Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lessons from Les Misérables (Part 3)

And we're back to Les Mis after a short hiatus.

"Happy, even in the midst of sadness, is he whom God has given a soul worthy of love and of unhappiness! He who has not viewed the things of this world and the heart of man under this double light has seen nothing and knows nothing of the true. The soul which loves and suffers is in a state of sublimity." - 15968
Seeking to explain the paradoxical joy in selflessness.
"God's whole policy consists in making slopes less steep." -15807
This is one of my favorite quotes from the whole book. Particularly when one thinks of iniquity as a slope, this artfully encapsulates the story of Christ. Where there are walls, God makes hills, and eventually plains.

"And then strange to say, the first symptom of true love in a young man is timidity; in a young girl it is boldness" -16598
All too true.

"If you are a stone be adamant, if you are a plant, be the sensitive plant, if you are a man, be love" -17255
One of the points that I like to make often when I talk about creativity is that there is nothing greater for the creator than to see is creation do what it was meant to do. This is a great example of that concept.


"To meet the needs of this conflict [crime], wretchedness has invented a language of combat, which is slang." -18182
An interesting chapter, which covers the corruption of language that is slang. It certainly makes me pause to think of all the people who speak in some corrupted form of English (obviously Les Mis covers the topic of French slang.) There is on one end the simple slang of expediency (or ignorance) which is innocent enough. On the other hand there is the kind of slang discussed here. Invented in the prisons and alleys of the urban underworld, and brought into the light by the glorification of a life of crime. (Primarily in this day and age, Ebonics and rap, respectively.) One who enters into this slang speaks a language dredged from the subconscious of the night. Fear and hatred of authority, violence,crime, and all other sorts of vice are imbedded into this language. A poet may use it to good affect, but care must certainly be taken. Further to the point...
 "The words are misshapen and stamped with an indescribable and fantastic bestiality" -18222


"Is the under side of civilization so much less important than the upper side simply because it is deeper and more somber? Do we really know the mountain well when we are not acquainted with the cavern?"- 18203 
This idea expresses well the need of any man who wants to be the love of Christ in the world (or do any real good at all) must become comfortable among the under side of civilization. Here I think, that the knowledge of hearts is as much as stake as civic knowledge. The discipler as much as the law maker must become "acquainted with the cavern" if he is to be able to accomplish his aim.


"In this world, evidently the vestibule for another, there are no fortunate" -18237
While this statement seems to be defeatist, I cannot help but see the hope imbedded in it. That this world must lead to another, and that those who have vested themselves in that other world, rather than this one, might count themselves fortunate.

I'll end this post on a similar, (if mirrored) tone as it began.
"He who says light does not, necessarily say joy. People suffer in the light, excess burns. The flame is the enemy of the wing. To burn without ceasing to fly,-therin lies the marvel of genius
When you have learned to know, and to love, you will still suffer. The day is born in tears. The luminous weep, if only over those in the darkness."

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Open Letter to the RPD

To whom it may concern in the Rochester Police Department and associated PR people,

I understand that you have been plagued for years by rumors (true and false) of racial discrimination, corruption, and general untrustworthy behavior. This limits your effectiveness, particularly in the areas that are hit hardest by crime and poverty, and among innocent minorities who have been treated as violent, criminal, second class citizens again and again. As an organization interested in serving all the people of Rochester, I also see your desire to move past these rumors and begin to provide every citizen of Rochester "equal protection under the law."

Let's take a breif look at one of the strategies you're using to accomplish this.

As I drove down Lake Ave towards downtown, I noticed a bill board. This bill board showed A black cop standing with another black man in a sport coat, and read in large letters "we've got your back." I won't take the time to unpack the subjective problems I saw in the design of the billboard itself. There is; however, a much larger problem behind the billboard. If you have to explain that you're fundamentally shifting (and it would require a shift of that scale) the way the RPD serves the Rochester community by treating everyone equally, You're doing it wrong. The old adage says "perception is reality," and if the people of Rochester continue to see police discrimination in the real world, your billboard will only drive deeper the belief that, despite all the press conferences and promises, the RPD and Police in general will never "have their back." I've also seen a second billboard as a part of this campaign that reads "On the same team."

I am not a psychologist, nor am I an expert in criminal justice, but I know that in order for the people of Rochester to see the RPD as serving, then the actual behavior of Police Officers needs to change. As for me, the only time I see cops in action is when they are writing tickets, directing traffic or arresting people. The rest of the time, the face of the RPD is the patrol car, impersonally patrolling the streets projecting the fear of the Law until the car has passed, at which point everything returns to "normal." A normal that has pushed the crime rate in Rochester among the highest in the nation.

If Rochester is to continue it's recovery, than the RPD has an integral role to play in gaining the trust and respect of all of Rochester's citizens. To accomplish that goal, the police must change the way they interact with the people. This change is one of action. So stop spending time and money creating billboards that tell us about change, and show us the change.

Alexander Turner
Concerned citizen of Rochester, NY

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lessons from Les Misérables (Part 2)

We're Back!

"All the Crimes of man begin in the vagabondage of the child." -loc 10915
How true this is, and more to the point vagabondage is not a condition of the body, (poverty, malnourishment, homelessness) but one of the heart (absentee parents, lack of discipline). Compulsory public schooling, (which Hugo hails as the solution to many of the ills described over the course of this book) unfortunately, has become the greatest source of this vagabondage, often acting as a holding pen for these lost children until they find themselves in jail.

"Let that vile sand which you trample underfoot be cast into the furnace, let it melt and seethe there, it will become a splendid crystal, and it is thanks to that Galileo and Newton will discover stars" -loc 11110
 An artful, (and somewhat jarring) picture of the effect of revolution and discipline on the "Fex Urbis" (the rabble). For all it's failings the #Occupy movement has, to a certain extent, captured this idea.

"What a specticle is night! One hears dull sounds, without knowing whence the proceed; one beholds Jupiter, which is twelve hundred times the size of Earth, glowing like a firebrand, the azure is black the stars shine, it is formidable." - loc 11767
 The reverie of Marius as he undergoes a transformation. Just caught my attention as feeling very familiar. I think similar things as I stare into the night and contemplate.

"As he thinks of the innumberable pleasures nature offers, gives, and lavishes to souls which stand open, and refuses to souls that are closed, he comes to pity, he the millionaire of the mind, the millionaire of money." -12724
Feels very similar to the effect of spiritual riches, reminiscent of Monseigneur Bienvenu, who gave everything to the poor, and received only their love in return, and felt all the richer for it.

"The conflict of right and fact has been going on ever since the origin of society. To terminate this duel, to amalgamate the pure idea with the humane reality, to cause right to penetrate pacifically into the fact and the fact into right, that is the task of sages." -15307
 And the task of disciples! To take the ideal (Christ's example) and to allow it to become reality. Which starts in believing it to be possible for ourselves, and ends in believing it possible for all, with a lifetime of living out and moving closer to that ideal in between.
Another short quip to finish out today:
"Logic knows not the 'almost', absolutely as the sun knows not the candle." 15344

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lessons from Les Misérables (Part 1)

Yes, Part one, this will be a few posts in the making.

I'm going to share the phrases and ideas that I highlighted in Les Mis, along with breifly why I highlighted them. Enjoy! (I highly recommend the book, and I assure you that my brief analysis here will take nothing away from your enjoyment of the book)

"Death belongs to God alone, by what right do men touch that unknown thing" -Location 552
This is Monseignuer Bienvenu's (the Bishop) response, after having spent the day with a man condemned to death, teaching him and praying with him, and then mounting the scaffold with him, to give him some final encouragement. Beautiful words to describe the reason I so vehemently oppose the Death penalty.

"I am not in the world to guard my own life, but to guard souls" -Location 732
      The marvelous end to a conversation when the Mayor of D-- attempts to convince the Bishop not to journey to a small village nearby, around which there are bandits. At the victorious conclusion of his Journey, he says this:
"Let us never fear robbers or murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers, vices the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul." -Loc 753

"There is, as we know a philosophy that denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, pathologically classified, which denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness. To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth, is a fine blind mans self sufficiency." Loc-9732

Another, gentler, way to say that "Only a fool believes in his hear that there is no God." It is not foolishness so much as a lack of perception that allows a man to deny God. The foolishness is submitting to that lack of perception as a reality. Hugo goes on to say on this subject:

"The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism, everything becomes 'a mental conception'
With nihilism, no discussion is possible; for the nihilist logic doubts the existence of the interlocutor and is not quite sure that it exists itself. Only it does not percieve that in all which it has denied in that lump, simply by utterance of the word, mind. In short no way is open to the thought by a philosophy which makes all end in the monosyllable, No." Loc - 9750

"Morality is a blossoming out of truths. Contemplation leads to action. The absolute should be practicable. It is necessary that the ideal should be breathable, drinkable, and eatable to the human mind"-Loc 9759
A clear picture that any faith or belief system that fails to necessitate action is as empty as nihilism.

I'll end this post with this short quip.

"A prince is nothing in the presence of a principle" -Loc 10352

Tune in next time for more Les Mis Quotes!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Breaking The Fourth Wall (Toastmasters Icebreaker)

(This was originally written as an icebreaker speech for my Toastmasters Club, so you'll just have to imagine me standing in front of a bunch of really great people giving this speech)

     In theater there is a concept known as the fourth wall. It is the wall that stands between the unreality taking place on-stage, and the audience, who is hopefully enjoying the show. That wall allows the stage to be transformed from 3 blank walls and an empty floor into anything, and anywhere. More importantly it allows the actors who stand behind that forth, transparent wall to become anyone. Even if you take away the scenery a man can still convince his audience that he is one of a pair of star crossed lovers, or a escaped convict given a second chance at life in the chaos of revolutionary France, or a eccentric detective whose agile mind has solved the most spectacular and and grotesque mysteries London, or the world has to offer.
     I can give this speech now, as confidently as I do, because I have created a little fourth wall of my own, a character to stand up here and give the speech that I wrote. A character who looks and acts like me, but is more eloquent, confident, and whose knees most certainly do not knock when given the opportunity to speak in front of others. He has the same history, He was born in Dunkirk, New York on March 9th, lived in Ashville, went to school in Mayville. He ran track, and played football for a few years. He was the captain of his school's trivia team, helping the team win two regional championships to go to a national competition. then went on to RIT to study mechanical engineering, and now studies Industrial engineering and hopes to get a masters degree in engineering management. He met some marvelous people in Rochester who showed him by example how to live a life that is really worth living, and will leave behind something of value long after he is gone. He even has the same interests; He loves problem solving, and helping people to work and live at their fullest potential. He loves to write, to communicate ideas and emotions through poetry, plays, essays, and stories. And he loves to act.
     I think that the introverts in the room, (how many of us are there at a club dedicated to public speaking?) will have no trouble relating with the idea of putting on a mask so that the people around us can see us as we'd like to be seen. For a sad few, it is the only way they are ever seen. Fortunately the marvelous people I met taught me that the mask isn't necessary, that a “fourth wall” anywhere other than the stage is actually a form of dishonesty, and it doesn't take long before the insincerity of the mask can be seen.
     Dale Carnegie, in his book, talks about a wonderful set of principles to live by, principles that can change your life by allowing you to tap into the fundamental truths of human psychology and as the title states “Win Friends and Influence People.” The one caveat, he adds time and time again, is that each principle cannot be applied superficially, the man who wants to influence people must be sincere.
This is where toastmasters comes into the picture. If I can get up here and give 10 speeches, accomplishing my goal to become a competent communicator, I will be that much closer to becoming a sincere communicator as well. I really look forward to being able to stand up here without the thinking of a podium as a stage, or all of you as my audience, but instead to speak, persuade, educate, and entertain each of you simply as myself, with no curtain or “fourth wall” to stand between.