Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Tribute to Gene Sharp

No. I had never heard of him either. I read about him in the New York Times (the quoted phrases are from that paper) and I am awed.

He writes things. One work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” is a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats (available for download in 24 languages) that has “inspired dissidents around the world, including those in Burma/Myanmar, Bosnia, Estonia, Zimbabwe and … Tunisia and Egypt.”

His “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” was one of the papers distributed to Egyptians several years ago. And apparently demonstrate that ‘ideas have power.’

When Gene Sharp learned that Hosni Mubarak was ousted, he said, “The people of Egypt did that – not me.”

He lives in a modest house in East Boston that “doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant … and a part-time office manager/ Golden Retriever mix named Sally.”

He rarely works ‘in the field’ but in the early 1990s, “he snuck into a Myanmar rebel camp” at the invitation of an opposition advisor who remembers, “Here we were in the jungle, reading Gene Sharp’s work by candlelight…. This guy has tremendous insight into society and the dynamics of social power.”

Mr. Sharp is 83, “stoop-shouldered and white-haired. His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired …” He has yet to master the Internet.

But he has not stopped working. A new book, “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance in Conflicts” will be published this fall. He did not select the title; he says, “It’s a little immodest.” And he’s working on another manuscript about Einstein (who wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp’s first book, about Gandhi.)

Watching events unfold in Egypt, “he was struck by the Egyptian protestors’ discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by their lack of fear. “That is straight out of Gandhi,” Mr. Sharp said. “If people are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble.”

And ideas, expressed clearly and well, can change the world.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I am a Princess

Actually, I am not a princess but, at the moment, my bed looks like an illustration for “The Princess and the Pea.”

For months, I have become increasingly aware that my old mattress was sagging. Very aware. And very stiff and sore on waking.

Before doing anything about it, I felt I needed to contact my friend who was with me when I purchased the mattress. When I finally did, I did indeed confirm that the mattress in question was supposed last longer than the average mattress … not shorter.

So I contacted the company, sent the requested the photographs and was told that all would be well if I were to buy a new pad … for $1,000.

Not likely.

So I consulted friends, checked Consumer Reports, and armed with a list of acceptable candidates, went shopping. I compared, I tested, I compared again. I made what I thought was an informed decision, whipped out my VISA card and went home pleased with the thought that within days, I would once again have solid, and comfortable, support.

The truck pulled up this morning. Two men entered my house and extracted the dilapidated item. They brought in the new springs. They brought in the new mattress.

The top of my bed is now four feet off the floor.

The company will exchange it. I’ll have more shallow springs by Friday. I’ll come down a notch or two.

In the meantime, I am a princess. Sweet dreams.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Order of the Bifurcated Needle

I was most fortunate – back when I was working for Rotary International (RI) – to meet many members of the “Order of the Bifurcated Needle”. The ‘order’ was created to honor the international health experts who were (if you’ll pardon the expression) instrumental in eradicating smallpox in 1977. The two-pronged or bifurcated needle was what was used to administer the vaccine.

When I joined the RI staff (in 1979) the organization had just decided to support a global effort to help eradicate polio. The organization was going to raise the money and enlist its incredible network of volunteers to wipe out a major crippler and sometimes killer of children. It was to be its gift to the world for new millennium. It was supposed to be complete in time for Rotary’s centennial, 2005. It wasn’t. It isn’t. And the debate about whether or not it can be done continues.

The man who created the “Order of the Bifurcated Needle” – Dr. D.A. Henderson -- recently declared that the polio eradication effort could not succeed but, more recently, agreed that it could. Other members of the ‘order’ – Dr. Ciro de Quadros and Dr. William H. Foege – helped change his mind. That and the unstinting financial support of the Gates Foundation.

I met all these men as part of my job with RI. I was in the auditorium of the Pan American Health Organization’s Washington, D.C. headquarters on the day an international commission announced that polio had been wiped out of the Western Hemisphere.

And I met the Rotary volunteers in Guatemala and Mexico and the Philippines and Turkey and Peru and India who were part of the massive efforts in their respective countries.

They are still working. They are still dedicated to eradicating the disease that people in this country barely remember.

I know the nature of the people involved. It will happen. Polio will be wiped out.

Dr. Ciro de Quadros led the fight against smallpox in Ethiopia. Dr. Henderson remembered: "I watched him perform in Ethiopia. … The obstacles were unbelievable - the emperor assassinated, two revolutionary groups fighting, nine of his own teams kidnapped, even a helicopter captured and held for ransom. He kept the teams in the field - and that helicopter pilot went out and vaccinated all the rebels."

It will happen again. Polio will be wiped out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February Sunshine

In one of his books, Tom Robbins described February as lard on white bread. [I’d go even further… it’s like lard on white Wonderbread – a product my mom used to buy only to wad up into the balls she used to clean the keys on our piano. She thought that that particular brand was the absolute nadir of all breads.] Actually I think February is the absolute nadir of all months. Even with only 28 days it’s too long. You have to wait until it’s over before you can even think about spring. And Valentines Day – especially if you have no true (or untrue) love – doesn’t help at all. You can see what it has done to me. I haven’t posted a blog (is that the technologically correct phrase?) since Feb. 5. Now it’s the 11th! I’ll be thrown out of the blog kingdom. Actually, there’s no real excuse to succumb to February doldrums in a state that has so much sunshine. [Believe me, it’s more understandable in places like Youngstown, Ohio or Detroit, Michigan or even Chicago, Illinois. I’ve spent Februarys in each of those cities – none of which had half as much sunshine as Loveland, Colorado.] But it’s still cold, for Pete’s sake.

Current events seem to accent the negative – Republicans zooming in on abortion rights, campaigns against women in Iran and the Congo.

No wait – I read good news about the Congo. What I hadn’t known was that, according to the NY Times, “For years, diplomats, aid workers, academics and government officials have been vexed almost to the point of paralysis about how to attack [the country’s] staggering problem of sexual violence, in which hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, many quite sadistically, by the various armed groups who haunt the hills of eastern Congo.” So the American woman who wrote “The Vagina Monologues”, Eve Ensler was in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, this week to open “City of Joy” – a compound of homes, classrooms, courtyards and verandas where small groups of Congolese women will be groomed to become ‘an army of women’ – community leaders trained in self defense, computers, and trades and farming who, after graduation, will return to their communities to empower others. NY Times again: "The center, built partly by the hands of the women themselves, cost around $1 million. UNICEF contributed a substantial amount, and the rest was raised from foundations and private donors by Ms. Ensler’s advocacy group, V-Day. Google is donating a computer center."

WOW. Go Eve Ensler! Go Congolese women!

Okay, okay … the sun IS shining and Spring may show up after all.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Idle Thoughts in Winter

"Of many Arts, one surpasses all. For the maiden seated at her work flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle, ... and from this, her amusement, makes as much profit as a man earns by the sweat of his brow, and no maiden ever complains, at even, of the length of the day. The issue is a fine web, which feeds the pride of the whole globe; which surrounds with its fine border cloaks and tuckers, and shows grandly round the throats and hands of Kings." - Jacob Van Eyck, 1651.

Jacob was writing about lace-making. I was inspired to Google-investigate lace by looking at deciduous trees in winter. Their intricate tracery – the complexities within complexities that in summer are hidden beneath shades of shimmering jade – is wondrous.

If trees did not lose their leaves in winter, would lace have been created?

Well, probably. Recall spider webs and the skeletons of autumn leaves, frost on windows or even the pale blue patterns of veins on human hands.

The patterns, when you look for them, are everywhere.

But why lace? It is not a necessary thing. Our ancient, ancient ancestors had no need for such foppery.

Still, from the first emergings from Africa’s primordial valleys, we have sought embellishment for the garments that protect us from heat and cold. Even Neanderthals decorated their animal skin clothing.

Perhaps lace and embroidery and much of art is both an echo and a tribute to the patterns within patterns within patterns of the entire web of life.

Idle thoughts on a winter afternoon. Or, appreciations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Taste of Chicago

Please don’t blame me. Just because I waxed lyrical about the recent balmy temperatures does not mean that I jinxed the entire northern Colorado region now suffering sub-zero temperatures. Really, it’s not my fault.

Fortunately, having lived many years in Chicago, I have the means to survive this kind of weather. One is my Michelin Man coat in which I look rather like a walking padded cell. But it works.

Then I have these fuzzy lined boots that barely fit over feet clad in both tights and Smart Wool socks. [I wish I got kickbacks for product placement.]

A couple of years ago, my nephew & his family gave me monstrously padded gloves in which my hands resemble black and white lobster claws. They work too although I have to put on normal winter gloves for anything requiring a modicum of dexterity.

I also have a knitted hat that keeps my head warm because it’s too damned cold to worry about coiffures.

Underneath all this are layers of warm things.

I wrap up so well that I can’t really get my seatbelt fastened. [Maybe I could if I took off my gloves and really tried but it’s too ….]

And typically, the temperature will be back to normal, more acceptable temperatures tomorrow.

And I still love Colorado.