Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Connection to the Land

Before I was in academia I worked for an energy company that prided itself on being environmentally friendly. It was run by a bunch of Boston Brahmins and respected in the community. Then one day they bought an enormous strip mine. Given their education they were smart enough to buy a Robert Frost poem that began "the land was ours before we were the land's." I learned a lot about corporate culture working there.
However, many of us have a relationship with the land which makes us deeper individuals. I once owned a house in La Canada, California that was built on a hill. I planted peach, avocado, Apple, four different blood orange trees, and many other varieties. My dog and I would walk the land every day and check out the trees. It was wonderful. Since I spent my early years on a farm this was a reaffirmation of my belief that watching things grow is rejuvenating. I also bought a thoroughbred-warmblood horse that had thrown everyone at the Flintridge riding club except for the former head of the German dressage team. She, of course, enjoyed throwing me.
After that, I married a med school professor and moved close to the University, because she would work some nights till 3 AM on National Institute of Health grant proposals. Living in a condo cuts you off from the land, but the realities of California real estate make some decisions for you.
I also became disabled, so that it would have been too difficult to handle either the horse or the fruit trees. But that doesn't mean I've given up lusting after trees and horses. You can keep some things in your heart that will never leave you. Those memories help sustain you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Understanding Missouri's Racism

I once worked at the most racist place I've ever been-- the University of Missouri. My job title was assistant to the president. In Missouri the president is over the four Chancellor's who run the campuses which stretch from St. Louis to Kansas City.
I was there a month before I began planning to leave. The racism was overpowering. Once African-Americans complained. The then mayor of Columbia told them if they didn't like it they could leave.
I was put on the task force to take University investments out of South Africa. I met some wonderful people on that panel, including an African-American professor who was an exceptional human being. He was close friends with a professor from Lincoln University, a black state run University. He was referred to as the " father of black history." These two men helped me understand just how racist the University of Missouri is.
As you know, during the Civil War Missouri was half slave, half free. You could still see the plantation housing in parts of Columbia.
Of course it wasn't just at the University. I was once in a truck stop where you couldn't help hearing a bunch of low class whites comparing African-Americans to apes. There was no law enforcement there to object to this horrible display of hate, and I suspect they wouldn't have done a thing.
In the end, it took much longer than I had hoped for the University to deal with this issue. Thank God the football coach felt he was like "a father" to his players and supported them wholeheartedly. Given the hatred in that state I hope the powers that be don't try to fire him. It will take years, or decades to change the mentality of that University. I only pray that fewer African-Americans will have to undergo the pain I saw when I was there.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jake From Stare Farm

I'm lucky. My life has been reasonably successful and my wife is a well regarded med school professor. I've always supported women's liberation and their aspirations and it's worked out well.
But there's an ad that gets everyone laughing that makes me wonder how well it's working for other guys. It's a State Farm commercial where late in the night a dumb looking guy gets a call from State Farm. He's on the phone when this shrewish woman grabs the phone from his hands and asks, "what are you wearing, Jake from State Farm?" His response is "khakis." I laughed at that commercial until I realized  that's the way a lot of men and women may look at married life. You've got the dumb guy supervised by the woman who's really street-smart.
To the extent that it captures the way men feel, then it's a disaster. We were hoping for equal, not turning the tables. This doesn't mean I don't believe the glass ceiling is a reality. This doesn't mean I don't think women make less money than guys for doing the same job. It does mean, however, that we don't quite have our heads on straight yet. Maybe we guys have to seek a re-definition of what manhood  is.