12 July 2019

Scenes From The Road

Last weekend, we undertook a five day, 1500 mile road trip, to drop the kid off at a summer program in Nova Scotia. Yes, it was arguably insane. On the other hand, it was delightful.

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Somewhere on I-495, a woman was reading a book on the back of a motorcycle.
This may have made my day.



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Because there is currently no ferry from Maine to Yarmouth, we had to drive to Saint John and take the ferry from there to Digby. It was completely socked in on the way to Nova Scotia.



And brilliantly clear on the return.



I love ferries.

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The western end of Nova Scotia - between Yarmouth and Digby - is lovely, lightly populated, and seems to have had a Radio Shack once upon a time.



And NO, I did not flip the photo.

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On the way home, we sailed through the border crossing at Calais and stopped at the first rest stop in Maine, an Irving. We pulled into a spot next to a parked SUV with New Jersey plates. As I was getting out, I spotted a large parrot, sitting on a cage in the passenger seat of the SUV. Then, I noticed that there was a woman in the driver’s seat, with a smaller parrot perched smack dab on top of her head. She was reading something on her phone, and never looked up, or I might have tried to chat with her. I went off to do my business, and when I came back, she was still there.

But what I really want to know is, does she drive with the parrot on her head‽

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The car has a GPS system, and I have Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Waze on my phone - so we weren't suffering from lack of direction. But here's the thing: a paper map is really nice. It gives you a far better sense of where you've been and how far you have to go - namely, in this case, nearly all the way across the widest part of Maine. Happily, Maine was handing out free maps at a rest area/info stop.



The map folded into six panels, so I could announce "we're two and a half panels across the state!" or "just one panel to go!". It amused me, at any rate, and kept me from being ridiculously bored.

02 July 2019

Winners Take All

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldIn May 2019, there was an op-ed in the New York Times by Anand Giridharadas – in which he talked about tainted money and the “growing awareness that gifts to the arts and other good causes are not only a way for ultra-wealthy people to scrub their consciences and reputations. Philanthropy can also be central to purchasing the immunity needed to profiteer at the expense of the common welfare. Perhaps accepting tainted money in such cases isn’t just giving people a pass. Perhaps it is enabling misconduct against the public.”

Working, as I do, in the non-profit sphere – I decided I needed to read his book, Winners Take All.

It isn’t just a take down of a certain kind of philanthropy – it’s also a take down of the idea that “world citizens” will change the world through apps and shoes and other feel-good entrepreneurial activities. Because, in point of fact, all of that activity is occurring in an unregulated, unaccountable arena, and it would be better to accomplish problem solving through civic life: “It is the habit of solving problems together, in the public sphere, through the tools of government and in the trenches of civil society. It is solving problems in ways that give the people you are helping a say in the solutions, that offer that say in equal measure to every citizen, that allow some kind of access to your deliberations or at least provide a meaningful feedback mechanism to tell you it isn’t working. It is not reimagining the world at conferences.”

Here’s a concise summation, from page 246:

"If anyone truly believes that the same ski-town conferences and fellowship programs, the same politicians and policies, the same entrepreneurs and social businesses, the same campaign donors, the same thought leaders, the same consulting firms and protocols, the same philanthropists and reformed Goldman Sachs executives, the same win-wins and doing-well-by-doing-good initiatives and private solutions to public problems that had promised grandly, if superficially, to change the world-if anyone thinks that the MarketWorld complex of people and institutions and ideas that failed to prevent this mess even as it harped on making a difference, and whose neglect fueled populism's flames, is also the solution, wake them up by tapping them, gently, with this book. For the inescapable answer to the overwhelming question-Where do we go from here?-is: somewhere other than where we have been going, led bv people other than the people who have been leading us."


We need a society with laws, with rules, with a civilized infrastructure. It’s not enough to address a problem without looking at the large scale root. “Think of the person who runs an impact investing fund aimed at helping the poor, but is unwilling to make the connection, in his own head or out loud, between poverty and the business practices of the financiers on his advisory board.” We’re all in this together. And Giridharadas’s book is worth reading.

14 May 2019

Childhood Dream

When I was five, I used to walk around the house saying I wanted to be a philanthropist. Honestly. I have no idea how I knew that word, or if I knew what it meant, but that's what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I also had a baby doll named Howie Dirks. I named the doll after a friend of my parents' because I liked the way it sounded. Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks, Howie Dirks.

I digress.

This morning, I had the great good fortune to attend the New York Women's Foundation annual Celebrating Women breakfast. I've been hearing about it for years, both because they give awards to badass women, and because the event is at the ungodly hour of 7:30am. So, when someone I know invited me to be her guest, I instantly said yes, even though it meant getting on a train at 5:40am.

This year's awards went to a mix of women you've heard of and women you haven't:

Abigail E. Disney
Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Activist

dream hampton
Filmmaker, Writer, and Organizer

Cyndi Lauper
Co-Founder of True Colors United / Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award-winning Artist

Rhonda Joy McLean
Attorney, Author, and Philanthropist

Sarinya Srisakul
First Asian-American Woman Firefighter of the FDNY / Former President of the United Women Firefighters

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega
President of the Creative Justice Institute / Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute


The whole event was inspiring and empowering; there was a warmth in the room engendered by 2000+ women supporting one another and good causes.

Rhonda Joy McLean, in the department of women I had never heard of, was terrific. In addition to ending her acceptance speech with a song, If I Can Help Somebody, she made my day when she said "you do not have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist!"


Because lord knows I'm not a millionaire, but $25 here and $50 there, and hey, I am a philanthropist - just like I wanted to be when I was five.

10 March 2019

Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax — Of cabbages and kings

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #3)The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny




Because people I know and love love Louise Penny, I was happy to find a copy of one of her books in the library's free pile.

I confess, though, to being sort of not taken in for the first half of the book. Eventually, though, it clicked into place - especially when the intrigue surrounding Inspector Gamache started to emerge. So, it was okay but I'm not really feeling the need to be a completist and read every one of the Gamache books.

That said, I loved this one passage:
'As always. He came over for dinner last night, you know,' said Peter, opening some jam jars. One still had the wax on top and he needed to dig it out with a knife. 'Hardly ate anything.'

It threw me back to my childhood - my grandmother made jam, and sealed the jars with paraffin, as did the formidable Ruth Bogen, who lived across the street. And I can still remember the way you had to dislodge the wax, popping it in a bit so you could pivot it out in one piece. And then, because my mother never threw anything out, you washed the paraffin disk so that you could add it to the collection of odd candle ends and other bits of wax, for making candles anew one day. Who does that anymore?



18 January 2019

The Library Book

If you are a fan of books or libraries or Susan Orlean, you know that she came out with a book recently, called "The Library Book".

It's wonderful. It's shaggy, and erudite, and witty, and it rambles from library theory to arson to book conservation to the history of Los Angeles, with discursions hither and yon. Do not pass go; read it.

I was, however, stopped in my tracks early on, in a passage about the joys of discovering what books are shelved close to one another at the Los Angeles Public Library, based on their Dewey decimal numbers:


Do you see what I see? The numbers she's chosen are not in order:

301.4129781
306.7662
301.45096
301.55


This nagged at me, so I googled Gaydar. Or maybe I googled 306.7662. And I discovered that, in about 2015, the Los Angeles Public Library moved their whole LGBT section from Dewey Decimal 301.4157 to a new call number area at 306.76. Because, it turns out, what seems simple - the Dewey Decimal Catalog - is actually fraught with value judgment decisions about what books should neighbor what other books.

Orlean must have visited the stacks and made her list before the change, and a copy editor must have reviewed the list to check that the books and the numbers matched. And the copy editor found that Gaydar now had a new Dewey Decimal Number and so edited the book copy. But really, Orlean should have found a new book to stick in her list so that the numbers could stay in order. Erik Erikson's Childhood and Society, at 301.43, would have done the trick.

You know, for nitpickers like me.

I digress. The Library Book is a lovely paean to books and libraries and reading, and you should read it. Take it out of your local library.