Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Guns. Again.

I started watching Elliot Rodgers' online twisted manifesto about how women ignored, belittled and frustrated him and how, obviously, his only appropriate response was to kill as many as he could, but after two minutes, I had to stop.

This is madness.

We keep asking the same questions. How does a person such as this get legal access to guns and ammunition? Can killings like this be prevented? If the answer is no, then why not? We seem to be able to address, debate or even stop other types of anti-social behavior, but in the present political climate, where the Second Amendment seems more sacrosanct than the First, the answer we keep getting is that no, there's nothing we can do. I can't accept that.

Perhaps the country's tolerance for gun violence and murder has not been tested enough, even with the killing of students in public schools and colleges, and that we need even more killing before we've finally had enough. I can't accept that either. I've had enough. No more.

Maybe we'll get a more liberal Supreme Court that will undo the terrible mischief of the Heller decision that completely obliterated the militia clause in the Second Amendment and made gun rights a personal right. I understand that many gun owners from across the political spectrum believe that this was the correct decision, but a more specific historical analysis shows that the Framers' intent was not to make sure that everyone could have a gun for personal use, but rather so they could join the state militia quickly in case it was necessary for public defense. The Framers distrusted a too-strong national army and put the militia clause in the Second Amendment for a reason. It was there that Mr. Justice Scalia, the high priest of Original Intent, found that the Framers obviously did not mean for it to have legal weight and told us in Heller that we could ignore it. Go buy a gun. It's your personal right.

And so here we are, shrugging our shoulders and repeating the old script that says that guns are not the problem, mental illness is the problem. Or society is the problem. Or anger is the problem. Or the president in the problem. But guns? Access to guns is never the problem.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pension Tension

OK, who didn't see this one coming?

Governor Chris Christie says he's not going to make the full public employee's pension payment he promised after the Democratic turncoats in the state legislature sided with him over working people in the spring of 2011. In raw numbers, that's a $2.4 billion dollar cut. The NJEA is suing. Moody's and Fitch are threatening to further lower the state's credit rating.

Wealthy people, thank heavens, are safe. After saying that "there's nothing off the table" concerning the budget, it turns out that there is something off the table, and that's any revenue from wealthier residents or businesses. So essentially what we have is the Republican ideology that says that unions are destructive, raising revenue is not viable, and the middle class must bear the brunt of the costs of quality public schools and public services. And if they can't pay for it, then oh well.

I'll say it again: Christie will not win another general election in his lifetime. Donors know it, which is why they're looking more favorably at Jeb Bush (shudder), and the far right has already abandoned him. Meanwhile, those of us who still proudly live in New Jersey will need to endure Christie for an entire second term.

Perhaps after that, we can begin to move forward.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Marshmallow U.

If nothing else, the past week has shown that those on the left can be just as short-sighted and ill-advised as those on any other part of the political spectrum. That the forum for these misdeeds is the university make the issues that much more compelling.

I've been waging a somewhat lonely campaign to remind my senior students that college is not the place to look for job training. Oh, they might find it there, but too many of them chose the schools that they did because "they could get a good job" if they went there. Far be it from me to argue that there's no financial reward for going to a university, and a good one at that. My point is that too many young people go off to higher education with dollar signs in their heads. My job is to remind them that they are, in fact, going to a place where the people in charge are experts in their fields and will be asking their students to complete academic work that demands rigor, attention to detail and actual academic skills. As with anything related to young people, they'll eventually learn the lesson.

It's too bad, though, that the universities are the ones who have gone soft. This graduation season has seen Brandeis, Rutgers and Smith cave in like an abandoned mine in the face of student protests over who would speak at graduation ceremonies. Other universities chose speakers purposely to avoid controversy. This is terrible. I understand that the students are paying for their education and believe that they should have some control over who ushers them into the working world. But to disqualify the head of the International Monetary Fund or former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice misses the point of a liberal education. There people have something valuable to say. They've been through some of the pivotal events of the century. They're powerful women, for heaven's sake. They deserve to be heard. Shame on the universities who gave in.

As if that wasn't bad enough, along comes another new concept on the campuses called "trigger warnings." No, these have nothing to do with guns, but, rather, aare a device to let students know that what they are about to read, hear, see or study might offend one or more of their sensibilities. An example:
The most vociferous criticism has focused on trigger warnings for materials that have an established place on syllabuses across the country. Among the suggestions for books that would benefit from trigger warnings are Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (addresses suicide).
I can certainly understand giving students a warning for graphic violence or scenes of genocide or rape, but there is something to be said for surprise or initial reactions or confusion or disbelief when you read or hear something jarring for the first time. That's part of learning and being aware of one's own reactions in social or academic situations.  And how does one adequately write a policy that covers every eventuality? Didn't colleges try to do that in the 90s with speech codes? Those didn't work out so well. I can't see this working out well either.

Students want to be safe, but learning is not always safe. It's supposed to be challenging, upsetting, rewarding, fun and, yes, life-altering. Blocking graduation speakers and warning students about some content but not other content is a recipe for intolerance. That's not right.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mazel Tov Laos

Whatever they're doing in Vientiane to combat antisemitism, the rest of the world needs to take notice.

According to a poll just released by the Anti-Defamation League, 26% of the world's adults harbor some form of anti-semitic attitude. From the article:
The highest concentration of anti-Semitic attitudes was found in the Middle East and North Africa, the survey showed, led by the West Bank and Gaza, where 93 percent of respondents held such views, followed by Iraq at 92 percent, Yemen at 88 percent and Algeria at 87 percent. The areas where anti-Semitic attitudes were least prevalent were Oceania, the Americas and Asia.
I can't say that I'm surprised by the findings or the fact that most of the hatred seems to come from areas where there are conflicts between Jews and other populations. But then comes this:
In Laos, less than 1 percent of the population held such views, the lowest anywhere, the survey said.
What is the Laotian secret? Is it that they remember the horrors of the Vietnam War and the Cambodian genocide that followed and are making sure that ethnic hatred is banished from the country? Do they have an especially tolerant attitude towards their Jewish population (I couldn't find the Laotian Jewish population, but approximately 300 Jews live in neighboring Vietnam)? What programs are they teaching in schools that are so effective that only 0.02% of the population is anti-semitic? We need to find out and copy it immediatley.

In the meantime, thank you Laos for being a beacon of openness.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

We Need A War On War

If the Greatest Generation fought and won World War II and created a new world where a war like that one was far less thinkable, then the Baby Boomers must be the Double Secret Greatest Generation for fighting multiple wars on multiple fronts.

We fought the War on Poverty. Haven't won that one yet. We're currently fighting the War on Terrorism, the War on Women, the Climate War, the War on Christmas (how will we know if we've won that one?) and other, lesser wars on education, entitlements, health care, obesity (seem to be winning this one), the minimum wage, voter ID laws, sabermetrics and a few others that I'm sure others believe us to be waging.

What we really need, though, is a War on War. That one would be worth fighting, albeit delicately. Because obviously we couldn't' be fighting an actual war while fighting a war to end wars. So don't look for the United States to enter Syria, Iran, North Korea or even Nigeria with a force ready to end hostilities or to slap some people in the face, grab them by the shoulders and yell, "What the heck are you thinking?" (I would volunteer for this kind of duty. I do outrage really well.)

The War on War has to start with every individual and every media outlet in the country. It requires a sustained effort on the part of every citizen and we need to teach it to our youth. It would be an idealistic campaign, but sometimes those are the most successful ones. Besides, we can't afford to lose this one.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

New Jersey and Mississippi: Perfect Together

There can be no more damning a statistic than the one in today's Star-Ledger and on This article lays out in stark detail why Chris Christie will not be elected president, and why he should not have been reelected this past November. His economic record is terrible and New Jersey is tied with Mississippi, and just above New Mexico, as the state with the most anemic private sector job increases in the country.

Mississippi at least has some excuses for its place on the list, owing to its history, relatively poor population and the destruction of its industrial base over the past 40 years. New Jersey should be doing better. After all, this is the home state of the major pharmaceutical industries and one with a terrific public school system (unless Christie has his way with it) and a college-educated work force willing to put up with serious infrastructure problems ('nother train tunnel anyone? Anyone?) and terrible roads/trains/buses. And that's before we even get to work.

The governor will surely blame his troubles on the Democrats who run the legislature and who won't approve his business-friendly judges or cut the income tax so he can starve the public sector unions that contribute so much to the state's bottom line. He'd much rather make the unions pay even more for their pensions and benefits, simultaneously taking more money out of the economy and destroying the middle class, while blocking the even small revenue boost that would come from asking the wealthy to pay more. And he won't even make the pension payment he promised.

The Governor wants to run on his economic record. The problem is that he doesn't have one that the rest of the country would benefit from. He still also opposes marriage equality and ran against an immediate minimum wage increase of $1. It passed because the people of New Jersey voted for it, but nobody's getting rich on it.

Further complicating Christie's future plans is the entry of Jeb Bush into the national Republican conversation. Now donors might have to choose the Bush that even his mother preferred to be president with a governor who's still defending himself over a traffic jam. Right now, Christie is losing that race too. It really has gone from bad to worse. He won reelection with over 65% of the vote. Now he might not even compete with the family whose last son presided over the destruction of the economy and fought two wars on credit cards.

I'll say it again: Chris Christie won in 2013. That will prove to be his final general election win.

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