Friday, August 15, 2014

Good-Bye Robin Williams, Hello Renewed Conflict Regarding Suicide

I will say this unequivocally: my favorite comics have long been dead. I grew up with Abbott and Costello, and to this day, there are no greater masters of the art.

Millions might disagree with that assertion, but who cares? Comedy is entirely subjective, relevant to a specific time, place, and mindset. My younger brother Gordon and I were in just such a place, in just such a time, and in that very specific mindset that it spoke to us in the early and mid-1990s. Dad and Mom would take us to lunch on some weekends and we would beg to have them buy us a new Abbott and Costello VHS to watch so we could have that moment where we all watched, as a family, and got a new laugh at a new routine. And if the flick we’d chosen was a rehash of old routines, a la Foreign Legion? It was still funny. We loved the wordplay, we could recite the routines; and if pressed, Gordon and I could still recreate “Who’s on First” verbatim, each in either role.

Those are some of the greatest memories of my life.

Comedy speaks to people and brings them together in a way that nothing else ever could, and in a way I could never truly understand.  But outside of those two comedy heroes of mine, there is Robin Williams. For my generation, he made an incredible impact. For some who are older than me, it was when “Mork and Mindy” made landfall on American TVs. Thankfully, his role as a clich├ęd and goofy alien repeating the catchphrase “Nanu Nanu” was not how I first saw him. No, my first memory of him was as Popeye. That might not mean much to someone who was not in my specific situation, in that specific time. But as a six year old who’d watched Popeye cartoons and played the game on ColecoVision, he was my imagination and the cartoon which fed it come to life. There can never be another Popeye, and I would suggest that you could look at the last 100 years of American actors, from Lon Chaney to Channing Tatum, and there is no one – no one! – who could embody and act out the character from my young imagination. Robin Williams did just that, and perfectly. And he sang it, too.

Needless to say, Robin Williams’ career is more than that. He was in Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Will Hunting, Jumanji, Hook, among countless other films which I enjoyed as a kid and which won him accolades. He’s made me laugh. He’s made me cry. He’s made me think. He’s made me consider the nuances of this life that we all must live within.  And in a way that no one else could have, he's exposed the fun and absurdity of it all.

And yet it is his decision to end his life as he did that has become the topic of conversation? Not the celebration of his life and all that he has given us through his work and his existence? What is wrong with us that we can overlook the greatness we’ve been given and have enjoyed in favor of wondering why we weren’t given such a blessing as Robin Williams for a longer period of time or that he'd have chosen a more acceptable exit?

Suicide is a very controversial issue. I cannot condone it, nor can I begin to understand it, and I will pray to God that I am never in a position that I must confront it more personally than I have.  But life continues, in spite of what might (and what I believe does) happen in the hereafter.

We are given a short time on this Earth. We have but to appreciate those bright lights which make our stay more enjoyable. As I’d like to think my brother Gordon and I recognized as children, Abbott and Costello were such a light. So is Robin Williams. He should remembered as such -- a bright light --  forevermore.

William Sullivan

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

America: What Makes Us Great, and Why Talking Heads Like Brit Hume Just Don't Get It

Bill O’Reilly had a pretty interesting exchange with Brit Hume on Fox News last week which I happened to catch.  

Brit Hume is a senior analyst at Fox with whom I'm quite familiar.  In fact, he particularly caught my attention in recent weeks when he suggested that Republicans having their name associated with immigration reform is some kind of moral imperative which will secure Republicans' future viability in elections.  I discuss the folly in that assertion here, published at American Thinker.  

But he said one particular thing in this one particular exchange that I found absolutely infuriating, well beyond simple naivete.  It was outright insulting, and it's crazy to me that this interview has gone relatively unnoticed.  

Referring to the mass influx of immigrant children from Central America, Bill O’Reilly suggested, at odds with the doctrine of “political correctness” but nevertheless in touch with reality on this issue, that “the kids are the victims. As I said, you’re creating an underclass. Yeah, some of them will break out, but most of them won’t…”

“This is a cruel way to look at it, Bill,” Brit Hume responds, “but I would seriously doubt that with these particular kids, coming as far as they have, and facing the difficulties that they have, that they’re going to end up being the underclass.  These are probably the most able kids that are reaching our borders.”

I fully understand what he's getting at.  It's a "cruel way to look at it" because, in a Darwinist, "survival of the fittest" sort of way, only the best are making it to our borders.  But in another way, he is suggesting that those who get here will socially and economically advance to surpass American children which, he obviously believes, are inferior.  Is that the purpose of immigration reform -- which is, ipso facto, amnesty?  To drive American children out of the marketplace?  

And even if it is, and I'm being asked to potentially vote my child out of a potential job or a seat in a university in the future, upon what does Mr. Hume base his silly assumptions about these children's prospective ability?  The fact that they have survived a northward trek, chaperoned by coyotes who’ve likely been paid by their parents for the service of dropping them at America’s doorstep for handouts provided by taxpayers, believing that they’ll get free food, shelter, healthcare, education, and that they'll be an anchor point for the parents’ future illegal immigration?

I know that some of these children have died in their journey.  That is an awful reality.  But the culpability for that does not lie upon me, or any American, but upon their parents which blindly sent them away!

Furthermore, what makes Mr. Hume think that those children will be more perseverant or useful than mine over the coming decades?  I have and will dedicate my entire existence to ensuring that my children understand the necessity of education, a solid work ethic, an adherence to law, and the duty to protect our civil constructs which have given us our lifestyles and have heretofore preserved our freedoms.  Are the parents who've handed their children to the nameless coyote going to do the same for theirs?

And this leads me to what Mr. Hume certainly did not consider in his simplistic and stupid formulation of his argument.  (Watch the video linked below, he seems flummoxed when challenged.)  It was for that civil construct, the preservation of freedom, and the very idea of America that my grandfather, William J. Sullivan I, served as a tanker in World War II in the European front.  It was on that very basis that my father David W. Sullivan served in Southeast Asia, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross in defense of his country.  Both of my brothers, Gordon and David, served in Iraq, as an airborne-infantry soldier and as an Apache pilot respectively, each with two tours in the campaign.  

My siblings and I are each the grandchildren of immigrants from two different nations, one of which is Mexico, and we were raised with not only an appreciation of our ancestors' culture, but a profound belief in what America represents, what that means to the world, and fully aware of the anomaly that we are in global context.  And we are each willing to fight to protect all of that.

Will those children which Brit Hume stakes his reputation upon do the same for this country?  Will they have the same sense of duty and adherence to a nation of laws when their very existence within that nation has resulted from breaking those laws?  And if laws do not exist or are no longer relevant, do we not cease being the nation my family has fought to protect?

Watch the interview below.

William Sullivan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hooked on Phonics? That's So Twentieth Century...

I had never heard of "sight words" until my son Connor came home with a list comprised of them from daycare, tasked with committing them to memory. 

While I think it might be useful at his stage of development (age 4), the idea that sight words, or "Whole Word recognition," could supplant phonetic comprehension in developmental literacy is just incredibly stupid, and for our society (our federal education overseers, in particular) to buy into that stupid notion wholesale just guarantees that our society will only become more illiterate and stupid in the future. 

Forgive my lack of perspicacity, but stupid seems the most fitting term to describe any endeavor suggesting that phonics is not a superior path to literacy than sight recognition of "Whole Words."  Seriously, the study of "Whole Words" is  apparently a thing.  

And yet, here we are, and this simple fact must apparently be explained.  Doing just that is Bruce Dietrick Price over at American Thinker.  If you have even the slightest interest in how our youths are being educated, I suggest that you read the piece in its entirety, found here

But here is, what should be, a rather convincing snippet:

Whole word experts have created numerous gimmicks... They do a picture walk, a pre-read, a paragraph-by-paragraph discussion of what might be in the book.  By the time the child comes to "read" the book, he can answer questions about "meaning."  And if he can extract meaning, then according to these experts, he can "read."  What a con.  

Imagine that this is a nine-word sentence in a language that your child is going to learn: $ ^ # * ) = @ ! &, pronounced "Dick and Jane like to play in the street."  You'll find that it's quite a lot of work to memorize those nine symbols  so you can read that sentence.  You'll also find that if someone reverses the symbols, or adds new ones, you will be confused very quickly.

This is typically what happens to Whole Word victims in the second and third grades, as they try to go from 100 sight-words to 300.  The common expression you hear is: "They started off so well, but then they hit a wall."

Isn't that cute? Little children are hitting a wall. Splat, splat, splat.  And big adults are making lots of money giving them interventions.  And so the lucrative con continues.

Systematic phonics (i.e., nothing but phonics) is the only way to go.  If your children are at a school that uses any of the following terms, start fighting back: sight-words, Dolch-words, Fry words, high-frequency words, picture clues, context clues, whole language, pre-read, picture walk, guess, skip ahead, balanced literacy.
Why are there so many of these bogus phrases? Simple.  For the last 75 years, the Education Establishment has been selling a bogus reading method.  Some people figure it out.  So the Education Establishment has to come up with new slogans and clever new marketing phrases.  That's why we have all the slop.Meanwhile, in all that time, phonics was called phonics and still is.  When something works, you don't need to fake it.

PS: Common Core is guilty of perpetuating Reform Math and Whole Word.  Eliminating both is the prerequisite for educational success.

Now, I am not so invested in the logic of this appraisal that I could suggest that sight recognition has no place in language instruction. In fact, literacy can never be achieved unless some measure of sight recognition can be retained.  Individual letters that comprise single words, after all, have no meaning unless the letter's form on the printed page forces the brain to recall the letter's purpose and utterance in the grander scheme of language.  But phonetic fundamentals must be in place, if for no other reason that we are human beings.  We naturally recognize patterns, and those patterns often dictate our thoughts.  Language is the most basic example of that simple fact in human nature, and phonetics directly caters to our need.

And I will never suggest that alternative teaching methods should not be exercised in situations where individuals have specific difficulties in grasping written language from the phonetic angle.  What I am suggesting, without the slightest hesitation, is that such practices should only be employed for those specific individuals, rather than the wholesale razing of a phonetic approach.  Phonetic learning of language is undoubtedly the most effective means of our bringing the knowledge, and indeed, the gift of language comprehension and understanding to our future generations as a whole.  This is true with English, and we find that it is even more so with Latin-based languages such as Spanish and French.  But when a federal edict, like Common Core, promotes the alternative for all children in public schools, it is absolutely a cause a cause for concern.       

So, if you're like me, the next thing you'll want to do is rush home and explain, "Ph" indicates a "fuh" sound, and that's why "phone" is pronounced as it is, son. Not because it's a visual singularity that you had to memorize."  Because that may very well be instruction that he is not getting in school.

William Sullivan

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Denzel Washington on Providence and Promise

There are a lot of things for which Hollywood is known.  If Hollywood culture is to be encapsulated by a single word, a few examples come to mind.

 "Extravagant" might be a universally applicable word.  "Progressive" or "enlightened" might come to mind if you're of a leftish bent, "privileged" or "aloof" might come to mind if you're a conservative.  But regardless of which end of the ideological divide you occupy, it's pretty safe to say that one thing Hollywood is not known for is the humility of its prominent denizens.

That is not to say, however, that humility does not exist among them, exemplified by singularities so rare that they warrant shock and awe.  Such a singularity is Denzel Washington.

His latest is a profound message by any standard.  

It is a message to aspiring young actors about the "power of hard work and the importance of faith:"
I pray that you all put your shoes way under the bed at night so that you gotta get on your knees in the morning to find them.  And while you're down there, thank God for grace and mercy and understanding. We all fall short of the glory, we all got plenty.  If you just start thinking about all the things you've got to say thank you for, that'll be a day.
He goes on:
True desire in the heart for anything good is God's proof to you sent beforehand to indicate that it's yours already.  So the desire you have, that itch that you have to be whatever it is that you want to be... that itch, that desire for good is God's proof to you sent already to indicate that it's yours.  You already have it.  Claim it.
I won't try to dissect these quotes and assign political or spiritual meaning to them.  His words speak enough.  And regardless of what meaning you take away from them, it's difficult to deny -- these words are a powerful expression of conviction and humility, worthy of respect.

Thanks, Denzel.  If nothing else, it's a reminder of a simple truth that I, for one, too often forget.

See the video here.

William Sullivan

Al Sharpton's Amusing Problem with Teleprompters

This is hilarious.  Well, once you get past the fact that Al Sharpton is somehow a relevant media voice after having been a complicit instigator whipping up anti-Semitic mobs which murdered innocent people.  And the fact that his claim to fame is predicated on stoking fears of racism in cases where young, black, supposed "victims" were proven to be liars, thereby ruining the lives of the wrongfully accused.  Oh, and that he's an insufferable tax cheat and therefore a hypocrite who does not pay his "fair share" to provide ballast to the redistributive agenda he espouses with vitriolic race rhetoric.

But once you get past all of that, this is hilarious.

William Sullivan

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Obama's Great Jailbreak: Indeed, Mr. President, No Los Queremos, No Los Necesitamos

Federal officials have released hundreds of murderers, sex-offenders, and drunk drivers onto the streets on which you drive, where your sons and daughters live.

So why? Was this some mass pardon which only applied to people of one specific demographic, outside of the rule of law, and contrary to everything that the word "law" means in any practical sense?

Well, for lack of a better explanation... yup.  This president, and his administration, has "knowingly" released these offenders into the populace, undoubtedly emboldened by Americans' apparent lack of concern for anything he does which bastardizes the concept of his limited role as our federal representative.

So why not shoot the moon?  America doesn't care.

I could run through the litany of grievances -- his circumvention of constitutional protocol, targeting political enemies in an election year, spying on your phone calls, groping your nether-regions at the airport and all that, but in the immortal words of our potential next president -- what difference, at this point, does it make?

Well, this matters more than your rising premium costs for your family's healthcare that you're taking on the chin.  Criminals are being released onto the streets for no other purpose than to advance a political agenda.  The IRS may not have targeted you for your contrary and subversive opinions which threaten this administration, but I can assure you, the criminals released in this little political ploy have no such discriminating tastes.  You will be driving on those same streets, and your daughters will encounter them if luck has it that they are so unfortunate.

It can't be described any more succinctly than this, uttered by Texas Republican Lamar Smith: "This could be considered the worst prison break in American history, except it was sanctioned by our president and perpetrated by our own immigration officials."

Okay, it could have been more succinctly described, because everything after the "except" is utterly irrelevant.  It is a jail-break which uniquely benefited illegal aliens who broke the law not only to enter this country, but broke laws which should have kept them incarcerated and off the streets.

If this administration cannot fulfill that simplest of tasks which benefits all Americans, what confidence can we have in it, however noble some idiots naively assume to be its purpose?

Consider the words of Jessica Vaughn, Policy Studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who says:
We keep hearing from the administration that they are focused like a laser against the worst of the worst, convicted criminals, as their top priority. On the other hand, they are releasing, at a rate of about 100 per day, aliens from their custody with criminal convictions, and many of them are serious convictions.

Her comment seems as if she were surprised. Or if she imagined people might care.

How cute.

William Sullivan

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Retail Giants Saved the Obama Administration a World of Grief

It has gone relatively unnoticed, but the Obama administration has dodged a devastating PR bullet this month.

According to the Daily Mail, “[A]s many as one-third of new enrollees’ applications have seen problems when the government transmits them to insurance companies.” If seven million Americans have indeed signed up for Obamacare, this means that potentially millions of Americans now believe that they have insurance, but as far as the insurance companies they believe to be covered by are concerned, they are uninsured.

We have already heard (however faintly) stories about a few unfortunate Obamacare enrollees who headed to the hospital expecting to be covered for treatment, only to find that their doctors could not verify their insurance and they were liable for the entire cost. If a million or more Americans, believing to be covered by Obamacare, were to find that they could not get their needed prescriptions because an inept government broker failed to deliver their information and buying intent to their insurance company of choice, there would be a whirlwind of public disapproval that might be untenable even for the Obamacare spin team.

So retail giants rushed in and saved the Obama administration the headaches.

Both Walmart and Walgreens have, according to Reuters, said that they would “provide a month’s supply of certain prescriptions at no up-front cost to participants of U.S. President Obama’s signature healthcare law who have not yet received a plan identification number.” Kroger, Rite Aid, and CVS have introduced similar policies. Chain Drug Review reports that CVS is providing “a 15- or 30- day “bridge”” for “temporary insurance gaps,” meaning that CVS will essentially give prescription medicines to Obamacare subscribers who, by all accounts, have no insurance.

These retailers suggest that they will seek to recover these short-term losses by going to the insurance companies afterward to cover the costs. Assuming that all works out for the retailers, these products are indeed “sold,” and they will benefit in the long run.

There are elements of risk involved in that, though. Unless there is some obscure passage of Obamacare scripture which demands that they do so, there is no guarantee that these insurers will come out of pocket to pay for the medicines of customers who were not policyholders at the time of “purchase.” If insurance companies do not pay and the government cannot force their wallets open, we can assume that the customers will be asked to cover retailers’ costs, which is introduces another element of risk in offering these products at no up-front cost and no interest. Insurance companies have an assumed creditworthiness. These customers do not, and there is certainly no guarantee that these uninsured customers, without a contract or credit check, will pay the entire cost of their prescription medicines if retailers demand, particularly when they took the medicines with the expectation that they wouldn’t be liable for the entire cost.

And it’s important to understand that it is a very distinct group Americans that will benefit from this decision. You see, a consumer usually looks for three things: a desired product, a good price, and a smooth buying process. To be enrolled in Obamacare means you have invested time and effort in the notoriously painstaking buying experience on the Obamacare exchanges, and in many cases, it means you have paid more than you have in the past for a policy with more bells and whistles than you previously thought you needed. To have done all of that means that you might have a vested political interest in Obamacare’s success, or at the very least, you serve as a bulwark strengthening Obamacare’s bid for continued survival. In other words, it will largely be supporters of Obama’s healthcare legislation, ideological or otherwise, receiving this benefit. That’s a pretty focused recipient group.

It all seems curiously convenient. If you were to find yourself uninsured because your insurance broker failed in his job or your company decided to discontinue providing health insurance benefits due to Obamacare's myriad regulations and requirements, retailers wouldn’t be champing at the bit to accommodate you with prescription meds at no upfront cost or interest, but they’re doing it for Obamacare enrollees. So altruism has little, if anything, to do with it. While we might not be surprised at some future revelation that this decision somehow involved Obamacare’s social architects, there simply isn’t evidence to assume that any such collusion took place at this point.

But implicit collusion isn’t necessary to recognize the most unsettling problem this incident exposes. These are the largest pharmaceutical retailers in the nation. They are private companies, and yet they now function as a delivery system distributing a benefit to a specific, preferred group of political constituents in a way that uniquely benefits this administration by protecting its ideological sacred cow.

What is the message that Americans, particularly independents with no strong opinion on the healthcare law, might take from this? That by putting your faith in government, complying with its edicts, and enduring its incompetence, you might somehow be insulated from the potential adverse realities you would face if you choose to do otherwise.

And that’s certainly a huge win for Obama and the ideologues out there peddling government dependence.

William Sullivan