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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Reality TV's Newest Star

When William Hung sang She Bangs on American Idol all those years ago, America changed.  We became comfortable with the notion that one doesn't have to have talent or be interesting to rise to the top of our American consciousness.  It led to the Kardashian world we now live in.  So the Trump Reality Show Administration now has its William Hung.  Sam Nunberg, a lawyer and lapdog for Roger Stone who worked on the prequel The Trump Campaign spent the day on almost every media outlet telling us he would not comply with a subpoena from the Mueller investigation. Sam Nunberg has been a crazy character for a long time. Fired in 2015 from Trump's campaign for posting racist posts on social media.  That would be par for the course in a Roger Stone universe but Trump hadn't achieved his level of comfort with white nationalism at the time.  But Nunberg kept in touch with Trump advisers, including Steve Bannon.  So yesterday Sam put on a tour-de-force performance across the cable news universe.  Speculation was that he was high or drunk..  On CNN reporter even said he had alcohol on his breath. But what is interesting is that he gained a celebrity status for sounding like a buffoon.  A lawyer, some even looked up where he went to school to challenge his apparent lack of competence in understanding how a simple court action works.  He ended the evening with a statement that he will likely comply with the subpoena.  One could say it was one bad apple, but we have seen a bushel of them.  Heck, the leader in the clubhouse for Kata Kaelin award was Carter Paige, the spy who couldn't shoot straight.  But his media tour was subdued to compared to Nunberg.  

This is an example of a the people the President has chosen to be around him.  This guy's mentor, Roger Stone, was one of the craziest operatives in right wing politics who has written books saying that the Bush family are a mafia and the LBJ killed Kennedy.  He lives in the Alex Jones land of conspiracies and frankly seems to have fetishized Richard Nixon. Stone is accused of  being a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers. Protecting Stone is the hill Sam Nunberg wants to die on, while calling the President an idiot and saying that the Mueller team has something on the President.  So this is where we are, the reality show that is this Administration continues.  By the way, the President's proposed tariffs will destroy the world economy, the HUD Secretary Ben Carson who recently got caught trying to spend $31 thousand on a dining set says his job is hard, North Korea is calling for talks with the US after creating a dialogue with South Korea and it looks like a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom has been attacked with poison, a typical Russian style attack.  I just hope that there is only one run for this show.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Comment Section is A Place to Feel Smart

A while back, Indiana joined most of the country and started using Daylight Savings Time.  It was difficult for life-long Hoosier and I understood their frustration.  For me it was a bit of a relief as I hated the great world I interacted with never knowing what time it was for me.  Conference calls were like a Abbot and Costello skit and when I flew to the east coast during the change it became a whole other thing.  It has been 12 years, almost a generation has grown up with it, but I still hear complaints.  Now I don't like DST but for some it is just that they don't think Indiana should do it.  Wait until they hear there is a move to put us on Central time.

Well, Indiana joined a majority of the country again this week by enacting Sunday alcohol sales in package (liquor) stores and retailers in general with licenses like grocery stores and big box stores. This is the first of what will likely be many battles over alcohol policy in Indiana.  What is interesting is that this was the easiest to enact and while a major shift in policy is not going to have very much of an effect in most people's lives.  It will allow me to buy wine and liquor on my normal Sunday Costco runs so that is helpful to me.  This is to say the least more convenient for consumers and frankly more beneficial to grocery stores who were losing Sunday business to breweries and some restaurants who could sell packaged beer on Sundays already.   But some are upset.

So bring on the comment section.  One person wrote " Well Gov. You should be proud! The ONE day you could get out and drive without having to worry about DRUNKS and YOU RUINED IT! GLAD I DIDN'T VOTE FOR YOU!" on a facebook post.  The caps are hers.  What is interesting is that buying alcohol in a store would make it less likely for someone to drive drunk.  Before the passing of the law if someone wanted to drink while watching say, a football game or a NASCAR race, and they didn't have any at home, they would go to a bar.  That might lead to 4 hours of drinking and watching.  Then drive home.  But now, they can run to a local retailer and go home and watch.  Simple and safer.  But don't tell the person on facebook who thinks people will be downing shots in Kroger I imagine. 

Others who seem to not think before they post said that no one needs to buy  alcohol on Sunday if they are too stupid to remember to get it a day earlier.  What if we looked at other things like that?  We would be outraged to find that things we want or need could be limited to purchase on certain days. No toilet paper Wednesday, no meat on Monday.  How does that make sense?   What is the point?  Should I have to stock up?  What does that even mean? 

Others have suggested that Sunday sales will create more alcoholics.  I wish I knew how that math worked.  It is an insult to people struggling with the disease and insults the intelligence of everyone who reads it.

None of these comments are consequential and frankly they will mean very little in the grand scheme of things but it is a trend that is disturbing.  The comment session was used by Russia to spread disinformation in our last election.  Today it has become a fertile ground for antisemitism, racism and white supremacy as well as continued attacks on individuals with lies or out-of-context quotes.  The latter comes from the right and the left.  Unlike social media, the comment section of publications can easily be monitored for facts and appropriate responses.  If only they would be.  So take everything with a grain of salt, and remember you have access to the best information analysis in your own brain, take the time to use it before you comment. 

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