The Gray Matter–The matter of 25 year old Freddy Gray’s death from a severed spine after being in police custody last week, has inspired peaceful protest for police reform, as well as outrageous violence, rioting, looting and arson. Gray was arrested by Baltimore Police 2 weeks ago. What exactly happened after he was taken into police custody is unclear, or at least unanswered to the public. The issue of police brutality has been painted in black and white, and the recent high profile cases of deaths occurring at the hands of police officers has much of the public outraged by excessive violence from the police.

The police departments have suggested that these tragedies have occurred within the confines of the law, and that violent suspects,or suspects near violence, have caused the police reactions. Kill or be killed. Is it just the rogue cop or two (in each precinct)? It’s got to be more than that.

Those who say that they understand the rage underneath the current violence in Baltimore because there are no longer decent jobs due to globalization, must be younger than I (and/or unaware of history). I was born and raised in B’more, and lived there until I was 17. Baltimore always seemed deeply segregated to me. Racially, economically, ethnically…..and there was a terribly impoverished inner city long before globalization. I moved from Baltimore in 1981. It was always an extremely dangerous (and sad) place to me, despite its other charms. There are beautiful areas, historic, cultural, quirky, and also the hideous stuff that provided the stories for “The Wire” and “Homicide”.

It is easy to lump all the recent police brutality incidents together; all these racially charged incidents together; impoverished areas with high crime rates together. There are indeed similarities and patterns.There also seems to be an unwillingness to acknowledge the entrenched tragedies on all sides: thugs who are cops and thugs who are not cops; an entrenched system of economic failure and a culture of violence; lack of vision; lack of hope; lack of change; lack of leadership; lack of decent homes, schools, or jobs; not being more.

The violence following the protests and funeral for Freddy Gray yesterday were disturbing and sad, but sadly, not unfamiliar nor unexpected. We wanted B’more to BE MORE. We want all of our communities to BE MORE for all of us. We want our police to BE MORE for all of us. We want our elected officials to BE MORE for all of us. We want our schools and medical facilities to BE MORE for all of us.

Maybe the takeaway from B’More is just that. Be More than your circumstances. Be More than your fears. Be More than your anger. Be More than your habits. Be More than your desires. Be More than you’ve been, or than you might have been. Be more for all of us.

It Is What It Isn’t

It isn’t bigotry; it’s freedom of religion. It isn’t mass murder; it’s Depression. It isn’t diplomacy; it’s appeasement.

It isn’t rape; it’s drunken sex. It isn’t obstruction; it’s Democracy. It isn’t murder; it’s self defense. It isn’t spying; it’s security. It isn’t union busting; it’s the right to work. It isn’t about public health; it’s about private choice.

It seems like we actually spend our lives on what something or someone isn’t. We have a tradition of distinguishing ourselves from others by emphasizing other-ness. Even with our history of civil rights and feminism, expanding rights for all sorts of people once excluded, the current zeitgeist is not one of inclusion and expansion. Critical thinking has largely been distorted into oppositional thinking.

Say it isn’t so!

We’ve shifted from what it is to what it isn’t, as we’ve been bombarded with challenges to our assumptions:

It’s a slam-dunk! (for which we are paying unimagined consequences in the Middle East).

It’s a no brainer!

It’s a sure thing!

It’s a 10!

It’s a boy!

It’s complicated.

The truth is, it is complicated. There are different views and facets and understandings and expressions of much of life. Concepts of gender, of life, of liberty, of religion, and so many constructs that were historically entrenched….are still evolving. It doesn’t feel like evolution when we seem so mired, and it is easy to feel despair.

It is what it is. The sigh of stalemate. We don’t hear “c’est la vie”  any more. We say “it is what it is”, like pop zen masters (or Winnie the Pooh). When we don’t know what else we can do, we can acknowledge that it is what it is. Move on.

We don’t seem to be moving on by what it isn’t. It isn’t right. It isn’t safe. It isn’t about you (or me). It isn’t working.

So many articles are written to sound as though previously held notions were naive, or misguided, or wrong. It’s as though some people think they sound smarter by debunking anything we’ve known prior to now. It seems as though everything you thought was true isn’t. It is what it isn’t. Aside from being able to eat butter and drink coffee now, this new moment of deconstruction requires critical thinking, not just being critical.  Some previously held ideas and constructs that seemed to be true and even natural deserve to be queried. But, not everything must be turned inside out or dismantled.  In fact, there seems to be a dearth of common sense and wisdom, much less decent behavior. And there is certainly a lack of common good.

So how do we move beyond it is what it isn’t? Acknowledge that it is what it is, but doesn’t always have to be this way or simply the mirror opposite (that way). Movement happens between (and/or beyond) those points–where there is space to move. We know there is a better way, isn’t there?


I can’t wait until Sunday night. I have been eagerly anticipating being swept away into another world — looking forward to the past.

Sunday night is the premier of Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad. Aside from looking forward to revisiting rich (and hilarious) characters from one of the truly great tv shows, and getting to watch the art that is the combination of great writing, directing and acting, there’s something compelling about a back story.

We love prequels–the stories written after, but that take place before, the stories we already know. Think: Godfather II, Wicked, Gotham, to name a few very successful prequels. These are the backstories of characters whom we originally met as adults in other stories, with qualities that made them distinctive. The prequels give us the stories of circumstances and relationships that gave rise to those distinctive qualities and formed those characters.

When watching or reading a prequel we already know what will happen years later. Many prequels, however, are less satisfying than the works that preceded them. It is a formidable task to re-create all the elements that worked so perfectly in preceding forms. It can also be confusing to talk about later works that are supposed to predate earlier ones, because in real life, we presume that the present includes all the knowledge and wisdom and information possible to make our circumstances the best possible.

In real life, we’ve seen a blowback to those who seem to live in a prequel to 2015. The 2015 outbreak of measles proves that vaccinations have been one of the crowning achievements of science of the 20th century. The measles vaccine has been available, albeit in different forms, for 50 years. Measles and other illnesses that once regularly killed, have been mostly eradicated with the use of vaccinations. But vaccinations only work if everyone uses them. In the 21st century, some have chosen to live a prequel–a recreated fiction that does not include the actual (scientific) knowledge that exists to date, but without considering consequences to others (who live in the present). The current outbreak suggests that those who have not vaccinated their children have actually contributed to this current outbreak of measles.

I understand the fears and questions relating to vaccines and other medical interventions. We have learned from medical mistakes (e.g. thalidomide, among others) and the concerns that we over use antibiotics and other medications and interventions are valid ones. That doesn’t diminish the essential value of antibiotics and vaccinations. They are life saving, and in the 21st century, their use and antiviral use, as well as other immunological interventions will evolve to be more individualized and precise so that they can be more effective.

When we read and watch prequels, we are always aware of what will ultimately happen. We have the most up to date knowledge and wisdom that the characters in the prequel don’t have. I am looking forward to watching the prequel of the character who looked like the ultimate ambulance chaser with his Better Call Saul ads on Breaking Bad. In real life, I am looking forward to the 21st century sequels to 20th century medical breakthroughs, and encourage those who seem to prefer the prequel, (those who have rejected vaccines), to consider their choices in the context of public health and safety. We already know the consequences.

Speech Pathology

While away visiting family and friends, I was not away from the horror of the terror that enveloped Paris. I may have been some 5,600 + miles from Paris, but I could be in the same zone of interest, despite the difference in time zones. I could converse via email with a cousin in Paris, and watch cable news and read analyses on my ipad, and post my sympathies.

Our extraordinary abilities to communicate through fiber optics, cables and signals anywhere, anytime, has transformed civilization in terms of immediate access, but what makes our civilization civilized is our capacity for consideration and compassion. Our advancement in technologies have allowed for an unprecedented flow of communication and movement, which has enabled expressions of hope as well as of hate .

Lately, the pathologies that have distorted and infected our lives with hate have manifested in abuse and violence in carefully orchestrated attacks upon innocents. The hostage takers at the kosher market in Paris spoke fluent French, yet did not speak the same language as their French hostages. The terrorists’ nihilism and dehumanization, was uttered using the same vocalized sounds and words that other French nationals would be familiar with, but there was no connection.

Some have argued that while there is absolutely no justification for violence or abuse, there must be social causes for such disaffection that would enable so many to seek a dangerous and violent path and wage war against Western Civilization. In essence, these people are looking for the pathologies in modern democratic societies that might explain the pathology of terrorism. Freedom, and lately our free speech, whether in the form of a silly comedy movie, or political cartoons, has been threatened with silencing. This is speech pathology!

Often, in cases of medical speech disorders, there is an auditory component. In order to learn language and speak effectively, one must have clear and accurate perception, as well as the structures and strength to create clearly understood speech. Too often, when toddlers are not articulating adequately, there is a hearing deficit. The relationship between being able to hear and speak is inextricable. Even without hearing, there is a capacity for language and communication. Sign language is every bit as expressive, and depends upon perception.

Those who don’t want to hear are seeking to silence the rest of us.This cultural speech pathology has affected those whose perception has them seek to destroy rather than to construct. The speech pathology that we have been witnessing has been so painful because our capacity for communication is so closely intertwined with our humanity and our culture. The pathology of repression and hate, expressed through abuse and violence must always be countered. There is certainly a deficit of hearing and a surfeit of misperception when such pathologies of repression and hate cause those to silence speech and fear freedom.

As I was en route to the airport to head home yesterday, I saw a sign for the “Museum of Tolerance”. I was struck by the idea of exhibiting tolerance. The thought that tolerance as a relic–something housed in a museum– was disturbing. Of course, using historical events as examples of tolerance (and intolerance) are powerful displays of human capacities (and pathologies). Then again, exhibiting tolerance is what we need to do in our daily lives. It’s a sort of speech therapy for the speech and hearing pathologies that have been so threatening.

Background Noise

I don’t remember giving THE TALK. I talked way too much for my kids (and my students). Ask my kids (biological or school related)….if I talked constantly. I was always talking about issues, right and wrong, behavior, respect, race, gender, sex, emergencies, dignity, acceptability, responsibility, apologizing, looking, listening, communicating, points of view,circumstances, choices, consequences, health, safety,community.

THE TALK used to mean ‘The Birds and the Bees”. Lately, THE TALK has been referenced with regard to racial profiling. Many parents of older kids or adult children have commented about having to give THE TALK to their non-caucasian children. Recently NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio commented that he had to “train” his son (who is biracial) to be very careful if encountered by a police officer.

I had always assumed that all parents, regardless of race, taught their children, regardless of race or gender, to be low key with the police. Teaching acceptable behaviors toward authority figures as well as from authority figures was part of the job of parenting and educating. 

Likewise, when those in positions of power abuse their circumstances, they need to be discussed and challenged . These are constant conversations. We must keep talking about right and wrong, personal responsibility, safety, and all the other non-sexy stuff that kids hate hearing about, even if they don’t want to talk about them.

The dual outrages of racism and sexual abuse that are far too frequent, must be talked about. How is there still so much confusion? THE TALK, must not only be these conversations, but must be connected to so many other issues.

All my talking and talking may have seemed like background noise to kids, but I am confident that they actually heard and got the messages. Noise essentially disrupts. We need to disrupt the complacency that is not only disempowering, but dangerous. These conversations are the background for creating clarity and justice and hopefully, safety.

Conversations about racial profiling, criminal behavior, abuse of power, sexual behavior, etc., are necessary before kids are 18. Considering different points of view and potential misperceptions are necessary for clarity, and for avoiding unintended consequences. We need to provide some cacophony for our kids, regardless of their backgrounds. They need to know how to be responsible to themselves and to others.

The young woman who is wearing sexy clothes is not asking to be raped, nor does she deserve to be raped. The young woman who is drunk is not asking to be raped, nor does she deserve to be raped. Certainly, the young woman who is passed out, who can’t ask for anything, does not deserve to be raped. We still need to tell our daughters and sons that this happens; that people take advantage in so many circumstances, even when they can get away with criminal behavior. We need to talk to all boys and girls, men and women. These are conversations for everyone, and should be part of everyone’s background.

It is not THE TALK. It is the environment of healthy agitation; of regular reminders and questions, pointers and examples to disrupt assumptions or matters that kids may not think matter to them.  They matter to all of us, and all children and adults need to practice thinking critically and being aware of consequences–even unintended consequences.

We all had some background noise from our parents and teachers. Some of us are noisier than others. If only certain talks are had at certain moments between certain people, we are all missing out, too often to dangerous results. A singular talk needs to become more pervasive, like background noise that we can all hear regularly.

Ghost Busters

It’s easy to feel dispirited by the news. But yesterday’s news of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation “techniques” following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, has me feeling somewhat positive– that is, between bouts of nausea.

The reports of torture are of course not entirely new, but they remain nauseating and shameful. In the 13 years since 9/11, these ghosts have been haunting us. Our own torturers have been lurking among us, but yesterday those ghosts got busted!

Even when we’ve been saddened and furious by seemingly misguided legal decisions–most recently in Ferguson and Staten Island, and before that in Sanford, Florida, as well as other similar cases– those calling for peace, non-violence, racial equality, accountability, dignity, life….you know….what we think of as fundamental to decent society… have essentially been ghost busting!

A country that formally stands for civil rights has seen too many incidents recently that seem to contradict that stance, and too often the negative spirit of racism hovers. The contradiction is unsettling.

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!

If it’s somethin’ weird an it won’t look good, who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!

Many will say that racism isn’t strange. Nor is police brutality. Nor the extreme version, as seen in the reports of CIA torture. Abuse is all too common, and until busted open, often legal.  (The same is true for sexism and sexual abuse.) But we know that the strangeness inherent in abusive behavior isn’t that it is rare; it is that such behavior is vile, and makes most of us extremely uncomfortable (as it should). The ghosts of racism and sexism and abuse of power still haunt us, but the current manifestations of these ghosts are getting busted.

I ain’t afraid a no ghost. I ain’t afraid a no ghost.

While some fear the possibility of inciting terrorists by revealing the Senate report on torture, ultimately it is better that we bust those ghosts of ours. Until we confront our own sanctioned behaviors and assumptions, conscious and unconscious, legal and moral, we will be haunted by ghosts.

I’ve never subscribed to what is often classified as “paranormal”. But if para-normal is actually beyond normal, then we can certainly move beyond the normal indignities that have accrued and caused distortions and fear and exaggerated reactions.

Each generation has its ghost busters. We must encourage this one and the next one. Hey–I hear there’s a new “Ghostbusters” movie in the making. Maybe ghost busting is in the air?


Last night, one of the stranger moments in American politics occurred. Already, you might be thinking….this should be a doozie. Moreover, it was one of the strangest moments in Florida politics. Now that’s saying something (without saying anything)!

Last night was the first gubernatorial debate between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov., and former Republican, now Democrat, Charlie Crist. Although I have grown to loathe these performances called debates, I agreed to watch and see if it was worth anything. The moderators were introduced and were about to introduce the candidates, when they were informed that both candidates were not yet available. Strange. Then Charlie Crist emerged and stood behind his podium. Alone. The moderators were flummoxed and clearly unprepared for such an occurrence. The camera zoomed in on an oscillating fan ensconced in the base of Crist’s podium. The moderator then explained that Crist had a fan, but that the rules of the debate included no electronics. Rick Scott refused to debate Crist as long as Crist had a fan.

Ultimately, after several minutes (which felt like much more), Gov. Rick Scott appeared, and commenced the performance as though he were just running a bit late. Huh?

While Crist was waiting at the podium, the moderator read the rule regarding electronics and a statement from the Scott camp suggesting that Scott would not agree to debate unless all the rules were upheld. This of course gave Crist the opportunity to truly own the stage, by commenting that they should be debating issues affecting Floridians, including education and the economy, climate issues, etc–not whether or not a fan can be used.

Soon, the Scott camp reversed itself, I’m guessing because someone realized that Crist was scoring a point or two at the expense of Scott who was obstructing, and Scott then appeared ready to rumble.

Then I turned off the debate. I can not imagine that anyone would have been moved one way or the other, except to perhaps confirm the notion that voting doesn’t matter. This is the tragedy. We are rather entrenched in our ideologies, and political parties ensure those divisions. Even those of us who want to find ways to govern that would include compromise, often end up voting party line when we don’t know enough or care enough. Of course, this reinforces the political chasm that has rendered our system largely unworkable and unaccomplished.

I used to love politics and real debate about ideas and governance. Now, I am NO FAN! We rely on media, which is notoriously unreliable for advancing knowledge, and a campaign system that is a farce and an insane waste of money. I have tuned out much of the noise that is supposed to be news. I am no longer a fan!

Fandom is a curious phenomenon. While we seek like minded or similarly experienced people, or teams, or performers who seem to express our preferences and/or allegiances, too often fandom (or the display of fandom) becomes the ultimate expression. Fans tend to relish their own energy and feel good about being supportive of something exciting. The excitement is as much about being a fan as it is about the performer. Die hard fans, often ignore (and perhaps excuse) problematic performances and behavior (from performers and fans). We see this in politics and sports, and even the aging rocker (and aging fans) who are happy just to be doing the same schtick as long as possible.

Now, I am not suggesting that we should not have fans or that we should not be fans. I am suggesting that too often people get stuck in not seeing beyond fans.

Where Goes the Neighborhood?

It’s hard to beat Rodney Dangerfield’s epitaph: There goes the neighborhood. He took his self-deprecating humor with him all the way to the grave.

Of course, neighborhoods are for the living. While the thought of a cemetery as a neighborhood is rather humorous, the thought of a neighborhood becoming a cemetery is harrowing.

Neighborhoods without “neighborliness” are perilous. Neighbors are people in communities in close proximity to another set of people, but being neighborly implies friendly attitudes and behavior; or at the very least, not destructive attitudes and behavior.  The shortened slang term for neighborhood, “hood”, emerged from violent inner city areas. Dropping the “neighbor” from “neighborhood” implied much more than an abbreviation.

For the past few weeks, we have been following horrific crises caused by violence in Ukraine, the Middle East (ISIS, as well as the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, “Operation Protective Edge”), and in our own hemisphere, kids fleeing Central America on deadly journeys hoping to reach safety and their parents in the USA. These crises have been building for some time, but the unbearable circumstances causing the current crises seem too overwhelming to fathom, much less resolve adequately.

The horrors in all these crises are devastating, and the conflicts seem intractable. Hoodlums have military grade weapons and local power. Those neighborhoods are fast becoming cemeteries. While I am grateful to be living in a peaceful neighborhood far from these crises, it is still immensely disconcerting to consider the prevalence of terror and violence and disregard for humanity.

Most of us, however, teach our children to be good neighbors; to show respect and caring. We teach our children to extend this respect to others. “Neighbor” becomes a concept beyond proximity. We seek acceptance and friendship, or at least cooperation.Being a neighbor is not a unilateral proposition. Being a neighbor necessitates co-existence.

History has been fraught with violent conflicts between peoples, borders, nations, states, drug lords, territories, ideologies, and various sub-categories. History has also been made by neighbors; building communities, and rebuilding them after destruction.

A cemetery is not a neighborhood. Neighborhoods are for living–built and maintained by people committed to law and order, allowing for freedom from oppression and maintaining peaceful co-existence. It is distressing and sometimes paralyzing to watch as terrorists,tyrants and all sorts of thugs turn neighborhoods into cemeteries. Neighborhoods require care and attention. We must insist that leaders dismantle the political, organizational and military machinery that oppresses and violently destroys lives. While the neighborhood watch continues, we must also regard not just where we live, but how we live. How can we ensure peace, freedom and security for our children and for our neighbors’ children? They are never really that far away.




Too many people seem to think that they alone have clarity and authority, and use their voices as weapons rather than as tools for construction.

Criticism is easy. Acknowledging uncomfortable truths that may cloud a stance seems to be much trickier, and is missing in most of the media. This is the habit of the 21st century thus far, as it plays out in politics and media everywhere–including in the USA. “Either you are with us or you are against us.” That has been true for the left and the right, and the rational middle either keeps quiet or is kept quiet by the bluster.

The fear of acknowledging any truth to other sides, or attempting to understand how other people can see a situation from such a different perspective, is part of our dumbing down. Politics, whether domestic or international, is more than a lost art. It is a blood sport–quite literally, around the globe.

Clearly, education has failed US. Rather than broadening our minds, we seem less able to consider the complexities of our world. Rather than seeking wisdom through education, we reflect a bombastic, reductionist culture that claims to love freedom, but has yet to understand the complexities and compromises of liberty and peace.

Freedom to rant and incite is not the goal of this experiment called Democracy. Telling part of a story with hyperbole is propaganda–whether the story is familiar or new. We use pieces of stories to construct whole narratives that, more often than not, distort truth. Tweets and posts and thoughtless news (and faux news) stories are cacophonous and foment hate and anxiety.

All these pieces that get aired and posted to justify the rights of one side (and the wrongs of the other) are too often just bits and pieces–fragments of truth. We have become more dedicated to our piece than to our peace.

When I decided to become an educator, I saw education as the path to peace. Clearly, knowing (or reading or hearing) isolated facts does not equal education. An educated mind is one that can weigh facts and opinions, and consider consequences–intended and unintended. Education is the opportunity to engage beyond one’s circumstance and experience. The old saying “knowledge is power” has become distorted by the deception that we are better informed because we have more cables and channels and devices. We have much more input, but seemingly less real knowledge and much less depth. Our broad bands connect us with pieces of information that get used for the pursuit of power more than for the pursuit of peace.

Perhaps old constructs need to be reconsidered, especially in this digital media age. What would it take to consider or possibly accept additional points of view? A piece of this? And a piece of that?  It may be the only way to pursue peace and not go to pieces.

Shaken. Not Stirred.

Breaking News: Gunman kills student in school shooting. This is any day, USA. Yesterday it was the Las Vegas “anti-government” shooters. Over the weekend, three people were killed and 20 were wounded in shootings in Chicago. That’s one weekend in one city. You’ve seen the newsflashes. The horrors seem to be more frequent. There is more hysteria when the shootings are suburban or in schools (or malls or movie theaters). What was once (or twice or thrice) regarded as an anomaly, has become a daily news story. Yes. DAILY.

We are being terrorized. This time it is from within. We have always been a violent society, struggling to overcome violent impulses and histories. We have  also always cherished individual liberty, but wrestled with balancing individual freedoms with public safety and well being. As more groups of people who were historically disenfranchised have greater access to social, economic and political equality, individuals who feel threatened or disenfranchised have become more emboldened and, in too many instances, violent. The violence is not only self-inflicted, but too often the shooter’s personal drama becomes the unending pain of so many others directly affected by the seemingly random madness. The shooter’s disconnection from humanity may not resonate with many others who would probably reject violence, but the shootings reverberate and shake us to our core.

Even sadder, it seems as though the only ones who are stirred are the disaffected. For those who are driven by madness, we need to make it harder for them to act upon violent fantasies. Where is the leadership? Tweets and petitions may stir some folks into demanding change, but more serious legislation is necessary. Where is the outrage? What does it take to stir political leaders to act?