LYING AND HYPERBOLE- THE NEW COIN OF THE REALM

My next door neighbor came out of his house and was talking to me about the paper that he has to write for a law course that he is taking. He is at the tag end of law school and is already working in the field. I asked him if he was going to take the bar exam next February. He told me that he was probably not going to do that because of the current pressure of his job. He would have to take off some time to take a course to prepare for the test. He told me casually that if he took it this February, he would probably fail. He was mollified by this professor who told him that it was not important to pass the first time, after all Hillary Clinton had taken the test five times before she passed.

I was not aware of the passing rate of the bar exam and had no understanding of what it took to study for it and pass. I was kind of shocked to hear the Hillary Clinton had taken it five times. I thought she was a pretty bright person and would do well on such a test. So . . . I went on the web and discovered, after ploughing through the anti-Hillary Clinton websites, that she actually took it twice and passed it the second time.

The era of truth telling has passed me by. I am not on a moral high horse. I have lied during my lifetime, sometimes without even knowing it. I am prone to hyperbolic rants to make a point. However, my grandmother taught me that one should never lie, even if bad things accrue to you as a result. I did take her seriously, I am sure that those of my generation, just regular people, were taught the same thing in school, church and at home.

There appears to be a wave of non-truth telling that is sweeping our civilization. I am not just talking about Ahmadinejad of Iran, or the propaganda put out by governments is a purposeful way ( the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Zimmerman Telegram). I am talking about the desensitization of all of us to the many falsehoods that we are bombarded with every day. We are so bombarded that we need a Snopes.com to help us.

We now accept, in our daily lives, that everyone lies- government, industry, media, insternet, economists, educators, and historians. I have been a history person for most of my life. I majored in history at Queens College and taught history. I kind of pride myself on my understanding of education history. When the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was accused of plagiarism, I was really thrown for a loop. Not only was she caught red handed, but her response was shaggy and she mischaracterized her withdrawal of the book. It was her publisher who  pulled it.

It all falls into the same category as Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and so on. We seem to accept that these national figures don’t tell the truth. We even wind up giving these people second and then third chances. We seem to use the word “forgiveness” and “second chance” almost gratuitously. So he used a corked bat, so what.

Funny thing, that in certain cases, we are unforgiving. Why is Pete Rose such a hanger on in hatred. Why did we crush Milli Vanilli when we found out that they were lip synching, when there were so many other who have done the same thing.
Why did we not forgive Shoeless Joe Jackson and put him in the Hall of Fame. He was actually not found guilty in the Black Sox Scandal.

We hate Bernie Madoff, but the folks at Bear Stearns and Lehman, get a free pass? How inconsistent are we? I once tried an experiment. I was sick and tired of people lying about public education. It has plenty of problems, but why lie about them
( see latest article about that in the New Yorker mag). In the 1990’s I was going around the state and sometimes the nation talking about equity in education. I was on a bunch of radio talk shows, tv shows and had many speaking engagements. I could hardly believe what was being said in the media, both local and national about schools. I decided that I would do the same thing. I would lie, except I would tell the people I was speaking to that I would be lying.

At one of my soirees I began with my usual rant about equity in education and then veered off into the world of pro public education. I told the audience that I would now be lying. “ The majority of identified American serial killers either went to private schools or were home schooled.” I was expecting a big laugh. I got no mirth. What I got was lots of requests to repeat the information, “Dr. Hillman could you please say that again, we did not get it the first time.”

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

I did not grow up with high school football. The New York City schools were limited because of space to about one third of the high schools. My high school did not have football. Carol’s high school did. The boys in my high school always believed that you were some sort of weirdo if you played football instead of basketball. Remember, the NFL was just a fly speck on the radar and had no meaning to most of us. While we might hear about Army, Navy or Notre Dame, there was not real national news about football happenings.

My first real deep encounter with football was during my stint as the athletic director at Woodrow Wilson High School in 1971. I had played and coached other sports, but football was a mystery. I soon learned that the pressure on me with football outdid all other activities. Parents were overzealous, kids got hurt, sometimes really bad injuries and coaches were very strange. Not that basketball coaches were too much different, but football coaches, as a group, were more militarily inclined than other coaches. If you have not heard George Carlin’s view of football as a war, rather than baseball as a pastoral game, you should .

Yes, I did fire a football coach ( on orders from my commandant, the supe). I stopped a football coach from putting a kid in who was not allowed to play on orders from a doctor ( even though his dad wanted him to play). I could not stop a football game from being played in a driving hurricane, not reschedule a football game from being played on Yom Kippur ( for the Jewish kids on the team and me). We won a football game from one of the most powerful teams in the Commonwealth of PA because I hired the coach’s father in law as the referee. All this was done with little understanding of the game. However, our kids went on to great schools- Harvard, Princeton, and Penn. I am proud now, but completely befuddled then.

My next experience was a Kutztown. There was a raging controversy going on when I got there about whether to establish a football team there. The soccer parents were incensed. They did not want the good athletes to play football and the football parents said that the wusses who played soccer would not want to play football. We did not wind up with a good football team over the years, but I spent many Saturdays watching the games and cheering. I grew to understand the game and the parents and kids who played. They just seemed to enjoy the pageantry which only football has. There were the homecoming games, the homecoming king and queen, the honoring the senior game and so on.

I have not been to a high school football game since the mid 1980’s when I was the IU Director and my son and daughter were in the marching band. I had to stand on both sides of the field during the game because both of the teams were in my I.U. The superintendents, John Grottenthaler and Joe Fotos appreciated me doing that. I was more interested in the band, as I was in my next football game which occurred this September 24, 2010.

My grandson, Cameron, is in the marching band at his high school in northern Virginia. I went with my other two grandchildren and my son-in-law to see him perform. The night was warm and the community came out to see the show. I am not sure how many parents were there to see the game, but ift he band parents left, the stands would have been half empty. It was great to be at such a community event once again.

My 9th grade grandson looked professional as the band went through its many paces. I could see that they would probably do well in competitions ( which they already have). I listed to the folks seated around me, cheering for the football team and commenting on their children both on the football team and the band.

It is truly a community event. It is not the rabid Texas style Friday Night Lights, but a good old fashioned community get together, as it is on July 4th. This is not your old home town gathering. This is a mixture of newly minted upper middle class people who are professionals ( men and women) and local people who work together at Little League and parent teacher organizations. As I look at it, the social stratification may be there, but it is well hidden through the games that their kids play.

THINK CLEARLY

I am sure that you know that the world and our country are divided into two kinds of groups- the haves and have nots. This is not a new division. It has been this way since time immemorial. There is no argument about the correctness of this situation. It is just wrong. However, such a persistent human condition gives rise to a certain laissez faire attitude among certain folk. If it has always been that way, maybe that it is the way it is supposed to be thus. In more modern parlance, the victims of poverty are blamed for their surroundings. Examples are shown of individuals who have risen from the dust to make something of themselves ( see Slumdog Millionaire, the Frank Capra movies, Horatio Alger stories, The Color of Water, dot com purveyors, and many more).

These exceptions are trotted out on television , at news conferences, and in movies and are examples of how all those downtrodden could do the same thing. My question is, “ If things are supposed to be the way they are, why are we so surprised that the majority of those on the bottom of the economic and social ladder never find their way out.”

Ever hear the expression, “ The elect of God?” It came to us from the Puritans who believed that if you looked good and were successful, you must then have been in God’s good graces. Do not read Uriah Heep, Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in this light. So, if you are a money making machine, living in a mansion with all of the goodies that the modern world can provide, you are somehow closer to the almighty.

In that light, listen or watch the news sometime. Who are the people that tell you what is really going on? Who are the experts? Who do we seem to respect above all others? Yes, we do have a place for the Mother Theresas of the world, but not too often. We have defiled the word “do-gooder,” as if it is a curse word. There is now a wink and a smile for those that go into social services and the helping professions. Why won’t these young people go into the business world and make money like the rest of us?

Our only concern with those who have bastardized our financial system and our economy is whether they made or lost money on the “deal.” A person’s legacy is not based on whether they have been of some service to humanity, but whether they have sold more music, gotten a higher salary, live in a fabulous “crib,” or have made some sort of political gain.

Those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder are so busy with securing the next rung on Maslow’s ladder, that they appear to be satisfied with what has been laid before them- low wages, their own brand of music, slogans that trash any worthwhile activity and an existence that moves on a day to day basis.

May it never be that, “ the evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. Let us get back to community, rather than the unmitigated selfishness of this era.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

I have lived through a bunch of elections in my 72 years. I almost sound like an old fogey when I say such things, but it is true. I first voted in 1960 when I was almost 22. I watched the Nixon-Kennedy debates very closely and concluded that John F. Kennedy was going to get us involved in some sort of war in China or Indo-China. I had just come back from the Army the previous year and did not want to go back again. Although I was not as impressed with Mr. Nixon, I believed that he would steer clear of wars and such like.

Since then, I have been around for the changing of the guard in federal, state and local elections. Somehow, there is a continuity to these changes. A hard fought election replete with many promises ends with the usual congratulations
( sometimes delayed by vote counting or the Supreme Court of the United States), victory promises and preparation for the coming ascendency.

Whether a township supervisor or a President of the United States, the victor has had some some sort of platform that is different from the then current way of doing things. Let’s lower taxes, pave the roads, improve education, reform the legislature and its bad practices, crack down on welfare cheats and illegal immigrants. All of these things seem to inspire enthusiasm from the electorate. Hooray, Rte 61 is going to get paved.

At the beginning of the term of election, the enthusiasm runs high for the newly elected official. He/she then finds out that it is easier to promise things than it is to carry them out. There is not enough money to pave rte 61 and the state is not giving out any more money for such projects, and if they did , you are way far down on the list. Education is not so easily improved over a short period of time, maybe not even in the officials term in office. Immigrants keep on coming into the country as their own economy’s tailspin.We find out that welfare cheats are easy to find through computer work, but there are not as many of them as one thinks.

As the official settles into office and looks around at the political landscape, there comes a feeling that maybe he/she was not as smart as he/she thought. Many of these problems cannot be fixed by one person. These problems take a long period of time to resolve themselves. We opposed the building of the new elementary school, but what do we do when the Department of Labor and Industry comes and closes us down? Where will the money come from to either refurbish the building or build a new one?

So things travel at a snail’s pace and the scene does not change very much. We begin with high hopes for the future and then realize that time is on the side of inertia and that stasis is the order of the day.

RECONNECTING

There is a part of my brain that abhors mysteries. I cannot stand to see a conundrum unsolved, or a blank space not filled on a genealogical chart. It is not something that I have concocted over the years. When listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio, I was concerned about the main character’s family- his nephew Dan Reid and others that we might not have known. I wondered how I could find out about the other 5 Texas Rangers that had been killed. It appears to be something that is as automatic as my need to eat, drink and breathe. The funny thing is that my siblings have absolutely no interest in finding out things about their contemporaries or forbearers.

There is no value laden statements that I can make about this need. I am intensely curious about where I come from and what the people were like. I guess it is part of my trivia seeking, history major, radio mystery personality. Therefore, I try to reconnect to my family, my friends, people who I have run across in my career through pictures, phone calls and visits.

There is something so satisfying about getting in touch with a cousin who I have seen but once in my life and another whom I have never seen or talked with. I believe that you can fill in so many gaps in your own life by talking with those people. I found out more about my own father from a cousin, who was ten years older than me, than I had known from my mother, aunt, sister and other cousins. It actually allowed me to look at myself in a completely different way.

I discovered that my dad had boxed professionally and that he had a hair trigger temper. He was also a semi-pro baseball player and a good pool player. All of these pieces of information were unknown to me. It was a particularly satisfying conclusion to a search for who my dad was.

Carol has had the same experience. Her dad was not interested in having anything to do with his family. Carol was unaware of the many cousins that she had and their histories. Over the past few years she has reconnected with them and finds them to be really nice people.

Yes, you may find some rotten apples at the bottom of the barrel, but it’s worth it.I am still in search of more information about my maternal grandmother’s family. Since they lived in a small town in what is now Belarus, it’s tough. However, I do have a book written in Hebrew about the town and can make out my grandmother’s maiden name under some pictures. I know somehow that there are relatives of mine that I will find someday. And, as the old rock and roll song says, “and like a Northwest Mountie, I always get my man, gonna find her.”

HOW TO GET SICK WITH THE PAST

I know this is an age cohort thing. It could not be anything else. Why would seemingly normal people become entranced with the past? Why is the past now from 1954 to 1957? I guess that would be because many of my friends and acquaintances graduated from high school during those years. Does that mean that the most important years in their lives happened in the year that they graduated from high school? Does it mean that the singular event in their lives was going to the Senior Prom ( or not going as the case may be). How can it be that there are so many websites and Youtubes about those years? Is there someone in the darkness of his/her basement turning out tons of pictures of girls with hoopskirts and 1957 Chevys?

These images are attached to words that worry me. “ Things were so much better and simpler then.” “ You pretty much knew what to expect of life.” “ You could get a gallon of milk for 25 cents.” “There wasn’t all of this trouble in the world.” “People got along with each other.” These sentiments worry me. I am sure that the older folks in 1955 said the same exact things. However, they did not have the Internet to espouse those views. Sometimes, I think that my age cohort thinks by talking about how things used to be are making life decisions based on how we are someday going to go backwards in time.
If 1955 was such a great year, would we all like to go back to it? It was at the height of the Cold War. China had just completed its conquest of all of the islands off its shores and threatened to blow Formosa out of the sea. Congress authorized President Eisenhower to defend Formosa ( now Taiwan). The U.S. intervened in guess where- Iran. Emmett Till, a fourteen year old African American was murdered because he had not shown respect for a white woman. We still had to put our religion on applications for a job ( consequently I did not get a job at a bank and my friend, who lied, did).

It is not necessary to go through a litany of bad things that happened in those years. Women were certainly not where they are today. Minorities were treated unfairly in all aspects of our society. Maybe business is more on the square than it is today and maybe it wasn’t. There was no investigative reporters from CNN hanging around in those days. Government was much more hidden and could do all sorts of things without us knowing about it. The first contingent of “advisors” was sent to Vietnam in 1955.

Or maybe you really don’t want to know what is happening. Is it possible that the overload of information is really what you are talking about? Would you rather spend your “Golden Years” sheltered from all of the negative news? If that is really what you want, shut off your computer, your t.v. and satellite radio ( other than the 50’s channel) and go out to eat at the early bird special.