Monday, January 31, 2011
LEGISLATORS LOSE SENSES
Well, you get the drift.
In the past not all legislators who appeared a little off the deep end were as strange as they seemed. This writer well recalls a state senator friend from down in Okmulgee County who regularly proposed legislation to castrate convicted rapists. Of course, this would not seem strange when mixed with some of the crazy bills we have floating there every year now. Other than the one peculiar stance, that senator was a good supporter of everything progressive in Oklahoma – including colleges and public schools. And, he was a graduate of my college.
But those who are sponsoring the crazy bills now do not appear to have such redeeming qualities. At least, none show.
The craziest of the loony bills in this legislative session are those proposed by the gun nuts. Can you really imagine college campuses with anyone and everyone carrying concealed weapons, i.e. everyone who takes the little gun-handling short course and gets certified? It is difficult to imagine streets and stores like that, much less colleges and vo-tech schools.
But, lo, there are also legislators who are sponsoring legislation to let anyone carry guns in the open just about anywhere they go. That is, we can all strap on our six-shooters (excuse me, 31 bullet automatics), and go to college classes, the grocery store, and maybe even the saloon. Evidently college administrators, faculty, store managers, and bartenders will then be carrying their guns in order to protect themselves, the students, the customers, and to keep order.
Folks, even Wyatt Earp had a better system than this in old Dodge City, checking in the cowboys’ guns when they came to town. And, in Tombstone the Earps and Doc Holliday met Ike Clanton and his boys down at the OK corral for their deadly gunplay – away from innocent people. Who cares about innocent cows? PETA does, so that would not be allowed today. But innocent people are okay.
We have had a rash of really ugly immigration bills, all aimed at chasing the undocumented Mexicans out of the state -- and making legals uncomfortable.
But those bills that threatened the interests of Chamber of Commerce member employers of undocumented residents soon got sidetracked or amended. Now we have some legislators going after the Mexican kids, trying to take away their rights to citizenship by birth although that happens to be a provision of the U. S. Constitution. They’re called “anchor babies.” It is hard to deport the parents and not the child, but some are working at it.
Denying rights to Mexican children of undocumented workers is another regular target. Deny them medical attention, deny them schooling, and deny the graduates of state high schools their in-state college tuition rates.
It is not hard to reason why all these harsh immigration bills are introduced. They are pushed by the same people every year – the ones whose faces we see on television so frequently appealing to their tea party type voter base. They love the TV camera and the publicity they get from these efforts.
We fear that similar motives drive those who each year come up with some new legislative twist to have government interfere with a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Strangely enough these same politicians who push such legislation intruding into the personal and family lives of women are the ones who loudly cry out against big government regulating health insurance companies or big banks in an effort to protect citizen consumers. Nevertheless, such foolishness appeals to their religious right wing voters.
Clearly some legislators have motives of their own, primarily political in nature, for doing the dirty work of some overly zealous, misinformed, bigoted voters out there. Too bad! But it is still very hard to understand where the “gun nuts” are coming from. Maybe the NRA is promoting all this, and we don’t even know it. We don’t receive their black-hearted propaganda, of course.
To a former college administrator who allowed no guns on campus, in dormitories or anywhere else, these gun bills seem completely, utterly, and incomprehensibly puerile, and just plain stupid.
This writer has had the actual experience of confronting an angry man on campus, carrying his gun and looking for vengeance. I do not buy the notion that if I had been armed that day I would have been safer. The peaceful resolution of the problem could easily have been quite different with two guns present.
I would not want my campus vice-president son carrying a gun, or his faculty doing so, in order to meet the challenges of disorderly gun-toters on campus. They are not policemen. But neither would I want my son or other professionals trying to do their jobs peacefully amidst an armed student body -- or in a town where everybody is free to carry a gun.
I cannot understand legislators who would promote such conditions, nor parents who would tolerate such a circumstance.
If it comes to all this, what kind of state is this going to be?
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Upon achieving the necessary level of authority to make the calls on commencement music, however, I chose instead “The Triumphal March” from Aida. This is perhaps the most stirring and exciting music I have ever heard. Replete with trumpets and complete instrumentation, there is nothing comparable to produce a prideful surge in one’s spirits.
The reader might well respond at this time, “Who said there was something wrong with either the holding of formal commencements or the playing of uplifting, inspiring music in celebration of intellectual accomplishments?” At one time, it may have been difficult to find such, but today it is not hard to find those who see little value in the formalities of pomp and circumstance. There has been change in priority given education and intellectual or cultural accomplishments. We may go through the motions, but a common coarseness has taken over.
In fact, some of those being honored at these formal ceremonies will choose to skip them. Others show disrespect for the occasions by their manner of dress and by their conduct and that of their guests. While in earlier years parents would cross a continent to attend the ceremony for the new graduate, perhaps the first in the family, some will not now drive across town to be on hand for the big formal event. The current disdain for formalities, dress occasions, or anything cultural, is quite disturbing.
But it is reflective of the larger culture of which we are a part. It is personified by some of our political leaders and pop culture icons.
After having shown disrespect by non-attendance at the commemoration event at the University of Arizona held last week for those killed or injured, and for those who performed heroics, new Speaker Boehner this week also refused to attend a state dinner for the president of China at the White House. On the former occasion he was attending a fund raiser cocktail party, and on the other he said he had to stay to vote to take away public protection from marauding health insurance companies (although that vote was over much earlier than the start of the dinner).
Some say that Speaker Boehner doesn’t like “glitzy, pomp and circumstance” affairs. That does not appeal to his “base,” they say. Well, heaven help us if our third in line for the presidency cares more about appealing to a red-neck base than he does in performing the social duties of high office.
Of course, others point out that Mr. Boehner attended state dinners during the Bush presidency. So, then, Mr. Boehner is left only with the smirch of bad manners brushed across his well-tanned face. Others have suggested the “Southern solution” as the real reason for snubbing invitations not only for social events but also political discussions in a White House occupied by a black man. This writer would rather believe that Mr. Boehner is a social boor and a bad-mannered clod.
But our American culture as a whole lacks proper respect for propriety, good manners, courtesy, respectfulness, and what might be termed the “social graces.” We would rather be slouchy as to be dressed. We fail to appreciate anything “high brow,” yielding to our peers of lower brow for whatever goes by “pop” these days.
Worst of all, we lack respect for intelligence and most things intellectual.
Some ignorant politicians regard the conclusions of our scientists on global warming to be some kind of hoax or fairy tale. Some with narrow interpretations of scripture seek to bar teaching of real science from the public schools by substituting their religion. When the nation’s most learned economists come together to make recommendations for government actions to combat recession, some politicians trash expert opinion, filling the air with old clichés about spending, tax cuts, socialism, and “big government.”
Ignorant political appointees to boards and commissions seek to rewrite textbooks in history and science. Legislators who know nothing about instruction seek to rewrite curricula, schedules, and mandate minutia for schools with little regard for professionals. Lay boards and parents interfere in the professional work of teachers in their schools, dictating content, methodology, or discipline. As a cheap alternative, we siphon off funds for semi-private, charter schools upon which we make no demands or legal requirements and set no standards.
While many Americans hold on to a form of their rugged, frontiersman culture, they wonder why their schools are falling behind those of the mainstream world. Then they blame this on their scapegoat, public schools, upon which they habitually cast their most vile criticism. University people are just a bunch of eggheads and elitists, who plant a lot of liberal ideas in the heads of the young.
Two generations have grown up since Americans have shown proper appreciation for scholarly and cultural activities in our schools. Instead, the public has demonstrated neglect and an unhealthy disrespect for genuine academics.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Long ago when this writer was studying and practicing education, or later teaching educators, counselors, and school psychologists, he learned that sound practice and productive change must be based upon research. That research comes from trial and analysis of new ideas under controlled conditions. Analysis needs to be mathematical and objective. This does not mean there is no room for empiricism, i.e. experience based knowledge or traditional practices, because these often have some scientific basis. But laboratory studies, controlled group studies, and controlled practical experimentation must not be neglected.
Basic learning psychology studies have much to offer. For instance, these can tell us much about ideas for the four-day week, 90 minute period, and organizational structure. For younger minds “massed learning” has been proven by research to be less efficient and less effective. Especially in complex subjects, such as mathematics and science, spaced learning with reviews has proven much more effective in laboratory and classroom research.
Why would we not look at such research before we play around with study periods, days, weeks, or with curriculum? Have our colleges and universities not passed along such knowledge in professional classes during the last couple of decades? Are school administrators and teachers ignoring what they were taught about the psychology of learning? Are lay boards ignoring the advice of professionals? Are there too many administrators and teachers functioning without proper professional education credentials?
Are our politicians, encouraged by their party and by some in the media, undertaking wholesale changes in our educational system, its structure, and its academic standards and requirements without consultation with knowledgeable professionals? Are we about to embark on changes without looking at research relevant to these decisions? Although we have an aversion to looking at practices elsewhere, especially internationally, we are nevertheless constantly comparing our student product and test scores. Should we not also look at their practices as well?
For instance, if we are comparing our high school graduates and scores with others internationally, should we not look at the selectivity taking place in some of those national systems? Holding to our ideals of open opportunity for all in high school, we may find unfavorable comparisons with systems which allow only the upper half to advance to that level. Is that a proper or fair comparison?
As long as we hold to the notion that every student is equally able to learn any and all subject content, we are creating ourselves an educational problem. Some might call this a dilemma. High schools harnessed with one type of graduation credential and one set of graduation requirements, essentially academic college preparatory courses, are indeed saddled with a dilemma. Teachers must decide if they are going to pass only the half who master the content, while failing the other half, or is it best to modify (water down) content and standards so that most can pass some of the basics? This is a dilemma.
There are some recent theorists who claim that anyone can learn anything if taught the right way and given sufficient time. These have done a disservice to schools, teachers, and especially to those pupils caught in the ignominy of frustrating and failing circumstances. Bright pupils are also deprived of the opportunity for rigorous learning experiences, properly preparing them for advanced study.
Learning research tells us that “one size fits all” is not right. There should be no single set of requirements foisted upon every student. Students should be allowed to have different life goals, and to choose different routes in school toward different credentials. School counselors know this, but it seems everyone else has forgotten. Parents often unwisely demand college prep for all.
Some educators may have forgotten what research has taught about education, or never learned about the profession. Perhaps we are not listening to knowledgeable professionals, or we are simply choosing to ignore the accumulated knowledge that could guide us in our efforts to improve our schools. This approach will lead only to change for the worse.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
Saturday, January 15, 2011
This writer was once accused of sophistry, and while in some intellectual circles in early Greece that might have been a compliment of sorts, it was not perceived as such by this former professor. Having been called to the academic vice president’s office in one of our major universities regarding the work of an outside statewide committee which he chaired, this writer was told to disavow their recommendation which I was to present to another state governing body shortly. After my reply that began: “With all due respect,” all heck broke loose.
In the harangue which followed, I attempted to provide logical answers why I could not conform to his order. These were met by other demands, and by accusations that I would hurt the university. At one point, while stating a requirement of conscience, I was accused of sophistry. On that, I left. But I did survive, integrity intact, and the university never fell apart.
An accusation of sophistry, i.e. skillful but fallacious and deceitful reasoning, can be a quite insulting to an academic.
In one of our regional universities, where this writer was once headed the student counseling services, he had the unusual experience of listening to a student with quite different problems. She was an attractive woman of about 30 or so, and she was referred to my office because of her complaints about being sexually harassed by one of the faculty members.
She related to me that Dr. X had made sexual advances to her. That seemed strange to me, as it had been to the referring faculty advisor, since we both knew Dr. X to be one of the older, conservative, fuddy-duddy types on our staff, even a bit dull and dowdy. She was non-specific in describing the nature of those advances, what he said, or the “looks” he gave her. Then she began to tell me about others who had also done such. She had complaints about the woman driver of her car pool, whom she mistrusted. That progressed on to her story about not eating in the college cafeteria because somebody there was poisoning her food. She had also had trouble with a downtown restaurant poisoning her food.
I recognized that I was dealing with a textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia. I offered to make an appointment for her with an area doctor (psychiatrist). She was to come back. But the next time I encountered her was in the president’s office, where she had gone to complain that I had “roughed her up.” After we clarified the meaning of “roughing up,” I asked her to relate to the president about the food problem. Hearing that he became quite agitated, called that “crazy talk,” told her to go, and to follow my advice.
The driver of her car pool came to see me and asked, “Dr. Vineyard, do you think she is dangerous? Am I in danger?”
I answered, “No. Not unless she decides some day that you are the one who is poisoning her food. If she decides on who that is, they could be in some danger.”
This brings us to the point. Mentally ill people may be quite benign in society, except for requiring care and treatment, which many are not getting. But there are many out there who may be potentially dangerous with the distortions of reality in their thought processes. They are susceptible to voices, both imagined and real. They may have pent up impulses and repressed behaviors waiting to be loosed.
In other words, they are out there, but they are relatively benign – UNTIL THEY ARE TOLD WHO IS POISONING THEIR FOOD. When one of those breaks loose, and goes on a rampage that may include killing a bunch people at a political gathering, it is rank sophistry to offer reasoning why the rhetoric of violence and hate practiced by the right wing bears no responsibility.
The talk of “in the cross-hairs,” “lock and load,” “Second amendment solutions,” “get your ammunition ready,” and all such are enough to focus the mind of a deranged listener on a target. Many of us have warned that the rhetoric and the symbolism of the tea party are suggestively violent in nature. Some tea party speakers have advocated outright destruction at targeted offices, of which the Tucson congresswoman’s office was one vandalized.
Carrying guns to political affairs is threatening. So are the signs carried insulting our democratic government. Use of Hitler, Nazi, communist, or tyrant are inflammatory. Speaker Boehner’s exclamations of “Hell, no,” or his use of words such as “job killing health bill” or “death panel” and “death tax” are meant to be inciting to emotions. Hooliganism and shouting at town halls, fomented by tea party sympathizers, have no place in civil discourse.
The incessant beating of the same drums by a certain television “news” channel and by certain radio commentators foments and incites anger and hostility.
Denying any responsibility for violence against political targets, when it occurs, requires rank sophistry. But there is also the matter of incubating genuine fanatics who perform or condone such acts as the shooting of the Wichita abortion clinic doctor, because they are provided the thought that it is right, necessary, or God’s will. There, too, we find similar sophist reasoning as a defense – just as in politics.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
Thursday, January 13, 2011
VILIFYING HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM
The “health care reform” bill enacted simply corrects some of the past abuses of health insurance companies against the public, and particularly against their own policy holders. Then it also sets up a plan whereby health insurance might become accessible those 40 or 50 million people in this country without any coverage at all.
This is not a “government run” health care or insurance program. Medicare is a government run insurance program. Most progressives would have much preferred “single-payer” government run insurance resembling Medicare for everybody. But that is not what was enacted.
When citizens were polled on the individual provisions of the law, the results were always 60% to 90% positive for the various components. Yet with the constant vilification of the law by republicans, its overall support has dropped from 60% to about 40% in this past year. One must conclude that this negative political effort has been successful. But when those citizens opposed are asked to specify what provisions they are against, they are often unable to do so. Some provide answers showing lack of understanding of the program’s contents.
So, a lot of people are opposed to the health insurance reform plan, but they don’t know why. But they have been told it is bad, and they believe it.
Perhaps the rhetoricians, such as Mr. Boehner, have colored their judgment. He always calls it “the job-killing Obama health care plan.” That is scary enough. When persons like Rep. King of Iowa spends 58 minutes on the floor of the House, as he did this past week, with assurance that God does not want the insurance companies regulated, things are going from scary to weird.
Republicans were autocratically bringing the bill to the House for repeal in its unitary entirety (although the Tucson tragedy may cause a change in schedule). No effort is made to identify the good from the part they don’t like. No effort is being made to amend any parts not liked. No opportunity is being given to debate the different features. One can only conclude this is a political game and not an effort to improve legislation. It is a political game played with no thought to the harm done to people affected by repeal of patients’ rights and protections granted in the program.
The court system is being utilized for part of that political game. States are suing to stop the law. Their main legal objection has been “forcing individual citizens to have insurance.” In other words, it is something similar to our auto insurance requirement and for similar reasons. Persons who don’t have health insurance are parasites on the rest. They get expensive emergency room visits, surgeries, and some expensive acute care anyway – at the added costs to all our bills and our insurance premiums. Why would we not want to have some sort of planned universal coverage if we are all going to have to pay for the uninsured some other, more expensive way?
This repeal effort is based upon fallacies and lies. No one involved is actually trying to improve anything for the people.
We are suddenly told that this bill will increase the deficit. When confronted with the facts that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the program will actually reduce the deficit by $230 billion in the next ten years, Mr. Boehner says, “Oh, they can have their figures, and we have ours.” That is a silly, stupid answer. No sensible person says such things. But it typifies republican tendencies to ignore facts when it pleases them.
Mr. Boehner’s “job-killing” accusation needs examination. His idea, of course, is to reduce labor costs for all of the nation’s businesses.
The fact is that some of America’s industries are handicapped in global competition by worker wage levels and by worker benefit costs – particularly the cost of health care. Health care costs are hurting our economy in that and other ways. Too much of our GDP is going to the health care sector. Health care costs MUST be reduced. The Obama bill tried to do this, along with increasing access to basic health care to reduce expensive emergency and crisis care. Reducing excess profit margins of insurance companies was another goal.
There is no doubt that health care costs need to be controlled and reduced, but is this goal to be achieved by denial of care for those unable to pay or by denial of benefits and wages to workers? Do we want to cut the standard of living for our middle class and starve the poor? Or, is it better to reduce the flow of cheap goods made by cheap labor into this country through tariffs and other controls.
Would it not also be better to have a single-payer, government run health insurance program like Medicare for everybody? Through such a program real constraints could be placed on escalating health care costs. It would be fair to everyone, and everybody would benefit. There would still be a big “Medicare supplement” insurance market out there for the insurance companies, because no government program is likely to have first dollar, deductible free coverage. American industries would still need some protection, to maintain our standard of living.
It is time to be honest and to stop playing political games with the health care of the people of this country.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
Thursday, January 06, 2011
MEAN MARKETING IN POLITICS
It seems that we have turned full scale to “mean marketing” in selling our politics, particularly to the naïve, the uninformed, the ill-informed, and the gullible. Negative television advertisements are obvious examples. Attack ads could almost be understood without any verbal adds. The dark, foreboding images of the opponent depict that person in a manner usually reserved for 1930’s era gangsters and jail mug shots. Tainted words like “liberal,” “socialist,” or “death panels” appear, along with demonized party icons such as Obama or Pelosi.
Mean marketing may include fear mongering. Whatever voters with vulnerable minds might fear is used prominently in mean salesmanship. Pictures of Hitler and swastika emblems are shock provoking and employed frequently. Capitalism fears socialism, and capitalists pay for lots of ads, so socialist, communist, Nazi, death tax, and “socialized ____, “are often used. Of course, these are often used along with American flags, eagles, stars, and emblems of patriotism to depict themselves and those who are paying for the dirty ads.
But there are political movements that should generate genuine fear in thoughtful voters. These are the political rallies or “town meetings” with burly thugs standing around, guns strapped around their waists or in combat military gear carrying rifles. We have a right to be disturbed by people carrying flags turned upside down, or those carrying signs saying “take our country back” and demonizing our democratically elected government or our government officials.
There are those who speak at microphones, even candidates for public office, advocating a “second amendment solution,” obviously referring to guns and militias as a way of solving our democratic government’s shortcomings, real or imagined. These should be frightening to those of us who believe in civility in debate and peaceful transitions through regular democratic processes.
There is an e-mail currently circulating carrying the title “Ex-marine Stuns Crowd.” In this a middle-aged, partially-bald man takes the microphone at a tea party rally and sings the fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner (as written in 18l4, used since 1916, and adopted by Congress in 1931). He does a marvelous rendition of this verse of the anthem. Unfortunately nobody identifies this singer as the unsuccessful southern tea party candidate who became a flaming evangel and icon for the most militant tea party people in the last election.
As memory best serves, this man advocated personal violence and property destruction as political tactics against incumbent congressmen and opposition candidates. These tactics included bricks through windows of homes, cars, and offices, advocated on the right wing airwaves and done. Other stations carried excerpts of incidents. Also, he referred to secession and taking up arms to achieve “political goals.” To many of us, this seemed beyond free speech and into the treasonous and criminal category. Certainly, this man does not seem one to be honored as a patriotic icon, when many think he belongs in jail instead.
We should also fear those who want to change our Constitution to suit their own political ideas. These people try to stimulate fear in us that unless we change the Constitution something bad is going to happen to us. God is going to be banned from the nation. The Muslims are taking over. Or, substitute black people or Mexicans for Muslims in that sentence. Better yet, just be fearful all three are taking over, accompanied by the secularists, atheists, Jews, gays, and intellectuals.
They say that if we don’t give up some of our liberty and our freedom, we will not be safe. Or, conversely, they say that the government is taking away our freedoms and must be stopped by making some kind of constitutional change. Or again, they may say that we must let them go beyond the Constitution and the courts to do things that will save us from our enigmatic enemies.
We have a good Constitution. It is the charter of our democracy. It protects our individual freedoms from the majority and the government itself. It has been constantly maintained and updated by decisions of the Supreme Court through interpretation of its words and its principles. There has been an ebb and flow in terms of political philosophies, and properly so, but in general the courts and the Constitution have stood the tests of time.
The last thing we should do is allow any lunatic political fringe activists to change even one word of our Constitution.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate