Clinch!

Nats vs Phillies

Nats win on Sunday to reduce their magic number to 1…for about 90 minutes

You never know when you draw a September day at the park in the season ticket package if the game you pick will be meaningful.  But around Friday, I realized that today’s game could be the one where the Nats clinch the 2017 National League East Division title.

I had tickets for Sunday at Nationals Park.  Nats vs. the Phillies.  And the magic number of National wins or Marlins losses was two!  Woo hoo!

Sarah, a colleague from work, joined me, and we laughed when we both  showed up in our 2012 East Division champions gear.  I told Candice as I left for the ballpark that I was wearing my hat for good luck, since I bought it the night they clinched that year when we were both at the park.  Candice replied, “Well good.  At least you won’t have to buy a new hat.”  She needn’t worry…I’m not buying any new playoff/championship gear until we get to a World Series.

Today sure was a fun day at the park.  Stephen Strasburg was brilliant through 8, extending a scoreless innings streak to capture a franchise record.  Trea Turner blasted a home run and a double and seems to be fully recovered from his broken wrist.  Top prospect Victor Robles drilled a ball off the outfield wall and before you could look up he was at third…unfortunately, he was motoring so fast, he slid past the bag.  Gotta love that rookie exuberance.  The 3-2 win happened in the blink of an eye, and the magic number was 1.

Nats roots for Braves

Nats fans gather in the lower bowl after the game to cheer for the Braves to beat the Marlins

But the Braves vs. Marlins game was only in the 7th inning, so we moved to the lower level to watch the next 90 minutes of that game on the big screen at Nats Park.  It looked hopeless when the Braves were down 2 runs in the 9th, but they made a comeback to send it to extra innings.  Finally in the 11th, the Braves had a two-run walk-off homer, and the partying began in Washington.

Nats fans and players celebrate

Nats players and their fans celebrate the National League East Division title

2012 was different because it was the first time for the Nats, but today was very satisfying.  The Nationals have been banged up this year, but youngsters kept plugging the holes and the team kept winning.  The bullpen has been rebuilt from the first half dumpster fire.  The regulars are starting to come back from injury.  And they just kept winning.

Teddy Celebrates Nats 2017 East Division Title by Sarah Heffern 09 10 17

2017 National League East Division Champions.  Sounds great.  Now, let’s go win in the playoffs.

More to come…

DJB

There is Nothing Like Paradox to Take the Scum Off Your Mind

Paradox

Paradox (photo credit: Brett Jordan from Byrdseed.com)

I’ve long been fascinated with paradox and its place in our understanding of the world around us.  When I recently heard historian Patty Limerick quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying, “There is nothing like paradox to take the scum off your mind,” I sat up and paid attention.  That’s a more earthy way of phrasing the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote which I’ve often used:  “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Paradox is hard, but writer Anne Lamott asserts that “all truth is paradox.”  Life is a beautiful gift. At the same time it can be impossibly difficult. As the old Albert King blues song puts it, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

To keep from having to keep two opposing ideas in our head at the same time, we often find ourselves moving toward certainty.  Theologian Paul Tillich has described this challenge in the spiritual realm by saying that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.  Many of us are drawn to stories or perspectives or processes that provide us with a false sense of the truth.  Certainty—such as a historical narrative that fits our world view without accounting for a variety of perspectives or inconvenient facts—doesn’t force us to grapple with the paradox that is at the heart of so much in our lives.

Over my recent vacation, I listened to several podcasts and one in particular stuck with me.  It was a rebroadcast on “Freakonomics” of an interview with retiring Harvard President (and historian) Drew Gilpin Faust. One of her comments was noteworthy for its connection to the work my colleagues and I do at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, I believe, to this question of paradox.  She said,

“Part of why I love history is it takes it outside ourselves and, at its best, enables us to look through other people’s eyes. That enables us to understand what’s contingent about our choices and our existence. We need to do that in our own time as well. We need to bridge beyond ourselves and take advantage of stories to serve as a road to other people, as a pathway to being able to look at the world through their eyes and to understand where they’re coming from, why they might differ with us on matters of policies or practice and have the stories empower us to be more than simply locked within our own selves. That seems to me an important part of what stories can do for us now.”

Understanding the rich, complex, layered stories that are told by the places we work to save at my organization—the National Trust for Historic Preservation—is hard.  That work of understanding often involves the consideration of opposing views.  But then we know that paradox is hard.

Embrace the paradox.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

Welcoming Emily to the Family

Carol David Emily and Nathan

David and Emily Ghattas with my sister Carol (on the left) and nephew Nathan (on the right)

Candice and I spent this Labor Day weekend in Chicago at the wedding of our nephew David Brown Ghattas (catchy name, huh?) and Emily Ames.  David—an engineer just like his father and grandfather—is the oldest son of my youngest sister Carol and her late husband Raouf. Emily is a wonderful young lady he met while they were both in Istanbul a few years ago.  We had the chance to meet Emily at my father’s 90th birthday celebration in 2015, and have enjoyed getting to know her (and now her family) over the past couple of years.

As my nephew Joseph Brown said to me somewhere along the weekend, it is great to be getting together for weddings as opposed to funerals, and I couldn’t agree more.

Families are funny things.  When you have a relatively big one like ours (five siblings and lots of nieces, nephews, and in-laws), there are bound to be some differences.  The differences in ours are pretty substantial.  I’ll just leave it at that.  But love trumps all (pun intended), and it was great to see Carol as the radiant mother-of-the-groom, along with Emily and David looking so beautiful, handsome, and happy.  Raouf’s family came from all over the U.S. (and Egypt), and it was good to see them after too many years.  And David’s younger brother Nathan may win the award for best sense of humor in the whole crowd.  His toast at the reception was one to remember.

Ghattas wedding cousins

David and Emily Ghattas celebrate with their cousins from around the world

It was also good to spend an extra day in the city.  We saw other family in Chicago and spent quality time with the Crocker family (my other sister Debbie, her husband Mark, and their three girls along with Ashli’s daughter Kate).  We had a wonderful time over meals in this culinary destination while also taking the fantastic Chicago Architectural Foundation river tour.  This was my 3rd or 4th time, and it is a must-see when you come to this incredible city.

The Browns and Crockers

Candice and I enjoy a Chicago brunch with my sister Debbie and her husband Mark

 

Rehearsal dinner

My brother Joe and sisters Carol and Debbie join me in celebrating with Emily and David at the rehearsal dinner in Libertyville

We are delighted to welcome Emily to the family!  We couldn’t be happier for Emily, David, and Carol.

More to come…

DJB

Accepting Life as It Presents Itself…And Doing Goodness Anyway

Anytime we face natural disasters such as we’ve seen with the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, our first thoughts—and the work of the first responders—are rightly focused on protecting those in harm’s way.  Those of us at the National Trust are thankful that our colleagues in Texas and Louisiana are safe, and we continue to keep the millions affected in those states foremost in our minds.  Knowing that many want to help, I want to share some good counsel for effective disaster giving, if you are so inclined.  No matter the amount donated, the underlying message is to diversify disaster giving.

  • Give to more than one charity. Just like any other investment, spread your funding to more than one organization, with different goals for each.
  • Give to recovery as well as relief: remember the long recovery phase that comes after a disaster. The urgent relief phase often gets the bulk of attention and funding, but don’t forget about recovery, which is often far longer, harder and more expensive.  Recovery done well also requires different kinds of organizations and capacities.
  • Fund local organizations, too – and those causes already close to your heart. It doesn’t take much time to find qualified charities to support, and the research can be inspiring and unifying.
  • Save some of your giving for later. No matter how much you plan on giving, take some of it and set it aside for year-end holiday giving. The picture of local needs will be very different at that time, allowing new choices for making an impact, even with a small contribution.

I read a bit of Anne Lamott when I was on vacation (even though I know that some are defensive about liking Anne Lamott). She had thoughts about a merciful response to events we don’t expect, which seem appropriate in the current environment:

“You can say that certain tragic events are unfair…but really, they are just true.  Randomness and brutality are just what is; but so is mercy. … Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess…It includes…the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”

Doing goodness after accepting what life presents is a good thought to keep in mind during these difficult times.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road: The Vacation Reading Edition

I’ve now been back from vacation for two weeks, and have finally decided that I am not going to find the time to write lengthy posts on each book I checked off my summer reading list.  So I’m resorting to my trusty “Observations from the Road” formula, to give you short takes on the four books I read over those two weeks.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

Hallelujah Anyway:  Rediscovering Mercy — Shortly before leaving on vacation, I picked up this book by the popular author Anne Lamott after seeing several short quotes attributed to her work.  Candice’s reaction was, “You’re reading Anne Lamott?” and I understand that sentiment. Yes, she is crafty and crotchety, and she has a “perfectly calibrated NPR appeal” which can grate on some. But yes, I am.  She’s funny and a bit snarky, both traits I enjoy (when I agree) and she’s a very good writer.  She’s also brief (a quality I’m enjoying more as I plow through 500+ page works).

This is a book about mercy.  She wanders a bit in getting there, but in the end there is a good bit to take away from this small collection.

“Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves—our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice….the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”

“Kindness towards others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.  Do you want this, or do you want to be right?  Well, can I get back to you on that?”

It’s the attitude in that last line that led me to respond to Candice, “Yeah, and I’m enjoying it.”

The Only Rule

The Only Rule is It Has to Work

The Only Rule is It Has to Work —You knew there had to be a baseball book in the batch…and you would be right.

This is a story of what happens when two numbers guys—Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller—get the chance to run an independent minor league team for a season.  Both worked at Baseball Prospectus and were eager to see how their sabermetric theories might play out in real life.

This is a fun read, in part because both are good writers and they have a good story to tell.  (They switch back-and-forth in writing chapters, which you get use to.)   For part of the season, they move slowly in implementing their theories.  But after they make the bold move to fire the player/manager who pushes back on many of their suggestions, changes come more quickly.  There’s the added bonus of having their team—the Sonoma Stompers—become the first professional team with an openly gay player.  Sean Conroy’s story is just one example of how the authors blend metrics and human interest in this funny and informative book.

Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Everybody Lies:  Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are — This was easily the most interesting book of the four I read over my vacation, and I picked it up after chatting with a seat mate on a recent plane ride who gave it a strong recommendation.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a social scientist who is using new, big data sources to uncover hidden behaviors and attitudes.  He notes that Google searches are a type of “truth serum” because we undertake those searches anonymously and tools such as Google Trends can tell us what people—in huge data sets—are really thinking.  “In other words, people’s search for information is, in itself, information.”  And as Stephens-Davidowitz explains, “The power of Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else.”  That’s true about race, politics, and especially sex.  People lie about all three things when taking surveys, but they don’t lie when searching for data in the anonymity of their living rooms.  The recent acknowledgement of the rise of white nationalism in the main stream media was something that Google searches predicted in 2008…on the night Barack Obama was elected president.  There were more searches using the “n-word president” than “first black president” in some states.

This book has much to recommend it, and much that is disturbing to know about ourselves and our fellow citizens.  There is great analysis, excellent storytelling, and witty writing throughout.  I could go into so much more here, but suffice it to say that this book will change the way you view the world.

Architecture's Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple:  Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson — Hugh Howard’s 2016 work on the intersection of two of the 20th century’s best-known architects is an interesting read that ultimately falls short of making its central case:  which is that each architect was greatly influenced at a key point in his career development, by the work of the other.  It is a hard argument to make given that Wright was a stunningly original innovator and one of the world’s great designers.  Johnson was more of a shaper of architectural tastes whose work doesn’t reach the breadth or depth of Wright’s.  (Full disclosure:  I work for an organization, the National Trust, that owns houses designed by both men.)

Nonetheless, there is much to like and take away from Howard’s work.  The focus on Johnson’s breakthrough with the MoMA architectural exhibition that helped introduce Modernism to the American public, while alienating Wright in the process, makes for great reading.  The descriptions of Wright’s designing of his masterpieces—Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum—as well as Johnson’s conception of The Glass House, are compelling and showcase Howard’s writing skills.

Fallingwater

Fallingwater (photo credit: DJB)

At the end, Howard’s conclusion gets it right.

“Rather against his will, Johnson evolved into one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important public admirers.  As a man who worshiped the zeitgeist, he found that his old nemesis’s ideas retained remarkable vibrancy.  As he came to recognize the importance and the value of their odd alliance, he also grasped that Wright’s work transcended style and even time.  Though it rendered his work inimitable, Wright’s genius was, quite simply, of a greater magnitude than Johnson’s.”

“Today, more than half a century after his death, Wright remains America’s best-known and most admired architect.  By the time Johnson died, barely a decade ago, he had become what he himself disparagingly called, ‘the famous architect.’ With his death, his fame began to recede; inversely, Wright’s clearly grows.  Yet their connection, in death as in life, enriches our understanding of both grand men of American architecture.”

Once you read this book, you’ll be ready for another field trip to New Canaan, or Bear’s Run, or Spring Green, or New York City to see the works of these two men.  And that’s reason enough to pick this one up.

More to come…

DJB

This Explains Everything

I suspect most of us have struggled to understand all that is happening in our country at this time.  Pundits, politicians, and plain folk have all put forward explanations for the craziness afoot in our land.  Nothing that I read connected all the dots.

Then I saw that the Washington Post published Trump Goes Back to His Professional Wrestling DaysAnd suddenly, it all made sense.

Writer David Von Drehle says that too little attention has been paid to Trump’s wrestling background from when he was active in the golden age of “rassling” back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Trump was among the first self-promoters to hitch a ride on impresario Vince McMahon’s WWE juggernaut. He sponsored two of McMahon’s early WrestleMania extravaganzas back in the Golden Age, steering them to the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall and promoting them through his Trump casinos…But the peak of Trump’s career came in 2007, when he was written into the script of WrestleMania 23 as one-half of the Battle of the Billionaires, facing off against McMahon. Before a crowd of 80,000 at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a million more watching on pay-per-view, Trump played his role to the hilt, clotheslining McMahon and pretending to pummel him on the floor before shaving the promoter’s head as the fruit of victory. The drama culminated with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin administering a Stunner punch to the future commander in chief.”

 So how does this explain everything?  Von Drehle continues:

“This might be a mere footnote to Trump’s story — a celebrity-age version of young Abraham Lincoln’s match against an Illinois roughneck — except for this: The Trump presidency is right out of a WWE script. His brawling news conferences, his beefs with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mika Brzezinski, the who’s-up-who’s-down chaos inside his White House, all bear the imprint of a man schooled on the melodramatic storylines of pro wrestling.”

Tojo Yamamoto

Tojo Yamamoto (credit: Wikipedia)

As someone who grew up watching Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and other professional ‘rassling heels and stars on local television with my grandfather and cousins long before there was a WWE, this strikes me as the perfect frame for what we’re seeing.

“You might say all politicians tell stories of conflict. But with Trump, it’s relentless. He takes us from bout to bout — Trump against China, Trump against Comey, Trump against Kim, Trump against Fake News — with a head-spinning undercard of Jared against Bannon and Spicy Spicer against The Mooch. Every policy choice, every personnel decision, every setback can be fodder for the next day’s script. ”

“At this point, many Americans would like to change the channel. And indeed, pro-wrestling ratings have been dropping for years. But as long as Trump’s core audience laps it up, there will be more — culminating, perhaps, as Bob “the G-Man” Mueller delivers a Tilt-a-Whirl Headscissors Takedown followed by a Rude Awakening.”

This. Explains. Everything.

As a sidenote, Wikipedia has a great story about Tojo Yamamoto, who took his name from two World War II enemies and played up the evil foreigner to the hilt, especially throughout the South.  I have to repeat the story here, simply because it is so perfect:

“Wrestling in Boaz, Alabama, Yamamoto gave one of the great performances in pro wrestling. Before the start of the matches, he asked to give a statement to the crowd, which booed and hissed and threw things. In broken English he said, “I wish make aporogy. Very sorry my country bomb Pear-uh Harbor.” And the crowd quiets, as he wipes away tears, and they awwww in sympathy. “It wrong thing to do, I wish not happen.” They begin to applaud. “Yes, I wish not happen, because instead I wish they BOMB BOAZ!!!” Needless to say, the arena erupted.”

More to come…

DJB

 

Emotions Flow Through Places – Thoughts After Charlottesville

Last week I referenced Dr. Mindy Fullilove’s book Root Shock with a story that spoke to how emotions flow through places.  I wrote before the events in Charlottesville—and the reactions to that weekend—brought place, memory, and emotion to the forefront of our national conversation.

Stephanie Meek’s statement on Confederate memorials and the confronting of difficult history speaks to how emotions that arise from place are not always built upon strong, positive memoriesOf course, Dr. Fullilove understands this all too well.  Root Shock is focused on the difficult history of urban renewal, something seen in Charlottesville’s destruction of the African-American community of Vinegar Hill in the 1960s.  At the Trust, as Stephanie notes, “we believe that historic preservation requires taking our history seriously. We have an obligation to confront the complex and difficult chapters of our past, and to recognize the many ways that our understanding, and characterization, of our shared American story continues to shape our present and future.”  That is especially true of our Civil War history, and the fact that many of these statues and symbols were erected well after the war “to vindicate the Confederacy at the bar of history, erase the central issues of slavery and emancipation from our understanding of the war, and reaffirm a system of state-sanctioned white supremacy.”  I am a Southerner with a grandmother who was a lifelong member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  When I see symbols used to support hatred and divisiveness, the confrontation of the difficult chapters of our past is personal as well as professional.

Two notes I received following last week’s post referenced, in different ways, how our emotions are inextricably tied to place.

The first one shows how difficult it can be for preservationists to support the removal or destruction of places from our past. Yet, there are many among us who have reluctantly reached that conclusion when it comes to Confederate memorials in their specific cities.  A friend and professional colleague who has spent her life working on the preservation of cultural landscapes also happens to sit on the City of Charlottesville’s Historic Resources Committee (HRC).  She has long supported contextualization of the city’s downtown parks and the statues.  But she wrote late last week saying that while she still believes that the city “could have led the way with the addition of powerful design and new interpretation,” her thinking has evolved with the charged emotions of the issue. She shared that evolution with me as well as with the members of the HRC.  In explaining her thinking, she noted that “the political situation locally, statewide, and nationally post-August 12 would make it difficult for any local political leaders to be effective and continue to support such a nuanced position or for our city to begin to return to any semblance of normal governance.”  She adds that this is a difficult decision professionally, but that she does not see “another way forward for Charlottesville at this time.”  She ended her thoughts to the HRC by noting “I hope that Charlottesville will continue to address this issue legally and with appropriate strategies for relocation of resources that have local, state, and national designations that come with various degrees of responsibility for continued conservation and mitigations.”  This is very much in line with Stephanie’s statement that these decisions should be made “on a case by case basis at the community level.”  These are conversations where we as preservationists are engaged, and removal of these symbols should not stop the necessary conversations about how the “understanding and characterization of our shared American story continues to shape our present and future.”

In the second instance, a friend of mine (and fellow blogger) responded to last week’s post with a note that I believe speaks to why much of what we save from our past has such meaningful and moving impacts on our lives today. As a priest, she focused on the preservation of sacred space, which I found insightful and applicable in ways beyond her reference. I want to share her note with you.

In response to Mindy Fullilove’s words, my friend wrote:

“This is one reason that I think it is important to set apart dedicated sacred space. When I was in New Jersey, a megachurch start-up rented the ballroom of our neighboring hotel each Sunday. They grew like wildfire. I would look across the street from my office in a colonial-era church, where maintenance costs were eating us alive, and sometimes I would be green with envy. And yet, our buildings let us do things they never could: let us feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, advocate for the immigrants to came to us for legal help. And one thing I knew: the air in those ballrooms would never be thick with prayer. At the end of Sunday morning, their folks would pack up and go, to be replaced by wedding parties and conventions and business meetings. But in our building, the walls held the prayers of all who had wept or rejoiced or begged in that place for hundreds of years. The difference was palpable.”

Sacred places

Sacred places (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Sacred places have long been landmarks which evoke emotions and generally point us towards our better natures.  They may be places protected with the help of the National Trust’s National Fund for Sacred Places or sites such as Mount Taylor, sacred to as many as 30 Native American tribes and which the Trust has fought to protect through our National Treasure campaign.

Two different ways of seeing the importance of place and the ties places make to our emotions. Both made me think, and I hope you’ll find in one or both something of value.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB