Sunday, November 30, 2014

A church is burned

“The cure for all ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word 'love.' It is the divine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life.” — Lydia M. Child, American abolitionist, women's rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist and journalist

IF YOU'RE religious (I'm not) and Christian in particular (I'm not), here's a story of loss that might motivate you to put some of your money where your beliefs are. 

I've donated to burned-out black churches in Georgia before. You don't have be religious or Christian to hate hate.

This piece is from NBC News. PS: There's (an extremely) brief video at the bottom.




Feds Probing Arson of Michael Brown Sr.'s Church
By John Brecher and Rick Brown
November 25, 2014

Flood Christian Church was torched Monday night after the announcement that a grand jury had voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown Jr.

The church went up in flames around the same time about a dozen other buildings were set ablaze in Ferguson by protesters angered by the grand jury's decision, but it's on a remote section of West Florissant Avenue where other structures were unscathed.

"The police called me and told me the church was on fire," the Rev. Carlton Lee said. "I was in complete disbelief. I didn't think anyone would set a church on fire.

"I feel like one of my children has died. I put my blood, my sweat, my tears into this church, getting this church built from the ground up. To see that it was taken down in a few minutes is really heartbreaking."

He said he told Michael Brown Sr. about the extensive damage on Tuesday afternoon. "He was just devastated again," he said.

The pastor said he doubted the same people who were raging on the other end of West Florissant had burned his church. Instead, he said, he suspected white supremacists who wanted to punish him for his support of the Brown family, who had just been baptized there.

"Sunday, we do the baptism, Monday, the church is one fire." he said.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rewind: the riots

“Missouri law enforcement may only ask those assembled on the street or sidewalk to disperse if there are six or more people gathered for an unlawful purpose or if a riot is taking place.” — Tony Rothert, American Civil Liberties Union

THE RECENT decision of the grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO has exacerbated the divide and inflamed the rhetoric about race in America — or perhaps it's just exposed it in a more visible way.

I want to try if I can to separate various elements that have become a gallimaufry — conscious or not — of anger, blame, assumption, racism, hatred, fear, misunderstanding and indifference. But instead of starting at the beginning of the course of events, I'm starting with the most recent, the rioting, and working backwards.

First of all, I want to point out the obvious: I wasn't there the night the verdict was announced, so I have to rely on sources, and all sources are not created equal. The rise of the internet has altered the equation and in my opinion both hurt (news budgets and staff have been cut, in some cases — particularly in print — drastically) and helped (more independent voices have the means to be heard) the amount and quality of available news. 

The upshot is that we have to work harder to make sure the sources of information we choose to believe are trustworthy. National news sources are not always right simply because they're national, and independents are not always suspect because they're small-staffed — Mother Jones for example. 

I said all that to say this: I'm sharing with you today an on-site account of the Ferguson "riots" of November 24 and 25 from a small news organization called The Anti-Media that my wide-reading and three-times-as-smart husband discovered, vetted, and has been following for sometime. 





Battle of Ferguson II: How protest turned to riot and what you aren’t being told
By Justin King
November 26, 2014

When debunking an accepted narrative of events, it’s important to recap what the state media is claiming happened. According to media reports, this is how the Battle of Ferguson II transpired:

— News of indictment reaches protesters gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department.

— Protesters begin rioting, smashing windows, and burning buildings.

— Law Enforcement moves in and quells rioters with tear gas and bean bag rounds. Some news outlets even refused to call it tear gas, and instead called them “smoke canisters.”

— An officer is shot.

— The unrest moves outward from the police station.

— After grabbing all of the consumer goods they can carry, rioters go home.

— Later that night, a group of rioters came back to admire their handiwork and take “selfies” in front of burning buildings.

Almost all of the things listed above happened. The problem is that the events didn’t happen in that order.

On a side note, the group that was said to be taking selfies weren’t rioters admiring their handiwork. They were a group of protesters that agreed to go back to the area and walk me through the events of the day.

Most of the group had no idea I was with the media, so I didn’t bring my camera and only had my cell phone to take photos with. I was trying to blend in and get the truth behind what occurred that day from the people that were on the frontlines. In other words, I was engaged in journalism, instead of just reading the script handed to me by law enforcement.

So what really happened?

The events below were corroborated by five unrelated protesters. Any deviation from the consensus of the main narrative is noted in italics and in blue. Direct quotes are in red.

News of decision reaches the crowd gathered at the Ferguson Police Department. The crowd begins chanting and marching away from the department. During the brief march there was no rioting. One of the five noted he witnessed “pretty bullsh-t vandalism stuff.” When asked to explain, he said he saw someone throw an open bottle of water at a cop in riot gear. Someone else mentioned some Christmas lights were pulled down. An outside source chimed in that a single rock was thrown at the Fire Department building as soon as the verdict was announced.

“I think it surprised him when the window broke. Not even sure he meant to hit the window.”

Cops stop the march, greeting protesters with an army of riot-gear-clad officers and armored vehicles. They order the crowd to disperse. Stopping the march is a direct violation of the law. Before the verdict was ever announced, Tony Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union said:

“Missouri law enforcement may only ask those assembled on the street or sidewalk to disperse if there are six or more people gathered for an unlawful purpose or if a riot is taking place.”

There was no unlawful purpose and a riot was not taking place. Missouri law enforcement was aware of the law; they simply chose to ignore it.

With their rights being violated by the police department, protesters began shaking a cop car. If the car had not been placed in the way of protesters engaged in an activity protected by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state of Missouri, it would not have been shook. This can’t be made clear enough: the officers ordering the crowd to disperse were in violation of the law.

Police repeat orders to disperse, and rocks and water bottles begin being thrown at the officers who are using force to infringe on the civil rights of the citizens. One of the protesters said he witnessed rocks being thrown as soon as the police stopped the march.

Cops begin firing gas canisters into the crowd. If Ferguson was the actual warzone the cops want it to be, the gas they used would constitute a war crime. It is banned by the Geneva Convention. Bean bag rounds fired from shotguns followed the tear gas. One protester, who asked to be referred to as “Yellow Laces,” seemed particularly upset because the police seemed to be targeting a group of people carrying someone. The person being carried had suffered a heart attack. Another protester remarked:

“I don’t know if they were trying to hit them on purpose, but they damned sure hit them more than once.”

At least one protester begins throwing tear gas canisters back towards the cops. “Vlow,” who showed me the burns he received while throwing the canister back at officers received nods from everyone around him when he said:

“[The police] started it. They refused to let us protest.”

The protesters version of events is backed up by aerial footage. In this clip from ABC, police are already firing tear gas at protesters. As the camera pans around the area, look for signs of a riot. There are no burning buildings.





Though some may doubt the network airing the second clip, the first few seconds of the footage shows a relatively peaceful protest that grows angry as the march is stopped by law enforcement up the road. It also shows a window being broken and protesters expressing their disapproval. The tear gas comes down on what is obviously not a riot. There are no burning buildings. After the initial blast from law enforcement, suddenly broken glass is everywhere. One of the people in the video mentions the sound of gunfire. Given that nobody was shot during the riot, the rounds he heard were either the police firing bean bag rounds or shots fired into the air.

Rioting begins. Rioters moving away from the police begin smashing windows as they travel down the street. Looting begins. Some took advantage of the chaos and began stealing from stores. Molotov cocktails begin flying and establishments start being burned to the ground.

A cop is shot. Of course, this had nothing to do with the protest or the riots. In fact, it was five miles away, in another jurisdiction. The officer responded to an incident that allegedly involved a son shooting his mother. Even though there is no evidence tying this incident to the riots, USA Today still reports:

“In a burglary that may have been timed to take advantage of law-enforcement focus elsewhere.”

A reader’s propaganda alarm should be sounding anytime they read the word “may” in state-run news reporting. The suspect may have also fled on a unicorn that shot lightning out of its eyes. He may be an alien. He may be hiding out with the Ku Klux Klan in a meth lab. Alternatively, an incident in which a son killed his own mother may have been a domestic situation and have absolutely nothing to do with protests and riots occurring in another jurisdiction.

Officers then reportedly fell back to the police station to secure it. They stopped engaging rioters. Suddenly, the riots began to die down. Hours later, looting begins again of stores that had their windows smashed. This was unrelated to the protest. This is also where the majority of the footage you’re seeing on TV came from. I watched them film some of it.

While the merry band of misfits and I were wandering around in the aftermath of the riots taking “selfies,” I had the opportunity to watch the officers. They had one of two expressions etched on their faces. A small percentage was angry and looking for a reason to confront us, shining flashlights in our eyes and glaring as menacingly as possible. These are the cops that cause these incidents in the first place. 

The majority of officers simply looked ashamed. Either they realized their plan to disperse the protesters with force had backfired and that their actions had unintentionally led to the destruction all around us, or they had just begun to face the fact that they had opened fire on an unarmed crowd of protesters. Either way, the shame was deserved. The only thing that provided a ray of hope is that the emotion seemed genuine.

To the protesters and rioters, I would like to say that violence should always be the last resort. In this case, I think it was. When the government’s enforcement class refuses to allow Constitutionally-protected activities and continually tramples the rights of citizens, eventually the citizens will fight back. It’s a historical fact. In the Battle of Ferguson II, there was no widespread violence. There was property damage. There were no fatalities linked to the protest or the riots.

To the looters (not that any of them will read this): You had the world watching. You possessed a chance to make a statement about the police state and the fact that unarmed people are getting gunned down almost daily. With the eyes of the world upon you, you stole hair products. This was a moment that could have helped turn the corner, and given the fact that you are obviously prone to stupid mistakes, the next person shot could easily be you. You damaged the credibility of a movement that is fighting for you and in the process made it easier for the government and their lackeys in the media to paint this as just another example of why the poor and disenfranchised deserve to be where they are. The momentum and machinery for change was there, and now someone else will have to die to build that momentum again. You killed the next Mike Brown, not the cops.

In case you are wondering if the media is blatantly lying to you. You’ve seen the videos above; now compare that to a summary of events by Fox News.

“Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon sternly vowed that a repeat of the chaos in Ferguson — in which protesters looted stores, vandalized property and set buildings and cars ablaze, drawing a police response that included tear gas and pepper spray — would not be tolerated.”

There it is. Your eyes must deceive you. There must have seen cars and buildings on fire in the videos. You just couldn’t see it. Maybe you should watch it again. Looting must have been going on before the “police response.” The media wouldn’t lie to you, would they?

From this point forward, the blame for any violence, destruction, or death lands squarely on a government failing to allow people the basic rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution and a media that accepts a government press release as fact.

Updates:

The night of 11/25, police again fired tear gas, not “smoke grenades” into a crowd. There was no riot to blame it on.

Two FBI agents were shot near Ferguson, which is also being played up by the media. They were serving arrest warrants completely unrelated to protests or riots. The shooting didn’t occur in Ferguson, and has nothing to do with Ferguson.


Author’s note: While the American reader is accustomed to stories matching in every detail (from hearing officers’ accounts), that is the most certain sign that testimony is rehearsed and a lie. Stories of an event like this should be different. People saw different things from different angles. There is only one thing that everyone agrees on: the riot started AFTER the police opened fire, not before.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy (American) Thanksgiving

“Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all those who are celebrating it today. My wish for you is that you will be safe, warm, well fed and surrounded by loving souls — whether two- or four-footed.



We Americans tend to be ethnocentric and think that since we mark this particular day, surely everyone must too, but that's not the case.

Our Canadian friends have already had theirs; they celebrate it every year on the second Monday in October. According to Wikipedia, Grenada's national holiday also called Thanksgiving Day is every October 25th, Liberia's is the first Thursday of November, and Norfolk Island, which is an external Australian territory, celebrates theirs on the last Wednesday in November.

Japan has Labor Thanksgiving Day every year on November 23 "to commemorate labor and production and give one another thanks," and in Germany there's something called Erntedankfest (Harvest Thanksgiving Festival) in early October that has a significant religious component, but includes large harvest dinners and parades.

According to Thanksgiving.org.uk, in China there's a celebration called August Moon Festival that falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of their calendar. "Chinese believe that the moon is roundest and brightest on this day. Below the heavenly moonlight, lovers speak out their heart to each other." Instead of pumpkin pie, friends and relatives convey their regard by giving moon cake.

In Korea a celebration known as Chu-Sok, meaning fall evening, begins on the 14th night of August and continues for three days. "Koreans make a dish called songpyon, unique for that occasion, consisting of rice, beans, sesame seeds and chestnuts. Before having the food, the family gathers beneath the moonlight, in remembrance of ancestors and forefathers."

I don't have any readers in Grenada, Liberia or Norfolk Island, but my Chinese, Korean and Japanese can tell me if me sources are off the mark.

Wherever you are, celebrate the day, your life and those you love. XOXOX


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Part three

“Discrimination has a lot of layers that make it tough for minorities to get a leg up.” — Bill Gates

AS PROMISED, here is the third Nicholas Kristof column in his series called When Whites Just Don't Get It published in The New York Times.



Fergusson, MO
A female protester blocked police cars on Novermber 25, 2014. 



Tiananmen Square
June 4, 1989

When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 3
By Nicholas Kristof
October 11, 2014

SOME white Americans may be surprised to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu describe Bryan Stevenson, an African-American lawyer fighting for racial justice, as “America’s young Nelson Mandela.”

Huh? Why do we need a Mandela over here? We’ve made so much progress on race over 50 years! And who is this guy Stevenson, anyway?

Yet Archbishop Tutu is right. Even after remarkable gains in civil rights, including the election of a black president, the United States remains a profoundly unequal society — and nowhere is justice more elusive than in our justice system.

When I was born in 1959, the hospital in which I arrived had separate floors for black babies and white babies, and it was then illegal for blacks and whites to marry in many states. So progress has been enormous, and America today is nothing like the apartheid South Africa that imprisoned Mandela. But there’s also a risk that that progress distracts us from the profound and persistent inequality that remains.

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., I wrote a couple of columns entitled “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” The reaction to those columns — sometimes bewildered, resentful or unprintable — suggests to me that many whites in America don’t understand the depths of racial inequity lingering in this country.

This inequity is embedded in our law enforcement and criminal justice system, and that is why Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela. For decades he has fought judges, prosecutors and police on behalf of those who are impoverished, black or both. When someone is both and caught in the maw of the justice system — well, Stevenson jokes that “it’s like having two kinds of cancer at the same time.”

“We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” he adds.

Stevenson, 54, grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Delaware and ended up at Harvard Law School. He started the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., to challenge bias and represent the voiceless. It’s a tale he recounts in a searing, moving and infuriating memoir that is scheduled to be published later this month, “Just Mercy.”

Stevenson tells of Walter McMillian, a black Alabama businessman who scandalized his local community by having an affair with a married white woman. Police were under enormous pressure to solve the murder of an 18-year-old white woman, and they ended up arresting McMillian in 1987.

The authorities suppressed exculpatory evidence and found informants to testify against McMillian with preposterous, contradictory and constantly changing stories. McMillian had no serious criminal history and had an alibi: At the time of the murder, he was at a church fish fry, attended by dozens of people who confirmed his presence.

None of this mattered. An overwhelmingly white jury found McMillian guilty of the murder, and the judge — inauspiciously named Robert E. Lee Key Jr. — sentenced him to die.

When Stevenson sought to appeal on McMillian’s behalf, Judge Key called him up. “Why in the hell would you want to represent someone like Walter McMillian?” the judge asked, according to Stevenson’s account.

Stevenson dug up evidence showing that McMillian couldn’t have committed the crime, and prosecuting witnesses recanted their testimony, with one saying that he had been threatened with execution unless he testified against McMillian. Officials shrugged. They seemed completely uninterested in justice as long as the innocent man on death row was black.

Despite receiving death threats, Stevenson pursued the case and eventually won: McMillian was exonerated and freed in 1993 after spending six years on death row.

I suggested to Stevenson that such a blatant and racially tinged miscarriage of justice would be less likely today. On the contrary, he said, such cases remain common, adding that he is currently representing a prisoner in Alabama who has even more evidence of innocence than McMillian had.

“If anything, because of the tremendous increase in people incarcerated, I’m confident that we have more innocent people in prison today than 25 years ago,” Stevenson said.

Those of us who are white and in the middle class rarely see this side of the justice system. The system works for us, and it’s easy to overlook how deeply it is skewed against the poor or members of minority groups.

Yet consider drug arrests. Surveys overwhelmingly find that similar percentages of blacks and whites use illegal drugs. Yet the Justice Department says that blacks are arrested for such drug offenses at three times the rate of whites.

One study in Seattle found that blacks made up 16 percent of observed drug dealers for the five most dangerous drugs and 64 percent of arrests for dealing those drugs.

Likewise, research suggests that blacks and whites violate traffic laws at similar rates, but blacks are far more likely to be stopped and arrested. The Sentencing Project, which pushes for fairer law enforcement, cites a New Jersey study that racial minorities account for 15 percent of drivers on the turnpike, but blacks account for 42 percent of stops.

THE greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.

Some whites think that the fundamental problem is young black men who show no personal responsibility, screw up and then look for others to blame. Yes, that happens. But I also see a white-dominated society that shows no sense of responsibility for disadvantaged children born on a path that often propels them toward drugs, crime and joblessness; we fail those kids before they fail us, and then we, too, look for others to blame.

Today we sometimes wonder how so many smart, well-meaning white people in the Jim Crow era could have unthinkingly accepted segregation. The truth is that injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explain the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up.


And that is why we need a Mandela in this country.

The meaning of justice

"THE greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them." — Nicholas Kristof

I STARTED a post a week ago in which I intended to share the third in a series of columns by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof on the subject of racism in America

I've been taken aback by some responses I've received to the first two columns in his series — responses that obviously proved Mr. Kristof's point: that many of us, maybe most of us (me included) are so utterly steeped in white privilege day in and day out that we're blind to it.

Since I began this post, however, the grand jury verdict has been released in the Michael Brown killing, and I'm shocked by the submerged well of racism it has revealed — even in people I thought I knew. It's as though the finding of no indictment didn't vindicate so much Officer Darren Wilson as it vindicated them for the concealed racism they've held all along. 

So we'll wait for Mr. Kristof's third column. Instead, I share with you a New York Times Editorial Board opinion from yesterday.

More from me tomorrow.


Delwood, MO November 25 (The New York Times)

The Meaning of the Ferguson Riots
By the Editorial Board
November 25, 2014

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Mr. McCulloch took a reckless approach to announcing the grand jury’s finding. After delaying the announcement all day, he finally made it late in the evening, when darkness had placed law enforcement agencies at a serious disadvantage as they tried to control the angry crowds that had been drawn into the streets by news that the verdict was coming. Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts that had led the grand jury to its conclusion.

For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

The case resonated across the country — in New York City, Chicago and Oakland — because the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast. This point was underscored last month in a grim report by ProPublica, showing that young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk — 21 times greater — of being shot dead by police than young white men. These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.

We get a flavor of this in Officer Wilson’s grand jury testimony, when he describes Michael Brown, as he was being shot, as a soulless behemoth who was “almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.”

President Barack Obama was on the mark last night when he said, “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.” The rioting that scarred the streets of St. Louis County — and the outrage that continues to reverberate across the country — underlines this inescapable point. It shows once again that distrust of law enforcement presents a grave danger to the civic fabric of the United States.

Monday, November 24, 2014

More places to get a tuition-free education

“By making college unaffordable and student loans unbearable, we risk deterring our best and brightest from pursuing higher education and securing a good-paying job.” — Mark Pocan, United States Congressman representing Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district

MY ASTUTE and well-informed friend Karl Schilling informed me that tuition-free college education is also available to Americans in Norway. I did a little research and found this article from The Washington Post that talks about other tuition-free alternatives. 

Bring me back a present.

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free)

By Rick Noack
Octboer, 29, 2014

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they've done the opposite.
The country's universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens -- and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees "discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study.  It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English -- and it's not the only country. Let's take a look at the surprising -- and very cheap -- alternatives to pricey American college degrees.


Humboldt University of Berlin


Germany

Germany's higher education landscape primarily consists of internationally well-ranked public universities, some of which receive special funding because the government deems them "excellent institutions." What's more, Americans can earn a German undergraduate or graduate degree without speaking a word of German and without having to pay a single dollar of tuition fees: About 900 undergraduate or graduate degrees are offered exclusively in English, with courses ranging from engineering to social sciences. For some German degrees, you don't even have to formally apply.

In fact, the German government would be happy if you decided to make use of its higher education system. The vast degree offerings in English are intended to prepare German students to communicate in a foreign language, but also to attract foreign students, because the country needs more skilled workers.

Finland

This northern European country charges no tuition fees, and it offers a large number of university programs in English. However, the Finnish government amiably reminds interested foreigners that they "are expected to independently cover all everyday living expenses." In other words: Finland will finance your education, but not your afternoon coffee break.

France

There are at least 76 English-language undergraduate programs in France, but many are offered by private universities and are expensive. Many more graduate-level courses, however, are designed for English-speaking students, and one out of every three French doctoral degrees is awarded to a foreign student.

"It is no longer needed to be fluent in French to study in France," according to the government agency Campus France. The website studyportals.eu provides a comprehensive list of the available courses in France and other European countries.

Public university programs charge only a small tuition fee of about 200 dollars for most programs. Other, more elite institutions have adopted a model that requires students to pay fees that are based on the income of their parents. Children of unemployed parents can study for free, while more privileged families have to pay more. This rule is only valid for citizens of the European Union, but even the maximum fees (about $14,000 per year) are often much lower than U.S. tuition fees. Some universities, such as Sciences Po Paris, offer dual degrees with U.S. colleges.

Sweden

This Scandinavian country is among the world's wealthiest, and its beautiful landscape beckons. It also offers some of the world's most cost-efficient college degrees. More than 900 listed programs in 35 universities are taught in English. However, only Ph.D programs are tuition-free.

Norway

Norwegian universities do not charge tuition fees for international students. The Norwegian higher education system is similar to the one in the United States: Class sizes are small and professors are easily approachable. Many Norwegian universities offer programs taught in English. American students, for example, could choose "Advanced Studies for Solo Instrumentalists or Chamber Music Ensembles" or "Development Geography."

But don't expect to save money in Norway, which has one of the world's highest costs of living for expats.  And be careful where you decide to study. "Winters in general are quite different in different parts of the country, with the north having hard, arctic winters, and the southwest mostly having mild, wet average European winters," the Norwegian Center for International Cooperation in Education notes.

Slovenia

About 150 English programs are available, and foreign nationals only pay an insignificant registration fee when they enroll. Slovenia borders Italy and Croatia, among Europe's most popular vacation destinations. However, Times Higher Education, a weekly magazine based in London, did not list one Slovenian university in its recent World University Ranking.

Brazil 

Some Brazilian courses are taught in English, and state universities charge only minor registration fees. Times Higher Education ranks two Brazilian universities among the world's top 400: the University of Sao Paulo and the State University of Campinas. However, Brazil might be better suited for exchange students seeking a cultural experience rather than a degree.
"It is worth remembering that most of USP activities are carried out in Portuguese," the University of Sao Paulo reminds applicants on its website.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to get a tuition-free college education

“The need for a college education is even more important now than it was before, but I think that the increased costs are a very severe obstacle to access. It is an American dream, and I think that one of our challenges is to find a way to make that available.” — Roy Romer, former Governor of Colorado and superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District

THIS IS the first weekend we've spend entirely at home for many months, and it's bliss. We've been either moving ourselves, moving Paul's parents, musicking or door-knocking since, it feels like, forever. At the very least, we almost always spend one night of the weekend at Mama Logli's.

Consider the last 10 days; Paul's brother and his lady-friend were in town from November 13 (which happened to be our 21st wedding anniversary; we hope to go somewhere special soon to celebrate it) through the 17th.

Thursday we had dinner with them after work at his parents' retirement village restaurant. Friday night we visited them at his parents. Saturday night we took them to the Des Moines Symphony to hear Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which, BTW, was masterfully played. We're really lucky to have such an excellent and well-supported symphony in town.

Sunday afternoon we visited again at Paul's parents, hurried to the Civic Center to tear down the symphony exhibits after the matinee concert, and then Paul had Turner Center Jazz Orchestra rehearsal until 10:30. 

Monday night Paul played his regular gig with Des Moines Big Band, and Tuesday night was TCJO rehearsal again till 10:30 at least. (He actually had Wednesday night off — a wonderment.) 

Thursday night was the TCJO concert. I decorate for it, operate the concessions (soda, wine and snacks), sell and take tickets at the door, and he sends the marketing email blasts, manages online ticket sales and plays. Whew!




There was a little party afterwards to congratulate musical director, Andy Classen for the first ever all Andy-written concert and the American debut of his original piece of music, Waveland Suite for jazz orchestra. The first movement is lushly beautiful, and I'm fond of two other pieces of his the band also played, A Count Ability and Gospel According to Patty.

Friday night Paul had another big band gig . . . and so it's pure delight to just be home together listening to Debussy's Clair de Lune, Roy Hargrove and Gregory Potter while we nest. 

Paul is actually reading a book!!! I LOVE seeing him able to just sit and read, a cat curled up between us as I write this.

In the midst of all this going and coming and coming and going, I came across this news item on several news outlets. It details how you or your child can get an entirely tuition-free college education in Germany

Yup, Germany offers American students free university tuition. 

If I worried about how to I could afford to send a child or grandchild through college, I'd give this opportunity consideration. 

And PS: sorry to say, it's just another way the United States has fallen behind Europe. Way to go Bush and cronies and the Republicans who voted for them.

Where to get a free college degree
By Lynn O'Shaughnessy
CBS MoneyWatch 
October 3, 2014

Want to attend college for free? It can happen if you learn German.

All German universities are now free to Americans and all other international students. The last German state to charge tuition at its universities struck down the fees this week.

Even before Germany abolished college tuition for all students, the price was a steal. Typically semester fees were around $630. What's more, German students receive many perks including discounts for food, clothing and events, as well as inexpensive or even free transportation.

In explaining why Germany made this move, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a Hamburg senator, called tuition fees "unjust" and added that "they discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."

Actually, German universities were free up until 2006 when they started charging tuition. That triggered such a crush of criticism that German states began phasing out this policy. Lower Saxony was the last holdout.

It's too bad that politicians in the U.S. don't feel that a college education is worth supporting appropriately. State aid to the nation's public universities took a nosedive during the 2008 recession and education funding remains well below those levels. The average state is spending 23 percent less per student than before the recession, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Actually, state support has been declining for public universities for a quarter of a century. Using an interactive tool from The Chronicle of Higher Education, you can see how state government subsidies have cratered at individual institutions.

With the average undergrad borrower now leaving school with more than $29,000 in debt, the free ride in Germany can look awfully tempting.

How to handle the language barrier

German is not an easy language to learn. Fortunately, however, there are international language programs in Germany, which have become very popular with international students before they tackle obtaining a degree in a different language.

What's more, an increasing number of German universities are offering degrees in English. These are often called international studies programs or in some other way have the word international in their title.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cats and dogs and babies

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” — James Herriot 

 I PROMISE to get all serious again soon. In the meantime, however, here's a You Tube compilation of dogs and cats watching over their human babies.




 

And for no particular reason other than we love him, below is a picture of our 23-pound Boy Boy.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two new websites

“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” — William Bernbach, creative director and one of the three founders in 1949 of the internationally-renowned advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach. 

THIS IS a semi-blatant ad — or you could be magnanimous and chalk it up to just keeping you in the loop about my (not-very-interesting) life.

Paul and I just finished a couple of websites; one is for the Des Moines Musicians' Association which is the local music union. Yup, Paul is a "union man". (A million points for anyone who knows from what very, very old but very, very funny movie the line, "Are you a union man?" is from!)

The second one is for the worm poop people. Yup, worm poop. The correct name for this product is worm castings, which is a nice word for . . . worm poop! 

It's miraculous stuff, though, and I think it could literally change the world for the better. Really! It's natural fertilizer that's entirely non-harmful to plants, animals, people, children and the environment in general, yet works better than any chemical stew.

I've made a screen cap of both sites to possibly maybe maybe entice you into actually clicking on the links and seeing the sites. Des Moines Musicians' Association


Yup, that's Paul in the slide show. His certainly isn't the only photo, but since I had my
choice of which one to screen cap, of course I would choose Paul.

Central Iowa Organic Fertilizer


The photo is of our own garden.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jump baby, jump!

“If my dog is barred by the heavenly guard, we'll both of us brave the heat.” — W. Dayton Wedgefarth

I'M WORKING on a post that shares the third installment of New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof's series, When White Don't Get It. It's likely to take me a few days, so in the meantime I'm giving you a little piece of perfect adorableness. You may have already seen it because it's gone viral, but whether you have or haven't, it's worth a few dozen more views.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lung cancer in nonsmokers on the rise

“Don’t let your doctor exclude the possibility of lung cancer. There might be something else going on. Don’t let them write it off if you’re a nonsmoker. It’s possible.” — Tori Tomalia, non-smoking lung cancer patient

I JUST read this NBC News article published today, and I must say I'm surprised at the level of my ignorance about lung cancer. 

I had no idea that more women die of lung cancer than from any other kind of cancer, and in fact according the the American Cancer Society, it kills more men and women than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined!!

The additional bad news is that the survival rate is only 16 percent. 

I was also unaware that lung cancer in nonsmokers is increasing. I knew of course that people who don't smoke develop lung cancer, but I thought it was a less common than it actually is. And youth is no guarantee against the disease.

So with a sense of some urgency, I'm sharing this NBC News article with you.


Lung Cancer for Nonsmokers Still Stained by Stigma

By Susan Donaldson James
November 15, 2014

Tori Tomalia, a mother of three young children from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was diagnosed last year with stage IV lung cancer. She was only 37.

“I actually thought it was impossible for a nonsmoker to get lung cancer at my age,” she told NBC News.

Emily Bennett Taylor, a healthy athlete from Los Angeles, California, was even younger when she got her diagnosis at 28. Her doctors were also surprised and brushed off her chronic cough as asthma.

Lung cancer is the top cancer killer of women, and some medical experts say that they are seeing more patients in their 20s and 30s, many of them nonsmokers. But because lung cancer carries the stigma of smoking, experts say it is often overlooked in non-smoking patients — and doesn’t get the kind of funding or support given to breast cancer and other big killers.

“One of the big problems is there is such a big association in the public’s mind between smoking and lung cancer,” said Dr. Lecia Sequist, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“No one deserves to get lung cancer,” Sequist added. “But we are seeing a lot of patients who never smoked or smoked years ago or only in small amounts. We just don’t know why.”

Arielle Densen and her mother, Barbara, who was a nonsmoker and died of lung cancer.


Of the estimated 108,000 new lung cancer diagnoses among women each year in the United States, a shocking 72,000 will die, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease takes more lives than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined, and its survival rate is only 16 percent. 

Besides smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, asbestos, radon or having a family history can put a woman at risk. Doctors and and their patients say it’s the stigma associated with smoking that is hurting them most, impeding research and compromising good patient care.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, for every person who dies of breast cancer, $26,000 is spent on research funds, yet less than $1,500 is allocated for those who die of lung cancer.

“My doctor said, ‘Nobody your age and healthy ever got lung cancer — don’t worry.’”

Activist Arielle Densen lost her mother, a nonsmoker, to lung cancer, and is on a mission to bring awareness to the issue during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

“The statistics on lung cancer are so staggering and so many young, non-smoking individuals are dying from this disease and no one is really talking about it,” Densen said.

“If you factor in private donations, the funding gap widens incredibly,” she said. “Susan G. Komen alone raised $428 million in 2012; whereas the largest lung cancer groups bring in about $3 to $4 million a year.”

Emily Bennett Taylor said her lung cancer diagnosis came in 2012 when she was seemingly in top physical shape.

“I played volleyball in college and still played a couple of times a week,” she said. “For all intents and purposes, I was healthy.”

She had just done a 13-mile mountain hike, when she said she noticed a cough and wheezing that “got worse and worse” and a pain in her right shoulder blade.

“They thought maybe I had allergies or had developed asthma late in life,” said Taylor. She was given an inhaler and had to wait months before seeing a pulmonologist.

But Taylor kept thinking about a Jill Costello, a UC Berkeley student and captain of the crew team who had been diagnosed with lung cancer at 21.

“I pushed for an X-ray,” she said. Doctors found a stage IV tumor in her right lung.

Taylor’s cancer had metastasized outside of the lung, so the standard of care was palliative, but she fought for unconventional treatment. She moved to New York City and persuaded a top surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital to shrink the tumor through chemotherapy and then remove her lung.

She has since had follow-up radiation and 18 months later, is now cancer free. Taylor said she hopes no other nonsmoking women will face the stigma she experienced.

“We don’t look at any other cancer this way,” she said. “People think you did it to yourself or made a poor choice. It’s time we started realizing it isn’t just an old smoker’s disease.”

Taylor now volunteers with the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, which this year launched the first-ever Genomics of Young Lung Cancer study for women under 40. The study is looking for a unique cancer subtype that might be treated differently.

Genomic testing shows great promise in the treatment of cancer in young women, according to Dr. Deborah Morosini is vice president of clinical development for Foundation Medicine, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is doing the genetic testing for the study.

“What has been an enormously lethal disease with lack of pharma has been really turned around with the radical advent of target therapies,” she told NBC News. “This is something that can actually move the field forward.”

Morosini, a pathologist who worked in biotech, was propelled into advocacy after the death of her sister, actress Dana Reeve, wife of actor Christopher Reeve. She, too, was a nonsmoker and died of lung cancer in 2006 at age 45.

“My life was fragmented and I wanted everything to be guided by Dana and Chris’ memory,” she said.

Morosini said her sister might have benefitted from new therapies that pinpoint the genetic make-up of a tumor and “target” its driver.

“We can uncover note 315 genes and you can find whatever the driver is for the tumor about 85 percent of the time,” she said.

Tailored drugs can give a patient more time — months and sometimes “a few years,” she said, but the tumor eventually become resistant.

“That’s where the magic in genomics comes in,” said Morosini. “We can look at the tumor again and see what else we can target.”

Tori Tomalia, who is now 38, has benefited from this therapy. For 11 months, she has been on the new drug Xalkori, which has fewer side effects than chemotherapy, and is “cautiously optimistic” about her future.

She urges young women who have a persistent cough to ask their doctor for a lung scan.“For months everyone told me I had asthma, a cold, bronchitis,” said Tomalia.

“Don’t let your doctor exclude the possibility of lung cancer,” she said. “There might be something else going on. Don’t let them write it off if you’re a nonsmoker — it’s possible.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Get a mammogram

“Every woman needs to know the facts. And the fact is, when it comes to breast cancer, every woman is at risk.” — Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Representative for Florida's 23rd congressional district and the Chair of the Democratic National Committee

A WEEK AGO I had a 3-D mammogram. I was nervous because I had been negligent and not had a mammogram for probably five years. Most unwise.

Thankfully, all is normal.

I'm using this circumstance to encourage all women past 40 to get a mammogram now.

Below are some basic facts about the importance of mammograms, gleaned from the website breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer."

(PS: For women in the Des Moines area, 3-D mammograms are no extra cost at Broadlawns Hospital.)





Mammography: Benefits, Risks, What You Need to Know

Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. For example, mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women over the age of 50. In women between ages 40 and 50, the risk reduction appears to be somewhat less.

The value of screening mammograms was questioned in November 2009 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that routine screening mammograms for women with an average risk of breast cancer should start at age 50 instead of age 40. The recommended changes were very controversial and were not universally adopted.

Since that time, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all have issued guidelines saying that all women should be eligible for screening mammograms starting at age 40.

Five important things to know about mammograms

1.  They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25-30% or more. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40, or earlier if they're at high risk.

2.  Don't be afraid. Mammography is a fast procedure (about 20 minutes), and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram. To relieve the anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you results before you leave.


3.  Get the best quality you can. If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram. A digital mammogram is recorded onto a computer so that doctors can enlarge certain sections to look at them more closely.

4.  Mammography is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. However, mammograms can still miss 20% of breast cancers that are simply not visible using this technique. Other important tools — such as breast self-exam, clinical breast examination, and possibly ultrasound or MRI — can and should be used as complementary tools, but there are no substitutes or replacements for a mammogram.


5.  An unusual result requiring further testing does not always mean you have breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10% of women (1 in 10) who have a mammogram will require more tests. Only 8-10% of these women will need a biopsy, and about 80% of these biopsies will turn out not to be cancer. It’s normal to worry if you get called back for more testing, but try not to assume the worst until you have more information.