Saturday, November 8, 2008

Generation Then and Now

First, a must-read from the the "on-line only" New Yorker:

on election day. Just for reference, Ayers is 63 and is not a "baby boomer". He was born in 1944, and is part of a generation often confused with Boomers because they were so active in the 1960s. He offers a pretty amusing insight into the vortex that was one part this year's Presidential campaign.

Second, the "Generation WE" video that Mrs. Pion pointed out to me:

Comments below the fold.

Where to begin.

Probably with the hypocrisy of complaining about federal deficits and closing with a call for a multi-billion dollar government handout to fund innovative solutions to our over-depenence on fossil fuels. Most entertaining. Why not Just Do It, like some entrepreneurs have done when it was time to create cell phones or hybrid cars? (Yes, I know why not, and I support that goal and that mechanism. What I reject is the sales pitch that does not expose the hard choices to be made.)

Along that same line, maybe I should start with the throw-away line in the video about health care for all. If you are ignorant of what it costs now, and ignorant of how it is funded now, you will never survive the battle to replace hidden taxes with public ones, or hidden socialism (via surcharges on insurance-paid care) for open socialism, and might even buy into the fantasy that a $5000 deduction will allow every American to get full health insurance coverage.

Or with the line about 1/3 getting diabetes, as if it is an unavoidable health risk rather than a result of a diet full of sugar -- from soft drinks to "energy drinks". Kid, if you are too fat to fit comfortably in a regular school desk (an increasing problem at my college), you are putting your own health at risk. Don't pretend that a reduced life expectancy is your parent's fault for taking you to the fast-food restaurant you begged to visit as a child.

Or maybe with those silly remarks about polluted water and an environmental disaster. Kids, wake up and smell the Cuyahoga. You can't? That is because it got cleaned up by those self-absorbed Boomers and their parents (after we nagged them into paying for it). You kids have no idea what polluted water looks like. Rivers rarely catch fire any more. And Pittsburgh? The buildings are white again, now that coal-burning plants only emit CO2 rather than soot and CO2.

Or maybe with links to a pair of articles in the Chronicle, on stupidity: part 1 and, in particular, part 2 that addresses teaching the "digital natives". The assumption that this particular generation is better informed and more tech savvy is brought into question by someone else who shares my criticism of a consumer culture on campus that has not considered it important to prepare this allegedly prepared generation for the digital world. Guess what, kids? We can find Wikipedia too, but we know enough that we can tell when what is there is crap. Our faculty know better than to interrupt class to send a text message, but apparently the kids paying to learn something have yet to learn to profit from what they are paying for.

I do agree with them about education. That generation did get screwed out of an education as good as the one I had, but it's not really the Boomer's fault that people weren't willing to pay a professional's wages for a teacher. A fair fraction of young Boomer women still saw teaching as a worthwhile profession, but many more found a wide range of professions open up to women as a result of the Women's Lib movement. The people who tolerated a massive decline in teacher quality were from the Greatest Generation. (At my alma mater, by the late 70s, teachers were drawn from the bottom of the entering freshman class. I have the data to prove it. I really need to blog about them, but put it off while trying to get a newer set of similar data.) It was the Greatest Generation that came up with the New Math and Look Say, producing poorly educated students who would end up being your teachers and parents. (No one seems to notice that the noted "terrorist pal" is a Professor of Education at a quality university.) Parents who put up with it when their kids went to school only made it worse, but how were they to know? And what could they do about it? Well, they could teach their kids the way mine did. I learned more at home than in school until some time about the middle of high school.

Yet nowhere in that video did I see a call for the top half of the graduating class to go into K-12 education. Or a call for discipline and structure in schools rather than acceptance of any and all behaviors. Nope, just the usual enabler nonsense that shifts the responsibility for learning away from the learner. Look kids, Obama didn't get where he is today by waiting for something to happen, by waiting for someone to teach him how to become President. Stop blaming older people the way my generation did for decades, and do something about improving yourselves. It is possible to learn things on your own. They are called books. You can even get them elecronically, via Kindle. (Mrs Pion loves her new Kindle.)

Or maybe with claims about political involvement. Yes, reports are that young voters turned out in record numbers (from a student newspaper), but only by increasing turnout from awful (48% in 2004) to merely bad (between 49 and 54%). The national average was about 61 to 64%, right up there with 1960 and 1964, but probably above 1968. Sorry, kids, but the older folks still beat you to the polls. We'll have to wait a few months for real demographic details, but not exactly the "unprecedented numbers" they push at the end of the video.

Or how about starting with the assertions about how bad the economy is. Worst ever? Try my parent's generation, from the trailing edge of the so-called Greatest Generation, born just a bit too late to fight in all but the last days of WW II, they were born just in time for the Great Depression. Just in time that they became teenagers at a time when you couldn't even buy tires for your car (seriously) and grease was recycled to be made into explosives. (There was a time when throwing away grease was practically an act of treason.)

Environmentalists? Drive by a college apartment complex after the Thursday to Monday weekend and tell me how much recycling you see. The dumpsters are overflowing. The families in my neighborhood recycle. The college kids usually don't, unless the garbage can gets too full.

Worried about war? Sorry kids, but none of you was ever at risk of getting drafted, and you were never asked to sacrifice anything (not even taxes) for either the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. Worried about debt? The federal deficit during WW II was something like half of the GDP. They printed money, gave it to war workers and soldiers, then borrowed it back from them (because they had nothing to buy) and printed even more money. Ever hear about War Bonds?

Really worried about the Federal Deficit or tax increases for the wealthy? Use this here internet thingy to read some of the blog articles on CNBC. One guy argues, quite convincingly, that deficits are really good for people under 30 (because growth opens up new jobs in new industries, while recessions are bad for recent graduates, as I can also tell you from experience), and that higher taxes on top income brackets are good for young workers too (since those taxes might encourage highly paid Boomer employees to retire early, opening up lines of promotion for younger staff). Lest you doubt the author's (Wall) street cred, he writes for Jim Cramer. I suppose he could even add that his generation can always pass the debt on to their kids, just as the Greatest Generation (Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Bush I) passed it on to us, where a Boomer tried to pay it off (Clinton) only to have another one (Bush II) build it back up to pass on to an inter-generational President (Obama was born in 1961, at the end of the Boom, which ran from 1946 to 1964). Passing on the national debt is part of our traditional American Family Values.

Or maybe with the hubris of "control our nation". No, let's end there. Let's end with the fantasy of taking control just the way Boomers did between 1968 (when this video could have been made if anything cheaper than an AMPEX deck with 2" tape had existed) and 1992. Or the common cause shown by the politics of Bill Clinton and George W, or the world view shared by W and Gore. The reality is that there are just about as many right wing young voters as there are progressives. The big difference is that this generation is tolerant of some things that their parents rejected, such as racial integration, but that does not narrow the wide range of opinions about guns or gays or drilling within view of Spring Break at Panama City Beach. (I wonder if there will be a battle in 25 years between a candidate who enlisted in 2001 and served in Iraq and one who had "other priorities". Probably, unless the attack politics of 2000 and 2004 really did get killed off in 2008. Time will tell.) In the meantime, real change will only take place if the progressives of "Generation WE" join forces with the progressives of every other generation, as many of them did with the Boomer named Obama, and make that change happen.

Why not work together? If you are in Generation WE, that means you are, after all, a child of the Baby Boom generation. All you need to do is get your parents to work with you the same way we got our parents to do something about pollution and, eventually, Vietnam. Effective politics is about coalitions, not confrontations. Remember, Vietnam went on longer than it needed to because confrontations within the Democratic Party (in which Bill Ayers played an important role) put Nixon in power. Or didn't they (we) teach you that in school?

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