Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A New Hope

“Thank the Maker!”

Thirty-three years ago, a new kind of science fiction movie burst upon the movie screens, with a flourish of heralding trumpets. It was unconventional, unlike anything anyone had seen before, yet borrowed conventions from every successful Saturday-afternoon serial.

Later, its creator, George Lucas would give the movie the subtitle, “A New Hope.”

Spike TV is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the second in the series, or the fifth, depending upon your point of view. Lucas added the subtitle to the “original” Star Wars after he released this second film.

“A New Hope” was an appropriate title. Not only was Luke Skywalker to the “new hope” for the struggling rebel alliance against the galactic empire, but he – and the movie – were a new hope for a generation struggling against deplorable, revisionist movie-making.

After 1965’s the Sound of Music, movie-lovers were cast into a wasteland of dreadful films. We were sold a bill of goods on the quality of movies like The Graduate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Clockwork Orange, and Easy Rider, and The Wild Bunch, and Bonnie & Clyde.

And those were considered some of the better films of the Sixties. Real popcorn with butter flicks, yes sir. Movies improved somewhat with the dawn of the Seventies – Patton, The French Connection, The Godfather. M*A*S*H, an anti-American, anti-war movie.

Things were still looking pretty bleak. Then Steven Spielberg and George Lucas burst upon the scene with American Graffitti and Jaws. Still grim, but at least the latter was entertaining. Science fiction was still in the Dark Ages.

2001: A Space Odyssey. Give me a break. Maybe it was because my brothers and I were left at the movie theater while my parents went to my cousin’s college graduation party (they couldn’t afford a babysitter and my grandparents were at the party). We suffered through countless sittings of this film until I thought I would go out of my nine year-old mind.

The movie theater was quite a distance from home, over a dark, busy road with no sidewalks and no streetlights. Still, I begged my older (12) brother to take us home. I told him I’d rather face all the drunk drivers in northern New Jersey than have to sit through this movie again (we’d been there since the first showing in the afternoon).

Finally, he called my parents and told them we couldn’t take it anymore: we were going home. And we did; we left the theater and started walking. It was dark and scary. But I was so relieved to get out of that theater, that I didn’t care.

Our horrified, if clueless, parents finally caught up with us and piled us into the station wagon. They vowed they’d never leave us alone in a theater again. And I vowed I would never watch that piece of garbage movie ever again.

In fact, I swore to never go to any science fiction movie ever again because of 2001.

To this day, I can’t believe critics who tout it as one of the greatest sci-fi flicks of all time. (I wonder what we would have thought if we’d known what the real year 2001 would hold in store for us?)

What a revolution Star Wars was, in comparison. The “Dark Ages” were over.

Just a few years earlier, we had staged our American History revolution. We’d spent our early years watching and listening to our older brothers and sisters fawn over the hippies and the anti-war movement. We just didn’t get it.

Finally, we had enough. I remember at a high school pep rally, that there was a battle going on whether to continue the anti-establishment, anti-everything positive, mood, or to chuck it.

The cheerleaders were tired of it. They wanted the band’s buy-in. The older band members sneered at them. But we younger generation agreed. If our older brothers and sisters wanted to zone out, let them. We wanted to have fun.

The revolution – or counter-counter revolution had begun. We were taking back our school, our culture, and (with our history class revolution), our country. Our high school band director had just quit in solidarity for the assistant director, who’d been fired for having a transsexual operation.

Good riddance to that band director. He was a jerk of the first order. He was solidly in the anti-establishment camp. Our marching band was the laughingstock of every band festival. F-Troop, they called us. He didn’t believe in marches, or drilling, or competitions. And it showed.

The new guy was totally different. He expected us to work hard, to practice, and to give 110 percent. The older band members who were loyal to the old guy, quit the band. Only five junior class members remained on board. I was one of them.

He was another one of the heroes of the “revolution”. By the year after I graduated, F-Troop became an award-winning high school band, winning a regional competition held in Philadelphia.

That was the year after Star Wars came out. A few years after that, Ronald Reagan would be elected President of the United States. What a victory it was for Conservatives.

But “The Empire” did “strike back”. The propaganda machine was relentless in their criticism of Reagan. The teachers went about their business of not teaching history, science or English. Hollywood went on to make other terrible propagandist movies, like Fern Gully.

They managed to get a man elected to office with no experience other than one term as a U.S. senator and a community organizer.

However, they hadn’t bargained on the “Class of ‘77”. We’ve simply been biding our time. That time came with the Tea Parties of 2009. When you see us, and wonder what our inspiration has been, tune in this weekend to the Star Wars films.

Star Wars taught us to think once again in terms of black and white, good and evil, destiny and responsibility, hope and courage. That there are things worth fighting and dying for (wait – that was Gone with the Wind, and Mr. O'Hara was talking about land, not freedom).

That freedom is worth cheering for.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Land of Hope and Glory

Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. It’s probably one of the best known songs in the world, beloved of graduates everywhere.

In England, it’s not just a popular march for graduation exercises. They sing it at proms, rugby and soccer matches and other sporting events, and serves as the Conservative Party’s anthem.

Yes, I said sing. This is a song with words, written in 1902 by essayist A.C. Benson

King Edward VII thought the trio from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance would make a nifty song. Once words were set to the music, it became the Coronation Ode (“Crown the King”; later “Crown the Queen” for Elizabeth II’s coronation).

However, Edward fell ill with appendicitis two days before the ceremony and the coronation was postponed. The publishers of the music saw great commercial potential in the number and asked Elgar to create a separate song, which was first performed by Madame Clara Butt in June 1902. In fact, only the first of the seven stanzas of the Ode's final section was re-used, as the first four lines of the second stanza below. This stanza is the part which is popularly sung today.

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

The song is as popular in England as God Bless America is in the United States. There have even been movements to have this song replace “God Save the Queen,” which is Great Britian’s national anthem. A trip to Wikipedia will lead readers to a link where they can hear Madame Butt’s original rendition of this song.

One of the band’s with which I play performed the commencement exercise music for a community college. Naturally, we played the Pomp and Circumstance March. My company allows us a day’s worth of time to devote to supporting education in the community.

My supervisor thought it was a stretch but allowed me to take the time. Now I can tell her I not only supported education at a community college, but learned something I didn’t know about this familiar musical number.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Treaty of Tripoli

America is at war. And it is very much a religious war. She is besieged on two fronts: fanatical Muslims on the one extreme, led by the most “irrepresible” leader since Saladin, Osama Bin Laden, and American atheists on the other, who not believing in a deity, are led by the American Civil Liberties Union.

As early as 1628, America had trouble with the piratical, Muslim states of the Barbary Coast (northern Africa). The Barbary nations (Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco and Tunis) considered themselves to be at war with any Christian nation that had not negotiated a "peace treaty" with them for a sum of money.

Hostages captured by the Barbary privateers (government-sanctioned pirates) were either ransomed or forced into slavery, contributing greatly to their vast slave-trade. Captives, particularly Christian captives, were treated harshly and many died from their treatment. Some captives converted to Islam, making life in captivity easier and increasing the ranks of the Muslims.

Advances in European military strategies and armament finally began to curb the marauding Barbary nations. The American Colonies were under the protection of Great Britain and her considerable Navy. During the American Revolution, we came under the protection of France.

After the U.S. won its independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), it had to face the threat of the Barbary pirates on its own. Two American ships were captured by Algerian pirates in July 1785 and the survivors forced into slavery, their ransom set at $60,000. Without a standing navy, the U.S. was forced to pay tribute monies and goods to the Barbary nations for the security of its merchant and naval fleets and the freedom of its captured citizens.

The Treaty of Tripoli, otherwise known in English as the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey [“chieftain”] and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, was signed at Tripoli on Nov. 4, 1796 and at Algiers (for a third-party witness) on Jan. 3, 1797, finally receiving ratification from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797.

Treaties with some of the other Barbary Coast nations - the Barbary Treaties – had previously been reached. Individual treaties were negotiated with Morocco (1786), Algeria (1795). The Treaty with Tunis was signed in 1797. All of them had been negotiated more than once, all of them required money, and all of them were broken.

The Pasha (bashaw, or Lord) of Tripoli broke the treaty with the U.S. in 1800, a mere three years after it was ratified by the U.S. Senate.

General William Eaton, consul to Tunis, wryly explained to Secretary of State John Marshall in 1800, "It is a maxim of the Barbary States, that ‘The Christians who would be on good terms with them must fight well or pay well.’”

In the course of negotiating with the Barbary nations, each of the Barbary rulers continuously demanded increased payments to maintain peace, even while occasionally capturing U.S. ships. The Pasha of Tripoli was jealous of the ships the U.S. “presented” to Algeria, and demanded a similar tribute.

On September 25, 1800, Tripoli captured the U.S.S. Catherine, robbed the crew, and plundered its cargo. Although the Pasha said it was a mistake and the captain responsible for the capture had been punished, he warned American Consul James Cathcart that if the U.S. didn’t send additional payments, within six months he would declare war on the United States and its vessels.

The Pasha told him that America had to pay tribute to him the way every other nation did. When Cathcart pointed out we had already paid him, the Pasha noted that was for arrears of peace. If we wanted to maintain that peace, we had to keep paying him.

According to the Wikipedia entry:

Meanwhile, the U.S. was quickly losing patience with the Barbary nations, and had been building up its Navy in preparation for armed confrontation. On May 15, 1801, President Thomas Jefferson's cabinet again advised him to send a squadron to the Mediterranean, but only as a retaliatory force.

On May 20, 1801, Commodore Richard Dale was commissioned to lead three frigates and a schooner to patrol the Mediterranean sea lanes. They set sail on June 2, 1801.

However, unknown to Jefferson, the Pasha of Tripoli declared war against the United States on May 10, 1801. In sending the Navy squadron to the Mediterranean, Jefferson declared,

"To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean."

Soon after Commodore Dale sailed into a neutral British port near the Straits of Gibraltar, he discovered that Tripoli had declared war on the U.S. Dale’s commission only authorized him to blockade adversarial ports and capture hostile ships, so he could not attack Tripoli directly. However, he notified the Pasha of Tripoli that he could negotiate terms of surrender.

Through subsequent battles, Tripoli eventually agreed to terms of peace with the United States. Tobias Lear negotiated a second "Treaty of Peace and Amity" with the Pasha Yusuf on June 4, 1805.

To the dismay of many Americans, the new settlement included a ransom of $60,000 paid for the release of prisoners from the USS Philadelphia and several U.S. merchant ships.

By 1807, Algiers had gone back to taking U.S. ships and seamen hostage. Distracted by the preludes to the War of 1812, the United States was unable to respond to the provocations until 1815, with the Second Barbary War, thereby concluding the encompassing Tripolitan Wars (1800-1815).

One of the most controversial articles of the Treaty of Tripoli is Article 11, which states:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

The official treaty was in Arabic, and a translated version was ratified by the United States on June 10, 1797. Article 11 of the treaty was said to have not been part of the original Arabic version of the treaty; in its place is a letter from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. However, it is the English text which was ratified by Congress.

The Pasha of Tripoli did not consider the treaty valid until he received his gold.

This scholarly assertion is of dubious merit; there is no proof and it is highly unlikely the U.S. would have willingly made such declaration. The U.S. Consul-General to the Barbary states, Joel Barlow, had been a chaplain in Washington’s Army. However, he renounced Christianity in favor of rationalism and was said to have had a hand in the authoring of this treaty.

This is the source President Obama and the Liberals consider the authority for his contention in April 2009 that “we are not a Christian nation.” The conservatives and the liberals have been debating this clause, unbeknownst to any of us, for years and years.

So imbedded is this debate in the national elite dialogue, that even our own conservative constitutionalists have forgotten to clue us average Americans in on this little-known treaty. Thank goodness for the Internet and Google.

This is one of the documents the Liberals use in their Jeffersonian argument of separation of church and state; “the wall.” as they like to call it. The treaty had already been signed long before it reached this side of the Atlantic, although President Adams readily supported Barlow’s treaty.

No Christian-American wants a government-sponsored, state religion. The very reason the colonists fled here was to escape religious persecution in Europe and worship God their way. There are too many factions among them, and all that would result is religious war within a religious war.

What American Christians want is for the government to honor and respect that clause in our U.S. Constitution that states the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of.”

But that doesn’t mean the government should be telling them when and where they can worship. ‘Worship God anywhere you like – as long as it’s not on public property’ – something, with TARP and all the government bail-outs, that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

It goes to the old saw about Ford’s assembly line, everyman Model T – you can have any color you want – as long as the color you want is black. You can talk about God anywhere – as long as you don’t do it at a high school graduation, on the subway (‘public’ transportation), or in some public venue (that’s prosleytization).

Conversely, you can’t criticize the government in God’s house. If your minister or priest does, say, criticize the “science” of global warming, your church could lose its tax-exempt status.

The Constitution says “Congress” shall make no law, of course; it says nothing about the U.S. Supreme Court. American Christians believe the government, in staking its flag on what it calls “government property”, is prohibiting the free exercise of religion on what it is declaring as neutral territory.

The Liberals admit, grudgingly, there is a religious, Christian-based ethic in the Declaration of Independence. But not in the U.S. Constitution, they cry. These are the laws of the people, say they. Only the first amendment deals with that very subject: the free exercise of religion.

President Adams, the second president of a very new and unique nation, no doubt took great pride in our young nation’s public stance on religious neutrality. Young America knew all too well the dangers of mixing religion and government.

Towns were forming in which only practitioners of certain religions could live. Before we became a nation, with constitutional laws, Maryland was originally devoted to those of the Catholic faith. Jews were driven out of certain conclaves in New England.

The U.S. Constitution put a stop to all that, guaranteeing that anyone of any religious persuasion could live in any community they had a mind to live in. That was the Jeffersonian ideal, and what the “Founding Fathers” were thinking of when they agreed to that clause in the Treaty of Tripoli.

Should schools be teaching religion? Perhaps not. But in its ever farther, claw machine grasp of power, the U.S. government is making it more difficult for private schools that do want to teach religion and parents that want to send their children to those schools.

Religious schools find themselves under the same textbook mandates, for instance, and the same progressive, liberal standards for promoting socialism that reach far beyond that mandate of public education.

The Boy Scouts of America have increasingly found themselves “unwelcome” in any public buildings for their steadfast stance against homosexuality, one concretely founded in their religious beliefs, even though they are not, per se, a religious organization, but a community group.

And this is just the domestic religious war that the Treaty of Tripoli propagates. There are also the international implications.

According to the website “Wall Builders”:

The Muslim Barbary Powers (Tunis, Morocco, Algiers, and Tripoli) were warring against what they claimed to be the "Christian" nations (England, France, Spain, Denmark, and the United States). In 1801, Tripoli even declared war against the United States, 7 thus constituting America's first official war as an established independent nation.

Throughout this long conflict, the four Barbary Powers regularly attacked undefended American merchant ships. Not only were their cargoes easy prey but the Barbary Powers were also capturing and enslaving "Christian" seamen 8 in retaliation for what had been done to them by the "Christians" of previous centuries (e.g., the Crusades and Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of Muslims from Granada 9).

In an attempt to secure a release of captured seamen and a guarantee of unmolested shipping in the Mediterranean, President Washington dispatched envoys to negotiate treaties with the Barbary nations. 10 (Concurrently, he encouraged the construction of American naval warships 11 to defend the shipping and confront the Barbary "pirates" – a plan not seriously pursued until President John Adams created a separate Department of the Navy in 1798.)

The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, as noted, was broken, and a new treaty drafted in 1805. Article 14 of The Treaty Of Peace and Amity between the United States of America and the Bashaw, Bey and Subjects of Tripoli in Barbary read:

As the Government of the United States of America, has in itself no character of enmity against the Laws, Religion or Tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any Mahometan Nation, except in the defence of their just rights to freely navigate the High Seas: It is declared by the contracting parties that no pretext arising from Religious Opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the Harmony existing between the two Nations;

The phrase declaring that the “government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" goes away. The treaty offers assurances that the United States will not interfere with their religion or laws, but the assurances are reciprocal.

What comes of a conflict between a secular government, founded on Christian values but governed by democratic principles, and a theocracy, whose government is guided completely by religious dogma?

What kind of relationship evolves between a federated republic that does in fact, build a wall between government and the various religions its population chooses to individually worship so that it cannot dictate to its citizens how to worship (if at all), and an emirate that demands lifelong subjugation to its religion, where there is no differentiation between government and religion, and where apostasy is considered a criminal act punishable by death?

The former, time and again, declared war upon the other, without provocation, breaking every treaty to peace, whose terms were strictly monetary and favorable only to the former. The only terms favorable to America were that her ships would not be captured and her sailors and passengers, enslaved.

The United States was basically negotiating with terrorists then and is still doing so. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, therefore, is an invalid document, having been violated by the other side who, today’s Liberals, would defend, and are defending still today.

Remember that America – now that you’ve learned this little-known item of history, if you had not known it before. There’s a difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The ACLU and the Liberals are no better than the Pasha of Tripoli in their determination to hold us hostage.

They demand the same tribute and hold the same hostages for defying their all-encompassing decrees, passed by our potentate Supreme Court. As with the Muslims, its all or nothing for the Atheists and their ilk. When Boy Scouts - kids, for God’s sake – are denied use of a public building for their beliefs, the gods can’t be pleased.

As for the Muslims, we find ourselves very much in the same position we were in in the Mediterranean in 1797. Pirates are seizing our ships on the Horn of Africa and in the South China Sea. We have a dilettante president reshaping our foreign policy to accommodate them and a propagandist media propping up this humbug and holding the American public at bay while we pay tribute to religious theocracies obviously antithetical, even hostile, to freedom.

Our president, using the earlier Treaty of Tripoli as his model, declares we are not at war with any Muslim nation. He will not even permit – if an American president can censor words – the words “Islam” or “Muslim” to be used in regard to this war on terrorism. H e But as every Conservative pundit has pointed out, they are at war with us.

And we have every right, obligation, and duty to defend ourselves. We are not bound by a treaty our enemy has already violated time and again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heavy Lies the Head

The Miss U.S.A. Pageant has apparently added a new category to their criteria for selecting their winner: courage.

Yes, I must hand it to newly-crowned Miss U.S.A., Rima Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant and Miss Michigan entrant in the contest. Pageant officials are uncertain, but they believe she is the first Arab-American contestant to win the title.

Not much on history, they also didn’t mention whether she was the first immigrant to win the contestant. That would be okay. We may not and should not be electing immigrants to the highest office of the land, but why shouldn’t legal immigrant citizens be able to vie for this beauty contest crown?

Miss U.S.A. is without question one beauteous young lady. Her intelligence, as judged by her answer to the Intelligence question – not so much. She believes contraceptives should be covered by health insurance because they’re an “expensive.” “controlled substance.”

Meanwhile, runner-up Miss Oklahoma, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, paid the penalty for her intelligence and independence, qualities the pageant considers mutually exclusive. Because she supported Arizona’s newly-minted illegal immigration law, she was relegated to second place.

Still for an Arab-American woman to “strut her stuff” on camera in front of millions of people on television is extraordinary. It didn’t take long for the news of a pole-dancing video of Miss U.S.A. to surface. A fatwah, denouncing her and condemning her to death, didn’t seem far behind.

Thankfully, for her sake, it hasn’t appeared yet. In fact, the Arab-American community was bursting with pride. The head of Hezbollah gave a mild denouncement of her achievement, saying of parading around in bikinis and revealing evening gowns, “Women don’t do those things in our part of the world.”

No, because if they did, they’d have their throats slit.

It’s a pity she wasn’t asked about her stand on the American Pediatrics Association’s recent mute approval of sending third-world girls back to their third-world countries for genitalia correction.

Or whether, as the first Arab-American Miss U.S.A., she would be the Arab-American ambassadress for education for girls in the Arab world. Or whether she would advocate for women’s rights in the Middle East. But perhaps she’s saving those answers for the Miss Universe pageant, which Miss U.S.A. is automatically eligible for, later in the summer.

Meanwhile, the pageant's considerable lack of judgment in choosing and analyzing intelligence questions is appalling.  Clearly, freedom of speech is not on their minds.  In the Miss U.S.A. pageant, there is a right or wrong answer, and that answer had better fit within their politically-correct parameters.  Miss U.S.A. hopefuls need to give their most submissive, bobble-headed responses if they want that crown pinned to their pretty little heads.

Miss Oklahoma was punished for her honest and articulate answer. Miss Michigan was crowned for her barely articulate and woefully inaccurate reply. But no matter, because this is a beauty pageant after all.  All that matters is appearance.

Still, if I were the new Miss U.S.A., I'd sleep with one eye open from now on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Redistribution of French Fries

Big Brother was eying my French Fries. Not no that Big Brother. My big brother, and it was absolutely fascinating. It was like watching one of those claw machines on the Boardwalk in Wildwood (or whatever seaside resort you’ve ever visited).

“You don’t want those french fries, do you, Squirrel?”

A massive hand reached out and then down, in a peculiar, mechanical fashion, from its side of the table to mine, and clamped down on a my small serving of French Fries. When the hand lifted up and away, only a few, scraggly French Fries remained, the survivors of a wreckage, as the French Fry crane carried the rest off.

One or two fries dangled from the clenches of the fist and fell off. But in an instant, my own pile was cleared. They never made it to his plate, though. There was a momentary delay as my mother bellowed.

“What do you think you’re doing?! Those are your sister’s french fries!!”

The cry came too late, though. In a moment, the entire plunder disappeared into my older brother’s considerable maw. My mother got up from her seat to scold him. She wanted to know why I let my brother take all my French Fries and why, if he wanted more fries, he didn’t ask.

Knowing my weaker appetite, my mother suspected me of food avoidance (a charge at which I would scoff – french fries were never on my Food Avoidance list).

“She didn’t want them,” he informed my mother. “Did you?” he added prompting me.

“No,” I repeated, mechanically. “I didn’t want them.” Now my mother was extremely suspicious. But I didn’t want them. Or rather, I considered them a reasonable price to pay for this spectacle of my brother’s arrogance, greed, and selfishness.

It was as though I had, indeed, placed a quarter in a machine on the Boardwalk in quest of a greater prize. One I knew, as a budding writer, that would be of considerable value at some later date.

That Rasputin-like gleam in his eye, thinking that he’d put one over on little sister when he thought he’d convinced me to “hand over” the french fries. That he’d connived me into “sharing” my french fries, when it was really out-right theft.

That consciousness of his that superior intelligence had triumphed, that a master of cunning and artifice had won a satisfying, if trifling, victory over a lesser being. That he’d escaped the long arm of Mom’s law, depending on sisterly affection to cloak his guilt and expiate his crime.

That I wouldn’t remember, just as I had trouble remembering dates in history class, or scientific terms in biology. That not being able to pinpoint the details I would never see the bigger picture. No – he wasn’t smart himself to see the bigger picture, so he’d never suspect I possessed that ability.

I laughed the incident off, and since I registered no complaint, there was nothing my mother could do, except wonder herself at my seeming gullibility. Probably I should have socked him on the spot. We were older, but still young enough to get away with childish behavior.

I just couldn’t resist, though. In the long-run, I knew I’d be the true victor. It was well worth the sacrifice of a few calories at the time, just to register that look in his eye, those french fries dangling in his clutches. This perfect picture of the redistribution of wealth.

Payment has come due for this pilfering of my little french fry cache. His sentence? Community service. My big brother will serve as the allegory for Big Brother.

Today, I watch with equal fascination as the claw machine of the Obama regime extends its claw wide to possess itself of a huge portion of taxpayer wealth. Equally helpless as I was at the Burger King, the American public watches this thing descend upon them.

The prize (for Obama) is the U.S. health care system. This is a mighty chunk of the U.S. “horde” – that is, “economy.” Six percent of the U.S. economy is about to vanish into the maw, never to be seen again.

Arrogantly, Obama and his minions give us Rasputin-like speeches about how this will help the uninsured, how no one’s taxes will increase, about how much “fairer” this system will be. You can practically see the Big Brother glint in Obama’s eye as he says it.

Big Brother cites the “millions” of Americans without insurance, a much lower number in actuality than the statistic they provide. He touts how much healthier Americans will be, although having health insurance has nothing to do with how healthy you are.

It’s only fair, Big Brother claims, that everyone must be compelled to buy health insurance in order to subsidize their own health care further down the road of life. If it were affordable, younger people probably wouldn’t balk. Thanks to the health care unions, fraud, and bureaucracy, private premiums are astronomical.

Once upon a time, people only really needed hospitalization insurance, which they often got from their employers. They were able to carry the weight of their own medical care on their own shoulders, without insurance. Now you must be insured for every medical procedure on the books. That’s how expensive health care has become.

You’ll be able to keep your own doctor, Big Brother assures us. Not if the doc can’t operate in a profitable manner. The only way I’ll be able to visit him is if I fly to Honduras or some such place. Those evil, greedy doctors. My, how times have changed.

There are no “death panels”, Big Brother laughs smugly. Or health police. Or huge deficits in store with this bill. Those are all smoke and mirrors thrown up by the opposition Conservatives. They’re losers, according to Big Brother.

No, they’re the Big Mother who’s caught Big Brother stealing his sibling’s French fries. With the passage of the bill, he’s already crammed the fries into his mouth, defying anyone to repeal the bill and retrieve what he’s stolen.

Certainly, there’s a disadvantage to sticking her finger down his throat and making him cough the fries back up. He’ll be sure to disgorge them directly back onto his sister’s plate, leaving a disgusting, unsightly mess that the Mother will be obliged to clean up.

But there is always a reckoning for every evil. Years later, my brother has found himself epitomized as the model of Big Brother arrogance, selfishness, and glib duplicity. As the current administration calculates that the oblivious public will eventually forget the treachery of Obamacare in the face of free gifts, he didn’t think I’d remember those French fries.

But Little Sisters never forget. As my mother warned my brother about underestimating me, we bide our time and await our moment.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Class Envy

“As the nation was perishing, I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Last week, New Jersey tea partiers marched on their statehouse to advocate and activate for school choice in New Jersey. Garden State residents want to know – why not the best for their students?

Why are the wealthiest scions of society sent to elite boarding schools like Phillip-Exter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and the Eton School near Windsor, England (the alma mater of Prince William), both four-year high schools. What is the attraction to these schools?

Is it all about crests and ties, bragging rights, and old boy networks? Is that what helps these students later get into Yale, Harvard, and Oxford? An article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal discusses the return of Etonians to Great Britain’s No. 10 Downing Street after a long absence.

Private schools are actually considered “public” schools in England According to Eton College’s website, until 1902, there were no publicly-supported secondary schools in England. Schools were either privately owned by an individual or family, or ‘endowed’; that is deriving part of their income from an endowment often in the form of land and run by a governing body.

In both cases, tuitions were charged. The endowed schools were known as “public schools” to distinguish them from the “private” schools being run for profit by an individual or company. In that sense, Eton is considered a “public” school.

Private schools have long had their own very bad reputation to live down, as bad as any school system in New Jersey – Newark, Trenton, Camden. The WSJ cites a British MP who, going to work as a manager in company that hired blue-collar workers, downplayed his blue-blooded education.

“How could I tell the garbage collectors I was managing that I went to Eton?” he noted to the WSJ?

The elite school curriculums are known, above all, for their classical curriculum. Latin, Greek, and sometimes Hebrew, are the haute-couture languages well-bred schoolchildren must master. While blue-collar and middle-class children are struggling with phonetics, their uppercrust classmates are learning Phoenician.

Eton is so demanding that Latin isn’t even on its curriculum. Prospective students must know Latin before they even fill out the application to the school. That’s the language in which they must write their entrance application essay. Now that’s a tough school. If you don’t know Latin, don’t even bother applying.

While normal schoolchildren are learning about Washington crossing the Delaware and maybe (if they’re the lucky) the Battle of Lexington and Concord, their counterparts at Phillips-Exeter are learning about Alexander the Great.  The schoolchildren of Camden and Exeter are mere musket shots from historical landmarks. In terms of educational curriculum, they are worlds and centuries apart from one another.

Part of the answer to this pop quiz is the educational background of the teachers themselves. You can’t teach Phoenician if you don’t know it yourself, and a Phoenician teacher is certainly going to command a higher salary than a teacher who only knows English.

Our public school teachers here in New Jersey, while they’re not Phillips-Exeter caliber (as far as I know) anymore than I’m a Phillips-Exeter caliber writer (!), certainly aren’t lacking for degrees. That’s how they accumulate their astronomical (to us taxpayers) salaries and exorbitant benefits.

What we taxpayers want to know is, what have those teachers, with their advanced Masters degrees, learned? What are they teaching our students that makes them better teachers? In inner cities like Newark and Camden, our students are failing miserably. Just what are we getting for our money?

For all these advanced degrees, we sure don’t hear the kids in Newark speaking Phoenician.  Before we get to the teachers, though, it’s important to note that Exeter is a high school, so its students are already well-versed in good study habits. Those begin back in kindergarten and earlier.

This particular school employs the Harkness Method, which is a roundtable method of teaching. There’s no hiding in a roundtable class. The reason for lecture hall style teaching is to promote respect for the teacher and to keep the young students’ attention focused. The teacher is the authority figure. That doesn’t seem to work too well in inner city schools in Newark, where there’s no discipline, much less respect for authority figures.

Generally, the upper class doesn’t send its littlest progeny off to boarding schools, where they live away from home. Some boarding schools begin as early as the 6th grade, but not much younger than that.

While Exeter is the gold standard of college-prep boarding schools, West Nottingham Academy, is the oldest boarding school in America (1744). So where do the elite send their precious darlings before they send them off to boarding school?

Private day schools, of course. But that’s all about location, location, location. New Jersey has an impressive 1,451 schools (Massachusetts only has 923). To be fair, though, these include religious schools, military academies, and schools for special education.

Exeter doesn’t teach Phoenician (that was just a joke), but they offer just about everything else, and you don’t get everything else unless you’re prepared for it and have earned it. No, good education begins much earlier than that.

In New York City, parents practically sell their souls to get their budding academicians into private kindergartens.

Saddle River Day School is a K-12 college prep day school, with the hefty tuition to vouchsafe its ambitions. There’s the Morristown-Beard (formerly the Bayley-Ellard) School (6-12) in Morristown, the Wilson School (Pre-K-8) in Mountain Lakes, and the Far Hills Country Day School (Pre K-8) in Far Hills. To name a few. A very few. Their student-teacher ratios are enviably low, even if their tuitions are not.

Let’s take a look at Far Hills Country Day School. What can your little first grader expect to learn at Far Hills?

Well, for starters, Chinese and Spanish, along with Language Arts, and Math (not Arithmetic - Math). According to Far Hills’ website:

They continue developing geometry skills by composing and decomposing plane and solid figures while building a foundation for such properties as congruence and symmetry. Students extend their knowledge of algebraic thinking by reading, writing and explaining the symbols and by describing and applying number patterns and the properties of number (i.e. odd and even).

Did I mis-copy something? Did I mistake the Seventh Grade curriculum for the First? Nope – that is the school’s plan for First Grade.

By the 5th grade at FHCD, students use the commutative, associative, and distributive properties to show that two expressions are equivalent. They evaluate expressions and they understand that variables represent numbers whose exact values are not yet specified. They construct and analyze tables, and they use equations to describe simple relationships (3x = y) shown in a table. Grade five students continue to study with Hands on Equations to provide a solid foundation in algebra readiness.

By the 8th grade, these kids are well-versed in Latin, Algebra, and Geometry. The English section doesn’t describe what literature these students are reading, but it’s probably sufficiently impressive. Here’s what they say about their Chinese skills at this point, though:

Since students are now quite comfortable with writing Chinese characters with correct stroke orders, the focus is to empower students make meaningful linguistic connections so that they can write simple sentences and carry on simple conversations in Chinese competently. Students will recognize approximately 300 characters with basic knowledge of grammar.

One very interesting class for these pint-sized Platonians (and Plutarchians) is Library. This is a specific class for them. We had Library class in my middle school, come to think of it. Our elementary school library was in a janitor’s closet. But that’s an adventure story for another day.

Here’s FHCD’s promise to parents.

Our Promise

Hallmarks of a Far Hills Country Day School Graduate

Far Hills Country Day School graduates:

• Acquire strong foundation skills and tools for achievement, innovation, and confidence in the face of change
• Possess an enduring passion for learning
• Understand and develop their strengths and affinities
• Ask significant questions and possess discernment to make informed decisions
• Think critically and creatively to solve problems
• Have the confidence to take reasonable risks, and learn from mistakes
• Write effectively for diverse audiences and in diverse modes
• Communicate articulately and confidently in public forums
• Collaborate with understanding, respect, and empathy
• Appreciate their own accomplishments and celebrate those of others
• Value excellence, hard work, and perseverance
• Appreciate and participate in the arts
• Pursue wellness of body and mind
• Compete with strength, integrity, and grace
• Act as responsible, engaged, and compassionate leaders of the local and world community.

Imagine getting that kind of guarantee from our public schools. But that’s the best education the best money can pay for, in N.J. (which isn’t bad). So – what do average parents do? How can the public schools – and public parents - compete with that?

Well, let me tell you about my Mom and Dad. They came from the Bronx, New York. Dad certainly wasn’t from a wealthy family, and Mom, a formerly affluent clan. In spite of their poor backgrounds, Dad learned to read and write college Latin, and Mom can quote Shakespeare.

Money isn’t everything. It isn’t necessarily the be all and end all in education, though it helps. But even at Exeter and Eton, there are bottom-dwellers. Somebody’s got to be at the bottom of the food chain.

My brother’s friend D. went to the same elementary school we did. He went on to design and write and write about Unix programs. He speaks many languages. He used to discuss advanced mathematics with my father (D. was my father’s favorite BFOB – “best friend of Billy”).

It’s not just about demanding more of your school system and your kids’ teachers, but demanding more of yourself and your kids. I blame teachers for a panoply of educational ills, and for dereliction of duty in teaching fake science (i.e., global warming) instead of the real deal, communism instead of American history, transformational grammar instead of English.

For forcing kids to read Ring Lardner Jr. (please – reading him was like being plunged into a dark pit – ugh!!) instead of Charles Dickens (a day at the fair, by comparison). Do you understand why we study literature? So we understand about humanity, about people, about life and love, wealth and poverty, and all that other good stuff.

Through literature, we learn to empathize with others. Because we can’t exactly peep through our neighbors’ living room windows. Instead, we read books about other people’s experiences, whether the book is a romantic novel or a biography. Lately, we’ve settled for reality television shows to inform us (and our kids) about others, but it’s hardly better than peeping through living room windows.

Are we teaching our children to become peeping toms instead of empathetic, intelligent human beings? Are we letting the television do our job of teaching them? Are we teaching them to let other people think for them? That’s what’s happening in our schools and we’re allowing it happen.

When it comes to how well the kids read, write, and ‘reckon, sorry, but it goes to home (as the English say). Kids are little copy machines. If they don’t see mom and dad readin, writin’, and reckonin’, they’re not going to be any better at it.

Or if they do, it’s out of sheer dumb luck. Praise be to the Tea Party parents and to their motivator, Glenn Beck. They’re reading about George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Maybe they’ll even get to reading about the philosophers who inspired them, like John Locke.

Take it to the next step, Tea Party moms and dads: let your kids hear you quoting Shakespeare, too. Let them hear you thinking aloud about legitimate science, the theory of quasars, or the science of tectonic plates.

Let them hear you name a geological age [i.e., the Paleozoic Era, (the Greek word combo for old or ancient life) the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic Era 542 million years ago]. Just a quick foray into Wikipedia (which is what I just did) will tell you it had to do with the formation of the great North American and European forests from coal beds. Was that hard?

I’m the mentally-laziest person on this planet; I was a miserable, unmotivated student, the 90-pound mental weakling of the family. As teens, when we watched Jeopardy, my older brother just left me in the intellectual dust (even though my IQ was five points higher than his). When they made my brain, they must have applied a little too much teflon.

I’ll be the first to admit (as my father would charge me, were he still alive) that was I too much the intellectual wanton, squandering my educational opportunities when I had them. My parents warned me that studying was like putting money in the bank: if you didn’t make the deposit, the knowledge wasn’t going to be there on the rainy day when you needed it.

Nevertheless, I ask you and put it to you: Doesn’t it pique your curiosity and make you want to study up on the subject a bit more? Especially you Dads out there who maybe aren’t all that into Shakespeare.

Let them hear you quote a poem, “The world is too much with us, coming and going; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!.” John Wordsworth. I didn’t have to Google that one. It’s one of my favorite poems. Forget about Dancing with the Stars. Well, I mean, that’s okay. I understand about pop culture. But for God’s sake, try to diversify a little bit, expand your minds.

Does the whole world have to revolve around rock music? Can you at least try to listen to an opera? Carmen’s a good one; very sexy. La Traviata – do you know what it’s about? Remember the old film classic weepy, Camille with Greta Garbo? There. Now you know what it’s about.

You guys are good on Broadway. But how about some swing music from the World War II era (Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing! is amazing. There’s an incredible drum solo in its midst; I just go crazy every time I either hear it on CD or we play it). If you want some musical adventure, you can go with pop classics like the 1812 Overture or the Ride of the Valkyries.

Or if the kids are driving you crazy, you can try something more subtle like one of Chopin’s numerous nocturnes. Or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Very soothing to frayed maternal nerves.

Let’s not forget about the art world, either. You can mix a little history with art. Art and history are great buddies. Glenn Beck was talking the other day about the Apotheosis of George Washington (the painting on the ceiling of the U.S. Capitol).  Washington was, indeed, a revered figure. Yet, when he sat for his bust, he would have no uniform or even Lord of Mount Vernon finery. Do you know why? Because he said there was no point in trying to impress God with epaulettes.

If you’re Christian, when was the last time you picked up your Bible? Not to thump it on someone else’s head (thumping your kids on the head with it is okay, though) but to really reflect on it. When was the last time you told a Bible story to your littlest kids, the pre-schoolers?  The Bible is a marvelous example of storytelling . God spoke with a Bronx accent when I was little. What accent does The Almighty speak with in your household?

Have you tried speaking a few phrases in some other language besides English? Don’t get me wrong – I consider English the numero uno, primo language. It’s the language best-suited to our culturally diverse country. It should be the first language. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the only language!

Don’t care for Spanish? Okay. Well, tell them. “Tyvarr, men jag tycker inte om det!”

I’m constantly driven crazy by people smarter than me. They’ve gotten college degrees far in advance of mine. They know more than I do. Yet, once they’ve gotten what they wanted – an A, a degree, a raise, a promotion – that’s it. They no more care about the subject than a Paleozoic Era denizen.

After a parade one day, we were walking back to our cars – a trombone player, his trombonist friend, and the friend’s father, a tuba player. The two guys had gone to high school together and were discussing Napoleon, as he factored into the movie, Master and Commander.

“Yeah,” the friend said. “Napoleon came to power in 1812 and it was all over.” Or something like that. In other words, he got his date wrong. His friend, a history buff, went berserk.

“1804! He declared himself emperor in 1804! What’s the matter with you?! You and I were in the same history class! We studied together, we took the same test. We both got As. You got an A! And now you don’t remember when Napoleon came to power!? How could you have gotten the same grade I did and not remember something simple like that?! I just can’t believe you!”

The history buff remembered the history lesson. His friend simply memorized it and promptly jettisoned it as soon as it was no longer useful to him. That’s why you don’t pay kids to learn in school. Even the rewards of good grades are not enough. You have to teach kids to jump into the pool of knowledge body and soul, not just dabble their feet and be satisfied.

The teachers, in their defense, can’t do that. They’ll do their best, but inspiration is your job. Or it ought to be. Some parents fail miserably, and a teacher will be willing to come in and take up the slack for the kid’s sake. But those are exceptional circumstances.

This is primarily a parent’s job.  Remember my friend G.? G. knew all about the Greek gods. At eight years old. That was the result of her mother the librarian’s influence (G.’s father certainly didn’t teach her about Greek gods).

Those people were poor as church mice. They lived in a flood zone. But still, G. knew the Greek myths at the tender of age 8. Money isn’t everything. What was it Otto Frank told his daughter, Anne (in the 1959 film, at any rate): no one can place a lock on your mind?

No one has the monopoly on knowledge or information or learning.

You don’t have to memorize the entire Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. In Latin. (Wouldn’t it be great if your kids could, though?) You don’t have to know the name of every star in the sky, although a few wouldn’t hurt. But you could at least try. You might just wind up being able to name every one of them.  Your kids might even grow up to discover a few they haven’t found yet. At least, they could start by memorizing the names of the presidents of the United States.

Don’t blame them if they can’t remember the present title-holder, however; he’s a pretty forgettable guy. If, as President of the United States, you can’t manage to remember that the car was invented in Germany, not the United States, you deserve to be forgotten by history.

If you can get your hands on a book, whether at the library or on the internet or even at a garage sale, you’re on your way and no one and nothing can stop you. Or your kids. Don’t get too tied up in knots, then, envying Eton graduates or Exeter upperclassmen. It’s not the Eton ties that bind knowledge to the mind; it’s the family ties.