Sunday, March 1, 2015

Padme, Padme

Madame:

It keeps cropping up, but we are like the child who closes his eyes thinking that if he can’t see it, it not only can’t affect him, but that it’s literally not there.

The decay of civil liberties; of equal justice before the “law”; of constitutional rights; of belief in the fairness of the judicial system; of protections to citizens; all undergo both unremitting assault and gradual weakening and decay (the “death by a thousand cuts”).

And in a society of disconnected disposability, of corporate infotainment rather than news, of no real publicly funded independent news, of constant diversion—all of which Postman and even Huxley warned us about—we are the classic frog being boiled to death because the temperature is being slowly increased (an apt analogy for our environmental disconnection as well).

The evidence is so avalanche-like for anyone not white privileged (but increasingly, even for them unless they are wealthy) it barely needs detailing, but here’s just a few examples:

Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s LIFETIME gag order against the Ferguson grand jurors.

The CIA spying on the very body (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) we the people entrust to be the classified-cleared overseers of…the CIA.  And NOTHING done about it.

The Director of National Intelligence BLATANTLY lying to Congress that the United States government does not spy on its own citizens, and certainly not in a mass way.  And when that was shown incontrovertibly to be absolutely false, NOTHING was done about it.

A report released on sanctioned US torture, torture that blew back on us with great force, was aflutter for a week and then forgotten.

Far from being rewarded, the whistleblowers of intelligence/”security” community gross criminality and malfeasance have not only not been protected by Congress or anyone else, but instead prosecuted, jailed, and broken with a vengeance.

And now when a British newspaper breaks the story that there is a black site—an unconstitutional detention and even torture facility—right in the United States, right in Chicago, our corporate media was virtually nowhere to be found.  Even Chicago newspapers (how’s that for evidence of “elite” capture) effectively did not report it.  Held for days, weeks, months without charges?  What’s the big deal?  Not permitted contact with friends or relatives or even anyone in the outside world?  Why the fuss?  Not permitted any legal representation?  Who would need that?  Beset by torturous methods that would be shared enthusiastically with the staff at Abu Ghraib? Where’s the harm in that?  Operating this site for, effectively, 40 years?  Who can argue with tradition?

Padme was not quite correct.  Democracy does not just die to thunderous applause, it also dies when we can’t be bothered to save it—or even to find it worthy of note to hear its choking sound.


And now Madame, our readers (and me especially!) are anxiously awaiting your sunnier disposition to arrive on the scene and point out all the good things that are happening in our society and the world to put the curmudgeon in his place! :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Millenials and Vaccines

Professor J,

Given the winter that we've been having I think we might find a few more citizens willing to do anything referred to as UN-polarize. ;)

I found the article you linked to interesting. I've wondered before about how a generation that questions everything and and has deep problems with the status quo would react to military service in the future. I was thinking in terms of a draft or mandatory service. Seems like everyone is way ahead of me.

The vaccination controversy that has arisen has caused a number of interesting discussion among friends and family. You've done a good job outlining the arguments so I won't go over them. I will point out that the weight that many people give to the ideas and opinions of celebrities over the medical community is troubling.

As Melynda Gates pointed out when asked about it, American mothers have never seen these diseases. Women in Africa, who have, walk miles to get their children vaccinated.

You are correct that vaccines are not perfectly safe. Any parent who has sat in the doctor's office with a crying baby and had to read and initial all the potential risks understands that. In our case the vaccines in the first couple of years were done fairly close to the scheduled recommendations. The round of kindergarten shots I put off because I didn't have a child who would be routinely in a large community of other children. My daughter got those immunizations when she was 14. Yes, I got dirty looks from the shot nurse. But since school was taking place at home I put off the series feeling them much less necessary. I think at the time I wanted everything that was truly needed and nothing extra.

In between the time my kids got immunized the chicken pox vaccine was introduced. My daughter had to suffer through that childhood disease but her brother was immunized and didn't. This now means that she is in danger of suffering from shingles at some point in her life and he is not.

Part of the problem is that we are becoming a culture of parents who want ZERO risk for our children. Every parent secretly wishes for this but realistic ones understand that it's impossible. There are going to be lots of risks, but many of them are calculated.

The anti-vaccine movement relates back to our repeating topic of American individualism and the need for community and good citizenship. Am I willing to get my child vaccinated in order to keep your child safe? How can I make a decision I feel comfortable with as a parent after I have researched the potential risks? How do I balance my civic responsibility, the health of my child, and legitimate fears?

As you've pointed out the answers to those questions are lying somewhere in the middle.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Un-Polarize

Madame:

Nice job tying up many of our subject divergences.  Permit me to add one tie-in to the original post before going on to another topic.

"My generation, labeled Millennials (b. 1981-2000), is less formal, less concerned with customs and traditions, and honest about our view that excessive work demands might not be worth the cost of advancement.  In general, we have an affinity for digital technology and social media. We look for meaningful work in a collaborative environment and value a results-based promotion system over the traditional tenure track. Many of us desire a more sustainable work/life balance than previous generations, and we are willing to work for less money to achieve it. We like to ask 'why?' and desire to innovate and change our workplace rather than operate under the status quo. Millennials want to operate in an efficient workplace that values obtaining results over managing prescribed processes. We want clear direction and timelines on assignments followed by the flexibility to complete the tasks within the given parameters. On the aggregate, we admit our seniors have a stronger work ethic, but we do not accept the premise that time at the job equates with efficient mission completion.  The notion that we require excessive positive praise for doing our job is overplayed and insulting. We do, however, desire candid feedback, either positive or negative, more often than previous generations." From "Lead Us!" by  Lt Michael Mabrey, USN, Proceedings Magazine, February 2015.  Read the full article here: http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-02/lead-us

I watched the recent vaccination brouhaha and noticed it took on an all too familiar pattern: the shallow corporate media slid into easy groupthink, and after that, there was only polarization—one was either on board with vaccination in toto and without question for any and every vaccine, all the time, or one was a soft-headed pampered liberal or paranoid conservative kook.  Not surprisingly, John Rosemond was one of the few to make any discernment and take a calm and rational approach, although perhaps even he didn’t go deep enough.

Let’s get some facts out there:

The 1998 study that linked autism with vaccines has been thoroughly discredited.

However, that does NOT mean vaccines are “safe.”  Vaccines carry some risk, usually small, of an adverse, sometimes even fatal, reaction, depending on the individual, and, very rarely, even on the quality of the vaccine.

That risk is usually outweighed by the benefits of being inoculated, especially given the seriousness of what is being protected against.

Inoculation is especially important in attaining “herd resistance” and preventing small outbreaks from spreading (and particularly from them going epidemic).

Some individuals cannot be given a particular vaccine, for various reasons, whether allergies, immunity system condition, medical condition, etc.  This increases the importance of others becoming inoculated,  to attain “herd resistance.”

A few inoculations “don’t take.”  That is, the individual was inoculated, but, for whatever reason, resistance or immunity is not attained.

The younger a child is, the harder on its system a vaccine typically is.  This is a nervous dilemma for parents, as intellectually they may know the increased risk taken in inoculating a small child or baby is still low, and the probable benefit is great, but this is their child, and emotionally, that’s a big hurdle.

This dilemma is made even harder by the fact that there is correlation (although no proven causation) between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and vaccination.  As a parent, I can sympathize with the concern.  As a historian who is familiar with the historical record of disease devastation to children under age five, I can tell you statistically, on both a local and grand scale, the difference between inoculated and un-inoculated populations is vast and tragic.

At one time, a case could be made that vaccination zealotry had overreached, that we were urging inoculation for a number of things that did not require it—flu, chickenpox, HPV, etc.  Now, however, the research seems to indicate that, despite sometimes mixed results, the overall benefit is warranted.  Still, we must be wary that we don’t carry it too far.

Understanding the above could help unstiffen the polarization.  For instance, I wouldn’t suggest a parent forego inoculation for their children in most cases, and would instead urge them to follow the advice of a trusted medical professional.  However, if they did, contrary to advice, choose to forego inoculation until age five, I could understand it.  We could even allow a number of un-inoculated children to attend public school (kindergarten or pre-school), but once the statistical (small) limit had been reached, un-inoculated children would have to find another school or be home schooled.  We don’t need to throw the parents in jail, as some, incredibly, chillingly, advocate.  We need to continue to present evidence, and increase the chance of persuasion.  We also need better research to help us make better decisions and increase confidence.

What we HAVEN’T had on all this, aside from Rosemond’s column, is a calm and rational discussion between the sides.  We have had instead the emotion-driven certainty of the ABSOLUTE correctness, enforceable by force if necessary, of one’s position.  A hallmark of fanatics. 

And there in the unvisited middle, is, again, the lonely truth, waiting for discernment to come calling.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Educational Shift

Professor J,

Wonderful photo! Recently I took a short cut through an unfamiliar neighborhood in town. In someone's front yard near the sidewalk they had built a giant bird house with a glass front that opened, I could see the books inside. The sign said "Take a book. Leave a book." I just wanted to buy the house next door so I could be neighbors with those people.

Watch now as I attempt to tie together some of our recent posts so that we don't look quite so adrift and focus challenged.

Harkening back to the original problem that you brought up at the beginning of this somewhat frayed thread of posts I have some resources to offer up, not just for boys but for all young people and any adults who care to listen.

First, wouldn't you know it but before I outlined my idea for an ideal school system some 13 year old  hipster skier has gone and given a TED Talk about it. Well not exactly but he makes some of the same points.



Surely our invitation to speak at TED on "How to Carry on an Endless Discussion" or "Who Says You Have to Settle on a Topic?" simply hasn't arrived yet. 

Second, Sir Ken Robinson has a wonderful book out that I'm reading now, Finding Your Element. It is complete with exercises to help anyone work through the process. Of course Sir Ken doesn't fail to include lots of the kinds of stories that we've come to expect from him about the late bloomer and misunderstood genius. We can't ask teachers in the current system to add teaching in every student's preferred style to the endless list of things already required of them. But the more we understand about how differently people's brains process information, learning styles, and various intelligences hopefully we'll come to see how flawed the present system is and how unsustainable. If the point of education isn't to maintain a system but to educate individuals to be free thinking problem solvers then much change is needed.

Third, is a no-nonsense kick-ass book by Steven Presserfield. The War of Art has a deceptive title because it is advice that would apply to any venture that people find difficult to begin and stick with to the end. There isn't any hand holding or self esteem building going on here but practical advice from someone who comes across as the crusty uncle who wants the best for you and will tell you the hard truth that coddling parents won't. A young man who might reject anything that looked like "self help" would find a useful resource in this book.

One thing we need to relate to any young people we have influence on is that, as Sir Ken says, life isn't linear, it's organic. It's perfectly okay not to have it all figured out at the beginning. It's okay to make your own path and take chances. It's okay to try lots of things. It's okay to fail. Just keep getting up and heading in the direction you want to go. Keep learning. You'll find your way eventually in ways that may not even exist yet. You may even have to make a way that's right for you. That's what all the great innovators do. They all start out looking crazy and lost. In the end they look like geniuses and maybe they are. But mostly they are just brave.







Sunday, February 15, 2015

Preserve, Inform, Inspire

Madame:

My, my, we have been flitting from subject to subject.  How odd we are!  We can take a year on a single book and then change to three different subjects in a single post!

Your mention of the return of virulent anti-semitism and other hatreds we thought were on their way to fading out:  have you noticed that they may be fulfilling Toynbee’s famous warning  with just a slight modification—that when the last survivors, the last direct rememberers of a horrible mass evil have departed this life, the next one begins to form.  Or even  the departure of rememberers of “just” a systemic injustice.

It’s so easy to be cynical and revel in our supposed helplessness, to give ourselves permission that nothing can be done.

That’s what the status quo’ers want. 

But we don’t have to play, and particularly, don’t need to use their playbook.

We can instead choose a little pushback, or a determination to do good, to be a positive light; to be, as you remind us, our own little light. 

Like this person:




For those who can’t read the sign, it says

“Welcome Young Readers! This is a ‘Little Time Library’ Please take a book and return it for another book.  Read often! Read every day!”

Ah, libraries.  The mission of one near me is “to preserve yesterday, inform today, and inspire tomorrow.”


A good mission.  Whether it’s a public library, or, like above, a private one opened to the public!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

This Little Light

Professor J,

Last night I watched the movie, Gentleman's Agreement. If you haven't seen it it's shocking to watch American antisemitism portrayed shortly following WWII. The film was released in 1948 and confronts prejudice among people who think themselves just a little bit better (or perhaps a lot) than other groups. It shines a light on subtle discrimination as well as name calling and violence. It depicts in a gut wrenching way the reservation that simply can't be found or the hotel manager suddenly realizing that there isn't a vacancy after all.

Yesterday's news of the death of Kayla Mueller is on my mind. Though it probably was carried out some time ago, it is to her family and the world as if it did just happen. What a life of compassion and service to others. I love that the global community is exhibiting an appreciation for her sacrifice for the good of others not just in death but in life. We see the pictures of her smiling face as she sought to make a difference and we feel small.

What are we doing?

Then tonight I turn on the news to hear of the tragic and senseless killing of 3 Muslims in Chapel Hill by an Atheist neighbor. And I wonder again...

what are we doing?

I just finished reading I Am Malala about the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban. Draped in her pink headscarf on the cover her fearless smile reminds us that evil doesn't always win. That there are  ways to be part of the solution. That a cause like education for girls can change the lives of people. I added the picture at the top of Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama as a reminder of what can be when we transcend the small hatefulness that abides in us and can spew out so easily. Great spiritual leaders are good reminders that there is another way.

What are we doing?

We are currently having an exhibit of Civil Rights photography at the museum where I volunteer. The title of the exhibit is This Little Light of Mine. Apparently that song was instrumental during the 50s and 60s among civil rights protesters and it brought home an important point during sit ins and marches. This little light of mine. Not the collective we or us where we can get lost and think no one will miss our voice or think that if we don't participate someone else will bring about needed change. My light. My speaking up. My standing up. My personal protest. My stance against injustice. In other words...

What am I doing?


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Destructive, Consuming Stress and Anxiety from living in Constant Uncertainty

Madame:

The home educator in you has burst forth brilliantly.  I am in awe of your “I Think We Could Fix This” post, and there is nothing I can add that would contribute more value.  It is the Rx we should try immediately.  I think a bold state or two should authorize a few communities to begin doing so immediately and we should see how they fare. 

Hedges has written much on the cycling through the prison system that you mentioned.  How we even have an industry that feeds the demand for it.

And your post of four days ago?  I agree with it.  Self-justifying biases can be asserted in much of what the researcher says.  Perhaps even more importantly, studies are only as good as the data tools they use to analyze.

Since we’re topic flying, the title of today’s post is it.  How many citizens the world over, and how many Americans in particular, are being consumed by an uncaring oligarchical structure that uses them up and discards them without thought, compassion, or, especially, responsibility?  The bargain once struck by the wealthy with a needed professional and administrative (middle) class has partially and sometimes completely dissolved.  For even white collar employees are often exploited—or even abused—wage slaves these days.

So they join their blue collar disempowered former union brethren in the draining slog.  One done in a fog where nothing is clear economically about next year, let alone one’s “future.”  And this utter lack of ability to reliably plan or chart an economic course is that way for both individuals and the larger society and economy as a whole.  The selfish, uncaring, or devious oligarchs and their servants have forced workers into nervous serfdom.   Those serfs are both afraid to upset their masters, and yet uncertain when, through no fault of their own, they may be upended and turned out—impoverished or even made homeless—by the whims or designs of oligarchs with other agendas that have nothing to do with the greater good.

It’s one of the reasons why, in an economy where the basic indicators—unemployment and otherwise—would lead one to expect hot pressure for wages to rise significantly, that the “rise” is more like the change from cool to something distantly approaching lukewarm.


See, six paragraphs.  And you all thought I was too much of a windbag to hold forth that little.  Oh, wait, this is the third sentence, which means this technically counts as paragraph seven.  Darn it, failed again. :)
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