Tuesday, April 4, 2017


There was a classic sci-fi movie in the Fifties called THEM. I saw it when it first came out, and it still gives me a chill to think about it all these years later. It depicted an invasion by giant radioactive ants, fugitives from desert A-bomb testing that made a rampage of death and destruction across the Southwest until finally settling in the sewers of Los Angeles. I remember it starred James Arness, fresh from playing the intergalactic vegetable in my favorite monster flic, The Thing. Since seeing THEM as a child, I have never been able to hear the pronoun "them" used out of context without thinking of that movie.

Well, I heard it used just that way the other day. My step-daughter told me that one of her classmates, who was born female but identifies as male, was insisting that everyone at school not refer to her with the words "him" or "her," but rather, as "them." Now, to paraphrase Mark Twain, this is asking the English language to do something it wasn't designed for. He/she is now them, his/her possessions are now their and theirs, and, presumably, when they refer to themselves (themself?) it is as we, us, they and ours.

I, of course, suggested that the person in question be encouraged to see the movie THEM before demanding to be identified with it (at least in my mind). I mean, the giant ants were terrifying to look at, ravenously homicidal, and made a horrible screeching noise. But I don't suppose they will - look at the movie, that is. This is all by way of saying that, increasingly, social norms and political correctness are wreaking the havoc of giant ants on our language (not to mention on bathrooms, proms, marriage, and so on). History teaches us that the first victim of tyranny is always language; bullies, oppressors and self-styled victims must always attack the way we think and speak about things, which enables them to slip into a mainstream distorted sufficiently to accommodate them (us, theirs, they).

Now, I have long been a firm believer in the principle that every human being should be allowed to live his or her life as he or she wishes without interference from the outside. As far as I'm concerned you can be any gender you want and use any bathroom you please; but there are limits, and pronouns clearly are one of them. Our pronouns were designed to reflect three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. As a language, we are fortunate to have three: Romance languages (that is, languages derived from Latin) have only two - masculine and feminine - and I have witnessed the confusion that can cause as new words enter these languages. The French, for example, have to decide whether software is male or female, requiring them to invent a new word and trace its imaginary origins back to Latin. How would the Romans have referred to a blog or a selfie? Are they masculine or feminine? What would Augustus say?

The short answer is that they are neither; that is, they are neuter, and if French-speakers would simply synthesize a neuter gender and shove all their neither-one-nor-the-other words into it, life would be much simpler for them (her, him, it). But when I once suggested at a dinner table full of Belgians that they do this, the very suggestion was met with scorn and indignation. A third gender? An "it"? Never! Why not? I don't know, but no!

Now we find ourselves (theirselves, themselves) in a similar quandary. If people refuse to be labelled by traditional English pronouns implying gender, then it seems to me they have two choices: they can either adopt the neuter pronoun "it" (which would still give them the plurals they and them and those), or they can invent new pronouns for their own use, and try to force them (it, those) on the rest of us.

Of course, referring to oneself or being referred to as an "it" would appear demeaning, so I suppose that idea is a non-starter. And so it would seem that new pronouns are demanded. When I raised this inevitability with my fourteen-year-old, he informed me that an effort to create such gender-neutral (though not neuter) pronouns is already under way, and he did a quick Google on them (is Google male or female?) What he came up with was a gloss containing among others: e/ey, eirself, per, perself, ve, verself, xe, xemself, and ze, hir, hirself. (Yes, linguists in the LGBTQ community are actually working at this.)

Well, all of those sound pretty ugly to me, more appropriate for giant ants than humans, and so I want to suggest that we just go straight at the gender-neutral pronoun problem head-on and use "gen". Gen, gen's, genself, genselves. And that we adopt a fourth gender in the language: masculine, feminine, neuter and gen. Them will then become gen, their stuff will be gen's, they can think of themselves (theirselves) as genself and genselves, and they can all get rich selling t-shirts, charm bracelets, monogrammed towels and so on to their (gen's, gens') heart's content.

Friday, January 27, 2017

I Have Come Through Safely, and I Shall Return

For those of you who may not know, those were General MacArthur's words after he left the Philippines in 1942. (And while it was true that he did come through safely, as much cannot be said for heroes like Ed Ramsey and the members of the Philippine resistance who either could not or chose not to leave. They stayed and fought.)

In any case, I am back after a long absence during which much has occurred, and I think I shall resume posting now. A few random thoughts to get back into the swing:

I seldom go to the movies anymore, since it has become so expensive, and most of what reaches the theaters is pointless. However, every year I am sent Academy screeners for my "consideration," and I get around to watching them eventually. I have been doing so lately, and I have a few thoughts about last year's films.

"Arrival," about which I had heard many good things (including that it was a masterpiece), was a great disappointment. I found much of it, well... just dumb. The script, I thought, was weak, and the acting average. Once I adjusted to the idea that the aliens were nothing but an intelligent species of octopus, I went along for the ride. But the premise upon which the whole thing is based, namely, that language determines our experience of reality, is just silly. In fact, I think it is pretty clear that the reverse is true: experience of reality determines language. The fact that the linguist in the film learns the aliens' language does not make it possible for her to travel in time any more than the fact that I speak French means I can make a really great omelet. (I can't.)

"La La Land" remains a complete puzzle to me. That it should have been nominated for a record number of major awards is mystifying. I recall when I watched the opening scene on the freeway, I thought: God, is the whole thing going to be like this? It seemed to me an attempt to make "Singin' in the Rain" or a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical with half the talent. I decided pretty early on that Ryan Gosling can neither sing nor dance very well, and, for my taste at least, Emma Stone was just annoying. The script was quite mundane, the acting was merely tolerable, the musical numbers were undistinguished and the paean to Los Angeles (where I have lived for thirty-five years, including many non-musical maroonings on the freeway) was just inane. I can only imagine that its success is due to the fact that so many of the other films are dark, gloomy and depressing.

On that score, I must say that I attempted to watch "Girl on the Train," and had to turn it off after fifteen minutes, unable to take any more of its unremitting gloominess. Perhaps it did pick up something of a human tone later, but I don't care. The same was true of "Jackie." I managed about twenty minutes of that one given my general interest in the subject, but Natalie Portman's unchanging visage of dread and her bleak tone were just too much for me.

Then there were two films which, if they did nothing else, convinced me never to visit West Texas.

One was "Nocturnal Animals," which I nearly turned off after twenty minutes or so (the gloom factor), but I stuck with it because Jake Gyllenhaal is such a good actor (indeed, I think he has developed into one of our finest). What interested me most about this film was the fact that it was at once an effective argument for gun ownership and a powerful dramatization of the destructive effects of abortion on those who survive. It also argues, of course, that you should listen to your parents because they are usually right.

There can be no denying that if Gyllenhaal's character had kept a gun in his car, a lot of tragedy could have been avoided. And when we finally learn that the thing that broke him up with his wife was the fact that she had an abortion without telling him, then we realize that the taking of innocent life was the cause of everyone's suffering. Finally, if Amy Adams' character had just followed her mother's advice she could have saved herself and everyone else a whole lot of trouble. So what is the moral of "Nocturnal Animals?" Support the Second Amendment, oppose abortion, and obey your parents. A surprisingly conservative message in a Hollywood film.

About this film I will say that one thing jumped out at me with terrific force, namely, the performance of Michael Shannon as the deputy sheriff. It was a truly extraordinary job of acting, and it reminded me in some ways of Mark Rylance's performance in "Bridge of Spies," which, when I saw it, caused me to exclaim that not only would he be nominated, he would win. (He did.) I am not so confident about Michael Shannon's chance of winning, but I was very pleased to learn that he had been nominated.

The other "Never Go to West Texas" film was "Hell or High Water," much of which I enjoyed. A double buddy picture, it was well acted (especially by Jeff Bridges), well shot and directed, and I thought the script was quite good. It had its share of doom and gloom of course, but that was relieved by the interplay between the two Texas Rangers, much of which was entertaining in its unapologetic racism. It's a relief to see, after decades of political correctness, that it is still possible to find humor in stereotypes. I am not entirely sure whether I find the unresolved plot interesting or merely a cop-out, but the idea that banks (the kind of banks that presumably financed the film) are villains is just too simplistic. If the argument is being made that it's ok to steal from institutions if you think they have stolen from you, then I'm afraid I will have to demur and move on.

Which brings me to the one dramatic film that was not gloomy or depressing, and that is "Hidden Figures." Like "Bridge of Spies," I thought it a very good television movie, and I appreciated that it managed not to pound too hard at the racial issue. The performances were, for the most part, good, though not great, and I did get tired of seeing Kevin Costner and Taraji Henson play the same scene over and over: she experiences some form of discrimination and he appears magically to right the wrong and become a better person in the process. (Why anyone would take a crowbar to a Colored Restroom sign rather than just tell the maintenance people to take it down is beyond me, but it is the kind of heroic symbolism that liberals dote on. Rather like taking down the Confederate flag after a lunatic kills nine black people in a church.) At least the film was tonally watchable, and I found it informative and uplifting. I can't help but wonder why no one had made this story long before.

About the political paroxysm I will say very little. I could not vote for either candidate, and I am not thrilled that Trump won, though I continue to console myself with the idea that, at least it's not her. I must admit, however, that I am enjoying the spectacle of hysterics in the media as all those who got so much so wrong continue to try to explain how it all could have happened. At the same time, I am appalled at the level of hatred and naked bias in the coverage of the new president, which is gradually making it impossible for me to follow the news. One thing I will say for Trump, and which I think helps to explain the media's hysteria, is that he is moving quickly to keep the promises he made during the campaign. We are so used to being lied to by politicians that some among us (the media primarily) simply don't know how to understand what is happening. And on the question of lies: Obama lied to us consistently and confidently for eight years, and the media scarcely noticed. Now the L word is front and center in all the media reports. Hysteria meets hypocrisy.

That Obamacare is doomed I am glad; that the Dems won't get to nominate the next couple of Supreme Court justices is a very good thing; that at long last something may be done about illegal immigration is welcome. But I can't help but worry about the state of international affairs four years from now, given Trump's wide and deep ignorance on the subject. We shall see, without too much chaos and bloodshed I hope. Unlike most of the media and much of the electorate, I am prepared to give Trump a chance, but I do so with fingers crossed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

To Vote or Not to Vote?

How did we reach this point? The next President of the United States may very well be... Donald Trump?! A blustering, carnival barker with absolutely no political experience? The office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR? Donald J. Trump? Or, even worse, it may be Hillary Clinton. A corrupt, grasping, transparently phony, self-aggrandizing liar of long standing? This is the best our electoral system can produce?

I feel ashamed as a citizen of the U.S. before the audience of the world. Not that I normally care much what the world thinks of us in general, or of me in particular, but this is really embarrassing. No, it's a disgrace. These are the two worst candidates for president of my lifetime; there really is no choice between them -- a clown and a criminal, a lout and a liar --  and so, for the first time in my adult life, I may not vote at all. That saddens me. I take my right to vote seriously (even though the courts religiously call me for jury duty every two years!), and I don't believe I have ever missed an election on any level. I even vote for members of the local school board. And I do my research. I actually read the candidates' statements, and look them up on the Internet to try to find out who they really are and what they really stand for. Then I mark my sample ballot and take it to the polling place so that I don't make any mistakes. No hanging chads for this voter.

But not this year. In its dysfunctional wisdom, the American electoral system has given me no serious choice. This is a bad joke, played on us, I think, quite deliberately by what is being called every fifteen minutes on cable news "the establishment." Both parties have failed us; the entire lousy, rotten establishment has delivered the nation into the hands of poseurs and phonies; the dreck has floated to the surface, and the flotsam is overwhelming us. And I sit here at my dining-room table gazing at my sample ballot, unable to begin filling it out.

Oh, I suppose I will vote for what they call the down-ballot candidates: senator, congressman, judges, city officials. But my presidential preference will not be proffered. Not this year. Not with these pathetic excuses for a commander-in-chief.

Or, maybe...

Maybe things have gotten so rum-runner rotten that it may be necessary to shake up the establishment -- give it a good dressing down, make it tremble until it collapses under its own putrid weight. Maybe Donald J. Trump is exactly what it needs, and deserves. Maybe I should just roll the dice and hope that we manage to avoid Armageddon while we bring down the whole, filthy, despicable mess that politics in this country has become.

Maybe I will vote, after all...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Run for the Hills

Hillary Clinton has been asked twice recently whether she would quit the race for president if she is indicted. Both times, she laughed and dismissed the possibility out of hand. Now, the FBI, refuting a report that 147 agents were investigating her activities, admitted that somewhere between twenty and forty agents are, in fact, investigating her. Think about that, please: The Democrat front runner is, and has for months been, under intense FBI investigation, yet when asked about the implications of that fact, she laughs. I am quite sure that if two FBI agents were investigating me, I would be near hysterics, unable to eat or sleep, let alone carry on work as usual. We now know that the Hills had over 2000 classified documents on her private email server, over twenty of which were classified at the highest level of secrecy. Yet if, in the course of my writing, I had even one such email on my computer, I would be prosecuted and probably jailed. But the Hills remains unfazed, and continues to run. So what is the difference?

Well, of course, she is the former First Lady, former senator from New York, former Secretary of State, and is now expected to be nominated for president. That alone ought to answer the question, though, to my mind, it does not. We live in a country of laws, and no one, we are solemnly told from childhood, is above the law. Breaking the law is not a question of who you are but of what you did, and what the Hills did clearly broke several laws. And these are only the violations we know about: the FBI has been very successful in concealing their investigative process, so we still do not know how many of the 32,000 deleted emails they were able to recover, nor whether they contained information which she intended to cover up, regarding either the Clinton Foundation or the suggestion that she, in effect, traded favors for donations. So her resume and her connections should make no difference; if she did sell favors for millions of dollars then she broke the law. If she did store secrets on her home computer, then she broke the law. And if she broke the law, she ought to be held accountable.

But there is, I suspect, another dimension to the strange equanimity and dismissive attitude on her part, and that may involve her relationship with Barack Obama. That it has been a contentious one is an open secret; she has been haughty, disrespectful and disloyal to the president, though she feigns a closeness to him in public. But that, of course, is eyewash; from everything I have read, the Hills despises Obama and his wife, and sees her prospective presidency as the finest form of revenge. And so, it seems likely (to me, at least) that she "has something" on Obama, something which she is using to contain leaks of the investigation (which earlier had been rife), and preclude the president from allowing his Attorney General to impanel a grand jury. This suggestion should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Clintons' careers; blackmail, bullying, smearing and intimidation are well-honed weapons in their political arsenal.

What do I think she has on the president? It is impossible to tell at this juncture, and we may not know for decades, but I think it may be one of three things (or two or perhaps all three). First, Benghazi. I believe she knows that Obama was derelict in his duty during that crisis, which led to the murders of four Americans. We recall that Michael Moore skewered George Bush for delaying his reaction to 911 for ten or fifteen minutes. Obama was absent for eight hours during Benghazi, and then went to a fundraiser in Vegas. And yet, to this day, we do not know where he was or what he was doing. But the Hills knows, and Obama knows that she knows, and that might be her firewall against indictment.

Second, there is the matter of the private server itself. Obama claims that he did not know about it until he read of it in the newspaper -- his standard deflection when he wants to avoid an outright lie. But subsequent reports have made it clear that he did know about it; in fact, could not have failed to know about it since he was sending and receiving emails to and from it. If it turns out that the FBI decides (as it should) that the Hills' server was illegal, then Obama was complicit in the crime.

Third there is the question of the Hills' personal relationship with Obama, and here there is very little if any public evidence, but I offer a speculation based on my knowledge of how the Clintons operate. There have been whiffs, no more than that, of infidelity on the president's part, and it is entirely consistent with Clintonian behavior that the Hills not only knows about such matters, but may even have evidence of them (just as J. Edgar Hoover had and used it against several presidents). Given Obama's pristine image as a husband and father, such evidence would be a powerful inducement for him to say, as he did last week, for example, that the Hills' private server did not jeopardize national security. This extraordinary assertion, based on no compelling evidence and made in the midst of an FBI investigation, can only be explained, I think, as a blackmail payment.

Other explanations have occurred to me, but I offer only these as food for thought. My principal argument lies, not in any public documentation at this point, but in the Clintons' long history of dirty, bare-knuckles politics. This is a power couple who would do, say, or threaten anything to gain and keep power, and whose success not only in securing power but in getting away with their tactics would make Richard Nixon spit in envy.

For my own poor part, I cannot imagine wanting anything so badly that I would stoop to such depths of deviousness, deceit and depravity as the Clintons have done, and, as I suspect, they are doing even as I write this. Perhaps I am wrong -- entirely wrong -- but I doubt that I am just as confidently as I believe that no office is worth trading one's integrity to achieve.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Well and Truly Trumped!

I recall some lines from the wonderful play "Marat/Sade" describing the violence of the French Revolution: "Now it's happening and you can't stop it happening. The people used to suffer everything. Now they are taking their revenge. You are watching that revenge, and you do not remember that it was you who drove them to it?!"

These same words could be said by Republican voters to the leadership of the GOP. The electorate as a whole is fed up with the political establishment, but the Republican base in particular has had more than a belly-full. They are saying: "We have given you plenty of opportunities -- we elected you, we reversed forty years of Democrat control of Congress, and we believed your pledges and promises, only to watch you (with precious few exceptions) go to Washington and sell out. We have seen you steamrolled again and again by Obama, and we still find ourselves saddled with Obamacare, a twenty trillion dollar debt, a war on the cops, the Iran nuclear deal, a lawless administration that rules by executive order, and, now, the prospect of Barack Obama appointing a successor to no one other than Justice Antonin Scalia.

"So we've had it. Had it with your lies, your hypocrisy, your betrayal. Now we are taking our revenge, and you pretend that you don't know that it was you who drove us to it. We're going to vote for Donald Trump, no matter how outrageous, irrational or dangerous he becomes. And every time you attack or malign him, we will only grow more determined to well and truly Trump you, even if it means tearing the Republican Party apart and putting Sanders or Clinton in the White House. Yes, we'd accept even that if it means finally teaching you a lesson, and tearing down the whole rotten, corrupt, treacherous edifice you've built. We'll burn your house down and Trump will be the torch we'll do it with. And you'll have no one to blame but yourselves."

That, I have become convinced, is what this election is really about: revenge, pure and simple. At least on the Republican side. On the Democrat side, of course, we have a criminal running against a communist, which has its own contorted logic. But in the GOP primaries, we are watching a spectacle that is nothing short of self-annihilation. It is not a pretty sight, but it may be a necessary one: The Republican Party has repeatedly betrayed its base, and the base is turning on it and will destroy it. And perhaps from its ashes, something resembling true Constitutional conservatism and political integrity may yet arise.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Collective IQ

It is finally caucus day in Iowa, and I must say that I am heartily glad to see it. I am by now so sick of the entire fatuous, cynical, phony process that I can only hope to have it over as soon as possible. Every election year our national IQ loses fifteen points, and the air is filled with lies, inanities and false promises until the sheer volume of debilitating nonsense becomes unbearable. Every election I tell myself that it can't get any worse than this, and every election I am reminded that it can, because it does. The current election campaign is by far the worst I have ever seen, given both the candidates and the media coverage of them.

Look at the choices we are being given. On the Democrat side, we are asked to choose between a chronic liar, hypocrite and phony who is under FBI investigation for leaking national security secrets and trading the national interest for money, and a septuagenarian socialist who spent his honeymoon in the most romantic place he could think of: post-Stalinist Russia. On the Republican side, the persistent front-runner is a carnival sideshow barker who wants to mass-deport Hispanics and ban Muslims from the country, both of which would be a) unconstitutional, b) impractical if not impossible, and c) immoral. If this is the best that our electoral system can produce, then we need a new electoral system.

The media's coverage of all this idiocy has been beyond idiotic. An inveterate news junkie, I keep hearing the same pointless analysis day after day, month after month. I think if I hear one more "pundit" say that Trump has "tapped into something," without being able to identify what it is, I shall perform an auto-tonsillectomy by screaming. What he has tapped into is no secret to anyone who has been conscious for the past fifty years: We are fed up with politicians who promise one thing and do nothing, with the corruption, lying, hypocrisy and cynicism of elected politicians at every level, with the fact that nothing ever seems to get done about the problems in this country except the blowing of a never-ending gale of hot air. I am reminded of what a famous screenwriter said about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

Take taxes, for example. For as long as I have been alive and conscious enough to understand it, people have complained about the inequities of the tax system in this country, its endless complexities, loopholes and its unfair distribution of the burden of paying for the government. And politicians have been promising to fix it, with either radical reforms, or a scrapping of the whole voluminous code which even high-priced tax lawyers and accountants can't understand, let alone explain. We elect tax crusaders generation after generation, and, voila, the tax code becomes more voluminous, complex and unfair. We have now passed the point where more than half of the American people pay no tax at all, while the rest of us find our incomes raided and raped before we even see the paychecks.

So, what do I look forward to this election year? Besides more of the current idiocy, I mean -- more talk about Rubio's boots and Trump's hair and Fiorina's face. Here is what I look forward to:

Above all, to Hillary Clinton being indicted. I can only hope that a perfect storm of accountability will occur, in which the "deleted" emails have been recovered, proving that she both mishandled classified information and traded favors as Secretary of State for contributions to her family foundation.  If the FBI director refers her case to the Attorney General for prosecution, and Obama orders the DOJ not to act on the recommendation, I hope for a firestorm of protest, from resignations by FBI officials to demands by the public that she at least withdraw from the race. Do I think that Obama will try to prevent her indictment? Yes, because from what I know of the Clintons and their past political behavior, I am sure that they have such defamatory material on Obama that they will blackmail him into submission. What sorts of things? Two: that he lied when he said he did not know she was using a private email server while Secretary of State, and that he deliberately absented himself from the Benghazi crisis, telling her and the Defense Secretary to handle it, while he disappeared for a good night's sleep prior a fundraiser in Vegas. There may be, and probably is more, but for that much at least there is some documentation already in the air.

As for Bernie Sanders, who has managed to woo young people and poor people with fabulous promises of more free stuff and divine retribution on the capitalist system that has oppressed them, I can only hope that his 74 years finally catch up with him, and he becomes too enfeebled to carry on. Or that his supporters wake up to the fact that the United States is not a socialist nation, was never intended to be a socialist nation, and must never become a socialist nation, since socialism, that eighteenth century European pipe-dream, has oppressed, enslaved and murdered more human beings that any other ideology in history. As Charles Krauthammer recently pointed out, it is a poignant irony that socialism seems to be gaining currency in America a full generation after it has been intellectually debunked everywhere else in the world.

Trump, I hope, will just go away. I cannot believe that the American people would elect to the presidency a vapid, self-promoting showman who has as little idea what he would do with the ultimate power as he does with all his money. Governing the United States is not a deal-making enterprise; it is a moral, political, social and cultural responsibility which requires integrity, pragmatism and a visionary quality such as Lincoln had, and which the current occupant of the presidency so painfully lacks. We do not need another amateur in office, no matter how much business experience he has. The results of doing that, as we learned with Obama, are far too plain to see: the economy creeps by in its petty pace from day to day, the federal system has ground to a standstill, to be replaced with executive orders the like of which would have made Madison's skin crawl, and our society is more divided, self-loathing and dysfunctional culturally and racially than at any time since the fifties.

If you were to press me for what I hope happens... Well, I think that if I woke up the morning after election day in November to find that Christie or Kasich had become president, I would feel relieved. Beyond that, I cannot see my way clear to comfort. I admire Ben Carson, but he has proved himself to be too unqualified for the job. Rubio is simply too young and inexperienced, and we know what happens when we elect a 43 year old first-term senator. I suppose Jeb Bush is a decent fellow, but the idea of a third member of that family in the White House is simply repugnant -- surely we can find someone else to govern the nation. Carly Fiorina does a very good job of laying out her policy positions, but her business record will doom her just as Romney's did. Rand Paul remains interesting, but only that -- not inspiring or visionary, but rather prosaic and slightly melancholy, and at times as much out of touch with reality as Obama is.

In the end I can say only this: What matters is that we finally rid ourselves of Obama, and that we not inflict on ourselves the (probably) fatal wounds of Clinton, Sanders and Trump. If we can just manage that, perhaps all will yet be well. Except, perhaps, for Ted Cruz...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great Expectations

It is now 9:45 PM, and my eighth grader has just gone to bed, having finally finished his homework. He started at 3:30, took an hour for dinner and a bit of relaxing, and finished fifteen minutes ago. Which is to say that he had five hours of  homework tonight, including practicing his musical instrument (music is one of his classes). This is a fairly typical night's work for him. If there are tests or assignments due, it may be more; rarely is it less.

The reason I mention this is that last week I watched a discussion on a cable news show about public school parents who complain of the amount of homework their children are given. How much homework? Thirty to forty-five minutes a night.


(Those who have followed my blog will know that the ellipsis represents my reaction of stunned silence.)

Forty-five minutes of homework a night?! My son has forty-five minutes in each subject. How do these indignant parents expect their children to compete in the real world on such a minimal diet of self-improvement? Forty-five minutes a night?!

Are the public schools' expectations of the children so low, and the demands made on them so scant, are the parents so utterly clueless, that they think these children can compete for places at the best universities -- or at any universities -- on forty-five minutes of homework a night? Do they expect that they will go out into the wide world armed with the knowledge necessary to secure good jobs and fashion fulfilling careers?

What planet are these people living on? Certainly not the one on which bright, well educated, ambitious students live, and on which Japanese and Chinese students live, who will gobble up the few places at the best schools, while your little underachiever struggles to get into the local community college.

On the rare night when my child has a mere three and a half or four hours of homework, we fairly celebrate. We make cookies and watch an old movie or classic TV show, or he enjoys the luxury of getting an extra hour's sleep. Unless you feel that your child is stupid and condemned to a life of underemployment, or to the pickings of academia after the choice spots have been taken, you should not be complaining about less than an hour's homework; you should be demanding more.

And you should be helping the child with that extra work, both to improve your own mind, and to keep abreast of what he or she is learning, and how well he or she is doing. That is part of the responsibility of being the parent of a school-aged child. And it is, surprisingly, fun.

Those extra hours you spend helping your child with homework are not only a bonding experience for you, they will pay big dividends later in life. And meanwhile, they will ensure that your young student has a good grounding in the fundamentals of education, and learns mental discipline, time management skills, and the self-esteem that comes from not only knowing, but knowing that you know.

Put in the time now, those extra hours in the evenings, and you will open doors for your child's future which otherwise will be closed. As Shakespeare said: Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross. And if your child doesn't know who Shakespeare is, I rest my case.