Category Archives: USA

All 50 States, even the ones without snow.

Choice of Targets: Drones and Humor

In theory, the use of drones (UCAV or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) allows the U.S. Military to better “target” terrorists, without the need for large quantities of ground troops and billions of dollars more of Federal Debt.  Although the use of drones sometimes succeeds, it is fraught with the possibility of “collateral damage”.  In other words, killing innocent people (like the wedding party in Yemen), either by them being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or via faulty military intelligence or targeting.  Collateral damage creates risk for “blowback”, in the form of future terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, a previously little known publication outside of France, known as Charlie Hebdo, takes potshots at terrorists, the Muslim religion, and other “targets”, including French politicians, political parties, and other religious groups or leaders.  I have not been a reader of Charlie Hebdo, so I can’t accurately describe or critique their cartoons.  But apparently, rather than choosing a specific target (a terrorist leader or organization), Charlie Hebdo instead chooses to symbolically target or depict the prophet Mohammed, from whom the Muslim faith emerged.  By doing so, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and editors may have knowingly or unknowingly caused “collateral damage” by targeting the planet’s 1.6 billion Muslims, not to mention subsequent “blowback”.  As there are some so-called “Moderate Muslims”, and some Muslim leaders have condemned the recent murders by terrorists in France, why make the “target” too broad?  That would seem to be like dropping a nuclear joke instead of deploying a properly targeted humor drone.

I happen to enjoy reading editorial cartoons, in English and in U.S. publications.  But I don’t speak French or know much about French humor, so I can’t speak specifically about Charlie Hebdo’s style of humor.  But in reading editorial cartoons, viewing Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, or Stephen Colbert, or reading the quotes of Will Rogers or Samuel Clemens, you become aware of who the “targets” are.  The question is whether a given target was properly chosen or not.

A couple decades ago, I read the book, “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Melvin Helitzer.  I was taking an evening college course at Michigan State University on comedy, and preparing for the final class at Connxtions Comedy Club in Lansing, MI.  I read that book again in 2013, in preparation to be a contestant in the Vermont Comedy Club contest.  I didn’t win, but I am proud to say that I was probably the only contestant on that night’s event that didn’t rely on the use of the F-Bomb “crutch”, as I call it.

In Chapter Three of Helitzer’s book, “The Anatomy of Humor: The THREES Formula”, it lists these six elements of humor: Target, Hostility, Realism, Exaggeration, Emotion and Surprise.  Under the Target heading, Helitzer writes:

“Our instinctive perception is that humor is fun.  It isn’t!  Humor is criticism, cloaked as entertainment, directed at a specific target.”

The author lists four possible targets.  The first is People.  Helitzer opens that section with:

“You can’t target an entire audience any more than you can shame the entire world.”

The suggested “target” categories in Helitzer’s book are People, Places, Things and Ideas.  Under the category of Targeting Ideas, that would include the idea of “terrorism” itself.  Should Charlie Hebdo surgically target the leaders of terrorist organizations and their ideas (ideology), rather then the prophet representing all Muslims?

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Voting: Use It Or Lose It

As a member of the 45% minority of eligible Vermont citizens who actually turned out to vote on November 4th, I can sympathize with the 55% majority of no-shows; but only to a point.  Yes, the choices presented by the Democrats and Republicans for Vermont’s highest office were not very inspiring.  When Legislators reconvened to select a Governor they were presented with the same lackluster choices that Vermont citizens faced.

But voting is a “right” granted to American citizens, while not always the case in other countries.  Those that serve our nation in the military are often regarded as “defending our freedoms”, and this includes the right to vote.  Sadly, the right to vote does not always also include the right to good choices to select from.

The main point I want to convey is “Use it or lose it”.  If we don’t vote, despite the choices put forth by the Donkey and Elephant parties, we may someday no longer retain this right.  Or, if we still hang on to the right to vote, the two major political parties might someday be even less concerned about putting forth good candidates.

Since 1984, I have not missed voting in a single election.  The election of 1980 was what ingrained this habit in me.

When I graduated from high school, the voting age was 21.  When I transferred from a community college to Michigan State University in September 1979, voting was the last thing on my mind.  I was focused on my classes, navigating around a huge campus, and of course, a social life.  A short time before the 1980 election, I discovered that even though I had been a citizen of Michigan my entire life, I could not vote in East Lansing.  As my parents had not attended college, they were unaware of such local laws which prevent students from exercising their right to vote for President and state Governor.  When I first heard about an “absentee ballot”, it was too late to apply for one.  Going home on a weekday to my hometown’s government office in person was not a convenient option, but it was already too late.

At that point I was 22 years old, even though by then Congress had changed the voting age to 18.  So for the first possible election I could participate in, I was not able to vote.  Hence, since that experience, I have dutifully shown up in the voting booth, or requested an absentee ballot if necessary.

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Standardized Tests for Politicians and Candidates

Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in VTDigger.org, “Poor Elijah’s Almanack: A collection of symptoms”.  One of his points was about how our polarized way of discussing various aspects of education (testing, curriculum, approaches and methods) make it difficult for teachers to do their job.  He gives examples from the “War on/about Math”, “War on/about Literacy”, and other “Wars on __________”.  Here is his concluding paragraph:

As long as schools are ruled by two fanatical, bankrupt extremes, no matter what the issue and no matter which side’s experts are advancing at the moment, students, teachers, and learning will be suffering in the middle.

Thanks Mr. Berger for another thought-provoking column.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

As a backdrop to these polarizing “Wars on This or That” (Math, Language, Curriculum and Teachers, etc.), we live in a Digital World of either zero (0) or one (1).  With base-2 whole numbers, there is no middle or “fractional” ground.  Likewise our entrenched two-party system makes it difficult for independent or third party candidates to have a decent chance of winning.  Our media also continues this trap of “This Or That”, “A Versus B”, Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives versus Liberals.  If anyone outside our binary digit political system runs for office, well good luck with that.

It seems that the competitive and collective American Brain has a hard time dealing with “AND”, as it may cause cognizant dissonance, and won’t easily sell news, help ratings, or get R/D candidates elected.

Why can’t we take the best ideas from both political parties and fashion more workable legislation?

Why can’t we simultaneously apply the best parts of Math Basics and Problem Solving in the classroom?  I don’t necessarily mean multi-tasking during the same class period, but throughout a school year, use both approaches to complement each other.

The same thing goes for literacy.  Why not apply the best of both worlds, Phonics AND Whole Language, so that students get a more well-rounded education in reading and writing?

You could ask the same thing about “Learning Facts AND “Critical Thinking”.  You need to be able to know or do both.

When I learned to play music and guitar, I learned the “basics” of reading music, and later writing out standard music notation.  But I also later learned how to apply dynamics and effects, to give more meaning and emotion to playing.  Musicians need to know both the “basic literacy” and “whole language” of music.

It seems that our “War on Whatever” culture has produced professional advocates such that there are cottage industries that have grown up on either side of a given issue or “war”.  People make money and lucrative careers by taking sides, and can become “experts” in their fields, write books and appear on radio or TV espousing their beliefs.  The polarization continues on because it makes money for those who start or wage these Wars on (fill in the blank).

Meanwhile, teachers who are actually in the classroom must navigate through the crossfire of these “Wars about Education” to teach their students.

Since teachers must take Praxis exams, and are continually evaluated as to whether “highly effective” or not, and students must take “standardized tests”, I offer another benchmark for evaluating politicians or candidates.  We are in yet another even-numbered year, and November is approaching.

Politicians could stop spending money on negative campaign ads, and spouting off tired ideological talking points.  Instead, those seeking election or re-election should provide voters with:

1. Their High School GPA
2. Their High School Transcript
3. Their ACT and SAT test scores
4. Their College GPA
5. Their College Transcript
6. Their GRE grade for graduate school (or other standard testing)
7. Essay question: Why you are highly qualified to be our Representative, State Senator, Governor, etc.

How about it Democrats and Republicans running for public office?  Especially those of you who are critical of public schools and public school teachers!

Detroit’s Slow-Motion Crash, America’s Race Against Time

When I heard the news Friday, July 19, that the City of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy, I was saddened, but not at all surprised.  Detroit has been under the jurisdiction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, for four months.  Elected Mayor Dave Bing (and former Pistons basketball player), is effectively out of power, but he has been cooperating with Kevyn Orr during this transition.

Later the same day, President Obama made some heartfelt and personal remarks on race relations in America, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial over the death of Trayvon Martin.  I see a connection of President Obama’s remarks to the racial history of metro Detroit, and how racial tensions were one of the contributing factors to Detroit’s decline over the decades.  Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated regions in America, north of Mississippi.  In some ways, metro Detroit is a Southern City trapped inside of a Northern State.

The City of Detroit could be compared to a slow-motion car crash, decades in the making.  Imagine a circa 1940 or 1950 Chevy cruising down Woodward Avenue, morphing into other vehicle models over time, up through a 2013 Chevy Volt (one of the few vehicles still manufactured in the City of Detroit), just before hitting a financial brick wall.  When watching those slow-motion crash test videos, you know what the outcome will be, but not exactly when the moment of impact will occur.

Although I moved away from metro Detroit in 1986, I grew up there and still have many family members living there, most of who work in the auto industry, or have since retired.  I travel to Detroit once or twice a year to visit my family.  At a young age, I was able to sense the racial and economic trajectory of metro Detroit.  I decided that I would eventually leave the area when I grew up.  I later moved to the Lansing area, before moving to Vermont.

I will try to describe Detroit’s slow-motion car crash in a nutshell.  Given the state of today’s U.S. economy, unemployment, declining middle class and racial tensions, I think there are lessons to be learned from Detroit’s situation.  Detroit has been the favorite punching bag of the news media and people in other states for many years.  But I see signs of what happened in Detoit decades ago in other parts of the country in recent times, even in Rutland County, Vermont where I have lived for 18 years.

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We Have Not Forgotten: Newtown Vigil, June 15, 2013, Brattleboro, VT

On June 15th, 2013, six months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a vigil was held in Brattleboro, VT to remember the students and teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012.

For each of the 26 names read aloud, a bell was rung. Also, in these past six months, 94 additional children age 12 and under have been killed, not to mention the number of teens and adults murdered in America. We have not forgotten. We cannot let our legislators in Congress and our state legislators forget these deaths.

Premature Death: Memories and Loopholes

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 (9/11), I remember where I was when I heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I was driving along Route 103, commuting to work.  By the time I reached Chester, I heard another radio report, a second plane hit the towers.  I’ll bet many of you remember the details of that day, especially the thoughts and feelings you had when you learned of the second plane crash.

For a period of time, Americans came together and mourned for our 3000-plus citizens whose lives were taken prematurely.  Most Americans, at least initially, supported the War in Afghanistan.  But when it came to dealing with terrorism by invading Iraq in 2003, the American public became divided, yet again.

I remember where I was when I read about the young innocent children who lost their lives in Newtown, CT on December 14th, 2012 (12/14).  I didn’t find out until my lunch hour.  I had just logged out of my email, and then saw the headline.  “Oh God, not another shooting!”.

Again, the nation came together to mourn.  But when it comes to figuring out how to prevent, or at least minimize the amount of premature death that occurs in our country, we as a people find ourselves divided again.  If we are not pitted against a foreign enemy, we seem to turn in on our fellow citizens, our neighbors.

Speaking of premature death, many Americans (including myself) attended Good Friday service and remembered the story of Jesus’ Passion.  Twelve Fourteen was a “Bad Friday” for the families and citizens of Newtown, CT, and all Americans.  For Christians, on Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, overcoming death and (our) sin.  But can America as a nation turn the Newtown tragedy, and other gun deaths, into something positive?

This week is the 45th anniversary of the premature death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, TN by an assassin’s bullet, on April 4th 1968.  Within seven days after Dr. King’s assassination, the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.

Since Twelve Fourteen, it has been 111 days.  Other than speeches, press conferences, hearings, devisive partisan debates and reader comment forums, things are pretty much the status quo, except for in states like Colorado and Connecticut.

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Sticky Subjects: Gun Debate and Maple Syrup

In addition to the issues of gun safety, suicide, domestic violence, mass shooting, and mental illness, etc. there is also the issue of gun trafficking and straw purchases:

Chicago Gets Its Guns Where It Used to Get Its Blues

Like the blues song says: “Down in Mississippi”.

Vermont doesn’t want to be compared to Mississippi, do we? I mean, Vermont was the first state to outlaw Slavery in it’s Constitution! But Vermont is just like Mississippi when it comes to guns purchased in Vermont ending up being used in gun crimes and murders in Boston:

Stolen VT Gun Ended Boston Man’s Life

Boston criminals get some of their Guns where they also get their Maple Syrup!