Friday, August 28, 2015

Watching Grass Grow

Grass won't grow on my levee.

We have checked all the boxes, followed all of the regs.  We have compacted the right parts, and we have seeded according to spec. The levee is tall and strong, and able to withstand winds, rising river, and storm surge.  It serves as both a river levee - keeping the Mississippi River from overflowing its banks, and as a hurricane storm surge levee.  A rogue barge will not be able to breach it, and it even has a foundation made of dirt mixed with concrete (it is a fascinating process called deep soil mixing, where they inject grout deep into the soil and then mix it with the soil to make an in-place concrete). 

The last step of levee construction is to create an armor on the surface.  Concrete is the ideal, but it is cost prohibitive.  Grass, however, is an acceptable solution - it will resist erosion and will mean that if water overtops the levee, it does not rip the levee apart. 

After a couple of years of building and flattening and working on the levee, we are ready to turn it over to the locals.  Except for the grass.

Shockingly, we have struggled to get grass to grow,  It seems as though we are creating a land feature with two functions.  The first is to act like iron.  The more it resembles concrete - strong, resistant, unbending - the better the levee is.  So we use clay that compacts well and we smush the clay flat (smush is the technical term, of course).  We do the deep soil mixing so that the stuff underneath is hard and solid, and resists intrusion.  After everything has been compacted as much as it can....

...we sow it with grass seed.

Yes, grass will grow in concrete.  Getting enough coverage, however, will take time.

We have had some unexpected hiccoughs - the nature conditions have been atrocious for growing seed.  At the beginning, we planted grass seed, fertilized, and stood back to watch the grass grow.   It rained torrential rainfall for months.  As soon as the rains stopped, we filled in the ruts, we re-seeded, re-fertilized, and stood back to watch grass grow.  And it stopped raining.  Altogether.  This summer has been abominably hot and dry, and the baking heat has turned the clay into iron. 

And even worse, the soil in some places has ended up being saltier than expected.  Salt, as you would guess, is not exactly the best thing for growing grass.  In fact, it is pretty toxic, and it is the rare blade of grass that can flourish.  And the higher the level of salt, the harder it is to flourish.

We are working to figure out how to deal with it.

Meanwhile, we are having an agency-wide problem with morale.  I have been in a number of meetings just in the past month where senior leaders are trying to figure out why people are dissatisfied with their work. And there is no question.  In the ten years since the target was placed on the back of my agency, the people in my building have worked tirelessly...

That's not true.   They are tired. 

Like with the levees, we are in an environment that is toxic.  We have become accustomed to the enormous pressure and responsibility, and we have been working like mad to serve the people (we are getting smushed). We fight to get the work done that we are charged to do, expected to do more and more with less and less.  People burn out, and leave, and their positions are not replaced. Budgets are tightening. Timelines are shortening.  Expectations are ever higher, and with less institutional knowledge than ever.

We have become the sun-baked clay of the levees.  And we are not growing grass.

In a 'morale' meeting that I attended yesterday, the senior leader asked for my opinion.  I answered with a metaphor.  And it works for any situation where people are struggling with morale.

You don't try to grow grass on concrete.  You don't make the conditions ideal for one scenario, and then expect a different element to blossom.   If you want grass to grow, you have to give it the right conditions.

1. The soil needs to be loose.  Hard packed soil resists growth.  Without the flexibility in the soil, the grass shoots fight to break through and establish.  Our rules need to help encourage flexibility, not create hard-and-fast rules that destroy any creativity and inhibit growth. Destroy creativity, kill the joy in creation of a product that I can be proud of.

2. Fertilizer is needed.  All of the manure jokes aside, the best way to grow organics is by providing them an environment rich in organics.  We need to be around a variety of people, and we take some strength from them, and provide our strength back to them.  One plant needs nitrogenated soil, another plant can provide the nitrogen fixing bacteria needed to let it thrive. Provide the resources your people need.  It is critical to watching the grass grow.

3. Birds love to eat the seeds, killing off the plant before it ever gets to grow. There are external forces that make life more difficult.  The media portray us as incompetent, and we begin to believe it ourselves.  Neighbors share unkind jokes about how many government workers it takes to fill the open water of the wetlands.  Congressman lambaste our efforts, and call for us to take pay cuts and denigrate us at every turn.  Birds everywhere, looking to demoralize us and demonize us.  A little bit of positive reinforcement energizes us.  Protecting us from the birds needs to be a priority.

4. Weeds choke us out. It is tough enough to work in a toxic environment, but when we are fighting not only external forces, but also internal policy, it makes our jobs impossible.  Many of our projects die from the crab bucket mentality - as soon as one crab looks like it is going to escape, the other crabs grab and drag him back in.  Morale improves when the impediments are removed - when we can do our jobs to the best of our ability without fighting for permission to do what we are supposed to do at every step.

A few years ago, a jewish rabbi pointed out that there were certain conditions where a plant would thrive.  Hard, stony ground?  Not so much - it might start out OK, but then the sun bakes the life out of it.  Bramble thicket?  The plant gets choked.  Open area?  The birds eat their fill.

But then, he said, when you have some plants that get planted in good, well-tilled, fertilized soil, they produce like crazy.  100-fold.  1000-fold.  The field becomes filled with productive plants.

The rabbi focused on the seeds that succeeded.  I think if we are to make more plants succeed, we need to make sure that we help the plants along.  Plough a little ground for those around you.  Fertilize those relationships (not by heaping crap on them.... but by giving them what they need). Protect your people against outside attackers, and cut down those who provide impediments from within. 

The grass will grow.  And we will all reap the benefits.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

LMJ Word-of-the-Week: Manqué

Manqué: (mäNGˈkā/) - having failed to accomplish up to one's potential. Unfulfilled.

My 10th grade English teacher explained to the class the expression 'le mot juste'.  LMJ is the perfect word for the occasion, whatever that occasion is.  Doesn't it happen to you?  The perfect word is right on the tip of the tongue, and you can't think of it?  And no other word will do?


One of my family's games when I was growing up was a dictionary game.  One person got the dictionary, and chose an abstruse word.  Everybody wrote their definition.  We then voted on the definitions.  Vote right, you got a point.  Vote wrong, and the author of the definition got two points.

Nobody ever picked a word that Dad didn't know.  Not once.

But once a week I will try to stump Dad. 

For one blog every week I will try to put up a stumper word. Something that I have run across, and find interesting or useful, but will only be appropriate in a very specific occasion. I will give you the LMJ of the Week.

This week, the word is manqué.

I am an academic manqué.  Becoming a professor of archaeology was the dream - it was the focus of my career, my education, my training, my research, and my reading.  I prepared.  I studied.  I did fieldwork, and hobnobbed with famous archaeologists.  I apprenticed myself to several of them over time, learning the mysteries of the arcane.  I presented papers at conferences, and wrote book reviews for journals.  I taught classes, and applied for grants. 

I even had a plan - I was going to find three young Maya researchers - a linguist, a cultural anthropologist, and a physical anthropologist - and we were going to promote ourselves as a complete department that a small college could get for cheap.  We were going to market ourselves as young, hungry researchers who would become world-class scholars in a few short years.  It was going to work. 

But at the end of my research, I could not write up the results to satisfy my committee.

Some of it was the topic.  But a lot of it was me.  I was working full time on an unrelated career.  I struggled with the statistics, and I had a hard time asking for help.  I did not like my topic, and the results were inconclusive in one approach after another.

Ultimately, I was let go.

I had such potential.  But I lacked the 'fire in the belly' that would put me over the hump.  I ended up an academic manqué.

Manqué. Your LMJ for the day. 


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why do I Pun? (Or: How I learned to Love the Adam Bum)

I stopped for gas on the way to work today.  While I was there, the guy pumping gas across from me finished, got back in his car, and lit a cigarette.  The residual gas that splashed on his hands ignited.

He jumped out, swinging the hand in wide arcs, until I jumped over and grabbed him.  A cop who happened to be in the parking lot got there at the same time, and we put the fire out.

I went inside to explain to the very upset sales clerk what had happened, and when I came back out, the policeman was arresting him.  Possession of an illegal fire arm.

There is something special about an unexpected relationship between words.  I love it when my brain picks up on connections that involve a stretch.

MoZ Stolen image from here.
In the otherwise unremarkable movie Mask of Zorro, Catherine Zeta Jones is involved in a swordfight with the masked man.  The fencing is pretty good, and the footwork keeps bringing Zorro closer, until he is close enough.  He grabs her and kisses her.

"Will you surrender?"

"Never.  But I may scream."

I laughed so loudly that the other movie patrons shot me dirty looks. 

See, with the spanish accent, it came out "I may-a scream."  Or maybe "I may escrime."

"Escrime" is "fencing" in French (which is the lengua franca for fencing). 

The more convoluted the connection, the more I like it.  (That one, requiring connection between english spoken with a latin accent, then translating from the french, is probably the most convoluted I have noticed. And might have even been a-purpose.)

Granddaddy told me the apocryphal story about the journalist's interview of Winston Churchill, where he asked the man, "Sir, you are known widely for your wit and especially for your puns.  Can you give me an example of a pun?"

"Uh-pun what subject?"

Yes, I know.  I have been told all my life.  The pun is the lowest form of humor.  It relies exclusively on quick response, quick connections, and overlap of meaning or sounds between two words.  It cannot be revisited.  It cannot - in correct usage - be prepared. 

It cannot, under any circumstances, be explained. 

And I cannot ever, ever EVER seem to be able to stop myself.

"Get it?  Did you get it?" 

I have very good friends who confessed to me that they often pretend not to follow my puns and verbal plays, for the simple joy it gives them to see me struggle to make people understand and follow.

Come to think of it, those people might not be close friends, after all.

I have always admired the hand grenade joke.  The one that is casually dropped in the lap of an unsuspecting victim, which then explodes ("HEY!") when you walk away. My uncle CE and my brother are masters at it.  My desire to please - and my desire to impress - far outweighs my ability to use the joke simply to amuse myself. I simply want to share in the cleverness, in the humor.   I need to share the laugh.

But in the end, I am OK with that.  Humor is meant to be shared.  And so when I explain a pun that I had no business making in the first place, recognize it for what it is. 

It is my gift to you.  My quirky, odd, strange gift.  It is my expression of love for you, from a guy who doesn't always follow the socially acceptable ways of expressing love. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Remembering a morning with Mac

This weekend brings the annual M.A.C. ride in Easley - a bicycle ride that was originally meant to as a tribute to my Dad. He immediately refocused the effort to send support and money to those who needed it.  Joshua Adams made an amazing video that included a speech he gave at the last one Dad attended. Give it a listen here, and if you feel inclined, donate here.  Money raised goes to providing shoes to kids. 
I am hearing my dad's voice in a lot of places.  And some of the vignettes that I am hearing are just magical.  This is from one of the visits he made to Louisiana a number of years ago.  One of the most spectacular days I have ever spent.
A beautiful predawn. The stars were bright - living in New Orleans, between the light pollution and the humidity, it is rare to see more than a single star or two in the night sky. But the cold front removed all the humitidity from the air, and we were far enough from any residence to see the glorious spray of stars stretching across the sky.

We got into the boat, and the cool of the night became cold as we started out. I relaxed my jaw to keep from chattering; the breeze cut right through the long-sleeved camo t-shirt and left me chilled. After five minutes in the mud boat, we dropped the first crew off at their pirogue, and then followed the twists and turns of the canal to our own. We swapped from a small boat into a smaller, shifted all the gear over, and started off. The first hints that dawn was on its way peaked over the horizon, and we could see shadowy vegetation on either side of the canal.

Roger turned towards us, and I was surprised to hear him talk in a normal voice - it seemed like talking loud in church, not exactly sacriligeous, but inappropriate.

"It gets a little shallow here, so I have to pole us over the low spot."

Sure enough, he pulled out the long aluminum pole and slicked the bottom of the boat over the plough mud. A few seconds later, the canal opened into a large open area with clumps of grass still obscured in shadow. Roger guided the boat towards the center of the clearing, straight towards the largest of the grass clumps.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Check Out the Fractals.

We were talking about some pipe dreams each of us has, and a friend of mine met my objection before I had even had a chance to voice it.  "If it takes too long, why not start now? How old will you be in five years if you DON'T follow that dream?"

I provided the obligatory clever retort.  But the sentiment has stuck with me.

How old will I be in five years if I don't do it?

I have mentioned my sister before regarding her learning to play the accordion.  All her life, Caroline has played the long game.  She looks into the distant futures, finds a future she wants, and starts on the intermediate tasks that will get her there.  This is not a new thing with her - I saw her figuring out costs and benefits when she was a baby contemplating taking her first steps.  And then again when she decided to swim.  And then again when she learned to read. 

A couple of months ago, when I was comparing musical notes with her, she told me her goal - she wants to be the 80-year-old lady who plays the accordion. If, as current popular theory states, it requires 10,000 Gladwellian practice hours to achieve mastery over a task, then she will plan on being an expert in 40 years. 

10,000 hours over the course of 40 years is only 250 hours a year.  An average of just over 40 minutes a day.

Very long game.  A friend of mine shared a quote with me this week:

When Pablo Casals (then aged 93) was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours a day, Casals replied, "'I'm beginning to notice some improvement...'

The game is long, but focusing on the game means that you are breaking the process up into bearable units.  Although 10,000 hours seems like an insurmountable summit, 40 minutes is doable.

More important than the bite-sized practice sessions, though, it helps keep expectations in check.  I get discouraged if my banjo playing doesn't improve.  If the lessons I learned yesterday don't stick.  If the song doesn't sound better than it did yesterday.  Or worse still, if it sounds worse.  If my fingers are stiff and don't limber up, if the timing just sounds wrong, if the tune I hear in my head cannot make it out onto the instrument.... I get frustrated and fed up.

Each discouragement means that it is harder to pick up the hated instrument and play for a half hour. (30 minutes a day means it is gonna take me a little longer than Caroline to get to the 10k plateau....)

But what happens when I am not working towards immediate gratification?  What a lift do I get when I know those damned scales are just part of a huge plan to get good?  Practicing those rolls are not an end to themselves, but part of a long-term project to increase strength and flexibility?

As part of my research in my previous life as an archaeologist, I looked at fractals, the self-replicating patterns that repeat at every scale.  It made sense to look at it to study stone tool debris; I can tell you that one small pile of debitage looks almost identical to another (just so you know, that is not enough to write a thesis on...).  But I am beginning to think that maybe my efforts to learn things happen in the same way.

Mandelbrot might have been a math genius, but I
bet he sucked at playing the banjo.

I work on my forward rolls on the banjo.  I see a little bit of improvement.  Not much, just a little bit.  I see this little part of the learning pattern, and I think I know where it is going. And if I look back, I can imagine where I was a week ago.

But at a larger scale, over the past year and a half, I can see the things that I have learned.  And they grow at about the same rate.  My practice and the improvement I have in my ability replicates itself over time.  I get better incrementally.  My breakthroughs are not as amazing as I remembered them to be.  My plateaus not so long. 

Last night I went back to my first banjo instruction book, and was delighted to find that some of the trickier parts of the book were not as tricky any more.  I was able to do even the unfamiliar tunes more quickly.  That I struggled less.

What happens in five years?  How far along will I be? 

Funny thing that I realized, though, is that it is not limited just to my music.  How does playing the long game change my ideas about exercise (instead of getting discouraged that I don't look like Charles Atlas after six months of push-ups)?  How would it change my attitude towards my career advancement?  My furthering of my education?  My work in the community? 

What happens if I take the long view? 

And what fractal in your life would YOU approach differently?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Barber of DeVille

When I was a boy, going to the barber shop was a monthly Saturday afternoon ritual.  Even then, I recognized that there was something special about a place that catered to men so exclusively.  And what is not to like?  The smell of leather strop and hair tonic, the precision of a razor trim, the snicking of hair providing a backbeat for the sound of casual conversation among men who have known each other for decades. 

As I grew to become a teenager in the 80s (when the mullet was the height of teenage fashion), my barber – the only one in town – managed to keep the back of my hair trimmed higher and tighter than I wanted.  (I suspect my dad of tipping heavily after the fact to ensure that my nape curls got neatly trimmed).   The barbershop held the same smells and sounds as my childhood, but with a different cast of characters.  The main difference, though, was that I drove myself. No matter where you go, the reassuring familiarity and timelessness of the barbershop that made it so comfortable.
Over the years, however, as terms like ‘metrosexual’ and ‘manscape’ entered into our jargon, men -  even southern men - began to eschew the hometown barber shop and began to go to unisex salons.  Not all… some held to tradition.  But old-time barbershops have increasingly disappeared over the years.  Some hold-outs, however, have managed to maintain the exact same venue, the same feel, even using the same elixir on the nape of the neck as they have done for the past fifty years. 
And is there anything that speaks more to small southern towns than the local barber shop?
It is only recently, and primarily in the metro areas, that there has been a resurgence of the ‘full service’ barbershop – the kind of place that promises hot towels, close shaves, and perhaps a drop or two of an adult beverage.  Although it was never part of the southern barber tradition, it has undeniable appeal – a male-only establishment where both testosterone and pampering mix in relatively inexpensive luxury.  These establishments  - I will call them Man-Cave Barbershops - represent something different in modern society, and use the venue of the barbershop as a mechanism for delivering something quite different. 
The Traditional Barber
Traditional establishments are harder to find these days. Any time I travel, I look for one, just to see if I can find a place with just the right feel of permanence.  I found one in San Antonio that I loved - the Gunter Barbershop. Downstairs in the Sheraton Hotel downtown, the barbershop had the small-town barber feel.  A shoeshine stall in the corner.  Day-old newspapers and year-old Field and Streams on the table. A barber with thinning hair, slicked back with a product that has been discontinued for fifteen years.
Inexpensive haircut, easy conversation.  Businessmen from downtown came in wearing five-hundred dollar shoes to get a great seven-dollar haircut. Discussion tended towards the conservative political vein, but was not offensively so. 
A barber's shop in Vicksburg, Mississippi gave me a similar situation (well, maybe not the shoeshine...).  A strip mall on the outskirts had me smiling before I ever walked through the door.

Predictably, the decor was more eight-point-buck-on-the-wall than its counterpart in San Antonio, but the homey feel was no less delightful.  Mr. Downey gave me a great haircut, talcum-powdered my neck and sent me off.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bee Stompin'

In the apocryphal tale, three-year-old Crorey was walking along in Granddaddy's yard, toddling along down the mountain.  Quite suddenly, my giggle turned to scream.  Everybody turned to look except Granddaddy, who knew where I was.  He was already in motion.

For those of my cousins who never knew Granddaddy as anything but an old man, what happened next is improbable.  But I am assured that it is true.  He sprinted down the side of the mountain, hurtling logs and dodging saplings and running over anything in his path.  And swooped me out of the yellow jacket nest that I had fallen into.
What bee could possibly sting that face?

He picked me up and started picking the yellow jackets off one by one, ignoring the stings that he was getting while doing so.

I ended up with a few stings.  He ended up with more than a hundred.

Seems as though I have spent an awful lot of my life being stung. 

Abelia Hedge was the plant that surrounded my house.

Four-year-old Crorey in the back yard, fascinated with the buzzing insects that seemed as attracted as he was to the sweet-smelling flowers.  And I was doing some serious bee stompin'.  Once I had successfully stomped bees one day, I did it again the next.  Eventually, I got stung.

Tearfully, I asked why the bee had stung me.  Mom explained to my bewildered four-year-old self that bees do not like being stomped.  And that they protect themselves by stinging. 

And if I am going to go bee stomping, that shoes are a must.

Episode 1 from abroad: Fast forward to a 9-year-old, bored out of his mind, stuck in French Guyana for an unexpected week. Not remembering his lesson taught earlier in that decade, my 9-year old self is chucking rocks at a small (tennis-ball sized) paper nest that was surrounded by increasingly agitated black flies.

Sweet success!  The fifth rock hit the hornets' nest squarely, and I watched with glee as the 'flies' flew away from the now-exploded nest.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eulogy for a Restaurant

I mourn my restaurants when they are gone.

For my whole childhood, December 23 was a celebration day for me, because that was when Granddaddy took us to Charlie's Steak House, to celebrate Grandmama's (and my dad's) birthday.  Charlie's was a dark, hushed tones place that served excellent steaks.  Sure, it was probably less than ideal for a small kid, because Chicken McNuggets never quite made it onto their kids' menu. 

For that matter, there was no kids' menu.

The salad was fresh iceberg lettuce with one sad quarter of a fresh tomato.  You had your choice of four dressings: blue cheese, thousand island, french and ranch. They were lovingly dumped into a serving tray, to be ladled out into your small bowl of lettuce.

You didn't go to Charlie's for the salad.

There were crackers and butter to eat while you waited for the entree to come out. 

You didn't go to Charlie's for the crackers.

The sides for your entree were a nice baked potato, with sour cream and butter, or limp french fries.  Neither of which were a draw.  There was both chicken and fish on the menu.  I am pretty sure that they kept one of each, in case some silly non-local came in with a desire to eat something else.  I never saw it happen.

You went to Charlie's for steaks.  Huge, juicy, tender steaks. 

Urban legend has it that during WWII, Charlie got the concession to feed some of the troops before they left for the European theatre.  The army provided the meat, and Charlie would prepare and serve the steaks.  His stipulation was that the steaks needed to be the right kind of beef.

The delivery was made, and Charlie refused it.  When the officer came by to see what the problem was, Charlie opened up the compartment, and started walking through the delivery.  "That one is a cow that has calved four times. This one a hiefer. This one, a cow that calved twice.  My instructions indicated that I would only serve steer meat.  Take it away and send me what I asked for.  I will not serve meat that is below my standards."

Charlie was also a skinflint.  A match seller came in and started in on his schpiel about how Charlie could buy this amount of promotional matches for his restaurant, but for just X amount more, he could get...

Charlie said, give me the best deal you can.  The cheapest per-matchbox price available.  And I'll sign the contract. 

Forty years later, the contract expired.  And Charlie had bought matches all of those years - the same matches - for a fraction of the cost

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wedding Belles

I attended a wedding this weekend, and it was a joyous affair.  I was acquainted with the couple through mutual friends on facebook, and had grown to love them both through our conversations.  They had, in essence, become the modern equivalent of the old-time penpals.

They got married at the church down the street from where I live, at the church that they attend, in the company of fellow church members and friends.  In the middle of the service, the elderly pastor asked us, "For how many of you is this the first same-sex wedding you have attended?"

With maybe one or two exceptions, the entire congregation raised their hands.

"I suspected as much," he said.  "See, if you had asked me two years ago, whether I would preside over a same-sex wedding, I would have told you no."

"And in the past two years, God has been changing my heart.  It has not been an easy change, but I suspect that we are all on a journey of understanding of one kind or another.  But what I have seen has reminded me that marriage is about the celebration of love.  And what we are seeing today, in Hope and Julie, is exactly the kind of love that we need to celebrate, before God and each other.  These two people have pledged themselves to one another twelve years ago in their wedding.  The only thing that was missing was for the state to catch up, and allow them to submit the legal paperwork."

I, myself, am on that journey that the minister described.  I grew up with a certain way of understanding the world.  That way limited me to defining marriage as a covenant before God and witnesses between a man and a woman. That is what I saw, and what I knew.

Over time, I have had my eyes opened to other expressions of love.  A friend who had just gone through a 'divorce' with her girlfriend (she told me in passing of the divorce, but then really explained it to me three days later when I screwed up the courage to ask her out on a date.) A long-term relationship between two men that I knew for years. Meeting friends of friends, and finding out that they are lovers.  Or married. Over and over again, I have the concept of love challenged for me, and I get to re-write my own understanding of what it means.

The fun part, for me, is discovering my own love for these people as they come into my life.  The harder part is working to redefine what my understanding of what love is. That part, I have to confess, is not always easy.  I still screw it up, and misunderstand, and misrepresent, and make clumsy references to 'these people' (see the first sentence in the paragraph).  Finding out that whatever my understanding is.... well, it is bound to be wrong anyway.

I have come to realize that if I am so flawed in my understanding of love between people for whom I have love.... can I really believe that I have a lock on the love that my Creator has for all of his creation?  One thing is certain: I am bound to get it wrong.

I am not 'enlightened'.  I am finding every day that my understanding of what it means to be a white, protestant cisgendered, straight male in today's society is flawed, because of what it means to NOT be a white, protestant, cisgendered, straight male in today's society.

I don't understand it.  I don't pretend to.  But what I can do, then, is to express my love for people who I see around me.  Today, that means expressing my unbridled joy for my friends, Hope and Julie Darby.  Newlyweds in the eyes of the State. 

Today, I raise my glass, in celebration of their relationship.  I am joyful in their marriage.  And I hope for great joy throughout their married life.

Doctor's Referral

Today, I am sending you over to my cousin's blog, so you can read the guest entry I wrote for him there. 

Please link to Dr. Andrew Lawton's blog.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New Orleans Banksy Image

Last night a friend took us out for her birthday.  I had not heard anything about the place where we went to eat.  It was a Colombian restaurant called Maïs Arepas, and it was delightful.  Great friends, tasty food, and enjoyable conversation.

One of the best parts of the evening, however, was the view right outside the window.  There was a bit of graffiti on the building right across the street.

Photo by Kathe Lawton

There is a story behind it.  Many of you will recognize the work as a piece done by the UK graffiti artist Banksy.  The backstory is that Banksy showed up in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and tagged some very poignant pieces across town.  Much of it was done on abandoned buildings, buildings that were impacted by the flooding in the city.  A painting of a girl with an umbrella with the rain coming from inside the umbrella (social statement about how protection should work); a painting of a kid plaing on a tire swing - and the tire is made of a lifesaving ring; a painting of a brass band.

Before Katrina, New Orleans had a local activist who considered his work to be to untag the city.  Nicknamed the Grey Ghost for his use of a grey paint that he used to cover the graffiti around the city, he would cover any graffiti - even attractive graffiti - with his grey paint.

You can see where this is going.

He covered up one of the Banksy pieces (check out the link to the article HERE).

Banksy graffiti on any building increases the value immeasurably - some as much as $125k.  So for the Grey Ghost to cover the tag was to destroy a work of incredible value. 

Banksy eventually came back to New Orleans, and did a few replacement pieces, where he poked fun at the 'battle' between the graffiti artists and the anti-graffiti crowd. 

The piece outside of the restaurant where we ate was one of those pieces.

It is fun to drive through different parts of the city of New Orleans for a number of reasons.  But one of the hidden treasures you can occasionally spy from time to time is a Banksy.  It is like an easter egg in a movie..... just a hidden gem, waiting to be spotted.

I'll keep my eyes open for more.  Have y'all seen any?  Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Police Brutality. And Police Safety.

by Caroline and Crorey

As siblings, we come at the question from different directions.

We have been arguing about the issue of police brutality pretty intensely for the past few weeks.  We both agree that police brutality is wrong. We both agree that police safety is paramount. And we agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes such a toll on lives. Especially black lives. Especially young black lives. Especially the lives of young, black men.

We also agree that the toll is not just physical. The psychic impact of the internalized prejudice against a young black male - it isn't able to be quantified in numbers or summed up in a casualty chart.

The discussion between us has been very animated, but because we love each other, we have been able to keep perspective. And we agreed to open this discussion between us up to public review. Not because we have the answers, but because it is too important not to discuss the issue carefully. In love. In compassion.

The opening salvo was a meme. The quote, from Peter McElliot, was:

Crorey responded with what he considered a clever retort, that as long as 'rape' is a job, and rapists run the risk of being killed in the performance of their job, that the statement has validity. Caroline considered it an ill-formed comparison, and stood firm in her stance that victim blaming is not how the problem is solved.
With two more points made in discussion, it got taken offline. Neither of us wanted our discussion to be misunderstood as attacking each other, and we did not want to involve our friends on one side or the other.
But what we discovered was that as we carefully listened to what the other was saying, the sides were not so far apart.