Wait! What?

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In 1997, Britain turned over Hong Kong to China with an agreement to slowly transition the city to a full fledged member of the Chinese nation. The young people born in that year call themselves the “cursed generation.” When they were kindergartners their end of year activities were cancelled due to an outbreak of SARS. Just before entering high school the Swine flu took hold of their group with a vengeance. What really bothers them most is that they believe in their hearts that the freedoms that the people of Hong Kong once had will fade away and be little more than a memory by the time they reach the age of fifty. Their hope is that somehow they can slow or even halt the march of oppression. Sadly they have already watched many of the rights that they once enjoyed being taken from them. Thus they have attempted to bring attention to their plight with demonstrations that have mesmerized the world.

For those of us who enjoy freedom of speech and life in a democracy it is difficult to imagine that the simple act of protesting without violence might lead to five years in jail or even twenty depending on the level of unrest. We are able to openly speak our peace and make demands, something that we often take for granted. The people of Hong Kong are coming to the realization that they may one day find themselves in “reeducation” camps where attempts will be made to eliminate any views contrary to the philosophy of the Chinese government. It is a frightening future in particular for the young who realize that they will most assuredly find most of their rights gone sooner rather than later.

We have watched their brave attempts to shine a light on the injustices of the  Chinese government, and in many cases people have rallied to encourage them. Once such person was Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. In what should have been an innocent enough show of support for the people of Hong Kong with a post on Twitter Mr. Morey instead created a dustup with the powers that be of the National Basketball Association. It seems that the game of basketball is quite popular in China and Morey’s comments angered the Chinese government which demanded an apology. In a knee-jerk reaction the NBA initially sided with China and expressed displeasure with Morey. The incident has resulted in attempts to save face for everyone involved and to assuage the diverse feelings of a growing number of people and organizations.

Given that the United States of America began with a revolution of people dissatisfied with British rule there is a great deal of irony that the NBA reacted in the manner that they initially chose. I understand that in the final analysis it was all about money and profits and pleasing customers, but this is supposed to be a country where freedom of speech is not just the law, but also an idea that we all celebrate. Of late, however, even our public officials get bent out of shape when they hear something that they don’t like. Some even go so far as to suggest that ideas with which they disagree should be eradicated.

The very idea of censorship of any kind is abhorrent to me. There are some things that I do not wish to see or hear but I would join a protest to insure that they are allowed. If we ever get to the point of suggesting that some need to be “reeducated” then we will have totally lost our way and the intent of our freedoms.

Our President both annoys and embarrasses me on an almost daily basis with the brutal ugliness of his tweets and comments, but I would not want to censor him or anybody else. My tactic is to walk away, turn off those who confound me. We don’t have to agree or even listen to a person that we don’t like, but we must never suggest that they be shut down.

We take too many of our freedoms for granted rather than protecting them as we should. When I see situations like the present state of Hong Kong I am greatly saddened. I do believe that freedom is something that all people desire but a right that far too many never realize. Our ability to speak our minds without impunity is something for which I am more than willing to fight. It is why I won’t ever end a friendship simply because someone disagrees with me. Instead when I hear the voice of opposition I feel a sense of great joy that I live in a country where such is possible.

I did not even know who Daryl Morey was before the ruckus over his innocent tweet. Now I see him as a hero and someone worthy of my admiration. In fact, I feel that way about anyone willing to go out on a limb in support of any of our freedoms as long as they are not harming someone in the process.

I feel great sorrow for the people of Hong Kong who are slowly watching their once grand city become a place of fear and censorship. I not sure that it would make much of a difference, but I wish that more of us would express support for the cause of the brave protestors who face uncertainty each time they take to the streets. I stand in solidarity with them.  I understand the need to always protect the rights that should be inalienable for all people

A Win for Everyone

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A few weeks ago I complained about a plan to erect statues of influential women who helped to build New York City as it is today. My beef was not with the idea of honoring outstanding females but rather with the fact that a vote was held to find potential candidates and Mother Frances Cabrini who received the most nominations and twice as many as the second place candidate was eliminated from consideration by the committee. I argued that Mother Cabrini’s contributions to immigrants not only in that great city but in others throughout the country were immeasurable. In fact she is known as the patron saint of immigrants everywhere in light of her work among the poor who came to New York City from all over the world.

I was not the only one who was upset by this slight even though the committee explained that the voting was only a way of garnering suggestions. I had nothing against the women who were finally chosen, but I felt that it to deny the incredible work and sacrifice of Mother Cabrini was unfair, especially in light of the difficulties that all immigrants to this country have and continue to endure even in the present day. Acknowledging her would have been a way of commemorating all immigrants and the positive impact that they have on our country. It seemed irrefutable to me that by leaving her from the final list a grave mistake had been made.

Ordinary citizens, celebrities and politicians took up the cause to right this wrong but received little leeway from the committee who stood firm on the choices they had made. After much criticism that Mayor Di Blasio called “manufactured,” the governor of New York, who is a descendent of an immigrant Italian family, announced that the state will finance a statue to be placed at some location in New York City to honor Mother Cabrini.

There has been much disagreement of late over the observance of Columbus Day. Many places in the United States have chosen to rename the national holiday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While there are indeed legitimate arguments that Christopher Columbus is not someone who should be heralded as a hero, the truth is that in many Italian communities Columbus Day has become a traditional way of celebrating Italian Americans in this country. Columbus Day parades and activities have become part of the celebratory fabric of cities like New York, Chicago and Boston where many Italian immigrants first lived after their treks across the Atlantic.

Christopher Columbus is honored in most places because of the heroism that it took for him to sail across the waters into an unknown world at a time when many still believed that the earth was flat. We now know that he was actually hoping to get to the far east but the Americas were in the way. He was not even the first European to explore the land either, and a kind of cultish set of beliefs grew up around his reputation that led to school children being taught questionable information about him for decades. Now that we are more informed there are many who just want to throw him in with a pile of deplorables.

I can think of arguments both for and against having a national holiday named for him, but I don’t see a great deal of harm in allowing Italian Americans to have their celebrations centering on him any more than I worry about Hispanic Americans enjoying Cinco de Mayo even though neither has much to do with the United States. Columbus never once set foot on north American soil nor did he interact with the indigenous people who lived here. On the other hand, Mother Cabrini did incredible work at great sacrifice to build hospitals, orphanages and schools. The appropriateness of celebrating her is so obvious to me.

Even though Mother Cabrini was a religious woman her work was never exclusively for those who shared her faith. She gave of her talents to anyone in need. While she worked in the name of God, what she did for immigrants was an equal opportunity gift to our nation, and one for which not just Italians or Catholics benefited, but all citizens of the United States.

It’s sometimes difficult to find perfect heroes. We tend to be quite critical of virtually everyone, finding fault even after someone changes. We are prone to tear down reputations and statues more than other countries do. When we have a chance to honor someone as wonderful as Mother Cabrini we need to jump at the chance.

I applaud Governor Cuomo and the people of New York who took a proactive stance and decided to do something other than merely complain. I love New York and can’t wait to visit one day so that I might see how the people ultimately decide to honor Mother Cabrini. She is a role model for all women and for all citizens of the United States. In fact our country would do well to have more like her in the craziness of today’s climate. This is a win for everyone.   

We Can Do It!

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It’s true that the city of Houston floods, and that flooding affects large numbers of people whenever it happens. What is not necessarily true is that the floods that we see are something new in the grand scheme of Houston city life. As a matter of fact there are recorded incidents of inundated streets from time to time dating back over one hundred years. Both my mother and my mother-in-law spoke of witnessing Mother Nature’s soggy fury in their childhoods. The city’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico which is only about fifty miles away makes it vulnerable to violent storms that dump indescribable amounts of rain in a short period of time. Add to that the countless bodies of water that dot the landscape and a recipe for periodic trouble emerges. 

Before World War II Houston was a rather small town. Neighborhoods ringed the city center which has the highest elevation in the area. People studied the behavior of the bayous and the patterns of storms and built homes accordingly. To this day it is extremely rare for the houses near where my mother and mother-in-law grew up to flood. There was a certain care taken in choosing a site on which to build a homestead but the war created a demand for oil and Houston became a boom town with its location near production sites and its port to deliver the products.

The growth of Houston necessitated new neighborhoods and the new suburbs were sometimes built rather hastily with little regard or knowledge of flooding patterns. Nonetheless there was still so much open land that drainage was often accomplished by vast open fields. In the meantime the population continued to expand so that more and more of the raw land was being developed into roads, businesses and houses. The prosperity continued without any sign of slowing all the way into the nineteen eighties and with it came construction in areas that previously might have been considered unsuited for safe habitation. The old timers had always had a sense of where the water might flow in a big storm, but the push for expansion negated all of their concerns. 

All of the places where I lived as a child in Houston often became islands when big storms came but literally they have never once taken on water inside. Not Allison nor Harvey nor our most recent Imelda have encroached on them. My husband’s experience has been the same. Many of the places around town that flood regularly were built from the nineteen sixties to the present. They were erected on land too close to bayous and river ways which made them attractive in dry spells but posed danger when the rains came. The demand for housing created more and more risk taking thus increasing the likelihood of damage and loss when the inevitable storms come our way.

My husband lived within walking distance of Interstate 45 and remembers when it was being constructed. He used to watch the construction crews create the roads and the overpasses. In the evening when they went home he rode his bicycle on the unopened highway. He pointed out that the massive system was actually designed to serve as a place for water to go when it rained so that the side streets in the neighborhoods would be spared. Whenever he sees images of a flooded freeway near his home he notes that the construction is working as it was supposed to do. His old house is always high and dry and the addition of that massive expanse of concrete has actually protected it from harm.   

It has only been recently that there have been serious discussions about how to deal with the big storms that are certain to rage over Houston and flood the streets just as they always have. The question becomes how we might manage to provide housing that will withstand the effects of the weather. It is apparent that some areas will need to be turned into parks or wildlife refuges and construction will need to take storms into account. Hunkering down in safe conditions until the rains end is not all that inconvenient, but having to repair thousands of homes that fill with water is unnecessary and untenable.

Stricter rules about where and how construction takes place have to be considered. Advanced drainage systems should be installed. More land needs to be left open. Bayous should be deepened and widened. The city should invest in studies and partnerships with engineers in places like the Netherlands where once historic flooding has been virtually eliminated with modern technologies. There are things that can be done with a bit of imagination and sacrifice if only we have the will.

Houston proves again and again that it is a magnificent city because of its people. When disaster strikes ordinary folks come to the rescue without regard to race or socioeconomic status. Nobody riots or loots or burns places down. Instead they rise to the occasion again and again. Perhaps the time has come to think of improvements that might prevent some of the destruction. It won’t be easy and it will cost a great deal but the investment will make Houston stronger in every conceivable way. Our ancestors understood the dangers from the periodic flooding. They built for safety and long lasting value. With all of the modern technology that we have we should be able to do things even better than they did to transform this glorious and worthy city into a model of human ingenuity.

A Sense of Happiness

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Does anybody remember Leon Hale? He was a writer for both The Houston Post and The Houston Chronicle who traveled around the city of Houston and the state of Texas writing about this and that. His columns revealed a man who was always on the lookout for a good story, and over the years he found hundreds that delighted readers like me. His best ones were often about rather ordinary people who came to life under the magic of the words he chose to use to describe them. His talent was so profound that he somehow made the mundane incredibly interesting. He had an eye for finding the beauty in a single moment or face or comment.

I know I would have enjoyed sitting down with Leon Hale to talk about his decades of adventures with folks. I would have liked to ask him how he developed his writing craft so well, but I suppose I already know many of the answers because he was masterful at noting even the tiniest details about his subjects and then finding words and phrases that painted pictures without so much as a single photograph. His was indeed a brilliant talent that brought me many years of joy. Even on days when I was too busy to peruse the other pages of the newspaper I found time to see what Mr. Hale had to say and I was never disappointed.

Leon Hale taught me as much about humor, love, acceptance and other such positive characteristics of the human heart as the sermons I heard in church. He got me to thinking about the best inclinations of humankind and his stories were as uplifting to my spirit as readings from a book of meditations. He also had a knack for describing people and situations with unique combinations of words that invariably brought out emotions that either made me laugh or cry. I literally felt as though I knew him and the people that he introduced in his tales.

The glory days of local newspapers are dimming. Houston was once a two newspaper town long before it was even close to being the forth largest city in the country. The Houston Post, which was always my personal favorite, went the way of dinosaurs long ago and The Houston Chronicle is just a shell of its once glorious self. A Sunday morning edition used to be so big that it came in two separate rolls from the paperboy. Now it is so slim that it’s hardly recognizable. It’s surface area is vastly diminished as is the quality of writing between its pages. Before long it won’t be too far different from the little suburban newsletters that come out once a month.

It was the printing press that wrought dramatic change in the world. As ordinary folk had more and more access to books and newspapers equality became more possible. The new revolution has been on the technology front with news and print entertainment on demand at any given moment. A morning or evening run of a hard copy is old news by the time it arrives and is less and less cherished by avid readers than it once was. Computers allow us to see the latest information whenever we wish. Blogs provide us with almost infinite numbers of writers that we might follow. The new Leon Hales can live and write in Texas and then publish for a worldwide audience within minutes.

I am definitely an electronic reader. I use my various devices to read wherever I go. I don’t have to cull through dogeared magazines about topics that have little interest for me when I wait to see my doctors because I have my trusty phone to keep me apprised of breaking news or to provide me with columns from writers that I enjoy. I even have a Kindle app that allows me to read from the latest best selling books. Still, there is something about the look and feel of paper and printed letters formed from ink that adds to the reading experience. Actually holding a physical copy of writing is as enticing to the senses as wearing fine perfume.

The glow of letters on a screen just ins’t as exciting as holding a printed version of a story or a book and I always have the sense that I may be missing something important whenever I read from an electronic device. I understand and learn best when I have a fully kinesthetic experience in which I can actually manipulate the words by circling or underlining them or making comments in the margins. I like to put paper tabs on certain pages or turn down the corners of the sections that contain my favorite passages. Not even mechanical highlighters on ebooks do the job as well for me. My photographic memory feels a bit lost in the world of computers, notepads and phones. I have to spend too much time remembering where all of my information is stored. With a paper copy I know exactly where to look.

Several years ago I rid myself of all of my long playing record albums and I had quite an extensive collection They took up a great deal of room in my house and I was more inclined to play CDs which were far easier to store and rarely had a scratchy sound from overuse. Eventually even my CDs became rather arcane and I was more likely to stream music to one of my devices. Low and behold LPs became a thing again, a kind of homage to authenticity in music.

One of my grandsons is slowly building a collection of records from artists of my generation. He finds them in thrift shops and half price stores. It pains me to know what a treasure trove of music I once had that I might have given to him as a gift. Instead I was a bit too quick to convert to the new ways. For some reason I have not been able to do the same when it comes to the written word. I still have books and magazines all over my house. Some are growing so old that the paper inside is yellowed and fragile which makes them even more precious in my mind.

I suppose that there is a good argument for conserving natural resources by using only electronic versions of writing. I think of all of the trees that were cut down just to satisfy the human search for knowledge. While the Amazon forest burns we might consider being more conscious of the cost to our world of eschewing more modern methods for reading. Perhaps it’s time for me to retrain my brain to be more appreciative of the evolution of the reading experience. It’s certainly more democratic and inclusive. Nevertheless, I still miss sitting with the latest copy of Leon Hale’s column and reading with enthusiasm as my fingers become smudged with newsprint and the paper makes a crinkling sound as I hold it on my lap. I can almost see it, hear it, and feel it now. It gives me such a visceral sense of happiness. I miss that.

It’s Time to Clear the Rubble

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On September 11, 2019 the citizens of the United States once again remembered the events of 9/11. Somehow overcast weather in my city matched the solemn feelings that most of us have on this day each year as we recall where we were and what we saw with vivid clarity. It was an unbelievable, unexplainable moment when it became clear beyond a doubt that so much of who we are and what we believe was vulnerable and under attack.

I usually write and post a blog about this event more appropriately on its actual anniversary, but this year I found myself struggling for words to describe the evolution of my thoughts over the ensuing eighteen years since that day. Instead I simply read the touching feelings of others and felt that visceral punch in the gut that hit me almost two decades ago when we were still a somewhat naive citizenry. On that day we grieved together both for those who had so suddenly and tragically died and for the death of our innocence.

In the aftermath of the tragedy we stood together as a nation in our resolve to show the world that we would not be defeated by evil. We thought that we had the strength to overcome the forces that hoped to divide us, and at the time it seemed as though we would remain united and strong. At first it was our collective grief that kept us together, but over time it was our fear that began to tear us apart. We had different ideas about how to proceed forward and our debates became more and more brutal and personal until our discussions were no longer dialog but instead vicious arguments. Our united front crumbled as surely as the twin towers had done leaving us in a chronic state of war with one another. Instead of building our nation stronger than ever we became our own worst enemies.

In the eighteen years since 9/11 we have taken our political discussions to new lows. It’s been awhile since we showed respect for the offices of our government. There were those who hated George W. Bush and demeaned him in cartoonish ways. There were those who hated Barack Obama and demeaned him in racist ways. Now there are those who hate Donald Trump and demean him to the point of attempting to drive him from office. Our Congress is paralyzed by the infighting and unwillingness to compromise in a bipartisan way that is good for the country. It is now fashionable to destroy those who think differently by ravaging their character and their beliefs. In other words, whether we realize it or not, those men who so viciously attacked our nation on September 11, 2001, have accomplished more than just killing three thousand souls and bringing down two buildings. They have punched a hole into the very heart of democracy, and we have played into the their hands with our unrestrained anger which we now focuses inward rather than at the true source.

We began by restricting freedoms for safety’s sake and then we began pointing fingers here in our own country as though knowing who to blame for the tragedy might somehow make us feel better. Our debates ran the gamut from invoking punishing retribution to demonstrating kindness to our enemies. We were in new territory, not really knowing what to do. So many mistakes were made just as throughout all of history. We were so anxious to resolve our troubles that we let our impatience get the best of us. We were being ruled more by emotions than logic. Our feelings overtook us and led us to lose our focus. Every little thing was steeped in hyperbole that eventually evolved into propaganda.

We felt very lost and confused and when we turned to the media for understanding they only fanned the flames of our divisions. Soundbites became our arguments and dissolved into petty catch phrases that offered no real solutions. The media had a field day with our worries and our feuding, making hay from our fears and driving us further and further apart.

On the morning of the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11 the headlines in most of the major news outlets were not about remembering that horrific event but about clashes with the White House and innuendo about members of Congress and the Supreme Court. Stories of 9/11 were in small print, hidden among headlines about celebrities and sports. This alone told me much about where we find ourselves eighteen years after perhaps the most horrific moment in our country’s history.

It is long past time for all of us to regain our wits and demonstrate the true strength of this country that is found in good people everywhere. We are not the stereotype that some would have us believe we are. Ours is a flawed history just as that of every other country in the world, but it is a story based on an idea of freedom and dignity that we are still attempting to perfect. We must choose to be the people that we want to be rather than a fearful mob focused on degrading the very foundations of our country. We need to insist on a return to logic and calm in our national debates and understand that sometimes we only progress by accepting compromises. We each must be willing to address the needs of a changing world and do so with dignity.

There is great truth in the adage that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It is time that we work together and without rancor. Eighteen years have done great damage to our republic. While we were arguing the rubble in New York City was cleared and magnificent structures were erected in its place. We need to begin the process of doing the same for the government of our country otherwise those terrorists will have won. We can’t allow that if for no other reason than to be certain that those who died did not do so in vain. It’s time to clear the rubble.