Friday, January 31, 2014

Wooden: A Coach's Life - by Seth Davis - a Review

Wooden: A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis  (2014) is an amazing book for those interested in John Wooden, UCLA’s former men’s basketball coach.

It shares a tremendous amount of detail describing the 99 year life of (probably) the most significant men’s college basketball coach of all time.    Winning the NCAA Men’s Championship ten times in the last 12 years of his career (for example,)was an amazing feat!

What makes this book worth reading are not the facts and data which are certainly interesting.    What is fascinating is trying to understand the total person that John Wooden was with both his strengths and his flaws. 
John Wooden regularly attempted to intimidate and harass opposing players as well as the referees in his games.   This was rather inconsistent with his public image as a polite, proper church-going man who didn’t smoke or drink.

While Wooden’s actions regularly showed that he was anti-racist (including during the 1940’s and 1950’s when blatantly racist actions were common), he consistently avoided using his influence to confront racist actions by others.   

During his coaching career he was hardly approachable by his players.  His emotional distance alienated a significant number of them.  John Wooden also lied about some of his achievements (such as saying multiple times that he’d never had a losing season as a coach).  Some of his public statements made it more difficult for those who succeeded him at UCLA in surviving trying to replace “The Legend”.

Some of the weaker sides of John Wooden helped alienated him from peer coaches as well as various basketball players.   At the same time he was a great teacher for most of his players both for basketball and for life beyond their basketball careers.

John Wooden mellowed as he got older.   After he retired gradually more and more of his former players began enjoying time with him.  Some healed their hurt feelings.    After struggling with the death of his wife in the mid-80’s he seemed to flourish and appreciate significant parts of his later years.   He was an avid reader and poet.   Wooden touched the lives of many.

John Wooden was an amazing person.   While I no longer see him as singularly positive, I can still appreciate what he gave to his world.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was a wonderful amazing man.   He lovingly influenced many of us in various ways, remaining humble and connected.    While being sad at is death last night is understandable, we should also recognize that he lived a full, eventful life which we can celebrate in various ways.

He wrote and performed a lot of wonderful music with the Weavers into the early 1950’s.   “Good Night Irene”,  “If I Had a Hammer”, “Wimoweh”,  “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”,  and “Turn, Turn, Turn”  were some of his best known songs  His work on “We Shall Overcome” was significant in modernizing it from an old gospel song.

Pete Seeger was much more than a musician.  He confronted McCarthyism at its worst and was blacklisted while facing significant other persecution standing up for his beliefs.

Seeger clearly saw the interconnectedness of many issues through his life work.  He was a peace activist, a Civil Rights activist, an environmental activist, as well as a strong supporter of labor and many others.   

When he made money, he used it to support “the people” through many causes.   He inspired many musicians, activists and “normal people” in various ways.
Most significantly – he was a warm, loving, caring man who lived his beliefs in his life.   

I am sad at the death of Pete Seeger!   I’m happy that I’ve been exposed to a little of this incredible man who meant a lot to me over the past 40+ years!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish-Arab Divide – by Susan Nathan

A Book Review:

The author (who is Jewish) emigrated  from England to Israel after her children were grown up.   Against the advice of friends and family, she moved to Tamra, an Arab town of 25,000, whose other residents Arab Israeli citizens.

Her story is a strong indictment of how the Israeli Government and Israeli Jews treat the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Arabs.   The story is primarily not about residents of the West Bank or Gaza (who are not Israeli citizens).

The parallels with how Black People were treated well before the Civil Rights era resonated with me.   I can not imagine Black People being told over a period of decades that their land and houses were not legally their own, with more and more land confiscated for White People.

The racist nature of “Israel for the Jews” is shown within many of the author’s explanations.    In some ways the story portrayed shows sometimes more subtle forms of exclusionary policies.

Arabs are not in the Israeli military and many loan programs require one to be a veteran of the Israeli army.     The Jewish National Fund owns a huge portion of the land in Israel and becomes the owner frequently when land is confiscated from its Arab owners.   Its status as a non-governmental agency shields it from significant Israeli laws which might otherwise give at least a little protection to Arab Israeli citizens.

One need not agree with everything the author says to be greatly affected by her words!   While this book is far from perfect, it is a significant book for those who may at least be open to a non-traditional perspective on Israel.