Saturday, January 25, 2014

I have become increasingly discouraged with the leadership of this country. We have become a petty, backbiting nation that abuses power, has no respect for freedom of speech or individual privacy, and uses power for vengeance against political enemies rather than to work for the greater good of the country.

We also show almost no competency in actual management, the art of negotiation or the ability to bring our diverse population closer together. We emphasize differences rather than similarities, and it seems our politicians have lost touch with the ability to compromise.

We send people to Washington who are so full of themselves that they find no room to understand others. Party politics has become the driving force, and has evolved into a take-no-prisoners war in which negotiations can only involve unconditional surrender.  

We need to develop leaders who actually understand the breadth and depth of this country: that understand that it is not one-size-fits-all.

I think the only way to do that is to demand some minimum qualifications from those who want to run for President: things that would ensure that they have some understanding of the real world and the needs of our citizenry, rather than just the needs of the most powerful lobbyists or special interest groups.

Leaders of the Free World (Granite Grumblings: Life in the Live Free or Die State, 2011) was my attempt to establish some possible parameters for our presidential candidates and also our voters. It seems even more critical today.

Glenn K. Currie


Leaders of the Free World


Did you ever wonder how we got to be the “leader” of the free world? It is hard to believe that it is the result of the quality of our politicians.

Most of our leaders seem to be in Washington because their other careers went dead, or maybe they never had another career. And a lot of them aren’t able to apply themselves well at this job either, based on the amount of time they actually spend representing us at the various legislative meetings.

But once elected, they don’t appear to have much to worry about, because our voters don’t seem to care. Apparently our voters are so dumb they can’t even figure out a butterfly ballot, let alone determine if their representative is earning his paycheck.

No wonder the rest of the world is a little worried about us. Our election standards are even lower than our education standards.

Right now, any idiot who is a natural-born citizen and is at least thirty-five years of age, can run for President. And a lot of them have taken advantage of that opportunity. The election process isn’t doing a very good job of culling the herd. We, as voters, keep putting people into office and then complaining that they are in office. Then we nominate an even bigger idiot to try to replace him or her.

I think, as keepers of the first real primary, we have some responsibility to ourselves and the world, to establish a few minimum requirements to be eligible to be a leader of the free world. And maybe we should also impose a few demands on our voters as well.

For our would-be presidential candidates, I suggest the following eligibility standards:

1)      Live in an apartment without a doorman for at least a year.

2)      Serve at least one year in any combination of the following non-supervisory jobs:

Food service, manufacturing, sales, health care, transportation, construction, or education.

3)      Complete two years of service in the military, the Peace Corps or an equivalent (without a valet or PR person to assist).

4)      Ride a public bus across country, stay at least one night in a flop house, and spend at least two weeks in a place without indoor plumbing.

5)      Demonstrate the ability to successfully run an organization that is not inherited, funded by family trusts, or classified as a non-profit.

6)      Personally fill out and file a federal income tax return.

7)      Demonstrate a sense of humor and the common sense to recognize BS when it is up to the ankles.

8)      Read at least one trashy novel and watch a week of daytime television.

9)      Demonstrate a working knowledge of baseball and football.

10)  Spend a month as a teacher’s aide in an inner city public school.

As for the voters, my expectations must be much more limited. But even with that realization, it seems that there should be a few basic requirements, none of which are currently being enforced.

Voter standards should be as follows:

1)      Prove they are United States citizens.

2)      Only be allowed to vote once in each election.

3)      Be required to identify themselves at the polls. (If they don’t know who they are, they probably shouldn’t be voting.)

4)      Be declared ineligible if they are convicts or persons legally rendered incompetent.

5)      Be a human being. (No more dogs or parrots getting the vote).

6)      Have a pulse.

7)      Be able to state the last name of the person for whom Washington, D.C. was named.

None of the above requirements are particularly demanding for either the voters or the future leader of the free world. They might, however, go a long way towards ensuring the humanity and common sense of those involved in the election process.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

I keep reading stories about how America is falling way behind in the education sweepstakes. Our kids don't seem to know anything about math and science and we don't even teach them things like history, geography and civics. And then we wonder why they can't make change and don't know where Canada is.

We need to stop blaming the teachers and the schools for this. We get what we ask for. Parents basically let their kids focus on more relevant things like video games and reality shows. And that has become their level of expertise.

We lost the education battle when we, as a society, turned our children over to the Department of Education.Yes, the same people who have a lower favorability rating than used car salesmen have been directing the education of our children for several decades. And we're surprised that the education system now works about as well as Congress?

Ultimately, however, the parents allowed this to happen. They were so busy legalizing marijuana and making sure "no child was left behind," that they forgot to care whether children had the skills or energy to get ahead. I wrote a piece a few years ago that addressed this problem directly. Dumbing Down the Population(Granite Grumblings: Life in the "Live Free or Die" State, 2011) still applies today.

Glenn K. Currie

Dumbing Down the Population


I believe it is a waste of time to try to improve our educational system. The problem isn’t with the schools…it is with the parents.

How can we expect the kids to be able to excel, when most of the parents have had their brains operating in the standby mode since before the kids were born.

Ever since the 1960’s, we have been practicing a sort of “reverse Darwinism”, whereby the public, fresh from frying their brains on drugs and alcohol, and tuning in to television on a regular basis, has gradually lost the ability to think. These people then mated with others of similar experience, and we suddenly had a new breed of child arriving on the planet. These children are immune to learning. I call it the “if Keanu Reeves married Pamela Anderson, their kids would have trouble working a light switch” syndrome.

Now before you get too upset, I should clarify that I am definitely not talking about you or your children. The fact that you are reading this article clearly shows you are not in this group. No, I am referring to all those others out there who have demonstrated difficulty dealing with the simplest concepts, and have seemingly lost the ability to speak in sentences.

My theory on the rising level of stupidity of the general population is supported by the following:

1)      A substantial number of voters in Florida recently raised a major issue over the difficulty of reading and filling out the “butterfly ballot”. Since then, several tests of this ballot in grade schools have shown that fourth graders found this ballot to be easier to use than the water cooler. It has also been proven that a trained hamster, with good food incentives, could fill out this ballot successfully. What is the voter telling us?

2)      When discussing the recent tax cut, the media has found it necessary to repeatedly tell us that those who don’t pay taxes may not get much of a tax cut. This concept has apparently been so difficult to understand by the general populace, that reporters have felt the need to emphasize it ad nauseum. Let’s study it one more time. In order to really benefit from a tax cut, you may need to pay taxes. Apparently this surprises a lot of our population. I imagine they are the same ones who rush down to the auto dealers every time a $1000 rebate is announced. The disappointment must be enormous when they find out that, to be eligible, they must first buy a car.

3)      We have just witnessed the biggest speculative bubble in history by investors in “dot coms”. We used to laugh at the idiots in Europe a few hundred years ago who threw away fortunes investing in tulip bulbs. Well guess what? We have proven ourselves to be even bigger idiots. We lost more money, and lost it quicker, and all we have to show for it is some bad paper. At least the tulip bulb investors could console themselves with some pretty flowers.

4)      Even the general population itself, as represented by our class action lawyers, admits to being brain-challenged regarding cigarette smoking. We have all known for years that cigarettes were “coffin nails”, and there have been labels on every cigarette pack for decades telling us that smoking was hazardous to our health. And yet we can still win lawsuits for $3 billion because we didn't realize those warnings could actually mean that smoking was bad for us. When the juries rule in favor of the smoker, what they are really saying is that Americans are too stupid to be responsible for their own decisions, and too dumb to read and understand the labels.

5)      Finally, just turn on your TV and watch the doings of current celebrities like Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen and the inhabitants of Jersey Shore. Hollywood, which many say reflects our society, has come a long way from the days of Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Lucille Ball, and the trip (no pun intended) has not been a productive one.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. The general population of this country has been defined by juries, the media, and the voters themselves, as incompetent nincompoops. Is it any wonder that the offspring of this population aren’t winning the education sweepstakes?

So let’s stop blaming the teachers, the school committees, and the textbooks. The bottom line is that we are fast becoming a nation of troglodytes, and our kids will be lucky if they can work a garden rake by the time we get through with them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I am just back from a sanity trip to Florida where we spent several days on Marco Island. The temperatures were around high sixties on average but still a welcome change from New Hampshire. Today it is 8 in Concord and promises to go sub-zero tomorrow. Welcome back.

I had an interesting trip down as I sat directly across the aisle from a well-known and much liked television personality from the sixties and seventies. He was still a very likeable personality but was well past the age where he should be travelling alone (which he was). Just in the boarding process he lost his ticket and spilled his coffee. A kind-hearted seatmate took him under her wing and arranged a wheelchair for when they landed, but it was a sad thing to see what probably lays in store for all of us who live to advanced age. Even the famous get old.

We also had the opportunity to see a really interesting film while we were down there. Her is an independent film by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johannsen. It is set a little into the future and is about a man who falls in love with a computer voice which is capable of feelings, growth and emotion. This is a marketed product sold to people who basically need company.

In it you watch the real and virtual worlds blend. It leaves you with plenty to think about as our society gradually is absorbed by digital bits and pieces.

I wonder how young people will meet in the future. Kids are growing up without knowing their neighbors (no girl next door). They work in isolated, detached environments. Religion is less of a factor in most American's lives. Where do people meet for meaningful relationships? More and more it seems to be on the internet.

It seems like the movie's point may be an accurate one in that it will be harder and harder for people to discern the difference between the real and virtual worlds.

This is something I addressed a few years ago in Virtual Reality (In the Cat's Eye, Snap Screen Press, 2009). Sadly, it appears to be coming true for more of our population as people start to seek shelter from the complexities of our civilization.

Virtual Reality


He is a man who chases rabbits,

Dressed in a turtle’s hard-shelled habits.

One of an army of timid souls,

Hiding in plush-lined people holes.


Tightrope walking on a druggist’s knife,

His computer makes an avatar wife.

Ones and zeros have set him free,

To drown alone in a digital sea.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sometimes music can take us to special places. We all have different tastes, but it is interesting the way different types of music can help set our moods and settle our souls.

Songs and performers speak to us based on our own experiences. A few years ago I picked up an album by Eva Cassisdy and her voice carried me away. I liked the way she seemed equally at home with jazz and ballads and her story seemed to come through in the way she spoke through her music.

I wrote Eva Cassidy's Message (Granite Grumblings, Life in the "Live Free or Die State", 2011) a few years ago, but her music and the message of the essay are as applicable today as they ever were.

I wish I could play the music for you, but I am sure it is available on Utube and it is well-worth finding.

Glenn K. Currie

Eva Cassidy's Message

I was downtown the other day, trying to track down a CD by a performer for whom I had only half a name. As usual, Mike was able to sort out the mystery. But, knowing that I am always looking for interesting voices, he also asked me to listen to a couple of cuts from another album. And he told me the story of Eva Cassidy, a young woman whose life was cut short by melanoma at the age of 33.
It’s hard to describe the emotions that I felt as I sat at home and quietly listened to her CD. Many of the songs were old standards. They were a mix of gospel, a little Irving Berlin, some folk and blues; actually the whole American musical experience seemed in some way to be wrapped up in it. And every song was a new one.

If I sound like I am contradicting myself, it’s probably because I am. This young lady sang these songs in a way that made them different and unique to her. This pure voice, with a range the breadth of Oklahoma, traveled through me like a midnight train. Quiet vibrations, attention-getting power, a rush of emotions, and then a backflow breeze that left me with chills from my head to my heart. And as I listened, I was overwhelmed with what all of us had lost. As the recordings followed one after the other, her music seemed to speak for all those glorious, talented people in this world who have never had a chance to realize their potential. She seemed to sing for those whose voices and skills were lost to wars and disease and sometimes just bad luck: for John Seel and Dennis Barger and too many other friends from Dartmouth whose lives were cut short by Vietnam, and for Gary Dillon and Michael Briggs and all the other sons and daughters whose lives were never fully lived. People who might have filled our world with humor and friendship and perhaps great art or literature or medical miracles. Eva Cassidy’s soul seemed to pour itself out in these songs, railing against the inequities and reaching for the heavens.

And as the album finally ended, soaring gently into silence, I could only feel an overwhelming sadness, because, in this case, I did indeed know what I had missed. This  rare talent cut across all the false musical boundaries of race, religion, culture and style. And as I shut my eyes and listened to the beauty that flowed from “Over the Rainbow”, I could hear her also singing for all those others, whose voices were silently passing with her over that rainbow.