Sunday, March 29, 2009

Roland Burris

The Replacement: The rise of Roland Burris

I have been reading the above article about Roland Burris. Although I imagine most people are interested in the controversy surrounding him and Barack Obama, I have found his background fascinating. I can certainly understand the determination and the will to become a lawyer following this story about what happened to his father.

In terms of the charges of corruption that have been made against him, a look into his background would seem to suggest that Burris is not your usual politician.

Centralia is roughly on the same latitude as Louisville, and, even after the Second World War, Southern ways prevailed. In 1951 and 1952, the local N.A.A.C.P. tried and failed to integrate the public swimming pool, and the following year the city’s African-Americans decided to try again. This time, Burris’s father, who worked for the Illinois Central and served as the vice-president of the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P., travelled to East St. Louis to hire a lawyer to push the integration effort; the elder Burris laid out a hundred dollars as a retainer, a considerable sum at the time, given that he was making around forty cents an hour. Roland, who was fifteen, was chosen to test the ban with a group of his friends over Memorial Day weekend. “We headed out to the pool; we bought our ticket,” Burris told me, as we sat in his Senate office. “They sold us a ticket, because there was all this build-up before. They knew we were coming. You could see the whites lined up all outside, and here are these five little black kids with two chaperones. And they had to line up on the outside as well. And we went in; we showered; went out; swam in the pool. No incident. No issue.”

For the Burris family, though, the successful effort had an unhappy postscript. The lawyer, an African-American, never showed up in Centralia and disappeared with the retainer. “If we, as a race of people, are going to get anywhere in this society, we’ve got to have lawyers and elected officials who are responsible and responsive—that’s what my dad said, and it resonated with me,” Burris told me. “I was never in any serious trouble, but I’d beat up on people. I was a tough little kid. And I changed my whole attitude. Went back to high school my junior year. I took one of my brother’s suits that he had left home from college, got one of my dad’s white shirts, ’cause I didn’t have a tie, and I went to school my junior year dressed up. I made myself two goals. One, I want to be a lawyer. Number two, I want to be a statewide elected official of Illinois.”


Saturday, March 28, 2009

World Without End

Ken Follett has written a majestic epic about medieval life in England between 1327 and 1361. Whilst it is a moderately good read, the story revolves around 4 children who grow up the period of the plague and wars between France and England. At times it is almost a marginally better textbook on medieval history with diverse themes such as cathedral design and the evolution of weaving machinery. It is just a pity they could not write a textbook like this on environmental geochemistry - perhaps that will be the book I will write.

This book has kept me going over the past three months, it is comforting to have a 1000 page 'thriller' to read. The characters are interesting, in particular there is a girl who is accused of witchcraft, becomes a nun, lives with a man in the monastery and then writes a famous textbook on medical treatment of the plague.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Three Tales from The Arabian Nights

I was amazed and entranced by the new translation by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons of the Arabian nights. They have just released a preview book with three stories - Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Judar and his brothers, Ma'ruf the Cobbler. Honestly I could not put this book down. I was whisked into the exotic magical world of the Arabian Nights and believe me with my job - that is just what you need!

You would not believe the hassle I had in buying this book. If you want to buy it, write down this ISBN - 9781846141584. Something to do with the fact that about half a million 'fantasy' novels have 'arabian nights' in the title.

A complete translation of 'A thousand and one nights' in 3 volumes is about to be released from Penguin - first volume this august. With 800 pages, judging by the preview if I buy it I may never go out again!