Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Big Brother Isn't Just Watching Anymore

This just in from the Czar, er…Mayor of New York City, His Honor Michael Bloomberg:

The newly proposed program called “Latch On NYC” will require city health officials to keep tabs on the number of bottles of baby formula that participating hospitals stock and use.  While new mothers won’t be completely denied access to baby formula, it will be stored in “out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications,” the NY Post reports.  With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll be lectured on why breastfeeding is a better choice, and hospital staff will be asked to cite a medical reason for the dispensation of formula.  And then what…the new mother will be branded with a Scarlet F?

This isn’t anything new for the Mayor of the largest city in the nation.  He’s working on making law a plan to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in quantities greater than sixteen ounces. But it is not just Mayor Bloomberg pushing the envelope of bigger and more intrusive government.  In San Francisco, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will be voting on whether to conduct a feasibility study on a tax on every mile people drive in their cars.  A GPS tracking device would be installed in each vehicle in order to assess the miles driven each tax period.    

We are well past the Orwellian days of Big Brother watching our every move.  For years now, there has hardly been a street corner or inch of public space in any decent-sized town or city that has not been covered by surveillance cameras.  We’ve grown accustomed to that in quick enough order.  Now government is moving past the realm of Big Brother.  Government is becoming Big Daddy.  And Daddy knows best.

The arguments in favor of these measures are all quite similar, and certainly not without merit.  Numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding a newborn is better for the child’s immune system than a formula-only diet.  The availability of forty ounce containers of sugar water certainly isn’t doing much for the health of the nation.  And global pollution and local traffic are worse than ever. 

But the real issue is actually none of these issues at all.  The real issue is how the vanguard of big government, under the guise of watching out for its citizens and society’s well being, has intruded deeper and deeper into our lives, our communities, our homes.  It is certainly not the first time government has taken on greater authority to be wielded under its own discretion.  Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War.  F.D.R. pushed through Congress one massive spending project after another during the Depression, pushing the country closer to true Socialism than at any time in its history.  And the Patriot Act passed by Congress after September 11, 2001 certainly has wrung the Bill of Rights dry of some of its protective juice.  But the difference in each of these cases is that they occurred in times of grave national emergency.  Like them or not, they were (and are, in the case of the Patriot Act), reactive and intended to be temporary.

The measures proposed by Bloomberg and the San Francisco MTC are part of a proactive and far more permanent expansion of government, one that will surely be just the first step in greater and greater intrusions into our lives.  This is just the vanguard, after all, and the vanguard operates decades ahead of popular consensus.  Plain and simple, this is not social policy, but social engineering.

Want an idea of where it is all headed?  Look to New York City again, where just a few months ago the Department of Education published an expanded list of words to be banned from its periodic assessment tests.  This was not the usual politically correct fare.  It was, to quote a department spokesperson: "standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years".  Included in the list of banned words and references: birthdays (possibly offensive to Jehovah's Witnesses); dinosaurs (suggesting evolution); divorce; death; Halloween; crime; homes with swimming pools or computers (offensive/distracting to students without one); any reference to religious and cultural celebrations and holidays; any reference to politics; war; references to specific cultural foods such as pepperoni (possibly offensive to those who do not partake)...and so on.  The Department of Education later retreated from this official stance, but as the spokesperson said, this is a language ban that publishers have been using for years.  And we didn't even know it.

So what is the vanguard of bigger, more authoritative government pushing for at the most fundamental levels, instructing the next generations to march forward with as the lens through which they view society and the world?  It is not diversity and the acceptance of all cultures, races, religions, etc.  It is a world without cultures, races, religions.  At the end of that educational arc is not equality, but sameness.  Conformity.  The loss of individual identity.

With Big Daddy knowing what is best for us all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Penn State: If it Was Really "All About the Victims"...

The airwaves of sports talk radio, ESPN, even the news oriented programming have been littered with commentary on the Penn State scandal of late. Again. Sports columnists, legal analysts, football coaches and ordinary citizens have voiced their opinions on the various issues connected with the scandal, most of them prefacing their comments with the obligatory, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims..." Again.

And then the debate/discussion begins. How best to handle the matter? How best to punish those involved in the cover-up without harming the innocent? What has this done to the legacy of those involved, particularly Joe Paterno?

Usually, I can listen to the banter for three or four minutes before I inevitably shake my head and change the station. I can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of people who have, in my opinion, really struck at the heart of the matter.

"You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That's the mark of a true professional."

That is one of many Joe Paterno quotes that spoke to his players, his program, holding them to a higher standard than others. Winning the right way, with honor, and within the rules...that was the Penn State way, as scores of reporters in lockstep repeated the mantra. But now we know that the man whose statue has become a matter of great controversy sought to cover up and ignore the reality of the heinous crimes being committed by one of the standard bearers of his program. And as a result of his colossal failure to hold himself to the standard of a merely decent human being - let alone the higher standard he demanded of others - he became complicit in the irreversible scarring of other innocent boys. And while we don't know his specific thought process on the matter, and probably never will, we can safely presume that one of the primary motivating factors in the cover-up was the damage he knew it would do to his reputation and the reputation of Penn State football.

The things we men do in the name of sports glory. For shame. And I still believe that had there been just one woman in that cover-up chain of command, this would likely have been ended a long time ago.

But it is not just Paterno and the administration members who are responsible here. This is a campus, a town, a state, a society at large, run amok in the sort of "cult of personality" that comes with winning games. This was an atmosphere where grown men: a janitor, an assistant coach, an athletic director, administrators of a university, all deferred to the legend they'd helped create, if only by their compliance and their own inability to stand up and be simply decent human beings amidst the horrors of what was going on under their very noses.

Let's at least answer a few questions with unmitigated truth.

Why was Joe Paterno the most revered man in the state, let alone on campus?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong.

Why did the students riot the night he was fired?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong. Because we have raised the next generation to be as blind as we are to what really matters.

Why is it so hard for some people to imagine an institution of higher learning such as Penn State without a season's worth of football?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong. Because we have raised the next generation to be as blind as we are to what really matters. Because of the money.

But if this was really "All about the victims..." the way so many commentators and critics would have us believe, then we would cut right to the chase. Truth be told, it is not unlike any other major institution that competes on the highest level of sports. This could have happened at dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other schools...quite possibly it already has. But Penn State has become the epicenter of the mess we've all created. And the chance to hit the reset button, in some small way, to spend an autumn's worth of Saturdays thinking about how such a culture could grow so great as to blind so many to what really matters.

That's what we'd all be calling for.

If this was REALLY, "All about the victims..."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Saw this the other day in line at the store. Two aisles over, phone rings, a woman, perhaps 75 or so, takes said phone out of her purse and looks at the screen as the phone continues ringing. "Which one do I press again?" she asks of her grandson, I imagine, a young man of maybe fifteen, or so. "Top left," he answers, not really disrespectfully (especially by today's standards), but with some attitude, let's just say. But the woman doesn't press the button in time and the ringing stops. Still she holds the phone to her ear and speaks into it.

Over the course of the next minute or two, her grandson tells her that the call went to voicemail, then explains what voicemail is, explains that the new sound she then hears is telling her that she has a voicemail and that no, it isn't another call, tells her to hit the center button to listen to the voicemail, then takes the phone from her when she stares at the front of it for too long (maybe five seconds), hits the center button, then presses in her password and places the phone to her ear saying (more attitude now), "Hear, listen." When the brief message is done and she asks what to do now, there is some rolling of eyes and pronounced exhaling and...well, you can imagine the scenario, I'm sure.

This is not a rant against the youth of today. This is not a rant against the tide of technological advancement. This is not a rant, but rather, an observation.

Somewhere in our not too distant past, we, as a society, came to despise age and glorify youth, and since "Never trust anyone over thirty," was something of the mantra of the Baby-Boomers of the Sixties, it's not too hard to pinpoint when that happened. The Boomers borrowed the notion (perhaps unwittingly) from Thoreau, who spoke of age as not being a better instructor than youth. Of course, Thoreau was only thirty himself at the time, and began from the standpoint that most men lived "lives of quiet desperation," so, even the great H.D.T. was more than a little biased when it came to this assertion.

At any rate, the problem is not in the sentiment that youthful enthusiasm and idealism offer something of value in the public discourse. Past thirty myself now, I still believe this to be true. But there is a problem with how this elevating of youth has manifest itself in modern society. The Boomers who once revered that youthful idealism now revere Botox. They reacted so strongly against the "Father Knows Best" culture that they helped create the "my kids are my best friends" culture. They don't just want to be part of their kids' world, they want to be their kids. And the march of technology hasn't helped matters at all, to be sure of it.

As soon as little Johnny becomes aware that Granddad has never sent an email, isn't on Facebook, thinks a tweet is Elmer Fudd's description of a candy bar, well, think there's any chance little Johnny will grow up thinking he's got a whole lot to learn from Granddad? Simply connect the dots from there.

Of course, there is no stopping technology...and in most cases, no reason to want to, reality T.V. aside. And Botox will only be replaced by something more effective, I'm sure. Someday soon there will be better tanning machines and new surgical procedures and we can all look like Joan Rivers or Bruce Jenner well into our eighties, if we choose.

Funny thing is, Thoreau was quite the rebel for his day. A century ahead of his time, you might say. But to be truly like Thoreau now would be to cast aside so much of what the last forty years has created in our culture, to value wisdom as much as vigor, knowledge as much as optimism...in short, to age with grace. And to raise a generation that understands the difference between knowing how to use a cell phone and knowing what life is really all about.