Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Just when I think I've heard all of the outrageous things that can be said, Dr. Myron Lieberman, chairman of the Education Policy Institute, appears on C-Span to announce that universities need to pay professors of medicine much more than they pay other professors. But that isn't the best part: He goes on to say that it is much harder to teach math and science than it is to teach other subjects, and therefore math and science teachers should be given more incentives.

Why? Do students tend to have more learning problems with math and science? Is math and science harder to translate into a teaching schema? Is it harder for mathematicians and scientists to develop teaching skills? Lieberman presented no reasons for these beliefs. His statements did, however, reflect a popular belief that learning math and science is somehow superior to learning rhetoric, literature, history, art, composition, and music. This bias tosses out the window the concept that learning how to think rationally and creatively (and to express one's thoughts) is essential if one is to be a mature and productive citizen. Learning math and science is of extreme importance, but not at the cost of going through life without a frame of reference.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

August 26 is Women's Equality Day in the United States, but you wouldn't know it. There's no holiday and there are no parades. 72 years ago, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The supporters of women's suffrage worked for 72 years to get the amendment ratified, and by the time women were granted the vote, only one of the original activists was alive and able to exercise her new right. People who say that the Constitution should never be altered would do well to remember that the founding fathers were enlightened only up to point: They believed in slavery and in denying suffrage to women.

Maybe it's fitting that we don't celebrate Women's Equality Day, since we don't have equality. The salary gap between men and women is widening again, and our culture is still punishing women for everything from having careers to having opinions. The discrimination tends to be more subtle than it was 30 years ago, but it is discrimination nonetheless.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the women in Afganistan. For them, gender hatred has often resulted in torture and death. Our leaders make much of this horror, yet they do nothing to advance the cause of women's rights in our own country. And as for post-Taliban Afghanistan--it should be noted that the women there still do not have the vote. One wonders if they ever will.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

It's hard to imagine that the child welfare situation in Florida could get any worse, but it gets worse every day. Newspaper reporters decided to try their hand at locating two dozen of the hundreds of children on Florida's "missing" list, and within hours, found several of them. And though the Florida Department of Children and Families is supposed to report a missing child to the police within 24 hours, reporters discovered that in many cases, DCF employees had waited months--and even years--to make these reports.

But all of this information pales in comparison with Governor Jeb Bush's solution. He has appointed Gerald Regier as new director of the DCF. In 1989, Regier was a co-author of an essay entitled "The Christian World View Of the Family," and what an essay it was. The authors declared--among other things--that masturbation should be illegal, that women should work only in the home, and that it is okay to "spank" children hard enough to cause bruises and welts.

Why don't they just rename it the Florida Department of Child Endangerment?

Thursday, August 08, 2002

President Bush made a stop in Mississippi the other day so he could rail against what he calls the "lawsuit industry."

Though it is outrageous for someone to sue the fast food industry because he ate 300 Big Macs a year and developed heart disease, the fast food case is news precisely because it is outrageous, not because it is representative of damage claims filed in U.S. courts. But the poor judgment of those bringing the case and the resulting media rush to talk about it have opened the door for anyone who wants to use the lawyer-as-scapegoat tactic to solve complex, multi-layered social problems.

The President's concern was that Americans could not get health care because the doctors were all being forced out of business by the lawyers. He failed to mention the thousands of Americans who cannot get health care because:
They do not have health insurance.
They do not have jobs.
They are poor and cannot find a competent doctor who will accept Medicaid.
Their insurance companies restrict their access to appropriate treatment.
They cannot find a doctor who will listen to them.
They cannot find a doctor who has the knowledge and skill to help them.

Every few months there is a new report about serious errors made in hospitals--errors that are the result of poor hospital management, deficient staffing, and lack of physician monitoring. This doesn't mean that every lawsuit filed against a doctor indicates that a doctor has made an error. But it does demonstrate that we need a serious overhaul of the health care delivery system.

This was the President's take on the problem: Americans can't get health care because the doctors are being driven out of business by the lawyers. Therefore, the "lawsuit industry" must become a federal policy issue. Suddenly, he is the health care president. Does this mean that our Veterans' Hospitals will once again be willing to promote their services? That insurance companies will stop telling patients they won't pay for the only medicine that can treat them? That people who go to public health hospitals can stop sitting as long as eight hours in the waiting room? Will there be a boost in AIDS education? Will patients be able to see specialists without waiting two weeks to see a primary care physician who makes the referral?

Those thousands of American men, women and children who cannot get adequate health care must be feeling really relieved about now.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

It's hard to over-estimate the vacuous incompetence of the major television news media.

For example, when the producers of Sesame Street announced that they were introducing an HIV-positive character in the African verion of the show, they simultaneously announced that there would be no such character in the American version. Immediately, both CNN and MSNBC activated viewer polls on whether there should be an HIV-positive character on the American Sesame Street. Hundreds of people called or emailed all day long, offering strong opinions about a non-existent issue. This, of course, gave the talking heads yet another strategy for avoiding talking about actual news stories.

Then there was the anchorwoman who described the memorial service of one of the kidnapped and murdered childen by reporting that the Rodgers & Hammerstein song, "Whenever I Feel Afraid" was sung at the event. "This is, of course," she said soberly, "a very, very sad song." First of all, the title of the song is "Whistle A Happy Tune." But more important, it is one of the most upbeat songs the Broadway composers ever wrote.

If these were isolated incidents, it wouldn't be a big deal, but this kind of inanity goes on at all hours on television news. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between network news and the network news sketches on Saturday Night Live. One topic--the war on terror, the kidnapping of children (a topic that, until recently, was ignored unless the children were white and middle-class), the stock market--is run into the ground, while other news is totally ignored. And the excess time given to the Hot Topic hardly ever goes beneath the surface. For that matter, it rarely reflects fact.

Don Henley put it best: "When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing."

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Like I needed yet another reason to fear poor people. But on Tuesday, I heard President Bush tell a cheering South Carolina crowd that "some people could spend their entire five years on welfare...going to college." He went on to say that this wasn't his idea of helping people become independent, understand the importance of work, or achieve the dignity necessary to live a free life.

It boggles my mind that there are welfare mothers who are so ignorant, they believe that getting an education will help them get better jobs, provide for their familes, become better parents, and break the cycle of despair in their families. Having all that idle time has obviously affected their ability to think soundly.

Never mind that the "education President," the "leave no child behind" President made these remarks, and that he made them at a high school. Perhaps they don't teach irony at the Yale School of Business.

These are anxious times. Terrorist cells are plotting against the United States. Pedophiles are seducing altar boys and kidnapping little girls. The air and water are filled with toxins, and we are all eating genetically engineered food that has been soaked with poison. Drunk drivers continue to murder hundreds of Americans, and employees of drug dealers kill people in their homes.

And now this--welfare mothers seeking college degrees.

You have to be ever vigilant about the poor, for who knows what they are plotting, even as I write this. Rarely is the question asked: Is our poor people learning?