Category Archives: miscellaneous

Private Colleges paying students to take a year off from school

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The associated press is reporting that there is a new movement afoot in private universities and colleges.  They are providing financial aid to “needy” students to take a year off between high school and college, so they can take a “gap” year to travel and experience the world, apparently like many of their more wealthy applicants are able to do.

Are you kidding me?  In a world, where higher education costs have increased more than 1,120% in thirty years, where college is increasingly out of the reach of many Americans, selective universities are PAYING students to go travel the world?   I have a better idea — MAKE EVERY student who enrolls at Princeton take a year working a crap minimum wage job BEFORE starting college.  Don’t PAY them to do it – make them live on that wage, and then let them enter the university.  That might not let students travel the world, but it will give them a taste of what life is like for many Americans.   

In the AP Story they report that this new trend extends beyond Princeton and Tufts, even smaller private colleges like St. Norbert’s College in Wisconsin are doing this.   I went to a college very similar to St. Norbert.  A college that cost $10,000 per year in 1986 (still a LOT of money); today cost more than $48,000 a year.  One year there today equals the total cost of a four year education in the late 1980s.   Is there four times the value of the education today?    

I guess I am not surprised that these elite institutions are offering such perks.   But the fact that these institutions take federal monies in many ways, really irks me to no end.   Given the crisis we face in the world of public higher education funding, how on earth anyone can justify providing funding to allow students to “take a gap year” and “explore the world” is beyond me.   Let them work at minimum wage, and experience “the world.”   Fries with that?  

Unexpected reflection of visiting the Washington tornado site

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I attended presbytery meetings today (the presbytery is the regional body of the Presbyterian Church (USA)).  Our assembly meetings are held in Washington, Illinois, less than a quarter of a mile from where an F-4 tornado cut a swath of destruction through the city last November.  The tornado was on the ground for 46 miles, caused the deaths of three people, and at least $800 million in damage.   The last part of our day-long meeting consisted of an update on tornado recovery from Presbyterian Disaster Services, and two testimonials from people from Washington.

The first woman who spoke was a farmer from the edge of town, whose farm, barns, and sheds were completely destroyed. As were the six buildings across the road (what had once been her grandmother’s farm and had been in the family for several generations). They are beginning the slow process of rebuilding, but need to be patient, and wait for the land to dry – first the snow to melt – then the mud to dry –  to clean the debris from the fields – they will be going through with a six foot magnet to try to remove the numerous nails that are in the fields, along with much else in debris fields small and large. She hopes they will be able to plant soy this year; they aren’t even going to try for corn.  It was a powerful and sobering testimonial.

When the meeting ended, I decided to drive through the disaster area.  While it did not look like what it did in November, as much of the piles of residential debris was cleaned up, it was a truly surreal experience. I drove past an elementary school and two nursing homes/care facilities,both undamaged, and then there were subdivisions – that looked like new neighborhoods going up. But then you’d notice there were roofs missing from houses, and others reduced to foundations. At one point there was a vacant lot with an American flag sticking out of the ground.  It was a strange sense of new life, as people’s homes and neighborhoods were being rebuilt, surrounded by still many homes that were still in ruins.

I continued on, and came around a bend, seeing more of the swath of the destruction, and as I turned north towards US 24, I realized I was looking at a field, and saw a lone tree – the remains of it anyway – – and there was what had been those six buildings of the grandmother’s farm. I quickly turned to the left, and there was the brick shell of the woman’s home. It was pretty inconceivable really. And made her talk even more powerful in strange ways.  I was struck by the power of nature, and how quickly it can turn the world upside down.  It looked like what I’d imagine the aftermath of a nuclear blast would be. And yet, that family is determined to rebuild, and put their farm back to work.  

I walk away from today’s meetings with a different perspective – and a sense of respect for the power of nature, and the power of the human spirit to overcome.  In the weeks after the tornado, Washington began referring to itself as “Washington Strong” – and they certainly are.  

Today’s tale of the absurd in the world of law enforcement reasoning

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Yesterday I provided a quote from the remarkable dissent from People v Weaver, a 1991 Court of Appeals decision involving a drug profile.   Today I’d like to share the reasoning (accepted by the Court’s majority, written by Judge Roger Wollman) as the basis of reasonable suspicion for a stop.

[An officer is waiting at the Kansas City Airport, watching people get off of a flight from Los Angeles at 6:45am].  As Weaver disembarked from Flight 650, he caught Officer Hick’s attention because he was a “roughly dressed” young black male who was carrying two bags and walking rapidly, almost running, down the concourse towards a door leading to a taxi stand.    Because Hicks was aware that a number of young roughly dressed black males from street gangs in Los Angeles frequently brought cocaine into the Kansas City area and that walking quickly towards a taxicab was a common characteristic of narcotics couriers at the airport, he became suspicious that Weaver was a drug trafficker.   –  People v Weaver, 966 F.2d 391 (1992) (Judge Roger Wollman).  

Wait, are you kidding me?  A “roughly dressed” young black man walking swiftly towards a taxi-cab after getting off a 3 or 4 hour flight is suspicious, since Los Angeles is a source city for narcotics in the midwest?  

I’ll say it again, are you kidding me?     This is a classic example of the way judges – particularly federal judges – accept wholeheartedly and uncritically – the rationales that law enforcement make up for profiling in the war on drugs.    While we can lay much blame for racial profiling on the police,  the Judicial branch deserves its share of blame for allowing such travesties of justice.   

In response to ignorance about the jewel of the national park system

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An incredibly ignorant letter to the editor appeared in today’s issue of the Bloomington Pantagraph calling for privatizing Yellowstone National Park and opening it up to investment for things such as timber harvesting. 
My letter in response.

To the editor:

The letter about Yellowstone from March 4 is short-sighted and ignorant. Yes, there is limited lodging in Yellowstone, and narrow 2-lane roads. The National Park Service efficiently manages the park’s 3 million annual visitors and provides an appropriate balance between human interaction and the wildlife that exist in its near-wilderness state. The letter writer wants Yellowstone to become the Wisconsin Dells, complete with road-side zoos, water parks, and luxury hotels. He apparently thinks we should also open the park’s pristine forests for timber harvesting, perhaps to reduce the threat of wildfire?

It is only when Yellowstone is experienced from off those two-lane roads that you can truly appreciate its wonder. Venture beyond Old Faithful or the overlooks of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and hike the Hayden Valley’s backcountry in the midst of the great Yellowstone caldera. The park’s majesty is revealed when you encounter a free-roaming herd of bison or elk in their natural environment, or go on a hunt for backcountry thermal mud pots. It all comes into focus when you climb Mt. Washburn, only to slowly detour around the rocky mountain big horn sheep that make the summit their home, before viewing the entire Yellowstone basin. In the Yellowstone Dells the letter writer proposes, that would all be lost. Yellowstone is a jewel of the national park system. It is protected and well managed. It is not the Dells, and thank God for that. 

The enemy’s gate is down…. thoughts on the Enders Game movie

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I said in a Facebook status update that I love the book Ender’s Game. I do. I read it every year.  It is one of my all-time favorite reads.  In both print and even more in the unabridged audiobook. To me Stephan Rudnicki will always be the voice of Ender, and Gabrielle de Cuir the voice of Valentine.  

But I had mixed feelings about going to see this film for two reasons:

1)  I hate giving more money to the author Orson Scott Card, who has proven himself to be one hell of a bigot in recent years.   His anti-gay rants bother me.  Big time.    But I am not going to allow that to not let me enjoy a dramatization of one of my all-time favorite books, which have NOTHING to do with his close-minded bigotry.  His being a bigot does not take away from Ender’s Game being the award winning novel that it is.   

2) I was incredibly leery of the film from the first previews.   All the kids were teenagers. Enders Game is a story of children.  Ender is 6 when he goes to Battle School, 10 when he graduates, 12 when he, ahem… finishes Command School. In this film all the actors are teenagers in the 12-15 year ago;  the girls look to be more like 15-17.  And the launch group seems to be half-girls.    

But I told myself to “forget the book.” This is a movie, it is a loose adaptation of the book. Enjoy it for what it is. The teachers are still the enemy, and the enemy’s gate is down.  Yeah, ok.   So I said that 10 or 20 times, and went to the theater.

I managed, for the most time to keep my “why isn’t this here? why did they do that with that character? etc…” out of my view.    i absolutely loved being immersed into the world of Ender’s Game, and thought some of it was really good.

I think Asa Butterfield did a great job as Ender.   Same with Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.  I loved seeing Mazer sitting in Ender’s room, in that prostrate position.   Just like in a drawing of it from the graphic novelization.  I was sold.   I could live Viola Davis cast as  Major Anderson, I guess the major could be a woman. It worked.   

I have ONE casting issue that I could not get away from the book with.  Ender was a stinking foot taller than Bonzo Madrid?  Why on earth would Bonzo even be intimidating, other than that he was a bit muscular?   I wanted — No —  I needed Bonzo to be a foot taller, and intimidating.  

But I tried to think, If I did not know this story, would I walk away understanding it, or persuaded by it?  For example,  they move very quickly, it seems as if the whole story takes place in maybe a year.     Ok, I guess… but did Ender do anything in that short time which would make him stand out as the one last great hope for humanity?  I don’t know.  It seemed forced.    WHY was Ender better than Alai? Or Bean, or Petra?  Or any of them?     

And I started to cringe when Ender was holding Petra’s hand.   I thought, NO!   Don’t go there!   There is no kissing in battle school!!!   Luckily, that didn’t happen.  But it was almost there.  And if they did, I would probably have burst out swearing in Battle school slang.  

My son asked me when it was over – “what was that with Valentine and the dream?”    I don’t think they pulled off the ending very well.  I got it;  but I heard several people walking out kind of shaking their heads, “this is it?”   “What happened there?”     

I think the film-makers could have kept the film basically the same length and managed to spread out the story a bit.  They could have made a transition with something like “two years later” or something like that.  And still used the same actors.  They were teenagers anyways.   It might have made for a more compelling story on its own.  

Did I enjoy it?  Yes,   was I disappointed?   Not as much as I expected to be. Indeed, I’ll probably get the Blu-ray.    In many ways my criticism of the film is a lot like my criticism of the first JJ Abrams Trek (No, Not about the alternate universe, don’t go there!) in terms of plot holes and plot devices that did not quite work for me (i.e., take a disgraced cadet and make him first officer of the flagship, yeah, that makes sense!).     If I were to grade the film, I’d give it a low B.   Still a good paper, but not quite where it could be.    

Advice for iPhone users chomping at the bit for iOS 7

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Some advice for those of you iPhone and iPad users chomping at the bit for iOS7, which will drop in the next several hours.

1. Backup to itunes and to iCloud FIRST. Gotta make sure you don’t lose everything if something goes wrong.

2. Don’t whine about the new icons. In a week, you won’t even notice them.

3. The iPad beta software was buggy through the last release. No promises it has attained the “smooth as butter” quality of approval. The iPhone 5, however, is so smooth that when you say “Parkay” you will swear you heard “butter”

4. Your battery will initially drain faster – not only because you are using the phone MORE to test out the new features – but because the battery needs to be re-calibrated. After the OS is fully setup, do a hard reset – Hold down Power/Home for about 15 seconds and let it reset. In a day or so, the battery life will be normal.

Be Safe Out There.

The morning after the Syrian debacle

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It is being reported that the US agreed to a plan to remove chemical weapons from Syria by mid-2014, avoiding military strikes.   The Obama administration will claim victory and argue that were it not for the credible threat of US military strikes, the Russians and Syrians would never have agreed to this.   Sure, if that’s what they need to do to save face, fine. 

But what are the collateral consequences of President Obama’s foray into Bush-like warmongering?   The president alienated his already frayed and tattered core constituents, and damaged his public approval ratings. The president gave the GOP the ability to look like they are peace-niks.   He forced his own Party to decide between supporting their party leader and sacrificing principles or siding with their disingenuous GOP counterparts (who never met a war in the modern period they didn’t like, but were primarily opposed to this just BECAUSE Obama was calling for it.)  

So, now that this war threat is apparently over, the GOP can go back to their traditional hawk stances.   They can return to the process of trying to dismantle federal social programs, and further the interest of the extremely well-to-do top 1 percent.     Government shut down anyone?   

And maybe, just maybe, the news can return to the issue of the crimes being committed by the NSA, FBI, DEA, & others in terms of violating the civil liberties of the American people on a monumental scale.  

Why do children not deserve to be baptized? A letter to the pope

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A friend of mine Brian Tessier just wrote a letter to Pope Francis, that I think is worth sharing with all of you – and I encourage you to share it with others.

September 13, 2013

Dear Francis,

I never thought I would actually sit down to craft a letter to a person who is the Bishop or Rome, Head of the Catholic Church but more importantly a representation of the Christ Spirit that does exist on earth. Admittedly, I have watched since your taking office like many others in my position to see who you were going to be and more importantly how you were going to lead. I can say, while I never lost faith, you have restored hope.

I was raised in a devout Catholic family, attended church regularly, was an altar boy and attended and graduated from a Catholic College. I always held my faith in my heart but also explored and listened to those of other faiths and found that as long as someone was on a path toward goodness, then, there was an inherent worth and dignity due them, regardless of their status in life, their past or other distinctions as I saw everyone as a child of god. In fact, I do not think there is a faith in the world that does not hold children in the highest regard. Christ, spoke often of children and what they bring and their inherent spirit and innate faith. Even today, I consider myself as a child of God.

I grew to maturity, suffered hardship but never lost faith or hope. I was never one not to follow my dreams and passions and pursued one of those despite all odds to become the adoptive father to two children who I adopted from Foster Care. My sons were born into this world in less than perfect beginnings. One born addicted to drugs, the other who suffered at the hands of a man while he was in utero and while and infant and many other things. By the grace of God, they survived and through what I call divine providence, we were brought together as a family.

As both of my children are latin and were born Catholic, I felt it was their inherent birthright to be baptized in the church and raised to follow the footsteps of Jesus in all of the magical simplicity and love that he brought to the world. I asked about having my children baptized and was told “NO”. Through a prominent Bishop in the US, I had the inquiry go all the way to Rome and the answer was still “NO”. Ironic as I am a distant relative of the late Pope John Paul, as I am of Polish descent. While I maintained Faith, I lost hope.

The reason I was given was that because I am a Gay man, the church would not baptize them. So, for the purported sins of the father my children were and are denied their birthright. Ultimately, as I wanted my children raised in a faith tradition, I left the church and have been raising them in another faith where they and I were welcomed as a family without regard to anything but the love that binds us. 

I have also worked tirelessly to help adoptive parents become families and with the LGBT community to help children come from Foster Care to a forever home to be nurtured and loved. All the while I had faith, yet, when the church abruptly closed Catholic Charities across the United States over the issue of placing children in LGBT homes with loving parents, I was one of the people who saw 1000’s of children immediately displaced. Would Christ have done such a thing and turned his back on the children. Would John the Baptist have denied Jesus, baptism in the river Jordan based on some extrinsic quality?

So, as I watch you convene the world in prayers for peace, touch the young, the sick, the poor without regard for the external trappings, I simply ask why my children are not entitled to that grace and I am therefore not allowed a place in the house of worship I was raised in along with my sons that does not disparage who I love but recognizes the immense capacity I have for love?

Faithfully Yours,

Brian Tessier

On Twitter as: @NTtionalFather

Please reblog.  

Security theater, campus style

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Two days ago someone left a note in a bathroom in the classroom building I teach and work in.  The note said there would be a bomb in the building.

The University went into what I would consider a high panic mode.   The initial response was to close the building, and bring in dogs to do a sweep (after calling the FBI).   This was appropriate, even though the threat was considered low to moderate. 

They then sent an email to all 20,000 students alerting them, that classes would not be cancelled, but that only two entrances to the building would be open, and anyone entering would be subject to a search of all bags/purses.   

So, yesterday morning, they started the day with another sweep with the dogs. I have nothing against that.  Made sense. It was an appropriate response.  Nothing was found.  And then they began what is turning into a 3 day long security theater facade.   All with the best intentions of course, but a reaction that far exceeds the nature of the threat.   

The lines for warrantless, suspicion-less, searches was incredibly long.    But more importantly, the administration completely ignored the constitutional rights of the faculty, staff, and students who use the building.    There is NO established exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirements of probable cause and a warrant to conduct a search.     Yet, in the post-911 world of a culture of fear,  all reason and rights go out the door with any threat. Even a juvenile act of leaving a piece of paper in a bathroom.

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What is sad is that most students seemed to accept the violation of their rights, like sheep going to the slaughterhouse.   A few protested “you do not have to consent to a search to go to class!”   Members of the administration were seen outside the building joking, “ok, you can frisk me!”  as if this was all perfectly acceptable.   Yet, it is not funny, nor is it acceptable.  Our rights should not be jettisoned just at the mere mention of the words public safety.  ”Security measures” in an airport are bad enough, but they should not be given free reign to throw away rights to enter a classroom building on a state university campus.   IF the threat was REAL, they would have closed the building.   I know if I thought the threat was real, I wouldn’t have taught in the building, or even have been there.  Heck, I am not dying in that building.  And I think I have a far greater risk of death from the building’s elevator, than from a bomb.     

I protected my own constitutional rights, by not bringing my bag with me. I was not going to consent to an illegal search – not because I had ANYTHING to hide; but because my privacy rights do not require me to consent in such a situation.  Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive.  You do not have to give up privacy for security.   

Faculty were told if they felt “uncomfortable” they could cancel classes (I don’t think anyone did), some students emailed, saying they weren’t coming to class, as they were nervous.   Administrators were going from classroom to classroom to see if classes were occurring, marking something down on a clipboard.  Deans instructed department chairs to account for their faculty;  we were told to tell our chair when we entered or left the building.    

It was security theater.   And at the end of the day, there was no bomb.    I mean come on, how many times have notes like this been found on college campuses?  This is what happens when we live in a culture of fear, in a national insecurity state.   In that culture of fear, there is a tendency to over-react, lest one is accused of “not doing enough.”    There is a tendency to take measures that inadvertently create more fear than is warranted.    

YET the charade of security theater continues for at least two more days.  

Will the sheep continue to be complacent today if it rains mid-morning?  

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