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We Owe Our Children Lives Free from Violence & Fear

sandy hook

Avoidances Enabled: Highways

Old Baton Rouge Capitol

Storm approaching over Baton Rouge Capitol building

My GPS has this wonderful “Avoidances” feature that allows me to select any of several driving obstacles I’d like to avoid: U-turns, toll roads, traffic, carpool lanes, ferries (?).   When I’m traveling -at least, after I reach my destination – I choose to avoid “Highways.”

bluebonnet swamp

Bluebonnet Swamp

Toodling around  Baton Rouge for the last few days, “avoiding” highways has taken me to some great places in some interesting ways. I’ve seen sights and neighborhoods  that I’d never have enjoyed had a I just hopped up on I-10 or I-12 and puddle jumped between exits.

raccoon

Raccoon in Bluebonnet Swamp

Taking city streets to the Old Capitol area took me through some gritty areas of Baton Rouge, but also gave me an intimate sense of the history and layout of the city.   Driving main roads to Bluebonnet Swamp richly illustrated the wonder of this fantastic urban greenway, bordered on all sides by homes and businesses and busy roads that give no clue to the wild lands they embrace, or the diversity of nature the park protects.

Baton Rouge statue

Statue on LSU Ag Center grounds

In the same way, entering the LSU Rural Life Museum and Ag Center grounds – an amazing 40 acre oasis of history and botanical beauty – along residential roads that give way to boundless fields and acres of forest made the experience of time travel offered by this unparalleled museum of folk architecture and culture even more powerful.

baton rouge

Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge, like all communities  large and small, is more than the sum of its parts.  It is powered by the energy, perseverance and creativity of  its people, made manifest through that people’s architecture, industry and artistry.  Exit hopping on the highway makes it convenient to forget and easy to miss everything in between those exits that makes it all possible and, more important, that makes it all meaningful.

Tomorrow, I have to disable my highway avoidance and make use of those high speed interstates, at least for some major stretches,  if I’m to have any hope of getting back home in a day, which work and life necessitates.  But I’ll be keenly aware of the lives and livelihoods, of the history and communities, that I’m passing by.  And at the first opportunity, I’ll be taking the first available exit off the highway and getting back to the roads that really take you places.

The Things That Matter: Fishing for a Real Future

soldering guidanceMy day job involves working for an organization whose mission is: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Those are the words and vision of inventor Dean Kamen, founder of the U.S. Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, better known as FIRST. FIRST engages kids in elementary through high school grades in competitive robotics competitions that provide youth with opportunities to work with professional mentors and learn science, math and engineering skills in fun, enduring and rewarding ways, with over $16 million in scholarships for participating high schoolers.

“The assumption that drove the creation of FIRST, “ Kamen said in an interview with PTC last year, “ waslearning about robot you get what you celebrate in a free culture, and the reason America was slipping compared to a lot of its peers around the world—particularly in kids getting involved with and mastering science and technology—was not bad teachers or bad schools, it wasn’t what we don’t have. It was the fact that as a rich country we have so many distractions that have created for kids role models that prevent them from working hard at things that matter.”

In the last few weeks, I was so immersed in working with students , their mentors and the local business community supporting kids in “working hard at the things that matter,” that I almost missed an equally important debate on things that matter to us here in Tampa Bay involving a big box retailer and the substantive public tax payer incentive that county officials want to give the store to open shop in our community.

bass pro area

Site of “The Estuary” shopping plaza

The Tampa Bay Times  reports that the Hillsborough County Commission is considering contributing $6.25 million (down from $15 million, initially)  toward road improvements around “The Estuary”, an enormous, ironically named shopping plaza planned between Falkenburg Road and Interstate 75 – currently the site of Florida pine scrub, and a good 15 miles inland from any chance of an “estuary”, which is by definition a partially enclosed body of coastal water where freshwater from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean and actually does something physically, biologically, environmentally and even economically useful, by virtue of the recreational opportunities our coastline offers.

real estuary

A real estuary

Besides the sad fact that  “The Estuary”  shopping center is going to completely destroy anything remotely natural – estuarian or otherwise – in the area of planned development, developers predictions of “ annual sales of $61.8 million, generating state and local sales taxes” and “property assessment climbing to $16.4 million, boosting taxes on land now used for agriculture” ring hollow in light of the facts, and misleading in light of “things that matter.”

Bass Pro’s track record and the history of big tax incentives for major retailers suggest assurances that “ Hillsborough could break even on its $15 million investment by 2018” are probably more than a little inflated.  More important, though: Do we truly believe that subsidized shopping offers a real return on our investment towards our collective future?

Bass Pro projects it would create 369 permanent, full-time jobs in addition to 1,517 temporary construction jobs over five years, and the entire shopping plaza development is project to create 1,327 retail jobs.

But the fact is, says a report by the Public Accountability Initiative that examined such claims (Fishing for Taxpayer Cash), “Bass Pro often fails to deliver on its promises as an economic development anchor and major tourist destination – promises which were used to reel in government subsidies. Its stores successfully attract shoppers, but often do not produce sought-after economic benefits associated with major tourist destinations,” and taxpayers in places like Cincinnati, Harrisburg PA, and Bakersfield, CA “ have been left with high levels of debt and fiscal stress as a result of Bass Pro Projects.”

“Retail is not economic development. People don’t suddenly have more money to spend on hip waders because a new Bass Pro or Cabela’s comes to town,” Greg Leroy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a non-partisan economic development watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., told The Atlantic Cities in an article last summer .  “All that happens is that money spent at local mom and pop retailers shifts to these big box retailers. When government gives these big box stores tax dollars, they are effectively picking who the winners and losers are going to be.”

Larry Whitely, a spokesman for Bass Pro Shops, argued in the article that their stores “should be viewed as an amenity being added to a community — much like one might view a park or a library.  …”These aren’t just stores – they are natural history museums.  Every store is designed to reflect the unique natural environment of the area in which it is located.” “

Aside, again, from the basic fact that the store, by virtue of its construction, would be destroying a unique natural environment in the area in which it is to be located, $6.5 million would buy a lovely real natural history museum , park or library with a far greater return on the investment, socially, aesthetically, academically, environmentally and economically. $6.5 million dollars could also address food insecurity, make a serious impact on homelessness, pay for new teachers, finance school improvements, or make a nice deposit on a light rail system.

From a purely personal perspective, $6.5 million could fund a couple or three FIRST robotics STEM education robotics teams in every one of Hillsborough County’s nearly 160 K-12 schools for years, helping create the type of scientifically literate people Florida needs for a truly economically successful future.  Because the real path to future prosperity in Florida and nationally, economic development experts are saying, is growing a knowledge based economy,not a consumer based one.

stem skillsA knowledge based economy is one that is “driven by research, ideas, innovations, and technical skills to generate high-impact economic benefits and high-wage jobs. Strong sustainable knowledge economies

  • Are able to sell goods and services at a higher profit margin than others;
  • Earn average wages up to $25,000 more than non-knowledge-based communities, and;
  • Are able to perform and execute business through more cost-effective and efficient relationships.

In the “New Economy Index” report of states by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which evaluates states on a similar “knowledge based” formula, Florida ranked 21st – and dropping.

“Some have argued that, given the economic downturn, now is not the time to focus on innovation,” state rankingobserved the report’s authors. “rather, our chief concern should be job creation. Yet, fostering innovation and creating jobs are by no means mutually exclusive. To the contrary, most studies of the issue have found that innovation is positively correlated to job growth in the mid- to long-term.”

By a correlation factor of 0.87, notes one author – ” in fact exponentially proportional to KEI (Knowledge Economic Indicator) , ie higher the KEI, higher is the per capita income of that country and vice versa. Highest KEI is of Denmark at 9.58 on a scale of 1 to 10, and the lowest KEI is of Myanmar at 0.96 at rank 145.” (Express Tribune-)

Among the key findings in Change the Equation’s Florida Vital Signs report, “Florida needs a world class education system and seamless talent supply chain to meet workforce demands at all skill levels. STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – is of the utmost priority if Florida is to achieve its long term goal.

Nowhere in that report is there a call for more consumer opportunities or retail jobs.

“Before handing taxpayer money to Bass Pro projects, ” concludes  the Public Accountability Initiative report, ” public officials should consider what some other cities are going through as a result of Bass Pro-anchored projects that have fallen short: high levels of debt and fiscal duress, lackluster development, vacancy and blight, and lower-than-expected tax revenues. Considering the potential consequences, it is imperative for public officials and taxpayers to take the proper steps to ensure that they are not subsidizing an underperforming development: ask straightforward questions of Bass Pro and project developers, demand transparency and data, secure contractual guarantees that limit cannibalization, and, above all, consider alternatives. There is no good reason to subsidize development that sells cities short and leaves taxpayers on the hook.”

checking under the hoodPublic officials – and the public – should also consider what really matters to Florida’s future and help us build a Knowledge economy that will serve us and future generations  far better, and make us far more productive and competitive than any retail chain store ever will.   If, as Dean Kamen says, and as I fully agree, we get what we celebrate, and the best we can do is Bass Pro Shops , then that’s all we’ll get.

If, however, we choose to celebrate creative productivity and scientific and technical literacy and achievement, we’ll get so much more than we could ever have imagined!

The Little Things That Run the World

Depending on who’s doing the talking, and what they’re talking about, either god or the devil is said to be in the details.  The astounding and sometimes horrific nature of the insect world is one of those situations where both  may be there at the same time.

This past summer, in particular, insects have had their share of headlines, from tick borne diseases to mosquito induced West Nile Virus,and flea driven Bubonic plague .  Okay, technically ticks aren’t insects, they’re arachnids, but they’re  arthropods of note and notoriety.  Almost everyone’s heard of Lyme Disease now,  which is caused by tick bites as are a number of other illnesses.  But the tick bite illness in the news this summer – tick induced delayed anaphylaxis -is one I first heard about a couple of years ago when I was working on my book, the Florida Allergy Handbook .

I was actually in the middle of a draft review  and was double checking some facts on tick allergy when I came across an article citing research about how the bite of certain seed ticks predisposed some victims to a severe allergy to meat.

I did a double take.

It got weirder. You only developed the meat allergy if your blood type is other than A or AB.  The  first

Adult deer tick

reports hailed from Australia but were eventually confirmed by University of Virginia researchers who found that some individuals bitten by “seed” ticks–the tiny larval young of adult ticks–experienced severe anaphylactic reactions three to six hours after eating beef, pork or lamb.

As I reported in my book, “Patients first experienced an increasingly intensifying itching that spread across the skin’s outer and deeper layers, and escalated to swelling, intestinal distress and finally symptoms of anaphylaxis. “

The culprit turns out to be an IgE antibody that binds to a sugar molecule known as alpha-gal, a finding that further disrupts what we thought about allergies, which are typically caused by proteins in food, pollen, dander and venom, not sugars .

Every time we think we’ve got a handle on things, it turns out we’re just holding a branch connected to a whole lot of other branches – and it’s full of bugs.  We rarely really know what we’re talking about, and even when we do, the little things still rule.

West Nile Virus is nothing new, but this past summer the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported a record 2,118 ill and 92 dead of the disease, across  44 states. Mother Earth News is not alone in suggesting that climate change might be causing the increase in insect borne diseases.

“The best insecticide ,” says Mother Earth News.”… is cold weather.  Nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurred between 2002 and 2011 with 2012 likely becoming the hottest year ever recorded! We are having earlier springs and hotter summers which mean mosquitos can breed earlier and longer.”

And that’s exactly what they’re doing.  Throughout the Florida Allergy Handbook, I cite instances of climate change as a likely contributing factor to everything from larger, more virulent poison ivy to record size wasp nests.   This summer in Florida alone, we’ve had nine inches of rain above normal, making for larger and longer areas of standing water that provide prime breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests.

An intriguing article in Wired this month observed, “In the United States, Lyme disease is thought of as the major tickborne bad actor — but over the past two years, health authorities have been coming to grips with the unappreciated toll of other tick-related diseases, including erlichiosis, anaplasmosis, STARI, and babesiosis, which is moving into the blood supply. That’s not even to mention the toll of long-standing insect-borne diseases: malaria, one of the top five infectious killers in the world, along with rapidly rising dengue.

“When we indulge in cultural fascination with scary new diseases, we tend to look to the animal kingdom — bats in the movie Contagion, whose scenario was based on the discovery of Nipahvirus, or monkeys in just about any account of Ebola. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, we have difficulty believing we can be brought down by something we can barely see. (In some cases literally: The tick suspected of transmitting Heartland, Amblyoma americanum, is half the size of a sesame seed.)

And yet arthropods continually fascinate me.  The massive global, economic, social and health impact of things in such tiny packages is stunning in its unintended audacity. There is a wasp, for instance – a tiny fairy wasp with the ironically long name megaphragma mymaripenne - that is just 200 microns in size,; just twice the width of the average human hair, and smaller than a single celled amoeba.  And yet this creature is replete with organs!

And on these creatures live other creatures in an almost infinite Whoville universe.  Click the image below for a remarkable 1 milimeter to 500 nanometer inward zoom at the constellation of life in a humble amphipod.

Nature will try anything once,” Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “This is what the sign of the insects says.  No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass.”

Juvenile Assassin Bug

All around me things are clacking in the grass.  The abundance of summer rains  have

Adult Assassin Bug

produced an abundance of life everywhere you look – and sometimes it’s best not to look too closely.  For days I watched a rather amusing little orange insect trundling placidly among the white pentas in my yard.  I researched, and ran it past my usual expert sources – All Things Bugs, and IFAS . But because I’m nothing if not curious, I decided to run a  “What Kind of Insect is That?” contest at Fine Art America while awaiting an answer, to see what other kinds of interesting critters might be out there.

Nearly 200 entries of amazing insect photos were submitted.  It was there that I learned my cute little orange bug was a juvenile assassin bug that would grow up to do just what its name suggests – assassinate other insects.

The winning entries are remarkable things to behold – a yellow and black treehopper, by Craig Lapsley , with giraffe spots on a humped head and an opaque eye; a rainbow colored lantern bug, by Roy Foos,  right out of a Dr. Seuss book, with a red elephantine protuberance  covered in white spots and sporting green and yellow wings ; and a bulbous cicada, by Shane Bechler , with enormous cellophane wings.

These are in fact the little things that run the world, and will continue to do so long after we are gone.  The cockroach repels us,  yet because of us it thrives in the ecosystem of our leavings.  We’re peripheral to the universe of ticks and mosquitoes, who largely exist on the blood of other animals, and yet they fell us by the thousands almost as an afterthought.  Even the bubonic plaque has made a resurgence, contracted by a child in the Colorado this past summer, when she was bitten by fleas on a dead squirrel that she handled.

And yet insects are also beautiful , like butterflies, and successfully resourceful like ants, and  vital to our existence like bees and other insect pollinators without whom our food crops would suffer and die. They also aerate the soil, are a critical food source for other animals,  decompose dead materials,and fertilize the soil with the nutrients from their waste and remains.

It’s easy to fear and detest – and possibly be injured by – the things we don’t understand.  E.O. Wilson said “More respect is due the little things that run the world.”  Respect, born of knowledge and common sense conduct in and proper preparation for the outdoors, will protect us better than GMOs and indiscriminate eradication practices.

The god and the devil in these extraordinary details deserve both our reverence and some healthy caution, for they are both terrible and wonderful, like the Creation from which they hail.

 

World Book Night and Why it’s Important

World Book Nightis a celebration of reading and books which will see tens of thousands of people share books with others in their communities across America to spread the joy and love of reading on April 23.  Successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night got its start in the U.K. last year, and is kicking off in the U.S. for the first time this year, with hopes of spreading further across the world each year.

Why April 23?  April 23 is UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen because it is the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death.  UNESCO’s homage, actually called World Book and Copyright Day, is celebrated as an opportunity to “pay a worldwide tribute to books and their authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and to gain a renewed respect for the extraordinary contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”
According to UNESCO, the idea for the celebration originated in Catalonia (Spain) where it has become a tradition to give a rose as a gift for each book purchased.  Here in the U.S., and in the U.K., World Book Night is celebrated by giving – a book!   I’m a World Book Night Giver, and on Monday night at Westfield Citrus Park Mall , I’ll be giving away copies of one of the most interesting and thought provoking books I’ve read in years – the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

The story of Henrietta Lacks is one that has developed like a gathering storm over the last 60 years,  the far reaching and pertinent tale of a black woman whose cells – identified as HeLa cells – were taken with her knowledge or that of her family’s in 1951, and became one of the most important tools in medicine because of their incredible ability to be continually cultured.  HeLa cells have been vital to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more, lucrative to tune of billions of dollars even though her family today can’t afford health insurance.  Described as ” a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew, ” the story of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal HeLa cells remains deeply relevant to all of us.

Just today, in a Wall Street Journal story titled in part, “Lab Mistakes Hobble Cancer Studies,” HeLa cells are evoked for their virulent properties that are as responsible for compromising important research as they are for being instrumental in the development of cures and treatments of illness and disease.   According to the Wall Street Journal, “Cell repositories in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan have estimated that 18% to 36% of cancer cell lines are incorrectly identified. Researchers at Glasgow University and CellBank Australia found more than 360 such mistaken cell lines, including 100 that turned out to be the late Ms. Lack’s cervical cancer cells.”

Besides the fact that it’s beautifully written, and relatively easy to read, I was also moved by its message of how deeply connected we can be to complete strangers, by how much of our lives we may owe one another, without even being aware of it.  I think  the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is  appropriate and powerful book to give to others.  I think one of the most important things I can do as a writer is evoke thought and hopefully inspire action.  I think the action that this book inspires is simply the act of acknowledgement – the acknowledgement that common thread running through our lives is our shared humanity.

I can’t think of a better way to reconnect with that common ground than by sharing the gift of thoughtful literature.

 

Tampa Teen’s Idea PASSes Allergy Test

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you knew exactly what was in the food that you were eating? This is especially important for people with life-threatening food allergies. With the Portable Allergen Specialized Spectrometer, or PASS, you can finally do that! Using the technology of mass spectrometry, the PASS device scans and penetrates the food with microwave beams. It then turns the scanned information into tangible data that goes through the mass spectrometer-like machine inside the device. Once the process is finished, the information will then be shown on a screen, showing each and every type of food that is on the plate. This device will help people with food allergies that are worried that what they are eating at a restaurant might contain the food that they’re allergic to (In other words, they’re afraid their food won’t PASS the allergy test).”

The PASS system is the brainchild of 15 year old Matthew Temmer, of  Land O’Lakes.  Matthew, who presented his insightful thoughts on the power of youth voice and vision at TEDxYouth@TampaBay 2011 , which I help curate, suffers from severe food allergies, and developed the PASS device idea”so that no one ever has to experience a severe allergic reaction at a restaurant again!”

When I wrote the Food Allergy Field Guide, the biggest concern facing those with food allergies,  including my son,  was – and remains – eating out safely.   My son enjoys french fries, but seasoned fries are often off limits, because it’s hard to know if there’s flour in the seasoning, and wait staff aren’t a reliable source of information about ingredients, nor are cooks sometimes.  The same issue applies with gravies and sauces.  And cross contamination is always a concern.  Having something like the PASS device to ensure safe dining would also make for far more relaxed and enjoyable dining for those with food sensitivities.  So I applaud Matthew’s great idea and hope someone can help make it a reality in the near future.

You can read more about Matthew’s idea at Connect a Million Minds, and if you think it’s as potentially useful as I do, I hope you’ll cast a vote for the Portable Allergen Specialized Spectrometer as totally awesome, too!

S.B. 98: The Religious Tolerance Opportunity Bill

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. – Robert A. Heinlein

Okay, well it’s probably not as bad as all that, but new legislation colloquially being called the School Prayer bill, goes before Florida Governor Rick Scott this week, after passing 88-27 in the House last week following an hour of apparently vigorous debate.

“I haven’t seen the bill,”  Gov. Scott said recently, “but I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.”

Ostensibly, Jesus Christ isn’t the prime motivator here .The bill calls for “inspirational messages” to be given by students and not educators or administrators. Sen. Gary Siplin, the Orlando Democrat behind the bill, says the idea of an “inspirational message” is open to interpretation. “It could be the I Have a Dream speech, the Pledge of Allegiance, a blessing before a luncheon,” he told the Miami Herald. “It could also be a prayer.”

So let’s interpret. A review of the text of the bill, SB 98,  indeed authorizes district school boards, “to adopt resolutions that allow prayers  of invocation or benediction at secondary school  events.”

Specifically, the bill allows any district school board to adopt a resolution allowing “ the use of an inspirational message, including prayers of invocation or benediction, at secondary school commencement exercises or any other noncompulsory student assembly. The resolution must provide that:

  • The use of a prayer of invocation or benediction is at the discretion of the student government.
  • All prayers of invocation or benediction will be given  by student volunteers.
  • All prayers of invocation or benediction will be nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature.
  • School personnel may not participate in, or otherwise influence any student in, the determination of whether to use prayers of invocation or benediction.

The purpose of this apparently crucial piece of legislation, being considered shoulder to shoulder with issues of health care , education, immigration, and energy, is to “provide for the solemnization and memorialization of secondary school events and ceremonies” but the bill text assures us, “this act is not intended to advance or endorse any religion or religious belief.”

Well, okay then. Game on!  This might be a really good thing. Given the stated intent to memorialize and solemnize…what?… Pep rallies? School plays? Concerts? Sporting events? And if, as the Governor rightly asserts, “individuals should have a right to say a prayer,” then how about, in addition to Christianity, our youth get a chance to hear and share everyone’s thoughts and prayers – Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Toaist, Wiccan,  and other faiths, as well as inspiring secular messages before kick off?

It’s not a “school prayer bill.” It’s a “Religious Tolerance Opportunity Bill”!  At least it could be if we rise to the occasion.

How about a little Buddhist inspiration?

The Enlightened One was pretty inspiring: “Let us rise up and be thankful; for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

And this wonderful mantra:

If it is not truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is not truthful and helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.

Or – one my favorites, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Islam offers some thoughtful considerations.

O ye who believe! Do not squander one another’s wealth in vanities, but let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual good will. The Holy Quran, 4:29.

“Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. But (instead) accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil.”
Prophet Muhammad (s) as reported in Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1325.

A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is the one who contains himself when he is angry. Prophet Muhammad

I can see those getting a track meet going!

How about some Hindu reflections?

“We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme,
who is inside the heart of the earth,
inside the life of the sky,
and inside the soul of the heaven.
May He stimulate and illumine our minds. ” -The Gayatri Mantra

Or, maybe right before a football game, “ Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Mahatma Gandhi

Or “ The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.” Bhagavad Gita 6:7

Judaism is full of powerful reflections on the human condition.

A human being must either climb up or climb down.-Talmud Erubin 21a

For I desire kindness, not sacrifice.-Hosea 6:6, speaking in the name of God

This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another. --Tanna d’Bai Eliyahu, medieval rabbinic work

God does not predetermine whether a man shall be righteous or wicked; that He leaves to man himself.--Tanhuma, Pikkude

Taoism offers some great thought before an event:

A Clear mind comes from the wonderful fundamental essence given us by nature and is not a personal possession. Impartiality beyond any specific culture fosters clarity and deeper seeing. It is not hard to produce wisdom… what is hard is to have wisdom not interrupted. (From Clear Mind)

If you want to nourish a bird, you should let it live any way it chooses. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the sages never require the same ability from all creatures. . . concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. The true saint leaves wisdom to the ants, takes a cue from the fishes, and leaves willfulness to the sheep. (Chuang-tzu .

So maybe our kids can put this legislative boondoggle to better use than its sponsors intended, and use the opportunity of legalized inspirational messaging to build more tolerant schools and communities.  That’s certainly something worth praying for.