“What Fools These Mortals Be”

Speaking through Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, ol’ Will Shakespeare once again hits the nail on the head.

You may not have heard of Doug Bartlett.  He’s a school teacher in the Chicago Public School system.  He’s been teaching school for 17 years.  He’s currently assigned to teach a second grade class.  Or should I say, “He was.

As the saying goes, “Into each life, a little rain must fall.”  If that old saw is correct, then it’s safe to assume that Mr. Barlett has been hit with an Amazonian rain forest deluge.  He was recently suspended from his teaching position for four days without pay.  That’s a fairly significant slap on the wrist.  What, you might be asking yourself, did Mr. Bartlett do to deserve a punishment of this magnitude?

I’ll tell you.
Mr. Barlett was teaching a unit on tools.  The kind of hand tools that are found in virtually every home.  As part of his demonstration, he showed his class a screw driver, a pair of pliers, and a wrench.  Mr. Bartlett kept the tools under his control at all times.  He didn’t pass them around the room or let his second graders handle them.  When the demonstration was completed, the tools were stored away in his toolbox which was then placed on a high shelf, well out of the reach of his young and inquisitive students.

Having once been a young boy myself who found himself sitting in a second grade class, I can tell you that Mr. Barlett probably had the full attention of his class during this innovative teaching exercise.  There was probably some real learning going on.  Which one might reasonably assume is just what the school system is charged with promoting.

Well, …. maybe.

Upon learning of Mr. Bartlett’s lesson involving tools, he was summarily charged with “possessing, carrying, storing, and using a weapon.”  Which in turn led to his suspension from teaching and his loss of pay.

Ever since reading of this travesty, I’ve been struggling to find a word which accurately describes the school administration’s decision to take this action against Mr. Barlett.  Pathetic is the only term that I can come up with, but pathetic really fails to capture the full depth and breadth of my personal displeasure.  I’m still looking for a more descriptive term.

It’s difficult for me to accept that there are individuals filling top level administration positions in our school systems who consistently demonstrate such a complete and utter lack of judgement and common sense as is so clearly demonstrated in this case.  But the reality is that they are in those positions and they are making decisions impacting our children every day.
Sadly, Mr. Bartlett’s case is not unique.  There is the case of the two eight or nine year old boys who were expelled from school for pointing their fingers at each other during recess on the playground and uttering the phrase, “Bang, bang!”   There is the young girl who was expelled for possession of drugs because she took an Advil that she had in her purse.  And unfortunately the list goes on and on.

Based upon the absence of judgement which is now routinely demonstrated by school administrators all across our country, I can only assume that scissors, pins, and sewing needles have been banned from Home Economics classes and that all Industrial Arts courses have been totally expunged from the curriculum.  After all, it follows that both of these pursuits represent clear and present dangers to our children, not to mention our society at large.

I wonder how long will it be before no one under the age of eighteen will be allowed to enter a Home Depot or Ace Hardware store?  Or if a background check is going to be required if I want to purchase a pipe wrench?

Any man is liable to err, only a fool persists in error.
Marcus Tullius Cicero


Photo credit: jrhode Foter.com CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: horizontal.integration / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA



Big Gulp Wins Reprieve in Big Apple

I was extremely pleased when I learned that there is still at least one judge presiding on the bench who had enough innate common sense to overturn New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, about to be implemented, ban on soft drinks which happen to be larger than 16 ounces.  Yes, Big Gulp has received a stay of execution; at least in the Big Apple!

New York Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling gets two big thumbs up from me for his finding that the proposed regulations, are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences.

Well who didn’t know that?  And why didn’t the good mayor recognize that to begin with?

Justice Tingling went on to say that the regulation is “laden with exceptions based on economic and political concerns.” Who would have ever imagined that a politician would be likely to offer up regulations which would grant exceptions to favored economic and political interests?  Wonder of wonders!

Politics as usual aside, and of much more concern to me, is the impact which regulations of this sort have on our ever diminishing personal freedoms and the sustenance of our ability to exercise individual responsibility.

I’m proud to say that I’m the father of two sons.  My wife and I raised them into adulthood and quite frankly, they both have turned out nicely.  Thank you for asking.

When it came time to teach them the fundamentals of exercising and accepting responsibility for themselves and their actions, we were wise enough to recognize that meant that the boys would have to learn to make decisions for themselves.  If we had continued to make all of the decisions for them they would have learned to accept dependency, while learning nothing of personal responsibility.
Back to Mayor Bloomberg and his dreams for a better world through soft drink prohibition.  For his part,  Bloomberg pledges to fight on.  He believes that “We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other.

Unfortunately, the “We” to which Mayor Bloomberg is referring does not include people like your neighbors, close friends, or family members.  No, in my most humble opinion, the “We” to which Bloomberg and Company refer to is Government; and that’s the one with a great big capital G.

This really isn’t rocket science, nor is it Political Science 101.  It comes down to a simple principle which we all know to be true.  If you don’t use it,  you lose it.

Each and every time that Government with a capital G mandates new regulations which usurp the responsibility which each of us have for making decisions regarding our personal behavior, our freedom and ability to maintain the responsibility for making our own decisions is slowly, but most assuredly eroded away.
Imagine yourself on a playground.  Personal Responsibility and Dependency are sitting on opposite sides of the see-saw.  Bloomberg and like-minded advocates of Big Government are sitting over there with Dependency.

Fortunately for all of us, yesterday Justice Tingling stepped up and decided to sit along side of Personal Responsibility.


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
hotos from Iipolitics.com and politico.com

A Few Random Observations on a Friday Afternoon

I’m still trying to absorb all of the ramifications of Tuesday’s elections, but I believe a significant new political reality is slowly beginning to be acknowledged across the United States.  It’s one with which some people will have great difficulty agreeing.

The event which has put this new reality into very clear focus was the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential contest.

I grew up in an America which was predominantly “center-right” in its political orientation.  I’ve heard this assessment made frequently by political pundits over the years, right up through the election cycle we just completed.

If you’ve been around as long as I have, I’m sure you’ve also heard that because of this prevailing “center-right” political orientation, “liberal politicians have to run toward the center in order to be elected at which point they can begin to govern from the left!

I believe that Tuesday’s presidential election results have driven a stake through the heart of that particular political adage.  Say what you will about President Obama, neither he nor the media, presented himself as a “centrist” during the campaign.

If my reading of the political climate in this country is correct, I think it’s safe to say that our nation’s political orientation has clearly moved to “center-left“.  Some might argue that just a simple “left” would be a more accurate description, but I’m not ready to go quite that far as yet.

So where is this shift in our collective political point of view going to take us?

I wish I knew.  My crystal ball is not working that well at the moment.  But I hope that we will be wise enough to avoid repeating well documented mistakes that have already been made by other “center-left” governments around the world. Some might say that’s a little bit like asking a leopard to remove his own spots.  But in truth, only time will tell.  I’ll just have to be patient in the meantime.

More than anything else, I also hope for a significant increase in the level of civility and bi-partisanship demonstrated by our political leaders; particularly from those in Washington, DC.

Certainly I can wish for that, but quite frankly, I won’t hold my breath waiting to see it fulfilled.

Oil Changes, Elections, and Rascal Flatts

It’s election day in America.  Since I’ve already voted, I thought that this would be a perfect day to have the oil changed in my car.

What better way to celebrate our democracy than doing something which stimulates the economy, while at the same time makes my car run better?

I got up early and headed over to the shop that does all of the maintenance on my family’s cars.  It’s one of those businesses that once you’ve found them, you’d never think of taking your business anywhere else.

I’m sitting in the waiting room, listening to Rascal Flatts playing on the radio in the corner.  In between songs, the morning DJs are taking calls from listeners who haven’t decided how to vote.  Then they put two callers on the air together in an attempt to see if they can convince each other of which presidential candidate to support.

So far, they’re striking out.  The prevailing opinion among the callers seems to be that neither presidential candidate speaks for, or represents, their interests.  A common complaint that is not that foreign to my own way of thinking.

Personally, I’m ready for some more Rascal Flatts or maybe some Little Big Town.

The real question currently rolling around in my mind is what I’m going to watch on TV tonight.  More than likely, the answer will come up, “Nothing.”

There was a time when I would have been glued to one of the news channels keeping up with the voting trends until a winner had been projected in all of the important races.

For me, those days are gone.  I’m fairly confident that I know how the presidential race is going to end up.  I haven’t been wrong in several election cycles.  So I’m going to be quite comfortable waiting until tomorrow morning to have my forecast confirmed.

I would tell you now, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

God Bless America!

I’d Cry Too, But Nobody Really Cares

I have to admit that over the past few days, I’ve come to feel a very real kinship with Abigael Evans, the little girl to whom NPR recently apologized.

For like young Abigael, I too feel a pang of discomfort every time another negative political ad appears on my television screen, or I hear another self-important pundit pontificating on the implications of yet another totally inconsistent and perhaps meaningless poll, or I read another report belaboring the criticality of “this last weekend of Election 2012.”

This entire election cycle has been excessively wearying, as no other in my recollection has ever been.

Please!  Let this thing be over!

How many debates did we endure over the past year?  I’m not only referring to the three between Obama and Romney or that embarrassing vaudeville sketch inflicted on us by Biden and Ryan.  Don’t you remember the interminable procession of debates between the Republican candidates who were grasping for their party’s presidential nomination?

Honestly, I completely loss count on those.

There was a time in our nation’s history when it was considered unseemly for presidential candidates to campaign for themselves.   The candidates role was to stay at home, doing little more than sitting on their front porches drinking tea and acting “presidential” while their surrogates fanned out across the countryside like a swarm of locusts giving speeches, attending rallies, and drumming up the vote for their candidate.

We have William Jennings Bryan to thank for coming up with the creation of what he referred to as the “stumping tour“.   During the 1896 presidential campaign he took his political fate into his own hands, toured the nation personally giving some 500 speeches and losing the election in the process.  Perhaps history was trying to teach us a lesson through Bryan’s experience.  But we didn’t learn anything from it and the art of political campaigning has been on a downhill cascade ever since.

Two more days to go in Election 2012.  I’m cautiously optimistic that I may have just enough patience and wherewithal to make it through to the end.  

Yet I quickly come to the realization that by Wednesday morning, the pundits will be back with their unrelenting, unending dissection and analysis of voting trends and demographics to explain to the poor, unenlightened masses why one guy will be our next President and the other guy won’t.
                                                  And on and on it goes, the Circle will be Unbroken.

Adventures In Early Voting

Today, it’s up early and off to the local branch of the pubic library to exercise my franchise as an American citizen to vote (early, but not often) for, among other things, the next President of the United States.

I’ve been planning on voting early for over a week, but every time I’ve driven over to the library, the line of people waiting to vote has extended out of the main entrance and snaked along the sidewalks leading to the parking lot.

It sort of defeats the whole purpose of voting early if you have to stand in line to do so. Not to be deterred, I’ve decided to circumvent the need to stand in line by being at the library before the polls open this morning.

I just pulled in to the library parking lot. It’s 6:30 a.m. and not surprisingly, I am not alone. There are already six or seven other cars here.

In the predawn gloom, I can see shadowy figures nursing steaming cups of coffee. I decided against coffee this morning just in case there might be any delay in getting into the voting booth. Standing in line in 42 degree weather after drinking a big cup of coffee doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. Well to be honest, at my ever advancing age, the consumption of java leads fairly quickly to the desire to find a restroom. A situation I’m inclined to avoid until my votes are cast.

It’s now 6:45 a.m. and I’m beginning to see folks headed toward the library entrance. Time to move out. I’m a little surprised to find that there are already about 20 people ahead of me in the line. I’m not sure where these guys were when I drove past this door a few minutes ago, but I’m glad that I didn’t linger any longer in my car.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s 42 degrees this morning, but I failed to point out that there is also a 20 mile per hour zephyr continually blowing across the front of the library. To make matters worse, a 20-something couple just walked up behind me. That in itself doesn’t pose a problem. They might even provide a small wind break if I can get them positioned properly. The concern is that the guy is dressed only in a t-shirt and cargo shorts.

My worst fears have just been realized. “Whiney-Man“, for that is what I’ve just named the t-shirt and cargo short clad individual sniveling behind me, has started to complain. “I’m cold! Why is it so cold? Why don’t they open the doors? I don’t like this!” Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. And there’s still15 minutes to go before the doors will open. Give me strength!

It’s now 6:59 a.m. The poll supervisor has been standing, warm and cozy, just inside the library’s double doors for the last few minutes smiling out at us as he watches the time display on his iPhone. Obviously, he’s operating under strict instructions that the doors must not be opened until exactly 7:00 a.m.

What’s he doing? Why doesn’t he open the door? This isn’t fair! I’m cold! Why is it so cold?

Yes! Thankfully, the doors have finally swung open and I’m headed down the hall to the room where we will be allowed to vote. There’s nothing more to do but show my ID, sign the necessary document avowing that I am who I am, obtain the card that actuates the electronic voting panel, and cast my votes.

Okay, I’ve proceeded to position #2 at the first table and handed my driver’s license to the very cordial lady sitting here behind the computer. I mentioned that she is very cordial, but I may have failed to point out that she is also very slow. Glacial is far too rapid a term to apply. As I’ve been standing here waiting for her to confirm my reality, the ladies staffing positions #1 and #3 have each confirmed and ushered four other voters on to the next stop in the process.

30 or 40 key-clicks and two or three mouse actuations later, I’ve received the form needed at the next station and I’m about to receive my voting booth card.

I’ve made it to the voting booth, if you can call it that. I miss the old days when you actually stepped into a booth, pulled a lever, and the curtains closed behind you. These days, privacy is only ensured by the small panels which somewhat block the view of those voting at the computer terminals on either side of you. Actually, I’d be happy to tell anyone who wants to know how I voted, but I understand the need for secret ballots.

I was a little surprised at the short length of the ballot this time around. There were not that many offices being contested and only two local initiatives to be decided. I worked my way down through the ballot relatively quickly, checked the appropriate boxes, confirmed my selections, and submitted my ballot.

Now it’s time for me to head home and put my hands around that big ol’ steaming mug of Joe that’s awaiting my return. Hopefully, Whiney Man had no major issues with casting his ballot and is on his way home to find some long pants and, perhaps, his misplaced common sense.

May God bless and protect our representative democracy, our right to vote, and the greatest nation on the face of the Earth – the United States of America!

True Lies: Presidential Style

If I was asked to choose one word which I believe reflects the tenor of the 2012 Presidential Election campaign, I think that I would have to select “Liar“.

I’ve witnessed quite a few presidential elections. I distinctly remember watching the televised Kennedy – Nixon debate in 1960, but I can’t recall any election cycle in which the honesty and veracity of the presidential candidates was so frequently and publicly called into question, as in the current campaign.

Hardly a day goes by in which I fail to stumble upon a news article, a blog post, a television commentator, or an ordinary person in the local grocery store vehemently accusing one, or the other, presidential candidate of lying. This appears to be one of those rare examples of a truly bipartisan effort.

The accusations are not that the candidate in question used carefully worded phrases to sidestep an issue or to paint a particular situation in a better light. You know, the type of wordplay which politicians have been practicing since Hammurabi first ran for office.

No, these accusations are made with such fervor as to strongly imply that the candidate, in a loathsome and calculated manner, set out to intentionally deceive the public; while being fully aware of the impact of his actions.

If true, these allegations reveal a startling level of deceitful behavior on the part of the man who will be our next president; regardless of which candidate wins election.

In the last few years, political fact checking has turned into a cottage industry. It doesn’t take very long for an inquiring mind to discover which of these accusations are true, half true, false, and every shading of legitimacy in between.

What I find most troubling is that, in some cases, even after a particular accusation of lying has been thoroughly researched and found to be false, that same accusation continues to be repeated. It’s “Damn the fact checkers, full speed ahead!

When this occurs, it appears that the accuser isn’t interested in pursuing the truth as much as in engaging in the act of making an accusation or in blindly promulgating half-truths in support of a particular political doctrine. I find either alternative very troubling.

I wonder if this environment of finger pointing is some sort of delayed, knee-jerk reaction to Congressman Joe Wilson’s calling out of President Obama with, “You lie!” during the 2011 State of the Union address.

Or is it just a natural by-product of the highly polarized state of politics in the U.S.? Whatever its origins, I hope it’s something that we can correct, and quickly.

During the remaining three weeks of this campaign season, I’d like to suggest that everyone in the business of pointing accusing fingers would do well to heed the Biblical admonition to ‘remove the plank from your own eye before pointing out the speck in the eye of your brother‘.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

By design, I try not to let my personal political beliefs infiltrate into my comments here. In general, I attempt to avoid blog topics that are political in nature, and I hope to continue to do so.

Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way, let me get to my point.

Election Day 2012 is less than three weeks away.  Not surprisingly, political passions are starting to heat up just a bit.

It’s been suggested that this presidential campaign is one of the most divisive in American history.

Hold on just a second!  I’m not one to so quickly award superlatives.

In the category of mud slinging and despicable political tactics, we’re going to have to go a ways to better the 1828 campaign between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

Go read the history of that one if you want to see just how nasty American politics can become.  Jerry Springer, The View, and Maury Povich could have filled several seasons of shows from the dissension and controversy which spilled over in `28.

In any event, I came across an article yesterday which suggested, a bit too stridently for my tastes, that riots will be a likely outcome regardless of this November’s presidential election results.

Fueled by anger and frustration at either the inaction or too much action in Washington, DC (take your pick), Americans on one side or other of the political spectrum are supposedly going to take to the barricades come November 7th!

To support the notion that armed insurrection is at hand, the article quotes several Tweets, yes Tweets, that call for violence pending the election’s outcome.

Has the quality of our nation’s journalists been reduced to the point where they are now accepting unattributed Tweets as primary news sources?  Surely we deserve better than that from the Fourth Estate.

Then, I noticed that the website presenting this forecast of doom and gloom is one of those which relies on the age old strategy of generating controversy and outrageousness as its primary means of attracting readers.  If the riots don’t occur as forecasted, I’m confident that this site will quickly find some other conspiracy theory to foist on its readership.

Are riots possible?  Listen, I grew up in the `60s.

I remember going to high school with armed National Guardsmen standing at all of the entrances.  Those were dark days and I hope that we never repeat them.

There’s no question that there is a palpable level of anger and frustration in our nation. It’s my hope that working together, we can redirect that angst into energy focused on making substantive improvements in the way our government operates.

In the mean time, God Bless America.

Presidential Debate? I Wonder If There’s an Ancient Aliens Rerun on the History Channel?

I didn’t watch the Presidential debate last night, the first in the series of three.  And here’s a news flash: I don’t have any intention of watching the remaining two.

It’s not that I’m apolitical or that I’m not interested in the outcome of the upcoming election.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

On the contrary, I’ve been very interested in our country’s political process for most of my life.  I’ll cite two little known facts which will support that statement: 1) I took Civics when I was in the 9th grade, and 2) many years ago, I served as a Precinct Chairman for the political party of my choice (which for the purposes of this blog shall remain unnamed).

Now before you say whoop-dee-doo, how many of you have either of those accomplishments on your personal resume’?  And for those under the age of 30, how many of you have ever even heard of Civics?

I didn’t watch the debate because I’m in that 45% or so who already have their minds made up on the subject of which candidate is going to get their vote.  I’m not what you would call an Undecided.  There’s not much of a chance that either candidate is going to do or say anything in the debates which is going to result in my changing my mind.

I’m not blindly following one candidate simply because of his party affiliation.  In fact, in all my years of voting, I’ve never submitted a straight party-line ballot.  I vote for individuals based on their positions on the issues that I find to be most important.  I’m a bit of a news junkie and tend stay up-to-date on such things.  I’m very adept at developing my own opinions and generally find that they are very good ones!

The second, and quite likely primary reason that I don’t watch the debates is that I have a generalized disdain for the talking heads who dominate main stream television media.  These are the same folks who end up moderating the debates.  

The Most Trusted Man in America . . . . . “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

In my humble opinion, those chosen to be moderators often have spent far too much energy attempting to become media celebrities and too often allow their personal biases to enter into the process of moderating the debate.   A good moderator is one who draws as little attention to themselves and their points of view as possible.

You might say that I have no patience when the media attempts to make the news, rather than simply reporting the news.  This phenomena began with the advent of 24 hour news channels, but that’s a topic for another day.

Gallup just issued the results of a poll which asked the following question, “In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media—such as newspapers, TV, and radio—when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly—a great deal, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?”

60% of those asked, answered, “Not very much / None at all”.

I’d be in that 60%.

Consistency in Reporting

Remember September 11, 2001? I certainly do.

I particularly remember the criticism, bordering on outrage, expressed in the media over the fact that President George Bush, on learning of the attack on the Trade Towers, continued to read to the children in the elementary school classroom he was visiting at that moment.

For months afterwards, our friends in the Main Stream Media continued to churn and boil over Bush’s decision to continue reading to the children. He was denigrated for exhibiting a lack of leadership and a failure to show a sufficient sense of urgency in his response to the 9/11 attacks.

Fast forward to the current turmoil in Israel, Iran, Egypt and Libya.

Our embassies have been attacked. Our diplomats have been killed. Iran is threatening to wipe Israel and all of her citizens off of the globe.

How has President Barack Obama responded in this undeniable time of crisis?

He has no time to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he does have time to fly to New York City in order to put in a guest appearance on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, I haven’t heard a whimper out of the media regarding Obama’s decision that chumming and yucking it up with Letterman was more important than conferring with an ally dealing with a very real threat of annihilation.

You’ll pardon me if I gag when George Stephanopoulos and CBS News continue to insist that there is no bias in the media.