Posts Tagged ‘education’

The dumbing down of America, cont.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

By Bob Gaydos

23D7DF21-4B50-483A-9B07-30BAFB25EA37    “Do you know who fought in the Civil War?”

    “The French and the Germans?“

     “How did you know that?

     “I took history.“

     Wait, there’s more.

      “When was the war of 1812 fought?”

      “The 1980s?”

       “Who was America’s first president?”

       “His first name was George. I don’t know the last.”

        “Can you name the continents?”

        “The USA?”

         “Can you name another one?”

          “Puerto Rico?”

          “How many inches in a foot?”

          “One?”

          “Do you know what state Utah is in?”

          “Illinois?”

         “How many stars in the American flag?”

          “One hundred?”

          “What is Obama’s last name?”

           “Care. C-a-r-e.”

      OK, enough torture. The preceding was an example of the continuing dumbing down of America, brought to you courtesy of a well-spoken, pleasant young man on Facebook, who simply asks questions of mostly high-school-age Americans in Times Square and malls in and around New York and New Jersey.

       No, it’s not entertaining and he does his best not to make fun of the unbelievably clueless contestants who clearly haven’t paid a lot of attention in history, math, science and other courses in school. I’m not even sure geography and civics are even taught anymore.

       Most of the “contestants” are young people of various ethnicities, although some older folks manage to show up with interesting answers as well. And clearly, he doesn’t show people who know all the answers, but far too many don’t know any of the correct answers.

        I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the American education system is in crisis. Too many young people don’t know things that used to be considered basic information you learned if you got through high school. Worse, too many adults seem interested in keeping it that way.

      Teachers are being told what they can teach, librarians are being told what they can have on their shelves. Too many young people are getting whatever information they get via social media. (One young lady could name all the Kardashians.)

       I’ve written about this before and it’s depressing for me to belabor the subject, but I don’t see much change for the better.

        People who know stuff today get mocked by perhaps the dumbest person to ever occupy the Oval Office and his cadre of obedient/frightened followers.

      But it didn’t start with Donald Trump. The Tea Partiers, having been warmly welcomed into the Republican Party, got to John McCain in 2012 and made him choose Sarah Palin, who said she can see Russia from her home in Alaska, as his vice presidential running mate. It’s been all downhill ever since.

      The Republican Party doesn’t have the numbers to out vote the Democratic Party, so, in addition to lying and cheating and trying to steal elections, it needs an uneducated citizenry that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, and, worse, doesn’t seem to care.

        People, we need to rethink what we’re teaching and rededicate resources to our public schools. Young people, especially those of voting age, need to know that what’s at stake in this year‘s presidential election is their very future.

      So that when some young guy with a microphone asks them in the shopping mall, “When do they celebrate the Fourth of July in England?” they don’t say, as one young man did, “The day after us.”

    Because of the time zones, of course.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

            

          

Pine Cones, Politics and Power

Friday, January 19th, 2024
The pine cone revolution. RJ Photography

The pine cone revolution in Pine Bush.
RJ Photography

By Bob Gaydos

    Ivan Pavlov, who knew a bit about how to figure things out, had this bit of advice which can apply equally to journalists as well as scientists: “Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.”

     In a week of mysteries (to me, at least), the big mystery around my neck of upstate New York right now is why  there are so many pine cones on the ground. Even allowing for recent rainy weather, it’s been a mystery since the phenomenon started appearing on our property in the fall. Hundreds of cones were strewn about, still are, and social media chatter confirms that lots of neighbors have remarked on the same phenomenon, alternately complaining and wondering what to do with them.

      Responding as Pavlov would have me do, I tried to find answers, which proved to be not that simple. For me, the easiest answer to the pine cone glut appears to be evolution, which is both common sense and remarkable. The theory is that every two or three years (called “mast years”), pine trees produce far more than their normal number of cones, which contain seeds, in order to throw off the seed-gathering routine of their natural predators, such as squirrels, insects and birds, thus assuring the likelihood of enough seeds surviving and turning into future pine trees.

    Survival of the species. Something that is still taught in our schools. I think this is pretty darn clever of the pines, if you don’t mind crunching on the cones while you walk your dog, which I don’t. Mind, that is.

     What I do mind very much is a mystery which I have been struggling to understand for more than eight years. That is how an amoral, self-obsessed con man with no understanding of or regard for the Constitution has captured the minds and votes and loyalty of so many Americans.

    That phenomenon played out again in Iowa this week as Donald Trump swept the Republican caucuses for the party’s presidential nomination without even participating in any debates. Instead, he gave speeches about ordering mass deportations on his first day in office, if re-elected, talked about getting revenge on his enemies, and insisted he was immune from prosecution for the 91 felonies with which he is charged, many of which stem from his continued lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

     The mystery to me in Iowa (though not exclusively there) is that more than 90 percent of Republicans who said they voted for Trump also said they believed Joe Biden was not their legally elected president. This, after all the evidence produced to the contrary over nearly four years.

      Following Pavlov’s suggestion, I think the origin of this magical, self-deluding thinking might be found in the failure of schools and religious institutions in Iowa (and elsewhere) to actually fulfill their purported missions. Certainly, there has been little obvious evolutionary progress in many states in the development of tolerance and respect for others or for the value of actually learning something in school. Anyway, that’s my operating theory.

      The operating theory behind that theory is that it’s all about wealth and power. Control what people are taught and you can control the people and how they think and vote and there are wealthy, influential people behind the scenes doing just that within today’s Republican Party.

     The other mystery of the week took place in Denmark, where Queen Margrethe, the longest reigning monarch in Europe, which is big on monarchies, abdicated her throne to her son, Crown Prince Fredrick.

     My puzzlement is not so much over the 83-year-old queen turning over the keys to the kingdom to her son after 52 years of ruling, but rather why there is still a royal family being treated royally in Denmark. 

     While the queen’s role is purely ceremonial, with no connection whatever to the government, many Danes apparently like the history, fairy tales and traditions associated with their country, home of fairytale master Hans Christian Andersen. A kind of once-upon-a-time power.

     Margrethe was also very popular for her earthiness and rapport with other, non-royal, Danes. Some said they felt she explained to the world what Danes were all about.

      For this contribution to the Danish reputation, the royal family received 88.9 million Danish crowns, or a bit more than $13 million, in tax funds in 2022, a pittance, compared to what British royalty receives, but still, we’re talking millions.

       There’s no word yet on what the new king and his wife, soon to be queen consort, will receive as an allowance from grateful Danes. But this tradition of paying a “ruler” a handsome sum just because might explain why a certain greedy American politician might be doing all he can to take this crown-fighting democratic republic back to the days of rule by royal edict. Devolution from the revolution. The Danes’ fairy tale story would be an American horror story.

     At least the pine cones make sense.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

       

What Banned Books Have You Read?

Sunday, October 1st, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Banned books

Banned books

Well, it’s here again, the annual reminder that, in the Land of Free Speech, people — school boards, politicians, religious groups, censorship groups, individuals — are still trying, and sometimes succeeding, in preventing others from reading books containing other people’s free speech which they find offensive or objectionable for some reason.

    It’s Banned Books Week (Oct. 1-7), an unfortunately necessary tradition the American Library Association began in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

    Fueled by the MAGAmania fear promoted by Donald Trump and those wishing to supplant him as leader of the Republican cult, efforts to control what books teachers use to teach, what books libraries can keep on their shelves have increased significantly.

     In announcing the week, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said, “This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.”

   How bad is it? The association says it documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number since the organization began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The number nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021. The association says most of the titles targeted were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and Black, Indigenous and people of color.

   No surprise there. Traditionally specific reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language.

     Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seeking to supplant Trump as Republican Party leader, has been aggressive in efforts to control what his state residents can read and what universities can teach, but Texas also has not been shy about attempting censorship. And a school district in North Carolina actually tried to ban Banned Book Week this year only to reverse its decision when it was reported in the news media.

   As someone who has made a living writing opinions that some might not agree with, I feel compelled to once again argue for the right of free speech and free access to whatever people want to read. Controlling what people read is, after all, a way to control how they think. And, yes, it’s a way those who lie try to hide the truth from others.

    My practice has been to list, in no particular order, banned books I have read. It’s compiled from a few lists I have found on the Internet and includes some books I had no idea were ever the target of attempted banning. 

The list:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        — The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

        — A Farewell to Arms

     As always, I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. I didn’t get much response to this request last year, but, forever the optimist, I ask again. I could use some new titles.

     We are living in a time when ignorance runs rampant in much of the country. Indeed, it often seems glorified. Reading, in fact learning of any sort, is under attack by groups who seek to maintain power by discrediting education. 

   Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear repeated claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News, even though recently shown in court to be a wellspring of phony news and propaganda, is still full of outright lies. 

   It is all nonsense, created out of fear, Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of losing power, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start.

       By the way, “Captain Underpants” is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of books on the list  were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

    And, please, share your favorite banned books with us.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Vote Smart America, Save Democracy

Sunday, August 21st, 2022
An American at a polling booth.

An American at a polling booth.

By Bob Gaydos

“Because Americans are stupid,” I said.

And with that harsh assessment of the intellectual capacity of my fellow countrymen and women, we generally shook our heads, finished our coffee and said, “See you next week.”

     For several years, I had a weekly coffee date with a friend whom I considered to be intelligent, well-informed, level-headed and tight-lipped. We talked about life, family and, mostly because of my interest, a little politics. At some point in our rambling conversation, he would inevitably ask, “Why do they do that?”

       And I would inevitably reply, “Because Americans are stupid.” Sometimes, I said “dumb.”

       Harsh. I know. Judgmental. It risks being called elitist. But I submit the last six-plus years of American politics as Exhibit A that many Americans are willfully ignorant, that they don’t know about things they know they should know about or don’t do things for their own benefit because they are too lazy, which also is dumb.

  Participatory democracies don’t do well on dumb and lazy. They wind up being ripe for exploitation by authoritarian thugs who want only to gain power and keep it for their own enrichment. They prey on the dumb and lazy, or the bigoted and misinformed, or the racist and ill-educated, or the fearful and easily manipulated.

     However you choose to say it, this is where America is today: Much of our public debate and government action is driven by fears and falsehoods directed at and repeated by an aggressive, sometimes militant, minority of mostly iIl-informed white Americans who have been sold a bill of goods by power-hungry, wealthy autocrats and their gutless foot soldiers in the Republican Party. Dumb.

     This minority has achieved outsized influence in large part thanks to the capitulation of a considerably larger group of Americans who have lacked the awareness or the will, or both, to participate in the democratic process through the simple step of voting.

       Lazy and dumb.

       It’s not considered polite or politically savvy to say such things publicly, but look where that’s got us — the FBI raiding the home of a former U.S. president to recover boxes of classified documents removed from the White House and elected Republican officials encouraging violence against the FBI agents who carried out their duty.

      This is not new. Just look at the data. Most of the states that spend the least on education, public health and childcare are governed by Republicans. It’s not a coincidence; it’s a plan. Rewrite the history taught in schools, tell people that big government is their enemy and that they need to vote for local Republican candidates to preserve the freedoms that elitist, socialist Democrats want to give away … to “those people.” Please donate.

      Here’s another dumb thing: a lot of so-called independent, think-for -themselves voters are fond of saying both parties are the same. Really? Have you been paying attention for the last ten years or so? 

      So as not to belabor what I realize is not an original point, I would encourage every nonaligned voter to ask every Republican candidate he or she encounters one question: is Joe Biden the legitimately elected president of the United States?

     That’s an easy yes or no answer. Voting for anyone who doesn’t say “yes” is dumb. Failing to vote for the other person is worse. The vote is the strongest weapon Americans have against the army of ignorance. We ignore it at our peril.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

It’s No Time to be Silent, America

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

  By Bob Gaydos

   C56781E2-67D2-4EBC-941D-A0CA7A4C30E9“Stop.”

     That’s it. That’s all he or she said. It was the entire content of a message reacting to a column I wrote on Banned Books Week. In fact, it was the only reaction I got from all of Facebook when I spent a few bucks to spread my words of wisdom on the subject.

     I was surprised and disappointed at the lack of response to a column encouraging, in effect, the freedom to read as we please without interference from some “authority.” I mean, this is the land of liberty, isn’t’t it? But that’s probably a topic for another column. This one’s about that one-word effort to stifle the messenger. It’s about why, disappointing feedback or not, I won’t stop. Indeed, disappointing feedback is a primary motivator to keep spreading the message. There’s simply too much at stake and it worries me that many Americans don’t seem to be aware of the threat.

       As God, the greater consciousness, Buddha and the cashier at Hannaford‘s Supermarket are my witnesses, there are some things, even with eight decades of experience, I just don’t understand.

         Spoiler alert: If you are a MAGA believer, there are likely to be some things in this column that might cause you emotional distress. I’d hate to cause you any discomfort, so you might want to consider not reading beyond here. Otherwise, you were warned. And to those who argue that we must try to reconcile our differences, I’ve pretty much given up trying to reason with true MAGAs. Using research, facts, logic and compassion has proven to be a waste of time. I’m focusing on the other Americans, millions of them, who apparently think we’re just going thriough a tough spell. Hey, football stadiums are full again, aren’t they?

      Sure, and so are hospital emergency rooms. In fact, in some states they are overflowing and people with serious medical issues are having treatment delayed because of the flood of Covid patients. A second flood caused by a refusal by many to get vaccinated or to wear masks. 

       One of the things I don’t understand is people who call themselves healthcare workers refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Thousands resisted mandates to get vaccinated even though the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective.  Only the threat of losing their jobs convinced many to do the responsible thing. 

        Another thing I don’t understand is people who call themselves educators arguing against children and teachers wearing masks in school. Or parents attacking school board members who think teachers should not have to put their lives at risk to do their jobs and students should not become an army of miniature Covid spreaders. Teachers have proven to be adaptable and the kids will only complain about the masks if their parents do. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of educating to do.

    Which is to say, I don’t understand why people who call themselves evangelical Christians or Republicans, or both, regard education as an evil, as something to be derided, dismissed and avoided at all costs. In the land of opportunity, how does the pathway to greater opportunity become the enemy for so many people?

      I do understand why some who call themselves evangelical Christians or Republicans or both routinely attack education, spread lies and misinformation and feed on the fears of the uninformed. Power and greed. Thus has it always been.

          Maintaining the support of an uninformed mass of people seems to be the only platform of today’s Rrepublican Party. It operates solely out of fear of losing whatever power it has. It gives lip service to helping those in need, devoting most of its energy and resources to fighting the efforts of those who would truly like to reconcile our differences.

       The truth is, reconciliation is not a Republican priority. They would rather rule. I don’t understand why. I always come back to fear. Which is why I always come back to education. Autocrats depend on keeping the masses ignorant in order to maintain power. So, too, do some religious leaders. Have faith in me, they preach. Give me your money. You will be protected. Do not trust the infidel with the clever words. 

       That approach works for some in politics, too. But democracy cannot survive in that atmosphere. And, in my opinion, our brand of democracy is under attack today. I have never felt this way before. The January 6 insurrection and the continuing lies of Republican leaders that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump are the most glaring evidence of this threat. So long as Trump speaks for most Republicans and so long as most Republicans fear to contradict him, I see no chance of “reconciling our differences.“ 

       That’s why I won’t stop writing about the importance of a Free Press, about the freedom to read what we choose, about the need for truthful history to be taught in all our schools, about respecting science, and about honoring the invitation on our Statue of Liberty, to welcome, not demonize, refugees from other lands.

        I repeat, I speak not to the MAGAs, but to the large number of Americans who, I am certain, share my beliefs. We are the majority. Protect our democracy. Make sure you’re vaccinated. Teach your children the importance of education. Be a voice of tolerance. Vote. Reread “1984.”

         Don’t stop.   

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

A Week to Read Banned Books

Saturday, September 25th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

 Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

   It would appear that I’m the kind of guy who, when visiting a book store (remember book stores?), headed straight to the banned book section and got comfortable. (Remember how comfortable.book stores could be?)

     I do not make this confession arbitrarily or boldly, but rather matter-of-factly. Also a bit surprisingly. Until recently, I had no idea that I was such a fan of banned books, Then, Banned Book Week showed up on Facebook and other social media calendars and I started looking at the various lists of books that have been banned or challenged, as the American Library Association puts it.

       Last year I was a few days late to mark the annual reminder of the importance of freedom of expression. This year, I’m right on time. September 26 is the start of Banned Books Week. At a time when voices of protest and outrage are being stifled, there’s not a day to waste promoting the free expression of ideas. So here’s my list, in no particular order, of banned books I have read. It’s compiled from a few lists I found on the Internet:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        —.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

        — A Farewell to Arms

     I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. I didn’t get much response to this request last year, but, forever the optimist, I ask again. I know some of you are voracious readers. So please contribute.

     We are living in a time when ignorance runs rampant in much of the country. Indeed, it often seems glorified. Reading, in fact learning of any sort, is under attack by forces — Republicans, Evangelicals if you want to be specific — who seek to maintain power by discrediting education. 

     “East Coast Elites” is supposedly an insult. Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News is full of outright lies. It’s all nonsense, created and disseminated out of fear. Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system — already challenged with adjusting to distance-learning because of Covid 19  — has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start. Even in Covid America, books are available as never before online. Some free. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and reread “1984” on Kindle. Seemed appropriate.

       The American Library Association began Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

      Reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language, Sounds like a shopping list for Republican politicians. It also sounds a lot like life and one person’s “offensive language“ is another person’s truth.

       The decision on whether any book is appropriate for a child or a teenager theoretically belongs to the parents. I say theoretically because some parents don’t get too involved in such things. My parents were not book readers, although my mother devoured at least four newspapers every day. I don’t remember them expressing an interest one way or another in what I was reading. I guess that’s a decision by default. They trusted me and my teachers. I think it eventually worked out fine for me.

       Other parents, however, are extremely interested in what their children are consuming. That can be a good thing, I think, if it allows for a variety of viewpoints and room to explore. By the way, Captain Underpants is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of my books were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

        Anyway, in a country in which clearly anyone can grow up to be president, I think it would be a good thing if he or she had actually read a book or two, including some that challenged his or her beliefs. But maybe that’s just the Orwell, Vonnegut and Salinger in me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

(This is a slightly modified version of a column from last year.)

 

Banning Books, an American Tradition

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

   It would appear that I’m the kind of guy who, when visiting a book store (remember book stores?), headed straight to the banned book section and got comfortable. (Remember how comfortable.book stores could be?)

     I do not make this confession arbitrarily or boldly, but rather matter-of-factly. Also a bit surprisingly. Until recently, I had no idea that I was such a fan of banned books, Then, Banned Book Week showed up on Facebook and other social media and I started looking at the various lists of books that have been banned or challenged, as the American Library Association puts it.

       I’m a few days late to mark the annual reminder of the importance of freedom of expression, but in a time when voices of protest and outrage are being stifled, I figure any day one can promote the free expression of ideas is a good one. So, my list, in no particular order, compiled from a few lists found on the Internet:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        —.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

     I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. And I know some of you are voracious readers. So please contribute.

     I’m writing about this because we are living in a time when reading, indeed, learning of any sort is under attack by forces — Republicans, Evangelicals if you want to be specific — who seek to maintain power by discrediting education of any kind. “East Coast Elites” is supposedly an insult. Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News is full of outright lies. It’s all nonsense, created and disseminated out of fear. Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system — already challenged with adjusting to distance-learning because of Covid — has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start. Even in Covid America, books are available as never before online. Some free. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and reread “1984” on Kindle. Seemed appropriate. And there’s plenty of time to read. 

       The American Library Association began Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

      Reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language, Sounds like a shopping list for Republican politicians. It also sounds a lot like life and one person’s “offensive language“ is another person’s truth.

       The decision on whether any book is appropriate for a child or a teenager theoretically belongs to the parents. I say theoretically because some parents don’t get too involved in such things. My parents were not book readers, although my mother devoured at least four newspapers every day. I don’t remember them expressing an interest one way or another in what I was reading. I guess that’s a decision by default. They trusted me and my teachers. I think it eventually worked out fine for me.

       Other parents, however, are extremely interested in what their children are consuming. That can be a good thing, I think, if it allows for a variety of viewpoints and room to explore. By the way, Captain Underpants is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of my books were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

        Anyway, in a country in which clearly anyone can grow up to be president, I think it would be a good thing if he or she had actually read a book or two, including some that challenged his or her beliefs. But maybe that’s just the Orwell, Vonnegut and Salinger in me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

Team Trump: Arrogance as a Virtue

Friday, April 27th, 2018

By Bob Gaydos

Dr. Ronny Jackson with his boss.

Dr. Ronny Jackson with his boss.

The first time I had any doubts about Dr./Admiral (Admiral/Dr.?) Ronny Jackson was also the first time I had any idea who he was — the presidential physician. That was in January when Jackson, after what he said was a thorough examination of Donald Trump proclaimed the clearly overweight, often confused Dotard-in-Chief to be in “excellent” health.

Indeed, everything about Trump’s health was seemingly “excellent,” or “very, very good.” “Excellent,” Jackson kept saying over and over.

Trump even did “exceedingly well” on his cognitive test, the doctor said. “I have absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability,” Jackson said at the time, making a point that Trump scored 30 out of 30 on a cognitive assessment test. Funny, I mused at the time, I don’t remember ever hearing a presidential physician feel the need to provide such detail on his patient’s cognitive abilities. Maybe it’s just me, I thought. Maybe I just never paid that much attention before. But Jackson did make sure to note that Trump is “very sharp, and he’s very articulate. .?.?. Very, very sharp, very intact,” Jackson insisted. The admiral/doctor said he “found no reason whatsoever to think that the President has any issues whatsoever with his thought process.”

Really? How could this stirring physical and mental report be true, I wondered, knowing as we do Trump‘s regular diet of fried chicken, Big Macs, red meat, Diet Coke and ice cream, his lack of any physical activity other than swinging a golf club and tweeting, the fact he is borderline obese and takes medication to lower his cholesterol, his habit of routinely contradicting himself and his resistance to reading or to facts or to anything that conflicts with what he prefers to believe?

“Good genes” was the doctor’s diagnosis. In fact, “incredible genes.”

Kissing the boss’s butt was my conclusion.

It gives me no pleasure to say it appears that I was right. As the admiral prepared to go before Congress this week to answer questions about his qualifications to head the Department of Veterans Affairs it became immediately obvious that he had none, except for saying a lot of nice things in public about Trump, having a cool military title and looking good in uniform. That’s a trifecta for promotion to Cabinet status in the Trump White House, a disaster in real life.

Unfortunately for Trump and the doctor, but fortunately for millions of veterans, others took the job of vetting a potential Cabinet member more seriously than did the White House. The main question: Can this guy manage the second largest department in the federal government even though he has no experience in that area? But before he even got to face a congressional committee to answer that question, Jackson withdrew his name from consideration amid stories of him drinking on duty, indiscriminately dispensing pills and overseeing a hostile work environment that curried favor with people in power and had staff members operating in fear of retribution.

Another one of “the best.”

I started running through the names of Trump’s Cabinet members trying to decide which one troubled/angered/disgusted me the most and was stunned when I realized Rick Perry wasn’t anywhere near the top of the list. I mean, the guy wanted to get rid of the Energy Department when he was running for president, then took the Cabinet post from Trump without realizing it regulated nuclear arms and energy.

But the former Texas governor has some stiff competition in what surely is the worst Cabinet and sub-Cabinet in modern U.S. history, perhaps all time. For sheer arrogance — strutting about acting as if they know what they are doing, living large on public tax dollars, ignoring the missions of the agencies they are supposed to lead and destroying the foundations on which this nation was built — the group cannot be beat. It is a perfect reflection of Trump, all con, all greed and incredibly cruel to boot.

I’ll spare you the whole, pitiful list. But briefly …

  • Rex Tillerson, as ill-suited as he was for the post of secretary of state was at least smart enough to note that Trump was “a moron.” That got Rex fired and gave us Trump super-fan and former congressman Mike Pompeo, moving from the CIA to State, neither of which he has the background or understanding of world tensions to direct. He prefers weapons to diplomacy. I-know-what-I’m-doing arrogant.
  • Steve Mnuchin, treasury secretary, was a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager — perfect qualifications for “draining the swamp,” as Trump promised, right? A Trump loyalist who lobbied for the job and loves to let everyone know he’s the money guy. Snobbishly arrogant.
  • Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, is a very rich woman who hates public schools, indeed doesn’t even know how schools run. Phony, arrogant and entitled, like Trump
  • Jeff Sessions, attorney general, is a racist who also wants to do battle with marijuana and immigrants. A Trump punching bag of late, but still arrogant in denying this country’s history.
  • Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, is a brain surgeon-savant. The real world is a mystery to Carson. He wants to raise the rents on public housing tenants and spent $30,000 in public funds on a dining room set. Loyal to Trump. Doesn’t even know he’s arrogant.
  • Ryan Zinke, interior secretary, rode into office on a horse and should go out the same way. Selling off public lands and spending a fortune on travel are his hallmarks. An ex-military guy. As stated, Trump loves that. Defiantly arrogant.
  • Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator is being grilled by Congress for his expensive travel and security arrangements. Trump likes that Pruitt denies climate change and favors undoing all environmental protection regulations for air, water, autos, etc. Proudly arrogant.
  • Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, was so good at being mean — meals on wheels and free lunches for poor kids are not justifiable expenses, he feels — Trump made him interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well. Mulvaney has systematically dismantled the bureau since getting the assignment. The Tea Party darling told bankers that if they wanted to be heard in this White House, they needed to give money and the more they gave the louder their voice would be. He loves his job. Trump loves him. A truly despicable human being. Beyond arrogant. Guess he’s my number one.

That’s enough. Just to return to the admiral for a minute. The depths of his self-serving smarminess should have been evident when he “examined” Trump and declared, “I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even the remainder of another term if he is elected.”

Sycophancy, as Team Trump demonstrates, can be contagious. It can also be dangerous to careers. The doctor should have known.

rjgaydos@gmail.com