Saturday, March 26, 2011

In It To Lose It

Mega Millions ticketsImage via WikipediaOne of my newly acquired coworkers approached me a couple of days ago and asked it I wanted to chip in for the company Lottery tickets. Apparently, a majority of the people where I work (including the owner, if that tells you anything) create a Lottery pool when ever the Mega Millions jackpot climbs over $300 Million. I guess they figure chump change like $200 Million isn't worth the effort.

I am not a gambler. I enjoy games and healthy competition, and the occasional wager between friends can be fun and challenging. But as soon as gambling is orchestrated and controlled by an organization with the direct intent of making money, it becomes a situation in which you are being asked to dedicate yourself financially to a system that has been specifically orchestrated to ensure your failure in the majority of possible outcomes. Much like borrowing or investing money with banks these days, you're screwed the minute you open your wallet.

This isn't a position I take on any kind of logically superior level. I am purely adverse to gambling from emotional standpoint: like many people, I don't like to lose. I'm not obsessive about it; I don't fly into a rage when a scrabble partners plays Quartzy on a Triple Word score or cheat at miniature golf. But to me, gambling has always felt like defeat without any real promise of success. I've patronized a few casinos in my day, and the stench of desperation and hopeless persistence is always overwhelming. I can almost see the pleasure in some of it - Slot machines, for example, have evolved to the point where they are merely arcade games for unimaginative adults. Of course, as a kid, I could milk a couple of hours at the arcade out of a measly $5; the same amount of time hanging out at even the nickel slots can cost you the same as a month's worth of groceries ("What do you mean, seventy-five lines? Why did one turn on a nickel slot just cost me $3.75?). During my last trip to the local Sands Casino, I paid a brief visit to the High Roller Slots Area, just to see what people willing to take a $500 pull on a one-armed bandit look like. Frighteningly enough, they look just like you and me, just with nicer clothing.

As if that isn't bad enough, anything above slots descends into the bizarre realm of casual and somewhat civilized thuggery. Those slightly jovial people with the intense stares at the $10 blackjack table might seem innocent enough, but all it takes is ten or twelve hands for you to realize that the middle-aged mother of three (celebrating her third honeymoon) on your right and the overworked insurance salesman (in town for yet another trade show) on your left are both more than willing to shove the plastic straw from their complimentary drink in your eye if you mistakenly hit when you aren't "supposed" to and inadvertently take "their" card. Desperation can make people behave irrationally, but those who actively seek out desperation are a dangerous breed all their own. The twisted souls populating the Keno and Roulette tables are the most unstable of the bunch, and should be approached with extreme cation. The person who willingly places bets on a game in which they are fully aware that odds are firmly against them, only to become angry or disappointed when the law of averages declares them losers, is an unpredictable creature that demands equal amount of pity and respect, but only at a safe distance.

Of course, we aren't talking about table games or slot machines. My coworkers would simply like me to chip in on buying lottery tickets so as to increase their chance of beating the three-million-to-one odds against them by a fraction of a percent. It's all in good fun, but my natural inclination is to politely decline. Even when in good company, I still cannot find the joy in purposely setting myself up for yet another loss.

Then a frightening possibility occurs to me: what if they win? What if I politely decline to join in their office lottery pool, only to have my coworkers strike the jackpot. It would just be my luck to end up in an empty office on a Monday morning with everyone having called out sick to celebrate, with them mulling over stock portfolios while I process payroll for a bunch of nouveau riche, soon to be ex-coworkers.

So, I chipped in three dollars. Because the only thing worse than losing is being the only loser in the building.

PS - We didn't win.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Homeschooling: America's Biggest Joke

Ron Paul & Michele BachmannImage by Gage Skidmore via FlickrRon Paul and Michelle Bachmann, two of the Tea Party's hopeful (yet decidedly doubtful) 2012 Presidential hopefuls picked up the anti-public schools baton lobbed by ambitious GOP trend-setters like Chris Christie and Scott Walker over the past month. But unwilling to do anything half-assed (except draw logical conclusions or research historical facts, perhaps), Bachmann and Paul shot right past those evil unions and greedy teachers, and instead attacked the institution of government funded public education as a whole. Needless to say, their arguments come across as less than coherent.

Ron Paul, claiming that the government was seeking nothing less than "absolute control" over the "indoctrination" of children, adjusted his tinfoil hat and stated that "the public school system now is a propaganda machine. They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism - and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American."

At first, one might pause to wonder what exactly Ron Paul has against teaching children about things like family values and the environment. This involves some reading between the lines, facilitated by the fact that Paul and Bachmann were speaking at a homeschooling rally (whatever that is), which is undoubtedly comprised of a majority of Far-Right paranoids concerned with shielding their children from what they consider 'Wrong' thinking. With this in mind, it now becomes understood that when Paul accuses public schools of teaching children 'Family Values', he is really accusing them of teaching kids that homosexuality isn't a crime against God and society. 'Sex Education' translates to 'Birth Control & Abortions as Viable Options', 'Gun Rights' become 'Guns are Dangerous and Should Be Restricted', and 'Environmentalism' as 'Regulating Polluting Corporations and Reducing Consumerism'. In the right-wing mind, all of these are inherently evil forms of juvenile brainwashing.

Am I being unreasonable here? After all, shouldn't parents be expected to show concern that their children are being exposed to belief systems to which they don't subscribe? Yes, that would be a fair assumption. However, these groups that yank their children out of formal education to save them from hearing about condoms and global warming are the same ones that want students to be openly led in prayer, and balk when religious symbols is stripped from holiday celebrations out of concern for those of other religious persuasions. Paul doesn't mention evolution in his laundry list of educational sins against our children, but if he did it would have garnered just as much applause. Most of these rabid homeschooling proponents are against any kind of indoctrination other than that which follows their own firmly held beliefs. If the schools were spreading propaganda that called gay marriage an abomination, sex a dirty shameful act, and gun ownership a patriotic necessity in case of a Communist attack, you wouldn't be hearing a peep out of these people. Do I have any direct evidence that this crowd falls into such a category? No, but I have just as much proof as they do that God exists, so who are you to judge?

Bachmann followed up Paul's fearmongering against formal education by claiming that homeschooling is the "essence" of freedom and liberty. Actually, homeschooling is the essence of being an isolated frontiersman with no real connection to society. She went on to croon "It's about knowing our children better than the state knows our children," she said. Which is endearing sentiment that moves me to wonder why the government feels the need to interfere with our children when it comes to the consumption of alcohol or tobacco? Don't parents know better than the state whether or not their children are mentally and emotionally mature enough to smoke or drink? And what about laws against child abuse and endangerment? Aren't parents are the ultimate judges of how much physical and mental assaults their children can take before punishment crosses over into abuse? Talk about the Nanny State.

"It is not up to a bureaucrat to decide what is best for your children," Bachmann said. "I am so tired of the establishment telling us that they know best. We know best." Except when it comes to physics, perhaps. Maybe algebraic equations. Or, in the case of Bachmann, American History. Come to think of it, her argument that the act of pumping out a couple of children suddenly endows the parents with an accurate and infallible concept of what is 'Best' is a little more than dubious. Sure they might all want the best (and even that claim is a tad dubious), but does every parent actually know what is best for their children? What about all of those parents who bought trampolines for their kids, or left guns unattended in nightstands to be played with, or told them that being popular is the most important thing in the world. I'm sure Billy Ray Cyrus wanted all of the best for his little Hannah Montana. But did he actually know what was best for Miley? I rest my case.

Bachmann's a favorite at these events because she has homeschooled all five of her own children, a fact that is somewhat frightening when you consider the number of historical inaccuracies and illogical statements attributable to her in just the past couple of years. We can only be thankful that the government intervened and prevented her from subjecting her twenty-three foster children to a similar fate.

Despite claims to the contrary, the majority of the homeschooling movement boils down to parents afraid of Non-Christian influences swaying their children's world view, so it is no surprise that the master of ceremonies was Justin LaVan of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, who stated that homeschooling was a way get children "talking about our Creator - our rights that came from our Creator, acknowledging that and giving him the glory, folks."

So, where do I get off calling homeschooling a joke? Surely, there must be examples of homeschooled kids who were not raised by religious zealots fearing heathen influences would turn their children into Gay Hippie Atheist Democrats. I can't possibly be dismissive of an entire movement simply because of the religious undertones of their overall message of wanting greater control over their children's education?

You bet your ass I can. The IQ of the average American currently hovers around 95%, give or take a few. Taking in consideration that this means half of the US population is actually (through statistical reasoning) dumber than that, what would you consider the ideal IQ of your average teacher? Would you want your child educated by someone with a merely average intellect? Or would you prefer someone a tad smarter than the average bear?

I know this might sound rather elitist to some people, but i'ts hard to put a ribbon on the ugly truth: rational people don't just want their children to grow up to be average. The want them to be exceptional, to be superior, or to put it more bluntly, to be smarter than their parents. The idea that a parent knows what's best for their children in an educational environment is a self-important position that drastically restricts the growth potential of that household's progeny. To claim that you, and you alone, should be the basis for your child's education is to insist that you are more qualified than all others to communicate the accumulation of modern civilization's knowledge into your kid's soft little skull. That, my friends, is hubris on a grand scale.

But shouldn't parents be able to shape and mold their children's beliefs and world views according to their own moral and spiritual compass? Damn straight they should, and nobody is doing a thing to stop them. The schools only have their children for a limited number of hours a day and days of the year. The rest of the time can be easily be spent talking to your children, counseling them and helping them shape the knowledge they acquire and force it into whatever spiritual or philosophical pigeon-hole you wish.

The reason the homeschooling movement in America is a joke is because the entire argument for it is based on a convenient lie. Homeschooling parents aren't afraid of negative influences on their children's impressionable young minds. They are afraid that the child, after accumulating facts and weighing evidence beyond the scope of the their parents' knowledge, will grow up to someday tell them that they are wrong. And if there is one thing that the collective psyche of the average person can't handle, it is being told that they might actually be wrong. And by their children, no less? Why, that's downright un-American.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's Wrong With Crust?

Bread - Photo by Michel MarconImage via WikipediaI don't understand what appears to me to be a universal aversion to crust. From mothers who will force their children to eat Asparagus and Cauliflower yet willingly cut the crust off of their PB&J, to grown adults fingering past those first couple of slices in the bread bag and eventually throwing it away with the heels still inside, there seems to be some twisted bias against what is still a perfectly edible piece of bread. What is it about this completely illogical aversion to the slightly hardened edges of sliced bread that has it so deeply ingrained in our society's psyche? What is even more confusing is that this prejudice does not extend itself to other types of bread. Firmer, tougher crusts other specialty breads are eagerly devoured without a thought, yet the square sandwich loaf is continually taught to be ashamed of its protective outer shell. I don't know why this bugs me, but it does, and I can often be found making a sandwich out of the neglected heels in the bottom of the bread bag out of protest.
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