Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bored of Education

You know my feelings about New York City's educational system. This once grand and revered institution is now just a collection of politically correct, liberal leaning experimenters, sucking  my money down into a black hole of failure. In 2011-2012 the NYC budget for education was $23.9 billion (that's billion with a B) or over $20,000 per child. That's a heap 'o money folks. One would think that this kind of spending would produce some results, but au contraire, graduation rates are down, even with a hopelessly dummed-down curriculum. Kids are pushed through the system having learned very little; 8 out of 10 NYC public high school grads entering college require remedial work in math, English and science. Even with the sleazy school administrators altering test grades to artificially improve their standing, we are getting way to little for the amount of money we spend.

There are a number of reasons for this precipitous decline. First, we have children coming to school whose parents care little for their child's education. Some struggle with language issues because we opened the floodgates to illegal immigration and must now deal with the consequences. Kids come from homes with one or no parents in residence and have little encouragement to keep up with their studies. Kids live in homes where drugs are used, and get abused physically and mentally. Poverty makes it hard for some families to get by, but on the other hand more public assistance programs are available than ever before. Poverty by itself was never an impediment to education. These are sociological problems that I don't see going away any time soon. What angers me are the other problems that are self-inflicted and can be made to go away if and strong leader would grow a pair and take a stand.

For example, schools are loaded down with special programs that cost money and not only produce few results, but often result in scandalous overcharges by dishonest "consultants" who rob the system blind simply because no one is checking. These crooks are selling magic elixir that will somehow elevate kids who are not learning to new heights. They never do, and the folks who brought them in are never held accountable for the failure; they just pull another flavor of the month out of the hat and hose more money at the charlatans selling it. Money wasted on these pipe dreams would be better spent drilling the kids in the basics of math, English and science to prepare them for college or the job market. How we keep making the same mistakes over and over with nobody stepping up and saying:"Hey this isn't working...let's do something different" just baffles the hell out of me.

Another money pit...spending billions on computers and coming out with automated systems that are so cumbersome and ineffective that people have to still do the job manually to get any results. They hire education software hotshots who come up with computerized "solutions" to problems they don't really understand, and the poor users have to work around these useless tools instead of being helped by them. Why not have the techno-geeks spend some time with the school secretaries, teachers and administrators who use the systems so that they have some input. The end product would be so much better and there might be some real money saved. Another abuse of computers bought for school use is security. These machines just walk out the door and there is no accountability for their whereabouts. Periodic audits to see that all computers assigned to the school are physically there...problem solved.

I am on a roll here and will try to make my next points more succinctly. Throw meddling parents out of the school. They have no qualifications to hire teachers, develop curriculum, or any of the other things they are foolishly permitted to do now with impunity. Empty the "rubber rooms" where teachers who can no longer teach or who have disciplinary issues sit all day making work for themselves and others. This is not a charity we're running here; if you're a teacher who can't teach, get a job elsewhere. Restore discipline to the classroom. I'm not talking about physically whacking the brats when they need it, but just eliminating all the P.C. crap. Telling a kid to be quiet is not "abuse" and should not require the teacher to apologize to the kid. Geez, what the hell are we doing here!

For $20 grand a year we should be able to graduate kids who can read and write. Other states do it for a third of that. I'm tired of bureaucrats whose main goal in life is preserving their jobs and pensions. Find me some people who care about the kids.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

When Philip Morris, and their ad agency, Leo Burnett, came up with the Marlboro Man in the 1950s, they hit advertising gold. In response to a government study linking smoking to lung cancer, Philip Morris sought to create a niche for men who were unconcerned about cancer. The rugged Marlboro Man campaign was an instant success, vaulting Marlboro cigarettes from a market share of 1% to the fourth largest selling brand in less than a year. Why the huge response to this now iconic figure? Because smokers in the 1950s, like me, grew up idolizing cowboys and wanting to be like them. The Marlboro Man epitomized not all cowboys, but the strong, silent type who squinted a lot and let their actions speak for them. They were the men who touched the brim of their Stetsons when a lady passed, who never drew first in a gunfight, and who, in short, won the American West. These men were my idols, even as I grew into manhood.

In the 1950s, the Lone Ranger ruled. He had some good momentum on television from the radio drama that ran from 1933 to 1954. I was glued to my radio at 7:30 pm eagerly anticipating the latest adventures of the masked man and his faithful companion, Tonto. I love modest heroes and the Lone Ranger was as modest as they come. He never stuck around to receive the thanks of the people he helped, but instead left a silver bullet to remember him by. He never killed any bad guys but miraculously shot the guns from their hands. He was also friendly with the local Indians who everybody hated because they objected to the white man stealing their land. There were many actors who played the Lone Ranger on radio and TV, but I know the true Lone Ranger was Clayton Moore. He had the look, the voice, and the assured presence in the saddle that sent all other pretenders packing.

Another legendary cowboy in the strong, silent mold was James Arness, star of the hit TV series, Gunsmoke. As Marshall Matt Dillon, Arness patrolled the streets of Dodge City in the days of the wild, wild West. The Marshall knew how good he was with a gun, but never flaunted his skill. If anything he was reluctant to get involved in high noon showdowns unless there was no other way. He did his best to reason with the bad guys, but unlike the Lone Ranger, when Matt was forced to draw his six-shooter, he played for keeps. Marshall Dillon was ably assisted by his limping deputy, Chester, and wise old Doc Adams. The love interest on the show was Miss Kitty, owner of the Longbranch Saloon. For some reason it took the Marshall way too long to romance Miss Kitty. Maybe he knew she had been around the corral a few times. Gunsmoke was also a popular radio show with WIlliam Conrad playing Matt Dillon. I suspect that I am the only living person who remembers that.  

If I had to pick a more contemporary cowboy hero, it would be Clint Eastwood. Clint played Rowdy Yates on the hit Western TV series Rawhide, but his most memorable strong, silent roles came in the "spaghetti westerns" of the Sixties and Seventies. Classics like "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" made a star of Eastwood and launched him into the limelight as the new anti-hero of the old West who didn't always play by the rules. With his flat slouch hat pulled down over his eyes, a cigar stub clenched in his teeth, and a Mexican serape slung over his shoulder, Clint put the fear of God into the black hearts of outlaws before even drawing his gun or casually flipping a lighted stick of dynamite in their direction. Eastwood's steely-eyed cowboy soon morphed into perhaps his most favorite character, the tight-lipped Dirty Harry Callahan of the San Francisco P.D. He went on to star in and direct a string of hit movies and is now one of the respected elder statesmen of Hollywood.

There are others like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Joel Mccrea who have played the role of the strong, silent cowboy. Me and most guys I grew up with identified with these men and were the ones who went out and faithfully bought Marlboro cigarettes the minute the Marlboro Man rode into our living rooms.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aunt Lu

I recently lost a dear aunt who was the last of the last generation to leave us. Aunt Lu (my wife's mother's sister) was on this earth for 95 years making people happy. Her memory was failing, but physically, she was the strongest woman I ever knew. Although she knew great sorrow in her life, she never let it affect her spirit. She lost her husband (Uncle Ralph) many years ago, which is not unusual, but she also lost a son, his wife, and a grandson in a tragic motorcycle accident. She bore these losses better than most by channeling her grief into an outpouring of love for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her energy was boundless, as hour after hour, she happily played their games. I don't think the words "I'm tired" ever passed her lips.

Aunt Lu and her generation came through some hard times including the Great Depression. Instead of making her sour on life, it seemed to push her in the other direction. I've seen old pictures of her as a girl and you could almost feel the radiance of her smile. She and her husband Ralph were two fun-loving people who made the most out of what life gave them. Along with my wife's parents, Belle and Ray, they raised families with strong American values, but also with unmistakable overtones of their Italian heritage. They lived most of their lives in small apartments that somehow expanded to accommodate all the family celebrations held there. Lu and Belle were great cooks who collaborated on many a four-star dinner. Afterward, Ralph and Ray would entertain the kids, and later the grand kids, with their silly skits that had their young audience rolling on the floor.

Aunt Lu had an eye for art, and nearly every square inch of her apartments were covered with an eclectic collection that reflected her taste. I remember one portrait of a woman that was so large it nearly reached the ceiling. She also loved to dance, and some of my favorite memories of her are doing the Peabody, a lively, quick-step dance with Uncle Ralph gliding along beside her. But if I had to pick a single talent she had that eclipsed the many others, it was being Grandma. If ever the perfect playmate was created for children, it was Aunt Lu. She knew what each child liked and went along with every whim. She would get down on the ground and be whatever they wanted her to be. She could also read stories with that sense of wonder that kept her little listeners' attention riveted to the page. She was good with all kids because of her own child-like sense of fun that magically opened the doors to their world.

Aunt Lu came from that generation that put family ahead of everything else. No parent should have to lose a child, but she lost a son, his wife and their son in a relatively short space of time. Such pain would send many people reeling, but Aunt Lu bore her grief quietly and never let it stifle the joy that came so naturally to her. Every once in a while we would get on a topic that struck her as funny and she was off in gales of laughter, tears running down her cheeks. We would often look at the pictures of her, Ralph, Belle and Ray on vacations they took together. They were fond of the bus trips run by Tauck Tours, and would go off for some well-deserved fun. Uncle Ralph was one of the few people who could make Ray laugh, when he wasn't exasperating him with his Democratic politics.

It would be easy to say that Aunt Lu had a wonderful life and that 95 years  was a good run for anybody. That may well be true, but with people like her, who made everybody else's lives wonderful, it's just a little harder letting go. Lulu is together again with Ralph, Belle, Ray, Frank, Jill and Christopher. (John, start warming up your mother-in-law jokes.) We who loved her celebrate Lulu's life and will always carry the memory of her laughter in our hearts.  


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sneaker Rant #22

I know that readers of this blog must be tired of hearing about my problems with $200 pairs of sneakers; God knows I'm tired of writing about them, but I just can't let it go. We did our daily walk in the mall today because the sunny day promised by our lying weasel of a weatherman turned out cold and rainy...but that's another rant. So we pull into the mall parking lot, and right away I can tell by the lack of empty spaces, that they're having another sneaker extravaganza sale. The line of kids outside snakes around the corner as security guards and NYC police try to manage the flow of people into the mall to prevent a stampede. I never see these sales advertised so I don't know how they get the word out. Maybe there's some kind of sneaker sale bat signal that gets flashed in the sky, but whatever they do, it's working.

Although the crowd is a mix, most are young black men. They show up well before the doors open and wait patiently in the rain to get inside. These are probably the same kids who are late for school four days out of five, but they wouldn't miss this. Several police cars are on the scene with cops deployed inside and outside the mall. (Let the murderers wait their turn; this is a much better use of police resources.) They let in maybe 10 kids at a time who immediately break into a full run to be the first sucker to pop for $180 bucks for the latest Michael Jordans. There are probably five or six sneaker outlets at the mall who participate in these sales. Since they can only order so many pairs in each size, they quickly exhaust their supply, but the demand is still there, so the kids race from store to store, eyes crazed, in the hope that they will not have to go home sneaker-less.

I came to grips long ago with the fact that I am an irrelevant dinosaur who is totally out of touch with the younger generation. But even considering this, I am still overwhelmed by this mania. Yesterday, I was happy when the slip-on sneakers I bought at JC Penny, on sale from $50 to $35, were mis-marked and I got them for $30. And I still feel they were overpriced for what they were! Now in order for me to spend $180 on these new sneakers the kids are clamoring for, they would have to make me feel 21 again while I wore them. Nothing less would induce me to spend 6x more for a pair of lousy sneakers. So frenzied is the desire to own a pair of these puppies that I saw many kids, the minute they left the store, stop and immediately change into their new Air Jordans. The old $180 sneakers that they bought last month were clearly not good enough to stay on their feet another minute!

I am about to venture into dangerous waters here, but what the hell. I'd be willing to bet that at least half of the families of the kids buying these overpriced sneakers are on some form of public assistance. So if they can't support themselves without my money, where is the money coming from to pay for these sneakers? If your family has that kind of money, why isn't it being spent on rent and food instead of making guys like Michael Jordan even richer than they are? The Liberals will say that the poor should not be deprived of the things other people have. Memo to Liberals: poverty is not alleviated by giving people money. Educate them, train them in a skill, and then give them the opportunity to compete with others for paying jobs and a chance to support themselves without picking my pocket.  

One young black man I saw today wore a t-shirt that said: U LOVE 2 HATE ME. Not so, I have great empathy for African-Americans who suffered prejudice and endured injustice, but persevered to help level the playing field for all races. If their sacrifice produced nothing more than this entitlement-minded, 'welfare for life' generation, then it was all in vain. 


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Occupy This

So the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators are back. The city is gearing up to spend millions protecting the rest of us against these lazy lowlifes. Why aren't they out banging on doors looking for work instead of tying up the city and making life miserable for the working people of the world. The answer is that work is not on their agenda. These are the folks who are still sorry they weren't around for Woodstock, and would rather spend their days protesting against anything remotely to do with "the establishment". Well I'm a proud member of the establishment who resents these bums living off my sweat while they skewer the very system that provides the freebies they live on. To suggest they are the 99% is insulting to every working person. More like the 5% of malcontents who freely exercise their right to complain, but who never come up with any solutions. I hope today's rain drowns them like the rats they are.

New York is a busy city with traffic problems unlike most other cities face. We just had a serious accident over the weekend where an SUV went off the highway and plunged into the Bronx Zoo below. In today's paper there are headlines that scream about this dangerous road. How about the fact that the woman driving the SUV was doing 70 in a 50 zone and apparently collided with a divider before she and six family members tragically fell to their deaths. There is always construction in progress on New York City roads. They take a terrible pounding and need constant repair. Temporary lanes are often poorly marked, and despite the signs urging caution, people drive as if conditions were normal. They do this in fog, pounding rain, ice and snow. Truth be told, the roads are not as dangerous as the thoughtless people driving on them. Unless that changes, we are doomed to see headlines like the sad one today.

I heard on the radio this morning that a group recently completed a study concluding that physical and mental exercise can help delay the onset of problems associated with old age. Wow, what a breakthrough! How did they ever have the foresight to make that leap. The medical profession has been preaching this message for decades, so what's new about this study's findings? Do they have any added insights for us? It wouldn't normally bother me so much that some group of researchers wants to waste their time validating a concept that has already been proven countless times over. What does hock me off is that somebody's money undoubtedly went to pay for this study. What a waste of resources. There are so many worthy research causes like cancer, Alzheimer's,  and birth defects that go begging for money while these pinheads spin their wheels and spend good money going over old ground. I think we need a Presidential Cabinet-level post called Secretary of Common Sense to stop this nonsense.

And finally, a word about my least favorite sport, hockey. The New York Rangers are in the thick of the months-long Stanley Cup playoffs, and as a New Yorker and a sports fan, I should be excited; I'm not. Hockey could be a good game but for the fighting. It takes skill to maneuver a puck around the ice and into the goal...why spoil that by encouraging players to take off their gloves and start swinging at each other for no reason? I'm not talking about the incidental fights that break out in all contact sports; these are natural and unavoidable. What I despise is teams hiring players whose main skills are with their fists. They intentionally target the other teams' star players in intentional efforts to get them penalized or thrown out of the game. There should be no place in sports for such thuggery. We once visited the Stanley Cup in Toronto, Canada. Memo to the NHL powers that be: hockey would have a lot more fans if you strongly discouraged felonious assault on the ice.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association .