Monday, May 19, 2014

In College: Never Be the One to Break the Bad News

If there is any hard and fast rule for college students it is: never be the one to break the bad news. In that way station on the way to adulthood, keeping your head low is crucial.
About the same time America was getting used to the electric light and flush toilets I went to college. I was a townie at Syracuse University, back when Social Security would help pay for college if you only had one parent. 
One day I walked into the Varsity restaurant and recognized a woman from one of my classes. She was sitting in a booth pretending to read the New Yorker, and wearing one of the 200 sweaters she brought to campus from New York City. When a guy spotted her you knew she was wondering: "Is it me or my Cos Cob shirtwaist?"
Since I'd had less dates with girls then Truman Capote, I agreed to take her down to Colgate for a party weekend.
We arrived at this one fraternity and all of a sudden she was kissing and hugging all the guys in the fraternity. I asked one of the guys what was going on and he told me she used to date a fraternity brother who'd graduated. He'd told her they couldn't get married because he had a brain tumor. The brother told me this  graduate was presently working on Wall Street and had wanted to dump her.
So I watched for a while and drank with a bunch of guys who knew the story. After I was there a while I didn't seem so much  a stranger as somebody they'd adopted. The joke seem to have some bonding aspect to it.
Finally it became time to make the drive from Hamilton (Colgate's home) back to Syracuse. On the way back, she couldn't stop crying. Feeling sad for her, I told her the truth. Soon the inside of my '54 Ford felt like I was competing in the Iditarod without a parka. We never spoke again that year.
In my senior year she made an attempt to renew the relationship. It seemed tempting, she was gorgeous, but I knew it would take a a guy who wouldn't care very much to make it work.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nigerian Girls: These are Our Daughters

The video of the abducted Nigerian girls sent a shudder down my spine. Because I believed what I was taught in Sunday school about Jesus loving all the children, and because for 30 years Black students represented 40% of the students in my classes, I was programmed to respond. They were my children. They were our children.
The mother of Abubaker Shekau, the leader of Boko Harum, believes her son is insane. Shekau's Islamic insurgency kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April. He took them from a boarding school in northern Nigeria. He is a megalomaniac who loves to be in the news.
Because these girls have been captured by a psycho, there is no way to tell what might end up happening to them. The Nigerian government seems to be doing nothing to rescue them. I'm sure the best of us believe these are our daughters. If it takes an international effort to bring them home safely, then it should be done. This is just not Nigeria's problem, it is a problem for all of us.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Country and the "Black Dog"

Winston Churchill was a manic depressive who called his depression "The Black Dog." His mind was anchored firmly in the 19th century. He fought in the Boer war and couldn't imagine England without an Empire. Therefore, he would never have been a fan of country music, because if he had been,  and he listened to country during depressive episodes he would never have been able to leave Chartwell and lead England to victory over Germany.
There was once a time in my life when I didn't listen to country. Things were just too painful and I didn't want to open  up another door that would send me on the down elevator.
If you listen to Reba McEntire sing "the Greatest Man I ever Knew," which tells of losing a father, you can be brought down on the best of days. When Chely Wright sings "Shut Up and Drive" you can imagine being the guy who never had the smarts to put it together and therefore lost a good woman.
Even though Garth Brooks tells us God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers, we know from experience the next song on the radio may just change the way we look at the rest of the day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Gillette Razor Blades and the One Percent

Gillette fusion razor blades, a product of Procter and Gamble, are very expensive. The only place I can afford to buy them are at Costco. Lately, I've only been able to buy the ones that especially work with the razor that has a battery inside it. I've tried it with the battery inside but I find I get just as good a shave with the razor that doesn't contain a battery. But I'm willing to pay for it at Costco, because if I brought them at a drugstore I would probably need to take a second on my house or sell my firstborn.
Now Gillette has come up with a razor that has a turbo ball in it. They won't tell you what a replacement blade will cost, but they have a come on that gives you a razor and two blades for 13 bucks.
People have speculated that replacement blades will go for as high as $12. You now can hang around drugstores and watch for people who buy replacement blades and discover who's in the one percent.
Gillette won't give you a price per blade on any website, but I know I won't be buying this turbo blade.
In a time in which inequality is a common concern among Americans, Gillette has chosen to help us find out who really has money to burn.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why K-12 in America Is an Embarrassment

Do Americans really care about the quality of their children's education? Given the fact that almost half of them don't believe in evolution, it's probably a stupid question. But for all the talk of improving K-12 education, new statistics show we are not moving forward. Because we're not even in the top 15 countries in educational quality, perhaps we've decided to just give up.
In the most recent test scores only 38% of high school seniors were proficient in reading. Only 26% of high school seniors were proficient in math.
The country that seems to scare our citizens the most is China. In China you have to know calculus before you can attend college. Korea has the largest, by far, percentage of the population that are college graduates. Both of these countries don't allow parents to say "he's just not able to understand math."
However, in New York State parents were pulling their children out of examinations because they felt their offspring might not test well on the common core.
I taught at a California State University where some of the sociology majors read at a sixth-grade level. They could graduate from the University without really taking a math class. One of the classes they were allowed to substitute for math was entitled Advertising.
I've spent the last few years in retirement helping Chinese graduate students learn the nuances of the English language. They in turn taught me Chinese. One of them had the highest GPA in the school of Public Health at UCLA. Another graduated with a PhD in pharmacology and is working for America's most famous consulting firm.
The secret to their success is that they worked incredibly hard. Their parents never made excuses for them. They were forced to compete in school since first grade.
If you think that sounds terrible, then get ready to live in a second rate country. Hard work is what produces great students and leaders. Not having their mommy say "he just doesn't have the mind for math."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Obama Gets an Important Endorsement

When my daughter was eight and finding life challenging, I resigned my University vice presidency, arranged a long sabbatical and followed my, then, wife to Germany to become Mr. Mom. Financially it turned out to be a disaster, but it was the best thing I could have done for my daughter. I would put her on the school bus, teach English in Frankfurt-am-Main, and arrive home in time to meet the school bus.
We became very close and today she calls me every day from UCONN. We spend time finishing each others sentences and discussing what we think are important topics.
A few weeks ago she shook hands with Barack Obama. I asked her if a line from The Great Gatsby about you becoming his whole world for an instant, fit, and she said an emphatic "no". "Gatsby was a phony," she said, "meeting President Obama was like meeting your best friend's dad." She went on to say she wished she'd lived next door to him so she could discuss things with him. She called him "very real" and someone she thought had real compassion for people.
Since the two of us are so alike and I believe her instincts about people are better than mine (and I covered presidential candidates for United Press International), I've got to believe she met a very decent man who she absolutely found to be warm and nonthreatening. (This was very unlike my conversations with Richard Nixon, I might add.)
On my blog I make comments about him that are not always flattering, even thought I voted for him three times (including a primary). If she felt that way, I'm sure I would have had the same impression. So let's hear it for a real person who faces a lot of tough choices.