Monthly Archives: December 2010

Myrtilla Miner – A tribute to a woman long before her time

Sunday, December 26, marks the start of Kwanzaa, an African American celebration with roots that date back to 1966 and the creativity and commitment of Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Reading and thinking about Kwanzaa takes me back to that turbulent era that has had a profound impact on my own life.  In that year I was a fledgling librarian at District of Columbia Teachers College, a crumbling school building on 13th and Harvard in Northwest Washington, DC.  Though the library what was known as the Wilson Building,  half of the campus was a few blocks away – the Miner Building was at 2565 Georgia Avenue NW, just across the street from the famed Howard University.  At that time, DCTC was part of the public school system of the District of Columbia, the training ground for a huge percentage of the district’s teachers and administrators.

This story has to do with Myrtilla Miner to whom the beautiful building on Georgia was dedicated in 1917.  It’s a story I’ve always wanted to know and now to share.

Myrtilla Miner was a white woman, born March 4, 1815, near Brookfield, New York.  Trained as an educator Miner taught at the Clover Street Seminary in Rochester, New York,  then at the Newton Female Institute, a Mississippi school where she was refused permission to conduct classes for African American girls.  That experience awakened Miner to the idea that she should open a school for young African American girls who would become teachers.  Encouraged by the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and a contribution from a Quaker philanthropist Miner opened the Colored Girls School in Washington DC in 1851.  Though there were at the time some private schools for African American youth, this was the first school for African American girls that was dedicated to teacher education.

Within two months the enrollment grew from six to forty.  Despite the hostility of many in the community the school prospered.  Contributions from Quakers continued to arrive.  Harriet Beecher Stowe gave $1,000 of her Uncle Tom’s Cabin royalties to the Colored Girls School.  In a short time the school outgrew its quarters and moved in 1854 to a three-acre lot near the edge of the nation’s capital.  The first board of trustees included both Henry Ward Beecher and Johns Hopkins.

The curriculum in the early days focused on primary schooling with classes in domestic skills, hygiene and nature studies. With great stamina and persistence Miner pursued her vision of  rigorous academics and teacher education.  By 1858 six graduates of the Colored Girls School were teaching in schools of their own.

By that time Myrtilla Miner’s health was failing, though her dream and her commitment to building a teacher education institution for African American woman was thriving.  When the school was forced to close in 1860 Miner traveled to California with the hope of regaining her health.  Though she returned to DC, she was never able to return to the school when it reopened though she did serve on the first board of trustees.

Myrtilla Miner died in a carriage accident in 1864.  Her grave can be found today in Oak Hill Cemetery near Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown where she rests with some of the nation’s most distinguished leaders and their progeny.

Clearly, the story doesn’t end here. During the Civil War, on March 3, 1863, the U.S. Senate granted the Colored Girls School a charter as the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth.  In the early 1870’s the school was associated with Howard University, its near neighbor.  In 1879 it became part of the DC public school system; it was then re-named Miner Normal School   In 1924 Miner Normal School moved into a grand new  building designed by Leon E. Dessez and Snowden Ashford.  An act of Congress eventually accredited the institution as Miner Teachers’ College, a major source of African American teachers for the DC public schools until the mid-1950’s.

Because it was a part of the DC public schools Miner, the African American teacher education institution and its neighbor, Wilson Teachers College, preparer of white teachers, were merged to form the District of Columbia Teachers College in 1955..  The impact of the Brown decision, the merger of the two schools, and the influence of Myrtilla Miner shaped my five years at DCTC – five wonderful years of learning about worlds I had not known and would never have known except for my good fortune to be hired as a wet-behind-the-ears librarian with much to learn about the profession, African American history, and myself.

In the late 1960’s, as the education of African American youth gained national prominence,  Congress moved with all deliberate speed to create the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) which absorbed with a mighty flourish the District of Columbia Teachers College.  UDC, a totally urban institution, was awarded land grant status with a $7.24 endowment in place of the usual land grant.  I will never forget the desperate efforts of one African American librarian at DCTC, Walter Williams,  to stash and thus preserve the exquisite collection of African American literature that was no doubt dumped in the transition.  The original institutions, both Miner and Wilson, are no more, of course.

Still, the memories and the impact of Myrtilla Miner endure.  Thousands of teachers have studied their profession at Miner and DCTC.  Hundreds of thousands of DC youth have learned from those teachers.  Young people of color have been inspired by the high standards instilled by the indomitable Myrtilla Miner and the African American educators who followed in her footsteps.

The beautiful Colonial Revival building that was once Miner Normal School, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stands proudly on Georgia Avenue Northwest as a present reminder of a white woman who recognized the possibilities, established standards, and found the means to reach high goals.  A white woman before her time who lived by the principles that inspire the celebration of Kwanzaa over 150 years later.  I am honored to have worked in her shadow those many years ago.

A search of MnKnows indicates that Minnesota libraries do include some important resources, included these:

  • Foner, Philip Sheldon, Contributions to Women’s Studies, Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press, chapter on Myrtilla Miner.
  • Harold, Stanley, Antislavery, abolition and the Atlantic world, Louisiana State University Press
  • O’Connor, Ellen, American Negro, his history and literature.  Reprint of two works originally issued separately in 1885.  Includes memoir of Myrtilla Miner.

 

Messages on the move – A closer look

One of the side effects of this winter flows from the snail’s pace of traffic.  There is ample opportunity to observe, then reflect upon, the diversity of license places that bear the “Minnesota” label.   For the first time I have paid serious heed to optional plates purchased at a premium and proudly sported by Minnesota drivers with a cause or a condition.  A recent update from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library announced a new publication from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department that puts the parade of license plates in contact.  Legislative Analyst Matt Burress tells us all we could ever have wanted to know about special license plates.

In his introduction Burress underscores that his overview and discussion will focus on “donation plates” that “provide funding for a specific program or organization from a contribution that is provided in addition to a typical plate fee.”  His offer of more information about license places – financing, costs and revenues, policy questions in creating a new special plate and general trends in other states compelled me to read on, where I learned more than I could have imagined about what goes on behind the bureaucracy that is on the surface as mundane as it is mandatory.

First, there are the types of places.  Burress identifies the following classes:

v     Collector plates for older vehicles;

v     Donation plates that require an additional contribution for a specific group or program;

v     Organization affiliation plates reflecting membership in a particular group;

v     Personalized plates bearing a unique sequence of numbers and letters set by the person requesting the plate;

v     Veteran and military plates representing separate military conflicts and veteran statuses; and

v     Other special plates for a particular status or type of vehicle.

When I was young we used to covet and collect spottings of license plates from other states.  In this mobile world that’s passé.  It seems to me that today’s challenge should be for the passenger to collect one tag from each of these categories.  The eagle-eye license plate identifier (EELPI)  ought to win, if only the unstinting respect for his/her visual acumen and rapid reflexes.  The challenge is there – of the 1.06 million Minnesota plates issued in 2010 only 8.4% fall in the “special plate” category.  Though thee highest number of special plates promoted the critical habitat several special plates adorn fewer than 500 vehicles.

Burress is meticulous in reporting on the fiscal impact of license purchases.  “In fiscal year 2010 for all plates combined, total revenue after costs amounted to a little under $475,000.  Regular passenger plates yielded a net cost of $674,000 and special plates yielded $967,000 in revenue.  Among special plates, personalized plates were the main revenue generator at about $731,000 in revenue.”

Most drivers and those who keep on eye on the traffic flow recognize three types of plates – regular passenger plates, the default plate for cars, vans, SUVs and other passenger vehicles.  Special plates contain some type of nonstandard design and can be obtained by request for passenger cars; in some cases a special is available for motorcycles, pickups or recreational vehicles.  Other vehicle plates are most often issued for specific types of vehicles (motorcycles, trucks, farm vehicles, buses, RVs or other special status, e.g. dealers, ownership by a tax-exempt entity.  Again there is a host of classes for other vehicle plates.

The category of special plates is complicated, to say the least..  These optional plates carry a different inscription, emblem, color scheme or background from regular plates.  In most cases,  purchase of the plates support or express a special interest.  Examples noted by Burress include veterans plates, firefighters, amateur radio buffs, classic cars, persons with disabilities and a number of colleges.  Many carry a requirement for purchase, e.g. past military service.  Burress reports that currently there are nearly 50 distinct special plates plus additional emblems and designs; he categorizes these as follows:  Collector, Donation, Organization/group affiliation, personalized, beterans and military,  and other special plates that reflect an applicant’s special status, e.g disability plates, limos, commuter vans and plates for impounded vehicles.

Most license plates carry a plate fee, generally set to cover the overall costs of program administration.  The fee for special plates is typically higher than for regular plates.  It’s interesting to note that, whereas there is a net cost of approximately $674,000 for regular plates, special plates, considered in toto, generate more than enough revenue ($967,000) to garner considerable profit to the state.

Any organization or institution – college, vets, public cause or other – with the thought of introducing a special plate will do well to consult Burress’ extensive information about existing plates and pending proposals.  The process is not simple but the report spells it out in careful detail so that the organization has clear guidelines and options.

This research document, prepared by the Research Department at the House of Representatives, posted on the website of the Legislative Reference Library, is a model of how the system should work — sound research well presented and widely shared by the State of Minnesota.  It offers an excellent example of access to government information, a right that Minnesotans need to recognize, appreciate and support as the Legislature convenes to grapple with the many facets of access.

One consequence of the report – possibly unanticipated —  is a sort of rule book for young passengers for whom the long ride in confined quarters calls for a lively diversion, possibly a chance to learn something about the array of licensing options and the conditions and causes they reflect.  Parker Brothers take note!

 

 

Dakota Ride for Reconciliation

Many years ago I had the privilege of working for a decade in a lovely college library situated on a Mankato hilltop overlooking the usually tranquil valley of the Minnesota River.   Many times I thought about the view, the beauty and the fact that this was the site from which locals had once observed the travesty in which 38 Dakota Indians were hanged.  If my memory lapsed all I had to do was go to the Blue Earth County Historical Museum to ponder the thoroughly disgusting depiction of this dark moment in Minnesota history. Though I thought about the horror every day, what I did not do was delve into the stories and the pain, probably because I didn’t want to deal with the reality of history.

 

Times and I have changed.  This year’s Dakota Reconciliation Ride has created a thirst to know more.  At the same time, the parallel documentary, Dakota 38, inspires me to explore the story that has eluded me at the same time it has remained so painfully real to the Dakota people for nearly 150 years.

 

Recognition of reality inevitably leads to research.  A simple google search disclosed the official updated site for the Dakota 38 Memorial Ride. The site describes well the Ride for Healing and Unity and offers a powerful incentive to explore both the tragedy and the powerful efforts to heal the wounds that have afflicted the Dakota people for generations.   Local media have covered the ride with some diligence – though South Dakota seems to be far more attuned to the event and to the history of the Dakota War itself.

 

One challenge faced by the media, historians and anyone who study the topic is the political correctness surrounding the naming of the conflict – it is known at times as the Sioux Massacre, or the Sioux Uprising, the Dakota Conflict, the Sioux Rebellion, the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862, or the Dakota War.  Today a commonly used term is “Reconciliation”  In her thoughtful post on the subject, Audrey Kletscher Helbling observes that contemporary “historians are leaning toward viewing this conflict between the Dakota and the white people as part of the Civil War.  After all, Minnesota soldiers, like the Sixth Regiment, fought against the Confederacy and defended the settlers against the Dakota.”

 

The tragic fact we must face is that on December 26, 1862, in Mankato Minnesota, on the banks of the beautiful Minnesota River, 38 Dakota men were marched to a scaffold guarded by 1400 troops in full battle dress.  There the local citizenry witnessed the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.  While the Lakota Death Song was being sung, the “pull of a single lever ended the lives of 38 Dakota men.´ The 38 executed men were among 300 Dakota condemned as participants in the 1862 Dakota Conflict;  the remaining condemned, saved by the intervention of President Abraham Lincoln, were eventually imprisoned near Davenport, Iowa.

 

In his thoughtful article on the Dakota Conflict Trials Douglas O. Linder, a Mankato native, observes that “the mass hanging was the concluding scene in the opening chapter of a story of the American-Sioux conflict that would not end until the Seventh Cavalry completed its massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890.´ Linder’s clear recounting of the many tribes that comprised the Sioux Nation in 1862 and of the Dakota Conflict (by whatever name) deserves a careful read.

 

One sidebar that is covered by Linder and captured by today’s media is the story of Chaska, the Dakota man who was hanged in error.  There is much controversy about the circumstances, one commonly held theory holds that his fate was to have been that of a man with a similar name (Chaskey-etay) who had been convicted of murder.  A current note is that Senator Al Franken has indicated that he intends to consider proposing legislation that would extend a posthumous pardon to Chaska. The true story of Chaska will probably remain forever in the uncertain world of conjecture.]

 

The facts are more readily unraveled.  At the end of the Dakota War (by whatever name) the surviving 1300 Dakota men, women and children were interned at Fort Snelling until May 1863.  They were later transported down the Mississippi River and up the Missouri River to Crow Creek, South Dakota.  Eventually the survivors scattered far and wide, from Saskatchewan to Nebraska and beyond.  The pain and trauma of Decembe5 26 still travel with them in their hearts and memories.

 

Five years ago Vietnam veteran Jim Miller, descendent of the Dakotas, embraced a dream of reconciliation and of drawing attention to the impact of the Mankato tragedy.  His vision was for riders from all of the Dakota tribes to ride horseback over 330 miles from Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota to the site of the mass hanging in Mankato.  The first Reconciliation Ride set the tone in December 2008. As the media report on a daily basis, riders are making the 330 mile trek in December 2010.  The trek, the event and the quest for reconciliation are now depicted in the documentary Dakota 38 which is garnering public attention to the ride and its message of reconciliation.

 

The 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict will be commemorated in 2012.  The occasion presents Minnesotans with a choice – to re-kindle misconceptions and bitterness or to embrace the challenge of reconciliation.  Kletscher Helbling cites efforts now underway to underscore the latter.  She identifies a website for the commemoration which offers an opportunity for collaborative planning of a mix of activities including site tours, market dedications, symposium, exhibits and more.

 

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Sunday, December 26, will be a quiet day for many Minnesotans who are off work, warm, well fed, generously gifted, and shoveled out for the moment at least.  It might be a good time to read and reflect on the tragedy and consequences of the 1862 tragedy in Mankato.  December 2010 may be the right time to become informed and involved with plans for the Sesquicentennial of this sad chapter of Minnesota history.

 

 

 

A quiet week in Windom Park, my home neighborhood

It’s been a quiet week in Windom Park, my neighborhood and my TCDP “beat.”  It’s quiet in spite of the fact that we are in the midst of the holiday season when we are usually in high gear.  The fact is, the winter of 2010 has pretty much silenced the neighborhood, the city, the state….

For starts, the streets are impassable.  “My” bus, the #25, usually wends its way down McKinley, probably to avoid the mighty school/church complex on Stinson.  These days the #25 is re-routed to Stinson where the Parkway is broad enough to permit passage.  The driver clenches the wheel, does his best to accommodate the riders who are perched precariously on an icy mound as they shiver in the frigid darkness just before dawn.

Then there are the sidewalks.  Good people have carefully plowed, shoveled, salted and swept down to the bare concrete – just before the plow comes through to dump a ton of ice and snow at every corner.  Pedestrians with cleats, talking sticks and well-toned muscles are helpless in the face of alpine climes frosted with an inch-deep crust of ice.

Small animals quiver at the very thought of their daily exposure to the elements.

Cars are double and triple parked in driveways to avoid the inevitable tow and accompanying fine.

Children and little old ladies like me are – or should be – carrying flags to indicate their progress through the tunnels.

Snowbirds are long gone – or stuck here for the duration.

The mailman and the plow operater merit hazardous duty pay and the thanks of a grateful public.

Shoppers have gone digital – which means the UPS driver needs to battle those mean cliffs to deliver the mail order holiday gifts.

Freezers are depleted and outdated canned goods replace the Rainbow run.

Layering just to grab the newspaper adds a good ten minutes to the morning routine.

The hale and hearty can take all this in stride – after all, we’ve weathered the solstice and the days are getting longer by the minute.

What concerns me is the elderly, people with disabilities, the ill, those who have no one to keep on eye on them, children who may be going hungry, neighbors who don’t have closets and drawers full of warm clothes to layer, homes that lack heat, the hundreds and thousands of people who suffer frostbite, falls, malnutrition, fractured limbs and ambulance runs to the ER.

The winter of 2010 is difficult for all of us, impossible for far too many.  Garrison would concoct a tale to bring it all to life.  I can only fret and list my worries and think about just what we can and must be doing to survive and to help others do the same.   In normal times, Windom Park neighborhood loves the quiet….maybe not so much during this holiday season.

Wikileaks FAQs

Open the Government plays David in the federal David vs Goliath world of information access.  Once again the dynamo organization has risen to meet head on the digital dilemma de jour.  This time it’s Wikileaks and the flood those leaks unleash.  The FAQs about the Wikileaks controversy are totally on target.  With thanks we share the gift of information from Open the Government. Following is a memo received today:

OpenTheGovernment.org has worked with our partners to answer some of the questions transparency advocates are frequently asked about the WikiLeaks controversy, and have set up a site (https://sites.google.com/site/wikileaksandtransparency/ ) with some useful resources on the issue. While the answers below were developed with input and advice from a broad range of our partners, they do not represent and are not intended to be representative of a consensus view among our coalition partners, or the wider openness community. (View the FAQ’s online here: http://www.openthegovernment.org/article/articleview/458/)

WikiLeaks Frequently Asked Questions

Are the people working for WikiLeaks journalists?
As neither the Espionage Act, nor the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution differentiates between journalists and any other person, the question of who does and does not qualify as a journalist is irrelevant to issues at the heart of the WikiLeaks controversy.

Could Bradley Manning, or other accused leakers, and WikiLeaks be prosecuted?
There is a clear distinction between Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks under the law. If the governments allegations are true, Spc. Bradley Manning and/or other government employees disclosed classified information to unauthorized persons. As a government official Spc. Manning had an obligation to protect both the classified information and sensitive intelligence sources, and the personal privacy of other third parties mentioned in government documents.

The government interprets the Espionage Act to grant wide discretion in prosecuting leaks of classified information. Whether or not it is fair and appropriate to prosecute Pfc. Manning for choosing to violate his duty as a government employee to protect properly classified information is an open question that ultimately rests on whether one thinks the public good in exposing the information outweighs the potential harm to national security and the violation of the rights of innocent third parties. As more facts regarding the matter are made public as the prosecution proceeds, this debate will continue.

The case against WikiLeaks for violation of the Espionage Act is a much tougher sale for the government to make. As noted in a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information, Congress’ research arm is “aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it.” The Department of Justice would be wading into untested waters to bring a case which could have disastrous ramifications. Prosecuting WikiLeaks would undoubtedly harm on our first amendment protections and have a chilling effect on the press. Further, were the prosecution to fail, we could expect Congress to revive old proposed amendments to the law that would likewise curb free speech and press rights, hurt information sharing and disclosure, and encourage more classification of information.

We hope that Congress will resist the impulse to move quickly and speak loudly in favor of a cautious, measured approach. On December 16, 2010, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “The Espionage Act and the Legal and Constitutional Issues Raised by Wikileaks.” The overwhelming sentiment of the seven witnesses testifying at that hearing was that Congress should focus its efforts on preventing leaks from within, not punishing those who receive or even publish such information. The Committee, and others with jurisdiction, should heed that advice and, in fact, collect more information before proceeding. The initial attempt to address the Wikileaks, the SHIELD (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination) Act introduced on December 2, 2010, in the Senate as S 4004, contains several clearly unconstitutional provisions.

What should be done to better protect our national security?
The best way to protect against disclosure of our national security secrets is to deal with the supply side of the equation: improving security on our information systems and reducing over-classification. The government has an obligation to protect classified information, and the fact Pfc. Manning or someone else was supposedly able to walk out of a secure area with a trove of classified national security information on a CD is unconscionable. The Administration should endeavor to ensure that any security measures implemented are platform, issue and personnel neutral to the greatest extent possible. In other words, there should be no possibility for selective application for political purposes. If information or materials require the highest security, that security must apply in all situations.

The Administration should also push agencies to complete the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, a procedure required by President Obama’s Executive Order on Classified National Security Information (EO 13526). Every agency that classifies information is supposed to seek out, identify and remove classification requirements that are no longer valid. The disclosures on WikiLeaks prove that much of what the government says is classified is not much of a secret at all. This overclassified information clogs our systems and prevents us from protecting the real secrets nearly as well as we should.

What is the relationship between the WikiLeaks case and the pending Whistleblower Protection Act, S. 372?
S. 372 does not under any circumstances authorize public disclosures of classified information, or disclosures of sensitive sources and methods information to any unauthorized persons or entities. Indeed, S. 372 is an anti-leaks measure; absent it, media outlets and WikiLeaks will be the safest alternative for those who want to challenge fraud, waste and abuse without engaging in professional suicide. Congress should pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to provide safe and credible channels for disclosing classified information, when none currently exists.

For more information on S. 372, see POGO’s fact sheet.

There is wide disagreement in the openness community as to whether or not Spc. Manning is a whistleblower: while much of the information he allegedly disclosed clearly benefits the public interest by exposing unnecessary official secrecy and potentially informing public debate about our government’s policies and actions, it is also argued that the sheer volume of the materials recklessly puts innocent parties at risk.

 

 

 

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Of the sun, the moon and the Celts

This has been what Judith Viorst would call “a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day” all around.  Yet another blizzard, Vikings and their fans masking the pain of a game played in the arctic outdoors, two hours in a futile visit to the dentist, non-functioning printers (3 total), flights delayed and just about everything cancelled….

 

Clearly, it’s all the result of the first total lunar eclipse cum winter solstice in 400 years.  The Celts would have understood, probably predicted, the implications of this total blackness, the 72 minutes of “totality” during which “an amber light will play across the snows of North America throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow” (quoted in an article by Stevie Ray Gilbert)   Geoff Chester who studies such things at the U.S. Naval Observatory declares that “since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, that that is 1638 Dec. 21.”

 

Apocalyptic events like this send me to the Celts who had it right about weird happenings.  It comes as no surprise to learn that the Celts developed rituals that reflect the phases of the moon in general and the solstices in particular.  Celebration of the winter solstice focuses on the solstice sunrise illumination of the passage and chamber of Newgrange, a prehistoric monument located in County Meath in Eastern Ireland.  Newgrange, built about three centuries BC, is speculated to have had religious significance, particularly regarding the afterlife.  The stories focus on the fact that, at the time of the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber floor.  The dramatic event lasts for seventeen minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December.  Though today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, calculations based on the precession of the earth show that 5,000 years ago, when Newgrange was first constructed, the first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.  Though 21st Century  tourists can experience a contrived reenactment of this phenomenon there is a lottery each year for tickets to be allowed into the tomb to view the actual winter solstice event.

 

One can only imagine the cataclysmic impact of the 2010 eclipse plus solstice convergence!!

 

Exploration of the Celtic roots of the winter solstice serves a number of lovely purposes.

  • Terrible horrible no good very bad days don’t just happen.
  • Awareness of the past affirms that for thousands of years our ancestors have created elaborate rituals and sophisticated mathematical calculations to track the lunar/solar calendars.
  • We need to honor the traditions, the rituals and the impact of the cosmos.
  • Standing in the shaft of light that announces sunrise of the winter solstice at Newgrange would be an awesome experience.
  • The winter solstice marks the first hope of brighter and longer days to come.
  • Delving into the wonders of the Celtic past offers an extraordinary escape from the reality of a wretched winter evening in Minnesota circa 2010.

 

 

This has been what Judith Viorst would call “a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day” all around.  Yet another blizzard, Vikings and their fans masking the pain of a game played in the arctic outdoors, two hours in a futile visit to the dentist, non-functioning printers (3 total), flights delayed and just about everything cancelled….

 

Clearly, it’s all the result of the first total lunar eclipse cum winter solstice in 400 years.  The Celts would have understood, probably predicted, the implications of this total blackness, the 72 minutes of “totality” during which “an amber light will play across the snows of North America throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow” (quoted in an article by Stevie Ray Gilbert)   Geoff Chester who studies such things at the U.S. Naval Observatory declares that “since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, that that is 1638 Dec. 21.”

 

Apocalyptic events like this send me to the Celts who had it right about weird happenings.  It comes as no surprise to learn that the Celts developed rituals that reflect the phases of the moon in general and the solstices in particular.  Celebration of the winter solstice focuses on the solstice sunrise illumination of the passage and chamber of Newgrange, a prehistoric monument located in County Meath in Eastern Ireland.  Newgrange, built about three centuries BC, is speculated to have had religious significance, particularly regarding the afterlife.  The stories focus on the fact that, at the time of the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber floor.  The dramatic event lasts for seventeen minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December.  Though today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, calculations based on the precession of the earth show that 5,000 years ago, when Newgrange was first constructed, the first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.  Though 21st Century  tourists can experience a contrived reenactment of this phenomenon there is a lottery each year for tickets to be allowed into the tomb to view the actual winter solstice event.

 

One can only imagine the cataclysmic impact of the 2010 eclipse plus solstice convergence!!

 

Exploration of the Celtic roots of the winter solstice serves a number of lovely purposes.

  • Terrible horrible no good very bad days don’t just happen.
  • Awareness of the past affirms that for thousands of years our ancestors have created elaborate rituals and sophisticated mathematical calculations to track the lunar/solar calendars.
  • We need to honor the traditions, the rituals and the impact of the cosmos.
  • Standing in the shaft of light that announces sunrise of the winter solstice at Newgrange would be an awesome experience.
  • The winter solstice marks the first hope of brighter and longer days to come.
  • Delving into the wonders of the Celtic past offers an extraordinary escape from the reality of a wretched winter evening in Minnesota circa 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than a whimper

 

 

Somewhere buried in the news of the day we will probably miss the fact that Tuesday, December 21, 2010 should mark a major blast in the ongoing saga of  Census 2010. The headlines, I predict, will focus almost exclusively on which states win/lose Congressional seats.  The Census-based reapportionment is a momentous outcome, of course.  Still, it is but one immediate and visible application of the massive data collected in the 2010 Census.  Though reapportionment means a lot to the politicos and the media and ultimately to the people  it is simply not sufficient to let that be the end of the discussion of what Census 2010 can and should mean in the lives of ordinary people.

 

A year ago we were inundated with grand information campaigns encouraging  participation in the Census.  It was great, almost heady, stuff!  Advocacy groups, nonprofits, churches, neighborhood organizations, education groups were getting together on the common cause to promote understanding and participation.  All in all, it was one of the most united, effective, positive initiatives I’ve ever witnessed.  I get excited remembering the energy and commitment that prevailed.

 

Then comes the whimper….I worried then and I’m more worried now about how that Census information will ultimately improve the lives of the millions of good people who took time, overcame fears, and shared information about themselves with the U.S. government.  We know that developers, government agencies, advertisers, planners know where the data are and how to use them.  That’s as it should be.  My concern is this:  If information is power, what are we doing to empower the people to put to good purpose that data that is theirs – ours.  What resources – money, time, energy, focus – will we commit to ensure that the information works for the people?

 

The surge to push for participation was generously funded by the government, eagerly taken on by a host of responsible organizations.  To some extent, the message was simple and straightforward:  Census 2010 is not a threat, it’s important, participate.

 

Now it gets complicated:  The challenge now is to learn how to use those numbers to shape and improve services, to allocate resources, to interpret needs and to identify solutions.  The process is neither glamorous nor fast-paced – it’s just essential.  We owe it to the people who listened and shared their time and information.  The government, state or federal, can do just so much.  It remains to those same groups who worked so hard last year  – the media, nonprofits, churches, advocacy groups, educators – to stay on duty.  That means following the Census data as it oozes out of the federal government.  It means learning new skills, taking serious time to locate, organize, interpret, apply and share the information and the skills of access.

 

Tuesday, December 21, ought to signal a major kickoff of the next phase of Census 2010.  We can’t expect that thrust – the energy or the resources – to emanate from the federal bureaucracy.  The commitment simply must come from the field where those who care about outcomes for real people.  Information power as a priority is unprecedented.  Those who believe in the power of an informed public to make good decisions need to shift gears to incorporate access to government information, including Census data, as a priority.  Access tools are in place or within reach.  The data are gathered, eager to gush forth on demand. My hope is that the next phase of Census 2010 will go forth not with a whimper but with a mighty bang.