Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Social Justice Blinders


I write less than I used to.  It’s not that I don’t have something to say.  It’s that sometimes speaking the truth just isn’t worth it.  If something I write has even the slightest variation or divergence from “The Progressive Agenda”, the Cancel Police will come after me.  In some cases, I am not even allowed to agree with their positions, because I’m an old, privileged white guy and anything I say would be disingenuous and patronizing.  I cannot possibly understand the systemic  rottenness of racism in America nor do I realize that I am the problem….therefore justifiably cancellable.


Inevitably, this one lane, one note, one truth assessment of our nation’s problems blinds us to other things that are also true and may, in fact, be even more relevant.  As an example, the Dallas Independent School District has been challenged to ban the practice of suspending trouble-making students from school.  Social justice activists point to the disproportionate number of black students who are suspended.  This has now become a Black Lives Matter issue.  Black students are 21% of the DISD student population and 1 out of 7 are getting suspended for misbehavior.  Comparatively 70% of DISD students are Hispanic and only 1 out of 28 are suspended.  Only 5% of DISD students are White (let that soak in)…and just 1 out of 37 are suspended. 


So clearly, looking at the numbers, Black students are being treated unfairly.  This is a problem with such grave consequences, that suspensions have been labeled “The Pipeline to Prison”.    Black leaders are demanding that schools offer other, more constructive alternatives such as:

“providing teachers and staff with the skills and tools necessary to support students’ social and emotional development, restore relationships within the school community and ultimately affirm each child’s humanity and right to learn”.

Well, there’s the answer.  Schools must stop suspending students for bad behavior and find ways to replace bad behavior with good behavior.  Social and emotional development, that’s the ticket. This is how we shut off the “pipeline to prison”.


Let me be clear, I agree that suspending kids from school is a bad idea.  It may provide some relief for other students and certainly for their teachers.  But it does more harm than good to the suspended students.  Keeping the students on campus, counseling, educating, even punishing (make them clean toilets and mop floors); is better than turning them out on the streets.  But it’s not going to solve the problem.


 The real question we must ask is who is most responsible for a child’s “social and emotional development”?  Perhaps we should be calling out parents and guardians as the ones most responsible for the “pipeline to prison” problem.  When black students are 4 times more likely to be suspended than other students, this is not just a matter of teachers targeting black students for suspension.  Oh by the way, the DISD has a HIGHER percentage of Black teachers than Black students.  And, I am just guessing that Black teachers may well be suspending black students more often than White or Hispanic teachers.  (If it were otherwise, I am confident it would be in the news).  


We need to look beyond the school suspension dilemma and get to the root of the problem.  One of the core tools of Six Sigma methodology is DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).  Using this approach we Define the problem and the objectives.  Then we determine what needs to improve and  how should we Measure it.  Next, we Analyze the problem, defining the factors of influence.  Then, we Identify and implement Improvements.  Lastly, we establish Controls to assure that the improvements are sustainable.


Suspending students is a symptom, it’s not the problem.  Suspending black students may indeed have racial overtones. Maybe it really is about four hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation and lack of opportunity.  Fair enough.  But this is now.  What are we going to do about it now? Leave it to the schools to keep the trouble-makers off the streets and re-program them?  Perhaps magically transform these little devils into angels with a few extra hours of what amounts to “special education” (not that we would ever call it that.)


The real problems run deep and are complicated.  The solutions are neither quick nor are they easy.  Economic development and opportunity must be a priority.  Families, single parent or otherwise, must have the opportunity to succeed.  Better early-age child care and development is worthy of investment.  You can’t wait until a kid is 6 or 7 or 12, to start working on their “social and emotional development”. 


Why are Hispanic students so much less likely to get suspended?   Are teachers just looking the other way or is there something else going on here?  Analyze the problem and define the factors of influence.  There’s more going on here with these Black children than just the fact they are Black. 


What needs to change and how does it happen?  Not suspending kids from school is a good start. But just “locking” them up on campus and giving them a bit of extra attention, isn’t going to be enough for most of them.  If it saves a few, praise the Lord.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  The problems go much deeper.  We just choose not to see them.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”- Aldous Huxley

Friday, February 19, 2021

Bubbles and Blue Northers


I grew up in North Texas.  I can remember the old folks talking about blue northers.  Back then they didn’t have as much advanced notice as we enjoy (and mostly ignore) these days.  But, they were prepared.   In the middle of winter, they understood that a big freeze was always possible.  Maybe it would just be in the 20’s for a couple of days or it might get into single digits and stay below freezing for a week or more.  Animals had to be protected.  Pipes to be covered and faucets left dripping.  Well-houses kept warm by whatever means including buckets of hot coals.  People hunkered down, had candles and kerosene lanterns for light and wood in the stove to keep warm.  Food down in the cellar and meat in the smokehouse.  Extreme weather was just part of life.  Cold and heat, wet and dry, wind and hail, birth and death…seasons and the circle of life.

These days we do our best to avoid the effects of weather.  And we do it pretty well most of the time.  Climate controlled homes, water at your finger tips, hot in an instant if you choose and it will stay hot as long as you wish.  Ice with the push of a button, crushed or cubed as you like it.  Freezers and refrigerators full of food.  Microwaves, air-fryers, convection ovens and cook tops standing by.  And when our bodies are done with whatever we consume, we don’t even have to go outside to relieve ourselves.  Even those bodily functions have been made convenient and comfortable.

Life is easy for us, until it’s not.  And when that rare extreme weather event occurs we are exposed.  When the power goes off, our bubbles burst.  And we realize that we are weak and vulnerable.  Not only vulnerable to the forces of nature, but to the decisions of those whom we have paid to maintain our bubbles.   We find that we are not prepared because we have not made them prepare.  We discover that cheaper is not always better and managing risk is not just a matter of probabilities and cost-benefit analysis.

We Texans love to tout our independent spirit, forged on the frontier, blood and soil, a whole other country, come and take it…and so on.  But, in fact, we are just citizens of the modern world.  A world that keeps us fat, dumb and happy most of the time.  When it fails us and our bubbles burst, we look for someone to blame.  There is no one there to blame but ourselves.  This is the life we have chosen.  And we are not prepared nor can we afford to give it up, even for a short period of time.  So we will spend billions and restore our bubbles.  Then we will spend some more to repay insurance companies and upgrade our bubble maintenance systems.  And we will forget about all of it…until the next time our bubbles break.

“But it was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”  George Orwell, 1984

Friday, February 5, 2021

74 Million


“Power does not corrupt.  Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”- John Steinbeck

I learned a long time ago that if you try to take something away from a person, something they truly value, you better be prepared to give them something as good or better in return.  Otherwise, be prepared to face negative consequences. 


If you really want to understand what’s going on in our country right now, you must realize that millions of Americans truly believe they are losing “their country”.  In no way is this justification for the right-wing mob attack on Congress.  But it is something that we must admit to and understand if we are ever going to find our way back to being “united”. 


A  considerable amount of legislative effort has been put forth to level the playing field for Americans who in the past were not allowed to fully share in the American Dream.  And that would be pretty much everyone who was not white, male and straight.  I mean let’s face it.  For most of this nation’s history white people have had a huge advantage, men even more so than women.  Thus, women have had to fight for equality including the right to vote.  People of color have faced even more discrimination and things much worse.  The LGBT community has suffered far too much for way too long.  And one can list all sorts of disadvantages and biases that many people face for reasons that are far beyond their control.  All of these factors intersect to create a multitude of identity groups who may legitimately claim to be “oppressed” or “marginalized”.  And, these days just about anyone who is not a member of the “privileged class” can claim membership in some victim group.  


So why are the people who have enjoyed advantage and privilege so angry?  What do they have to bitch about?  Are they just racists?  Homophobes?  Religious fanatics?  Fortunate sons who are just unwilling to share the bounty of this good land?  What’s wrong with these people?  Admittedly, some are indeed racists.  And there are homophobes and religious fanatics among them as well.  Might as well add in a few tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists.  And there are the 2nd amendment zealots who resist any limits to the firepower they might rightfully possess.  All in perhaps there are a several million on the far right who are prepared to storm the castle walls.  But not nearly enough to elect Donald Trump as President four years ago… and then almost elect him again.  


How does one account for the majority of these angry people?  It’s actually pretty simple. They are just fed-up… and they are afraid.   Angry about what they have lost and fearful about what is left to lose.  And I’m not talking about the recent election.  It goes deeper and much farther back.  The truth of the matter is that millions of Americans believe that they have been asked to give up too much, for too long in order to appease those who are forever demanding fairness, equity and inclusion.  Decades ago, many  who may have actually supported the Civil Rights Movement went on to suffer the consequences of forced busing, white-flight and the subsequent decline and decay of their neighborhoods and cities.  They have witnessed the failure of the Welfare State’s War on Poverty…not just in black communities, not just in urban areas; but across all races and regions.  


Many have experienced job loss as a result of their work being shipped off to lower cost operations elsewhere in the world.  They see their public schools failing to educate their children.  Increasingly they see government as the problem, not the solution.  Professional politicians on both sides of the aisle catering to special interests groups while ignoring the needs of “average” Americans.  


More than a few have experienced or witnessed the consequences of an out-of-control “woke” movement that can cost people jobs and ruin careers.  They connect the rising costs of health insurance to the Affordable Care Act, as once again they end up paying the price for a government program that hurts them more than it helps.  They see a mainstream media that bashes bad behavior or even alleged bad behavior on The Right, while downplaying or ignoring the same or worse on The Left.  They are tired of being force-fed progressive ideas in movies, television and music.  And even more so, they are tired of being told they are deplorable human beings because they refuse to go along with the narrative.  


You want to know how angry they are?  74 million of them voted for Donald Trump, even after watching him flail around for four years.  And were it not for Covid-19, my guess is that Trump would have actually won another term in office.  Let that soak in.  People are so angry that they were willing to once again hand the keys to an unqualified, real estate investor/celebrity with all sorts of personal baggage and craziness….simply because they believed that he was on their side.   


In 2021 we have the opportunity to hit the reset button and pull this country together.  But if we continue to ignore. cancel or demonize half of the population, this nation is headed for disaster.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Two Sides...Same Coin


If you were surprised by the Trumper Riot in Washington D.C. yesterday, then you just haven’t been paying attention.  Same could be said for the riots this summer from “the other side”.   Even if the rioters only represent a small percentage of the population, in a nation of 328 million that can still be a lot of people.  Plus, there are even more people out there who might not join the riot, but are applauding the effort.  Who knows how many extremists are really out there?  But, it’s a big number on both sides of the political divide.  And both sides share common feelings of anger, resentment, distrust and fear.  The feelings are the same but they are based on totally different worldviews. 


The Left sees the past as one of oppression by a mostly white, mostly male, Western European, Christian hierarchy.  They choose to reinterpret history, reject traditional narratives and seek to establish a society based on very specific definitions and desired outcomes with regard to their “holy trinity” of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.   And don’t forget to save the planet while you’re at it.


The Right sees the past through a different lens.  A past seriously threatened by those on the Left,  along with professional  politicians lurking in The Swamp, the Mainstream Media and Global Elites.  They have embraced the distorted perspective of conservative commentators and right-wing bloggers/conspiracy theorists that once upon a time this country was so much better, at least better for them as they recall.  Their Populist message is a mix of Patriotism and Protectionism.  America used to be great until “others” ruined it.  Freedoms are being taken away and jobs have been lost…and “We The People” are not going to take it anymore.


Both extremes contain threads of truth, but are mostly wrong and certainly misguided.  I still think, or want to believe, that the majority of Americans are somewhere in the Center.  Perhaps center-right or center-left.  But not that far from each other.  Most of us want a functioning government and a healthy economy that offers opportunity to all citizens.  We want to do what is right not only for ourselves but for our fellow citizens.   We must resist being drawn to the extremes.  It’s time to come together and pick up the pieces.  We must not let the loudest voices tell us what to do.  United we stand, divided we fall.

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”- Indira Ghandi