Bang, Bang

I was reading The Economist a few days ago (this is actually a longer process than it takes for the next issue to arrive, so I’m always behind, and usually end up not making it all the way to the latest doings in Zimbabwe), and saw an interesting juxtaposition of articles. The first was (of course) bemoaning the cowboy mentality of Americans who will simply insist on owning guns.

The second was how awful and dire things are in Syria these days. The second article did not mention the first, and the first took no notice of the second. It is, of course, possible that the writers are so busy penning their missives that they don’t have the time to check out all of the other submissions each week, but come on, now, really. Proofreading really ought to be something more than checking for misspelled words. Ideas put out by the editors of a publication ought to have some sense of cohesiveness, as well.

At least the author of the anti-NRA article has finally gotten past the conceit that it is hunters with lousy aim who greatly desire the ability to bring down Bambi with their AK-47 wanna-be’s. At least, the current supposed rationale for owning weapons is now self-defense against the bad guys roaming the streets and occasionally investing in a random home invasion or two.

But the citizenry arming themselves against their government? That is still as outré as it gets. (Flip forward 15 pages to the rebels in Syria, who everyone agrees should be armed to the teeth). So far, since no one has even deigned to address the issue, no one has satisfactorily explained to me why Americans need never fear that their government may one day become too overbearing (after all, isn’t that how we were born in the first place?) When the issue is raised by some gun-totin,’ lip-smackin’ gob-stopper of a redneck, the inevitable response is derisive laughter.

I’m all for a good laugh myself, but derision does not, in the end analysis, a cogent argument make. I’m all ears, here. Would someone please explain to me, in plain English of three or fewer syllables, why it is that Americans, of all people on the planet, need not fear that their government will ever get too big for its britches? Because it sure seems headed in that general direction already, what with the “We must do something” mentality that is so prevalent today.

Those people advocating for background checks are side-stepping the fact that background checks would have had no effect on the latest round of shootings that this country has had to endure. All that background checks do is keep criminals out of gun shops—and I’ll just bet that most criminals don’t get their weapons by going through proper channels, anyway. Hence the appellation. If you’re going to use a weapon to commit a crime, why in the world would you go out of your way to make sure that the purchase of that weapon has been properly documented? And if you think that background checks keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, just what, exactly, is your take on the latest statistics on illegal drug use?

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Tenure Bender

Caught Michelle Rhee on Real Time with Bill Maher the other night. She’s the reform educator who closed low-performing schools in the Washington, D.C. school district.

One of the comments she made was that, when she visited a school early one morning, she found classrooms with five students, seven students, three students in them. Wondering where all of the students were, she chanced upon one classroom with thirty students in it. Leaving the school a short time later, she found herself walking behind a couple of the students who had been in that classroom.

Tapping them on the shoulder, she asked what was going on. The students told her that, while their first period teacher was worth the effort of showing up, their next teacher was not worth the effort of staying. Rhee said that, while people noticing these kids hanging around instead of attending class might think they are not motivated, she took away something entirely different from this encounter.

Rhee said that what she realized was that, these students were motivated enough to get themselves up, dressed, and to school in time for the first class of the day. Once they were there, though, they weren’t motivated enough to stick around. In other words, they were being savvy shoppers of their time.

Rhee’s comment on the whole situation was that teachers make a difference. I have something to add to that. Since even students in the worst schools can figure out whether they are learning anything or not, let’s chuck the whole tenure thing, the whole standardized testing thing, and let the students decide whether a teacher is worth his or her salt, or salary.

Set up each teacher with a classroom of thirty students. At the end of six weeks, if the teacher can’t manage to retain at least twenty students in class, that teacher is fired immediately. All of the other teachers keep their jobs until the next semester/quarter, when the process is repeated. And repeated, and repeated, each year.

Instead of tenure, where teachers keep their jobs until they are forced out, make them provide something worthy in order to keep their jobs. Impossible! you say? Anecdotal, you say? The kids will pick the teachers who make life easy for them? Not so. I will repeat my main point: children are programmed from birth to learn. Given their druthers, they will learn.  They must learn. Learning to be productive in the society in which people find themselves is the only way for the species to survive. It’s in our genes. Students will gravitate to the teachers who teach—it’s human nature. That desire must be stomped out of them.

Look at the Khan Academy, which is a corollary to the main point. We lost teaching when we went from requiring teachers to know their subject to requiring teachers to know how to teach. Sure, aspiring teachers need a few pointers on how to engage a class, how to deal with unruly children, and how to create an effective lesson plan. But those pedagogical aspects have overrun the absolute need to be fully conversant with the subject you are trying to get across to the students. Know your stuff, and the teaching will come. Know everything about teaching, and you still can’t teach celestial navigation if you don’t know it.

And Michelle Rhee? She didn’t get tenure, she got fired.

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Look! It’s the Spring Bunny!

The P.C. police are out in full force, just in time for the holiday. Which holiday, you ask? Well, it sure ain’t Easter. Yes, there are bunnies, there are eggs, there is chocolate, but we can’t call it Easter, because that term might offend some people. Actually, I can’t imagine why.

Easter as it is celebrated in this country has no more connection to the rising of Christ than Christmas has to his birthday. We have managed to eliminate most of the Christian parts of each holiday, while retaining only the pagan rituals. It’s amazing that anyone can relate a day filled with junk food and rabbits to a religious holiday. In fact, instead of not using words like Easter, we should be using them all over the place. There is nothing guaranteed to make words lose their meaning faster than uttering them without any context. Sort of the way parents yelling, “And I mean it this time!” comes to mean nothing if they fail to follow through yet again.

It is the words that are spoken in hushed, reverential tones that acquire mystical meanings. Those words that are tossed around like garbage quickly lose all ability to generate a rise out of anyone. Think of the words that are commonly used on network television this days. Not so long ago, those words were shocking, titillating, provocative.

Nowadays, if the young’uns hear words meant for grown-up ears, the response is more, “Just ignore that, dear,” than a gasp, a “Tsk!”, or a reach for the remote. We still may not want to hear the sounds coming from little mouths, but those words, so often heard these days, have lost a great deal of their power.

So is it with Easter. You’d have to look hard to find any Christian symbolism in any of the public celebrations of the day. For most people, the term “Easter” could easily be replaced with “Hiding Eggs Day”, “Fun Day”, or “Another Excuse to Pig Out on Chocolate Day”. I’m surprised that no one has yet come up with a non-religious acronym for Easter, like Eat All Sorts of Things Everyone Relishes.

You want people to continue to be offended by religious terms? Be very careful about which ones are used, and when, and make sure to infuse them with plenty of mystery and sacrament.

On the other hand, you want religious words to quickly lose their offensiveness? Invest the original meaning with new associations. For most people Easter will soon not have any connection with Christianity. Just as many groups have adopted terms that were once pejorative and made them standards, so allowing Easter to remain in use will deprive it of its religious meaning for all except those who practice the religion. In fact, they will decry its sacrilegious use.

We made up these words, we get to decide what they mean, and how much power we invest them with. After all, they are only words. As the great philosopher, Humpty Dumpty, once said about us versus words, “The question is, which is to be master—that’s all.”

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And How Are We Feeling Today?

The quiet revolution is going on all over, if only we stop to notice it. My brother brought to my attention a new, as he called it, ‘interesting medical website’ (if I didn’t have family, I’d never have anything to talk about). The website is called INOD.org, which stands for In Need of Diagnosis. INOD.org is a Florida-based patient resource organization, which is working to change the face of medical diagnosis.

Over-worked doctors who rely on the results of common tests can sometimes miss the 800-pound elephant in the room. INOD strives to give people access to doctors who can think outside the box of applying obvious disease labels to conditions that end up being not so obvious, doctors who have not yet been so indoctrinated into accepting test results over the evidence before them.

In addition, INOD stresses the simple point that patients are in charge of their own bodies. Patients who document symptoms, patients who question the automatic responses of doctors, patients who keep track of how medicines and life-style changes affect their bodies, and patients who seek to inform themselves about the status of their conditions are not the demons that TV programs lead us to believe. Those patients are, in fact, the ones who are doing themselves and their doctors a great service, by bringing all their symptoms to the doctors’ attention, giving feedback on the efficacy of prescribed medicines, and becoming pro-active in their own care.

True, anyone can be stupid when researching on the Internet. But we have been brainwashed into thinking that we do not have the right to question a diagnosis pronounced by a great and mighty M.D., even if what the doctor recommends (surgery) is not our number one choice for dealing with a particular situation, or if the recommendation (just one pill per day) doesn’t seem to be accomplishing what it was supposed to be doing. The most interesting concept advocated here is to manage symptoms, even while a diagnosis eludes the best medical minds. Such an important idea: live your life, even if you don’t know the name of what is bothering you. Don’t wait to feel better while scores of doctors take your money (or your insurer’s money)—if not drinking milk makes you feel better, then stop drinking milk. We have become so used to the idea that a pill provides the only answer that we forget that we can make large, or incremental, changes that in turn make a great difference in the quality of our lives.

The quiet revolution is the taking back of responsibility for our lives onto ourselves. There is so much information available now that we have opportunities only dreamed of by people living just fifty years ago. But we can only take advantage of those opportunities if we act in a responsible, thinking, logical manner. It’s easy to be stupid. The goal here ought to be find a way to manage the glut of information in a way that actually makes sense. Websites like INOD.org are leading the way.

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Give Me Your Poor…

Want a way to decide what federal services to cut, and which to keep, in a fair and balanced way? Here’s a thought: the Democrats are all about the poor, the homeless, the children. Take care of them first. And by first, I mean before anyone else.

Set up a national safety net priority pyramid, kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. No money is spent on the higher level priorities until all of the base needs are taken care of. For example, if hunger is agreed to be the most basic need, then all people will be fed before any money is spent on any other item. Once all people are fed, then people could receive housing, and clothing, and education, medical care, and so on.

There would be no question of corporate welfare until the basic needs of all people were taken care of. There would be no consumer protection agency until everyone had enough money to worry about losing. There would be no government backed mortgage financing until everyone had a house. There would be no student loans until everyone was college ready. If a person lost his job, and was unable to pay his mortgage, there would be no unemployment payments—that person would be assigned living quarters, and given food and clothing sufficient to bring him up to the level of the lowest person in the pyramid. Everyone would be kept alive, fed, and sheltered. Beyond that point, everyone would be on his own, until everyone achieved a base level of needs provided for.

At that point, once each person was assured of food, clothing, and shelter, the next level of need could be addressed. Say the next priority would be education. The most basic level of education would be provided for each person, no matter their age. If a fifty-year-old man somehow neglected to learn to read when he was in school, he would be eligible to be taught his ABC’s. And so forth, and so on. All of those people in the middle and upper classes would receive no benefit from government unless and until all of the people beneath them in income level were brought up to their standard of living.

In this manner, the entire pyramid would keep rising, with more needs taken care of, but only needs. Wants and desires would not be funded in any way, shape, or form by the government until all needs for all people had been satisfied. Anyone at a higher income level would be welcome to provide more for himself than would otherwise be provided by the government, but no one would be entitled to anything that was not available at the lowest income level.

Fortunately, we never have to worry about this sort of concept ever being implemented, and not because the Republicans hate people, either. The truth is that it’s just too difficult to pay in for years, and never get anything back. And, matter how hard we try, no matter what benefits are given to those in need, there will always be needy. There will never be enough to take care of those in dire need, and still have some left over for the amenities we all enjoy. It’s all a balancing act, and we just need to decide where we’re going to set the fulcrum. No demonizing necessary.

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