Saturday, July 22, 2006

Working my Way Northward

I got this link from Darren's website RightwingontheLeftCoast. I seem to have the Southern US covered. Maybe I can take that trek to Montana next year.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Weapon of Mass Disturbance: Religion and Terrorism

A Weapon of Mass Disturbance: Religion and Terrorism

It's the End of the World As We Know It....

I am not usually easily persuaded to believe apocalyptic rants. I haven't read the Left Behind series, and probably won't. I am usually pretty optimistic about things. But I have to admit that the situation in the Middle East is scaring me. I look at these mindless drones that hate just for the sake of hating and it seems senseless and wasteful. Last year I read a book The Search for Zarathustra-one of my little dives into anthropology. In it, the author traveled the Middle East trying to reconcile religious beliefs with cultural practices. Strangely enough, there were many traditions and beliefs in ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF THE REGION, that predate any established religion. And that was Zarathustraism. This particular religion featured a prophet with a direct link to the deity, a belief in absolute right and wrong/good and evil, and an underlying support for the philosophy of "if you aren't for us, you're against us". If you look at various religions from that region, there is this thread of commonality that exists. And that is the belief, or stubborn opinion, that there is Absolute Right and Absolute Wrong. Unfortunately, with no gray area, there is also no room for negotiation. So on one side you have a religion that denounces all others, supports an attitude of quashing other religions at all costs and is convinced it is absolutely right. And you have the other side that believes almost exactly the same thing. Israel has at least been willing to give up land, but in payback they get kidnappings and suicide bombers and continued threats. Appeasement isn't going to change things when you have a population that is caught in an Old Testament mindset. While the thought depresses me, there are times when might does make right, even when its a case of a truly backward country being put to rights by an advanced one. Backing down evidentally doesn't help the cause, because we did that after Desert Storm and Saddam still made threats to the region. Israel has given up land and tried to deal, only to be repeatedly attacked. I am not sure where this is all going to end up. I'd like to think that something miraculous will occur and things will be peaceful, but there are too many players and no trust. Right now, Iraq feels safe in swaggering around and supporting Hezbollah because it thinks that Russia and China will support them. Little do they know that the second the tide changes and Iraq's power structure shifts, Russia and China will change allegiance in a snap. There are too many nations trying to relive old empires (France) and others that feel themselves above the situation from a moral high ground (Germany) when in reality, everyone's hands are dirty and everyone is looking out for themselves. I don't think that the United States is absolved in this case, but I do think in some instances, we are the goat due to the fact that we are the largest target. It's easy to hit an elephant, but you are more likely to be killed by a snake. All we can do is hope and pray. And in the meantime, would it really hurt if a few moose lost some land in the ANWAR? I mean if liberals REALLY think this war is all about oil, then why don't we do something to produce domestically and use our own resources such as coal until we have a better solution? Anything is better than being a sitting duck.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bumper Bowling is Ruining the World

Bumper Bowling. It seem pretty innocuous doesn't it? But hear me out. Early on in childhood, a baby learns to talk and walk through methods of trial an error. You learn to ride a bike, skate or climb a tree based on the idea that if you do it wrong, bad things will happen. Then comes bumper bowling. On the surface, not a bad thing, but the underlying message just may be one that is corrupting our country. If you take a kid bumper bowling when he or she is four and they slam the ball to the right, and if you continue getting bumpers when they are eight, then ten, then twelve and they continue to slam the ball to the right, but still hit the pins, what will the child have learned? Isn't it just possible that when that same kid is 23, and out having a few beers, he or she will be humiliated by a constant flurry of gutterballs all slammed to the right because as a child, they were never allowed to learn how to control the ball? And when that happens, who will be to blame or what is worse, who will the now grown child blame?

And that gets to the core of the matter. My generation, the children of the sixties and seventies, have been so immersed in the idea that we can affect the outcome of every situation, that we have too often sheltered and cossetted our children to protect them from the very necessary process of failure. There are no longer any absolutes, no longer any wrongs, just "mistakes". And as these children reach adulthood, the "mistakes" get larger and larger, and more serious. There isn't a teacher in the nation that hasn't had dealings with the "helicopter Mom" whose little precious child can do no wrong. Rules are to be bent and achievement altered to fit the child's needs rather than the needs of society. Cheating is the norm and even when grossly obvious, to be ignored according to some of these standards. These are what I like to call "Ostrich Parents." They are very open to pointing out the flaws in other children or schools or families, but stick their collective heads in the sand when the shortcomings of their own are brought to the forefront. As teachers, we have some legal censorship that must be used so that we can stay employed. For example, if Johnny comes to class half-baked and reeking of pot, I can't say that. Instead I used euphumisms such as "red eyed" or "sleepy" or "dazed" and hope that the parents have enough interest to ask a few key questions. Most of the time, they don't. Similar things occur with every other rule from innocent tardies to more serious sexual harassment, but until it gets to the legally serious point, most parents choose a hands off policy. And by hands off, I mean that they don't ask questions, don't take away cars and credit cards and don't do the things that might mean they find out something is wrong.
Too many parents choose to ignore problems and furthermore, they want the rest of the world to ignore them as well. This sets up a future in which Mommy and Daddy may end up paying bail, hiring lawyers and generally running their adult children's lives simply because they refused to admit a few absolutes into their early childhood experience.

This attitude has carried over into society. Please don't get me wrong, I don't think we should return to the days of Hester Prynne and public floggings, but then again, a little decent humility in regards to unwed pregnancy or drug use would be refreshing. I recall when I was in ninth grade when a girl got pregnant, she was sent to a special school. One girl tried to return for a pep rally, featuring the father to be, and was unceremoniously escorted off campus. Of course that was in the bad old days when girls were burdened with the proof of sexual looseness and boys got a free pass. That may have been unkind, but I think how the situation has evolved is wrong. We now see pregnant girls on campus all the time. They have made adult decisions and are given attention by the school, a home by the parents and generally speaking, except for labor, there's no down side. I am not saying that these girls and their boyfriends should be punished, but right now there's no negative consequences at all. Another example would be a boy that went through school with my 21 year old, got a girl pregnant. While he was busy with her, he lost his scholarship because he was absent partying with his girlfriend. You would think those two things would offer some sobering reality to this irresponsible young pair, but instead, their parents are paying for a luxury apartment (2 bedroom/ Washer/ Dryer?Cable/Internet paid) a car, and college tuition. Neither of them have to work. And to some people this seems like a reasonable decision. Excuse me if I disagree. These two very young, and somewhat selfish, young people choose to be careless, get pregnant and parents come and provide a safety net. I am not knocking helping out young couple, young love or pregnancy-all wonderful things in some circumstances, but in this case, as so many others, the parents are so intent at controlling the outcome, that they pay for everything and in effect make it so that the kids will never learn how to budget on a small income, how to limit their spending or how to balance their lives. In this case, it isn't help, it's control. And when you control someone so completely, you are limiting their ability to grow. And this case is being lived over and over every year. I shudder to think what will happen twenty years down the road when those then 40 year olds are still dealing with the problems that should have been resolved as 20 year olds.

When I ran this idea past my own three kids, 21, 21 and 17, even the 17 year old-who's a bit of a wild child-were appalled that even after having kids some couples were relying on their parents to foot the bill. Speculation was made by my older two, who are full time college students,if the intent was to force marriage or to control the outcome of the grandchild's life, which I thought was pretty insightful from kids the same age as the ones in question. The younger one thought that the parents were very naive and that the couple was getting a free ride. I have to say here that although we paid into a college fund for each of our kids, they have paid their own rent and bills after freshman year. And just out of curiosity I broached the subject of marriage and children, and both my college kids refused to even think about it until after they are out of school (for which I breathed a big sigh of relief!) When I ran this same idea by some parents, I got mixed reactions. Some agreed with me that if kids make adult choices they need to go through the consequences such as getting a job and paying their own bills. Others however, thought that they wouldn't want their kids living in a dump and fully intend to pay for everything. Strangely enough, the parents who were more hardline have kids who are all high achievers and have that history and those parents who wanted to pay for everything had students who have lingered in college for years without declaring a major. It's not a scientific sampling by any means, but I thought it was interesting.

So we return to the image of Bumper Bowling. Long cushions keep the ball rolling towards the pins no matter how erratically or carelessly the ball is thrown. They are assured a strike, or at least a spare, by an artificial means. How long to we continue to support adult children that refuse to take responsibility for their actions? If you read current media,you know that the Boomerang Child is not a new situation. But I think it poses some serious implications for my generation. Are we willing to subsidize continued and repeated "mistakes" by adult children at the expense of our own retirement and income? At what point do we cut them loose? And after cutting them loose and expecting them to show gratitude for years of support, should we dare to be surprised when these same children express anger at not ever being allowed to learn how to function as adults? In short, when do we take away the bumpers? For some parents and some kids, it may never happen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

American Waste(ful)land

The other day was trash day. We wheel out 88 gallon plastic drums and blue recycling bins full of the appropriately separated plastic, glass, aluminum and newspaper. I drive down the street and I am AMAZED at the sheer amount of "stuff" we simply disgard as trash. Although I would say I am a political conservative, my family didn't have scads of money, so we shopped sales, renovated or simply did without. Living in what was then the burgeoning suburbs north of Dallas, where many people had a good deal of money and spent it wildly rather than wisely, it was an early lesson in wealth, money and its use. My father went through the Great Depression moving from one place to another as my grandfather's employment changed. I think those folks that suffered severely through that trial never really left it behind and often they imposed its rigorous economy on their children. I was one of those children. And in a way, I think I have imposed a similar fiscal restraint on my own kids. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or a good thing. But it does have some bearing on the topic.

So here we are, a wasteful society that would rather throw something away than reuse it. This was never brought more to light than when our previous neighbors, about ten years younger, would buy things likes sheets or computer printers or clothes and use them sporadically for a short time and then, THROW THEM OUT. They didn't donate them, they didn't share them with the poor in the community, they didn't even have a garage sale, they just threw them away. And what it more, after a time, they decided that one big bin wasn't enough, they needed TWO. We have the same size families, but our bin is hardly every filled up and they throw away two bins of stuff weekly. What's really odd is that this particular family, along with most of the rest of our neighbors, are very liberal. (What is odder is that we are the only family on the street that recycles despite city incentives...) That is certainly their perogative, but is it really a good thing to condemn another person's consumption when you don't curb your own. And this particular family has very much pointed fingers at people who have older cars, disregarding that a well tuned older car driven less still makes less pollution than any car other than electric driven everywhere. It's puzzling that "everyone" is concerned about the environment, but it seems like there's a great deal of fingerpointing when it comes to solutions.

Taken to the celebrity level, I have a great deal of respect for Judge Reinhold, who drives a tiny car or rides a bike rather than tooling around LA in a Hummer or Escalade. And I am truly puzzled by hiphop artists that spout anger at everyone, but seem content to drive around in overblown SUV's. I have heard it said that America is one of the few places where the poor have running water, drive to work and are overweight. So does this make us greedy or covetous or simply so hooked into the GimmeGimme image presented by all of the media that we buy and buy and buy until our credit and our lives are in peril?

Nowhere is this better illustrated than on a college campus. It's a cross section of America, with scholarship kids and work study kids trying to squeak by on Ramen Noodles and Diet Coke while others lounge around for four or five or more years in relatively palatial apartments, including weight rooms, pools, cable and internet access all paid for by Mommy and Daddy. Resident Assistants, of which my daughter is one, have to clean up after the students leave. You would be amazed at some of the "trash" that was salvaged by the more frugal and needy students. These things included working TV's, microwaves, mini-fridges, game systems. ...Relatively new coats, clothing, shoes and furniture....books that could be reused or resold...CD's everything you could imagine. When asked by a couple of RA's why they were throwing away perfecting good "stuff" the students' answered something similar to "they didn't want to bother taking it home because they could always get more..." So what's the message parents have sent these kids? That they can break or lose or simply throw away anything, and get it replaced for free.

And if you aren't concerned yet, be aware that credit card companies heavily traffic the universities and colleges of our fair land trolling for new customers. My 17 year old son got a letter offereing him a platinum card with a $1500 limit. He doesn't even have a job OR a car. Every single one of these kids that threw out good stuff rather than lugging it home or selling it or donating it to a worthy charity is exemplifying the concept of Consumerism Gone Wild. I am surprised the Stock Market cable channels haven't started filming these spending sprees for nighttime viewing, just like Girls Gone Wild.

Then there is the problem of cooperation. We put off letting our kids drive until they were nearly 18. To be honest, this was as much for insurance purposes as anything, but it also forced our kids to become familiar with public transportation which is more economical, more environmentally friendly and an asset to any large metropolitan area. In most cities, that wouldn't be an issue, but in Dallas, they have poked around about getting train service to all but the most demanding suburbs leaving large sections reliant on bus service. While this shouldn't be a problem, it has become one because some of the bus drivers will pass stops with teens. This isn't an accident, it's happened several times with DART. And what is even funnier, our local transit authority doesn't have a listed phone number. So we pay taxes and try to encourage the next generation to use public transit and when they are stiffed, THERE'S NO WAY TO COMPLAIN. So in many ways, it seems that government entities are as much to blame for discouraging use of public transit as anyone else.

I realize this essay is somewhat scattered, but the end run is that regardless of our political preferences, everyone MUST get away from the notion of a Disposible Society. It has come from paper cups to families and marriages. The concept of simply throwing away things, and people, and families needs to come to an end. And if it starts with simply recycling, then great. Otherwise, my kids are going to end up picking up the remains of everyone else's lives.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mastercard and Education

With the electronic age, much in education has changed for the better. Better computers, better access to materials, more current information for students. Much of this is because the payback is immediate. We have come to expect that in life and in our schools. The sooner we have it, whatever it is, the better.

So here comes the traditional school budget. You can't order until September 1, and you have to fill out PO's and hopefully, if it isn't backordered or delayed, you get your materials sometime in mid October. That's too long for some classes and leaves new teachers without materials to start the year with unless they pay out of pocket. (Which, incidentally, I sometimes think the Powers That Be, want them to do....) So here comes a Great Idea. Schools can obtain corporate charge cards and then employees can get materials IMMEDIATELY for classroom use. It's a good idea, it solves the dilemma for newly graduated teachers, who don't have a great deal of money for supplies, and it helps avoid the lag time that occurs at the start of the year. As an art teacher, I assure you that by the time we get our first order in October, the materials that I have hoarded for use are pretty much gone. It limits what you can do in the class, when paper is low and pencils are used up. In my district, only department heads can use the cards. They check them out from the business manager for a 24 hour period, and can only use it at a list of approved district vendors. Receipts are demanded upon the return of the card. No excuses. It's worked very well for us and as far as I know, there have been few problems. It's one of those systems in place that actually make things a little bit easier on the average teacher.

So I open my Sunday Dallas Morning News on July 2, 2006, and what do I see? In the DISD, people are charging thousands of dollars on district credit cards with impunity. It appears that many of the heaviest users have done so without receipts, one even claiming after the demand for confirmation of purchases that "the receipts were stolen". Yeah, I know, those receipt theives have been busy....right. And I love the comment from the teacher that bought the Ipod and accessories to "give to the best student" but then his class was "bad" and nobody got the glitzy Ipod. And strangely enough, the Ipod doesn't show up on any district electronics list. I don't know what was going on in these teachers' and employees' heads. Were they overwhelmed by the responsibility? Blinded by the exorbitant credit limit? Compensating for their students low income backgrounds by providing enrichment via Ipods? Or just plain greedy and stupid? What I truly don't understand is how the central business office could just blindly pay credit card bills of up to a MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH and not ask for documentation or at least a few well placed questions. You would think at some point a huge gap like that would raise someone's eyebrows.

So we have yet another DISD debacle, one of many. Here are some suggestions.
1. Oversight-demand receipts upon returning of the card.
2. Purchase limits-set a dollar amount that can be spent per purchase without written administrative approval. This should probably be much lower than the $1000 current limit.
3. Limit users-to administrators and department heads AND LOOK AT THE BILLS! One principal spent a ridiculous amount at a chic kids store buying PILLOWS FOR THE LIBRARY. Last time I looked what most libraries need is BOOKS and COMPUTERS.*shaking head*
4. Give each user an upward limit budget for the year. Regardless of the need, once they've blown the budget, they are on their own to find a way to purchases materials.
5. Fire ANYONE who misuses these cards for their own purposes.' Nuff said.
6. Stop whining that the district doesn't have any money. If you have that much money EACH MONTH that goes unaccounted for, then you have a major budget leak and until you plug that, no more money needs to go to the district.

Personally, I think it is beyond negligence or need. It is theft pure and simple. And the DA should be looking at those books right now. Furthermore, if it looks as if these goods were resold, whether privately through Ebay or Craig's list, then there needs to be some serious charges launched.