Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tempest Calmed at Mr. Jefferson's University

In a stunning, but no doubt well received decision, the University of Virginia has reinstated its president. I doubt few people outside of the State of Virginia (I lived there for 14 years) or those working in education were aware of the firestorm over the forced resignation of  Teresa Sullivan, the first woman to be president of the jewel in the crown of Thomas Jefferson's legacy. (For those who are unaware, Mr. Jefferson's tombstone lists three accomplishments of his life: authorship of The Declaration of Independence and The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and as the father of The University of Virginia. These were the achievements  for which he wished to be remembered. As John F. Kennedy once noted, Jefferson was the greatest collection of genius ever assembled in the White House when he dined alone.)

Ms. Sullivan, widely reported to be held in high esteem by most of the UVA community (and by those at schools where she was employed in the past), was forced out by the action of the head of the Board of Visitors, Helen E. Dragas (I'm not sure how this is pronounced, but I know how I'd choose to pronounce it) and Ms. Dragas' second in command (who has since resigned from the board.)

Ms. Sullivan's sin appears to have been to fail to respond with appropriate speed and agreement over an article written by non-academics in a newspaper extolling the virtues of on-line education as a profit center and to rid the University of certain language departments and the classics department, which Ms,. Dragas and her colleague labeled "unprofitable."

I did not attend UVA, but I spent a lot of time in graduate school at Columbia University studying Mr. Jefferson's work in education. Much as I must set aside his lack of modern sensibilities about slavery (he was certainly ahead of his time, but not of this time), I am forced to ignore his general belief that women were not to be accorded the same place in institutions of learning that men (women were not admitted to UVA until I was almost through with college) are in order to recognize the beauty of his University and his firm belief that studying the classics and foreign languages was the backbone of a good education.

I studied Latin at a time when it had fallen out of most favor. The final death knell had been Vatican II's rulings that put the Mass in the language of each country. But studying Latin is an excellent way to better learn English and used to be necessary for the study of law (most people rely on Black's for what Latin and French they might need when reading older legal cases these days.) So I took three years of Latin in high school, the New York State Regents Exam in Latin, and a couple of independent study quarters of it in college. I thought I was a dinosaur.

That lasted until I moved to Northern Virginia in 1975 and was working as a freelance photojournalist for some small newspapers and The Washington Post. I don't remember which client it was, but I got sent off to cover a huge event that the high school students who took Latin in that area of the state were holding. Latin was being taught as a living language and the enthusiasm for it was simply amazing. According the the articles I've been following about the UVA uproar, that support for the language and the classics remains, and is reflected in the enrollment in classics at UVA.

I'm guessing that Ms. Dragas is a business woman who has little interest in an actual liberal arts education, which was the core of Mr. Jefferson's vision for his University. It may be old fashioned, but a liberal arts education opens the mind of students by expanding their exposure to thoughts and experience beyond their childhood. It helps students become creative and critical thinkers. Ms. Dragas may be a UVA alumna, but she must be holding a grudge about something.

Ms. Sullivan is apparently aware of this and skilled in dealing with faculty, staff and students. Ms. Dragas has all of the grace of a bull in a china shop.

Like the government, public education is not a for-profit endeavor and cannot be run that way. While it is good to have some accountability and methods that take into account cost-benefit analysis, neither government nor education is about making profit (though surpluses are nice.)

The University of Virginia is one of the "Public Ivies," a school steeped in tradition which honors its founder's vision. I'm glad that Ms. Sullivan will be getting back to work and I hope that Ms. Dragas submits her resignation from the Board of Visitors.

It should take more that huge political contributions to earn a seat overseeing a top-notch University. At the very least, it should require an appropriate understanding of public education.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ride a Horse to London

I have no idea what my fellow bloggers who write about horses are saying about the Ann Romney/dressage issue. I wanted to get my own thoughts into writing before I went looking around.

If you've missed out on this because you don't watch Stephen Colbert or Lawrence O'Donnell, I'll try to lay out the facts. Mitt and Ann Romney co-own a high-level Oldenburg dressage mare named Rafalca which has just qualified for the Olympics. Mitt, in just about the only thing he's said which shows an ounce of caring for anything, stated that his wife has a love for horses which he indulges and that this horse has helped her through her MS problems. The Romneys took something like a $77,000 tax deduction for their horse expenses last year as a "business expense."

Unlike Colbert or O'Donnell, I see nothing silly about dressage, where horses are trained "above that which is necessary" to execute moves that were once a part of military maneuvers. Dressage is generally good for the mind and body of these animals and the humans who work with them. Contrary to Lawrence O'Donnell's snarkyness on TV, these horse are athletes and dressage is a sport which is less likely to cause instant damage to the horses or riders than jumping, steeple-chasing, eventing, or racing can. Both Colbert and O'Donnell are focusing their remarks on musical freestyle, ignoring the intricacies of dressage tests which are just as fascinating as skaters doing figures in competition used to be. "Horse ballet," as they've been calling it with sarcasm, is a dance done best when horse and rider appear to be a single creature. It is breath-taking, as most horse people know..

And unlike Lawrence O'Donnell, I am completely aware of the good that hippotherapy does in treating people who have diminished physical capacities for a variety of reasons. One of the very first photographic assignments I covered for the Washington Post more than 30 years ago was to take pictures of a child with cerebral palsy at a hippotherapy program in Rock Creek Park which was facing closure due to a funding crisis. It was my very first encounter with the treatment and the amazing interaction of these riders and horses. It broke my heart when the article ran without pictures for lack of space because if there ever was proof of a picture being worth 1,000 words, I captured it that day.

Years later, when I acquired my beloved Arabian Prince, his first home in L.A. was at a barn which housed a hippotherapy program. I got to see a lot of disabled riders and the progress they could make through the healing effects of horses. Bill Shatner has a charity horse show every year out here to benefit a hippotherapy program. They work.

Lawrence O'Donnell has pointed out that his statements were not to attack Ann Romney but he was not aware that dressage is a common treatment for MS. He's probably right about dressage in particular, but if he had looked up hippotherapy and MS in a Google search, he would have found plenty of information. Mr. O'Donnell should go to a para-Olympic competition and see the horses and riders there. It will bring tears to his eyes.

Most hippotherapy horses are not high-level competitive horses that cost six figures and $77,000 a year to keep. Some of them may have been competitors in their past lives, but are now cool, calm, and collected therapists who can deal with unskilled riders and claustrophobia when as many as six assistants try keeping a severely disabled rider in place.

I had no idea what level of dressage Ann Romney rides until I found this article about her from 2008 in The Chronicle of the Horse. She has, despite her MS, earned silver and gold medals at Grand Prix. I can understand that riding "makes her heart sing" because that's how I feel about the Arabian Prince. Through her horse Baron, she found a way to get out of her bed and back into the world after her diagnosis. That's really a great story.

Rafalca performs at the highest level there is. Her rider at the Olympics and elsewhere is not Ann Romney but trainer Jan Ebeling, who operates his barn about half-an-hour away from where I live. I've been to his facility (it is lovely), I've met him, and I've watched him give lessons to friends of mine. (Jan's wife is another of the co-owners of Rafalca.)  I know how the Romneys had $77,000 in horse expenses last year.

I don't begrudge them having that kind of money to spend on their horse and I have no doubt that Rafalca gives Ann Romney a great deal of happiness and mental well-being, but she's not for physical therapy.  I don't think the Romneys have any of their six homes any closer than La Jolla, down by San Diego, so how does she ride horses she keeps in Moorpark? Ann gave an answer in that 2008 interview: “I’m just like any other crazy horse person,” she said. “You find a way to make the time to ride. If I have to get up at 5 a.m. to fly to California and then ride until 10 p.m. at night, because that’ll be my only chance to ride for a month, then that’s what I’ll do.” (Italics mine.)

Is she joking? That's not a reality for most horse crazy people. Does the IRS let Ann Romney write off the expenses for her flights to California to ride her horses for a day? She's an amateur rider, not a professional rider, at least according to her dressage awards.

So Rafalca is more like a kid who's been sent to boarding school or off to college to live away from her parents. This is not an ideal situation to convince me that Ann Romney rides Rafalca for MS therapy (especially when the article in the link says she wasn't riding her at all in 2008 to avoid ruining Rafalca's  prospects), though I am willing to accept Ann might have a more appropriate, less flashy, horse somewhere to help with the MS. Perhaps her therapy horse is Baron, who would be 23 now.

And that brings us down to the real issue which is that the Romneys took a $77,000 business (not medical) deduction for their horses in the only tax return they have released. I'd like someone to really investigate what their "horse business" is. Ann rides as an amateur, so aren't her horses a hobby? I know that the way to make a small fortune in the horse industry is to start with a large one (thanks, Ron Weschler), but what exactly is the business model? The IRS says you have to make a profit 3 of 5 years. Where's the potential profit in a dressage horse short of building up her show ribbons and selling her off for more competition or turning her into a brood mare and selling the babies? Do the Romneys have a breeding operation? It doesn't sound like it from the Chronicle article. A horse like Rafalca takes a number of years to mature and train into a horse for the rarefied atmosphere of Olympic dressage, so where are the 3 of 5 years of profit? It is not like horse racing where there are potentially huge purses for wins. (Yes, I know there can be monetary value at some shows, but, really? Enough to cover the year's worth of expenses for the stable?)

Is the reason that Mitt Romney has failed to disclose his tax returns because this $77,000 business deduction (something like twice the annual income of the average American family)  is the tip of the iceberg in questionable Romney business judgment (let us not forget that sources indicate he keeps most of his money in oversees tax shelters, not invested in America)? At what point do voters realize they will never have this kind of money and someone who does, and who seems to almost totally lack empathy, can never, ever understand their realities? (Here's another piece on the Romneys and their dressage horses, and how the reason they are "keeping a low profile" is because this kind of dressage involvement is something that few Americans can relate to.)

I'm giving Stephen Colbert a big pass on this (except to say "Steve. Riders wear top-hats, not velvet hard-hats for top-level dressage) because he's a comedian, not a newsman. But I expect better research and reporting from Lawrence O'Donnell. I expect him to be more truthful and informative that Murdoch's squawking parrots.

I wish Ann Romney nothing but the best in her fight against MS and that Rafalca continues to make her feel better. I will be cheering Rafalca on during the Olympics and hope that the attention that dressage is getting from Stephen Colbert and others means that I'll be able to watch ALL of the dressage events at a reasonable hour when NBC covers the Olympics this year.

But I won't be voting for Mitt Romney for President of the United States and I hope the IRS takes a real close look at the Romney tax returns. Rafalca is a hobby-horse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl Swap Meet is where all those things your mother threw out go to find a new home.
Held the second Sunday of every month in the parking lots surrounding the famous sports arena, the Swap Meet attracts a diverse crowd from bargain seekers to serious collectors and makes for some decent exercise. Many dealers have been there longer than I've been a customer, like the owner of this booth of old glass bottles.
My first foray was twenty-two years ago during my first summer in Los Angeles when I was a law clerk at the Writers Guild of America, west, Inc. Len's friends made it a monthly outing, culminating in lunch somewhere in downtown Pasadena, so we could compare our finds. Back in those days, parking was free and admission was in the $2 range. Now, priority parking (not to be passed up, IMHO) is $15 and admission after 9 AM (die-hards get there around 5 AM) is $8.00. It is no longer a reasonable place to go just for the exercise.
I hadn't been to this particular swap meet for a number of years, probably going back to before our house fire. Once I got Ace, spending money on miscellaneous stuff for which I had little room didn't seem like such a great idea. Len has long lost the stamina to cover the Rose Bowl, which often became a 4-5 hour expedition with no likelihood of finishing the entire thing. There's another swap  in Pasadena that meets on the first Sunday of each month and doesn't have an admission fee (parking is a mere $2.00.) Since many of the same antique/collectible dealers attend both, and the first Sunday swap meet at Pasadena City College can be completely covered in less than 3 hours, it has become my preferred shopping experience.(Not to mention that many of the dealers set up in one of the parking structures on campus, so it is actually reasonably comfortable to go in the summer time.)

On Sunday, however, Len was out of town and I woke at a reasonable time to get over to Pasadena for a long walk. Besides the sticker-shock of parking and admission, I found that the layout had somewhat changed and, in some areas, the crush was bad because there's some major construction going on at the facility. It looks like they are trying to add skyboxes and it is ruining the aesthetic of the place. I'm sure the neighbors aren't particularly happy about this.
I found something to purchase mere minutes after starting my way through the dealer maze: an Aynesley Cottage Garden egg to add to my collection of the English china pattern. I decided to forgo the other three pieces the dealer had because I don't really need two more small vases that match.
These are the three pieces I left behind.

There were a couple of things I got excited about, but I didn't have a strong body like my son with me to carry furniture to the car or wait while I brought it around for loading. So no drop-top maple table for a chess set. Then there was a 1960s stuffed chair that looked like a hand that made me laugh but I doubted I would want to live with it for long.
 I did see an extremely nice 1940s-1950s linoleum topped table with four matching chairs, but I have no place for it. I also saw two art deco china/curio cabinets that were extremely tempting. They were what reminded me that the Rose Bowl is probably the best place to look for vintage furniture, short of hitting every estate sale in the region on Saturdays.
It has always been a good place to find clothing--I once bought a beautiful silver mink stole (lost in the fire) for $15--and Len's bought all kinds of costume parts in the past. On this trip, there were many dealers in vintage linens and several booths had vintage fabric. I'm considering taking some of the boxes of fabric I've got in storage to find a new home.
I was tempted--but resisted--several different sets of snack plates. I don't need any more. I don't need any more. I don't need any more.
There were several booths with beads for sale, and I liked the colors in the sunlight. If I were into making jewelery, I would have bought some. I prefer to buy jewelery ready-made, though. I did see two pieces of jewelery in the shape of horse heads that I liked a lot. One was a bakelite piece and the other was reverse-carved acrylic. There was also an acrylic greyhound which made me think about my grandfather's second wife, who raised whippets. The bakelite piece was $400--way beyond my price range--and the acrylics were more than the cash I had on hand. It is best to carry lots of cash, since so few dealers take check or credit cards.

I managed to find a couple of gifts, so the admissions costs were amortized somewhat. Because it gets so hot in the summer, I am unlikely to hit the Rose Bowl Swap Meet again until October or November. I do think I should try it a bit more often than every five years. It can be more fun to go with a group of friends, but it is more efficient to go alone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dishes & Horses

I've written a piece about my obsession with dishes for my other blog, but dishes and horses took a big crossover step this week when I acquired pieces of the Gien pattern "Chevaux du Vent" or "Horses of the Wind." Yes, it actually features Arabian Horses. How perfect for me.
The linen towel of this magnificent Arab is going to grace one of the walls in my house. It is off to the frame shop and probably won't come home until after the Belmont Tea I'm holding to watch the third installment of this year's Triple Crown quest.

 If I could afford it, I'd buy an original piece of the artwork, like the piece below, but it is far beyond my means and I can do other things with that money. I like looking at it, though. Arabs are art in motion and the artist has done a good job of capturing this.
I don't speak French beyond a high school semester's training, but here's a link to a video which I think interviews the artist of the line of dishes I am now collecting. (There's an ad first, but it is short.)