospitals. In Lexington, however, 55% of area woman giving birth used the Birthing Center.

"We held on as long as we could," Dr. Thomas McNamara, president of Stonewall Jackson, said in a news release. "We are the last Critical Access hospital in the state to offer OB [obstetric] services, but we simply don't have enough patients and physician participation to continue."

I'm not sure whether viability was attached to profitability.

Evidently Suzanne Keene is not the only Lexington-area person who disagrees with the decision to close the Birthing Center. Domnica Radulescu, chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Washington and Lee University sent me this e-mail, which I thought I'd pass along:
The Women's and Gender Studies Program at Washington and Lee University . . . is organizing and sponsoring a discussion Forum on the issue of the recent closing of the Birthing Center at Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington.  The Forum will take place on Monday May 10 at 4:00 p.m., in the Elrod Commons Living room of W&L university and will be hosted by program chair Domnica Radulescu and moderated by Psychology Professor and member of the WGS Program Julie Woodzicka.

Although the WGS program is an Academic program we see the recent decision made by Carilon and the issues confronting women in our area as a result of this decision as a clear illustration in real life of many of the theoretical and historical components explored by students and faculty in our program and feel compelled to become involved in efforts to deal with the situation as a productive way of putting theory into practice and of seeing feminist activism in action.

The closing of the Birthing Center is deemed to have numerous negative impacts on the communities of Rockbridge and Allegheny counties. It will affect the lives and health of women and babies in the area and make it much harder, particularly for economically disadvantaged women, to obtain high quality prenatal, birthing and post natal care for themselves and their infants.  It will also make it harder to draw young professionals to the area, including hiring new faculty at Washington and Lee.

The main purpose of the forum is to create a safe space for a productive discussion on the options, initiatives and solutions to this problem and find the most productive ways as a community to respond to this challenge and help women and children in the area.  There already have been petitions circulated as well as efforts to look at the implementation of such projects as a free standing clinic for pregnant women, shared maternity and other ideas.  Health care professionals such as the certified nurse midwife from Roanoke Kate Winstead will be present and speak at the Forum. These efforts have been led largely by Cassandra Perez and Gloria Smitka who will also speak at the forum on Monday. 
  Any thoughts on this situation? On the business of birthing in general?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Us and Willie McGee

Before we are anything else, the WMRA community is a community of listeners. This is why I want to be sure you knew of a rare listening experience to be had today on All Things Considered -- Radio Diaries' exploration of the case of Willie McGee, a black man who may or may not have been guilty of raping a white woman, who was put to death in Mississippi's traveling electric chair on May 8, 1951.

His trial and execution are generally considered to be a representation of Jim Crow's rough and racist justice on parade.
I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the fifth grade, my class went on a field trip to Raleigh. All I remember touring is the capitol and the penitentiary, where we were shown the electric chair. I can't remember what I felt at the time, but I can still picture that chair.

Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Onlookers in Jackson, Miss., gather around the executioner Jimmy Thompson, left, and the portable electric chair, which was mounted at the back of a truck.

The experience came back to me when I read Larry Rohter's fine piece in the New York Times about the execution of Willie McGee, and studied the children in this photograph. Don't you think they'd have much the same expressions if they were being photographed with Joltin' Joe DiMaggio? This electric chair, this executioner! Man, they're really something!

Was that me as a fifth grader? Surely not, but then children take their cues from adults, and evidently adults in the 1950's thought laying eyes on an electric chair was a real treat.

These days, no matter what our politics, no matter what we think about capital punishment, we do at least recognize now that it isn't "something!"  And there's probably no better context for considering the societal implications of the death penalty than the arrest, trial and execution of Willie McGee.

Here's Wikipedia's entry on it . . .
Willie McGee (died May 8, 1951) was an African-American from Laurel, Mississippi, who was sentenced to death in 1945 for raping a white housewife.[1] In a time of intense racism in the United States, especially in The South, the outcome of McGee's first trial in December 1945 was effectively pre-ordained.[1] With two confessions and overwhelming evidence against him he was convicted by three courts. The first trial lasted one day, and an all-white jury found him guilty after 2½ minutes of deliberations.[1]
McGee's legal case became a cause célèbre.[1] William Faulkner wrote a letter insisting the case against McGee was unproven.[2] Bella Abzug brought his appeals in Mississippi and the Supreme Court in one of the first civil rights cases of her legal career.[3] Other notable people spoke out: Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Albert Einstein, and Josephine Baker.[1] U.S. President Harry Truman came under international pressure to grant McGee a pardon.[1]
McGee spent eight years in Mississippi jails prior to his execution, during which time the Communist Party Civil Rights Council gained him two new trials and several stays of execution.[4] Supreme Court Justice Harold Burton ordered a stay in July 1950; however the full Supreme Court refused to hear McGee's final appeal.[4]
The night before he was electrocuted by the state of Mississippi, he wrote a farewell letter to his common law wife, Rosalie:
Tell the people the real reason they are going to take my life is to keep the Negro down.... They can't do this if you and the children keep on fighting. Never forget to tell them why they killed their daddy. I know you won't fail me. Tell the people to keep on fighting. Your truly husband, Will McGee.[4]
Radio Diaries is the public radio production house that has already brought us such series as Prison Diaries and New York Works. In public radio lingo, their Willie McGee piece is a "format breaker," meaning it's luxuriously long, rich story-telling - much longer than the typical long ATC story. It is narrated by McGee's granddaughter, Bridgette Robinson, and includes a newly discovered recording of a local radio station's play-by-play account of McGee's execution.

It will air (provided ATC's schedule doesn't change)  from 4:35:30 -4:58:18 PM EST today

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Los Suns, united in protest

Forward Taylor Griffith

Yesterday was Cinco di Mayo, and last night the Phoenix Suns made a sartorial gesture of solidarity with the Latino community by wearing "Los Suns" jerseys. 

A sizable chunk of the national spotlight was shining on the Suns as they took to their home court at Phoenix's U.S. Airways Center. They were playing the San Antonio Spurs, in game #2 of  round #2 of the endless NBA playoffs. As Arizona Republic sports columnist E.J. Montini saw it,
We all know that politics and sports don't mix. But they sometimes collide.
On this day, the MVP of the Phoenix Suns isn't Amar'e Stoudemire or Steve Nash, but team owner Robert Sarver, with an assist from General Manager Steve Kerr. They saw a political freight train heading right toward them and - rather than veer out of the way - accelerated full-speed right into it.
Further on in Montini's column, he writes of Mr. Sarver,
He sought and received unanimous support from his players for them to wear their "Los Suns" jerseys for Game 2 on Wednesday.
He told The Arizona Republic that the new immigration law was not "the right way to
handle the immigration problem, Number 1. Number 2, as I read through the bill, it felt to me a little bit like it was mean-spirited, and I personally just don't agree with it."
I cannot think of a comparable political gesture by a major sports organization. Sports is big business; protest is risky business. As Michael Jordan famously put it when he declined to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt in his 1990 attempt to unseat Republican Senator Jesse Helms, "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

And Los Suns donned their protest jerseys as Arizona's senior senator, John McCain, continues to voice his strong support for the new law, going on Fox News's O'Reilly Factor to claim that illegal immigrants are deliberately staging car accidents.

Mr. Sarver's quietly public protest (that's him pictured left) reminds me of the time in 1947 when much beloved white baseball player Peewee Reese walked over to the first black baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and put his arm around the man's shoulder.

Except, of course, that Mr. Sarver has a lot more money at stake.