Tuesday, December 27, 2011
1. If you can walk, you can run
The best athlete I have ever known was a friend from college named Henry Fox. Henry had been the New England cross-country ski champion in high school. When I became a coxswain on the Trinity College freshman crew team, Henry was the strongest rower on the Trinity varsity lightweight team, the fastest lightweight boat in the country. He was the kind of person an underclassman like me aspired to be. He was funny, enthusiastic and drove himself incredibly hard. One of his favorite ways to push himself on a run was to pick a spot 100 feet away and hold his breath tightly until he reached the destination, his lungs exploding for oxygen upon arrival.
Henry loved to recite Vince Lombardi sayings and stories. "If you can walk, you can run," he crooned with delight. He told of a time Lombardi's Green Bay Packers played a particularly lackluster first half. As the players waited in the locker room, dreading the fury of their notoriously fiery coach, Lombardi instead opened the door, stuck his head in and with a surprised look declared: "Oh, I'm sorry. I was looking for the men's room." He closed the door and left, letting the players stew in their own shortcomings. The Packers stormed back on to the field and won the game.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Presented to the Club on Monday evening, Nov. 14, 2011 by Charles F. Sawyer
In 1989, I delivered my first paper to the Monday Evening Club. The subject of the paper concerned the implications of a book written by Bill McKibben, entitled “The End of Nature." Published that year, after having been serialized in the New Yorker, it is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has been printed in more than twenty languages. A recent updated version was published in 2006. The message of the book was that true nature, which was independent of human influence, has been replaced by an artificial nature that had been created by the actions and interactions of human beings. He pointed out that human activity had changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, with enormous implications for the quality of life in the future. He pointed out that our influence on climate, with changing temperatures and sea levels would likely lead to less predictable and more violent weather events. McKibben’s discussion of the issues presented by these changes was both broad and detailed and illustrated in both scientific and human terms. He listed possible consequences of environmental degradation including floods and famine, worsening asthma and hay fever. He points out that we way in which we live, with our cars, our houses, plastics and pesticides, are as much a part of our world as the trees, waters and hills that are the natural landscape. He takes the position that we will have decide between our material world and the natural world. He envisions a “humbler world” where we would make do with less and thus take a less dominant position with relation to nature and where nature might once again establish itself as independent and constant. In the end, he does not think that likely. He sees a managed world, in which human beings control the climate, genetics and ecology as the most likely scenario, short of ecological catastrophe.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
"What are you reading?" Such was the signature greeting of my mentor, Dr. Guy W. Leadbetter, Chief of Urology at the University of Vermont Medical School. Of course, despite the rigorous health sciences program of Medical School, and a residency training program consuming 80 or more hours a week caring for patients, he was not referring to academics. He wanted to know what I was reading for fun. What imaginary story of intrigue was capturing my interest? Or, perhaps, whose biography was garnering my attention. He didn’t care that the book might not be great or famous or even popular — only that he felt it was critically important to be stimulating one’s mind with something other than medicine. He himself was a great fan of Louis L’Amour — the American author who described his novels as “Frontier Stories.” I believe Dr. Leadbetter claimed to have read all 105 of L’Amour’s books.
This was the same man who, following any conference presentation, challenged each individual in the audience with the requirement to have a question at the ready. His caveat: “If you don’t have a question, then you weren’t paying attention.” (Kind of reminds you a bit of the Monday Evening Club, doesn’t it?)
When I entered medical school, I was certain I wanted to be a pediatrician. At that time, the third year curriculum required two months of OB/GYN, two months of psychiatry, two months of pediatrics, three months of medicine and three months of surgery. After serving on the Pediatric hospital ward for the first of the two required months, I was even surer that this was the career path I would take. However, the second month in a local pediatrician’s office, proved to be my undoing — one screaming child after another. Talk about cluster headaches at the end of the day! I simply couldn’t manage it.
It was during my surgery rotation, that I first encountered Dr. Leadbetter. At that time, he was in his early 50s. He had written five lead articles for the New England Journal of Medicine. He had conceived, and invented two different pediatric urologic operations — one for severe incontinence, the other for ureteral reflux. Tireless in his pursuit of achieving the best possible outcomes for his patients, he expected 110 percent effort from his staff, but only because he lead by example. A giant in the field, he would go on to become the president of the American Urologic Association.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
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From December 7, 1941, until August 1945, the personification of America’s enemy in the Pacific War was Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Public officials, military leaders and the press rarely missed an opportunity to tie Hirohito’s name to the struggle against Japan. For example, General Douglas MacArthur, speaking in March 1942 to the Australian parliament, promised the lawmakers “there can be no compromise . . . We shall die . . . in the fight to drive Emperor Hirohito’s invasion armies back out of the southwest Pacific.” War correspondents were fond of language like, “Hirohito’s invasion hordes were reported striking peak fury down the Malaya peninsula today.”
Often, Hirohito’s name was being uttered in the same breath as the other Axis leaders: “Mr. Hirohito, Mr. Hitler and Mr. Mussolini will be entirely eliminated from the picture—and that soon!” the mayor of Pittsburgh said in a speech. “Mr. Hitler and Mr. Hirohito, take notice!” the Christian Science Monitor started a story about military preparedness. “Hirohito’s invasion hordes were reported striking peak fury down the Malaya peninsula today,” the Associated Press reported.
“Blame Hitler, Hirohito and Benito! . . .Don’t blame your grocer!” was the headline on a 1942 newspaper advertisement from Heinz, explaining why tin rationing might squeeze supplies of some of the “57” varieties.
In 1944, this ad headline in the Spokane Spokesman Review offered an incentive to buying $18.75 worth of war bonds: “How’d you like to send your compliments to Hirohito on a bomb? Well, here’s your chance . . . There’s a parachute bomb that’s all yours, just waiting for your personal greetings to be added to start it on its way.”
But while that kind of rhetoric continued, by 1945 there were hints that Hirohito might not be in the same archfiend league as Hitler and Mussolini.
The government had begun to hint at a go-easy on Hirohito policy, and some columnists were beginning to warm up to it. Direct military attacks and even propaganda attacks on him were being avoided out of concern that doing so would elevate the conflict to a religious war and increase the fanaticism of the Japanese people, and because the word for unconditional surrender would ultimately have to come from the emperor’s lips.
Friday, May 20, 2011
It was on "The hair of my chin," his beard, that the little pig vowed his defiance to the wolf. With men, as well as well as little pigs, beards have been traditional symbols of maleness, and, in some eras, have had important significance. Implying that a man would rather emasculate his chin than fail to live up to a promise is reflected in the oath, “By my beard” used by Shakespeare in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” In all but the most primitive societies, when a beard was worn, it has been a conscious choice, but that choice has waxed and waned throughout history. It is the wearing of beards, and the razors for removing them, that we will consider this evening.
On display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo are several oval gold disks, with small handles on one side, identified as razors of the period four millennia ago. If one doubted that these devices were effective, relics and pictures of Egyptian royalty of that period show the men shaven, though in some cases with a small circular beard, real or artificial – of gold – in the middle of their chins. Clean chins and jaws have been a possible choice for the elite for a very long time.
Meanwhile, across the Red Sea, Jews following the instructions in Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 27 wore truly full beards. That verse states that “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads; neither shall thou mar the corners of thy beard.” (We might note that verse 18 of that same chapter includes the “Great Commandment “ –“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”) Over the course of history, we’ll see men adding or removing their beards for indefinite reasons, but in this case the authority is clear.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
In the last 50 years there has been a revolution in this country. It has been non-violent, but certainly exciting, spirited, and dramatic. It has affected each of us in either major or minor ways, but no one has been immune.
I’m talking about the change in America’s food and eating habits.
Fast food is one branch of this upheaval. But the other direction – and one more interesting to me – has been the enormous increase in the variety of food we now take for granted. An orange in your Christmas stocking (perhaps along with a lump of coal if you had been involved in some misdeeds) was a treat – now we have grapefruit and oranges year round. Salsa and sushi were unknown. Now salsa has surpassed ketchup as America’s most popular condiment and sushi is even in Pittsfield, Lenox, and Great Barrington.
Butter used to be, well, just butter. Now it comes in a variety of butterfat contents. And one writer describes being at a salt tasting, of all things. “The waiter, like some particularly elegant cocaine dealer, gently spooned nine mini-mounds onto a little board, each salt a different hue and consistency from the next – one as fine and white as baking powder, another dark and chunkily crystalline.” This is a long way from the all-purpose Morton’s Salt we grew up with.
It is, in short, a great time to be an eater. And how often do we get to say something as unreservedly upbeat as that? We often complain that things aren’t as good as they used to be: movies, music, baseball, political talk – but food is one area of American life where things just continue to improve.
If we’re cooking at home, we have a greater breadth and higher quality of ingredients available to us. If we’re eating out, we have more options open to us.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
"Nothing intelligent to say...": Servants and slaves in southern New England; the initial years for natives and settlers
Last fall I began to search for material about slavery in 17th century southern New England with the hope that I would have something intelligent to say for my first endeavor as “reader.” No surprise, there is a richness, complexity and darkness to the history of natives and settlers, as differing peoples began to mix it up in this territory. I will describe some key events from 1620 to 1640, an incomplete narrative, after taking a look at the respective cultures that clashed once English settlers began to arrive on native land. My enigmatic title is part of a quote from the novelist Kurt Vonnegut which I will explain later.
I hope to explore how English settlers got here, how servitude evolved and slavery took hold as a significant economic, social and security development. The sources I found are almost exclusively based upon accounts of colonist history by colonists and accounts of native activity by colonists. Archeology has provided limited data regarding the lives of natives in the early 1600s. What we mostly have is one side of the story.
I. Backdrop of the Clash of Peoples
As far back as 7,000 years ago peoples inhabited our four season region of woodland, mountains and coastland. The migrating Algonquin people arrived 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, divided into nations, living a life of hunting, fishing, gathering and seasonal crop farming, with clustered villages along the coast in the warm months and inland by other waters during the coldest, following game. They lived in circular thatched dwellings easily moved with the seasons or in more permanent longhouses.