Monday, January 30, 2006

Our liability

My next door neighbor and I were discussing the Cashman case. It may be difficult to parse the politics from the jurisprudence, but one lesson is clear. Our penal system is not well designed for rehabilitation. And, unless we plan to incarcerate for life or kill every offender – an impossible proposition – we must examine and amend our criminal codes to rehabilitate offenders as early as possible. This concept of rehabilitation, remuneration and reconciliation has vanished from our social consciousness. Instead we take the stance of harsh and quick revenge or retaliation if you will.

Justice Holmes, in his landmark book, The Common Law, notes the origins of liability in the societal need for revenge. The English took liability so much to the extreme that law made liable a tree whose branch had fallen and injured a person. It called for the tree to be summarily executed, chopped down and delivered to the victim or his family. I think weÂ’ve gone that far.

Last night Satya asked me about torpedoes (blame a Calvin & Hobbes strip, in which Calvin shouts “Awooga” as his bathtub battleship is attacked by a Hobbesian cannon ball). She wanted reassurance that the only case in which one country or interest might use torpedoes against another would require unwavering doubt that the other party was “bad, bad, bad.” Yes, that is three bads.

I did not hesitate in my response. I told her that was absolutely the only time that we should cause such harm to another person or nation, but that often we acted out of anger and a desire to revenge rather than out of an effort to understand. And that in acting without understanding, we might often find ourselves doing harm rather than repairing the situation.

How like a child to go to the heart of an issue, setting aside the theater of war (i.e. the dramatics) for concern for the people in it. Whether at war or in an embattled society in which the penal population inevitably grows, Satya has reminded me to get back to thinking about the people.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Blogosphere: the new picket line?

Discussing politics, religion, the war (the most recent one) with friends, someone noted how we don't see students out on the green (I live in a small college town) protesting "like they did in the 60's."
As the conversation ensued, these women posited substitute venues for protesting. The blogosphere was offered as an alternate commons to the town square. The blogosphere offers a lot to young liberal activists. It allows them a wider audience. It allows them to be anonymous if they wish.
Protesters also have a much better chance of being articulate when they have more than a 2.5' X 3' space on which to right a pithy slogan in 64 point font.
Question: do we still have the same sense of community in the blogosphere? I mean, it's easy to search for others who have the same sentiments and to post comments to their blog, but it's really hard to bring them a cup of coffee and a hug to express simpatico and solidarity.
I pass these guys: every morning They are bundled up against the cold, walking the street. They are of the 60's generation - at least their representatives in my hometown are. I honk and wave to be kind. I'm just not sure whether we'll see this kind of presence once the baby boomers trade their picket signs for lazy boys.
Yes, somehow its more impressive to show up in person, sometimes, placard in hand, fist raised to the sky. Can you imagine the Orange revolution or Tiananmen Square as virtual movements? Who would stop the tanks? Who would sing the songs? We need the blogosphere to facilitate such movements, to publicize them and to build support. But we need the energy presence and strength of real people in the flesh.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Uninhibited creativity

I have an idea about where to go for advice on building back New Orleans post-Katrina. Ask the children. Satya created a neighborhood in half an hour, graced with flowers and windows and front doors. She even moved people back in to their houses.

I am an adult. I know that drawing three stick houses and moving 250,000 people into a ruined wasteland are not the same thing, at all. But I also know that as I watched her draw those houses, I observed completely uninhibited creativity. She has very few notions about what can't be done. To her every attempt is beautiful. To her, there is no shame in trying.

Each house in her estimation is perfect, in her estimation brings joy to its inhabitants. There are no blue ribbon commissions or inspector general's reports. Little kids have flowers outside their doors.
What happens to us that we stop drawing stick houses and happy people? Sometimes it seems to me there is nothing more worthwhile.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Right action, right intent

Driving to church with Satya and Kuruna, I see a runner, on the way. Oh, I need to run! I announce. (These days, the sight of a runner in winter tights, a ski cap and mittens instantly raises a green tinge in my complexion.)
Why don't you,? inquires Satya.
Well, I don't have enough time. I have work, and then I come home and I need to make dinner for you guys. By the time dinner is done and you guys are in bed, it's too late. You, know - I never have any time.
Why don't you just do it? says Satya, again.
Well, I need to. You know, in order to keep healthy. I really do. In fact, my doctor said it's important for me to run.
Well just do it, then! she commands.
I know. I really should...
Yes, sweetie?
I mean it. Stop talking about it and just go do it!


Saturday, January 14, 2006


Why is it that we don't recognize our learning habits better? There are recognized stages of learning, but those identify levels of competency. They do not reflect the psycho-emotional state of the learner during a prolonged learning experience. I am talking about something akin to the stages of grief, where is discussed the student's perspective on how "great" or "stupid" the endeavor is.

Satya, after four long months is just starting to like playing the violin. For these many months, I have endured screaming, crying, excuses, disinterest, laziness and despair just to get "Mississippi Hot Dog" whispered between the cat gut and the horse hair.

After four months of "stupid, "I now hear lovely notes. We have emerged - at least for the moment - into "great. There is no external reason behind this change. I belive it is simply the result of four months of consistent encouragement.

At the doctor, when they diagnose you with a terminal illness, don't they send you off with some social worker's business card, wherein are her name, phone number, and a subtext "Specializing in the X stages of grief"? All I am asking is to apply the same standard of care to Suzuki violin.

Without guidance, save for Satya's precious but very young teacher, I was reduced to taking one day at a time. Survival mode violin is not a pretty thing to see, much less to hear. And, all the frowning is terrible for my complexion. Now that she has reached a certain level of enjoyment and skill, I can see how this all developed. And, it reminds me of every one of my own learning experiences.

Without going too much into how she is like and not like me, let me just say, I don't think Satya's learning pattern is unique. She thought violin was great for 2 weeks; then stupid for eight weeks; then a chore for two weeks. Now it is "fun."

Really all I needed was a little forecast in the psychobabble department. You know, twelve steps, eight stages, four phases -- and an end date.

On this, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, perhaps we should not so much be celebrating the composer as issuing a long overdue remittance to his father, who had the patience to put up with young Mozart for long enough to get from "stupid" to "great."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cost of living

I promised I wouldn't rant on this page. So
I won't rant, but I might complain a little here
about the cost of living
on a middle class income
without any
squozzies (that's our word at home
for indulgences)
not Indulgences
something the CEO of Exxon Mobil
is going to need when
he can't buy his way
into heaven
with his $80 Million a year salary.

working in "development"

One cold day this past fall, I bundled up and headed out for a run. I made a minor detour to greet my daughter who was playing with a friend. "Mommy?"she asked, "can I have your gloves--I'm cold." Without hesitation, I put them on her, then planted kisses on her cheeks to keep her until I returned.

I missed my gloves. I have always detested being cold. But now I fear it. Something changed in the course of having two kids and a crazy career. I got thinner or nervier or tweaked something that made cold temperatures searing to my fingers and toes. So I wasn't just a bit chillier without my gloves. On a day that was still well above freezing, I might as well have had frostbite.

Then I thought about something I learned recently from a former trustee at my institution about gifts. He was speaking specifically about fundraising, but could have been talking about any kind of giving. He said that in order to ask anyone else to give (to a cause or institution or campaign), the person making the request needs to have given also. If you approach someone to give a "stretch" gift -- a substantial sacrifice of their resources--you had better be able to tell them that you have already made yours. Otherwise you have no business asking.

It's a great point about effective fundraising. I considered as I ran how applicable it is to parenting. I need to make stretch gifts everyday to my children in order to teach them about trust and generosity and faith and love. I have very high expectations for them. Every day they put such effort into pleasing me with good manners and loving gestures, with patience and determination. Toys get cleaned up. Violins are practiced. In a perfect world, we adults would have lovely no-stress lives in which to notice and applaud these gifts from our children. It's not perfect. There's no even system of give and take. So, in the rushed, tired state in which I live, I resort to little gifts and "stretch" gifts: kisses and gloves.

So far I am seeing regular dividends. Karma at work.