Friday, November 26, 2010

Dude, Where's My Role Model?

Peyton Manning throws a really good football. I.M. Pei designed some damn cool buildings and that Eminem guy sure can flow. We all have our aptitudes. I am an incredibly talented curmudgeon. Misanthropy is my gift and one that comes to me easily and prolifically. Simply put, I just love to hate.

I hate without prejudice or partiality. I hate The Real Housewives of (insert whatever city here-it really doesn’t matter) just as much as I hate the Kardashians and the entire cast of The Jersey Shore. I hate the Israelis for continuously building settlements and I hate the Palestinians for continuously launching rockets into them. I hate the N.R.A. for being so strong and I hate anti-gun advocates for being so weak.

Now, what is one to do with all this hate? You would think that the well of abhorration would run dry from time to time but alas, it is perpetually replenished by the knuckleheads that regularly appear on television. Long ago, the term ‘Boob Tube’ was coined but the people addictively watching it were considered the boobs, not the people on it. But televolution has changed all that.

Televolution noun (2010) 1. the ever-morphing landscape of television that encapsulates all macro and microscopic changes in the zeitgeist. Okay, so, yeah, I just made that up. You don’t like it, too fucking bad. Get your own blog and make up as many words as you want.

If I were to list and rant about every person I hate that appears on television, we would be here for a very long time so I will focus on those I truly relish loathing. I will start with the easiest target and anyone with half a brain’s favorite, the Queen twit of Wasilla herself, Sarah Palin.

Yes, I watched the debut episode of Sarah Palin’s Alaska. I had to. My hatred for her is an addiction and like any other, it must be fed regularly or crippling withdrawal symptoms ensue and my anger receptor sites might be filled with noxious emotions like joy or gratitude.

After watching the show, I must reluctantly admit the following: Alaska is a fascinating wilderness and I couldn’t help but admire Sarah’s moxie in rock-climbing, glacier-stomping and fishing within casting distance of wrestling bears. And dare I say it but Sarah Palin is just the most delightfully folksy, quirky, nutty little thing. She is just weird enough to be telegenically engaging.

And this assemblage of personality traits (or defects) does make her an above average reality TV star. But these same traits also make her a political punch line. Scaling one of the gentler faces of Mt. McKinley does not endow one with the courage necessary to win wars. And Salmon-catching proficiency will not help reign in Iran’s nuclear program or create a few million jobs.

But is the average disgruntled voter smart enough to make these distinctions? Or is liking her show just enough to sway an undecided independent come November 2012? It has already swayed the voters on Dancing with the Stars, who, despite her mediocre scores and lackluster rhythm, kept Bristol Palin in the running for far longer than she deserved. Or so I hear. I would sooner castrate myself with a spork than watch that fucking show.

Speaking of dogshit reality TV shows, I’m gonna lay off The Jersey Shore because picking on that program is kind of like beating up a nine-year-old girl in a wheelchair. So instead I will direct my ire at two of the NFL’s most decorated self-promoters, Terrell Owens and Chad-I still can’t believe he actually legally changed his fucking name to-Ochocinco.

Never in the history of sport have two bigger spotlight-humping parasites worn the same team’s jersey. Between them they have two TV programs, twelve Pro Bowl selections, 218 touchdowns, dozens of endorsement contracts, countless end zone celebrations and, the only stat that really matters in sports, ZERO championships.

I was watching Monday Night Football a few days ago and saw Ochocinco in a commercial for, wait for it, pistachios. That’s right. The man is selling nuts. I really don’t know what else I can say about this. It’s...I can’t he really...ja3e*&^hUI98yg&7Guhi&TGu

Sorry, I just had an aneurysm and shat myself.

I remember watching Lawrence Taylor annihilate quarterbacks in the pre-concussion-pandemic era like a man who simply enjoyed doing his job. Barry Sanders would score touchdown upon touchdown and every time he crossed the goal line, he acted like he’d been there before. No celebrations, no dancing, no popcorn, no cell phones or Sharpies, just six points and poise. What the fuck happened man?

These days athletes who quietly do their job well are anomalous. Players who don’t bitch in the locker room are exceptions, not the norm. Players who don’t Tweet, promote and blow themselves at every opportunity are becoming increasingly rare and soon they may be extinct all together. It used to be performance first, pomp and circumstance second or sometimes never. Now, it is the other way around. And nothing exemplifies this more flagrantly than “The Decision.”

As a lifelong Knick fan and ardent follower of the NBA, allow me to scream what has already been spoken ad nauseum:


Fuck him long and hard and good.

“The Decision,” James' repugnant free agency special that was aided, abetted and enabled by ESPN (not to mention The Boys & Girls Club) was a self-aggrandizing embarrassment. It was a public bitchslap to a Cavalier franchise that all but anointed and apotheosized ‘The Chosen One’ and it spat in the face of everything I love about competitive sports. I grew up watching Magic versus Bird, Jordan versus everyone and it was these rivalries that shaped and sculpted the NBA that exists today. Why do we watch sports? Have you ever asked yourself that?

I watch them to see mortals defy adversity to become champions and then legends and then gods. I watch them to bare witness to bitter rivals battling; shedding sweat, blood and tears on turf, grass and hard-court.

We do not watch sports to watch weak-willed canoodlers manufacture championships because they lack the heart and balls to earn them the hard way. The NBA deserves better and so do its fans.

There is much I detest about the Republican party; their insistently pumping God into politics, their resistance to perceiving minorities and gays as equals, their fear-mongering, false-patriotic proclivities, their flagrant tendency to cater to the needs of corporations instead of the average American. But despite all my harbored animus, they still deserve better than Sarah Palin.

Our democracy welcomes debate amongst two parties with different ideals but it should not welcome airheads who are just quirky enough to sell books and get decent ratings on The Learning Channel. People have limitations and our culture should not allow them to transcend them.

Keanu Reeves should have stopped at Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Lindsay Lohan should have stopped at Herbie Fully Loaded. Sarah Palin should have stopped at Alaska. And she should have stayed there.

Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens should not be given endorsements, TV programs and multi-million dollar contracts. They should be shunned until they can behave like grown-ups. They should be underpaid until they can prove themselves as worthy teammates. Team mates.

Lebron James should lock himself in a room and figure out what he’s really made of. Though, maybe he already did that and conclded he did not have the character required to win his own championship and carve out his own legacy. Maybe ‘we are all witnesses’ to the best wingman in the game, nothing more than a finely tuned second fiddle.

But when will we demand more from our politicians, athletes and entertainers? When will selfishness be punished by professional sports teams and the companies that endorse athletes? How many more W’s and Palin’s will America have to suffer before it realizes that 'the guy you want to have a beer with' or 'the folksy gal you want to field dress a moose with' should not be placed in positions of power? When will we start demanding values, character, competence and courage from our role models?

I don’t fucking know. But ask questions people. Always ask questions. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting for Superman: Reflecting on a Film and the Problem Behind It

Films like Waiting for Superman are dangerous if you let them in. They are inspiring and debilitating, uplifting and crippling.  All in all, they are as overwhelming as life itself.

For the greater part, most of us can drift through life deflecting the potency of it all but once in a while something comes along, grabs you by the short hairs, sticks a microscope in your face and shoves some truth up your ass. It forces you to open your eyes and your heart and despite your greatest efforts, to let it in. It screams, ‘I AM A PROBLEM! STOP IGNORING ME, PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS AND LOOK AT ME!’

An Inconvenient Truth, one of Davis Guggenheim’s earlier efforts, accomplished this even though Washington's progress on the matter suggests otherwise. And even though Al Gore was a surprisingly effective conduit for his message, he was not nearly as persuasive as the children in Waiting for Superman.

Blogger’s Warning: You will fall in love with the children in this film. Your heart will swell and break with their triumphs and failures. They will get under your skin…and they will stay there.   

I went into this film with preconceived albeit incomplete notions about the imperfections plaguing education in this country. I knew that America was falling behind the rest of the world in a big, big way. I knew that ‘No Child Left Behind’ was, in fact, leaving millions of children behind. I knew that teachers unions were a force in politics and that tenure was enabling complacency if not incompetence in our public schools.

But I was shortsighted as to the scope of these problems. They are immense. And they are threatening our country’s future in ways I did not fully realize until I saw this film.

The extent to which children’s academic aptitude drops off from elementary school to middle school is nothing short of appalling. Merely one third of middle school children possess math and reading skills appropriate for their age levels. By high school, a large portion of these children will be, and I’ll be saying this a lot so get used to it, left behind.

Academically, they will slip between the cracks of a system that pays more attention to the students that need less of it and then they will drop out. With no degree, no job skills, no self esteem and no hope, they will wander the streets of America, predominantly its inner cities, and they will waste away. Many will have no choice but to resort to crime and most of them will spend at least a portion of their lives in prison.

Although the film points out that the problem does not only affect minorities, it does predominantly. Poorer families are simply less equipped to deal with the problems that arise with their children. They cannot afford to send their kids to private schools. They cannot afford to send their children to specialists to test for learning disabilities and they cannot afford tutors on the off chance that their tenured teachers are not doing their jobs. They are far more reliant on public schools and far more vulnerable to the detriments of their shortcomings.

Bad teachers = bad schools = bad neighborhoods.

This is a fairly obvious equation but changing the variables is not so simple.

Over the years, teachers’ unions have grown in size, muscle and political prominence. The two largest unions, when combined, are the single largest contributor to political campaigns in the United States, directing most of their efforts towards Democrats. Their clout is stronger than the pharmaceutical lobby, stronger than oil and stronger than my gun-toting cronies at the N.R.A.

I don’t know about you but I was not aware of this. And it is this fact that has made significant education reform difficult. These unions exist to protect the teachers from, among other things, employers’ audacious insistence that they do their jobs well. These unions have failed for two primary reasons; the first being that it has created an occupational vacuum that is impervious to internal or external forces…a vacuum that does not reward good teachers or punish bad ones. Not financially and not disciplinarily.

The second failure is tenure, which in many public schools is granted after only three years, at which point all motivation to improve or maintain performance levels are removed and the teacher is rendered all but unfirable. Outside of fucking or beating their students or setting their schools on fire, the odds of tenured teachers getting fired are remote.

I have had three teachers who have touched my life. One talked me through the aftermath of my parents’ divorce, the second let me smoke cigarettes outside her classroom while I vented about the maelstrom that accompanied adolescence and the third has been my best friend for the past thirty years.

Having attended three different high schools in my tour of Long Island’s educational institutions, I experienced the entire spectrum; great teachers, terrible ones, passionate and also indifferent, teachers that could connect with their students and teachers so detached from humanity that they should be studied in a fucking laboratory.

I have experienced firsthand how a good teacher cannot only teach their students but they can also reach them. I have watched kids treat my friend like a rock star because he has the rare ability to entertain while he educates, to empathize while he disciplines, to exert the effort to be original in his methodology. But my friend, a private school employee who makes roughly what I make bartending, is an exception, not the norm.

The film points out several other exceptions who are passionate, innovative and dedicated. But they are not the norm. The norm is a clusterfuck of ineptitude sheltered by an impenetrable wall of bureaucracy that the film refers to as ‘The Blob.’

This ‘Blob’ is the overlapping, interwoven web of laws, standards and people that is constructed out of school boards, superintendents, city, state and federal officials…all of which have different laws, protocols and political agendas.

The ‘Blob’s’ lack of a unifying set of standards and a single gauge by which to rate the performance of both students, as well as teachers, is an enormous problem. Communists are evil, yes. Socialism is the personification of mortal sin, we know. But socialized education has advantages; among them its ability to sidestep ‘The Blob’ and the fact that it has one measuring stick and one government body to answer to…not a multitude of unions, officials and bureaucrats that prevent this broken system from repairing itself.

The side effects of this systemic disintegration are widespread and we are feeling the sting from its backlash. There is considerable animosity about the growing outsourcing trend but, as Superman points out, this trend has become less of a choice and more of a necessity. Why? Because America can no longer provide enough adequately educated people to meet the demands of the global workforce. Although we have the brainpower and the brawn, we simply do not have the skills necessary to keep up with the rest of the world.

So all this animus towards the treasonous virtues of outsourcing needs to be directed at the real villain, our own inability to educate our children.

The Status Quo is basically me at the age of sixteen. It is petulant, it doesn’t want to be fucked with in any way and if challenged, it will fight back with everything it has. It’s got raggedy clothes and a shitty haircut but it just doesn’t care. Even if you send the Status Quo to a nuthouse, it will violently defend its sanity. Arrest and convict the Status Quo and it will insist upon its innocence, no matter how much evidence you have against it.

The Status Quo, as it applies to education is, as I was at sixteen, in dire need of an intervention. Without one, it runs the risk of annihilating itself in a whirlwind of self-destructive dysfunction. It needs to go to rehab and it needs to realize that it is hurting itself and everyone it comes into contact with.

The stakes could not be any higher. Our country’s ability to compete in fields like I.T. and renewable energy is lacking. We are…wait for it…falling behind. And if we do not pick up the pace…we will be left behind. As Superman illustrates, we have the means to do just that and the film points out the potential to universally implementing these means as well as the challenges.

Charter Schools work. But there are simply not enough of them and the lottery system employed by them is cruel. So another way must be found because, and suppress the uprising bile as I say this, our children truly are our future; socially, politically, occupationally. The fate of our future can not be tied to the occasional lottery ball. So go see Waiting for Superman and fall in love with these children. 

Look at her. Open your eyes, take a deep breath, relax your colon and allow the truth to be crammed up your ass. You want this truth and even though you may not realize it, YOU FUCKING NEED IT!

And what the children need is our help. They need us to mend this broken institution because if we don’t, and this is the last time I'm gonna say this, they will get left behind.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This Congress We Will Have Tomorrow

I was bartending a week ago when a partially sloshed, completely abrasive woman grabbed my hand and without consent, starting studying its contours. She looked me in the eyes and with unyielding certainty, told me that A) the relationship I was in at the moment was not working, B) I had recently given up on a very successful career and was now bartending while I searched for my future vocation, and C) I was so sick and tired of people questioning my sexual orientation that for the first time in my life, I was considering changing it.

She said this with the type of unflappable conviction that can only come from someone that is completely and utterly full of shit. So I looked at her, smiled warmly and then told her that I had not had a girlfriend for over three years. And that even though I have always been a fairly good writer and actor, I was an abject failure at it when gauged by monetary measuring sticks and despite this, had no desire to abandon it in search of something else. Furthermore, I told her pointedly that the only time in my life that I had to defend my sexual orientation was when I was in rehab and a cokewhore insisted that I was gay because I wouldn’t fuck her on a ping-pong table with two Russian alcoholics watching us.

There is a point to this story, I promise you. This knucklehead knew not my past so she could not make sense of my present and surely could not forecast my future. This being said, she would probably have even more difficulty foretelling what will happen if the Republicans gain control of one or maybe even both houses of Congress.

But allow me to prognosticate if I may. And I don’t need The Secret, The Power or the wisdom of the ancients to guide me on my quest. I don’t need bat wing broth, eye of newt or lizards tongue to remember the past. Nor will reading Bill O’Reily’s on-air EKG or Todd Palin’s snowmobiling resume allow me to see the future. 

It was originally my intent to mourn the impending doom of the Republican Tea Party Apocolypse that is drawing nigh but I decided that such negativity would be futile. It was also my intent to cite what Republican-heavy Congresses of the past hath wrought and then attempt to predict what one might do in the future. But this turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated. And besides, much like my bar patron, I cannot predict the future based on the past. I can only speculate as to what might happen if the Republicans pull off the coup d’ etat grand on Election Day and my conclusions may surprise you, especially if you are a democrat.

Yes some bad things may happen. But maybe some good things will as well.

Exhibit A, Nancy Pelosi will be muzzled and silenced. The world will rejoice, erupting in unified jubilation, especially the Democrats. 

Another potentially good side affect is that the Republican legislation paradigm, which, for the last two years, has been to simply wipe their asses with any piece of paper that comes from the other side of the aisle, will have to change. If in power of one of both houses, they will have no choice but to actually come up with some ideas of their own. Hopefully these ideas will be more creative than cutting taxes even if we can’t afford to and to stop spending money on everything including the construction of a wall that will prevent our economy from plummeting into the Grand Canyon. Playing the role of obstructionist party-pooper will not suffice if they have any aspirations of taking back the White House in 2012. Or if that fails, there’s always Bristol Palin in 2044.

And with the election behind them, the Democrats that actually managed to keep their jobs can stop formulating legislative agendas based on electoral demographics. I’m talking to you Harry Reid. Furthermore, they can start writing and voting for legislation that will create jobs, not merely preserve their own.

Admittedly, I always thought that a filibuster-proof supermajority was the only way to actually achieve any significant legislative victories. This proved true in Health Care Reform and the Financial Reform Bill where Dems needed every inch of their majority to get them passed.

And yes, part of me is petrified that a Republican Congress will successfully slaughter the Health Care Bill, legitimately legalize water-boarding, resurrect Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and start a war with Iceland.

But…perhaps a Congress that is fairly evenly divided might actually be a good thing.

I am probably being helplessly optimistic here but maybe bipartisanship can only be achieved by forcing our elected officials into a position where they have no choice but to work together to save their country, the future of their parties and most importantly, THEIR JOBS!

This round of political cagefighting has crescendoed and will dissipate into nothingness by morning. And if the noxious air left behind is not filtered out of Capital Hill, any bills pertaining to economic growth, climate change and ending both wars will choke to death before they even hit the bottom of the “hopper.”

And this country cannot afford to continue trailing the rest of the world on education, clean energy technology and efforts to curb the effects of global warming which, I assure you, IS ACTUALLY FUCKING HAPPENING!!!

It is time for Congress to govern. Once the last verbal mud-pie has been slung and the last campaign ad featuring dead fetuses has aired and the last vote has been cast, it will be time for politicians and their politicking ways to take a back seat to action.

Congress, no matter how it is stacked, needs to cut the bullshit and get to work.

Fiscal hawks and tax-and-spend gorgers will have to create jobs together. The inaugural Tea Party class and uber-gay, bleeding hearts like Barnie Frank will just have to hate each other on their own time, while working together to get our troops out of that goddamn Middle Eastern desert. 

I watched the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and after the substandard jokes and sing-alongs, Jon Stewart gave what I though was a very poignant speech. He did not vilify the right as I thought he might, nor did he lambaste the left. He simply made a gentle plea to the roughly quarter-million attendees to “Stop the insanity.” “If you amplify everything, you hear nothing.” He said to great affect.

Well spoken Jon. When too many things get amplified, distortion usually follows. And while it is difficult to intelligently communicate amidst all this distortion, it is impossible to govern.

So…with the campaign circus leaving town, off to wallow in the same limbo where all campaigns go to spend their afterlives, can we now focus on improving our future?

Maybe America is just like me. Maybe, like me and my imaginary girlfriend from Niagara Falls, Congress is also in a troubled relationship. And maybe they can mend what has long-since frayed.

Maybe the left versus right vitriol is a side effect of my own confused sexuality that is teetering on the brink of a systematic overhaul.

Perhaps what was most amusing about my encounter with my apple-martini-guzzling seer was that she gave me her phone number with a wink, a smile and an eye-fuck as if she already knew that I would call her before she even reached the exit.

When she did leave, I immediately began asking questions. Because, remember this, it is always important to ask questions. It is the process during which we illuminate life and self. So if she was a psychic…and she can see the future…why did she give me her phone number if she already knew that the moment she left my bar, I was going to light it on fire?

There are lessons to be learned in this blog. Can you hear them? Can you understand them? If not, they are as follows.

1)    Drinking massive amounts of vodka and Apple Pucker does not instill a person with clairvoyance, it just gives them heartburn and makes them annoying.
2)    Beer muscles have, for the first time, manifested in the form of an inaccurate perception of one’s psychic skills.
3)    Congress is a dysfunctional wasteland where difficult bills go to retire and die, much like northeastern Jews who have relocated to Boca Raton.
4)    I have had a great deal of fun fornicating with women and only women for most of my adult life.

But maybe, just maybe…all of this will change tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow our leaders will actually lead with their hearts and not with the wallets of the hemorrhoids that financed their campaigns.

Maybe tomorrow Jaegermeister will instill mankind with the power to levitate and predict natural disasters. 

Maybe tomorrow the turbulent crosswinds circling Capital Hill will die down just a bit and the very concept of bipartisanship will graduate from ‘fantastical optimism’ to ‘political reality.’

Maybe tomorrow we will draft legislation that creates jobs, improves education and erects an energy philosophy devoid of oil and coal.

Maybe tomorrow, I will wake up spooning a slim, oiled-up man named Sven. With Streisand serenading us, we will giggle about all they years I wasted penetrating vaginas with my misguided member. We will dream of a world where laws get passed that allow us to get married before we openly join the military together. With Sven wrapped around my torso in a camouflaged baby bjorn, I will feed him MREs and we will giggle some more. We will dream of a world where the best people, through the democratic process, come up with the best ideas…and then those ideas become the laws that insure that every citizen of this country will get their slice of that mirage that is the American Dream.

Mmmmm, what a tomorrow that would be.

But whatever unfolds tomorrow, I hope you vote today.

Article first published as This Congress We Shall Have Tomorrow... on Technorati.