Opinion

On suicide, and what it tells us about our social and economic policies

Society is ill-served by our narrow definition of suicide. Suicide is more widespread than our definition would like to admit – “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.” This definition is confined to self-inflicted, real-time incidents, counting only those who summarily end their own lives and understates reality, allowing us to overlook the human toll the world we’ve created socially, economically, medically, educationally, and environmentally takes on many of our citizens. It also understates the recently reported escalation in suicides, notably among middle-age women. From 2000 to today, the reported suicide rate has risen 25%. If we understood and defined suicide for what it is, the escalation would be significantly higher. Those contemplating suicide …
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Puccini in Middlebury

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison. One afternoon after seeing an Aida with my grandmother, the head of the Opera Guild, the fan club for the well-heeled, ushered us backstage to meet the diva, Galina …
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When reverence for our past blinds us to our future….

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’ We’re a microcosm of the world around us. Our communities and our natural, working, and built environments make us a wonderful place to live, but I worry that our tendency toward self-adulation calcifies belief systems that often impede our progress. Change happens whether we like it or not and it’s critical to understand and accommodate it without compromising our values. To ignore change puts our future at risk. I love a well-framed barn, in fact, my first home was one. I love and use hand-made tools. But I …
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Memorial Day 2017

My father died in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines on December 3, 1944, when the ship on which he was serving as a Naval lieutenant was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank in under a minute. 168 were rescued when they swam to a nearby island and 191 were lost. I never knew my father. I was born four months later in New York City to a war widow in mourning, who shortly after my birth, moved with me to Morrisville, Vermont. Several years later she married a handsome French-Canadian ski instructor named Emile Rene Couture, and so I grew up in a small catholic community as Bill Couture. When I turned eighteen, the man I knew as “Dad” …
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A Nation of Cranks?

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions. If only we lived in a simple binary world of absolutes instead of in the complicated, nuanced world where some things can be true and false at the same time. We wouldn’t need all this troublesome education, reading, art, science, and conversation. We could just eat, drink, watch television, and give those who disagree with us the digital digit. Friends send me anti-vax, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-religion, anti-wind, anti-hunting, anti-single-payer memes… the list is endless and …
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Creative Invention: Plan for the future, learn from the past

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity. Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering. It’s widely accepted that prevention …
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To Hell in a Man-basket?

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives. The social compression of Vermont’s small towns, both in daily life and annually at town meeting, didn’t inhibit diversity of opinion on any topic. But the fact that we depended on one another in hard times, attended the same churches, traded in the same stores, and buried our dead in the same cemeteries meant we generally spoke civilly to one another, considered opposing opinions, and often found common ground. I don’t know whether it’s the inherent distance of …
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Ethics Meltdown in Legislature

The Legislature is at an impasse trying to decide whether to establish and adequately fund a statewide ethics commission that has real enforcement capability. There’s been considerable favorable testimony by Vermonters, ethicists and our secretary of state, Jim Condos, who has been a relentless champion of government transparency, inclusion and establishing such a commission. Each time VTDigger runs a story on ethics legislative testimony or ethical lapses by state officials, comments from Vermonters run almost universally in favor of establishing such a commission. Legislative arguments against it are unconvincing: In this year of budget constraints, we can’t afford another government bureaucracy ($330,000 of $3.5 billion); (less than 1/100th of a percent) Financial disclosure of possible conflicts will discourage Vermonters from …
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Middlebury Student Meltdown

Many young people are, by nature’s design, rash and impulsive and in loco parentis educators must often deal with the fallout from their students’ lack of experience. Real-life consequences and good mentoring, mature them over time or they become infantilized adults. The recent protest that turned violent at Middlebury College is likely to be a hard lesson for those students who succeeded in preventing Charles Murray from having to defend his questionable philosophies – at the price of injuring one of their own. Middlebury President Laurie Patton and Allison Stangar, the faculty member in charge of the event, had sought to promote – not the views of the controversial guest – but a diverse and open learning culture; to encourage …
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The Death Throes of the “Trickle-Down” Mantra?

We may be finally witnessing the death throes of the conservative “trickle-down” mantra that advocates for lower taxes on “job creators” and “hands-off” government regulation. This philosophy enthralled Reagan’s “moral majority,” who also challenged the rights of women and many non-whites by opposing abortion, birth control, gay marriage, voting rights, and immigration. More recently, ultraconservative factions have championed the unfettered right to carry guns anywhere, isolationism in an international world, limiting voting rights to themselves, and opposition to an inclusive health care plan. No wonder we’re seeing suicide by lifestyle and declining life expectancy among disadvantaged white men and women seduced by this hollow belief system. The question is… what will replace it? If, as Calvin Coolidge says, “the business …
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