Sunday, November 24, 2013

Long live Ukraine

Ukrainians in Kyiv commemorate Holodomor and protest moves away from EU.
The beautiful faces of Ukraine. (yahoo news, AP, Maria Danilova, 23 November 2013).
I'm trying to remain neutral on the issue of Ukraine joining the European Union or the Russian economic alliance.  It's a difficult decision for the country, made harder by the possibilities of higher oil and gas prices and prohibitive taxes on imports and exports.  This would be an awful hardship, a terrible blow.  The uncertainties are  great.

I'm not surprised at all that Ukrainians are divided, with pro EU sentiment strongest in western Ukraine, weakest in the east, strong in large cities like Kyiv, the capital, unsure in more rural areas suffering from high taxes, few services, and high unemployment, not to mention few expectations and dashed hopes.

Yahoo image. Joint Ukraine/EU flag.
According to a recent poll, 45% of Ukrainians want to join the EU, 14% prefer an alliance with Moscow, and the rest, 41%, don't know or are undecided.

That's a large percentage of undecideds, 41%.  I think it reflects the doubts and pessimism of people struggling to survive, many of whom live in the places I worked and grew to love.  They really are not sure which way to go.

Nor am I surprised, on the other hand, that many people are protesting the Parliament's decision to hold off on joining the EU in favor of Moscow.  I've seen how hard people are working to bring change from the bottom up. I've seen small nonprofits work mightily to make life better, more just, more secure, to make their government more transparent, more accessible, less corrupt.  Some folks are plain tired of the old ways.  

Vitaly Klitschko, opposition leader, in Kyiv.
Thousands of them showed up in central Kyiv to protest their president's alliance with Putin and commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, the devastating famine engineered by Stalin in 1932-1933 to force farmers to join collective farms.  A few people, some old soldiers and babushkas, are still around to remember.  Up to 10  million people starved to death.  Seeds, farm implements, even grinding wheels were confiscated, thousands of peasants killed outright, their families left to die by hunger.  The Holodomor memorial in Kyiv was one of the most moving visits I made while in Ukraine.  Only recently has this enforced famine been acknowledged and some of the files opened to public view.

Free Yulia Tymoshenko sign, President Yanukovitch's arch rival who's been imprisoned.
The EU, and human rights groups, have urged her release.
These same protestors, young and old, also expressed their hopes for Ukraine to join the European Union, to try new alliances, new economic opportunities, new pathways to jobs and security.  They've given up on the status quo. Among them are opposition leaders like Vitaly Klitschko, a well-known boxer and outspoken reformer.  I have a feeling that some of my friends from Starobelsk, from Chernigov and Lugansk and Khargiv and Donestk, are there as well.  It's a big step.  A bold and daring step.  A leap into the unknown.

Who knows where Ukraine will go?  I only wish for the happiness and well being of the people who make up the country, who are strong, generous and kind, who work for human rights, who want to participate in their government, who are working for change, to make life better for all.  Viva Ukraine. 

For more on the Holodomor see:;_ylt=A2KLOzHdZpFSBDIAMMDQtDMD

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the day Kennedy was shot: Stunned beyond belief

Public domain image
I was going up the stairs into the Student Union at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on November 22, 1963, sometime after 1:00, when a friend, a fellow graduate student, ran out yelling, "Kennedy's been shot, Kennedy's been shot."  I tried to ask him something, but he kept running, frantic, arms flailing, god knows where. I walked into the building and was met by total silence. Oddly quiet. Then I saw that everyone was in front of a small black and white television set.  They sat or stood without moving, frozen like statues, made of stone. Only the colors of a parka or jacket here and there dotted a  gray canvas. I stood in the doorway of the room, shocked.  Students and professors cried. I couldn't believe what I had heard, what I was seeing. No one said a word, everybody turned inward with shock, grief.  I turned to walk back to my apartment. I have no idea how I got there.

My mind would not allow the worst to sink in. He was shot, but maybe he'll survive it.  But by the time I got home, the sad, the unthinkable news was blazoned across the country, the newscasters in as much shock as their millions of viewers. President Kennedy was dead.  Six hours later,  his body lay in a casket on Air Force One, and Lyndon Johnson became president.  "Today I ask for your help, and God's," Johnson said.  That's when the news really sank in, and the tears came.   

We were glued to the TV set for days, barely taking a break to eat or drink.  The shocks just kept coming. We saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, right in front of our eyes.  Did we really see what we just saw?  What could it mean? Who are these guys?

To this day, most of us who lived then have a hard time sorting out our feelings and all the theories about the assassination.  A single shooter, like the Warren Commission found, a crazy loser with a rifle? A CIA conspiracy?  A Mafia hit?  Hatred of the US,  by Cuba or Russia, or both?   It's continued like this for 50 years.  We may never  understand it or know the truth, but most of us would agree that it changed the trajectory of history.  It has also inspired almost as many studies, reports and books as the Civil War.  The search for answers continues.

President Obama said of Kennedy: "He captured the idealism of America."  Certainly Kennedy's youth and good looks, his vitality and intelligence, his smile and charisma, won us over, made it harder to digest his murder, to think his voice could be silenced, in a flash, in that awful way.  And why? For what reasons? What motive?

Kennedy's words lingered, linger still. His talk about a Peace Corps. His inaugural address. His speeches about civil rights.  Beautiful, graceful words. Literate, flowing, thoughtful, memorable.  Delivered with passion and compassion.  His words made such an impact on our spirit, on our dreams.

At a 50th anniversary memorial today in Dallas, historian David McCullough said it best: "Kennedy knew words mattered, and his words changed our lives, changed history."  With a salute to Ted Sorenson and all of Kennedy's speech writers, I would agree with that.  That may be, indeed, one of JFK's greatest legacies.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tirana, Albania: Painting a Town

Tirana, Albania, refreshed with paint. yahoo images.
Meet Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania.  He changed his country's capital city of Tirana with paint.  He had the town painted red, literally, and orange, blue, purple, and yellow.  Maybe this could be a model for our own area!

Rama was interviewed recently on CNN to tell the story. He was Mayor of Tirana at the time and wanted to transform those gray, dilapidated, outdated Soviet buildings into brighter, safer places to live, to beautify the town, "to give people a sense or order, and hope."  (CNN story November 10, 2013).   His enthusiasm was contagious, and the people of Tirana started to participate. A new spirit was born. A new civic spirit. This is saying a lot in the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe.

"Beauty is more intimidating than brutality," Rama said. He also had thousands of illegal buildings, "eyesores on the landscape," demolished. 

What a guy! Tall, handsome, an artist himself, a former basketball player, a painter and a politician, a Renaissance man. He believed that painting his town in every color of the artist's palette would bring changes in attitudes, in citizen participation, in hope for the future.  It was a start.

I can imagine this same approach in every city I ever visited in Ukraine, or anywhere else with an over-abundance of gray, dingy, depressing buildings. Heck, we have some buildings right here that would benefit from a new coat of paint.

In fact, this whole idea takes me back to when I was a young girl of nine or ten, wishing I could paint every gloomy house I saw with a bright color.  I would stop and look at the neglected houses as I walked to and from school.   I dreamt about it. I'd pick a house and pick a color, and it would linger in my mind. From sad to happy, from dumpy to pretty.  I had such a strong sense, somehow, that aesthetics mattered.

It certainly mattered to Tirana.  The paint jobs have beautified the landscape, cheered them up, like Lady Bird Johnson's daffodils on the hillsides of Rock Creek Parkway in Washington.   My dark images of Albania, the mysterious country behind the "iron curtain," have turned around.  

Sure lots more needs to be done in terms of long-term change, Rama said, especially in infrastructure, jobs, and economic opportunity.  Some of my Peace Corps friends would ask me if the dark, dank entryways to apartments are lit, if the lights work, the water is hot, and the elevators go up and down and stop at every floor.  I understand. I lived on the 9th floor of a gray Soviet apartment building in Chernigov, where the elevator was out most of the time.  How can I forget going up and down nine flights of stairs several times a day.

I think Kama understands the realiities, too. He's working on them. But change has to start somewhere.  Why not with a paint job!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Hot Topics" at Lourdes Lifelong Leaning: The Supreme Court and Race

Loryn Clauson talks about the Constitution, the Supreme Court
 and Race at Lourdes Lifelong Learning Program. The tile (upper right)
leading to Franciscan Center honors "E Pluribus Unum."
The popular "Hot Topics" luncheon series at Lourdes University's Lifelong Learning program last week featured "The U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court and Race." 

Loryn Clauson, who studies Constitutional Law, was the speaker.  She did a great job of presenting the key cases and making a complex subject understandable.  She began by reminding us that two current cases before the High Court demonstrate the ongoing relevance of this long legal tradition.  Schuette (Michigan's Attorney General) v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, for example, is considering the constitutionality of a voter ban against affirmative action, and Shelby County v. Holder considered the constitutionality of parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Loryn took us through the history of Supreme Court cases dealing with race, including:
* Dred Scott, 1857, which said Slaves were not citizens and had no right to vote
* The 14TH amendment case that reversed Dred Scott and ruled Blacks were citizens.
* Plessy v. Ferguson, which sanctioned "Separate but Equal."
* Brown v. the Topeka (Kansas) Board of Education, which reversed Plessy and ruled that "separate was not equal."
* Allan Bakke vs. the Regents of the University of California, 1978,  a ruling on Affirmative Action and "reverse discrimination."

The social milieu of the times and the make up of the Court certainly have a lot to do with how the laws are interpreted.  A Roger Taney court, just before the Civil War, dominated by Southerners, interpreted the U.S. Constitution one way; the Warren Burger court, to which Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, was appointed, another; and the modern Court still another.  The Supreme Court, in other words, can both reflect the times and also help shape them. 

Rule of Law is a fundamental concept in our democracy, and it has served to anchor our society and provide stability. Not without controversy, of course, but with general public regard for the law and the "balance of power."  America is a "work in progress," and interpretations of the laws, debates about whether or not they are Constitutional, and our ever-changing climate of public opinion on any given issue overtime, reflect this.  The founding fathers, Loryn said, were aware of this, and created the third branch of government, the Judiciary, as a countervailing balance of powers with the Executive and Legislative branches.  They were also wise enough to leave the U.S. Constitution vague in some ways that were open to interpretation.

The Supreme Court, it seems, as staunchy as it might appear, will always be a "hot topic."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Brother Loren: Courage and Hope

Loren's autobiography, front and back covers, designed by his niece Elissa,
my daughter, which came out in August 2010, three months after he died.
 The photo on back cover is our mom reading to Loren. Loren's book
has helped hundreds of readers understand Asperger's Syndrome.

I was pleased to learn that there is growing awareness and lots of services in the Toledo area for people of all ages with Asperger's Syndrome and autism.  This wasn't so when my brother Loren was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.  How different it would have been if he had had early diagnosis and intervention in his life.  Instead, he coped on his own until he found his own way.  I write this blog in memory of my brother, and for all the Aspies out there who should never give up.

It's my brother Loren's birthday.  It's been three years since he took his last hike on the Aucilla River with the Florida Trail Association.  He would have been 66 years old today.  The good die young.

I lost my soulmate, the person who taught me about facing obstacles with courage and hope.  Loren faced his challenges head on, searching ceaselessly for meaning and purpose in his life.  He accepted his Asperger diagnosis, at age 55, with relief, relief that there was a name for the social challenges he had faced since birth.  Loren was an Aspie with purpose.

He taught me how to see life from a different angle. When I tried to go where he went, to see what he saw, to think as he thought, I was in a new and glorious realm of being.  Loren took me to places I had never been before, to new ways of seeing the world, the transcendent, eternity.

I was the historian but he was the genius who held a myriad of knowledge in his head, and shared it openly, freely; some said too openly and too freely.  Sometimes Loren would get so enthusiastic it was hard to stop him.  He didn't catch those subtle verbal cues and unspoken hints.  It was hard for him, and people got impatient, dismissed him, left him on the margins.  He knew it. He fought it.   
But what knowledge he had, about every subject imaginable! What an awesome cosmic perspective! How generous and compassionate his outreach and his volunteerism.   Sure he often went over the top. But he came to recognize it, to deal with it, to gain in those common social skills that most ordinary mortals learn early on.

But he wouldn't have been Loren if he had been ordinary.  Loren was extraordinary.  He was passionate about life. And the kindest person I ever met.

It's what I loved about him.  It's what I can never replace, what I miss.  How I wish I could believe he's in a better place. "There are no ends in nature, only beginnings," he would say.  My friend Doris believes it.  She said, when I visited her in California a month ago, "I feel his ongoing sprit from another dimension.  He's cheering you on, Fran, as you continue your life's work." 

Loren's memorial bench, in northern Florida.
Some Asperger services in Toledo area: 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembering Peace Corps Service on Veterans Day

Service to country.  It's what the Peace Corps is all about.  It's a commitment to representing America abroad, building grassroots friendships and cross-cultural understanding. So on this Veteran's Day 2013, I hope Americans will recognize Peace Corps along with our brave soldiers, veterans, and all those who have served and still serve abroad.
English Club, Starobelsk Public Library, 2009-11.
"We are the World!"
My Ukrainian friend Olga emailed me that she walked to the Starobelsk Public Library the other day and went into the grand reading room where we had held our English Club.  It is now the "Computer Room,' she said, thanks to the dedicated work we did to make it happen, including three grants to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  

The Foundation had a project, the Bibliomist project, whose goal was to computerize libraries in Ukraine.  This certainly addressed a real need in Starobelsk.  We jumped  on it.  After going through many hoops and many tries, "the little library that could" in far-eastern Ukraine got ten computers, wifi, and free ublic access to incredible online resources and services.   

So Olga watched the people at the computers and talked with the librarians.  It was nice news.
Добрый день, дорогая Френ! Я заходила в библиотеку. В большом зале стоят компьютеры. Зал полон людей- студентов и школьников за компьютерами. Все сотрудники передают вам огромный привет. Только при упоминании о вашем имени все улыбались. Вы сделали большое дело. Оставили яркий и незабываемый след  Спасибо вам за ваш труд. Здоровья вам и удачи! Мы вас любим!

 Loosely translated Olga said: Good day, dear Fran! I came to the library and went into the great hall with the computers. The room was full of people, students and school children at the computers. All employees send you a huge hello. Just the mention of your name brought smiles to all!  You left an indelible mark. We all thank you for your hard work. We wish you health and good luck. We love you!

It’s the best news a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) can get, to know that their work with their community made a difference, created friendships, and opened up a window of hope.   Over 200,000 American citizens who  have volunteered with the Peace Corps in over 200 countries around the globe can say the same thing. 

Today, America needs to remember the 8,073 volunteers who are now serving in 76 countries.   They are grassroots ambassadors empowering local people to take charge of their futures.  They lay the foundations for peace from the bottom up. 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Modern Japanese Prints and Old Friends Meet at the Toledo Museum of Art

TMA's Monroe Street entrance features the gate sculpted by Louise Nevelson.
Entrance to Modern Japanese Prints above it,
contemporary paintings and sculptures around it.

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is not only full of beautiful art of every medium, variety, and era, it is also a great meeting place.  I went with my friend Teddy to see the modern Japanese woodblock exhibit "Fresh Impressions," which was lovely, and it turned into "old home week."  We bumped into several friends, including three friends who had also lived in the Old West End (OWE) in the 1970s and 80s. We had raised our children in the Victorian neighborhood and, now grown, they are friends to this day; many of them share an OWE facebook page, chatting frequently from all around the world.  It's a special bond.  We parents have it, too.

Since coming back to Toledo in 2011, I am gradually connecting with dear friends I haven't seen since I left in 1985. What better place to meet than at the TMA,  surrounded by beauty, soft jazz playing in the gift shop, great food and camaraderie in the café. We had once shared so many things, including a love of art and music, the varied architecture of our neighborhood and the distinctive personalities of our neighbors, the goal of preservation and restoration, the talent and creativity that abounded, ideas about gardening and plants, and some progressive politics. 

Here we are, I thought, almost thirty years later, older, wiser perhaps, lots of different experiences under our belts. So much to talk about, so much catching up to do.  

We chatted about the exhibit, about the art, craft and techniques of woodblock prints, the subjects and bold colors of the modern prints, as well as the artifacts on display around them. We all enjoyed the prints of women in various dress and attitude, the kabuki actors, and the scenes of Mount Fuji, cherry trees and other familiar landscapes.

The prints taken together compose what's called the Shin Hanga movement, which revived the well-known Edo printmaking tradition (1615-1862), but with a modern perspective.  Shin hanga prints, created mostly between 1919 and the 1940s, appealed as much to new markets in Europe and America as to Japanese collectors, the exhibit brochure tells us.

The amazing thing is that the ten artists featured in this show were first exhibited at the TMA in 1930.  Imagine!  An exhibit called "Modern Japanese Prints" in 1930!  These same artists, the brochure notes, "continue to be the most revered artists of the shin hanga movement."

How extraordinary, given those decades of world-wide change, depression, and chaos--the volatile mixture that accompanied the rise of a vicious nationalism and finally erupted into another world war. I think it's a wonder the shin hanga movement existed at all, and especially through World War II and its devastating aftermath.  

Art soars above bleak landscapes and human violence, I thought.  The Shin hanga movement exemplifies this, as well as art's power to draw in like-minded spirits and to bring together friends. We friends didn't have a lot more time to talk, but we agreed we'd get together again soon and take up where we left off, maybe back at the Toledo Museum of Art in the Old West End, our common ground.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Exposing the Culture of Secrecy

A culture of secrecy has taken over America. 

I think Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Ed Snowden will go down in history as speaking truth to power, as pioneers in exposing government cyper-surveillance excesses and lack of transparency, and in seeking to protect our first amendment right to free speech.  The whistle-blowers, in the tradition of Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers, are blasting the culture of secrecy that enables the expansion and abuse of power.

It's not pretty. It's messy. It's not the best way to do it.  But is there another way to expose  the breadth and depth of these excesses?  I really would like some answers to this question.  How?  How, when we see the ways in which the US government has reacted to exposure, how defensive its responses, how overzealous its efforts to charge espionage, viciously pursue, capture, and imprison leakers like Snowden. 

I don't necessarily like these guys or the way they go about their work, but I dislike the secrets, lies, and over-the-top spying even more. There have to be boundaries. 

The Obama administration has dusted off the old Espionage Act of 1917, enacted during World War I and noted for its questionable constitutionality, and used it to go after the leakers.  This nasty undemocratic act enabled jailing anyone with a German surname, imprisoning reformers like Eugene V.Debs, deporting Emma Goldman, interring Japanese Americans, and charging Daniel Ellsberg with fraud for releasing the Pentagon Papers.

This act, amended a few times, is now embedded and enshrouded in all of the anti-terrorism legislation passed since 9/11.  The Secret State has burgeoned. 

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1990s denounced the "culture of secrecy" made possible by the 1917 Act, noting the tendency of bureaucracies "to enlarge their powers by increasing the scope of what is held secret." (Wikipedia article on the Espionage Act).

"Increasing the scope of what is held secret."  This is the heart of the matter.  Why kill the messengers? Who else will speak truth to power?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween Tales

"He's a lion not a tiger, Nana."  That's Josh, with the Uncle Sam hat.
 Oops, here's the revised tale! 

It was Halloween night, Sylvania 2013, and the little lion--tail wagging, ears perky, whiskers alert--walked through the woods to grandma's house.  Along the winding path he met a . . . .Santa Claus? 

Wait, where's the big bad wolf?  "No big bad wolves in this forest, Nana," grandson Kyle grinned.  "Just me and a friendly lion, and that would be my brother Chase.  He's harmless."

"Well, I like that story better," I replied.  "But Santa, you're a little early this year!"

"Yep, I'm getting ready.  This time I'm getting the candy, though!"

"Good idea.  And instead of reindeer, you have a happy lion to go along with you."

"I'd bring Rudolph if I could.  Oh wait, next year that's what I'll be!"

"Great idea," I yelled after him, as their mom took Santa and the courageous lion into the dark night with other goblins. The light from smiling or frowning or fierce pumpkins lit the way.

The ghosts howled and laughed. 

What memories these times create!

I remember the time we were in Rochester for my Dad's funeral. No costumes? No problem! My kids and my sister's kids dressed up in my mom's clothes and shoes, adding as much jewelry and make-up as they could. What a group!  My brother Loren took them tricks or treating that year.  As sad as we were, we knew my Dad would have wanted it this way.  "Life goes on."

My mom remembered a Halloween when she took my brother tricks or treating. My sister and I, so much older than Loren, went our own ways.  We lived in Rochester, NY.  Loren was a few years younger than my grandson is now, about 8 or 9, dressed as a soldier, helmet on, gun at the ready.  My mom, as creative and clever as ever, dressed up as a flapper.  She remembered it this way:

Armed and Unarmed
byRoseLynn Curro

It is dark, crispy cold
A silence fill the trees.
Soft sounds, faint lights
and smell of burning leaves.
war hoop cries and
bands of ghosts appear.
Howl, howl
Tricks or treats!
They charge, attack and disappear....
Hurry, hurry time to go,
The conquerors' battle won. 
Tired flapper, weary soldier,
the ghosts all had their fun.
Deep the night, frosty cold,
My soldier leaves his gun.
Welcome sleep, contented smile.
I'm his mother, he's my son.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Secrets have Weight

yahoo public domain image
"Secrets have weight." It's a line from a TV show I flashed by on the way to the final world series game that the Red Sox won. That thought has stayed with me, for lots of reasons, personal, political, and cosmic. 

I think of secrets I have kept, usually to no good purpose.  I think of secrets others have had, ranging from silly rumors to blindsiding kinds of secrets, relentless, hateful.  Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies, like in the John Mellencamp song "Dirty Laundry."  I think what goes round, comes round.

On the political front, I think about our NSA cyper surveillance crisis and Obama's role in it. What does he know and how long has he known it?

It's a Catch 22 in any case.  If he knew about it, the unlimited scope of it, approved and condoned it, it's outrageous, possibly illegal.  If he didn't know about it, it's outrageous. 

Secrets have weight.  Either he approved the NSA cyper spying that includes spying on allies and millions of personal phone calls in cahoots with giant communication companies, or he didn't know because NSA is running its own out-of-bounds spy operations, a secret government doing its own thing, without a transparent chain of command, without oversight or accountability.  No doubt America has superior capability in electronic spying.  Some of it might be necessary, although a definition here, some criteria, some legal parameters that were public knowledge, would be helpful, and are warranted. It's the excess that worries.

Secrets have weight.  While we were tapping German president Merkel's private phone, her calls and texts, and those of other close allies, the Ambasador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in Benghazi in a secret terrorists attack on the US Embassy. Three other Embassy workers were also killed.  Where was the "surveillance" on this?  I don't want to jump on any political bandwagon here, but do we know all we need to know?  The juxtaposition is tragic.

On the cosmic front, I think of those more than 350 drone attacks in northwestern Pakistan. Cosmic because it involves the deaths of innocent victims.  I'm wondering about Obama's love of drones and the bombing of little villages like Warikistan, where terrorists are said to hang out.  How many terrorists have we gotten for all these secret attacks? We don't know.  We don't know much if anything about this secret little war. But we are now learning that hundreds of civilians have been killed, and that the attacks are probably creating a whole new cadre of terrorists who hate America and want revenge.   Does this kind of secret war make sense?

Secrets have weight, and these secrets are boding ill for Obama's contemporary role in peace-making and his place in history. They are contravening his goals and his promises. They are weighing him down.  We had hoped for so much more in his second term.    

Glaring Contrasts: Trump Rebuked in George H.W. Bush's Eulogies

photo Huff post. The state funeral of president George H.W. Bush, for a brief moment in time, was orchestrated to restore a sense of...