Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Short Suggestion On A Small Topic

Recently, the volume of hate mail that I receive has increased exponentially. I wish my family would stop that. A few of the rest of you were a little upset as well. This is nearly always the case if I say anything negative about the sports program at our university, Enema U.

My trifling comments that sports should be an afterthought to education were viciously attacked. Didn’t I understand that this program provided much needed scholarships to people who might not otherwise be able to afford a college education? It’s a scholarship program? By this reasoning, the university should offer degrees in beauty pageantry.

Don’t I understand the premise that athletics builds character? Actually, no, I don’t. Athletics, like any other challenge, reveals character; in this case the character of the players, their coaches, and the system. So far, the players are ahead on points.

Still, with my hate mail running strongly against me, I am willing to face the inevitable and concede that athletics is the tail that wags the educational dog. I surrender. Inter-collegiate sports programs are wonderful! The term “student athlete” is NOT an outrageous oxymoron! Football puts the university on the map! Losing games enhances student recruitment! And I would be willing to die happy if we could just get one lousy insignificant bowl game and until we can accomplish this minor miracle, I am more than happy to reorient the university budget to engineer a swap of our educational birthright for a bowl of athletic porridge. In short, I’m converted: I, too, am an ardent athletic supporter.

But, I have a few small questions. Forgive me-I just recently suffered my brain injury-so I am new to all this. Why do we only offer athletic scholarships to big people? If we are truly compassionate, why do we only offer scholarships to inner-city students who happen to be tall? Are they more worthy? Do short people, as the Randy Newman song says, “got nobody at all?”

Obviously, this is simply a slight oversight. A program that was specifically designed to build character could not be so cruel. No university, so single-mindedly focused at providing quality education, could be so blatantly engaged in size-ism. I am sure that our Athletic Infector (excuse me, I had a momentary relapse) Athletic Director will correct this situation now that it has been pointed out to him. I have no doubt that in the future, athletic scholarships will be given out to people regardless of speed, bulk, or height.

No, I am not suggesting that we change the existing sports to allow everyone to play, just design new sports so that everyone has an equal opportunity. Perhaps we could call it Title 0.9. Swimming could have a contest to see who sinks the fastest, or could hold their breath the longest, or whatever the hell it is that fat people do well. Maybe the NCAA needs to start a Buffalo wing eating contest.

Nor do we need to ruin basketball just to allow midgets to play. Though it would probably make a more interesting game. Just how do you steal the ball from someone who dribbles the ball only 10 inches off the floor? No, I am sure there are games that the short do better than the tall. Miniature golf comes to mind.

All this fuss would be unnecessary if you just changed one small rule in basketball. Instead of allowing 5 players, allow any number of team members on the court at the same time as long as the combined height of the players doesn’t exceed 35 feet. Instead of 5 giants around 7 feet tall, you could have 7 guys about 5 foot tall, or about 9 midgets. I’d pay to watch that game.

Actually, there is a brief historical precedent for this. In 1951, the coach of the St. Louis Browns hired a midget, Edward Gaedel, to play major league baseball. Confident that an 8” strike zone was too difficult for most pitchers, Eddie (to use his diminutive) was hired to be a relief hitter. At his first time at bat, the pitcher threw 4 balls and walked Edward. Unfortunately, his jersey, with the number 1/8, was retired immediately. The baseball commissioner ruled that midgets were unfair to pitchers. Obvious size-ism.

Finally, I have written an entry to this blog that will be pleasing to everyone-a blog that will generate nothing but sympathetic email. I am, at last, confident that no one could object to these kind, selfless, and humanitarian suggestions, now that I have joined the majority.

Except for all those angry midgets who want to be called little people.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Hear the Bell and Obey

Raising children gives us so many gifts; for example, you never really learn to use profanity until you have raised children. You can’t really say you are an expert in profanity until you have taught one how to drive.

It was a few of the other gifts that children give you that I was thinking about. Just a few minutes ago, I was cooking some curried onions. I usually cook these spicy enough to cause pain in people who simply observe them: you don’t actually have to eat them to be in pain. Needless to say, my wife, the Doc, won’t touch them. So, I was spooning most of them into a jar so I could refrigerate them—when I suddenly noticed that my mouth was wide open. Have you ever spoon fed small children? You open your own mouth wide open in the foolish belief that they will imitate you long enough for you to shovel the baby food into their mouths.

I haven’t fed any infants in more than twenty years and I still hold my own mouth wide open whenever I move a spoon full of anything toward a round opening… This is a conditioned reflex of the highest order. Pavlov would write about me.

Nor is this strange behavior the only reflex my children have given me. When you brake your car suddenly, do you slap the passenger seat with your right hand? Even when there is no one in the car with you? Now, when children’s car seats are mandatory, and most people put them in the back seat, do parents still learn this reflex?

The Doc claims that I am still doing this because it gives me a great excuse to grab her breast while driving. She’s wrong, but it does give me a great excuse to brake suddenly. “Look! A Squirrel!” Three miles further down the road, “Clouds! Clouds!”

Neither of the boys still lives at home. Actually, neither lives within two hundred miles. So why do I wake up every night with the sudden desire to check their bedroom to see if they are all right? Why do I wonder if they are okay every night about 10? Because several thousand nights of doing the same thing will produce a conditioned response from a rock.

If I go to the mall and I hear a small child yell, “Dad!” I still turn to see what my son might want. Me, and every other father in the mall. None of us have any more choice than a trained circus animal. As soon as the calliope starts playing, we all strain to get into harness and start the show.

Years ago, I used to write my father a letter almost every week. Most of the letters were full of nonsense and whatever I happened to be thinking about when the urge to write him hit me. Long after he died, some trivial event during the day would suddenly trigger an urge to write him a letter. I would have over half the letter composed in my head before I would remember, with a start, that it was impossible to send him the letter.

Am I writing this blog to my father? Or am I writing it to my two sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One? The phrases, “Dear Father” and “Dear Son” are powerful words. Powerful enough to create new conditioned responses.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let’s Fix Education—Or Kill It Trying!

It is budget time here in New Mexico and once again the state is facing the problem of how to fund public education. Somehow, most of the discussion about the welfare of our students is lost somewhere in the muddle about teacher retirement. Education in New Mexico, where you can find it, is on life support.

For the last week, prospective new students of Enema U have been touring the campus, usually with their parents in tow. I think it is a bad sign when the parents look very interested, while the prospective students are clustered in the back of the group, looking about as interested as my sons did when I dragged them to every history museum in London.

So far, after talking to a few of these prospective students, I’m underwhelmed. These are not bad kids, but they don’t appear to be ready, academically or emotionally, to attend a good high school. And while I firmly believe that we could catch better students with a tiger pit, we will have to dig that hole some place other than New Mexico. I’m not exactly sure where, for I fear that many states’ education programs are in as bad a shape as ours is.

I have a cure for all this. I want to change public education for middle and high schools. I have no idea what to do at elementary schools, and since all I really think we need to do is keep the little rug rats out of the road until they learn to read, I will restrict my suggestions to the changes we need in secondary education:

1. Schools breed administrators like cockroaches, and in pretty much the same kinds of places. Here at Enema U, I have long thought that, if we could print up a guide to the Administration, (sort of like the program you buy at a baseball game) it might be easier to keep track of the game. High schools and school districts are no different. Line up all staff members who make over $50,000 a year, then fire everyone in that line who does not teach at least one class a semester.

2. School teachers learn how to become school teachers by getting a degree in education from other school teachers. In Biology, they call this inbreeding. If you did this with children, within a few generations, Little Johnny would sit in the corner licking his eyebrows. Come to think of it, this pretty well describes a lot of administrators. Eliminate the degree in education and require a content degree to teach every subject. In other words, if you are teaching history, get a degree in history. Qualifications for teaching at the elementary school level should be a one year certification after your BA. This kind of course could be taught in a community college.

3. Flying Flaming Bat Shit! Do we ever waste money on the wrong things in education! We need a new constitutional amendment: No school, college, or university can spend more on athletics than it spends on Math. If we want to compete in the world wide economy, it might be beneficial if our kids were better at math than at catching a ball.

4. No one who has ever committed ‘Coach’ should serve in any administrative job in education. Even if his parole is over. How many of you went to a high school where the principal or vice principal had once been a football coach? Why would you turn the school over to a person who, in all likelihood, is less well-educated than the school janitor? Athletic Directors should be treated exactly like pedophiles: Registered and required to stay 5 miles from any child.

5. No athletic facility should be built until the librarian at the school certifies that the library does not need any more space/books.

6. To graduate from high school, the student must show the ability to play a musical instrument. Suggesting that a student march with any musical instrument is a crime punishable by no fewer than 5 years serving on the PTA. Just what jackass decided that the highest form of music could be learned by marching? This must have been a coach… Quick, name three great marching symphonies.

7. Every high school student should be required to learn a new language. I don’t think it really matters which language, as long as it is something new to the student. Learning a new language stretches the brain, and our students need a challenge other than figuring out the latest TV remote.

8. Close the damn campus. The high school that my sons went to allowed students to leave the campus for lunch. This generally meant that from about 10:30 in the morning to about 2:00 in the afternoon, students could be found eating massive amounts of junk food while slowly wandering up and down the streets within a mile radius of the school. I would be willing to bet that a sizeable percentage of those students never returned to the school. What exactly is the purpose of this policy? Is the high school some form of economic subsidy for Taco Bell?

9. While we are at it, get rid of school crossing zones. Instead of lowering the speed limit, raise it. Let the students run for it: it will be educational and good exercise. Those who can’t figure out how to cross the road probably aren’t needed inside those classrooms, anyway. For the rest of them, it can help substitute for the smaller sports program.

I know these are modest changes to education, but I truly believe that if we don’t start with slow improvements like these, the public will probably never accept the big changes we will have to implement later.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quello Che Vedi è Quello Che si Ottiene

This last week, a bright and attractive student made a request of the Language Department; could they furnish a contemporary translation into Italian of the phrase, “What’s done is done.” Luckily, one of the historians at Enema U is currently in Italy, researching obscene gestures of the late Rennaisance. She quickly supplied me with the phrase, “Quello che è fatto, è fatto.”

Once I emailed the student the translation, she was quite grateful. “Thank you so much. It is very important that I get this right, since I will have the tattoo a long time.”

A tattoo! If she had only told me this in advance, I would have sent her: “Quello che vedi è quello che si ottiene.” In English, this comes out: “What you see is what you get!” Now that I think of it, in the long run, both phrases mean pretty much the same thing.

I simply do not understand the attraction of tattoos. Why in the world would people want graffiti on their bodies that, if they found drawn on the walls of their homes, would send them into hysterics? Maybe we need a waiting period for tattoos. If you want one, first you hire a nearsighted nine year old to scratch the design on the fender of your car with a rusty nail. Thirty days later, if you still like the idea, some moron will stencil the same art on your body.

No, that’s not fair; your tattoo will be different, and it will be in beautiful colors. Bullshit. It may be in color when you get it, but a few years later, it will be green. I think the exact shade of green is somewhere between gangrene and baby shit. If you are lucky, eventually it will fade to the same weird dirty green you get when you find out your new ring isn’t really gold. Technically, I think this color is known as dumbass green.

Then again, maybe tattoos are not quite as permanent as you think. Due to a medical emergency, my wife, the Doc, has had to …to modify a few of them. She once did surgery on a guy who was so proud of his Harley that he had a tattoo of it on his belly. After the surgery to remove the real handlebars from his abdomen, I hope he was still proud of the tattoo, even though it now shows a mini-bike.

Tattoos as an art form are over 5,000 years old. Twenty years ago, a frozen mummy was found in a glacier in the Alps. Ötzi the Ice Man had 57 tattoos that date back to 3300 BC. Evidently, he died while trying to pledge a fraternity-probably “Atsa Cuppa Crappa.” As an art form, I think a run of 5300 years is long enough, it is time to move on to something else. Tattoos are so third millennia BC.

A couple of years ago, a student was just dying to show me her new tattoo-a large figure just below her neck that depicted several Chinese characters that, at least according to her, conveyed a deeply spiritual and mystic Oriental message. She was almost in tears when I convinced her that I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and her tattoo actually read, “Beef With Broccoli.”

Can we give the whole tattoo as spiritual message routine a permanent break?. Just because you have yelled, “Oh God!” a few times in your dorm room does not make you a spiritual person. And a message inked on your body, regardless of what it really says, is only going to put you in tune with your inner stupidity. If your self-esteem is so low that you think the only way to improve it is by scrawling on your body the kind of message normally reserved for the underside of a freeway overpass, perhaps your problems cannot be solved by ink, in any color.

Art may be a great investment, but not when the most expensive piece you own is something you bought from a guy named Pirate Bob who works at the International House of Hepatitis.  And something is very strange when many of the young women on campus are too young to legally buy a beer, yet already have too many tattoos to be accepted for enlistment in the United States Marine Corps.

Both of my sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One, at one time or another, expressed an interest in tattoos. I told both of them they were free to get any tattoo they wanted, but I reserved the right to remove the tattoo with a pair of pliers. If either one of them was dumb enough to ever get any body art, they were smart enough to do it where I can’t see it.

I still have the pliers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Repeal Prohibition, Again

For some strange reason (strange not because I do not know the reason, but strange because it involves an assistant rodent who works for the Office of Moose and Squirrel) the subject of marijuana has been on my mind a lot for the last two weeks.

Why is this country still having a senseless discussion about a harmless drug? I’m not going to go through all the phony arguments; we have all heard the crazy talk from the myth of gateway drugs to cannabis being a cause of violence. If reasoned arguments were going to work, the local convenience store would be selling packs of Maui Wowie. And have no doubt: both the feds and the state would profit more from the sale of a pack than the manufacturer, RJR Tobacco.

No, reasoned arguments will never work. And it is long past the time for change to come from an enlightened electorate. Let’s face the truth: repeal of marijuana laws is not likely to happen from simply waiting for politicians to change the laws.

Our last three presidents have admitted to using marijuana. I presume that these men are grateful they were not arrested for possession. I would even assume that a sizeable portion of the country is grateful they were not arrested. And it would not be an unreasonable assumption to believe that a large portion of the electorate believes that the country is better off without their having been arrested.

If these men had been arrested, their political careers would never have begun. Arrests could have meant long jail terms, would have barred entry into the Armed Services, possibly caused a loss of scholarships or entry into some schools, (and certainly would have destroyed political careers). And these men, who must be aware of all of this, have done absolutely nothing to change the drug laws. America arrested over a million people for marijuana last year. Without an arrest, perhaps one of that million might have risen to the presidency.

It would be somewhat pleasing to stop there, leaving the blame with the government, but the blame lies with all of us. There is just no denying that the sixties were roughly 50 years ago. That whole generation is about to be on Social Security, and perhaps it is about time to stop talking about the past and wake up to the here and now. My generation was going to change everything, make a new world. It is too late to apologize for disco, and I doubt we can still change those marijuana laws without leadership.

Laws criminalizing the possession and use of marijuana are all but repealed now. Already 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. This means that cannabis is restricted to only those who can manage to say A-N-X-I-E-T-Y. A dozen more states have legislation pending, but this is not enough. This country should repeal all laws criminalizing marijuana now.

Every year on April 20, there is a call for all of America to light up a joint and defy the police to arrest all of us. This will never happen; most of us have far too much to lose to take this large a risk. But what would happen if all of us applied for a prescription for medical marijuana? Such a prescription can’t be that hard to acquire, since, in just the last two weeks, three different people have sent me the name of medical practitioners in the area who can "help" me. And I’m not even that anxious.

When alcohol prohibition, the Volkstead Act, passed in 1919, the law was widely violated. President Warren G. Harding simply ignored the law; he kept a well-stocked liquor cabinet in the White House. President Hoover thought about pushing for a repeal, but he was a little busy with other matters. Franklin D. Roosevelt tackled the job head on. Believing that Americans deserved a break, if not a drink, because of the depression, FDR asked Congress for a repeal on the ban on the sale of beer within days of his inauguration and Prohibition in general ended during his first year in office with the 21st Amendment.

Would it be too much to ask for a presidential candidate to embrace the issue of legalization of marijuana?