“Craftspersonship” — for Michelle

This morning, my wife went off on a rant  about supporters of Bernie Sanders who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the party’s nomination/if Bernie doesn’t get it. She and I are different in our worldviews, and she knows an incredible amount about capitalism, world markets, Rousseau, fairness and globalization than I do. She teaches such things for a living. She understands the “practical”, but I’m an idealist. Needless to say, she’ll probably vote for Hillary(though I don’t actually know) and I’ll vote for Bernie in the CT Primary.  But we agree on one thing: Regardless of who wins the nomination, we will vote for the candidate that is closest to our values among the candidates. We’re not going to take our ball and go home, because we didn’t get what we want. (OK, if Trump wins, I’m taking my ball and moving to Canada, but that’s just me).

It is stupid beyond belief to not vote just because you didn’t get everything you want in the election.  If you don’t vote, you get whatever anybody else wants, and that’s far less likely to be what you want if you don’t say anything.

Democracy requires craftsmanship, by design. Or, if we get a woman president, “craftspersonship”. My friend Craig Hames is a craftsman — he builds cabinets by hand, sands them slowly and takes his time — and they last forever. Craig has apparently had quite a business, because he’s a craftsman, not just a builder. There are few builders around to start with, in our world of high tech plastics and 3-D printing, modular cabinetry and Ikea. Beyond that, though, their are very few craftsmen out there — people who are detail oriented and able to see the larger vision, people who can’t settle for less than the best and are willing to put the time into what they are building so that it lasts forever.

Any leader in America who wants to be good at their job, has to be a craftsperson — especially if they are President. The task of building a democracy that will last requires the craft of compromise, the ability to see others’ point of view, and the strength to maintain their own integrity, while representing the people that sent them there..  We both think our candidates have that. By this view, we have a “no lose” policy. If my candidate gets in, she’ll vote for them. If her candidate gets in, I’ll vote for her.  Something to our liking will be built.If one of us — or both of us — were to not vote, nothing we wanted in a craftsperson would be built.

Having your own opinion, and wanting your own way is great — until you decide to live with someone else and be part of something more than just you. The minute you are with another person, or millions of other people, there will be disagreement and conflict. Two people in a room can invariably come up with three opinions. Millions of people have millions of needs, all vying for attention. Representatives, Senators, and the President all have to compromise if anything is going to get built at all for American Democracy. Citizens need to hold their feet to the fire. Not participating is not an option if you want anything to happen. You can’t blame Congress for not meeting with the President’s Supreme Court Nominee if you’re not going to meet with people who want to build an America like the one you want.

Don’t vote for someone who isn’t even a builder, let alone a craftsperson. But if there’s one out there, even with a slightly different idea, hire them.If you want it “my way or the highway” — on the Left or the Right, there’s the highway. Help yourself, but don’t say we kicked you out of democracy. Remember, you chose to leave.







This S— Has Got To Stop. It Just Does.

Today, more people died in a school massacre. I don’t need to publish the date, because — unless we do something NOW that first sentence will still be appropriate.

Apparently, there have been  142 (One Hundred and Forty-Two!!!!) School shootings since Sandy Hook.  This doesn’t include Columbine or the Colorado movie shooter!
This has got to stop.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now,” said President Obama. The President has been trying to do something since Sandy Hook. When a problem of this magnitude can’t be solved by the “leader of the free world”, there’s something wrong — seriously wrong — with our society.

Apparently, the NRA has more power to govern (at least regarding gun laws) than our government does. I don’t know how many members the NRA has, but as a percentage of the US population, it shouldn’t be enough to overcome majority rule. It’s not. That’s a problem. Money in our political system has made things this way. We need to get money out of our electoral process. Overturn “Citizen’s United”? If it’ll help, let’s do it.

Gun control is next up. Clearly, we can’t agree on anything regarding guns in this country, but we need to take the health crisis of “lead projectile enters body and causes death” seriously. I’m not making this up. The CDC has said this for a long time. For whatever political reasons there may be, no one can justify the sale of assault rifles, machine guns, gattling guns or anything like them to a civilian population. They are weapons of war. Unless we want to live in a war zone, we need to stop selling them, period. Another means to control this here would be to stop selling bullets that go in those type of guns. This is not a solution to gun violence, but it is solution to mass gun violence.

To those who say that the Constitution says that people need guns to overthrow corrupt governments, I will even give them that. Yes, the Constitution seems to say that. The Revolution that started all this — the American one that those people are so in love with — was fought with single shot rifles and their leaders told them to wait “until they see the whites of [the British Army’s] eyes”. If you can’t have your modern revolution with single shot rifles, maybe you shouldn’t be considering it at all. If that’s all it took the first time, that’s all it should take now. The idea that one weapon can get off more shots  in a shorter time than all the guns at Lexington and Concord suggests we don’t need it. Enough is enough. Ban Assault weapons now. Ban the bullets that fill assault weapons now. Either one of them will work. I’m for both.

For those who say, “those shooters are mentally ill”, you’re probably right. Either that, or they’re simply evil. I’ll get to the “evil” option next. If they are mentally ill, then cutting services to the mentally ill as part of our plan to build a safe nation is not going to work. Stopping Obamacare will mean that the mentally will have less chance at services than they have now. Insurance rates increasing or not covering mental health services also isn’t going to work. We have a Mental Health Parity Act in place but the desire to enforce it isn’t always there. Besides that, therapists need to understand that poverty (or simply the inability to pay bills) is one of the greatest stressors I know of. The AAMFT used to have a rule that said we couldn’t turn away people for the inability to pay. I don’t know if we still have that rule, but there are a lot of folks in my profession who don’t deal with the issue because they would like to make a good living, rather than simply making a living. Mental Health Care in this society MUST become a priority. Making it less of a priority makes it more likely these shootings will go on.

If these school shooters are simply evil, then there are more evil people in our society than we ever had before Sandy Hook. When you add in Church shootings, theater shootings, gang shootings, terrorist shootings, native-born terrorist groups like White Supremacists carrying out shootings, that’s an awful lot of evil out there. We have to figure out why this is. In addition to long-term biological studies which we will need, we need to do something now. At the very least, let’s stop teaching hate. Let’s affirm that every life matters. Let’s stop having flame wars about poor people vs. rich people, Black people vs. White People vs. Korean, Japanese, or Chinese people. Let’s stop dividing ourselves into the deserving and the “not deserving”. Let’s teach our children (maybe even at a church,  synagogue or mosque) to have the values that give life rather than the ones that lead to death. Let’s actually raise our children. All of us. All of them.  Let’s teach them right from wrong. In addition to looking for outside causes for evil, lets look for inward causes of it.

If we do all of these things, these school shootings won’t happen. If we do some of them, it’s a start, but not enough, I suspect. However we get there, this s— has got to to stop. It just does.



“Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.

For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.

Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.

Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.

Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.

This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.

Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.

The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.

I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.

Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.

In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.

In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.

Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).

We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.

Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.



If Guns Don’t Kill People, Why Do Ours Do It More?

I was thinking about it the other day and it occurred to me, “What if the NRA is right?”. What if guns don’t kill people, people kill people? They have guns in other countries. I don’t know where and I don’t know what kind, but I’m sure that people in other countries have guns. Their guns don’t seem to fire as often as ours do. Their guns don’t seem as deadly as ours.  In Springfield, Massachusetts, where I work, there were three  people killed last weekend by drive-by shooters in two cars. Today, a man was killed as he attacked a courthouse with a gun in Atlanta. Yesterday, a man attempted a mass shooting in Seattle. That’s a lot of people dead via guns that don’t kill people.

What’s the deal with guns? Is it also true of other weapons? To be sure, there was a boy recently who attacked a group of his class-mates with a knife recently, and nobody’s screaming to take away everybody’s knives. Switchblades and bats and crowbars have been the favorite of gang members for years. Probably more crimes are committed with those weapons than with guns yearly. What about the broken bottle used in a bar fight? Nobody’s screaming to halt the sale of beer in bottles. There are probably a hundred or more ways to kill a person. Why do guns get singled out? That’s a good question and it deserves an answer.

It is because our culture is different than European or Asian cultures or South American cultures. Our very Constitution enshrines guns as the weapon of choice for Americans, if that’s how you read the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t say, “a militia being important for the common defense, all weapons are protected. It says “we have the right to bear arms”. Switchblades somehow don’t make the cut, or crowbars or firebombs or even atomic bombs.  When we think of bearing arms, we think guns.  Americans equate guns with freedom and liberty and patriotism! Then we do something weird with it. We flip it upside down logically. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not free. If you don’t own a gun, you don’t have or enjoy liberty. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not a patriot, at least according to the NRA. or places that require you to carry a firearm.

Now there are a couple of problems with that idea. On a personal level, I feel free and I don’t own a gun. I believe in liberty and democracy and all those good things, and I don’t need a gun to do so. It seems to me that my love for all of those things makes me a patriot, with or without a gun. But more than my personal opinion, there is the question of what real militia people do with their guns. On this memorial of D-Day, I am struck by how patriots — genuine, actual, heroes — only fight when they have to, and then they go home. The heroes of the “Greatest Generation” went home after being heroes and — according to tonight’s news — never said a word about it. They didn’t say, “We’re heroes”. They just were.  War didn’t make them heroes. Their humanity made them heroes — their love for others, not their love of war. They took up arms because they saw no other way. They put down their weapons as soon as they could and went back to being engineers or farmers or doctors or whatever they were “in real life”.  If the “Greatest Generation” took up arms and saw violence as an un-natural thing, why do we see weapons as patriotic? It is because we love war so much and we worship violence, especially if we don’t have no experience of war.  Presidents and politicians who actually fought in wars  are often against war as an option. Eisenhower, Colin Powell, Kennedy — none of these people wanted to have endless war.  Bush II, who didn’t go even to his National Guard post, loved war.

How we got there is a whole other question, but I think that Eisenhower had it right when he talked about the military-industrial complex (in the 1950’s!) and how our economy was being built around weapons and war. Weapons are money-makers. To make more money — and to restock the shelves — we have to use what we have. The best way to use all those weapons/make more money is to have a war. The only way to have a war is to forget that there are people on the other end of them. The only way to  forget humans die when we use weapons is to focus on something else — some idea like Love of Country, “freedom”, wealth, jobs, racial superiority or something as simple as productivity.

Men have this thing about manhood and productivity — The Man Code says if you’re not bringing home the bacon, you’re not a man. Even I buy into that one. The problem is that in order to do that, you have to keep a product going in order to keep the job going.  Threaten a man’s job, and you threaten his status as a man. If more jobs out there are related to weapons, then more more men derive their male pride from building weapons. If we had other jobs as the basis of our economy — say, farming, like we used to do– we would still have our pride, still be productive, and we wouldn’t be so attached to weapons.  Instead, our pride gets wrapped up in weapons, which require wars, which require a focus on proving we’re men. How do we prove we’re men? We make things. What do we make? Weapons. And so it goes…

So there it is — “Freedom” is having guns, Making guns is “masculinity”.  In order to be a Free American Man, guns are required.  For people who don’t take mental health care seriously, we sure have taken Freud to heart. Like everything else in America, bigger is better. If a gun that shoots one bullet is good, then a gun that shoots a lot of bullets is really good. If a gun shoots a bullet is good, then a gun that launches rockets is even better.  If a boom is cool, then a big “Boom” is even cooler!

“Why all the fuss about men and guns?”, you might reasonably ask. As mass murder after mass murder happens, the one constant is that there’s always a man — or someone who will grow up to be — on the end of the trigger.  I don’t think there has been one mass murder — in a theater, in a school, at a government office or anywhere else — committed by a woman.   As long as American, Free, and Male are considered good things to be and ideals to strive for, and as long as we twist them with so they are confused with needing weapons, we will have the problem of mass shootings. Some part of America’s psyche believes in, and likes, mass shootings because some part of us likes the exercise of the rights of Free American Men.  That part of us is insane, because it tries to do good things (I like being free, American, and male!) by doing horrible things (killing, killing quickly, making Big Booms with people involved).

All of this leads us back to … guns. Even the staunchest gun lover doesn’t believe that crazy or impulsive people should handle a (neutral ?) weapon.  My grandfather, a gun tester as his occupation and gun user in hobbies —   got out of the woods when he perceived that trigger-happy people were running around in them. Respect for the weapon meant avoiding them when crazy  or stupid people had them. One of them meant you had to be careful when hunting.  More and more of them meant you got out of the woods.  We need to get out of the woods and we need to get out of them until things calm down and folks can prove that they can handle their weapons.

Furthermore, if people can’t handle their regular guns because they are insane in this society, then giving them bigger, faster, more deadly weapons makes less and less sense.  Giving people the power to go faster in the wrong direction is further proof of our insane thinking. We can’t handle guns at this point in our history. When we stop connecting freedom with a gun, and masculinity with shooting a big one often, then all those “neutral” guns can become the neutral, respected , scary things they used to be and we’ll be safer.








Can Somebody Just Explain Why?

I take the train from Hartford to Springfield with a woman who is a nurse at a local hospital. While waiting for our train, we talk about life, work, and our daughters. She has four, I have two. Hers are older than mine and her last one is going to college in the Fall. We were talking about paying for it all, as my two will be going in a few years. Her daughters are apparently smart and got accepted into more than a few schools, but it has come down to how much they could afford, how much they could get for financial aid, etc. This last daughter is going to a very good college, with some “name” to it, but it is not Ivy League or anything.  I asked about the cost and she said, “$56,000 per year” and both of our jaws fell on the ground. I said, “That’s $200,000 — almost $225,000 — for four years! Who has that kind of money?!”. Even with financial aid, she pointed out, “It’s a good thing we like Ramen noodles!”.

In looking back on it, even if I had gone all four years at my most expensive college, it would have cost me $40,000. College is like health care and cars, we agreed. How can anyone afford them? Why are they so expensive? As we talked further, it occurred to me that my income (and hers, her husband’s or my wife’s, I suppose) have not gone up by 600 % in 25 years – not even close. And education hasn’t changed much. She said, “They still have the same dorms”. I chimed in with “I bet they still have the same food plan” and the subjects they teach are largely the same — same subject matter”. So, here’s the question: How can you offer the same product for six times the cost? What has changed? Has the quality of the service gone up that much? Really, where does the money go? How does a college keep going if the customer’s income has gone up maybe twice what it used to be? If 2x is income and 6x is outlay for college, how is it possible that anyone buys this product?

The same is true with health care — I know that access is a big issue but if my income has gone up by, say, 5% and the cost of health insurance went up 400%, how can anybody afford it?  There’s an article in the Huffington Post today about mental health and insurance companies where the author complains about the Kafka-esque system that makes people run around from here to there to get what they need. That is its own problem, but included in the health care issue is paying for something and getting nothing. If you have a deductible, of $5000 for instance, then you basically have no insurance until you spend $5,000. Your premiums continue to come in, and the rates continue to go up… and then you have to pay another $5,000 before you get anything!  While I understand Obamacare now and I approve of it, I have never been convinced that insurance is the reason that health care costs are so high. If I can walk down to the CVS and buy a bottle of aspirin for $3.00, why does one pill cost that much in a hospital? How can a doctor walk in a room, say “Hi.”, ask a single question and charge $100 for it? If you stay in the hospital overnight, just for regular recovery (whatever that is) and it costs $1200 or more, why couldn’t a person stay at the Hilton and have a private nurse 24/7?  It would still cost less! How is that possible?  Again, if your average person makes $10.00 per hour how can they afford $50.00 per hour in the hospital?  It seems that over the last, say, 20 years health costs have risen at a far greater rate than income has. How are people expected to pay for something that costs that much?  Can someone explain what’s changed in the hospital that costs that much? As of yet, I haven’t heard an explanation from anyone.

The last target of my rants is automobiles. It seems to me that the average cost of a car is $25,000 to $30,000. Americans love their cars, or so they say. America was built on the backs of the car industry so cars are important to the economy and the people of America, but who can afford one? Again, like health care and college, the cost of an automobile has gone up dramatically, while the income of the people buying one hasn’t. I hear car commercials all the time that make it seem like someone could afford a payment, but those are lease prices, they don’t include mileage that your average person might put on, you have to put down a good sized downpayment, and you don’t own the car when it’s done. If you actually want to buy the car now, you have to take out a 72 month (6 year!) loan to do it, when you used to pay it off in 4 – 5 years.  In addition, there are all the fees, the cost of fuel, the cost of parts (Oh, my goodness! replacement parts cost a lot of money!) and labor (Pep Boys charges about $100.00 per hour in our area) if your car needs repair. Oh, and car insurance costs money as well.

How does anybody afford this?

If the American dream is work hard, make enough money, take your car on drives across America with the family, then send your kids to college so that they can do better than you did, and if a health crisis comes up, pay for it with insurance, then the American dream is an impossible dream. The economy simply cannot survive this way. When basic needs and basic tools to get ahead are impossible to afford, it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. There are basic problems in the economy and no one can explain why they got this way, so we can’t fix them. What is up with that?