Leaving the Kids Behind

When "No Child Left Behind" became law a few years back, politicians were ecstatic. Finally, no child would be left behind! They had been left behind before, as many as 61%last year in the City School District. (in spite of the law) Incidentally, that assumes that the 39% who did graduate were well equipped academically, an assumption not everyone would be willing to grant. But, who knows, perhaps before No Child Left Behind, it was only 29%. How could anyone not be excited?

Nobody wanted to be left behind on the "not left behind" craze. Thus, the local bus company declared that no passenger would be left behind! Everyone was enthused. On day one of the new program, almost all passengers were there right on time at the first bus stop. But a few didn't show up. These ones would have been cheated before, but with the new policy, they would not be left behind! The bus driver waited and waited and waited and waited. Still they did not show. Not a problem - this had been anticipated! Each bus had some rousting personnel on board, and those rousters went right to the laggards' homes and rounded them up! Finally, everybody was on board. The bus reached downtown with no passenger left behind! Of course, they all missed their appointments.

My uncle was a hell raiser as a kid. Back in the 1940's, long ago. Constant complaints from his teachers. Finally, his dad said: If the boy won’t behave, pull him out of school. He was “left behind!"

I knew in the first week it was a mistake, he told me later. In time, he got his act together, and lived out the remainder of his years a productive person.

Guys my age cannot help thinking that, years ago, jettisoning the hell raisers, or at least segregating them, might have averted today's educational catastrophe. We try to get over it, we really do, but there's that nagging suspicion that we've all been sold down the river by educators, who proudly strut the deck of a sinking ship, blaming everyone but themselves for letting the ship fall into disrepair. Yes, we try to get over it, but.....isn't it possible, if you'd long ago let students "fall behind," that 6 percent would have, and that half of those, like my uncle, would later realize their mistake and catch up? Then you'd have 3% permanently "left behind." That is a sobering thought.

But it sure beats the 60 percent effectively left behind today, either through not graduating or through graduating with dumbed-down curriculum that caters to the most disruptive and dysfunctional kid.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Pool Alarms and Parkinson's Law

The legislators of New York, eager to safeguard us all, have decreedthat, from now on, any new swimming pool deeper than 2 feet must come equipped with an alarm that will raise all hell inside & outside the house should someone (or something) fall in. Thus, Rochesterians who live in the poverty zone (trust me, there are many) who have no air conditioning but several broiling kids, who used to cool them off on a hot day with one of those cheap, inflatable pools, are now protected from that relief, since the price of an alarm exceeds the price of the pool. We just snapped a short spell of 90+ degree weather, with obscene humidity, the first of many this summer. In the air conditioned Albany State Legislature, some legislator is hero of the day. "If it saves one life, it's worth it!" he says. 

Trouble is, there's not many things that won't save at least one life. What of the imposition for everyone else? Mind you, I have nothing against pool alarms. They seem a good idea. It's the mandating of pool alarms!

Folks who remember when you could ride a bicycle without a helmet, indeed, even drive a car without a seatbelt, may need help to know what to make of this. That's why this post is written. In Europe, by the way, where they bicycle far more than we do, nobody wears a helmet. "It would muss up my hair," explained one Frenchman to the Wall St Journal.

This new pool alarm requirement must be looked at in the light of Parkinson's Law, (the 2nd one) which suggests that, having utterly failed to acheive anything of real value, officials nevertheless must justify their existance. Therefore, they redouble their efforts to accomplish nonsense.

Parkinson's Law, derived in the 1950s by C. Northcote Parkinson, is actually a body of business and organizational laws which are usually stated in economic terms, but can be amended to fit swimming pools. The law which specifically applies, the 2nd law, states that the time and money spent on any item in any organizational agenda is inversely proportional to its importance. In his definative book "Parkinson's Law," Dr Parkinson illustrates his second law with a business board meeting:

The lead item on the agenda is a nuclear reactor for the company plant. It is approved immediately, not because it is a good idea, indeed, it is suspect, but because few people on the board know what a nuclear reactor is, and those who do have no idea what one should cost. The two people who do know something have no idea where to begin with explanations. They would have to refer to the blueprints. No one present can read blueprints, yet no one present would ever admit they could not!  Easier just to say "yes." The reactor is approved.  Time spent: about 2 minutes. However, several members have inward misgivings. They wonder if they've really been pulling their weight. They resolve to make up for it with the next item.

The next item is a bicycle tool shed for the employees. Here is something most can get their heads around. They bicker over its design, its materials, its location, indeed, even its necessity, since the ungrateful employees only take whatever you give them and demand more! Time spent: about 1 hour.

The next items concerns the coffee that is served at board meetings: its brand, supplier, and cost. No one is present who doesn't know all there is to know about coffee, and the ensuing discussion lasts the rest of the day!

Now, if we postulate that Parkinson's 2nd law applies, and that requiring pool alarms is an accomplishment relatively trivial, then there has to be some "big fishes" that got away. Are there?

The day before the local paper reported on pool alarms, it reportedon a new "academic excellence" surcharge for nearby SUNY Geneseo State college. The surcharge, which kicks in a year from September, adds $1000 to the annual tuition of $4350, a 23% increase! Where one SUNY college goes, soon the rest can be expected to follow. Lawmakers are clearly not interested in saving that "one life" of a poor child so that he may attend college!

Besides the bruising economic threats people face, there are the ever-growing threats to education quality, public morality and decency, even threats to spirituality. All these areas are ignored while legislators piss away their time on physical safety, a comparatively insignificant area which even a Frenchman knows how to keep in proper perspective so as not to muss up his hair!

As if to underscore the point, New York Governor Elliot Spitzer is crisscrossing the state, challenginglocal citizens to play "Where's Waldo" with their state senator. He'll hold up a picture of the empty Senate chambers. "Where is your Senator," he asks. "He's not here. We've looked all over." He's mad because Senators voted themselves a pay raise and then took off for the summer, leaving stuff on the plate. Important stuff. Necessary stuff. Fundamental stuff. (Most importantly) Stuff Eliot vowed to get done.

They did, however, make it tougher for poor kids to cool off. And that's something.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Clamdiggers - Didn't Prostitutes Wear Those?

In the early 1960's, if you wanted to be cool, you wore clamdiggers. A blip in the adolescent fashion world - did they last more than a season or two?  They were, nevertheless, a necessary item. See, they weren't shorts. And they weren't full pants. Neither were they jeans. No, they were sort of cotton, light green or blue, if I remember, with a stripe down the side. They reached to the shin and were secured by a rope, not a belt.

I had a pair or two, so everyone thought I was cool, an opinion I could not elicit otherwise. I returned the favor to other clamdigger kids. But then summer vacation came and the family went down to the farm. The dairy farm, where my Pop's "roots" were, way out in God knows where, where they knew nothing of being cool and cared less. My hillbilly uncle takes one look at my clamdiggers and says: "Hey, how come you’re wearing pedal pushers?! Those are girls pants!"

They weren't pedal pushers, for Pete's sake! He couldn't see that? They were cool clamdiggers!

Of course, the fashion/ fad world, relatively speaking, left kids alone back then. Nothing like today where youngsters are targeted by every stylistic hustler.  So parents, as parents have always done, as I did when I was a parent, dig their heels in. No kid of mine going to dress like......whatever the offending style is! And some of them really are offending,  sordid in origin. The really low hanging pants, for example, the pants that hang so low that if you do a crime, the cops will instantly catch you, since you cannot run with these pants, find their inspiration from the prison world, were some guys are frequently called upon to drop their pants for unsavory reasons.

So parents take their stand. And probably over-take it, in some cases. And the young people chafe, as they always have. Like this one, who, after noting a respected sister in another congregation has a body-piercing wants to know:

"could i rightly get pierced? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY NOT. god, i can't even wear an anklet without someone going... 'you know, prostitutes wore those.'"

HA! Yeah, it is sorta that way. Don't “look just like the world,” and  don‘t “stumble people,” and "he who is faithful in small things is faithful in large," but you don‘t want to cross this line into an  area where people learn to judge by outward appearance. .

I've been there and I've got kids who've been there. There may be some mild hypocrisy to it, at least in its extremes.

I suppose, if absolutely necessary, a person can always do one or two of those small things and then, if people cluck about it, say yes, they admit it, they‘re not all that great of an example, rather than try to "out-righteous" everyone. People will probably move on. (but, alas, maybe they won't) There is a difference between what is important and what is relatively trivial. Of course, I'm not recommending this, but it's an option, and it beats chafing to such an extent that one leaves the congregation,which has happened, as may happen in this case: “Life is just not worth living under restrictions we all just need to break free!!!!!!!!!!”

Unless you're living with your parents - in that case I guess you really can't, or shouldn't, but that time will pass soon enough, and then you can do it if you want. You may not even care about it by then.

Or maybe you can view things like that woman did in "The Scarlet Letter," Hester Prynne. "Letter" is the story of a woman who’d borne a child out of wedlock, fathered by someone she would not name. Those Puritans made her wear a scarlet letter “A” (standing for adulteress) for the rest of her life. We all had to read that book in high school. Nobody liked it at the time, as with anything that is rammed down your throat. Later, though, some of us came to think it was pretty powerful. Nathanial Hawthorne’s short stories read like the “Twilight Zone” of his time

Said Hawthorne about his heroine Hester Prynne: "People who think the most bold of thoughts have no difficulty conforming to outward norms of society." It fits. (the reverse is also true) Jehovah's Witnesses think some very bold thoughts, decidedly different from that of the pack. Conforming to outward norms is not a big deal for many of them.

Still, older ones know that a lot of things they once insisted upon but which their parents opposed eventually entered (not necessarily for the better) the mainstream. Like rock and roll.

I know it’s only rock and roll
but I like it.
                        
Rolling Stones

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Resume Padding at MIT

MIT Dean Admissions Marilee Jones got pretty good at spotting applicants who had padded their resumes. Nevertheless, the school fired her (April 27). She had padded hers!

Padded it quite a bit, actually. She'd claimed BS and MS degrees from Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical College. That's how she'd landed her first job 28 years ago. But she'd only studied at Rensselaer for a year and had never graduated anywhere.

They caught someone in Rochester doing that too. She had been director of the Urban League. Alas, I cannot recall her name. Turned out she'd fudged everything. The lawyers, I heard, were going to have a field day, retrying every case in which she had testified!

Sheepandgoats, righteous as he is, could never countenance lying. I suppose you have to kick these people to the curb without mercy. But amidst all the indignant blather, one fact should not be ignored. These two had proved themselves excellent at their jobs!

Frankly, you cannot read Marilee Jones without liking her. She wrote an editorial for USA Today (1/5/03) in which she related a note she'd received from an applicant's dad: It read "You rejected my son. He's devastated. See you in court."

The next day came a note from the applicant himself: "Thank you for not admitting me to MIT. This is the best day of my life."

In an era where hard-driving, ambition-blinded parents can push their more have-a-life offspring to the point of suicide, Ms. Jones offered unheard of nurturing and common sense: lay off on the self-stress, enjoy life, stay healthy, stop trying to be perfect. MIT officials, even as they canned her, were universal in their praise. "She's really been a leader in the profession," said her predecessor Michael Behnke. Her peers concurred. Ms. Jones was "one of those people who was trying to bring sanity back to the whole admissions world. She's spoken persuasively and thoughtfully both to parents and admissions deans about restoring the humanity to this process and taking some pressure off kids," said a fellow dean of admissions Bruce Poch. But now she's gone and insanity can reassert itself.

The surface lesson here has to do with always-tell-the-truth and so forth. But the real lesson I've not yet heard anyone state: what a load of horse manure all these "credentials" really are. They exist for two reasons, neither of them noble.

1. They make hiring easier, since you can cart two thirds of all resumes to the trash, unread.

2.  They inflate the education industry, ever eager to dream up new areas of expertise, for which they can teach and write outrageously overpriced textbooks.

The process serves to eliminate the creative and innovative folks in favor of the plodders and the dull.

My wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats, and I ran up against this mindset when we set out to homeschool our kids, many years ago. There were plenty of educators who huffed at our not being certified teachers. It led us to uncover the truth that certified teachers taught absolutely no better than uncertified ones. (yet they cost far more) Catholic schools rarely use certified teachers, yet achieve results as good or better than public schools!

It's in this light that we can understand the recent Democrat and Chronicle headline: "Computer Workers May Have to Report Child Abuse." (5/2/07) Lawmakers in two states think this is a good idea, and it's hard to resist a notion like this, since anyone who does obviously thinks pedophilia is a good thing. Apparently, the technician at Best Buy and even the shop two doors down now, should this become law, will have to alert the cops when they spot something unsavory on your hard drive. I suspect most of them already do, just on the basis of being decent people

Michael Wendy, spokesman for a the Computing Technology Industry Association, based in Illinois, offered some common sense hedging. Sure, technicians want to help out, he said, but they're concerned about liability should they miss something.

As well they should be. Lawyers, undoubtedly, will love this new proposal. As will insurance people. Technicians will have to load up on liability insurance. Repairs will be so expensive that no one will bother....you'll just junk your machine and buy another. And repairmen will need a Master's Degree to touch your machine, with advanced courses in sociology and human sexuality.

Educators will like that.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Year of the Big Mouth

When the TopFree Seven made news a few years back, a group of women representing a cause suggested by their name, they didn't name themselves. It was the media, ever populated with silly people eager to invent a fad, that did the deed.

Same thing with those hyphenated names that knock about. Ben-Fer for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Tom-Kat for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. And don't think you need two people for such a moniker. One will do fine. Thus, the versatile Jennifer Lopez is also J Lo. In fact, she's the first one to suffer such name sillification if memory serves me, though perhaps it doesn't.

Local media are also silly and also have egos. They, too, want to contribute. So about a year ago, there was this local youngster, an autistic lad, Jason McElwain, who scored 20 points in four minutes when the coach put him in the final season game, the only game he'd ever played. He became J-Mac, and we heard about him day in and night for weeks on end. And when a year rolled around, there he was again: "Where is J-Mac one year later?" (Having said all this, you really do have to see footage of that game. It's moving)

Even I, Tom Sheepandgoats, did not want to be left out, and so invented Bo-Mill. It comes from that young superskier Bode Miller, who was supposed to sweep the winter Olympics, so said the papers, but then bombed out in every event amidst reports of late night partying, only to counter that he, Bo-Mill, didn't care about medals anyway, but came only to savor the Olympic experience. True, Bo-Mill hasn't really caught on like J-Lo and J-Mac, but you just never know when it may. At any rate, the rush from creating pop culture gave me such a big head that even my own wife couldn't stand me and made me sleep in the garage for a week with the Buick.

Anyhow, this rambling preamble is only to establish my credentials. I can smell one of these stupid fads a mile away, and I'm starting to smell one now. It began with that movie 300. ImagesThe D&C, or was it USA Today, plastered the star Jason 300's picture on the front page.

I think I made some modest joke at work about how they had hired a new anger management consultant. But then the very next day two athletes, Joakim Noah and Greg Oden also made the front page. 8y0rxcavbosbmcawv8nh5ca7y4p0acafrdx Now, do you notice any similarities in these pictures? (Hint: it's the big mouth)

Wait a minute, that picture of Greg Owen doesn't really do him justice. Try this one. Ages

There, that's better.

It's really too soon to tell. Three pictures does not a trend make, but coming back-to-back on two successive days is worrisome. And, of course, the huge belligerent mouth is a fitting icon of today's popular culture. I'll keep an eye out for it, but you have to do your part too. If it really catches on, my wife and I will pose that way for our profile picture....what's with all this dopey grinning, anyway? And I'll pull the llama's tail, so that it, too, will show some tonsils.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Douglas Coupland and the McJobs

How can a company improve the bottom line? Why not take the 8% or so of workers making the most money.....how can they not be dead wood....and fire them! And, just in case they're not dead wood, offer to hire them back at lower pay! Of course, no company would do such a thing, if only out of self interest, since morale and customer service would surely plummet.

Actually, yes they would! Circuit City just did, announcing they would right away can 3400 of their salespeople. (with severance) Then, after 10 weeks, they’d offer them their old jobs back at the new lower rate of pay. “This strategy strikes me as being quite cold,” said Bernard Baumohl, executive director of the Eonomic Outlook Group.

Yes, it does. And it’s hard to believe the company won’t suffer for it, though Wall Street thought otherwise and bid up the shares 1.9% that day. It’s not as if tanking employee morale won’t be noticed by customers, as it might be if workers slaved in the dungeons or somewhere out of sight. Sharpen your skills in customer service? What on earth for? the surviving salespeople have to ask themselves. Have they not been told in the clearest possible way that their jobs are dead end?

These days companies represent themselves with mission statements, in which they declare their reason for existence with regard to their industry, customer satisfaction, and employee growth. To say that the “employee growth” part is just so much horse manure would be an exaggeration. Progressive companies do exist, generally in thriving industries, where even chronically cynical malcontents are, within reason, happy to work.  But in retail, the number of such companies dwindles.

And what about WalMart? What became of their announcementback in January to implement variable employee scheduling, based on real time traffic flow data. Part time would be called in only when needed and sent home once the need subsided. So if you worked there, you’d find it very difficult to both budget and “have a life.“ If, for example, you need a babysitter while you work, good luck. There's no telling when you'll be scheduled, nor how long you'll be scheduled for. Make yourself available at all hours, which you can do when your part time job is top priority in your life, and you can expect to be called in often. Limit your availability and, well…get used to oatmeal.

Walmart, they say (and now Circuit City?), is a major force in checking consumer inflation. That's no small feat. But when it is achieved by beating the snot out of their own people, you have to consider.

A few years back I worked a spell, part time, for a retail support company that counted store inventory, a company described by one of its own (former) managers as the most selfish company he’d ever seen. This fellow had managed for awhile, decided he wanted no part of it, so dropped back to foot soldier in order to find time for school. The stockholders couldn't be blamed for this one….this was a privately held company. They lowered the starting wage, limited raises to a dime or two at a time, and found innumerable ways to nickel and dime their own employees with regard to travel time, minimum shifts, and so forth. Yet even these misers never canned their best people so as to hire them back at lower pay.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, by Douglas Coupland, was published in 1991. It was his first novel, and yes, it was he who invented the term. Hard to believe it’s only been 16 years. Since then we’ve also been told about Generation Y, but this new label is only a rip-off, built on Mr. Coupland’s foundation.

Generation X’s characters are drawn from the disillusioned generation, the first really, to realize that their future would not be the well paying, secure, pensioned jobs of their fathers, but instead the transient, low paying big box jobs, with no benefits and no retirement. The mini-story which is Chapter 8, about the suburban planet where terrestrials do nothing but get fired from their McJobs (Coupland popularized the term, though he didn‘t invent it), is alone worth the price of the book.

One might reasonably surmise that any generation owes it to the next to leave the world in better shape than they themselves found it. Quite obviously, the present generation has failed to deliver. No wonder the younger generation disconnects.

"McJob"was added to the Miriam-Webster dictionary in 2003, much to the annoyance of McDonald's, who suggested the term might more properly be defined as “teaches responsibility,” since many of their franchise owners started as line employees. But Miriam-Webster would have none of it and stuck with their own "mcJob" definition: a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.

The tragedy is not that these jobs exist. Realistically, not every job can put you on the fast track to the White House. The tragedy today is that not much except these jobs exist. Unless you have some college, of course, and that, over time, has been priced out of the reach of many.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Tiny Funnies? That's Not Funny!

When the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle shrunk the Sunday comics to microscopic size, it made Edward P Curtis, Jr. hopping mad. He fired off a sharp rebuke to the offending paper, but they didn’t print it. So he sent a copy to rival City! newspaper. They did.

Why shouldn’t he be mad? Is there a newsprint shortage? Will tiny funnies house the homeless? Feed the hungry? Support the troops? No, no, no and no. It will help the shareholders, saving a fraction of a cent per hundred papers.

Truth be told, we were all furious that horrible Sunday morning when we saw what the misers had done. We all wanted to give them a piece of our mind, but we were afraid to. This type of letter is tricky.

Deep down in our heart of hearts, we all know that the funnies aren’t too important. Maybe our letter of protest will hit on a heavy news day. The Opinion page will be stuffed with gut-wrenching letters about genocide, AIDS, earthquakes, stock market meltdown….and smack dead center will be our silly little letter sniveling about the funnies.

It can be done, but you can’t be clumsy. You must saturate your letter with humor, self-deprecation, and mock outrage. That way, if it appears alongside weighty stories, it is the editor who looks like a dork, not you.

Mr. Curtis has brilliantly met the challenge. Thank you, sir, for you did what we all wanted to do, but didn’t have the guts.

Unfortunately, Mr. Curtis’ letter reached the D&C too late. They had already published a letter of protest from a less experienced writer, who fell headlong into the above trap.

Dear Ms. Editor:
How truly tragic that a feature which brings all of us so much joy each week, the Sunday funnies, has been reduced in size. It’s now so hard to see the detail in drawings that I so cherish. Of course, we all must cut costs, but surely not at the expense of the uplifting Sunday funnies! I am not angry, and I can forgive, for I feel you do not know what you do. But please, please, oh please, Ms. Editor, reconsider and restore our beloved Sunday funnies.

The letter was printed on a day of heavy news. They sandwiched it between a letter from Osama Bin Laden and another from a tsunami survivor. That night, the embarrassed author left town, and hasn‘t been heard from since.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Prince Plays the Superbowl

When NFL planners billed the eccentric artist formerly known as Prince and more recently known by an unpronounceable and indecipherable symbol and presently known once again as Prince for the Superbowl halftime show, they thought they were in for clear sailing. Ever since Janet Jackson bared her breast, they've been looking for entertainment more family friendly, yet not so family friendly that viewers switch the channel to check out other offerings. Since Paul McCartney never gave Ed Sullivan any trouble, and the Rolling Stones only gave him a little, they were booked for two successive years, to general satisfaction. But with Prince.....well, how could they miss? He is electrifying, young but not so young as to turn off the old boy beer and chips base, and best of all.....no worries about anything inappropriate since he became one of Jehovah's Witnesses a few years back!

Well.....um....uh.....ahem....it didn't exactly turn out that way. I mean, the performance was riveting and all....easily besting the shows of those old guys mentioned above, but there was a controversy. Did he not, for one brief segment, use his electric guitar as a giant phallic symbol?! That's the charge that was made, with regard to a backlit scene in which his profile was projected onto a screen!

As expert in all things JW, people flooded me with requests for an opinion, or at least you never know when they may start. Did he or didn't he, Tom Sheepandgoats, hmm? So I diligently reviewed the tape, just like referees review close calls on the field.

Actually, I didn't review the tapes. I didn't have to. I haven't seen a Superbowl in years, but I did see this one. And I didn't see it just because our guy was playing. I didn't know he was playing until halftime. No, some friends had invited us over for the game. And.....trust me on this....they didn't know Prince was playing either. In fact, I'm a little surprised they knew the Superbowl was playing.

So I saw the performance live. And, uh.....hmm....well....it's like....that is....um, it did kinda look that way. But maybe I'm just a prurient pig with a gutter way of seeing things.

Because not everyone agreed. Even rock music potheads who would love it that way conceded it might have been accidental. There's a reason those 24 elders in Revelation chapter 5 are playing harps and not electric guitars! The way you strap on and hold an electric guitar always subjects you to the risk of seeming risqué, if viewed from a certain angle, especially via projected shadow.

"If people want to be hypersensitive, they can be hypersensitive," says Rolling Stone's Gavin Edwards. "Those trombones are phallic, too. What are you going to do?"

I didn't know that about trombones. I promptly threw mine in the trash.

Many blog comments mirrored that of Scott Cohen, a self-described religious guy (Jewish) who tours with a band, and who ranks Prince concerts among his top favorites, and who has a music degree from Syracuse, and who is fed up with the phallic accusation with all its prudish and holier-than-thou implications. "Prince dedicates every show to Jesus Christ and anyone who knows about his current beliefs knows that he will no longer swear or perform songs like "Darling Nikki"...etc.....I thought the Superbowl performance was terrific...and didn't notice any phallic nothing..." So there!

Among the tunes Prince morphed into his show was Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower in which he ignored the early verses to instead chime in with "all along the watchtower, Princes kept the view." Was he making a sly plug for his spiritual views in front of 90 million people, someone wanted to know?

The most vehement criticism came from that subset of religious folk who can't stand Jehovah's Witnesses! I mean, a lot of folks don't really care for them.....after all, we wake them when they're sleeping in late. I'm not talking about these people. I'm talking about the smaller bunch who positively loathe Jehovah's Witnesses, some of them ex-Witnesses themselves who went sour, guys like Barfendogs. Their comments took the form of "gotchas" and they gloatingly anticipated seeing Prince disfellowshipped [!] and if he wasn't.... well, that would just prove (to them) JW hypocrisy. But you can't pay these soreheads any attention. These are the same people who lambaste Witnesses for being mind control cultists who forbid personal expression.

Say what you want about Prince, with or without the phallic tempest. He certainly did express himself, didn't he?

Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?    Ecclesiastes 7:16  NIV

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Spinning Cars and Words into the Drink

Some kids were driving on frozen Irondequoit Bay, spinning round and round the way we all love to do in wintertime Rochester, [BTW, nearby Redfield NY has 11 feet of snow, all in the last 2 weeks!] when they discovered the bay was not so frozen as they had thought. Near shore, the ice gave way and down went the car! Of course, this was top news for the Democrat and Chronicle, whose lead story showed the car's top poking up from the bay along with this gem: "It's likely to cost thousands of dollars to retrieve, said one towing expert."

It was true. Neighbors and cops and ice fishermen and bay officials converged on the scene and debated what the final price tag would be. Would it be $1? Or $10? Or maybe that figure was too low. Maybe it would be a million dollars! Nobody had any idea, but then they called a "towing expert" who opined it was likely to cost "thousands of dollars." Blown away by his confidence, they gave him the job and....sure enough....when he hauled the thing out, he charged thousands of dollars!

They tried to be gentle at first, but in the end they salvaged little more than scrap metal, just like that engine repair you did where you started with the screwdriver and box wrench, then escalated to the vicegrips and crowbar, then escalated again to the jackhammer and cutting torch, then gave up and bought a new car. The drama took three days to unfold, and each day the dunked car was front page news, trumping Bush, Iraq, Hillary, Spitzer, everything.

No wonder nobody knows anything! They're dumbing our papers down and we can't do a thing about it. The D&C is practically a comic book now, and if you have any doubt, go to the library and check out some issues from decades back. They are scholarly tomes by comparison. Ditto for the newsmagazines. Ditto for all kinds of popular press as they follow reading skills to unheard of depths, desperately trying to keep readers who hate to read. Even my beloved Watchtower is right there riding the trend, just like Slim Pickens astraddle the falling bomb. What choice do they have if they want to reach people? Since trends like this are usually too gradual to notice, the fact that we can notice it is depressing.

In 1990, documentary producer Ken Burns presented The Civil War on PBS. For nine evenings PBS stood toe to toe with the big networks. People didn't watch the usual tripe, they watched The Civil War. The series won 40+ film and television awards. Burns panned through thousands of archived photos, narrated scores of personal stories, diary entries and letters from great men and plowboys alike. And you cannot sit through the program without being struck by how literate they all were back then. Not just the educated people. No, but also the bumpkins, the plowboys, the commoners. Not only did they narrate facts clearly but, more remarkably, they expressed emotion gracefully and without embarrassment.

But that was then. Now is now. Several years ago Watchtower released the brochure What Does God Require of You? The writing is extremely simple, perhaps (just guessing here) 3rd grade level, so that you run the risk of offending people when offering it, in case they are scholars reading at the 4th or 5th grade level. But you must have a tool for everyone and the brochure's plus is that it offers a complete overview of God's purpose, along with what we must do to fit in with it. It's no good to write everything like the New York Times and thus miss 80% of the population. Anyway, simple people respond more readily to the Kingdom message than do educated ones. It's not the education that messes people up. It's the pompous and full-of-themselves baggage they tend to pick up along the way. God despises pride.

For Jehovah is high, and yet the humble one he sees;
But the lofty one he knows only from a distance
                 Psalm 138:6

And....

For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are....
                                                                                             1 Cor 3:26-28

So if I offer that brochure and I'm not sure about reading level, I avert trouble by saying up front that it's written very, very, very, very simply. Think of it as an outline. We could make it big as a phone book if we wanted, but we've deliberately written only enough words to glue the scriptures together, to bridge from one to the next. That way the Bible stays front and center, not our own pontificating.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Conscience, Movies and the MPAA Ratings

Noah (theonlyNoahyouknow) was in town and I spoke to him about movies and he ranted how silly was the American MPAA rating system. In Germany, he said, there was no such thing.

In astonishment, I gasped: How, then, do you know what you can watch?

They read movie reviews.

If you’re a moviegoer, you want to shield yourself and family from filthy, gory or sicko films, but how do you do it? How do you avoid grossout scenes before you know they exist?

Because the American movie rating system is so easy to access, a fair number of our people have, in effect, made it their conscience. They will be safe, they feel, if they just avoid R rated films. Trouble is, the technique doesn’t work too well.

For one thing, if R’s represent the line in the sand, then anything higher on the scale must be okay. But as any moviegoer knows, a PG-13 movie can easily be more filthy than an R. Directors long ago learned to sidestep ‘R‘ triggers, even while loading their films up to the limit with stuff you don‘t want to see. And sometimes R films are so rated for relatively innocuous reasons: one too many f-bombs, for example. (a PG-13 is allowed one, which is a guarantee that one will appear, usually in the most in-your-face manner imaginable!) Of course, nobody likes f-bombs, but if you work or school in an environment where hundreds of such bombs are raining right and left, you may not even notice 3 or 4 in a movie.

Of course, R’s at their worst are nastier than PG-13’s at the worst, so if you don’t read reviews, it might be best to avoid both categories. Don’t just go see them at random, not if you care about avoiding sordid stuff. You might as well play Russian Roulette.

A lot of reviews don’t really tell you too much about what will make you gag, but some do. On the internet, kids-in-mind, and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops both serve pretty well. To be sure,  the mental image of a room packed with Catholic Bishops eagerly watching Freddy Krueger so as to slap it with a thumbs down rating (presumably) always makes me smile.

Now….all this searching and reading and screening is a lot of work just for the sake of movies. Are movies essential to life? No, they are not. “I’ll just avoid them all, unless I hear on sure testimony that this or that film is okay.”

That is a valid position, which some of our people take. For others, however, there are reviews.

Here are the two sites mentioned, both set for the film Cars: (which carries the Sheepandgoats endorsement)

http://www.kids-in-mind.com/c/cars.htm
http://www.usccb.org/movies/c/cars.shtml

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)