THE IMPORTANCE OF NOTHING


Nothing is more interesting than nothing, nothing is more puzzling than nothing, and nothing is more important than nothing. For mathematicians (not me), nothing is one of their favorite topics, a veritable Pandora’s box of curiosities and paradoxes. What lies at the heart of mathematics? You guessed it, nothing.

We have heard that when zero arrived in Europe it was treated with suspicion. We don’t think of the absence of sound as a type of sound, so why should the absence of numbers be a number, argued its detractors. It took centuries for zero to gain acceptance. It is certainly not like other numbers. Zero as a symbol is part of the wonderful invention of ‘place notation.’Early notations being Roman numerals. Try doing arithmetic with those. So the symbols were used to record numbers, while calculations were done using the abacus, piling up stones in rows in the sand or moving

All of this is of course way over my head. I appreciate Zero when it is added to other numbers in my checkbook. The more zeros, the better. Math and I, while not complete strangers, are hardly friends.

Word games are almost irresistible when you talk about nothing. Nothing is well, nothing. A void. A total absence of thingness. Zero, however is definitely a thing. It is a number. It is, in fact, the number you get when you count your oranges and you haven’t got any. Or you get to the check stand in the grocery store and find your wallet has nothing in it. Of course. like many things in life, zero needs the company of something to make it work. It’s like a marriage which started from the illusive nothing.

The Jerry Seinfeld sitcom, one of the most successful shows on TV was, in their own words, about nothing. From there, they showed that most of us lead perfectly normal lives about nothing. If you check the pages of the average diary, the day’s notations say something like “nothing happened today”.

Of course in the normal course of things, something happens every day. There is no void in Nature, no matter what the mathematicians say

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THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

THE JEWISH QUOTA


eileen fordEileen Ford, Ford Modeling Agency

Young Eileen Ford, nee Ottensoser, who was later to be founder and CEO of the trailblazing and spectacularly successful Ford Modeling Agency of New York, wanted to attend Barnard College in the 1940’s. The problem, however, was that Barnard had a so-called Jewish Quota, which limited the number of Jewish applicants who would be accepted. The solution was simple—she changed her last name.

Eileen’s mother, Loretta Ottensoser wanted her daughter to attend a truly high class college for women, and in her estimation, that was Barnard. It rivaled Vassar and it was close to the equivalent men’s Ivy League colleges, such as its “brother” college Columbia, and shared academic activities with all of them in varying degrees.

The problem for Eileen Ottensoser was that, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and all the Ivy League schools in the 1930,s, Columbia and Barnard imposed the so-called Jewish Quota. The colleges felt they had too many Jewish students, and systematically tried to cut down that number. In 1935, for example, in his final year at high school, the future Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman won the new York University Math Championship by a huge margin that shocked the judges. Yet he was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and though his high school grades were perfect or near perfect in math and science, he was not accepted when he applied to Columbia. (He went to MIT instead.)

Many American colleges in the 1920’s were quite open about implementing the quota, which they regarded as a matter of racial fairness, not prejudice. ‘Never admit more that 6 Jews, take only 2 Italian Catholics; and take no blacks at all’, was the maxim of the Yale School of medicine, according to David Oshinsky, the biographer of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the Salk polio vaccine, who ended up at New York University rather than at any ivy League school. In 1935, Yale accepted just 5 out of 200 Jewish applicants.

The dilemma facing the Ivy League was comparable to that faced today by educators in cities such as New York, where Asian students, less than 10 percent of the city’s student population, routinely win more than 50 percent of the top high school places on merit. Until 1924, entry to U.S. colleges and universities was decided on the basis of an essay written in English, and Jewish students worked hard, often with special tutors, to practice and perfect their essay writing technique–as compared with relatively untutored farm boys and girls from rural schools in the Midwest.

The introduction that year of the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) was deliberately designed to counter this advantage by offering all intelligent pupils the equality of boxes to tick, and from 1924 the proportion of Jewish students in U.S. higher education started to fall, through dilution. The arrival of increasing numbers of strapping young men and women from the Farm Belt also did no harm to the record of the East Coast’s varsity sports teams.

Yet the quota remained.

‘We limit the number of Jews admitted to each class to roughly the proportion of Jews in the population of the state,’ said the dean of Cornell’s medical college as late as 1940. At the Yale School of Medicine, applications by Jewish students were marked with an H, for ‘Hebrew,’ while Harvard requested passport-size photos to help identify Semitic facial features. Using questions about religious affiliation and giving priority to the sons of alumni,the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons was able to reduce its proportion of Jewish students from 47 percent in 1920 to some 6 percent some 20 years later–to the delight of alumni who deplored Jewish students as ‘damned curve-raisers’ for working too hard and decreasing the value of the leisurely ‘gentleman’s C.’

Barnard, to its credit, tried to stand apart from such prejudice. The taboo-breaking college was largely the creation of Annie Nathan Meyer, a self-educated Sephardic Jew who had the clever idea of naming her all-female project in honor of a man, Frederick Barnard, the open-minded president of Columbia in 1889. Virginia Gildersleeve, the college’s dean from 1911 until 1946, disdained religious and racial exclusivity, encouraging the admission of young African-American women to the school and paying to support at least one through to graduation from her own personal funds.

Yet, in the interest of diversity, Gildersleeve did seek to dilute the 40 percent preponderance of Jewish students at Barnard in the 1920’s, supplementing the traditional admission essay with psychological test, interviews, and letters of recommendation, so that by the late 1930’s only 20 percent of Barnard women were Jews. This did not totally eliminate Eileen Ottensoser’s chances of gaining entry to Columbia’s sister school, and she had a better chance of securing one of Barnard’s 80 percent of non-Jewish places.

The answer was simple; change her name. It was not as if her Quaker-espousing father and Roman Catholic mother had brought her up in any remotely Jewish fashion. Her two younger brothers, age 15 and 11, had already been subjected to anti-semitic sneers at school, and this led the three children to devise a pact. Sometime in the months before Eileen’s senior year in high school and her starting of the college entry process, the brothers banded together with their sister to tell their father that hone of them would go to a university unless he changed the family surname from Ottensoser to Otte.

A PLACE OF HONOR


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For those of us who love dogs, it’s nice to know that a cemetery in San Luis Obispo “On a bluff beneath tall oak trees and overlooking green rolling hills is a resting place and place of honor for those who sniffed out crime and brought down crooks. Here police dogs from one California agency are laid to rest.” I’m grateful to Sue Manning from the Associated Press for this information. This cemetery for K-9s in San Luis Obispo is unique among U.S. law enforcement agencies. It is more common for dogs to be buried or their ashes scattered on their handler’s property or a pet cemetery.

No matter where they end up, dogs who are killed in the line of duty usually can expect to have a funeral similar to that of a slain officer, according to Russ Hess, national executive director of the United States Police Canine Association.

This means a service with eulogies, a color guard and the playing of taps. After all, dogs are members of the patrol force, living with their handlers and their families. In some cities when an officer retires, his dog is retired as well, and for a payment of one dollar, goes with him. A friend of ours in Newark, California has been training German Shepherd dogs for the police department for many years.

The basic characteristics of the German Shepherd make him uniquely qualified for K-9 work. It takes more than just their intelligence and good looks to get them hired for the job. Traits that set them apart from the other breeds include a natural curiosity, athletic ability and the desire to perform a job. Many years ago when I bought my last German Shepherd, a police officer in my neighborhood told me that given enough praise, she would break her back for me. Her loyalty was unquestioned and incredible. This is why there are more German Shepherd police dogs than any other breed.

In larger cities, a K-9 team has many more police dogs so that each one can specialize in a single area such as weapon detection. In smaller towns that only have a single K-9 dog or police dog make it necessary for that one to receive training in all areas of police assistance. This includes drug detection, sidewalk patrolling, suspect apprehension, and corpse finding missions.

German Shepherds are quick at learning hand signals by sight, and they eagerly obey commands given by their owner. I must admit to being a bit of a show-off because I enjoyed placing our last German Shepherd on a spot telling her to stay, while I ran to the other side of the lake, perhaps a quarter mile away, and used only a hand signal to get her to come to me. It shows the intensity of their focus, that she never took her eyes off me. Of course, this was before our population swelled and that walking path is now like a crowded freeway. I would no longer dare to do that, and certainly not with a Jack Russell Terrier.

In the San Luis Obispo cemetery, even dogs who die in retirement go to their final resting place here. Cmdr. Aaron Nix said “The K-9s are deputies” and this was our way of making sure they are honored.

To acquire the land for the cemetery was an easy sell. Confiscated drug money funded the memorial park and jail inmates helped. Now the K-9s have a place waiting for them.

Jake, a drug-detection dog with 900 credited arrests was the first buried there with full honors.

These dogs evoke an outpouring of emotion and a funeral is well-attended by locals who appreciate the service they have given the community. When residents of a town in New jersey learned a K-9 named Judge had Cushing’s disease they raised more than $12,000 in two days last year for his treatment. The German Shepherd caught 152 suspects in a seven-year career.

When Judge could no longer get up, his handler, Cpl. Michael Franks, took him to be euthanized. As he carried Judge into the veterinarian’s office last month, nearly 100 officers from across New Jersey lined up to give the dog one last thank you.

police dog

The German Shepherd in the top picture is our Eliza Jane 11, (Liza), Not a K-9, but still, the Queen of our kennel and Princess of our pack.

GOD’S SPECIAL CHILDREN


My cousin Kendall passed away this past year at the age of sixty-one years as we count chronologically, but he never grew up. Kendall was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and had Down Syndrome. His parents, my aunt and uncle, lived over seas for thirty years, and nothing much was being done at that time anywhere in early education for the mentally handicapped or the parents. Abnormalities in a birth always come as a surprise to parents happily looking forward to a life filled with so-called normal expectations, but to older parents living in a third world country, Kendie’s birth was heartbreaking and unexpected.

Their initial and common reaction was to take the blame. “what have I done?” “How could I have prevented this?”

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
The average IQ of a young adult with Down Syndrome is 50, or equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9- year old child, but this varies widely. Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life, ideally from birth on. In the past, the life expectancy was about 30 years, but now it is about 50 or 60. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans, occurring in about one per 1,000 babies born each year. It is a lifelong condition, but with care and support, children who have Down syndrome grow up to have healthy, happy, productive lives.

Fortunately so much has changed in public acceptance of the mentally challenged. A hundred years ago, these people were kept in a back bedroom, and lived out their brief lives alone and unseen. It was assumed that they were incapable of learning, and even their existence was kept a somewhat shameful secret.

Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. My daughter earned her college degree in the study of the mentally challenged, some of whom had Down Syndrome. Specialized education is a wide open field and now some children with Down syndrome are educated in typical school classes. Some individuals with Down Syndrome graduate from high school and a few attend post-secondary education. In adulthood, about 20% in the U.S. do paid work in some capacity with many requiring a sheltered work environment.

Kendall’s life fell in the middle of an “enlightenment” period in that though he was ubable to participate in an early-childhood education in Saudi Arabia, he was later sent to a school in the U.S. where he lived throughout his life. He never grew beyond the size of a 9-10 year old, and he was always cheerful and happy as a small child, with a big smile lighting his face when he was pleased or when he recognized a friend. These people live at the very pinnacle of innocence. It is we who need the education to accept them for what they are, God’s Special Children

About 35 years ago, a friend with two young sons called early one morning to tell us of the birth of a fourth son. This family prided itself on building good health, strength and athletic ability. Each was proficient in sports. As Dr. Advice answered the phone, I caught a slight change of expression as he said “Maybe God thought you needed a cheerleader for your basketball team.” He had promptly diverted the conversation from one of mixed feelings into one of positive anticipation. Their fourth son had Down Syndrome.

At the time the University of Washington had a concentrated study of the condition, and the mother of this child went there from California and learned what was being done to educate babies from birth. Instead of waiting for several years before teaching basic skills, Blair began immediately being prepared to live in the mainstream of society. Before speech, he was taught sign language, which hastened his communication skills.

As soon as possible, Blair’s mother took him into school classes and introduced him, explaining to the students that he had Down Syndrome and what it was. When old enough, he was enrolled in school and treated just as any other student. He was never made to feel “different” or out of the loop. His mother organized a baseball club made up of mentally challenged children, which developed their concept of team play, and their natural joy in physical activity. She even went to members of the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team and appealed to them for pieces of athletic equipment, which they gladly donated, taking the little team under their wing.

To see Blair today, with his show of confidence and compare him to Kendall, a lot can be attributed to his early training.

Years ago, when Blair was about 5, I received this poem from one of his older brothers while he was a student at U.S.C.

My brother Blair, was born with Down Syndrome, a form of mental handicap. December 1990

BROTHER, by Sean Hogan

Brother so kind, how can it be?
Brother “What happened? How come he can’t see?
Brother I’m sorry; you will never be like me.
Brother your life will set me free.

Mother please, the blame will never be known.
Mother in this life, the harvest can not be resown.
Mother worry not so much for him.
Mother cry more for me and Tim.

Father others expectations may run too high.
Father friends will come, fear, and say goodbye.
Father they say patience and time can only tell.
Father without you, his life will surely be Hell.

Grandpa, has Peter now become your best Friend?
Grandpa, how come you never stayed till the end?

(As Peter denied the knowledge of knowing Christ, Grandpa tries to deny Blair’s existence and relationship to him.)

TWO PATHS


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“You shall walk two paths…yours and that of the White Man. Pick up those things from the White Man’s path that you can use.” Wise words from Sitting Bull.

Stories are the core of Northwest Indian culture and education, and have been for at least 8,00 years. Emmett Oliver’s story is of one Northwest Indian who was poor, dropped out of school, returned, got two college degrees, and revolutionized Indian education in his native state.

Like many American Indians, Emmett Oliver grew up off the reservation. His unique personal experience combines the best of two cultures and has contributed to each. He has truly followed two paths.

“She came more than a thousand miles and a lifetime of years for the event. Her eyes found her youngest son, handsome and proud in his cap and gown.” These are the opening words of the book “Two Paths”, commissioned by Emmett and written by his friend Ben Smith. Emmett paid for the publication of the books and then gave them away to all Indian schools in Washington State, as an example of what successes could be achieved by education.

After a college sports career, someone suggested that Emmett might consider becoming a teacher. What followed was a lifetime of teaching and counseling both high school and college students, and in encouraging children from Northwest Indian communities to pursue their education.

After the second World War, Emmett returned as a Coast Guard Commander. Handsome, dignified and charismatic, he resumed teaching with his wife Georgia. They both came as educators to California, where we became friends more than 55 years ago. They were my introduction to Indian America.

The Danmark
Tall Ship “The Danmark” training ship for Coast Guard during War

In November, 1969, Indian tribes occupied Alcatraz Island and its abandoned Federal prison in San Francisco Bay. One of the leaders of that movement was Emmett Oliver. He was Chair of BANAC (Bay Area Native American Committee.) the organization that spearheaded the takeover which lasted 19 months. The takeover was a reminder to many (including Emmett’s son, Marvin) of their Indian heritage.

photo-richard-oakes

The takeover led to Emmett’s attendance at the National Indian Education Conference in Minneapolis with a large number of prominent Indian educators, where Emmett was encouraged to return to his involvement in Indian education. This led to directing the Indian student programs at UCLA. His mother’s drive for her children to be educated had re-emerged and in that moment his whole life came into focus. He would devote the rest of his life to Indian education.

In the summer of 1970 Emmett joined the Division of Minority Affairs of the University of Washington to head the Indian Student division. His first task was to recruit and counsel Indian students.

At that time, Washington boasted a full-blood Cherokee role model named Sonny Sixkiller, who was their star quarterback. Our daughter was then a student at the University, and a friend of Sonny.

Sonny_Sixkiller
Sonny Sixkiller at the University of Washington

Working with the BIA offices who handled funding, Emmett invited outstanding Indian students from their high schools on weekends when home games were planned. They toured various Departments in which they expressed interest after which they went to the football game. Emmett said “The plan worked in interesting students to go to college. If not to Washington, then to some other college.”

Emmett’s effectiveness brought him to the attention of the Department of Education for the State of Washington and he was hired as the first Supervisor of Indian Education for the State. This gave him a greater opportunity to work more closely with the Indian communities.

“I believed that parent involvement in education at the elementary and secondary level must be increased, and I knew first hand the peril of dropping out, the limitations of purely vocational training, and the need for solid educational grounding if Indians were ever going to be able to attend college and assume positions of leadership in society.”

The first great “Paddle To Seattle” in 1989 that Emmett conceived and coordinated was the Native American contribution to the Washington State Centennial. It was a celebration of Indian culture, and through the annual canoe races, it has culminated in well over 100 canoes from various Northwest tribes participating each year.

Emmett’s daughter, Marylin has been heavily involved in the races, working tirelessly with participants all over the State. She is currently a Seattle Delegate to the City of Perugia, Italy. Emmett’s son, Marvin, is a Professor of Indian Art at the University of Washington and at the University of Alaska and an artist whose massive sculptures can be seen in many places around the world.

Marvin Oliver
“Spirit of the Future” Public sculpture by Marvin Oliver, in Perugia, Italy.

Orca by Marvin Oliver

“Mystical Journey” at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, 26’Steel and Glass suspended sculpture by Marvin Oliver

Emmett’s is a spirit venture, drawing on the past and enlightening the future. His innermost being believes you cannot teach someone you do not love.

Emmett Oliver
Emmett Oliver at 101, with two of his granddaughters at end of 2014 Paddle to Seattle