Twenty Chickens For A Saddle

The Book of the Week is “Twenty Chickens For A Saddle” by Robyn Scott, published in 2008. This autobiography described people who chose an adventurous lifestyle over one of comfort, safety and convention.

Botswana was a peaceful, well-fed nation, thanks to the government’s policy of designating more than three-quarters of the country as tribal trust land. It was a demilitarized zone where anyone could graze their animals.

In late 1987, the author’s parents decided to move with their two daughters and son from New Zealand to a rural area in Botswana. The author was the oldest, at seven. The father had been a homeopathic doctor but became a physician at five different government-run clinics (only one of which had a telephone; none had electricity and running water), flying to them by light plane on different days. The mother was a home-schooling mom.

The family fixed up a long-abandoned cowshed for their residence. They lived close to the father’s father– a colorful character– and his second wife; some miles away from an abandoned nickel/copper mine. He helped with their education– teaching them Latin names of all sorts of flora and fauna. For the most part, life-threatening dangers and primitive conditions abounded. There were heat, mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, HIV, wild horses and machine parts such as detonators that were supposed to be illegal. The kids did, however, take ballet and tennis lessons in town. And they had a home library. They even had a zipline over their swimming pool with a slide.

While the mother recovered from a medical problem, the author and her younger brother attended a free primary school for a term. Its student body was mostly white people; the government-run school that charged a fee was farther away and was mostly black people. Girls began school at six years old, while boys who had cow-herding to do, started at eight or nine.

The author loved the structure of a classroom, and the competition for gold stars.  Her mother inspired a love of learning, but had a free-for-all curriculum and no government supervision whatsoever.

The author joined what would be equivalent to the Brownies in the United States; her brother joined the Cub Scouts. At term’s end, the kids returned to home-schooling. When they reached their early teens, they did self-directed projects for a New Zealand correspondence course in agriculture, architecture and transport. Then they entered boarding school. The author attended a Dominican convent school in Zimbabwe.

The author described the daily trials and tribulations her father encountered in seeing patients, as Botswanans believe in ancestor worship and witchcraft. He had an even tougher time beginning in the early 1990’s, when the AIDS crisis hit the nation.

At that time, the family moved to a nicer property, but it was near the border with South Africa. There was a block association of sorts, which had racist policies– “Newcomers mustn’t offer higher wages to their black servants, or else all the Tuli Block farmers would have to pay the price. Livelihoods might be ruined!” Most of the farmers had large plots of land and hundreds of heads of cattle.

Read the book to learn many more details of the author’s unique experiences and her entrepreneurial endeavors.

The Way Things Ought to Be – Bonus Post

“The Way Things Ought to Be” by Rush Limbaugh, published in 1992, is a summary of the author’s opinions on major political issues he covered on his conservative-Republican radio talk show a few years prior to presidential election day of 1992.

Limbaugh related an anecdote as an example of how he aired a certain political message satirically in a way different from other information outlets. Some time later, change occurred on that issue, such as a proposed law, or a new communication style, or what have you.

Limbaugh contended that he was responsible for initiating that change. Not that there weren’t hundreds of other information outlets competing for viewers’, listeners’ and participants’ attention simultaneously on those issues. Everyone was listening only to Limbaugh, of course.

In 1988, Limbaugh hosted a national radio show from WABC in New York City. He admitted to using offensive language on the show. He wrote that in Santa Barbara, California, an advertiser (a restaurant) complained about his use of the word “feminazi.” That advertiser vowed never to purchase ad time again on his show. Limbaugh gave a free plug to the restaurant. It became mobbed with customers. The reader would have thought that other advertisers would wise up and threaten to pull their ads unless he gave them a free plug. But Limbaugh ended the story there. So the reader will never know.

Limbaugh challenged the reader to “… name one great entertainer who is great in large part because of his or her politics other than me.” Um… Al Franken?  And he’s funny.

Limbaugh believes in the voucher system of education. The idea is to distribute vouchers allowing parents to choose the school (not necessarily in their district) their children would attend so that their children could afford to get a religious education. Regardless of whether income inequality actually prevents people from getting a religious education– vouchers are utterly impractical. If the voucher system were really implemented for all schools in the nation, there would be chaos. There would be lawsuits galore due to overflow demand at some schools and none at others. An overwhelming amount of planning would be required to estimate school space capacities and personnel needs, not to mention a host of other issues.

It is also argued that vouchers give parents more choice of schools. Parents already have choices. If their kids’ education is that important to them, they will move to the school district where they want their children to attend.

It might be recalled that the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations were rocked by several scandals. In one scandal, Congress members were permitted to get away with bouncing checks left and right (getting no-interest loans, basically) from the House Bank. Following the disclosure of this and other disgusting, unethical behavior, Congress had the audacity to vote itself a raise. Limbaugh emphatically stated that Congress thought itself to be above the law. Further, in March 1992, he publicly declared in a TV interview that Congress had been doing nothing for twelve years, “… ever since Reagan was elected… Their only concern was to deny Reagan as many legislative victories as possible.” Sounds familiar. A more current example is Mitch McConnell’s treatment of Barack Obama.

Limbaugh also ranted that top executives at large nonprofit organizations were paid as much as corporate CEOs. “Many of these groups don’t even do charitable work. They are political agitators lobbying the government for money and regulations they can twist to their benefit.” Limbaugh claimed he doesn’t do activism on his show. For activism, in the summer of 1991, he formed the National Conservative Forum. Enough said.

On abortion, Limbaugh boasted that Reagan and Bush won a large number of states due to the fact that they were pro-life, and their opponents were pro-choice. Invalid argument. Incidentally, abortion isn’t the only issue voters consider when they choose a presidential candidate.

Limbaugh took issue with a strongly-worded letter complaining that Reagan appeared in a TV ad with an AIDS activist in 1990, but did nothing to help counter the AIDS epidemic while he was in office. Limbaugh didn’t address that valid point, but suddenly wanted to donate to a pediatric AIDS charity thereafter.

Limbaugh often compared apples and oranges.  He likened Anita Hill’s allegation that she was subjected to sexual harassment by Supreme-Court-justice candidate Clarence Thomas, to Patricia Bowman’s allegation against William Kennedy Smith. However, those were two women in completely different situations.

Hill had a high-powered career in a male-dominated field. She would kill her career if she uttered one word about inappropriate behavior that any of her male colleagues had directed toward her. As it was, any female who spoke out was inviting a tabloid field day. She would do so only if she wanted to change things for the future. She must have known the costs involved going in. In the Hill case, all the people involved had ulterior political motives for why they supported or opposed the accuser. The outcome would affect them personally.

Limbaugh felt that in the 1992 presidential election [prior to election day], “The key to change, though, will be found inside— not outside the system among politically experienced people who are ethical, honest, and moral– characteristics that do matter, despite how loudly they are pooh-poohed by the liberal elite. Outsiders, and those who present themselves as such, will ultimately end up as carcasses strewn across the countryside, false prophets of a false premise.” Hmm.

Read the book to learn of Limbaugh’s views on all the issues aforementioned plus animal rights activism, and the causes he believed in.

All Day – BONUS POST

The Book is “All Day, A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island” by Liza Jessie Peterson, published in 2017. This is a personal account of a “starving artist” who became a jail-school teacher to support herself.

The author wrote that she initially did a stint at Rikers Island (the famous jail in New York City) as a substitute teacher in spring 2008 for three weeks. She was then hired full-time in the autumn to teach a pre-GED (the then-high-school equivalency exam) class of youths awaiting transfers or releases.

The author described in detail what went on in the classroom and how she was able to relate to, and inspire her students to try to turn their lives around. The teenage students had had troubled home lives and some had committed truly serious crimes.

In mid-autumn 2008, the teachers at the school got an ultimatum to teach the “rubric” curriculum. There were specific (unrealistic) time allotments for different activities during a period. The clueless educrats who were imposing the new, draconian, inscrutable system weren’t even American education consultants. The author wrote they were from Australia (!)

Further, the author was spot-on in her description of the changes to education in recent decades, “Just follow the dollars. There is a rush to incarcerate rather than educate. The pipeline is clear… overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms. Outdated textbooks. Overworked, underpaid teachers…”

Read the book to learn of the multiple frustrations, traumas and triumphs the author claimed to have lived, in a dark, stressful, depressing place.

ENDNOTE: Peterson ended up resigning in early February of 2009, to maintain her sanity, and to work at a job with at-risk youths. So it was not an entire “year” as in the book’s title. Also, her terminology was outdated for the time in which claimed she taught. She mentioned “correctional officers,” “Board of Education,” and “superintendent” whom she named as Cami Anderson. The reason for this was unclear, as the newer terms would have shown that she really had taught those kids like she said she did. It does matter for the fact that the book was supposedly nonfiction– her own personal account. She should have honestly told the reader it was someone else’s experience, as told to her. This way, she wouldn’t appear to be another Janet Cooke of Washington Post fame. Too bad, because the author’s descriptions rang true about life for the sector of society she had witnessed and was attempting to assist.

Shrub

The Book of the Week is “Shrub, The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush” by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, published in 2000.

The contents of this slim volume were presumably published before election day, 2000. For, it seems that the authors were trying to deter readers from voting for (now former president) George W. Bush for president. The arguments were clear, concise and full of facts.

In a nutshell, as the governor of Texas in the late 1990’s, “From the record, it appears that he [Bush] doesn’t know much, doesn’t do much, and doesn’t care much about governing.” The authors recounted the allegedly positive actions taken on crime, education, the budget and some other issues by Bush’s predecessor, Ann Richards, and then explained how he reversed them.

Bush came from a privileged, wealthy, widely socially connected family, whose name (especially his daddy’s) he used to solicit other people’s money to make a large quantity for himself (and get elected to public office). Those other people didn’t mind that Bush’s 1980’s oil venture in which they invested, failed big-time, because they got huge tax write-offs, and gained patronage jobs and networking opportunities. Basically, it was redistribution of wealth among the wealthy.

Judging from Governor Bush’s record on the spike in cruel and unusual punishment in the criminal justice system, pollution free-for-all enjoyed by big corporations, and the gravy train resulting from privatization of welfare in Texas, the reader would think he had sociopathic tendencies. Unsurprisingly, the people who benefited from his policies were his major campaign donors.

In the 1980’s, H. Ross Perot was appointed as an education consultant to improve Texas public schools. He made a great positive impact on the system by acting on the common-sense theme that “Most experts agree the single most important step Texas took during the long process of reform was [drumroll, please] mandating smaller class sizes in the lower grades and emphasizing early education.” Bush claimed Perot’s results as his own. Not only that, his cronies favored charter schools, so he advocated for the maximum number Texas could open.  The result was 151 of them in only six months in 1997. Their quality has been uneven at best, and there were a few that cheated numerous students out of an education because they faced mismanagement and financial ruin and closed.

The authors do give Bush credit for his effort to preserve education funding when his governorship was forced to impose budget cuts. However, the results of even additional funding for education can be worse than budget cuts to education when the money is spent on the wrong items– such as sweetheart no-bid contractors, profit-oriented consultants and the subsidizing of charter schools that close.

Read the book to learn the details of the damage done by “W” when he was governor of Texas, etc., etc., etc.

Brain Rules

[SIDENOTE: Strangely, anytime, but only when this blogger writes something controversial, or about Donald Trump, WordPress crashes. Just an observation.]

The Book of the Week is “Brain Rules” by John Medina, published in 2008.

The author wrote about various factors that affect brain function, and how the brain can function better with regard to exercise, evolutionary developments, memory, driving, sleep, stress, the senses and gender.

The author claimed that studies have shown that any amount of exercise is better for the brain and body as a whole than no exercise at all. Intelligence can be maximized in work and school environments when people have a knowledge-base plus creativity. Other research showed that a simple experience of magazine-reading changed the neurons in the brain of one identical twin but not the other twin who hadn’t done magazine-reading.

Medina related a few anecdotes from his personal life to illustrate his points. A memorable incident for him occurred when a dog came out of a lake and shook water all over him. During those ten seconds, a normal human brain would “…recruit[s] hundreds of different brain regions and coordinate[s] the electrical activity of millions of neurons.”

The author cited blind gender studies in which subjects were asked their opinions of a person’s behavior; subjects held negative opinions of the person they were told was female, and positive opinions when told the person was male.

Medina crowed about how awesome retention was when research subjects were subjected to multi-sensory presentations (such as academic lectures, as when visuals, written text and verbal communication were used) as opposed to any of these alone.  He advocated minimizing the reading by subjects of large chunks of text because tests showed that it was not as effective at getting subjects to retain information as was multi-media.

It appeared that the author was promoting dumbed-down education in general; perhaps because it is in the best interest of any university professor to tow his employer’s line (and possibly the government’s) in order to continue to receive research grants and further his or her career.

Read the book to learn of more neurological studies and the author’s ideas (which he admits are fantasies) that might improve cognitive functioning at work or school.

Diary of a West Point Cadet

The Book of the Week is “Diary of a West Point Cadet” by Captain Preston Pysh, published in 2011. This slim volume tells of a West Point student’s experiences as a member of the Class of 2003.

Pysh (rhymes with “fish”) was originally from a small farm town in Pennsylvania. He was a growth-oriented, goal-oriented individual who survived the military-style draconian training meted out at the academy because he understood the lessons behind the rigor. The place had a demanding, exacting atmosphere– forcing the students to find creative solutions to problems in serving the upperclassmen. Only about one tenth of the students majored in electrical, mechanical or civil engineering. The author was passionate about aerospace engineering. The highlight of his college career was his senior project– an experimental device for NASA that he and his project-group members tested in a KC-135 aircraft.

Read the book to learn more about Pysh’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in navigating the high pressure, military-career oriented institution that is West Point.

Side Note: This book appears to have been written: a) with the aid of speech-recognition software (which has yet to be perfected) or b) simply never edited after the first draft, as it contained an annoying number of misspellings, skipped words and grammatical errors.

The Conscience of a Conservative

The Book of the Week is “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater, published in 1960. This slim volume lays out the political opinions of the late conservative Senator from Arizona.

Goldwater believed that Conservatives considered the spiritual as well as economic needs of their constituents; Liberals, only the economic needs. There was a conflict between freedom and order, but the Conservatives wanted to maximize freedom.

“Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man’s liberty.” He thought that government power grew with allowing people to live their lives as they saw fit.

Goldwater was a big advocate of limiting the power of the federal government not just because the people deserved the most freedom possible, but because their local governments knew better how to take care of them.

The Senator lamented that federal programs were being imposed on the states in the guise of States’ Rights. And the programs were conditional– the Fed was using both the carrot and the stick to achieve its aims while having the states do its bidding. Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. A recent example of this was the 2009 “Race to the Top” education dollars that rained down on the states that changed their policies to get with the program. It emphasized standardized testing, teacher evaluations, other easily manipulated statistical measures and common standards whose results were questionable with regard to actual education improvement.

The Senator took issue with a few other areas besides education that he thought the states, not the federal government, should control:  welfare, public power, farming, public housing and urban renewal.

Goldwater also related his views on labor unions. He felt that membership should have been voluntary, and that their political activities should have been banned. For, only unions’ top leadership had a say in their affiliations and funding with member dues, and the workers were forced to comply. He thought that the purpose of the union should have been solely to give workers the ability of collective bargaining. He made many generalizations and did not differentiate between government unions and private-sector unions.

This blogger thinks that current unions in the private sector should be allowed to continue their activities, but they are unnecessary with the way things are in the United States today.

Economics 101 says that a nation requires a healthy, well-educated workforce. Unions in the private sector discourage upward mobility– why should workers want to acquire more training and edification in their careers if they’re making a decent living and their jobs are protected? Unions in low-skilled positions especially, foster complacency. This blogger thinks that private-sector unions foster a lazy, poorly educated nation of low-skilled employees who go to work to collect a paycheck.

Non-union employees need no protection in the private sector. Employee satisfaction gets the same score as customer service. Free-market competition usually keeps employers in line.

If employees walk off the job en masse, other employers will gladly accept employees and business lost by the wayward employer. Customers and employees can go over to Wendy’s if McDonald’s is unsatisfactory, or to Target if Walmart doesn’t deliver. Low pay and difficult working conditions should encourage fry cooks and greeters to go to school to get a better job.

In the early 20th century, there was a need to protect workers– who were easily subjected to exploitation because many workers were poorly skilled, poorly educated new immigrants. There was limited opportunity for education, and limited transportation options even if workers were willing to relocate to find a job. Today, workers have more resources than ever to find work or engage in professional improvement if they want to.

Unions are needed in civil service, and a few monopolistic industries (such as couriers, transportation, education and healthcare services), because they are exceptional. They are providing essential services (health, education and welfare), or else the work they provide is a matter of life and death. Government employees who are providing essential services deserve due process, in exchange for not striking.

Striking is illegal, and rightly so. There would be massive economic and/or societal disruption, and possible deaths, if they were to walk off the job en masse. Therefore, civil service unions are a necessary evil.

Read Goldwater’s book to learn more about his take on government, and American foreign policy. Here’s a hint:  “… if all nuclear weapons suddenly ceased to exist, much of the world would immediately be laid open to conquest by the masses of  Russian and Chinese manpower.”

Why Do Only White People…

The Book of the Week is ” ‘Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens?’ ” by Ilana Garon, published in 2013. This is the personal account of a New York City high school English teacher who began her career during the early years of the Bloomberg mayoral administration. Fresh out of college, but passionate and focused, she became a Teaching Fellow in a rigorous training summer-school program in the Bronx in 2003.

The author, like many, many other teachers before and since, suffered psychologically draining experiences at an overcrowded, inner-city school in her first year teaching. Garon’s day had fourteen periods, ending at 5:55pm. She became privy to numerous bad home situations, and was involved in her share of in-school incidents. Her school had a heavy police presence and metal detectors that were used to screen all the students every time they entered the campus. She wrote, “… am continuing to teach at a school where all I do is discipline….”

There were ethnic tensions among light-skinned, darker-skinned, and Spanish-speaking kids. When students engaged in fighting in the hallway, “…it sounds like a bomb… Everyone starts screaming, the crowd of about one hundred kids…” There were also gang fights. It wasn’t just the boys, either. “Rather than the boys, who would throw punches, the girls would hold each other in death grips, trying to slam each other into floors or walls and pull each other’s hair out.”

Someone asked the author why she didn’t assign a particular novel about African Americans to her class. She tried to explain that the reason she didn’t, wasn’t that the book would be too hard for them– it had nothing to do with the stereotype that people of their ethnicity can’t read as well as others; it was that the book would be too hard for most of the students, given their poor reading, writing and verbal skills, regardless of their ethnicity.

Despite many of the students’ abysmal literacy, Garon was under pressure by higher-ups to give the students a passing grade, whether or not they completed their coursework, or demonstrated that they learned anything. Unsurprisingly, by the spring of her first year, she had also been subjected to sexual harassment from faculty members, and the mentoring system had failed her. Her mentor, who doubled as the baseball coach, absented himself from mentoring her in the spring.

In her second year, the author was assigned to “team-teach” one of her classes– a Special Education inclusion class of 33 boys; in other words, a boatload of behavior problems. The other teacher on her team was a Filipino who spoke only Tagalog (no English), while the students spoke only English and Spanish.

Garon was threatened by a student for confiscating a note he was passing to another student in her classroom. She couldn’t let that go. She had to assert her authority over the students or else they’d walk all over her ever after. However, reporting the student was a legal can of worms. The bureaucracy required a court hearing by the Board of Education. She had to get on the stand and testify. The student had a lawyer present. It took five hours. It happened to be scheduled on the same day as parent-teacher conferences. So she missed most of them.

Garon discussed the case of a cute, smart African American boy in her class who was a year younger than his classmates. His situation had looked so promising when she first met him. His parents and teachers were encouraging and cared about his education. He was attending a good school. Garon thought his academic performance suffered between ninth and tenth grades due to peer pressure– the other kids would socially ostracize him for being “white” and nerdy if he got good grades.

The author teaches the kinds of kids she does, because she wants to make a difference in these deprived youngsters, compensate those who “… had been slighted in more ways than I could enumerate, while my peers and I had been given ever more incalculable advantages over them.” She feels that poverty is the main obstacle to their getting an education. This means home environment– their homes lack the same resources that other kids have; for starters– they lack parents who care about their education, who teach them behavior patterns that lead to success.

Read the book to learn of the slew of other issues Garon faces on a daily basis.