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Sunday, November 1

Autumn thoughts

I stare at them trying to guess the future. Their future.
I like the cocky confidence, the cheerful humility, the moments of intense concentration and awe despite the constant texting.
The way they change their names from Cody to Fabulous and then Fabio. The optimism when faced with depressing challenges. Amanda’s bravery. Jimmy’s ascent from the projects. Stan’s regression. Pat’s jokes about her teen pregnancy while acing. And Jenny, who explained that “youth is wasted on the young” before dropping out.
I stare at them and I reflect on my past of hesitations and silence.
And of good luck.
So glad I found you.

Sunday, April 12

Our last blog: Thoughts on gratitude.

Some have jokingly recommended that we celebrate Thanksgiving daily in order to improve our health. No pills, no diets, no exercises. Just a long-term positive emotion can be the key to long-term health, as old philosophy and recent research seem to suggest. The ancient philosopher Epicurus considered gratitude a chief prerequisite to happiness, the same way that ingratitude was the chief path to misery. The wise man believed that those who have the power to bury unhappy memories are able to reach happiness. Fools, on the other hand, recall the past just to regret it. They torture themselves with recollection of past mistakes.

Recently psychologists and mental health professionals have been assessing the relationship between gratitude and happiness. It looks like that eternally grateful people score higher on indicators of health, as they seem to be taking better care of themselves. Gratitude also fights stress, a leading cause of illness and responsible for 90% of doctor’s visits. Furthermore, grateful people are more optimistic and optimism seems to boost the immune system. The impact is even more significant on those whose immune system has been compromised or those who are preparing for a stressful event like taking an exam or undergoing surgery. And finally, gratitude appears to lessen the pain of a tragic loss as the sense of belonging may increase and somewhat compensate for the loss.

It may not be easy to feel gratitude, many will retort. Look at the poor in India and their low levels of satisfaction. Correct, but what about the low levels of satisfaction among the very affluent in the developed countries? In October 2008 I listened to David Whyte, a poet and corporate consultant speak of the toxic mentality of CEOs who were miserable because they were making $2-5 million a year and not $6-10.

Well, who appears to be happy then? Mostly, middle class folks. Especially those who rose from poverty.

How can we cultivate a culture of gratitude? It has been suggested that we keep a journal. We write down a list of blessings and ask to what extent we take those for granted. Keep a record of past problematic situations and how we dealt with them. Through resolving these situations, did we benefit by learning something? Keep a record of places you visited and carried a message for you. Keep the memory alive by posting it on a blog. Look for the good side of people and focus on that. Did someone do something for you? Thank them silently if you have not already done this in person. Or simply, as you go to bed, make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for.

I'll give you four entries of mine.
I am grateful for the students who showed resilience, fought the odds and are in school. They are my role-models.
I am grateful I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy. I was reminded of the precious gift of freedom, which was handed to my generation on a silver platter. (I wrote about this trip here)
I am grateful I did not have an accident today.
I am grateful you took the time to write on this blog and allowed me to get to know you a bit better. I thank you.

Back to you. Do you think that keeping a "gratitude journal" makes any sense or is gratitude an overated feeling? If you were to make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for, what would they be?

Sunday, April 5

Affirmative action to close the gender gap?

We seem to be approaching an enrollment ratio of 58% females to 42% males. However, as more men drop out during college than women, around graduation time the ratio will be a disturbing 60 to 40.The gap is even evident in our high schools as more girls graduate and more boys drop out.

"So what?" many girls wonder. Well, it does matter. As we tend to marry within our group, most people seek out partners with a similar educational background. And although men are more likely to date a woman with less education, women do not appear to be willing to lower the bar. So in ten years from now, where will the husbands come from? Another country maybe? International dating sites? What about the future organizations depending on educated personnel? How badly will be men outnumbered?

Many institutions simply ignore the disparity. Administrators are not likely to admit that the gap is a problem. For example, Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina, where the males constitute 41% of the college’s populations, said: “We really have made no attempt to balance the class. We are gender blind in applications." Are other administrators trying to address the situation through some sort of affirmative action? Many say it would be politically incorrect. Also illegal, as Sarah Karnasiewicz reported in the article “The campus crusade for guys.” In 1999, a woman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of Georgia in Athens, after it was revealed that the school had attempted to balance gender on campus by awarding preference to male applicants. The university responded that it was trying to reverse male flight from campus before it "became something bad." The judge however did not agree and ruled that "the desire to 'help out' men who are not earning baccalaureate degrees in the same numbers as women ... [was] far from persuasive."

This is how it works with public institutions. But when it comes to private ones, the law is fuzzy and the needs of the institutions serious. If they tolerate a 70/30 ratio how attractive will the college be to prospective students? Nancy Gibbs cited (TIME, 2008, April 3) a U.S. News & World Report according to which the admissions rate of men at the College of William and Mary was 12% higher than that of women--because "even women who enroll ... expect to see men on campus. It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary."

So there you have it. Affirmative action to close the gender gap is translated into turning down female applicants with better qualifications than males. Some consider it a necessary reaction of a society addressing disparities. Others are fiercely opposing it. Your thoughts?

Sunday, March 29

Your next vacation....

The environmentalists around the globe are hailing Saturday’s “turn-off the lights for a full hour” a huge success as hundreds of millions of people from an Antarctic research base to the Pyramids of Egypt, from the Acropolis in Athens to Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers, from Times Square in NYC to Rome's ancient Colosseum, turned off the lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced a few hours ago that nations have a mandate to deal with climate change. Yvo de Boer, the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat interpreted the event as a mandate for an ambitious course to fight global warming. Representatives of 190 nations launched talks in Bonn last week, designed to culminate in Copenhagen in December, aiming at a new agreement to curb greenhouse gases beyond 2012, when provisions under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

So, what are these greenhouse gases exactly? Chemical compounds in the atmosphere act as “greenhouse gases” allowing sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely. When sunlight hits the Earth’s surface, some of it bounces back in space as infrared radiation. Or heat. According to the ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION, greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere. The agency explains some of these gases are found in nature (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), while others are human-made (industrial gases for example). The concern over the possible effects on the earth’s environment has fuelled a movement for sustainable development that aims at satisfying human needs without compromising the power of future generations to satisfy theirs.

Within this movement towards sustainable development, mass tourism with its excesses has come under attack while sustainable tourism is being embraced. Sustainable tourism is mainly comprised of agrotourism and ecotourism. Agrotourism means that you visit an agricultural area, stay in local guest houses, eat the local food and observe or even participate in the local rural activities. That is your vacation. No populated beaches (unless the farming area is close to sea), no big resort hotels, no your typical city night-life, fewer green house emissions. Ecotourism is visiting a beautiful natural site on which you impose the minimum damage. A gorge, a lake, a mountain, a river. Small guest houses, local cuisine, quietness, emphasis on preserving the nature, participation in sports the site facilitates (river/kayak, mountains/paragliding). Again, no noise, no urban life style, no resort facilities. Again, fewer green house emissions.

Simple stuff. Not for everyone. Unless of course it becomes fashionable.

If you were to go on a vacation, would you opt for mass tourism with its comforts or would you consider agrotourism/ ecotourism?

Saturday, March 21

Write a note to the Pope

AIDS has extracted a heavy toll in the developing world and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s look at the numbers: Over 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 74% of the infected are in sub-Saharan Africa. By the year 2010, Ethiopia, Nigeria, China, India, and Russia with 40% of the world's population will add 50 to 75 million infected people to the worldwide pool of HIV sufferers. According to the previously mentioned site, there are 14,000 new infections every day, 95% of which in developing countries. The young are paying a heavy price as the UN estimates that the number of orphans exceeds 14 million while by 2010 it will have reached 25 million.

Within this setting, last week, Pope Benedict XVI, while making his first visit to Africa, re-emphasized the Catholic Church’s position on the use of condoms: "The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem." Needless to say, the reaction was strong.

Many agreed with the Pope. They say that condoms alone can not solve the problem that has reached endemic dimensions in certain countries. A change of practices, intensified sex education, an emphasis on monogamy, eradication of certain traditions and dispelling myths are necessary steps for alleviating the situation. What’s more, they have been proven to be the right steps as one can see in Uganda.

However, the second part of his statement has drawn heavy criticism. Major newspaper editorials spoke of an unscientific statement, a myth, a scare tactic, that should not have been employed by the head of the Catholic church. The Vatican immediately issued a statement to explain that condoms probably give a false sense of security and therefore abstinence was the only way of prevention. Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, answered that opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important than the lives of Africans. The Pontiff emphasized that abstinence and fidelity, not condoms, were the means to tackle the epidemic.

So, would you like to drop a line to the Pontiff? To agree or disagree, to make a point or ask a question? Do so in your usual polite and diplomatic way! At the end of the week I will forward a sample of comments to his Holiness.

Monday, March 9

PACS: Civil unions for straight couples

A friend of mine, let’s call him Jack, who lives in Paris, France, emailed me that he has decided to tie the knot –so to speak as it turned out- with his girlfriend, Marie, whom he had been living with for five years. Jack moved to Paris after a messy divorce in the US, during which he lost a substantial amount of money to his ex.

Why do I say “so to speak?”

Because the couple did not opt for the traditional marriage but rather for a “civil union” solution, the one we have been reading in the news concerning gay couples. It took 15 minutes in front of a judge and they got their Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS) which gives them a half-way status between living together and getting married.

“Why did you choose such a half-solution? It must be a handful of people opting for this kind of thing” I sort of guessed in an uneducated manner. I understood that the law had been drafted mainly for gays, but since the language was rather ambiguous, it was also adopted by a few straight couples. “Not that few” Jack corrected me. Close to 150,000 couples chose it last year I was informed. It has an air of independence, it has incorporated financial advantages, and it is easier to terminate than a traditional marriage, Jack continued, obviously beaming on the other end.
“It sounds like a substitute for marriage” I pressed.
“But it is” Jack explained. “Don’t you love it?... This is how I declare my independence from society’s rules, expectations. Not to mention the mess of divorce. If either one of us wants to end it, I or Marie, go to the court, declare our wish in writing, and we are done. Neither one has any rights on the other person’s property or money.”

So I decided to do a bit more research on this PACS half-solution. I found that although it was designed for gay couples, 90% of "solidarity pacts" a year are now being made between people of the opposite sex. Indeed, as Jack said, it can be ended with a simple letter from either partner. And indeed it provides near-identical financial and benefits as marriage, like joint tax returns and qualification for deductions. However evaluation of this plan remains difficult as various privacy laws prohibit the collection of statistics on this particular arrangement.

As we observe the collapse of the nuclear family and the rising number of single parents, I wonder whether we are heading towards a PACS alternative in this country too.

Do you think the circumstances are ripe for such a shift in the US? Would you personally support it or oppose it?

Monday, March 2

Abortion increase in young girls

The number of abortions among girls aged under 16 rose by 10% to 4,376 in 2007, official figures for England and Wales show.

In the under 14s, abortions rose by 21% from 135 in 2006 to 163 last year.
The number of abortions in all women rose by 2.5% to reach an all time high of almost 200,000.
Government advisers called for high quality sex education at school and investment in contraception services for young people.

Scotland has also seen a rise in the number of abortions with figures published in May showing there were 13,703 carried out in 2007 compared with 13,163 in 2006.
The number of abortions carried out has been rising ever since the 1967 Abortion Act - with just over 22,000 terminations in the first year.
In the past decade, the number of abortions in the under 16s has risen by 27%.
But at the same time the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen.

If you want to read the whole article click here


Sunday, February 22


Please read the text on the right about the definition on students success. Give it some thought and vote on all three polls. Email the link to your friends at HCC and ask them to vote as well. Write on the possible answers you have chosen. What does "student success" mean to you and why? Put some extra effort into this and you will get extra credit for this post!

Sunday, February 15

License to parent

While last week the US press was busy reporting on the Octuplet mother, the British press was buzzing with the story of a 13 year-old boy who became a father. Alfie Patten, was 12 when the baby was conceived (his girlfriend, Chantelle Steadman, was 15) and was quoted as saying “it would be good to have a baby…I didn't think about how we would afford it. ... I didn't know what it would be like to be a dad. I will be good, though, and care for it." Chantelle, told the newspapers that they wanted to "prove to everyone" that they could give Maisie a "great future" and also expressed her commitment to stay in school.

Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who runs the Centre for Social Justice think tank, described the birth as another case of "broken Britain" where "Anything goes…It's not being accusative; it's about pointing out the complete collapse in some parts of society of any sense of what's right and wrong… There is no opprobrium any more about behavior, and quite often, children witness behavior that's aggressive, violent, rude and sexual. It's as if no one is saying this is wrong." The Times reported that during the last ten years more than 40 other boys younger than 14 had fathered children. At the same time Tony Kerridge, a health specialist of Marie Stopes International, spoke of the need for better education and added that "We have got the social aspect of young girls in the UK seeing having a baby as a route to getting their own place."

And thus, some commentators started discussing the licensing thesis, advanced by Hugh LaFollette, a philosophy professor at East Tennessee State University, who called for the adoption of a parenting license through administering competence tests. You can't become a parent unless you pass certain competence tests. If you do become a parent without asking for a license, you will have to take these tests after the birth of the child, and if you fail, the child will be taken from you until you improve. LaFollette believes that although such testing may not be accurate and may prove unjust to some prospective parents, the benefits should outweigh the costs. Naturally, many people objected: “People have a right to having children, as they have the right to free speech and religion.” LaFollette answered that freedom of speech does not make slander acceptable nor does freedom of religion make human sacrifice legal.

Peg Tittle, professor of applied ethics put it as follows: “"We already license pilots, salesmen, scuba divers, plumbers, electricians, teachers, veterinarians, cab drivers, soil testers and television repairmen. ... Are our TV sets and toilets more important to us than our children?.. Then again, wait a minute -- we have set a bar for parents: adoptive/foster parents. Those would-be parents have to prove their competence. Why do we cling to the irrational belief that biological parents are automatically competent -- in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? We have, without justification, a double standard.”

Pierre Lemieux attacked the concept. He wrote: “It is not clear if, in LaFollette's scheme, a license would be required before conceiving a child, or only for keeping and rearing the baby. LaFollette claims that enforcement problems are not insurmountable. ‘We might not punish parents at all,’ he adds, ‘we might just remove the children and put them up for adoption.’ Of course, laws are ultimately enforced by armed men, and scenes similar to agents with fully automatic weapons seizing Elian Gonzalez would be repeated. Usually, though, parents would let a social worker ‘peacefully’ take their children away because they know that they have no chance against the SWAT team. So, with a few exceptions, the tyranny would be soft and quiet -- tyranny with an invisible hand.”

What do you think? Do we need a license for parenthood or is it a form of tyranny?

Sunday, February 8

With the rising cost of health care, should age play a factor?

By JoNel Aleccia
Health writer

At 102, Thelma Vette likes to whiz around her Littleton, Colo., retirement center in an electric wheelchair, bright red and outfitted with a joystick.

She certainly can walk if she wants to, and often does, thanks to the total knee replacement surgery she had two years ago, when she was merely 100...

Read the rest at here

The article poses this question:"In a country where health care costs are fast outpacing the ability to pay, and where it’s feared that the federal Medicare program could fail within a decade, should doctors perform surgery on the elderly just because they can? Or are limited resources better reserved for younger people who will benefit longer?"

What do you think?

Sunday, February 1

The doctrine of alimony in today's society

Alimony (not to be confused with child support) is an established doctrine in divorce cases, designed to maintain the standard of living of a dependent spouse at levels maintained during the marriage. The ideological basis has been that marriage is a social and economic contract between two people whose obligations do not end with a divorce. The same ideological basis has been applied to couples who simply have lived together. The most famous case, that of the late Lee Marvin led to the adoption of the term “palimony.” When the famous Hollywood actor split with his live-in partner Michelle after 6 years of co-habitation, the court awarded her $104,000 for "rehabilitation purposes" but denied her community property claim for one-half of the $3.6 million which Marvin had earned during that period. Later, the decision was reversed, but in the meantime it had created new grounds for questioning the concept of “alimony” or “palimony” according to which the primary wage-earner should be obliged to maintain the standard of living of the other partner.

In the past, the law benefited mostly women as they were the dependent spouse but as women have been involved in the work force far more intensely than in the past and since often they are the prime wage–earners, the alimony doctrine has hit them as hard as it has hit men. Now that it has, we have started hearing all sorts of complains about the unfairness of the doctrine. In the Forbes article Women Increasingly Paying Alimony we read the story of Kim Shamsky, a 47-year-old business owner who pays her ex, a 65-year-old retired Major League Baseball player, thousands per month in temporary spousal support (they don’t have any kids). It looks like that she built her business on her own without his assistance. She is so frustrated that she has started printing T-shirts with the word “PRENUP” in the front.

The percentage of alimony recipients who are male has risen to 3.6% from 2001-2006 from 2.4%, in the previous five-year period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage is likely to rise even more given that more and more primary wage-earners are female. In 2005 wives out earned their husbands in 33% of all families, up from 28.2% the decade before.

The alimony doctrine has come under attack, most often when women have to foot the bill. Controversy has also arisen over the way alimony is implemented. We have rehabilitative alimony which lasts until the receiving spouse is either financially independent or enters into a cohabiting relationship with another person. But we also have lifetime alimony that has led many spouses complain that their ex is simply freeloading on money they have not earned.

Recently the story of Dr. Richard Batista has attracted media attention. While married, he donated a kidney to his wife. Now that they are getting divorced, he demands $1.5 million in compensation for the kidney. Or as he said in a Larry King interview, he wants the court to co-assess the donated organ when the judge decides on alimony payments. One suspects that he has resorted to that demand to lower the potential alimony payment to his ex (given that he is a successful surgeon).

So the question is: Would you demand alimony from your ex if he/she were the prime wage earner? (Do not confuse it with child support, the two doctrines are totally different).

Sunday, January 25

Are Kidneys a Commodity?

By Jerry Adler, Newsweek, May 26, 2008

Lloyd Cohen thinks people should have the right to buy or sell organs, an idea reviled by docs.
As of last Wednesday at 5:44 p.m., according to the minute-by-minute count on the Web site of the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 75,629 people awaiting kidney transplants in the United States. Here's roughly what we can expect to happen over the next 12 months, based on the experience of recent years. About 10,000 of them will receive transplants from deceased strangers, awarded by UNOS roughly in order of waiting time. An additional 6,000 or so on the waiting list will get a transplant from a living donor, almost invariably a close friend or relative. About 5,000 will either die or become too sick to qualify for a transplant. Most of the rest will still be waiting a year from now. They might want to consider talking to Lloyd Cohen....
Please read the rest of the article here
Do you agree with Dr. Cohen or not and why?