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  • Time Portends: A Halloween Sonnet

      I humbly submit this iambic sonnet, dear reader, in celebration of All Hallows' Eve and with respectful homage to the Bard, long dead, but whose spirit and language lives within us. Time Portends: A Halloween Sonnet Though gloomy and grave it may be to say, No choice the end brings, surely we concede; We are all merely tenants of the day, The rent we pay, for we don’t hold the deed.   May we remain as young, the virile, strong; Yet worn and faded photos do remind, For every person, summer’s not for long; Despite warm doubts, cold terms severely bind.   It all sounds dismal, murky, and too bleak; Life’s prime torment, do we endure alone? Or can a sober truth we bravely seek, To know our lease will be inscribed on stone?   There's freedom in accepting time portends, Our lives demand untimely, certain, ends.   continue reading
  • Pale Blue Bully

    It started with a shove.  A much older kid, who I didn’t know, began shoving me.  I was about six or seven at the time and walking home alone from elementary school.  It was a beautiful day with the sun high overhead.  Because it was sunny and warm, no one was wearing any coats or jackets.  I was making my way along the sidewalk when unexpectedly I came upon a large group of older kids.  They must have been middle school students who attended the junior high.  But why were they here?  Had they just stepped off of a bus together?  Had they been left out of school early for some reason? I didn’t have a chance to think about this too much, however, because I was quickly surrounded by them.  Trying to find my way through the forest of their lanky legs and torsos, I bounced between and around them until I finally bumped into a wall.  The wall was a tall, dark-haired boy wearing a collared dress shirt that was pale blue.  He seemed very annoyed with me for some reason and would not let me pass.  Then the shoving started. I reached up instinctively to defend myself and without thought or intent grasped the front pocket of his shirt.  I glanced up at my hand, which appeared unusually small.  Then I raised my eyes further upward to look at my tormentor’s grimacing face.  With his head backlit against the bright orb of the sun and his blue shirt blending into the washed out sky, he became a translucent silhouette.  Squinting into the sun I could feel rather than see his rage building to fury.  “You tear off that pocket”, he said in an icy monotone, “and I’ll tear off your face.” I had accidentally bumped into him; now by inadvertently grabbing his shirt I had made things even worse.  That’s easy to do, of course, when confronted with a bully.  In fact it’s almost a given that a bully will find a way to blame their victim for both instigating and, as their whim dictates, further escalating the bullying.  I felt like I had fallen into a trap for which I was not at all prepared.  I tried hard to make out his features as he stared at my tiny hand clutching his shirt pocket. Another kid who was apparently the bully’s sidekick, a bully often has a sidekick, thrust his head forward and blurted out, “Let go of his shirt!”  How had this become about me grabbing his shirt?  Even though I hadn’t meant to grab his shirt, I suddenly could not bring myself to let it go.  Letting go now would be a sign of weakness and might label me a bully’s target forever, but holding on did not seem to be a good option either.  I sensed I was in a very dangerous predicament. The group of older kids closed in around us to form a tight audience. Even more than sidekicks, a bully needs an audience to further enhance the humiliation of their victim.  A compliant audience also increases the relative power of the bully, not only over those they torment, but over the audience itself.  A bully is very much aware of their audience, because a bully needs others to bear witness to their power making it implicitly clear, “I do this and you all do nothing.”  The silent audience becomes both co-conspirator and victim.  There on the sidewalk this bully now had all he needed: his audience, his sidekick, and his victim. Time became sluggish, so my mind raced ahead.  I looked at my fingers intertwined with his shirt pocket and contemplated those unlucky digits as if they belonged to someone else.  It occurred to me that it would be quite easy to simply yank downward and tear off his pocket.  If I had been courageous, I might even have intentionally seized his shirt just like I was doing at this very moment.  If I had been crazy, I might even tear his pocket off right this instant.  Since he was the one who had put these strange thoughts in my head, did he actually want me to tear his shirt, so he could then pummel me to the pavement?  What would actually tearing his shirt be anyway: an act of courage, a suicidal foolishness, or an impulse? I mutely stood there wondering what it would be like to have your face ripped off or simply to have someone attempt such a preposterously violent thing.  Why did I even have to consider such absurdity when moments before I was just walking home?  The pale blue bully sneered down at me and I looked blankly up at him.  I realized that letting go of his shirt would be cowardice.  And all I could think of was that I didn’t want to be a coward, so I kept my grip on his shirt. The next thing I remember was hearing the voice of a girl somewhere behind me.  It was an older girl, who I also didn’t know.  “Leave him alone”, she said flatly.  It was as much the sound of her voice as what she said that somehow broke the stalemate.  In the next instant the bully thrust my hand aside and uttered something about “killing” and “next time” as he turned and pushed his way through the crowd.  The group of older kids relaxed their closed circle around me and then noisily dispersed.  I stood there motionless on the sidewalk until I was alone. A few of my classmates, who must have witnessed some of what had happened from the periphery, approached.  One asked excitedly, “Why did you grab his shirt?”  “I don’t know,” I replied, “it just happened.”  My classmates shook their heads with a mixture of relief and disbelief as if they had just seen a potentially horrible accident narrowly avoided.  I took a deep breath and thought how nice it was to be surrounded again by people my own size. I never saw any of the older kids after that day, including the boy who was my tormentor and the girl who was my savior.  And when I think of it now, I recall experiencing a long list of emotions ranging from confusion, isolation, humiliation, fear, defiance, relief, and finally gratitude toward a stranger.  For a long time I thought this and other bullying incidents I experienced as a child had been rites of passage; things that, although unpleasant, had made me stronger.  But now I see bullying for what it is - destructive and perverse.  The strength potentially gained through surviving and overcoming bullying does not compensate for the damage it does to everyone involved, including the bullies themselves.  Bullying is not “normal” behavior and should never be rationalized or ignored. I consider myself lucky, because the bullying I experienced tended to be short-lived, episodic, and perpetuated by bullies who also bullied others.  Since I knew that other kids were going through the same thing as I was, I tended to feel less alone and “singled out”.  Although my larger peer group often remained silent out of fear, they did not typically join and participate in the bullying against me.  I was sometimes a victim of bullying, but mostly I wasn’t.  Sometimes I was even able to intervene when others were bullied, but with mixed results. Today, however, kids are often not so lucky, because now bullying seems more relentless and at times even inescapable.  The pervasiveness of social media and the rise of crowd sourced bullying makes what I experienced seem somewhat quaint.  And if anything was made clear to me, and is even more so today, victims often can’t stand up for themselves.  It is up to those who are aware of bullying to intervene and show to everyone that it is not going to be tolerated.  We all have to decide.  Are we going to be members of the complicit audience or vocal witnesses who defend victims?  By choosing to be silent we aid the bully, while at the same time diminish ourselves.  But by speaking up, not only do we help to define what is right; we accept responsibility for correcting what is wrong - and that benefits everybody. continue reading
  • Election 2012: Ohio, Jobs, and Shale Gas

    When the 2012 presidential election is over and America has its next president, voters will be able to point to those things that tipped the scale in the winner’s favor.  Some of these things may be the usual political or social issues now receiving the most attention such as Mitt Romney’s recent pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate.  Other factors, having their own momentum and not so easily controlled by politicians, will also have a significant impact.  One of these factors may turn out to be the shale gas deposits found deep beneath eastern Ohio.  The intersection of electoral mathematics, job creation, and energy, may make shale gas development in Ohio a deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election. Ohio is crucial to Romney and, if not crucial, at least extremely important to Obama.  Even though Ohio’s electoral votes have fallen from 20 to 18 since the last election, everyone knows that Ohio is important.  This is particularly true for Romney.  No Republican has ever won a presidential election without taking Ohio, not because it’s absolutely necessary, but because it’s a swing state that typically favors Republicans.  If a Republican doesn’t take Ohio, that means they have to take another large swing state like Pennsylvania that tends to favor Democrats. Since the reelection of an incumbent president hinges heavily on the economy and jobs, where the employment rate goes over the next few months is obviously going to be critical.  The overall US economy has recently slowed and unemployment went back up to 8.3 percent.  Ohio unemployment, however, continues to go down and this is partially based on the jobs created by shale gas development.  Ohio unemployment peaked in July 2009 through January 2010 at 10.6 percent, but as of June 2012 it is at 7.2 percent.  This is the lowest it’s been since October 2008.  If unemployment in Ohio continues its downward trend, Obama will derive a boost.  If job growth stalls in Ohio, Romney will have an edge. Shale gas development is still in its early stages and there continues to be an environmental concern regarding water use, but its promise is immense.  Shale gas is expected to create over two hundred thousand jobs and attract tens of billions of dollars of investment into the Buckeye state over the next few years.  Once the gas starts to flow to market at the volumes anticipated, not only will it provide US jobs and profits for investors, it will help improve the US balance of trade and reduce US dependence on foreign sources of energy.  Given the potential benefits, the impetus of shale gas development becomes harder to stop with each passing day. The task for Obama is to ensure that federal interference does not inhibit the progress being made on the state level related to shale gas, while at the same time his administration addresses public concern over the impact on water resources.  The Obama administration recently tightened rules on fracking, which is the hydraulic fracturing of shale using water, chemicals, and sand.  These new rules apply to drilling done on federal lands and require the disclosure of the chemicals used during fracking.  The rules also require testing to verify adequate well construction and the implementation of water management plans beyond what is currently needed.  Obama will argue that environmental protection and energy development need not be mutually exclusive and that his approach is prudent without being overly burdensome. The task for Romney is to celebrate the efforts of John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio along with the predominately Republican General Assembly to facilitate shale gas development in an environmentally responsible manner.  Ohio has so far shown that state governments are equipped to manage this development in ways that generate jobs, attract investment, and protect the environment.  Romney will argue that the Obama administration has been the bottleneck to domestic energy production by intervening on decisions better left to states, while a Romney administration would expand US energy development by allowing states to develop their own resources. Shale gas development now has its own momentum and the benefits, including job growth, are tracking upward.  If this continues, Obama could gain a slight advantage, because it may help temper animosity towards him in those areas of Ohio hardest hit by the economic downturn.  Any weakness in the Ohio economy over the next few months, especially in job growth, could put things in favor of Romney.  Come November everyone will be watching as Ohio voters again take a lead role in deciding who will be America’s next president. continue reading
  • An Easy Compromise

    The Republican Party has never really been against spending so much as they simply don't like taxes; and the Democratic Party has never really been for taxes so much as they simply like spending.  The easy compromise has always been that everyone gets what they want - Republicans get to cut taxes and Democrats get to spend.  What has been the consequence?  Mostly, it has led to the political reward to incumbents of repeated reelection.  This is why we have a more than fourteen trillion dollar debt.  Like most things involving politics, we as voters have the debt that we deserve. continue reading
  • Our Bed of Credit

    Credit is an abstract concept that is difficult to understand.  Like the multi-dimensional reality we live in, we can only truly grasp those dimensions that we can actually see and feel.  Credit, like the fifth dimension, is always going to be an abstraction that remains elusive.  We may get the general idea, but the actual reality and all its implications are always going to challenge our perception.  It is upon credit, however, that the development of civilization has depended. Without credit everything shrinks: wealth, material well-being, education, health, security, and most all other opportunities.  Access to funds that can be invested now, but paid back over time is a key factor in increasing living standards around the world.  Modern society itself could not exist without a cushion of credit – a colossal air mattress keeping us above the cold, hard ground of a more brutal existence.  It’s pumped up by confidence and our hope in the future.  The trick has always been to keep a reasonable amount of air in the mattress appropriately correlated to the actual physical economy. Since we all depend on the integrity of our collective system of credit, we all have an interest in how it’s managed.  This means ensuring that those who get paid to pump air in don’t simply inflate for their own profits and burst the mattress.  This also means that in correcting for over inflation too much air doesn’t get sucked out too quickly bringing us crashing back down to earth.  We aren’t literally sleeping together, but we do share a bed of sorts; and it’s made of credit.  Even if we sometimes resent our bedmates, especially those that trash the mattress, we always have to remember the importance of the bed. continue reading
  • Facing Reality: Doing More to Protect Children from Pedophiles

    As the initial disbelief and outrage over the accusations against Jerry Sandusky give way to high-profile court cases, there is an uncomfortable truth that continues to remain below the surface - we are simply not doing enough to protect children from pedophiles.  Although the scandal in the Catholic Church elevated the topic of sexual abuse in the public conscience, the reality of pedophiles remains something many people would prefer not to think about too closely.  The current scandal involving Sandusky has refocused our attention on the issue, but it may do little to diminish the overall prevalence of sexual abuse unless we face the problem more directly and with a lasting commitment.  What is needed is a complete transformation in the way we as a society think about and take action against the sexual abuse of children. Given that approximately one in four women and one in seven men were sexually abused as children and that children today are facing these same startling statistics, we are clearly not doing enough to stop pedophiles.  There are over half a million registered sex offenders in the US and the majority of these have sexually molested children.  These are known offenders.  It is estimated, however, that there are millions more who continue to specifically target children with impunity.  It sounds alarmist, but unfortunately the number of victims, who often remain silent out of shame and fear, sadly supports these estimates.  This isn’t simply an institutional problem of the Catholic Church or Penn State University; it is a pervasive social problem in America and throughout the world. To encounter a pedophile for many people, unless they have specific experience in dealing with pedophiles, is to confront an aberration.  It is not uncommon for it to create varying levels of cognitive dissonance where things simply do not make sense.  How can this person people think they know, who is sometimes respected and trusted by many, be capable of such horrible crimes?  This is not to excuse the actions and inactions of those who knew or should have known, but an attempt to place it in the context of our current social environment.  It will be a travesty if we only focus on the present scandal and then eventually move on, rather than provide lasting compassion for the victims of sexual abuse, try to understand the traumas they have experienced, and work to prevent new and continued instances of abuse from occurring.  It is time that the pervasive ignorance that surrounds this issue, and which pedophiles so cleverly use to their advantage, is finally replaced by a sober assessment of reality and the courage to act.  Pedophiles count on the common tendency of people to turn away in confusion and denial, but it is up to all of us not to turn away. We must address this multi-dimensional problem at every level, whether it is the prevalence of sexual abuse itself, the social stigmas surrounding victimization, or the long-term impact abuse has on victims, families, and society.  There are many personal, institutional, and cultural reasons that contribute to the widespread inability of people to even acknowledge, let alone stop sexual abuse.  In addition, our criminal justice and legal systems are often not adequately equipped to deal with crimes against children that continue to be rarely reported and if reported at all often done so years later.  As a university, Penn State has the inter-disciplinary resources to actively work toward creating solutions in all these areas.  It would be truly inspiring if Penn State would set the goal to become a premier center for the study of sexual abuse in all its forms and take a leadership role in changing society’s perceptions and prejudices, reducing the prevalence of abuse, and championing the cause of victims.  This could be one positive legacy of this tragedy that would help make it a catalyst for change, not just for Penn State, but for all of us.  It is also a way to truly honor and validate the courage of all victims of sexual abuse.  We should require no less from Penn State - and demand no less from ourselves. continue reading
  • Loose End, Rough Justice

    Although Muammar Qaddafi will never face trial and be forced to answer for his many crimes, his recent violent end brought finality to decades of terror and murder.  It was certainly long overdue.  Although the synergy between NATO airpower and the courageous efforts of the Libyan people was at times uncoordinated and even chaotic, it eventually was able to overcome and destroy Qaddafi and his regime.  France and other NATO allies of the US took lead roles in hitting Qaddafi in the only way that made a difference – with force.  Twenty-five years obviously changed a lot, because the last time the US tried to deal with Qaddafi using force the US had to act alone. Prior to last year, we had to look all the way back to 1986 when President Reagan ordered the bombing of Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.  The strike was in response to Libyan agents detonating a bomb inside the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, which killed two American soldiers, Sergeant Kenneth Ford and Sergeant James Goins, and Nermin Hannay, a Turkish woman, along with wounding more than two hundred others.  There had also been a foiled plot in Berlin linked to Libya that involved blowing up a bus filled with the children of US diplomats.  These events had been preceded by the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman, who was killed by someone firing from inside the Libyan embassy in London during a protest in April 1984.  Amazingly, no one was ever charged for the policewoman’s murder or the injury of ten others in the incident.  Libya was also directly linked to shootings at the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 in which nineteen people were killed and more than one hundred wounded. Back in 1986, France, Spain, and Italy refused to grant the US access to their airspace, so the US Air Force jets, which were based in Britain, had to fly a long, circuitous route in order to attack Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.  Incidentally, the US pilots accidentally dropped a bomb on the French embassy in Tripoli during the raid (there were no French injuries).  Lacking support of allies and the world community in general, the token US strike against Qaddafi along with continued confrontations between US and Libyan forces in the Mediterranean did little.  The Qaddafi regime continued to carry out the murder of numerous Libyan exiles living abroad and to be a lead promoter of terrorism around the world. Qaddafi’s worst international act of terrorism came in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people, including 190 Americans (many of them college students) and 11 on the ground in Scotland.  Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan security and intelligence operative went to prison for the bombing, but he was later released and others who were implicated in the conspiracy either received immunity or were acquitted.  What had been Qaddafi’s punishment for Lockerbie?  Nearly fifteen years later in 2002 Qaddafi agreed to pay $2.7 billion in reparations to families of the victims ($10M per family).  This was part of a grand deal that was carried out between the West and Qaddafi.  In exchange for renouncing international terrorism (after thirty years of killing), giving up on developing weapons of mass destruction, and paying reparations (a small amount of oil revenue), Qaddafi got access to Western technology and capital to further develop his oil wealth.  Because of Libya’s oil and his ability to potentially help in the fight against Al Qaeda, he got a pass for mass murder. That may have been the final chapter; Qaddafi reinventing himself as a “friend” to the West, helping in the fight against terrorism, and having him and his family become even more wealthy and powerful.  The missing piece in the equation, of course, was the Libyan people themselves.  Even if Qaddafi had given up supporting external terrorism, he remained a despotic, murderous ruler to his own people.  When the Libyan people finally rose up, the West was granted one last chance to do the right thing.  In helping Libyans rid themselves of Qaddafi, NATO also finally achieved some justice for our murdered citizens. Unfortunately, we may never know all the details behind what actually happened in Lockerbie or the identities of everyone who conspired to commit the bombing and many other killings over the years, but the individual primarily responsible for setting it all in motion is now dead.  Qaddafi’s death certainly does nothing to diminish the pain of his many victims and their families, but at least he will never hurt anyone else ever again.  It may have been a loose end tied up with rough justice or loose justice resulting in a rough end, but Qaddafi is no more and sometimes imperfect justice is better than none at all. continue reading
  • Health Care Hypocrisy

    The single factor that seemed to contribute the most to the Democrats defeat in Congress, the one thing that animated the highest animosity and energized the vote in opposition, was Health Care Reform.  Now members of the Tea Party and many Republicans in Congress are vowing to “gut it”.  If this is how conservatives plan to use their recently gained political capital, they will fall into the same trap as Democrats.  After spending so much time and so many resources debating health care, not just recently, but over decades, Congress is poised to again squander their opportunities debating its undoing.  The fundamental issue doesn’t even have anything to do with closely held beliefs, but with the most base of all things – political power. Like much of the current political dialogue, the health care debate is rife with hypocrisy.  When George W. Bush instituted prescription drug coverage under the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, a costly social health program we can ill afford then, now, and in the future, there not only wasn’t much criticism from Republicans – many of them actually voted for it.  A recent estimate has projected the tab for prescription drug coverage to be over $500 billion for the period 2006 to 2015, some of which isn’t a projection, but actual money American taxpayers have already paid out in benefits.  This isn’t as much as Health Care Reform has been estimated to cost, which recently was projected to be in excess of $850 Billion over ten years.  In fact, like most things, it’s very likely Health Care Reform is going to eventually cost more, probably over a trillion dollars.  There’s no doubt it will be expensive; but to say that it is an “outrageous, socialist experiment”, while rolling over and accepting prescription drug coverage as perfectly reasonable, is simply not credible.  Even though one was put in place by the Republicans and the other by the Democrats, neither program can make a claim of fiscally responsibility. Why did the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whose conservative street cred is unassailable by many, go along with the kind of “socialism” exemplified by adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare?  Because paying for grandma’s meds not only seems like a nice thing to do, it also just happens to grease the voting leaver and is a nice windfall for pharmaceutical companies.  Always in the minority on the right, left, and center, the few who are truly fiscally responsible stand dumbfounded - wondering how it all gets paid.  Prescription drug coverage under Medicare is now almost impossible to control with an aging population and ever more drugs being prescribed for ever more things.  What politician is ever going to be able to even discuss potentially reducing or eliminating this benefit, which is now fully entrenched?  Certainly nobody who wants to get reelected – and in politics that’s everything.  If conservatives are convinced that repealing Health Care Reform is the right thing to do, then they should at least show some ideological consistency and also set about repealing the Medicare Modernization Act.  This would take integrity and courage; but it would also be “politically unwise” to eliminate a benefit already in place, so we can be sure it will not happen. continue reading
  • Love of Country

    When it comes to love of country, the only question that matters is this: What kind of love will it be?  Will it be a love based on truth and understanding?  Will it be a love that has depth and meaning?  Or will it be a superficial and fragile love that can not withstand even a whisper of reality?  To love one’s country despite a clear-eyed view of its shortcomings is the mark of a true patriot.  Nothing is achieved through blind admiration - except a stagnation that gives way to an increasingly desperate defense of false nostalgia.  There are those who believe that pointing out the hypocrisy in America’s past and present makes one a traitor, while those who cheer America “right or wrong” are somehow noble.  But willful ignorance or outright denial of the facts is certainly no virtue; and it is contrary to fulfilling the beliefs written in the US Constitution. A citizen’s uncritical love for their country is a lot like a young child’s unquestioning love for their parents.  It may be comforting, endearing, and pure, but it is by its nature immature.  As the child grows and develops through adolescence and early adulthood, the flaws and contradictions of their parents will slowly, but inevitably become apparent.  It is through processing the difference between the ideal and the reality that the child comes to a deeper appreciation of their parents and a more mature love and respect.  If the child is rational and honest, they will also come to recognize their own imperfections and hypocrisies, which will further their understanding of and compassion for not only their parents, but for others as well.  The same is true for a citizen’s love of country. America has always depended on critical thinking citizens of varied political persuasions who can see beyond ideology, point out their own and the country’s shortcomings, and work to find ways to help America live up to its promise.  America needs a nation of adults, not a nation of children unable or unwilling to confront reality.  America will remain worthy of admiration only if the majority of its citizens continually measure stated beliefs against existing conditions and then take the responsibility to bring things into better alignment.  It’s what adults do; and true patriotism demands it. continue reading
  • A Lack of Civility

    In the 1960’s air travel was an elegant affair.  My grandmother tells me how she wore not only a dress, but also a hat and white gloves to travel by plane.  She was received in swanky lounges and attended to throughout the entire experience.  From the time she entered the airport until she arrived at her destination, she was treated like a discriminating customer - someone the airlines respected and wanted to impress. Maybe it’s partly nostalgia, because my grandmother was also handed a pack of smokes before her flight, which was not so pleasant for non-smokers; but in general air travel used to be more civilized.  Now we are treated like a burden, a nameless lump that has to be fed, watered, and transported.  Many who fly regularly have become resigned to the minor humilities and major inconveniences of air travel.  Along with this resignation, passenger’s attitudes and behaviors have also deteriorated.  When people expect bad service they tend to act accordingly, which can range from mild irritation to open hostility. I find airplane toilets to be particularly symbolic of passenger contempt and airline indifference.  The toilets start out clean (usually), but within a brief period of use they are a disaster.  Most people try not to be messy and some even make an attempt to clean up after themselves, but a small number of people invariably trash the place.  It seems it has become this way for many things today (airplane toilets, litter on the streets, mortgage-backed securities, political discourse, and even terrorism); all it takes is a few to ruin it for the many. To be considered civilized used to be a noble aspiration, now it’s at best quaint and at worst something to be attacked.  We live in a time where being cordial, gracious, and considerate is ridiculed as weak or elitist.  With its failing economic calculus, crowded environments, over-scheduling of resources, and consistently high stress levels, the airline industry has become a crucible for what modern life can do to our collective civility – even when politics and religion aren’t involved.  The creeping incivility we experience on airplanes portends a future where public life in general increasingly feels like a delayed flight where a disgruntled few can make everyone miserable.  This means that the rest of us, like any experienced traveler knows, will all have to make an extra effort to remain calm. continue reading