Being Sick in the Military

One of my family members posted the following picture to Facebook:

I'm not a teacher so I can't speak about the veracity of that statement, but nevertheless I felt compelled to post the following response:

"Not true - when you're in the military, it's much worse. Here's just one example from my years in the service:

"I had food poisoning and I spent the night throwing up so much that I lost 10 pounds in one day. (Seriously.) But the military owns you, so you can't just call in sick. Despite feeling like I was about to die, I had to drive 30 minutes to the military post and show up for a morning formation, where I stood at-attention or at-ease for a 30-minute summary of the days' news and events. After that formation ended, all of people who wanted to go on sick call were ordered to fall out to a separate formation, where I had to describe my symptoms to the NCOIC, who was tasked with determining if anyone should actually be allowed to head to the clinic or go back to work.

"Bear in mind that the clinic that I was sent to was not a hospital where I would see an actual doctor, but a tiny building where no one had any formal medical education. For that matter, sick call is a horrible experience where you eventually get to meet up with a disgruntled E-4 who's sorry that he volunteered for his MOS and generally wants to take out that frustration on every person who shows up; since he has no formal education, he is only capable of reading symptoms from a book to diagnose you, so it's a miracle that more deaths do not occur in military clinics due to gross negligence. (Although I have long stories about deaths and permanent injuries that were the direct result of misdiagnoses in military clinics, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

"Before I got to see said disgruntled E-4, I had to sit in a waiting room for around an hour, so by the time I was finally sent to an examining room I had been on post for several hours and it was probably approaching noon. The E-4 was able to figure out that I was seriously ill pretty quickly - all of the vomiting was an easy clue. He decided by taking my blood pressure that I was severely dehydrated, (duh), so I spent the next few hours lying on a cot with IV bags in my arms until he decided that I was sick enough to be put on quarters for the rest of the day and I was sent home.

"By the time that I finally arrived at [my wife's and my] apartment it was sometime in the late afternoon, which is when the normal workday would probably have been over for most civilians. But when you're in the military they try to make your illness so unbearable that you'd rather show up to work, so here's the worst part: when you have something like the flu that lasts more than a day, you have to repeat the process that I just described until your illness has passed or you are admitted to a hospital because you are not recovering. Of course, having to sit in a clinic with a score of other sick people means that everyone is trading illnesses, so you have this great breeding ground of diseases in the military, which undoubtedly helped cause a great deal of the military fatalities during the great influenza outbreak in the early 20th century.

"So being sick as a teacher may be awful, but trust me - you could have it a lot worse."

As a parting thought, there may be some qualified people in Army medicine, but I have always pointed out that people who graduate at the top of their class in medical school do not become Army doctors; they take prestigious positions at world-class hospitals. Who usually winds up as military doctors? Medical students with barely passing grades and large student loans to pay off.

Given a choice between a doctor with a 4.0 GPA from Harvard Medical School or a doctor with a 2.5 GPA from The Podunk Medical Academy for the Emotionally Challenged, who would you pick? Well, when you're in the Army, you don't get to pick. And unless you're a general, it's usually the latter of those two choices.

I have always summarized Army medicine as follows: "You get what you pay for when you see an Army doctor; you pay nothing, and you get nothing."

Higher Learning

Many years ago - more years than I care to admit - I worked in the IT department for a local community college in Tucson, AZ. I worked with a great bunch of people during my time at that institution, and now that I have returned to Tucson, it's fun to get reacquainted with my old colleagues and catch up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.

With that in mind, I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my old coworkers for lunch. Our destination was near the University of Arizona, so I parked my car in one of the university's parking garages and set out across the university campus on foot. As I was walking past the mathematics buildings, I happened to overhear one side of an exasperated conversation that a young twenty-something was having on her cell phone. The main source of her consternation appeared to be: "My class has a test in it every day, and the professor never teaches us what's on the test!"

My immediate thought was: "That's good; you're supposed to study and learn the material, then you'll already know what's on the test." This made me laugh first, but after further analysis of the situation, I don't think that it's all that funny. I think that this twenty-something's expectations are a byproduct of today's standardized testing - she expects to be taught what's on the test instead of actually learning the material.

If that's the case, then it's a pretty bad testimony about the state of education in America today.

If You Listen to Liberals About Education, You Are a Bad Person

Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.

Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.

I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.

I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.

By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.

Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.

But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:

  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.

Thinking Backwards about the Environment

I mentioned to my wife the other day that the question of ecological conservatism is backwards from a political perspective.

The typical definition of Liberals versus Conservatives is that "Liberals" (who are often called "Progressives") are rushing forward in the name of progress (sometimes foolishly) while "Conservatives" are fighting hard to preserve what is already there (sometimes like a stick in the mud; just as stubbornly and just as stupidly).

These two points of view will often fight vehemently against the other on issues simply because they feel that they "have to disagree," and not because they actually disagree. Preserving the planet is one such example - I think that most of the arguments that I hear from one side or the other are more often about disagreeing with the opposing position than about the actual issue.

But here's where it gets really strange: when it comes to saving the planet, somehow it is the "Liberals" who want to conserve, and it is the "Conservatives" who are rushing forward in the name of progress (often foolishly) and irrevocably damaging the planet.

But there's an interesting wrinkle in this debate that is often overlooked within the church: many Christians are Conservatives, and as such they join their fellow Conservatives when it comes to fighting issues like ecology. But according to Scripture, Christians have been charged with taking care of the environment, so they should really be trying their best to preserve the planet. So why do most church-goers seem to be fighting against environmentalism?

As I mentioned initially, this whole situation is inexplicably backwards; it just doesn't make sense to me.

I'll get off my soapbox now...

Saints or Sinners / Snacks or Snafus

Over the past few years I have sat quietly and watched a lot of people argue across a myriad of political issues on Facebook. There are people who love portions of our government and its policies, while others detest them. The current scandal-of-the-day is that some see Manning and Snowden as heroes, while others consider them traitors.

I have tried my best to keep my silence, because the last thing that anyone needs is another person adding their opinions to a cyber-sphere that is already saturated by divisiveness, ignorance, and paranoia. But eventually an issue arises where I simply cannot remain silent; sometimes our government has unquestionably gone too far.

With all the dangers and terrors in this world from which we need protection, how is it possible that German Kinder Eggs must be banned by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act?

Somehow I am sure that Communists are to blame. ;-)

The Eye of the Beholder

I have a very easy measuring scale for determining what I consider art: "If I Can Do It, It's Not Art." This may not seem like a complex rule to live by; but when you consider it, it's rather profound. There are a lot of people who will pass off their work as art even though it is actually a bunch of junk.

I have been to a lot of art museums because - I actually like art. But I have witnessed a lot of pieces that are not art; they are elaborate hoaxes by conmen who rebrand their particular style of garbage construction as creative genius.

For example, when I went to the the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany, one of the paintings hanging on the wall was a large canvas where the artist had painted a once-inch red dot in the center of the canvas. This was titled "Red Object #2," or maybe "Red Object #3..." I can't really remember. The point being that this painting was obviously part of a whole study the artist had done on... red objects. Of course I'm looking at this creation and I'm thinking, "I can do that; I could have done that with a crayon."

I've gone to the Seattle Art Museum several times, and I find it absolutely amazing what some people consider 'art'. Now don't get me wrong, there are some amazing pieces of artwork inside the Seattle Art Museum. But there was one canvas where the artist had simply painted an already white canvas with the color white. That's it - just white paint; nothing else. Once again I'm thinking, "I can do that."

At a different museum that I went to in Germany, the Lenbachhaus, it was very evident that an artist had stood at the end of several canvases that were lying on the ground and simply threw buckets of red paint at them. Once again, I can do that - it's not art.

I realize that the perception of art is subjective, and there is a lot of truth to the statement that "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder." But I always fall back on my personal standard that if it's something that I can do, it's not really art - it's just what people pass off as art. (For an example of how I think most modern artists come up with their ideas, you need to watch the movie The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and see how the character Stanislas creates his artwork.)

Another perfect example of the ways in which we think about art can be typified by an experience that I had when I visited the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The museum was presenting an exhibition on impressionism, and I'm a big fan for many of the classical French impressionists: Renoir, Monet, etc. During my visit I entered one of the rooms, and there was an enormous painting by Gauguin hanging on the wall. I'm not a big fan of his artwork; however, I at least consider it art because I can't do what he does.

But as I analyzed this particular painting, I was thinking to myself, "I just don't get it; he only used four colors." I started to think about this painting based on my personal scale; I could have done this, so it can't be art. I (embarrassingly) spent several minutes studying this piece, and I tried hard to determine what it was about this painting that other people can see and I must be missing.

It's like the story of The Emperor's New Clothes; at some point you begin to worry what's wrong with you. If everybody else can see it and you can't, perhaps it's a character flaw. Maybe you're just not cultured enough. And this was the mindset that I had while I was wasting away my afternoon studying that single piece of art.

After I had been standing there for 5 to 10 minutes, a ten-year-old boy entered the room with his mother in tow. He took one look at the painting, laughed, and exclaimed loudly, "That's crap!", and then he walked off.

At that point I realized that I had been duped. I learned that I needed to stick to my instincts and measure every piece by my personal standard that if I can do it, it's not art. This philosophy actually helped me enjoy the rest of the day at the museum. I could walk into a room, I could look at a Renoir and say, "Now that's a piece of art." Or I could look at another Gauguin and say, "That's crap."

Not that it will make any difference...

I am a big fan of movies; and to be honest, I am mostly a fan of classic movies. I have slowly collected a large number of classic movies over the years from several of my favorite actors/actresses: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, etc., etc., etc.

That being said, I am generally not a big fan of recent movies; more often than not the creative team is too short-sighted, and they frequently fall short of creating a truly great movie. Sometimes the problem is writing, sometimes it's direction, and other times it's the acting. But to be fair, sometimes the problem isn't with any of those contributors - sometimes it's a problem with post-production, and this is why I love to buy "Director's Cuts" for many films. Quite often there is a level of depth that is missing from the movie that was part of the director's original vision, and it makes the movie so much better when you add that detail back.

Here's a case in point: I actually like the movie Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Once you get past their bad Irish accents, the movie is a somewhat-acceptable dramedy.

But there are a few scenes that were cut from the film, and unfortunately the DVDs that have been released have never added those scenes to the media. Without theses scenes, parts of the plot have abnormal jumps in the storyline, and it's too bad that a Director's Cut has never been released.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Near the beginning of the movie was an extended sequence near the piano in the Christie's house where Stephen Chase has a private conversation with Shannon Christie. We see Stephen's character soften a little; we learn that he truly cares for Shannon, and that Stephen is not a complete jerk - he's just an arrogant by-product of elitist class.
  • Likewise there was a hilltop scene in Ireland after Shannon and Joseph Donnelly have left for America where Stephen is emotionally destroyed, and he expresses his sentiments to Daniel Christie. Once again this softens Stephen's character a little, and this adds a great deal of conflict to the movie as a spectator - you want to hate Stephen, and you feel like you should hate Stephen, but now you can't. That was a great piece of filmmaking that should have stayed in the movie because it added so much depth.
  • There was an extended scene later in the movie when Joseph was working for the railroad. The shortened scene that was kept simply shows Joseph in a job with no future, whereas the original scene showed Joseph as near-suicidal; Joseph believed not only that he had lost Shannon for good, but that Shannon might not have survived her gunshot wound. Because of this, Joseph was known as the "Crazy Mick" and sent on all of the dangerous missions - because Joseph no longer cared if he lived. This added a whole new dimension to the scene when Joseph discovers Shannon in Oklahoma, because it wasn't mere coincidence to him, he felt as if he was seeing a ghost.
  • There was a brief scene when Joseph and Shannon first arrive in America where they pass under a bridge and they see scores of homeless Irish living in squalor. Later in the movie this comes full-circle when Joseph and Shannon are tossed out in the streets, because they find themselves living in that same squalor, and we get to see just how far they have fallen.
  • There was another scene after Joseph and Shannon are tossed out in the streets where workers were needed for ditch-digging; Joseph volunteers so that he can earn money for the two of them, yet when he turns around at some point he sees Shannon working beside him digging in the ditch. This scene was extremely important to see how the two of them were truly becoming one unit in their struggles together, and it adds a great deal of depth to the scene later in the movie when Joseph and Shannon attempt to hide in the house they thought was unoccupied.

The last two deleted scenes that I described show the many months that Joseph and Shannon suffered together, instead of the awkward jump in the theatrical release between the scene when Joseph and Shannon were thrown out of their apartment (with Joseph beat to a pulp) and the scene when Joseph is begging to help someone load firewood (with Joseph now healed and exclaiming that they haven't eaten in days). Without that detail, the theatrical release is missing a great deal of its emotional impact.

Unfortunately, none of the scenes that I have described have ever been released on a DVD, so they are somewhat lost to the world. My descriptions of these additional details won't bring them back, and it's too bad that Imagine Films won't release these scenes in some format. If anyone knows Ron Howard, you might want to suggest that he release a 25th Anniversary Edition of Far and Away when that date eventually rolls around, but in the meantime - my lamentations won't make a bit of difference.

Your Tablet PC is Not a Camera

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who walk around with a tablet PC and try to use it as a camera.

I don't care how many megapixels a tablet PC has - it's not a real camera, and people look pretty silly trying to hold up a tablet in order to use it as one. Not to mention the fact that people with tablet PCs are typically blocking everyone else's view.

Please do yourself and the rest of the world a favor - if you need to take a photo, buy a real camera.

Bad Christians

I recently saw this video: http://youtu.be/vnJBW49afzg

Let's put this in perspective - a group of self-professed 'Christians' shows up uninvited to a Muslim Arab Festival, where they are confrontational to the Muslims and insulting to the police, and they are carrying signs with slogans like "Repent - your party will burn in the lake of fire (01:14)," "Islam is a religion of Blood & Murder! (03:26)," "Be not believers in drunkards, whoremongers, idolaters, sodomites, fornicators (04:30)," "I am truth and the life - all others are thieves are robbers (04:30)."

No - this was not an act of random violence by a group of Muslim extremists who were targeting an innocent group of Christians; this was a deliberately-staged set of contentious actions by some very unbalanced people who claim to be Christians in order to provoke the very attack that transpired. These otherwise peaceful Arab-Americans were enjoying a day of celebration of their faith and heritage, and these so-called Christians showed up and behaved in an extremely insulting manner, shouting insults with a megaphone and slandering the Muslim faith - these 'Christians' might just as well have been Nazis based on their behavior. The police were 100% correct is telling these fools that they were the cause of the trouble.

Let's reverse things for a moment - let's say that you were a Christian at a peaceful church gathering when a group of atheists showed up to protest by using a megaphone to hurl insults at your religion and they carried signs that proclaimed that Jesus was a drunkard & whoremonger who was the illegitimate son of unwed slut, you would be more than a little offended. You might not personally react with physical violence, but if you had a few thousand Christians in one place when a publicly-outspoken group of atheists or Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims showed up and behaved as provocatively as these 'Christians' did, I can 100% guarantee that someone would eventually lose their cool and start throwing things.

This video is a perfect example of how Christians should NOT behave, and they are certainly not following Christ's example. This is not a question of exercising freedom of speech or freedom of religion - this is a question of exercising good judgment and Christ's love; this group of 'Christians' exhibited neither.

Self-professed 'Christians' like those in this video should be ashamed of themselves.

What I do not admire...

A friend of mine recently posted the following news link to Facebook:

Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years

He accompanied the link with a statement which stated that he admired the young girl for standing up for herself despite all of the misfortune that has come her way. While I strongly object to the hostility that has been directed at her, I do not admire this girl; not because I might disagree with her, but simply because this is yet another symbol of what is so often wrong with this country. While I strongly support standing up for what you believe in - or in this case what you don't believe in - do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.

At sixteen, you are convinced that the world revolves around you. (I have just raised three teenagers, so I am speaking with the voice of recent experience.) The question here is not whether the state is cramming religion down someone's throat - which it clearly is not - but whether an entire community should be inconvenienced for the self-interested attitudes of a single detractor. This solitary malcontent is asking for her community to discontinue a half-century of tradition, and she is demanding that thousands of previous students, parents, and faculty look the other way while she forces the world around her into a mold that is custom-fit for her and no one else; how immature.

There are so many things in contemporary society for which we are asked to look the other way if we have an objection; simply flipping through a magazine or turning on the television will provide ample material for one person or other to raise a protest. You might agree with their objections, or you might disagree, but we live in a free society where you do not have the right to never be offended. In our culture the generally-accepted answer is for the complainant to avoid what offends them; we do not require every publisher to pander to the wishes of every objector. If we managed to remove everything that offended any individual person then we would have nothing left to look at or listen to. (For example, I can't stand country music, but I don't sue Nashville in order to force them to stop cranking out album after album of music that makes me want to hurl.)

But that is not the case in this situation. What is taking place here is that a single student has raised an objection out of self-centered desire; perhaps it is a desire to get her way, perhaps it is a desire for attention, or perhaps she has ulterior ambitions in mind. In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you read the "prayer" in question, there is nothing in it that should be offensive to anyone; it is not forcing religion on anyone - it is simply a call to be a better person:

"Our Heavenly Father,

"Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

"Amen."

Since when is being good offensive to anyone? Is it because she wants to violate the thoughts of goodwill that are expressed within those few words? Does she find it threatening that someone wishes for her to aspire to be better than she is? (Note: You may choose to believe in God, or you may not, that's your choice; but that's actually beside the point in this scenario.)

What is extremely revealing of her attitude is her cause for atheism; when she was ten years old, God didn't do what she wanted, so she decided that there is no God. It's an odd coincidence that the source of her disbelief was a similar situation to her current predicament; when the school voted to keep the prayer banner in question, she lost faith in them. If her parents had opposed her outspoken position, she would have undoubtedly lost faith in them. If the courts rule against her, then she will lose faith in government. This is a bad set of precedents that she is establishing; she wants the world to bow down to her demands, and if they don't comply, then she will simply complain to someone else until she gets her way. Ultimately, it's a bad signal to society when we do so.

This is where she is the most wrong; we live in a tolerant culture, and tolerance means accepting the fact that someone has a right to a conflicting opinion. This is true for religion, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. No one should be allowed to force everyone else to agree with them. So I reiterate my earlier statement: do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.