Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vatican Gives Green Light To Concom Use

This week, Pope Benedict issued new guidelines for the use of condoms. I'm surprised at this for two reasons. First, I'm surprised that old "Nazi Ratzi" even knows what condoms are. Who would have thought. Second, I'm always surprised that there are people who consider these Papal announcements to be important. I suppose that these are the same people whose lives would blossom and whose hearts would flutter if some old airline chef gave out his obsolete recipes for in-flight meals.

The Vatican announcement about condoms comes on the same day that a Catholic Priest in Texas, John Fiala, was arrested for plotting the murder of a teenager whom he had been sexually molesting. Fiala said he wanted to silence the teen to "prevent embarrassment for The Church." I believe that the Catholic trolley jumped the track back when the definition of "Hail Mary" was changed to mean a last ditch attempt to win a football game with a a long, desperate pass to the end zone. Maybe Benedict's relaxed views on condom use are his "Hail Mary" attempt to regain some respect for his troubled and tarnished Catholic Church.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What is Sarah Palin Telling Us About Herself?

Here’s the only statistic that we need to know. The top 1% of the American population owns 34% of the personal wealth in the country. Financial inequity like this doesn’t exist in any other developed nation on earth, and historically this kind of outrageous distribution and concentration of wealth has usually been associated with African dictatorships and banana republics and Iron Curtain oligarchies during the middle of the last century.

In her newest book (according to excerpts leaked this week before the book’s publication) Sarah Palin has said that Barack Obama sees America as unjust and unfair. Since this wasn’t meant to compliment the President, the clear implication is that Sarah sees America as just and fair, and this isn’t surprising given the fact that she is being paid a million dollars per episode for her new reality show featuring the Tundra Tootsie and her family frolicking in their home state of Alaska. Sarah is rapidly worming her way into that top one percent, and I’m sure that this looks perfectly just and fair to her.

What we are seeing in America is, in the light of history, a familiar picture. Nations in decline always show the same indicators. The flags get more numerous (yes, the definition of flags includes all those obnoxious little ribbon loops plastered on the back of automobiles). The patriotic parades and celebrations get larger and more passionate. The rhetoric gets more disconnected from reality, and eventually a dangerous, and often cartoonish, demagogue emerges promising to lead the failing nation into a new dawn. Enter Sarah Palin. Following in the footsteps of Imelda Marcos or Eva Peron, insisting all the while that she's not really a diva, Sarah Palin seems to see herself fulfilling some kind of queen-like destiny as she exhorts the peasants to take up their torches and pitchforks so she can lead them out of modern American serfdom. The thing is, most Americans are just dumb enough to go along with it. I wouldn't bet against her.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" is Worth a Look

A minister, found guilty of disreputable or squalid behavior, can lose his church and even be shunned from his congregation. A physician found to be incompetent can lose his medical license. Incompetent or unethical lawyers can be disbarred. Even in the military, top officers can be drummed out of the service if they are pathetically unable to perform their job as required, although it happens rarely. Only one job in America offers the prospect of total freedom from accountability with almost no chance of being fired for non-performance. That job is the job of public school teacher.

I’ve just seen the film, “Waiting for Superman,” and it’s evident to me that American public school children are being allowed to fail to protect teacher tenure. Once in a rare while, a teacher does get fired, but a doctor’s chance of being barred from practicing medicine is 50 times more likely than a teacher’s chance of getting fired. Does this mean that teachers are 50 times more competent than doctors? Not a chance.

We in America have always put public school teachers on a pedestal, and I’m always skeptical of hero groups that are put on pedestals. Growing up in the 1950s, Catholic priests were put on pedestals, and 50 years later we all know how that worked out. Public school teachers consider themselves “professionals,” but one definition of a professional is someone who can charge more for his services if he does a better job than his counterparts. Thanks to tenure and the teacher unions, wages for all teachers are pretty much standardized, and exceptional performance is not allowed to command a larger paycheck. Fact is, public school teachers, by this definition, are not professionals. They are public employees, and this puts them in the same class with garbage collectors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Makes a Cyber Bully?

Overcome with humiliation and shame, a college student ends his own life after his single flirtation with gay sex is exposed on the internet. At about the same time, a teenage girl is accused by a friend on facebook of being "ugly," and after failing at her own attempt at suicide, she enters into psychological treatment and counseling to repair her shattered ego. These and numerous other incidents of cyber bullying take place within a social network where popularity and status is viewed as a zero-sum game, and one person rises in stature by driving down the reputation or image of someone else. There is additional power in the ability to electronically communicate the slander and negativity to the entire world.

These and similar recent incidents happen against the backdrop of a political campaign season, and in this arena, every politician uses outrageous accusations and egregious falsehoods to degrade the opposing candidate's image and reputation. This arena truly is a zero-sum game where the goal is to totally destroy the opposition. Here, too, the squalid negativity and outright lies are communicated electronically to the greatest possible audience. I believe that these two different scenarios are connected.

I don't hold a very high opinion of my fellow American citizens. I think that basically we're a nation of nitwits. Readers of this blog, however, should be aware by now that my low opinion of the population doesn't extend down to the teenage level. I believe that maladjusted teenagers, as well as the public school system which incubates them, are all just reflections of the greater adult society. Teenagers don't invent their despicable actions, they mostly just copy them from the adults they see. And when it comes to destroying reputations, the recent example seen by the teenagers comes from the adults at the very top of the food chain.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finally It's Over

Today finally marks the merciful end of three months of "death by attack ad." If it seems like nasty TV political campaign advertising has dramatically escalated this year, it's not your imagination. The Supreme Court (those same mirthful jokesters who installed George W. Bush in 2000) decided last year that corporations could pour unlimited dollars into campaigns without telling the voters who they were supporting, or what they expected for their money. The result is that this 2010 campaign season has given us a 200% increase in negative attack ads. For those who learned arithmetic in public schools, that means the number of ads had tripled. Furthermore, FactCheck.org says that their monitoring of these ads shows that fully 85% of the negative ads are either nothing but manipulative distortion of outright bogus lies. This is what passes for campaign activity in modern America.

I have a confession to make, here. For the first time in my adult life, going back to 1964 when I became old enough to vote (I voted for Goldwater) I deliberately chose not to vote this year. The Democrats deserve to lose, and the Republicans don't deserve to win, and casting a vote for any candidate this year just seemed to me like rewarding bad behavior. The good thing is that I can watch the election results tonight with complete impartiality, knowing that whoever goes down to defeat richly deserves to lose.