VPR Commentary

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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Truth, Propaganda and Art

They say truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But this doesn’t mean certain truths aren’t verifiable. Much depends on the granularity and scope of a statement. “That’s a dandelion,” and “God exists,” are two assertions of truth with wildly differing levels of verifiability. And some truths are indeed relative. I find one of the miseries of age is my ability to effectively argue either side of an issue. But the relativity of truth isn’t new. Propaganda dates back centuries, but today is amplified and weaponized by new media technologies. To the extent we can verify it, a shared understanding of what is true is vital to our democracy’s survival but, sadly, truth is losing sway among …
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Sustaining Our Communities

In physics, centripetal forces propel objects toward the center and centrifugal forces drive them away. And today, our societies and communities are engaged in an epic battle between these two opposing forces. I once attended a Salzburg Seminar and the most compelling presentation I heard was from a sociologist analyzing the Bosnian War. He explained how the Serbs destroyed villages by first attacking the places in which villagers gathered – like libraries, cafes, schools, and houses of worship. The rationale was simple, if you destroy the places where people come together, you shatter the cohesive spirit of a community. And while we’re hardly besieged by a warring tribe today, technical and societal forces are exerting a strong centrifugal force on …
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Sexual Behavior

Any male not now asking himself about his own behavior towards woman and children is extending the risk to both into future generations. Sexual abuse rolls forward from generation to generation until someone – both victim and perpetrator – decides to get honest with themselves and others. Victims are now coming forth in droves, perpetrators only when outed. Mutual sexual attraction is one of our greatest gifts, a healthy and natural phenomenon occurring even before puberty. But we live in cultures, not the wild and so attraction must be tempered so it’s not just the powerful who control relationships. Sexual predation, especially on children or the powerless, is one of our most destructive and enduring behaviors. We must do more …
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Ourselves, our children

At seventy-two, I often hear myself say, “Well, when I was young…” followed by some judgment about the behavior of today’s kids. I seem to remember my parent’s expectations of me as a kid were quite different from what parents seem to expect today.  Looking back, my parents’ expectations and boundaries hardly felt ambiguous. All of which leads me to ponder how we raise and educate those who’ll take the reins from us and hopefully forge a better world. It’s a tall order to prepare our children to take risks, respect but question authority, create and innovate, procreate respectfully, and serve mankind. Children learn by watching how adults behave and by listening to what we teach them at home and …
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