Saturday, December 3, 2016

The "Arrival" of Jesus Christ

(Warning:  This post contains important movie spoilers!)

Typically, posts on this site pertain to the political, but the Christmas season and a recent film have prompted a change to my norms.  And, to be very candid, one cannot ignore the impact of Jesus Christ upon the world.  Yet, Christmas, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, has taken on a secular meaning that attempts to rival the religious.

Despite the political arguments about a 'war' on Christmas, so many people miss the Christian parallels and allegories in popular culture.  During this Christmas season (or any season for that matter), would it not stand to reason to genuinely seek out the meaning of who Jesus Christ truly is?

Understanding Jesus Christ is not easy, and it requires study of the Bible, which most people find daunting.  The nature of Jesus Christ, though, is sometimes reflected in popular culture, particularly in film.  While more obvious examples exist, such as The Passion of the Christ (2004) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), more subtle movies exist with Christian undertones.  The Matrix (1999) was a popular allegory for Christianity embraced by churches throughout the country.  Man of Steel (2013) portrayed comic book legend Superman as a 'messiah' of sorts.  

This fall, the film Arrival has picked up the mantle of the latest movie to generate discussion of a religious theme.  The film's plot centers around the mysterious arrival of alien ships appearing above 12 random locations in the world.  The ships provide opportunities for humans to communicate with the aliens, and the American government calls in Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist, to establish a connection.  Banks is joined in her mission by Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, who assists in the first contacts with the aliens, which are dubbed 'heptapods' (because they have seven legs).

Banks and Donnelly initially have little success with verbal language, but experience a breakthrough with demonstrating written language.  The heptapods respond in kind, which generates true progress.  In the written language of the heptapods, complex sentences and thoughts are communicated through what appears to be variations of a circular shape.  Banks becomes engrossed in her work, so much to the point where she has constant flashbacks and dreams to her own personal failures and pain, including a difficult divorce and the chronic illness of her daughter, which ultimately ended in the death of the child.  The flashbacks had been occurring before, but seem more frequent.

While the academics working to speak with the heptapods are genuinely curious, the government officials in charge of the expedition are more concerned with the security of the world and want to know precisely why the aliens have come to Earth.  Through tireless work and with the help of technology, Banks develops the ability to effectively communicate with the heptapods.

The daily message exchanges reveal key facts about the aliens, including their intent, which is to provide a gift to humanity — their language.  Of course, the obvious question to humans concerns how a language could be considered a gift.  Some nations even believe the aliens have created a ruse and have translated the gift to mean 'weapon.'  

Banks and her team also discover the aliens do not see or view time in the linear fashion that humans do.  They experience time differently, and they do not have an understanding of the linear, which explains why the creatures are puzzled by algebra (we've all been there).  This relates to the reason why the heptapods have arrived.  We learn that their gift to humanity is not entirely selfless, as they will need humanity's help thousands of years in the future.  By providing humanity with their gift of language now, the heptapods will equip us with the words we need to rescue them in some way during the future.

The revelations made to Banks greatly concern military figures who control access to the aliens, who are concerned about ulterior motives and potential conflict.  This is of great concern after the Chinese convey plans to attack the alien ship in their territory, which they are convinced is a  threat.  Banks makes one last attempt to communicate with the heptapods, who provide her with the stunning information that she already has the gift, and now, she need only use it.  

It is at this point, the viewers are treated to a nice plot twist.  Throughout the film, we are led to believe that Banks is remembering the past of her divorce and the death of her child.  However, the reality is that she has been seeing glimpses of the future.  Banks comes to the understanding that these visions are not so much visions, but her experiencing time and space in the way that the heptapods do.  Time is no longer a linear experience.

The exposure to the alien language has irrevocably altered the way in which Banks thinks (and there is a discussion of this concept earlier in the film).  She can experience time in the moment, and more significantly, in the future.  This is particularly significant when the Chinese are poised to attack the heptapods.  At this moment, Banks experiences the future, when she is attending a black tie event, and is introduced to General Shang, the Chinese leader who was prepared to order a strike against the aliens.  

Through her conversation with Shang in the future, Banks is able to use that information in past events to prevent him from ordering an attack.  Of course, this presents an interesting paradox.  Banks' future is only successful because of the information she received in the future.  Which event caused the other?  How could a past event be caused by a future only possible through the past which it must cause? 

The paradoxical event aside, there exists a much more interesting subplot.  Banks becomes aware that her future husband is Donnelly, the scientist she has worked closely with in communicating with the heptapods.  She has a difficult decision to consider.  Would the joy of the experiences be legitimately worth the degree of pain we would endure during the process? 

At its root, this could be viewed as a cost-benefit analysis — no different than any other economic choice.  If we look at this from an intellectual level, we should probably avoid the pain of a divorce, and not have a child who will die at a young age.  Perhaps it would be better to not have it happen, so that we could be spared the suffering, and prevent our own child from experiencing such a life.  

However, we know that the emotion of our humanity does not bend to the rules of economic decision making like other issues.  Love motivates people to override their instincts, logic, and sound decision making.  There is no cost-benefit here.  Banks chooses the life laden with suffering because of the joy coupled with it.

This is where we begin to see the parallels to Jesus Christ.   In terms of decision making, Jesus Christ saw his own future and experienced the rejection, pain, suffering, and sin of humanity for a brief moment in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Faced with the possibility of dying for the sins of humanity and experiencing ultimate suffering in their place, Jesus could have easily walked away and left us with a fate we rightfully earned. Yet, Jesus saw the agony that awaited humans and the wrath God intended to pour out on them, and Jesus chose to take that punishment for them.

For Jesus Christ, the pain he endured was worth it.  And for those who would follow, Christ bids us to make a similar choice with our own lives.  He asks for his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.  Take heart when you encounter suffering, because the end result is worthwhile for the Christian.  It would be easier to avoid difficult situations and pain, but there is something greater in the selflessness.

For Louise Banks, the experience of connecting with the language of the heptapods left her changed forever.  She began to experience the world in a way that would not allow her to return to her old life.  An encounter with Jesus Christ will produce the same result.  It leaves you transformed, and there is no going back.  No so coincidentally, the "word" of God is a language unto itself that will change how a person lives, permeating through every aspect of their life.

Additionally, the arrival of the alien ships causes an upheaval in humanity, which leaves an indelible mark on society.  Jesus' time on Earth radically reshaped humanity in such a way that his impact is still echoing through the world.  More than a billion people throughout the world claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and acknowledge him as God.  That, in itself, is astonishing.

Jesus was also able to alter the way people think about the world around him.  He demonstrated that we all have deeper flaws than we could have seen, yet are more loved than we could have hoped.  Jesus' message was also radically more inclusive than any religion or worldview.  He included the rich and the poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, the sick, the lepers, and tax collectors, and even sat down to eat meals with the very people who would later be instrumental in his crucifixion.

In Arrival, when the alien ships appear, there are no signs of hostility from the Earth's visitors, yet the world's powers are threatened by the existence of a power greater than themselves, so they plot in vain to strike against the heptapods.  This is akin to the reaction of the Pharisees and other individual powers in first century Judea, who were terrified at the power Jesus held over people that diminished their own authority.  Their response was to plot to kill Jesus.  Humanity seems to have a default setting that leads us to want to destroy anything that we cannot control or understand.

There are smaller nuances about the film that point towards a Christian theme.  The heptapods have seven legs, and they land in 12 different locations above the Earth.  Both numbers are featured throughout the Bible.  The aliens experience time differently than us, where they are not bound by a linear perspective.  This is how we imagine God would view time, not bound by its constraints and freely moving back and forth.  When the aliens have taught us what we need to know, they fade away out of existence.

Despite being a well-made film, every analogy breaks down at some point.  Arrival is no different in this regard, and it is assuredly not an adequate substitute for studying the gospels.  However, it points us to something greater than ourselves, and should push us to further examine who Jesus Christ is.

The strange irony of modern society is that we love the trappings of Christmas.  Buying and wrapping presents, decorating, and work Christmas parties are part of what we do, yet we toddle along through the season without paying that much attention for whom the holiday was named.  Since Christmas is coming, would it not be a wise choice to consider the truthfulness of Jesus' claims that he is God?
The world applauds us when we seek out the truth, yet demonstrates a terrible disdain for anyone who asserts that they have found the truth.  Jesus himself stated that he is the truth.  This Christmas, I hope that you would see the truth and proclaim the coming of a savior.  Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 11, 2016

In defense of the Electoral College ...

Every presidential election brings about a fresh round of criticisms of the Electoral College and 2016 was no different.  President-elect Donald Trump garnered 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton's 232, securing him the biggest upset in presidential history.  That fact, however, was not the most painful blow to the Democrats' wounded pride.  Despite winning the presidency, Trump lost the popular vote by approximately 200,000 votes.  That sticks in the craw of the liberal segment of society.  Most elections work on the principle of a plurality vote -- the most votes wins the race. 

In 21st century America, people want to immediately call to question why we would not have a direct election for the presidency.

Inflamed passion and a mob mentality are the preeminent reasons the Framers of the Constitution sought to implement a republic rather than a direct democracy.  James Madison, one of the key individuals in writing the Constitution, addressed this issue in his classic Federalist #10.  Madison wrote that a serious concern in our then new nation was how to deal with what he referred to as 'factions.'

The individuals behind these groups could easily sway a popular vote.  Madison warned, "Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people."  It would not be difficult for a charismatic individual to capture the hearts and minds of the American people, thus the Framers believed a republican form of government (note the little 'r') would be the most ideal.

Madison and other Framers understood that a direct democracy was dangerous and untenable.  He continued, "... such [direct] democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."  When citizens have direct control over governmental issues, they are prone to making terrible choices that break down a society.

The remedy, according to Madison, was to use a chosen group of representatives,
... whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.  Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves ...
A small, deliberative body will be far more likely to make a solid choice than the general public.  This notion is reflected thoroughly in the Constitution, which created four key institutions -- the House of Representatives, the Senate, the presidency, and the Supreme Court.  Of these, only the House was directly elected by the people.  Senators were chosen by their respective state legislatures, and the members of the Supreme Court were chosen by the president (with approval from the Senate).

How to best choose a chief executive was a point of contention at the Constitution Convention in 1787.  At the Convention, one of the more popular ideas was to mimic British policy, whereby their Parliament selects a prime minister.  The sentiment at the Convention was to have Congress select a president in a similar capacity.

Americans should also be cognizant of the fact that our Constitution grants more power to a chief executive than most other democracies.  The presidency combines the roles of head of state and head of government into one office.  This type of power vested into one person should make us leery of entrusting the people to select this individual.

This notion was asserted by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #68, where he wrote, "It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. ... It was equally desirable that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station ..." 

Though a popular vote was never seriously considered for selecting the president, the Framers believed that the nation would best be served if the body of representatives who chose the president be convened only for that specific purpose.  Thus, the Constitution included a clause that forbade members of Congress from being members of the Electoral College.  Such an impetus further guarantees the principle of separation of powers found within the Constitution.

The means of selecting the president through the Electoral College still permits the people to retain influence, just not direct influence.  The Constitution provides that each state will have a number of electors who may be chosen however that state deems fit.  This provides the people of each state the opportunity to place men and women of character in the position to choose the single most powerful individual in the nation.

Moreover, Americans do not realize that they have absolutely no Constitutional right to vote for president.  States merely choose to allow their citizens to vote for president.  The practice varies from state to state, but in many instances, both major parties select a slate of delegates to be the members of the Electoral College should their preferred candidate win.  However, there is no guarantee that citizens would be permitted to vote, nor is there any promise that slate of delegates will cast their electoral vote for the candidate prescribed by the state's citizens.

In the early years of the republic, many states did not bother having a popular vote for president.  And why should they?    The very purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent a direct influence from the public on the presidential election, while still retaining the overarching principle that the people have the ultimate authority in our system of government.

Even with the current incarnation of the Electoral College, the members have no obligation to cast a vote in line with the popular vote of their state.  Several states have created laws that impose a fine if one of its electors does not vote with their state, but such fines are minimal and small contrivances when compared to acting as they see fit.

Critics of the Electoral College call this method undemocratic and arcane.  Maybe some truth exists to those charges.  Yet, these critiques only make sense within the lens of modern American political culture, which has somehow coalesced into the notion that we should have a right to choose everything.  Upon what do the opponents of the Electoral College base this idea?  Why should modern America entrust its citizenry with the important task of selecting the most powerful single official in the country?

Americans pay lip service to respecting the Founding Fathers and invoke the ghosts of great leaders like Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin.  It appears that the heaps of praise for those men is only relevant when it is politically convenient.  Politicians and ordinary citizens love these patriotic leaders until they actually see what they created. 

Instead of abandoning the Electoral College, I believe America should abandon the popular vote instead.  Return the Electoral College to its rightful place as a unique body with the sole purpose of choosing a chief executive for the nation.  Let each state carefully choose electors who will consider the options and make selections accordingly.

Does this sound like an insane idea?  This occurs at the federal, state, and local levels of government.  We already trust people and government agencies to make important decisions for us constantly, which is the entire point of a republic. 

Incidentally, a national popular vote to decide the presidency is problematic and impractical for many reasons.  Candidates seeking election would focus their campaigns on major urban centers, and abandon the rural parts of America.  Changing the system would also require the Constitution to be amended to eliminate the Electoral College.

Amending the Constitution (typically) requires 2/3rd of both houses of Congress to officially propose an amendment and then 3/4th of the states to ratify an amendment.  Given that small states benefit from the Electoral College, it is highly unlikely that an amendment proposal would gain any traction. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Due Process, Guns, and Political Expediency

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando, Democrats hoped to create a policy change that would make it more difficult to obtain a gun.  The proposed change Democrat
s sought to pass called for banning the sale of firearms to anyone on a terrorist watch list.  Since Republicans control both houses in Congress, such a change seemed unlikely to occur, considering the long-standing support of the Second Amendment from the GOP.

House Democrats pile onto the House floor
The House leadership opted to not even allow this proposed change to come to a floor vote, which annoyed Democrats to the point where they staged a sit-in on the House floor.  Their protest included a number of legislators sitting on the floor itself and shouting down Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other members of the GOP.  Democrat members started changes of "Shame, shame, shame" and "No bill, no break!"  Signs were held and speeches by protestors were made that effectively stopped any other House business from being conducted.

Democrats vow they will keep their sit-in active and not rest until their proposal receives a floor vote.  Speaker Ryan will undoubtedly not yield to the antics of the House Democrats, nor will he allow a floor vote, since it will place House Republicans in the uncomfortable position of having to either disappoint constituents or gun rights groups.

Political tactics and shenanigans aside, the proposal of Democrats institutes a fundamental problem in terms of Constitutional law.  Restricting the ability of anyone to exercise their Second Amendment rights without having first proven in a court of law that they have committed a crime violates their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process.  (The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process protections from the federal government, while the Fourteenth provides protection from all state governments.)

A similar situation has been the subject of debate for the last 15 years.  The federal government created a "no fly" list after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which prevents certain individuals from boarding an airplane if they were merely suspected of terrorism.  The list contains thousands of individuals who have no access to commercial flights, including many American citizens who have little recourse in determining why they are on the list or how to get off these lists.  This doesn't even begin to address the issue of humiliation and loss of dignity suffered by these people. 

The irony of this situation should not be lost upon us.  For years, Democrats have been protesting the "no fly" list and Republicans have defended it as necessary to national security.  Now, both sides appear to demonstrate a sense of hypocrisy and ideological inconsistency.  Even more strangely, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who is leading the sit-in movement in the House, was once mistakenly put on the "no fly" list (along with the late Senator Ted Kennedy).

Lewis  and fellow Democrats now find themselves in the unenviable position of demanding the violation of due process rights of others in the name of safety.  Of course, Republicans are just as guilty of this foolishness.

So, where does this mess leave the country?

The United States still has a problem with ideological consistency -- creating a specific set of policies based upon principles and adhering to those principles.  While there are times when members of opposing viewpoints should compromise to advance the interests of the nation as a whole, both major political parties seem to have no consistency in their belief systems.

Democrats and Republicans care about advancing their own causes and will distort reality to get their way.  Their agendas are not based on principle, but appear to be more focused on maintaining power and authority.

Our Constitution and its writers borrowed heavily from John Locke, who believed a law-making body should make laws for no other reason than the good of the people.  Can our Congress genuinely say that they are acting in such a capacity?

Guns violence is a problem in this nation and there is no definitive answer.  The Orlando massacre is one of many horrific attacks in this country perpetrated with guns that allow for a large amount of damage to be inflicted by just one person. 

Mass shootings take place with an alarming regularity and Republicans don't want to admit this.  Restricting gun ownership isn't necessarily the answer and Democrats don't wan to acknowledge that many nations have far less stringent gun laws and they do not have the level of gun violence that occurs here.

Political rhetoric is at an all-time high and it is insulting to Americans.  To further their own power-driven agendas, both parties will shower the population with platitudes that do little to solve the problems of public safety or personal liberties.

For instance, resident idiot of the House of Representatives, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), responded to the Democrat protests by trotting out the tired line, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  I have no doubt that many individuals will cherry pick their favorite lines by a Founding Father to justify their position on personal liberties or gun rights.

The question also remains if Democrats are serious about creating a policy about guns.  Their sit-in may be seen as a political stunt that obstructs the business of Congress.  It's also somewhat arrogant of the Democrats to be so bold, considering they are the minority party in both houses.  Why would they believe they have the right to set the agenda?  Moreover, how long will it be before this rabble of publicity hounds moves on to their next attempt at soaking up media attention?  

These types of responses are not satisfactory.  In this context, the job of Congress and government is to safeguard personal liberties while still ensuring public safety.  If these representatives are unwilling or unable to achieve those ends, then they ought to be replaced. 

Finally, Americans should be concerned about their personal liberties.  I understand the temptation to create legislation to correct problems and I believe the government and citizens need to work together to lessen the amount of violence in this nation.  Yet, to restrict a person's ability to purchase a gun when they have committed no crime is a violation of procedural due process (and probably substantive due process too). 

When the government arbitrarily determines who should or should not be on a 'blacklist' of sorts, that is a significant threat.  Have we not learned our lessons from the Salem Witch Trials or the Red Scare?  Since when is policy driven by fear?

The problem of terrorism is more of a concern than past threats because the problem is perpetual.  In previous crises, the federal government heaped restrictions upon the people.  During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus.  In the midst of World War I, free speech was curtailed.  World War II saw rationing of goods, price freezes, and the internment of an entire group of people. 

After these situations were resolved and peace was restored, so were freedoms.  Terrorism is different, though.  Despite our best efforts, terrorism requires us to be at the ready without ceasing.  Are we to surrender our rights because of this constant threat?  Whatever our problems may be, we must not abandon our principles because we are afraid. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The five part legacy of Muhammad Ali ...

Yesterday, famous heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74 after a short illness in the hospital that led to septic shock.  Ali's fame in the boxing ring is unquestionable, as he is regarded by many experts to be the best heavyweight fighter of all time and potentially the best pound-for-pound fighter to put on the gloves.

Ali's legacy isn't quite as simple as the media is portraying at this moment (and I understand that society doesn't like to speak ill of the recently deceased).  The real question that society should be looking at?  What is the ultimate legacy of Muhammad Ali?  His influence is felt in a number of facets, and not all of them have been positive.  

One of the more intriguing traits of Ali's life was undoubtedly his showmanship.  The boisterous Ali enjoyed boxing because presumably he was good at it and could make money from it.  However, Ali took boxing as more than just a fight.  It was an event.  At pre-fight events, such as weigh-ins, Ali would take every opportunity to denigrate his opponent and attempt to make a spectacle that would intrigue viewers.  Ali later admitted this was for the spectators, to draw in the fans and give them someone to root for -- or against.  He bragged about how he was 'The Greatest,' and that after decades of fighting, he was still the prettiest.

Large swaths of people attended fights wanting to see the flashy Ali get pummeled, hoping someone would shut his smart mouth.  More often than not, those fans left with no satisfaction.

The most well-known story of Ali's taunting took place in his fight against Ernie Terrell, a strong respectable fighter who had known Ali before he changed his name from Cassius Clay.  Ali became annoyed that Terrell kept referring to him as Clay and during the later rounds of their fight, Ali barked "What's my name?" at his opponent.
Liston could have gotten up ...

Ali's taunting took on an even more entertaining tone when he fought a re-match against former champion Sonny Liston.  During the fight, Ali was clearly in control and knocked Liston to the canvas when it became clear that Liston wanted no part of any more of a beating.  As Liston lay on the mat, Ali yelled at him to "Get up and fight!"  That moment also spawned one of the most iconic boxing photos of all time.

The showmanship of Ali also stemmed from his ability to cleverly turn a phrase:

  • "I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale;
    Handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail;
    Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick;
    I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
  • "Float like a butterfly sting like a bee - his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see."
  • "It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila."
  • "I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark."

Part of the vibe Ali presented was this larger than life figure who put on a show that either had you completely in his corner, or praying that someone would punish him for the entire fight.

Ali's persona and legacy will also be remembered because he was so incredibly talented as a fighter.  His legend might actually surpass his skills as a fighter.  Ali was blessed with size, speed, excellent reflexes, and power -- a combination of skills that sometimes eludes most fighters, particularly heavyweights.

Ali shocked everyone in 1964 when he won the heavyweight championship from then-champion Sonny Liston.  The surprise wasn't so much that Ali won, but that he was 22 years old and was only competing in his 20th professional fight at the time.

When you look at the list of fighters that Ali not only fought, but defeated, it includes some of the most well known and talented heavyweights of the 20th century.  Ali defeated Joe Frazier in two of their three fights, knocked former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson out twice, defeated former heavyweight champion Ken Norton in two of three fights, split a pair of contests with former champion Leon Spinks, won a decision against Earnie Shaver (often considered the hardest puncher in boxing history), lost a rough fight to champion Larry Holmes, and most notably, Ali knocked out champion George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle."

Even if you don't believe that Ali was the greatest fighter of all time, I can't say any other fighter had such a track record of both fighting and defeating top quality opponents.  His resume was that impressive and he was more than competitive into his late 30s, past the prime of most fighters.

The legacy of Ali includes aspects of his life that transcend boxing.  Ali's political engagement and defiance of the establishment rank (in my opinion) as his most important contribution to society.  Shortly after winning the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and had his name legally changed.  This in itself was a surprise to the boxing community and to the United States as a whole.  Typically, Americans have preferred sports to be somewhat devoid of political overtones.

Ali changed this by embracing not only the Islamic culture, but his identity as a black man.  During the racially charged era of the 1960s, Ali's actions and demeanor were not what the white establishment wanted to see in a boxing champion.  Instead of a docile and quiet champion, Ali became a force for equality and an anti-Vietnam War advocate.

The hardest punches Ali threw or took might have been in the courtroom, when he refused to serve in the United States military during the Vietnam War.  Ali was quickly convicted and placed in prison for his declaration that he was a conscientious objector and would not serve.  However, many people tend to remember Ali's public statement about the issue, where he noted,

I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong -- My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America ... And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.

Ali's statement and refusal to become part of the violence in Vietnam became a powerful symbol, as one man would be willing to sacrifice money, fame, and potentially his freedom to do what he believed was right.  The battle for Ali's freedom brought ultimate vindication when the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction through a unanimous decision.

Even after the conviction was overturned, the refusal to serve made Ali detestable in the eyes of mainstream America.  Criticism was from all corners of life, including from Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in major league baseball.  Americans were annoyed that an individual who had financially benefited so much from the public would refuse to serve the nation.

Though Ali was strong in the ring and the courtroom, there were serious moral failings that often have been glossed over, including his involvement with the Nation of Islam (NOI).  Ali was befriended by Malcolm X, who fostered the conversion of the champ to Islam and mentored him.  The NOI had somewhat resisted Ali's entry into their group because he was a boxer.  Yet, when Ali won the heavyweight championship and raised his overall profile, the NOI became more interested in permitting his membership.  Ali allowed himself to be used and manipulated by the NOI and its nefarious leader, Elijah Muhammad.

Incidentally, Ali's alignment with the NOI linked him to their official doctrine, which advocated racial separatism.  In a time when Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights activists tirelessly worked, fought, and died for achieving measures of equality, Ali had been duped into a political organization that did not bend toward King's arc of justice.

In his personal life, Ali was married four different times, some of which began as extramarital affairs, a stark contrast to the rigid moral standards which the Nation of Islam purports.

Also, Ali abandoned the one friend in the NOI that genuinely cared for him.  When Malcolm X questioned Elijah Muhammad's extramarital affairs and the concept of racial separatism, he was quickly ostracized by the group, including Ali.  Shortly after being exiled from the NOI, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City.   

To the credit of Ali, he did recognize some of his mistakes and express regret over the betrayal of Malcolm X and a blind following of the Nation of Islam.  Like most men and women, age has a way of tempering us and shedding light on the flaws and mistakes of youth.

The final part of the Ali legacy is the saddest, which is the damage done to human beings in the name of entertainment and sport.  Muhammad Ali finished his boxing career with an impressive professional record of 56 wins and only 5 losses.  Though Ali was rarely knocked down and only one of his losses came by way of knockout, he took repeated blows to the head, which caused a tremendous amount of damage.

During his late 30s, Ali employed a strategy often referred to at the "rope-a-dope," where he would cover up and allow his opponents to punch themselves into a tired state, and then used his conserved energy to wear them down.  Though an effective concept in the ring, his added to the considerable amount of head trauma.

The deterioration of a boxer's skills occurs naturally over time, and the physical toll became more apparent in his last few fights, particularly when an aging Ali was over-matched against a younger and stronger Larry Holmes, who brutally punished the former champ for 10 rounds before delivering a knockout.

The fight against Holmes was motivated by Ali's then need for money, and Holmes supposedly wanted nothing to do with the fight because he was aware of how badly the fight would go for Ali.  Yet, no one seemed to have any qualms about letting the fight go on.  Around the same time this fight was set to take place coincided with the beginnings of tremors and speech problems for Ali.  These physical symptoms became more permanent and Ali was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome.

Ali is a symbol of what can happen to even the best fighters.  The physical abuse and degeneration of boxers is often overlooked, particularly since professional fighters do not manifest these symptoms until after they have left the public eye.

While prizefighting isn't going anywhere in the immediate future, the brokenness of Ali should serve as a warning for anyone in the boxing world.  Despite money, women, fame, and being at the absolute pinnacle of his profession, I wonder what Ali would have given for his health and well-being.  How many fights would he have traded to rid himself of Parkinson's?  And how many fighters without the high profile of Ali suffer because of a fighting career and have no resources to assist them? 


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Cultural Appropriation is the American Way

No one can seem to identify who coined the term 'cultural appropriation,' but its meaning doesn't appear to have much debate among more liberal segments of society.  The concept is perhaps best characterized by Fordham University professor Susan Scafidi, who is often cited for her work on the subject.  Scafidi defined cultural appropriation as: 
Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission.  This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.
Scafidi's definition leaves us with more than a few problems, but I would add that we should consider the origins or implications of certain cultural trends before adopting them. 

However, those who believe cultural appropriation is to be shunned should consider that they've been doing the same thing for some time.  Moreover, the problems with determining what is or is not acceptable borrowing from a culture are fairly impossible to define.

A person from one culture borrows or adopts a part of another culture.  At face value, many Americans wouldn't give this a second thought.  Isn't one of the bedrock principles of our culture that we implemented the best parts of other cultures?

Examine the way the United States has brought so many other cultures under the umbrella of our society.  Greek and Roman culture are credited as being the foundations of our governmental systems, philosophy, architecture, and art (among other things).  Americans love to sample food from nearly every part of the world and make it our own:  hamburgers from Germany, pizza from Italy, French fries from ... well, Belgium tries to claim they invented these.  The British rock invasion of the 60s set off a new trend in American music.  We like to import the best ideas and ways of living.

For every expression of culture and heritage that one could imagine, the United States has borrowed from someone else.  When taking into account the many facets of life, I don't know that there are many cultural expressions that exist as uniquely American.  We borrow heavily from other cultures, past and present, and we make those ideas our own.  I'm not claiming that we do not invent some novel ways of living and thinking, but many of these concepts are rooted in what we have learned from others.  Cultural appropriation is ingrained in our society. 

The definition by Scafidi notes that cultural appropriation is taking from another culture without permission.  So, who is allowed to speak for all black people, Asians, or Arabs?  How can I get the green light for cultural borrowing?  And how pretentious is it that I would have to ask anyone's permission to act in a certain capacity?  This is arguably the freest and most permissive culture in the world and we want people to ask permission to express themselves.   

Even if we accept the premise that we need permission to borrow from another culture, why would anyone object to other cultures becoming fascinated with what they do?  If a person enjoys rap music, then why wouldn't black Americans celebrate that as a success?  Incidentally, most rappers would not have their level of success and financial rewards without cultural appropriation. 

I don't know what people south of the border think of Americans devouring millions of tons of Mexican food (which really isn't that authentic), but I would imagine they appreciate knowing that people enjoy their cuisine.

Strangely, no one objects to an overwhelming amount of cultural appropriation in which they engage.  Plenty of American activities are borrowing from another culture without considering the origins or the offensiveness of what they do. 

  • Crosses have become a fashion trend during the last few years.  Why does no one seem to have a problem with taking a Christian symbol and making it a fashion statement?  Does anyone not care about hurting the feelings of this religion?  Or without the religious component, why would we decide that an instrument of death from the Roman Empire would make for a fun symbol?
    Because I'm sure they're
    wearing it in support of
    capital punishment ...

  • Millions of people worldwide wear jeans on a daily basis.  Yet, no one seems to care that these were pants made to be more durable for manual laborers in the American West. 

  • How often do people smoke tobacco in modern America?  Did anyone ask the Native Americans before we took part of their culture that was sometimes used in religious ceremonies?

  • I don't really care that Darius Rucker became a country music singer after being the front man for Hootie and the Blowfish.

  • Language and symbolism from Native Americans and the Chinese have been extremely popular in the United States.  Americans have tattooed themselves with tribal symbols and Chinese characters for years. 

  • What can we say about coffee and tea drinkers? 

  • American society borrows phrases and symbols from France ad nauseum (see what I did there?) and no one bats an eye.  The fleur-de-lis is plastered all over our architecture and even a professional football team's helmet (ironically called the Saints).  Does anyone even care? 

The list of cultural borrowing in which Americans engage is endless.  What's the difference between the groups in the country that complain as opposed to the ones that do not?  Why are some groups more sensitive to this than others?  Do they have good reason?

The anger behind much of the cultural appropriation comes from minority groups who have habitually been discriminated against in this nation's history.  Do these groups have reason to be upset and annoyed?  Yes they do.  Yet that does not provide any of these groups or the individuals the right to act as the great authority on their culture or anyone who adopts part of that culture. 

Other cultures prominent in the United States fear that pieces of their culture will become part of mainstream society.  Why would they fear such a thing?  To have their culture adopted by everyone somehow diminishes that particular minority group.  They no longer cleave to what they believed made them special.  They view their unique nature has been robbed and their light somehow shines less brightly.  I would submit that the opposite is true.

Do you really want to deprive
 someone of the smooth sounds
of Dizzy Gillespie?
The absorption of other cultural features and practices shines a light on various groups of people, regardless of whether or not they've been marginalized.  In some instances, enjoying parts of other cultures proved how wrong some of our misperceptions have been.  The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s brought about the Jazz Age and such prominent writers as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay.  The achievements of this generation undoubtedly demonstrated the great intellectual and cultural additions of black Americans to society. 

When cultural appropriation happens in most instances, it makes America a better place.  The uniqueness and amazing parts of other cultures are implemented into our society and allows us to experience the best parts of the world.  Why would we shun that? 

When any group attempts to say that our culture is only for 'us,' they are robbing others of the possibility of enjoying life in a way of which they had not imagined.  Is that not the epitome of selfishness?   Furthermore, many of the groups who complain about cultural appropriation fail to consider that their cultural background might not have been the first or only culture to consider that idea. 

Not a good idea ... but who wore it better? Random model or
President Calvin Coolidge?
Instances aplenty exist where people do insult other cultures by what they do.  It would be the better part of discretion not to wear Native American headdresses as a fashion statement.  Perhaps anyone who dresses up as a Hindu god or goddess should think twice before they do that.  It's probably not okay to wear a burqa as head gear.  It's not really a good idea to have an ethnic themed party, which seems to be pretty popular on college campuses these days.  We should give proper respect to the culture of others in attempting not to disrespect their ways of life, even if we find it strange or outlandish.

These incidents have prompted a 'culture police' of liberals who have taken the concept of cultural appropriation to a ridiculous low.  Last week, a video at San Francisco State University went viral where a white male was confronted by a black female because the man's hair was braided into dreadlocks.  The video itself is short and we do not know what happened before or after this incident.  During this short clip, the man with dreadlocks attempted to walk away, seemingly have no desire to engage the woman.  She subsequently grabbed his arm and pulled him back in an attempt to educate him on her perspective.  By what right would anyone believe they can do such a thing? 

This incident provides a great example of the hypocrisy of those who claim cultural appropriation is such a crime.  Though she has the freedom to speak her mind about his hair, which is offensive in his mind, she refuses to accept this man has the right to say nothing and walk away.  When she's offended, she believes that she is entitled to grab another person and force a confrontation.

We should be celebrating the fact that we borrow from others.  The United States has a brand of acting culturally in ways other nations do not.  France, for instance, fears influence from other nations so much, they have banned Islamic women from wearing burqas in public.  They guard their language closely, as to not have it tainted by outsiders.  The same is true of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and most parts of the world.  They refuse to allow for changes.

While nations all over the world seek to preserve their culture exactly as it is, the United States allows for adaptation and absorption.  We seek it out and thrive on it. 

Personally, I love Indian food.  I think the poetry Langston Hughes is amazing.  I am trying to learn the Greek language.  I like Ethiopian coffee.  I'm not going to ask anyone's permission as to whether or not I can sample these and other parts of culture from around the world. 

Other cultures have made me a more well rounded person.  The works and ways of life of other cultures helps me to understand different people and appreciate the world around me.  Cultural appropriation is part of the American experience and I am better because of it.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

West Virginians should be furious about the lack of progress

West Virginia's State Legislature is nearing the completion of its session and the last three months have left me scratching my head in bewilderment at the audacity of our elected officials.  The legislature, dominated by the GOP, promised economic development and a path forward for the Mountain State.  Instead, they wasted time and we have been victimized by poor leadership, bad policy, and ridiculous rules.

The separation of power between the legislative and executive branches of government is always a precarious balance for any government, but West Virginia mistakenly has tilted the scales in favor of the legislative.  The governor has the authority to veto bills passed by the legislature, but those vetoes can be overridden.  Most states and the federal government require a 2/3rd majority of both legislative chambers to override a veto.  West Virginia, however, only requires a majority to override the veto -- which is the exact amount they needed to pass the law in the first place. 

If the bill passes, the governor's ability to veto is rendered almost meaningless.  The only true benefit in allowing the governor to veto a law is that he or she might delay the passage of a bill and hope the session expires.  It's a stall tactic.  As a result of this ability to override a veto, the state legislature is almost supreme in its affairs of the state.  Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has felt the sting of the state legislature numerous times this session after vetoing several controversial bills.

The state legislature passed legislation including:  a 'right to work' law, allowing concealed-carry of firearms without a permit, drug testing of welfare recipients, and a bill restricting abortions.  All of these pieces of legislation were passed without the governor's support.  Tomblin vetoed each one of them, and was at the mercy of the state legislature.

Regardless of one's political views pertaining to the bill, what's the point in having a governor if he or she has no real ability to affect the legislative process.  West Virginia is undermining the checks and balances inherent to any republican form of government. 

The problems in the state legislature include an enormous amount of time wasted on bills that were either not relevant to the problems of West Virginia, or were small measures that should have been passed without any hesitation.

In West Virginia, the current laws on legislation prevent anyone from purchasing alcohol on a Sunday before 1 p.m.  The so-called 'Brunch Bill' is a proposed law that would scale that time back to 10 a.m., allowing various establishments the ability to serve alcoholic drinks for Sunday brunch.  For reasons untold, this bill has taken an enormous amount of time in working its way through both chambers, and with only days left in the session, it still has not passed.  The bill has been amended so to require each of the 55 counties in the state to hold an election as to whether or not they individually wish to scale back the time frame.  I honestly can't believe I'm writing this paragraph because of the foolishness of this bill.  Is it really a problem that alcohol would be served three hours earlier?  Do we have to debate this and edit the bill to make a decision?

Another potential development for the infrastructure of the state came in the form of SB 315, a bill that would have created a fiber optic broadband internet 'backbone' to be owned and operated by the state.  This could have brought high-speed Internet to rural areas who struggle to be connected to the modern world.  It would have the potential to attract businesses to the state because of the high speed of connectivity that would dwarf any current Internet speeds available now.  And yet, the state did not see fit to let this bill escape a committee room. 

Perhaps the most humorous part of this legislative session came in the form of raw milk.  Advocates of the great taste and supposed benefits of drinking raw, unpasteurized milk managed to push legislation through that would allow sharing of raw milk.  I'm astonished our elected officials would waste time on a bill that allows people to ingest milk that has high levels of bacteria that can cause serious illness. The sheer insanity of this bill cannot be calculated, but it would appear that fate is not without a sense of irony.

In celebrating the passage of this law, several GOP lawmakers drank some of the raw milk.  Not too long after ingesting the milk, many of those lawmakers fell ill.  Though they insisted it was not the milk, national media outlets picked up the story and rather coincidentally, no one else seemed to pick up the mysterious illness. 

Chalk up another weird segment of legislative oddity to the fact that the state had to pass a bill that would make strangulation illegal.  How is it that in 2016 that strangulation was not already a crime?

A failed bill also would have allowed parents to have exempted their children from emergency school drills (designed to prepare children for active shooter situations). 

Because the legislature was too busy with raw milk and such, they failed to address the following problems:

  • Passing a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year (which will probably need a special session at the taxpayer expense)
  • Fixing the Public Employee Insurance Agency's liabilities and drastic cuts that will cost the state's employees countless thousands of dollars that they do not have
  • Passing any substantial legislation that would help combat the epidemic levels of drug overdoses taking place in West Virginia.
  • Passing any substantial legislation that would create a positive climate for jobs

The demeanor and tone of any organization begins at the top.  A notable trend of the state legislative session is that Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06) cares more about his own agenda than he does representing the people of West Virginia or his district.  As the Senate President, Cole holds sway over the legislative agenda within his chamber and appointments of members to key committees. 

Cole made it no secret that his legislative agenda for this year, when he told various groups at The Greenbrier, "What got advanced was virtually a page out of the playbook of the Chamber [of Commerce] ... It was exactly the Chamber’s agenda, as it should be. The Chamber represents businesses, businesses are the job creators."  Why would Cole believe that his position and the agenda of the state legislature should align with the priorities of the Chamber of Commerce and businesses?  Laws should be made for no reason other than the good of the people. 

Ironically, Cole didn't seem too keen in aligning himself with the interests of business during the 2015 legislative session, when Tesla Motors, Inc. was not permitted to sell cars in West Virginia.  I suppose it had nothing to do with the fact that he owns multiple car dealerships.  Perhaps letting the market dictate competition is only part of Cole's ideology when it benefits him.

Cole also has a knack for strange behavior, including the shady funding of his own campaign, where his auto business loaned his campaign over $190,000 for the last election cycle.  This means that he's not really self-financing his campaign.  Cole loans the money to his own campaign, which will pay him back at some point with other funds, presumably campaign contributions made by PACs or individual contributions.  The risk to Cole personally is minimal, since he would have spent the money on his election anyway, and he receives an advance of $190,000 that allows him a head start over numerous other candidates. 

The loans allow Cole's campaign to potentially purchase signs, buttons, shirts, etc. that can be sold to raise money, which then can be used to pay Cole back and the campaign essentially profits.  If any of the campaign money itself is used to purchase any good or services from businesses owned by Cole, then he's cycling that money back into his business and getting repaid for a loan.  This essentially is the same sort of shell game that Donald Trump is using to help defray the costs of running for president, only on a smaller level.

Cole's hypocrisy is also evident in the fact that he and other Republicans stalled their own campaign finance reform bill in the Senate last year after that bill was amended to require donor disclosures for 'dark money' groups such as Super PACs.  According to John Shott (R - Mercer, 06), the committee chairman responsible for tabling the bill, the request had come from Senate leadership, who were not comfortable with the disclosure requirements.  Oh, I'm sure they were not comfortable with the notion of West Virginians finding out who was indirectly funding campaigns of corporate cronies.

After this failed attempt at tinkering with campaign finance law in 2015, Cole and the Senate came back with the same ploy this year.  Many lawmakers had problems with Cole and other GOP leadership attempting to keep donor disclosure out of campaign finance, considering it's an election year and the new proposals would have gone into effect for the general election -- where Cole is uncontested as the Republican nominee for governor.

Additionally, the would-be governor has touted his desire to get the government out of the way, yet the GOP agenda pushed by Cole and other leadership in the legislature would add to the government.  This session alone, he pushed bills that would have added an intermediate court system to West Virginia, require drug testing for TANF welfare assistance, and require photo identification for voting.  These measures add to government.

If anyone would want to consider another reason never to vote for Cole in any election, please note that he recently spent a weekend at a Palm Springs retreat organized by the David and Charles Koch -- the conservative billionaire brothers who attempt to influence the outcome of elections at all levels of government.  In the 2016 election cycle, the Koch brothers have pledged to spend over $900 million to influence the outcome of races across the country.

Cole was one of seven elected officials who spoke at the retreat in Palm Springs, though his campaign insists Cole did no campaigning.  I suppose it was only coincidence that the retreat included 500 high spending political donors.

Bill Cole is a disaster waiting to happen and he is part of the problem with politics.  Please do not vote for him in any election.  He doesn't care about West Virginia or its people.  Cole's interests seem to be aligned with money and power.

This session has been a letdown for numerous reasons, and it's frustrating for the people of this state, many of whom are struggling financially.  More specifically, the state is facing some of the darkest times in our 153 years of existence.

Coal mines are being phased out.  Jobs and industries that benefited from mines are now leaving.  Drug abuse is soaring and the state ranks first in the number of per capita drug overdoses (and overdoses resulting in death).  Infrastructure is in need of repair and development.  This state needs genuine leaders and real solutions to its problems and we are not receiving them. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Charter Schools aren't the answer ...

West Virginia's state legislature continues to waste time on policies that will not benefit the state, but the most recent incarnation of an attempt to allow for charter schools might be one of the most ridiculous.  Everyone wants quality education for the children in West Virginia, but the problems faced by the education system in this state will not be changed by charter schools. 

The foremost reason for not adopting charter schools is that children of West Virginia will not benefit from them.  A recent op-ed piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail cited a 2013 study from Stanford University as grounds for implementing charter schools.  While this study revealed that students at charter schools did perform better than traditional public schools, there are several more conclusions from that study worth mentioning.

The Stanford study also revealed that the modest gains charter schools had in student achievement were due to the fact that charter schools typically have an academic year longer than 180 instructional days.  If West Virginia's state legislature would like to expand the school year to see improvement in students, they would have the support of many teachers.  However, they will never expand the school year because it would expanding teachers' contracts and paying them more.  Does anyone really believe that would happen?  Would students attending the charter schools in West Virginia go to school for more than 180 days? 

Another benefit of charter schools touted by proponents is that teachers would be permitted to use different approaches to teaching.  As a teacher, let me respond to that by saying that I have been given wide latitude in how I teach my content.  While certain goals and objectives exist for coursework, a teacher in West Virginia is free to meet those standards in a variety of ways, employing any number of methods.

Individual counties in West Virginia can develop their own programs and initiatives under state law, and individual schools have the ability to apply for "innovation zone" status.  This program allows schools to adopt various policies outside of state law (excluding personnel decisions) to experiment with educational ideas to increase student achievement and overall development.  Essentially, this program already permits public schools to become like charter schools in certain capacities. 

The ability for schools and teachers to educate already exists, as does teacher accountability.  Teachers have to account for what they do in their classrooms on a daily basis, evaluate the learning of students, and undergo annual evaluations of their work.  Additionally, schools receive periodic visits from the state's Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA).  These audits provide feedback on what a school does well and where improvement must occur.  Schools are then given time to implement necessary changes before a follow-up visit from the OEPA.

Accountability in schools cannot be measured in the same manner as the business world.  Charter school advocates want to judge a school and its teachers solely by data, and that does not accurately reflect education or the progress of children.

Schools are attempting to educate a wide variety of children who show up daily with more physical and emotional baggage than I can describe in this space.  Somehow, a large number of children learn in spite of everything that works against them.  And we want to measure their growth and education by test scores and graduation rates?  No way exists to measure the impact that good teachers have on their students' lives beyond teaching content. 

The development of charter schools in West Virginia would only further divide a severely strained budget and create redundancy, while stripping away due process rights of teachers with respect to their job status.

Before we drink the Kool-Aid of charter schools, consider a few other options.  In 2012, the State Department of Education underwent an audit to provide suggestions as to how West Virginia could improve its public schools.  Maybe the state legislature should consider some of those options first.  The report recommended many changes, including increased teacher pay to help attract quality teachers. 

Instead of raising teacher pay to incentivize teachers, we have done the exact opposite.  No raises and a severe cut to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) means that teachers have become more financially burdened.  The audit called for a comprehensive plan to recruit teachers, and to my knowledge, no such plan exists.

The audit recommended numerous ways to save money that amounted to millions of dollars, including the reduction of administrators at the state Department of Education.  This wouldn't even include the numerous administration positions that exist in all 55 counties.  The number of these positions grows despite most counties seeing decreases in student enrollment.

The one change that would help the education system the most is the one our society fears:  change the disciplinary measures and policies within schools to allow principals and teachers to maintain order.  Many children have no fear or respect for adults in schools.  Some students have become increasingly emboldened by relaxed policies that coddle them.  Others are the products of poor parenting.  Either way, children (generally speaking) in modern America believe they are entitled to the point where they do not respect authority figures. 

The issue of school discipline is so important, I would gladly forego a pay raise to maintain an orderly school.  Students can be punished for their actions, they remain undeterred.  While it's natural for children to question authority to some extent, this generation and the ones that follow will ask 'why' for all the wrong reasons.  When these children question, it's related to their desire to behave as they see fit.  The level of intellectual curiosity about the world around them has diminished and our appeasement of them is a terrible disservice.

If the legislature wants to make changes to existing law and policy in education, then work through those changes with teachers providing input.  Loosen curricular requirements at the state and county levels.  Add more options to the innovation zone program.  Provide quality training for teachers.  Put more resources into vocational training.  Many options exist for making a better school system, and creating charter schools is not one of them.