Dis-Honor(s)

I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the news pertaining to Captain Owen Honors and his special “morale-boosting” videos that he made for his crew back in 2006-07. The videos are quick little vignettes designed for maximum puerility and, I guess, maximum laughs. Scattered throughout are epithets, sexual overkill, profanity, and general lewd behavior.

I get that the military is not where you go if you have the delicate sensibilities of a nun or a monk. There’s a reason why we have sayings like “She curses like a drunken sailor.” Hell, I curse like a drunken sailor sometimes. I am the granddaughter of two Navy veterans after all. And I am immensely proud of this fact.

Would I be as proud if there was video of my grandfather eating something supposedly pulled from a toilet and fashioned to look like a piece of shit? Or if my grandmother was in a segment called “Chicks in Showers”? I’m going to have to say no, not so much. Of course, my grandparents served this country during World War II, which was long before the YouTube Generation took control. It was also long before it was acceptable to behave in the ways that Captain Honors and his crew behaved in these videos. I suspect there would have been little tolerance for this kind of behavior from soldiers back then.

I also know that crews need to blow off steam, especially in times of war. This is a reality of war. You cannot ask people to be under that kind of immense stress and fear and not expect them to need some sort of irreverent release. And, for the most part, that’s what is in these videos: a ridiculously puerile level of humor designed to cull the basest of laughter.

What, then, is the problem? I don’t know, fag SWO boy, what do you think?

See, that’s the problem. Owen Honors, who was the XO of the U.S.S. Enterprise at the time these videos were made, was the second highest ranking officer on board. As such, it was his duty to set standards and tone for the 6,000 crew on board the Enterprise. And the tone he set was one of anal probes, “chicks in showers,” men lathering each other up, and unrepentant use of epithets like “fag.”

True, lack of good taste (or, for that matter, higher brain function) is not a punishable offense. At the time these videos were made, being gay in the military was. I can’t help but question what Captain Honors’ actions would have been had he found any of his crew actually in any of the “humorous” sexual situations that he posed in his videos. If he’d walked in on two men or two women sharing a shower or a bunk, would he have walked away? Turned a blind eye? Maybe gone and “saluted his little XO” as he so humorously did in the videos? Or would he have brought them before a committee, had them discharged under the order of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? I’d love it if Captain Honors would answer that question.

More importantly, were there any homosexuals serving among that crew of 6,000? What must have gone through their minds at watching those videos, performed by their commanding officer? Hearing him sling about the epithets he used, watching him make a mockery of what they were desperately guarding, for fear that its revelation could ruin their military careers? Did any of them wish to take issue with what Honors was doing, but perhaps feared that, in doing so, the questions would have been turned back onto them? Silence does not equal consent. Subsequently, being told to “hug yourself for 20 minutes” is also not a suitable response to complaints that may have actually been levied against Honors and his performances.

The bottom line is that this was not the type of tone that a commanding officer should have been setting aboard a military vessel. Yes, letting off steam is a reasonable “unspoken law” for these men and women. Levying crude and hurtful humor at a minority you know can’t speak up? That’s just cowardly. And not funny at all.

The Cure for What Ails Us

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard a news announcement that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is considering retirement. The soon-to-be-90-year-old Justice Stevens is the oldest member of the Supreme Court, where he has presided as an Associate Justice since 1975.

The thing that struck me about this is the longevity factor. Seems that other than our entertainment elite (minus those who decide to speed up their mortality through various nefarious means), our government seems to be better than the Fountain of Youth for its upper echelon. Fellow retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will soon turn 80. Former South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond was almost 100 when he finally passed. West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd? He’s now the Senate’s oldest member at 93 years of age. How about presidents? Ronald Reagan was 93 when he died. So was Gerald Ford. Richard Nixon made it to 81. Bush I is on the downward slope toward 90, this year turning 86. Bush II and Bill Clinton, both a spry 64, can expect quite a bit more time on their hands, if the longevity of their predecessors is any indication of what they can expect. Hell, even the Dark Overload himself, Darth, er Dick Cheney is still rolling merrily along at 69 (which is, ironically, both his age and the number of heart attacks he’s had in the past decade).

Add to this the relative stability of the health of our political representatives along with all the obvious teeth whitening, Botoxing, and face tweaking that’s going on there, and what does all this prove? To me, it proves that those in political service to this country are getting something that the rest of us are sorely lacking: excellent (and in the vanity instances, excessive) levels of service and attention from the health care industry. Our politicians are guaranteed some of the best health care that this country has to offer, no questions, no waiting, no refusals. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself: Here’s the homepage for the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. Go ahead and take a look. I’ll wait.

Done? Okay, let’s continue. Now, in all fairness, this is the same program that is offered to all federal employees. The difference? Well, I’m assuming that the Speaker of the House or the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate isn’t going to go to just any doctor. They’re going to go to the best. Best doctors. Best service. According to FactCheck.org:

In addition, members of Congress also qualify for some medical benefits that ordinary federal workers do not. They (but not their families) are eligible to receive limited medical services from the Office of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Capitol, after payment of an annual fee ($491 in 2007).

Not a bad setup, if you ask me. And the coverage? This federal health insurance program covers from 72 to 75 percent of the premiums.

By the way, if you haven’t already figured this one out, since these are all government workers, We The People are the ones fronting the money to pay for all of this. But you knew that already, right?

So, here’s what I really don’t understand. Why aren’t the members of Congress, who are receiving these enviable medical benefits thanks to the people who A) voted them into office, and B) pay their salaries and their premiums with our tax dollars, bending over backward to make sure that we get the same benefits they do?

I don’t care if I sound totally naive on this one. I’m serious. Why aren’t they right now working toward making sure that everyone gets the same medical coverage that they enjoy? Did they at some point decide that we commoners don’t deserve it simply because we’re not morally deficient enough to want to be politicians? Does being politicians make them think that they are somehow more deserving? Or maybe I’m just assuming too much and, really, it’s the initial selling of their souls at the outset of their careers that grants politicians such enviable longevity over us mere mortals.

I know that I’ve been relatively quiet about this entire topic thus far. And I’m being a bit sarcastic/funny in my take on it now. Really, though, this is something that I take quite seriously. The last decade has been unusually unmerciful to both sides of my family. I’ve lost a significant number of relatives in this time frame (of course, any loss is significant to the ones who are losing), many due to serious health-related issues, and I currently have a critically/terminally ill family member who is not faring well at all at this present time.

And what are the health care professionals doing to aid in this present case? Barely stabilizing said patient before discharging them with little more than a wave goodbye and a “Don’t let the gurney hit you in the ass on your way out the door.” This patient is no longer able to get out of bed of their own volition. No longer able to walk, to tend to themselves without assistance. Doctors haven’t even given a concrete prognosis. But you can bet they make sure to submit their paperwork to the insurance company for their payments.

Meanwhile, doctors did everything short of bathe Strom Thurmond in the blood of sacrificed virgins to keep him going. And I’m willing to bet there isn’t one member of Congress who would ever be discharged from a hospital anywhere at any time with the same lack of regard from their medical staff that we’ve witnessed in our case.

And why? Why aren’t the American people getting the same level of care? Why are we getting consistently shafted when it comes to our medical coverage and the treatment we receive when we’re ill? And why isn’t our government taking the current health care reform debate seriously? Why, instead of pandering to talking heads and bloviating about socialism and death panels, aren’t they taking a serious and honest look at the current system (which is blatantly FUBAR) and trying to make it something that will actually work for the American people?

Oh. Wait. Could it have something to do with the billions of dollars that health care-related organizations are shelling out to these politicians? Head on over to OpenSecrets.org and you can take a look for yourself how much money these organizations are funneling into politicians’ pockets. Money they’ve bilked, incidentally, from people like you and me. Like the nearly $30 million that pharmaceutical companies donated to both parties back in 2008 (including more than $1 million they donated to Senator Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign). Or the nearly $10 million they’ve already donated this year. Or the more than $250 million the pharmaceutical manufacturers spent last year on lobbying.

OpenSecrets points out this obvious truth:

The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry stands to lose if President Barack Obama’s plan to institute a public health insurance option succeeds. A government-run plan, because of its size, would have considerable negotiating power to draw down drug prices.

Guess that’s why they’re working so hard to grease the palms of as many Congressional “leaders” as they possibly can, on both sides of the aisle. For example, Republican Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina has received almost $100,000 in contributions from pharmaceuticals this year. Burr also happens to be quite a vocal opponent of health care reform. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut is slightly ahead of Burr on the pharmaceutical donations, so this is indeed bipartisan. Dodd also happens to be the senior member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which, according to Dodd’s Web site, “has jurisdiction over our country’s health care, education system, employment, and retirement programs.”

Hmm.

How about insurance companies? OpenSecrets writes this:

Insurance companies staunchly oppose the idea of a government-provided health insurance option, which President Barack Obama and most congressional Democrats support. These businesses fear that implementing a “public option” will eventually lead to “single-payer” health care, which they say would mean the collapse of their industry.

Guess that explains why the insurance industry has already made more than $14 million in contributions this year. Rob Portman, Chris Dodd, Chuck Schumer, Earl Pomeroy, and Barney Frank are the top politicians receiving this money. Interestingly, all but Portman are Democrats.

How about health professionals? $27 million in donations so far this year. Harry Reid, Tom Price, Blanch Lincoln, Chris Dodd, Arlen Specter, and Ron Wyden are the top five recipients here. Hey, look, it’s Dodd again! And it’s all Democrats at the top of this list, minus Price!

What does all this mean? I don’t know. Call me jaded, but I can’t imagine that these industries are shelling out such large sums of money to support reform that they fear will cause an end to their steady plundering of the Golden Goose. So they keep doling out the cash and all we’re getting is petty bickering and obfuscating jingo dingo lingo to draw our collective attention away from the simple, glaring truth that not one member of Congress has to go through the bullshit or suffering that we peons must go through regarding health care.

Maybe that’s what should change. Maybe if we changed it so that politicians had to contend with the same treatment we get, had to deal with the same coverage issues we all face…maybe then we’d be getting a little less obfuscation and a little more serious action.

Yeah, right.

I have so few hopes regarding our political system, but I honestly had hopes about Obama’s focus on health care reform. Never mind that I’m firmly of the opinion that it’s too late for reform and time for a tabula rasa approach (yeah, who in Congress would be willing to do that?). But I had hope in this instance. Instead, we yet again have deferred to name calling puerility and a whole lot of commotion to go…nowhere. Will something come from all this? Maybe. I’m not holding my breath though. I’d hate to pass out, hit my head, and require medical attention.

Hail to the Racists!

redskins

I’ll start right out by stating the obvious: This is not going to be an objective post. I hate professional sports. Ergo, I hate football. I find it deplorable that more people in this country can name the starting line-up of their favorite sports team than can name their senators or representatives. The latter are people who have a real and significant impact on the lives of every American, whereas the former are just people trying to make as many bucks as they can before they blow out a knee and have to go on to doing commentary or hawking projection screen TVs during Rhonda Shear’s Up All Night. Or something like that…

My hatred for football, however, is even deeper based on the fact that I live in the D.C. metropolitan area. Therefore, each football season I’m subjected to constant yammering about the Redskins. And each year I wonder if this is going to be the year that TPTB finally make a long-overdue decision. What decision? To stop calling the football team of the nation’s effing capital city one of the most racist names still in use by any sports team in any league.

Seriously, are we really living in the 21st century? Or are we still living in a time when it was cool to have Uncle Remus tell us about his syrup, “dis sho’ am good!”

I’d argue that even that is less offensive than calling D.C.’s home team a name that American Indians have repeatedly said is as offensive to them as “the N word” is to Black people. Yet the Indian groups are continuously ignored or overruled while “the N word” has been given so much power that even the implication of its use can ruin a person. Don’t believe me? Ask David Howard, one of former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ top aides, who resigned his post due to community protest after a coworker heard him use the word “niggardly” in a conversation and accused him of using a racial epithet.

So why do we continue to have a team with an actual epithet for a name? I’ll give you one guess. It’s long and green and while it’s not Kermit’s finger, lots of people still get off on it. Yes! Yes! YES!! That’s right…it’s the Almighty Dollar!!

So stated Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf this past May, in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the Redskins keeping their name. Raskopf put it in clear enough terms by pointing out that “millions have been spent on the Redskins brand and the team would have suffered great economic loss if they lost the trademark registrations.”

“Great economic loss.”

I Googled “most profitable professional football teams” and I found two lists, one from 2003 and one from 2007, that listed the Redskins in the number 1 or 2 spots of the professional football teams in this country making the most profits. The 2007 report showed that the Redskins team value exceeded $1 billion that season.

Why, then, would Redskins owner Dan Snyder choose to waste any of those profits by doing something that would only appease the laments of less than one percent of the U.S. population? It’s not like American Indians have been getting the shaft by this country on anything else.

So hail to the Redskins. May they never win another Super Bowl until they fix what they should have fixed a long time ago.

Losers.

Dis-temper

Know what makes me tired? How so many recent events have proven that we are a society trapped in a downward spiral of uncontrolled rudeness and stupidity. What am I talking about? Why, what everyone else is talking about, of course: Joe, Kanye, and Serena, oh my!

We start out with Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during Obama’s address to Congress. It was disrespectful, yes. Then again, so were the Democrats who booed George W. Bush during his State of the Union address in, I believe, 2005. Wilson, however, is also being labeled racist. (Those booing Democrats, in case you’re wondering, were never labeled moronists.)

I’ve gone over this one before, but apparently I’m screaming into the wind yet again. Now even former presidents are getting in on the racism tagging. To Obama’s credit, he refuses to take this tired, stale bait. Perhaps because he realizes that this is simply another smokescreen to detract our attention away from an honest debate about important issues. Kind of on the same level as death panels and tea baggers (yes, please giggle if you must at that one).

That’s what Republicans are guilty of at this juncture: not being blatantly racist. No, their specialty is fearmongering as a smokescreen to deflect attention from real issues. How do you think they convinced half the country to re-elect Dubya even though he didn’t have enough qualifications to be elected school crossing guard? Fear. “If you don’t vote for George W. Bush, the gay terrorists will invade and turn all your children into gym teachers and nancy boys! And they’ll do a FABULOUS job of it!”

Same difference now. “Obama’s health plan will mean Great Aunt Myrtle will have to be put to sleep because she’s too old! Obama’s going to personally euthanize her! Then he’s going to turn her into Soylent Green and serve her to the unemployed!”

Okay, that last part was a bit over the top…but so are the death panels. What purpose does this kind of panic serve beyond the obvious of detracting from intelligent discourse? Yeah, like we’re capable of such a thing in this country.

Actually, though, I’m derailing myself. I’m not here to talk more about the universal health care issue or all the other political piffle that’s been irritating me. It’s too early in the day to get my blood pressure that high. No, because now we move from Joe Wilson to Kanye West. I don’t want to say much about him, because he’s really not worth a lot of commentary. I’m simply acknowledging that he was a big douchewanger…yet again. But then there’s Serena Williams threatening to cram a “fucking ball” down someone’s “fucking throat.”

All righty then. Women, we still don’t make the same pay for doing the same work as a guy, but we’re now able to throw tantrums in the sports world, like the big boys do! Just like Mary Tyler Moore, looks like we’ve made it after all!

Now, of course, all three of these hotheads have apologized. It took Serena a little longer, but she finally came around (after much pushing from her agent and others within her financial inner circle, I’m sure; we mustn’t tarnish ourselves too much or the money won’t keep rolling in). And now all will be forgiven (well, at least for Kanye and Serena; Joe’s going to keep getting dragged through the racist ringer a bit longer).

But why should we accept their apologies? Better yet, why should we tolerate this kind of behavior at all? Why shouldn’t Joe Wilson be censured? Hell, why weren’t the booing Jackasses..er, Democrats from 2005 censured? It’s the State of the Union, not a pep rally! Why shouldn’t Serena Williams be told she’s out the rest of the tennis season? Yeah, she was fined. $10,000. Wow. That’s pretty much the equivalent of fining one of us mere mortals a dime.

(Why am I not trying to punish Kanye? I think he’s punishment enough, both to himself and to anyone who listens to his music.)

Why am I bothering to rant about this, as if what I say here is going to make any difference? Will Serena read this and realize the error of her ways? Will Kanye tweet me his apology for being a wanker yet again on national television? Will Joe Wilson care that a Democrat outside his jurisdiction is commenting on him? Why should he? He’s raised more than a million dollars thanks to his outburst. And Kanye got me to talk about him (because Lord knows I sure wasn’t talking about his music). And Serena? Hell, she earned $350,000 just for getting to that match where she had her little meltdown. She’s a winner no matter what the score, if you ask me.

Which, of course, no one did. But I shared anyway, because that’s the kind of wolf I am. Now it’s back to work. I promise I won’t try to shove my mouse down anyone’s throat, although if you’d like to pay me $350,000, I’ll see what I can do. I do have that infamous red-haired temper working in my favor…

Standard Operating Procedure*

When my parents moved to the Tarheel State a few years ago, they ended up with a house with a security system. My dad decided to keep the system activated. Part of the system included a little key fob, kind of like the alarm remote that comes with most cars.

One evening while my parents were sitting in their living room, watching television, there was a rather authoritative knock at their front door. My dad opened the door to a local sheriff’s deputy, who proceeded to ask my dad for photo identification indicating that he was the property’s resident and to inform my dad that he needed to check the premises.

See, it seems that while my dad was sitting in his recliner, he shifted his weight onto the alarm fob in his pocket and accidentally activated the silent alarm. Even when something like that is an accident, police are required to confirm that the people on the property when they arrive are who they say they are and that they actually belong on the property (how effective would cops be, after all, if they’d interrupted a robbery in progress but just left because the robber told them that he lived there?). It’s also SOP for the police to then confirm that the residents of the property are not being held by an actual robber and being forced to send the police away. Again, something else that makes sense.

* Not subject to change based on race, regardless of popular (or presidential) opinion.

My dad is White. I’m still positive enough to place good money on the fact that had my dad’s response been to become indignant and start talking smack about the deputy’s mother, he would have ended up cuffed and in the back of the deputy’s cruiser, not necessarily for being a rude SOB, but for preventing the deputy from doing what he was supposed to do.

And, yes, I understand the racial divide in this country. I’m actually even aware of it from the opposite side of the argument, as I grew up a minority in a predominantly Black city in a predominantly Black county. Racism just as easily flows from Black to White as it does from White to Black. I can also inform you that, yes, the word “honkey” is used outside of movies, and it is a suitable insult, both alone and when combined with other derogatory names aimed at one’s gender. So, do my experiences grant me permission to make assumptions about all Black people based on unfortunate run-ins I had while growing up? Wouldn’t that be “acting stupidly”?

I’d be interested in President Obama’s take on this question, since he deems it appropriate to provide his feedback on these matters. For the record, Mr. President, when you send my invitation to the White House, I prefer Guinness. I can even teach you how to pour a proper Black and Tan if you’d like me to. Just don’t call me honkey. I really don’t like it. Cracker, however, is acceptable, but only after the first beer.

Government-Restricted Stupidity

Opening line from this article that has set me on my latest rant:

Virginia drivers will face new restrictions today, when hundreds of laws take effect, including a ban on sending or reading text messages and e-mails.

This is why I hate people. Not cell phones. People. Stupid people who think it’s a good idea to compose an e-mail while roaring down the road at 80+, more often than not in some ginormous vehicle that could house the entire Lilliputian population in just the glove compartment.

Several times now I’ve nearly been unwillingly shuffled out of my mortal coil by these offenses to common sense…these mutated beings with cell phone-shaped tumors that connect one hand to the side of their head and cause the other to flail around emphatically. This, of course, means that—unless they are spectacularly well-endowed—they’re not really steering their land boats.

I would surmise that the latter is true for two reasons: 1) scientific reports have proven there is indeed an inverse relationship between genitalia size and automobile size; and 2) if they were actually steering with something, they wouldn’t be drifting into my lane like the roadkill nutsack that they are.

Anyway. Seriously, this should have been a “der” moment, not something that needed to be legally restricted. If you’re behind the wheel of a car, you really don’t need to be tapping away on a keyboard. Which brings me to my solution: Every cell phone needs to come with a tamper-proof speed-sensitive lock. If the sensor detects movement above a normal walking pace, it deactivates phone, text, and Internet features. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Is this fair to those who can multi-task? First off, most people who believe they can multi-task are just people with severe ADD who start several different things at once and never finish any of them…most often because in the end they’re distracted by texting with their BFF. People who actually can multi-task understand that it’s not for every situation. Top of the list of inappropriate places should be behind the wheel of a freakin’ car.

Is this fair to non-drivers in a car? No. But we obviously are too childish in our intellectual development to understand that just because the passenger can e-mail while you’re driving, that doesn’t mean that you should be able to do the same. So, just like bedraggled parents who are sick and tired of dealing with whiny children, we’re going to have to go with the “If one of you can’t play nicely, then none of you can play” response.

I figure it’s either this or allowing Darwinian survival of the fittest take over. And while I’m all for tidying up the gene pool a bit, I’d rather not find myself in future Russian roulette situations in which I’m staring down the gold-plated trim of a Cadillac Escalade being driven by Blabby McDumbass.

Appalachia? Argentina? Adultery!!

No, I don't think you know what I want for Father's Day this year...
No, I don't think you know what I want for Father's Day this year...

So maybe you didn’t hear that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford went a little AWOL for a while. He just ambled away one day and didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He kind of mentioned that he was thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail, so his staffers assumed that this was what he was doing. They even sent out a press release indicating that this was indeed where he was.

SIKE. Just playing. He was really in Argentina. Schtooping his mistress.

That’s right, you’ve read correctly: GOP Governor Mark Sanford— devoted GOP politician, loving husband, and father of four—abandoned his gubernatorial and familial duties without telling anyone where he was going so that he could bounce his mistress in Argentina ON FATHER’S DAY WEEKEND.

Sanford was another rising star that the GOP were hoping would have presidential potential. You know, along with Senator John Ensign. I told you all about Ensign, right? Yeah.

I love the GOP. They’re so delightfully and offensively hypocritical.

Stupid Is As Stupid Sexts

I can only imagine what the instigating text must look like: “shO me w@ uv got! b00b pix plz!!1!”

And what do the recipients of such a text do? Take the requested shots with their mobile phones and text them, or as I’ve learned through this article, “sext” them back, of course! I’m still not sure, though, when the common sense factor comes into play in this equation.

Look, we’ve all had lapses in judgment, and sometimes a camera is involved. Bourbon Street was home to some incredibly poor moments in Loba judgment and, yes, photo evidence does exist of said judgment lapses. Some involve test tube shooters and others involve a fellow reveler dressed as Hong Kong Phooey. I’m not telling you about any of the others.

Why tell you this at all? I suppose to acknowledge that everyone does stupid things (even your friendly neighborhood white wolf) that sometimes involve cameras that record moments you might not even remember until you’ve sobered up and seen the proof.

However, these cases involve not even one drop of booze. The only thing that seems to be incapacitating these teens is the combined absence of common sense and inhibition. And this particular cocktail is landing them in a whole shitload of trouble, including some who have landed on their state’s list of registered sex offenders. That is a stain that will follow you for the rest of your life.

What’s most disturbing about this article is the fact that detectives are finding evidence of sexting going on in elementary schools. The oldest you can be in elementary school, barring that you haven’t failed any grades, is 13.

I guess this is comparable to when I was a teen and the Internet was rapidly becoming the focus of our lives. We became the first truly plugged-in generation, doing things online that our parents had only considered possible in sci-fi books and shows. So they didn’t really know how to protect us from what was going on in that brave new world.

That’s only a partial excuse, though because, just like then, this latest trend in stupidity can fall into the “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” file. Also, anyone who has grown up in this time of instant access knows that once you put it out there, there’s no way of getting it back, and it spreads with the destructive swiftness of a California brush fire. Some are even driven to suicide because of the fallout.

So, really, if you get a sext asking you “show us your bits!”? Don’t. It’s just that easy. Oh, and those Bourbon Street photos? I’ve got ’em. And, no, you can’t see them.

The Miseducation of America

During my commute this morning, I heard about a report released by The Education Trust that states that, if current trends continue, one in four students currently in high school here in the States will drop out before graduating.

So much for No Child Left Behind.

Even more disturbing was the very next report, which announced that state budgets around the country are in such dire trouble that tuition rates for many public colleges and universities are slated to skyrocket. Some states are even considering mid-semester tuition hikes to cover their shortfalls.

Begs the question then: Why is it so important for high school students to actually graduate when they will more than likely not be able to afford a college degree, which in today’s society has become what a high school diploma was to my parents’ generation?

Sorry, but I am particularly surly when it comes to this topic. I find it abhorrent that we are such a global failure when it comes to educating our children. And the failure is so multi-tiered that it’s going to take a lot of work for us to ever come close to improving things.

First, teachers are horrifically underpaid, under-appreciated, and in some places, under-protected. I had a friend who left her contractor job to become a teacher at a school here in D.C. She left after less than a year because she had a breakdown after being subjected to verbal and physical abuse from her students. Oh, did I mention that her students were 6 years old?

That leads to number two: Parents are severely failing when it comes to raising children who understand that you don’t bite and spit at your teacher. Or attack them with a baseball bat, which is what a high school student here in Maryland did a few years ago.

It doesn’t take long for qualified teachers to realize that they are in for a world of abuse for a pitiful paycheck. So schools are very often left scrambling to find people with bare minimum qualifications (Are you a warm body? You’re hired!) to teach students filled with such utter apathy and contempt as to be uncontrollable. They also wield undeserved power over teachers. Many teachers are terrified of taking any kind of punitive action toward unruly students out of fear that they will be accused of some horrible misdeed. I’ve known teachers who refused to speak with a student in private without either having another teacher present as a witness or leaving the door to the classroom wide open.

Next there is the still unchanged truth that school is “danger and disease wrapped in darkness and silence.” Okay, so maybe that’s space according to Dr. McCoy, but I think it can be applied to many schools. Ten years after Columbine and I question what, if anything we have learned from the actions of those two shooters. True, school officials now take threats more seriously, but have they also taken seriously the scarring effects that perpetual bullying can have on the psyche and the soul? Especially on kids who obviously have very little parental supervision and interaction. I mean, come on, these two boys were stockpiling Terminator amounts of guns and ammo, trying to build bombs in their rooms…and their parents were completely clueless.

(I’ve said much more in my last blog about Columbine, and I will be posting a link to that blog very soon. I promise.)

So you’ve got terrified and sometimes under-qualified teachers dealing with unruly students who often lack any form of structure or discipline from their parents, interacting in an often bully-infested school culture. Is it any wonder students are dropping out at an alarming rate?

Of course, this is not the environment at all schools. But it is a recipe for disaster that I think is playing out in way too many cities throughout this country and that cannot be ignored any longer. Improved testing is not going to solve this problem. Government intervention isn’t going to solve it either (unless the Obama administration has some clever trick up their sleeve that is going to retrain parents in how to raise even moderately behaved children).

I truly believe that the change does need to start in the home. Parents need to become more involved in their children’s lives. Ask them about their day, teach them not to disrespect others, join them while watching television or playing a game, engage them in conversation. And if you just can’t be bothered with all that, then don’t have any kids. If you raise them correctly from the very beginning, 9 times out of 10, I’m willing to bet they’ll be a far better little person for it.

And then you send them off to school, where they don’t abuse their teachers or their peers. And then, just maybe, teachers will stop being afraid and will start returning to the schools. You know what, though? Start paying them better! Screw the millions thrown at athletes. If these undeserving demigods are really playing the sport because of their love of the game, switch their annual income down to match the median income of the state for which their team plays. We’ll see just how deep that “love” really runs. And send that extra money into the communities where it will actually do some good, including keeping college tuitions down low enough so that everyone can afford the opportunity to a higher education, not just the rich.

I know, I know – I’m dreaming on all these fronts. I just find it so freaking frustrating every time I hear statistics like I did this morning. We should be doing better by our country’s children than this. We need to do better. But what do we do? And is it too late for the current generations? Or has the damage already been done?

Psychological Audit

Due to the piss-poor economic state of affairs as of late, many people are choosing to tighten their belts when it comes to monthly expenditures, even if they happen to fall in the “Well Off” category. As noted in this WaPo article:

Economists say many still-flush consumers are handcuffed by psychological traps that cause them to tighten their purse strings even though economic hardship is not their reality. Underscoring the crucial role that consumer psychology will play in turning around the economy, President Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke have both been on the hustings this week sounding notes of optimism.

The most troubling things about this quote are: a) the fact that fiscal responsibility is being labeled a “psychological trap”; and b) the fact that the Obama administration is trying to paint a happy face on this situation as a way of encouraging people to spend more.

Does no one find it horrifying that the fate of the American economy apparently rests on the shoulders of consumers and how much Chinese-made crap we’re willing to buy? Is our economic salvation really contingent upon people like me finally breaking down and buying a plasma television? Because if it is, we’re in bad shape. I’m a cheap mofo. You know the old saying: “Live simply that others might simply live.” I believe it’s more than just something to read off a bumper sticker. I think it should be part of our overall belief system.

Yes, I own way more DVDs than I really need. I have five bookshelves full of reading material. I love my Xbox 360. I’m not going to lie and act like I don’t indulge myself now and again. But the indulgences are few and not what you’d expect. My DVDs and video games? Many of them come from used CD/DVD stores or Amazon Marketplace (the greatest online service on earth, if you ask me). Marketplace is also from where most of my book purchases come. No shame in proving that “one man’s junk is another geek’s treasure.” I come nowhere near spending $100 a day (of course, I’m also not “upper-income,” so I guess I’m okay there). If I do spend a significant amount of money, it’s either because I couldn’t find a better deal, or it’s for someone else.

I’m just really displeased with the idea that we are being expected to spend more in order to fix our economy. If that’s the case, then this country needs to start giving us better merchandise. I’m sick and tired of shoddily made merchandise that breaks soon after I purchase it. You want me to spend more money? Give me better quality. Oh, and here’s an idea: Maybe you could give me that better quality actually built here in America. I get that this is supposed to be a global economy, but that doesn’t mean that we have to completely gut a whole subset of our own economy. How many thousands of former industry workers would love to be able to work again? Call me crazy, but bringing some of these jobs back to our own shores might do more to boost our economy than buying a pile of Chinese-made plastic crap from Wal-mart ever would.