Monthly Archives: August 2014

More and more cops

I’m really happy to see so many more reports on law enforcement overreach, and on more mainstream venues. People are starting to pay attention to this problem. Often the reports focus on the racist aspects, but there is also more attention being paid to the militarization of the domestic police force.

at Slate: “I’m Not Your Brother,” Says Officer Tasering Black Minnesota Man in Front of His Children

Even when the police may not be abusing their power, the media is finally presenting something closer to a strict telling of the tale, rather than what would in the past have been a “hero cop” story, whenever a cop shot anyone.

at CNN:  Man stabs cop, officer then shoots him

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of denial going on.  I think that most of the people who protest that Obama sent representatives to Michael Brown’s funeral, but not to (take your pick) most recent/most important/most tragic military funeral, either are 1. truly racist, 2. have not been exposed personally to how the police treat anyone who they do not respect (this group obviously includes blacks but also includes others, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the wrong group!), or 3. dramatically underestimate the scope and severity of the problem.  Or some combination of those.  These opinions mostly show up (for me) as shared Facebook posts.  It exists within my own family, where I know that the problem is both items 2 and 3.


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Filed under Government

On the pressing issues of war

I have not offered my thoughts about the new or ongoing conflicts or military actions in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza, Yemen, etc. for a number of reasons.

#1, I am not educated enough to have a valid opinion.  It seems to me that very few people really are.  Who really knows what is going on in all those places, with all those people?  Why are they doing what they are doing?  What are the thought processes and motivations of all the different individuals and groups?

#2, I don’t really believe I can become educated.  Do we really even have accurate information about what is happening?  What, of the information that we receive, is accurate, and what is bullshit?  There is no way to know.  If you are a citizen of one of those areas, you might have a chance of knowing what the facts are in the place you live.  Or, if you are a journalist who goes there to find out, you might get some accurate information.  Or, if you are tasked as a UN factfinder.  But most of us just have the internet, and there is just no way to determine what is real and what is propaganda.

#3, The situations are too complex to have one simple opinion.  “Let’s send drones to kill all the bad guys!”  Hahaha.  If only.  Here’s an interesting article that gets at some of the complexity (try to ignore the tone here).  The conclusion of this piece from David Stockman’s site?

What should the United States do about ISIS now that they’ve taken over half of Syria and a third of Iraq?

The answer is: let Assad, the Iranians, the Turks, and, yes, the Russians take care of it, since they are the states directly threatened by the growth of the so-called Islamic State. Why should we fight their war for them?

And I guess this leads to the only opinion I have, which I cannot defend on other than purely gut feeling:  We need to get the hell out of there, as much as possible, as fast as possible, and dedicate the resources currently used in war to instead figure out how to eliminate our need for oil, so that we no longer have any national interest to defend in the region.  (Yes, I know, Israel.  I already said I can’t defend it.)

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Filed under Government, Miscellaneous, Politics

The Pope on Happiness

Lovely post by Jay Parini.   I am not Catholic, but I love everything I have seen or heard from Pope Francis.

Editor’s note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has just published “Jesus: The Human Face of God,” a biography of Jesus. Follow him on Twitter @JayParini. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — Just when I thought my amazement with Pope Francis had run its course, he did it again. In a long interview with an old friend who was writing for an Argentine magazine, the pope put forward a 10-point plan for happiness. From where I sit, it seems, well, pretty damn good if not perfect. Here are Pope Francis’ tips for a happy life and my comments on them:

1. Live and let live. It’s an echo of the Pope’s earlier remark on gays: “Who am I to judge?” Moreover, it’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, unless you want to be judged yourself.” (Matthew 7:1)

Jay Parini

Jay Parini

2. Give yourself to others. That is, give your money and your time to those in need. Don’t just sit around like stagnant water. Give all you have and then some.

3 Move quietly in the world. The Pope quotes from a favorite novel by an early 20th-century Argentine writer, Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the novelist writes that in one’s youth, a person is “a rocky stream that runs over everything,” but as one gets older, one becomes “a running river, quietly peaceful.” It’s very like the Native American suggestion that one should walk “in balance and beauty” on the ground, making the least disturbance.

4. Enjoy leisure. The Pope says that consumerism has brought with it unbearable anxieties. So play with your children. Take time off. And don’t spend all your time thinking about your next acquisition. Spend your time well, not your money.

5. Sunday is for families. This is actually one of the Ten Commandments. Honor the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8) Once a week, give a whole day to meditation, worship, family life, tending the needs of the spirit. This is healthy living.

6. Find jobs for young people. Who would have guessed that job-creation would be on list for happiness? But the Pope is right. Honest, simple work for young people is essential to their well-being.

7. Respect nature. This follows from No. 6. “Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?” the Pope wonders. Not surprisingly, this is what Henry David Thoreau, a founding father of the environmental movement, said. “Most people live lives of quiet desperation,” he said. He went into the woods, to Walden Pond, because he wanted “to live deliberately” and to “front only the essential facts of life.”

A proper respect for nature means that you can’t pollute the air, poison the rivers and chop down the forests indiscriminately without suffering greatly.

8. Let go of negative things quickly. The Pope tells us not to complain about people who annoy or frustrate us, to let go of things as rapidly as we can.

9. Don’t preach your religion too forcefully. Proselytism brings on paralysis, the Pope tells us. Wow. I’m a Christian myself, and I don’t mind saying so. But each person sees the world before them in his or her own way. The Pope says this. As a teaching, it seems to run counter to the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus said to get out there and spread the word. But the Pope takes a relaxed view of this activity, preferring that we should teach by example. Perhaps that really is what Jesus would do?

10. Work for peace. The Pope has preached this message from the beginning of his time as pontiff. He has gone to Jerusalem and worked to bring together Jews and Palestinians. He has prayed for peace and worked for peace. He has listened closely to Jesus, who said, “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Pope Francis has, in this unlikely venue, given us his own Sermon on the Mount, his Ten Commandments for happiness and inner peace. One can only be grateful for his wisdom, which is rooted in a sincere faith, in hard-earned wisdom, and a very practical knowledge of human needs and potentials.

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Filed under Positive Mind

College Tours

Have been on college tours with #2 son for a few days.  Interesting.  Saw a few that really do it right, a few that were OK but not great, and one that was just awful.  Meaning, the presentation and tour really did the college and its campus a disservice.

Tips for college administrators and admissions counselors, from a parent:

  1. We all know your college is overpriced, you all do it on purpose, so ANYTHING you say about the cost is disgusting.  We can all see the construction on every single campus and we know that we and our kids are financing this spree.  Keep that talk to a minimum in the presentation and get into the nitty gritty one on one.
  2. I want to know what your goals are and what you are all about as a community, and how it relates to the kids and their college experience.  Who are you?  What does success for the kids look like to you?  Hobart and William Smith Colleges did a particularly outstanding job of this with their tagline “Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence,” and associated presentation.
  3. Please make sure your student tour leaders are fit for duty.  You should have a bullet point list of things they need to touch on.  I don’t care if they carry it with them.   Remember that to us, these kids are the face of your school.  So choose the ones that you think really represent what your school is all about, because it’s all we have to go on for a first impression.  Also be certain the rooms they will show us are open and clean.  It’s ridiculous that I would have to say that.
  4. There’s a reason most of the colleges start with a presentation then do a tour.  If you do the presentation info during the tour, then the tour should be with an admissions professional, not a student.  I don’t want answers that start with “I think” or end with “I guess.”
  5. As a parent, I want to know how you will help my child succeed.  And I want to know what that looks like to you.  Obviously, it must include a diploma, so how will you help my kid if he stumbles?  Will anyone even know before he’s flunked out?  What if he turns out to be a superstar?  Can you make sure his schedule is challenging enough?  Does your vision of success include employment?  Internships?  Study abroad?  Tell me about all the options and how you guys make it work for each kid.

College years are transformational in all our lives, whatever we do with them.  I think that what I want for my kid is what most parents want.  That is, I would like to see my immature boy learn how to be a grown up.  How to find his own way and learn.  How to be responsible and take care of himself as well as help those around him.  How to be part of a community, make friends, network.  Learn some marketable skills so he can support himself and his family.  Learn how to be flexible in this economy that seems to change faster and faster.   Ideally, I would like to see him maybe discover some new things he’s passionate about.

What I want from a college tour is to see the part that each college thinks they play in that transformation.

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Filed under Miscellaneous