Category Archives: Anti-intellectualism

Hot Air

Who Says We Don’t Make Anything In America Anymore?

So far as I can tell, this story is the real deal. This isn’t the fruit of the fertile imagination of some humorous writer from the Onion or another knockoff news satire site.

Some doohickey town in North Carolina had the opportunity to get a nice big solar farm that’d tie into the area’s electrical grid. A sweet move coming on the heels of the Paris climate talks and Prez O’s recent imprimatur of same, wherein he said the global pact is “the best chance we have to save the one planet we’ve all got” and that its implementation would be “a turning point for the world.”

‘Course, if that’s what our Imam-in-Chief sez, it must be as wrong as the sun rising in the west.

See, this little cow town had a big ol’ public meeting on the night its town council was to vote on a zoning ordinance for the land upon which the solar panels would be built. Now, normally, no one in her or his right mind would attend — much less pay attention to the blathering that goes on at such things — a meeting of a town council considering zoning matters.

The sane among us would prefer being impaled upon the tippy-top of Seattle’s Space Needle.

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 3.23.25 PM

Oh, Yeah, If It’s A Zoning Meeting or This….

But, apparently, the meeting in Q. was packed. The public got its chance to voice its displeasure over the plan, citing every drawback from loss of jobs (not explained) to the certain death of surrounding flora. Um, yeah, that’s what some retired science teacher (?!) said. Her name is Jane Mann and she testified that solar panel arrays suck up all the sunlight, preventing surrounding plants from getting their share of it. The plants’ photosynthesis processes, she said, shut down. She swore she’s seen brown and dead plants all around other solar farms. She also said she’s noticed a lot of cancer cases popping up around these facilities.

Bolstered by these clearly incontrovertible statements, the town council went ahead and denied the zoning request for the solar farm. It also instituted a moratorium on any other solar farm plans.

The story has reached across the mighty oceans, natch. Any story that illustrates just how unscientific we Murricans are — even our retired science teachers, fer chrissakes! — gets play in the foreign news media. And rightly so. Here, for instance, is a line from the Independent UK‘s story on the vote:

Members of the public in Woodland, North Carolina, expressed their fear and mistrust….

Yep. Fear and mistrust — two products of which we are inordinately proud in this holy land.

Sanders: Man Without A Medium

Here are the main reasons why the TV nets are ignoring Bernie Sanders:

He’s old.

He’s a Jew with a northeast accent.

He’s not handsome or dignified in that vanilla TV way.

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Square-Jawed, Greying At The Temples: Mitt Was A TV Hottie

His hair’s a mess.

He talks policy.

He hasn’t got a hint of scandal around him.

He’s not palsy-walsy with media conglomerate big shots.

He’s not a woman or a black man.

He hasn’t led a devil-may-care, dashing life.

He flies coach.

He doesn’t worship wealth.

The poor bastard. About the only way he’ll get real TV coverage is if he appears before a packed arena without a stitch of clothing on. Then they’ll talk about him.

A Little Love For Indiana

Dig: Doug Wissing, our town’s intrepid war correspondent, has a new book coming out on January 4, 2016, so save your pennies.

Wissing’s new tome, IN Writing: Uncovering the Unexpected Hoosier State, published by Indiana University Press, is a love letter to the Hoosier State.

Before I moved here, I had Indiana pegged as this holy land’s least remarkable state. Hell, after living here six-plus years, I still feel that way. But if anyone’s got the chops to sway that opinion, it’s Wissing. His new book has earned kudos from the likes of bestselling mystery writer Michael Koryta, historian and biographer Michael Shelden, novelist Dan Wakefield, and even former Congressbeing and current Indiana University SPEA big shot Lee Hamilton.

Wissing himself says:

Given my essays cover subjects naughty and nice, the publishers are touting it as alternative Indiana history, one that includes Indiana’s often counter-intuitive links to the wide, wide world.

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 4.20.57 PM

Wissing In Afghanistan

Okay, I’m game. I’m saving my pennies too.

Hoosier Hilarity

Here’s a quote from red-hot funnyman Jim Gaffigan, who — I had no idea — is a Hoosier:

I’m from Indiana. I know what you’re thinking — Indiana… Mafia. But in Indiana it’s not like New York where everyone’s like, “We’re from New York and we’re the best,” or “We’re from Texas and we like things big.” It’s more like, “We’re from Indiana and we’re gonna move.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 4.18.32 PM

Gaffigan

M*U*S*H

I take my life into my hands by uttering this but it needs to be said: M*A*S*H was a pretty good TV show until Harry Morgan replaced MacLean Stevenson as the colonel.

Harry-Morgan-007

Harry Morgan, Emoting

Good god, Harry Morgan was wooden. He boasted an acting range that spanned from A to B. He brought that stiff, stilted stage manner over from Dragnet and added nothing to what could have been a brilliant show. It wasn’t, although millions of people think it was.

But, as I always say, what do people know?

Hot Air

Proclamation

Happy Lincoln’s b-day.

Lincoln

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.

— Lincoln

Fools’ Paradise

You know, I can’t take today’s Republicans seriously on anything until they all stop pandering to the goosebrains of this holy land. Case in point: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently refused to tell a British interviewer whether or not he believes evolution is the real deal.

Creation Museum

A Fairy Tale World

Now, maybe Walker does indeed accept the conventional, non-controversial, empirically demonstrable theory of natural selection by mutation in his heart of hearts. It’s impossible to know. What is inarguable, though, is his unwillingness to offend the willfully ignorant of America.

The Party has to ask itself why it is a magnet for the imbecilic.

Addendum: So, let’s say on some far off day the GOP washes its hands of those who believe their ignorance is as valid as the consensus of the world’s scientific community. As I say, I just may start taking them seriously. I still won’t vote for a Republican, no matter what, until the Party supports the Equal Rights Amendment. So there’s that hurdle to cross.

Atheist Extremism?

So, a lunatic who says he’s an atheist offs a family of Muslims (allegedly) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Ergo, he’s an anti-religious bigot whose hatred of the god-loving has driven him to this craven act.

At least that’s how some of the conventional wisdom goes in the aftermath of Tuesday’s slayings.

In fact, The New Republic‘s religion writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig yesterday posted a piece indicting what she considers the unseemly “the New Atheism” as embodied by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher and other in-your-face unbelievers for Craig Hicks‘ gunplay.

Hicks

Hicks

The religionists of this holy land can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that atheism is not a religion. Hell, it’s not even capitalized. It is a nothing, whereas religion is a something. It’s not a club with rules, rituals, a leadership structure, and a set of taboos. Religions are just such clubs.

Sam Harris, noted rationalist author, is no more responsible for Craig Hicks’ (alleged) atrocity than I am for Sam (Momo) Giancana‘s criminal acts since we both had Sicilian antecedents and spent a lot of time in Oak Park, Illinois.

OTOH, religions regularly teach that those who are outside the club are to be pitied, converted, and even socially ostracized. Many, if not most, religions go so far as to say that when non-believers die the putative creator of the Universe will condemn them to an eternity of punishment. Taking this to its illogical conclusion, extremist Sicilians and Oak Parkers will not kill you for not being Sicilians and Oak Parkers but extremist Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others just may bump you off for not buying their god fables. After all, god so does not not give a shit about the beliefs and comforts of infidels that he’s happy to consign them to the fires of everlasting hell. Why, then, should we, the faithful, care about nonbelievers’ Earthly bodies?

I still insist that Muslims around the world should actively distance themselves from, for instance, the Charlie Hebdo killings. So should American Christians condemn slavery, KKK atrocities, and the Indian holocaust, since those things were committed in their god’s name. And modern-day Germans bear a responsibility to say they despise their Nazi history.

But even if an atheist claims to have killed people of faith simply because they have a faith, I’m not obliged to explain to you that, as an atheist, I’m not as evil as he is.

Again, atheism isn’t our shared club. Atheism is nothing.

Hot Air

Learnin’ — Who Needs It?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is back on the slicing and dicing trail. This time he wields his machete against the state’s university system that serves 180,000 students and employs 39,000..

Walker, of course, is an early, early, early front runner in the Republican beauty pageant for the 2016 presidential nomination. He came out on top in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of GOPers yesterday, edging out even Jeb Bush in popularity among likely Repub. voters. That’s the way things stand — this minute at least.

Walker

This Minute’s It Guy

Anyway, Walker’s big news of late has been his desire to slash the state’s financing of the University of Wisconsin by a cool one-third in his next budget. As of now, Wisconsin spends about $1 billion a year on its university system. Walker proposes cutting $300 million from that total.

Criss-crossing the state and even appearing on the nationally televised Sunday morning gasbag programs, Walker adds that professors and other U. teachers just might have to start thinking about teaching more classes and working longer hours. The Guv is falling back on the old Republican canard wherein teachers are sitting around smoking pipes, reading the Socialist Worker, and planning their next wife-swapping get-together.

Scads o’ Republicans these days think all a college teacher has to do is spout some facts and figures for 45 minutes and then go back to plotting the overthrow of god. In addition to the grueling hours major university instructors put in preparing classes, actually teaching, meeting with students, grading papers and trying to keep up with advances in educational theory, many also engage in research in whatever field they’re in. The U. of WI demands that its teachers do research. This is how our breadth of knowledge is expanded. Seems inarguable, right? Wrong. In fact, one of Walker’s coat-holders, speaker of the Wisconsin assembly Robin Voss says, “Of course I want research but I want to have research that focuses on a way of growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever.”

Cute, huh?

Reminds me of Sarah Palin’s old line — back when she was inexplicably relevant — about university researchers spending our good, hard-earned tax dollars on studying fruit flies. Fruit flies! Imagine that. How inane! Her GOP audiences ate that stuff up. Only the fruit fly studies she was talking about were agriculturally significant in terms of invasive species knowledge, but also were being done by genetics researchers. They use fruit flies because the little buggers’ life span is so short; scientists can learn about numerous generations of mutations within a few weeks. Gregor Mendel would be proud.

It’s one thing for a dingbat like Palin to spout nonsense but when a presidential contender’s loyal lieutenant starts talking like a baboon, things suddenly begin looking a little grim for this holy land.

The Bestseller That Nobody Has

One of the hottest books out right now is Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s recently released memoir, complete with annotations. Well, let me amend that: the book is out, but not out. Wait, what? Yeah, PG was released back in November and quickly sold out. Its publisher the South Dakota Historical Society Press isn’t used to dealing in blockbusters. Not when its catalog includes such page turners as County Capitals: The Courthouses of South Dakota and The Mystery of the Pheasants.

One of the big publishing houses would have rushed second, third, and fourth printings off before impatient book buyers could stomp their feet twice. As of this moment, SDHSP has issued no statements about when Pioneer Girl will be available again.

Book Cover

We had a couple of copies at the Book Corner back at the end of last year. They passed through our hands so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to thumb through them. So, if you’re a fan of the creator of the Little House on the Prairie series, you’ll just have to cool your heels.

Magic Pill

Let’s recognize the passing of the scientist who helped women achieve whatever modicum of equality they enjoy today.

The Pill — no other identifier is needed — was created in large part by one Carl Djerassi, chemist, novelist, and playwright. Back in 1951 he and two research partners (there’s that old bugaboo again, research) figured out how to make the synthetic steroid hormone, norethisterone, usable in a tablet taken orally. The hormone effectively prevented ovulation in women taking The Pill daily during their fertile weeks of the month. (The Pill regimen usually includes placebos to be taken during those days when the women is not fertile.)

The Pill

Good ol’ Doc Djerassi — who, coincidentally enough, earned his PhD form the University of Wisconsin — died Friday. He was 91. Like many scientists of his generation, Djerassi escaped from Nazi occupied territory back in the 1930s.

The Pill just may have been the single most important scientific or technological advancement aiding the cause of women’s rights. It allowed women to enjoy sex without worrying about conceiving. It was approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Next thing anybody knew, women were agitating for things like equal pay, workplace advancement, progressive rape laws, and others. Because The Pill was the first birth control method that women exclusively control every day, their newfound self-dominion inspired a greater desire for autonomy in many other areas.

Djerassi

Dr. Carl Djerassi

Its benefit has extended well beyond women. I know for a fact that The Pill has aided me in my desire never to reproduce. For that alone, the world should give thanks to Carl Djerassi.

Hot Air

Oh, Those Deer Again

As mentioned earlier in these precincts, the upcoming deer cull (or, if you prefer, kill) has raised a lot of hackles around town. A private wildlife management company (or, if you prefer, hired assassins) will mow down a few of the cuddly but troublesome ruminants this fall. Some B-town residents are in favor of calling out the Air Corps and having them drop the A-bomb on the Griffy Lake area where the deer loiter. Others say, Hey, wait a sec, those little cloven-hoofed Bambis were here first so we should learn to live with them. All of them.

The argument has reached sniffy and huffy proportions at times. The city’s Parks & Recreation Dept. approved the cull plan earlier this year. The City Council followed up by waiving the city’s no-shootin’-o’-them-there-firearms ban. Mayor Mark Kruzan then vetoed the Council’s waiver. The majority of the Council sniffed, stuck to their guns (pun intended), and overrode his veto.

Bloomington Council

Bloomington’s City Council

One of our fave Pencillistas is Bloomington City Councilperson Susan Sandberg. She voted yea on the cull and has been dodging missiles ever since. And, like pretty much all political discussion these days, the rhetoric turned ludicrous. Some anti-cullers have suggested that the kill plan is symptomatic of this holy land’s love affair with guns and one or two have even suggested that recent muggings on the B-Line Trail just may be a direct result of the Council’s (and Sandberg’s) mania to solve our problems with firearms and violence.

Well, our gal got pushed over the edge by that. Sandberg took to Facebook the other day and huffed:

I just have to get this off my chest based on a subtle but false remark made in the last Council meeting. To equate gun violence against human beings with my position on responsible deer population management in the Griffy Woods Preserve to protect the ecology of other species is simply not acceptable. For all who follow my posts here, there is no one, I repeat NO ONE who is more horrified by senseless gun violence in America than yours truly. To suggest that those of us who support managing the over abundance of deer in Griffy is in any way related to a reckless gun culture or a direct cause of violence in Bloomington is irresponsible and untrue. I will not let that propaganda stand without respectful rebuttal. I’ve heard that some folks are out there saying that the recent violence on the B-Line trail is directly related to the City Council supporting lethal and humane methods of deer management in Griffy. Those two issues have nothing to do with each other and to spread that false line of thinking is offensive and absurd. I’ll be much more outspoken about this in public meetings if these false comparisons continue.

I, of course, leapt to Sandberg’s defense. Hell, she may be a Congressbeing or even the Governor one day and wouldn’t it be swell to have a friend in either the state’s or nation’s capital?

Like The Dude, Sandberg drew a line in the sand and would not let this (verbal) aggression stand, man.

From "The Big Lebowski"

This Will Not Stand

Later on in the comment thread, SuSand hinted that some communiques from the anti-cull gang have been threatening and one or two have even characterized her as a Hitler. Susan Sandberg, I’ll say here and now, is no Adolph Hitler — she’s not even a vegetarian.

I spoke with another high-ranking official in these parts yesterday afternoon. Whadja think of SS’s smackdown of her critics the other day? I asked.

This high-ranking official eyed me for a moment and then responded, “When you take the job, you’ve got to accept the criticism that comes with it.”

I think my high-ranking official source is right. Therefore I advise S-squared to ignore the dumb bastards in the hereinafter. I’ll take up the sword in her stead. I’m no elected official so I don’t have to put up with anybody’s stupidity.

Bomb Newark

Here’s a Wow! quote from the front page of Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:

There are places in America where life is so cheap and fate so brutal that, if they belonged to another country, America might bomb that country to “liberate” them.

That’s as powerful a statement as I’ve read in a big-time media outlet in I don’t know how long. Honestly, I can’t imagine how the line got past the NYT editors.

It is incendiary, it is dramatic, it is shocking, it is bold and, above all, it is true.

It’s the opening sentence in a review of the book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, the saddest of possible tales about living in the slums of Newark, New Jersey. The book traces the life of the title kid who somehow succeeds despite being raised among gangsters, poverty, miserable schools, and the constant threat of violence. He found his way to Yale University where he majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. But Rob also had a daddy-o who was a dope dealer and who warned him off reading books because they’d make him soft. Rob eventually inherited his daddy-o’s drug business. Then he was killed.

Book Cover

A NYT columnist named Anand Giridharadas wrote the review. Jeff Hobbs wrote the book. I suppose if you want to drive yourself into a deep depression, you’ll read it. On the other hand, there’s a lot about America that’s awfully depressing and it does us no good to ignore it.

Boom Times

Just for the record, I’m four-square in favor of the pounding the US and its temporary allies are giving those ISIS boys in Syria and parts nearby.

Tomahawk Missile

Stock Image Of A Tomahawk Missile Launch

People here and there are harrumphing that the whole ISIS scare is a false flag thing, that the US can’t be trusted to deliver us the truth since Iraq. It’s true Little Georgy Bush’s funtimes war against Saddam Hussein was based on pure, unadulterated bullshit. And that indeed should give us pause every time the leaders of this holy land try to sell us a bill of goods.

It doesn’t mean, though, that every utterance from every succeeding president is fraudulent.

The world needs to be wiped clean of ISIS.

Science (Non)Fiction

Lisa Winter writes in IFLS about the Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries of Science.

That is, the most perplexing questions we haven’t been able to answer about the world — hell, the Universe — around us. Those who scoff at science (can you believe I’m actually writing these words in the 21st Century?) say, See, Science doesn’t know everything!

Correct. Science doesn’t know everything. Actually, science knows nothing since it’s a descriptor of a process rather than a person or group of people who, like, know things.

Those anti-science-ites like to say things like that to infer that not only does science not know everything, it really knows nothing. Evolution? Bah. Global warming? Puh-leeze. Childhood vaccinations? Never. That’s a lazy over-reaction on a par with those (as mentioned in an entry above) who think that because of Iraq, all American presidents lie about everything.

Bumper Sticker

Well, presidents do lie and science — or , more accurately, scientists — are scratching their heads about any number of things. As Osgood Fielding III says in Some Like It Hot, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Here then, acc’d’g to Lisa Winter, are the most troublesome Q’s scientists face these days:

  • Why is there more matter than anti-matter?
  • Where is all the lithium?
  • Why do we sleep?
  • How does gravity work?
  • Where are all the extra-terrestrials?

From "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

Where Are These Guys?

  • What is dark matter?
  • How did life begin?
  • How do plate tectonics work?
  • How do animals know where to go when they migrate?
  • What is dark energy?

When I was a little kid, I’d watch cars zip by on North Avenue on Chicago’s Northwest Side and feel frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how they could move. Nothing was pushing those cars; nothing was pulling them. The fact that they were zipping by seemed, to my little mind, impossible. Somehow, though, I knew it wasn’t impossible, nor was it magic. There was a reason, an explanation, a confidence that I’d eventually know.

Scientists today are like little kids when it comes to the aforementioned ten bogglers. No, science doesn’t know everything; it’s got a million questions.

Hot Air

And The Answer Is…

Time for a quiz.

In what year did the following events and actions occur?

Cossacks horse-whipped women.

Kazaki

Citizens reacted to news of FDR’s death.

● At least four state legislatures considered bills to restrict the teaching of evolution and biology in schools.

● Fully one quarter of the nation’s population was unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

● Another state legislature worked diligently on a law to deny certain people the right to marry.

● Lawmakers working hand-in-hand with wealthy donors succeeded in defeating a labor movement.

Plutocrats

● A man running for Attorney General of a large state told victims of domestic violence they should stop complaining and be thankful they have men.

● A learned, accomplished black man was characterized as a “subhuman mongrel” and a “chimpanzee” by a celebrity spokesbeing for a Right Wing political organization.

● A southern state OK’d a Confederate flag display.

● Yet another white man was exonerated for killing a black man whose actions mildly disturbed him.

Lynching

● Athletic team officials worried that a homosexual man may taint their locker rooms.

● A state legislature voted to permit teachers to spank students (so long as they don’t leave any marks).

Choose One:

  • 1907
  • 6 BCE
  • 1892
  • 1066
  • 2014

Salem

1692?

Hurry now and make your selection: Time flies!

Shop Local

Krista Detor’s brand spanking new CD and accompanying book are on sale now at the Book Corner. And she’ll be peddling both the Flat Earth Diary and Notes from the Bridge when she dashes off to Europe for a live tour this spring. She’ll hit Germany, Holland, England, and Scotland.

Flat Earth Diary

Tons o’B-towners dig Detor the most, but it’s a good bet not too many will stage-door-Johnny her all the way across the Atlantic Ocean just to get their mitts on her stuff. So buy it here in So Cen Ind. Whaddya waiting for?

Detor

Detor

BTW: KD and Arbutus Cunningham have tinkered with their sweet musical, The Breeze Bends the Grass, and, in fact, have come up with a whole new shebang of it. The re-designed and re-imagined four-act theater production will debut at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville on June 6th.

Oh yeah, that Detor gal is a juggler.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I’d like to say I was smart enough to finish six grades in five years, but I think perhaps the teacher was just glad to get rid of me.” — Alan Shepard

TEACHERS ARE PEOPLE

Let’s talk teachers today.

A report on WFIU local news this morning mentioned the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation program to replace text books with iPads. The RBBSC is buying a thousand of the devices for use by students over the next three years.

Now, this seems to be a fairly good idea. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the kids’ backs. It’s good because kids are growing up in a world wherein books are goofy things that old people waste their time with while iPads are what every cool person has.

This Used To Be Yellowwood State Forest

So far, so good.

The report, though, mentioned that teachers now will be just a click away. Should a kid need to know, for instance, how many pages the essay on the Civil War that’s due tomorrow morning has to be, all she has to do is email the teacher and she’ll have her answer within moments.

Sounds good, no?

No.

It stinks for the teachers.

No matter how dedicated a teacher is, no matter how much she loves her job and her students (although god knows why), she needs some time away from them all.

Mother Teresa Would Belt These Kids

And, trust me, the minute kids realize the teacher is a touch of the send button away, they’ll be harassing the poor soul from morning until night.

See, this thing reeks of the current workplace zeitgeist that holds that as an employee of the corporation, you are now owned lock, stock and barrel by it. Every desk jockey in this holy land is now tethered to American Widgets, Inc. 24 hours a day via SmartPhone and Droid and all the rest.

You Are Ours

Anyone who isn’t at the constant beck and call of management and coworkers is not getting ahead. Not only that, those recalcitrant fools risk being axed forthwith.

When pagers became widespread in the 70s and cell phones started coming on the scene in the 90s, advertisements for them often featured the likes of heart surgeons extolling the virtues of whatever device was being peddled. The idea was, If it weren’t for this cell phone, my patient would have died horribly and with great suffering.

Now the pager and cell phone peddlers knew they couldn’t survive solely by marketing their toys to heart surgeons but they were banking on the rest of us watching their commercials and thinking, Man, I want to be super-cool and indispensable just like that doctor.

Next thing you knew, office supply salespeople and fast food restaurant managers were wearing pagers and, later, cell phones in clip cases on their belts.

This Person Never Wants To Have Sex Again

The sane among us considered them geeks but as the years slipped by, more and more of us became geeks. And by extension, fewer of us remained sane.

Now, of course, anybody who doesn’t have a cell phone with texting and Internet capabilities is, for all intents and purposes, a nut.

Call me a nut.

I subscribe to the Louis CK philosophy of gadgets: Just because a technology has been invented doesn’t mean you have to use it.

But the sacred corporation has embraced these technologies with all the fervor of born agains. There’s no better way to keep tabs on your wage slaves. You like your $65,000 a year gig? You’ll give yourself over to us like a high school dropout in love for the first time.

Nobody asked me, but if the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation wanted my vote, I’d say leave the poor teachers alone for a few hours a day, wouldja?

LET’S GO OUT

Click.

TEACHERS ARE HUMAN

Now let’s look at the other side of the teachers’ coin.

This pic has been circulating in the Facebook universe lately:

In case you’re having a hard time reading the note, it begins: “I am a teacher. You are able to read, write, do arithmetic and much more because of people like me.”

It’s part of that whole I-Am-the-99% thing wherein the downtrodden of this holy land speak plainly and plaintively about how greed capitalism is crushing them. And generally I agree with every word they write.

But this one bugged me.

Yes, I’m all for teachers. And yes, the right wing, god-fearing, anti-intellectual gang that runs things these days would like nothing better than to break teachers unions, slash funding for schools to the bone, and mandate that the story of Noah be taught in science class.

Alright Children, Time For Your Biology Lesson

I buy the argument that a society that doesn’t value education — as ours largely does not — is marching toward its well-deserved grave.

Still, the hubris in the above screed rankles.

We humans take to reading and writing innately. The argument has been made, most notably by renowned linguist Steven Pinker, that the capability to produce and reproduce language is hard-wired in us, much like the ability to spin a web is written into the genetic code of the spider.

I’ll give you a bit of anecdotal evidence. I was sick throughout most of my kindergarten year. I had some weird low-grade fever deal that kept me home from school most days.

Anyway, I taught myself to read as I sat home. I flipped through the World Book Encyclopedia constantly, especially the parts that had to do with World War II, airplanes, trains, and maps. I’d see the little squiggles beneath the photos and ask my mother what they meant. She’d be grating breadcrumbs or making spaghetti sauce and she’d reply, “That says ‘tank’,” or “Illinois.”

Aw, Cool!

And I’d repeat the word or words. Mainly, though, I gleaned words and sentences through repetition, seeing them again and again in different places. I started to understand what “the” meant, or “men,” or, for that matter, “World Book Encyclopedia.”

This is how humans learn.

Teachers have their place as guides through the thicket of rational thought. Ideally, they help us learn to think critically. They steer us toward effective ways to study. At best, they inspire us to keep those childlike senses of wonder and curiosity we’re all born with.

But teachers are human. Some are good at what they do. Some are not. Too many of my teachers were far more interested in teaching my classmates and me the lessons of conformity and obedience.

The only things I learned from them was how to reject those lessons.

I see no reason to believe teachers have changed all that much since I was a school brat.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov

MIKE ELK SPEAKS

Studs Terkel, in his book “Talking To Myself: A Memoir of My Times” writes that the best reporter is the one who asks the impertinent question.

Studs Terkel

As you know, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, reporters today ask mostly gotcha questions, the kind they know the answer to already but are designed simply to embarrass the subject, or softball questions that even the editor of a high school newspaper should be embarrassed to ask.

Let’s go a step further. Linda Ellerbee once wrote that if she hadn’t made someone feel uncomfortable in her reporting for the day, she felt as though she hadn’t done her job.

Linda Ellerbee

Then, of course, early 20th Century newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne said the job of the the journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Mike Elk yesterday asked an impertinent question (actually, two), made a bunch of people feel uncomfortable, and afflicted a big shot.

Bingo! The man is a three-time winner.

Elk got up yesterday at a business/political masturbatory press event in Washington where the big boss of Honeywell International, David Cote, expected to be lavished with praise for…, um, well, for being the big boss of Honeywell.

See, Honeywell sachems were also scheduled to guide Barack Obama around by the elbow at the company’s headquarters in the appropriately named Golden Valley, Minnesota, so both the prez and the company could tell the world how wonderful they both are.

Only Mike Elk elected not to play the game. He took the audience microphone and referred to a Fortune Magazine handjob article about Honeywell and Cote, wherein the boss crowed what terrific corporate citizens he and his outfit are. Then Elk flung two impertinent questions at Cote: one about Honeywell’s union busting practices (the company’s Metropolis, Illinois, plant first locked out, then axed 1400 union workers) and the other about a possible radiation leak there. The idea being, those aren’t the acts of nice neighbors.

Well, the assembled reporters, PR flaks, pols, and execs gasped, we never!

Elk got the mic yanked out of his hand and he was given the thumb. When he protested that he was a reporter and showed his credentials, one woman’s off-screen voice can be heard saying, “That’s not a member of the press from the Hill; this is a member of the press.” Presumably, she’s pointing at some well-behaved media stenographer who’ll only ask Cote what wondrous things he and Honeywell have done lately.

Tell Me, Mr. Cote, What’s It Like To Be You?

In fact, after Elk was given the bum’s rush, another person got up and said, “One of the things I’m concerned about is, the, um, y’know, the unemployment rate for African American young people is — I don’t know whether this is true, it says 38 percent? — and, um, my son was an all-best high school….” Here, the vid ends, cutting her off in mid-interrogation, which is too bad because it seemed to be the preamble for an all-time great softball question.

The speaker clearly was telling the assembled multitude how fabulous her kid is and then probably was going to ask what Honeywell proposed to do about putting such fine young lads to work in plush corner offices ASAP. Then Cote could tell her how terrific Honeywell is at hiring African-Americans and all other people who were born with brown skin. Then everybody could have glowed and grinned, the men could arrange a circle jerk and the woman could have a group hug.

We’re fabulous!

I thank the god I don’t believe in that I never was able to fit into a corporation environment like Honeywell’s.

BTW: I love how the woman wonders if it’s true that unemployment among African-American young people could possibly be 38 percent. It introduces just the right amount of faux-skepticism about a real problem that could just as easily have been described as “the historically persistent high levels of joblessness among young blacks.”

Man, the corporate world demands an unconscionable amount of toadiness — not only from its paid minions but from the public at large.

Be thankful Mike Elk is not a toady.

On the other hand, Elk never got answers to his questions and most of the mainstream news yesterday was about the Obama tour of the Honeywell plant. So score one for the corporatocracy versus the impertinent journalist.

LEO’S BLOOMINGTON (OR IS IT BLOOMINGTON’S LEO?)

Leo D. Cook ought to be granted the title of Mr. Bloomington here and now.

Wouldn’t he be perfect as the local radio or TV host who interviews all the fascinating characters who live in and pass through this bustling metrop?

The Definitive Leo D. Cook Photoshopped Photo

He could tell stories, draw the people out, and otherwise create a weekly hour’s worth of whacked-out chat. Can you imagine a show with the guests Steve Volan, Jeremy Gotwals, and, say, Lynda Barry, who’s in town for this coming week’s IU Writers Conference?

People In Our Listening Area Are Advised To Take Cover

That conversation might be declared a hazardous incident site by FEMA. Or it could be great radio.

Anyway, Leo’s long-range plan to attain celebrity takes another step forward this coming week with the commencement of “Bloomington’s Got Talent,” a weekly talent (duh) show at The Bluebird. The thing will run every Tuesday night through the summer. Leo will emcee.

Registration begins at 9:30pm with the first acts going onstage at 10.

TURN OFF YOUR TV — GO OUT

Lots to do this weekend. Luckily, you’ve got the Pencil’s GO! events listings. Click the logo. Follow instructions.

SUMMER SOFT

It’s June. The blazing days are coming. But it’s perfect out right now.

The Pencil Today:

HUH? WHAT? LEMME GET SOME COFFEE FIRST, WOULDJA?

Oy! Another week, albeit a short one.

Okay, let’s get it started with some trivia fun. Here’s the question:

Where in the world is the Isle of Langerhans?

You want to google it, I know, but hold off for a little while. Let Pencil fans from around the globe have a crack at it off the tops of their heads.

Then google it.

The first correct answer wins an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bypass Construction Zone.

The Grand Prize!

Hat tip to my old pal Andy Wallingford, Triviameister Emeritus of Wick’s Pizza-Goosecreek in Louisville, Kentucky, for the question.

A MIGHTY COMMUNICATIONS COLOSSUS

Our first-ever Pencil Poll appeared Saturday. Our crack team of statisticians worked ceaselessly throughout the rest of the weekend in a valiant effort to keep up with the avalanche of responses. I’ve just been handed the latest results and they indicate a grand total of nearly two dozen people ventured their opinions on what should become of the various Occupy encampments around this holy land.

Man, no wonder the economy nearly came to a standstill over the last 72 hours!

Anyway, the majority of respondents want the camps to be left alone. Nearly a quarter of the fine folks who are loyal to this site think the Occupy people ought to do something more constructive. One person doesn’t care — in fact, that respondent doesn’t care so much that he went out of his way to answer an online poll to tell the world he doesn’t care. That’s certainty.

Oh, BTW: We got respondents from both coasts. And I’m not referring to the coasts of Lake Monroe. I mean the coast of the greatest nation in the history of humankind, this experiment in democracy, the United States of America.

Next goal — readers on all seven continents. In fact, we’re planning a marketing caravan to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica next year.

Watch us grow!

America’s Outpost In Antarctica

YOU DON’T OWN ME

Oh, baby! This is too good to be true. Have you seen the pissing match between Alaska Rep. Don Young, a Republican, and the eminent historian Douglas Brinkley yet?

Brinkley actually lives out every thinking person’s fantasy when he goes toe to toe with the proto-human Young. The Republican Party has been trafficking in anti-intellectualism since the late 1970s when the Christian right organized to put a saint in the White House.

He’s In Heaven Now, With All Dogs And Randy “Macho Man” Savage

So, Congressman Young was attending a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources, no doubt in his ongoing quest to allow multi-national corporations to sully every square inch of pristine wilderness in this holy land. Brinkley was testifying against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Young, natch, would prefer to see oil derricks are far as the eye can see there.

Suddenly, Young blows up at Brinkley. In fact, he’s so choleric that he calls him the wrong name and then…, well, watch.

Er, uh, don’t watch. I don’t know why, but C-SPAN won’t allow me to embed the video of the dramatic exchange. Maybe Rep. Young’s thugs got to the C-SPAN people (tee-hee).

Here’s my transcription of the Battle of the Century.

Young: “If you ever want to see an exercise in futility, it’s this hearing…. I call it garbage, Mr. Rice, that comes from the mouth….”

Brinkley: ‘It’s Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university….”

Young: “Well….”

Brinkley: “You know, you went to Yuba College. You couldn’t graduate….”

Young: “I’ll call you anything I want to call you when you set (sic) in that chair!”

Brinkley: “Pardon?”

Young: “You just be quiet!”

Brinkley: “Why? You don’t own me! I pay your salary.”

Young: “I don’t own you but I’ll tell you right now….”

Here, the chairman tries to throw a bucket of cold water on the two baying dogs. Too late, they’ve got their teeth in each other’s necks.

Brinkley: “I work for the private sector; you work for the taxpayers!”

The chair continues to try to chill the angry Brinkley, who repeats his complaint that Young misidentified him and called his testimony garbage. The chair says the committee “see(s) a lot of people here and we make foo pahs.”

Well, that finally shut everybody up — for the moment. What on this green Earth is a foo pah?

Later, Young tears into Brinkley again, accusing him of living in an “ivory tower” and being part of the wealthy elite that sees Alaska only as their vacation playground. Young added — unnecessarily, I might add — that he is “pissed off,” presumably by smart guys, trees, wildlife, and perhaps democracy itself.

Anyway, go to C-Span to see this meeting of the minds. The exchange begins at 31:15 and lasts a little over a minute. My favorite part is the reaction of the blonde congressional aid whose eyes grow to the size of saucers when Brinkley tells Young, “you don’t own me.”

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