Category Archives: Self-help

Framing the Question

It’s a well-known logic premise that the way in which the question is framed dictates the boundaries of the answer that will be achieved (okay, I just made that up, but it does stand to reason). The current (tense) discussion about ‘gun control’ and what we should do to keep weapons/large-capacity magazines out of the hands of undesirables/criminals/people with mental issues’ hands narrows the issues that can be explored, and requires that any solution deal only with the variables that have been presented. As in a Venn Diagram, we can interlace overlapping circles of concepts, but only those concepts that fall within the framework of the question we have previously elucidated. We cannot reach outside the circles (or the ‘box’) to bring in other matters that may end up having more relevance to the problem that actually needs to be solved, once we have structured such a restrictive framework.

So, instead of discussing, or even broaching, the question of ‘How do we keep our children/citizens safe?’ we instead focus on the narrow issue of restricting gun ownership. ‘How do we keep ‘x’ safe?’ opens an entire world of possibilities, some of which may actually lead to more safety, better security, even a possibility of an alternate culture, none of which come into being when the topic is no larger than ‘Let’s ban assault looking weapons’, or ‘Keep large magazines out of the hands of criminals’.

But, then, why should the question of keeping our most vulnerable citizens safe be any different than any of the other questions that currently occupy our media and politicians? The topic of educating the next generations devolves to ‘We need to pay our teachers a living wage’; raising the debt ceiling becomes ‘How can we get those pesky Republicans to make good on debts they’ve already incurred?’; and the issue of moderating spending is—‘Say what? I didn’t hear that!’

Until we decide to tackle the big picture, the ultimate issues, the basic questions that affect our lives and inform our cultural biases and preconceptions, we will be diddled and riddled with small fixes that waste time, do nothing—or worse, and fail to resolve the troubles that plague our society. I’m not saying that we ever have to address the human condition directly. I’m just noting that, if we refuse to do so, at least let’s not pretend that we are, or pretend that we are making any headway.

It’s hard to peel away the skin, and get to the root causes of why we act the way we do, express directly what we would like the future to hold, and explore the fundamental changes that we must make in order to get there. It’s much easier to find ‘them’ to blame our troubles on: gun owners/criminals/those with mental issues. Such name-calling allows us an easy out, allows us to continue on without having to attend to our basic mores. Fine, fine. But let’s not kid ourselves. The real work still awaits, even while we spend beaucoup dollars and irreclaimable amounts of time on the minutest issues that having nothing to do with the real problems that exist. 

‘Scuse me, I need to go restring my violin.

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Awake and Arise!

Image courtesy of Suvro Datta/freedigitalphoto.net

Image courtesy of Suvro Datta/freedigitalphoto.net

Since I was dissing The Economist the other day, I want to give them some props this morning. They recently came out with their Technology Quarterly section, a review of upcoming and in-works items that make this TEDtalks follower swoon. Everything from the latest robotics to a cardboard and rubber bicycle to medical apps was profiled. Seeing the innovation that is still occurring on a daily basis heartens me.

The sad thing is that most media are so focused on the latest doings of Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, and Lady Gaga, that they don’t have time to relate the newest strides of the human mind. Our education system is intent on instilling in us how difficult science is, and how hard math is. It’s so much easier to simply relate gossip than it is to teach creativity.

What’s astounding is that we are all born creative. It takes a great deal of effort to pound that out of us. The shame is that the current method of schooling is somehow doing a good job of that. We are taught that great thinkers are rare, different, and not to be emulated. We are told that we don’t not have what it takes to succeed in the hard sciences: those are reserved to the few who don’t otherwise have a life.

And yet, the overwhelming call is for more of the same, except with more money. Why we would wish the deadening of intellect for our children just so some people can keep their jobs today, I cannot fathom. In order to maintain the status quo, we have had to elevate teaching to a mystical status. We are not allowed to question teachers’ authority or critique their methods.

Any criticism of the current system, or calls for change, sound the death knell for our children, according to teachers. Other professionals feel the sting of dissatisfaction without the entire system crumbling. Lawyers are routinely bashed, not for not doing their jobs, but for doing their jobs too well. Only teachers are allowed to churn out uneducated louts year after year, while maintaining their hallowed position.

When will we call a halt to this tremendous waste of resources? Not only our tax dollars, but our children? The push for students to be great occurs few and far between, while the herd mentality is touted as sufficient. Just shove the students through the halls, shuffling them from classroom to classroom until they reach the age of majority (if they can stand the tedium for that long), then pronounce them fit to join the workplace, and wash your hands of them, moving on to the next bunch.

Whether those graduated students succeed does not seem to concern the educators. The fact that many students who attend college—many because they are not qualified for any jobs, despite years of education—must immediately be placed in remedial classes does not inspire any mea culpas. There is always some other reason that the children who were supposed to be prepared for the adult world end up not so, none of which is a reflection on the educational system which did not serve them well.

Fortunately for me, I am a great believer in cycles and pendulums. The world swings way off-balance one way, then self-corrects. I don’t think that the way it is is the way it is going to be forever. We just have to wait a short while longer, as more and more people realize that they were sold a bill of goods along with their diplomas, as more options become available on the internet, as more skilled workers are needed and the increase in pay and prestige leads to innovations in teaching.

That’s not a death knell we’re hearing when the unions take to the streets. It is the alarm that is waking us to a new day. Too bad for those students who were fed the worst of the lot. They’ve got a lot of ground to make up. But the ground swell is rising, and the celebrity culture may soon be swept away in a sea of individual creativity.

Or we’ll all go the way of those poor sods in Nightfall.

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The Social Security Syndrome

Image courtesy of James Barker/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/freedigitalphotos.net

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a big hullaballoo going on about Social Security. No, not the one about the fiscal cliff—we are soooo over that, already! This brouhaha is about whether, when those funny boys from D.C. set up the safety net in 1935, they were counting on the fact that most people didn’t even make it to age 65 (thank you, Glenn Beck).

Visit the Social Security website (and who can resist that temptation?), and those government people are all up in your face about how, in 1935, many people were 65 years old, or were about to be 65 years old, or, even though the life expectancy was only 65 years at the time, were already looking at that age in the rearview mirror. So there were plenty of old codgers and codgesses around to collect government checks, thank you very much! No shell game going on here! There were plenty of feeders at the trough.

Interesting argument, but completely beside the point. The true question is why, in all these years (77 by my count), the full retirement age (and thus, the collection age) has only been raised a total of two years (and not at all since 1983), while life expectancy has steadily been creeping up to close to 80 years of age. Not only that, but the nature of the work done by Americans has slid on over from back-breaking manual labor to the back-destroying sitting industry.

One of the main reasons given for allowing Americans to retire at 65 was that the work they performed was so strenuous they needed the safety net to allow them to relax in their rocking chairs at the tail end of their nasty, brutish and short lives. Many farmers worked long hours for little payback. Collapsing onto their front porches after years of struggle, lifting nothing heavier than a day’s newspaper, was a welcome relief.

Now, more people live in cities than out of them; people who wouldn’t know the back end of a cow if she slapped their faces with her tail. Sixty is the new 50. Every day, we pass 65 year olds on the street who look better than their parents did at 40. A lot of us spend way too much time in our ergonomically designed chairs as it is—instead of encouraging us to look for more sitting around time, we should be harnessing the wisdom that comes from merely surviving so many years on this planet—not to mention, saving a bit of the green that the feds have been so busily dusting the country with.

I understand that part of the rationale of Social Security is to entice anyone on the fence to make the leap into retirement, to clear a space for the next generation. The baby boomers, especially, are clogging the corridors, and need to be gently shuffled into the next chamber of their lives. I think that this is exactly where that can that is being kicked will end up: the current crop of politicians is waiting for that huge hunk of humanity born between 1946 and 1964 to slide into the sunset. At that point, all of the goodies that have been promised to all of those people will cease to matter. Handouts to the following generation will be much less, and this whole sticky situation will soon be forgotten.

The debt will somehow slip away with the last of the big bump, and by the end of this century, the debt and deficit crises will have faded from the last of enduring memories. If the politicians can just hang on for a few more years, to the point where 50 trillion sounds no worse than 10 or 5 or 1 trillion, everything will work itself out as the upside down pyramid of benefit-takers and benefit-providers rights itself. Fewer people will need fewer benefits, and the debt will somehow either just evaporate, or be paid out of the savings resulting from fewer payouts. Anyhow, by then, those in office will be long gone and won’t have to care.

Instead of bucking AARP, and all the fuss and feathers associated with adjusting what was supposed to be merely a safety net for those in need to reflect the realities of current life, it’s so much easier to just wait it out. Besides, who wants to work till they die, when we can be fulfilling our bucket lists on the backs of our children and grandchildren. Instead of ordering our lives so that we enjoy what we’ve got as we wend our way through life’s corridors, we push our gratification off to the end, and howl if any part of our anticipated leisure benefits are threatened. With all our learning and education and scientific discovery, this is the best system we can come up with?

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Beating That Dead Horse Yet Again

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So what is the first step in reducing the size and scope of the overweening government we’ve set up for ourselves? Stand up that poor old roan against the wall, and let me get my whip. Education, of course. It all comes back to a knowledgeable citizenship, who vote based on reasoned decisions about the logical outcome of any particular course of action. Citizens who do not hesitate to buck human nature and halt unnecessary expenditures on failed experiments, regardless of how much time, money and effort have already been invested in them.

Without an educated citizenry, we are doomed. Ask yourself whether the public education system we’ve got now is doing the job. No, wait, I’ll answer that one for you. Ever hear of the old story about the fox guarding the chicken house? Right now, we have believers in big government teaching the people who will be working for the government, while teaching our children. Indoctrination is inevitable.

And what’s worse is that those who most need an education are the ones who are not receiving it. Ever wonder why those students most likely to go to and succeed at college are the products of college-educated parents? Most likely to come from two-parent family? It is because having college-educated parents who are still married to each other confers benefits that our current educational system is not able to duplicate.

The fact that those who least need the public education system in order to succeed are the ones who are succeeding ought to be telling us that our method of schooling has failed—but somehow, the mantra is “More money”, as though we are thisclose to doing the job that we have set out to do. Hate to be the one to break the bad news, but we are nowhere near.

One reason that the gap between the highest earners and the lowest keeps growing is not that the wealth has been unequally redistributed: it is because those at the bottom are not receiving an education anything like those at the top are getting. And it isn’t because we aren’t spending enough. It is because we, as a culture, have decided that inculcating tolerance and socializing our children according to the best doctrines of political correctness are to be the goals of our education system. Teaching the 3 R’s (or much of anything else) is way down on the list.

We are raising a generation of children who are trained that schools are the providers of three meals a day, but who can’t read, can’t write, can’t think for themselves. They have been taught, that’s for sure. They’ve been taught that government is the provider. They have been taught that others have more than they do, and that’s not fair. They have been taught to envy others’ success, but not how to emulate that success.

It’s only those who were lucky enough to be born into a family which already has the capacity for teaching the principles of hard work, how to succeed, and how to become a lifelong learner (all of those concepts that the education system is supposed to be teaching) who have the chance to learn any of those ideals. The rest of the students are merely being trained as foot soldiers for the next politician.

How do we escape from this masquerade? Ah, I actually have some good news. While we have all been busy with our little lives, there has been a quiet revolution going on in the cloud. Ever hear of Creative Commons? Ever hear of MOOCs? Or the Khan Academy? Or Coursera?

If you want a complete college education, you can now cobble together what you need, online, for free. Not every subject, and not every course, is available, but it is astounding what knowledge people are offering, without strings. So, if you feel that your education lacked some facet, and you’d like to remedy that, sign up for a course, and away you go.

Classes are readily available to all. Now all we need to do is entice the less-educated to avail themselves. That’s where ordinary citizens can step in to take back the country from the government. Spread the word. Talk the talk. Let everyone you know, know about the opportunities for bettering themselves through knowledge, without waiting for the government to set up yet another handout.

Take the power back from those self-serving politicians who claim to have the people’s best interests at heart, but who end up garnering more power to themselves. Pass the word, or set up your own course. From Macroeconomics to welding, we could all use a little more learning.

We don’t have to fight against the powers that are running our education system if we just make it irrelevant. When knowledge can be got for free, anywhere, anytime, by anyone, schools become just a holding tank, which will fall apart on their own, as the best teachers move on to something more profitable and challenging. Make the large boxes that are currently housing our children for several hours a day irrelevant, and the whole system will topple.

Will exposing all of our children to a proper education, where they learn to think and do for themselves be easy? No. Will it be quick? Doubt it. Will it be worth it? Don’t think I need to answer that question.

Where and how to start? I’ve got some ideas: get laptops or notebooks into the hands of the children who need them; encourage parents to help their children enroll in classes; encourage young people who have finished high school or college to continue educating themselves; enroll in a few classes yourself. The beauty of individuals working toward a common cause is that there are as many ideas as there are people.

Educate the masses, and you automatically strip the career politicians of much of their power. No muss, no fuss, and no class warfare. 

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Help Is On The Way

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In my last post, Lies, Lies, Liar, I suggested (okay, I ranted from the rooftops) that it’s up to us to change the system—to stick it to the man, as it were. Turns out there are some unexpected good Samaritans who are way ahead of me on that.

Occupy Wall Street. Remember them? Those sleeping bag-wearing stumblebums who occupied not only Wall Street, but every shop and park for miles around; those self-centered trash-dropping, student-loan-owing namby-pambies who lit out for home as soon as the temperature dropped?

Well, they’re back, and they seem to have cleaned up their act. A lot. The Occupy people have expanded operations to not one, but at least two missions to help others who are down on their luck. Being Occupy, they have political goals that they want to achieve, but they are putting their money and their time where their mouths are.

According to Interoccupy.net/occupysandy,

Occupy Sandy is a coordinated relief effort to help distribute resources & volunteers to help neighborhoods and people affected by Hurricane Sandy. We are a coalition of people & organizations who are dedicated to implementing aid and establishing hubs for neighborhood resource distribution. Members of this coalition are from Occupy Wall Street, 350.org, recovers.org and interoccupy.net.

And what’s really cool is that they are organized. No small potatoes effort, here. Go to their website, and you will see lists of exactly what they need (legal assistance, tetanus shots, and pediatric masks, among other things), to what they don’t (diapers, bleach and clothing). The organizers saw a need, and jumped in to help. Exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from conservatives who know the value of personally assisting a neighbor, but these are the left-wing vanguard of the liberals. Kudos to them.

And, if that’s not enough, an offshoot of the Occupy movement, called Rolling Jubilee (rollingjubilee.org) is busying itself buying up debt and discharging it. Not for individuals, so don’t go stand in line just yet, but purchasing debt on the secondary market for pennies on the dollar, and then telling the lucky debtors that they no longer owe that obligation.

While Occupy Sandy is just good, clean neighbor helping neighbor, Rolling Jubilee has an ulterior motive: to alert the world to predatory lending practices. Its mission to rid the world of millions of dollars owed is just a drop in the bucket of the total debt riding around out there, but it is the concept of halting the multi-trillion dollar loan industry that is the real goal.

Rolling Jubilee’s backers are united in their belief that loans are forced onto those who can least afford to pay them back, let alone the accompanying fees and associated costs, due to those unfortunates’ lack of ability to acquire even the basic necessities of life in any other manner. Occupy’s manifesto, The Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual, offers tips and answers to managing and getting out of debt, and resisting those predatory loan practices in the future.

What is most fascinating about both of these movements is that, even though Occupy Wall Street was founded on the belief that the federal government needed to interject itself further into the banking and corporate world, in order to restrict their never-ending subjugation of the masses, even these ultra-liberals have discovered that Big Brother don’t know all. Big Brother cannot be all things to all people. Big Brother needs an assist from private folks every now and then.

If both the extreme left and the extreme right have determined that even massive federal intrusion into every aspect of our lives still won’t solve all of our problems, there is hope yet that someday we all might get the point that centralized planning is not the ticket. That we will finally understand that, while there are a few things which we need a governmental authority to do or to enforce, it is not in our best interests to constantly rely on experts from afar to know what is best for our little burg, especially when those experts are generally not able to accomplish what is necessary in a timely, efficient manner, even when they are able to figure out the right thing to do.

The Feds may have a role in an ultimate oversight capacity, or as arbiter of competing interests, but to encourage them to get involved in our everyday affairs is not only an waste of resources and a drag on productivity, but an exercise in futility. A government that is large enough to deal with a hurricane Sandy quickly is a government which costs much much more than we have been feeding it to date. And a government that is embedded in the field of passing out loans is a government that makes lending money a one-size-fits-all venture, where everyone is eligible, regardless of their ability to repay—which in effect means that the taxpayers end up on the hook for loans that never should have been made in the first place.

In both cases, removing accountability to some far off office in Washington removes personal responsibility as well, while increasing the cost of all goods and services. There will always be a role for private citizens and private industry, which even the far left has now tacitly acknowledged. Recognizing that fact, let’s set about to cogently and logically decide how far we want government to intrude into our lives, rather than crying out for another law in the heat of every disaster or emotional turmoil.

Government governs for a long time after its initial mandate has been authorized. Let’s take a step back and think about where we want to that authority to begin, because we sure don’t seem to have a handle on where it all ends. 

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