Category Archives: Reflections

Time out for family and relatives

I’ll be away from my desk for much of October. The recent, untimely death of my wife has made me keenly aware of the precariousness of life, and brought a renewed focus to my long-standing conviction that, although a productive, socially useful career is very important, family and friends are equally important.

So I’m going to take a break from my blog and spend some serious time with relatives, and, in the process, strengthen my connection to my own origins. I still have important stories to tell — including a review of a critical chapter in Kenya’s history that has been largely shrouded in darkness. It’s all in Land and Class in Kenya, but I’m dogged by the feeling that there’s so much in the book that, at least for some readers, the most important point has been lost.

I’ll get to that if I still have breath left after spending some time with relatives.

Time out: To mourn, to remember, to be with family

I’m taking time off from my regular posts to mourn the untimely death of my wife of 31 years, and my best friend, Lorraine Leo de Jong. Lorraine was smart, funny, articulate, and had a scholarly understanding of anthropology, history, and much else. For a dyed-in-the-wool academic like me, she was a wonderful companion: A source of ideas, a sounding-board, and an honest critic. We spent many happy hours ranting at each other, sharing ideas, and arguing.

When we were married,… Continue reading

I’ve added lots of material to my blog

Readers of my blog will know that its purpose is to make academic writing accessible to people who don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the necessary obscurities in academic writing that drive potential readers away in droves. You may not know that this project began in 2005, in the format pictured below, and already included scores of posts in a different format before I changed over the the WordPress format you’re looking at now.


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Why the academic world needs blogs

Before I went to graduate school, I spent some three years working for a series of daily newspapers. I was only 22 years old when I started, and I loved the work. Being a newspaper reporter gave me a licence to pick up the phone and ask anyone any question that interested me, something I might otherwise hesitate to do. A colleague commented that journalism was an ideal occupation for shy, curious people.

In those three years, I worked a number of beats: business and labour in Marshalltown, Iowa; education in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and in York, Pennsylvania -– at the late and lamented The Gazette and Daily, reputedly the only left-wing daily in the United States –- city hall and the courthouse.

(The Gazette was well known to journalists across the United States as a pioneer in investigative journalism, a craft that was later immortalized by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann in All the President’s Men. When I was there, we didn’t go after the President, but we gave York City Hall, the York Police, and the Pennsylvania Railroad, with its unguarded crossings, a lot of grief. And woe betide the police if someone was charged with resisting arrest, but not charged with anything else.) Continue reading

My African life III: Putting old people in homes

I began to love Kenya when I moved to Nyandarua District, a largely rural area, in 1971, but my first few months in the country, when I had temporary quarters in Nairobi, the capital city, were disheartening. Everywhere I went, I encountered racial self-segregation so strict one might almost think the era of British colonial rule was not yet over. Continue reading

The Winnipeg Free Press flubs

I don’t normally comment on grammar, because I’m not an expert at it, but I do know enough to get it right most of the time. I also know it well enough to experience the prickle of hair standing up on the back of my neck when I encounter a particularly egregious gaffe.

In an age of txting & luving u, I get that prickle a lot, but, remembering my lack of expertise, I let it slide. This time, however, the Winnipeg Free Press has gone too far. In an op-ed piece on Ontario politics, on page A11 today, two paragraphs contradict each other directly unless you change the grammar. Here are the paragraphs: Continue reading

“Radar Dogs” remind me that all is not (yet) lost

If you’re ever in despair about how slowly we as a society are responding to the problems we’ve brought upon ourselves through reckless use of the earth’s resources and excessive faith in the marvels of technology, I have a story to cheer you up — a little.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I worked my way through university doing manual labour. In 1959, I was working in a factory in the city where I grew up. My friend Tim and I both worked 4 pm to midnight, and, after work, we’d meet at the Mill Grill, a lively little restaurant on Central Avenue, the main drag of the factory district.

One night, the Mill Grill was hopping, Continue reading