Bringing light

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘From her earliest days as an entertainer and activist, Joan Baez has inspired millions through her music and by her actions. Her life is characterized by her passionate and ceaseless efforts to bring the healing light of peace and social justice to the dark corners of the world. Until recently, she has resisted pressure to endorse political candidates. But, the times are changing for Baez and, I hope, for the future of the U.S. On Sunday, February 3, 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle, carried the following letter to the editor under the heading “‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Leader on a new journey:”

Editor – I have attempted throughout my life to give a voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless, encouragement to the discouraged, and options to the cynical and complacent. From Northern Ireland to Sarajevo to Latin America, I have sung and marched, engaged in civil disobedience, visited war zones, and broken bread with those who had little bread to break.

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Through all those years, I chose not to engage in party politics. Though I was asked many times to endorse candidates at every level, I was never comfortable doing so. At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do. If anyone can navigate the contaminated waters of Washington, lift up the poor, and appeal to the rich to share their wealth, it is Sen. Barack Obama. If anyone can bring light to the darkened corners of this nation and restore our positive influence in world affairs, it is Barack Obama. If anyone can begin the process of healing and bring unity to a country that has been divided for too long, it is Barack Obama. It is time to begin a new journey.

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Joan Baez
Menlo Park

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Nickel and dimed

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a scathing indictment of welfare reform and its effect on the lives of the working poor in the U.S. In the book’s conclusion, Ehrenreich writes, “when someone works for less pay than she can live on… she has made a great sacrifice for you…. The ‘working poor’ …are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone (p. 221).”

On the one hand, the book is utterly depressing. On the other, it is a jolt to my middle class comfort. I am angry as hell because this situation exists in the “wealthiest and most powerful” nation on earth. I am angry, too, because I am now more aware of it. I feel a need to find a productive use for my anger.

When I expressed my feelings to a community college colleague whose judgment and experience I respect, she reminded me that the work we do in community colleges makes a difference in the lives of people living on the edge; community colleges provide a path from the abyss of lifelong poverty.

At times it feels like there are not enough hours in the day for faculty, staff, and administrators to accomplish all that needs to done. But when I think about the programs and services offered through California community colleges that benefit students enormously, I am reminded why I love what we do, why I am grateful to be a part of what we do, and why I am grateful to share this effort with all of my colleagues.

Whether weather

It rained for a short time last night. Rain is unusual in the desert. I don’t own an umbrella, raincoat, or any rain gear, for that matter. Showers rarely last long enough to require rain paraphernalia. Now that I think about it, in the desert, we don’t have “weather” in our vocabulary. We talk about “temperature” and “sunshine.” Oh, and “wind.” That’s not weather. It’s simply what is. Whether hot, cold, or somewhere in between, there is always sunshine. And wind.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains lie to the west of us. In the Sierras there’s weather. And it changes quickly and dramatically. We know its winter in the Sierras because its capricious weather often dusts the mountain crests with a faint sprinkling of powdered sugar-like snow, as if to remind us that winter weather in the Sierras is real. Last night, the Sierra winter weather ventured over its mountain tops and marched down its eastern slopes to deposit a blanket of brilliant white snow as low as 3,000 feet.

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It usually takes less than 15 minutes to drive the six miles from my house to my office. This morning, it took more that 35 minutes because of the frequent stops to admire the show the Sierra winter weather whipped up for us last night as we slept.

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This evening, it’s gotten very cold. I’m enjoying a cup of hot chamomile tea and listening to Robbie snore gently at my back. It’s raining lightly as I write this post. I understand the Sierra winter weather has something more earnest in store for us tonight.

Paris… on my own

Enjoying the first two weeks of January alone in Paris (i.e., without travel companions to whom I felt obliged to play tour guide) and without a personal tourist agenda was heavenly. I rented a cozy apartment off rue des Martyrs in the 9th (Opéra) arrondissement where Sacre Coeur overlooks the quartier like a grande dame wearing a necklace of sex shops and clubs strung along the Boulevard de Clichy. The juxtaposition of the two images suggests both sublime and ridiculous aspects of the legend of St. Denis.

‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘paris_tour_eiffel1.jpgI was pleased to learn that the wonders of modern technology make postcards passé—except, of course, for family and friends who don’t do email. A photo of the Tour Eiffel, for example, taken with and shared by email using my BlackBerry, was shot from the Jardins des Tuileries, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Apparently, I moved as I snapped the photo, resulting in its fuzzy quality—an impressionist effect, I think. Alors, je suis un artiste!

The best part of my stay in Paris was connecting with old friends and making new friends. I connected with Pam, a friend who lives in Paris—we chat often online but hadn’t seen each other in over two years. We spent a delightful afternoon (one of several) together exploring rue des Martyrs and adjacent streets. Pam and I love Indian food and we found a great Indian restaurant in the Place Gustave Toudouze where we enjoyed a lunch of hot curry, dal, cold rice pudding with cardamom, and hot coffee.

‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘div_aletoile_dor.jpgAfter lunch, I introduced Pam to ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘À l’Étoile d’Or, a well-known chocolaterie owned by Denise Acabo, an eccentric dame d’un certain age, who knows everything about chocolate from every part of the world. She’s had her shop for over 38 years, dresses in a French school girl’s uniform, and wears her hair in pigtails. Denise is the friend of a friend who asked me to stop by to give her his meilleurs voeux. The impact of the visit on Pam was a 30€ expenditure on chocolate and, the following morning, an effusive ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘blog post about her chocolaterie experience.

‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘div_bibliotheque.jpgOn another day, over coffee at a cafe in the Marais, I was introduced to Claire, a lively, witty, and intelligent woman who is a “national treasure” in terms of what she knows about and who she knows in Paris. For example, she introduced me to ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘La Bibliothèque des Amis de l’Instruction, an organization founded in the 19th century to promote education among those who, because of social class or lack of resources, did not have access to education. I am excited to know about this library because the idea of its founding relates to similar organizations founded about the same time in the U.S. of which I learned when doing research years ago for my dissertation. Claire offered to introduce me to the director of the library. Perhaps there’s a sabbatical in my future.

Paris winters can be unpleasantly cold and rainy, but my stay in Paris was blessed with mild temperatures and several sunny days ideal for getting out and exploring my favorite place on earth. My Paris séjour came to an end all too soon. Ah, but the memories….

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Which book are you?

A friend, who I refer to as “the muse of my online life,” blogged about a personality test she recently discovered. By answering only six questions, it is possible to learn which book represents your personality. My attempt at the test identified me as Siddhartha. The precision of the personality description is uncanny… except for the “lonely” bit.

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You’re Siddhartha!

by Hermann Hesse

You simply don’t know what to believe, but you’re willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you’ve spent some time in every camp. But you still don’t have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It’s time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.

Take the ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Book Quiz at the ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Blue Pyramid.