Unions: A Teachable Moment 03/01/2011
Are you good enough? Are you smart enough? Can you stand on your own and make your own way? No, the union will tell you, that's why you need them. All you have to do is give up more of your money and show up at a rally whenever they call.
And call the unions did when the governor of Wisconsin called for teachers to pay a little more for their benefits like health care and pension plan, and get rid of their right to collective bargaining. While the teachers union claims to be alright with the rise in benefits costs, it was the collective bargaining that really struck home, because that's where the power of the unions lies. So the union had to act.
“Look.” The Union said “We know you are all supposed to be educated people who are teaching Chemistry, Algebra, and English to students, but you just can't be trusted to negotiate your own contract like every other working American. If you do that, you might realize that you don't really need us, and stop giving us money. Now get on the bus, you want to be member in good standing, don't you?”
And react the teachers did, with red shirts and kettle drums they called in sick to work and stormed the capital in an impressive display of unity that would have been a teachable moment of democracy in action if only they had taught their students to find Madison on a map. With America ranking behind someplace called Cantreadistan, only unions could muster up the moxie to tell their members to rush a capital building and bang drums about the awesome job they do.
Unions have become the largest legalized form of protection in the United States. As long as you are a member, they'll tell you whatever good things you want to hear about yourself, and break the thumbs of anyone who disagrees. They also make sure that they get the credit for anything good that happens to you, ranging from federally mandated 15 minute breaks to sunny days. But they also find someone else to blame for anything bad. “Look, it's obvious why your dog died, it was depressed because management doesn't respect you.” The result is millions of infantilized adults who believe that they can't function in the professional world without the protection and guidance of Daddy Union, and that's just what the unions want.
Look, I know teaching is hard, I know a lot of teachers, who all serve in non public, non unionized schools. But if I worked a job where I realized all I had to do to not get fired was not stick my pencil in a student's sharpener or mention a three letter word that rhymes with “Sod”, I'd spend a little less time perfecting how to actually get to these little minds and more time practicing...say, the kettle drum.
Before, unions could get away with it. Everybody had seen the heartwarming movies about the teacher who saved the world by reaching the unreachable, when times were good. But now times are tough, little Johnny needs to get a summer job to help out and it turns out that little Johnny can't read his employment application. (But he thankfully can recite in order of effectiveness all forms of birth control, excluding abstinence, so you don't have to worry about that) So now the parents are actually wondering why some drone in a tie should be getting free health care, retirement, and four months off while making more than them.
There are good teachers, many, many of them. But that's the point. Why don't we let the good teachers succeed more and weed out the ones who obviously spent their four years learning things like “Chant by numbers” or “Differentiation of kettle drum beats and incorporation into a mass demonstration's atmosphere and attitude”?
But the unions will tell you no. The unions tell them all that they will be homeless or beaten daily if it wasn't for them. And you know what? Eventually Ms. Goodteacher sees Mr. Hereforthescenery and starts to believe it, not knowing that she is the one keeping him in his Sonic money for his dates.
Just imagine the scene. And idealistic young teacher wakes up to a new day. She re-studies her lesson plans and knows that personal success or failure is solely up to her. She can negotiate her own wage, she can me her own way, in her life the sky is the limit. She grabs her bags and heads out the door, wanting to show she is willing to put in the extra effort, and may be rewarded for it. Today might be the start of a new chapter in her life. Some might call it a graduation day.
Oscar Fever? Meh. 02/18/2011
It's only a week away. The excitement is in the air. Can you feel it? It's electric. The pageantry! The celebrity! The Oscars!
I hope you forgive me if you enjoy the Oscars, but I've got better things to do than watch famous millionaires get drunk and hand out awards to each other. If you could somehow calculate how much I care about the Oscars or other award shows, the final score would be somewhere down by my credit score.
Now don't get me wrong, I like movies, and there are certain actors who I appreciate, but my appreciation does not extend to caring about what they wear to an awards ceremony and listening to their theories on society and life. It is amazing that actors, who by definition make a living out of being told exactly where to stand and what to say are considered to be geniuses who know better than the rest of us on how to live our lives.
Of course we can always look forward to some brave actor who will accept his award and give some political speech about this or that. And by “brave” I mean standing up and saying something that everyone in the room agrees with. It's like calling a sports fan brave from wearing his teams colors to a home game. Now, if someone where to get up and give a speech about ticket prices, or how we need an infusion of new creative talent so we don't have to watch the third re-make based on an obscure 70's TV show that was on the air for only three episodes, I could get behind that.
But if you're gonna be brushing a wrinkle off your Armani suit because the attendant on your private jet packed it wrong and tell me with a straight face that I should be watching you in the dark because my light bulbs are killing the planet, I'll just move on. It is interesting how they never advise us to avoid television, energy hogging movie theaters, or DVDs that are made from petroleum products. Funny thing.
Or maybe, for once, I will take a famous person's advise. I'll conserve energy not by just turning off my light bulbs, but also my TV. I'll turn off all the lights, light a candle, and snuggle up with a nice (used) book to pass my evening.
Oh, it's on a Sunday? Nevermind, I'll be at work.
Jersey Shore and What's Right With America 02/09/2011
The Situation, Jwoww, Snooki...um, the other ones. If those words mean more to you than a noun and something a baby might say, you know that I am talking about the show that launched a thousand jeers and parodies: Jersey Shore. But instead of re-hashing why this alcohol and STD medication fueled orange mob spells the end of Western civilization, I will explain why our reaction to them just might spell out what is still right with us.
You see, when people want entertainment, they want to see something they don't every day. They want to see how other people live, act, and treat each other, people who aren't like them. Who is going to watch a show about a married father of two get up at six am to take an hour and a half commute through traffic to his job, work nine hours, then come home to dinner and fall asleep in front of the tv? No one, because that would be the lives of ninety percent of American men and women.
That so many people tune in or know of a show about a group of over sexed hormonal morons is actually heartening. Americans know that this is not typical behavior. They know that this is not how adults act. They know that this is wrong so they are mortified and mock it. It shows that we as a society still know what is decent and right and have a strong reaction to what isn't.
Are there going to be kids who see the Jersey Shore's kids' antics and try to emulate them? Sure, but lets face it, these kids weren't going to be curing any diseases anyway. They are just squirrels waiting for a car to sprint in front of.
Besides, we've always enjoyed the drunken sex romp stories, except until now they were confined to movies about college or high school. Now we just get to stay home and watch the real story of that one guy or girl we all know. The one that never grew up, still does beer bongs at college bars, brags about how totally smashed he got last night, and wonders why his career is going nowhere.
The show and the ridicule its stars garner might even change some lives. Maybe some floozy in training will realize one night after her seventh shot and before her second random hook up that she is being just a little too Jersey Shore, and decide that her next partner for the night should be a book.
Who knows? If there had been a reality show about a bunch of deadbeats that took out loans they knew full well they couldn't pay back and would simply walk away from, we might have a very different economy today.
Money Drop Government 02/02/2011
I don't often suffer from insomnia or practice amateur psychology, but when I do, I do it while watching tv.
It was during this state that I caught the Fox show “Million Dollar Money Drop” while waiting to go to work. What I found was an interesting study in human nature and money.
If you haven't seen it. Contestants start with a pile of one million dollars and are given questions. The contestants then place the money on whichever answer (or answers) they feel are correct. On the squares with the incorrect answers the money falls through the floor, and they move on to the next round with whatever money they have left.
During the initial questions, when there's a large pile of money, the contestants treat it just like it is: a large pile of cash.
“Should we put a little on this box just in case?”
“What about 80 grand?”
“Yeah, just 80 grand. Hey, let's just spread it all around”
But it's funny how as the pile gets smaller, it's value somehow increases and the decisions get harder. What used to be whimsical moves are now a matter of heated debate. It's like watching multiple lottery winner riches to rags story within the span of an hour.
When you've got a big ol' stack of cash staring at you, you can afford to make a rash decision here or there, but when what used to be just 8 percent of your funds will now be 80, suddenly that's a lot of money to risk on something you're not sure of.
Maybe I find it so interesting because I can relate. When I get my tax returns, it's as if the sky is the limit. A box set of DVDs? Sure. A couple late nights out on the town? Why not. But as the funds decrease my discretion increases and I find myself once again debating between two brands of toilet paper and checking the price per ounce at the meat counter.
It also reminds me of our current budget situation in the government. When things were good, we always thought that big pile of money was going to be there. We thought we could afford to place just a “bit” of our money on a square, not being all that concerned with whether it worked out or not. There was no question that couldn't be answered with funding, we were in the days of early round Money Drop Government. Well, now we realize that the pile is getting smaller, and the decisions are getting harder, and it's starting to really matter where we put our money when it comes time for the drop. The days of late round Money Drop Government are upon us. Or are they?
Will I now change my spending ways after this realization? History says no. But we'd better hope our government has. If not for the sake of our nation's future, at least as justification for me losing some much needed sleep.
Bipartisan Seating 01/25/2011
Now that more information has come out and Jared Loughner has disappointed many by having mere insanity, not any conservative political leanings, be the reasoning behind his shooting in Tucson we will now witness the one lasting impact that his rampage has brought about: Members of the opposing parties sitting next to each other during President Obama's State of The Union Address. That's right! Republicans and Democrats sitting next to each other! A new day of bipartisanship and peace has dawned!
In response to an act that some jumped to conclude was the result of “images” and “coded rhetoric”, our ever competent Congress has responded by doing the equivalent of rearranging the seats on our own metaphorical Titanic. Sitting next to each other? Why, now they might even talk to each other, or you know, work with each other to reach agreements and compromises. But why would they have to do that now? After all, they sat next to someone from the other party during a speech, and you know what? She didn't have the urge to give him a wet willy once!
At best the new seating arrangement is a laughable gimmick that will soon be forgotten and lightly tittered at when remembered in years past. At worst it is a cheapening of bipartisanship that will set the bar so low that a member of Congress will be considered reaching across the aisle if he fails to key an opposing members car at least once a day. (An aide would do it of course. What, with the congressman being so busy finding people to read bills for him and all)
I know that this is just a symbolic response to the highly heated and dangerous inflammatory partisan speech that was invented in 2009. (To the surprise of burned Bush effigies and creators of assassination fetish books and movies everywhere) But sometimes we need to step back and give the facts a chance to come out before we jump to conclusions and pull out our symbolic responses, when symbolic responses are about the least useful thing we need right now.
Perhaps some in congress were relieved when they thought the cause of the rampage was symbols, that way the response would be something so easy even they couldn't screw it up: Make more symbols. Because Lord knows when it comes to producing tangible products like jobs and a secure border, that factory got so slow that even the rats are starving. But of course now we know it wasn't symbols, at least not any produced by a political group, but just plain old insanity. And when faced between tackling a very real problem about helping those that need help and doing something trite, we get to see if members of Congress can find a seat with their name written on it without the help of five aides the the consul of three lawyers.
But maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe maybe Sen. Huckster and Sen. Thrice-Hyphenated-Name will be able to sit down next to each other in peace. They'll look each other in the eyes, birds will sing, the strings of bipartisanship will hum their lovely tune and yes they'll agree: Indeed, the sky is blue, and warm apple pie does taste good with a slice of American cheese.
Professors With Guns? 01/19/2011
Recently the debate as to whether or not to allow college professors to carry a gun in the classroom has resurfaced.
My answer is: Why not? If the professor is a licensed owner with a concealed carry permit, his carrying a gun in the classroom would pose no more threat than when he is walking down the street.
Some people get the idea that the school would be forcing professors who have never touched a gun to “strap up” and head into to the classroom, where they would stand at the front of the class and suspiciously eye their students while fingering the butt of their gun which is slung in a leather holster strapped around the waist.
This is simply not true. It would simply allow already lawful and responsible gun owners to exercise the option to defend themselves and the students.
Deterrence can be just as useful as response, there's a reason shooting rampages don't happen at gun shows. How many fewer victims would the cowards of Virginia Tech or Columbine have had if there were somebody who could shoot back? If they knew that there would be a more level playing field, that they could be greeted with bullets instead of screams, would they have even attempted those acts?
Also, these are professors we are talking about. These are supposed to be educated, rational people. What is it about the myth of the gun that in people's minds turns a cultured Doctor of Shakespearean English into a raving lunatic bent on death as soon as he feels the cool grip of a pistol?
Are students afraid that a professor would use the weapon as a tool of intimidation? (“Sure Billy, let's talk about your paper's grade” replied Dr. Smith as he kicked his heels onto the desk and slowly twirled his gun) If you are afraid that a licensed carry professor would use a legal gun as intimidation, he or she is just as likely to use a much more common tool, your GPA.
If we can put a method of self defense in what would be considered an easy target to any coward looking to commit a shooting, we should. Maybe it will be enough to give the shooters pause, maybe it will stop them early in the crime, maybe it will save some lives.