Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gerald Ford and George W Bush Contrasted

Has anyone else been struck by the contrast between qualities attributed to the late President Gerald Ford and the character of our current President, George W. Bush. President Ford has been praised, properly, for his decency, fundamental honesty, commitment to public service, ability to build bridges across party lines, willingness to negotiate rather than use force. One commentator noted that foreign leaders with whom President Ford worked as President remained his friends for life. They often sought his advice, which he provided off the record and below the public radar screen.

We can be thankful that the current White House occupant is no Richard Nixon. But he seems almost a mirror image of the honest, decent, principled, courageous man whom we honor and mourn today.

Remembering President Ford

I was traveling to Washington frequently during the final, sad months of President Nixon’s administration. I was drawn here by my global modeling work and, then, by a series of interviews that led to my accepting a position at American University. Statements from the Administration were always described as coming from “The White House.” “The White House denies wrongdoing. …The White House refuses to release the tapes… The White House prepares for impeachment hearings… The White House issued a denial that Presdent Nixon has been drinking heavily.” And on and on. I often stayed at the Hotel Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue. I would walk by The White House and look through the fence at this graceful home, experiencing feelings of sadness and depression that made me physically ill.

When Gerald Ford became President, it was if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Once again, I could walk up Pennsylvania Avenue, view the White House and feel proud to be an American.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve at Leeds Church

For us, this will be a different sort of Christmas than for many families, since there will be no ingathering of relatives in Hume and no travel to distant places to visit them. But there was an opportunity to experience this vicariously, last evening, when I attended the 5:00 service at Leeds Church. This was a service for families, including small children, a time when our Leeds Minister Linnea Turner is at her very best. There were also teen agers, university students returning home for the holidays, young-marrieds, grandparents (like me) and great grandparents. Our 150 plus year old church was filled to overflowing with a noisy crowd.

We sang traditional carols and then Linnea invited children up to the altar to decorate our small crèche, a Leeds tradition. Not only the space surrounding the altar-rail, but more than half the aisle to the back of the church were filled with children, along with a few parents escorting the shyest ones. Teen agers in the pews, and some parents and grandparents too, were not doubt recalling similar pre-Christmas services in this same setting.

The scripture readings were the traditional ones (Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 2:1-20), but instead of preaching a Christmas sermon, Linnea drew it forth “out of the mouths of babes” by questioning the children. By time of the preparation of the Eucharist – that story is, of course, more appropriate to Easter than Christmas − the church was still. It remained so as a community of more than 200, men women and many children, knelt at the alter to receive bread and wine or, if they were not taking communion, a blessing.

Following the service, many gathered on the lawn, on this crisp winter night under the stars for a few moments of conversation and community, before going our separate ways. At 11 PM, there would be another service – quieter and more spiritual, but less filled with energy and a multigenerational experience of community.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Glory is Fleeting

Last Wednesday night, Anderson Hall was featured on the Style Network program, “My Celebrity Home.” I didn’t write about it at the time, or provide a preview of this coming attraction, because the habit of disciplined blogging, according to a regular schedule, still eludes me.

Early in he fall, for reasons unknown to me, My Celebrity Home producers decided to do their first show at a university. DC Area University administrators were invited to submit proposals for a makeover. AU’s proposal, as I learned much later, was to have students surprise me by making over the Anderson Hall first floor lounge so that I would have a larger and more elegant venue to serve my bi-weekly gourmet dinners. We won the competition!

The makeover brought 25 style network producers, hosts and production staff to Anderson Hall. I was asked to show up for a ‘command performance’ on a Sunday morning – so I knew something was up. Floodlights were set up in the parking lot outside my apartment; I couldn’t see for what. A large, nondescript panel truck was parked out front – it reminded me of scenes from an old TV favorite, “Mission Impossible.” The Dorm lobby seemed unusually crowded with post-college-age men and women. When I greeted them – as is my practice with strangers – and asked why they were visiting, the responses were vague/

The program ran four times, including an hour of prime time. I didn’t get to watch - it was in the midst of finals and end-of-semester demands – but a colleague kindly made me a DVD and I have watched snatches. Today, there will be a formal viewing at the University Architect’s Office, to which I have been invited. He was the one who made the recording. The makeover also made the front cover of AU’s Alumni Magazine – a memorable picture of students dining in the made over lounge, with an apron clad dormgrandpop in the background, that I will treasure for many years.

On the academic side of AU, the event came and went with scarcely a ripple. “Academic Affairs” administrators, staff and my faculty colleagues. mostly live on a different planet than those who create Style Channel events and those who view them. Before the makeover, I had never even heard of The Style Channel, let alone viewed it. When I met yesterday with my immediate supervisor to discuss recent accomplishments, Center for Teaching Excellence budget requests and upcoming events, “My Celebrity Home” and the Alumni Magazine Feature were not even topics of passing reference.

Don't let the holidays drive you crazy

Last week, my son and daughter-in-law made a decision that impressed me. We had planned together than I would visit them after New Years, but we were having trouble finding a date because of many family commitments. Several houseguests were coming earlier and two of their four children are in the ‘activities’ phase of their lives. Parents whose children have reached college age will remember the days of soccer practice, figure skating practice, evening school events, up a four AM to prepare for and then drive to horse shows (in my family) and much more.

Finally they told me they thought it would be better if I postponed a possible trip until March or April when things might be less hectic. Reasonableness had triumphed over sentiment.

How often, in how many families will the opposite be true this holiday season. When extended families lived in close communities, large family gatherings were an accepted norm and less logistically challenging. Now congested highways and long airport security lines – going and coming – are an almost inevitable downside of large family gatherings. When the big day arrives, at least mom may be too stressed and exhausted to savor it.

I will look forward to time spent with my grandchildren when the time is right. And to a more tranquil Christmas and New Years in the interim.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Traveling by Train to Florida

Airplane travel has become inexpensive and, once one becomes skilled in transiting security, a bearable chore. On the other hand, I have always found long-distance train travel to be an adventure. When I made plans to visit my daughter in Florida, this weekend, I decided to look into traveling by train as an option, and it proved feasible. I was surprised how the prospect of 24 hours on the train, tracing a route last taken as a young man, excited me.

Washington DC Union Station has been transformed from a dreary relic into a commercial wonderland, filled with stores, displays and moderately upscale restaurants. There was time for a relaxing lunch, sitting on a balcony under the vaulted roof of the main waiting before boarding the sleeping car section of “The Silver Crescent” bound for Tampa St. Petersburg and Miami. My ‘roomette” was more spacious than on the older Pullman cars – and more expensive – but I didn’t mind. The space was billed as accommodating two, but I think this only applies to a young couple in the romantic phase of dating or early marriage. After many intense end-of-semester days at AU, I relished the solitude. A tapestry of familiar terrain, unfolding outside my window, brought back memories. Occasionally, I would read email on my Blackberry, make phone calls or complete a deferred task stored on my computer. But mostly, I just sat back, in my room or taking three quite acceptable dining-car meals, absorbing the sights and sounds.

Sleeping car travel is a somewhat costly anachronism. It is for those who relish a unique travel experience, perhaps steeped in memories, not for ‘busy people’ who want to get somewhere fast. But I am glad I took the time, shall do so again, and perhaps share the experience with one of my grandchildren.

Today, it is back to reality. I am writing this seated in the aisle seat of a Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa to Washington Dulles. Travel time in the air, about two hours, plus four hours of security and travel to and from airports.

But the train trip to Tampa will not be my last train trip, God willing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A non partisan political fable

I received this from a friend, not long after election day

>While walking down the street one day, a US senator is tragically hit
by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.
>"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems
>there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts,
so we're not sure what to do with you."
>"No problem, just let me in," says the man.
>"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is
>have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose
>where to spend eternity."
>"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the
>"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."
>And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down,
>down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle
of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in
>front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked
>with him.
>Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him,
>shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had getting
rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne. Also present is the devil, a really friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises.
>The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St.
>Peter is waiting for him. "Now it's time to visit heaven."
>So, the senator joins a group of contented souls moving from cloud to
>cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and before
>he realizes it, 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
>"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now
>choose your eternity."
>The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers, "Well, I would
>never have said it before. I mean, heaven has been delightful, but I
>think I would be better off in hell."
>So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down
>to hell. The doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a
>barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends,
>dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as
>more trash falls from above. The devil comes over to him and puts his
>arm around his shoulder.
>"I don't understand," stammers the senator. "Yesterday I was here and
>there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar,
>drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a
>wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What
>The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were

>Today you voted.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Searching for an ideal

I chose the following quotation for today’s Center for Teaching Excellence Management Group Agenda

We search in life for an ideal −for the highest ideal. Some may say – that is impossible. Human weakness and failure weigh us down and prevent us from achieving high standards. By why should we believe this. Why should we believe more in the weakness of the human mind than we believe in the strength of the human spirit. Why not strive for the highest ideal.
Carrie Tribulec. Gandhi’s Universal Ideal
The Gandhi Message, November 3, 2006

(Carrie Tribulec is Director of the Gandhi Memorial Center, 4748 Western Avenue, Washington, DC,

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Seeking nurturing

Our Siamese cat, Bede, is nearly eighteen years old. He and his brother, Benedict, became members of our family in 1989, shortly after we returned from a year living in Sri Lanka. “Bene” was the more energetic of the two, When we moved to the country, he became our hunter. Bede’s disposition was more placid.

This summer, Bene declined visibly. His hearing and eyesight failed. He found it difficult to jump. He lost his appetite and, eventually, control of his bladder. He and Bede remained close companions, however, as they had been since they emerged from the womb. Often they slept together and seemed to be a single being, rather than two. As fall approached we made the difficult choice to give Bene a death with dignity and buried him in a copse of trees where he had loved to roam and hunt.

We wondered if Bede would survive the loss of his brother. He did After a couple of months – regular readers will know this – we reprieved “Mickey” and “Sherman” from a nearby animal shelter and invited them into our family. At first Bede reacted to the new arrivals with characteristic Siamese aggressiveness. Now he has accepted them, but they have not bonded. Bede sleeps alone.

What Bede now seeks is bonding with my wife and me. Many times a day, he demands attention. Siamese cats do not ‘meow’. Their speaking is a deep throated yowl. This accompanies Bede’s demands, especially if we do not immediately respond. He jumps on our desk or lap and will even step gingerly on our computer keyboards to get attention. He is seeking, even demanding, nurturing.

We have learned to accommodate a cat on our lap in more activities – reading, writing, morning prayers, composing on the computer and after meal conversations. After five or ten minutes of lap time, with periodic hugs, Bede will climb down and pursue other activities that comprise an increasingly bounded life – mostly sitting by the fireplace, sleeping and an occasional trip outside.

When Bede’s demands for nurturing first began, they were a bit of an annoyance. Now they are simply part of our lives. One of us stops what we are doing, accepts his presence on our lap, hugs him closely for a few minutes and feels good about it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Which relationships to nurture?

About an hour ago, I set out to write something on the people with whom I am connected and how I do – or to not – nurture those relationships. In my social scientist way, I made lists, created matrices and tried to draw distinctions The process got to be inordinately complicated and, after an hour, I have given up trying to any complete grasp of the matter.

However past experience came to mind. When one of my important communities was the US Association for the Club of Rome, a friend with whom I felt deeply connected was a woman who empowered poor rural people in developing countries to make films. The purpose of the films was partly self expression and partly to communicate about their lives, in their own terms, to experts and do-gooders – like me. For a time, our connection was intense. Then a common project on which we were working ended and we drifted apart. We lived in different cities and sustaining the relationship, with both of us living busy lives didn’t happen, despite good intentions.

When I stopped by to visit, following a lapse of a year or so, she was in the near final stages of terminal; cancer. I made one more visit and, until she died, I wrote to her every week. My realization was that, all too often, we only realize the value of close friends with whom we have a special connection, when they are in crisis.

After her death, I sat down and made a list of close friends, in the same category to whom I wished to stay connected. For about two years I wrote to them monthly. Then my resolved slackened. The letters did have one benefit, however. They became the genesis for the “dear folks” letters that my friend Donella Meadows wrote for many years and that are archived at

My professional life includes multiple roles at American university and in three different international networks. The work related to this roles remains intense, demanding, fulfilling and fun, though I do wonder if I am giving my best to all of my many obligations.

I also know that I have close friends whose time would command my attention if they are dying of cancer. Why does it take a crisis to bring home to me the value of those relationships?

That is the question my reflections on nurturing relationships have lead me to, this morning.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The expanding appreciation of truth

The following is from 'Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends' (1950, p. v.), which I was reading earlier, this morning.

Truth is unchanging and eternal; the revelation and understanding of truth are unfolding processes of growth, extending over the lives of individuals and spanning the long ages in the development of humankind. These basic principles apply to human institutions, both secular and religious. Expressions of truth, whether in words or in deeds, should change in keeping with the growth of revelation and of human understanding…

Frequently, human beings see as “through a glass darkly.” Therefore, it is necessary to strive constantly for a clearer comprehension of divine truth. “A religion based on truth must be progressive. Truth being so much greater than our conception of it, we should ever be making fresh discoveries.”