He refuses to play the game for the right wingnuts. He plays by his own rules and ignores their sharpest jabs. Duncan, the idiot running the GOP now, is trying desperately to link Obama to Blago the Sociopath. Ain’t happenin’. Then Obama offers a sop to the right by having the evangelist, super-church, snake-oil, pie-in-the-sky preacher Warren deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Not willing to let the righties enjoy their moment too long, he quickly appoints the epitome of liberal unionism to be the next Secretary of Labor. While the evangelical arm of the GOP was patting itself on the back over Warren, Obama sucker punched them with his Sec Labor pick.
I’m going to enjoy watching him for the next 8 years.
The airlines blame the FAA, the FAA blames the airlines. Both organizations have completely screwed up air travel in this country, though. The current state of air travel is proof that deregulation is not always a good thing.
Let’s start with the FAA. Underfunded, run by political hacks, paying new controllers dirt and making life miserable for current controllers, and currently facing a huge manpower deficit as boatloads of controllers head into retirement. I predict it will take a mid-air collision of two packed airliners before the government finally wakes up and does something. Business as usual, I guess.
Now for the airlines. The skies are packed to capacity, but none of the airlines will give up routes or flights. There are four (count ‘em, four) flights from little old Champaign to Chicago O’Hare every morning at 6:10, 7:10, 8:10, and 9:10. Is this really necessary? What’s wrong with using a bigger plane and having two flights? Right there you’ve reduced the traffic from one airport by 50%. Multiply that that times the number of other small airports with multiple flights to O’Hare and maybe you wouldn’t have planes full of passengers sitting on the tarmac for an hour or more waiting for gates and watching their connecting flights leave.
And how about those CEO’s who get paid multi-million dollar bonuses every year? What’s up with that? What have they done to deserve it? Air travel gets worse and worse and the bozos at the top get paid more and more. Go figure. How about paying your mechanics and pilots and flight attendants and gate/ticket agents and baggage handlers more? Maybe then flights wouldn’t be delayed so often for maintenance issues and your flight crews and ground personnel would be a bit more accomodating.
On our recent trip to Florida had four flights, two down and two back. Three of the four were in tiny “regional” aircraft. Chicago O’Hare to Jacksonville is not “regional.” It’s halfway across the country. Stop using tiny aircraft for long distance service. Reduce the number of flights and use bigger aircraft. You’ll reduce maintenance, reduce gate usage, use fewer pilots, take up less airspace, and make a whole lot of passengers happier. Where’s the downside?
This is the first in a series about systems in this country (or the world) which just don’t work. And instead of fixing the system, the government just throws band-aids at it (or worse, exploits it to fill the public coffers). First up – Driving.
Drive anywhere in this country and it quickly becomes apparent how many really poor drivers are out there on the roads. The problem is not cell phone use or speeding or distractions or poor manners. Those are all symptoms. The problem is education. We don’t teach people how to drive. We teach them (maybe) to control a vehicle at slow speeds, and then we give them a license and turn them loose on the roads. And then, to make things worse, we don’t really hold people accountable for their poor driving. We just fine them, raise their insurance rates, and turn them loose again. This is one of those situations where the state would rather maintain the status quo rather than rectify the problem and risk losing their cash cow. One needs only to travel to Germany to see how a government can require people to demonstrate an ability to drive safely and responsibly and then require that they continue to do so or risk serious repercussions, including a loss of their license and/or a humongous increase in insurance rates. That is why the Germans can safely drive on roads with no speed limits. (It also is because they know how to build and maintain roads, but that is another issue for another time.)
The Germans must also maintain their vehicles to a very high standard. People in the US who complain about inspections and emissions testing have no idea how easy they have it. Try getting your car through TÜV, the German inspection system. In some places in the country, including central Illinois, there is no inspection at all. You can drive around any old piece of junk even if it doesn’t have an exhaust system or decent brakes. But in typical back-ass-ward Illinois, it’s required that all children under the age of 8 must be in a car seat or booster seat. It matters not that your car has poor brakes and bald tires and is belching carbon monoxide into the passenger area while Mom is smoking up a storm and yacking on the cell phone while driving. As long as junior is strapped into his car seat on the way to soccer practice, he can inhale all the second hand smoke and exhaust fumes he can handle. Not that anyone actually obeys this law once a kid hits 5 or 6. After all, how do you prove your kid is under the age of 8? Just another idiotic band-aid law that fails to address the real safety issues.
Back in the 60′s and 70′s you could answer an ad on the back of a matchbook and for a few bucks and some half-assed schoolwork, you could get a diploma from some phantom school with a prestigious sounding name. These “schools” were known as diploma mills. The diploma, of course, wasn’t worth the paper it was mimeo’d on, but an inattentive employer may not bother to check to see if it came from an accredited school. In the real academic world you still had to pass tests and write papers and meet certain standards to graduate high school, let alone college. If you weren’t meeting the minimum requirements to pass from one grade in school to the next, you either went to summer school or you repeated the whole year in the same grade. It was just the accepted way of doing things, and it worked. Students actually learned to read and write and do simple math without a calculator.
Then it all changed. Suddenly it was taboo to have a child repeat a grade. It was “traumatic” for the child. It seemed to happen about the same time it became child abuse to smack your kids on the butt when they stepped out of line. Discipline now meant sticking the kid in a corner for a “time out.” Ego boosting was all the rage. Every kid was a winner. Each week brought a new Student of the Week so that every Soccer Mom could proudly display her kid’s sticker on the back of her minivan. God forbid, you couldn’t traumatize the poor child by holding them back. They had to move on with their peers even though they couldn’t read or write. All the teachers’ fault anyway.
Eventually Little Miss Student of the Week was shoved from one grade to the next without ever learning a thing. Young Mister Student of the Month had an ego the size of the Goodyear blimp, but the IQ of a fern. Discipline in schools came to a screeching halt and school administrators weren’t allowed to do a thing, lest they get sued. Passing grades became a matter of semi-regular attendance. Whole classes of students were paraded across the stage to receive a diploma most of them couldn’t even read. The diploma mills of the previous decade had become the high schools of the day.
Fast forward a decade or so and now you have students with meaningless high school diplomas entering college in droves. What’s a college to do when 80% of the freshman class does not possess the minimum skills required for acceptance? Higher education is, after all, a business. Tuition pays the bills. No students means no tuition which means no college. Simple answer, lower your standards. Allow anyone with a high school diploma and a pulse to attend classes, as long as they pay their bills. But wait, if you grade them as you’ve graded classes from the past, you’d have to fail too many students. Too many failing students means too many dropouts which means no tuition and you’re back to the original dilemma. So again, lower your standards. So what if Johnny Jockstrap can’t spell. You can get the gist of his paper. And he really is a good running back. And Becky Bubblehead? Well, her English skills aren’t the best, but you can’t hold that against her.
I’ll be the first to agree that a college education should be available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Higher education should not just be a perk for the wealthy. But the idea that everyone “deserves” a college education is wrong. A college education should be earned. A college edcuation should mean something. It should be an indicator of a person’s ability to read and comprehend and learn. If a person graduates from college or a university and cannot spell simple words or do simple math or string together original thoughts to form sentences and paragraphs, then the college or university has failed to benefit the student or society as a whole. If everyone truly does “deserve” a college education, then a college education will become something everyone has, regardless of their abilities. And when everyone has a diploma which in reality means nothing, then the diploma becomes worthless.
Where will we be in 20 years when the vast majority of workers entering the workforce have higher education diplomas, many of which are worthless? Will a Masters degree be the new entry level requirement? Even those are up for grabs these days. You don’t even have to set foot in a campus building. You can take a few Mickey Mouse courses online and earn a PhD. Name your topic, pay the price, and Saint Thomas Federal University will send you a link where you can download your new sheepskin.
When did words become so weighty? Have they always been so? Or are we all becoming seriously over-sensitive to them? You can hardly read the news without coming across a story where one person or group was offended or appalled at something said by another person or group. Politicians, who are loath to display the level of their ignorance by actually discussing the issues, would rather hurl indignities back and forth at each other. “How dare they say something like that! I demand an apology!” A celebrity can end his or her career by uttering the wrong word or telling an off-color joke. Someone is sure to be offended and strike up a boycott, causing the corporate pimps to dump the celeb’s sponsorship like a bad habit.
But do words really hurt us so badly? Are our egos and psyches so fragile that they can be permanently damaged by a word or two from some stranger we may not even respect? Maybe we all just enjoy an occasional roll in the mud of self-pity and indignation. Maybe we’re beginning to feel entitled to a life without even the faintest trace of hardship. We’re all so accustomed to “student of the week” and “everybody’s a winner” that the mere hint of something other than praise is suddenly intolerable.
Of course there are those annointed few who are not only allowed to sling crap, but are actually paid huge amounts of money to do so. So called “shock jocks” like Imus and Howard Stern have made careers of offending people, yet even they have paid the price for offending the wrong group of particularly entitled people. And even then, it wasn’t what was said, but who said it. Apparently people in the same entitled group are free to insult others in that group, but God forbid someone outside the group does the same. Republicans were aghast that Clinton had an affair with an intern, yet they turn a blind eye to the far more despicable sins of the Bush administration. Democrats rail against the corruption they see on the right, yet they seem to ignore corruption within their own ranks. A Democratic senator from Massachusetts was excoriated for “waffling” on the issues, yet the current Republican front runner, a former governor of the same state, is free to change his stance as the situation dictates. Indignations all around.
It’s really becoming necessary to think about everything you want to say beforehand and play a sort of mental chess to determine all the possible interpretations so as not to offend anyone. Think about how much has changed in just a few decades and then extrapolate a few decades into the future. What turn of phrase that we accept now will become offensive in 20 years or so? When we’ve finally eliminated all offending names, jokes, images, and stereotypes for every person on earth, what will the Courtesy Police wring their hands about?
Sorry if I’ve offended anyone.
Think you have a good handle on world events? Got a good picture of what’s going on in Iraq or Afghanistan? If you said yes, guess again. The world, and the Middle East especially, is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. If you can see 5 or 10 pieces fitting together, you’re far ahead of most people. Yet you are still not seeing the whole picture.
I spent last weekend with my nephew, who returned from a tour in Iraq this past summer. He’s a higher ranking non-com who worked in a headquarters operations group. He’s a go-to guy who’s seen a lot. I’ve always felt we Americans have not been getting the whole story, either on the good side or the bad, but this past weekend’s discussions really drove home that point. The newsies filter everything to fit their needs. Doesn’t matter which side of the fence either. They all chop short sound bites out of long interviews with military leaders and paste them all together to shape the story to their liking. They find a talking head who will say what they want to hear and then present the head’s opinion as fact, even though most of the heads know diddly-squat. Everything that goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan is vetted before release to assess its political volitility. Much of it never gets released at all. There are so many variables to consider. How will this event affect the situation in Pakistan? If we release this news and it makes Russia look bad, will they tell the world about the dumb thing the US did? How will this event affect the upcoming elections?
Then there’s the fiasco surrounding military funding. Which branch gets the most? To what lengths will the other branches go in order to increase their piece of the pie? How many soldiers will die simply because their branch wanted more money? And most urgently, how long before we’ve exhausted the whole military?
Maybe it’s good we don’t know everything. Maybe we really “can’t handle the truth,” as the saying goes. There’s a nagging fear in the back of my mind that things are not good and are going to get much worse. Maybe it’s time to make like an ostrich and just stick my head in the sand. Maybe I just don’t want to know.