31 March 2008

In NYC's South Bronx, in a very tough neighborhood, amazing things happen in the Bronx HS for Performance and Stagecraft

Talking about racism is far more effective than pretending it's not there. We may have different stories, but we hold common hopes. If challenged High School students in the Bronx have become this engaged, can there be any doubt that the country is moving in the right direction, that slowly but surely, the tide is turning? Listen, as some share their speeches, entitled, "Yes, we can."

Here, in the south Bronx, the audacity of hope is flourishing. It's been 40 years since a bullet took Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but that dream is alive and well in the minds of young Americans.

28 March 2008

Think globally, then act locally

March 29th, at 8 p.m. your time, can you spare one hour for the planet?

You can make a difference. [Hora de la Tierra en Español]

Here are some ideas for how to spend your time. Now: Go tell three friends. Be part of the solution.

Mixed Greens

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26 March 2008

From the mind of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t'were his own.


We know accurately only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.


Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.


Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one.

20 March 2008

Patience is a virtue

There's a life lesson for all of us that Barack Obama has been trying to explain. In so doing, he offers more than slogans, he represents an opportunity. Some of us grasp his lesson intuitively, some of us learn it through our own experiences, and others rely on pithy phrases, such as "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." The lesson is about the power of, and increasingly urgent need for, forgiveness. A leader needs more than patience, compassion, and forgiveness, (and the Senator clearly has extensive, well-articulated, widely documented plans,) but this acceptance and willingness to forgive is arguably the cornerstone of Barack Obama's personal philosophy, which he is translating into a political call to action.

Anger is valid; it's real. Yet if we cling to the offenses of the past, if we use them to justify escalation, if we prefer old quarrels over the opportunity to move forward, we are wasting time. Anger cannot be allowed to flourish and grow - down that path there is nothing but escalation.

The wisest parents know this, though even they sometimes forget. Nobody's perfect. When you're dealing with human beings it is often necessary to separate the actions (or words) from the person. When a child makes a mistake should you love the child less? Their behavior may be wrong - unacceptable - but that doesn't ordinarily equate to loving them less. We all make mistakes.

Presidents make mistakes. If Hillary Clinton could not separate her husband's actions from who he is as a man, if she could not forgive him, the scandals that rocked his presidency would have been their downfall as a couple. Hillary took some heat for this, she still does; there are those who say his mistake was too egregious to forgive, but Mrs. Clinton distinguishes what her husband has done from who he is.

We have all been wronged.

When wrongs are committed by institutions it is our collective moral obligation to respond by standing firm and changing that structure, up to and including abolishing the institution and/or its influence over people.
"...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
When a transgression is committed by an individual, acting not as part of some larger whole but out of their own, momentary will, the needful responses are less clear. The commission of a crime against one person or their property impacts and diminishes us all. Centuries of practice have not resulted in wisdom adequate to forecast and codify the proper response(s) sufficiently to remove human judgment from the exercise of justice.

Human experience has taught us that we must, at times, find a way to get beyond even the most horrific actions. Where would we be today if the people of Japan could not separate the nuclear holocaust that ravaged their nation at the conclusion of World War II from the people who undertook those actions - if they pursued to this day some form of retribution for the deaths of innocent relatives, defining that as justice? Most if not all vibrant religions and widely embraced philosophies have incorporated a, "turning the other cheek," and forgiveness based on understanding and acceptance of transgressions as a fundamental tenet.

The studious observation of teaching, particularly parenting, has taught us the value of distinguishing the actors from their actions. One need not rely on religious pronouncements to agree that unacceptable behavior must have consequences associated with it. Yet if we did not allow for any possibility that most people can and do learn from experience, that they will grow, and improve, it follows there would be no point in lessons, patience, or ever trying to foster development. No child is a failure simply because they haven't yet mastered tying their shoes, controlling their bladder, or long division. In most circumstances it is efficacious and appropriate to reserve our judgment(s) for a person's words and deeds, distinguishing that explicitly from judging them, no matter how much consternation their actions cause.

That is Barack Obama's message; it resonates through everything he advocates. He is right in renouncing Reverend Jeremiah Wright's most excessive, divisive, and inflammatory rhetoric, which has particularly aided those those who seek to perpetuate divisions based on skin color, yet Barack is righteous to abstain from judging, or rejecting, the man. That is the Audacity of Hope that Obama's supporters understand and cherish.

18 March 2008

Every journey begins with a single step

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
~Robert F. Kennedy

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
~Anne Frank

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
~Edward Everett Hale

History beckons.

When history beckoned, Ruby Bridges answered.
When history beckoned, the Little Rock 9 answered.

History beckons. Answer.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

17 March 2008

Don't tell Peter he can't do it.

What does it take to break into politics in America, if that's your dream?

Does it matter if you're a person of color and the United States population is approximately 75% white?

Would success be too much to expect if you were born on an island far from North America and educated partly outside the U.S.? Would voters approve of that "worldly" heritage?

What if your name was less familiar than McCain or Kennedy? What's in a name?

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, 1942

London-born African-American Peter Idusogie began
his political career with Clean Water Action as a grassroots canvasser, field manager and lobbyist, and he ran unsuccessfully for political office in Minnesota in 2004.Peter Idusogie Peter went on to found and host “Inside Minnesota Politics,” the first regular podcast focused on Minnesota politics. He could have stopped there, and worked as a commentator and pundit, but instead he stepped down from his duties to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest as he sought the U.S. Senate seat ultimately won by Amy Klobuchar in 2006. Idusogie, a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus college in St. Peter, Minnesota, had a dream. Recognizing the advantages (particularly name recognition) his major-party opponents had in 2006, Peter, who had run as an independent, is now seeking the endorsement of the Democratic (DFL) party in MN over former Watertown Mayor Steve Sarvi to run in the 2008 elections against the incumbent Republican in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Idusogie, it may be noted, is approaching the election much the way U.S. Senator Barack Obama has, organizing a very grass-roots style campaign which is attracting considerable interest from voters representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds, celebrating a worldly heritage highlighted by a relatively unfamiliar name.

How will Obama and Idusogie fare? Judging by the primaries in early 2008 in Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, richer backgrounds suggesting broader sensitivity and awareness seem to be trumping skin color in the upper midwest in the 21st century. While Idusogie clearly still faces name-recognition issues despite prior political campaigns, the voters of the state that not only elected the first Asian-Indian (Satveer Chaudhary) state Senator but then also sent the first practicing Muslim (Keith Ellison) to the U.S. Congress embrace diversity despite suggestions in the national media that ethnicity remains a significant, divisive factor when considering the "white vote."

The American dream, the belief that here anybody can be anything, is alive and well. While we may not have yet reached the point where skin color is irrelevant, (let alone an advantage, as optimists have recently suggested,) surely Barack Obama’s ascendancy, and his audacious insistence that we remember the self-evident truth that all people are, in fact, created equal, will continue our progress in that direction. If Peter Idusogie can win sufficient support to become his party’s nominee he still faces a daunting contest in the autumn elections, but don't tell Peter he can't do it.

Consider the postage stamp:
its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.
~Josh Billings

05 March 2008

Children are one third of our population and all of our future.

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."
~John W. Whitehead
The Stealing of America, 1983

The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit provides insufficient relief to families struggling with child care expenses. Reforming the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to get at least partial credit for their child care expenses would substantially ease the burden on families with young children, leaving more of their income to be put toward basic necessities.

Ensuring that all children can meet high standards, even those from lower economic strata who often start with as much as a two year deficit when entering school, is a laudable goal - but the current law forces teachers, principals and schools to accomplish the goals of No Child Left Behind without providing adequate resources. It has failed to provide high-quality teachers in every classroom and failed to support and pay those teachers. Too many of our educators are now demoralized, and while no amount of money will solve the issues if parents don't take an active role, we need our elected officials to ensure that NCLB reform addresses the need for a broader and better range of assessments and an accountability system that focuses on improving schools, rather than punishing them.

Children are our most precious resource, they are our future. It is our duty as a society to strive to provide them optimal skills and support to learn and flourish. Tests administered early in the academic year, for example, can better inform a teacher's lesson plans to address the specific needs - and deficiencies - of the current year's cohort in the classroom. Course corrections are most effective done early, no matter if one is sailing the ocean or seeking academic excellence.

"Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives."
~Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969

We must support programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership to low-income, first-time mothers. The Nurse-Family Partnership provides home visits by trained RNs using proven methods to help improve the mental and physical health of the family by providing counseling on substance abuse, creating and achieving personal goals, and effective methods of nurturing children. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded that these programs produced an average of five dollars in savings for every dollar invested and produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program to improve women's prenatal health while contributing to a reduction in childhood injuries, increased father involvement, and reduced reliance upon welfare and food stamps, while also improving children's readiness for school.

Talk to your elected officials about their stands on these critical issues. Write letters to your Senators and Congressional Representatives letting them know your continued support depends on their ensuring NCLB is reformed so that its stated goals become motivators. Encourage more reading and conversation, more interpersonal interaction - we cannot all sit back and watch TV if we want to make progress, we much take action and lead by example.

"...at the dawn of the 21st century we also have a collective responsibility to recommit ourselves to the dream; to strengthen that safety net, put the rungs back on that ladder to the middle-class, and give every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had. This responsibility is one that's been missing from Washington for far too long..."

"Children are one third of our population and all of our future."
~Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981