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'Tis the season?

I consider myself a patient person. But that patience seems a bit short at the moment. I realized again tonight that if I get through the time from now to the election without having a serious political argument with someone(s), it will be a tribute to my ability to be diplomatic. Or tactful. Or simply to walk away.

Don't take any bets one way or the other on the outcome.

Brain wandering

Chain of thought: Heard today, a country song in which a farmer prays that his crops and his kids continue to grow. Which leads to ...

This thought: Farming is an act of hope and of faith. Which leads to ...

This thought: Teaching is also an act of hope and of faith. Which leads to ...

This sideroad: Both my parents were farm kids. Ironically -- or, perhaps, intentionally -- I was raised in small towns. But somehow, my career wanderings have led me to a place where, at the risk of cliche-ing, I plant seeds and have hope that something will grow.

And sometimes, I discover that the seeds grew beautifully. Last week, for example, I stood with one of my now-former advisees at our university's first-ever multicultural stoling ceremony. I knew Alicia and I had made a connection. But I didn't realize fully what that connection meant to her until I heard her words at the ceremony.

She said she had been searching for the right academic direction when she brought her seeds of curiosity about journalism into the 101 class I was teaching. (My metaphor, not hers.) I watered that curiosity with my own passion for this field. She decided anything that could prompt that passion was worth a deeper look -- and that deeper look led to her own passion.

Alicia cares about people. She'd have found her way into some field that allowed her to act on that caring. But I'm deeply grateful to hear from her that I helped her find her way into a field I still love.

Planting seeds. An act of hope and faith. Somehow I suspect my farm kid parents would recognize this place.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a little girl who was going to a public school. Her school started each day with all the students saying The Lord's Prayer. (This was a very long time ago.)

But the little girl was confused. She also knew The Lord's Prayer, but she had learned a very different ending. Is this the same prayer, she wondered. Was she remembering it wrong? All of her classmates and her teacher were saying this other ending ...

... So she asked her mother. And her mother, who knew about these things and many others, told the little girl there were actually two versions of The Lord's Prayer. One was the version she was hearing in school. The other, which was also right, was the version she had carefully learned.

And her mother even had a solution to what to do about this different ending. "Just say 'amen' where you always have," she told the little girl, "and let everyone else finish it the way they've learned."

And the little girl was no longer confused. She used her mother's very wise solution until one day Something Happened and they no longer started the school day with The Lord's Prayer.

Much later, she learned that Something was a Supreme Court decision which ruled that prayer in schools was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Sometime after that, she and her brother were looking back on their school days. The conversation bent and turned and somehow arrived at the question of The Lord's Prayer.

Her brother, who hadn't asked their mother, said he'd spent a long time convinced that he was saying the prayer wrong. That made the not-so-little girl sad, picturing her little brother thinking he was the only one in a whole classroom who didn't know the right prayer.

I think of that little girl (yes, you are guessing her name) any time I read a quote like this one, from tonight's local paper: Speaking on a decision to hang a plaque reading "In God we trust" in the legislative chambers of the county next to mine, a legislator said "I just think it's too bad we can't ... put God back in our schools. We've obviously taken him out, and he needs to return."

Let me translate that for you: "We can't dictate that every one in school should honor the same God with exactly the same words we would use, so we will assume God is nowhere to be found in schools."

And this: "We insist that the only proper way to honor God is through our chosen words and the only God worth honoring is the one we worship."

I was in school when that Supreme Court decision ended prayer in public schools. It didn't prevent me from breathing a quiet prayer before a test that was worrying me or before I was supposed to do something in gym that I suspected was going to be a fiasco. I've never done a survey, but I doubt I'm the only student who quietly sought divine help, then or now.

So perhaps the Supreme Court didn't actually banish God from schools. Perhaps what they actually did was to tell schools they couldn't teach their students that there is only one proper set of words to use to honor God and only one God worthy of that honor.

That decision may make some legislators unhappy. But it will save some little girls and little boys from wondering if their parents had taught them the wrong ideas of God.
Tonight's subject of Penshark confusion: The idea that all criticism is automatically a negative thing and if you truly liked/loved the subject, you wouldn't see the problems.

Where did that come from? It's not new; I'm old enough to remember the "America: Love it or leave it" slogans of the Vietnam War era.

But even then, it seemed the adherents were missing something. Even the teenage me realized it was possible to offer criticism of someone or something you loved ... because you loved it and wanted it to be its better self.

I'm not immune to the downside of criticism. Often, I've already beaten myself up with the "shouldas." But I've been gifted with people who can show me where I can do better in a way that doesn't leave me wondering if I'll ever figure it out. (One of those was the founder of the program in which I now teach. I steal some of his approaches, and I've told students they see his influence in the way I work.)

What's left me pondering this again is a couple of pages on Facebook focused on local content. One, which is open to positive and negative, has drawn a commentator who is relentlessly posting the "well, what do you expect of this place?" comments. It leaves me wondering why he still lives here, if the place is really that offensive to him.

But the other page, open only to things deemed positive, quickly pulled a comment critical of a new restaurant. Given their rules for the page, I get why it disappeared. But if I were the business owner, I'd want to know that at least one customer had a seemingly very bad experience with things (like food and service) that I might need to fix. That opinion isn't likely to vanish -- it's probably headed for the Word of Mouth Express as I type this. Some airlines have demonstrated how to turn that type of criticism into a virtue ... at least for those people who realize criticism can be meant to help build something better.

Sadly, we're in a time where many assume people who disagree with them are stupid or evil. From there, it's an even easier jump to the "love it or leave it" territory.

One nation..?

I have some trouble saying the Pledge of Allegiance these days.

That's not a moot point, since one organization to which I belong starts every meeting by saying the Pledge. And every time, I stumble over one word.


That may have been true in 1892, when the Pledge was published in The Youth's Companion magazine. But it's rarely been less true in my lifetime.

I've always been interested in politics, although some years, very much including this one, I wonder why. But I listen to some of the rhetoric around the campaign and I wonder why we can't see other people who disagree with us as, well, as people. People with dreams and hopes and fears.

And -- perish the thought -- people who may have come to their beliefs after giving some honest thought and who are holding those beliefs in good faith.

Instead, we have a front-running candidate who seemingly sees the world as Us, virtuous and wonderful and always right, and Them, the evil ones who Aren't Like Us.

It suggests that the front-runner has already built a wall -- one that walls him away from everyone who isn't like him and who doesn't buy into his vision. I'm happy to be on the outside of that wall.

But that puts me in the same group I wonder about. I watch and listen to the rhetoric and I wonder how anyone can hold those beliefs in good faith.

Indivisible? Not any time soon, I fear.

An observation in search of more words

Product of some conversations and some reading and a movie: If the newspaper industry dies before it can fully reinvent itself, the death will be blamed on the internet. And to be sure, the 'net will share some of the blame. Newspapers were among the first things affected by our craving for all the information all the time with none of the cost.

But -- you maybe hear it here first? -- that will not be the only cause of death. Sharing guilt will be stupid management. That's stupid management that worried more about keeping very fat profit margins than about the tornado heading their way. And stupid management who couldn't figure out that paying good people crap wages ... and asking them to work in conditions that make it clear that you don't value them ... will mean you lose those good people to other places.

And, the subject of two recent conversations, stupid management that doesn't realize it takes PEOPLE and TIME to do the kind of work that attracts and keeps readers in 2016. Readers can find garbage writing and shallow reporting in far too many other places. They don't need to give their local paper $1 or so per issue for the same junk.

Sad but true

I watched "All the President's Men" with my two 101 sections to close out this semester. On the good side: I'd forgotten how much I enjoy that movie. I also had the pleasure of watching many of the students get intrigued, some in spite of themselves.

But I walked away with one rueful thought: I wonder how many news organizations today would have given Woodward and Bernstein the time and resources to do the reporting they needed to find the Watergate story that was there. I'd like to believe I'd be pleasantly surprised ... but I doubt it.

Random thoughts

1. "I was misquoted/misunderstood/taken out of context" is used as an excuse so often that I admit I usually don't believe it. It too frequently translates this way: "Oh, were you actually listening to my stupid comments?" or "Oh, I didn't know you were going to put THAT in the story." (Extra demerits are given if the speaker is a public figure with plenty of experience in dealing with the media.)

2. I'd really hoped we were long past the "love it or leave it" mentality. It appears not. Just for the record, sometimes groups or even countries are criticized because the critic believes they can and should do better. Listen carefully: Some criticism is simply slamming, but a lot of what's being said lately is an honest attempt to make a situation better.

Idle musing

Last I looked, there were about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. Many of us have had mastectomies. Some of =that= number have, for a variety of reasons, not done reconstruction.

So you'd think retailers might realize there is a market for summer dresses that aren't sleeveless (the better to show scars) with cut-down-to-here cleavage, yes? Nope.

And it's particularly bewildering when one of the retailers, Lands End, has a swimsuit collection that makes it clear someone in house does understand.

Will this make sense?

Perhaps someday I'll understand how you pay for a college education, but then skip classes and do a half-assed job on the classwork ... but I doubt it.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering what a couple of students could have done if they gave a damn.



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July 2016
"Laughter, like love, has power to survive the worst things life has to offer. And to do it with style."
-- Jim Butcher, from "Blood Rites"


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