Archive for December, 2011

31
Dec
11

resolutions

Last week a reader wrote from Europe: “Hi Dan, I wanted to take the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, because I’m not as optimistic as you about the future for this planet, and I’m not convinced that there will be another Christmas. There is nothing to do about it. When people start to think that there is nothing bigger than themselves, they will get ‘punished.’ But maybe we will meet again on another planet. Till then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Planet Earth Year.”

I wrote back: “There is everything to do about it, because the doing is all within ourselves. There is nothing to fear about it because the world and Universe are within us and within our ability to protect and improve. Do not lose heart or give up. The answers are within you.”

I fervently believe this. In fact, I know it. It is one of the Big Things I’ve learned in my life and trials. All reality is holographic, and all creation is contained within every cell of our bodies. To borrow the title of a book by Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You.

This is not to say that I believe ‘there is nothing bigger than myself’; it assumes I hold a very modest position in the whole scheme of things. And yet it is not a powerless position. The spark of God resides within us, and perfuses our every cell and atom. He is speaking to us constantly and guiding us infallibly—if only we will listen and obey. Each of us thus has within us the potential to change the world if we can first change ourselves in ways that matter.

My resolutions for the coming year are to become more honest, more pure, more unselfish, more loving, more loyal. Held up against absolute performance standards, I know I will repeatedly fail, which is only human. Which is why I also know these resolutions must be renewed each and every day of the year.

So cheers to a New Year and another chance to get things right. Cheers to every new day which holds within it the potential for changing ourselves and the world around us.

May every day of the coming year be for you the beginning of a Happy New Year!

(BTW, I’ll be spending a quiet night at home alone tonight. After all, youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to. Old age is when you’re lucky if you can.)

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Randy Rogers Band performing “Starting Over For The Last Time”

 

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”    ~ Mark Twain

30
Dec
11

radiant child

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Ran away from home at age 15, lived on the streets, became a NYC graffiti artist.

His original painting style made him a star almost overnight.

Mentored by Andy Warhol.

Success overwhelmed him.

Died at age 27 of a drug overdose.

Left a legacy of 1000 Drawings.

1000 Paintings.

(Record price – $14.6 million in 2007)

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Velvet Underground performing “Heroin”

29
Dec
11

believe

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to Rod Stewart performing “Reason to Believe”

28
Dec
11

reprehensible

I’ve always been partial to kids who are labeled “at risk.” Spirited kids. Defiant kids, kids who think and decide and act for themselves. Kids with ideas of their own, headstrong kids who are hard to put into a box with an expectation they’ll stay put. The kinds of kids assistant school principals hate.

My son Henry was an oppositional and obstinate child from the age of 2. A brilliant, holy terror with an insistent, unyielding will—and, like some other Aspergers kids, he was uncompliant to an extreme. The public school pressured us to drug Henry so he would be easier for them to manage. We refused and we eventually dumped the school. We tolerated his personality with forbearance, but without condoning the friction it created. Henry is now in his early 30s and I am seeing the fruits of such unrelenting will in the self-discipline he brings to  his financial affairs. I wish I could say he’s a chip off the old block, but his success is all of his making alone. I can only take credit for not having agreed to drum it out of him when he was a child.

Paco, my first fictive son, was at age 15 the worst truant in the history of his high school, a legend in his own time. We both agreed school sucked for him. He didn’t belong there. I understood and abetted his truancy without condoning it. He was (and is) too smart, too highly-developed, possessed of too unique a natural learning style, too cool for school. He is nearing 40 years of age now, and I am seeing the creative results of his having pursued his own path. I know I did the right thing in having supported his individualism when he was young.

Derek King, one of my more recent fictive sons, killed his father when he was just 13. I understand and accept Derek, and give him my unconditional loyalty and support without condoning the murder. I love the hurt and angry boy he was and I respect the ethical and self-possessed man he has become. I trust Derek and accept direction from him. I rely on his good judgment, his knowledge, his strengths and intelligence. I learn a lot from him.

For example: “ADHD is a difference, not a disorder,” Derek once told me. ADHD must be understood as an advantage, a potential creativity marker, not a disability, he said.

When ADHD and certain autism-spectrum conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome are regarded as deficits by parents as well as by schools, youth prisons, and other youth-serving institutions, those supposed deficits will only be reinforced and developed as negatives. If they are seen as potential assets, and if kids are given our understanding and unconditional acceptance, young people will learn to develop them into advantages.

I am deeply offended by the tendency of too many prosecutors and judges to judge the crime, and not the person. I am disgusted by the doctrine of zero-tolerance in the schools, which allows school administrators to consider only certain acts by a child when disciplining that child, without considering the mindset and motivations and capacities of the child himself. I am outraged by the resulting tendency in our society to treat such young people as “throw away kids,” as if supposed defects and imperfections (which are actually differentiating characteristics) can justify their being consigned to a scrap heap for rejects. These are human beings we are talking about. Human beings!

To give you an idea of how badly wrong our schools are getting it, there is a story that has just come out of Kentucky. When he misbehaved at school, a 9-year-old fourth-grader, an autistic boy named Christopher Baker, was stuffed into a duffel bag and the drawstring pulled tight by a teacher’s aid at Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg in central Kentucky. “He was treated like trash and thrown in the hallway,” Chris’ mother Sandra Baker said.

Sandra was called to school because Chris was “jumping off the walls” at the school, where he was enrolled in a program for students with special needs. Walking toward his classroom, Sandra saw the gym bag. There was a small hole at the top, she said, and she heard a familiar voice.

“Momma, is that you?” Chris called, according to his mother.

A teacher’s aide was there, and Baker demanded that her son be released. At first, the aide struggled to undo the drawstring, but the boy was pulled out of the bag, which had some small balls inside and resembled a green Army duffel bag, said Sandra. She didn’t know exactly how long he had been in the bag, but maybe upwards of 20 minutes.

“When I got him out of the bag, his poor little eyes were as big as half dollars and he was sweating,” Sandra said. “I tried to talk to him and get his side of the reason they put him in there, and he said it was because he wouldn’t do his work.” Days later at a meeting with school officials, Sandra said she was told that what actually happened is that the boy had smirked at the teacher when he was told to put down a basketball, and then threw it across the room.

The same thing has happened to me, only it was a stoneware Pilsner Urquel beer mug, not a basketball. I never thought of a duffel bag.

Apparently the duffel bag treatment is standard operating procedure in this school’s “special needs” program. At the meeting school officials described the bag as a “therapy bag,” Sandra said, though she said she wasn’t clear exactly what that meant. She said her son would sometimes be asked to roll over a bag filled with balls as a form of therapy, but she didn’t know Chris was being placed in the bag. She said school officials told her it was not the first time they had put Chris in there.

Advocates for the autistic are outraged. According to a story published by MSNBC [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45770432/ns/us_news-life/#.TvTdR9T2YsI], Landon Bryce of San Jose CA, a former teacher who blogs about issues related to autism, said the school’s treatment of Chris was “careless and disrespectful…A lot of the damage that we do to students with all kinds of disabilities is by treating them as though they deserve to be treated in a way that’s different from other people,” Bryce said.

The heart of the problem, however, is that too many people regard autism as a “disability” (in Mr. Bryce’s words) and not a “difference.” The extreme expression of this attitude is that we have kids like Blade Reed warehoused in adult prisons that punish kids for their symptoms and do not help these kids transform their deficits into assets.

Even though Blade’s mental development at the time of his crime was comparable to that of an 8-year-old, he is not mentally retarded. He has certain limitations that the adult prison system will not take into account, but Blade is an intelligent boy with potential. Stephen reads me the letters Blade writes to him, and from the way he writes you can see Blade is not a throw-away child, even though the State of Indiana is treating him as such. (We are going to publish some of his letters here, so you can see for yourself.) Rather than accepting Blade as he is and helping him to redeem his life, the state is doing everything it can to turn him into a sociopath who could become a danger to himself and to society.

I am turned off by our society’s intolerance for real diversity, and by its pathological insistence on conformity. The schools are designed to suppress individualism and creativity. Is it any wonder that some of our highest-potential nonconformist kids find themselves shunted into the school-to-prison pipeline? Why do we allow the courts and corrections systems to deny so many kids opportunities for rehabilitation and life-changing growth? It is inhumane and it has the effect of retarding progress, excellence, and exceptionalism in our society.

If you need another illustration of such official cretinism, we need look no further than the efforts of the office of Bruce Colton, the prosecutor for the 19th circuit in Okeechobee County FL, who has been pushing to lock up Alex King for an additional five years for a supposed “violation of probation”—a traffic accident that is a technical infraction at best.

Depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, it costs Florida taxpayers between $16,403 and $23,530 to incarcerate a prisoner for a year. This means the prosecutor wants the state to spend between $82,015 and $117,560 to clothe, feed, house, and provide medical services for Alex when Alex should more rightly be out in the world contributing to society.

Alex is a brilliant kid, a good kid, who has consistently been on the President’s List at his junior college. He is not a troublemaker, but a straight-arrow. He is studying to enter a technical field such as microbiology or computer science—a field that could easily have him earning an annual salary of $22,000 to $37,000 in the upcoming five-year period. Florida has sales taxes ranging from 6% to 9.5% (and per capita tax revenues of $1,963.69). Instead of unnecessarily costing the state a lot of money at a time of fiscial crisis, Alex could easily be contributing between $1,320 and $3,515 in taxes each year, or $6,600 to $17,575 over five years.

Now what am I missing? What is the agenda of a prosecutor whose decisions would result in a cost to the State of Florida of $90,000 versus the collection of more than $9,000 in taxes? We are talking about a true cost to the state of about $100,000!

This is two to two-and-a-half times the salary of an assistant state attorney ($39,600-$45,000). Why is locking up Alex King such a priority for Colton’s office?

Alex is not an “offender” who poses any threat to society—hell, at the time of his father’s murder he was a victimized little boy who should never have been charged as an adult in the first place for a crime not of his making. As irrational as Colton’s VOP decision is, it is inconceivable to me that it can be chalked up to knuckle-dragging stupidity. Any simpleton who can do simple math can see the numbers don’t make any sense. No, the only conclusion that makes sense to me is that in Florida’s corrupted system of bought political influence, Alex King has more value to the prison-industrial complex as a “throw-away kid,” a body to warehouse at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, rather than as a contributor to the commonweal.

Say what you will about government, or even about law-and-order politicians and bureaucrats, I cannot believe that such nonsensical reasoning is the result of mere idiocy. It can’t even be attributed to conservative politics any more: even right-wing think tanks like “Right on Crime” are providing the political cover to defend a more rational and intelligent approach. In the context of the fleecing of taxpayers currently underway in Florida through the privatization of Florida’s prisons, it seems to me it has to be attributed to corruption.

In any event, whether I am right or wrong about the motivations behind this travesty, it is morally reprehensible.

In dealing with juveniles—whether through their schools, the courts, or prisons—the states are required by their own laws to work for the benefit of both the child and society. Yet you cannot benefit a child by denying his basic nature as a starting point for dealing with him. You cannot drug him, bag him, declare him an adult, treat him as something to be discarded, isolate and deprive him of basic human decency, and claim not to have abrogated the state’s obligations under the law.

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Violent Femmes performing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”

27
Dec
11

home

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to Louis Armstrong performing “Home (When Shadows Fall)”

26
Dec
11

home for the holidays

I’ll be back to work writing tomorrow. Like you, the bankers and postal workers, I’ve been chillin’ and socializin’. I hope you had a great holiday, too!

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to Perry Como performing “Home for the Holidays”

25
Dec
11

hockey smile

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Nat King Cole Trio performing “All I Want for Christmas”