Roadblock.

My Old Man had been on the bum during the Depression: rode the rails; picked fruit in the Imperial Valley; logged in Montana; worked on the Grand Coulee dam; assistant manager of a theater in Portland, Oregon (told Alan Ladd where to find a speak-easy); worked on a government survey ship in the Gulf of Alaska.  Jailed briefly once or twice.  Later, he went to Guadalcanal and Bougainville (“Bo-gun-vill” as he—and many others–pronounced it), then was a ski-bum in Sun Valley.  Drove a cab in the red-light district of Anchorage.  Before and after he settled down.  Knocked all the front teeth out of a tug-boat captain who had disrespected my Mom.  (You could tell because there was a gap in the subsequent bite marks on his left bicep.)

Then there was wormy-me.  Skinny with thick glasses, not athletic, shy beyond belief, and wrapped really tight.  Got tired of that “me” and decided to change it.  One part of that change came in my senior year of college.  My room-mate and I decided to drive from Seattle to Mexico for Christmas Break.  Drive down to San Diego, cross at Tijuana, go down the Baja to Cabo San Lucas, take the ferry to Puerta Vallarta.  Basically, I said “Yes” instead of my lifetime default-setting of “No.”

Was a great trip, too, but not necessarily in the ways you would think.  I was also chasing a girl, so we stopped in LA.  To no avail.[1]  Then we bunked-in at somebody’s house in San Diego.  I bought the Sunday morning paper and sat in a park to read it when the earth began to shake.  I was reading a story about how Mexican narcs were killing gringo tourists.  Crossed the border in a scene very different from “Sicario.”  More like “The Getaway.”  Already memorable or repressible experiences.

Anyway, we drove down the Baja.  Pulled off the road to sleep.  Picked a bad spot.  (Come on, it was dark.)  Next morning we got stuck in the sand.  Took hours, and the help of some passing Mexicans, to get unstuck.

Later on, we needed to gas up.  Stopped in this little village in the middle of nowhere.  Put some oil in as well, but the people seemed intent on closing up in a hurry.  Didn’t bother to get the funnel back.  Gave us full cash change, not part of it in Chiclets.  Too busy putting up the shutters.  So we drove on south out of town.  “Strange Lands and Friendly People.”

Come around the first bend out of town and there’s a road-block.  “Oh, that explains it,” I later thought.  Bunch of Mexican soldiers and a big guy in a tan suit with cowboy boots and a straw cowboy hat.  My friend is driving and I’m in the passenger seat.  “Choo got any marijuana?” he asks.  We assured him that we did not.  As the conversation continued, I glanced out the side window.  Mexican soldier standing there pointing an M-16 at my head.  Muzzle is about 6 inches from my face.  Thing is, it didn’t look like the entrance to a tunnel and he didn’t look like an agate-eyed killer.  Which only made me more edgy because accidents can happen.  Also, I’d just read that story about narcs killing gringos.  And here we were in the middle of nowhere.  So, that’s why everyone back at the gas station had been so eager to see our heels.  Huh, live and learn.  I bit down hard.  OK, my eyes probably got real wide as well.

Anyway, after a while, he let us go.  We drove slowly until around the next bend.  Once out of sight, we floored it.

[1] Later, we had a brief passage and I wanted to marry her.  She had more sense than that.  She died of ovarian cancer on the same day that my Mom passed in 2011.

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Curmudgeon Me.

Il y a etait un fois, America had the best democratic public school system in the world, AND the greatest college and university system in the world.  More Americans went farther in education than did people in any other country.  In percentage terms, America had more and better “human capital” than did any other country in the world.  “We cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA&t=16s

Then, standardized tests revealed a terrifying decline in American educational attainment.  The generally-accepted, state-mandated, and Federally-funded response took the form of more standardized testing, accountability through assessment, the standardization of delivery models, and the proliferation of rubrics.

Here’s the thing.  When American education led the world, nobody did much standardized testing, nobody did much formal assessment[1], nobody insisted on standardized delivery, and no truly-educated person knew what the word “rubric” meant.  Schools and teachers didn’t do ANY of the things that now are supposed to cure “the prince of our disorders.”  This suggests that the origin of American educational problems lies elsewhere than in the educational system itself.

This applies to the American education reform experience of the last several decades.  Has anyone—other than me—ever been lost in the woods?  The hard-won lessons of millennia in this matter counsel certain behaviors.  First, Stop where you are!  Do not keep going forward!  Do not turn aside to the left hand or to the right to go bush-whacking through the brush!  You will fall over the edge of a cliff, bust your leg, and end up being mauled by some aggrieved Momma-bear.  Second, turn around and head back down the trail that you came up.  Eventually, you will come upon the place where you last knew where you were.  Third, stop in that place, consult your map and compass, and discern where you went wrong.  Fourth, get back on the trail you were supposed to be on before you missed the way-mark because you were looking down at your boots, trying not to trip over roots, when you should have been looking up to notice the white-painted blaze in a tree.

Thus, we need to stop bush-whacking through the educational underbrush.  We need to stop, turn around, and go back to whatever it is we were doing right before the wheels came off.

What was it we used to do when “once we were warrior kings”?  Historians have begun to explore what went wrong since the 1970s.  The early evidence suggests that complex social, economic, and cultural forces combined to wreck the foundations of American educational achievement.  The oil shocks of the 1970s put an end to an already troubled economic boom.  Families stopped valuing education as the pathway to success and stopped supporting the teachers who provided it.  Women’s Liberation took a lot of smart women out of career ghettos in teaching school (and nursing and bank-tellers and secetaries in offices), then replaced them with inferior substitutes.  They stopped buying encyclopedias and stopped subscribing to newspapers and magazines, and stopped taking their children to public libraries.  (Which have now become “social centers” with Ute and yentas grumbling at the top of their lungs.)  Divorces and re-marriages multiplied even though that meant that children had fewer resources and less family-support structures in challenging circumstances.  Trust in any and all institutions (understandably) declined.  (Hard to appreciate where those idiot anti-vaxxers come from otherwise.)  In short, the bourgeois social norms that had raised up individual “achievement” and collective “civilization” (along with its many injustices) went into a death spiral.

It would be un-fair to ask college administrators and faculty leaders at any one college or university to have the testicular fortitude to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  So, I’m doing it.

That’s my straw-man.  Knock it to bits.

[1] Although teachers and professors wrote a good deal of commentary in the margins of blue-books and essays.  Less common now because many people just score a rubric.  Leave the student to figure it out on their own.

I’m Running for President in 2020–3.

The Global War on Terror is approaching a new stage.  The Islamic State (ISIS) has been driven out of Iraq and almost destroyed in Syria.  Recently, President Trump ordered a sudden withdrawal of American forces from Syria and announced a desire to do the same from Afghanistan.  Much expert and political opposition arise to slow him down.  Some people argued that the Islamic State had not yet been totally defeated or destroyed.  Parallels were drawn to President Obama’s withdrawal of forces from Iraq.  This had been followed by the rise of the Islamic State and its invasion of Iraq.

Peace talks between the Americans and the Taliban have been proceeding and may be approaching a settlement.   With regard to Afghanistan, two lines of criticism or concern arise.  First, a peace deal with the Taliban will be based up on some kind of compromise or power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and their indigenous Afghan opponents.  What assurance can be offered that the Taliban will honor their commitments?  The Taliban came to power in the first place through victory in a civil war.  Are they likely to pursue the same path again.  Second,  the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban which had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  Who is to say that they will not again become patrons of anti-Western jihad?

In both cases, critics of President Trump argue for a continued American role in what Dexter Filkins called “The Forever War.”  While these critics are experts–and I am not–and they make important points, it seems to me that they fail to address a key question.  “How does this thing end?”  We are at war with an idea–Islamic radicalism–and with global social conditions–the failed states and the failed societies in much of the developing world.  It seems likely that the “defeat” of ISIS will soon be followed by a wild fire of Islamic radical rebellions running from Bangladesh through Indonesia to the southern Philippines.   Islamist movements are on their heels in much of Africa, but the conditions that gave rise to them have not been addressed.

I ask my fellow candidates the following questions.  Are we going to keep military forces in every place an Islamist wild fire has broken, been contained, and burned out in case the embers catch light once again?  Are we going to send military forces to every new place an Islamist wild fire breaks out?  Of course, it will be argued that American military technology and special forces are effective force multipliers.  America can “lead from behind” and on the cheap by assembling” coalitions of the willing” to do much of the fighting.

It might be answered that even these forces are not infinite.  America is not on a real war-footing and has not been since 2001.  A small share of Americans bear the cost of battle.  We develop plans for Operations in each Theater of Operations as it arises, but I see no Strategy for winning the global and forever War.

I am running for President in 2020 1.

I believe that life begins at conception.  (If it didn’t, then women wouldn’t want abortions.)  Let me state plainly: I would never have an abortion.  OK, I’m a 64 year-old guy, so that’s an easy position to take.  At the same time, I’m not willing to shove my personal opinion down the throat of a fifteen year-old black girl in West Philadelphia, living with her mom and grand-mom in some tumbledown row house, and attending what the City of Brotherly Love is pleased to call the public “schools.”  Moreover, with Prohibition and the War on Drugs having been such great successes, I don’t see how a War on Abortion is any more likely to succeed.  Unless, you know, heart-break and misery across multiple generations is what you really want to produce.  Then go ahead, knock yourself out.

 

The same goes for a War on Guns.  Yes, there are things we can do.  We could strictly regulate the sale and possession of all firearms through the Defense Department.  This is what our friends in Mexico do.  Virtually no one in Mexico is allowed to own a firearm of any sort.  This step would could reduce our gun-death rates to Mexican levels.  Furthermore, many deaths are linked to the drug trade.  We should forbid the use of or trade in drugs.

OK, sounding like the mayor on “The Simpsons.”  More realistically, we could end the War on Drugs and we could try to revise the National Firearms Owners Protection Act.  The former promotes a “war for the corners.”  It also promotes a macho “step to him” code of behavior that leads to violence not directly related to the drug trade.  The National Firearm Owners Protection Act restricts the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to closely regulate federally-licensed gun-dealers.  While the vast majority of such dealers are responsible and honest people dealing in a Constitutionally-protected commodity, a tiny minority facilitate straw purchases and suffer “robbery.”  So, let’s knock-off the stuff about the “gun-show loop-hole” and not allowing father-to-son gun transfers without a background check.

 

We should RICO the Catholic Church.  Pennsylvania’s attorney general recently released a report on the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.  Here’s the thing, the AG got the information for the report by gaining access to Church records and then interviewing a lot of parishoners who had been abused.  Well, this scandal has been running for a while now.  Long ago, the Church could have done what the AG later did without breaking a sweat.  If they wanted to know.  Apparently, they didn’t.  Why not?

I suspect that, at some point back in the day there, the American priesthood became a place for gay Irish men to go and hide.  Fine by me.  They were doing God’s work.  If they go sylphing-off to have sex with other gay men, I don’t care.  However, given the anti-gay stance of both the Church and larger society, it exposed them to a terrible vulnerability.  They could be black-mailed by pedophile colleagues.  Pedophiles appear to be a very small segment of any sexual orientation.[1]  But they may have been just as ruthless and predatory toward their fellow-priests as they were toward their child-victims.

So, treat the Church as a criminal conspiracy.

[1] You ever noticed how few girls from Catholic schools have come forward to say “Sr. Mary Elephant copped a feel on my then-almost-non-existent tit”?