VPR Commentary

The Dignity of All Work

Neighbors in an upscale condo development were speculating about what the guy in the end-unit must do for a living to afford a sailboat, motorcycle, and camper. Curious, one strolled over and asked. “Plumber,” came the answer. As a society, we stratify careers as a vertical hierarchy reflecting the accumulation of wealth and power as enviable social values. Service, agriculture, and skilled trades populate the lower rungs of the metaphorical ladder of success. And this ladder implies a value system that today ill serves both our economy and our communities, since our ongoing allegiance to it assures generational continuity at the top, thus furthering a disproportionate accumulation of wealth. The spectrum of career and employment opportunities could be better represented …
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A Heedless Death

I grew up reading Vermont Life in the fifties and continued reading it until shortly after the turn of the century. It always had a prominent place in our home, moving quarterly from the coffee table to the bathroom magazine rack – where its continued perusal was assured – and finally to a shelf in the den. Back then, Vermont Life was collectible not disposable. Eventually I lost interest as the magazine shifted away from the substantive features and images that define us toward lifestyle and marketing. My only real business savvy in life has been marketing, and I’ve always believed that the best marketing conveys substance rather than fluff. Consumers have largely become inured to marketing yet still crave …
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Who Really Made America Great?

An epiphany is a spontaneous event that inexplicably alters one’s life, a​ manifestation​ of some force in the universe greater than oneself. ​ My wife and I both experienced this recently when we brought our foreign-exchange host student to see New York City during her spring break. She wanted to see the major American landmarks and we obliged her – as much as ​the ​crowds of tourist visitors allowed. Because Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty involved a three-hour wait, we chose the free Staten Island Ferry ride instead. It passes close by Miss Liberty, so we could take our pictures with her towering above us – on a ship full of people who all had the same idea. …
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Language, Fear, & Leadership

Without notice or comment, The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) recently removed from its mission statement a century-old introductory phrase… “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants…” At the same time, it added, “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland” begging the question “From whom?” The implication is that Americans all must of a sudden now be protected from refugees, asylum seekers, and those seeking freedom and opportunity – just as our own grandparents did. It’s a chilling shift in attitude. The most destructive weapon against civil discourse lies in a leader’s effort to generate irrational fear. All the great autocrats have done this – fear of minorities, immigrants, women, the poor, intellectuals, the mentally handicapped, the “other.” A fearful …
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Identity Politics

I’ve recently learned I’m a “privileged, cisgendered, white male.” This feels somewhat alien to me still – but it’s new so I’m willing to try it on and figure out what it means in today’s definitional taxonomy of “identity politics.” Like the few obese kids I knew growing up in Vermont or later at prep school, the only imposed identity I’ve ever known in my seventy-three years has been as a fat person. I was often isolated, teased, or “baited,” as they said at Exeter, where I was known as “Dumbo.” It was painful and gave me a sense of what it meant to be “other.” I believed in my “otherness” until I lost weight – for a time – …
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Death for All Drug Dealers?

While most of the civilized world has abandoned execution for moral as well as practical reasons, President Trump is now proposing an expanded application of the death penalty – traditionally applied only in first degree murder cases – for all “major” drug dealers. And even then, the death penalty has become so problematic and costly that the thirty-one states where it’s still legal only executed, or tried to execute, twenty-three people last year. The legal and correctional cost of execution vastly exceeds the cost of a life sentence. The image of a blind-folded Lady Justice carrying a sword and a set of scales symbolizes for Americans the fair and equal administration of the law without corruption, greed, prejudice, or favor. And with …
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Business-as-usual or…?

“Build it and they will come” is the oft-misquoted meme from the classic movie Field of Dreams. And in the case of the proposal by CoreCivic, a private prison firm, to build and lease back to the State a 925-bed prison in Franklin County, this meme embodies the worst fears of the corrections reform movement. Many Vermont leaders already oppose the idea, including former head of Corrections, Con Hogan, the Attorney General, the ACLU, NAACP, and Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. In the face of such headwinds, few believe the prison will ever be built. Meanwhile, Vermont spends nearly double on corrections what it does supporting our five state colleges, two of which are struggling with declining admissions and rising …
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“Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light”

The long-accepted stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As in grief, there are similar stages through which one must pass to acquire wisdom and learning. As humans, we all acquire perceptual data through our senses. We only process this into information by aggregating and contextualizing it. Knowledge comes only when that information is tested against other sources of information and fairly assessed. We graduate to wisdom when we measure our acquired knowledge against our life experience and against the lives of others we learn about through reading or friendships. If these paths eventually lead us to acceptance and wisdom about life’s complexities, might they also apply to the current political standoffs and the demise of political …
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Our American Arrogance

Recent federal policies are putting our international standing at risk. Traditionally our moral standing as a world power lay in our persistent efforts to exemplify democracy, support international development, welcome strangers, and maintain a lead in technical, scientific, and environmental innovation – all while maintaining our financial and military hegemony in a fragile world. The notion that we know better than our neighbors and have nothing to learn from them is little more than a form of national racism – an arrogance that denies the fundamentals of learning: curiosity, open-mindedness, and collaboration. We are beset by internal problems like the cost, quality, and access to home ownership, health care and nutrition, education and a crumbling transportation infrastructure. We’re burdened by …
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Paul Ryan: Patriotic American Women Should Breed More Workers & Consumers???

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested that our economic recovery could be stoked by American women simply having more children. According to the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, America’s fertility rate is at an historic low – partially due to choice and partially biological. Reuters has reported that scientists are alarmed by a precipitous decline in male sperm count – more than fifty percent in the U.S. and E.U. that they attribute to chemical exposure, pesticides, stress, and obesity. But to me, Mr. Ryan’s formula for recovery – breed more workers and consumers – is rich in dark irony, especially since we don’t care for those we have. And if his goal is indeed for women to have …
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