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Staying on Track   1 comment

What tools do you use to organize your writing life? Keep track of deadlines, blog appearances, guests appearing on your blog, etc.? What have you tried that didn’t work for you but might work for someone else?

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Calendar ImageI am not a huge “tool” writer. I think simplicity is an overall good thing in this way-too- complicated era. It’s not that I don’t know how to use technology, but that sometimes I just feel it complicates the process. I don’t, for example, use Scrivener, even though a lot of writers swear by it. Word works for me and keeping it simple means I have more time to write … in my opinion.

But I do have a few tools that I rely on to keep myself organized.

A calendar. I used to have a wall calendar that sat on my desk. It included kids’ appointments and writing events and deadlines. But these days the calendar is on my phone because that goes with me almost everywhere and it is similar to the calendar that rules my work day.

Sticky Notes“Sticky Notes” is a Windows’ program that allows you to put virtual “sticky notes” on your desktop. This is really useful for me because I leave all sorts of notes for myself where I will be confronted with them every time I open my computer. This “in sight, in mind” approach works really well for me.

So what hasn’t worked for me that might work for someone else? One Note seemed like a great idea when I first heard about it, but it’s not worked out for me. I’m not sure why. I just prefer to open a Word document and keep notes there. But it does have a lot of functionality that I suspect would be really nice to use if I hadn’t already gotten into the habit of using Word for that function. I think other people might get more out of it than I do.

I know … kind of boring and low-tech, but it works for me. I bet my fellow writers use more entertaining tools. Go check them out.

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Posted September 24, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Criminal Justice Reform Must Include Dignity   Leave a comment

PrisonI must confess I’ve always been a lukewarm supporter of the Koch brothers. I know … that makes me an enemy of trees and babies and bunnies … but meh … I don’t care! I’ve researched what they’re actually trying to accomplish and I agree with a fair amount of it. So, while you’re welcome to your half-formed opinions, you might want to gather some facts before you argue with me.

And, now I’ve found convergence on yet another issue.

The Rand Corporation reports that “more than 2 million adults are incarcerated in U.S. prisons,” with roughly 700,000 leaving federal and state prisons each year. There’s about a 40% recidivism rate among the released.

Brad and I have done a lot of jail ministry and seen the struggles behind this staggering statistic. What the heck are we doing, America?

Alaska recently reformed our sentencing laws, but before they even took effect, the legislature reinstituted most of the draconian system that has been the norm here for decades. So, my ears perked up when Koch Industries came forward with a vision of human dignity and individual liberty based on the restorative power of work. Maybe someone is finally getting the point.

How do we reform the criminal justice system to better help and support these individuals in recognizing their gifts and learning to leverage those gifts toward  meaningful work and relationships across society?

Koch Industries is not the only company reflecting on these needs, but they’re taking action and becoming a leading voice in the fight for criminal justice reform, involving an extensive lobbying toward public reforms and instituting changes in their hiring and training practices as a private business—a development that other businesses are beginning mirror.

In an interview with Barron’s, Mark Holden, Koch’s general counsel and leader of its various criminal justice efforts, explains how improving prisoner rehabilitation closely corresponds with an integrative vision of human dignity, individual liberty, and the restorative power of work.

“We’re focused on removing external barriers to opportunity for all Americans, particularly the least advantaged,” Holden explains.

We want a system that keeps communities safe, that is based on equal rights, that is redemptive and rehabilitative, and that provides for real second chances for people who break the law, are incarcerated, and return to society.

As a former jail guard himself, Holden has witnessed many of the problems firsthand, leading him to believe that America now has a “two-tiered system” that benefits the rich while the least powerful are shuffled and reshuffled through an impersonal and dehumanizing system.

Holden and Koch approach the issue through three distinct “lenses”—moral, constitutional, and then fiscal:

The moral case is basically the two-tiered system. I’m a big fan of public defenders, they are heroes, and the Sixth Amendment says that it’s a natural right that you have a lawyer. But 80%-plus of the people in the system need a lawyer and oftentimes don’t get one who can work on their case full-time, beginning to end. Then you come back out [with] a criminal record, which makes it difficult to get a job, to get housing, loans, the whole drill. The whole system, from our perspective, is immoral.

The constitutional case is based on the Bill of Rights: 40% of the Bill of Rights deals with criminal justice issues, whether that’s the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth amendments.

Lastly is the fiscal case…States are responsible for their own budgets, and once someone starts to look at different line items in the state budget and sees how much they’re spending on incarceration, they want to peel back who’s in prison and why. That’s what’s happened in Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, Michigan, and many other states… We say the fiscal case is the moral case, because when you stop spending so much money on incarcerating people, you have a lot more resources to pay for better education systems, roads, mental health issues.

Education is a critical part of the restorative journey, particularly as it relates to training and mentoring individuals for re-entry into the workforce. Opportunities could be created in a variety of ways, whether by granting organizations and businesses easier access to prisons or by simply shifting the thinking and hiring processes among private businesses on the “outside.”

All of this leads to greater access to work, which brings dignity and meaning to the individual, channeling creativity, and facilitating connection and relationships:

It’s good for the individual; having a good job is a big indicator that you won’t go back to prison. That’s better for society; [it saves] money, it keeps communities safer, and keeps law enforcement safer. We see it as a win/win/win, completely consistent with our philosophy about individual liberty, consistent with our view of what will make for a much more just, better society, and help people improve their lives, if it’s done right. The reforms in the states give us that road map.

Whenever you hire anybody, record or no record, it’s a risk. A criminal record is one data point. We’ve learned over time that just because someone has a criminal record doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Now, with a tight labor market, there’s a lot more opportunity for people with criminal records, which is good.

Among the many barriers (or let’s just call them what they are — injustices) prisoners will continue to face—political, institutional, cultural, and otherwise—work is an area where real redemptive fruit is visible almost immediately.  For Koch Industries, it will require greater risk, vulnerability, and investment but God has given Holden and his employers the wisdom, relational capacity, love and grace to begin repairing the fragments of society at the ground level.

As we continue to fight for better policies and a more fair and equitable criminal justice system, let’s not forget the powerful role that work can play in facilitating personal journeys of restoration and rehabilitation in the everyday and everywhere in-between.

As Deep As the Heart   Leave a comment

Turns out, some of us bloghoppers were thinking about the same lines. I LOVE that when it happens.

Magical World Web

This week’s Open Book Blog Hop:  How do you see yourself vs how you think other people see you?

When I first saw the question for this week, I immediately jumped on my soapbox and orchestrated a monologue complete with sound effects, sing alongs, passionate musing, and a stirring call for action.  The topic of how well one person knows another is a central one of mine.  Because, frankly, my dearies, we don’t know each other.

Truly knowing another person takes years of time.  It takes engagement and effort and times of listening silence and contemplation and hours of meaningful conversation.  It takes quieting of stereotypes and hushing of ego.  It requires the realization that we all go through stages, and the situation you see somebody in right this moment is only a chapter of their life.  It takes wisdom and compassion and courage and acceptance.  And there’s not an…

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Posted September 17, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Open Book Blog Hop -17th September   1 comment

My friend Stevie gets to the heart of the matter on how we perceive ourselves compared to how others perceive us.

Stevie Turner

This week the topic is:

How do you see yourself vs how you think other people see you?

Hmm… that’s an interesting one.  Here’s how I see myself:

  1. Quiet, contemplative, and able to be silent for long stretches of time.
  2. Prefers silence to background noise.
  3. Shy.
  4. Solitary.
  5. Loyal.
  6. Dark sense of humour.
  7. Musical.

Here’s how I think others see me:

  1. Strange.
  2. Aloof.
  3. Uncommunicative.
  4. Sense of humour.
  5. Disinterested, with a tendency to ‘switch off’.
  6. A bit ‘bohemian’ (my aunt was astonished to discover I go everywhere with a rucksack).

The only one who ‘gets’ me is  Sam, and that’s because we run along similar lines. Thank goodness we do – next month it’ll be 39 years since we met!

How do other blog-hoppers see themselves?  Click on the blue button to find out.  You can even link up with your own blog!

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Posted September 17, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

So What You Are Saying Is …   9 comments

How do you see yourself vs how you think other people see you?

Rules:
1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

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In today’s world, there is a growing trend to ascribe evil to anyone who espouses opinions or provides facts that disagree with your worldview. People can agree on all points, but one and when they disagree on that one point, the dissenter is then labeled evil and ostracized from the relationship.

Peterson

So this question of how we are perceived by others compared to how do we perceive ourselves is of vital importance.

It sucks to be misunderstood, but it kills to be mis-characterized. Those are two different things, of course. I can misunderstand what you say or mean when you make a comment. This is especially true on social media where there’s no body language or tone of voice to convey sarcasm, for example. We would hope such misunderstandings could be cleared up by reflecting on what the dissenter has said and asking pertinent questions with a view to actually listen to the answers. Unfortunately, that skill has long been replaced with close-minded attacks that ascribe disagreement on even a single point as a lack of character that requires sustained personal attacks or the refusal to interact.

For example, I am a natural rights advocate and therefore, I hold freedom of speech and religion as high standards that government should not interfere with … EVER. Misunderstandings only grow when we don’t talk about our differences and, sometimes, when we listen to those we don’t agree with we discover that we need to change in order to be a better person. I’ve had this experience myself. I’ve also learned things about others that have made me their opponent, standing against their message, but never arguing that they don’t have a right to speak. That way leads through dark woods wherein any of us might find ourselves a silenced minority if it’s our turn to be labeled inappropriate. I’d rather everyone’s right to speak be acknowledged so that reason may be left free to combat wrong ideas. You have a right not to listen, but that right extends only to walking away from a message or sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “la-la-la-la.” So, naturally, I’ve been called a Nazi.

Well, more accurately, I’ve been said to support neo-Nazis and to ascribe to their message. Why? Because I uphold the principle of the right of every individual, regardless of ideology, to speak his or her mind without interference from the government or threats of violence from their fellow humans AND I include neo-Nazis and enviro-wackos under that umbrella. I also include atheists and Baptists … gays and those who are creeped out by gays … post-modernists and Jordan Peterson. I stand with the American Constitution and Founding Fathers in saying EVERYBODY has a right to speak and EVERYBODY else has a right to oppose their message or not listen. Because I perceive rights as inherent in the individual, I don’t believe that some groups have a higher right to speak than other groups. They may have a better message … and that message will be received and accepted while the other is rejected … if we’ll only allow reason to counter bad arguments.

For that, I’m accused of being a neo-Nazi because nowadays, the United States of America has become a country where warring factions try to use government power to shut each other up and anyone who doesn’t think that’s a good idea is obviously evil.

Meanwhile, I don’t support neo-Nazis. I don’t subscribe to their message. Neo-nazism  might not work out well for me anyway as I am a tribal card holder and they object to the race-mixing that my mutt DNA represents. I’m not what I’ve been accused of, but it’s hard to counter mischaracterizations because those doing the mischaracterization will insist that their perception of you is far more important than your perception of yourself. They can read minds, don’t you know?

Personally, I try really hard not to ascribe evil to those who ascribe evil to me. I try to give people I disagree with the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we just see some issues from different perspectives. Maybe, if we talk a while, we’ll find common ground. I’m not a big believer in compromise — I think we’ve compromised far too much in the past and we’re too close to a cultural and economic cliff for any further compromise to be useful — but I am a big believer in discussion and affording each other some grace. People can be wrong without being evil and it’s possible I can learn something from them, if only I’ll listen. Now if they would only listen to what I am actually saying rather than their perception of what they believe I am saying. But I keep trying – offering thought-provoking questions on Facebook, usually centered on libertarian themes. Everyone is welcome to join.

 

Why Does Separation of Church & State Grow Churches?   2 comments

Image result for image of a anglican churchHave you ever noticed that Europe is largely a non-Christian society while in the United States, we value freedom of religion and have relatively higher levels of faith?

It’s sort of interesting how that works because in Europe, most countries have a state religion that is subsidized by the government while in the United States people have to dole out their hard-earned money if they want to support a church.

Seventy percent of young people in Europe identify with no religion. But almost every country in Europe has a state religion. In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, which is the government-sponsored religion of the United Kingdom. In Germany, where the state church is Lutheran, about 45% of young people never attend church. I’m told by a friend who is from Germany and attends our church here in the States that there is a growing independent evangelical movement in Germany.

“And we want nothing to do with the state. We’d rather meet in someone’s home than take a dime from the government because it appears the government is a killer of faith.”

His view echoes a friend from England who says the same thing — that non-subsidized evangelical churches are growing while the government-supported Anglican churches are mostly empty.

I read an article a few days ago about how the Church in the Czech Republic is almost non-existent. Meanwhile, small evangelical and charismatic denominations are thriving. These are the churches that never used the State to compel them to come in and now the faithful are willingly coming into their sanctuaries.

Of course, church attendance was declining in the United States for a long time even without government interference and I’m not convinced it has stabilized. But I just find it interesting that churches without government support do better than churches with government support.

Why Not Talk Together?   2 comments

Coffee Table TalkWelcome to the Land of Extremes! The US (indeed most of the Western world) is rapidly splitting into two political extremes that each see the other as the enemy in a potential fomenting war. If you’re in the middle … or a libertarian … they want to force you to choose a side and, it seems likely, if one side wins, it will try to eliminate the other point of view and probably yours as well.

You can blame it on a lot of factors. I try not to jump on President Trump’s every childish tweet because I am trying hard not to take sides. It can’t be easy to be a Trump supporter these days, but they are right that there’s been no solid evidence produced against Trump himself for anything that would have gotten the slightest notice during the Obama and Clinton era. Meanwhile, the news outlets have discredited themselves with their respective mudslinging and cheerleading.

Those are symptoms of our conditions that make it extremely difficult to find reliable, unbiased information about anything political. Almost everyone has taken a side. CNN is an unrelenting wall of anti-Trump semi-news every day all day. Fox News bangs the drum for Trump unless he makes a huge error and they try to minimize those. Facebook, Google et al show a clear bias to the the left and appear to be stifling some conservative viewpoints. Interesting, the folks I talk to on both sides of the divide insist the media outlets they prefer are just telling “the truth” while all the others are biased.

For the record … I think they’re all biased. Some are more biased than others.

Watching from the outside and largely trying to stay out of the political battles, I’ve seen hostilities escalating to where people truly view the other party as evil, prompting Jordan Peterson (a Canadian centrist with some libertarian views) to ask what American liberals think should happen to Trump supporters when the liberals overthrow the elected government. Speaking of Peterson … violent protests break out over invitations to even moderately conservative speakers … in effect limited college campus viewpoints to liberal only.

The days of the compassionate, tolerant liberal are over, replaced with an “us or them” mentality that labels libertarians and nonpartisans as “the enemy” because you can only “be with the correct side” or you’re most assuredly with the wrong side. And being on the “wrong side” increasing means it’s okay to encourage violence against conservatives, justified because they’re supposedly racist, sexist, homophobic, “intolerant” Nazis. If a conservative wants to reduce welfare or even just eliminate waste and fraud in the program, they “hate the poor” and minorities and are therefore racist. If a person of faith feels that homosexuality is not a faithful lifestyle, they are “homophobic”. Either way, they’re Nazis and, since Nazis are the worst kind of people, violence against them is deemed perfectly acceptable. No other solutions are reasonable anymore. You couldn’t simply use your free speech to disprove their point of view or fund alternative organizations to influence the political process and there’s no time to write convincing articles showing why they’re wrong — no, you must physically assault them, then have them jailed for refusing to stand still while you beat them to death.

For decades, the conservative response to being labeled racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., was to withdraw from the debate. Tufts University research shows “conservatives are more fearful than liberals of discussing politics with people with whom they disagree, because they dread being called a bigot. When asked how they feel about talking politics, every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist.” Liberals expressed no comparable fear.” That indicates that conservatives are not allowed by liberals to value certain polices over others for responsible reasons. If bringing up valid reasons to, for example, support welfare reform, immediately brings charges of racism, it shifts the discussion to whether you’re a racist and away from the valid reasons for supporting welfare reform.

This is not a one-sided battle. Polarization has motivated both sides to force one another to comply with its worldview. Conservatives tried for yours to force their morality on the public by trying to completely outlaw abortion. You once couldn’t get a divorce in this country and there are Republicans in my home state of Alaska who still fight for marijuana prohibition.

But Democrats aren’t blameless. They’re actively working to punish free speech and religious beliefs, to make it illegal to have anything other than the liberal point of view about how to behalf in society. They are quite comfortable with using public intimidating to suppress ideas they disagree with.

Last week, I suggested we are headed toward a war and I had people angrily tell me I was wrong. I don’t see where I am. We are no longer the United States of America. We have become blue versus red, us versus them, and we’re all engaged in a fight for the survival of our beliefs and values. The fight contradicts everything America was founded on — freedom of speech, of differing idea, of the right to believe (or not believe) in religion. If either side wins this war, trends suggest they will force us all to bow to their ideology.

We all lose when that happens.

There’s a solution and it lies in refusing to see those who disagree with us as the enemy. Open your mind to the possibility that you’re not right about everything. Republicans/Democrats are not the vanguard of a crusade against the forces of evil. We can stop the war from happening if we simply start being reasonable, calm our emotions and lay aside our prejudices, and be willing to listen and learn from each other.

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