Bet You Can’t Read This and Still Believe There’s “Justice For All”

From the LA Times. Knives, Death, a Famous Name.

Odd isn’t it that in the U.S. we require schoolchildren to say a Pledge of Allegiance, but we don’t help them think through its contents to decide if in fact they believe some or all of what they mindlessly word. If we’re going to continue that practice, maybe we should update it so that it ends “and justice for well-to-do families with lots of social capital”.

Some day I hope to live in a country where Fred, Kathy, and Brigida Santos are equal to Fabian Nunez, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

Eschew the South

According to conservative pundits, liberals like President Obama and myself don’t really like the United States. “Love it or leave it!” they ignorantly insist. They want everyone to believe they’re the true Americans because they mindlessly subscribe to American Exceptionalism. Nevermind that our independence resulted from intense dissent born of the freedom of speech the Constitution enshrines.

One of the things I like most about the U.S. is distinct regional differences compliments of its great expanse.

As viewed from the upper atmosphere, I live in the very uppermost left hand corner of the country. And sadly, moms lives in the very bottommost right hand corner. I’m writing this at 36,000′, halfway home on my most recent cross-country voyage. I’ve made this trans-continental trip probably 30+ times since my parents’ long ago move to the Peninsula (known to some as Florida). As a result, I’m declaring myself a Southeastern U.S. expert. Meaning I’m qualified to make extreme generalizations about it even if Southerners take offense.

For example, the conventional wisdom that Southerners are more hospitable is something they like to tell themselves probably to feel better about how inhospitable life can be “down South”. Take the Southerner in the Enterprise car rental office today on Kennedy Boulevard right next to the University of Tampa. “You KNOW you guys need some fuckin’ better help in here don’t you?!”

That warm Southern hospitality is also extended whenever you dare cross a busy street. As I stood at intersection after intersection this past week, speeding drivers shot me angry looks, upset that eventually I’d step foot onto their road. Sunday afternoon, at one intersection, loose wires peered out of the street light so there was no way to trigger the cross walk. After five minutes I moved to the middle of the block to eliminate turning cars from the total amount of sheet metal I had to dodge. Then I did my Usain Bolt impersonation, and now, the humble blog readers rejoice that I (barely) lived to write another day.

Have you heard the joke about the Southeastern city planner? That’s the joke. An oxymoron if there ever was one. Most egregious, there are more Cuba-loving liberal Democrats in Florida than there are bike lane miles. My advice, if you sometimes enjoy walking outdoors or riding a bike, eschew the South. In fact, I hereby announce an Eschew the South movement until pedestrians and cyclists are acknowledged to be fully human. Bumper stickers and t-shirts are now available.

Then there’s the stuff I can’t pin on Neolithic Age city planning–hellish heat and humidity. One of the best things about the upper lefthand corner is our built in air conditioning. Our politics are liberal, but our temps wonderfully moderate. Even on the rare warm summer day, temps plummet at dusk. We also get to run and cycle up and down hilly, even mountainous trails and roads.

I’m going to skip the planned paragraph about the preponderance of fatty and fried Southern food at the risk of being mistaken for a self-absorbed foodie.

This began innocently enough as an appreciation of regional differences, but somehow morphed into an unprovoked regional rant. Fair enough if Southerners hold it against the PNW.

Long story short, I could easily live without the SE, but not Mother Dear. So the diagonal pilgrimages will continue despite their deleterious effect on my life expectancy.

On Cuba and North Korea

The last bastions of communism are dominating the news. I’m reading another book about North Korea, Without You, There is No Us, by Suki Kim.

Rich and powerful voices dominate the airwaves, heads of state, Sony executives, and Hollywood stars. Ordinary Cubans and North Koreans, who have suffered endlessly at the hands of the Castros and Kims remain completely voiceless.

Their stories are the ones that need telling. I’m hopeful we’ll begin to hear ordinary Cuban voices in 2015, lifting the veil on life on the island. I have no such hope for North Korea. The plight of North Koreans is seemingly hopeless. And that should be our focus.

Improve Your Health—Go Outside

As the video below makes clear, research suggests spending time outside is good for one’s health. Physical health, mental health, or spiritual well-being? My hunch, all of the above. No one has to tell children or labradoodles how invigorating it is to be outside. Sometimes, as we age, we forget. Remember the Norwegian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to walk to church.

p.s. A and J, James is what’s known as “SILM”, Son In-Law Material. Doc. Sense of humor. Wears suits. And he looks like he’s your age (even though he’s 31). Just sayin’, what’s not to like?

The Musician’s Soul

I’m participating in a faculty seminar with eight other professors, each from different disciplines. We get together every other week and take turns discussing books everyone has selected from their respective disciplines. This Wednesday a music prof is leading the discussion of The Musician’s Soul by James Jordan.

Like a student, I have been procrastinating. That means I just started reading it today, Sunday*. Three days and counting. Even though I’m in the early stages, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, I’m digging it. Double J is wonderfully out of touch with the times. Instead of privileging standardization, data, and efficiency, he writes of self understanding, spirituality, and soulfulness. He’s more Buddhist than business school.

For a little flavor flav, here he is on self-expression:

“If one believes that music is self-expression, then it should follow that one must have a self to express. Before one is able to conduct and evoke artistry from singers, one must spend a considerable amount of time on oneself, on one’s inside stuff. One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times. Most musicians, however, involve themselves in a process of self-mutilation. They focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music instead of the ‘who’. Frustration and anger with self occur, almost unknowingly. The conductor, music educator, or performer must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and of his or her own human spirit. That journey must be non-self-mutilating. At the risk of oversimplifying, one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with an ensemble or an audience through the music. Knowledge and trust of self is necessary for music making to take place. An ability to ‘just be’ is paramount.”

These insights are wonderfully applicable. Substitute any art, like writing, for the making of music. Or almost any vocation imaginable.

My subconscious is just starting to work on a new course I’m teaching next spring for teachers training to be school principals. While I’m reading Jordan I’m substituting school leaders for musicians. “The school leader must spend a considerable amount of time with him- or herself to make the journey that will deepen understanding of self and his or her own human spirit. . . . one must be able to love oneself first before that love can be shared with a faculty, or families, or students through schooling.”

This portion of the larger excerpt deserves further reflection, “One must take time to understand and accept who one is. One must learn how to trust oneself at all times.” Sounds more simple than it is. Most everyone has long-standing negative tapes looping in their heads thanks to mean-spirited teachers, parents, or coaches.

Do you know, accept, and trust yourself? How might your vocation and life change as a result of greater knowledge, acceptance, and trust?

* Had to finish The Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh first.