MacArthur returns!

Not as in the general, gone these many decades.  As in the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship grants, 25 presented every year to people who are usually unknown to most of us but whose creativity productivity contributions are recognized with a HEFTY check & instant celebrity status.

The MacArthur fellowships are near & dear to my heart.  Nine years ago, I had the honor & pleasure of teaching a Social Studies unit on them to my class of at-risk high schoolers, a group of kids who connected to the white hot News, multi-ethnic & gender mix.  Some of the winners were from the metro Philly region, so they saw related articles in local papers, making Social Studies real & relevant!

And I’ll never forget sitting smack dab next to ANN BASTINGS at the 2016 National Center For Creative Aging (NCCA) Conference when Gay Hanna announced from the stage that she’d been named that morning as a MacArthur fellow – thrilling!

Great reads, great discussion points with family, friends, colleagues!

Related Links (a few of many): ; ;


Underestimating intelligence

To my stunned surprise, I discovered the other day that a LONG sought quote was not from Hill Street Blues, as I erroneously remember, but from The Closer.  Practically fell off my chair, hearing Sanchez say he did’t get the fuss about what do to about elders – “Throw down a carpet in the garage,” aka turn it into a room.

Amen & hallelujah!  We are born, created to be tribal, to live TOGETHER, to make the best of difficult situations.  To understand & respect the intelligence & ideally the wisdom of olders & for them to appreciate & respect the care & ideally the loving support of youngers.

It starts with having a greater awareness of each other’s intellect. Sadly, it feels like the longtime trend is driving down the people doing just that, up & down the age spectrum.

We need to boost our appreciation of each other’s minds.  Was reminded of that while reading about Sy Montgomery’s interactions & revealing moments with OCTOPUSES.  Read her article, Deep Intellect, and ponder how many we too often not only underestimate the intelligence of other creatures, but our fellow Homo sapiens – especially those most near & dear but way older or younger.

Related Link:

Why am I plugging current events? Follow the money.

A second day with a current events posting – – not like me to be so topical on what is meant to be a “get away from politics & similar ick” blog.  But the topic has everything to do with all ages & all stages of Americans – our economy.

Because, love it or loathe it, the NY Times has a spot-on article about our nation’s “recovered” economy.  Recovered for those blessed with carefully nurtured, post-2008 stock portfolios;  those who rely on our savings or income from a pay check – – not so lucky.

The headline speaks volumes – – The Recovery Threw the Middle Class Under the Benz.  A truthful OUCH!

From the monied class’ point of view, the 2008 Meltdown served an interesting purpose – – unlike earlier financial crises, the recovery was not universal.  This time, those with their hands on the money reins rebounded, while those who did not did not.  The middle class was devastated by a calamity brought on by reckless practices at what were presumed to be trust-worthy financial institutions who went bonkers at the money gushing from largely unregulated derivatives, compounded by lax (to put it mildly) government oversight.

Today’s middle class not only lost nest eggs, carefully nurtured savings & home investments, it’s political power, once considerable, has been gutted by the one-two punch of the Meltdown & the SCOTUS Citizens United decision, which put the influence wielded by the monied class on steroids.

If our mothers were still alive, neither John nor I would have been that affected by the ’08 meltdown – like us, my m-i-l owned her home, free & clear;  like my mother, her finances weren’t tied to evaporated investments.  But millions of others were not so lucky.  People lost their savings, their jobs, their home value.  And, worst of all, Americans lost their trust in once trusted institutions.  Too many have turned inward, turned angry, turned around & try to find someone to blame.

The middle class was most certainly thrown under the Benz, but so too was our entire nation, which has lost its way as well as financial security & even a core sense of who we are.


Learned about Tai Chi from my big sis!

Mega thanks to my sister, MIM, for cluing me into the power of Tai Chi.  Mind you, I scoffed when she disclosed its remarkable benefits – watching her go through the moves looked like a Saturday Night Live skit, they were so s l o w.  Compounding my disbelief was the fact my sister was doing them in a wheelchair.  Seriously?  How could it make a difference?

Thank goodness I was open to discovering Tai Chi’s rocking powers, especially for people like Mim, whose physical condition left her toodling about on wheels.  And not just physically stronger – – mentally too!

Additional mega thanks to the great Jane Brody for yesterday’s excellent NY Times article on the benefits of Tai Chi – read, learn, do!

Plutocrats & experts & intelligentsia – Oh my!

An article in today’s NY Times had & has me stumped.  In recalling Lehman Brothers 2008 meltdown, Aaron Ross Sorkin writes – – “The crisis was a moment that cleaved our country. It broke a social contract between the plutocrats and everyone else. But it also broke a sense of trust, not just in financial institutions and the government that oversaw them, but in the very idea of experts and expertise. The past 10 years have seen an open revolt against the intelligentsia.”

HUH?  Intelligentsia?

Mind you, I get it.  People DID revolt against the intelligentsia, yet it’s been a misplaced revolt.  A rabid revolt against the totally wrong group.  Because the people who caused & subsequently rebounded quite nicely from the 2008 financial debacle were not, are not, anything close to actual intelligentsia – intellectuals, intelligent people, academics, scholars.

The people who did the middle class dirt were politicians who have & continue to put the short-term interests of the people who fund their campaigns ahead of those of the people who voted for them.  Ditto financial muckety mucks who played fast & loose with other people’s money, who lost sight of what we thought they were meant to do – help people grow their wealth – in pursuit of the greater immediate profit, the risks be damned.  Who crashed the economy, then left the middle class to pick up the tab. Who devastated men & women who thought they were climbing out of the lower class upward to the American Dream, only to be labeled schmucks & stupid for not realizing they were being used to turn a quick profit for the unscrupulous.

And the people – the clever but not far-seeing, the well-educated but unimaginative, the brilliant but at making others take the risks while they raked in the profits – who were responsible came out without a scratch.  Just one (1)  measly financier – with the dubious name of Kareem Serageldin – went to jail for the flat-out crimes committed by countless, from the lowliest clerk who fudged a filing to the tippy top CEOS.  One.

I don’t often write here about current events here, but reading that statement in “the paper of record” got my goat.  Because it is true. 

Millions & millions of Americans DO blame people with Ivy League – or any university – degrees.  A shambling use of English vouchsafes for countless Americans that a man has integrity.  Being virtually incoherent, flagrantly dishonest & unabashedly coarse is seen as proof of authenticity, thus worthy of trust.

And the people who greased the skids that the financial derailment inevitable have their reputations intact, their fortunes restored, their positions cemented – the business leaders who continue to make the same mistakes to pacify their voracious appetite for more money & power; the politicians who promise the moon & once elected give their constituencies the shaft; the community leaders who sit on their hands rather than speak out against injustice.

Plus one more – people more invested in finding someone to blame for their plight than in doing the hard work to fix what’s broken, right what’s been wronged & get back on track what has been violently thrown off course.  Who blind themselves to what actually happened, what still happens, in favor of damning their favorite fall guys & blindly vindicating those who say what they want to hear while doing what does them dirt.

What we need to hear are the voices of the majority – the people who are not emotionally off the rails, who believe in the bedrock principles our country, who have faith in their neighbor no matter what their neighbor’s faith.  Those are the people whose voices need to raised more loudly, whose ability to disagree without damning is still intact, who were taught that we’re ALL created equal – and still believe it.

More of them & less of those voices espousing the division, disconnection & isolation that’s hand-in-glove with the rise of populism.  Less of those who don’t know that history shows, time & again, that populism’s natural outcome is entrenched thinking, an eagerness to defend to the death a personal belief &, all too many times, wars that lead to just that.

As Ray Dalio, founder of the largest hedge fund in the WORLD, says – – “Populists tend to want to fight with the other side rather than try to find ways of getting through it.”  On every side, populists breed the threat of real time conflict – guns & tanks & death, oh my – because the thing they “have in common (is) that they’re confrontational.”   A sick variation on “My country, may she always be right, but my country, right or wrong.”  Just substitute, “My ideology…” and you’ll be spot on.

Wall Street crashed the economy & Wall Street got off scot free – and there aren’t a lot of intelligentsia in those ranks.  What did they learn from their mistakes?  My guess is not a lot.  People went to jail – including the head of the New York Stock Exchange – after the Crash of ’29.  Over one thousand people were prosecuted after the 1980s’ savings & loan scandal, from minions to top execs.  When it was revealed that WorldCom, Enron, Tyco & others had played fast & loose with accounting, their top execs ended up behind bars.

The reason average Americans don’t blame execs & financial powerhouses for the 2008 Meltdown – why they pin the blame on smarty pants with Ivy League degrees – is because no one of significance ended up in the pokey.  Just Kareem Serageldin.  If no one else went to jail, no one else was to blame. 

Americans like someone to blame.  Who to nail for struggling to cover or even get health care?  For college students graduating with no job but a pile of non-negotiable debt?  For houses still under water?  For adult children living at home because they can’t find a decent job?  For Grandma working at Walmart to make ends meet?  For a carefully accumulated nest egg that was smashed in ’08?  For an ever-growing income gap, where the rich get richer & the middle class continues to slip down a grade?

Americans like someone to blame & in our current president they found someone eager to portray them – like himself – as the targets of vague yet menacing, even lethal others.  Who wears his ignorance as a badge of honor, his inability to speak coherently as proof of his trustworthiness, is core lack of character as proof positive of his inherent authenticity.

Yeah, now that I think about it, it DOES make sense that people would pin the blame on the intelligentsia rather than on the plutocrats & politicos who made it happen.  Up is down, in is out, educated men & women capable of putting whole thoughts together are at fault for the flagrant greed of those who came out smelling like roses, shuttling between multiple homes on multiple continents, breeders of a new Gilded Age.  That makes as much sense as anything in these massively senseless days.





“I may not be the best actor in the world…”

“…But I am the best Burt Reynolds in the world!”  And Burton Leon Reynolds Jr played that role to the hilt, seeming to define “full life” from his earliest years.

A high school football star, he got a full football college scholarship, but plans for national fame crashed due to injuries which made him give up the sport.  Plans to leave leave college & become a cop were sidelined by his police chief father, who encouraged his son to finish studies with an eye to becoming a parole officer.

It was during his college days that an English teacher, after hearing Burt read Shakespeare in class, urged him to try out for a play – Outward Bound – he was producing;  Burt won the role & the 1956 Florida State Drama Award for his performance!  Small wonder that he considered the teacher, Watson B. Duncan III,  the most influential person in his life.

The award included a lot more than minor fame – it came with a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse, in Hyde Park, NY – the thought of doing summer stock in a pleasant town on the Hudson sounded like fun, but Burt didn’t take acting seriously as a profession.

Ah, but then he met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent.  He was cast in Tea  & Sympathy at NYC’s Neighborhood Playhouse – his die was cast.  He received favorable reviews for his Broadway debut – Look, We’ve Come Through – which he stayed with through its tour, both appearing on stage AND driving the bus!

Although he almost gave up acting after a disastrous acting class improv performance, he landed a role in a revival of Mister Roberts (Charlton Heston played Henry Fonda’s role).  Encouraged by director John Forsythe to try out for Sayonara, he was passed over  by Joshua Logan due to looking too much like the film’s star, Marlon Brando.  But the director liked what he saw & urged Burt to head to Hollywood.   Lacking confidence in his acting, the young man stayed in New York, where he – like many aspiring actors – juggled a variety of jobs, from waiting tables & washing dishes to a bouncer & dock worker.

But Hollywood’s beckoning call could not be denied & by the late 1950s, Burt had lit out cross country.  He made his film debut in a forgotten film, then was cast in his first television show – the equally forgotten Riverboat.  Then came his Big Break – being cast in Gunsmoke as as blacksmith Quint Asper.  Burt parlayed his tv work into leading roles for low-budget movies, then hit the mother lode when he was case in the early ’70s as the title character in the short-lived police drama, Dan August.

The people who matter – directors & producers – liked what they saw.  The legendary Albert Broccoli even offered him the part of James Bond, but Burt famously turned it down – “An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t be done.”

Deliverance aptly delivered the role that took Burt to the top – followed by the lilting notoriety he gained by posing naked for the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan!   He worked steadily, a surefire draw for audiences who adored his cocky confidence & swoon-worthy good looks.  Last year, he gave a widely acclaimed performance in The Last Movie Star, a film about an aging movie star dealing with the fact his days of glory are behind him.   A film that would be his last but NOT define Burt – this past May, he was signed to the cast of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  He died before filming his scenes.

Unlike the star in his last flick, Burt’s glory days were whichever ones were in front of him!  As quoted at the end of today’s lengthy NY Times obituary, the actor nailed his life in one short take – “I may not be the best actor in the world, but I’m the best Burt Reynolds in the world.”  Amen to that!


related links ~ about his Cosmo cover – a tribute to Watson B. Duncan III