Friday, July 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Scandals

While anyone who knows me knows I feel the Republican party has many problems and it is in fact ready to die a painful death at the hands of its leader Donald Trump, this problem is one that I think is more systemic and predates Trump by many years.  You see there are currently two high-profile Republicans dealing with accusations of sexual misconduct at two different degrees.  The first is Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who, it is alleged, did nothing as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State to stop a serial sexual abuser of students in his charge.  The other is the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Curtis Hill.  Hill was the most popular Republican in the last election garnering more votes than the Republican Governor and the current President who easily won the state.  Hill is accused of groping a female elected official and several legislative aids at a party at the end of the legislative session. 

Both men have denied the accusations, while Jordan has changed his story from not knowing about the situation to basically suggesting it was locker room talk and not an official reporting of the behavior, Hill have vehemently denied the charges and had a press conference to say so.  But here is the thing.  Their actions have only made things worse. 

The accusations against Jordan grow out of a probe by the university into the doctor who was the alleged abuser.  In the process they spoke to several athletes who claim that doctor touched and/or ogled them inappropriately.  The stories are disgusting.  Now one wrestler suggested the Jordan knew about it and that became a news story.  Jordan's denials and efforts to call these men liars actually brought out more and more wrestlers confirming that Jordan knew what was going on and acted as if it was a joke.  While Jordan is not being accused of participating, like the situation at Penn State, he is being accused of not dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner.  My guess is he will have no repercussions for this because amazingly the same people who attacked others for sexual misconduct (and I believe allowing sexual abuse to go on unabated is sexual misconduct) are loudly defending Jordan without knowing the whole story and even after he admitted knowing something was wrong.  Some are even calling it part of a deep state conspiracy against Jordan.  Seriously, all he had to do was say "I had no direct knowledge of the abuse and its extent.  I apologize for not being pro-active in my role as an assistant coach but I did mention a concern to my boss at the time.  I believed the university would handle it and thought they had.  I am hurt that I helped cause pain to young men in my charge and I hope they will forgive me".  It is easy, and hell he doesn't even have to mean it.  But he gins up the foil-hat crowd with deep state nonsense and more truth runs out of the grip he is trying to put on the story.  At some point he can no longer deny it.  

Now Hill is another matter.  While he thinks that accusations are politically motivated as does Jordan, but the problem is that the accusations suggest he was a bi-partisan groper.  After his press conference one of the alleged victims came forward with a convincing story that includes witnesses of the AG touching her inappropriately.  She was a Republican staffer and someone who has worked for many in the GOP.  Hill also suffers from having no support from the leading Republicans in the state.  The Governor, the Speaker of the Indiana House and the Republican candidate for the US Senate have all called for Hill's resignation.  They feel he can't fulfill his duties and the evidence is strong in their favor.  While he should be assumed innocent of the charges, the investigation clearly has created a firestorm around him both from his political opponents and allies.  

I am not sure that either way of handling a scandal of this kind is the right way, but somewhere there is truth and we should be seeking it.  For  Jordan the truth keeps changing because people have come forward, and for Hill, his truth so far hasn't.  But at the heart of this is a clear issue.  In a political climate where people are more likely to circle the wagons than seek answers truth is a causality.  In Hill's situation the partisanship is not an issue and that is good.  I hope the women, if they are truthful, (and oh I believe them) will get justice.  As for Jordan, his district may like his crazy firebrand approach to attacking anything he deems against his vision of what America should be but if there is a way I too hope he will be made accountable if this accusation are true (and I believe they are).  

Yesterday, America and world watched in stunning horror as a lead counter intelligence officer in the FBI was harassed, threatened and personally attacked by members of Congress because he had the audacity to open a counter-intelligence probe into the Russian attacks on our elections and at the same time be a flawed human who expressed his disgust with Donald Trump ( and to be fair Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and many many others).  The partisan attacks on this man to suggest that the probe into Russian interference to benefit Donald Trump was a witch hunt and should end.  Today the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for hacking the DNC, the Clinton campaign and the DCCC during the election and disseminating the information through with Russian intelligence officers who are known to have contact with Trump confidants.  If only the GOP cared, do you? 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Opening a Diary

I wrote this a couple of years ago when I was inspired by the woods of great storytellers at a conference.  I was inspired but this confessional of weakness was difficult for me to share.  But a school shooting a few miles from my home and yesterday's attack on a newspaper had me reread and rewrite this piece that I would like to share.  I am not sure if it means anything to anyone else.  I sometimes feel helpless in a world of uncertain situations and the daily drum of nonsense.  Maybe this is just me giving you a peak at my diary.  Look in, perhaps I need to do more writing.

I only ever saw my dad hit my mom one time. It wasn’t out of anger but frustration. We were in the car, traveling during a terrible thunderstorm.  My dad pulled over as the wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain. My mother was crying and screaming, she wanted to get out of the car to run into the near-by church. The rain, then hail, made the two block walk dangerous and my dad tried to tell her.  She wasn’t able to listen, my dad slapped her, then grabbed her and held her tight.  The storm eventually passed and my dad took us all home, in silence. 

We were in the car because whenever a storm came my mother had to get out of the house.
We would leave and go somewhere else, anywhere with people. During the day, if a storm came we would go to the Ames Department store.  We would go inside and walk around, I would mainly look at the toys. We could watch the storm through the big windows to the parking lot but it was impossible to hear the thunder.  

But the real fun came at night.  If a storm was predicted, when we went to bed we would be told to keep our clothes nearby on the floor. Like fire fighters socks in the shoes, pants and shirt handy, we needed to be ready to go when the call came.  

“Wake up, there’s a storm”

We would get up and pile into the car and go out.  Good nights we went to the hospital, the big waiting room that people sat in waiting to visit someone upstairs in a room or being treated in Emergency.  My mom chose there because it was a fallout shelter.  The yellow and black sign that looked like a weird pizza to me, the result of Cold War fears, hung outside the building.  For mom that was safety.  We would go in, climb a set of hard stairs and then sit in plastic covered furniture under the watchful eye of the Pinkerton guard at his desk.  I always tried to getting pennies for the gumball machine and loved I could get two squares not one round one.

The large window that look out toward the river and the church parking lot gave us a clear view of the storm as it passed. Once, my mother went into the back and came out calmer and more comfortable. She fell asleep on the ride home.

Great nights we would go to the all night truck stop at the edge of town,aptly named The Edge of Town. There we would cram into a booth as the server brought the children chocolate milk and my parents coffee.  We sat among overnight truckers, drunk college students (Denny’s had not come to the North Country) and often women seeking comfort from a driver or offering it for coin. 

This was my normal.  Storms meant you awoke, went someplace and waited them out.  I didn’t realize how strange that was until college and my first real apartment.  One night I was sharing my bed through a late night storm.  I awoke and quickly turned on the TV to watch the storm information on the weather channel.  I felt anxious and wanted to leave but didn’t know where to go as my companion grunted questions about why I was up and to go back to sleep.  I realized that maybe not everyone reacts to the storms the way my family did.  She fell back asleep in the glow of the TV on mute as I watched the radar show the storm move off to the east.  As the weather quieted I slipped back under the sheets and continued the night.  

Over the years I have mellowed on my reaction to storms.  I watched my son grow up not caring about them.  But I still have to follow them, where they are, where they are going, when the threat is over.  Smart phones allow me to monitor this with stealth I didn’t have before.  But even today as the father of an adult child I still feel the need to know about storms when they come.  Storms are always my nemesis and I feel I must conquer them each time they come.  

Now you might ask why I carry this through life.  It is simple.  For my mom every time lightening flashed and was followed by a clap of thunder she was no longer a mother of 8, a wife, a survivor or the warrior that I saw her as most of the time.  She was the small child, one who heard the planes fly overhead in Mannheim 150 times in the years before she was 10 years old.  A child who hid in stairwells and basements and prayed with neighbors that the next bomb wouldn’t destroy their house, their school or their lives.  A child who saw the flashes of light at the city edge and waited for the thunder of the bomb’s concussion as it rolled down the streets in the dark of night.  I have never faced death at the hands of an anonymous pilot dropping explosives on my home, but I inherited the fear that was delivered with each payload.  I carry with me the scars that she earned as a girl who for her 5th birthday saw her cousin’s house go up in flames from a British incendiary device.  The flash of lightening and the sound of thunder of a simple summer storm carried so much more for my mom, and still today for me.  A legacy of a war fought against an unspeakable evil that spawned this irrational response of punishment on the people of Germany.  My mom is gone, but that punishment lives on in me, a little less pronounced than in her, but still there.  I hope my son didn’t pick up on my reaction to the weather.  I hope my son will be able to sleep through the storms in his life.  But I worry about others.  

Today there are children in parts of the world who will be experience terror by drone strikes and suicide bombers.  Children on the US border who will feel the trauma of being ripped from the arms of their parents and put in cages.  And young people sitting in classrooms that have seen bullets tear into their classmates' and teachers' bodies.  What will they fear when they get older?  Will their children carry the weight of the horrors into their day-to-day lives in the coming decades?  What can we do to break this cycle.  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

You Can't Measure Your Success With Your Own Failure

I once heard a professor say she was proud to give out so many failing grades in her class.  She saw that as being tough and a gate keeper to some storehouse of knowledge, or something.  As an educator I cringed and decided to ask, "Isn't your job to get the students to know the material?  I mean if they don't know it isn't that your failure?"  The conversation didn't go well but that is part of the vision of many in education, sadly.  We also see that in many areas where people have power over others seeking something.  Rejection is seen as more a value than it should be.

Recent events at the border have highlighted the terrible state of our immigration system in this country.  We are the shining city on the hill and people want to come here.  Why?  Our entire history has shown that this is one of the places that you can come here with nothing and work hard and build a life within and apart from you ethnic community.  Waves of immigration, celebrated by a statue in New York Harbor, made this country the strongest and most welcoming country in the world.  Studies show that immigrants make for a better country and a stronger economy as well as enhancing the fabric of what it means to be American.  Now we often hear about illegal immigration, crossing the border without the proper procedures and documentation.  But there is a new voice in Washington working to limit legal immigration.  Looking to limit people coming from countries the President himself referred to as "shit hole" countries.  In fact the director of homeland security  DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was supporting more immigration from Scandinavian countries. (She later said she didn't know that those countries were mostly white)  So when we hear rhetoric about keeping people out as a measure of success we have to ask ourselves:  Why?  Perhaps this is about the changing demographics of the country.

Current trends show that be 2045 we will become a white minority country, meaning whites will no longer be a majority demographic group in the nation.  I think that this may be a little too conservative and we may reach that (depending on how we define white) sooner.  This idea scares some people who hold to the notion that this was a country built by and for people of European ancestry.  While that has never been true it has been a theme over time that has led to some horrific events in our history.  The notion has always bubbled below the surface and reared its ugly head during the Presidency of Barrack Obama, which included the anti-Muslim hate that was ginned up after 9-11.  But in the last 3 years the worst of the worst of this has gained a more public voice with literal White Supremacy rallies like the one in Charlottesville, VA which apparently will be repeated in Washington DC this summer.  It was this fear that helped Donald Trump become the President as he catered to the notion of a nostalgic America that was whiter and more homogeneous in thought or at least thought that was allowed.

People fight this growing diversification of our culture in many ways.  One is the rise of backlash to many formerly ignored public practices causing consequences for people.  Using racially charged language, treating women as objects, and certain jokes have caused people to lose their jobs, their public standing and even their freedom.  Not that long ago they would simply be ignored or lauded.  I remember when I first moved to Georgia I was in the library and I heard an older women tell the librarian when she was searching for a book, "I don't want to do the n-word work".  That was 25 years ago.  She was anachronistic at the time, but no one confronted her.  I imagine today they would, it wouldn't be so common place that it is ignored.  I know someone told me that is just "the old way of talking" when I asked about it.  But there are some who would call anyone confronting her politically correct.  In fact, I hear that all the time now.  But I think it is better that we avoid language that dehumanizes and I think most people would agree.  You have a right to think that way and we have a right to tell you that you shouldn't say such things around us.  This mindset that there very act of promoting a language of inclusion and universal acceptance is some how destroying America has gotten new roots in a movement that if not led by the President, has his ear.  I think that energy put into dehumanizing people crossing our southern border is a symptom.  Remember they are coming for a piece of the American dream, they are bad.  But the dozens the Trump company brings in for cheap labor to work in his hotels apparently are fine.  The difference is that he can control the later.

Now I am not an open borders person.  But in a world where borders seem to have less meaning I think the idea of being open to immigration under many circumstances is a good thing.  I grew up in a border town.  We were heavily influenced by the Canadian culture that was similar to our own but had some different quality.  Growing up the border was more about crossing the bridge than going to another country.  My mother shopped at a little market run by German/Canadians every couple of weeks.  Friends parents would go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the river.  Crossing the border was less of a hassle than a typical subway ride from Midtown to Brooklyn in NYC.  Today it is different and I understand why.  We need security.  But I wonder how concerned we would be if a group of Scandinavian refugees were trying to seek asylum here.  I don't think it would be so easy for these people who cheer and make fun of kids in cages would be quite so comfortable with blond haired blue eyed toddlers in virtual kennels.  And that I think is the real problem.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Well Runs Dry

Last night we had a great board meeting at the shul.  We are so excited about our new Religious School program so we spent a great deal of time talking about the kids and families we have in our congregation.  I am happy our board is so supportive of the program and I left feeling pretty good about the what we are doing.  Then I got home. 

In the course of 1/2 hour I learned the President of the United States referred to people coming to the US to seek asylum are considered an infestation.  That sounded bad.  Then I watched as Rachel Maddow broke down on air upon reading the story of the opening of detention centers for babies and toddlers.  Then I saw that Corey Lewendowski was on Fox News and debating about the inhuman policies at the border.  To illustrate the pain being caused a panelist started talking of a young girl with Downs Syndrome taken from her mother.  Lewendowski interrupted him saying "Wah Wah Wah".  To be clear a former campaign manager to the President and an adviser to the President and apparently who may be in the pay of the Vice-President's PAC has made fun of the horrific story of a child with a disability being taken from her parent.  This is where we are, as a country we are setting up facilities to put babies in jail without their parents, calling human beings an infestation and making fun of disabled children.  All because a President, with the mental capacity of Simon Says Toy thinks that it would be good for the country. 

Now the question is why are there so many asylum seekers?  Well the reason is simple, in the late 80s and early 90s the insatiable desire for recreational drugs like cocaine in the United States made it a no-brainer for many in these countries to produce and smuggle loads of these drugs.  This wasn't simply street dealers in bad neighborhoods but the joke was that on Wall Street everyone had an 8-ball close to them.  So much so that the statue of a trader in lower Manhattan with his open briefcase often was adorned with an added plastic bag of white powder, simply to make it more authentic.  Among those whose cocaine habit drove the rise of lawlessness and violence in those areas was Larry Kudlow.  Now the President's top economic adviser, Kudlow was fired from Bear Stearns and struggled with a habit until simply going to rehab.  As thousands service prison sentences for using pot and smaller amounts of drugs, he never served a day in prison.  Now he supports the idea of destroying the lives of people fleeing the cartels he helped create. 

I don't understand how anyone can support what is going on at the border.  I can't understand how anyone can be comfortable with calling human beings an infestation.  I can't understand how making fun of a scared young girl with Downs Syndrome can be ignored by people with good hearts.  I call on everyone, conservatives and liberals, republicans, libertarians and democrats.  Let's stop simply being outraged and do something productive.  Challenge the lies of this administration and their elected supporters.  Hold news organization accountable for the hate they allow to be spewed on their air every single day (looking at you CNN)  and educate yourself and everyone you know about what is true and what is nonsense.  Start by reading PL 104-208 about immigration that is being used as an excuse.  Look at what actually occurred under the Obama Administration when unaccompanied minors came in large numbers and note that there were some of us who challenged their handling of it.  Be a good consumer of news and information and avoid thinking that news comes from the guests on the evening cable news stations.  And when Rachel Maddow breaks down crying, it is time to take notice.

Friday, June 8, 2018

RIP Anthony Bourdain and We Must All Be More Aware

This morning I woke up with a little spring in my step.  It is Friday, Shabbat is almost here.  I can work outside this weekend for a bit and then I saw the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup.  Yes, I am more a Canadians fan but happy to see this franchise get a cup. 

Went about my business and looked down at a tweet:  If you need help call 1-800-273-8255 #AnthonyBourdain.  I was rocked, it was the same source that I learned a few days ago about Kate Spade's suicide.  I know the person who did this and knew it couldn't be a cruel joke.  I quickly look and there, on the small screen of my phone, the story.  A man I respect, a man who appeared to all of us to have so much to live for, a man who cared about justice and peace and a global community of understanding had taken his own life.  He died of suicide.  Let's be clear, he didn't commit suicide, that suggests a strong sense of agency.  The disease of him mind took his life.

Too often suicide is seen as a failure of constitution.  Some how weak people do it.  Yet many who die by their own hand have shown great strength of character and bravery in their lives.  Bourdain is an example of that.  He rose to fame with a confessional story of life in the restaurant industry including his own confessional that included bad behavior and drug use. He traveled the world walking with people who disagreed with him politically but found a way to find common understanding around a dinner table.  Hard drinking and foul mouthed, Bourbain had a public persona that was off-putting to many but still created a welcoming spirit who followed his adventures, most recently on CNN.  In a recent episode in West Virginia he sat with people who admitted that they and he would probably not agree on much.  It was a telling episode in light of the current public divide on politics and culture.  He was an outspoken supporter of the #metoo movement even if it meant calling out friends in his industry.  This again showed strength of character as he could have stayed quiet and not dealt with the issue.  But the slice of him we saw was not like that and those who knew him better said things like this:  Tom Colicchio of TOP CHEF fame wrote on Twitter: 

RIP doubtful. Tony’s restless spirit will roam the earth in search 
of justice, truth and a great bowl of noodles.  @Bourdain

There was one time I got to hear him speak with Eric Ripert, the chef friend who found him this morning when they were in Paris together.  His language was peppered with many swear words so at the Q&A portion a woman asked him if he speaks like that in front of his daughter.  She continued that she brought her 9 year old daughter and was embarrassed by the language coming from a father. He retorted with asking what made her think it was safe to bring he child to hear Anthony Bourdain? 

So again, twice in one week, we are struck with the idea that even the wealthy, famous and apparently happy can fall prey to the demons that can invade our heads.  Wealth, fame and apparent happiness are not immunizations against mental illness and the torture of the brain.  Those demons do not look at your bank account or your twitter followers.  We shouldn't assume that people have no reason to be struggling just because they are successful. 

Suicide has become a much more common killer in the last two decades.  I haven't studied it so I can't fully comment as to why that is so.  In my life I have known about a dozen people who have died by suicide and several dozen who attempted or sought help to avoid it.  Sometimes the idea of feeling nothing is better for a mind that seems to always feel torture.  There are ways to help.  It is not easy but it is something we can do.  Listen to friends without judgement.  Never  say "What do you have to be upset about you have...."  Listen to your empathetic feelings with others, if you think something might be wrong, ask or at least find a way to be open to anyone who is in need.  Share with everyone that there is help out there.  Here are some wonderful support lines including one you can text. 

  • Suicide Hotline:     1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and open 24/7. 
  • Trans Lifeline:        US (877) 565-8860
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
Every day someone takes their life.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our military heroes and of course celebrities.  We cannot save everyone but like the girl on beach throwing star fish into the ocean one at a time we can save some.  To save a life is to save the world, let's all try to find a way to save the world over and over again.  May Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and all the less celebrated people who lost their battle with the demons be welcomed into the arms of Eternity and May their memory not only bring a blessing, but like the great shofar, call us to action.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Is Wrong With People!!!!!

A lawyer with advertising in Manhattan the other day decided he was going to decide what language the people who work at a Midtown restaurant should speak and not only berated the people who were speaking Spanish, suggested they were on welfare and in the country illegally.  He threatened to call Immigration Enforcement. Seriously, who does that?  Sadly it is not the first time he suggested that he was going to get someone kicked out of the country.  He did it to a young man from Boston who was in the city.  That video surfaced as well.  The irony of all this is that the lawyer has a practices that advertises 4 languages that they speak, including Spanish and oh he is Jewish.  So there is a good bet that at some point in his family history someone was persecuted for being a little different.  Also likely that if his family has Eastern European ties the first generation spoke Yiddish all the time, in New York, as they kept part of their culture while assimilating into America.  I have no real reference point to this kind of hate and bigotry aimed at strangers, just because they spoke a different language.  To publicly become hostile is just so outside what I would expect from a person who lives, works or visits Manhattan over a foreign language.  I wish there was more to the story to help me understand his reaction.  Maybe there is, but I don't know it.  What I do know is that the immediate reaction to him has been devastating.  He is an outcast on the street, being followed by both reporters and citizens.  He lost his lease for his office, which I am sure will be a huge hardship.  A mariachi band is playing outside of his apartment and he is up on ethics violations for his public antics with New York Bar.  All that said, he is not the first or the last person this week to do something like this.  Social media has made these stories find people and there seems to be an epidemic of this kind of behavior.  This comes on the heels of a series of stories of white people calling the police on people of color they encountered in their walking around life.  You know a new neighbor moving in is black, first reaction call a cop, black family barbecuing in park--call a cop, AirBnB check out--call a cop.  Is it because these people are scared that a black person in their immediate surrounding doesn't belong so must be up to no good?  If so that is a sad state of affairs.  It does tell you that there is a sense of white privilege in the world of some of these people.  A white girl falls asleep in the common room of a dorm, nothing happens, a black girl,--call the cops.  We have to stop. 

But here is the thing.  This kind of stranger attack without cause is not just for bigots over race or culture.  We heard this week that employees of Cheesecake Factory accosted a young black man for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat.  They even threatened violence.  The restaurant fired two of the employees involved and questions some of the story, in the end, people working at a public establishment threatened and verbally attacked a man for his political views that he was broadcasting in a not threatening and passive way.  That is simply wrong. 

Have we gotten to the point in our culture where this is going to be the new normal.  That is you go out in public more people will be comfortable not simply making a passing comment, that happens all the time, but being verbally assaulted by a total stranger because of your accent, dress, language you choose to speak or simply being of a color that makes someone uncomfortable?  That is not the America I want to live in and neither should you. 

I will say that recently a man attacked a woman for wearing a Niqab in a coffee place.  He made fun of her and then told her he hates her religion.  More of the same kind of nonsense that started because he wanted to make a snarky remark about her dress.  Well the people in the coffee shop were not having it and told him so, in words I won't use here, but the coffee shop also refused to serve him.  He was forced to leave. 

These toxic people are everywhere it seems and they are driving down the discourse in our country.  But there are more of us than there are of them.  Don't let this be where we are going?  This is not reacting to an overt statement or action, these examples, and many more, are attacks on a person for their mere existence.  You don't have to like anyone and if you have a bigotry toward a race, culture, religion etc, you are entitled to have that.  But when you single out people in public because of it, often based on ignorance, you are crossing a line we shouldn't cross.  If we allow that to go unchallenged then we are giving the person a lift over that line.  That we can't do.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Incel Movement and it's Violent Extension

When Alek Minassian drove his van into a crowd in Toronto, a motivating factor was to strike a blow for the Incel movement.  Incel, short for involuntarily celibate is a mostly mens ideology that has taken over sections of the web.  They argue that they are oppressed because they cannot have sex, even though they want to be sexually active.  This is a growing voice that even found a home in a recent New York Times article.  The article  quotes Robin Hanson, a George Mason economist as saying:

 If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous? 

But it is, because you can't really redistribute sex. Unlike money, food property and even opportunity, these are all things that require the sacrifice of stuff.  Sex, to be redistributed, would require someone not willing to engage in a sexual encounter with someone to, in fact, to do.  The New York Times editorial seems to suggest that those who are unable to find a sexual partner will benefit from legalizing sex workers and the growing ability to use technology to replace actual partners.  Like a you in HBO's Westworld, where human-like androids will completely simulate any act you would like and using Artificial Intelligence, become indistinguishable from a real human.  Here is problem with that assumption.

The leaders of the Incel movement are not really interested in sex.  Let me be clear, because this is nothing new.  They are not interested in sex, this isn't simply about lust, it is about control.  It is about anger.  Elliot Rodger, who Minassian praised right before his attack, is a perfect example of this anger that leads to violence. in 2014 Rodger killed 6 people and wounded 14 others in a attacks that including stabbing, shooting and using his vehicle as a weapon before taking his own life.  In his manifesto My Twisted World,  Rodger wrote:

I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl. I've been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I'm still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because ... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman

These sentiments are not new.  I have wanted to date both in high school and college certain girls/women to no avail, only to watch them date guys who treated them badly.  It is not an unusual circumstance, especially for non-attractive, non-athletic, or non-popular people.  In many shows about high school friends there is always the archetypal friend who is a little goofy, always able to be relied on, and yet completely undatable by typical girls.  But in real life and its reflection in the entertainment what often happens is that someone does find them desirable who may not be the most popular or physically attractive girl.  But they find a way to connect.  (sometimes the reveal is that they all clean up rather nicely and under bad hair and horn-rimmed glasses they are stunning, but that is a different kind of misogyny). 

 But that is not what these Incel members want.  Their world-view is that they should be entitled to the attention of the person they want.  That there is a fundamental principle that rejecting them is the result of evil intent and they desire to be punished for such.  That has led to Rodger and Minassian not to seek out women who may have similar interests and may well find them attractive but to stew in the fever swamp of the Men's Rights movement of the internet until they are so angry at the world that no one wants to be near them.  I have heard many women reject guys not because they aren't good looking but because they are just ugly to the core, always angry and filled with a sense of hate at an unfair world.  Sex robot and VR porn and even real-life sex workers are not going to be the answer to this disease that festers deep in the hearts and minds of these men (and to be fair a handful of women).  What we need is to start teaching at an early age about sexuality and how to build strong non-sexual relationships with someone you might find attractive.  If a man looks at every women he meets as a sexual object he is not seeing a woman he is seeing parts or tools. 

Teaching relationship skills from an early age could help develop positive friendship between people who have the potential to be physically and emotionally attracted to each other.  Some simple things we can do.

1.  Stop always separating boys and girls in activities in elementary school.  That is when real friendship can be taught free of over-active hormones of puberty.

2.  Eliminate the term friend-zone from our everyday vocabulary.  If a woman/girl just wants to be friends with a boy who is attracted to her (or the opposite a boy making the same decision) it should not be seen as negative.  It may be difficult for the rejected person but it is not a failure on the rejecter.

3.  Stop slut shaming.  It feeds the mentality that women who reject the advance of someone, while engaging in sexual behavior with others, is somehow being unfair or evil.

4.  Raise boys to not see sex as a hurdle to get over, or a achievement to obtain fast and often.  We do this when we think of sex like gain ground in a game, or when we use terms like virgin as an insult to a man. 

5.  Our sexuality is something we own ourselves, not the culture.  How we define it is up to us.  That isn't to say that consequences shouldn't be discussed, they should, but like everything we should educate young people how to properly explore it.  Frank, open discussions that are comprehensive are the best.  From developing relationships to intimate encounters, we need to give people the tools to express themselves.

There are too many angry people (mostly men) out there who feel the world owes them the ability to have the person they want, when they want, how they want.  Anything less is cause for rebellion, using their own words.  This is not a positive human condition.  We must stop blaming women for the men's failures to be worthy of partnership, and stop laughing off their anger.  People are dying. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Cost of Health

I posted on Facebook that Dianne had to have her gallbladder removed last Friday.  It was a simply and informative post to let a lot of people know what was going on.  So I was surprised that the next time I logged on Facebook suggested that I add a link for friends to make a donation.  I simply let that pass but I have been thinking about it.  I know the final bill even after insurance will be a lot of money and it will be something that will set us back a little bit in our most recent plans but wow, Facebook must have a great number of people having to collect money to pay their medical bills.  Even in the age of the Affordable Care Act.  What struck me today was a local sports commentator and former coach retweeted a GoFundMe page for an Iraqi War Veteran and Police officer in Michigan who is being treated for cancer.  Here is link that I assume is legit: Dave Imber

So I got to thinking about even having good insurance having an emergency medical condition can be a life altering event even if it routine because of the financial impact. A few years ago a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that one in three Americans had trouble with medical debt. Many of those are insured, still had crushing medical bills, after paying premiums that are difficult each month.  Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at  wrote “Just because you have good insurance that doesn’t mean you won’t have large out-of-pocket costs."  And that is the problem.

Insurance is confusing, high deductible policies are becoming the norm, in-network/out-or-network are getting more confusing, and the often you have to fight lone and hard when something is out of whack.   I recently had a bill that was coded wrong and saved over $600 on the bill.  I called several times and finally got someone to listen to me and figured out the problem.  That was an education process for me.  It appears that you can be in your network, you can have a doctor order, and your insurance can know what you are doing and depending on where you get your work done the cost of the exact same procedure in the same zip code.  That is amazing.  What is more amazing that we don't know the prices before we go to the hospital so we can't comparison shop.  We can do better. 

So many people rage against what the rest of the world does with single payer.  While it would raise our taxes it levels the field so that our police and veterans or hardworking Americans can afford to have their health taken care of without a system made to confuse and intimidate the consumer.   So as we prepare to see exactly how much Dianne's medical condition costs I will say her care was wonderful, the doctors, nurses, and aides were all amazing and helpful.  So there is a part of me struggling to put a price on that. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

And the Youth Shall See Visions

In May of 1963 the Civil Rights movement had stalled in Birmingham Alabama as Bull Conner and the city leaders had made protests more difficult with long jail sentences for those who challenged the racist environments.  The adults feared losing their jobs, families and homes.  But high school children had no jobs to lose.  So they walked out of class, marched on the town and added many new voices to the calls for justice.  Conner used fire hoses on them, and brought down violence.  Those images were brought to all of America through print media and brave photographers who stood on the streets even as police tried to stop them.  Those photos of young people being attacked by the racist government officials led to a change in attitude for many in the country and marked a turning point in the cause.

In 1969 it was young people who frequented the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich village that rebelled against the oppressive actions of the police and the homophobic culture of the time.  Sylvia Rivera was an 18 year old drag queen the helped launch gay liberation groups and worked to helped homeless gay youth was at Stonewall when the riot broke out in May of '69.  This was a turning point in gay rights and opened the door for many to come out in support of the right of gay people to live openly.  It also led to better programs to help those homeless youth, often kicked out of home for being gay, to get help and not have to resort to hustling or fall prey to the streets.

In the late sixties, as America was being torn apart by the assassinations of the 60s and the debate over our involvement in Vietnam it was young people who led the way.  In May of 1970 four of those young people lost their lives on the campus of Kent State in Ohio, as National Guard members opened fire on a group of protesters.  The country heard their voice and in less than 3 years the United States withdrew from that conflict.

In the 1980s I am proud to say I was part of a movement that challenged our country to stop investing in South Africa which supported the Apartheid government.  While there were a diversity of voices that were out there, young people in high school and college educated the public while protesting on campuses, at businesses and to the government. 

In every major cultural change movement of my life time, youth voice was there, loud and unafraid of the consequences to themselves by the authorities that stood in the way of change.  So to see 100s of thousands of young people march this past weekend in Washington and around the world to help seek solutions to the problem of gun violence and mass shootings is not a surprise.  It is a continuation of what I have known to be true my entire career of working with young people.  Young people will act when given the opportunity if they have the passion.  The school shooting at in Parkland, Florida was the spark because those students, many who have been taught to stand up for what they believe, many supported by parents in their beliefs, gave us a lesson in how to be brave.  Attacked by those who share the false narrative that any gun restriction is a violation of the 2nd amendment and an attempt at confiscation, likened to Nazis by those who fear the very conversation about the role of guns in our society, and laughed at by a right-wing noise machine that uses simplistic humor for cheap cheers from their listeners, these students were not stopped.  A metaphor played out on Saturday as one speaker vomited from the adrenaline pumping through her, scared to speak to so many, but persisted through and told truth to power.

Movements happen because someone or a small group of someones decide that their goal is worth the effort, the ridicule and the costs.  Often those movements are led by people who are looking to the future they want to build.  Young people's voice have always been important.  If you disagree with these youth, listen to them and answer them where they are wrong.  They are able to learn more about the issues.  If you agree with them, support them and teach them how to respond with class, information and clear vision.  If you choose to just ridicule them, you are risk for being on the wrong side of history.  In the words of a 20th century prophet, Mr. David Bowie:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Scared Straight Doesn't Work, Let's Stop Pretending it Does

If you grew up in the 1980s and 90s you will remember the JUST SAY NO campaign spearheaded by then First Lady, Nancy Reagan.  Televisions commercial were laughable, in one someone held up an egg and said "This is your brains", cracks it and lets the contents hit a hot frying pan saying "This is your brain on drugs, any questions?" This like the push a generation earlier when it came the health risks of smoking, tried to get kids to see the long-term consequences of their short-term enjoyment. Maybe one of the most of the most celebrated attempts at scaring kids was  Scared Straight, a program that brought young people into prisons to basically be abused verbally by members of the prison community both guards and inmates. This became a TV show and the program spread around the country like wildfire.  Often the inmates got considerations for trying to put fear into the hearts of the young people.  The main groups brought in were already petty offenders but there were also attempts to scare students before they got involved with crimes. 

So my senior seminar class was about persuasion so I wrote my final paper on the efficacy of these kinds of messages.  What I found was the overwhelming evidence that these approaches simply do not work.   While they made people feel good the students neither believed the drug program educators nor the inmates when it came to the possible outcomes.   In fact, while I was writing the paper the Scared Straight crowd did a follow up show ten years after the first show.  What we found was that many of the kids who were in the first programs continued to commit crimes, a few escalated in seriousness and a couple were free of any further criminal activity.  (for one though it seemed he was just better at not getting caught).  I was stunned, it was like made for my thesis.  However, more than 30 years later and many more publications on why this is a bad idea there are still kids being dragged to prisons, pictures of black lungs on cigarette packs and just the other day the President of the United States suggested television and internet commercials targeting young people saying, "The best way to beat the drug crisis is to keep people from getting hooked in the first place," President Trump said. "This has been something I have been strongly in favor of spending a lot of money on great commercials showing how bad it is." he went on to say, "So that kids seeing those commercials during the right shows on television or wherever, the internet, when they see these commercials they (will say), 'I don't want any part of it.' That is the least expensive thing we can do. Where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials and we will make them very, very bad commercials. We will make them pretty unsavory situations and you have seen it before and it is had an impact on smoking and cigarettes." 

But it didn't work before and it won't work again.  And what is a real serious issue is that many opioid addicts are becoming that way because of non-medical use of prescription pain killers.  Doctors are very quick to prescribe addictive pain killers as pharmaceutical companies have made them cheaper, easier to take and lucrative for doctors.  There are even some doctors that are so free with prescriptions that they become defacto drug dealers for people who once used pain killers for legitimate treatment but became hooked.  Street opioids are also more available because there is a clear market for it and heroin is making a major resurgence in the street drug market. 

Combating the opioid problem is something that will require a lot of thought, a lot of cooperative work and a real  federal, state and local action on the part of law enforcement, public health and the private medical profession.  It will take a serious look at the suppliers, (though the President just wants to apply the death penalty to them) but also the foundation of this crisis.  We must investigate the genesis of people's addiction, and work to stop the origin and gateway for so many.  People are dying, not because they don't know the results of drug use, nor that they are just bad people.  It is because the class of drugs in question are tailor made to interact with our nervous system in a way that leads to addiction.  It is time we take it seriously and leave the eggs for your local diner. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Remembering Old Friends.

In the last few weeks, two people who I went to high school with have passed away. 

Heather Brenno left the world after a battle with cancer.  We were never really close but in my hometown everyone shared at least a little of a connection if you grew up in the 70s and 80s. She was loved by many and I am probably lessor of a person for not knowing her better. 

But the stunning death to me was that of Hany Ghaleb whose cause of death is listed as natural causes.  Hany moved to Ogdensburg right around the start of junior high school as I recall.   We were close friends for part of his time there and then he moved away before graduation.  However recently, through the magic of social media, we reconnected.  Last summer he gave me advice for some friends coming to the Cooperstown region for a baseball tourney with their sons for food and fun.  At the time I talked about coming back into the area and getting together, and yet we never made plans.

My peers are becoming used to saying good-bye to our parents.  It is not shocking to hear of one of us losing a mother or father.  But it is shocking that our classmates passed at such a relatively young age.  One of the things that it brought up for me is how I have let so many formerly important connections in my life fade into the background.  I am jealous at times when I see some of my fellow Blue Devils from O'burg hanging out, sharing time together on vacation and just being part of each other's lives.  I take full responsibility for my failure of staying in touch.  While social media has helped me have a nominal connections, I often feel on the outside looking into the lives of some of the people have used to be an important part of my daily existence.

So perhaps this will motivate me to reach out, I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that I have moved into a new stage of life.  I am thankful that technology will allow me to reach back and maybe reignite old friendships.  It may be great to truly see the people we have become and to honor those who can't, can continue to become.

May the friends we lost rest in peace, and may we remember them for a blessing.

A Tale of Two Scandals

While anyone who knows me knows I feel the Republican party has many problems and it is in fact ready to die a painful death at the hands o...