Sunday, July 23, 2006

"... and cabbages and kings."

Some people in Minnesota get it. Education officials and company spokesmen around the country who seem to want schools to train employable technicians, rather than to educate students, have long hammered away at the notion of compelling schools to offer more and tougher math and science courses as student requirements. Minnesota’s leaders were no different.

But a statewide assessment of interests was recently given to over 91,000 people in Minnesota. The surprising aspect is who were surveyed. Not college and university personnel so fond of telling public schools what they “should do.” Not politicians decrying America’s educational preparedness for the Twenty-first Century. Not pundits and journalists critical of schools and society. Not employers looking to hire technicians already trained to do their company’s work. and not school administrators, nor even parents.

The assessment was given to more than 91,000 eighth and tenth graders! Minnesota actually asked students about their interests! Amazing. And they found that “only” eleven percent of eighth graders and twenty-one percent of eleventh graders have enough interest “to make them suitable candidates for careers in math, science, and technology.”

State officials are reported as “disturbed by the news.” I do not see why.

Do we really think that more than twenty-one percent of any class should go into advanced math, science, and technology? Even in the foggy future of the Twenty-first Century?

Come on, Minnesota officials. Think about it. The interest assessment shows twenty-one out of every one hundred sophomores are interested in math and science careers. That seems like a large number to me. What if twenty-one of every one hundred students were interested in being a poet? Would that seem like a large number then?

There are seventy-nine Minnesota students out of each one hundred who, instead of math and science, are interested in art history, or home economics, or auto mechanics, or literature, acting, history, psychology, culinary arts, sculpture and painting, geography, house painting, music, carpentry, writing, fashion design, theology, military service, ceramics, cooking, sales, journalism, film making, even politics. Or they are interested in other fields not listed, fields of study which society hopes some students will pursue every year.

Do the Minnesota officials reported as “disturbed by the news” that “only” twenty-one percent are interested in science and technology really think students should abandon their interests in favor of more tough math and science courses and careers? Society in general can’t really think it believes that. Someone tell the “disturbed” officials in Minnesota, most of whom, I’ll wager, are not math or science whizzes.

So, applaud whoever in Minnesota gave the interest assessment. They asked the right people the right questions. Now, let’s listen! And spread the word.

Schools in America should be designed to educate all students according to each of their interests, abilities, and needs. “Tougher” math and science courses and careers simply do not fit everyone. Just ask the students. Minnesota did.

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Julius Caesar wrote, “Omnia Gaulia est divisa in partes tres.” He never knew the Bush League. All “gall” is not divided into three parts, but seems concentrated in far more than three of those bozos. (O.K. so I am showing off that I remember sophomore Latin and can make a bilingual pun.)

Anyway, after five and half years of turning down invitations to speak before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Bush spoke before the group the other day. I caught the entire speech on C-Span and was uncomfortable. His condescending tone and the Bush speechwriter’s superficial recounting of Black history for the President to read were bad enough. No wonder the audience seemed mostly polite but slightly insulted.

The gall of the President was especially apparent, however, when he leaned forward over the rostrum, smirked, and said, as if he were teaching a lesson to a child, “For too long our party wrote off the African-American vote, and for too long the African-American vote has written off the Republican Party.” The “vote.” Not the people. Their votes.

That is what he said after five and a half years of turning down an invitation to speak and after five and a half years of the Bush League politicians doing almost nothing for the poor among the Blacks or the homeless. This after the Bush League henchmen successfully disenfranchised thousands of Black voters in Florida in 2000. And, most recently, after the Bush League nearly ignored those most in need of help from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. But now, after those five and a half years, the Bush handlers have the gall to tell him to accept the invitation to speak, and Bush says, in effect, “It has been too long.”

A reporter asked the presidential press secretary, Tony Snow, why Bush accepted this year. And Snow said, “Because he wanted to.” Think about that.

The answer must mean that in previous years, Bush did NOT want to.

A follow-up question ought to have been, “Why did he want to speak to the NAACP convention this year, but not in previous years?” It did not need to be asked, however, for anyone who understands what the answer, “Because he wanted to,” means also knows why he didn’t want to before now. And he didn’t really “want to” this year, you can be sure. That’s another fib.

But this is an election year, and polls indicate that the Bush League needs every vote they can muster, including the scant four percent Presidential approval bunch among the Black community. So his handlers sent Bush groveling, with self-deprecating humor, a condescending tone, and a re-cap of Black history complete with statements of how well the race has prevailed! Of all the gall!

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People look at both actions and words as clues to character. The inadvertent open mic conversation between a cud-chewing Bush and his lap dog British Prime Minister Blair was certainly revealing of character at the recent G-8 summit conference. If ever in history there was a better example of the cluelessness of a man than that idiotic exchange between two world leaders, I don’t know what it might be.

Never mind the profanity. Nor the remarks about speakers who talk too long. Never mind the inane remarks about the sweater gift. Forget the unwanted and crass back rub Bush had given to a surprised and insulted female head of Germany.

Consider just one revealing example from the overheard drivel. Bush tells the Brit that “they” (others) need to call Kofi Anan at the UN and get him to do something about the situation between Israel and Lebanon.

Aren’t Great Britain and America two nations who most certainly are a part of “they”? Not only that, but the remark that others, “they,” should get the UN to do something comes after years of Bush deprecating the usefulness of the United Nations. The guy not only has gall, he is clueless.

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The New York TIMES reports that there were 14,338 civilians killed in Iraq in the first half of this year. There were more than 100 a day killed in June. The paper also reports that Iraqi women have lost some of the freedoms they used to have. There are regular kidnappings of citizens by insurgents for ransom. And more ugliness, according to the TIMES report.

One could go on to recount the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure, homes, and businesses. One might also include statistics about the number of Americans killed and the thousands mentally and physically wounded who will never be able to return to the way of life they led before the Bush League maneuvered America into accepting an invasion of a country that posed no immediate threat.

Perhaps the staggering war costs, immense damage, and terrible casualty numbers, growing daily, are why the Bush League politicians and their puppet president no longer chant the daily mantra of a year ago: “Iraq and the world are better off than before we invaded.” Remember that crap?

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

whispy secrets among cloudy thoughts from a foggy mind

People Magazine interviewed President Bush in the first week of July, 2006. Here are two of the questions and Bush’s responses, plus my commentary within brackets.

People: Could you and Al Gore ever be friends, like your dad and Bill Clinton?

Bush: I don't know. I know that Bill Clinton and I have got a very good relationship.

[Notice that the President hurries to say he and Clinton are friends, too! Bush wants us to know it isn’t only his dad who is now a friend of Bill. That whispers something about son vs. father, and it is not a response to the question. “Me, too!” he insists, after running against Clinton for the past six years!

[A strict grammarian might also mention the use of “got” with “have” as unnecessarily redundant and once even considered crudely non-standard. But strict grammarians have long ago given up on Bush practicing precise and effective communication skills.

[Bush moves further from the question at this point. What follows has nothing to do with any possible future friendship with Gore.]

Bush: In two and a half years I'll be a member of the ex-Presidents’ club. But I'm very busy these days. I've got a lot to do, and so I'm really not worrying much about my post-presidency. I have vowed that I will sprint to the finish line and use every moment I've got to achieve some big things.

[He is not worrying “much.” He is very busy with a lot to do. Evidence could make a case for that being a stretch. His handlers seem to ship him out of D.C. as often as they can; so, that may be another Bush whisper: “I have (got) to say I am busy, and then maybe I will appear to be.”

[Is “things” a precise word to describe what Bush vows to achieve? Do people achieve “things”? I suppose if one considers goals and accomplishments “things,” then “things” can be achieved. Still, it seems shoddy thinking/speaking.

[Wouldn’t a great follow-up at this point have been for People Magazine to ask what one or two of the “big things” are that he wants to achieve? Why does it seem that no one asks follow-up questions? When Bush vows “to use every moment I’ve got to achieve some big things,” it sounds like O.J. vowing he will search every day for the real killer.

[Also note that Bush used eleven personal pronouns in just seventy-two words! Of course the interview is about Bush. But such egocentric repetition whispers character revelations, nonetheless.

[And there is another use of “I’ve got.” That means, “I have got.” Again, the strict grammarian could mention the ugly redundancy of adding “got” to “have.” Perhaps the standard English alternative, “..every moment I have…” would help earn a better grade at Yale, even today.]

People: Do you think Gore is right on global warming?

Bush: I think we have a problem on global warming.

[Is this a first-time admission by the President that there is a problem? Good on you, People. Follow up! Or is Bush saying that the problem is the global warming issue? And, out of curiosity, is the problem “ON” global warming?]

Bush: I think there is a debate about whether it's caused by mankind or whether it's caused naturally, but it's a worthy debate.

[The debate is over! Bush says, “I think…” but he must know. His big time supporters polluting and contributing to the problem do not want him to say that, but he must know. No reputable scientist in the world doubts global warming, nor that mankind is hastening it. Bush must have heard that. His “worthy debate” add-on statement seems to be an attempt to placate both sides of the debate.

[Now look closely at the following reversal of Bush’s mind. You can see that he knows. He has said he thinks the debate is about whether mankind is causing warming or not, and then advances all the things he is “doing” to “solve” the debate, a statement that makes no sense. One does not “solve” debates. Bush probably means, “solve the global warming problem.” If so, then he is revealing that he thinks global warming is caused by humans, for his “solutions” are all meant to curb manmade activities adding to the problem.]

Bush: It's a debate, actually, that I'm in the process of solving by advancing new technologies, burning coal cleanly in electric plants, or promoting hydrogen-powered automobiles, or advancing ethanol as an alternative to gasoline.

[See? He knows.

[And he is “actually” solving the debate! How? Well, Bush is “advancing new technologies.” Why did People Magazine not ask about that?

[Bush is also “burning coal cleanly in electric plants.” I know, that’s nuts; but it is what he said he is doing. He must mean that he approves of companies doing that.

[“or” Bush is “promoting hydrogen-powered automobiles.” Do Halliburton and Exxon Mobil approve? What has he done to promote hydrogen power since mentioning it in a speech over two years ago? We need follow-up questions, People!

[“or” he is “advancing ethanol as an alternative to gasoline.” Right. Still, the translating of Bush’s response shows that he knows global warming is caused, in large part, by humans. So let’s hope that “solving the debate” “on” global warming is one of the “big things” Bush vows to use every moment he “has got” left as President to achieve. There is no bigger “thing.”]
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Friday, July 07, 2006

... having your cake and eating it, too

I remember learning the “rules” for caring for, and flying, the United States flag. We sixth grade kids were absolutely afraid we might let the flag touch the ground whenever we were chosen to lower it and take it to the janitor’s dingy office in the basement after school. Letting the flag touch the ground would violate one of the rules of flag decorum. And we watched our partner carefully, fully prepared to tattle if he let the flag droop onto the soil.

Another example: on a vehicle, the flag shall be firmly clamped to the right front fender. It is not to be flown from a radio antenna nor are decals of the flag permitted on windows or bumpers. Nothing is said in the code about more than one flag flown from a vehicle. Perhaps the code was adopted in less ostentatious times. At least less affluent ones.

We kids learned that the flag should never be used as apparel. Flags as t-shirts, bikinis, shirts, sweatbands, or on the back of a Hell’s Angels leather jacket, for example, are not approved. I wonder today about those flags sewed onto flight jackets of air force pilots. One might also make a case that flag lapel pins are a violation of that “apparel” guideline.

Another guideline says the flag is not to be used in any way to advertise. “In any way.” The code also prohibits the flag to be used as a costume. I guess uniforms are not, technically, costumes, unless worn by someone not actually in the military. Perhaps standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The cynical side of me also sees that little flag lapel pin as a costume, as well as a kind of advertisement. I’ll even bet it does not have thirteen stripes nor fifty stars. That means it is an inaccurate representation of the nation’s flag, a fake. Another violation of the code. And it is probably also a product of China or Japan. The code does not address foreign made U.S. flags, but perhaps it should.

The code states the flag is not to be carried flat or horizontally. Does that not prohibit draping Old Glory over a coffin and then carrying it horizontally from the battlefield to the warehouse to the church to the cemetery?

A cake decorator’s representation in frosting of the flag is also a multiple violation of the code’s statements against the flag as decoration, being represented horizontally, and represented with fewer than thirteen stripes and fifty stars, unless the decorator globs fifty bits of white frosting in the blue frosting field. Which is doubtful. I am thinking now of the news clip of the cake with a frosting flag on it presented horizontally to the President in honor of his sixtieth birthday.

The President and his guests ate our American flag!

How are we directed by the code to dispose of a flag no longer serviceable? Well, it is not to be eaten. It is to be burned. Really.

Now those items of the flag code were all set forth as guidelines, and strict adherence to them has been held unconstitutional in every case. Some of my objections are rather silly, except that they are truly violations of the existing code suggested for proper flag decorum.

The recent one-vote loss of the Senate’s proposed amendment against flag burning is obviously a case of the loser legislators having an emotional and political agenda different from prohibiting the actual burning of a piece of cloth. The Senators may not even realize what their agenda is. They probably all wear those phony Chinese made flag pins as decorative advertisements and apparel. And they have witnessed many violations of the flag code and probably have been guilty of dishonoring the flag in other ways, at least according to the code. Some may have been invited to help the President eat that flag on his cake! No, it is not flag code violations they are against.

It must, therefore, be the political statement represented by flag burning that inspires the administration’s anger again this election year. And I can’t remember when the last such flag burning demonstration occurred in America. But never mind that.

It is the free speech statement such action may represent in our land of no longer wholly free speech which rankles the Senators. They and others wanting to divide the voters into wrapped-in-the-flag conservatives and the rest of us are against critical political statements. But first amendment rights allow that. And so far, the courts have sensibly ruled that flag burning demonstrations are a type of political comment.

So, since dissent is what some neo-cons really want to stamp out, they need a Constitutional amendment against the political statement that flag burning may represent!

If it were really honoring the flag, which the administration wants, then the proposed constitutional amendment would also address the other ways the flag is dishonored, according to the flag code of our past. A great place to start might be to prohibit foreign made, tin lapel flag pins. And flag bikinis.

Also outlawed as dishonoring the Stars and Stripes would surely be frosting flag decorations for the President and his friends to eat with their cake!

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On another matter, here is a quiz item suitable for inclusion in a David Letterman bit. On what occasion, and by whom, was the following said?

“There can be no excuse for anyone entrusted with vital intelligence to leak it – and no excuse for the newspaper to print it.”

Not FDR warning against loose lips sinking ships in 1942. Nor Nixon speaking against the publication of the Pentagon Papers during the Viet Nam conflict.

Oh, you say it was said by Bush when pledging to ferret out any administration leak of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative. Not quite, though he did say something rather similar at that time. He then pledged to find out who was the perp-a-traitor, and pledged that if it were a member of his administration, “he or she would be taken care of.”

We now know that it actually was administrative personnel, perhaps including Cheney himself, who “leaked/planted” the Plame name. And boy, are they being taken care of!

No, the statement is more recent. Yes, Bush said it; so you get partial credit for that. It was said in response to the NY TIMES printing information about the government’s computer ways of following terrorist money. That is the program Bush, himself, had bragged about shortly after 9/11, and since, as proof that he was doing something about terrorism. A program we Americans and the terrorists all knew existed.

Being outraged about it now seems rather obviously designed by the Presidential Uniter to stir the conservative base and divide the nation at mid-term election time. A little like stirring the ultra-conservative base with an emotional regurgitation of the proposed flag burning amendment. Or railing against same sex unions as if they were a threat to “the sanctity of marriage.” (The biggest threat to the “sanctity” of marriage is divorce, but, so far, no one is suggesting an amendment prohibiting that.) Read the Bush quotation again, remembering the Plame revelation as you do.

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One more comment: Bush buddy, Kenny boy Lay, died. After being found guilty, but before he was sentenced for his part in the Enron shenanigans and bankruptcy. The local paper printed a Lay quotation the day after he died. I wonder if those who believe as he claimed to believe are thinking about it.

Lay said, “I firmly believe I’m innocent of the charges against me. We believe that God, in fact, is in control, and, indeed, He does work all things for good for those who love the Lord.”

I’m not sure who “we” includes nor the purpose of the “in fact” and “indeed,” but if Lay meant that he and his supporters are the “we,” then, in fact, and indeed, those of them who love the Lord must be wondering about Kenny’s death being God’s work for good. Are you listening, Pat Robertson? Will you claim this was the Lord smiting an evil doer?

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