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“In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot.” Felicity Huffman

I know, I know. GM is out on strike and we just might start a new war with Iran, but I’m still obsessing over Felicity Huffman’s college admission scandal.

Every single parent can relate to this; single moms I met in the Jersey City projects, where I was teaching Head Start ages ago, wanted the best education for their children. Education is supposed to lift you out of poverty.

But those young moms could not pay to endow a chair (the legal equivalent of a bribe) at an elite school. Today they live with luck; will an arbitrary lottery number mean their child gets to go to a charter school? And then, if they make the grades and stay out of trouble, will they even be able to afford a state college without sinking themselves into debt?

And what about suburban desperate housewives? Every single one of us knows of someone, or maybe IS that someone, who twisted the rules a little for their child. I knew moms who had their sons diagnosed with ADHD just so they could have their SAT time lengthened. I heard about moms who didn’t live in our tony district, so they submitted the grandmother’s address. I knew moms who hired college counselors just because everyone else was doing it!

We would pay for SAT prep courses and then pray for the best. Of course most of that was a “legal” attempt at gaming the system. The difference being, in suburban school districts like Rumson-Fair Haven, parents had the money to grease the wheels of the college admission process. In Jersey City, parents could barely survive on food stamps. What does this say about a public school system that is funded with property taxes? What does this say about our country?

WE ARE ALL GUILTY of wanting the very best education for our children! But comparing Felicity Huffman’s sentence of a $30,000 fine, 2 weeks in jail and parole to Tanya McDowell’s 5 year sentence for falsifying her address to get her son into a better school district and taking a plea deal on drug charges is misleading. Sure one mom is white with an infinity pool and one mom is brown living in a homeless shelter, but both of them were guilty and desperate to give their child a “fair” shot at success.

McDowell served 3 years of her sentence and said she would do it again if she had the chance because her son started Kindergarten in his grandmother’s district, and he is now on the Honor Roll.  https://www.oxygen.com/crime-time/tanya-mcdowell-homeless-mom-stealing-education-jail-felicity-huffman-college-scandal

Huffman, on the other hand, may have learned her lesson. She seems remorseful and pleaded guilty. Her daughter will now be identified with this scandal for the rest of her life, whether she actually attends college or not. Bob agrees with John legend, who posted on Twitter that women should NOT go to jail for these non-violent offenses. In a twist of the social media world, men seem to be more feminist and empathic than women who declare themselves feminist!

The questions raised this week about racism and social justice are not new. We are running private-for-profit prisons in order to maintain the illusion that our rule of law is fair. We pay more to incarcerate our citizens than we do for pre-schools and elementary education where more brown boys are labeled “special ed,” or end up suspended for disciplinary problems. Our system is broken, and calling out Felicity Huffman or comparing her with Tanya McDowell misses the point.

Over the summer, I downloaded a first level reader book about owls on my iPad for the Love Bug and caught her reading it to her brother. On her 7th birthday last month I explained the “age of reason” to her, about knowing right from wrong. Her brother starts Kindergarten next year and wants to learn how to play the drums! Our children are modeling our behavior – good, bad and indifferent.

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In the depths of a crisis, have you ever looked around and asked yourself how in the world you got there? How did Great Grandma Ada, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, end up in Nashville for instance. I am less likely to examine the minutiae of my circumstances, maybe because I was tossed about from one home to another as a child. I had to learn to ride the waves of two families. Plus, I’m not one to live in the past; but I do love to see Shakespeare performed outside, amidst the sounds of birds and trains.

This past weekend our whole family bumped into “The Tempest” outside our restaurant window! We loved it so much, we came back the next day with lawn chairs. A deposed Duke Prospero, has been tossed onto an island in a storm with only his young daughter, Miranda, some sprites of course, and a strange, savage man named Caliban. So what does he do? He whips up an even bigger storm with his magic to payback his conniving brother and his court who are now shipwrecked alongside him.

Shenanigans begin!

When Bob and I first married and moved to the Berkshires, we would regularly attend Shakespeare at the Mount in Lenox. Edith Wharton’s “cottage” garden was the setting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” our introduction to the Bard en plein air. Of course we became enamored of this comedy of errors, where sprites and fairies rule the roost and make mockery of love and lust. Puck is a most mischievous servant and of course magic plays a central role in this play as well.

Leaping ahead from the 17th Century to today, I wonder who will be the ultimate playwright of our turbulent times? We may not have dukes and kings and queens but we do have a president who would be king. He loves opulence and the fame reality TV brings, he yearns for power and adoring crowds of red-hatted people. Kim Kardashian-West seems to be the only person who has played him recently, successfully lobbying Mr T to enact the first criminal justice reform bill in recent history.

Now Kim, a perfect medieval sprite, is studying Law – and what does Shakespeare say about lawyers? And not the one about killing all of them:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; not the soldier’s which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

Yes, lawyers can be political. Think about Gloria Allred’s daughter, the feminist lawyer, Lisa Bloom. She’s found herself in a bit of a Tempest while arguing FOR Harvey Weinstein in a memo she suggested they sully an actress’ reputation. Paint Rose McGowan to be unhinged, a “harpy” in Shakespearian terms. I’m heading over to Parnassus soon to get the new book, “She Said” by Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/08/books/review/she-said-jodi-kantor-megan-twohey.html

Maybe this is how we can frame our troubled times. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists piece together the culture of abuse and obfuscation that dominates some of our most cherished institutions. And instead of a play, we will make a film. How did we end up caging children, separating families, and drawing Alabama into Hurricane Dorian with a Sharpie? How have we managed to separate ourselves from the natural world and our allies on this forlorn island?

Magically, we landed on a lawn in a park in the city to help ease our “humorous sadness.”

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This was not your burn-your-bra-along-with-your-draft-card kind of weekend, then head for Canada. No.

This was the biggest single thing to hit Nashville since the advent of Country Music Awards. The NFL Draft on Broadway not only sacrificed some of our cherry trees, it drew overall 600,000 football fans across three days to the Honky Tonks, who spent well over $100M on merch, booze and housing. That’s a lot of cowboy boots!

And to round off the festivities, the Rock and Roll Marathon saw 30,000 runners sprinting up Rosa Parks Blvd, followed by Parrot Heads that evening at the Bridgestone Arena. It was a perfect storm sort of Spring awakening for this city and I was glad the Bride only worked the first night; with rain dampening the Draft, her ER shift went smoothly – one scooter injury here, one drinking injury there…

Then she and her family did what most natives and transplants alike did, they flew the coop. It was the first camping experience for the Grands and they loved it, scary stories and all.  A great way to dodge the Draft!

It wasn’t quite that simple for us because I got a severe case of the stomach flu. My daughter tells me it’s going around, which doesn’t help much. It knocked me out for 3 full days and nights, just when we were going to tackle all the boxes we’d shoved into all our closets so we could hold a Seder like Alice’s Restaurant; you know Arlo’s song, where you could get anything you want, except bread of course, there were no baguettes to be found, only matzoh.

(Here I could digress about how we used to attend Torah study in the Berkshires with Arlo Guthrie, but I won’t 🙂

My brother, Dr Jim, tells me that the Draft used to be a bunch of old, white guys sitting behind a big white curtain that would open to reveal all the new college picks in about an hour in each NFL city. Open and shut. That was back in the roaring 80s, when my brother Mike was President and General Manager of the MN Vikings. Today, from what I could gather between bouts of nausea, the Draft looks like Hasty Pudding skits put on by grown men. Guys dressed like Cardinals, or gunslingers, parading through the streets re-enacting some arcane tribal ritual. I didn’t get it.

But the team owners still charged fans 20 bucks back home, just to sit in their stadiums and watch the Nashville Draft on a jumbotron. So, you could dress up like a Patriot and stay in Foxboro, MA. Maybe I do get it.

As Passover was ending, another mass shooting was happening at a Chabad in Southern California. A research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center has this to say:

“ ‘We’ve started referring to them as the apocalyptic community, these online groupings that are marked by a sense of urgency’ about the perceived threat to white dominance.”

Lori Gilbert Kaye is the name of the woman who was shot protecting her rabbi from a nineteen year old with a gun. The rabbi insists it was a miracle that the terrorist’s gun jammed, preventing more from being slaughtered.  A border patrol agent who had recently discovered he wasn’t really Italian (a family joke) gave chase. The young killer surrendered to the police, wonder of wonder.

We can only imagine what would have happened to him if he was Black.

We can talk as much as we want about apocalyptic hate groups being radicalized online, but you cannot ignore the facts – New Zealand just banned assault rifles after 50 people were murdered in a mosque.

It’s time we Americans stopped dodging the truth. Stopped re-enacting Gunsmoke while our sons and daughters are actually martyred in places of worship, schools, theaters and malls. Our landscape has become a battlefield and our elected officials have no moral courage.

This was our Seder table, where we opened our door for Elijah.

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What a glorious morning in the Blue Ridge. I’ve been sitting out on the deck with Ms Bean watching golden leaves drift by and listening to the rustle of oak trees in the wind. Soon I will have to bring the plants in from the porch, but for now, this is my season. Warm, sunny days and cool nights, Fall in Virginia is at its most elegant. Only the recurring theme of rape brings my autumn rhapsody to an end, and sends me upstairs to write.

Maybe it’s because we were sailing the Danube when a Stanford swimmer was on trial for raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, or maybe it’s just because I’ve been too politically plugged in to think about anything else, but today’s news caught my attention. Brock Turner, the rapist/swimmer, has been released from jail and is registering himself as a sex offender in Ohio. There are a few things about this case I find abhorrent.

First, in the state of California, if you rape an unconscious girl, they assume she has given her consent because she can’t say, “No.” Should I say that again? There are a few states that have crafted laws like this, what shall we call it, the “I Can’t Say No” clause? So, this gentleman was charged with a “sexual assault,” not “rape.” Still, this is how the FBI describes rape – “…penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Nothing about the ability to talk, in fact we know some women are so terrified they cannot utter a word. In this case, the woman was “lucky” two men saw her being raped, and chased down the predator. Because if that had not happened, this would have just been another post-party night on campus. The unnamed young victim read a lengthy letter to Turner at sentencing, this is a small part:

According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls down help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina. If a girl falls down help her up.

Three months in jail, a slap on the wrist. Boys will be boys will be sex offenders for life.

Let’s leap across the country to New Hampshire, to another white, privileged incidence of rape that has shocked suburbia. This week the victim of last year’s St Paul’s prep rape case went public. A very brave Chessy Prout, who is only 17 now, was a 15 year old Freshman at the prestigious school when she became a victim of something called the “Senior Salute,” where upperclassmen try to hook up with the new students. Owen Labrie, a 20 year old who looks like a student at Hogwarts, was sentenced to one year in prison after he was found on a train violating his bail. Poor boy, he was only trying to visit his girlfriend at Harvard. http://www.today.com/news/chessy-prout-st-paul-s-school-assault-survivor-sheds-anonymity-t102326

And skipping back a century, if you’ve been following any of Downton’s marathon episodes over Labor Day weekend, you may have been reminded of the lady’s maid, Anna, who was raped downstairs during a concert upstairs. It happened in the second episode of Season Four, and I happened to watch a bit while Bob was working. How could I forget the intrigue of the rapist’s untimely death, the aftermath of arrests at the castle? Who did push the rapist off a train platform to a very Anna Karenina end? Was it Anna, or her husband Mr Bates?

Rape happened in the Bible, and lest you think we’ve figured it out, it wasn’t until 1998 when the state of Mississippi struck down its law that a rape could only be proved if a woman was “pure.” And let’s all thank “King Edward I of England (who) was a forward-thinking chap. He enacted the landmark Statutes of Westminster at the end of the 13th century. They redefined rape as a public wrong, not just a private property battle. The legislation also cut out the virgin distinction and made consent irrelevant for girls under 12…” http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/08/men-defining-rape-history

If you haven’t sat down to talk with your high school and college Freshmen, boys and girls, about these things, you had better plan some time over Parent’s Weekend. Tell them if a girl falls down, pick her up. This was the view from my kitchen last night. Apricot night skies and buttercream mornings. img_5153

 

 

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It must be Barilla lasagne day. Never mind that temperatures will most likely hit the high 90s, I will be baking my vegetarian offering for a friend who unexpectedly lost her husband last week. The shock of this loss still gnaws at my consciousness, and don’t ask me why but cooking helps. One night Henry was fine, just a little indigestion, and the next morning he was gone, dying peacefully in his sleep. He was my age.

His wife, because I just cannot call her a widow yet, my friend Tammy is a member of the Ivy Farms Book Club. She is also a brilliant lawyer, a loving mother, a friend and much more. She was my neighbor when we first moved to Cville, welcoming this Yankee with open arms. We shared a love of big, white polar bear-type dogs! I’ve often said I could live in Tammy’s kitchen, it is a warm Tuscan cave of a room, with long windows at one end and a round, welcoming table in the center. Many a night we women would sit and discuss books, and everything else under the moon, with a kind of truth and candor one rarely expects.

All of my readers from the old Rumson Book Club know what I mean.

Our husbands were always in the periphery. Some would show up towards the end of our evenings, and some didn’t. If Henry was in town, he would show up. His hugs were real, not the fake, half in/half out type. He was the kind of gentle man who had a spark, who could make you think you were the only two people in a large gathering. His laughter was contagious. He was an international lawyer, who traveled extensively to poorer countries all over the world as an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. If lawyers had a “Doctors Without Borders” association, he would be its director. If big companies were exploiting their workers anywhere on the planet, Henry was there. To Tammy, he was her Prince.

One of his colleagues, Mark Sparks, wrote an exceptional tribute to Henry:

Today we lost a wonderful friend of mine–Henry Dahl. Henry was one of the kindest, humblest, most intelligent lawyers I’ve ever known. Henry, I didn’t even know you spoke Russian (your sixth language) until we ran into Miss Russia at the Miss Universe pageant in Quito—you made her laugh and I never asked why. Henry, I didn’t know you were President of the Inter-American Bar Association until I happened upon it online—you never boasted about it once. Henry, I didn’t know you played tennis until we started for the first time in northern Nicaragua—at some desolate place most people wouldn’t even consider visiting. What I do know, Henry, is that armed with your keen mind and my ability to claim credit for that brilliance, we traveled for years throughout Central America working on foreign cases together. There, you did what you did best–used your intelligence and kindness to try and make this world a better place for those who need it most. We emailed each other yesterday, and I should have told you how much better I was for knowing you. I didn’t. Henry, I am so much better for knowing you—and this world needs more of you, not less.

Yes, the world needs more of Henry’s kindness and compassion, his fighting spirit. And we are all better for knowing him, and for our community of women friends. Tammy’s daughter is currently applying to medical school. The Bride had given her a tour of the UVA Med School while she was in high school, before she went off to Dartmouth. It would only be right if Olivia followed in the Bride’s footsteps, choosing Emergency Medicine as a means to help the most marginalized among us.

This circle of friends is our constant harbor.

And today is my day to deliver a hug, along with two pans of lasagne. It is a small thing, but I believe food feeds the soul. And I know I need to work on finding a great recipe for Argentinian empanadas, the soul food of his culture. Rest in Peace Henry.     23598_310013910731_4491126_n

http://www.dailyprogress.com/obituaries/dahl-henry-saint/article_15725de0-8e73-51b7-947e-8a3f55764d91.html

 

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Criminal Justice?!

You’ve got to hand it to our President. My faith was renewed in him after I listened to that infamous Marc Moran podcast in the car, the one where Obama used the “N” word. What a kerfluffle that caused, but his point was lost; the fact that a huge ship like our American Democracy can’t make a 40 degree turn overnight. We’ve got to make slow, incremental change, maybe a 10 degree course correction.

Racism didn’t happen suddenly, and not saying one word, like taking down one flag, won’t fix the problem. But guess what?

“On Thursday, he is expected to become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he goes to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside of Oklahoma City.” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33515373

That’s right, President Obama has commuted 46 prisoners’ sentences, most were convicted of non-violent drug crimes. I’m sure you’ve heard how sentencing laws became a covert act of racism in the 80s and 90s. Many more people were incarcerated for selling crack cocaine as opposed to the powder variety. Yes, those traders on Wall Street just couldn’t be treated the same as residents in Harlem. When in reality, a drug is a drug, is a drug. And in fact, the whole approach to drug addiction needs to take an 80 degree turn toward health policy and away from criminality. During the Bride’s tenure at Duke, she helped a lawyer friend of ours bring a case against mandatory sentencing policies to court.

“These men and women were not hardened criminals. But the overwhelming majority had to be sentenced to at least 20 years,” Mr Obama said.
“But I believe that at its heart, America’s a nation of second chances. And I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”

It’s hard to believe that no sitting president has ever visited a prison. But this administration got the ball rolling when Attorney General Eric Holder dropped mandatory minimum sentences in 2013 for non-violent drug offenders.

So thank you Mr Obama. You’ve started this great ship of ours turning in the right direction. Now if it’s not asking too much, before you leave office, about our immigration policy…

Heading in the right direction

Heading in the right direction

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