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September 2017

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Anger nation

Jul. 25th, 2017 09:52 am
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While I was on my work trip to Seattle last week, a news article popped up in my social media feed that caught my attention. Actually, the first thing that I saw was a notice from the Alexandria Dash bus service that they were unable to provide service to Eisenhower Avenue because of a police investigation. Only a little later did I see the article about the apparent road rage shooting. This all caught my attention because my daily commute to work includes a ride on a DASH bus along Eisenhower Avenue, and the shooting occurred at the intersection that is basically where I catch my bus in the morning. I was actually quite relieved that I was in Seattle that day, even though the shooting took place almost two hours after I normally would have been at work.

According to another story about the incident, this shooting appears to be the culmination of an encounter that began on the Beltway. According to witnesses, the shooting victim swerved in front of the shooter's vehicle and jumped out of her SUV, screaming at the other driver. The articles I've read suggest that the shooter has a history of anger management issues, although I would venture to speculate that the shooting victim was acting in a less than fully rational manner as well (jumping out of a car in rush hour traffic to confront another driver not being the safest or most efficient tactic). I don't see any indication as to what or who initiated this encounter, but quite clearly it quickly escalated to the point of violence.

I'm finding myself reflecting on this shooting a lot over the last week, perhaps because of its proximity to my commuting route. And (to my surprise), I'm finding myself less focused on the shooting than on the amount of anger displayed by everyone involved. I can't help but think that we, as a nation, could benefit from some sort of massive anger management therapy session. Road rage is just one (highly visible) example of how angry we seem to be these days.  We also see it in so much of what masquerades as political discourse of late, and it certainly felt like anger was a significant factor that drove the election last autumn.

I am not an expert in anger management, and I certainly have had my share of moments when I've blown my top. But I'm coming to realize that such outbursts are unhelpful and frequently are counterproductive. I'm learning that it is often better to take a deep breath and step away before I respond, to give me time and distance to calm down. Often I come to see that I was on the verge of a massive overreaction, and I can sometimes even manage to put myself in the other person's shoes, in an attempt to understand their actions. All of this leaves me feeling less stressed and better able to cope.

I have no idea how we convince others to take these steps, or even if they would work for others. But it seems to me that unless we find someway to reduce the amount of anger coursing through our society, things won't get better anytime soon.

Alpe d'Huez

Apr. 12th, 2017 01:37 pm
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I just realized that I've been home from France for a month, so it's probably time to finish writing about the trip, before I completely forget all the details. I'm going to try to summarize a week in this single post, mostly because I doubt there's much value in a day-by-day account of our skiing. Instead, I'll try to cover the highlights.
  • Weather - While we did have several beautiful, sunny days, the temperatures on those days were well above freezing, which led to less than ideal snow conditions. It also meant that we were overdressed and soaking in sweat by the end of the day.  However, the early part of the week featured a full-blown blizzard, with very limited visibility, lots of fresh snow, and ugly winds.  At one point, my wife and I were stranded on a chair lift for about 15-20 minutes when the high winds forced them to shut it down.  My best guess is that the winds were gusting above 50 mph as we bounced around on that chair like a piñata at a toddler's birthday party. That was, no question, the scariest chair lift ride of my life.

  •  Food - One of the reasons I enjoy ski trips to Europe is the food. Our package included dinner each night in the hotel restaurant each evening, and we sat as a group, sharing stories over five courses of simply amazing French food, accompanied by plentiful local wine (Côtes du Rhône), both red and white. If I hadn't been getting such a workout each day on the mountain, I'm sure I would have gained several pounds!

  • Scenery - The other big reason to ski in Europe is the scenery. While you can argue pretty persuasively that the snow conditions in Colorado or Utah are normally far superior to those anywhere else in the world, the Alps possess a dramatic beauty that the mountains here simply cannot match. On the days when the sun was out, it was impossible not to stop frequently just to soak in the views. I took a lot of photos, only a few of which actually do justice to the beauty that surrounded us.

  • The location - The town of Alpe d'Huez is remarkably small, considering the size of the ski area that it serves. it is also pretty remote, at the top of a long, steep road that includes 21 hairpin switchbacks (famous in bicycle racing circles for the leg of the Tour de France that climbs it). We really didn't explore the town while we were there, focusing instead on skiing during the day, and socializing at our hotel in the evenings.  The ski area is actually a number of small ski areas that interconnect and operate on a single ski pass system that tracks the usage of the various lifts in some form of revenue sharing. Unlike the corporate environment that dominates ski areas in the US, where everything on the mountain is owned by the corporation that runs the resort, here the various restaurants and bars on the mountain were independently owned. The resulting competition meant that the prices for food and drinks on the mountain were surprisingly affordable by comparison to what we've become accustomed to seeing in the US.

  • Final thoughts - It had been more than a decade since we last visited Europe, and this trip was a reminder of how very much we enjoyed our earlier visits there. I have heard people argue that there is too much to see and do in the US, so that the cost and effort of travelling to Europe doesn't make sense. While I agree that there are plenty of great places to travel to in the US, I strongly disagree that this should be an excuse not to visit Europe. I love the experience of visiting countries with much deeper histories, as well as different languages and cultures, from what I can experience here. This trip has reminded me of the value of foreign travel, and I fully intend to do as much travelling as I can, both foreign and domestic.
We'd been flying through the darkness as we crossed the North Atlantic, and I'd struggled to get at least a couple hours of sleep along the way. Shortly after I'd given up the effort as a lost cause, the cabin lights came on, and the flight attendants began to serve breakfast. I pulled up the map display on the seatback entertainment module in front of me, and saw that we were flying over southern England.

I reflected on how different my experience of this flight over England and on to Germany was from those my great-uncle endured more than 70 years ago. Really, about the only thing in common was the company that designed our planes...He flew in the Boeing designed B-17 and I was riding in a Boeing 777. My discomfort paled in comparison to what he experienced in his aircraft, which was not pressurized or climate controlled, let alone a entertainment system built into every seat back, and a flight crew to serve meals. Not to mention the enemies shooting at him and the fact that his mission was to deliver a cargo of bombs to some enemy target.

The sun came up as we crossed the coast over the European continent. Below us the clouds stretched, unbroken, as far as I could see. I watched as we overtook a slower plane flying in the same general direction, far below us. I checked our altitude on the display in front of me. We were significantly higher than the B-17 flew, and we were traveling far faster as well. He would likely have been flying in those clouds below us.

Eventually, we descended through the clouds, and the German landscape came into view. As we circled over Frankfurt, I pressed my face to the window, trying to imagine what it might have been like to fly over this city, looking for the designated target to drop our bombs on. Unfortunately, I really could quite conjure up the experience, but as I watched, the sun began to break through the clouds, providing some really dramatic lighting effects on the ground. I pulled out my camera and took some photos.


I wish I had come to some deeply profound new insight this morning, but all I really came away with was an appreciation for the morning light on the city. Perhaps it is just enough that I was able to spend a little time thinking about the tremendous sacrifices that young men made in those skies in the middle of the last century. The legacy of their efforts lives on in the peace that continues between our nations, the peace that allows me to travel in relative comfort and safety in those same skies.

I am going to take a break for a few days.  I will try my damnedest to not think about the election or politics. When I come back, I’m hoping for some fresh perspective.  We’ll see…

However, before I go, I want to share some thoughts that have occurred to me as I have read the election coverage in the newspaper and people’s responses on Facebook:

  • Please try to avoid saying “This isn’t *my* America” or things like that. If this is what you feel like saying, then it is an indication that you have been living inside an echo chamber and don’t have a broad enough contact with the diversity of this country.  The reality is that this *is* your America, just as it is mine and everyone else’s.  Denying that reality won’t make it any easier to solve the problems we face or change the things we don’t like about it.

  • Do not call those who voted for Mr. Trump ignorant, or stupid, or anything of the sort.  These types of insults are a big part of why they voted for him.  They are tired of being seen as ignorant, unimportant, and even invisible.  I cringed when Mrs. Clinton referred to Mr. Trump’s supporters as “deplorables”, exactly because it made her appear every bit as callous towards their needs as they believed she was. We need to stop dismissing the concerns of the rural poor, the blue collar laborer, the angry core of Mr. Trump’s support.  Only when they actually believe that their concerns have been heard will their anger abate.

  • In spite of what it might feel like right now, this is *not* the end of the world.  We will survive this. It might not be fact, I expect that it will be quite ugly, but we *will* get through it.  There will be future elections, and we will get another chance to correct our path.  In the meantime, we can help to make things a tiny, little bit less ugly by acknowledging the result and trying to figure out ways to help each other get through the next few years.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the election coverage yesterday. The campaign has been going on for so long, and has been so ugly, that I was just exhausted.  I was in line to vote before the polls opened, and then I carefully avoided election news for the rest of the day.  Just before I went to bed, I saw some unsettling posts on Facebook that suggested that my confidence that the safety net of the Electoral College would protect us from mob-acracy might be misplaced, but it wasn’t conclusive.  So when I got up this morning and turned on the TV and learned that Mr. Trump had won the election, I was stunned.

We, as a nation, have allowed our fear to dictate our choice. I have just perused my Facebook feed, and have seen many people speculate about the reasons for this outcome.  I agree with those who indicate that fear and anger are probably the primary reasons. Too many people in this country are afraid.  They fear the strangers among us, whether they be illegal immigrants, or muslim refugees, or people with different sexual orientations or gender identities.  They fear for their personal future, that they won’t be able to afford to pay their bills, feed their families, provide a home.  The fear change, because it makes them uncomfortable, and challenges their core beliefs.

And they’re angry.  They are angry because they don’t feel heard or understood.  They feel like their fear is being laughed at, being made fun of, is considered to be the product of their ignorance.  They are angry because they don’t hear their concerns and needs being discussed in our politics.  The feel like they are either ignored, or looked down upon.  And they are tired of feeling like they don’t matter.

They are so afraid and angry that they were willing to vote for a man who is clearly and obviously not qualified for the Office to which we have just elected him.  In their hearts, I think they know this.  But he was willing to acknowledge them, and because they don’t feel like anyone else did, that was enough.

Unfortunately, I think that many of those people who voted for Mr. Trump because they believed that he spoke for them are going to be very disappointed.  I don’t think he speaks for (or cares about) anyone but himself.  His presidency is not going to do any more to address the fears, concerns, or needs of those who voted for him than anyone else has.  In the meantime, the tenor of his campaign has given the patina of legitimacy to all manner of ugly speech. Much of the progress we have made towards inclusion and equality is going to erode, and it will take some time to rebuild our structures of tolerance and compassion.

I honestly believe that Mrs. Clinton was her own worst enemy. In her own way it was fear that did her in.  She allowed her fear of embarrassment to dictate a policy of obfuscation that made her look guilty of covering up wrong-doing.  Rather than acknowledging her mistakes and promising to learn from them, she was afraid that her enemies would use them against her, so her instinct was to try to prevent those enemies from finding out.  This was a self-defeating strategy, because when her opponents did find out (as they inevitably would), her mistakes appear even worse because of the efforts to hide them.  This pattern has persisted over her entire career, and it has created a public perception of her as a scheming, manipulative operator who only cares about getting and holding power.  I think she would have been far better served by transparency over the years.  In acknowledging mistakes and learning from them, I think people would have been better able to see past the mistakes to her vision for the country.

The votes have been counted.  To say that I am unhappy with the result is a gross understatement.  But I will not claim that the results are invalid or fraudulent. I will grit my teeth and cross my fingers and hope (against all hope) for the best. But for this country to move forward, one thing needs to change. We need to start listening to each other.  We need to stop calling each other names and dismissing the concerns of the other side as “stupid” or “evil”.  If we could take a moment to actually listen to the needs, concerns, and fears of our opponents, then we just might have a chance to work together in ways that are constructive, rather than divisive.  Compromise is not a dirty word.  It is how we get things done.  No one gets everything they want, but everyone gets at least a little something. But that is only possible if we know what the other side needs.  I have no illusions that the rhetoric is going to change, but I will try to do my best to set an example.  I will try to listen to those who disagree with me and to try to understand their point of view.  If we each make that little effort, then maybe we can slowly change the direction we are headed.

There has been a lot of noise about “Religious Liberty” in the public forum over the last couple of years.  I think it started when the US Catholic bishops objected to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that required that contraception be covered by health insurance plans offered by employers.  The bishops argued that because the Catholic Church believes that the use of contraception is sinful, being “forced” to provide contraception to all their employees was a violation of their religious freedom.  And even after the law was amended to stipulate that the Church would not actually be paying for the contraception coverage, the bishops continued to oppose the measure.  By itself, this objection by the bishops might not have been more than a ripple in the pond of public discourse.

But the bishops had planted a seed that was to blossom into a much broader debate about the role of religion in the public sphere. As the same-sex marriage fight culminated in the Supreme Court’s decision that laws that prohibit same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, the same arguments began to be used by opponents of same-sex marriage. They argued that “religious liberty” gave them and their businesses the right to refuse services to homosexuals.  And now, the same arguments are being used to oppose equal treatment for the transgendered.

The problem with all of these arguments is that it is based on an unreasonably broad understanding of “Religious Liberty”. The concept of Freedom of Religion is all about freedom of conscience.  Everyone is free to believe as they wish, without coercion from others.  However, the concepts of religious freedom do NOT extend to people imposing their beliefs on others.  As with all rights, an individual’s rights only extend to the point where they impinge upon those of other people.

In spite of what some business owners seem to argue, accepting payment for providing services is NOT tantamount to condoning something you believe is wrong.  The morality of doing business is different that individual or personal morality.  The moral good in business is about treating customers fairly and equally, providing goods and services at a fair price, without cheating or lying.  These should be the measures by which we judge the morality of business practices.  The personal beliefs of the individuals involved just shouldn’t matter.

Being forced to treat all potential customers equally is not a form of religious persecution, and the owners of these businesses are not martyrs, as I’ve sometimes seen them called (not the least because they aren’t being killed…).

These issues have faded somewhat from the public discourse, in part because the politicians who supported these positions have found themselves marginalized this year.  However, the issues continue to simmer in the background, and those who feel that their religious values are being threatened are still out there, biding their time, waiting for opportunities to impose their beliefs on their communities, without any consideration for the rights of others.

Fifteen Years

Sep. 11th, 2016 04:06 pm
resqgeek: (Ambulance)

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of one of the worst days the United States has ever experienced.  If you take even the most casual look around the internet, there is no shortage of posts recalling the events of that horrible day.  Everyone has a story of what they were doing that day, what they felt, how they reacted.  Remembering the events of that day, remembering those who died, sharing our stories, these are all important.

But on this anniversary, I’m not finding myself thinking about that day so much as the years since.  I’m thinking about the legacy of that awful day, how we, as a nation, responded, and what we’ve done since.  I remember how, in the days and weeks immediately afterwards, we came together, expressing incredible solidarity with the victims and communities impacted.  In the midst of the horror and disbelief, it was possible to find hope in the way we reached out to each other in our grief.

But that spirit of hope and unity isn’t very evident today. We have become deeply divided along many fronts.  We have given into fear, sacrificing many of the most important principles. From holding prisoners for years (even decades) without due process, to torturing prisoners, to massive electronic surveillance that has steadily eroded our privacy, we have allowed our fear to justify a steady, incremental surrender of many of the ideal we used to take pride in.  And on top of that, that same fear has led to a rising distrust of immigrants, especially those coming from certain parts of the world, or who profess certain religious beliefs.  We seem to have forgotten that this country is a nation of immigrants, that our immigrant heritage is our great strength, that our future almost certainly rests in those who continue to yearn to come here and become part of our society.

Meanwhile, we obsess over superficial shows of patriotism.  We complain when someone exercises their rights to protest by not following conventional patriotic acts, like standing for the national anthem. We are outraged when someone dares to suggest that we might have overreacted to the terrorist attacks.  We have elevated outrage to the new patriotism.

So, let’s remember the terrible events of that day. It is important to remember and to share those memories.  But it is also important to reflect on how we have responded to that day, and to consider whether, going forward, we can’t find responses that don’t compromise our ideals.  I believe that we can, and that such responses would ultimately be more productive in improving security and promoting peace both at home and abroad.

Why I read

Sep. 9th, 2016 07:54 am
resqgeek: (Ambulance)

I believe in the power of reading.  The written word is capable of conveying incredible information, of expanding our horizons far beyond anything that we could ever hope to experience first hand.  Through reading, we can learn and grow in completely unexpected ways.  Books can change us, and we, in turn, can change our world in ways both small and large.

I try to devote a significant amount of my free time to reading.  I almost always have a book nearby that I am in the process of reading, and if I don’t, I somehow feel a bit incomplete.  Not only to I try to read in quantity, I also try to read widely in scope.  At various points in my life, I have found myself enjoying certain types of books, going back to that genre again and again.  As a teenager and in college, my reading was devoted largely to science fiction and fantasy.  As a young adult, I read a lot of espionage thrillers before becoming engrossed in historical fiction.  These days, I find myself reading a lot of non-fiction, whether it be memoirs, historical analyses, books about science, or religion, or politics, though I still try to include fictional novels in my reading, because it helps inspire my imagination.

I believe that seeking out a broad range of topics in my reading has helped me to understand the world better, to appreciate my place in it, and to recognize the responsibilities I have to make efforts to make the world the better place I believe that it could be.  I know that some people don’t share my appreciation for reading.  They view it as a chore or a waste of time.  Even among those who read, some have different motivations.  Some read as a form of escapism, using fiction to escape unpleasant realities in their lives, if only briefly.  Others dismiss fiction exactly because that how they view it.

I don’t think it matters why you read, or even what you read.  The very act of reading takes you outside of yourself.  You must immerse yourself in the word, thoughts and imagination of others.  This will challenge your worldview, if only in reminding you that others have different points of view, different ideas, different opinions.  But to magnify this effect, to maximize your growth, I encourage you to seek out different types of reading.  Look for books that challenge your views, that introduce you to new ideas, or fill in gaps in your knowledge.  Never be satisfied with what you already know, but nurture a hunger to know more.

The human ability to recognize patterns is incredibly robust.  I have been observing the developments in the field of computer vision since 1990, and while the progress that has been made in programming computers to detect and recognize patterns has been impressive, the capabilities of the human brain in this area continues to elude the developers in this technology almost entirely.  Not only do humans have powerful, innate abilities to detect patterns with almost unbelievable speed, but our recognition accuracy is remarkably high.

However, it isn’t perfect.  One of the weaknesses we have in this area is the tendency to find patterns where none exist (the false positive result).  The relatively high false positive rate is a product of our evolution...a false negative (failing to see a pattern where one does exist) can have fatal consequences (such as not seeing a predator hiding in wait), whereas running from a danger that doesn’t actually exist is much less likely to kill someone.  As a result, over time, natural selection minimized our tendency towards false negatives, but did not particularly suppress any tendency to find false positives.

This tendency to see patterns even when no meaningful pattern really exists is easy to demonstrate.  We use it to amuse ourselves when we look for shapes in the clouds, and it is the reason we find the patterns we call constellations among the stars.  It is also probably a major factor in why so many people believe in conspiracy theories.  They find patterns in events, giving meaning to coincidences, even when there is, in reality, no underlying relationship between the events.  It seems that we have evolved to dislike randomness, with a strong preference for patterns, so much so that we will go to great lengths to find patterns everywhere.

This is why scientific inquiry requires experimentation.  When we think we’ve found a pattern, we use the alleged pattern to make a prediction, and then conduct an experiment to see if the prediction is correct.  If it isn’t, we may need to re-evaluate the data to see if the pattern actually exists or if it is just a product of our imagination.
It is nearly impossible to avoid images from fourteen years ago today, and so I find myself pondering the events of that terrible day and the impact it has had over the intervening years.  The initial response to the attacks was overwhelmingly positive, with people showing tremendous courage and compassion as they worked together, initially to try and save lives, and then to bring comfort and closure to the families of those who could not be rescued.  The incredible unity of spirit that arose, both across the country, and around the world, struck me as a hopeful sign that our common humanity could overcome our differences and unite us all.  In the midst of the tragedy and sorrow, there was a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, that spark did not kindle a lasting light of peace.  Instead, we have allowed our anger and fear to conquer our compassion and hope.  We have used the attacks to justify incredible infringements on our liberties, and our misguided efforts to protect our security have made the world a more dangerous place.  We have squandered the good will of people around the world by our incredible arrogance and our selfish efforts to reshape the world to serve our interests.  And for what?  There is little to suggest that we are any safer than we were before the attacks, and the world is, if anything, less stable and more dangerous than it was before.  We have sacrificed our liberties and economy in pursuit of security, with very little to show for it.

And at home, the fear and anger generated by those attacks have festered, growing and transforming like a cancer inside our politics, driving us apart.  It has made it impossible to have a meaningful and productive debate, and our politics have degraded into name-calling and blind rhetoric shouted across the chasm that separates us.  Instead of trying to understand the point of view of the other side, we now dismiss them and their views as stupid (at best) or evil (at worse).  And there doesn't seem to be any indication that any of this will be changing anytime soon.

Today, I think about those who died on that sunny day fourteen years ago.  I wish I could say that we have honored their memories by our collective actions.  But, in truth, I don't think we have.  We have wrapped ourselves in their memory, using them to justify our fear and anger.  This is a grave injustice to those whose lives were cut short.  I can't help but think that it would be a far better memorial to them if we were looking to bring peace to the world, reaching out to help people in need, regardless of their nationality, religion, or politics.  We should be honoring them by looking for solutions to make the world a better place to live, both for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, a world that is environmentally sustainable, where we all recognize our common humanity and respect each other.  Instead of focusing on the anger and fear, we need to remember that feeling of unity.  That is the fitting memorial for the victims.
Based on the contents of my Facebook news feed yesterday, only two things happened.  The Pope issued his long anticipated encyclical on the environment, which was welcomed with praise by some and harsh criticism by others.  And, in Charleston, South Carolina, a young white male took a gun into the historic Emmanuel AME Church and killed nine members of that faith community.

I have visited Charleston twice, and have found it to be a lovely, charming city.  There are people that I call friends who make Charleston their home.  So I feel a connection to the city and its people, and this senseless tragedy leaves me feeling deeply wounded.  I am feeling especially upset because we seem to keep going through this, over and over and over again.  The reluctance of our society to honestly confront the issues related to gun violence here make these killings all the more senseless.

Last night, Jon Stewart devoted his monologue to the shooting in Charleston:

I agree with him, and I'm glad that he has used his very public platform to take a stand.  I also watched President Obama's statement about the shooting:

You can see the frustration in his body language, in his acknowledgement that this will likely change nothing in our nations gun politics.  But I believe that he is correct when he says "But let's be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Many of my friends will strongly disagree with me, but we, as a society, need to have a serious discussion about the role of guns in our nation.  They do not want to acknowledge the reality that easy access to guns makes this kind of violence far too easy.  They believe that the second amendment gives them unfettered rights to gun ownership.  But, in spite of the Supreme Court's decision that seems to support that position, I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the original purpose and intent of the second amendment.  The second amendment was written to address a specific situation at a specific time.  It sought to enable the nation to have the means to defend itself at a time when there was effectively no standing army or strong military capacity.  It was written at a time when the best weapons available to the average citizen could file a couple of rounds a minute in the hands of an expert.  None of these are true today.  We no longer need an armed citizenry to defend the nation, and weapons have become almost infinitely more lethal.  The second amendment is out of date, and need to be revised to reflect the realities of our present day society.  Unless we take drastic action, we will continue to see senseless violence like this repeat itself with disturbing regularity.

[I will be screening comments, not to filter opinions, but simply to make sure that they stay civilized and polite.  If you want your comment to be seen, then you will need to refrain from using offensive language and name calling.]
There has been a strident and noisy "debate" (and I use that term loosely, because a true debate entails as much listening as speaking) that erupted in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown last summer, and the recent Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot him.  Much of the rhetoric about this sequence of events is about whether race played a role, and the extent of any role it may have had.  Many argue that a young white man in a similar situation would not have ended up dying on the street, a beneficiary of "racial privilege".  This idea of "privilege" is subject to attack by others who deny that it exists.

This morning I read an article I found via Facebook that directly addressed some of this conflict.  There were a number of points raised that caught my attention.  First, there are a wide range of categories of "privileged" groups, and it is possible for someone to belong to many different groups.  I fall into several:  I am white, male, middle classed, straight.  Each of these conveys privileges on me, just for being me.  People outside of these groups often encounter barriers or challenges that I will never have to face.  The problem with belonging to one (or more) of these privileged groups is that it is often difficult for someone in the group to see how they benefit.  It is easier to see the privilege from outside the privileged group.  Which is probably the most important point of the article.  If someone tells you that you are the beneficiary of some group privilege, you may not initially appreciate the truth of that statement.  You may have worked hard to get where you are.  Privilege does not take that away from you, but it does mean that those outside your group would have to work even harder to get to where you are, because they have additional hurdles placed in their way.

I have recently read several books and articles that have convinced me that different people can often see the world in radically different ways.  These wildly divergent points-of-view create real barriers to effective communication, because we interpret what we hear from the other side through our worldview, so that what we hear is often not the same thing that the speaker meant.  Civil discourse (which is sorely lacking and desparately needed these days) requires that we make an honest effort to step outside our worldview and inhabit the other side's point-of-view.  Only then can we hope to understand what they are saying and begin to build bridges over the chasm between us.
As I read the news these days, it seems to me that our society is being divided by deeper fault lines all the time.  The lack of dialogue between the two political parties is one fault line, perhaps the easiest to see, with our blue and red colored election results maps.  But I think we have any number of additional fault lines growing between different groups in our society.  Some of these parallel the political divide, while others run along weird angles.  I think that the racial fault lines are among the more dangerous, especially because so many people either can see them or deny that they exist.  These fault lines, like so many of them, create barriers, with people on each side finding it difficult (if not impossible) to recognize that the world look different on the other side.  The reactions to the shooting in Furgeson, MO (like that of Trayvon Martin in Florida earlier), is an example of what I mean.  I see those who support the police officer, who see him as defending himself against a suspicious and potentially violent person.  I also see those who argue that young black men are unfairly targetted by law enforcement simply by virtue of their skin color.  The thing is, both sides have valid points, buth neither side seems willing to acknowledge those from the other side.  There is no dialogue, only argument.

As these and other fault lines continue to deepen and further divide our society, I can't help wonder what will happen.  In geology, fault lines are associated with plate tectonics, with the movement of land masses.  When pressure accumulates along one of these fault lines, the danger of major earthquakes grows.  I can only hope that our social fault lines don't follow a similar model.  I hope that we can find ways to engage in dialogue, to close the fault lines and reduce the stress between different groups in our society.   Because if we don't, I'm afraid that the accumulated stresses will result in a 'social earthquake' that may reshape our society in a horribly violent way.
I have long been an advocate of organ and tissue donation, and have registered my desire to be an organ donor in the event of my death.  My view on this is that I will no longer have any use for my organs at that point, and if they can be used to extend the life of someone else, then I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be used for that purpose.  When they asked us about tissue donation after Becky's accident, we didn't even hesitate before granting permission.  I encourage anyone who is elibible (and some people are not eligible for a variety of medical reasons) to take a few minutes to visit to find the registry site for your state and make sure your wishes about this issue are registered.

But there is another perspective that I hadn't thought much about until earlier this week.  I was reading an article in the Washington Post about anatomical donation, and one doctor's reaction to his wife's decision to have her body donated to a medical school upon her death.  The article describes the benefits of such a donation, which provides bodies for medical students to study as part of their education.  While such a donation would not benefit any other patients directly, it does ensure that new doctors have the opportunities to study the anatomy of an actual person before they begin to practice medicine.  Presumably, this will enable them to become better physicians, which in turn will benefit all of their future patients.

I'm not sure whether anatomical donations are compatible with organ and tissue donations, or if the body must be intact for the medical school purposes.  I guess I'll have to do some research on that issue.  If they aren't compatible, I will have to carefully consider both programs, to see which I think would provide the best benefit...
Some days it can be difficult to find things that motivate me to write.  Today is NOT one of those days.  I just finished reading my morning newspaper (and yes, I do actually read a real, printed newspaper every day!), and there are any number of articles that I feel an urge to respond to, any of which would be worthy of a full post on its own.  However, I do actually need to do some other things with my time today, so I'm just going to provide a bullet list of short thoughts instead.

-  Ferguson, MO - I am not going to express an opinion about the decision by the Grand Jury...The process is what it is, and second guessing it does not solve anything.  The response to the decision, on the other hand, merits comment.  I don't think anyone is surprised by the rioting, looting, and burning that has erupted in the wake of the decision, but it is entirely the wrong response.  Such violent responses reinforce negative stereotypes and undermine the efforts of those who are struggling to change the conditions that lead to this whole situation.

 -  University of Virginia - Does it surprise me that a girl was gang-raped at a fraternity party?  I wish I was.  Am I outraged that no one reported the crime or otherwise stood up to defend the young lady?  Absolutely!  We need to stop thinking about rape as being fundamentally about sex...rape is about power and violence.  The culture of silence and shame that protects the violent creeps who do this needs to end, and men have just as much responsibility for making that happen as women do.

 -  Immigration reform - Politics aside, I think it should be abundantly clear to almost everyone that our current immigration system is horribly broken.  I don't know how to fix it, but I can see that something needs to be changed.  It also seem clear to me that the President would have preferred for the action to have come from Congress in the form of legislation...he's said as much.  However, Congress has proven to be utterly unwilling or unable to make any progress towards producing such legislation.  The President is using his authority to do what he can in the vacuum created by the failure of the Legislature to legislate.  If Congress doesn't like his actions, they can overrule it by passing a law!