Sunday, February 25, 2007

Move Over, Atticus Finch

Occasionally, when I’m not actively engaged in my daily responsibilities of whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking and guitar-playing, I like to do a little pro-bono work for the American public. When people, or groups of people, begin to make astronomically stupid claims that they are “owed” something from the rest of the population, I step in and make sure that there is some merit to their arguments. Here is the transcript of one such mediation:

All rise. The honorable Judge Valannin now presiding over the case of Pure Logic vs. The People of the Incorporated Village of Hempstead, New York. This case will determine whether the people have any justifiable claim in their demand for a taxpayer-funded hospital facility in their vicinity.

Ok, folks, you can take your seats. Before we get started, I need to know who will be speaking for the defendants.

Your honor, I am Dr. Aubrey Lewis, I’m a Cardiologist from Merrick, Long Island. I’ll be speaking on behalf of the 65,000 people who live in Hempstead and demand Justice in the face of this neglectful, oppressive action!

Dr. Lewis, let’s not start the grandstanding just yet, ok? Tell me, why have the people chosen you as their advocate? Other than your medical qualifications I mean.

I don’t understand.

Well, Dr. Lewis, you’re not actually from Hempstead, New York. You live and practice in Merrick.

Yes, but these people have decided that I am best qualified because these people are my community, my brothers and sisters. The mileage between us may be great, but the ties of history are strong!

Dr. Lewis, all you had to say was “Because I’m black, and so is almost 53% of the Hempstead population.” That’s really it, isn’t it?

Well, yes, but…

Let’s move on. Dr. Lewis, what exactly is your claim? And please, once again, try to keep the drama to a minimum.

In 2003, The Village of Hempstead lost the only medical facility that was feasibly in close proximity to the people. The Hempstead General Hospital went bankrupt and closed its doors due to mismanagement and may I say, like the levee system in New Orleans, this empty building stands as a metaphor for the political neglect…

Whoa, whoa, there. The Levee System? What does that have to do with the hospital closing?

Like I was saying, the minority community has suffered far and wide at the hands of the so-called “privileged ruling class” in our country. The fact that so many of our brothers and sisters died as a result of neglect in New Orleans…

1,464.

What?

1,464. That’s how many people in Louisiana died as a result of Hurricane Katrina. And since Louisiana as a whole is made up of 32.5% of your “brothers and sisters”, I’m going to assume that 476 black people died as a result of the hurricane in that state. And, according to the Louisiana’s Governor’s office, 112 people die each day regardless of the weather. This is a poor metaphor, Dr. Lewis. Can we move on with the facts, please.

Yes, Your Honor. As I was saying, due to the closing of the hospital in 2003, the people have no medical care facility in their immediate area in which to receive both preventative and emergency care…

When you say “immediate area”, can you be a little more specific?

Sure, the original hospital was located at 800 Front Street, 1.3 miles from the village center. That is certainly within walking distance for most of our residents…

Walking distance? Sick and injured people don’t typically walk to the hospital, do they, Dr. Lewis? And you keep using the plural possessive pronoun “our”. May I remind you that you’re not actually from the town of Hempstead.

Granted, Your Honor. But at the very least, you must concede that the hospital’s former location was convenient.

Oh, most certainly. Having a hospital within five minutes driving time from the village center is definitely convenient. Now you’re saying that there are no other hospitals within a similar radius? I find that most distressing.

Well, there are (mumbles under his breath)

I’m sorry, Dr. Lewis, I didn’t catch that. Can you please speak more clearly?

Three, Your Honor, there are three Hospitals in the vicinity, but they are overcrowded and none are as close as the former…

Clerk, access Mapquest.com on my laptop and bring it here to me. (Receives laptop) Thank you. Ok, according to Mapquest, the closest hospital to the village center is Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. It appears to be 1.82 miles, or about five minutes away from your village center. How exactly is that not “close”?

Oh, it is, but Mercy is overcrowded.

The website says that there are 387 beds available. How many were available at your former hospital?

213.

So Mercy is larger. Hmm. Interesting. Upon further analysis, there seems to be two other hospitals within ten minutes driving time of the village. Winthrop University Hospital is 2.78 miles away, or nine minutes (and has 591 beds) and Nassau University Medical Center is a 1500-bed facility only 10 minutes or 4.10 miles away. So, in summation, even though your former hospital has closed, there seems to be three viable alternatives all within a ten-mile driving radius of the Hempstead Village center. Am I correct?

Well, yes, but what happens if we experience a hurricane, other natural catastrophe or terrorist action? Minutes can mean the difference between life and death in emergency situations…

A hurricane? The last hurricane with the intensity of Katrina (if I may be so bold as to use your flawed metaphor) was Carol in 1954, and it caused only 65 deaths. Plus, according to the United States Hurricane Landfalling Probability Project, there is only a 26% percent chance that New York will be hit by a Category 3 hurricane in the next 50 years. Hardly cause for concern at this point in time. And, color me skeptical, but if New York were to experience another terrorist strike, chances are probably pretty remote that they would choose the Village of Hempstead as their next target. Terrorists tend to go after symbolic places of note, inhabited by people of power and influence. Or locations with a high population density, such as nightclubs, strip malls, or, ironically, hospitals. The very fact that the residents of Hempstead are lacking one may just be the key to the town’s salvation.

But everyone is born equal, and we're entitled to health benefits just like everyone else! Why should the minority community suffer at the hands of…

Who said that you weren’t equal? Look, the residents of Scarsdale, NY, whose per capita income is $89,000, approximately six times that of Hempstead’s $15,737 and happen to be 84% white, still have to drive an average of five to ten minutes to their closest hospital. Color and socio-economic status has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that sometimes not everything is conveniently placed in your backyard. You want to turn this into some sort of commentary on racial inequity, further polarizing our society, but the cold hard fact is that, in the words of the immortal Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want. Especially if you choose to complain about it instead of actively seeking to remedy the problem. According to my files, you had a protest yesterday concerning this, did you not?

Yes. Dozens of our supporters braved the bitter cold yesterday to fight this injustice!

Hmm…my files say “almost 60 people” showed up. And yesterday it was 43 degrees outside. Hardly bitter. No, the only thing bitter here, Dr. Lewis, is you. You, the successful Cardiologist who can’t seem to understand is that you cannot force the government to reopen a private hospital that filed for bankruptcy due to the fact that the majority of its patients rely on Medicare, a system that has seen major cuts in its distribution levels over the past decade. Remember, a private hospital is a business like any other, and exists to make a profit. If they fail to do so, they will close up shop. I find it hard to believe that you went through almost 20 years of higher education without learning the basics of the Free Market Economic System. According to my sources, the average salary of a cardiologist is $261,886 per year. If your patients were primarily Medicare recipients, I think you’d find that your income would greatly diminish. Besides, you have the same net worth of approximately 17 residents of Hempstead combined, and therefore could not possibly speak on their behalf. You are nothing more than a publicity hound who seeks to exploit your “brothers and sisters” while only sharing the most tenuous connection to them, that of skin color. I don’t suppose you have any plans to open your own free clinic within the boundaries of the Town of Hempstead, do you?

Probably not…

Well, then, this court finds you to be irrelevant. And, on the basis of the facts, and only the facts, I, Judge Valannin, protector of the laws of reason, logic and common sense, find that Dr. Aubrey Lewis, on the behalf of the people of the Town of Hempstead, has not presented sufficient prima fascia evidence to warrant a further investigation into this matter. I find all claims to be nothing more than unsubstantiated grandstanding, most likely to further Dr. Lewis’ career or lay the groundwork for a future political position, and thereby dismiss said claims with extreme revulsion.

In other words, you’re all full of shit, so get out of my courtroom lest my Louisville Slugger find your backside.

Court Adjourned.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tolerance Is The Virtue Of The Man Without Convictions

I know I'm a month late, but I finally made a New Year’s resolution: I’m going to stop being tolerant of things I cannot possibly tolerate. Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of the word and the abstract, often syntactically incorrect usage foisted upon us by the Thought Police of the American media and the educational system. You can’t watch a news program, or pick up a textbook without the word being flung at you from every corner, more often than not accompanied by a sense of shameful obligation. Religious tolerance, cultural tolerance; I’ve actually heard the phrase “gender tolerance” spoken more than once while at University. Because those in the aforementioned fields are typically of a one-sided, fanatical ambition – namely to strip the individual of the thought processes which makes one individual – journalists and educators co-opt words for their own purposes and reshape them to suit their own will and agenda. Incorrectly using the word “tolerance” to be a synonym for “acceptance” or “respect” is a perfect example of affront to the English language and the intelligent people who speak it.

Let’s take a closer look at the word. Merriam Webster indicates that the etymology of the word “Tolerance” is the Latin tolerare meaning “to endure, to put up with.” The very first definition given is: “to endure or resist the action of (as a drug or food) without serious side effects or discomfort.” Not quite applicable here. The second definition is “to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction b : to put up with.” This is a bit more apropos, and given the inclusion of the modifier “or contradiction” slightly frightening. But more on that in a moment. Dictionary.com adds a third iteration, “to endure without repugnance; put up with.” Now that has the idiomatic potency to prove my point. Nowhere in that last description is a word or phrase that remotely alludes to what the Thought Police desperately wish it to mean, namely “respect.”

The word respect has completely different shades of meaning. As a verb, “respect” means precisely “to consider worthy of high regard” and as a noun, “the quality or state of being esteemed.” There is no delicate balance here; the words are not interchangeable and, if you consider it carefully, are actually closer to contradictory than equivalent.

My multiple degrees in English (plus the fact that I’m frighteningly brilliant) give me the authorization to go ahead and further simplify this linguistic chaos. Every time you hear someone say that we should “tolerate” someone who is different than us, what they are actually saying is “we should endure the fact that he is opposed to the status quo, but we are prohibited from having a rational discussion about said opposition.” Remember, lurking within the definition of “tolerance” is the quantifier “without contradiction.” Ergo, the word tolerance is closer to the word “permissiveness” than to the meaning that the Thought Police would like ascribed to it.

You may ask why I suddenly had this epiphany, and I would counter than there is nothing sudden about it. My past articles will bear me out on the fact that typically, I dislike anyone who mindlessly agrees, accepts, mollifies or gives lenience to any segment of the population that clearly does not deserve it. However, while reading the news this morning, I came upon a particularly disturbing example of the further decay of American traditions and attempts by a tiny, insignificant portion of the population to undermine the principles on which this great, but fading republic was founded. The College of William and Mary, the nation’s second oldest (and I’m sure, at one time, finest) universities has recently been busy denying their traditions by stripping away the vestiges of their history in the name of “tolerance.” Earlier this year, school President Gene Nichols decided that he would remove a 70-year-old brass cross from the University Chapel in the historic Wren Building and lock it away out of sight in deference to students who don’t feel like they are “part of the community.” Now I know that the intelligence of the average college student has decreased in the past decade or so, but would you honestly apply to an institute of higher learning without leaning its history?

William and Mary was founded in 1693 as an Anglican institution; in fact, its governors were required to members of the Church of England. Originally, the school was structured to instruct students in the advanced study of moral philosophy (logic, rhetoric, ethics) as well as natural philosophy (physics, metaphysics, and mathematics); upon completion of this coursework, the Divinity School prepared these young men for ordinatinon into the Church of England. It was the first university to teach political economics, housed the nation’s first law school, and is responsible for the founding of Phi Beta Kappa. Notable alumni include Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, John Marshall, James Monroe and George Washington. At first glance, it sounds like a place I’d like to attend.

Unfortunately, times they are a-changin’, and the university has lost some of its original luster, tarnished with the pledge of “progress.” Although nearly 30% of the school’s 5,600-person student body still attends in order to obtain a degree in the Social Sciences, History or Government, there is a substantial amount of young people completely dedicated to wasting their time and their parents’ $30,000 tuition money. Only 21 people graduated in 2005 with a degree in Mathematics, but 44 secured one in Kinesiology, which is the “scientific study of human movement.” Approximately 12% of the student body earned degrees in Chemistry, Biology and Physics, but 14% received Bachelors Degrees in Music, Visual Arts, Ethnic Studies, and something called “Parks and Recreation.” I wonder what George Washington would say if he knew that more graduates in 2005 had majored in Theatre and Speech than in Philosophy and American Studies combined. The school that once boasted Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as a required textbook has only conferred 98 more Economics degrees than ones in the Fine Arts in the past five years.

What exactly does this survey of academic trends in William and Mary’s graduates have to do with the fact that the university president removed a cross from the chapel? Everything. For you see, this is a perfect example of an institution fostering “tolerance” of a tiny, but vocal, segment of its population while completely failing to recognize that their university has strayed far from its goal of being a “Place of Universal Study, a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and the good arts and sciences...to be supported and maintained, in all time coming”. The 1691 House of Burgesses (engineer of the aforementioned quote) would hardly be pleased to know that “all time” had indeed come.

Take a look at some of the quotes from students who support Nichol’s removal of the cross:

“Because we're a public college, it's a better thing so that people are more open and more welcomed into the community," said Clara Ngomba, 19.

How did someone with such a tenuous grasp of the English Language get accepted into William and Mary in the first place? Ms. Ngomba is part of the “Contemporary and Cultural Issues Committee” (or as they liked to be called, the Contempo Cult) for William and Mary’s University Center Activities Board. (This group of students “informs students of applicable and important issues through speakers, debates, and discussions.” How noble. Here’s a link to their event schedule for the month of February. Wow. I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities.) Her goal in life is “To find at least a small bit of joy in everyday.” Another brilliantly parsed statement from Ms. Ngomba, I might add. You know, Ms. Ngomba, I’ll bet that the 5,171 White Christians and 281 Hispanic Christians who make up 72% of your student population found a small bit of joy in that small, brass cross that you feel is preventing people from being welcomed into the community.

Ro'ee Mor, a student from Israel, said that as an Orthodox Jew he was uncomfortable when he and other freshmen were taken to the chapel during orientation. Since the cross' removal, he sometimes goes to the chapel to meditate. ‘I feel more an integral part of the community due to this symbolic action,’ he said.

Mr. Mor is the VP of Multicultural Affairs for William and Mary’s Hillel Organization, an international group whose mission, taken directly from the website, is to “Maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews.” Apparently they truncated the part reading “at the expense of other religions and cultures and in direct defiance of 314 years of American History.” Mr. Mor, if you are uncomfortable with the image of a cross in a chapel in a university founded by Christians, and you still have the gall to be a VP of “Multicultural” Affairs then I submit that you are indeed, a bloody fucking moron.

Oscar Blayton, a Williamsburg lawyer who in the early 1960s was the first black person to attend William and Mary as an undergraduate, sees having the cross on display all the time as religious bigotry. ‘Some of these people that are upset about the cross issue have a notion that it is a predominantly Christian community and Christians have more rights than other people,’ Blayton said.

It’s a chapel, Mr. Blayton. That’s where religious symbols are supposed to reside. I’d somewhat agree with you about the bigotry part if the cross was transplanted to your front lawn and then set aflame.

The real problem here is that college students, and the faculty, see the university as a microcosm of the world at large. However it is not. It is an insular, selective, biased institution that an ex-girlfriend of mine used to refer to as a “bubble-world.” For four or more years, students only interact with others who exist within the same self-sustaining bubble. Kids from wealthy families who can assume the astronomical financial burden that is college tuition commune only with other rich, spoiled, self-absorbed kids. They major in subjects that have no bearing on the world in the global sense; what good are you to the majority of the human race if you spent your formative years studying the nuances of groups which comprise less than 5% of the world population? And because they have been given their first real taste of adult freedom and responsibility, they confuse this with a sense of entitlement – just because you have to get up at 8 AM for a Women’s Studies class (after a long night of inebriated fornication) and cram for a “Physiology of Lance Armstrong” final (yes, that’s an actual course at William and Mary) doesn’t mean you have the intellectual or experiential wherewithal to become crusaders for social justice. Shut up, take notes, and get a job that will contribute more to society than just your self-centered rantings.

And finally, I firmly believe that it is this faulty notion of “tolerance” that breeds more hate and divisiveness throughout the world. We as intelligent human beings should not be tacitly accepting of the views, opinions, practices or beliefs of any group until both sides are willing to participate in a reasonable, rational discussion. You want me to respect you? Then do something worthy of that respect. You can ask me accept, ask me to esteem, ask me understand, but don’t tell me to “endure without criticism.” Because then all I’ll see is your own disrespect for my position, as well as your narrow-minded stupidity.

Oh, and sign the petition.