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Archive for the ‘Brain’ Category

ybr

Face Book always wants to know what’s on your mind. Most FB followers are less interested in what’s really on your mind, preferring to see selfies, cat videos, and quotes about how much they love third cousins (pease like and share).  A blog, on the other hand encourages you to speak your mind. So, what’s on my mind?  Roads. Those taken and those not taken.

When I think about roads, two thoughts immediately come to mind.  The classic Robert Frost poem and M. Scott Peck’s best seller “The Road Less Traveled.”

Apparently L. Frank Baum was not interested in the road conundrum. When Dorothy met the Scarecrow she was not at a crossroad.  She didn’t wonder which way to go. She and the Scarecrow engaged in the usual blah-blah-blah and in short order were off to see the Wizard.  (I believe the yellow brick road Dorothy was traveling on was her road less traveled.)

For whatever reason, the filmmakers wanted Dorothy to have to make a choice.  It’s funny, but after all the pondering, the movie lacks any dialogue on why Dorothy and the Scarecrow did take the road they eventually took.

Looking back on my highway I can say without fear of contradiction that choosing the road to take is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  In fact we are constantly having to choose the road to take. Sometimes we take the well-traveled road and less frequently we take the less-traveled road.

Every semester when I begin teaching the one course I teach, I ponder the question of which road to take.  Every semester I am greeted with twenty new faces.

I am teaching the GPS generation.  They were born knowing where they wanted to go and they seem to know exactly what road/s they have to take to get there…wherever there is.

I am the scarecrow they meet on the road.  To be honest, most students do not want to engage in conversation let alone take me down and invite me to travel along with them.

The dilemma I face every semester is do I act like a brainless scarecrow? Do I just smile, go through the academic motions and keep my big mouth shut? Or. Or. Or do I rip myself off the wood frame and open my big mouth?

Why would I want to do that?  Because I believe that letting them go their merry way toward Corporate City without asking them to think about the journey would not only be a mistake, I would be missing an  opportunity to shake them up a little.

My greatest fear is that the current generation is actually lost. And that’s not a bad thing.  They should be lost, or at least they should think long and hard about the yellow brick road in their life. The current generation is so directed, so pampered and so content that rather than ask hard questions about their journey, all they want is for you, the teacher, to see they graduate with an EZPass.

I have no doubt that the students in my class will succeed.  They have been well-taught. They know what to do and how to do it to succeed. They are determined.

I am a speed bump.  I want my students to think. I want my students to question and to challenge beliefs they have taken for granted. I want them to believe they have a choice.  I want them to understand that consequences come both from taking action and from choosing to be inactive.  (You can neve escape from consequences.)

In the end I also want my students to realize that the most important thing is to make sure the road they travel is THEIR road because THEIR road is one that has never been traveled on.

It’s all about seizing opportunites. But we all need to remember that opportunity is not a lenghty visitor.

A bumper sticker from my college days gave me some food for thought: Remember, wherever you go there YOU are.

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circus-elephants

A high school friend recently posted on FB about how bittersweet it is that the circus era is coming to an end.  Bittersweet it is because many of us have circus memories etched into our childhood DNA.

We could debate the issue of the circus closing until the elephants come home, but that won’t be very productive.  In my mind, the issue is much larger than the big top.  It has to do with change…be it radical or simple.

The status was pretty  much “quo” in Oz until Dorothy crashed landed.  After that the balance was forever tipped.

We are not the first generation to be challenged by changes.  How many people were bereft when the horse and buggy was replaced by the Tin Lizzie?  How many blacksmiths lost their jobs when their services were no longer needed?

Change is inevitable. We all know that.  But there is something different about the way things have been changing in our lifetime. Change that is gradual and organic is something we can come to understand and even eventually embrace.  But change that is sudden and that comes like a tornado often leaves us breathless.

Animal rights advocates launched a campaign to end the abuse of the majestic animals that were the mainstay of the circus.  Having looked into what had to be done to take a wild animal and have it dance, prance and jump through burning hoops, I was sickened.

With what I know now, should I cringe at having been thrilled when I was held captive under the big top as a child?  Is ignorance really bliss?

I only have to take a look back at the way it was when I was a kid, a time when women’s rights were limited, when segregation was the “law” of the land, when people who suffered from mental illness were institutionalized, when being gay was a punishable  “sin,” when….

I think none of us really have a problem with changes that “change” the way we operate. Who had a problem throwing out the ink pen that used to blot at the worst moment and started using a ball point pen?  Who held a rally to stop automakers from introducing automatic drive, power steering and power breaks?

I think many of us who are open to change don’t know how to handle the militant advocacy that often precedes change.

That’s not to mean that militant advocacy is not more often than not necessary or needed. I mean how far would the Civil Rights movement had gone had advocacy not been the spur? Where would women be if the fight for change was not loud and open?

As much as we could point to other moments in time when change washed over us in tidal wave proportion, that was then and this is NOW.

Should we go with the flow and welcome change?  Should we stand firm and resist change?I mean, is change always good?

I have no answers. All I can say is that life is so friggin’ complicated!

 

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oz-2017-new-year

For lack of a better visual equation, we could say that a House has fallen and 2016 is ding-dong dead.  Many might say 2016 was the worst year since the last worst year. Others might be inclined to say 2016 was a Super Bowl year.

Wherever you stand the first thing we need to admit is that there is nothing we can do to change what happened in 2016.  All we can do is reflect on 2016 and take the good and make it better.  We also need to understand the bad and do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

2017 is full of promise.  But nothing is going to happen unless we roll up our sleeves and make sure we are part of 2017 and not apart from it.

I hope that 2017 will be the year where we strive to make understanding universal and inclusive, where compassion is boundless and endless, and where we all find the courage to do the right thing.

But in our struggle to make 2017 a memorable year we have to realize we can’t change the world on our own.  We all need to shoulder the challenge.  And we have to cherish and appreciate the loved ones we have in the here and now.  We need to know that happiness is in our own backyard and in truth, there is no place like home.

 

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fork-in-the-road

I’m in the state of confusion, the 51st state of the Union where I seem to have taken up permanent residence.  Lately I’m very confused about the definition of words we toss around with reckless abandon.  Words like Democrat and Republican, in my opinion, are totally useless words that should be banned from use in private or public.  But words like conservative and liberal are two words that need some attention.

The dictionary defines the two this way as adjectives:

liberal – open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
conservative – holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

The “troubling” words in the liberal definition are “willing to discard,” because discard is so close in meaning to toss or throw away like a piece of trash. The words “cautious about change” in the definition of conservative are, in my opinion, less offensive, but can easily be used to stop progress.

What I hate about the two words, aside from their lame definitions, is the fact that both words have driven a wedge between us.

I am a conservative.  I conserve water, energy, and natural resources.  I am a liberal. I am liberal with the time I spend helping other people, in using my money to help the less fortunate, and in praising people when praise is deserved.

But, I am not so cautious about change, when change is beneficial to us all, even if it might benefit some more than others.  I am not willing to discard traditional values without some gut-wrenching decision-making because, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.

I have no problem embracing relationships of and between genders. I have no problem with people who are working hard to legalize marijuana. I am a big supporter when it comes to making sure everyone’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are defended. I am not a big, vocal proponent of abortion, but, I am against making it illegal because that won’t work.  Does that mean I’m too weak to defend the lives of the unborn? No.  It just means that I think a woman does have a right to make a decision despite the fact that I believe life is life…but a life has to be wanted, and I don’t buy the argument about so many couples want to adopt children.  (The issue is far too complex to fit into a blog.)

But I also fear that we are living in a society where anything goes without giving a second thought to traditional values that perhaps might  have some permanence and universal viability. These values, in my opinion, include respect, honesty, tolerance, selflessness, compassion, etc.  My conservative genes believe that today it is hard to maintain values in a world that spins on an axis of entitlement.

When I was in college during the big anti-war movement of the 60s, I was amazed how a “liberal” student could come home from a peace march and turn up his stereo to a deafening volume, but would say “fuck off” to a conservative, aka, hawk, when asked if the stereo could be scaled back.

I sometimes believe that extreme liberals and conservatives make it hard for all of us to create a world of mutual respect and admiration.  There are numerous forks in the road and we have to believe that not all of the roads to the left need be taken nor should we take all of the roads to the right. As a secular people we have to understand that our rights can be found in our founding documents. As a secular people we also need to know that we have a right to make changes in our laws and that our “laws” are not necessarily sacred.

Progress is not a dirty word. It does not, pardon the expression, trump, using our heads or following our hearts in the pursuit of creating a just world.  It does mean it is going to take a lot of internal courage to support justice for all.

 

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oz box

In my opinion, back to school ads should be banned until the last week of August. Summer should be a school-free zone where children can be children.

Other than getting a new pair of shoes, six # two pencils, a Bic pen, a marble composition book and a hair cut, I never got what I wanted, or perhaps I should say, needed before starting back to school. I wanted and needed a place where my natural curiosity could blossom. What I didn’t need was a place filled with pot holes deliberately placed to trip me up. And that’s what school was to me when I was a kid.  It was a place I dreaded because I wasn’t a good student.  Like a batter who has a full count with the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with two outs…I chocked.

I hated spelling lists. I hated multiplication sheets. I hated text books of all subjects. I even hated lunch because the grape jelly in my peanut butter sandwich leaked through the white Wonder bread.

A school is just a place. And while it has the potential of being a great place for learning, I fear we have forced our teachers to replace teaching with teaching to a test. Instead of making learning a fantastic journey we have made it a long and boring trek.

L. Frank Baum did not have a school in Oz, but he did make a comment on education, a comment I call into question. Talking to the scarecrow he said, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

I have no problem with what he said about the brain, but I do have a problem with him saying that the only thing that makes a difference is a “diploma.”

Having spent the last 15 years teaching on the college level I have come to the conclusion that all that matters is the diploma or the degree. One of the problems with a college degree is that it’s like a mattress. You can’t actually compare mattresses because they all hide behind different funny names that mean absolutely…nothing.

It’s almost as difficult to compare college degrees, especially if you are comparing a degree given in 1970 when I got mine and with a degree given to a recent grad. The courses I had to take to earn my degree are not the ones a 2016 grad had to take.

Not that my courses were better because they weren’t. In fact my courses didn’t prepare me an iota for a job, let alone a career.  Today’s grad has taken very career specific courses coupled with internships that have prepared the grad for an entry-level job.

I believe we learn what we need to learn and what we want to learn. We need to learn and to master certain  skills to navigate the rough seas of life. Our little dingy can be flooded if we don’t have a handle on some of the more practical “things.”

Unfortunately, the list of what we have to learn has been lengthened to include only job skills. And while we do need to learn what it takes to be proficient in the field of our choice, many of us don’t make any time in our lives to learn what we want to learn.

And I fear that’s happened because our lives are so frenetic and the marketplace is so competitive that we no longer have time for broad learning that is fueled by yearning.

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fishermanplank

WARNING: This blog might be offensive to people who are strictly literal by nature or default. I prefer absurdity over anything.

I had a difficult time coming up with an image for this blog because I didn’t want to take the easy way out and post a picture that ridicules the subject of this blog, because if anything destroys an open dialogue it’s mockery.

I was reduced to bat-shit bafflement the other day when I watched the news coverage of the opening of the Noah’s Ark (amusement/bemusement) attraction in Kentucky. I might cringe at Bible Villages and Water Parks (Old or New Testament) and other religious themes attractions, but I am rarely left dumbfounded.

It’s not that a certain conservative Christian raised money to reconstruct Noah’s Ark using a Biblical blueprint. It’s the fact that one man’s religious conviction/faith is dismissively arrogant and steel-trap closed minded.

The founder of this Biblical attraction is of the school of a literal interpretation of the Bible. His many visitors/followers are of the same school. That there has been a very vocal negative reaction to this Arktraction (my word) can be found by a simple Google Search.

What saddens me more than the literal reading of the story of Noah in Genesis, is the ripple effect such an interpretation has on almost everything else. Not only does it reduce scientific research and discoveries to a pile of saw dust, it supports such “arkaic” notions regarding life in the 21st Century.

But, and it was a big but that went off in my head like the big bang, Noah’s Arktraction is too easy a subject to attack when “we” are so willing to “accept”  other sacred stories, dogmas, religious rules, etc. on face value.

If we want to poop-poop the Ark ( and there must have been a lot of shit in the hold of that boat at the end of the voyage), we have to be willing to poke a stick at some of the other “big beliefs” proclaimed as truths by the other major world religions.

Walking on water, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, immaculate conceptions, virgin births, transubstantiation and resurrections, also have to be free game for thinkers and non-believers.

And lest we forget, Christianity is not the only belief system that obliges followers to strict adherence of dogmas and laws.  Have you ever taken a glance at the 613 Mitzvots (Commandments) of Judaism?  Oy! Made me shake my head so many times I risked having it fall off.

Not to mention some of the eye-opening “beliefs” put forth in the Book of Mormon (not the  musical) and the Koran.

Proving or disproving any belief system is a waste of time.  People who are wired to a particular belief system are usually not willing to abandon their beliefs…and people who are adamantly opposed to a particular belief system are equally unwilling to embrace the “thoughtology” of another person.

Because I have pushed the boundaries of a belief system imposed on me as a dumb ass kid and opened my mind to dozens of belief systems, I can no longer be a literalist in any fashion.

Joseph Campbell, a man who devoted his life to unraveling religious thought, once said, “Mythology is someone else’s religion.”

And to be very honest, I am not particularly concerned with religious truth. I wake up each morning excited about possibilities.  I live my day making an effort to be kind and compassionate and when I see a wrong, i.e. where someone’s life, liberty and the pursuit of joy is jeopardized, I will speak up and out.

I don’t need an afterlife. I might need an occasional breath mint after dinner, but I don’t do anything during the day to secure an orchestra seat in a place many people call heaven.

I no longer believe in a God presented in any so-called books of sacred scripture. If there is any truth to the idea that I was created in the image and likeness of “God” I don’t have to take it literally.  I’ll just think that I have to power in my little hands to do my part to create a world where all people can bathe in the sunlight of life.

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Declaration-of-Independence

My economic sense is as good as is my sense of direction. Nonetheless, as we the people of the United States prepare to celebrate Independence Day, I couldn’t help but think about price and cost. Economically speaking the price is the what we pay for something, and the price we pay (supposedly) for something should represent the value of what we have to give up in order to acquire that something…and at the 4th of July that something is freedom.

But,as with everything there is always a cost involved and the cost is the amount we spend to produce, again as is the case, on freedom.

Essentially when it comes to our freedom price and cost are inexorably linked. (That’s theoretical, of course, because for many people the price of freedom is paid with the cost of their lives. So, the 4th of July is also another Memorial and Veterans Day.)

What was the price of America’s freedom? In a word, immeasurable.  And the cost?  In lives some 24,000 patriots either lose their lives on the battlefield or in prison. While that number might pale in comparison to the loss of lives in other conflicts, consider for a moment that the population of New York City at the time was only  25,000. So, using that as a comparison the cost of lives in current population would be close to 7 million.

Was it worth it?  No hesitation here. The cost of paying the price for freedom was more than worth it. But, here’s where I scratch my head. Is the price of freedom always worth the cost we pay?  Our freedom was at the cost of English lives. While the men in red coats were our “enemy,” they were fighting for what they believed in. Two centuries later we let bygones be bygones.  That’s easy to do when your differences have faded to dust. But the nationalistic wounds of more recent struggles for freedom are still fresh.

Today the world is struggling to keep freedom alive in a world where some people are willing to pay a dastardly cost to abolish the rights of all people so that a misguided ideology can triumph.

I’m all for “religious freedom,” but no religious belief should trump the rights of any man.  Take “God” out of the equation and let religion stand on its own two wobbly feet.  The very exclusive nature of “religion” is rotten to the core.  That one religion is the right and true religion is bull shit. That some ridiculous sets of doctrines and practices should cause permanent brain damage in the “faithful followers” is fucking unbelievable.

That one has to pray so many times a day facing a certain direction, that one cannot have a glass of milk with a ham sandwich, that one cannot marry the person (regardless of gender) they want, that one cannot drink or dance (and be merry), that one could have gone to hell because they ordered the hamburger helper on a Friday instead of the twin lobster tails, makes me question the belief that we are the most intelligent form of life on the planet. (Aliens take warning. Don’t waste your fuel coming to earth.)

With that said, until some time in the future when we understand the idea of universal freedom, people will still be paying the price for freedom.  What we have to consider is at what cost?

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