The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘children’


If you thought from the song that this post was going to be about music, the lost art of letter writing or the post office I’m sorry to disillusion you.  I just happen to like the song, haven’t heard it in years and when it suddenly came to mind it provided the inspiration for what is to follow.  Today we’re going to talk about letters – those little funny symbols which are the building blocks of our language and which you are currently reading.  I know that all those who stop by here can read since I seldom include pictures in these posts.

But let’s get down to business.

One day I was perfectly happy, sitting at home when my parents announced that I was going to be going to something called school.  Heck, I was barely potty trained and still had to make occasional mad rushes to the bathroom hoping that I could loosen my belt in time.  I’m pleased to report that I was successful at this endeavor – usually.

Anyway, my parents explained that school was a place where you learned things and met new friends.  Sounded good to me.  So I went.

Well, sure as the sun rises in the east, I found myself in school with a bunch of kids I had never seen before and a lady who introduced herself as Mrs. Scott.  She was going to be our teacher for the entire school year.  She seemed very grandmotherly with her beautifully coiffed grey hair, but at this point my greatest concern was knowing where the bathroom was – because of those occasional accidents, don’t you know?

As luck would have it, our classroom was as far from the bathroom on our floor as it possibly could be.  So I planned on making sure that if even the slightest urges started to overtake me, I would ask for permission to go and if I had to sit on the potty for a half hour before something happened, at least I would avoid the ignominy of messing myself.

Anyway, we were all assigned to a particular desk which stood on a metal base to which both the desk and our seat were attached and which had a wooden top that opened so that we had a place within the desk to keep our school supplies.  Those consisted of a pad of very yellow lined paper that felt coarse to the touch and had chunks of wood pulp stuck in it and a couple of the biggest pencils that you had ever seen – or at least the biggest that I had ever seen.  I mean seriously, they were so large that when I found out that I was supposed to make marks on the yellow paper with them, I had to hoist the end with the eraser so that it rested on my shoulder in order to maneuver it.  Well, I was a small kid.

Of course, it never occurred to me that there were no warning labels on the pencils that we should not eat them as it might result in lead poisoning.  In fact, in those days, I’m not sure if we had warning labels on anything – and somehow most of us made it through.  But as I later found out, there was probably no reason for such a notification as most of the kids who got lead poisoning did so by eating the paint from the walls of their apartments.

Above our blackboard were individual pieces of  heavy paper on which were written something I found out were called letters.  They came in two versions – big and not so big.  Learning these was one of our first orders of business – and Mrs. Scott led us in the familiar jingle that begins, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G …” – well if you’re over forty you know the rest and I won’t bore you with it.  If you’re under forty you can google it.  Mrs. Scott always began our recitation with the letter “A”.  We were a very conservative school.  It never crossed my mind that doing so somehow diminished the value of L,G B T or Q by making them take a back seat, not to mention the other twenty letters.

But as I’ve learned that we must be sensitive to and respectful of all things (letters being a sub-set of all things), I’ve written to my school and suggested that they have an annual random drawing to determine which letter should be first, which second, etc. during that particular school year.  That way every letter has an equal opportunity to shine.  I have a set of missives going out to the publishers of dictionaries with the suggestion that they list words in their books in the same way.

Anyway, to get back to our subject, I learned that when you put certain letters together in a certain order they could form something called words.  Of course, if you just combined them willy-nilly you might accidentally get words but were more likely to get gobbledygook.  As I mentioned earlier we were a very conservative school so at age five they weren’t teaching us sex education – or even that there was a sexual tension that existed between letters.  That’s something that I had to figure out on my own.  And for those of you who have missed it, this is your lucky day.

Take the letters “K” and “R”.  They sometimes have a very intimate, nuzzling relationship standing strong together against the world.  But they also have a sort of Dominator/Submissive relationship as well.  Fortunately, they have found a way to work out their relationship without having to resort to a court of law and both of them share the opportunity to be in a position of control.

Think about it.  “K” and “R” can be together in that order to start a word, “Kruller” comes to mind.  But they cannot end a word in that same order.  On the other hand, “R” and “K” can end a word in that order, as in “Landmark” but can never begin a word in that position.  What a perfect example of harmony and mutual respect.

Mrs. Scott informed us that some of the letters were called “Vowels” and others were called “Consonants”.  There were five vowels and twenty-one consonants – except that “Y” sometimes was a vowel and sometimes was a consonant.  I guess in today’s parlance one could say that “Y” was a transgendered letter depending on its mood.  This would have been useful information because if I had known about all this I would certainly have done a thorough investigation of any “Y’s” I brought along with me as I sat straining on the potty for a half hour.

Now there are some letters which are so strong and powerful that their mere presence at the beginning of a word makes that word so sacrosanct that we cannot even speak its full name but call if by its first letter.  The “N” word, the “F” word and the “B” word are examples.  This, of course, is a recent improvement to the language brought about through the creation of “emojis” which came into being so that people with limited vocabularies could communicate with other people with limited vocabularies and do so by using a total stranger’s idea of how they should convey their feelings.

This movement towards condensation has been going on for some time.  It’s at least a half century that we began referring to more and more things by acronyms or initials although there seems to have been a geometric increase in the numbers of such things which occur in our speech.  Perhaps that’s a function of convenience although my personal belief is that trend has been far more influenced by the lack of ability on the part of much of our population to spell words correctly.  To them, should the publishers of dictionaries follow my suggestion, it will make very little difference.

So what does all this have to do with the 2016 election.  (If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you knew we would get to that).

Most of us are aware of the rise of a radical, hateful and otherwise despicable group of people who have called themselves by three separate sets of letters during their brief existence:  IS, ISIL, ISIS.  Those translate into “Islamic State”; “Islamic State in the Levant”; “Islamic State in Syria.”

Republicans regularly refer to their version of dismembering and murdering people as “Radical Islamic extremism”.  Democrats including President Obama and front runner candidate Ms. Hillary Clinton refer to them merely as “Radical extremists”.  The Democrats argue that by using the word “Islamic” to describe these bastards we somehow will be offending the vast majority of Muslims who are as horrified as the rest of the world at their activities.  But wait a minute Madam Secretary Dunderbutt.

How can you possibly offend (not that we should really be too concerned for that as the basis for establishing a policy on how to combat these people) when they describe themselves using the very word you seek to avoid using at all costs?

Well, it’s late, I’m tired and I think I’ve pretty much exhausted my entire knowledge of letters.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll attack numbers.  But then again, maybe not.  Check back to see what’s in store.  And remember on this blog, “What you see is what you get.”

That’s probably why I’ve never considered running for public office.


Mea culpa – I confess it.  I love math.  I’ve always loved math.  It comes very naturally to me and I revel in its precision.  I guess it’s for the same reason that I enjoy crosswords and jigsaw puzzles and those games where you have to get from point A to point B by drawing a line through a maze without running into the barricades while en route.  When you get the right answer or complete the puzzle, you have the reward of knowing that you accomplished something.

So here’s a math-ish question for you.  Now before I state the question, you might be thinking that I read this on a five hour flight and who is seated next to me but a man who spilled half a bottle of Gaucho Boy Cologne (primary ingredient being horse sweat).  So I picked up the In Flight magazine to see if there are any ads or stories which pique my interest – but primarily I am going to use the magazine to fan myself to keep the cologne odor as dispersed as possible.

I turn to page 33 and this is the question.

“You and some friends have gone out to dinner.  You are extremely happy both with the food and the service your pleasant server provided.  The bill comes to $200.00.  What would be a good (my italics) tip to leave your server?”

Answers (Multiple choice, of course):

A:  15%

B:  20%

C.  25%

D.  50%

Frankly, that is just the kind of question that I might expect to find in an In Flight magazine.  But that is not where I read it.

That question appears in a seventh grade “math” book that is currently in use in the Las Vegas School District.  One of the children in the neighborhood was carrying this text home from school.  As a matter of curiosity I asked her if I might take a look at it.  In flipping through the pages this question caught my eye and as that was the last day of the school year, I asked if she would lend the book to me overnight, which she did.

If you remember my opening paragraphs, I enjoy math because it is precise.  There is a right answer and every other answer is incorrect.  There is absolutely nothing that is precise about this “math” question as it merely asks for a value judgment.  In fact, other than the fact that there is an amount stated for the bill and various percentages are given as potentials to be applied to that bill for the tip, there is nothing mathematical in the question.  The children are not asked to compute a tip amount – perhaps because the question assumes that their calculators or smart phones will always return the “correct” answer once the multiplier is input.

This was not the only such question in this textbook.  So I wondered who wrote this piece of garbage.  Only mildly to my surprise, one of the contributors to the book was the “Education Committee of the S. E. I. U.”  If you don’t know what those initials mean, they stand for the Service Employees International Union.  Parenthetically, that union represents, among other people, restaurant servers.

So here’s my take on the whole thing.  We have one union (S.E.I.U.) writing questions which it supplies to another union (The Teachers’ Union) which, of course, accepts them.  The question serves more to the benefit of propaganda than it does to the mathematics purportedly being taught in the book.  This seems not to bother members of either union.  If there’s no such term as crony-unionism, I think I’ll just coin it now.

The kids get brain-washed into an agenda which benefits members of the S.E.I.U. (notice that the lowest answer given is what most people accept as a normal tip) and the Teachers Union member who is instructing the class doesn’t really have to bother grading any papers since it would be hard to argue that any of these answers was either correct or incorrect.

And that’s education in America today.  It certainly adds fire to the argument in favor either of private or home schooling.

“In the first place God made idiots.  That was for practice.  Then he made school boards.”  – Mark Twain


In a post from January,  I spoke of how my grandmother, mom and aunt survived the Great Depression.  Food was both scarce and sacred.  I will never forget grandma saying at dinner, “Now eat everything because there are children in China who are starving.”   I always took her admonition seriously and my plate was always clean.

It still bothers me today when food is wasted.

When I lived in Chicago, an acquaintance who was a public school teacher told me that in his school, the milk which was provided at luncheon for the students which went unconsumed was dumped at the end of the day.

“Dumped,” I asked.  “You mean thrown out?”

“Yes,” he replied.

This bothered me immensely on several levels.

First, of course, was the sheer waste.  Second, why couldn’t the unopened cartons be gathered up and distributed to children who were poor?  I’ve bought a few gallons of milk in my time and I know that they usually come with a ten day to two week expiration before the milk sours.  Third, the National School Lunch Program has been an ongoing Federal program since 1940.  This program subsidizes the distribution of milk to school children and that subsidy is paid for by the taxpayers.  What an incredible waste of taxpayer money.

I asked my acquaintance if he knew why the milk was thrown out rather than given at no cost to children who needed it.  He responded that he thought that it had something to do with liability should the milk turn out to be bad.

Of course, the illogic of that statement stunned me.  We apparently didn’t worry about the liability of selling it to our school children at a low price but were afraid that children who received it for free might wind up suing the Federal government.

Well, I took this as merely another sign of bureaucratic bungling – and surely, if we are looking for ways to trim fat and waste from government, this is, to use a metaphor in keeping with our subject, really “small potatoes.”

And then today I read a story about a woman near Philadelphia who is being threatened with fines of $600 per day because she is distributing food for free that is provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to needy children in her neighborhood.

This is the link to that story:

I don’t care if you’re a union worker, an entrepreneur, a secretary, between jobs, a temporary worker; I don’t care if you’re a Libertarian, Democrat, Republican or an Independent; I don’t care if you’re an Anglican, a Jain, a Muslim, an agnostic, an atheist or a Shinto; if you have an ounce of reason I hope you will agree that this is merely another example of “Government Gone Wild.”

At a time when many of us are struggling; when we have three and one half years of the worst levels of unemployment since the Great Depression; when an increasing number of our citizens are dependent on subsidies for their mere existence and the numbers sinking below the poverty level are escalating; it is hard to describe the position of the Pennsylvania Township’s council as being anything other than, “Beyond Stupidity.”


 When I was a child, phones were black and had dials. They had only three functions.

 The first of these was that if you correctly dialed a series of seven letters and numbers you would reach the party with whom you wished to speak (that is assuming that they were home to answer and chose to do so).

 The second was that when your phone rang you could speak with the party who had successfully completed the operation described in the first function. (It could be your Aunt Hattie, the IRS or someone who had simply mis-dialed. You just never knew until you picked up the receiver).

 The third function was that while you were waiting to perform either function one or function two, your phone because it was heavy, served as a very efficient paper weight – allowing you to keep all the bills you had to pay in one neat and orderly place without fear that they would blow away and be scattered.

 As I think about it, I guess those phones had a potential fourth function as well. If a robber broke into your house you could pick up your phone (presently engaged in function three) and because of its heft use it to strike the bad guy over the head, knocking him unconscious. Then you could employ function one and call the police to have this evildoer arrested. You see, even earlier telephones were versatile.

 Although they had virtually none of the many features found on even today’s most elemental cell phones they had two striking advantages over these gifts of modern technology.

 First, you couldn’t misplace your phone since the main unit was connected to the wall of your apartment and the receiver was connected to the phone’s base by a winding rubbery cord.

 Second, these phones never dialed themselves – putting you back in touch with someone with whom you had just concluded a conversation.

 Our outlook on phones back then was a little different. We viewed them as a tool – rather than a life support system. But that was then.

 My family would gather nightly for our dinner together. I remember that there was a little ritual which preceded and followed our meal. Either mom or grandma would pick up the phone (engaged in its most frequent function – number three) and turn the little control at the bottom to make the phone silent. After dinner had concluded, one of them would turn it back on.

 We had no idea if someone had called during our meal or not – and we didn’t care.

 Dinner was a time for us to discuss how things went at school, if dad had gotten any big orders, who had come into mom’s shop and what grandma planned to cook for dinner the following evening. It was the time of day that we were all together and that time was far too important to be interrupted with a phone call.

 A few weeks ago I was invited to dinner at a very nice restaurant by some friends. Their twenty year old son and eighteen year old daughter joined us.

 Please accept my estimate that the two youngsters spent at least half of the time that we were seated either making or receiving phone calls, surfing the web or sending tweets. While I didn’t say anything about this, I thought of a four letter word that grandma would have used if she were with us at that meal. That word is “rude.”

 What surprised me more than their behavior was that their parents apparently saw nothing strange or wrong in it. At least they didn’t make any comments about it while we were seated.

 It seems to me that as a mere matter of courtesy, when we are with someone we should turn our attention to that person. I try to do that – although I have to admit I’ve been involved in conversations which I found extremely boring. But I do recognize that the other person must find their subject matter interesting – or they wouldn’t be discussing it. So I try to listen to what they’re saying – no matter my level of personal interest. Sometimes that’s tough.

 In thinking about this recent dinner outing I decided to coin a new phrase –   “Cellular Eatiquette.” I’m not going to define it as I think that it’s obvious from its construction.

 What I will say is that if we ever get together for dinner, rest assured that prior to our meal, I will turn off my cell phone – and I hope that you will show me the same respect.  I promise that you will have my full attention.



For much of my early childhood, dad was a traveling salesman (though not the kind that lent themselves to jokes about people in that profession). In a typical year he was gone almost half the year, driving from one client to the next.

 When he came home I was always delighted to see him. Delighted because I knew that night he would tell me a story. That was the best part of his leaving and coming home. 

I remember that he returned one day from a very long trip and, as I lay in bed, he told me the story of “The Lady And Her Squirrel Fur Coat”.

 I would like to share that with you. 

Once upon a time there was a lady by the name of Marcie who lived in New York with her husband Alvin. Marcie had always wanted a fur coat – but her husband didn’t earn enough to be able to buy her one – not chinchilla, not mink, not even rabbit. But Marcie wanted a fur coat so badly that she nagged her husband constantly for one.

 One day Alvin came up with an idea. He thought, “Squirrels have fur. Why not get a squirrel fur coat for his wife and put all this conversation to rest?”

 So he went to a furrier and asked if they had any squirrel fur coats. The furrier looked at him with disdain. 

Please, sir. This house specializes only in the finest furs. WE DON’T CARRY SQUIRREL!”  

But before leaving the furrier he asked, “If I provided the pelts, could you fashion them into a coat?”  

The furrier said that they could do that.

 He came home and asked Marcie if she would accept a squirrel fur coat. She said that she would be happy to have a fur, no matter what animals contributed it. 

So Alvin told Marcie his plan. 

They would buy a boy and girl squirrel. Those two would have baby squirrels and in no time at all they would have enough squirrels to make Marcie a coat. Marcie like the idea and agreed to feed and take care of the squirrels until they had a sufficient number for her coat.

 So Alvin came home with a boy and a girl squirrel and they put them in a cage in their spare bedroom.

 Well, nature took its course and soon the two squirrels had given birth to six baby squirrels. The babies soon grew and they had forty more babies. And the forty babies had more babies and soon there were well over 300 squirrels in Alvin and Marcie’s apartment.

 Alvin thought, this has got to be more than enough squirrels to make a coat for my wife. And he planned that on Saturday, he would slaughter and skin them and take the pelts to the furrier.

 At this point in the story I remember speaking up saying, “Oh no, daddy. They didn’t kill all those sweet squirrels, did they?” Dad said, “Just a second and I’ll tell you how the story ends.”

 Saturday arrived and Alvin went into the kitchen to find their largest knife. He returned to the room in which all the squirrels were kept. But as he opened the cage to pull out his first victim, Marcie rushed into the room.

 She said, “Stop, Alvin.  I’ve gotten too fond of these squirrels. (She had named all of them and enjoyed their antics and loved to feed them).  I don’t care if I have a fur coat if it means killing all these wonderful creatures.”

 So Alvin and Marcie made many trips and set all of the squirrels free.

 And that’s why there are so many squirrels in Central Park.


 And I nodded off to sleep with visions of happy, playful squirrels running through the trees. 

Would that we humans could be so compassionate to our fellow men as Alvin and Marcie were to their squirrels.


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