Category "Society"

July 4, 2005

Happy Interdependence Day

One thing has stuck in my mind from the Live 8 concert Saturday. Will Smith (in Philadelphia), said that we needed a "Declaration of Interdependence." He got that right! If we want a planet to pass on to our children's children's children, we'd better figure it out. We can. In the meantime, this morning's New York Times carried a story about a 15 year old boy, Christopher Rose, who was stabbed and killed yesterday in a street fight over an iPod. When will we ever learn? Happy Interdependence Day.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:58 AM | Society

Category "Society"

July 7, 2005

Ripple Effects

The State of Minnesota is currently in “partial shutdown” because the governor and legislature cannot agree on the budget. The news is featuring more and more examples of how this “partial shutdown” is affecting a growing number of people. Today it hit me, but what amazed me is the much larger ripple in which I was caught.

I had long ago agreed to present a workshop in August on adoptive families at a Summer Institute for Early Childhood Educators. Planning for this has gone on for over a year, and the countdown to the event was proceeding. It turns out that the contract from the State Department of Education that was to provide funding for this institute had not been signed, sealed, and delivered before July 1, and employees in the contract division of the Department of Education are considered “nonessential” and are therefore furloughed indefinitely until the budget is passed. So what’s the big deal? Because one or more persons in that office had not signed the contract, here are just a few of the ripples...

The fiscal agent for the conference (a state university up the road) has cancelled the conference, which was to have been held at St. John’s University. So that will have an impact on the housing and food services at St. John’s. (I hope the Institute has an “out clause” in their contract, but of course that means that St. John’s won’t have the revenue they expected from 300 visitors over 3 days.) The attendees (300 projected from all over Minnesota) will not be able to come, learn, and receive graduate credit for the Institute. How many of them had rearranged family vacations or arranged child care to allow them to attend the Institute? The presenters (like me) will not be able to provide the information that the attendees hoped to receive. The children and families who ultimately stood to benefit from this information will not do so. The planners, who spent many months and much energy working on the conference, will go home empty-handed. All for the want of one person to sign that contract!

This is just one tiny example that will never hit the 6:00 news. How many other examples might there be? We will never know. This is ridiculous! I told someone earlier today that the people of Minnesota are getting fed up with this situation (in a Minnesota-nice kind of way, of course) and are talking about making a clean sweep of those in office. But isn’t that frustration how we ended up with Jesse Ventura??

Posted by hgroteva at 4:08 PM | Society

Category "Society"

August 14, 2005

The Loaves and the Fishes

from this morning's Star Tribune

On the Train to Venice by Jim Moore

The first and least important mistake
was to take the train on Sunday, September 1st,
the last day of vacation for millions of Italians.
Though the train was packed,
we had thought to bring sandwiches.
We ate while everyone around us -- sitting, standing,
filling every possible inch of floor space --
went profoundly silent and watched
as if we were demonstrating a new technique
for brain surgery, one never tried before,
gone horribly wrong.
Not long after we finished, out of nowhere
came sandwiches, water, and fruit,
every last bit of it offered all around,
especially to those who had brought nothing with them. Such kindness
and pleasure, and gratitude, except
on the part of the two Americans
who had eaten their fill alone,
in silence, as if the world was empty
of everything but themselves.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:03 AM | Society

Category "Society"

September 4, 2005

Do You Know What It Means to Lose New Orleans?

Anne Rice had an eloquent, moving op-ed piece in the New York Times this morning:
"Do You Know What It Means to Lose New Orleans?"
Read it here.
...or by going to

Sadness beyond belief...

Posted by hgroteva at 12:13 PM | Society

Category "Society"

September 5, 2005

The Federal Government's 'Strange Paralysis'

Daniel Schorr had a brilliant piece on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon. Listen to it here ... (The link will take you to the NPR website, at which you can choose to hear the commentary either on Real Player or Windows Media Player.)

He began with the quote, "Government is the enemy until you need a friend" but added, "and then your friend may turn out to be dysfunctional." Among the many disgusting revelations of this affair is that the Times-Picayune ran a series of articles several years ago predicting that exactly this scenario would occur if a category 4 hurricane were to strike. And no one listened. On a website I read this morning, it mentioned that when a huge hurricane passed through Cuba in 2004. 1.5 million people were evacuated, and 20,000 homes were destroyed, but NOT ONE life was lost. It's because the government had a plan to evacuate everyone -- it didn't just tell people "You're on your own. Get the hell out!" It took responsibility. Where is our concern for the common good? Where is our responsibility?

Posted by hgroteva at 7:59 PM | Society

Category "Society"

December 10, 2005

Ending Homelessness

Yesterday's Star Tribune ran an outstanding editorial, entitled "Daytime Services for the Homeless" (read it here). The editorial praised the City of Minneapolis for allowing some homeless shelters to remain open during the day. This has the potential to solve a number of problems, including forcing homeless people to kill time in skyways and other public spaces until they can re-enter the shelter in the evening.

There are good models for how to serve the homeless -- they all require a multi-faceted approach that involves assisting not only with a place to sleep, but also education, job skills, and sometimes mental health and/or chemical dependency services. Intensive, coordinated services can work. Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, we allow homelessness to continue because we are stingy with our support of social services.

I am also keenly, personally, aware of how young people are falling between the cracks of our health insurance "system." My 20 year old son is moving to a new city soon. He will likely be working part time and going to school part time, neither of which would qualify him for health insurance benefits. He's too old to be covered by my insurance unless he is a full time student. So we are having to cobble together various approaches. Some young people just say - hey, I'm healthy - it's not worth my time to puzzle this out. All it takes is one major illness or accident to put them in debt for the rest of their lives.

Both of these examples, in my view, point to our lack of vision and caring as a society. I believe we should have universal health care (not tied to employment), accessible education, and social services that promote respect and dignity for each person served. Of course - it will cost; there's the rub. We want "no new taxes" and in fact, we want lower taxes --- but we're bothered at the sight of the homeless. We need to make the connection -- at least in part, our own selfishness is contributing to the problem. Maybe we'll "get it" someday, but I'm not holding my breath.

During this holiday season, maybe each of us can think a little more deeply about how we can be part of the solution rather than part of sustaining the problem.

Posted by hgroteva at 12:54 PM | Society

Category "Society"

December 11, 2005

New Orleans Needs Santa - Now!

I received the following letter today from a long time friend (from college), John Pope, who is a writer for the New Orleans Times Picayune. Today's letter seemed to merit as wide a readership as possible, so I asked his permission to post it on this blog, and he graciously assented. It's an eye-opener, one that should make us all think about our connections to one another. Although not planned this way, the theme fits quite well with yesterday's post on ending homelessness. -- HG

Dear friends:

In the first scene of John Patrick Shanley's remarkable play "Doubt,"
a priest delivering a sermon has this to say about the aftermath of a
traumatic event:

"Imagine the isolation. You see the world as through a window. On the
one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people. On the other side:
you. Something has happened, you have to carry it, and it's
incommunicable. For those so afflicted, only God knows their pain.
Their secret. The secret of their alienating sorrow. And when such a
person, as they must, howl to the sky, to God: 'Help me!' What if no
answer comes?"

That, more than almost anything else I've heard in the past 3 1/2
months, summarizes the way we feel in this part of the world in the
wake of Katrina, a ghastly storm whose malign, pervasive influence
will be felt for years to come in ways we haven't begun to imagine.
When I've been in other cities this fall, watching people going about
their daily lives, I've felt like an outsider, an emissary from hell
because so much has happened to my part of the world and no one I see
has a clue about what's on my mind.

And who cares? Everyone here worries about the answer to this
question. When President Bush spoke in Jackson Square, he promised
that this part of the world would see the biggest reconstruction
program ever. Well, we're waiting for evidence of this massive
commitment, and we can't help but feel that the concern about this
ravaged region died along with the generator-powered lights that had
illuminated him, Andrew Jackson's statue and St. Louis Cathedral,
where the hands were stopped at 6:35, when the power died as Katrina
swept through. (That detail continues to fascinate me, probably
because it reminds me of watches recovered from Hiroshima and
Nagasaki that stopped when the bomb hit the ground.)

I'm hoping that we all will be proved wrong, but I'm not holding my
breath, especially when national leaders question the wisdom of
rebuilding New Orleans -- no one ever said anything like that after
the earthquakes that rocked San Francisco and Los Angeles, even
though each sits atop the San Andreas Fault -- and much of the money
that should be coming this way is being poured into Iraq.

Because the destruction was so massive, we need nothing less than a
strong national initiative -- a domestic Marshall Plan, if you will
-- and I just don't see evidence that this is going to happen, or
that anyone is going to emerge with enough charisma to get this done.

Paul Krugman wrote eloquently about our plight in yesterday's New
York Times, and a front-page editorial in The Times-Picayune a few
Sundays ago urged readers to lobby representatives and senators, even
providing phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Jim Amoss, our editor,
made a similar argument in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

If you feel like writing, calling or otherwise lobbying lawmakers and
other decision-makers, please feel free. As I've traveled around in
the past few months, I've gotten tired of being the object of pity
when I mention my hometown, but I must admit that we need all the
help we can get.

If this assistance doesn't come through, our city -- a place many
outsiders profess to love -- is going to become a ruined shell. The
French Quarter and most of Uptown, where we live, will be more or
less recognizable and inhabitable, but much of the rest will be a
dead zone because people who have fled to all corners of the country
will have no reason to come back and help the city rebuild. (If
Emeril Lagasse, who has made millions off this city, can't bother to
show his face here, what message does that send? He could do a lot of
good here, if he cared.)

Sorry about the blast of cynicism during what is supposed to be a
blessed, blissful time of year, but it's hard to be merry when one
lives in a city where vast regions are still dark and streets are
still lined with piles of Sheetrock, furniture, trashed cars and
ruined refrigerators bound shut with duct tape. Many of us have
developed scratchy throats from being in dust-filled areas; the
condition is called "Katrina cough."

There have been some improvements here and there. For instance, on
the micro level, I'm happy to report that two crews are looking this
weekend at our Eleonore Street home so they can submit bids on
replacing the roof, which has a hole over the dining room, where
Pinckley and I were married. Once that chore is done, possibly before
Christmas, we can welcome new tenants, who have vowed to help with
replacing Sheetrock that became infested with mold.

The farmers market, many of whose vendors were ruined by the storm,
has returned, with one market a week instead of four. This morning,
its annual Festivus celebration (inspired by "Seinfeld," complete
with aluminum tree and the airing of grievances) attracted a mob.
Pinckley, the market's immediate past board chair, feels especially
passionate about this enterprise because it has helped so many people
find markets for their produce, seafood and baked goods. It will do
so again, I'm sure. (Incidentally, there was an extra pole for
Katrina grievances.)

Pinckley also has become involved with helping the city's library
system, which took a major hit after the storm when virtually all the
staff was laid off. (You can expect to hear from her soon on this.)

Because there hasn't been much medical research to write about, I'm
doing more reporting on higher education these days, and I'm finding
good news: Impressive numbers of students plan to return to local
colleges and universities for the spring semester. (Unfortunately,
I've also been writing about massive layoffs at these institutions,
which have had to cope with millions of dollars in damages.)

More good news: Restaurants are reopening, and Pinckley and I, along
with hordes of other foodies, have enjoyed patronizing favorite
haunts again, not only to enjoy favorite dishes but also to greet
friends on the staff and among fellow diners. I can't help thinking
that it's a reverse version of the last scene in "The Cherry
Orchard," in which Madame Ranevskaya runs around her beloved home,
trying to absorb everything before being evicted. In New Orleans,
we're moving back in, and we're eating and greeting as we try to re-
establish contact with as much of our old lives as possible.

It's joyful, and very New Orleans. One pediatrician friend wonders
when people will start shaking hands again because the universal
social greeting here has become a great big hug.


Posted by hgroteva at 6:52 AM | Society

Category "Life"

Category "Society"

December 21, 2005

Christmas Presents for New Orleans

Dear Friends - Earlier this month, I posted a note from my friend John Pope in New Orleans about the very real needs that his city is facing. I just received the note below from pope and his wife Diana Pinckley, containing some concrete suggestions for people who might want to support New Orleans. I hope you will take it to heart. - HG

New Orleans has many needs, and there are many very specific things you can do right now to help preserve our culture and our people. Here are just a few that we can wholeheartedly recommend. We’ve even included a New Orleans shopping site that you’ll love. Your investment in us will pay off – in our music, our food, our history, our architecture and all the other parts of New Orleans you have come to enjoy.

Thanks to all of you for your amazing love and support!

New Orleans Public Library Foundation
Only three of 13 libraries are open, on a severely truncated schedule. You can see damage to some of the buildings on the library’s Web site – Floodwater and carpets of mold have ruined the collections in the eight destroyed branches, and books were seen floating down the street. More than 90 percent of the staff has been laid off , and the entire system is now operating with only 19 employees. Amazingly, most of the Louisiana Division’s irreplaceable documents and artifacts survived undamaged, despite being housed below ground. The loss of these collections would have been devastating to scholars across the nation and the world.

More than 1,000 people a week are using the library and its resources – books, Internet access and staff expertise. The New Orleans Public Library has always served a high number of reference users, but the nature of their inquiries has changed. A librarian has reported: For every patron asking for directions or the phone book, there are three more trying to locate loved ones or seeking recourse from rent-gouging landlords. …We have found that during these times, the public’s need for information about community and government relief services is great. It is gratifying to fill this vital need.

The library desperately needs money, though donations of books are also accepted. The books will likely be sold at a weekly Wednesday book sale in the portico of the closed Latter Library, with revenues going to help support staff and rebuilding needs.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana
Since Katrina made landfall, Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana has distributed more than 27 million pounds of food and supplies to people in need in the hurricane-affected areas. This distribution is already 46 percent more than the entire distribution all last year, and this figure is a few weeks old. The demand will only grow as individuals exhaust other government-sponsored resources early in the year.

Stephen Ministry
Stephen Ministry is a program that trains members of congregations, crossing denominational lines, to provide one-to-one Christian care to those in personal stress or crisis – people who are bereaved, hospitalized, terminally ill, unemployed, relocated, or facing another life challenge. In short, it has never been needed more desperately by more people than now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For information about New Orleans activities and how to support them, contact Leila Schumacher,

New Orleans City Park
City Park, at 1,300 acres, is the largest park in New Orleans and one of the 10 largest in the U.S. It lost 1,000 of its 14,000 trees; all but 11 of is 260 employees were laid off in budget cuts. About 90 percent of the park was under as much as 10 feet of water, often for several weeks. The salt water killed the grass on the golf courses and many of the plants in the Botanical Garden. Nevertheless, the park has mounted a brief version of Celebration in the Oaks, a tradition of lights and joy for New Orleans families. And, yes, Mr. Bingle is part of it!

Crescent City Farmers Market
We love going to the market - for wonderful Meyer lemons and the marmalade that Jeanette makes from them, for Jim Core’s fabulous produce, for Kay’s shrimp and Jeannie’s catfish and Mary’s pastries and Mrs. Chauvin’s pies. And Mr. Clarence’s plants, of course. It’s a meeting place, a mentor and a model. The farmers and fishers of the area have taken a blow, and now the market is mobilizing its community and its resources to help them. You can, too. To get involved in our new “crop circles� giving program, and to find out about how the market can help in the rebuilding of our community, contact Richard McCarthy IV, Executive Director,

Louisiana SPCA
The organization evacuated hundreds of animals safely to Texas before the storm. Its Lower Ninth Ward building was destroyed, so staff is operating from temporary quarters in Algiers. Just after the storm, staff and dedicated volunteers did an amazing job of rescuing animals and reuniting them with their owners, while taking undeserved heat for the over-the-top actions of rogue “rescuers.� The work continues. For those of you who know her, our calico cat Emma was an SPCA resident before she came to Wilow Street

Best Friends Animal Society
This group has worked diligently to reunite pets with their owners, wherever either might be across the nation. It worked with other groups on a reunion web search this weekend that – by the number of cars parked on the neutral ground outside the Garden District Hotel – attracted hundreds of pet owners.

WWOZ is the voice of New Orleans music – a listener-supported, volunteer-operated radio station that just returned from exile – first in New Jersey and then in Baton Rouge – back to studio space in the French Market. The station says it best itself: “ Playing blues, jazz, Cajun, zydeco, gospel, Latin, Brazilian, Caribbean and a whole lot more, WWOZ keeps the music and heritage of the Crescent City alive and loud.�

Tipitina’s Foundation
The legendary music club’s foundation provides the music community with the resources its members need to survive, including clothes, gigs, instruments and housing. A great many options for support are available.

Preservation Resource Center
The Center promotes the preservation and renewal of New Orleans neighborhoods through its architecture. Its staff and specialists have been especially active in offering seminars on navigating the bureaucracy, mitigating the mold, and leqrning general issues of dealing with all aspects of bringing back damaged houses, not tearing them down. They’ve also been handing out buckets and mops and clean-up kits – very handy in the circumstances.

I-10 Witness Project
The project collects oral histories of Hurricane Katrina from citizens, public officials, soldiers, health workers, shelter residents and at least one reporter that you all know well (though his interview isn’t posted on the site yet). The recorded interviews are available on the Web site and will be archived at local universities and public libraries for widespread public access.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation
The Greater New Orleans Foundation

Foundations for Recovery provides resources for immediate needs of evacuees in the Baton Rouge area, and it will contribute to the rebuilding of human services in Greater New Orleans. The Greater New Orleans Foundation offers the Rebuild New Orleans Fund focused on excellence in education, economic expansion, job training, affordable housing, neighborhood development, race and equity, and sustaining and developing nonprofit capacity.

And finally, just for fun…and for ways to get a little retail therapy for those post- (or mid-) holiday blues…

A Web link to New Orleans shopping. We can especially recommend Blue Frog Chocolates and Louisiania Music Factory, among many, many others.

Love, cheer and gratitude!

Pinckley and pope

Posted by hgroteva at 6:39 AM | Life | Society

Category "Society"

Category "Texas"

December 27, 2005

81 and Sunny

It hit a record high of 81 here in Austin yesterday. 83 is forecast for today, and then a "cold front" blows through, bringing the highs down into the 70s. Sigh! We head home tomorrow, back to the cold (although Mpls seems to be experiencing a "warm spell" in the past week - it's all relative, isn't it?)

Today's American Statesman included an editorial that fits with some of my recent posts on homelessness, health care, and social justice issues. Read the full editorial here. The article discussed a major effort being undertaken by Austin clergy to address social and economic disparities. It drew a useful distinction between charity and justice. "Charity is private, individual acts. Justice is public, collective actions. Charity responds to immediate need. Justice responds to long-term need. Charity provides direct services such as food, shelter and clothing. Justice promotes social change in institutions. Both charity and justice are needed." It quoted Dom Helder Camara, the late Catholic bishop of Recife, Brazil, who said: "If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist."

This makes me think about the new Family Policy interdisciplinary doctoral minor at the university as well as some of the emerging efforts of the university's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium. I'm optimistic that some of the insights that grow from these efforts will ultimately be used to further social justice. And it seems quite fitting that one of the "themes of distinction" of the newly re-configured college that will combine the Department of Family Social Science, School of Social Work, General College, and College of Education and Human Development is "social justice and diversity." Let's make it real.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:06 AM | Society | Texas

Category "Adoption"

Category "Society"

March 11, 2006

Sad Day for Adoption

The headline in today's Star Tribune read, "Boston's Catholic Charities to Halt Adoptions." That, in itself, is sad news because there are so many American children in foster care needing permanent homes and so many adults who want to be loving parents. However, it's doubly sad because the reason that the Boston Archdiocese is discontinuing adoptions is because a Massachusetts state law permits gays and lesbians to adopt, and the Boston Archdiocese does not want to comply. They are willing to scuttle the entire Catholic Charities adoption program rather than allow adoption by same-sex couples. The Church that has traditionally been a champion of social justice has become a champion of discrimination.

The homophobia polarizing the United States is getting way out of hand. The "marriage amendments" now being considered by so many states (including Minnesota) are blatantly discriminatory. The thing that baffles me is that same-sex couples who want to marry want to do so because of ... LOVE. Can there be too much love? What is society to gain by denying couples in love the opportunity to share in the economic and social benefits that accrue to heterosexual couples?

In addition to this social justice issue, there's also the research - what do we know about children who grow up with same-sex parents? My read of this growing literature is that these children are at least as well-adjusted as children who grow up in families with opposite-sex parents. The argument that children need both male and female role models falls apart when one realizes that children don't grow up in a vacuum - they have aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, neighbors - plenty of role models, both male and female. So the Archbishop can't argue from a research standpoint that children adopted by same-sex parents are harmed.

Even Massachusetts' conservative governor Mitt Romney said "This is a sad day for neglected and abandoned children." But he wants to deal with the problem by pursuing an exemption from the state's anti-discrimination law for religious organizations, allowing Catholic Charities to continue its adoption program without having to consider same-sex couples. Even the thought that a church whose social justice stance has typically been "anti-discrimination" would be granted an exemption to discriminate is so ironic, it's painful to think about. It's a sad day, indeed, for adoption - and for our society at large.

Posted by hgroteva at 2:29 PM | Adoption | Society

Category "Society"

April 6, 2006

Could It Be This Easy?

Massachusetts is proposing an innovative policy that requires all adults to be covered by health insurance; people not covered could be penalized (just as they are for not having car insurance). Although this may seem punitive to people with few economic resources, health insurance would be on a sliding fee scale, with those in the lowest income levels receiving free insurance.

At first glance, at least, this would solve the huge problem our country is facing with large numbers of people not having health insurance. I believe that every member of our society should have access to quality health care, and that ability to pay should not be a barrier. Currently, uninsured people are going to emergency rooms for conditions that could easily be treated in doctor's offices. But they can't get into a doctor's office without insurance or the resources to pay. Instead, they turn to the much more expensive emergency room, where (ironically) they don't have to pay. Low income people will now have access to primary and family care physicians, well-child care, and continuity of care.

I have not seen the price tag or how MA proposes to fund this, but it strikes me as both humane and sensible. When everyone is insured, everyone benefits. Could it be this easy? I'll be watching MA as a pilot test for the rest of the nation. Who knows, maybe we could solve other seemingly intractable problems while we're at it.

Posted by hgroteva at 3:36 PM | Society

Category "Society"

April 15, 2006

Maybe It COULD Be This Easy...

On April 6, I posed the question: "Could it be this easy?" - referring to the Massachusetts plan to provide (almost) universal health care insurance by requiring that everyone carry it, but making it available at no cost or on a sliding fee scale to people in the lowest income brackets. I've been waiting for the onslaught of naysayers to pick it apart, but was pleasantly surprised to find this morning's New York Times endorsing the plan and noting its bipartisan support. They note that the most criticism has come from libertarians, who feel that this is an unwarranted intrusion on our freedom to decide what to do about our own health care. However, even good libertarians without insurance might wind up in an emergency room where tax dollars would pay for their care anyway, so this argument means little. Kudos to Massachusetts for being so bold. Minnesota - when will we tackle this?? Texas -- when??

Posted by hgroteva at 11:14 AM | Society

Category "Culture"

Category "Identity"

Category "Society"

January 29, 2007

"Race" Exhibit at the Science Museum

I like to go to movies and plays that trouble me. Sure, at times I like to go just for pure entertainment, but I also like to be challenged by what I see and hear. That’s the experience I had Friday afternoon, when I went to see the new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota entitled, “Race: Are We So Different?�

The complexity with which race is portrayed made me think back to a wonderful course I had as a college sophomore in 1967, entitled “The Concept of Race.� It was in the anthropology department, but it was very interdisciplinary. The first third was taught by a physical anthropologist (Robert Malina) and explored biological and genetic concepts; the second third was taught by a cultural anthropologist (Henry Selby) and looked at the diversity of cultures and “races� across the world. The last third was taught by an expert on the peoples of the Middle East (Robert Fernea), who talked about how race is experienced in specific cultures. They were ahead of their time. But I digress...

The Science Museum exhibit had many displays – some were interactive, others used words or pictures to make their points. The most powerful to me were the personal stories. An interracial couple talked about their experience in Minnesota – the double-takes they would get in shopping malls, the stares they would get in restaurants or with their child. A young woman adopted from Korea talked about how her adoptive parents were told by their social worker not to talk about race with their child; and they didn’t. A social scientist commented on the U.S. by saying “This is a world of racial smog. We all breathe it.� An American Indian woman said, “My name is Cindy Bloom. I’m a Cherokee Indian but I am not a [football team] mascot.� A woman whose race was “indeterminate� [her word] said that people were uncomfortable when they first met her – almost as if they needed to figure out what racial group she belonged to before they knew how to relate to her. They’d ask “What are you?� as if her racial designation summed up her existence. A middle-aged African American woman said, “Politically and culturally, race is as real as it gets.�

Several exhibits talked about “white privilege,� a concept popularized by Peggy Macintosh in her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" The interviews with Doug Hartmann (U of MN Associate Professor of Sociology) noted that one aspect of white privilege is that white people claim the privilege (or option) of saying they don’t have a race, or that they are part of the human race. For people of color, race is a part of daily experience. They don’t have the “privilege� of ignoring it.

One exhibit showed 134 Brazilian terms for skin tone. Rich Lee’s blog entry for January 27 talked about links between skin tone and salary in the U.S.

Several exhibits debated the use of race in the field of medicine. Recent studies showing race-specific risks for some diseases (e.g., higher risk for hypertension among African Americans) have suggested that new drugs be targeted toward different groups. However, the exhibit effectively argued that since there is no genetic or biological validity to the concept of race, treatments targeted toward different groups rest on flawed assumptions.

One fascinating display about DNA stated that “the pattern of DNA variation across populations shows a nested subset. African populations harbor some alleles (gene variations) that are absent in non-African populations; however, all of the alleles that are common in non-African populations are also common in African populations.� In other words, the gene variations in European and Asian populations are subsets of the variations observed in African populations. There are no gene variations found among Europeans or Asians that are not also found among people of African descent. It makes sense, considering where the world’s population originated – in Africa. But it presented a new way of thinking about this.

All in all, it was a great exhibit. It “troubled� me – in that it made me think deeply – and I think it will do that for many people who pass through it. I have asked my lifespan development students to see it; I’ll be very interested to hear what they have to say. One of the background documents for the exhibit contained this quote from Robin D.G. Kelley, historian: Race “is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.� I like that, because it puts responsibility for dealing with race squarely where it belongs: in our own hands.

Posted by hgroteva at 6:16 AM | Culture | Identity | Society

Category "Society"

Category "Technology"

March 13, 2007


I was introduced to a new interdisciplinary field on the news last night, Neuroeconomics. (I guess it's not all that new - when I googled it, there were 464,000 hits - but it was new to me.) The news program focused on shopping, and on how different centers in the brain become activated when different types of consumer decisions are made. The story was about how neuroscientists can predict what we will buy before we know it ourselves. It looks at how consumers weigh factors such as cost and product desirability. And of course the logical extension is that businesses can then manipulate consumers to buy their own products.

Click here to go to the website for the Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics at George Mason University.
It says: "The Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics(CSN) at George Mason University is a research center and laboratory dedicated to the experimental study of how emergent mental computations in the brain interact with the emergent computations of institutions to produce legal, political, and economic order." This definition sounds much more benign than the manipulative scenario spun out on the news.

According to the Center's website, "Neuroeconomics is the study of how the embodied brain interacts with its external environment to produce economic behavior. Research in this field will allow social scientists to better understand individual decision making and consequently to better predict economic behavior." It contains a link (click here) to a 5 page pdf from the Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. I look forward to absorbing more about this field and considering its exciting and frightening implications.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:52 AM | Society | Technology

Category "Art"

Category "Identity"

Category "Society"

April 15, 2007

Still Present Pasts

Still Present Pasts.jpg

Last night was the opening of the exhibit, Still Present Pasts, a multimedia exhibit exploring the legacies of the Korean War. Congratulations to the many people and funders who made it possible, and especially to my university colleague Rich Lee, who chaired the steering committee. Rich has been building excitement about the exhibit for several weeks now on his blog - Here's a link to the posts.

There's a lot to take in - poignant displays and first-person accounts about people who lived through the war and their families who came after. I want to return when it's quieter in the gallery to soak it all in. One of the most moving speeches at last night's opening was delivered by Dr. Ji Yeon Yuh, Associate Professor of History and Director of Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. She placed the Korean War in nested, yet broadening circles of human conflict - extending to today's global hatred and bitterness. She gave a moving plea for global understanding and placed responsibility for it squarely on each of our shoulders.

The opening program also featured readings of poetry and prose, and performances by the Chang Mi Korean Dance and Drum and by Shinparam, A Korean traditional drumming troupe. I was delighted to see that two students in my research methods class participate in Shinparam.

The exhibit is particularly important for people involved in any facet of adoption because of the large number of children adopted from Korea into the U.S. following the Korean War and continuing for many years. Several adoption-related events in conjunction with the exhibit should be noted:

Birthmother Panel -- "Korean immigrant mothers share their story of giving up their children for adoption as a result of the Korean War."
April 28, 10 a.m. - noon
Korean Presbyterian Church

Made in Korea
a film by In-Soo Radstake
April 28, 7:15 pm, St. Anthony Main Theatre
April 29, 2:30 pm, St. Anthony Main Theatre

Evening with Deann Borshay Liem
Screening and discussion of her film, "First Person Plural" and discussion of her current work
May 5, 7 - 9 pm,
Nicholson Hall 155, U of Minnesota, East Bank

Here: A Visual Portrait of Korean Adoptees Living in Minnesota
Book preview and reception
June 3, 3 - 6 pm, Weisman Art Gallery
Kim Dalros and Holly Hee Won Coughlin, project curators

For further information about these and other events, visit the Still Present Pasts website.
Congratulations and thanks to everyone involved in making these events possible.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:20 AM | Art | Identity | Society

Category "Society"

April 19, 2007

Common Denominators Suggest Ideas about Prevention

The Star Trib this morning published an op-ed piece by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, who wrote it for the L.A. Times. It starts off: "Mass murder certainly wasn't invented with the 1966 Texas Tower shootings." Well, that hit a nerve. The Whitman shootings occurred one month before I began my freshman year at UT Austin. A friend of mine from high school was shot and her unborn baby was killed. So yes, it hit a nerve.

But what intrigued me about this article was that Fox looked at the factors common to recent mass murders. He noted that "seven of the eight largest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have occurred in the last 25 years." The common denominators he mentioned included the following:
1) The perpetrators have a long history of frustration, failure, and inability to cope.
2) They externalize blame, complaining that others haven't given them a chance.
3) They lack emotional support from friends and family.
4) They experience an event that precipitates the rampage - perhaps a major disappointment in work, school, or relationships; a racial slur; taunting.
5) They gain access to a weapon powerful enough to satisfy their need for revenge.

And a number of changes in our society provide tinder that allows the factors above to ignite.
a) Weapons are more potent than ever - we've moved from pistols to semi-automatics.
b) The U.S. is more competitive than ever, with little compassion for those who fail.
c) The decline of community (of many kinds) intensifies the isolation of potential mass murderers.
I would add the following:
d) Society is increasingly polarized along lines of race, class, ethnicity, political persuasion, sexual orientation, religion, and other categories.
e) Our understanding of mental illness remains poor; mental health services are inadequate; those seeking mental health services are stigmatized; privacy laws intended to protect people's rights infringe on the rights of others.

A close examination of these points suggests many ideas about prevention of future tragedies. Of course, we can't prevent them all. But for every person who actualizes the killing, there are likely others on the verge, suffering. We as individuals and communities can do things that might actually help. If we each looked at the items above and picked one to work on, just imagine how powerful that could be.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:43 PM | Society

Category "Society"

April 22, 2007

Earth Day - Learning from Tragedy


Earth Day is about humility, admitting there are lots of mysteries about our planet and each other that we don't understand, but resolving to strive to understand and to do more. (And there's a bit of incentive -- our survival -- at stake.) It's hard to believe that such a beautiful spring day in Minnesota comes on the heels of such tragedy in Virginia.

E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote the following about gun control for the Washington Post today.

"In almost all other spheres, we act reaonably when faced with new problems. When Richard Reid showed that nasty things could be done with shoes on airplanes, airport security started examining shoes. When liquids were seen as potentially dangerous, we regulated the quantity of liquids we could take on flights. Long ago, we barred people from carrying weapons onto airliners. If we can act pragmatically in the skies, why can't we be equally practical here on earth? ...

"Our country is a laughingstock on the rest of the planet because of our devotion to unlimited gun rights. On Thursday, an Austrailian newspaper carried the headline: "America, the gun club." "

Let's get it, people -- respect the earth and respect each other. Get the guns off the streets.

Posted by hgroteva at 11:14 AM | Society

Category "Music - of all kinds"

Category "Society"

June 18, 2007

Healing Power of Music

Baker from Fergus Falls.jpg
"Steve Baker worked on an amplifier knob at Fergus Music in Fergus Falls, Minn., on Thursday. The store serves as headquarters for Operation Happy Note" (from

The Strib this morning carried an uplifting piece about Steve and Barbara Baker, from Fergus Falls, who have been sending musical instruments. especially in the guitar family, to soldiers stationed in Iraq. The article showed a picture of crew members from the USS Nashville with their instruments. Apparently, they have a list of 150 musicians waiting hopefully for instruments.

Here is some further information provided by the Star Tribune:
"Operation Happy Note is a volunteer effort to send musical instruments to our deployed service men and women throughout the world. Steve and Barb Baker from Fergus Music started Operation Happy Note after their son was deployed to Iraq. They had sent him a guitar and then a buddy wanted one. These soldiers were so pleased with having these instruments over there that Steve and Barb wanted to find a way to get more instruments to our troops, hence “Operation Happy Note�. Since March of 2005 we have sent hundreds of instruments including guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins, harmonicas, and accessories. Steve also wrote a lesson program with CD for those who don't know how to play.“ We can’t stop now!� says Barb just because her son is now back home with his family. There are just too many requests that keep coming in, these soldiers need the joy that music brings to them. "

soldier with guitar.jpg

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane next to a soldier on leave from Iraq. The conditions under which these folks are working are every bit as bad as we can imagine from the media. He talked of 130 degree days, walking around with a 70 pound pack, full combat gear, and wearing gloves because you can't touch anything without being burned. If a few guitars can help these folks keep it together, I'm all for it.

Contact information for Operation Happy Note:
122 E. Lincoln Ave. Fergus Falls MN 56537 | | 218.736.5541

Posted by hgroteva at 8:11 AM | Music - of all kinds | Society

Category "Minnesota"

Category "Society"

August 3, 2007

We Are Slow Learners

Bridge collapse.jpg
(photo from

This morning’s paper was full of the stories that have come after the disasters of late: Katrina, the Tsunami, Virginia Tech. There are stories about the randomness of it all, the faces and biographies of those who perished, and the tales of the many who selflessly and spontaneously helped. It’s all too familiar.

There are also the recriminations and the political spin about whose fault the bridge collapse really was. Was it the governor? the legislature? MNDOT? the bridge inspectors? the engineers?

We have seen the enemy, and it is ourselves.

We, the voters, have elected a string of public officials who feel they have a mandate for “no new taxes.� This isn’t something they dreamed up. It’s what the voters who elected them wanted. Now our shortsightedness is coming home to roost.

We want it all. We want excellent education, highways, health care, and social services, but we want someone else to pay for them. Huh? The headline for Myles Spicer’s op-ed piece this morning read, this is a “wake-up call for taxpayers.� Yes, we must wake up. Continuing to dream will just mean that we experience more avoidable acute disasters (like bridge and dyke collapses) as well as slow and imperceptible declines (condition of our health, education, and the common good).

The Republican National Convention will be meeting in the Twin Cities; it will be interesting to see what that talk will be like. All national politicians will be having a hey-day with this.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:09 AM | Minnesota | Society

Category "Massachusetts"

Category "Society"

September 28, 2008

Taxes and Evils


Although it has gotten VERY little publicity, Massachusetts has an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the state income tax. Yes - repeal the state income tax. Many peoples' gut reaction is bound to be -- wow, wouldn't that be great? More money in my pocket and less to evil government. An article in this morning's New York Times said that passage of this initiative would eliminate 45% of the state budget. It also said that some people are planning to vote "yes" just to express their dissatisfaction with government in general.

However, this kind of reasoning suggests to me that we need a major reframing of the meaning of taxes in this country. We need to help people understand what their taxes buy. Did you drive to work on a road? Did you, by any chance, cross over a bridge? Did you receive a payment from Social Security? the VA? Medicare? Did you (or your child, or your grandchild) attend a public school? Did the fire department come when your house was burning down?

Of course, there is waste in government -- and there may be government expenditures we object to (like that $12B/month item on the other side of the world) -- but we don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Now, of course, I may be a little sensitive to this issue since I am employed by a major state university, which gets some of its money from ... you guessed it, taxes. (State universities are now wont to call themselves "state-assisted" rather than "state-supported" for good reason - but that's a topic for another post.)

Where is our sense of the common good? Well - I guess that's the whole tension in the U.S. now between the lean-government-let-the-market-reign-conservatives and the government-as-provider-of-common-goods-liberals. it fascinates me that the country is split right down the middle over this meta-issue. My European friends just shake their heads. But of course, their governments aren't perfect either. We seem to move ahead by lurching from right to left and back again. Is that progress? At the moment, it doesn't seem that way to me.

For me, when I flinch at the bottom line on that tax return, I will try to remember that I have just bought a share of that road, that bridge, that VA payment, and yes, that major state university. And I will surely be voting in that November election and urging others to do so too.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:24 AM | Massachusetts | Society

Category "Criminal Minds"

Category "Social Science"

Category "Society"

November 21, 2009

In Praise of Criminal Minds - the show, that is

criminal-minds Hotch Reed Morgan.jpg

I just finished watching all 106 episodes of Criminal Minds -- up-to-date now. What a trip!

The show is now in its 5th season, but somehow we hadn't really paid attention to it until this past summer. But once it grabbed hold, it didn't let go. It's fascinating on so many levels. A show hasn't latched on to me like that since "Six Feet Under," which i really miss.

Even though I am a psychologist, it is hard to believe that such twisted behavior exists out there. Of course, watching 106 episodes does tend to give one a jaundiced view of things. On the other hand, the show brilliantly depicts the human side of the principal FBI / BAU characters. They all have their strengths and their vulnerabilities. Most of the time, it's all about business -- but every once in a while a very human glimmer shows through. These are folks you'd trust your life with. I'm glad they're out there protecting us. I hope they are, anyway.

A few times, I found myself shouting at the TV - "NO! Stop! Don't give anyone ideas like that!" Especially in the episode about anthrax contamination of the Metro in DC.

My "favorite" episode (that's really the wrong word for it...) was "Riding the Lightning" - Season 1, Episode 14. The show was powerful at the most elemental level.

stay tuned...

Posted by hgroteva at 8:37 PM | Criminal Minds | Social Science | Society