Out of control

My buddy Craig called me a few weeks ago (he’s been very good about staying connected in the age of coronavirus) and we wound up chatting about a wide range of subjects. Somehow, the topic of the India-China border spat came up. (“Somehow” = I brought it up.)

In case you’re not up to date on silly international skirmishes (the list is rather long), apparently India and China have been bickering over a border for decades. Yes, decades. (1962 Sino-Indian War, to be specific.)

The disputed border has the Monty Python-esque name of “The Line of Actual Control.” Or maybe it sounds like something from the old Get Smart TV show.

It would be laughable… if it weren’t for the fact that people are still dying fighting over a patch of dirt. On June 15th, Chinese and Indian troops clashed at the border. More than 20 soldiers died.

soldiers wielded iron bars and threw rocks and punches on the steep, jagged terrain. Many of the deaths occurred when troops fell off mountain ridges


Will we ever get to a day when these border arguments end? You’d think that a pandemic would make us realize how interconnected we are. I keep thinking of the great lyrics of the song “Territories” from Rush:

In every place with a name
They play the same territorial game
Hiding behind the lines
Sending up warning signs

The whole wide world
An endless universe
Yet we keep looking through
The eyeglass in reverse
Don’t feed the people
But we feed the machines
Can’t really feel
What international means

The final couplet really sticks with me:

Better the pride that resides
In a citizen of the world
Than the pride that divides
When a colourful rag is unfurled

Full song lyrics can be found on the Rush website

Craig sent me a text earlier this week with the line “you can sleep a little easier now” and this image:

Thank heavens they’re working toward “peace and tranquility.” But why has it been going on since 1962?

Maybe, eventually, both sides will realize that there is no Line of Actual Control (literally and figuratively). Much of life is complete chaos. Can’t we respond with kindness, instead of rocks and clubs?


Police and thieves

The death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others is about flaws in the police system, yes. But it’s a bigger problem than that, and if we want to know the root cause, we probably should look in the mirror.

Check out this one-minute audio clip from a recent Fresh Air episode featuring an interview with Jamiles Lartey, a Journalist who ​writes about criminal justice, race and policing for the non-profit news organization ‘The Marshall Project’:

(The full episode is near the end of this post, well worth a listen.)

Jon Stewart shared similar thoughts in his recent New York Times Magazine interview:

Jamiles and Jon are right. It’s not “those rogue cops” it’s “us.” We’ve robbed people of their dignity, stolen their rights, denied them equality… or at bare minimum been a silent accomplice to these crimes against our shared humanity.

We’ve got to address the root issues. And while we’re at it, let’s not paint all police officers with a broad brush. Let’s not conflate peaceful protest with rioting. Let’s be thankful for the millions of brave men and women who uphold their oath to “serve and protect.”

Let’s look beyond the surface, the 30-second news clips, the shouting and the screaming and the finger-pointing… and let’s all (“we the people”) find ways to move our society toward those cherished ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

2020: The Odyssey continues

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Zora Neale Hurston

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Poster art above by Cincinnati teenager Owen Gunderman, a.k.a. Tenzing. See more on his Instagram and YouTube channel.)

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

Desmond Tutu

“The more that we allow our hearts to expand to love, deeply appreciate, and feel inextricably tied to the places, things and people of this world, the more we are likely to take a stand on behalf of what we value.”

Kristi Nelson

Friendship Friday

Several weeks ago, I received a lovely gift and a short-but-sweet note from an old friend. She sent them in December, but it took a long while for the parcel to make its way across the pond.

Mija and I met in September of 1990. A Slovenian and an American in the south of Ireland. Two Slovenians, actually, as Mija was traveling with her friend Damjana. A month or so later, I reconnected with both of them in Ljublana as my sister and I were making our way across the continent. They were gracious enough to let us stay in their homes (a major upgrade from the youth hostels) and give us a guided tour of their hometown. I will never forget their kindness.

I’ve stayed in touch with both Mija and Damjana over the years, as they’ve each married, had two kids, and navigated the uncharted waters of adulthood. But I haven’t seen Mija in 30 years.

“Pen pals” is what they used to call it, and what it used to be. Now it’s the occasional email for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas… except for the note that Mija wrote at the end of 2019. Looks like we’re still pen pals.

Mija and Damjana tried to teach my sister and me a few Slovenian words back in 1990. Fittingly, the only one I remember is “hvala”… “thank you.” I will cherish the cup. I cherish the friendship even more.

College is a time for experimentation

Slowly but surely, more and more colleges are scheduling a return to campus for the Fall, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a predicted “second wave” when the weather turns colder.

The University of Notre Dame was one of the first to announce a return — they have 74,933 reasons to do so for each student:

Source: University of Notre Dame website

Most college kids (mine included) were sent home around mid-March this year. Shortly thereafter, a lot of parents probably started doing some math… “What are we paying for if Junior is just staring at a laptop screen in our living room?”

What’s that ivory tower in the background worth?

Sure, most universities pro-rated room and board charges and sent a refund check to parents, but tuition for virtual learning was still taking a big bite out of their actual wallet.

Without the trappings of college… the football and basketball games, dorm life, the frat and sorority parties, homecoming weekend… why should someone fork over 30, 40, 50, 60, even 70-grand a year so Junior can get his degree?

Heck, online schools like Southern New Hampshire U. offer a lot of the same programs at a fraction of the cost, and the kid would still be staring at the same laptop screen. Those schools have been doing online courses for a long time too, so the programming is more polished, and the student experience is probably better. Kids are getting used to learning stuff via videos anyway… maybe instead of dropping $70K at ND, you can just pay $50 a month for a good wi-fi connection, and send the kids to YouTube U.

I’m not saying kids will drop out of college in droves, but I am saying the pandemic is a wake-up call for higher education. They’re realizing they need to up their game, and show a better ROI than “prestige”… especially when they’re competing for a smaller pool of students:

U.S. demographics are also shifting. The number of high school graduates is flat — and in some cases declining — because of lower birth rates about 20 years ago. Those numbers are also projected to decline, so the trend of fewer students coming from high school isn’t going away anytime soon.

From this NPR article, December 2019 (pre-pandemic)

You can’t spell “pandemic” without “panic” and my hunch is a lot of college administrators are getting a bit worried about a serious outbreak of tuition attrition.

It’s no laughing matter now…

Maybe all these colleges have a thoroughly vetted plan for bringing kids back to campus in a couple of months and keeping them safe. But some of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks so far have been in prisons, and the dorms at most colleges have a pretty similar layout. (I know firsthand about the latter… not the former. Honest!) I have a hunch that a lot of schools are basing back-to-school on a wing and a prayer… and “business as usual” is more about the health of their business than it is about the health of their students.

Searching for answers

Like most Americans, I’ve spent the past several days searching for answers to the latest (but sadly probably not the last) senseless murder of an African American. I’ve been reading a lot. This CNN article lays out racial inequality pretty simply and starkly. It started with slavery, but it’s continued to fester. Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws. Segregation. Redlining. Building interstates through black neighborhoods. Basing school funding on property taxes. The list goes on and on.

I’ve also been listening to quite a few podcasts that cover not just the George Floyd case, but the underlying causes of these sad outcomes. The Fresh Air interview below is one of the best I’ve heard. Terry Gross interviews Wes Moore, the author of several books about racial disparities, including his new one Five Days about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015. (A similar situation to George Floyd… we haven’t really made much progress in the past five years.)

The entire interview is below, but here’s a five-minute snippet that really brought things home for me:

We have be able to address this level of inequitable policing that takes place in our societies and the lack of accountability that takes place when improper actions happen. We also have to deal with the underlying conditions that our citizens — and oftentimes our citizens of color — are repeatedly being allowed and being forced to endure. And if we don’t address both those two things together, we will continue just having to deal with the pain of the consequence of the one.”

Wes Moore

I couldn’t agree more. This is about much more than rogue cops… that’s just a symptom of a much larger disease. The systems are broken: poverty, systemic racism, housing inequalities, economic opportunities for minorities, health care.

We have to change the systems. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But watching the peaceful protests, I’m hopeful and optimistic that the tide is finally turning… and a change is gonna come real soon.

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