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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Midsummer Musings

Dennis Fox

August 4 , 2005

The heat's got me too lethargic to focus on any one topic, but I return to three familiar ones -- my community, my daughter, and my congressman.

My wife and I flew to Los Angeles earlier this month for a family wedding. We spent much too much time sweltering indoors instead of immersing ourselves in cool ocean water, but I did like the Fairfax neighborhood's ethnic and economic diversity, which is much broader than we're used to here in Brookline.

The TAB reported a few weeks ago that the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth ranks Brookline fourth in the state in the percentage of immigrants, with more than one in four residents born elsewhere. That's a good thing. Our immigrants' top ten countries of birth are China, Russia, Japan, Israel, Korea, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Germany. This list is no surprise to anyone eavesdropping on conversations in Coolidge Corner or entering our many Asian restaurants.

What Brookline's missing in significant numbers, though, are the Latinos and African Americans most people have in mind when talking about politically relevant diversity. In Brookline, the most obvious people of color are those who come into town every day to serve white families as nannies, house cleaners, lawn workers, and taxi drivers. Fairfax was a refreshing change.

Limiting Brookline's ethnic diversity, of course, is our lack of economic diversity. That's not too surprising in a town where, another TAB article informs us, 45% of residents hold graduate degrees (the third highest percentage in the country). Inundated with doctors and lawyers and post-docs and professors, Brookline has failed miserably to provide meaningful numbers of affordable apartments. The result is a community technically diverse but, despite exceptions unnoticed by most residents, homogeneously comfortable in income, profession, and values.

Another quick trip this month directs my musing elsewhere. Last weekend my wife and I drove up past Lake Winnepesaukee to visit our 12-year-old daughter in sleepaway camp. At a different camp last year she picked up far too many fashion tips and came home more knowledgeable than we expected about makeup and dating. This year's camp is more rustic. We're glad to see her more focused on hikes, group games, and horseback riding than on which boys might be available.

But I wonder what will happen in September once she hits seventh grade. She and her friends all became premature teenagers this past year, determined to act like 15-year-olds who are themselves trying to pass for 18. Listening to my daughter and her friends chatter about potential and imagined boyfriends and casually refer to sluts and players and oral sex, I wonder if it isn't time for town schools to institute lessons in Feminism 101.

My impression so far is that the schools treat encroaching teenagerdom far too gingerly, delaying serious talk about adolescent angst until most kids are already through it, often damaged by it. Sex and relationship education should come much sooner, much more honestly and comprehensively. So should facilitating coordination, or at least communication, among parents.

A third thing on my mind is Brookline's representative in Congress, Barney Frank. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to send Americans back to the Moon and then to Mars, Frank was one of only 15 reps dissenting from the 383-vote majority. Most Democrats went along with the president's NASA plan. Frank said no.

I have pleasant memories of childhood summers reading science fiction. I spent a few adolescent years imagining myself blasting off into space. I'd still go to Mars if I could. But Frank is right. According to the Associated Press, Frank "questioned spending billions to go to Mars when 'day after day ... we're told we can't do enough for housing and we can't do enough for health care.... This is a fundamental debate the country ought to have ... about whether or not to commit these untold billions ... at the expense of other important programs."

Frank should continue to push his Democratic peers away from the deadening center toward more progressive politics. The space program's place among national priorities is only one of many fundamental debates this country ought to have.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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