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October 2013 Fargo Archive Pages

October 7

  • Testing, testing
    • Just wondering.

October 6

  • Remembering Eileen and Harvey Bender
    • Remarks at a dedication ceremony on the IU South Bend campus, October 5, 2013.
    • Planting a tree in autumn takes me back to Westover Greenhouses in St. Louis, where I worked when I was in college. Our customers knew that there were a few choice weeks in the fall, just right for planting trees, but you could see the uncertainty on some of their faces when they looked at the trees themselves, which might very well already have started dropping their leaves. Even though a laborer like me didn’t need to know very much biology to earn a paycheck at Westover, we all knew how to check an autumn tree. Out there near the end of the smallest branches, you would use your thumbnail to scrape away just a little bark. And if you weren’t standing on a highly fertilized lawn like this one, what you would see when you scraped away a little bark was easily the most brilliant green you could find in October, the undercurrent of green cells called the cambium that is the fiber of life in a tree. When I checked this tree the other day, it was beautiful to see that undercurrent of green, not just because that’s what you want to see in a tree but because living in this town and working on this campus I feel the beautiful, lively undercurrent that still flows through us from the lives and spirits of our friends Eileen and Harvey.
    • Let me give you a few quick examples. Just over there in the quad a couple of months ago I was chatting with a former student of Eileen’s, and I asked him if he was reading anything good. He mentioned a novel he was enjoying and said that it was the perfect sort of book to talk about with Eileen. And I could tell that a conversation about literature that went back to one of her classes was still flowing—still flowering—in his mind months, maybe years later. He is one of those lucky people who knew she kept her office door open for hours a day and with great generosity made herself available to students and colleagues who wanted to talk long and deeply about literature and education and society. The example she set is still green in our memory.
    • I think I will never forget the care Harvey took of Eileen in her final years of teaching here. He would fetch her from work at the end of long days. I would see the two of them walking through Wiekamp Hall, Eileen walking really pretty slowly because of her vision, and she and Harvey talking about their days. And while I saw them leave the building together many times, I never could spot the slightest impatience in Harvey even though it cannot have felt very natural for such a tall man to walk so slowly. But it was as if he had somehow over time distilled in his heart a blend of love and service that meant that walking the speed Eileen walked was the perfect speed to walk through life if you get to walk next to Eileen. His example, for me, is evergreen, and I aspire to be as decent a man as Harvey.
    • Harvey was a learned man but wore that mantle lightly, I thought. There was the playfulness of his FACET lecture on genetics a couple of years ago, and a light playful streak in everyday conversations that always put another person at ease. I’m tempted to say that people who are really smart and at the same time humane, as Eileen and Harvey were, are likely also to be playful, or even mischievous. I remember Eileen revealing a small portion of her theory of leadership. She said once, “You know so-and-so is a good leader. He gets other people to do his work for him.†I think what she meant was that there’s a way of respecting people and inviting them to join you in a worthy project that makes our lives better, and people will do a lot of work when they feel that respect and believe in the shared mission. I think that’s the secret of FACET, by the way. Eileen figured out a way to get dozens and dozens of good teachers to aspire to be even better teachers and to work together playfully, for years and years, on the quality of Indiana University. Eileen, we’re on to you—you wanted IU to be a better place and you figured out how to get the rest of us to do the work.
    • Oh, but she worked and worked too. I don’t know that I ever talked with her about religious faith, but I saw the dozens and dozens of hours she put in on projects like the IUSB campus self-study, and in that work she quietly testified to her faith in teachers and students and public higher education. There’s something evergreen, too, I think, in the example she set—being able to return day after day believing in the good work of the university and in its improvement.
    • So it’s true that we’ve lost Harvey and Eileen, but at the same time I feel the undercurrent of their lives still as green and present as the bright cambium of the tree that is planted here in their honor and memory.

October 5

  • What I wrote my representative today
    • Living in South Bend as I do, I follow our IN-2nd Congressional district representative Jackie Walorski on Twitter — @RepWalorski — and I check out her press releases on her Walorski.house.gov site from time to time. I know that she signed the August letter (top of page 3) urging House leaders to play hardball on the budget deadlines this fall and to link those political maneuvers to a long-term attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But as the days go by and she blames the Senate over and over again for the government shutdown, I find myself dismayed, as it seems like relentless political sloganeering at best and utterly dishonest propaganda at worst (given the plans revealed in the August letter). So I wrote her an email through her website today. Here’s what I said:
      • Message Subject: Your criticism of the Senate
      • Thank you for this reply to my recent email about the shutdown. I am disappointed that you continue to blame the Senate–on Twitter, in press releases, and there in your letter of reply. Be brave and take responsibility for your actions. You are attempting to win a legislative battle without having a majority in the Senate by withholding funding and refusing to vote on the Senate’s bill. Respect the voters of IN-2 and just say what you are doing. When my elected officials choose rhetoric that is so obviously political, as you are doing here, I turn away from them. When they tell the fuller story and stand by their values, I respect them. It has taken so short a time for you to learn the worst of Washington’s ways. Ken Smith

October 4

  • The endless courtesy of Facebook
    • I am always grateful when Facebook wakes up in the morning and says, “Well, it’s been four, maybe five days since Ken chose ‘Sort: Most Recent’ instead of ‘Sort: Top News’–surely by now he needs a break from that. Should we ask him? Naaaaw, let’s save him a step and go ahead and switch the setting for him now. We’re sure he’ll be grateful.”

October 3

  • Slow poison
    • It would have been interesting to raise up a family of sons, but I don’t have any sons. I am, as the song says, a man who’s rich in daughters. One thing I understand better than I did, before having daughters, is that not a few elements of society are slow poison for girls. But here’s what I suspect now that I’m getting close to being out of the child-rearing business: that we won’t get better in raising our children until we understand more clearly the things in our society that actually nurture children, the good many things that poison children, and, terribly important, the particular ways our society harms boys as well as the particular ways we harm girls. The truth is in the specificity of our understanding, as always. The power of truth is in not just the broad patterns but the details. And in finding a way to converse usefully about these things.

October 2

  • The most powerful sentence I read today
    • “When the noise gets louder than I can stand, I explain – as gently as I can – that my wife would likely still be alive if ACA had gone into effect even three months sooner.”

October 1

  • Magic wand moment in American health care
    • One day he was in the middle of the eleventh year of nagging anxiety over not just a serious health issue but the fact of being “uninsurable” as far as his homeland was concerned. (I know a couple that moved to Central America two or three years ago to deal with a similar crisis.) The next day he had health insurance. A magic wand moment.
    • I wonder what will happen to the mood of the country this week if, say, a million people tell their friends and acquaintances that a few days ago they were “uninsurable” but now they have been able to secure the health and financial protection that everyone needs in the modern world. Time for blogging, social media, chatting over coffee, phone calls, emails, bumper stickers, radio essays, letters to the editor, hiring of sky-writing airplanes. I wonder how much a billboard costs? Scholars of social media, you should be keeping track this week–something might happen.
    • Of course no magic was involved. Policy, the actions of government, and so forth.
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