Burning a hole in my pocket

“You’re lovin’ gives me a thrill
But you’re lovin’ don’t pay my bills.” — Berry Gordy

Elon Musk has purchased Twitter for 44 billion dollars. Obviously, there is a lot that can go into that transaction and its effect on free speech and debates over the limitations of platforms. Who knows whether certain individuals will be allowed back on Twitter after the company banished them before. Someone else can handle that discussion or we can come to it later.

I’m still trying to get my head around the transaction itself. I have to admit that I have a twitter account. I have one of those Word Press triggers that will tweet out this column as soon as its published. I also peruse it every now and then to get breaking sports news and to see what people are saying about the Astros. I might participate in political discussions once in a blue moon. I’m on enough to have 800 or so followers. That number changes periodically. I just don’t have time to care.

I know companies advertise on Twitter and some sell their junk on Twitter as well. Still, I’m struggling to see how Twitter is worth much more than a billion dollars much less 44 billion. However, that’s still not the biggest road block in my mind. The biggest road block is just how someone is able to acquire enough money to buy anything for that sum.

There are two kinds of billionaires out there. There are the ones that create something. J.K. Rowling is a billionaire. Bill Gates is a billionaire. Steve Jobs was a billionaire before he died. Those kinds of billionaires make sense. If you create something or invent a better mousetrap you deserve your reward.

Then there are the billionaires that ride the coattails of someone else’s sweat, tears, and ingenuity. Elon Musk didn’t start Tesla. He just acquired them. He didn’t design the rockets that he launches into space. In fact, much of his fortune was inherited from his father. Some of you are probably thinking that sounds vaguely familiar. It should. That’s how wealth is often acquired these days.

Many of the billionaires out there are people you’ve never heard of. They make their money investing in other people’s blood, sweat, and tears. They buy companies and sell companies in the blink of an eye. They don’t create anything. They don’t make anything better or even worse. They are like parasites on the body politic, glomming the excess off the top before anyone can see it.

The ultimate question is whether they should exist in the first place. Someone somewhere along the line (likely on Twitter) came up with the best suggestion I’ve heard so far. Once someone gets to 999,999, 999.99 they should get a trophy saying they had won capitalism and they get nothing else. The rest goes into the public coffers and distributed somehow equitably. Maybe it could retire down the debt. Maybe we could end homelessness. Maybe we could make sure everyone has a hot meal. Maybe we could make sure that everyone has health care and access to post-secondary education. I suppose that is too much to ask. A simple man can dream simple dreams. The rest can buy platforms with more money than they know what to do with.

You can’t read that

“The books are to remind us of what asses and fools we are.” — Ray Bradbury

It always starts easily enough. A concerned citizen sent a list of 60 books that she found objectionable. These books should be removed from the public library. At least that is how everything got started in Llano County. It ended up turning into a federal lawsuit.

In the meantime, a librarian was caught in the crossfire as they usually are. She was fired when she refused to remove books from the shelves. A secret cabal of concerned citizens bandied together to come up with the list of books that should be removed. The same librarian caused a stir when she attended the meeting. Obviously, she wasn’t supposed to be there.

Why should she be there? The meeting only concerned the books that would be on the shelf in her library. Again, I would have to repeat that we aren’t talking about school libraries here. We’ve already seen enough stories about districts (Katy, cough) that have tried to censor what their students can read. Now, we are going after the adults.

One of the groups most effected is a group you wouldn’t think would be effected. The group that is the most up in arms in Llano County are the senior residents there. Many of them have taken up electronic books because they are not as mobile as they used to be and can’t necessarily make it to the physical branch. Many of these titles have been wiped off of the electronic catalog.

I still remember battling with my parents over technology. Simple word processing and spreadsheet tasks were a nightmare. I remember when my mother first got one of those Nooks from Barnes and Noble. She was reluctant at first, but now she hardly ever puts it down. She can purchase new titles for pennies online and at Itunes. I could just imagine if her favorite author was removed from the list.

These things are very simple. If you have to meet in secret to do anything then there is something rotten in Denmark. I won’t say that you are definitely on the wrong side, but chances are pretty good that you are. Anything that you want to do in private should be able to be done in public. It really is that simple.

Two sides of the same coin

“Somethings take so long, but how do I explain?
When not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them, oh
Isn’t it a pity?” — George Harrison

There can be no greater separation between whatever we call progressives and whatever we call conservatives than the feelings about billion dollar corporations. Conservatives fought to give those corporations rights to free speech where progressives normally view those corporations with some level of skepticism or scorn. At the very least, there is a constant battle to get those corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

This is why the battle over Disney is such a unique battle. No single quote has had a greater impact on the past forty years of politics than Ronald Reagan’s quote from his first inaugural address. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” No other line quite captures the sentiment of conservatism. That quote gets magnified when we deal with corporations the size of Disney.

Disney has been given all kinds of perks and favors over the years. The idea is that Disney creates more for the economy and stimulates more growth than the government ever could. So, the best thing a government can do is take a back seat and let Disney do their thing. Naturally, we will ignore that while Disney is a fine place to visit (our family has been there three times in the past six years) and they have stimulated the economy in general, as an employer their spoils aren’t exactly distributed equitably.

Such is the nature of these things. A good progressive will take the Reagan quote and insert the word corporations for the word government. It’s not that we don’t want them to exist. It’s that we want them to be tempered and regulated so that their excesses can be reined in. We want workers treated fairly. We want consumers to be protected. We want the effects of the greed that happen naturally to be limited.

What gets lost for the current crop of movement conservatives is that corporations have no moral compass. They can’t. As much as Citizens United wants us to believe that they are people we know they are not. They are about pure profit motive. They want to sell my daughter a “pride donut” while also seemingly catering to “family values.” They want all of our money.

So, I’m not sure what Ron Desantis and the other movement conservatives were thinking when they came out against LGTBQ+ individuals. When they passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill what exactly did they think would happen? Did they think Disney would purposely cut off a sizable portion of it’s customer base? Disney has made its billions by being all things to all people. It can appear to be wholesome and family friendly and also friendly to people of all lifestyle choices. They’ve made their way through that mine field. They are incredibly successful because they have done this.

So, now conservatives are going against their core beliefs. They are punishing a corporation for taking a stand. It puts progressives into the uncomfortable position of supporting a corporation like Disney. In the end, corporations are the same. They are all things to all people. They are signs of the ultimate greed and avarice driving a wedge through our society and environment. They are welcoming to all people because all currency spends the same no matter who it comes from. Corporations can and will be both. They can because they can’t afford not to be. At least the successful ones like Disney can’t.

The Cult of Freedom

“Their shares crash, hopes are dashed
People forget.” — Pete Townsend

The race for the nominations of the two major parties are moving closer and closer. Normally, when the midterm elections end then the two sides come out swinging at each other. Governors, prominent senators, and cults of personality collide on stage and on the roads of Iowa and New Hampshire. One often wonders why those particular states get such a prominent position, but we can set that down for the moment.

The Democratic side has some intrigue. Joe Biden will be 80 before the campaign for the nomination is over. One can’t help but wonder whether he has the energy to do this again. Obviously, the right would like nothing more than to see him step aside. It opens the door to Kamela Harris and other potentially more progressive candidates.

If we assume norms for a moment (I know, I know) we would assume that past presidents will move on into the sunset (or an eight by ten room with bars) then the Republican side has a handful of challengers that would seem to be ready to run. Most of them are governors, so we should probably take a moment to look the latest.

The headliner just might be Ron DeSantis from Florida. It’s a populous state and he finds himself in the news often enough. We can go with the free version or the pay wall version. It’s the same basic story. Recent data has them third in current COVID cases. Being behind California and Texas is par for the course. They are bigger states. The fact that they are ahead of New York and Illinois is perhaps more telling.

In all fairness, that was the past. Newer data would seem to indicate that they are not the most egregious offenders in the past month. Great. They still have had more than 70,000 people die from COVID-19. That number could become 80,000 by the time campaign season gets here.

Not to be outdone, Greg Abbott in Texas has been at the helm when nearly 90,000 Texans have died from COVID. He will be one of the other major contenders for the nomination. Of course, Abbott is an equal opportunity to killer. If he doesn’t get you with lax regulations and mind-numbingly stupid belligerence then perhaps he will freeze you to death.

Both DeSantis and Abbott have postured their way into the former guy’s good graces. I’m sure the hope there will be that he will step aside (or step inside) and will tab one of them as the heir apparent. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. In this case, freedom could lead to the loss of more life.

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem should not be forgotten. Her track record is a double edged sword. She set marks for positive COVID cases per capita, but was also part of a response that turned the tide. I’ll just let the charts do the talking.

I’m sure the usual suspects like Lyndsay Graham and Ted Cruz will throw their hat into the ring. Why vote for a senator who may lead thousands of people to their death when you can elect someone that’s actually done it? Let freedom ring all the way to the cemetery.

The Indefensible

“In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” — Mark Twain

There is an episode of “Night Court” where the characters believe that one of their colleagues had died. The hold an impromptu memorial service for him and all of them try really hard to say something nice about him. One by one they all get up and one by one they all fail to produce anything. Luckily for him, they only thought he was dead. He was in the back soaking all of this.

One wonders whether that will be Majorie Taylor Greene someday. In her latest statements I have to wonder if her goal is to sit in back of that court room and watch her colleagues to fail to come up with anything. Apparently, she questioned why anyone would want to join the military. According to her they are just throwing their life away.

It’s a remarkable turn of events that somehow echoes the former president. So, are her comments an extraordinary example of someone trying to curry favor the leader of the abyss. Lemmings will follow each other off the cliff. Salmon will swim upstream only to die in the end. Republicans will echo the words of a sadist until they cease to be what they once were.

It doesn’t take much to remember a time when conservatives were the ones that loved the military. They would spend on them with reckless abandon. They would heap love on them with every opportunity and would accuse the other side of a failure to love them. Whether their love was true or not, they certainly wanted you to believe it was.

In its place is some kind of cultural nihilism. Nothing is sacred. Nothing outside of self is paramount. There is no high honor. We instead focus on invisible sex traffickers while we ignore the sex traffickers sitting right next to them in Congress. These are all empty pursuits in the name of owning the liberals and maintaining power.

Keith Olbermann used to have his “worst person in the world” segment on his old MSNBC show. Even then it seemed that the moniker was temporary. Someone else would hold that honor the next day. I’m not sure anyone can at this point. MTG is stealing good oxygen from the rest of us. It’s high time that she went away never to be heard from again.


“I can see by your grin
That you’re trembling within
It’s all over town, cheer down.” — George Harrison

Thinking on certain issues logically evolves over time. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was ushered in at the very beginning of the Bill Clinton presidency. It was seen as a huge step forward in military circles. It was acknowledgment that gay and lesbian people exist and were likely in the military. Instead of a witch hunt to ferret them out, we would just allow them to exist as long as they weren’t in everyone’s face about it.

It served its usefulness and ceased to be policy in 2011. After awhile, it just becomes painful for people to shut off a portion of themselves for their own self-preservation. In order to prove that the world is regressing, some prominent right wing politicians are aiming to bring that back again.

Of course, no one calls it that. We use fancy names for it like “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Unfortunately, the scourge is spreading. Now, nearly half of the states in the country are considering the same bill. I’m sure no one is surprised that Texas is one of those states. I’m sure no one is surprised who is behind that effort.

In order to get the full picture of this we should return to the original name that the bill was given. What exactly do parents want? Well, it’s hard to tell based on the results of the most recent elections. Generally speaking, the numbers aren’t much better in most school board elections. So, it is fair to ask what parents actually want in education.

While LGTBQ+ issues run the gamut, the issue of same sex marriage probably sits near the core of everything. If we were to use that as a barometer of attitudes towards gay and lesbian people in general, it would seem that most parents would actually be okay with it. According to the poll linked above, 61 percent of those polled in 2019 were in favor of same sex marriage while 30 percent were against it.

It certainly is true that being in favor of same sex marriage is not necessarily the same as supporting acknowledging LGTBQ+ issues in the classroom. However, there usually is a huge difference between what has been taught in the classroom and what people seem to think was being taught in the classroom. Most of the time it is a simple acknowledgment of who teachers are. I certainly don’t know anyone that has pushed a gay or lesbian lifestyle on students. They may or may not have acknowledged who they were by simply acknowledging the presence of a same sex partner.

Kids aren’t idiots. In fact, they are probably more in tuned to this than most adults are. By allowing teachers to acknowledge who they are, it encourages kids to be proud of who they are. As you might suspect, teenagers that are members of the LGTBQ+ community are more susceptible to suicide or thinking about suicide than their heterosexual peers.

As we watched a clip on the new laws (particularly the one likely coming in Texas) my wife piped up and asked a perfectly reasonable question. “I’m a parent. What about what I want?” That has been the problem with school boards for time and memorial. A majority of parents aren’t crazy. A majority of parents aren’t bigoted. A majority of parents just want their kids to be happy and healthy. A majority of parents don’t vote in school board elections. That’s usually reserved for zealots and busy bodies. So, now we force Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones back in the closet and with them all of the teens that were hoping to come out.

A Default Position

“I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand.” — Martin Gore

There are numerous moments where we take things that we instinctively know, but fail to put them together. I support a World Geography class and in that class we got on the subject of genocide. Genocide is one of those squeamish topics that has to be covered, but it is difficult to give its proper weight with young teenage minds.

For some reason my mind immediately went to South Park. In the first episode of their seventh season they ran an episode titled “Cancelled”. In that episode it turned out that Earth was a reality television show in another galaxy. Different species of animals were thrown together purposely to see what conflicts would arise. As you might imagine, this included the various races as well.

Obviously, there was a ton of dark and sometimes inappropriate humor there, but that wasn’t my immediate thought. What immediately came to mind was wondering if they were in fact right in their premise. When you watch the war in Ukraine you come to find that a large part of the conflict is based on Vladimir Putin’s assumption that Russians and Ukrainians are really the same people. Therefore, they should be together.

We saw Hitler do this prior to and during World War II. He took over countries he felt had common affinity with his own. The idea was that all Germanic people should be together and a part of one country. As we saw, it also meant that whoever was deemed not Germanic was to be eliminated. We have seen so-called ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, and in other locations as well.

That’s what makes the desire not to teach our history of racism so mind boggling. If you put all of these things together you get the distinct impression that racism, ethnic conflict, and cultural conflict is actually natural. The battle for everyone “just to get along” is not a natural state. It takes constant effort and if one stops making the effort then they fall into the pit of what’s natural. It’s the default position.

Of course, this kind of discovery presents its own problems. One of the hallmarks of the KGB and their tactics is the notion of cultural and moral nihilism. It reduces everyone to zero. You’ve done evil things and I’ve done evil things, so you have no right to call me on my evil things. It’s always funny that our collective mainstream media seems to play the same game in attempt to be “fair and balanced.”

The discovery that conflict is the norm ignores those that deliberately try to move beyond the conflict. We hold these truths that all people are created equal and they are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights and that governments are instituted among people to protect these rights. Those truths are not self-evident. They have never been self-evident. Knowing this doesn’t make our nation’s founding a fraud. Knowing this makes our nation’s founding that much more remarkable.

Knowing this also means that to get to that state of being we have to constantly work at it. If we acknowledge that equality and peace are not natural then we acknowledge that having peace and equality requires constant effort. It means we have to call out those that are not working towards that goal. That means calling out people who aren’t doing it now and it means calling out people that didn’t do it in the past.

It also means that both propagandists and those in the mainstream media are wrong. There are people that fight their own natural instincts every day and just come up a bit short. We aren’t perfect no matter how hard we try. We make mistakes. There are also those that aren’t trying. There are those actively working against peace and equality. They know they are doing it and are relentless in their pursuits. We cannot treat a person with good intentions and a person with evil intentions the same. Both do the wrong thing, but treating those people the same ignores that they are not the same. One obviously does the wrong thing more often and their intent is far different.

Weights and Measures

“You have been weighed. You have been measured. You have been found wanting.” — Anonymous

Yesterday completed our round of testing for the year. Really, who am I kidding? Yesterday, was just the end of the beginning of testing for the year. We completed the English I and English II STAAR tests for the year. Those are the toughest tests for the students and the toughest to administer. So, there are some sighs of relief, but we are just beginning.

While testing a group of 10th graders, I got the email from our testing coordinator. “Congratulations, you have been selected to administer the TSIA tests.” If you aren’t in education you have no idea what either of those two tests are. Many of us in education barely know. In addition to all of this we have three more STAAR tests in early May and the more driven students have AP exams around that time as well.

To pay off on the teaser, The TSIA stands the the Texas State Initiative Assessment. It is given to students before they graduate to determine if they need to take remedial classes at a community college before they can take the courses that really count.

Since January 1st, we have taken mock STAARs for the five different STAAR exams, we took a field test for the English STAAR because we were fortunate enough to have the state of Texas choose our school to give that exam. We don’t get to see the results. We just had to take a day to test. We have administered the SAT, both English STAAR exams, and the TSIA, AP Exams, and the other three STAAR tests will come between now and the end of the school year.

Students are told they have to pass all five STAAR tests in order to graduate. They are told they have to pass the TSIA in order to avoid paying for remedial classes that don’t count towards any degree. Teachers are told that they have to follow all of the rules or their teaching certificate could get pulled or we get stripped of our fingernails (whichever is more painful).

It obviously gets to the point where we have to ask exactly what we are measuring. I think all of us get it on a certain level. We want to see what students have learned. We want to make sure teachers are teaching the curriculum. We want to know if students have the skills they need to succeed in the real world. All of these are reasonable points and reasonable questions to ask.

What isn’t reasonable is putting all of that pressure on a child. What isn’t reasonable is putting all of that pressure on those teaching those children. What isn’t reasonable is designing a test where students sit for five hours fighting off fatigue and boredom to try to master a difficult test. What isn’t reasonable is how the state is changing the tests to make it more challenging. Apparently, too many students are passing. So, we have to move the target further away.

Silly me, but I thought the whole point was to test whether students had mastered the skills necessary to succeed in the real world or in college. Has that changed dramatically in the last several years? Are we really adjusting to the changing times or are we simply punishing educators and kids for cracking the code to beat the test?

Meanwhile, the anxiety gets ratcheted up. A typical ninth grade student (at the tender age of 14 or 15) will take practice tests for three different STAAR tests, will take common based assessments each six weeks in all four core subject areas, will take three different STAAR exams, and will sit for the school day PSAT. That assumes they aren’t taking any AP exams. If you do the math, that’s more than 30 high stakes tests. One might wonder if you have time to do anything else.

Testing is also big business. One is free to wonder whether we really are making education better or simply filling the pockets of some powerful donors. Any good teacher wants to know that what they are doing is successful. We want to know that students are learning and that what they are learning is useful. We know that some testing needs to happen to determine that. In many cases, we are capable of doing that on our own or people within our district are capable of designing tests that can do that. They won’t take five hours to take and we don’t have to scare the kids and threaten them. We just want to know what they know. That’s pretty easy right?

Unconditional Positive Regard

"And all you're ever gonna be is mean. Why you gotta be so mean?" -- Taylor Swift

As you might suspect, the idea of picking a single person as the architect of a key idea becomes a bit muddied over the course of the years. If you do a quick Google search of “unconditional positive regard” you will find at least three different names associated. The idea itself is important as it pertains to the development of psychotherapy, but it’s not like we are talking about the light bulb or the telephone here.

Unconditional positive regard is simply the idea that the therapist treats his or her patient with love and respect no matter what they have done or what they have said. By itself such a notion is not that remarkable. Whether it is properly understood by most therapists remains to be seen.

The remarkable story of unconditional positive regard wasn’t the theory itself, but who the theory came from. Viktor Frankl was many things over the course of his life, but the most remarkable of those things was as a survivor. His family was ravaged by the Holocaust as he lost both of his parents and a brother in different concentration camps including Auschwitz.

For someone to see the very worst in humanity and come out on the other side at all is remarkable. Everyone that survived persecution, torture, and abject cruelty is remarkable. Someone that survives that and somehow comes away preaching for us to see the very best in humanity is worthy of sainthood. Yet, this story was embedded in those of us that sought our masters in counseling.

Of course, if someone lived their life with unconditional positive regard, they wouldn’t help but be hurt. There is too much natural cruelness in the world. There are too many people that don’t positively consider those around them. There are too many people that don’t consider those around them at all. There are those that think that we have entered into an age of narcissism and if that’s true then treating everyone with unconditional positive regard can be inherently dangerous.

However, one of the problems with modern living is the notion of either ors and neither nors. Some might call it the “all or nothing” fallacy. If we can’t be nice to everyone and if we can’t treat everyone with kindness and positive regard then we shouldn’t treat anyone nicely or with positive regard. The dichotomy is a dog eat dog world where the strongest survive and everyone else is trampled on.

There are shades of gray in this world. Everything cannot be black or white. Some things can have elements of this and that. We can conditionally treat people with positive regard. We can take steps to protect ourselves from bad people without trampling on the rights and feelings of other people. We can live with love even while some around us don’t love us back.

We can remember Viktor Frankl. No, spending a lifetime pioneering psychotherapies is not in the cards for most of us. Spending a lifetime doing anything to help those around us might take some doing. Yet, we can see the simple lesson here. A man that lost nearly everything at the hands of some of the worst people in history still found a way to love everyone. Maybe we can find our way to at least be kind to those around us.

Down is Up

“So we cheated and we lied and we tested
And we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do.” — Stephen Stills

There are two things that always get me when watching movies or reading books about the future. Of course, the comical thing is when they get things all wrong. “Back to the Future” told us of a turbulent time when cars flew, kids rode hover boards, and holograms were everywhere. Extremely weird stuff happened. Stuff like the Cubs winning the World Series. Well, that actually turned out to be true, but the other stuff was pure fantasy.

However, nothing quite compares when the crazy stuff predicted in stories of the past actually turns out to be eerily true. “1984” was meant to be a cautionary tale even back then. It chronicled the dangers of propaganda when the government became all powerful and no one was quite sure what was up and what was down.

A lie is still a lie even if it is repeated often. Yet, a lie is more easily believed the more often it is repeated. It seems that Donald Trump and the GOP are bound and determined to get you to believe whatever they would like you to believe on Hunter Biden. They are going to keep pushing that same story about the laptop until you finally believe it.

Of course, the fact that Hunter Biden had a laptop isn’t the lie. The fact that Biden has made deals where he has taken advantage of his father’s position is also not a lie. The idea that either of these two facts point to Biden as being the most corrupt president ever is the lie. The idea is not only false, but is laughable on its face.

Are Hunter Biden’s dealings problematic? I’m sure they are on some level. Nearly every president has had a brother, son, or wayward cousin they wish they could put a muzzle on and keep locked away for their own protection. Billy Carter and Roger Clinton were absolute embarrassments. Heck, George W. Bush was that embarrassment before he cleaned his act up. You’d have to settle for Neil Bush as the black sheep of that family.

Go back far enough and there is a stupid relative or friend that a president wish they didn’t have. Of course, depending on the president, these idiots either provided for temporary humiliation or were much more problematic. Of course, like in the case of Warren Harding, those scandals were much more about their own reaction than what their idiot relatives or friends did.

So, how is this situation any different? Well, on the first note, the people leveling the charge are so guilty it is not even funny. To accuse Hunter Biden of excessively profiting from the presidency or making shady deals is galling when compared to their own behavior. Heck, you could break it down by child and all of them made more combined than all presidential children in history. Ivanka and Jared Kushner probably did more than the others.

Even now, there are propagandists on Twitter trying to convince you that he and his children divested while Hunter Biden profited. Actual facts say otherwise. Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes truth for millions of people. Joseph Goebbels told us how the big lie works. “1984” told us too. Seeing Back to Future’s version of 2015 was hilarious enough. Seeing “1984” actually come to life is anything but hilarious.