Turtles in China and Australia

During our sabbatical in Beijing and Brisbane, we had a surprising common theme: turtles.

I’ve always liked turtles, so perhaps it was natural that I saw them everywhere we turned. It started when we asked Caroline, a ten-year-old friend from Canada, about her classes at the Bei Da elementary school. She described a strange typing class, which involved typing expressions such as “FD 100 RT 120 FD 100 RT 120”. Although she didn’t realize it at first, this was not typing class, but computer programming using the Logo language. The commands were eventually to be used to command a robotic turtle, or one on a computer screen. In this example, the turtle would be commanded to draw an equilateral triangle, 100 pixels on a side.

We decided that turtle talk was a nice, limited domain in which to practice our feeble Chinese. Wang Dongyi, a Chinese friend, was helping us with that, and we were helping him with his English. Before long we had a bustling turtle circus going in our apartment at Shao Yuan on the Bei Da campus. Caroline, Emily, and Stephen played the turtles, with occasional help from certain childlike adults. We’d issue Logo commands in Chinese or English, and learn from the consequences of the turtles’ behaviors. In this way, we were all practicing both language and programming skills. We of course had to learn the Chinese word for sea turtle, Hai Gui (海归), so that we could say Turtle Emily, forward 30, or its equivalent in Chinese.

These navigational commands happened to be useful for us visitors, as we were continually seeking of giving directions. We began to refer to taxis as Hai Gui, since they needed to execute programs such as forward ten blocks, left, then forward three more.

Hai Gui, from Woodblock Dreams

We saw images and sculptures of turtles. We even ate Hai Gui, probably more than we realized, since we couldn’t always identify or obtain a name for what we were eating. We then learned that the “Hai Gui” or “sea turtles” of China are the returning professionals who contribute to the growth of the Chinese economy. These are the students who were sent abroad, like baby sea turtles, to get advanced degrees and Western experiences, then return to lay their eggs in their homeland.

When we reached Australia, we spent a lot of time outdoors, taking advantage of the beautiful countryside in Queensland. We saw many turtles in lakes and in the ocean, and even swam with adult loggerheads. One highlight, near Bundaberg, was Mon Repos Beach, one of the two largest Loggerhead turtle rookeries in the South Pacific Ocean. Successful breeding there aids survival of this endangered species. The research program conducts animal surveys of nesting turtles, studies of reproduction, migration, behavior, incubation, and genetics.

Visitors can watch the turtles, and if they’re lucky, see the adults lay eggs (from mid November to February) or even better, see the hatchlings emerge and crawl to the sea (from January until the end of March). We couldn’t miss that. The night we went was magical. We saw baby turtles hatch and then crawl to the sea. Emily and Stephen took on the role of turtle guides, standing with legs spread and using a flashlight to guide the way. The turtles would follow the light until they neared the ocean edge and then could follow the moonlight.

Susan and I would not have done well as turtle guides since watching Emily and Stephen do this was too wonderful on its own. As Susan wrote in an email at the time, “The theme of any future message will be turtles; we did see the hatchlings and Stephen and I swam with a huge loggerhead on the [Great Barrier] Reef, a few seconds that were worth the total airfare.”

In that year, we were Hai Gui ourselves, emerging from our safe nest with little understanding of the world we were about to encounter.

My father’s birthday

My father, Bertram Camp Bruce, was born on November 19, 1915. Had his heart been healthier, he might have lived until his birthday today, but instead he died on December 12, 1969, almost 40 years ago. His death punctuated a tumultuous decade, for the world, for the country, and for my family and me.

This week I’ve been hearing 60’s music everywhere–Ray Charles, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Supremes. There’s no need to make that time more vivid, but the music amplifies it for me. My father loved opera, musicals, symphony, classical and romantic chamber music, big band, jazz, and popular singers of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. But his wide-ranging love of music didn’t extend to 60’s pop and folk. He enjoyed talking with the young people who visited Bruce Piano Co., and was of course happy to sell guitars or amps, as long as he didn’t have to attend the next concert using them.

I enjoyed, and still do, 60’s music. I even listened to it while working in the shop during the summer at Bruce Piano Co., since Fred, the technician, liked it too. But I’m very glad that my father taught me to enjoy other kids of music as well.

I wish we could listen to music together again.

Goodbye, maple

We had to take down a beautiful maple tree at the back of the house that was way too close to the foundation. Still, there are other maples nearby. And look at the dogwoods. Burning bush, pruned by the deer up to nose height. And leaves from yesterday’s storms. We still have plenty of trees. –Susan Bruce

What do Boston & Cambridge have to say to Champaign Unit 4?

violin_may06Ann Abbott inspired me to say more about the connections between the Boston desegregation experience in my last post and that of Champaign Unit 4.

I’d have to say that Boston is a good example of how not to do it. As I said in that post, Judge Garrity made the correct, and only legally justifiable decision, but rulings alone cannot accomplish much if there is widespread resistance, especially from political and religious leaders, school officials, and media. The racism thwarted integration of the schools, and in the process did major damage to the school system and to Boston as a civilized city.

In contrast, just across the Charles River, Cambridge managed relatively successful desegregation during the same period. Cambridge adopted a “freedom of choice” or “controlled open enrollment” desegregation plan in 1981. Parents would specify a list of  the schools they wanted their children to attend. Their preferences were followed as long as explicit desegregation controls could be maintained. There were no guarantees of attending any particular school.

Graham_parksBecause the program was coupled with interesting magnet programs at every school, there were many viable options for families. As parents we almost welcomed the fact that we didn’t have to make the final choice between the Maynard School’s dual language (two-way Spanish-English bilingual) program, Tobin’s School of the Future, with innovative uses new technologies, the Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, with its open education plan (see mural above), or the closer by Peabody, Fitzgerald, or Lincoln schools, each with things to recommend it. It helped that Cambridge did not have the urban sprawl of midwestern cities, which meant that unlike Champaign, Cambridge offered several schools within walking distance.

Although not without its problems, this plan was effective in substantially desegregating Cambridge schools, and maintained public support and involvement with the public schools. It’s not surprising then that Robert Peterkin, Superintendent, was called in as a consultant on the similar plan in Champaign. The story in Champaign is still unfolding (as it is in Cambridge and Boston as well). But if I had to draw lessons today from these three experiences, I’d say that it’s essential for Champaign residents today to avoid the disastrous path of resistance that Boston experienced

champaignThe Champaign school district has been struggling to address concerns such as too many black students in special education and discipline referrals; too few in gifted and honors classes; and black students being bused out of their neighborhoods. Responses such as denying the problems or siting new schools outside of black communities (though still technically north side) remind me of Boston’s response. Everyone would benefit if the school system and residents were to embrace not only the technical details of the Cambridge (or similar) plan, but also the spirit that saw how desegregation could enrich the learning for all.

References

The bottom line in health care

healthIn my previous post on Single-payer health care: Why not?, I talked about our family’s experiences with health care in France, UK, Ireland, Italy, China, Australia, and other places in comparison to that in the US. This included health care for children and the elderly, and both minor (blood donation, physicals, skin growth removal) and major (broken hip, eye infection) procedures.

Thinking a bit more about this I realized that there were four essential facts that emerged from this wide variety of experiences. In every industrialized country except the US,

  1. Equitable: Everyone has the right to health care.
  2. Effective: People live longer, healthier lives.
  3. Economical: They spend less on health care, as much as 50% less.
  4. Efficient: There is much less bureaucracy, fewer forms, less running around, less waiting.

dollarI might add a fifth point, too: The scare stories that we hear (“you have to wait forever!” “you can’t choose your doctor!”) are simply false, or they index issues that are the same or worse in the US. The information we get about health care promotes profit, not health.

There are many issues–changing demographics, new technologies, new medical knowledge, changing standards, globalization, and more–which affect health care. But the fundamental difference in the current US situation is that health care is driven by the bottom line. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, media corporations, hospitals and clinics, doctors and other health care professionals, and all others involved in health care operate in a system in which rewards bear little relation to the overall quality of care or efficient use of resources.

One can debate each of the points above, but the evidence from OECD, UN, WHO, WTO, and other international organizations is overwhelming in support of them. Other systems offer health care that is more equitable, more effective, more economical, and more efficient.

So, why is single-payer, or national health care not even worth discussing? Why does the Obama plan dismiss it? Why does even public broadcasting ignore it?

For the sake of a single verse

I’ve always liked the passage below by Rainer Maria Rilke, and especially the book by Ben Shahn whose lithographs illustrate each line starting with “For the sake of a single verse.”

Rilke wrote this when he was 28. Shahn discovered it when he was about that age, saying, “I wouldn’t have attempted to do it if I hadn’t had myself every one of the experiences [Rilke] described.” I remember the cellist Yo Yo Ma expressing a similar idea once. Already acknowledged as a master, he said he wouldn’t be really good at a young age and needed to live in order to play.

I first encountered Shahn’s book when I was also in my late 20’s. That was a time when I began to feel that I was completed–finished with schooling, past the age for the military draft, onto a job in industry after three years teaching at Rutgers, married and already divorced. Then it hit me: I barely knew how to live, much less to turn experiences to memories to “blood within.”

The passage spoke to me then of that sense of personal ending/beginning. But I also see it now as a lesson in humility for whatever we do. Our efforts to produce that single verse often focus on the rhyme and meter, when we ought to think more about engaging more fully in the life that that verse represents.

Audio version

200px-RilkeI think I ought to begin to do some work, now that I am learning to see. I am twenty-eight years old, and almost nothing has been done. To recapitulate I have written a study on Carpaccio which is bad, a drama entitled ‘Marriage,’ which sets out to demonstrate something false by equivocal means, and some verses. Ah! but verses amount to so little when one writes them young. One ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness a whole life long and a long life, if possible, and then, quite at the end, one night perhaps be able to write ten lines that were good. For verses are not, as people imagine, simply feelings (those one has early enough)–they are experiences.

shahn_loveFor the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men, and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents whom one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and did not grasp it (it was a joy for someone else); to childhood illnesses that so strangely begin with such a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars—and it is not yet enough if one may think of all this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again.

ShahnFor it is not yet the memories themselves. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance, and gesture, nameless, and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge), 1910

Elizabeth McMaster

Elizabeth McMaster lived a short life that was filled with music and art, and she brought two beautiful daughters into the world. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia cc. 1897 and died there in October, 1931. At the time of her death, her daughter Betty was 12 and her daughter Catherine was 10.

Elizabeth was a talented singer. Among her favorites were “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” and “Charmaine.” She also painted in oils (see first photo below).

In 1917(?), she married Charles Whitfield Holloway in Atlanta. He was two years younger. Betty was born while they lived there. The family then moved to Chattanooga, where Catherine was born. Charles’s sister Pauline and her mother lived with the family there after her father died. They then moved to Lakeland, Florida, and later to Richmond, Virginia, then back to Atlanta, where they first lived in an apartment on Ponce de Leon street. These moves were due to Charles’s work as a salesman for the B. F. Goodrich Rubber Co.

Elizabeth’s mother felt that Charles was too young and wouldn’t amount to much. Because of this, Charles and Elizabeth had eloped. Despite the estrangement of Charles and her mother, Elizabeth and her daughters kept in close touch with her. However, they didn’t hear from her again after Elizabeth’s funeral.

Elizabeth suffered from nocturnal epilepsy. It was her daughters who discovered her death. Catherine was asked to go outside while others removed the body. After her death, Betty and Catherine went to live with Charles’s brother Emmett and his wife in an apartment in Decatur, Georgia. After a few months they all moved to a house in Atlanta.

Charles then married Eva Lassiter (aka Sugy) and was chosen to manage a Goodrich store in Augusta, where the family moved next. Betty and Catherine were then in high school. He later proved his mother-in-law wrong with the building of the very successful Holloway Tire Co., which sold tires and recapped truck tires. He was also a partner with Ralph Snow in Southeastern Rubber Manufacturing Co. Near the end of the War or possibly shortly afterwards, they went to Washington and received an allotment of rubber and started a company to make camelback for tire recapping (or retreading). Eventually the Holloways built a house at 2727 Hillcrest Avenue and moved there for the remainder of the lives of Charles and Eva.

See more on the Hall and Holloway families.

Single-payer health care: Why not?

180px-Roma_-_FatebenefratelliI’ve been fortunate to have traveled many places, and to have lived for extended periods in China, Australia, France, and Ireland. During those travels, my family has received health care on many occasions, including for our small children in China and Asutralia, my wife in Scotland, and my 87-year-old mother in Ireland.

This health care has come in a variety of forms, including treatment for my ten-year-old daughter’s eyes at the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God or Fatebenefratelli (see left), located on San Bartolomeo, the only island in the Tiber River in Rome. That hospital was built in 1584 on the site of the Aesculapius temple.

clontarfWe also faced emergency surgery for my mother’s hip at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland and subsequent rehab at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Ireland in Clontarf (right). In China, we were served in medical facilities with separate queues for Western medicine (our choice) and traditional Chinese medicine (below left). I donated blood many times at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, founded in 651 on the Ile de la Cité (below right). I’ve also observed, though not had to depend upon, health care in Russia and even in economically oppressed places such as Haiti.

beida_hospitalOn the whole, I’ve received excellent care in a variety of conditions. Individual health providers have been courteous, knowledgeable, and dedicated to their professions. For myself and my family, the experience of care did not depend on the setting or language, but rather on the ailment or the specific people providing care.

And yet, one thing stands out: Among the industrialized nations, the United States is the only one without universal health care. All of the others provide health care for all. They also do it primarily through single-payer systems.

The United States operates instead through a complex bureaucracy of insurance policies, doughnut hole prescription drug coverage, forms and regulations galore, massive administration, unnecessary and excessive procedures, complex and confusing tax codes, leading to escalating costs and unfair coverage. The inequity of care actually costs all of us more in the end, because of lack of preventative care, inefficient delivery (e.g., emergency rooms), and lost productivity. Our system costs much more, even double that found in other countries.

hotel_dieuIf we were to find that spending a few dollars more gave us better care, there might be little room for argument. But in comparable economies, people spend much less, yet have longer, healthier lives (American Health Care: A System to Die For: Health Care for All). Why then, is the system that works in Canada, Japan, Europe, Australia, etc., not even under consideration here?

The answer is unfortunately all too obvious: Americans, unlike citizens in other countries, have ceded control of their own health care to profit-making insurance companies, hospitals, clinics, laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and other entities. The best we can do is an occasional feeble cheer when someone asks why our government can’t even consider a single-payer system. Then we listen to an answer that mostly obfuscates and lays the blame for it back on our own timidity:

Why you should not run on the ice

humerusAre you one of the few people in the world who know enough to surf the web in order to read this blog post, but not enough to tread carefully on the ice?

If so, please note the small, line fracture of the humerus in the x-ray image on the left. That’s where the rotator cuff attaches. It’s reminded me every day for the past month why running on the ice is a bad idea.

Simpliciter, the lobster boat

simpliciterSimpliciter, the lobster boat from Nova Scotia, arrived around 10:30 last night, carrying our good friends Brian and Gillian and their cat, Ra. It was not what we expected to appear in our wooded, inland lot.

Driving the enormous double cab pickup and boat, a 60-foot combination, up our long, curving driveway was an adventure, but it was even more fun backing it down the next day.

We had a wonderful, but all too brief visit with them. They’re heading south and west on a year-long leave, ready at any moment for a beckoning lake or coastline.

raladder