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Archive for December, 2012

A Connecticut Tragedy

Horrific shootings are in the news today. Connecticut was the most recent site of violence as some madman gunned down more than a score of schoolchildren. Combined with the mall shooting, it’s been a sad week.

Naturally, after the de rigeur expressions of sympathy, the anti-gun people began beating the war-drums of banning firearms. If only, they say, he couldn’t get a gun so easily, this could have been avoided. Or, if only it hadn’t been an assault rifle. Or, if only guns were limited to one shot, muzzle loading weapons. Or if, or if….

There are a couple of points to be made here. The first is on the nature of guns. Guns are a tool, and as such, can be used for good or for evil purposes. In the hands of a psychopath, they can be terribly misused. In the hands of a soldier, they can be used to liberate the world. In the hands of a hunter, they can feed a family; in the hands of a government, they can attempt genocide. Like a hammer, a gun is neither good nor bad.

The second is that in Connecticut, a permit is required to purchase a handgun, while assault weapons are banned completely from the state, according to the National Rifle Association. And yet, this man got hold of both, in plain contravention of the law. Would one more law have made a difference? Doubtful.

The third is the idea that gun-free zones somehow magically make children safer. In that gun-free zone, the only people who were gun-free were the victims. The prohibition against guns didn’t make them safer, it made them defenseless. Is it any wonder that a recreant (Thanks, Pete!) would choose such an area for his depraved activity?

Concurrently, more or less, with the Connecticut shooting is this interesting piece from Beijing:

“A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens. A Tangshan county hospital administrator said the man first attacked an elderly woman, then students, before being subdued by security guards who have been posted across China following a spate of school attacks in recent years.”

I wonder if Bob Costas is pontificating at the Chinese about their “knife culture?”

Assume for a moment that all of the passengers on Flight 93 had been armed. Or any of the other three flights that day. Could the outcome have been any worse? Not really. The end result could only have been better.

While the media reminds us over the next few days about Columbine, et. al., the one that will be conspicuously absent will be Appalachian State. If you remember, that was the university in North Carolina where a gunmen was stopped by armed students.

But all of this is really beyond the point. There are some 300 million guns in America. I own a number of them. Very few of them are ever used in mass homicides. And if you remove drug related killings from the overall number of homicides, the rate drops significantly. Children are still more likely to be killed by cars than by guns.

The real issue is why are people killing like this? The availability of guns isn’t the cause. Guns have been available in large numbers throughout America’s history. In a lot of areas, guns were seen on the streets. People would carry them around as casually as today one might carry a wrench. There was a law, in fact, in Massachusetts during the late 18th century that required households to have guns and ammunition. Yet mass killings were unheard of. So to blame guns would be contrary to common sense and evidence.

Yet the parents who blame guns, or the “gun culture,” or the NRA, are the same parents who don’t bother to listen to the lyrics of the rap albums their kids buy. Or don’t bother to look at the video games their kids play.

Is anybody really surprised at the seemingly ever-increasing level of violence in America? We feed our children a diet of Grand Theft Auto video games, thug music, and TV shows that desensitize them to violence; we make a mother’s right to kill her unborn child a centerpiece of our recent election, and then are shocked when they kill? The people that are really shocked and couldn’t see this coming shouldn’t be allowed to procreate. If you steep a child in violent imagery long enough, how is it surprising that they absorb those images? A child only knows what they’re taught. We have to stop the degradation of humanity and start teaching the dignity of every individual before this plague will pass.

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A Call to the Heroic

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.” C.S. Lewis

I was watching the movie “The Return of the King,” Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the J.R.R. Tolkien masterpiece “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It was, of course, a visual treat, and engrossing tale. The problem I have with it, and I mean Jackson’s trilogy of movies in toto, is that he butchers some of the great themes of the book in pursuit of an audience and political correctness.

And oddly enough, during the movie, a commercial for some Lady Gaga event aired. It involved her album or tour entitled, “Born This Way.” Not being a Lady Gaga fan, I am only vaguely familiar with her music and fan base, but it is my impression that “Born This Way” is the excuse she and her fans use for being the collection of self-identified monsters they claim to be.

And therein lies the connection between Frodo, Bilbo, and Gaga.

Bilbo and Frodo are little people, unaware and unbothered by the storms and wars of Middle Earth. They are concerned with food, and drink, and mindless pleasures as they go about their small lives. Until events push them onto the stage and demand that they rise above the way they were born. Bilbo finds, keeps, and defends a ring that has the power to change the world. Frodo, in turn, must take that ring and destroy it. Both recognize that the task is too great for them, but they also recognize that they must perform the task, or the world will dissolve into chaotic evil. By now, nobody should be surprised that they both rise above expectations, and themselves, and save the world.

“The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life even in order to keep it.” Gilbert K. Chesterton

Once again, I am not a fan of Lady Gaga, AKA Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, so I have to admit an unfamiliarity with the subtleties of her leitmotifs. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gaga and her followers are not being urged to rise above themselves, or expectations. They are, after all, born that way, and therefore, one shouldn’t expect them to be other than they are. And lest you misconstrue, this isn’t a phenomena limited to Gaga-istas. It is a long term illness that has been around for quite some time.

In 1989, Marc Lépine, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people at the Ecole Polytechnique, in Montreal. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students, then shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself.

During this time, not a single man tried to interfere. Not one tried to attack the shooter, or defend the women. René Jalbert, the sergeant-at-arms, said that someone should have intervened at least to distract Lépine, but acknowledged that “ordinary citizens cannot be expected to react heroically in the midst of terror.”

And that is the crux of the issue. “Ordinary citizens cannot be expected to to react heroically.” But the fact of the matter is exactly the opposite. Ordinary people do react heroically, and in the most unusual of circumstances. If there were a class of beings that were naturally “heroic,” the word would lose its meaning. Actions are heroic precisely because they are committed by ordinary men and women.

Superman is never a hero, because there is never danger to him. Sal Giunta is a hero precisely because the danger to himself was so great. Likewise the firefighter who runs into a burning building. He does it despite the danger that exists.

And here is where Peter Jackson, Stefani Germanotta, and Rene Jalbert come together. All of them are engaged in normalizing the failure to rise above the ordinary. To be fair, it’s not just them, it seems to be society in general. Children in school are exposed to “I, Rigoberta,” but not Beowulf. They know Che, but not Patrick Henry. We no longer teach the great virtues of selflessness, heroism, and the struggle for greatness; instead we teach the pseudo-virtues of conformity and “go along to get along.”

When the argument arises about American exceptionalism, as it has recently, this is the core of the argument. Does America rise above the ordinary, in the pursuit of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; or does it just shamble along aimlessly, with no claim any longer to being the “last best hope of earth?”

We should avoid, at all costs, the idea that accidents of birth prevent achievements of the soul.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

The California Federation of Teacher’s latest failure.

The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) has produced and released a video animation explaining how rich people don’t pay enough in taxes. Aside from the easy criticism about the tasteless scatological references, there are some serious reasons to criticize the CFT entry into political propaganda. Let’s start with New York City. Granted, not a CFT demesne, but symptomatically endemic of the system in general.

“New York’s overall graduation rate has improved, but nearly a quarter of our students still don’t graduate after four years,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. “And too many of those students who do graduate aren’t ready for college and careers. Statewide, 74% of the students who started 9th grade in 2007 had graduated after four years, by June 2011. I would be embarrassed if I thought that 26 per cent was “nearly a quarter,” but she goes further. “A quarter of our students” is a singular noun, and therefore would take the verb “doesn’t.” But why quibble? Nobody expects one of the state’s highest education officials to actually be educated, does they?

But let’s look at New York City. While graduation rates for the state’s Big 5 city school districts have generally increased over the past five years they remain, by any thinking persons standards, abysmal. The graduation rate in New York City for the 2007 cohort is 60.9%. (61% for the 2006 cohort)

Let’s see how Chicago compares. With more than 18,500 students graduating from CPS this year, the district predicts its graduation rate will hit 60.6 percent this year for students who were freshmen in the 2007-2008 school year, the highest it’s been since at least 1999. That percentage includes predictions about seniors enrolled in summer school or fifth year programs to fulfill their graduation requirement Even given 5 years, 4 out of 10 students fail to graduate.

In 2012 in Miami-Dade County, according to data released by the state Department of Education, nearly 75 percent of students graduated from high school within four years, a rise of almost 4 percentage points and the biggest single increase since 2003. And this in a state that has a three-year, 18-credit career preparatory program. That’s 18 credits over 4 years. For those of you that graduated from a Florida high school, that’s a staggering 4.5 credits a year.

Now let’s take a look at Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, posted a less than 1 percent decline in its graduation rate, to 61.6 percent. Again, a 4 out of 10 failure rate.
What do the taxpayers pay for this record of failure? And even in today’s world, 60% is still failing, last I looked.

The average teacher salary is $71,236 in the Chicago Public School district, which includes elementary schools and high schools, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card of Northern Illinois University. In Miami, the number is significantly lower, about $54.000 a year. In LA, like New York City, about $65,000.

Overall spending? Slightly more than 800 billion per year, or almost $8000 per student. Russia spends one-fourth the amount we do, per student, and their math and science scores are virtually identical to ours. Not, by the way, that that is something to be proud of, for either of us. But at least Russia is getting bang, however dismal, for the buck. Japan spends half the amount we do, per student, and yet their literacy rate is identical.

The United States has fallen to “average” in international education rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the AFP.

America has received scores around 500 on a scale that goes up to 1,000: 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science.

The AFP reports,

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report,which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

Is it any wonder that those who can, find other places to educate their young? Private schools and homeschooling both have a significantly better success rate at educating our youth, yet the professional educators have hoodwinked taxpayers into believing that they labor in intolerable conditions, and yet manage to produce, against all odds, the cream of the world’s youth. The truth is markedly different. We support a vast and bloated bureaucracy that, simply put, fails to produce.

One might be tempted to suggest that the CFT spend more time teaching, and less time on cartoons complaining about “tax fairness.” Pretty soon the people footing the bill may decide to demand “educational fairness.” After all, if their charges were better educated, they would probably be better earners, and therefore able to pay a bigger “fair share.”

Categories: Uncategorized
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