Friday, January 28, 2011

Empty Inbox

At last, an empty work inbox:

Closing Time

To all my extended colleagues and connections,

Many of you already know, but I wanted put up a short post to announce that Friday, January 28 will be my last day at Moog, and I'll be starting a new full-time position with my parent company (the Superior Group) next week.

I'm excited about my new position. In my new role for Superior, I’ll be working as Brand and Business Innovation manager for the company and be responsible for the creation, development, and maturation of new ideas and driving innovation for the business. I’ll also lead initiatives as they pertain to branding, online marketing, and our intranet and public web properties.

Thanks to everyone for all the support over the years and through my recent job transition.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Life Playlist - Song Pick for 2010

I've selected a song for 2010 and added it to My Life Playlist.

I mulled four songs before picking a winner, and enjoyed the process of reflecting on some great music from the past year.

First, the winner:

"Crash Years" by The New Pornographers
This is Indie rock at its best.

And, the three honorable mentions:

"Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri
Raw but brimming with emotional intensity. Watch Christina Perri -- she's going to be a star.

"Animal" by Neon Trees
Catchy, with fast beats and a big chorus.

"Boy Lilikoi" by Jónsi
I'm thankful I discovered this incredibly gifted Icelandic singer in 2010. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Convergence of the Twain

"Eradicating an ugly word won't erase history. And in order to learn from past mistakes, we must understand our history."

So wrote one of my friends1  in an email exchange in which we discussed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Alan Gribben NewSouth Edition that's been in the news lately -- the one in which the editors decided to eliminate the racial slurs, including the "n-word."

I was bothered by the new edition when I first heard about it and then again when I engaged in some vigorous oppositional debate about it with a neighbor. According to Gribben, the "racial insults" in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (as well as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) "repulse modern-day readers" such that "this editor gradually concluded that an epithet-free edition of Twain's books is necessary today."

On the surface, the intention seems laudable: make Twain's works more accessible to American schoolchildren. And since Twain's books are in the public domain, anyone can make a revised edition, including board books for kids or a version in which Huck is a Klingon, as Neil Gaiman tweeted2. Annotated editions of classic literature are nothing new, after all.

The problem and contentiousness, then, is when it comes to the classroom, especially the middle and high school grades, and the prospect of using the revised edition instead of the original text. There's no doubt that teaching the unexpurgated book will make readers very uncomfortable and force students to confront some difficult questions and realities, including our history or racism and its past permeation in our national idiom. I reject that the experience or discomfort will be the same or even similar if students never have to read or hear the "n-word". The substitution lessens the opportunities for education and learning. Imagine a survey class on race in America that featured not only The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but also The Autobiography of Frederick Douglas, and the movies Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Pulp Fiction. Now replace all the racial epithets and just imagine the neutered experience.

Taking this further, I think it's worth exploring why we would prefer not to teach a book that makes kids uncomfortable but that can also engender real exploration and thinking about racism. I know, it's all about the kids and what they need. But is it? The more I reflect on this, I can't help but suspect that it's more about our own discomfort with the topic -- we either don't want to dig into a meaningful discussion about race and work through everything that entails or we just don't trust ourselves as adults to handle this material with enough delicacy and understanding. After all, the "n-word" is combustible and a term that forces us as adults to explain why the context of the "n-word" is different when Huck uses it, compared to when a black rapper uses it, and compared to when a racist uses it.

No matter the reason, we're shortchanging our kids if we steer clear of difficult language and topics. The world won't always substitute harsh words or realities for them, and a whitewashed version of the past won't help them learn from history and some of our darkest sins.

Some caveats:

- No doubt, there's an age when a student is emotionally and intellectually capable of discussing the "n-word" in a classroom setting. I don't know what that age is, but I trust our educators can pick an appropriate age and accommodate students who can't handle the material, as they must do with other subjects.

- The book should only be read if the subject and pejorative language are handled with sensitivity. This goes to teacher capability, and I suspect our teachers can handle this, as long as we're willing to discuss race openly in schools.

[1] Gwen Ito, @GTBito on Twitter

[2] Neil Gaiman, @neilhimself on Twitter

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti Earthquake - One Year Ago

One year ago today, on January 12, 2010, a devasting earthquake struck Haiti. For me, this was a tragedy unlike others, even of similar or greater proportions, because it was personal and directly involved my next door neighbor, Erin Lancer, who was in Haiti when the earthquake happened. Erin was there visiting with the little boy (Geoff) she and her husband (Mike) were planning to adopt.

The immediate aftermath was a rush of days and efforts by her family trying to cope with the situation and help bring her back home. The local news picked up the story, and Mike Lancer posted to Facebook constantly, updating friends and family about Erin's status. Within a few days, Erin came home to Buffalo, but without Geoff, who she had to leave behind because the adoption hadn't been finalized yet.

Frantic efforts followed to finalize Geoff's adoption and clear the way for him to join the Lancer's in the U.S. Politicians got involved, including Senator Chuck Schumer of NY. Then, on January 29, just over two weeks after the earthquake, the Lancers were able to pick up Geoff in Florida and eventually bring him to his new, adopted home. It was a ray of life for at one Haitian child among thousands.

From the start, Geoff's arrival has been a gift to my family and a reminder of how a deep act of kindness can save a life. My daughter is a year younger than Geoff, but she immediately took to his infectious smile and effusive style of play. As next door neighbors, there are often opportunities for both planned and spontaneous play, and since his arrival on our street, my daughter and Geoff have found all kinds of ways to have fun, including riding in a wagon together, walking around the block, and swimming in the pool.

Geoff has also brought more diversity into my daughter's world. Her reality and world now include a neighbor and playmate who is visibly different but yet who's just like her. It's helped expand her notions or people and race, and it's one more reason we're thankful to have Geoff in our neighborhood and life.

One can't predict the vicissitudes of life. We don't know how long we'll be neighbors with Geoff and his family, or if my daughter and he will remain friends through the vagaries of adolescence. I am pretty certain, though, that we'll always remember the Haiti earthquake and the relief and happiness we shared when Erin and then Geoff came home.

Sonje Ayiti.