Archive for December, 2010

On his first adventure in the Chicago Sea, Sudhir Venkatesh sailed on the 4040 of the Robert Taylor Homes fleet.  For nine years he sailed with the fleet, learning how all parts of the ship and crew worked.  He even became confessor or perhaps joker to the ship’s captain and first officer.

Sudkir was an obedient lad always mindful of the lessons his parents taught him.  He was pure of heart.  Not once did he succumb to the siren song of piracy.  He did, however, develop a craving akin to an addiction for soul food.

When destructive storms, raging over all of the Chicago Sea, began to take down one ship after another, our intrepid Sudhir sealed his newly minted doctorate in sociology in a water tight container, and somehow floated and swam until he was washed up on a shore far to the east.  All the ships in the Robert Taylor Homes fleet were sank.  Only he lived to tell their tale.

If you believe this story, then I have a kudzu plantation that would be a fantastic investment and adventure for you.

There may be a believable story to be told concerning Sudhir Venkatesh’s experience researching the residents of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, but Gang Leader For A Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets is not it.  Charles Marlin

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Some of my ancestors crossed the Mississippi River before there were bridges.  They crossed with covered wagons, pregnant wives, children, horses, and livestock.  I think I could have managed crossing the Ohio River; but no, I would have settled for some spot in Illinois.

I still find it a thrill to cross the great river, or to watch it do its slow thing on a hot afternoon.  When it floods I am left without words.  If I am asked where I grew up, I say in southern Missouri near the Mississippi River, which I feel is everything anyone needs to know.

Naturally I thought I knew a good deal about the river, but Lee Sandlin knows a lot more and shares it in Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild.  The book is a pleasure to read, serious and silly, factual and frivolous, languid and swift.  You’ll want a long cruise down the river when you finish reading the book.

Sandlin’s assertion that the Mississippi is no longer a natural river but rather is a man-made drainage, transportation, and sewage disposal system may be true, but never count out the power of nature to take its turn now and then in both small and very large ways.  It is captive but not trained.  Charles Marlin

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You know you are in good hands when the author makes weeds entertaining.  And it is a safe bet he is English.  All of this, plus a bit of research, you get in Richard Mabey, Weeds: How vagabond plants gatecrashed civilisation and changed the way we think about nature.

If the author failed to mention every weed star in Britain, it would be hard to notice.  He begins with the first Neolithic settlers and the weeds that came with them.  He gives the Romans their full due.  It seems everyone in history has played a role in the ever changing battle with weeds.  Shoes, tires, potted plants, ballast, manure, cuffs and coats, birds, have had an unintended role.  New crops and garden specimens were more conscious efforts.  More blatant were those Victorians who went about sowing seeds for everyone.

Mabey’s long perspective on history has convinced him that weeds are universal and inevitable, so the best human response is to learn to live with them and accept the advantages and rewards they offer.  With the earth warming we may find that we are dependent upon weeds to maintain life.

He does not advocate loving such things as the hogweed, but he does propose that all of us inspect our weed bigotry.  When we do, we will find weeds to love, to eat, to use as seasoning, and perhaps other things as well.  Some may become major food sources in the future.

It is a marvel that a small cluster of islands can be so thoroughly traveled and recorded in an uncounted number of books.  No other place can match it, and yet there is always a fresh book to read.  Lucky us.  Charles Marlin

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At the annual Christmas party for the Venango Area Community Foundation, friends of Steve Kosak from all the affiliate community foundations gathered to express their thanks to Steve for his friendship and leadership during his years of service to VACF and Bridge Builders Community Foundations.

Steve has served as Executive Director for 21 years, and moves on to work for PNC Bank, National Association.  He will continue to hold the title of Senior Executive Director for BBCF so that we may consult him when needed and he can represent BBCF when appropriate.

Among the presents given to Steve was one from the Clarion County Community Foundation of a nine-image giclee color print of Steve by John Hink.  Two of the limited edition prints were framed and presented to Steve, one to take home, and one to hang in the BBCF administrative offices.  Charles Marlin

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The Bridge Builders Community Foundations met December 7, 2010, for their Annual Meeting and elected new officers.  The current officers had all served two consecutive one-year terms, plus an initial partial term, and were no longer eligible for those positions.

The new officers elected to serve until next Annual Meeting are Susan Williams President; Charles Marlin Vice President; Jason Woolcock Treasurer, and Lynn McCaslin Secretary.

Congratulations to everyone for running a clean campaign.  Others could learn from us.  Charles Marlin

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I don’t know why or how our outsized abuse of Native Americans continues, but it does.  Reading books on the Native American experience makes a reader feel like the books must surely belong to the Balkans or an empire of the long past.  The truth,however, can not be evaded.

We let politicians and media set our national moral standards, and let them crush any voice other than their own.  So we have Judy Pasternak, Yellow Dirt: An American Story Of A Poisoned Land And A People Betrayed.

These leaders flash upon the scene and when they vanish there is no accountability.  They have their paychecks, their profits, their stock, and they retire with falsely earned honor.  A few are hired to stay on and milk the system.

The Navajos were forced onto the most inhospitable land that could be found in America, and treated as something less than serfs.  At least the Russians saw their serfs as productive when properly abused.

Along comes the Manhattan Project and the urgent need for uranium.  We were fighting World War II.  Moral standards be damned.  The rest of the story is told in sharp detail in Yellow Dust.

The story that follows establishes that the university/scientific community can not be trusted in public affairs.  State governments were truant.  The bureaucrats in Washington and their puppets in Congress were the miscreants.  Money, money, and more money ruled.  Corporate lawyers in turn protected the monied interests.  All was well except for the little people dying of exposure to radiation and arsenic poisoning.

The author has done the research, worked with the people, and come through all of it to present a  account of misdeeds and lives lost.  It is a profound read.

It is fair to say that most Americans have heard nothing or little of this cluster of tragedies, and in turn will have no sense of how to respond to the book.  The only response now is to pledge never to let it happen again.  Never let nature be turned against the people whose lives depend upon it.  Even if one’s heritage is not included in the genocide, don’t stand aside.

Disrupt your evening.  Read the book.  Honor America by honoring the continued presence of the Navajos.  Charles Marlin

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At first I thought that Justice Stephen Breyer, Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View was going to stay on the freshman level, but once he was through the historic cases and on to how the Constitution is a progressive, cooperative effort involving all functions and levels of government, the book began to shine.

For all those who recently purchased shares in Senators, Representatives, and Governors, this book would be good software to install in those purchased leaders.  If done, the leaders will operate more smoothly, faster, and will not stall out with viruses of hubris and ignorance.  If you want them at their worst, you need do nothing further.

Although the Justice does not discuss the Senate role in approving Supreme Court appointees and approving Federal judicial appointments, it is this narrow portage where partisan interests and senatorial ambitions do considerable damage.  It is here where senators and appointees could have a positive and lasting effect on how Americans at home in their living rooms understand the Constitutional basis of our democracy.  Senate hearings could become great teaching mini-series.  Do daydreams ever come true?

For a Supreme Court held in low esteem, this book is refreshing.  A good judge writing well can lift a citizen’s spirit.  Give yourself this feel good book.  Try to forget the mediocrity sitting on the Supreme Court because while it will not make it stronger neither will it destroy the court.

Five good judges is not too much to ask for.  Charles Marlin

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