At Last!

July 14th, 2017 14 Comments

At Last!

I have made no secret of my admiration for my old friend, Gerald McRaney, and his acting ability. He has worked steadily ever since he first came to Hollywood (not long after Cecil B. DeMille filmed The Squaw Man in a barn near the Cahuenga Pass and started the film industry as we know it today) and has a body of work that is almost unparalleled. If you look at his page on IMDb, your thumb will get tired scrolling down through his credits, and he richly deserves his reputation as one of the best in the industry. And at last the industry has recognized his talent: he has been nominated for an Emmy for his work as Dr. K. on the NBC series This Is Us.

Kudos to a talented man and good friend!

Hate Your Neighbor

July 10th, 2017 11 Comments

By all means, hate your neighbor. Please, feel absolutely free to do so.

Let’s pretend your new next-door neighbors are Muslims. You don’t know them all that well, perhaps you’re even suspicious of them at first, but gradually, over weeks and months and years, you begin to get a sense of them as just, well, neighbors, neighbors who happen to be Muslims. The mother never goes out without a headscarf, even when she hurries to your house to tell you your dog is loose and running toward the highway, or that your son just went ass over teakettle on his bicycle. The father smiles through his beard when he rings your doorbell and hands you a piece of mail that got mixed in with his, and he makes a comment about the expected snowfall. On the fourth of July, you all stand out in your respective backyards oohing and aahing at the fireworks display, and when it’s over there’s that sense of shared pleasure in a moment, shared pride in your community, your country. Your daughter and their daughter play together regularly, and their little girl is a frequent visitor in your house. The father gives you a can of Fix-a-Flat when you come out one day and find your rear tire is low, and when you take a new can over to pay him back, he waves it off as unnecessary. Perhaps you don’t watch the Super Bowl together, but they are good neighbors.

And then one day the government announces it is going to summarily execute all Muslims. Not arrest, not deport, not round them up and incarcerate them, as FDR did with the American citizens of Japanese descent. Just…execute.

It would take one of those rare and sick individuals with a severely psychotic anti-social personality not to rise up in horror, but perhaps, for other reasons, you won’t.

When Hitler started working his way to power on (among other things) a wave of anti-Semitic feeling, he carefully spent years making sure the press, his press, and his minister of propaganda, demonized all Jews. Not only were all the economic ills of Germany blamed on Jews (instead of the mentally negligible and megalomaniacal Kaiser who had led Germany into World War One and so destroyed his own country), but the blood libel about ritually sacrificing Christian children to make matzos (a libel that had its genesis several centuries before the birth of Christ, making it even more ridiculously offensive) was resurrected, discussed openly in newspapers as if it were a matter of course not even to be doubted, let alone argued.

It was, as the world knows all too well, an effective technique, but it required the collusion of the press. And more, it required the active and willing participation of the press, because as Saul Alinsky taught in Rules for Radicals, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” Or, to put it another way, as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, taught, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

And those two simple statements bring us to what we laughingly refer to today as journalism.

In order to make the average, normal, healthy human being rise up and kill his neighbor, or sit back passively as his neighbor is slaughtered by others, there has to be a process of demonization that convinces the masses that the selected group, whatever group it is that has been selected to be the enemy, is evil. This is what Hitler did with the Jews. (It is also what Hitler’s actions ultimately and unintentionally did for the Nazi’s, actions that were in fact so atrocious they caused first Great Britain and eventually the United States to oppose him.)

But if the selected group is not evil (and has not committed any atrocities) the process must be started more slowly by first dehumanizing the selected group. To dehumanize you must first portray the group’s beliefs or religion or ethnic practices or skin color, or some other quality that is integral to them as a whole, as being wrong, unhealthy, bad for everyone who is not a member of that group, perhaps even evil. And how do you do that? Easily enough if you control the language. You claim the moral high ground.

Claiming the moral high ground for your ideology equals dehumanizing all who disagree with you, which will eventually lead to demonizing all who disagree with you. “It’s the right thing to do,” was used by Obama to dehumanize everyone who disagreed with him. (If they disagree with me, they, the others, must want to do the wrong thing, the evil thing, which makes them, ipso facto, wrong and evil.) It was used that way in a clunkingly awkward moment in Star Wars: the Force Awakens when the hero (played by John Boyega) takes off his helmet and reveals he is not a robot (as I had assumed all clone troopers were), but a human, and since he is covered with the blood of a fellow clone trooper, we immediately realize, hey, these guys are actually humans in white outfits, not robots, which makes their destruction a little less abstract, a little less impersonal, a little less entertaining. To assuage any qualms the viewers might have about the wholesale slaughter of living, breathing, sentient entities—and by way of homage to Obama—the hero solemnly tells the pilot he has just rescued he has done so because, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Oh, okay. Now it’s alright to mow down clone troopers en masse.

It’s a technique that has been employed throughout all of history: dehumanize first, then demonize.

Consider the controversy a month or so ago involving The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Another Missouri newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, published an op-ed piece by a purported journalist and professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism named George Kennedy. The article, entitled, The NRA’s influence is a danger to us all [sic: no caps], compares the NRA to ISIS. There are statistical inaccuracies and falsehoods I won’t bother to enumerate, but the thrust of Mr. Kennedy’s article is that more Americans are killed by other Americans wielding guns than are killed by Islamic jihadist terrorists, and that because the NRA supports the Second Amendment, and because the NRA pressures politicians to uphold their oath of office and support the entire Constitution, which happens to include the Second Amendment, that makes the NRA more dangerous than ISIS. First you dehumanize, then you demonize.

It’s Mr. Kennedy’s sick opinion and since he writes a weekly column for the Columbia Missourian, they have a right to print any opinion piece they want, if that’s their ideological belief. It is fundamentally dishonest, because it places the responsibility for America’s murder rate on guns and the NRA, rather than on drugs and gangs, but that’s not the point. Mr. Kennedy has the right to express any dishonest and hateful view he wants. What he does not have is the right to demonize well over five million of his fellow Americans simply because they hold a different point of view.

And this is where the story gets interesting. A conservative woman, Stacy Washington, wrote a column in another paper to which she was a contributor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which she blasted Mr. Kennedy’s assertions on a variety of levels, factual and ideological. Her column was promptly suspended by the Post-Dispatch, and the column was removed from the paper’s online site. The reason for the suspension and removal given by the Post-Dispatch is that Ms. Washington had failed to disclose that she is a supporter of the NRA; not a paid employee or—to use the Post-Dispatch’s word—a “shill” for them (“shill” implies secrecy and clandestine actions, and Ms. Washington has never made a secret of her support for the NRA), but just a supporter.

So what you have here is a professor who quotes a biased, factually incorrect anti-gun organization (“Gun Violence Archive”) who is allowed to not only express his opinion, but also to demonize America’s oldest gun-rights organization and its members by comparing them unfavorably to an extreme “religious” organization that believes in killing anyone who does accept their beliefs, that beheads men, burns them alive in cages, throws gays from rooftops, believes rape is perfectly fine and sanctioned by their prophet, teaches supporters online how to make bombs, slaughters countless thousands of men, women, and children, sells children as sex slaves, crucifies children who don’t wish to join them, and commits more inventive and nauseating tortures than I’m willing to chronicle. That’s considered acceptable by the press.

But if a conservative objects to the demonizing of a pro-Second Amendment organization that supports the Constitution, and that has done more to promote gun safety and to reduce accidental gun deaths than the federal government and all anti-gun organizations put together, that kind of opinion is immediately silenced.

The message sent clearly by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is that the First Amendment is only applicable to people who think the way the Post-Dispatch wants them to think (“control the language”), and demonizing your neighbor—in ways that would get them put out of business if they had said such things about Muslims—is perfectly acceptable if your neighbor is a member of the NRA. After all, it’s the right thing to do.

The next time you watch the news or read a newspaper demonizing the NRA and its well over five-million members (I am one), or the roughly 100-million gun owners in this country (I am one), remember that unless you live in a progressive enclave like San Francisco or New York City, where guns are effectively banned, Second Amendment and the Heller decision be damned, you probably have an NRA member or a gun owner living next door to you, and we deserve better than to be compared to ISIS barbarians.

Hizzoner Bill de Blasio

July 7th, 2017 11 Comments

For those of you who are law enforcement officers, or who have family members who are law enforcement officers, or who know law enforcement officers, or who have ever been helped by a law enforcement officer, please never forget this:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had one of his officers—a young black, female officer and mother of three named Miosotis Familia—murdered just two days ago, decided to skip a swearing-in ceremony for 524 new NYPD recruits so he could go to Hamburg, Germany and join protesters, rioters, and anarchists opposed to both America and capitalism at the G-20 Summit.

That tells you all you will ever need to know about Bill de Blasio.

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending

July 6th, 2017

I recently read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (Vintage International, 2012), and when I finished it, I did something I have never done before: I immediately turned back to the first page and started over again. I didn’t do this because I so greatly enjoyed the book, exactly. It’s not exactly an enjoyable book, at least not in the sense that some old favorite is enjoyable, the kind of old favorite you read over and over again like comfort food, escaping reality for a few hours to return to a world as familiar as reality, but a lot more pleasant and comfortable. It’s not that kind of book.

Instead, it is intensely compelling and disturbing, a thought-provoking book that demands you reflect on your own life, your own past, your own memories.

The book is divided into two parts. That’s the kind of meaningless piece of information that normally alerts the reader of a review that the reviewer has nothing meaningful to say, but it is important here because the first part is a more or less straight forward account of a sequence of events in the narrator’s youth as he remembers them. The second part, almost twice as long as the first, is the narrator’s attempt to unravel the skein of memory and to reconcile reality both with memory and with what Faulkner once called “the irrevocable might-have-been.” And therein lies the book’s genius.

Memory is tenuous and all too unreliable, sometimes even recent memory. It is the secular reason why I don’t believe in the death penalty (I also have religious objections): it is all too easy for memory to deceive us, to trick us into believing A when it was really B all along. I was once involved in a criminal police investigation and asked to give certain information. When it came to describing the suspect’s car, I answered with great certainty that it was brand new and bright red. I remember the blank looks on officers’ faces. The suspect’s car was brand new and bright blue. I had seen it, I had seen it clearly. I had even stood looking at it for several minutes, but because it was a new model, magazines were filled with ads, and television commercials ran on every network, showing bright red models and memory had conflated the two in my mind.

In the same way, one of the key points in The Sense of an Ending hinges on a letter which the narrator remembers one way in Part One, but which we—and he—discover in Part Two to have been very different than his memory would have it. (The phrasing of that sentence should give you a clue to what the reality was.)

The letter is pivotal because the narrator believes it to have set off a sequence of events he deeply regrets, and he is forced to reexamine his own story of himself. And that is what Barnes is asking us to do, to determine if the history of our lives is accurate, or if we have made convenient cuts and edits, or perhaps added a few cunning and subtle embellishments over the years, to diminish this painful reality here or that uncomfortable truth over there. We all long to be a little better than we are, and the stories of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves and others, reflect that longing, consciously or unconsciously.

In Atonement, Ian McEwan’s central character wants desperately to undo something she did as a child, something she too deeply regrets, and that novel ends with recognition of the futility of trying to change the past. We do terrible things, sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, and we must learn to live with the consequences of those mistakes. Julian Barnes is also writing about living with consequences, about living with ourselves as we really are, and his narrator, like the narrator of Atonement, finally accepts that. But unlike the narrator of Atonement, Barnes’ narrator does not deliberately create a lie to satisfy his longing, unless you consider pushing the past aside—storing it in an unused closet of the mind—a kind of lie. Instead, his encounter with the reality of the past is thrust upon him and he must slowly come to grips with what really was, some of which may have been partially his own doing, some of which was not.

As long as I’m comparing the two novels, I find Ian McEwan’s writing to be much more emotionally engaging than Julian Barnes’. I read somewhere once that Barnes’ brother is a philosopher, and I can readily believe it because that kind of detached, cerebral quality permeates everything I have read by Barnes, including The Sense of an Ending. That is not to be construed as praise: I find the absence of emotional engagement and sensory detail off-putting, though I have no way of knowing if that is intentional on the author’s part or not. As my friend Dan Bronson (Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody) likes to say about writing (quoting Herman Melville’s letter to Nathaniel Hawthorn discussing writing): “I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head! I had rather be a fool with a heart than Jupiter Olympus with his head.” Atonement is packed with such empathetic characters, including the little girl who ruins the lives around her, that you ache for them all. The Sense of an Ending has characters whose personalities are so reserved as to make them almost unknowable, and whose motivations and emotions we never fully understand, while the narrator, Tony, is completely emotionless in a frightfully British, stiff upper lip sort of way, so that at the end, when a bombshell is set off in what he thinks he understands about his life and actions and the memories of those two things, he simply ruminates on the advantages of thin chips (French fries) over fat ones. That’s not the best way to stir emotions in a reader either.

And yet… I have never before read a book straight through twice in a row, so clearly something in me was engaged, perhaps not by my heartstrings, but engaged nonetheless.

The Dumbing (Further) Down of America

June 24th, 2017 26 Comments

“Sir, it is as easy for a man not to have been at school and know something as it is for a man to have been at school and know nothing.”

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones


That may have been true back in Henry Fielding’s day. Today, it is a lot easier and more likely for a man not to have been at school and know something because the odds are that if you graduated from the average American high school you know considerably less than nothing, at least as far as your own country is concerned, your own government is concerned, your own political system is concerned, your own Constitution is concerned, and your own God-given rights are concerned. And after you enroll in the average college or university with an empty brainpan, the professors will either fill that emptiness with rubbish or, if you go to certain elite ivy league schools, they will fill it with far worse than rubbish. They will fill it with outright lies, and you will never know the difference. On the other hand, if you’ve been too busy working for a living to go to college, you probably have a sense of what government can do for you or to you, depending on government’s whim, which is itself a compelling argument for knowing how our government works, knowing how our political system works, and understanding the importance of our Constitution and how it protects our rights. If you doubt any of this, I urge you to read the survey below. It was conducted and sent to me by a concerned professor, Mark Logas, in Florida, and I am indebted to him for doing so.

To be fair to today’s students, I didn’t do as well on Mr. Logas’ quiz as I thought I would. In my defense, I would remind readers I was raised largely in Europe, where American government classes were conspicuous by their absence. The questions I bungled most embarrassingly on this quiz were the number of electoral votes needed (I should have paid more attention during the last election) and the number of representatives we have in congress. That last one I consider insignificant because half of them should be in prison and the other half out of office. But read the survey, and demand more and better from your local school systems. If nothing else, please read at least the Abstract and the following Research Section. In the research section, take special note of the quoted (and factually incorrect) comment by Chuck Schumer and reflect that he was advocating reducing your right to free speech to the level of a regulated privilege granted and regulated by the government, i.e. by the likes of a US Senator who doesn’t even know who wrote the Bill of Rights.




The purpose of this research project is to provide evidence that students who are entering colleges with a high school diploma are not properly prepared to answer the most basic questions regarding our founding documents, demonstrate an understanding of our rights under the Constitution of the United States of America, or answer basic questions from the U.S. Citizenship exam.


In addition, this research project examines the commitment of colleges and universities to require a U.S. Government class for all AA Degree seeking students, how academic counselors and registrars encourage or discourage students who are attempting to avoid taking a college-level U.S. Government class, and the ramifications of removing the last safety net of the basic understanding of our Constitution and the way government functions in society.


Finally, this research project will expose the outside influences on colleges and universities to abandon a requirement for college students to take U.S. Government and the lack of cooperation to find solutions to identify and solve the problems associated with this topic.


Findings include:

  • K-12 students are arriving to college with little to no knowledge of U.S. Government
  • First day quiz with questions from Citizenship Exam supporting this statement
  • During several separate semesters over a two-year period on the first day of class, student responses revealed that more than half of the students could not identify the 3 co-equal branches of government, name three amendments in the Bill of Rights, name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, answer how many members serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, correctly answer how many amendments there are in the U.S. Constitution, or identify a picture of Ronald Reagan. (results in chart below)
  • These same students could almost all identify a song from Walt Disney’s The Lion King, an animated movie that does nothing to identify and protect their personal freedom
  • Florida colleges and universities no longer require U.S. Government as a requirement for all AA Degree seeking students, therefore removing the safety net that was in place
  • Academic advisors and members from various registrar offices rarely encourage students to take government classes, most not seeing the merit in recommending them
  • Government is not interested in seeking solutions to this epidemic
  • Outside groups such as the Gates Foundation seek to influence college curriculums by offering grants to encourage global studies in place of classes that emphasize the U.S. founding and current form of government
  • Students learn most of their information about government from late night entertainment shows and the Media
  • There are no minimum requirements to be a journalist




As a Professor of Political Science for almost 15 years, I have seen a downward trend of student knowledge, understanding, and ability to demonstrate the most basic principles of the United States system of government.


Since the election of Donald J. Trump as president, his inauguration, and his first weeks in office, many Americans and most in the media seem to suggest that he is an illegitimate president who is breaking laws to impose his will to “Make America Great Again”. The lack of knowledge of our most basic principles is no longer contained in the classroom on the first day of class. Nationwide, there seems to be little or no understanding of our Declaration of Independence, two Constitutions, the electoral college, or the expressed powers of the three co-equal branches of government. The dumbing down of the American people through failed educational opportunities in our public schools and higher learning institutions has created this divided nation. When two members of Congress openly share their ignorance of the very Constitution they have sworn to uphold and defend, one must understand that America is in crisis as it relates to the understanding of our most basic laws and freedoms. On the floor of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee honored the Constitution that, in her words, has lasted “some 400 years” 1 Even the most challenged math student knows that our Constitution isn’t that old. In fact, none of our founding documents are. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer incorrectly gave Thomas Jefferson credit for writing the “Bill of Rights”2. Schumer said, “I think if Thomas Jefferson were looking down, the author of the Bill of Rights, on what’s being proposed here, he’d agree with it. He would agree that the First Amendment cannot be absolute.”3 Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. James Madison was the author of the Bill of Rights. Sadly, only one mainstream media outlet reported these two glaring examples of illiteracy.


During my tenure in the classroom, I have started each U.S. Government class asking how many students are in attendance because they want to be there. There have never been more than five hands raised out of classes that range in size from 32 students to 75 students. When I ask them why they are taking the class, they reply because Valencia College requires all AA Degree seeking students to take POS 2041. Nearly three years ago, Valencia College finally sunset this requirement and only students who are under the old catalog or who are choosing it from a drop-down menu of six choices are enrolling. Regardless, my next question to the students has always been, “How many students have earned a high school diploma?” With the exception of a few dual enrollment students, every hand goes up. At that point, I used to verbally ask them basic questions from the U.S. Citizenship exam. Amazingly, an overwhelming majority of students could not answer the questions but could almost always answer a pop culture question.


What began as an informal ice breaker on the first day of class to illustrate how important their U.S. Government class would be to their future long after the semester would end, has now evolved into more documented proof that students are virtually ignorant of the rights afforded to them by the Founding Fathers they cannot even identify. Now, I hand out and collect a First Day Quiz (that does not count toward their grade) with basic questions that each student should know based on what a student is required to know in order to earn a high school diploma. A sample of the content of these questions must also be answered by a non-citizen seeking citizenship in the United States, answering at least 60% of the questions on the U.S. Citizenship exam correctly.4


The Tables below provide proof that K-12 educational institutions are failing our country by promoting students who do not have a basic understanding of our government and how it works (see Table 1).


Table 1 – First Day of Class ~ Spring 2016 Semester ~ January 11 & 12


The total number of student responses on the first day of class: 144


Questions from the Spring 2016 First Day Quiz:


  1. List the three (3) co-equal branches of government.


  1. Which form of government was created first? FEDERAL government or STATE governments


  1. _____________________ is a system of government in which power is divided, by a Constitution, between a central government (Federal) and regional governments (States).


  1. ____________________________ is the President of the United States.


  1. ____________________________ is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.


  1. ____________________________ is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


  1. ____________________________ is the Governor of Florida.


  1. There are ___________ Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives.


  1. There are ___________ Senators in the U.S. Senate.


  1. There are __________ U.S. Supreme Court Justices.


  1. The total number of Electoral College votes is __________ .


  1. What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States?


  1. List three (3) of the Bill of Rights.


  1. The Walt Disney classic movie The Lion King features the popular song, “The ___ Of Life”.


  1. TRUE/FALSE The Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation & Perpetual Union, and the U.S. Constitution are subsections of a single continuing document written by the Founding Fathers to allow government to provide the public welfare of citizens who are not able to provide for themselves.


  1. TRUE/FALSE Political journals, books in a library, CBS Evening News, Rush Limbaugh Show, Huffington Post, and newspapers would all fit under the category of diverse sources of information.


  1. TRUE/FALSE The 28th Amendment restricts the growth of the Federal government over State governments.


SHORT ANSWER ESSAY– *Be informative but concise.

  1. List one (1) topic that you have researched prior to your first day of class in POS 2041 U.S. Government that has challenged you to do the most critical thinking. Then, using specific examples from your research on the topic, briefly explain why the topic appealed to you and share your fact-based conclusion as to where you stand on the issue.


M/W10am= 3 Abortion

Ban Pesticides


M/W11:30= 11

College Tuition

Party affiliation

Bay of Pigs

2nd Amendment



Animal Abuse


Voting Rights

Death Penalty

Donald Trump-2

M/W1pm= 7

Donald Trump-2

Privacy Issues


Marijuana Laws


Gun Rights

T/Th7am= 6



2nd Amendment

2nd Amendment

Donald Trump-2

T/Th8:30= 3

Civil Rights

Equal Rights

Minimum Wage

  1. Identify the person that you see on the screen. (President Ronald Reagan)


*Students in the Monday classes were shown the picture during class discussion and asked to identify the person they saw. Few could identify President Reagan. I decided to add one more question to the first day quiz the next day for my Tuesday classes.


*Source: Data collected by author. Valencia College students, 1/11/16 and 1/12/16.


The same First Day Quiz minus Question 19 was given to each of my U.S. Government classes in the Summer 2015 semester with similar results (see Table 2).


Table 2 – First Day of Class ~ Summer 2015 Semester ~ May 11, 2015


The total number of student responses on the first day of class: 121


Questions from the Summer 2015 First Day Quiz:


  1. List the three (3) co-equal branches of government.


  1. Which form of government was created first? FEDERAL government or STATE governments


  1. _____________________ is a system of government in which power is divided, by a Constitution, between a central government (Federal) and regional governments (States).


  1. ____________________________ is the President of the United States.


  1. ____________________________ is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.


  1. ____________________________ is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


  1. ____________________________ is the Governor of Florida.


  1. There are ___________ Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives.


  1. There are ___________ Senators in the U.S. Senate.


  1. There are __________ U.S. Supreme Court Justices.


  1. The total number of Electoral College votes is __________ .


  1. Non-government actors attempt to influence elected and/or appointed government leaders as well as public opinion. List three (3) non-government actors that may or may not be political in nature.


  1. List three (3) of the Bill of Rights.


  1. The Walt Disney classic movie The Lion King features the popular song, “The ___ Of Life”.


  1. TRUE/FALSE The Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation & Perpetual Union, and the U.S. Constitution are subsections of a single continuing document written by the Founding Fathers to allow government to provide the public welfare of citizens who are not able to provide for themselves.


  1. TRUE/FALSE Political journals, books in a library, CBS Evening News, Rush Limbaugh Show, Huffington Post, and newspapers would all fit under the category of diverse sources of information.


  1. TRUE/FALSE The 28th Amendment restricts the growth of the Federal government over State governments.


SHORT ANSWER ESSAY– *Be informative but concise.

  1. List one (1) topic that you have researched prior to your first day of class in POS 2041 U.S. Government that has challenged you to do the most critical thinking. Then, using specific examples from your research on the topic, briefly explain why the topic appealed to you and share your fact-based conclusion as to where you stand on the issue.


M/W8am= 2 Electoral College

“Golden Age”

M/W9:45= 4



Same-Sex Rights


M/W1:15pm= 3




M/W3pmA= 2

Social Justice


M/W3pmB= 0




*Source: Data collected by author. Valencia College students, 5/11/15 and 6/24/14 (Summer B).


After collecting the quiz and beginning class on the first day, what is most disturbing is when I purposely refer to the song from the movie The Lion King as the “Cycle” of Life. Students begin to giggle. I ask them what is wrong. In a very confident manner they inform me that the song title is “Circle” and not cycle. I ask them to vote on it. Almost every hand is raised in their favor. Laughter then fills the room. When they are finished, I tell them this will be a very humbling moment for them because they defended a childhood animated movie that does nothing to protect their Constitutional freedoms but could not identify three of the Bill of Rights that directly affects their way of life. It is at that moment they understand there is a lot of learning that needs to take place.


The following quiz was given the first week of class during the Spring 2015 semester. This quiz had a few additional questions from the U.S. Citizenship Exam (see Table 3).


Table 3 – First Week of Class ~ Spring 2015 Semester ~ January 14 & 15


The total number of student responses on the first week of class: 186


Questions from the Spring 2015 First Day Quiz:


  1. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?


  1. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?


  1. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?


  1. What is the capital of Florida?


  1. What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?
  2. What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?


  1. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?


  1. There were 13 original states. Name three.


  1. Name the U.S. war between the North and the South.


  1. What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States?

*Source: Data collected by author. Valencia College students, 1/14/15 and 1/15/15.


On the first day of the Spring 2017 semester at the University of Central Florida, in addition to the attendance sheet, I passed around a piece of paper requesting signatures to repeal an amendment to the Constitution. The statement at the top of the paper read, “In an effort to rid the U.S. Constitution of amendments that no longer have a need for the reason in which they were originally ratified, I am forming a movement to repeal useless amendments. Please sign below as we move to repeal the 26th Amendment.” Thirteen of 74 students signed the document in my Mass Media & Politics class, while 8 of 75 students signed the document in my Politics in Film class. Twenty-one students at the second largest university in the United States readily gave their approval for me to help take away the voting rights of 18-21-year-old voters.


I believe that there are three reasons for students entering colleges and universities without basic knowledge of our government and why it is higher education’s obligation to teach these students about their government.


First, K-12 educators appear to limit the scope of what they are able to teach based on standardized testing requirements and the fear and intimidation of those who either oppose our fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution or who simply have no clue as to what it contains. For instance, the National Education Association recently took a stand stating, “Across the nation, the testing obsession has nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies, and science, not to mention world languages, financial literacy, and that old standby, penmanship. Our schools, once vigorous and dynamic centers for learning, have been reduced to mere test prep factories, where teachers and students act out a script written by someone who has never visited their classroom and where ‘achievement’ means nothing more than scoring well on a bubble test.”5 In addition, NEA President Lily Garcia concludes, “It’s our job to bring back the arts and Social Studies and world languages and whatever it is our students need to leave behind the corrupting, unconscionable testing culture of blame and punish by test scores and move forward with an education that opens their minds to the infinite possibilities of their lives.”6 There is hope that the educators throughout the country are not only identifying this crisis but taking positive action to correct it. In March of 2017, Kentucky and Arkansas, “became the latest of more than a dozen states since 2015 that have required the high school social studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions asked on the naturalization exam.”7


In my own classes at both Valencia College and the University of Central Florida (where I teach as an adjunct), students have shared that some of their high school religion classes did not allow the Bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ to be discussed because it violated “separation of church and state”. Each of the other religions was openly discussed, according to the students. The “separation of church and state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution; however, court opinions have established its current definition which is embraced by some and opposed by others. Based on experiences shared during discussions in my U. S. Government classes, students in K-12 seem to be limited in their ability to even discuss the pros and cons regarding the issue of freedom of religion. Strangely, some college-level students have shared that many of their instructors either teach from the book or simply do not ask for their input when important issues such as freedom of religion are presented.


In higher education, the exchange of ideas is crucial to learning. For instance, students acknowledge that government requiring citizens to vote in a church on Election Day or to allow the use of a school cafeteria as a church on a non-school day presents a gray area that a constructive debate can examine as well as develop higher level thinking.


Another area where students have little to no formal educational training is in the role of government. Many students do not understand that formal restrictions are placed on government to preserve their freedom.8 They do not understand the concept of what a “public servant” is, many sharing their belief that people work for the government and not the other way around. It is clear these students have not been taught nor have they voluntarily read our founding documents.


During the first three weeks of each semester, I require my students to read the Declaration of Independence aloud in class. We discuss the merits of those immortal words and students share their understanding of its meaning. Later, students answer questions on their first exam from the Declaration of Independence as well as answer a short-answer essay question regarding its meaning while sharing their fact-based conclusion about it.9 While this process allows students to assess their level of learning, it also allows them to demonstrate college-level critical thinking while forming their own fact-based conclusion regarding this historic document.


In addition, students are asked to analyze the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union as well as our current Constitution in each government class. Students are amazed at the freedoms that they have and begin asking questions about government intrusions such as eavesdropping, drones, search and seizure violations, eminent domain, and even as to why Miranda is needed when government reminds many of them that ignorance of the law is no excuse. One area that has surged to the forefront over the past year involves religious freedoms. Open class discussions and supplemental online participation assignments reveal that while most students support Same-Sex Marriage and Gay Rights, they also believe that those who oppose or do not recognize those rights based on the 1st Amendment right, “Freedom of Religion”, should not be fined by the government and/or be sued in civil court.10 While there are no right or wrong answers in these situations where students are sharing their fact-based conclusions on the pros and cons of the research they have conducted, debate on important issues is stimulated and dialogue is opened on topics long considered too taboo to talk about in large part because of “political correctness”.


One way to encourage students to expand their horizons and enhance their knowledge of government is for them to identify a current-day event that directly links to the assigned reading of important terms and concepts from government. I call this exercise “Our World”. Students must identify at least one topic they want to learn about for each class related to the assigned reading. They must research the pros and cons of their topic, form a fact-based conclusion, and demonstrate college-level critical thinking skills. While students are now learning the answers to the basic questions from their first day exam through in-class discussions, there is a marked improvement in their awareness of the world around them and how events impact their lives.


Below are submissions from students on a separate quiz. Each student was required to choose an “Our World” topic, research the pros and cons, and share their fact-based conclusion. As you can see from the topics they chose, in just two weeks their knowledge of world events expanded reinforcing the terms and concepts from their assigned reading. Compare these topics to the topics that only a few students could identify on their first day quiz (see Table 4).


Table 4 – Two Weeks into the Spring 2016 Semester ~ January 27 & 28


SHORT ANSWER ESSAY– *Be informative but concise.

  1. List one (1) topic that you have researched prior to your first day of class in POS 2041 U.S. Government that has challenged you to do the most critical thinking. Then, using specific examples from your research on the topic, briefly explain why the topic appealed to you and share your fact-based conclusion as to where you stand on the issue.



Gun Control

Death Penalty

Clinton’s Server

Is Cruz Eligible?

Beheading in OK

Drones in US


Gas Prices

Donald Trump

Syrian Refugees

Planned Parenthood

Free College

ISIS in the US




Tax Policies

LGBT Housing


9/11 Conspiracy

Obama Ex Order

Carbon Tax


2nd Amendment

Common Core

Iran Deal

Cancer News

Amend Constitution

Bernie Sanders

Gun Control

Assisted Suicide


Redskins Name

Civil Forfeiture

Lionel Tate

Confederate Flag

Zika Virus

Executive Orders

Campaign Finance

National Debt

Gender Neutral

Federal Reserve

Obama Economy

US and N Korea

State of Union

Trust in Gov

Legal Marijuana


US Dollar


2nd Amendment

Guantanamo Bay

Iran Nuke Deal

Privatize SocSec

Bill Cosby

Syrian War

Shell Oil

Minimum Wage

Is Cruz Eligible?

2-Party System

10th Amendment

Free Lunch Prog



Guns on Campus

Federal Taxes

Marco Rubio

Military Drones

Animal Testing

Minimum Wage


Gun Control

Worth College?


Border Security

Political Correct

Death Penalty

FBI Kid Porn

Climate Change

*Mark Logas Students, Valencia College, Spring 2016, January 27 and January 28


Second, few universities and colleges in the United States require all AA Degree seeking students to take and pass a basic U.S. Government class. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown. The reason for such failures, according to a recent study: Few schools mandate courses in core subjects like U.S. government, history or economics. The sixth annual analysis of core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges and universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that just 18% of schools require American history to graduate, 13% require a foreign language and 3% economics.”11


In an article written by Annette Boyd Pitts in The Florida Bar Journal, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported results of a national survey that demonstrated how little Americans know about their government. Thirty-five percent could not name one of the three co-equal branches of government. Nearly a third believed that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling could be appealed. The Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University used a national survey to test the civic knowledge of native-born citizens compared to immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship. They found that “one in three native-born citizens failed the civics portion of the U.S. naturalization test (also referred to as the U.S. citizenship test), while a 97.5 percent passage rate was reported for immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship.” In addition, the survey also revealed that “85 percent did not know the meaning of ‘the rule of law’, 82 percent could not name ‘two rights stated in the Declaration of Independence’.” While so many citizens could not pass the citizenship test, the Center reported that “77 percent of native-born citizens agreed that all Americans should be able to pass the test, and 60 percent agreed that high school students should have to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test as a requirement for graduation.”12


If the public school system (K-12) is turning out students who are not prepared, colleges and universities are the safety net to make sure that we enhance the knowledge of students who will become potential voters and business owners. Of equal importance is introducing students to the concept of being a good citizen. It is clear that when students take a college-level U.S. Government class they become more informed. In addition to my own research, two college professors, Leonard Champney and Paul Edleman, used the Solomon Four-Group Design to measure student knowledge of U.S. Government and student knowledge of current events at the beginning and end of a U.S. Government course. They concluded that “students’ knowledge of government/politics, their knowledge of current events, and their self-confidence in their knowledge are all positively impacted by completion of a United States government course.”13 Sadly, not one college or university in the state of Florida requires all AA Degree seeking students to take and pass a basic U.S. Government class.14


I contacted each of the public colleges and universities in Florida and asked to speak with someone in the registrar’s office or with an academic advisor. I asked each person that I spoke with if a new or returning student seeking an AA Degree or Bachelors Degree would have to take and pass a basic U.S. Government class. The results were stunning. After being informed that there was no longer a U.S Government class requirement for all degree seeking students, a few colleges tried to steer me clear of taking one as an elective. Very few of the representatives that I spoke with seemed to know anything about the new Gen Ed requirements.


What became clear is that with the exception of a couple of colleges and universities, there is no active recruitment going on to encourage students to even consider taking U.S. Government, even as an elective. What I also learned through this process is how difficult it is to seek information from many of our Florida colleges and universities. If a potential student or parent has a bad experience from the first point of contact, it can tarnish an otherwise good reputation of a college or university (see Table 5).


Table 5 – Florida Public University U.S. Government Requirement and Recruitment


UNIVERSITY   U.S. Government Required      Actively recruit US Gov
FAMU                      NO                      NO
Florida Atlantic University                NO REPLY                       —
Florida Gulf Coast University                      NO                      NO
Florida International University                      NO                      NO
Florida Polytechnic University                NO REPLY                       —
Florida State University                NO REPLY                       —
New College of Florida                NO REPLY                       —
University of Central Florida                      NO                     YES
University of Florida                      NO                     YES
University of North Florida                NO REPLY                       —
University of South Florida                      NO                      NO
University of West Florida                      NO                      NO


*Source: Mark Logas Sabbatical Research Artifacts


There were only two university representatives that encouraged me to seriously consider the merits of taking a U.S. Government class. One was from the Registrar’s Office at the University of Central Florida. She went out of her way to assist me, spending over 15 minutes going through the catalog to determine if the class was required. She did that not only for me but because she believed that it was a question that staff members in their office should also know the answer to. Finally, she walked me through the catalog to page 72 where it explained that U.S. Government is one of seven classes offered in the drop-down menu under new Gen Ed requirements. After thanking her for helping me, she stated that U.S. Government would be a course that would benefit everyone.15 A similar sentiment was echoed from the University of Florida. One of their counseling specialists told me that the class is not required for all degree seeking students and then asked me if I was not looking forward to taking the class. I told her that U.S. Government seems to be a tough class and that a lot of students tend to avoid it. She expressed an opinion that the class has merit and encouraged me to take it. She also encouraged me to speak to a counselor for help understanding why it’s a class that I should consider taking.16


The next phase of research results is from the 28 public community/state colleges in Florida. I contacted each of them and asked to speak with a representative from the registrar’s office or an academic advisor. Each representative was asked if returning students who have been out of college for some time or newly enrolled students are required to take a U.S. Government class. These representatives were also asked if they recruited students to take U.S. Government as an elective. Some colleges did not give me an option to speak with an actual person, while other colleges only gave an option to leave a message. Those that did not respond are labeled “No Reply” below. Here are the results (see Table 6).



Table 6 – State/Community College U.S. Government Requirement and Recruitment


Community/State College U.S. Government Required    Actively recruit US Gov
Broward College               NO REPLY                       —
College of Central Florida NO-“State sets the guidelines” Gov is something students need
Chipola College               NO REPLY                       —
Daytona State College                       NO No – Cultural/Global classes
Eastern Florida State College               NO REPLY                        —
Florida Gateway College               NO REPLY                        —
FL Keys Community College  “What is it (US Gov class)?”             “I don’t know”
FL State College-Jacksonville           “Not necessarily”       “We do encourage it”
FL SouthWestern State


              NO REPLY                        —
Gulf Coast State College          “Let me look. No”                      NO
Hillsborough Community College “I don’t know. I don’t know why you should have to.”                      NO
Indian River State College               NO REPLY                        —
Lake-Sumter State College                       NO Counselor would suggest it if the student showed an interest
State College of FL-Manatee               NO REPLY                        —
Miami-Dade College     “Depends on career path”                      NO
North FL Community College       Returned my call-NO        Returned my call-NO
Northwest FL State College               NO REPLY                        —
Palm Beach State College Intro or State/Local or History                 Encourage
Pasco-Hernando State College                       NO        “We do not recruit”
Pensacola State College               NO REPLY                        —
Polk State College               NO REPLY                        —
St. Johns River State College               NO REPLY                        —
St. Petersburg College   “Depends on degree plan”   Tell a counselor of interest
Santa Fe College “You have a choice. Not that course.” “You don’t have to take it if you’re not interested in it.”
Seminole State College               NO REPLY                        —
South FL State College               NO REPLY                        —
Tallahassee Community College “Some type of government class is required…options.”                     YES
Valencia College +YES “It has always been required as long as I have been here.”                     YES


*Mark Logas Sabbatical Research Artifacts. November 6-25, 2015.

+Valencia College stopped requiring POS 2041 in the 2015/2016 Catalog. Conversation took place on November 6, 2015.


One college, Valencia College, insisted during our telephone conversation that POS 2041 was still a requirement of all AA Degree seeking students apparently not realizing that the requirement was retired with the last academic catalog. In fact, at one point I asked, “It’s not going away anytime soon?” The advisor’s reply was, “Right!”


In 2011,Valencia College earned the inaugural Aspen Award as the top community college in the United States.17 In addition to a committed faculty, staff, diverse curriculum, and innovative leadership by a motivational administrative team, I believe that another reason why Valencia College was awarded this prestigious honor was because of Valencia’s 40 year commitment to enhance the knowledge of students through the AA Degree requirement of passing U.S. Government and the signature “Civic Leadership Internship Program” that gained national recognition while assisting students to become civically engaged as community leaders.


To learn how other colleges look at the relevance of U.S. Government as a required course for all degree seeking students, I personally stopped in and visited with a few counselors and one registrar who do not work in Florida. My first stop was at Rappahannock Community College in Glenns, Virginia. Ms. Sandy Darnell greeted me and answered my questions believing that I was an older student who was returning to school and was concerned about taking a U.S. Government class. She told me that very few students take U.S. Government at RCC. After learning that there is no U.S. Government requirement at RCC, I found the State of Virginia does not require it because colleges rely on the public schools to teach this important class.  I confessed to Ms. Darnell that I was a college professor working on my research sabbatical. She was intrigued to learn about the statistics of my initial research. She was “shocked” by the statistics and told me that there was only one full-time government teacher for years and when he retired, adjuncts cover the few classes that are offered each semester. When we looked at the schedule to see how many classes were being offered throughout the six campuses, there were only two offerings and they were both online classes. When I asked what kind of recruitment efforts there were from the academic counselors, the reply was that they do not recruit students to take government classes. I was very impressed with Ms. Darnell. She immediately started asking the questions that political science professors have been raising for years. She wondered how uniformed students can be voting and if they even understand the concept of being a good citizen.18


My next stop was Charleston Southern University. I spoke with Amanda Sisson, the University’s Registrar. She informed me that there is only one department for political science and that U.S. Government was not a required class. When I asked if CSU actively recruits students to take U.S. Government, she told me that there is no recruitment for that class because they try to encourage students to take what fits into their schedule (career path). What struck me was that there was no interest to ask why learning about government would be important to students.19


The last stop was at the College of Charleston, the oldest educational institution south of Virginia.20 The campus is spread across town with several buildings serving different student needs. After being sent to two incorrect buildings, I arrived on foot at the Academic Advising and Planning Center (Registrar’s Office) shortly before closing time. I explained that I had been sent to two different buildings across town and had a quick question regarding their catalog. There were three student assistants and one academic adult. The academic adult would not offer her name or business card. I was told to come back the next day because she was going to be late for her Trolley. The receptionist (student assistant) was kind enough to write down the office for me. To save time, I explained that I was a college-professor working on my research sabbatical and was leaving town that evening. The academic adult asked what I wanted and I asked if U.S. Government was required for all degree seeking students. She replied, “No requirement. Why would we?” I was stunned. I felt obligated to remind her that three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and three framers of the U.S. Constitution were also founders of this very educational institution which she apparently did not know.21


While it is rather shocking, it is not surprising because academics no longer seem to see the need or importance of a U.S. Government class. If these colleges and universities are relying on K-12 public schools to educate students, then they may want to rethink their strategy. Harvard University history professor Harvey Mansfield told, “Lost in the new guidelines is the central role of the American Founders in inspiring our country. Students are not led to the idea that America is an experiment in self-government, that all its struggles and troubles, its drama and heroes, come back to its great ambition to make freedom and equality a reality.” Mansfield continued, “Instead of this…the guidelines present America as just another society, wandering, mistaken, prejudiced and boring.”22 The guidelines, released last year, fail to mention unifying figures in American history, such as Benjamin Franklin and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., even once. Instead, it focuses on divisions in America.23


Third, there seems to be outside influence by professional, politically charged groups, and government itself to push a “global student” or “One-world-order” agenda. In K-12, it is known as “Common Core”. In colleges and universities, it is known as “The Gates Foundation”. Bill Gates has been very generous with his money, influencing colleges and universities throughout the country with grants promoting the global student philosophy. His message is clear, “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”24 Gates speaks passionately about education reform, “In the coming year, our goal is to partner with state education leaders, the Secretary of Education, and others to advance the field so that policymakers and educators demand standardized data—not just for compliance, but for improving student achievement. Over the past ten years, Melinda and I have dedicated a large share of our foundation’s resources to the cause of school reform. We believe America’s greatest promise is in its commitment to equality—and fulfilling that promise demands strong public schools.”25


Nowhere does Gates speak about the importance of students learning about Federalism that allows communities to be unique through their cultural and historical background. His vision for a Federal program that is supported without question by the states is stunning for someone who benefited greatly from a system of government that gave him incentives to pursue his career goals without government intrusion. He seems to have forgotten about the 10th Amendment. He has touted President Obama’s stimulus package as something that can reshape the way our students can think about government and their role as a global student. In the Summer of 2011, there were protests by teachers who were opposing Gates’ influence in school curriculums throughout the country. Anthony Cody, a keynote speaker at one protest, said, “They (the Gates Foundation) need billions of dollars to try to carry public opinion. We don’t need billions of dollars. We need the spirit, the hope, and the careful education that every one of us can carry out in our communities. So please, go forth and educate!”26


Gates has clearly changed his view about Capitalism as well, a system that allowed him to invent and keep the financial rewards of his research. Imagine if Bill Gates had created MicroSoft in a non-Capitalistic country. It is very conceivable that the government of that country may have stolen his work, leaving him to live in poverty the rest of his life as an unknown entity. Regardless, Gates has not hidden his distaste for Capitalism. The Huffington Post reported in 2013, “Speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Global Grand Challenges Summit on Wednesday, Gates lambasted capitalism, saying it “means male baldness research gets more funding than malaria,”27 In 2015, Gates railed against Capitalism in an interview on CNBC. He stated, “Science that helps poor people is where capitalism really doesn’t have the right incentive”. He concluded, “Science in general is underfunded because the benefits to society are greater than what comes back to the inventor. So there’s a certain risk averseness.”28


Could it be that some colleges and universities are dropping government requirements in favor of Gates’ vision? Valencia College dropped U.S. Government as a required course for all AA Degree seeking students after being the first recipient of the Aspen Award. The Bill and Linda Gates Foundation is a major contributor to the Aspen Institute.29 Today, new students to Valencia must take a class known as “The New Student Experience”. Throughout the country, it seems that grant money dictates that students be introduced to the benefits of a global economy and other well-worth issues, but nowhere in the curriculum is there anything that introduces students to the concept of citizenship or the United States being an exceptional and generous nation. I remember sitting in a Valencia College East Campus Faculty Senate Meeting and listening to a presentation regarding the new student experience class and how students would become more acclimated with the college campus, examine their inner being, branch out to understand and accept others different from themselves. Nowhere in the presentation was there instruction or even encouragement for students to become civic leaders in their communities. The life-lessons from POS 2041-U.S. Government that stressed the importance of students learning about government’s influence on individuals and businesses, how government works, how it influences, how it benefits, how it punishes, and how each branch of government is limited as to promote the entrepreneurship of the American spirit was completely missing from the “New Student Experience” class. When I asked if any of these important issues could be added to the new class, the response was that while it was never considered they could take a look at it in the future.30


Is it any wonder that colleges and universities are changing their curriculums from U.S. Government classes to global initiative classes in order to receive multimillion dollar grants and donations from the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation? According to the Gates Foundation website, “Since 2000, the foundation has invested nearly $5 billion in grants and scholarships to improve opportunity in the United States by improving schools, raising college-ready graduation rates, and increasing college completion rates.”  The problem is that while Bill Gates makes the decision as to the educational material that colleges and universities embrace, he is not an educator or a supporter of the uniqueness of the U.S. economy.31 Most recently, Common Core has targeted K-12 learning institutions to better inform students. The Gates Foundation has donated $150 million and developed a program that brings K-12 and community colleges together in curriculum development.32 In addition to moving students away from learning about Federalism and Capitalism, Bill Gates stands to make a lot of money if K-12 and higher education adopts improved ideas that rely on his software to implement.


Finally, it seems that government itself does not want citizens to learn about what it is that government does. While the initial intent of FL House Bill 7135 (Chapter 2012-195, Laws of Florida) mandated the appointment of faculty committees to establish general education core course options under the new 30-hour general education requirement, it also had a negative consequence on colleges and universities offering U.S. Government as a required course for all AA Degree seeking students by forcing them to redefine General Education classes. Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law on April 22, 2013, stating that to complete the general education core, students must complete at least one identified course from each of the general education subject areas.33 U.S. Government now becomes one of six choices in a drop-down menu. If students were reluctant to take U.S. Government when it was required at Valencia College, I cannot imagine them flocking to it when there are five other classes to choose from. In fact, the Valencia College East Campus used to offer over 80 sections of U.S. Government and now average 25 sections each semester.34


What I have learned the most from doing this research project is how administrators in K-12, the college/university level, and elected officials in the Florida State Legislature have little to no interest in listening to or addressing the lack of preparedness of students as it relates to learning about government. Florida Governor Rick Scott and Orange County Public School Board Chairman Mr. Bill Sublette had no interest in meeting with me to discuss my research. I reached out to Governor Rick Scott, especially after receiving the e-mail that he sent to faculty members across the state on October 19, 2015, encouraging us to share ways to identify and improve educational opportunities for students. (see Appendix A). However, Amanda Wallace, a member of the governor’s staff, called my office at Valencia and stated that the Governor had no interest in meeting with me over this issue.


State Senator Alan Hays was extremely impressed with the research project and even went so far as to invite me to speak before the education committee in Tallahassee. It became clear that meeting would never take place. He has since chosen to leave the Florida State Senate and was recently elected as the Supervisor of Elections in Lake County, FL. Representative Jennifer Sullivan invited me to a face-to-face meeting and took detailed notes of my research project. At the time, she seemed genuinely interested in helping me pursue my commitment to educate people about the state of student preparedness in regards to their understanding of government. Her interest in the topic has also waned as I have followed up with her only to find a busy agenda of other bills she is pursuing.35


Simply put, government does not seem to want people to know what it is that government does. I require each student in my State & Local Government classes to attend, in person, a city council meeting, county commission meeting, and an arraignment session in traffic court. Students are required to submit two papers after their visitation. The first paper contains the facts of what they experienced such as the time the meeting started, what occurred next, and then the actual meeting itself. The second paper contains their thoughts about what they observed. Students are stunned that the meetings usually begin late. They cannot believe the meetings start with a prayer. In some cases, they are very upset at the disrespectful tone that many elected officials take with members from the community who show up to air their concerns about various issues. They’re stunned that many members get up and walk out or get on their cell-phones while citizens are addressing the council or commission. Mostly, they are taken aback when they are asked by members from the council why they are in attendance. Most students admit that after the council member is told that they are students who are there to observe, the rudeness turns to admiration. Students begin to understand why I require them to attend the meetings in person, instead of letting them watch the meetings through live streaming or on delay through the government access channel.36


In conclusion, there is a basic question that needs to be asked. If students are not learning about U.S. Government in high school and the safety net for them to learn about it in college has been reduced or removed, then where are students learning about government and current events that directly or indirectly impact their lives? The answer lies with the media. Think for a moment about the requirements or qualifications of a journalist. There are none. Doctors must earn a medical license and take state boards for the rest of their careers in order to continue practicing medicine. Lawyers must earn a law degree and pass the Bar Exam. A journalist doesn’t even have to possess a high school diploma. In fact, the new social media has spawned an entire new generation of “journalists” who are simply equipped with a phone and the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.


Millions of Americans, including students, now gain their political knowledge from such shows like The Daily Show and The Late Show.37 While the hosts of these shows take humorous liberties with the accuracy of their mostly biased opinions, every so often they hit the nail on the head. For instance, Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show exposed Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s hypocrisy in supporting a law that would require anyone on public assistance to submit to a drug test. While I personally support the idea, I also believe that anyone receiving taxpayer dollars should submit to random drug testing. The problem is that Plakon receives tax dollars as a state representative but would not submit to a drug test when pushed by Mandvi. Neither would Florida Governor Rick Scott when Mandvi asked him to submit to a drug test.38  (see video link)


Students watching that video certainly learned that elected officials who write, pass, and sign bills into law are not willing to abide by the same rules that they establish for their constituents. One of President Bill Clinton’s biggest critics was Jay Leno. Night after night on The Tonight Show, Leno would relentlessly make jokes about Clinton’s sex scandals, eventually questioning his ability to answer a question truthfully, something that mainstream media entities seemed to ignore.39 Jay Leno was also well-known for exposing the ignorance of everyday people who could not identify Vice President Biden or President Ronald Reagan. Remember, two of my classes failed miserably in identifying Reagan. The question is, “Did they fail themselves or did someone else like a teacher or a public-school system fail to teach them about a pivotal decade when over 20 million jobs were created and the first crack in the Berlin Wall would cause it to tumble shortly after Reagan left office?”


When people living in the United States no longer know what is in the Constitution, they have no idea what has been taken from them in the form of freedom. You can’t miss something that has been taken away from you if you didn’t know you had it in the first place. The most egregious example of trampling on the human spirit and spitting in the eye of the American citizen comes from Jonathan Gruber, one of the key architects of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, affectionately known as ObamaCare. In his own words, Gruber gives insight as to how the Obama administration tortured the language of the bill, lied to young people whose vote and money was needed for the law to pass, created a lack of transparency, while counting on the “stupidity” of the voter to transforming U.S. policy without going through the proper and legal channels spelled out by the Founding Fathers.40 Watch.  (see video link)


Why isn’t Gruber in federal prison? He lied to Congress about his involvement in ObamaCare and how the process was carried out. He admitted that the administration had to torture the language of the bill to make sure that the Congressional Budget Office did not score it as a tax because it would die. He admits that if young and healthy people were told that they would be paying for the sick, the bill would die. Then, in the most narcissistic way, he lashes out at the American voter as stupid, completely ignoring the fact that the voters believed what they were told and had faith in their government to tell them the truth. Yet, almost none of my students had ever seen this video or heard of Jonathan Gruber. Frankly, if Richard Nixon had this kind of media, he would have completed his two-terms as president and never resigned the presidency.


There are many reasons why it is imperative that U.S. Government classes are returned to the college curriculum and required of all students seeking a college degree. The following words have been written by students who did not want to take U.S. Government but sixteen weeks later learned the importance of knowing what government does:


          “I was actually taught back in high school about how a bill becomes law solely from

          the ‘School House Rock’ video…It wasn’t until this class that I learned the large &

          long process of how & if a bill becomes law, especially if a president vetoes the bill,

          the House and Senate can override it by 2/3’s vote each.”


“Prior to this class I had always been under the general belief that we work for our government (because that is how our government has trained us to think). In this class I learned how to see through certain aspects of people and media and understand my rights and that government works for us.”


“Before taking this class (U.S. Government) I thought that the drinking age was set

          by the government on a federal level. It’s really interesting that the government

          essentially makes the states raise the drinking age to 21, or funding is cut. It is very

          disturbing and backwards to be taking away state power through blackmail. I don’t

          think our founding fathers would approve, otherwise, they wouldn’t have given the

          states those rights in the first place.”


          “I stepped in believing that this was going to be a boring course because Government

          classes are out-dated. I was very wrong, you gave us the ability to make sure that we

          carry out our own opinions with the proper evidence in facts by keeping up-to-date

          with the news and making sure we reflect on them.”


          “I thought that the federal government made and regulated state laws and that we

          worked for our government. After taking this class, I learned that everyone who

          lives in the U.S. should educate and learn more about American Government. I

          learned that the government works for us and the states created the federal government.”


“Our World topics were by far my favorite part of the class. I did my own research on topics that I found interesting in order to participate in class. Keeping up with current events and getting different perspectives was what I looked forward to.”


“As for me, I have never been into history. Did not much care for who was running or

          what the newest presidential scandal was, but taking this course really opened my eyes.”


          “Before taking this class, I had believed the Federal Government was the power in charge. During the course, however, I had learned that this along with Police and

          Health Affairs, (state police powers) is a power given to State Governments.”


          “You have taught what I believe is the most important thing in most areas of academia,        let alone Political Science, and that is to do one’s own research and form one’s own   ideas, and ideals. It is thanks to you and your class (U.S. Government) that I will be

          studying and watching the 2016 Presidential campaigns and elections, and gathering

          my own stance and stake in it.”


          “I learned that the electoral college is how we elected the president and I always thought

          the first Tuesday in November was when we found out who won but I was incorrect.”


          “For whatever reason, I believed that Justices of the Supreme Court were voted into

          position, not appointed.”


          “I thought that the president of the United States declared war. When I found out that   Congress declared war I was very shocked but glad that not just one person had all that    power.” 


          “I thought once the President of the United States vetoed a bill that it would officially

          die there, but then in class we learned that if a President veto’s a bill and House and

          Senate still want it, with 2/3 vote they can override the president and the bill becomes

          law without the President’s signature.”


          “Prior to this class I was under the notion that States had the right to deport illegals,

          but I learned that the U.S. Government is the one that deports.”


* Mark Logas Sabbatical Research Artifacts


I always encourage my students to research the pros and cons of every issue and then form a fact-based conclusion from their research. I never grade their fact-based conclusion but do grade how they got there. If they can document using diverse resources, researching the pros and cons of the issue, while demonstrating college-level critical thinking and clearly articulating their fact-based conclusion, they are not only going to achieve each point that is available for the question, they will leave my class a better-informed citizen, and hopefully, a better-informed voter.



Appendix A















































      1 Cheryl K. Chumley.“Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee claims Constitution is 400 Years Old”. Washington Times (March 13, 2014)

     2  Stephan Dinan. “Harvard grad Chuck Schumer fails history, credits Jefferson for Bill of Rights”. Washington Times (June 4, 2014)

3 “Dem Thinks Thomas Jefferson Wrote Bill of Rights”. Washington Free Beacon (June 4, 2014)

4 Scoring Guidelines For The U.S. Naturalization Test”. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services”. (November 21, 2015)

     5 Tim Walker. “The Testing Obsession and the Disappearing Curriculum.” NEAToday (September 2, 2014)

     6 Ibid.

     7 Matt O’Brien. “We The Pupils: More States Teaching Founding US Documents”. Associated Press (April 3, 2017)

     8 Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore J. Lowi, Margaret Weir, and Caroline Tolbert, We The People: An Introduction to American Politics, Tenth Core Edition (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015) p.118.

     9 Mark Logas. Student artifacts-Exam #1 (Spring 2016)

    10 Mark Logas. Student artifacts-UCF Mass Media & Politics (Spring 2016)

    11 Douglas Belkin. “Study Finds Many Colleges Don’t Require Core Subjects Like History, Government.” Wall Street Journal (October 15, 2014)

    12 Annette Boyd Pitts. “Raising the Bar on Civic Education.” The Florida Bar Journal (May 2016): 9-10.

    13 Leonard Champney. Paul Edleman. “Assessing Student Learning Outcomes in United States Government Courses.” PS: Political Science and Politics 43, no. 1 (2010): 127-31.

     14 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (November 6-25, 2015)

     15 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (November 25, 2015)

     16 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (November 25, 2015)

     17 “The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.” The 2011 Aspen Prize. (2011) p. 6

     18 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (August 5, 2015)

     19 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (August 10, 2015)

     20 “A Brief History of the College-College of Charleston.” College of Charleston (August 16, 2015)

     21 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (August 12, 2015)

     22 Maxim Lott. “Profs say US History guidelines would shortchange college-bound seniors.” Fox News (June 16, 2015)

     23 Ibid.

     24 Bill Gates. “Bill Gates – National Conference of State Legislatures.” Bill & Linda Gates foundation (July 21, 2009)

     25 Ibid.

     26Despite a Handshake and a Promise, Still NO Gates Foundation REPLY to #EducatingGatesRally Demands.” Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates (July 5, 2014)

     27 Betsy Isaacson. “Bill Gates Bashes Capitalism-But He’s Not The First Tech Billionaire To

Do It”. (March 14, 2013)

     28 Matthew Belvedere. “Bill Gates: Capitalism is the wrong incentive here”. CNBC (May 5,


29 Valerie Strauss. “Gates gives $150 million in grants for Common Core Standards”.

Washington Post (May 12, 2013)



    30 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (February 9, 2014)

    31 “Foundation Giving $110 Million to Transform Remedial Education | Bill & Melinda Gates

Foundation Investments target the 60 percent of community college students that need academic

catch-up”. (April 2010)



    32 Valerie Strauss. “Gates gives $150 million in grants for Common Core Standards”.

Washington Post (May 12, 2013)



    33 Kathleen McGrory. “Gov. Rick Scott signs sweeping education bill.” Tampa Bay Times (April 22, 2013)

    34 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (Fall 2016)

    35 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (Fall 2015)

    36 Mark Logas. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (Fall 2015-Spring 2017)

    37 Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore J. Lowi, Margaret Weir, and Caroline Tolbert, We The People: An Introduction to American Politics, Tenth Core Edition (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015) p.264.

    38 Aasif Mandvi. “Poor Pee-ple.” The Daily Show (February 2, 2012)

     39 Darrell West. Air Wars 1952-2012, 6th Edition. (Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2013) p.112.

     40 Jonathan Gruber. “University of Pennsylvania discussion on ObamaCare.” (October 17, 2014)





“A Brief History of the College-College of Charleston.” College of Charleston. Last modified August 16, 2015.


Belkin, Douglas. “Study Finds Many Colleges Don’t Require Core Subjects Like History, Government.” 2014. Wall Street Journal.


Belvedere, Matthew. “Bill Gates: Capitalism is the wrong incentive here”. May 5,

  1. CNBC.


Champney, Leonard, and Edleman Paul. “Assessing Student Learning Outcomes in United States Government Courses.” 2010. PS: Political Science and Politics.


Chumley, Cheryl K. “Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee claims Constitution is 400 Years Old”. March 13,

  1. Washington Times


“Dem Thinks Thomas Jefferson Wrote Bill of Rights”. June 4, 2014. Washington Free Beacon.


Despite a Handshake and a Promise, Still NO Gates Foundation REPLY to   #EducatingGatesRally Demands.” Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates. Last modified July 5, 2014.


Dinan, Stephan. “Harvard grad Chuck Schumer fails history, credits Jefferson for Bill of Rights”.

June 4, 2014. Washington Times.


“Foundation Giving $110 Million to Transform Remedial Education | Bill & Melinda Gates

Foundation Investments target the 60 percent of community college students that need academic catch-up”. 2010.




Gates, Bill. “Bill Gates – National Conference of State Legislatures.” 2009. Bill & Linda Gates foundation.



Ginsberg, Benjamin. Lowi, Theodore J. Weir, Margaret. Tolbert, Caroline. 2015. We The People: An Introduction to American Politics, Tenth Core Edition. New York: Norton & Company.


Gruber, Jonathan. 2014. “University of Pennsylvania discussion on ObamaCare.”.


Isaacson, Betsy. “Bill Gates Bashes Capitalism-But He’s Not The First Tech Billionaire To

Do It”. March 14, 2013. Huffington Post.


Logas, Mark. 2016a. Student artifacts-Exam #1


Logas, Mark. 2016b. Student artifacts-UCF Mass Media & Politics


Logas, Mark. 2016c. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (Spring 2015, Summer 2015, Spring 2016)


Logas, Mark. 2016d. Sabbatical Research Project artifacts (August-November 2015)


Lott, Maxim. “Profs say US History guidelines would shortchange college-bound seniors.” 2015. Fox News.


Mandvi, Aasif. “Poor Pee-ple.” 2012. The Daily Show.


McGrory, Kathleen. “Gov. Rick Scott signs sweeping education bill.” 2013. Tampa Bay Times.


O’Brien, Matt. “We The Pupils: More States Teaching Founding US Documents”. April 3, 2017.

Associated Press.


Pitts, Annette Boyd. “Raising the Bar on Civic Education.” 2016. The Florida Bar Journal.


Scoring Guidelines For The U.S. Naturalization Test” 2015. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services”.


Strauss, Valerie. “Gates gives $150 million in grants for Common Core Standards”. May 12, 2013. Washington Post.




“The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.” 2011. The 2011 Aspen Prize.


Walker, Tim. “The Testing Obsession and the Disappearing Curriculum.” 2014. NEAToday.


West, Darrell. Air Wars 1952-2012, 6th Edition. 2013. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press


About The Author


Professor Mark Logas is a native Floridian, born and raised in Central Florida. He is married and has two daughters. He earned his AA degree from Lake-Sumter Community College in 1983, BA from the University of Central Florida in 1985, and Masters Degree from UCF in 1990. Mark has been a full-time, tenured Political Science faculty member at Valencia College since 2002. Some of his academic awards include: “Professor of the Semester Award” by the Alpha Gamma Omega Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, “Certificate of Appreciation for Making A Difference” as coordinator of the Civic Leadership Internship Program, 2007 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award, recognized Valencia College leader and participant in Pivot 360, nominated by his peers for the 2014 Valencia College Faculty Association Award for Excellence in Teaching, and selected for the Valencia College Sabbatical Leave to research ways to encourage pre-college and college-level students to learn about government. He was also nominated for the 2012 Lake-Sumter Community College Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame Awards. Mark currently serves as the 2nd Vice President of the Florida Political Science Association.


Since 1989, Mark has also been an adjunct instructor at the University of Central Florida teaching Radio/Television, Mass Media & Politics, State Government & Public Policy, and Politics in Film classes. Prior to coming to Valencia College, Mark spent over 25 years in broadcast radio and broadcast television covering state and local government and coordinating election coverage. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Best TV Newscast” in 1996, earned the “Best TV Newscast Award” in 1997, and received the “Associated Press Best TV News Story Award” in 2000. In addition to his television work, Mark returned to radio in the early 1990’s with two successful radio talk shows. Since 2014, he has been anchoring election coverage for WFLA 540AM/FM102.5 in Orlando, FL, while also anchoring the station’s live coverage of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. Professor Logas was added to the Central Florida Radio Hall of Fame in 2008.






  • K-12 students are arriving to college with little to no knowledge of U.S. Government
  • First day quiz with questions from Citizenship Exam supports this statement (see chart below)
  • During three separate semesters over a one-year period on the first day of class, student responses revealed that more than half of the students could not identify the 3 co-equal branches of government, name three amendments in the Bill of Rights, name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, answer how many members serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, correctly answer how many amendments there are in the U.S. Constitution, or identify a picture of Ronald Reagan. (results in chart below)
  • These same students could almost all identify a song from Walt Disney’s The Lion King, an animated movie that does nothing to identify and protect their personal freedom
  • Florida colleges and universities no longer require U.S. Government as a requirement for all AA Degree seeking students, therefore removing the safety net that was in place
  • Academic advisors and members from various registrar offices rarely encourage students to take government classes, most not seeing the merit in recommending them
  • Government is not interested in seeking solutions to this epidemic
  • Outside groups such as the Gates Foundation seek to influence college curriculums by encouraging global studies in place of classes that emphasis the U.S. founding and current form of government
  • Students learn most of their information about government from late night entertainment shows and the Media
  • There are no minimum requirements to be a journalist.

The Blame Game

June 16th, 2017 19 Comments

Immediately following the attempted assassination of Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise there was an appeal for unity and civility from both sides of the aisle and from President Trump. My wife and I glanced at each other, each of us thinking the same thing, and I felt a momentary twinge of shame at my cynical reaction. I shouldn’t have.

Almost before the shooting was over, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe fired the first shot (you should pardon the expression) by blaming guns. He was followed by a host of the usual suspects, and then in rapid succession by the NY Times and the LA Times both of which blamed the NRA. Multiple US Senators, Representatives, Governors and MSNBC blamed Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi, always distinguished for her trenchant perspicacity, managed to blame both the Republican Party (for having impeached President Bill Clinton twenty years ago) and Fox News.

On the other side, various politicians and self-proclaimed pundits put the blame on the shrill chorus of Progressive fanatics who deny Trump as president, on the Democrat Party, on the idiotic comments and actions of second-rate entertainers such as Madonna and Kathy Griffin, on the New York Public Theater’s admittedly tasteless and unimaginatively obvious choice to present a modern-day production of Julius Caesar with a president who looks just like Donald Trump, and on the leftwing media generally.

A few putatively deeper thinkers have put the blame on, variously, both sides, the American political system generally, the electoral college, campaign financing, fund-raising, and gerrymandering.

I have an observation about all this.

If you are such an egregious moron that you have to go around assigning blame for the actions of an evil and clearly unstable loser, you are too stupid to hold public office, run a newspaper, host a show, be a pundit, or even be allowed out in public. Evil exists, just as stupidity exists, and all the preposterous legislation in the world will never stop either one of those. But trying to deflect culpability from the randomness of evil and search for a root cause among your enemies is a sign you have nothing intelligent to say. Put the blame where it belongs: on a man who would qualify as pathetic if he hadn’t been so evil. After that, shut up.

In the meantime, I rejoice in the tentative and cautious good news about Rep. Scalia, and I pray his recovery will be complete and swift.

The Artisans: Shepherd’s Grove

June 12th, 2017 10 Comments

I think it’s safe to say that Americans and the English are the loopiest pet lovers in the world, particularly when it comes to dogs. We gear our homes to our dogs; our cars are bought to accommodate our dogs as much as to get us from point A to point B; our clothes advertise our favorite breed; our bumper stickers extol the virtues of our breed over all others; and we apologize for the condition of our homes and cars and clothes with even more bumper stickers. (“My car is not dirty. That’s my dog’s nose art.”) Television shows about dogs are perennial favorites and some of us even pretend we watch because they’re educational. Dog food today includes delicacies such as pomegranate and bison that many of us like in our own diets, and today’s dog’s bed is probably the same Tempur-Pedic mattress as yours. This is probably because he sleeps on the bed with you, but even if he is forced to rough it in his own bed it’s probably better quality than your mattress. The pet industry generates almost $70 billion—billion—a year. Oh yeah, we love our dogs.

The vast bulk of the dog-related stuff we buy is unnecessary, but so what? If it gives us pleasure, or if it gives our dogs pleasure, well, why not? The problem is that much of the dog-related stuff for sale is pretty tacky. Most of it consists of cheap computerized images of our favorite breed on products badly made in China out of materials that are probably hazardous to both our health and the health of our dogs. Not, in short, the kind of stuff you can take pride in.

Enter Shepherd’s Grove ( Christine Albertini is the unlikely owner and artist behind some of the most beautiful ceramic ware you can find anywhere, celebrating virtually any and every breed you can think of.

Why unlikely? Well, a graduate degree in biology with an emphasis on riparian water quality is hardly a natural springboard for a business in handmade stoneware decorated in traditional Portuguese patterns with custom-painted dogs. But dogs sometimes have a way of altering life-courses.

Christine’s brother was very active in German shepherd rescue and needed to find a home for pup. Christine took the rescue, who became her best buddy. When he died—too young, always too young—she wanted something with his image on it, but she couldn’t find anything she liked. Always artistic, she taught herself how to slip cast. It’s such an easy thing to say, but it is actually a complex process, so it is safe to say that Christine also had a natural mechanical aptitude. “Slip” is the name for a liquid clay that is poured into molds (as opposed to thicker and denser clay that is worked on a wheel), hence the term “slip casting.” It’s a process that may go back to mid-eighteenth-century England, or mid-eighteenth-century France, or over a thousand years to Peru, or to the ancient Romans, or to the ancient Greeks, or… Let’s just say it’s a process that has been around for a while, but it’s still complex, time-consuming, and requires multiple steps and a lot of skill.

Today Christine and her husband and another German shepherd named Dante (a name that discourages entering without knocking first: “Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here.”) live in the magical, gingerbread, northern-California town of Eureka, where Christine makes a variety of microwave-, dishwasher-, and oven-safe stoneware decorated, in addition to the traditional Portuguese pattern, with any breed your heart desires. She will even match the image’s color to your dog’s coat color. At least, she matched the gifts I bought for my bride to the colors of the two most spoiled, pampered, and loved Australian shepherds anywhere in this world or the next.

Book Review: The Tin Roof Blowdown

June 5th, 2017 7 Comments


Dan Bronson (Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody) recommended I read The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke, speaking of both book and author in the reverential terms he (Dan) reserves for Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler. It is no accident that I mention those two names because, based on The Tin Roof Blowdown, James Lee Burke is right up there in their league. This is one of those books that transcends the hard-boiled-detective-mystery genre to become literature in its own right.

Mr. Burke has written some thirty-eight novels (if I’ve added them up correctly), twenty of which are Dave Robicheaux mysteries, Detective Dave Robicheaux being the central character in The Tin Roof Blowdown. The other characters include: double-tough disgraced former detective Clete Purcel, a man of excessive appetites, for food, for booze, for sex, for violence; the androgynous female police chief who is tougher than just about anyone except Clete; a mobster named Sidney Kovick who may or may not have cut a man into pieces with a chainsaw; a psychopath so spooky he makes the chainsaw gangster look benign; a black drug dealer and rapist who dreams of being something other than what he is; the city of New Orleans (the city Burke calls, “the Great Whore of Babylon”); memories—nightmares—of Viet Nam; and—as an ancillary character, if you can reduce such destruction and tragedy to merely ancillary—Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane ever to hit America, one of the five most destructive, and the second deadliest of all time.

Most mysteries are, by definition, plot-driven, and I usually have little interest in plot-driven books. Yes, there is a complex and multilayered plot where seemingly unrelated incidents swirl around each other and draw the characters together, but it is a sign of Burke’s skill as writer that I forgot entirely I was reading a mystery at all, becoming instead engrossed in the tribulations of the characters whose troubles are largely of their own making. Some of his most despicable villains become victims, victims on many layers: of their own poor choices; of cynical governments (city, state, and federal) that turn their backs on inner cities and then invoke those same inner cities during election campaigns with meaningless cries for change; of the drug culture that has filled the void left by those governments; of the old habits of racism; of the absence of hope or education or opportunity… In other words, Mr. Burke has captured the essence of the dark side of the American dream and done so in a page-turner.

One of the things that brings a book to life is the dialogue of its protagonists. The trick is to capture regional accents while making each character singular and discrete, and to do both of those things without making the book an unreadable phonetic study. Here too Mr. Burke excels. From the computerized automaton of the psychopath (“Hi. My name is Rodney. What’s yours?”) to the gallows humor of a New Orleans cop (Tee Boy was choking on his sandwich bread now, laughing so hard that tears were running down his cheeks. “Hey, kid, if you stole anything from Sidney Kovick, mail it to him COD from Alaska, then buy a gun and shoot yourself. With luck, he won’t find your grave.”) to the subtle inflections of the Ninth Ward (“I brought my brother to the hospital ‘cause somebody shot him t’rou the throat. A kid wit’ us was killed, too. I ain’t tried to run away. I come here for help. I missed my court appearance ‘cause I was sick. That’s all you got on me. You quit hitting me.”) Those things take a good ear and an instinctive feel for how far to go without making the reader give up.

But it is the richness of characterization that makes The Tin Roof Blowdown so memorable. These are all distinct individuals, the kinds of people you might meet—or hope very much you do not meet—in your hometown (especially if your hometown happens to be in Louisiana), but they are all real and, with the exception of the psychopath, understandable, believable, and very human. Psychopaths are neither understandable nor human, and it would be a waste of time for anyone to try and believe or believe in a psychopath.

A mysterious footnote: My copy of The Tin Roof Blowdown has a cover featuring a stylized jazz saxophone player against a background of a French Quarter house, done in the yellows and oranges of flames. It is the only cover I saw, either in the flesh or on the internet when I was ordering the book, and later when I was doing some research on James Lee Burke. That cover has now mysteriously disappeared on the internet, and the only image I could find is the one I have used. It is as if the other has been erased from both the internet and history itself. Clearly this a sign of some vast conspiracy between the NSA, CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and Simon & Schuster. At least, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Hate and Malice and Lies

May 28th, 2017 28 Comments

In case you didn’t notice, I took a month off.

It’s the first vacation I’ve taken in many a long year, if you can apply the concept of vacation to a period of intense busyness and business and physical labor of any and all kinds other than writing, but what was refreshing was to be away from deadlines and a sense of urgency to put out some product, whether for blog or magazine or personal work on a short story or novel. I not only didn’t turn on my computer for almost three weeks, but I couldn’t, in part because of lack of service where I was, and in part because I deliberately packed the damned thing away. Since I was traveling during much of the month, I also got away from television and newspapers and the shrill cacophony of hate and malice and dishonesty that passes for news these days. That alone was refreshing enough to make up for much of the physical activity I was involved in.

And what did I come back to? Hate and malice and lies. And, of course, the usual willful ignorance that accompany hate and malice and lies.

Case in point: The very first news story I happened to watch was the hysterical media ranting on and on about Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, who was apparently monitored by US intelligence positing the idea of a “secret” back channel of communication with the Russian government, thereby causing media pundits to shriek words like “traitor” and “impeachment.” Uh, excuse me, but didn’t Barack Obama have a secret back channel of communication with Iran for almost the entire eight years of his administration? And while I freely admit my knowledge of recent history is nowhere near as good as my knowledge of more ancient history, I do recall reading that one of the reasons any of us still exist on this lovely old planet is because John F. Kennedy had a secret back channel of communication with Khrushchev that kept both countries from stumbling into a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis. If I remember correctly, Kennedy was universally praised for his use of his secret back channel, and Barack Obama’s secret back channel dealings with Iran have been ignored by a pandering press that considers the same actions by Trump to be grounds for impeachment and charges of treason.

A more accurate assessment might be to scream the words “traitor” and “prison term” at whoever it was in our intelligence community who decided to leak this particular piece of information, to say nothing of the many other leaks that have been mysteriously happening on a regular basis ever since Trump took office. A more accurate assessment might be to say that the fact this information was leaked is, ipso facto proof of the need for a secret back channel of communication.

I may pack my computer away and start traveling again.

Book Review: Middlemarch

May 3rd, 2017 4 Comments


Middlemarch was hailed as a masterpiece when it was published in 1871 (roughly—there is some question as to which criteria to use to determine its date of publication), and it is still considered one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language. No novel becomes an instant classic and holds that status for almost a century-and-a-half without characters succeeding generations can identify with, characters whose hopes and dreams succeeding generations can identify with, characters whose problems and flaws succeeding generations can identify with, and with a plot—or multiple interwoven plots—that grabs succeeding generations. Middlemarch has all those and more.

Time should have been unkind to Middlemarch. George Eliot’s writing is extremely florid by today’s standards, far less accessible than, say, Charles Dickens,’ who died a year before Middlemarch was even published. Many of the issues she wished to discuss are both dated and obscure; I pride myself on knowing something of English history, but I hadn’t a clue why the Reform of Act of 1832 was so hotly debated and fought over.

Having said that, one of the novel’s issues has resurrected itself with a vengeance in today’s world, albeit in different forms. Religious tolerance is even more in danger today than it was then: scroll through any news source and you can find angry, intolerant fools railing against Jews, Muslims, Christianity, varying forms of Christianity, the right of politicians to have or express any faith at all, and religious freedom generally being pitted against secular freedom. Whew. Things were simpler in England in the first half of the nineteenth century, if only due to the benefits of hindsight, but even then, the attitude was that my faith was clearly closer to God than yours, a smugly self-righteous belief that was the only conviction unifying the Church of England, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism.

Many of the conflicts in the novel are extremely dated, and Eliot’s resolutions to those conflicts are themselves dated: Dorothea, the intelligent and highly educated heroine, finally finds joy and fulfillment with a life that would make any intelligent and ambitious wife of today’s world start tearing her hair out in frustration. Women today have much to rightly fight for (or against: consider recent developments at Fox News), but we live in an era when a woman came within a hair of becoming president, and today’s readers may have a hard time coming to grips with ladies who took it for granted that they should be subservient to their husbands and who never even dreamed of such extraordinary freedoms as enfranchisement. So, when you read this (and you should, you really should), you must read it within the context of its time, just as you would with Huckleberry Finn, or Pride and Prejudice, or Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary, or any other novel written to reflect a specific time and specific place. It’s not the details of time and place that make a novel weak or strong. It is the universal and unchanging qualities of the human animal that make us identify so with yesterday’s characters and their struggles precisely because those qualities and those struggles endure.

And, oh boy, does Eliot do a spectacular job of giving us characters to love or hate, characters we recognize instantly even after all this time. She (George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Anne Evans, and it is proof of her talent that most readers haven’t a clue who Mary Anne Evans was, yet everyone knows the name George Eliot) has a wise and perceptive eye for human constants and foibles that make us laugh or cry in recognition. Rosemond Vincy, the narcissistic, vain, selfish, and scheming wife of one of the primary characters, was so well-drawn, so real, so nastily self-absorbed and manipulative, that at one point I had to put the book down because she reminded me too much of someone from my past I prefer to forget. But even Eliot’s most subsidiary characters ring true today. Consider this thumbnail of the unnamed ladies (of a certain social class) in the town of Middlemarch on hearing of behavior they deplore on the part of one of their own:

“‘To be candid,’ in Middlemarch phraseology, meant to use an early opportunity of letting your friends know that you did not take a cheerful view of their capacity, their conduct, or their position; and a robust candor never waited to be asked for its opinion.”

Tell me you don’t recognize that personality type.

And sometimes Eliot’s observations are hysterically funny. We were traveling when I read the following paragraph to my bride, and she laughed so hard I thought she might wake the people in the next room:

“After three months, [her sister Celia’s house] had become rather oppressive: to sit like a model for Saint Catharine looking rapturously at Celia’s baby would not do for many hours in the day, and to remain in that momentous babe’s presence with persistent disregard was a course that could not have been tolerated in a childless sister. Dorothea would have been capable of carrying the baby joyfully for a mile if there had been need, and of loving it more tenderly for that labor; but to an aunt who does not recognize her infant nephew as Buddha, and has nothing to do for him but admire, his behavior is apt to appear monotonous, and the interest of watching of him exhaustible.”

My children were constant sources of delight and amazement even as infants; yours, not so much so.

One element that runs throughout Middlemarch is the rigid stratification of society in those days. It’s not a theme, so much as it something so taken for granted, even by George Eliot, so much a part and parcel of England in that era, that it is reflected in the novel without comment, and Eliot comments on almost everything and everyone. She shows every different level of society, from laborers to landed gentry, but it isn’t commented on as either good or bad, but just as something that is, something that may possibly always be part of England.

Those of you who watched Downton Abbey remember what a momentous thing it was, especially at the beginning of the series, whenever one of the Crawley family would go downstairs to the kitchen or the wine cellar, causing disruption and chaos amongst the serving classes. Downton Abbey took place almost a hundred years later than Middlemarch, yet nothing had changed. Nor would anything even begin to change until the horrors and wholesale annihilation of an entire generation finally began the decline of the British Empire. And how much change occurred even then? How much remains the same? A friend of mine, Dale Tate, is a custom shotgun maker who lives in northern California. He was born in the rough, working-class neighborhood of Southwark, and got his start in the traditional Dickensian British manner as an apprentice for James Purdey & Sons, makers of fine guns for Queen Victoria, Edward VII, Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburg, the Prince of Wales, countless members of lesser royal houses (sniff, sniff) throughout the continent, as well as Indian princes. But Dale moved to America because he got tired of having his dreams and ambitions dismissed by wealthy men with posh “public school” accents; of being told to go around to the tradesman’s entrance; of being told to eat in the barn after his day’s work as a beater was done, so perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all.

Middlemarch has been criticized for being intentionally didactic. In theory, it is, and in theory, that should be disastrous because Eliot repeatedly steps outside the world and characters she has created to moralize about them, and yet… And yet, somehow it works. It works in part because her observations are so astute and so well expressed that one becomes hooked on them rather than put off: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.” Eliot wants us to see ourselves and our fellow travelers with sympathy and understanding, but she knows too well that none of us see or comprehend nearly as much as we should, and that none of us are God-like enough to do so completely without going mad.

I have no intention of trying to give you an idea of the plot. For one thing, there are at least two major and interweaving plot lines, and two or three (depending on how you count them) subsidiary plot lines, each of which involves multiple ancillary characters. What I will say is that in spite of its old-fashioned and arch literary style, and in spite of its length (at roughly eight hundred pages it counts as one of the longest novels written in the English language), it will leave with you with memories of unforgettable people, some of whom triumph, some of whom do not, but all of whom linger as completely and honestly three-dimensional, as delightful or disgusting, as the people in your life today.

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