Sunday, August 26, 2012

Heroines of Note

Remember these names: Nasrine Gross and Mary MacMakin. Privileged in a way, sure: educated, enlightened, engaged. Nasrine through runs a program in Kabul that teaches Dari to illiterate (false word) couples, often bringing together couples who would otherwise not have met. The idea is a novelty in the mud-brick homes of Kabul. She spoke at a gathering in her Falls Church, Va., home recently about the husband of a couple taking part in a ceremony at which they would receive a certificate for completing the course - but he was unable (some thought 'unwilling') to sign his name to the certificate. It turns out he was deaf and blind (his wife said) but he had participated in order to be sure his wife had some education. She revealed this when he struggled to find a way to put his thumbprint down on paper. Support this Afghan-born woman and her efforts, much of which is possible only through her own funding. On November 9, there is a bazaar that will feature Afghan crafts with proceeds going to the program. The costs of helping raise the literacy rate in that country are astoundingly low.
Mary MacMakin, an American in her 80s, was imprisoned for four days in July 2000 by the Taliban for her efforts in helping widows and orphans to support themselves through an organization she launched called PARSA, Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Support for Afghanistan.  (The program teaches women how to be physiotherapists, among other good works.) The Stanford University graduate first went to Afghanistan in 1961 with her husband and got engaged in various humanitarian projects. Tough ladies doing tough stuff. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summertime Angst

Is the high decibel count in some  DC's eateries and drinkeasies meant to cover up our inability to actually converse? What we most often get is surround sound and talking twitter heads on speed. Shouting is the skill you need most of all when dining out where tables are stacked too close together for comfort and noise abatement doesn't exist.  Even a restaurant critic's effort to list decibel levels doesn't hit home until too late. One person's tolerance can be another's terror.  Often the only quiet time is at the stroke of the opening hour.
With the  building boom going on apace, street noise can be equally lurid. But outdoors a  walker can remove himself by counting steps and checking views. Go with grace, there's much to see high and low. Look up at midday at 21st and New Hampshire NW and see a man sitting on the top floor balcony of a renovated downtown mansion painted a brilliant white. Look down and see 'Democracy Tree,' a sturdy American Elm at New Hampshire and 21st NW.  A small bronze plaque buried in the ground  says the tree is dedicated to  District vets, taxpayers, and citizens all who are denied their representative voting rights in Congress, a gift from Foundry United Methodist Church because "Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny." Why there, so low, and why this particular tree? Across the way another redundant glass and steel edifice is under construction next to, miraculously enough, a tall gloriously green seemingly healthy tree that reaches beyond the fourth floor.
This treat for the vertically inclined:  the variety of finials, those ornaments peaking out of older  domestic structures (Historic Preservation treasures, many of them) "like the screw on top of a lampshade," as  Webster's puts it aptly enough. Why were they put there in the first place? There's no questioning the rods that poke up like a forest of stalagmites from roofs on more contemporary buildings. A virtual virus of security and communication apparatus taking root overhead. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

City in a Village

 The iconic  institution of Chautauqua, begun long ago to give spiritual and educational instruction to teachers, is a little village with big city ideas. Where else within one week for several hundred dollars  can you find lectures about Effects of Trauma  on the Body (or words to that effect), the Absurd Necessity of Reading,  etc., plus  five days of delirious thoughts about digital identity, not to mention art, theater, dance, music, film and sport? A schedule bursting minute to minute with temptations of every conceivable kind guaranteed to drive a couch potato off his rocker.

The digital theme was just one of many weeks' topics in a summer schedule taking place annually  below the national radar at this lakeside community of several thousand in the sleepy precincts of upstate (i.e. the far western corner bordering Penna. and Ohio)  New York. The earnestness of this educational enterprise is as all-American as its inclusiveness. Inspiring to the point of pretension except there is little pretension anywhere: no dress code, no outward declaration of ethnic or religious upbringing, no rules except common sense and common courtesy. Like much else that undergirds the country's origins, a religious bent is ever present although designed  to stimulate rather than propagate.

That is just the passing view of a casual guest taking part briefly like some Martian - dropping in from the more humid harried urban center of Washington, DC, for a few days of deliciously eclectic living.  Check it out:  And especially check out thoughts spoken and written by Sherry Turkle, of MIT's "Initiative on Technology and Self" as well as Braden Allenby of Ariz. State (a lawyer and engineer) on "The Slow Sunset of the Self." Allenby left Freud in the dust when talking about the future Darwinian drift of the human species, courtesy of developments in electronic technology. Warrior robots are coming and who knows what else.

Caveat: Chautauqua is a gated community with ID tags so there are  rules and restrictions. Bohemia it is not.