The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘parents’ Category

MOTHER, MAY I?

Virtually every American city which has what we euphemistically call an “inner city,” (translation being an area of urban blight and poverty, overcrowding, under-education and where single parent families are the norm), has one thing that provides some constancy.  That is that “progressives” (translation Democrats) have been in control for the better part of half a century or longer and have created the perfect conditions for all of this human tragedy.  While I can’t personally speak to the conditions throughout the country, after thirty-six years of living in Chicago I do feel qualified to address the disaster that city has become.

Moving from Manhattan at age seventeen was not only a nine hundred mile geographical relocation.  I felt as though I had moved back in time by a century.  Truly, I had the sense that I was now living in the Wild West – with all the disadvantages that entailed and few of the benefits of modern 1960’s society.  Perhaps those feelings came from snobbery.  But as involved as I was with classical music, I was shocked that the classical radio station WFMT went off the air at 10:00 p.m., the Chicago Symphony at that time was a mediocre ensemble and Chicago’s “opera scene” was only ten years old.

To usurp a Robert Heinlein title, I felt as though I were A Stranger in a Strange Land.

Well, I adapted.  I found a local store that sold used vinyl and the broadcast void was filled with recordings of all the masters, bought on the cheap.  I became used to the fact that in Chicago you couldn’t buy meat in the grocery stores after six in the evening, even though it was sitting there pre-cut in the display case.  (This was a concession to the butcher’s union).  And I later became aware that on “Days when members of the Illinois General Assembly were being elected, it was illegal to buy a drink at a bar or buy a bottle of liquor in a liquor store during the hours that the polls were open.”  As I was under the legal age to buy liquor at any time and didn’t drink it, I found that law amusing – because as I later came to view the Chicago political process, it seemed to me that the only conditions under which one would voluntarily vote for the hacks who held office for decades was if the voter were completely inebriated at the time of casting his ballot.

I’m not sure how my thirty-six year long experience with crime compared to that of other Chicago residents.  One mugging; one near mugging (rescued by my Irish Setter); one car stolen (twice in six months – the second time permanently); one car vandalized twelve times in sixteen months so the thieves could steal the Blaupunkt radios.  As I said, I don’t know how that experience compared to that of your average Chicagoan.  Nor was any of this the basis for my reason to move to Nevada.

It occurred to me that I was paying the State of Illiniois three percent of my income (now four and one half per cent) for the privilige of residing in the state.  Notwithstanding all the monies that Illinois extracted from its citizens, the state’s budget was completely out of balance, has only gotten worse and Illinois now finds itself right behind Puerto Rico in terms of defaulting on its obligations.  But that was not the motivating reason for moving.  The City of Chicago was.

I had been giving some thought to relocating and felt that I needed a change.  As most of us, myself included, fear change, after thirty-six years this was a big decision.  But what decided me was looking at the City of Chicago’s budget for the year 2001.  Included in that budget was a line item for five million dollars.  The expenditure was for something called an anti-graffitti campaign – to purchase equipment and pay for the manpower to remove the graffitti the city expected would be applied to public buildings in the following year.

Consider the thinking behind this one item.  Rather than attack the problem at its source, apprehending people who applied graffitti, the city’s solution was to tolerate the application of paint to its buildings and then return the buildings to their original appearance – at the taxpayer’s expense.  This “solution” is so typical of government’s approach to problem solving at all levels.  And it is infuriating.

It is akin to a man walking into the Emergency Room of a hospital with a gun shot wound, the bullet still embeded in his abdomen.  The attending physician, rather than removing the bullet, gives the man a narcotic based pain killer to remedy his discomfot.  If that were to happen, you can bet that the hospital and doctor would be served papers as the defendants in a medical malpractice law suit.

Many who self-apply the misnomer, “progressives” to their political philosophy view government intervention as the first step toward creating a paradise on earth.  But with the sort of thinking that treats symptoms rather than addressing the underlying problems, what they and their political minions do is ignore problems to the point that they fester – perhaps beyond repair.  And that is precisely what has happened in Chicago and other major cities.

This being the Memorial Day weekend, Chicago started off last Friday with several murders to give us more people to memorialize.  The first death was a fifteen year old girl and was what inspired this post.

Veronica Lopez’ was the first of four murders last Friday in the Windy City.  She was in a car on Lake Shore Drive and at 1:30 a.m. was gunned down when a car pulled up to the vehicle in which she was riding.  Her car was being driven by an unidentified 28 year old male, the presumed target of the attack.  Veronica was apparently an unintended victim of what the police believe is a gang related shooting.

Those who believe in the efficacy of “nanny government” should be inspired by how effective this form of overseeing our citizenry proved to be in this case.  You see, Chicago, like many other cities passed curfew laws regulating when juveniles might be out on the city’s streets when they are not accompanied by a legal guardian.  In Chicago’s case, all juveniles under the age of eighteen are prohibited from being out after 11:00 p.m. on weeknights.  That law has been on the books for over seventy years.

Veronica Lopez’ death would have been avoided if she merely had obeyed the law.  Her mother, Diana Mercado was understandably distraught at learning of her daughter’s death.  “They took my baby,”  she said.

Well, fifteen year olds don’t always exhibit the best judgment.  But sometimes parents don’t either – as in this case.  Ms. Mercado should ask herself, particularly if she has other children at home, if she is enforcing the sort of discipline that a parent has the right to command of her offspring.

Why did she allow her daughter to violate the curfew law?  Even more to the point in these days when acts of predatory rape are as common as grains of sand on the beach, why did she allow her daughter to hang out with and go driving with a twenty-eight year old male?

As a kid, I used to resent what I viewed as my parents’ over-protectiveness.  If a friend invited me to a party at their apartment, my parents wanted the phone number where I could be reached.  And while I could walk there by myself if it were light out, my father would pick me up if it was dark when the party ended.  This was back in the fifties when it was considerably safer for children than it is today.

But the important thing was that my parents strictly regulated what I could do.  I don’t remember going out more than a few times during my time in grammar and high school years on a school night – and then only after I had completed my homework.

The usual response I received as I requested to go out and asked, “Mother, may I?” was “No.”  I wonder if more parents today exercised their authority, laid down rules for their kids and enforced discipline for infractions of those rules, how many more fifteen year olds might be alive in Chicago – and elsewhere.

HYPOCRITICAL HIPPOCRATS

“With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.”

– The original Hippocratic Oath – third paragraph.

Teddy Papadopoulos and I met during Orientation Week at the University of Chicago.  He was one of the few students among us who was a native Chicagoan.  A lifelong resident of the university’s Hyde Park community, he was brilliant and was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physics.  In any event, we met over what passed for a typical dormitory dinner and both of us had equally unkind comments about the cafeteria’s culinary output.  Naturally, we hit it off and became very good friends – a relationship that exists still today.

Nikos Papadopoulos, Teddy’s father, was an extremely congenial man who was one of the partners in Café Hellas, one of the many restaurants on Halsted Street that comprised Chicago’s Greek Town neighborhood.  He could be seen there six days and nights a week greeting and seating the busy restaurant’s customers, treating regulars and newcomers with the same obvious joy that they had decided to patronize his establishment.

Nikos was an immigrant from Thessalonika who came to the United States when he was eight years old.  He met his wife Diana here.  She was the daughter of a green grocer, one of seven children, six girls and one boy.  They married when he was thirty and she was twenty-six.  Besides Teddy, they had two other boys.  Teddy, by the way, was named for Theodore Roosevelt.  Nikos admired the former president as a person who said what he meant and meant what he said..

Diana was typical of many women in Chicago’s Greek community.  She was, to use an out of date phrase, a homemaker whose enjoyment came from keeping the house neat as a pin and making dinner for her children and on Sunday for her husband when he wasn’t at the restaurant.  She made sure that the kids all looked their best for the lengthy Sunday services at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral which they attended.  She was a warm and very loving person who enjoyed nothing more than giving everyone a hug and if they were short enough like her, a kiss on the cheek.  Although it was never official, I thought of her as a foster mother.

During my third year in school, Diana was hospitalized.  She was in her late forties.  She was, I think more concerned about being away from her family than she was for her own condition.  But she tried to wear a happy face and joked about getting out of the hospital so that she could cook her family dinner.  “By now I’m sure the house is not fit for pigs to live in,” she said on one of my visits.  That was the visit when she got the news.

Teddy and I were in her room when a specialist whom she had not seen before came in.  He had the results of the tests and the lab work that had been conducted over the previous ten days – and had an analysis.  His name was Dr. M., an oncologist.

Without so much as a, “Hi, how are you,” he introduced himself.  Perhaps you’ve heard of bedside manner.  Well, Dr. M. had obviously cut that class.

“I have reviewed your tests and your lab work and I need to tell you that you have cancer of the pancreas.  It’s inoperable and there’s no treatment.  Based on the progression of the cancer I estimate that you have at most four to five months to live.  I’m sorry.”

And he turned on his heel and left the room.

Diana burst into tears and Teddy rushed to his mother’s bed, sat down and put his arms around her.  I was so shocked, my mouth wide open at the ruthless way in which this physician had delivered his news that I didn’t know what to do.  But in a few second my shock turned into serious anger.  I have only been really angry three times in my life – and this was one of them.  I rushed from the room to find the doctor, half intent on slugging him.

When I caught up with him I grabbed his arm and said, “Excuse me.”   By now my blood pressure was returning to only twice its normal range.  “I can’t believe that you as a trained medical practitioner who is supposed to try to help people could have told that poor woman her prognosis in such a cold and uncaring manner.  You should be ashamed of yourself.”

He replied, “Why?  She’s a dead woman.  If I waste my time on her I might be putting someone at risk whom I could actually help.”  And he walked off.

I remember standing there for a few minutes, totally numb, completely shocked and feeling the tears run down both my cheeks.  And then I returned to Diana’s room.

Well, Dr. M. was fairly correct.  But Diana lived seven months from that date and the outpouring of love and grief from her friends and members of the closely knit Greek community was amazing.  There were well over four hundred people who attended her funeral that September.

“Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.”

– The original Hippocratic Oath – fourth paragraph.

The original Oath has been changed many times.  Obviously, were the above portion of it still in effect there would be no abortions performed by any physicians who swore to it nor would we have things such as the “morning after” pill.

This week a pro life group released an undercover video in which Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatolo discusses in a very off handed, dismissive and clinical manner the method of performing abortions so as to “extract the most tissue which can then be furnished for research.”  The link to the video and a CNN piece on what has become a very controversial issue can be found below.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/health/planned-parenthood-undercover-video/

One of the counter attacks by those who are Pro Abortion is that the video was edited.  So is every movie that is released by Hollywood and every news story that appears in print.  Many years ago I had two separate three hour conversations with a Wall Street Journal staff writer and when the piece on which she was working, appeared in the paper she had reduced our conversation to two lines.  Editing is not the issue.  Nor is the motivation of the group that produced it – so long as the facts presented are actually the facts.

What really is the issue, something about which people who are both Pro Abortion and Pro Life should be concerned, is the level of ethics – both in our society generally and by extension among our medical practitioners.  In a self-centered, self-absorbed society that is a serious question.

Presumably, most of us would have no question about returning a guilty verdict in the case of a mother who suffocated her three  year old Downs Syndrome child because she couldn’t handle the stress of dealing with a youngster with this disability.  So why then would we applaud the woman for aborting that child as a fetus if it were clear the child would be born with this genetic defect?  Or for that matter, a child who would be born with Cystic Fibrosis?  Or for that matter, a child who was a female when the parents wanted a boy?  Or a child whose hair color would be red when they wanted a blond?

Today, whatever your philosophy, this is a choice that is purportedly left to the parent.  But those who press most strongly for further government entrenchment in our lives may not fully perceive where their efforts, if successful, may lead.

Because the truth is that government might one day decide that the right to reproduce is not a right but a privilege and it is they, (in the interest of the greater good) who should determine to whom that privilege should be granted and to whom it should be denied.

After all, the right to have children is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, that venerable document that receives as little attention from those on the left as some members of the medical community pay to the original Hippocratic Oath.

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART II

It was the final Friday of school, the last day I would enjoy the comfortable security of Mrs. Bounds class.  I liked Mrs. Bounds.  She used to tell us about growing up on a small farm in Canada.  It sounded like a good life – but a lot of work.  She and her four siblings were expected to do their part planting and harvesting the crops and collecting the eggs.  I knew I was going to miss her.

When the bell rang, a sense of jubilation ran through the room.  It was electric as my classmates rushed to get out and start their summer, dumping their books in the trash as they left.  Some couldn’t even bother with that formality and merely left them on or by their desks.  I took my books, cleaned out my desk, wondered for a moment who in the next class would sit in my seat the following  year.  But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that.  I had a mission I needed to start.

During the two weeks from the time I had asked Mr. Tiffany’s permission, I had already set the wheels in motion.  There was a Gristede’s grocery store between my apartment and school and I had gone in several times to ask if they had any cardboard boxes that they would be able to give me.  I already had nine boxes and grandma had picked up another four at some other stores.  Our small apartment was starting to look like a cardboard jungle.

Grandma had allowed me to use the wire grocery cart that she wheeled behind her when she went on her shopping trips to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  It was waiting for me in our foyer when I got home.  I put my books on the desk and immediately returned to school.

I had decided to start on the top floor and work my way down.  The top floor where the older kids had their classrooms was the fourth floor.  I maneuvered the somewhat flimsy cart up the stairs and began by going into the furthest room from the stairwell.  I wanted to be able to track which rooms I had emptied and which might still contain some treasure.

I only completed picking up the books from two rooms and my cart was piled high.  But it was too heavy for me to wheel easily so I had to pull half the books I had accumulated out and put them inside the door of the second room.  I could see this was going to be a bigger project than I anticipated.  With some trepidation I approached the stairwell and the three flights down to the street.

It was pretty difficult getting that first load down the stairs because the cart’s wheels weren’t very thick and it listed from side to side as I gently tried to coax it along.  When I got my load downstairs and started to pull it home, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to collect all the books that I knew were discarded.  I only had three hours until the school would be locked so I revised my plan.  I decided to attack the lower floors first in the interest of saving some time on the stairwells.

Back and forth, load after load.  I was not only getting tired but hungry.  And dinner was going to be ready soon.  I had pretty much resolved that I couldn’t do much more and that I should make this my last load when I encountered Mr. Tiffany.  I hadn’t expected him to be there.

He asked how my project was going.  I explained that I had hoped to clear out the entire school but I hadn’t even finished the first floor classrooms.  I think he sensed that I was both tired and a little disappointed.

Then he said he had some paperwork to do on Saturday and that he would be at the school from nine to one in the afternoon if I wanted to keep working at my project.  By this time my legs were feeling so wobbly and my back was getting sore from loading books at school and unloading them at home.  But I didn’t want to look like a quitter so I thanked him and said I would be back in the morning.  I wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling that commitment.

While she was cooking, Grandma had filled most of the boxes with the books I had brought home.  Even one of my favorite dinners of liver, bacon, onions and a baked potato with a nice salad wasn’t able to erase the fatigue that overwhelmed me.  And her home made apple strudel merely reinforced my need to sleep.  I went to bed within ten minutes of eating dinner.

The next morning I woke to a nice breakfast and then back to school.  As I pulled my cart, I saw that Mr. Tiffany was walking down the street.  He reached the front door precisely at nine o’clock.  I finished the first floor and a few rooms on the second, making another six round trips.  And then I could see from the clock on the wall of the study hall that it was two minutes to one.

I walked down to Mr. Tiffany’s office, pulling my cart and knocked on his door.  He invited me to come in and I said that I had done all I could and wanted to thank him for letting me work on Saturday and wished him a pleasant summer.  He smiled and wished me the same.

After church on Sunday, dad and I loaded up the car.  That took over an hour and we headed down to Barnes and Noble.  Dad went in while I stayed with the car since we were double parked and dad had turned on the flashers.  He returned with two young employees who helped carry our boxes inside while two other employees began calculating their value.  When the final box was unloaded, dad spotted a parking space, told me to wait on the sidewalk by the front door and hurriedly parked the car.

By the time he and I went into the store, the clerks who had been pulling out the books had only two more boxes to evaluate.  It only took them a few minutes and then they told us the total they would pay me.  When they said, “The value of your books is $1,085.50” I’m sure my mouth widened enough to have put a small cantaloupe in it.  And immediately I thought, “I didn’t even finish two floors.”  I later learned that my old enemy envy had brought with him another vice, greed.

Dad smiled at me and said, “Good job,” and collected the money from the cashier.  I had never seen so much money.  When we got in the car to drive home, he handed the cash to me and asked if I had given thought to what I was going to do with it.  Since I had been hoping perhaps to earn one hundred dollars, this large amount was far beyond my expectations.  I had made no plans for its use.

At dinner that evening my new found wealth was the only subject of conversation.  Grandma who was typically direct had remembered that Mr. Tiffany had suggested a contribution to the school.  She didn’t ask me whether I was going to do that.  She simply asked, “So how much will you be giving to your school?”  Nothing escaped this lady’s attention.  And a question such as that coming from her was less of an inquiry than it was a demand that I behave responsibly.

I thought about it for a minute and asked, “Would three hundred dollars be good?”  I winced a little as I computed that was three years’ allowance – gone in one moment.  She nodded, “That would be good.  And I’ll bake a box of cookies for you to give Mr. Tiffany.  By the time you start school it will be cool enough to bake.”

On my first day of the new school year, mom closed her store early and met me at Mr. Tiffany’s office as the school day was concluding  She carried with her grandma’s cookies and the envelope containing the three hundred dollars and my handwritten note (my mother oversaw its composition) which read:

Dear Mr. Tiffany,

Thank you for giving me the chance to earn some extra money.  Enclosed please find three hundred dollars ($300) which I would like you to accept on behalf of the school.  My grandma baked some cookies to thank you – but they wouldn’t fit in the envelope so they’re in a separate box.

Very truly yours,

 

I thought up the last line myself and when my mother read it she laughed.  But she allowed me to keep it in my thank you note.

Mr. Tiffany thanked mom and me and we went home.  He didn’t open either the envelope or the box of cookies while we were there, but it seemed to me that after that he always had a little extra smile for me when we passed in the hallway and I received the Good Citizenship Award that year.

As to the rest of the money, I made my first stock investments, five shares of Celanese Corporation of America and three shares of Dow Chemical.  The remainder went into my college fund.

My classmates still lived in their fancy co-operative apartments on Park Avenue and they still received distributions from their trust funds.  But I had something that none of them could claim.  With the help of my family and my school, I had taken an idea and turned it into a reality.  That was an accomplishment which no one ever would be able to take from me.

I was ten years old when this happened.   And that was a very good year for me.

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART I

Having the opportunity to receive a private school education had both its benefits and its drawbacks.  As a child, only the negatives were clear to me and it would be many years before I recognized the advantages I had received because of my parents’ self-sacrifice so that I could attend.  But the most important lesson that I learned was that what I thought of as a disadvantage when I was a schoolchild was actually a great character builder and provided one of my most important early life lessons.

That big negative to my young mind was that I was the poorest kid in my class.  No one had to point this out.  I figured it out on my own.  I knew where my classmates lived and I knew where I lived.  I knew the amount of my allowance and I knew my classmates got three or four times as much.  I knew that my classmates’ dads were doctors and stock brokers and my dad was in sales.  And I knew that I was the only child in my class whose mother worked.  And with all that knowing I came to know envy.  And it ate at me quietly, stealthily, continuously.  I didn’t like my new guest – but I didn’t know how to rid myself of him.

It was mid-May and the school year was drawing to a close.  Because part of our tuition paid for our schoolbooks we were free to take those home and keep them if we wanted to review their contents.  But most of my classmates couldn’t wait to dump them in our class wastebaskets when our last class was finished – as if to say they had been given a reprieve from the oppression of having to learn – at least during their summer vacation.  I had seen that behavior play out the previous two years.

I happened to be looking through the newspaper one night and saw an ad that Barnes and Noble had placed.  The ad said that they bought used school texts.  And an idea came to me.  Maybe they would buy all those thrown out textbooks that my schoolmates couldn’t wait to consign to the trash.  So I called and asked if they would buy fourth and fifth grade textbooks.  The young woman who answered my call said, “Barnes and Noble will buy all school texts.”  After I thanked her I got very excited and couldn’t wait to discuss my idea with my parents – to collect all the textbooks that were thrown out and sell them to this bookseller.

Over a baked chicken dinner that night I told my father what I wanted to do and asked if he would help me.  Before he answered, he took a moment, tilted his head and his always kindly eyes seemed to moisten a little bit.  He said, “If that’s alright with your school, I’ll be happy to help you.  But you need to ask the principal for permission.”

The following day I was at school a little earlier than usual.  I went to my homeroom and Mrs. Bounds was writing on the chalk board when I walked in.  I asked her if I could have permission to see Mr. Tiffany.  I had something to ask him.  She agreed and I left the room and walked quickly down the stairs to his office.

When Mr. Tiffany’s secretary showed me in, my heart skipped a beat.  My interaction with him was limited to watching him on the stage during assembly leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and to three days when he taught my English class when our teacher was out with the flu.  Most of us kids did not voluntarily seek out an audience with him.  And those who were sent there by their teacher always appeared a bit shaken by the experience.  He was a tough cookie.  Tough – but fair.

I was relying on that rumor of fairness to get me through and I hoped that I would be able to spill out the words in a sensible way to make my case.

Mr. Tiffany sat behind his desk as I explained why I had sought an audience with him.  He listened attentively as he placed his hands on the blotter in front of him.  His hands and fingers never moved once he had properly placed them and he never took his eyes off mine.  Finally, I had presented my request as best I could.  I remember feeling nervous to be in front of him as a penitent, begging that he would grant me this small sop.

Perhaps a minute after I had concluded he finally spoke.  Here it was.  The pronouncement.  The verdict.  The final judgment from which there could be no appeal.  As he began to speak I could feel my pulse pounding.

“How did you like your school year,?” he asked.  I had no idea why he would ask me that.  That wasn’t the reason for my visit.  But if it came from our principal there had to be a reason – unfathomable to a mere student.

“I liked school very much this year – especially math and history,” I answered.  I wanted him to get to the point of my request.  But he kept on talking about my experience and what I had learned.  And the more he talked about academics, the surer I was that he was going to deny my request.

But he finally paused, leaned back a bit in his chair and said, “The fact that you’re trying to be enterprising shows initiative.  We hope to encourage that in our students and I’m happy to allow you to engage in your project.  There is only one thing I would like you to consider.”

I had no idea what it was he wanted me to consider since I already had a plan for how I was going to pull off this money making venture.

“It would be thoughtful, when you sell the textbooks, if you would consider making a donation of part of your earnings to the school.  Whether you do or not is up to you.  And if there isn’t anything else with which I can help you today, it’s time for you to return to your classes.”  And with that I was dismissed.

In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll tell you how this ended.

BENEFITS

In the course of twenty-six years in the executive search business I don’t know how many times a candidate for a position asked me the question, “What are the benefits that come with this job?”

I realize that “benefits” are part of a total compensation package.  Generally, they were worth between ten to fifteen percent of the base salary the prospective employee would receive in dollar pay.  So it always astounded me if the prospective employer were likely to give an applicant a new starting salary that was twenty to thirty cent above his present compensation why there should be such a concern about the extra benefits that came with the job.  To me, the greatest “benefit” of a position was having enough money in the bank to be able to pay the bills, put money aside for savings and take the rest and have some fun.

We have become a country that has lost focus on the potential of a job, a business or a career and have become absorbed with “benefits.”  We have also become a country where more of our citizens have decided that having a job is either demeaning or not worth their trouble because the “benefits” that government is showering on them makes it easier to sit home, eat some chips and watch the tube.

If a person followed a particular path for fifty years and found that path led nowhere, it has to be hard to admit that he went down the wrong road.  Or maybe he simply lies to himself and says, I know my destination is only a few more years further along.  That is exactly what our welfare programs have done since LBJ got the ball rolling with the Great Society.

If you are a regular reader you know that I am not a fan of the president.  But Obama came out with what may be the first acknowledgement that has occurred from the Democrats in fifty years that there is a deeper, more fundamental problem – a real human problem – that throwing benefits at our poor population will not fix.  It is a problem of family and a problem of education – or more correctly – a lack of them.  For that I applaud him.

The president pointed out that in many black homes there are few if any educational emphases placed by the family which often consists of a single mother parent.  This retards a child’s learning ability from an early age and that disability carries with him throughout his educational career.  Thus, many black children are left at the starting gate which is already behind the place from which other children begin the race.

Providing an environment through pre-school may improve a child’s chance to gain a desire to learn and to acquire good study habits.  That would certainly be a plus.  But if we consider the amount of time that children spend at school versus the time they are at home it is important to realize that they spend more time with their parent or parents than with their teacher.  If the home environment does not support or see a value for education that will in some measure mitigate negatively the positive influence of schooling.

The president touched on the fact (though he cited statistics that underestimated the real numbers) that a large percentage of black children are born out of wedlock and are raised in homes where only a mother is present.  He further cited the fact that coming from a single parent home, a child had a far lower chance of either competing or excelling in school and that consequently there were only poorer paying jobs for which he would qualify later in life.  This is at the heart of the problem – educational under-achievement being a derivative of the actual problem.

The entire basis of our welfare and for that matter our tax system encourages people to have additional children either through increased welfare payments or additional tax deductions.  While people may realize that having additional children brings with it additional responsibilities and additional costs, there have been many cases of people who view having additional children as a way to increase their income.  So if the president wants to address this problem fully he should offer some welfare reform plan which would minimize that thinking and the current reality.

As a role model for the black community, the president may make a difference in dealing with what is a national problem.  But while religious faith may be waning in other sectors of the populace, the influence of pastors in black churches remains very strong.  They, more than any politician, are likely to carry the most influence on the members of their congregations.  And if there is to be a sea change in what has become a generational problem it will be up to them to set an example and preach the message.

There may be some who look at the record we have amassed in trying to deal with poverty, discrimination and ignorance and will say, “Great, another government program that won’t work.”  Perhaps some will secretly find anger in the fact that the president specifically addressed this as a program for young black children.

But the fact is that uneducated, unskilled people turn to crime just to survive and all of us are potential victims of their ignorance and need.  Anything that we do to improve their future has a direct impact on all of us.  And if this program does make a difference, that would be a benefit to all of us.

THE BULLY

Bullies have always existed and probably always will.  For whatever reason there are some who are so insecure that they must find someone whom they believe to be weaker than they to push around so that the bully can feel an importance that is born in cruelty rather than in conscience.

I knew a few bullies as a child and several more as an adult.  The pattern for the children was always the same – find a victim who was weaker or who was different from most – and launch attacks, physical or verbal – with the hope that their prey would cry or run away in fear.

The adults who were probably bullies as a child have changed their pattern of behavior – but only slightly.  They exhibit less physicality but more verbal abuse – particularly if their target was a different color or of a different ethnicity or different in any other way.

In order for the bully to take full pleasure in his torture it is important that he or she have an audience to appreciate him.  This gives him validation.  And usually those who gravitate in his circle are even weaker than he, gaining their own self-esteem by being in the presence of such a mighty person.

We are reading and hearing more about bullies – from how they harassed a young girl so badly that she took her own life – to a professional football player who left the Miami Dolphins because of his teammates’ incessant jeers and taunts.  So naturally, being the caring people whom we are, we will pass laws and stiffen penalties for those who engage in this blood sport.  And we will walk away from our legislative chambers with a smug sense that we have done our duty.

It does not surprise me that there seems to be more of this going around today than when I was a kid.  If there is one fundamental thing that ran through the bullies I knew as a child it was this – not one of them was ever courteous or thoughtful of others.  On the other hand their most noticeable characteristic was rude and loud behavior – as though to shout out to the world, “Hey, look at me.  I’m important.”

Perhaps they had to shout that loudly to quash the thoughts that ran through their self-absorbed minds that they were anything but important.  These were lonely, arrogant children who almost certainly grew into adults with the same deficiencies and longings to be needed.

It’s interesting that the two bullies who come to mind from my childhood were both from wealthy families, still they were latchkey kids – if you can call a very expensive co-operative apartment with twenty-four hour doormen on Park Avenue a ramshackle shack.  But their parents were both too involved in their own lives to pay much attention to their offspring.  They had nannies and cooks and servants, but they lacked the most essential elements that can turn a malleable child into a bully.  They lacked the love and attention and direction of their parents.

If bullying is on the rise it should surprise none of us.  What is left of the family unit is so distracted that it seems that staying together is more a matter of indifference than desire.  Obviously, there are many exceptions to that statement – but they are the exceptions rather than  the rule.

Passing a law to punish the effects of bullying is about as useful as trying to put a poached egg back into its broken shell.  Laws are punitive in nature rather than pro-active, and if we are to address the question of bullying effectively, we need to look at the cause rather than punish the result.

If a person has a good sense of his own self-worth, he or she is far less likely to become the subject of a bully’s malevolence.  The bully is essentially a coward and must find someone whom he believes is even weaker than he in order to achieve his goal of torment.  I know that in my case I was able to develop a reasonable sense of self-worth through the efforts and love of my parents and teachers.

I remember one particular incident when a kid who was three grades ahead of me began picking on one of my classmates – someone whom I really liked.  It was, of course, before Facebook.  Back in those days, the bully needed more guts than today and had to confront his victim face to face.

It began with little things like jostling my friend in the hallway.  And then there was tampering with his locker.  Nothing that you could really point your finger to as being threatening, but a pattern began to emerge and these little incidents became more frequent.  It began to wear on my friend and to have an effect on his performance in school.

I think that everyone in our class was aware of what was happening.  And we all were silent.  And it is in the silence of those who standby from which the bully gains strength.  But I’m sure my thoughts were much the same as my other classmates’.  “Better him than me.”  That is the statement of the ultimate coward.

Well, one day the bully got over exuberant and body checked my friend into a hallway.  Enough was enough.  I knew what he was doing was wrong.  And, more importantly, I knew that what I was doing – saying nothing – was just as wrong.  So I finally spoke out – in a loud voice and with a great deal of fear in my heart, “Hey, cut that out.”  My body was shaking as I expected to be the next one tossed against the wall.

What happened next surprised me.  This kid who was four years older than I looked stunned that anyone had stood up to him.  The best he could come back with was, “Yeah, you gonna make me?”

I don’t know where I came up with this but I said, “Maybe I’m not as big as you but with Timmy and me and our gang we can take you.  Now get out of here and leave us alone.”  And he left – and that was the end of Timmy’s being bullied by him.  I was never so scared in my life as when I uttered those words.  Neither Timmy nor I were fighters – and we didn’t have a gang.

As I thought about the recent episodes of bullying which made the news, I reflected back on a person who was the subject of a lot of sniggering when she tried to make a name for herself in the world of entertainment.  She wasn’t what most people would describe as attractive.  Sadly, most people make their judgments based on looks and if they don’t like what they see there, they never allow themselves the time to understand a person’s substance.

This Scottish lady’s name is Susan Boyle, and the video is a recording of her first performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.”  Fortunately, despite the audience’s and the judges’ initial reaction, Susan had the internal fortitude to stand in front of an audience and sing her song – fortunate both for her and for the world.

And that’s a lesson from which both bullies and their would be victims can learn.

A TALE OF TWO FOREIGNERS

There were two young men living in America.  One came from Canada.  The other from Australia.  One was a high school dropout.  The other was a college student on scholarship.  One was a television star.  The other was an athlete.  One died at the age of 31 of a heroin overdose.  The other died at the age of 22 of a bullet in the back.  The death of the first one was immediately covered by the news media.  The death of the second got very little attention.  One of these young men was Cory Monteith.  The other was Christopher Lane.

Every needless death is a tragedy.  It causes those of us who believe in God to wonder why He allows these to happen.  That is an honest question and one for which most of us have no compelling answer.  It is something that troubles me about the deaths of both these young men.

But while I have now heard some commentary from our left wing about the reason that Christopher Lane was murdered by three teenagers – according to them it’s because we don’t have sufficiently restrictive gun laws – I have heard nothing about Cory Monteith’s suicide from heroin other than outpourings of sympathy for him and his girl friend.

Sadly the underlying reason that these two men died has little to do with illegal firearms or illicit drugs.  Those were merely the means to the end.  The cause of both deaths was the same.  That is that we have embraced a culture that has turned its back on traditional values and replaced them with self-gratification.

We have reinvented the 1960’s whose mantra was, “Sex, drugs and rock and roll.”  Today we’ve modified that to, ”Sex, drugs, rap, hip hop and murder.”  In the ‘60’s those who took up the credo were to be found in Haight Ashbury or Woodstock.  They were a fringe element and represented relatively few Americans’ attitudes.  Today, that equation has changed.

Those who are the self-gratified are the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers.  We called them Gen X and Gen Y – but we should have named them Gen Degenerate.  Thankfully, there are exceptions within these groups – people who were fortunate enough to be born into families that emphasized those old fashioned traditional values and where their children heard and respected that message.  But if empirical observation is any guide, their percentage of this collective is small.

I thought I would look at one expression of our traditional Judaeo-Christian values, the Ten Commandments and look at how our attitudes toward them has changed from when I learned them as a child and how today’s children (and adults) observe them.

1.  You shall have no other gods before Me.

What are today’s gods?  The latest electronic gadget; going to the hippest night club; promiscuous and indiscriminate sexual relations; getting dope and getting high; the list goes on …

2.  You shall make no idols.

See Hollywood celebs, NBA and NFL superstars and  rock stars.

3.  You shall not take the name of the lord your God in vain.

OMG.

4.  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Most of us live in a 24/7 world and one day is pretty much like any other one.  Besides, Sunday is meant to worship at the altar of pro football – and just so we can include our Jewish citizens and Seventh Day Adventists – on Saturdays we have college ball.

5.  Honor your father and your mother.

In order to honor them you have to know who they are.  With our exploding illegitimacy rates that is a challenge for many of our children.

6.  You shall not murder.

See the opening of this piece, the daily newspaper and the tabloids.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.

No comment necessary.

8.  You shall not steal.

See convenience stores armed robberies, welfare fraud, and federal government waste.

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

In the absence of any higher power to whom we must answer, the import and consequences of taking an oath are virtually non-existent.  “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” essentially has no meaning in a society which doesn’t recognize absolute values and where everything is relative.

10.  You shall not covet.

Whether it’s the latest phone, the hottest gym shoes or anything else that we can get consumers to buy, corporate marketing strategies appeal directly to the consumer’s sense of greed and lust and teach us that “It’s cool to have the latest trendy thing and so gross to be wearing or using something that is out of date.”

Perhaps I’m no different than Gen Degen and am merely a product of my upbringing – or lack of it.  I have to admit that possibility.  And I have to be honest and say that I have broken a commandment or two during the course of my life.

But perhaps the difference is that I knew that I had done something that violated the values which I had been taught, felt guilty and tried to reform.  I was ashamed of my behavior and that shame helped me avoid, or at least minimize, further repetitions.

If our children are not taught that there are standards and values, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we live in an “anything goes” society.  And there will be more reports about self-inflicted deaths like Cory Monteith’s and mindless murders like Chris Lane’s.  To me, the second of these is the true tragedy – both for the victim, his friends and family, and for all of us who hope to live peacefully in a civilized society.

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