Presidential

This week marked the unveiling of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. It was wonderful timing in a month to honor African American history, to remember this historic president as the first African American U.S. president. But let me make it even more clear and more broad: Obama was the first non-white President, someone that most people of color identified with and loved.

Other historic points: Both portraits were by African American artists, the first to be given such commissions. Kehinde Wiley painted the President, and Amy Sherald depicted the First Lady. The portraits will hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. (Images available on CNN link below.)

These were consequential events, an intersection of art and history, for all Americans.

CNN reported:

The former first lady said she was thinking about the impact Sherald’s work will have on “girls and girls of color.”
“They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution … And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls,” she said.

The unveiling also was a powerful reminder of the dignity and humanity that we expect in our presidents and that Barack Obama exemplifies. By selecting these

Barack_Obama_2009-10-26artists, he and Michelle were making a thoughtful statement about who we are, about our talents and gifts, about race in America.

While words are important, wise leaders know their actions speak louder than words.

Note: Netflix is featuring a 2017 interview of Obama by David Letterman. It offers an oasis of calm and wit from the current chaos in our nation’s capital. Another reminder of presidential.

 

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Staying Woke: Part 2

How do you stay informed in this world of 24/7 news? We have a plethora of choices. Not all are responsible sources. Not all ascribe to serious journalism standards.

My friends’ morning routine includes going online to these websites: CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and BBC. They turn to the CNN channel for a few minutes for the latest updates. In the evening, they watch MSNBC’S The Rachel Maddow Show.

As former journalists, Deborah and Larry have identified the news sources they trust. But there are others.

I am definitely not a news geek, but I want to stay informed. It’s imperative especially in these dangerous times to stay woke. You could say it’s the duty of all good citizens to be aware and alert to what’s happening in our country and to hold our government officials accountable. Morning is my writing time, and following the news at the level of my friends would take too big a chunk out of my morning. First, I’m a slow reader and sometimes it’s not just my slowness; my Internet slows down. Secondly, I don’t have a television in my apartment. Even though I have access to one in our building’s community room, it’s not always convenient.

Nevertheless at some point in the day, I can go online to CNN, then to the Washington Post or the New York Times. I’ve been a fan of the Times, but hadn’t read the Post much. Right in our nation’s capital, the Post is geographically closer to the political scene and late-breaking scandals. Being imbedded in D.C., they provide an immediacy to their news. Of course the Times has a D.C. bureau to keep on top of the news there.

I agree with Deborah about the importance of following some foreign news sources. What do other countries think about our President and American events? I like The Guardian and watch CBC and BBC from time to time, but not daily. That’s the best that I can do.

Other television news I watch occasionally include PBS News Hour.  60 Minutes is a television news magazine on CBS and also very informative. On the radio, I listen to NPR. And I subscribe to The Atlantic for its well-written articles on topics important to me.

More than ever it’s important to support good journalism and subscribe to news magazines, newspapers, and other news sources you trust.

Larry is biased toward newspapers, but he makes a good point. He says, “Papers are one of the best sources of coherent, calmly displayed information about what is happening….The strength of newspapers is in detail, and learning that detail makes us all smarter and better citizens.”

According to Walter Cronkite, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”

I would add that we process information differently when reading compared to watching something. Reading has always been a thoughtful process for me. Sometimes I need to re-read. Sometimes I need to stop and think about what I just read. Sometimes I need to follow up an article by reading another source to confirm or dispute the original story. Reading develops critical thinking, a quality that is frankly crucial in today’s world.

Besides I’m old school. I like holding a physical newspaper or magazine or book. It provides a more sensory experience than reading a screen. I like flipping the pages, sometimes back and forth, and maybe underlining something. Since I can’t afford to subscribe to everything, the library is a great resource for newspapers and magazines. Reading online is a different experience for me and I admit to getting screen fatigue even though or especially since so much is available at my fingertips.

However, reading online news cannot be avoided. Another online news source I read is Matt from WTF Just Happened Today?, which is exactly how I frequently feel since last November. This site compiles the day’s headlines from various national news sources that cover the latest chaos in the White House.

Generations growing up with the Internet will likely disagree, but quality of news or information makes a difference, not quantity. Having infinite choices 24/7 is not necessarily a good thing.

And this bears repeating: Facebook is not a news source.

Staying Woke: Print, Broadcast, Online?

PART 1

Back in the dark ages before WWW and the Internet, my family got the news by reading our local newspapers or listening to the radio. Every family subscribed to a newspaper. Weekly news magazines, like Time and Newsweek, were also popular. We felt we had several good choices for staying informed, but we Boomers were especially ecstatic when black and white televisions arrived in our homes. The news program became an important part of our day.

Cronkite

Watching the 6 o’clock news on CBS with Walter Cronkite became a daily ritual to get the latest in national and world news. He was a serious journalist trusted by the public. He understood that people needed to be informed to be good citizens. Living in Honolulu, we were eager for news of both East and West. Late night news broadcasts were also available at 10 or 11 on the three network channels. Then all programming signed off every night around midnight with an image of the American flag and a soundtrack of the “Star-spangled Banner.”

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: ‘And that’s the way it is.’ To me, that encapsulates the newsman’s highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.
-Walter Cronkite

 

Today in the 21st Century, with a smart phone and access to the Internet, everyone can tap into as much news as desired anytime of the day or night. Newspapers from all over the globe are available online and news programs can be streamed into a device in your hand. Several television channels are devoted exclusively to news. Online or not, local, national, and international news are available 24/7.

That’s a lot of news. In fact, the news cycle never ends. It’s an endless loop. News geeks, rejoice! This is your time.

But even news junkies need filters and discernment. There’s a lot of noise and filler and infotainment in the mix. Something read online can be fabricated and intentionally distorted; bluster and opinion fill some radio shows. Accuracy and facts, as well as civil discourse, are sadly lacking in some so-called news shows.

I wonder and worry how young people today stay informed, if they are developing a routine for gathering the news and identifying responsible news sources, e.g., Facebook is not a news source.

Two of my friends, a married couple, are former journalists and avowed news junkies. I asked them to describe their daily routine for getting the news. With two computers, they each go online first to various news websites. Deborah goes to CNN first to get an overview of the headlines, then will read more in-depth articles on the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post. According to Deborah, the Times is highly respected for its investigative journalism. And of course, the Washington Post broke the story about the Watergate scandal.

The next websites they read are the Wall Street Journal for its financial news and the BBC for its European perspective on American news. Then they turn on the TV to CNN and/or MSNBC; they watch the bottom of the screen closely for breaking news.

All this takes about an hour, then they go on with their day.

Rachel-MaddowAt 6 p.m., they watch the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Deborah says, “Rachel focuses on just a few stories that she thinks deserve audience attention.” I’ve been watching her show more regularly over the last few weeks and she is very intelligent. She doesn’t dumb anything down for her viewers. She does her homework by reading various news stories in different publications and is able to connect the dots by reporting the context of each story so the viewer understands or at least can get a sense of why this is important. Her guests include other respected journalists who can further explain or contextualize a news item. I’ve become a fan and I’m not the only one. Maddow’s viewership has increased rapidly since 2014.

In the current issue (Oct. 2017) of Vanity Fair, Editor Graydon Carter says:

In my opinion, she is the quickest mind on television, building cases against the administration so dizzying in their complexity and ultimate clarity that you wish she sent out Cliff’s Note in advance.

Getting the news used to be much more simple. I tried to follow my friends’ daily routine, but sadly failed. (To be continued.)

 

Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China

This summer we in Seattle have been fortunate to see the touring exhibit of the Terra-cotta Warriors of China’s first emperor. Archeologists are still excavating the site in Xi’an, China, where thousands more are still buried. So far approximately 2,000 of these clay soldiers have been discovered and reassembled. There could be 8,000 more plus life-size horses, chariots, and weapons.

They were produced more than 2,000 years ago to ensure the protection and power of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. This emperor had the power and wealth to furnish his tomb with whatever he desired for the next life. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and craftsmanship. The exhibit at the Pacific Science Center displays only a fraction of the unearthed artifacts. One display features an assembly line of laborers forming the clay, using   molds for various parts of the body, attaching the pieces, individualizing the heads, then carrying the finished product to the fire pit.

terracotta warriors1

The numbers are impressive, not just the quantity of these soldiers and generals produced, but their individual faces and the immaculate detail of their armor, hair, and headgear that mirror the military dress requirements of those times. I wonder whose faces they replicated. Did they use their own and their fellow laborers? Their family members? We will probably never know.

Archeologists have confirmed that these warriors once were painted in brilliant colors, which have since disintegrated. Finding this army was astounding enough, but then the discovery of the rich details provided for each soldier confirms that no expense was spared to meet the emperor’s requirements.

Indeed, how many laborers would it have taken to construct this memorial site, dig the pits for the army to stand in, produce the materials for these warriors and other bronze artifacts, craft everything, and house and feed everyone? The untouched tomb itself probably holds incredible riches. Experts estimate it took ten years and over 700,000 laborers to complete.

As a writer, I want the untold stories of these laborers, presumably slaves. However, these likely would not be happy stories. Just as it’s not likely there were any records kept that might have survived or that any of these laborers might have been literate and kept some kind of diary. Was there great suffering? Did the laborers experience moments of pride, even awe, in being involved in such a grand project, something never done before? Did the laborers even know this project was for the emperor?

What we know is that after years of hard labor, everyone working on the site was killed to safeguard the location and all that it contained. They were exterminated and buried in mass graves.

The exhibit was worth seeing. However, lurking below the magnificence and wonder of it all, we find once again the very real human cost of grandiose achievements. The best and worst of humanity is on display with China’s Terracotta Warriors.

 

 

 

Cake Quartet

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Over cupcakes at a March meeting in 2017, our writing group of four decided to call ourselves the Cake Quartet.
 
We rotate hosting our meetings and feed the group. Not only desserts and snacks, but thoughtful and respectful feedback on writing, whether prose or poetry. The meetings are times of nurturing our art.
 
We value one another as women, writers, and friends: Ann Hursey, Esther Helfgott, Trish McKenny Honig.
 
We are the Cake Quartet because cakes invoke celebrations. And we celebrate each other!
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Here’s another lovely thing about cake. It’s easier than writing!
I could not remember if I had ever baked a cake from scratch, but Trish is an experienced baker for her lucky family. We arranged a baking day for a recipe she found: Southern Coconut Cake. She had all the basic ingredients, pans, and other equipment while I brought the specialized ingredients like shredded coconut, coconut flavoring, whipped cream, and so on.
In a few hours, we were done. I felt I had accomplished something. It was fun and I had a finished product that I knew my friends and I would enjoy! Too bad if they don’t like coconut.
It was a divine 2-layer cake with 2 kinds of frosting. Voilà!
YUM!
Coconut cake
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Writing is definitely not a piece of cake. It’s a much, much longer process. Often a learn-as-you-go endeavor.
Frustration and disappointment can be constant companions along the road. Getting my book published has certainly had its ups and downs. Not sure what to do next, but I will keep doing the next thing, then the next thing and keep going. Pick up my heavy heart and keep going, while self-publishing lurks in the back of my mind.
I can commiserate with my writing group. Borrow their wisdom and strength.
And when necessary, I can bake a cake and celebrate my foolish dreams or my persistence. Maybe both.
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Please note: The Cake Quartet will be reading at “It’s About Time” at the Ballard Library on Thursday, October 12 at 6 pm. Come and join us! Who knows? We might even serve cake!

Hawaii 5-0

As much as I am a fan of the television series, this “Hawaii 5-0” trip was something else. I just returned from my 50th class reunion: St. Andrew’s Priory Class of 1967. Our class is the school’s Centennial Class so this reunion coincided with the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding by Queen Emma.

Priory

Plaque at the school

Many of us were initially reluctant to commit to attending the reunion events and had had little or no contact with our classmates nor the school over the decades. A few simply had no interest or desire to meet. St. Andrew’s Priory had its flaws and deficits, for sure, and I cannot know what hardships and difficulties might have been experienced by others.  While I excelled in various areas, PE was surely not one of them.

From a graduating class of 60 girls, 18 of us gathered in Honolulu from various geographical points to remember our years at the Priory, reflect on our youth, and mostly to celebrate the women we have become and the lives we are living.

We’ve all learned that life does not move in a straight line, but twists and turns often beyond our control. The bright-faced girl I was who graduated in 1967 thought she was so ready for life, so ready to step out into and meet the larger world. My high school graduation seemed to offer such freedom and promise. I had no idea what was in store for me.

Likewise, I went to my reunion without a clear idea of what might happen, whether I would feel awkward or have a really good time. Fifty years is a lifetime, and I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the girls I once knew. As we reconnected over Facebook, the memories began to bubble up, and I realized that these girls had been important in my school years.

I am delighted that I went. The girls we once were have been replaced with strong women who have been tested by life. I heard some of the stories, but not all of them. What I know is that we are no longer innocents. We have learned depth and honesty, humor and wisdom. We have grown beyond our limited selves. It was a pleasure to meet the women of the Class of 1967! And I am honored to be one of them.

I discovered I have a deep bond and kinship with my classmates that I didn’t know existed. Although I hadn’t socialized much with some of them during my Priory years, our shared memories of the school, our teachers, the Sisters of Transfiguration who ran the school created an indelible bond that surfaced during our time together. Who remembers the names of the five Sisters? Our Latin class teachers? That lunch used to cost 25 cents? (Really? Wasn’t 50 cents?) That we would gather under the ylang ylang tree at the start of PE class? Or Mrs. Hirao’s shortbread cookies?

LL graduation

Graduation 1967 with my parents

Of course, we each remembered different things, but we also had some common memories that were fun to recall.

I confessed I still had occasional nightmares about failing to bring my PE clothes (ironed blue shorts and white blouse) on PE day.  I don’t even remember what the punishment was, but I felt the fear deep in my bones at such an infraction.

When we toured the school, we saw the many improvements of the campus (a new gym! a music program!) and heard about the exciting new curriculum designed to foster leadership and individual direction in the girls’ future careers. Other changes include the uniforms, a boy’s school for grades 1-5, and attending chapel at St. Andrew’s Cathedral only once a week instead of every day of school during our years.

It’s an exciting time for the Priory. New leadership by Head of School Dr. Ruth R. Fletcher is bringing fresh energy into our historic school. This small private girls’ school is graduating even smaller classes than our 60 seniors in 1967, but this is intentional in order to provide each girl with the attention she needs to discover her potential and talents in an ever-changing and challenging world.

And yet, some traditions continue. My classmates and I were deeply touched during the Coral Cross Ceremony on Ascension Day, which celebrates the school’s founding. The junior class decorates the cross each year to honor the school and the senior class. The plain coral cross is transformed overnight by the students who sleep at the school to ensure this is completed by the next morning. Each year, the design is different and anticipation is keen to view the artistry. The juniors sing their class song to the seniors, then the seniors reciprocate. With full hearts and through tears.

It’s a beautiful tradition, which brought back memories of our junior class decorating the cross in yellow and white carnations and singing our class song. On special days like this, we wore our white pleated skirts instead of our navy or black ones. I had almost forgotten this detail until one of classmates gave us copies of our class photo of Ascension Day 1966 when we were juniors.

I had not returned to the school since I graduated. This class reunion gave me a reason to reconnect to my alma mater, my classmates, and the knowledge that, whether we know it or not, we share an important bond to Hawaii and Hawaiian history. One hundred fifty years ago, Queen Emma was inspired to start a school to educate girls. This was a radical idea. We alumnae embody a queen’s vision.

Hidden Figures

What a great title for a missing part of American history. This is the untold story of the vital contributions of African American women to American aviation and the NASA space program. Untold because historically women have been diminished or ignored, moreso women of color. In other words, this is a story of inequality based on race and gender.

Hidden FiguresStill playing in movie theaters after opening last December, the feature film based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly has struck a resounding chord in our culture. It captures the American can-do spirit with female protagonistsintelligent, strong women of color who don’t take “No” for an answer. I can’t think of another movie in recent years with female main characters working in a math and science environment.

I was mesmerized watching Taraji P. Henson in the role of Katherine Johnson writing math equations and solutions on a blackboard with supreme confidence. She was simply demonstrating what she knew, but also informing the room full of men that a black woman has just as much intelligence as they have. And maybe more.

The film has adapted a small section of the larger story of these women who worked as human computers verifying the computations of white male engineers. This was during the time of segregation so they worked as a separate unit from white men and women. Some of these hidden figures later advanced to work as peers with the men. The encouragement of their forward-thinking, enlightened parents permitted these girls to study and enjoy math. Most ended up as teachers; some heard about better-paying jobs in the federal government aviation program in Hampton, Virginia, which later became NASA.

After seeing the movie and reading the book, I experienced feelings of immense triumph for these women and women in general.  A sense of sadness followed. I was thinking about many other girls and women who don’t have opportunities for education and therefore can’t discover their talents, skills, and passion. This is a loss for individuals, yes, but also for our society and country. The women in Hidden Figures made significant contributions to their families, communities, and our country. How many people’s ambitions and potential are thwarted because of racism, sexism, and other biases?

Imagine if each American child has the same opportunities for education regardless of class, race, and gender. 

Imagine if they have the freedom to explore their talents, to challenge their minds without fear of failure and shame.

Imagine if each female is unhindered by sexual harassment or assault or any kind of sexism that would make her doubt herself.

Our current rape culture on campuses, in our armed services, in our families is destroying lives and compromising human potential. Many women don’t report these crimes because the system does not provide fairness, support, or justice to most victims. Few perpetrators are punished. In fact, victims are often blamed and punished for being raped.

The April issue of The Atlantic Magazine features an article that reveals how qualified women are still facing gender bias in the workplace, specifically in computer science. “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” reminds us how slowly attitudes are changing. As we’re encouraging girls to enter STEM programs to provide skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math, thus providing higher-paying jobs for women, the work environments in these fields sound all too similar to what Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson faced in the 1940s and 1950s.

The old boys club is alive and well, with all its ploys to keep women “in their place.” Women    in male-dominated fields today, like technology, are finding a hostile work environment where they are being blocked in getting promotions and creative opportunities. The article describes a survey of women in technology: “84%…had been told they were too aggressive; 66% had felt excluded from key networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% had witnessed sexist behavior at conferences and company off-site meetings….” And so it goes.

Gender bias still exists and is detrimental to individuals, society, and our country. It pulls everyone down, wounds and weakens our democracy. It’s true that there have been moments of success and triumph when a woman has stepped forward out of the shadows and been recognized for her talent, courage, or contribution. But many of these stories are still hidden. I wonder what would have happened to John Glenn’s space flight if Katherine Johnson had not provided the accurate computations for his return to earth. She did and he became an American hero. Only now decades later, she is receiving the recognition she so rightfully deserves.