The More Things Change…1998 to 2017

Molly Ivins Dance

You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You by Molly Ivins

My father loved to read Molly Ivins.  Her brand of populist liberalism, her concern for the powerless, her razor-sharp wit were all right up his alley.  As a New Deal Democrat, Daddy didn’t have much sympathy for corporate-backed, hypocritical, poll-watching politicians.

So when I went to my father’s house earlier this year to help clear out his library, I brought home the four Ivins books he had at the time plus a biography of the Texas firebrand.  Daddy had almost all of Ivins’ works, but some he had given away.  (He once gave me a copy of one of her books that he said he had purchased at the remainder table at the local bookstore, only to come home and find out he already had two copies of the same book.)

I was looking for a quick and lively read a few days ago after working through a couple of more difficult offerings, and pulled You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You off the bookshelf.  This is Ivins’ 1998 take on the Clinton years.  The more I read I thought the more things have stayed the same.  With just a few changes in names and scandals, this could have been written as we head into 2017.  Just a few examples will suffice.

  • “‘Vote for me, I’m against the government,’ seems an unlikely slogan, but there it is.  Having come to the capital to ‘change the way Washington works,’ they proceeded to make it worse.”
  • “I was raised in East Texas, I live in South Austin, and I’m not about to pretend that racism, sexism, and homophobia aren’t common as dirt in this country.  Any time I want to hear someone use ugly words, I don’t even have to leave my neighborhood.  But it has not been common to hear this kind of language in public debate in this country for years.  This has nothing to do with political correctness.  This is as simple as manners.”
  • “The impulse to make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free is an old one, even here.  When we are badly frightened, we think we can make ourselves safer by sacrificing some of our liberties.”
  • “What a curious entity a corporation is – a legal artifact that exists to make a profit.  yet the law views a corporation as a person.  The initial constitutional view of corporations as persons was limited to the right to sue and to be sued, which makes perfect economic sense for contract law.  But starting in 1948, a series of Supreme Court decisions have given corporations other individual liberties as well.  For example, it has been held that corporations have a right to privacy – a right to which women still have only a contested claim.  Aunt Susan (B. Anthony) would have turned incandescent over that one.”  (And this was written before the “Citizens United” decision.)
  • “Which brings us to the First Rule of Newt-Watching: Whatever he accuses his opponents of, look for carefully in his own behavior.”  (Written before the impeachment of Clinton for – the same thing Gingrich was doing at the time…’nuff said)

I can go on and on, but suffice it to say that a government run by and for corporations; politicians who care much more about their corporate funders in the 1% rather than real people; a political party that stokes white working class resentment instead of dealing with their real issues of poverty, estrangement, and economic inequality; a politician who accuses his opponent of the very thing he’s doing ten time worse…so little has changed in twenty years.

Molly Ivins is a fun read, but the real issues she highlighted in the 1990s – and which continue to drive politics today – are very real and very sad. However, when you read her obituary of Barbara Jordan – She Sounded Like God – you see that people who care can have impacts well beyond their individual lives.

“Her role as a role model may have been her most important.  One little black girl used to walk by Jordan’s home every day on her way to school and think, ‘Barbara Jordan grew up right here, too.’ Today Ruth Simmons is president of Smith College.”  (Written before Ruth Simmons became the president of Brown University, our son Andrew’s alma mater.)

Andrew with Ruth Simmons

Andrew with Brown University President Ruth Simmons in 2012

“This country is stuffed full of nice folks.  You can meet them almost anywhere, even in Washington, D.C.  It’s not so much that we need to take up arms against a sea of troubles.  We just need to get the hogs out of the creek so the water can clear up.”

Good thoughts to remember as we enter 2017.

More to come…

DJB

Top Posts of 2016 (The “Whatever Else Tickles My Fancy” Edition)

WWDJBD?

What Would DJB Do?

As promised yesterday, I’m back with the top posts on More to Come… from 2016 that don’t relate to family and friends.  What I’m calling the “Whatever Else Tickles My Fancy” edition.

In a year when I took my sabbatical in Rome and Maine, many of the top posts are from those trips. If my day job doesn’t work out, I may have a future as a travel writer! As was the case with yesterday’s top ten, I’ll list them in the order they appeared during the year.

I left for Rome in early March, and Time Off was my post to set the stage for my sabbatical. I had a number of nice comments from friends and colleagues with well wishes.  I also got to showcase my cool “What Would DJB Do?” mug!

My first post from the American Academy came on March 10th, and was entitled Looking Back, Looking ForwardAfter that, I was posting 3-4 times per week for the remainder of the six weeks we were in Italy.

Claire joined us for a week in Italy soon after we arrived, and we took the opportunity to visit Florence and Tuscany.  48 Hours in Tuscany chronicled our weekend in this wonderful Italian region.

CCB, CHB, and DJB at the top of Florence

At the top of Florence: proof that we made it!

Among our day trips while in Italy, Orvieto was right at the top of the favorites.  Orvieto:  A Jewel in Umbria was my attempt to cover all we had seen…but I inadvertently left out the chapel in the Duomo that a dear friend studied for her doctoral dissertation.  Yikes!  I will note that readers seemed to like the pictures in this post.

Duomo di Orvieto facade

Duomo di Orvieto facade from the street

Late in our time in Rome we were looking for a break from all the saints and visited Villa Farnesina.  The Pleasures of Villa Farnesina is primarily pictures of a wonderful Roman villa and its artwork.

When one topic isn’t enough for one post, I’ll pull together several topics in what I call my “Observations from…” category. At the end of our time at the American Academy in Rome, I posted Observations from the Road: The “Final Rome” Edition…for this Visit.  I caught up with our last couple of days in the city and took the opportunity to thank a whole bunch of people.

The August 14th post from Deer Isle Maine was entitled Observations from the Road (Or the Deer Isle’s “Locally Sourced Food and Music” edition)I covered so many topics from several days of exploration in Maine that it isn’t a surprise that this was a top ten post…it had something for everyone!  Plus the food pictures were tasty in their own right.

Fish from Whale's Rib

Fresh local seafood from the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

We left the Pilgrim’s Inn (reluctantly) at the end of our Maine sabbatical, but I wrote a love letter to this wonderful place entitled Pilgrim’s Inn:  Our Home Away From Home.  The innkeeper, Tina Oddleifson, linked the post to her popular Facebook page, and my views shot way up!  You’ll have to read it to see the importance of Q-tips to a wonderful lodging.

Pilgrim Inn

Pilgrim Inn at Deer Isle, Maine, in the late afternoon light

Another of my Monday Musings cracked the top ten in October.  Loss, Rebirth, Baseball, and Why Old Places Matter was an email I sent to my staff following the Nationals’ loss in the playoffs.  For some strange reason, this season’s loss in the playoffs didn’t hurt as much as in 2012 and 2014.  Lower expectations are often the key to happiness.

Late in the year, Claire texted us about a sermon she had heard at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.  I watched it online, and immediately sat down and wrote You Can’t Stop the RevolutionThe Rev. Mike Kinman had a powerful message about Mary, and how “God’s revolution of love will be led by fierce, nasty women.”  The sermon resonated with several readers, especially given the politics of the past year.

And there you have it:  the non-family focused top ten posts of 2016.  Thanks, as always, for reading and for the comments.

More to come…

DJB

Top Posts of 2016 (Family and Friends Edition)

Family in Philadelphia

With Candice, Andrew, and Claire (clockwise from bottom left), June 2016 in Philadelphia

I’m lucky to have patient readers of More to Come… as the blog (like my mind) is often all over the place. In looking back over posts from the past year, I decided to highlight the top ten (in terms of views) in a “family and friends” edition, to be followed tomorrow by a “whatever else tickles my fancy” edition, where I’ll catch the posts that don’t directly relate to family members.

Unfortunately, many of the top family posts this year related to death and loss. There were so many losses this year (both family and others who felt like family) that I added a Rest In Peace category to the blog. I’m grateful for the notes and comments these musings brought, but like so many readers I still miss the people who are no longer with us.

I’ll highlight the top ten family and friends posts in the order in which they showed up on More to Come…

Andrew was asked to join Lady Gaga and 50 other survivors of sexual assault on the stage of the Academy Awards as she sang her Oscar-nominated song ‘Til it Happens to YouWe Believe You – my March 2nd post – flowed from that experience.

Andrew and Lady Gaga

Andrew with Lady Gaga at the Oscars

Three of the posts revolved around my father’s death in May of 2016, just shy of his 91st birthday.  The first post came the day I learned Daddy had died – May 14th – and was titled R.I.P. Daddy, Tom, Granddaddy.  After the funeral, I posted My Favorite Tom Brown Stories, which captured all the things people had to say about Daddy in the days we gathered to celebrate a life well lived.  A few days later, A Blessing For Our Children, taken from notes in my father’s Bible, spoke to the blessing of unconditional love.

With the children spread from coast to coast, we celebrate the few times we get to have all four of us together.  A Philly Family Weekend was built around the marriage of our dear friend Julia Pentz to Barry Katz.

Claire and Andrew ready for the wedding

Claire and Andrew ready for the wedding

In early August, we lost a dear friend in Staunton, Virginia, Ted Jordan, who died after an accident on a construction site.  And When From Death I’m Free, I’ll Sing On was my remembrance of Ted’s many gifts and the music we made together for over a decade.

Adventures in Moving was a late August post that captured a three-day road trip with Andrew, as we traveled to Tennessee to gather furniture from my father’s house and bring it back to our home in Maryland.  Andrew even got to stand in Tennessee and Virginia at the same time.

Andrew in Bristol

Andrew (and his Beyonce shirt) have a foot in Tennessee and a foot in Virginia on Bristol’s famous State Street

I began writing a short Monday morning email to my staff at the National Trust this year, and I captured these on this blog under the category of “Monday Musings.” One of my posts from my new category made it to the top ten list this year in the family and friends category.  In September, I wrote a blog entitled Hope is Grounded in Memory, which references my Grandmother’s clock as a way of choosing hope in life.

Grandmother's clock

A small symbol of hope

In November, our parish held its Commemoration of All Faithful Departed service, which led to the post Going Out in a Blaze of GloryMy father was a big fan of Mel Brooks and the movie Blazing Saddles.  If you missed this post the first time, you’ll have to read it now to see how the two fit together.

Each Thanksgiving, I post a special blog of photographs from the year.  It is usually a favorite (perhaps because I link to it in our Thanksgiving letter to friends and family).  Our Year in Photos – 2016 was no different, and this year it included a picture of the visit Claire and I made to see the LA Angels (and check another major league baseball park off my bucket list).

With Claire at the Big A

With Claire at the Big A

So there are the top ten “family and friends” posts from 2016.  Thanks, as always, for reading.  And as you know, in 2017 there will be…

More to come…

DJB

Merry Christmas 2016

Singing at Christmas Day Dinner

Singing Carols at the Christmas Day Dinner at St. Alban’s Parish

Several years ago we first volunteered to help serve Christmas dinner at our parish.  This is a wonderful tradition that we had just discovered.  Several hundred people – some homeless, some single, some elderly without family nearby, some simply wanting someone else to cook for them – come together for several hours of turkey, stuffing, pies, caroling, and conversation.

That first year, as we were leaving, one of the children said, “Can we make this a regular part of our Christmas Day tradition?”  We’ve been there ever since.

Because Andrew and Claire were born five days before Christmas, we have always waited to jump into the season until after we celebrate their birthdays.  Plus, Candice and I have always wanted to focus on Advent, and then celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas through until Epiphany on January 6th. But this year we’ve actually scaled back some of the past over-the-top holiday celebrations.  Our decorations are simpler. We are content to be together as a family around a dinner table.  (No cell phones, please.)

And just as the twins helped bring the Christmas dinner into our family celebration, they now help us choose one event for each of the 12 Days of Christmas.  This year’s list includes a night of making pasta together.  Two evenings at the theatre. Brunches and dinners with dear friends. Dim sum.  A family hike.  And a belated 24th birthday celebration, since Claire didn’t arrive home until Christmas Eve.

If you celebrate the season, dear readers, I hope you have a wonderful time filled with family and friends you love along with outreach to those who need our love.

Browns at the Christmas Day Dinner

The Browns at the St. Alban’s Parish Christmas Day Dinner 2016 (photo credit: Suzy Mink)

Merry Christmas!

More to come…

DJB

Nothing Can be Changed Until It is Faced: The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Several weeks ago I finished reading a book which won’t leave my mind.  The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is an important and disturbing book which ultimately leads to much soul-searching on the part of the reader. It first came out in 2010 and has been on my bookshelf for a while, but I only picked it up at the tail end of the presidential election campaign.  That was timely.

Alexander – a civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar – has written a well-researched and devastating work.  In The New Jim Crow, Alexander shows we have not moved into a colorblind society, but have – in fact – simply replaced one racial caste system (Jim Crow) for another (mass incarceration).  The book is thorough in its analysis and gut-wrenching in its conclusions.

Alexander writes in the introduction,

“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it.  In the era of colorblindness, it is not longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind…We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

As Cornel West alludes to in the foreword, Alexander’s work harkens back to the work and beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  King, as quoted by West,

“Called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.”

In six thoughtful chapters full of stories, statistics, and urgency, Alexander makes a strong case that the huge racial disparity of punishment in America is designed, not merely chance. What passes for “rite of passage” antics in the privileged white community will land young men of color in a criminal justice system that strips away their rights and marginalizes them for the rest of their lives.  No politician or class of citizens is free from Alexander’s gaze.  The “War of Drugs” and mass incarceration began in the 1970s and grew to new heights in Ronald Reagan’s America, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – and their justice departments – have doubled down and strengthened this system as a way of being “tough on crime.”  Approximately a half-million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense today, according to Alexander, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980 – an increase of 1,100 percent.  Alexander makes the strong case that the War on Drugs is not pointed toward the drug kingpins, but the people of color who posses small amounts and have no history of violence or significant dealing.

And once a person of color (usually young males) enter the prison system, they are labeled, discriminated against, and marginalized for life.  Just look at all the ways one of our political parties in the U.S. is working to block voting rights and understand that felony convictions are one of the easiest ways to keep people of color from voting to have some control over their lives.

For those who would push back and say that criminals should not have rights, I urge you to first read Alexander’s book and reflect upon your own experiences of how people of color are treated differently in the U.S. from whites and those of privilege.

“Today, no less than fifty years ago, a flawed public consensus lies at the core of the prevailing caste system.  When people think about crime, especially drug crime, they do not think about suburban housewives violating laws regulating prescription drugs or white frat boys using ecstasy.  Drug crime in this country is understood to be black and brown, and it is because drug crime is racially defined in the public consciousness that the electorate has not cared much what happens to drug criminals – at least not the way they would have cared if the criminals were understood to be white.  It is this failure to care, really care across color lines, that lies at the core of this system of control and every racial caste system that has existed in the United States or anywhere else in the world.” (Underlined emphasis in the original; bold emphasis mine)

Alexander’s powerful last chapter is inspired by the writing of James Baldwin.  And coincidentally, the Washington Post just featured an article about a new lynching memorial – from the first era of Jim Crow – that includes these powerful lines from an unfinished book by James Baldwin:

“You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” (Emphasis mine)

Alexander hits the nail on the head of how we must address the new era of Jim Crow – by treating the problem of mass incarceration as a racial caste system and not as a system of crime control.

“Seeing race is not the problem.  Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem.  The fact that the meaning of race may evolve over time or lose much of its significance is hardly a reason to be struck blind.  We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love.  That was King’s dream – a society that is capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love.  That is a goal worth fighting for.” (Emphasis mine)

Read this very important book, if you haven’t already.  I suspect you will begin – as I have – working through how to address this new system of Jim Crow in your own life.

More to come…
DJB

Be Civil, Be Urban

Civility

Civility by Stephen L. Carter

Each morning on my walk to our offices at the Watergate, I stop off at Filter coffeehouse for a coffee to begin the work day.  What first drew me to this particular coffee shop on I Street, NW between 19th and 20th (as opposed to the 15 others I pass in my 25 minute walk) is the sign on the door.  It reads, simply, “Be Civil, Be Urban.”

I was intrigued.  My interest was really piqued when I stepped inside and found urban planning books and architectural models on the bookshelf, a prominent “Nope, No WiFi” sign, and a quote on the wall from architectural historian Spiro Kostof that reads, “Civilization, in this strict sense, is the art of living in towns.”

Living and working in groups – in towns, cities, and organizations – led us to move toward a civilized society.  But civilization is not guaranteed. How we live and work together is a key to productivity, learning, growth, and happiness.  Civility is – unfortunately – in short supply in much of our national and international discourse today.  The author and social critic Stephen Carter, in his book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, blames this on an over-reliance on markets, a forgetfulness of the obligations we owe each other, and a lack of a moral compass in decision-making.  He says,

“…the language of the marketplace, the language of wanting, of winning, of simply taking – the language of self – is supplanting the language of community, of sharing, of fairness, of riding politely alongside our fellow citizens…”

That quote from Carter has stuck with me through the years, and it fits in with the “Be Urban, Be Civil” mantra at the coffee shop. That “Nope, No Wifi” sign states that Filter “is a place for talking, reading, and drinking coffee.”  Patrons are asked to “Please leave your laptops in your bag and take a break.  Say hi to your neighbor.  Emails can wait.”

No WiFi

No WiFi at Filter

I find that my daily 3-5 minutes in the shop helps me stop and think about ways I can be civil as I ride alongside my fellow citizens.  I think about it as I walk through the George Washington University campus, and look and speak to the staff and students who are out and about at that hour. On good days, it remains on my mind in the office, in meetings, and as I return home to family. When I’m reminded each morning that to live together well requires civility, I try and carry that mindset as far into the day as I can.

I don’t always succeed, so I’m happy to have a place to get my daily reminder of civility along with my cup of coffee. None of us got to where we are today on our own, and our lives are intertwined and enriched by all those who surround us.  If I forget to recognize that when I see you, please remind me that it may be time for a refill of my cup of civility coffee.  I’ll know exactly what you mean.

Have a great week and a wonderful holiday season.

More to come…

DJB

Relevance

Art of Relevance

The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Nina Simon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, gave a powerful TrustLive talk at the recent Houston PastForward conference on place and relevance.  She defines relevance as a key that unlocks meaning, opening doors to experiences that matter to us, surprise us, and bring value into our lives.

In her book The Art of Relevance, Nina applies two criteria to all the stories she tells about relevance.  First, how likely new information is to stimulate a positive cognitive effect – to yield new conclusions that matter to you.  Second, how much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information.  The lower the effort, the higher the relevance.  As those of us who heard her speak know, she frames this work in terms of doors and keys that help different groups access rooms of information.  To understand individuals different from us, we have to go outside our rooms and look – with empathy – at the views of the community outside the door.  We have to learn from other rooms and people outside of our comfort zone.

As we think about relevance in all we do, we need to recognize that it is a process and – Simon asserts – a moving target.

“Your content (or work, or information) can be relevant to different people at different times for different reasons – or not.  Even at institutions that have undergone radical reinvention, change doesn’t stop.  As Will Rogers said, ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’”

We can approach the shifting tides of relevance in three ways: by embracing them, fighting them, or equivocating over them.  You can imagine which response Nina Simon suggests.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB