Political Correctness is the arch-enemy of truth, justice, and rationality.

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Censorship is alive and well. The vast majority of it comes from the left, from so-called “progressives.” An unexpected legacy of my generation’s ‘Free Speech’ movement, perhaps? As they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The New American Dream: Two-and-a-half houses; hold the picket fences

House in suburbia. White picket fence. The “American Dream.”  In the face of the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression, it’s now being questioned. Is it still a realistic goal for every hardworking American?

The question is moot.

Consider: the median home price in the US was $156,600 in February this year[1]. With a 5% down and interest rate of 4.25%, a corresponding monthly payment (including principal and interest, property taxes and various mandatory insurance) amounts to about $966[2]. Not bad.  Beats renting!

Now, the average monthly cost of health insurance for a family of four is ... wait for it ... $1,420[3].

The cost of health care is now roughly one-and-a-half the cost of home ownership!

So, the notion of saving for a down payment to achieve the American Dream of home ownership—while helped by the crash of the housing market—is nonetheless rendered impossible because of the stratospheric cost of health care.  The American Dream now requires the ability for a hardworking American to earn enough to buy the equivalent of two-and-a-half houses.

So, quite frankly, yes, the American Dream is clearly out of reach of the hardworking middle class American. This is nothing less than a national disgrace.

The incontrovertible fact is that the U.S. has the worst health care system in the industrialized world.  Nearly 200,000 Americans die each year from readily curable medical maladies simply because they have no health insurance.

And all the while, Republicans and Tea Partiers rally to the cry of “Repeal Obama-Care!”
Let’s not pull any punches here. The Affordable Health Care Act is indeed, in all likelihood, a cure worse than the disease. But this is largely the fault of Republican obstructionism.

A Republican talking point holds that Obama-Care was “rushed through Congress” without adequate time for examination and consultation. Nonsense. It took a year, and the Republican Party had one simple strategy: obstruct. Oppose everything in any and every possible way, at every step. Force as many compromises as possible so that the final result would be so laden with exceptions and various crap that it would be too onerous and unwieldy to pass.

A nice strategy. It almost worked. All but the last part: it passed. And so we have Obama-Care.  And no single-payer alternative of last resort (thanks to Joe Lieberman).

Full disclosure: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a nanny-state loving, entitlement-demanding liberal. I believe that in order to get the economy going we must not merely hold down spending and simplify the tax code, but also begin reversing state control over business, as well as personal, enterprises; that is, greatly reduce government regulation, both at the federal and local levels. We need anti-legislators in Congress and our Statehouses, politicians who will campaign on erasing laws and regulations, not drafting new ones to “improve” things. We must generate new wealth if revenues are to catch up with our ungodly deficits.

So how can I advocate for replacing the private insurance system with a single-payer? Because we are the point where there is no longer any alternative. No market reforms and/or tort reform is going to reduce that monthly healthcare premium from its present obscene value of $1,420 to a reasonable expense that Americans should be expected to pay for healthcare insurance, something comparable to a car insurance payment, perhaps $200 per month, tops. It’s too late. If anything can justify “moral equivalence of war” hyperbole, it’s this.  This needs to be fixed now.  We can no longer endure the predations of the healthcare industry which as many experts recognize creates the worst of all worlds: encouraging needless procedures, ridiculously expensive prescriptions, an absurd perversion of market forces in which doctors themselves have no clue about the actual cost of treatments they recommend, the needless deaths of uninsured people who cannot get the treatment they need, the countless bankruptcies people are forced into, the endless waiting times in emergency rooms...  I could go on ... and on ...

Once we get this monkey off our backs, the wealth of Americans will be available to do things that actually grow an economy, like buying houses. Nothing spreads money through an economy like purchasing a home. Businesses will be able to compete better internationally when healthcare costs are on par with those overseas, not to mention the vast savings in legacy costs.

Those Americans who have been drinking the ‘Repeal Obama-Care’ Kool-Aid, who really believe that the British, Canadians, Europeans, South Koreans, Taiwanese, etc., all suffer under their inferior healthcare systems need to take off their blinders. It’s really quite simple. In any of the civilized nations of the world one doesn’t lose his house and go bankrupt because he gets ill and can’t pay the doctor’s bill. And one doesn’t need to be able to afford two-and-a-half homes to actually own one.   

[1] www.worldpropertychannel.com
[2] trulia.com mortgage calculator: Principal and interest payment:$731.86; property taxes:$130.50; hazard insurance:$39.15; private mortgage insurance:$64.47

Sunday, March 11, 2012

'Professor Thoris, I presume?" John Carter movie review

First up, the important bit. Ignore the critics; this is a good movie. If you are a sci-fi fantasy fan, pay your respects to one of the godfathers of the genre, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and see the movie. The plot is well thought out and the special effects are first rate. You will not be disappointed.

Next: full disclosure. I began reading Marvel comics at 10, and discovered science fiction a little later as a teenager. In my lifetime of exposure to these genres I somehow managed to avoid the progenitor of it all, John Carter of Mars, created nearly a century ago. Until, that is, a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon a beautifully illustrated hardcover volume of the first three novels on a bargain table in Barnes & Nobles. I had just finished the book days before seeing the movie. Since I have not read all eleven John Carter (original) novels, I am uncertain as to whether elements in the movie that aren’t in either of the first three books are inventions for the movie or things revealed in the later books.

The movie is loosely based on the first book in the series, “The Princess of Mars.” All the main characters are present: Tars Tarkus, Jeddak of the Tharks, Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium and Carter’s love interest, her father Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, Kantos Kan, an ally, the villain Sab Than, Jeddak of Zadonga, and the master villain Matai Shang, a Thern, who is introduced in the second book, “The Gods of Mars.”  A small part of the storyline from this book is brought into the movie.

The story follows “Princess” in only the broadest brushstrokes. The villains from the second book, the Therns, are brought into the story, and have been upgraded from one of the several Barsoomian races to cosmic proportions, including the ability to shapeshift. The primary conflict between the red men of Helium and those of Zadonga is consistent with “Princess,” as is the alliance with the Tharks owing to Carter’s winning ways with the savage race of 6-limbed green-skinned warriors.

The writers have done an excellent job of fashioning a modified story line that includes these plot lines and works very well as a movie.

John Carter of Mars inspired talented men of various walks of life, from Jack Kirby to George Lucas to physicist Carl Sagan. He may very well have been the first sci-fi fantasy superhero. Similarities of the various Barsoomian names with some in Star Wars have already been noted.  I discovered that Lockjaw, the family pet of Jack Kirby’s Inhumans, was most likely inspired by Carter’s pet Calot, Woola.

Now to the criticisms. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writing is muscular and engaging. His protagonist was an injun’-fighting, adventure-seeking individualist, as well as a southern gentleman. I would have preferred the character to have been scripted more consistent with ERB’s writing. 

The opening sequence of the book which leads to Carter’s miraculous, and (in the book) unexplained, voyage to Mars results from a fight with wild, villainous indians.  Consistent with political correctness, this sequence of events has been “corrected” for the movie. The native Americans are no longer a guilty party in this insignificant detail of the story.

Also PC’d-up for the movie is the damsel in perpetual distress, Dejah Thoris. Like Thor’s love, Jane Foster, who was promoted from his alter-ego’s nurse in the comic books to the most brilliant astro-physicist on earth for the movie, Princess Dejah Thoris is now also a warrior scientist, “Professor Thoris.”  She is the only scientist on Helium who is on the threshold of discovering the all-powerful ninth ray, and someone whose sword-fighting skills are more than a match for the martial abilities of the hordes of fierce enemy Zadongans.

It’s unfortunate that such ‘gendernorming’ is apparently mandatory in the current climate.  I guess the notion of a helpless woman requiring the strength, heroism—not to mention love—of a muscular, chivalrous stand-up dude is just too ... unsettling for some.

All in all, despite the minor flaws, John Carter is a winner. I hope movie-goers aren’t deterred by negative reviews, many written by people who have never read the books and  may not understand that elements of the story that seem clichéd are in fact the original source of the clichés. I hope to see John Carter become a franchise. I look forward to seeing the next installment of the story, which will reveal more about the Therns, the mysterious “Gods of Mars.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Santorum’s comments argue for a national conversation on education

If you can believe the mainstream media talking heads, Rick Santorum has volunteered yet another example of his (in their minds) right-wing, anti-intellectual small-mindedness by daring to broach the subject of college education; specifically, the expectations of a college degree, as an entitlement—if not a birthright—of every American.

From time to time, Americans are rudely reminded by some racially-charged news story of the need for a “national conversation on race.” Today there is no question that America is sorely in need of a different national discussion: on college education. Consider, many people believe that the next wheel to fall off our precarious economy is the potential for default on the billions of dollars of college loans held by recent graduates. The potential financial disaster is worrisome enough, but that isn’t what Santorum is talking about.

Let’s look at some of the transcript of the interview by George Stephanopoulos on his show “This Week” on Feb. 26.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now getting to college has been part of the American dream for generations, Senator. Why does articulating an aspiration make the president a snob?

SANTORUM: I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don't include college.

And to sort of lay out there that somehow this is -- this is -- should be everybody's goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don't go to college and don't want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.

And there are other -- there's technical schools, there's additional training, vocational training. There's skills and apprenticeships. There's all sorts of things that people can do to upgrade their skills to be very productive and -- and build their community.

Now, while it’s true that Newt Gingrich might have worded this more artfully, Santorum has hit a nerve with a lot of Americans, including this one who happens to be in the teaching profession. I have been saying for years that among the many, many problems with our “academic-educational complex” (copyright pending), those of us of the previous generation recognize a marked difference in both the quality of education and the place it holds in the marketplace.

Consider, back in the day, when an employer needed to hire workers, in most situations the skills necessary were peculiar to the business, and new hires had to learn the skills on the job. Such an employer was therefore looking to hire someone who was capable of learning. Typically, the minimum requirement to gain an interview was a high school diploma and a cleanly written resume. If the applicant had graduated high school with good grades, he/she was presumably educable and potentially capable of learning the job. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to professions that require an established knowledge base, such as medicine, the law, engineering, etc.) The high school degree was the passport for entrance into the workforce. It was proof of the bearer’s possession of the minimum skills necessary to be a functioning and capable member of the adult world.

Flash forward to today.  Now, many similar employers will not even look at job applicants if they don’t have a college degree. Chances are the car salesman who conned you into your last purchase has a college degree. The waitress at the restaurant may even have a college degree.

The college degree has become the equivalent of the high school degree.  I once joked to an old friend that his degree from New York’s Stuyvesant High School in the early seventies was the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. “From Harvard,” he quipped.

But there is one huge difference. Gaining the “passport” for gainful employment today doesn’t just take an additional 4 years, at minimum—it comes with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. It’s been said before: When our children realize what we’ve done to them they will murder us in our sleep.

But that’s just one aspect of this colossal hoax that has been played on Generation X’ers or Y’ers, whatever they’re called.  Santorum is correct when he implies that a college education is expected of all Americans, that, in fact, if you’re not college educated, you ain’t shit, to put it colloquially. For those too young to know, here’s how it used to go, before the self-esteem, everyone-gets-a-trophy social engineers took over.  Kids went to school. They were segregated by intelligence, as measured by reading, writing and math abilities. Kids in the smarter classes were ‘tracked” for college. The others were often steered towards careers in the trades.

Santorum is right again. There are technical and trade schools—but they have been demoted by the elitists. What happens to someone who is really suited to a trade but goes along with the program and goes to college? What happens to the individual who has no interested in reading, but may be talented with their hands; someone who likes to work on cars for instance? As a mechanic, if they’re good and have a good work ethic, they may eventually own their own shop and with an excellent income stream and a rewarding job live a happy and successful life. But when steered into college, several years and tens of thousands of dollars may be wasted on pursuing an unrealistic and unrealizable, or even worse —undefined—goal.

Is 16 years of schooling really necessary to be a competent, functioning, employable citizen? To gain the ability to write an error-free business letter, basic mathematical literacy, adult-level reading comprehension, computer literacy, the ability to speak clearly and intelligibly on a subject, and basic understanding of our civic institutions? Of course not!  Twelve years is plenty.  Then why isn’t it possible now to graduate high school students with this basic level of academic mastery? Because everyone expects that another 4 years of school is coming, where the child’s real education is expected to take place.

Going back to the transcript, we get to the other point Santorum raises regarding college education, a more controversial and political point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... In your interview with Glenn Beck this week, you seemed to go further. You said I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because they are indoctrination mills. What did that mean?

SANTORUM: Well, of course. I mean, you look at the colleges and universities, George. This is not – this is not something that's new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I've gone through it. I went through it at Penn State. You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are – I can tell you personally, I know that, you know, we – I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views. This is sort of a regular routine (ph). You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago -- I don't know if it still holds true but I suspect it may even be worse – that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator, when you put all this together—

SANTORUM: This is not a neutral setting.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- it makes it sound like you think there is something wrong with encouraging college education.

SANTORUM: No, not at all, but understand that we have some real problems at our college campuses with political correctness, with an ideology that is forced upon people who, you know, who may not agree with the politically correct left doctrine. And one of the things that I've spoken out on and will continue to speak out is to make sure that conservative and more mainstream, common-sense conservative and principles that have made this country great are reflected in our college courses and with college professors. And at many, many, and I would argue most institutions in this country, that simply isn't the case.

Again, Newt Gingrich would have worded this more eloquently—but then again, this is part of Santorum’s appeal: he doesn’t speak like a professor; he speaks like a normal, average American.

Unlike the Great College Con of the necessary college education for all, the left-wing skewing of the academic-educational complex is not a new, previously undiscovered issue. Conservatives have been railing about it for years. As such, this dimension of the college conversation doesn’t require much explanation or exposition here; everyone should be familiar with the arguments. Essentially, progressives and conservatives simply see this completely different. Liberals don’t believe there is any liberal bias. They don’t believe that a 9:1 ratio of Democrat-voting educators to Republicans is proof of a liberal conspiracy. Rather, they hew to the belief that becoming “progressive” is a natural, and positive, consequence of higher education. To conservatives, the liberal bias on the campus is a self-evident truth confirmed by any cursory examination of any college’s curriculum, published policies, hiring practices, or any of the other portals to their domain. It’s not even necessary to actually sit through a social science or humanities lecture.

So, kudos to Santorum for once again braving the headwinds of political correctness and daring to say the un-sayable. Whether he gets the nomination or not, let’s not let this opportunity go by without starting the real national conversation on education.

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