Monthly Archives: June 2012

wat u doen dis sumer

Our education system has so many problems, but none more fundamental than that it is set up for an agrarian society when the vast majority of our society is no longer living in this arrangement.  This is a much more significant and complicated statement than it might appear at first glance.  On the one hand it is contributing to whole generations of woefully prepared students. As a group, they are not prepared academically.  They are not prepared emotionally.  They are not prepared with the problem solving tools necessary to face the world they will be entering, and so on.  On the other though, it is indicative of the way in which our institutions, cultural and civic, have failed to keep up with the changes in our world – economically, socially, politically, etc.

It must be noted that this issue is perhaps the most fundamental issue our society faces because it affects literally every other issue we have.  We are producing a society of people who are incapable of handling themselves in the situations they must face.  Many parents are incapable or unwilling to be actual parents.  Many teachers are incapable of teaching students.  We know this not only from the documented evidence, but from I see it in my own experiences with my children’s’ teachers.  While a single individual’s experiences do not make solid evidence, they do serve as excellent examples.  I encountered a few fantastic teachers, a handful of adequate teachers and huge number of truly awful teachers.

When I have had to explain to a 7th grade reading teacher why the signs in her classroom were grammatically wrong and point out that they contained spelling errors, that’s a problem.  When I have to meet with a 2nd grade teacher to explain the difference between a homonym and a homophone, that is a problem.  When I have to meet with a 9th grade teacher to discuss religious tolerance, that is an issue.  When I have to discuss with an 8th grade teacher, the proper application of the Supreme Court ruling against compulsory participation in the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s an issue.  In fact, with 3 sons going through two different school systems, only once did I have to meet with teachers or administrators because one of my children was misbehaving, however, I had to meet with them every single year because of failures on the part of staff at the school.  That is what an involved parent does, and I was thanked for it, by teachers who cared.  The teachers and administrators who wanted to be able to skate by or who were subpar, of course, were not so grateful.

Here is the first secret to a successful education system reform.  It isn’t new.  We have all heard it before, but so few really want to acknowledge it, because in large part it gets back, again, to personal responsibility.  As a parent, you cannot simply ship your child off to school, and then receive them back at the end as an educated individual.  You, the parent, have to be involved every step of the way!  You have to talk to the teachers to ensure they are not only actually teaching, but that they are teaching well and teaching accurately.  You have to work with your child to ensure that they are learning the material that is being taught.  You have to work with your child to expose them to more than they are exposed to in school.  Education is not a contained experience that takes place at the school.  The fundamentals and the specialized features are provided there.  The richness and breadth are provided outside of the walls of the school.  The first “secret” is parental involvement.  The first stumbling block is that we have done this so long that so many parents don’t know enough or how to be involved.  That is a larger societal issue which has to also be addressed.  There are political issues related to the school systems which we must address as well.  Why political?  Because we have made it so that all issues are political.

From the ground up

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them.

from Abraham Lincoln’s State of the Union address to Congress December 3, 1861.

There is a concerted attack being conducted on the unions in America, and around the world.  Unions are being blamed by the right and even some on the so-called left for causing or at least contributing to the economic issues in America.  They are being accused of not paying their share of the burden for recovery.  Let us stop and think about these accusations for a couple of moments before we identify them for what they truly are.  No.  Let’s first call them what they are.  These attacks are simply more of the same horse pucky.  They are misdirection.  They are lies.  They are divide and conquer tactics.

To be clear, a trade or Labor Union is “is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment” as well defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  In other words, it is an association of people banding together in order to protect and further the cause of the people.  To be against a union is, by definition, to be against yourself and your fellow people.  This is not a difficult logical process.

Some object to the associations, true and alleged, between the unions and organized crime.  Organized crime exists everywhere, because of laws that have been passed not because of Unions.  Organized crime took up residence in some parts of Unions because there was a way to make and move money and goods.  Not because of the Unions themselves.  To blame the Unions, is like blaming milk for cows.

Some object to the benefits that Unions have gained for their members out of jealousy for one’s self.  However, as was pointed out by my ever wise father in a different context, in this capitalist system, the real “culprit”, if there is to be one, for any over-extension of union power is the business management for yielding to those demands.  Is that not how the system works?  Both sides sit at the negotiating table and come to an agreement, then both sides are expected to live up to the terms of that agreement.  Okay.  So, the Unions argued for their side, and then they lived up to their end of the agreement.  If the management failed, and they surely have with unfunded liabilities, and other issues, then who is to blame?  The Unions?  Certainly not!  But, that is what the right wing would have you believe.

Responsibility is neither a game to be played, nor a joy to be missed

Let me be as generous as I can.  It appears to me that the conservative position can be summarized as this: There comes a time in human societal development when we have reached the peak, and we can go no further.  We can not improve.  We can be no better.  We can learn no more.  We are in the best of all possible worlds.  There are no more ills.  If you believe that there are, then you are delusional.  All we must do now is conserve what we have and make no further changes to policy.  All we have to do now is make sure that no one makes any changes to our perfect system.

No really.  That is the most generous I can be.  I do not believe that is an inaccurate restatement of the whacko positions they take.  I do recognize that the right wing contains a variety of positions, and that to paint them all with a single brush would be unreasonable.  It would be just as unreasonable as to paint all of the Liberal positions with a single brush.  No, actually it would be more so, since there is actually a more active conservative culture in America.  However, that really is the heart of it.  The only real differences between the various groups within the conservative groups are where in time this supposed golden age of perfection is located, i.e. how far back do they want to take us.  In fact, it is akin to asking a neo-Luddite, “What technology is acceptable?  Is a stick okay?”

The Liberal position on the other hand, and the reason that the term progressive has been adopted, is that we have not reached the pinnacle of our growth.  In fact, we could state that even more emphatically.  The Liberal position is that there is no limit to our potential to growth except those limitations that we put on ourselves.  There may be stumbling blocks that we have to overcome.  There are challenges which have not yet been overcome.

These two competing visions are in constant struggle in many ways, even when they are not truly believed.  These are the difference between believing in (and thus ruling by fear and divisiveness) and believing in (and thus leading from a place of) hope and unity.

Barack Obama used it in his 2008 campaign when he ran on “Hope and Change”.  That was the promise.  He quickly showed though, that this was lip service.  He quickly showed that he, too, is part of the right wing and is using fear and divisiveness to rule rather than to lead.  In fairness, his biggest sin may have been lacking a spine to get into the fight.  He was simply unwilling or incapable of standing up to the obstructionist far-right members of his political wing to stand for the things that he campaigned on.  Either that of all of his words were lies from the beginning.

Bush, Cheney, etc ruled from fear.  They took a semi-legitimate reason for fear in this country and turned it into a state of permafear.  From that, they managed to persuade more people than not to give up so many rights, and most did it happily so with very little grumbling.  What grumbling there was, came not over the actual loss of the rights, but rather over silly inconveniences.  Most people do not grumble over the invasion of their privacy at the airport screenings or of the ineffectiveness of those same screenings for their stated purpose, but rather they complain about the longer lines caused and the extra time it takes to get to the over-crowded flights.

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.   — Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Letter to Josiah Quincy, Sept. 11, 1773

Does anyone even remember that the PATRIOT act still gives our government the right to pull your reading list from the library without a warrant while simultaneously preventing the library from notifying you that they were required to provide that list to the government?  Just as an example.  The PATRIOT Act was extended under Obama.  Some libraries have taken some interesting and completely legal steps to get around these unconstitutional and immoral provisions of the PATRIOT act.  Libraries such as the Boulder Library.  This page from the Boulder Library system not only provides links to the laws themsevles, but also a very good analysis of what the laws means in terms of the libraries, and you, but also describes what they have done to help protect your privacy.  Bravo, Boulder Lbrary!!

Could we just call it what it is?

This is not a place to shy away from controversial topics.  Today is no exception.  In fact, today we’re going to jump into one of the most controversial of our times.  However, we are going to also step a little further away from our standard format as well.

First, I shall never refer to you as “pro-life”.  Really it’s very simple.  You gave up any right to that title as a group starting back in the 80s and continuing through May of this year when some of you are setting fire to clinics.  The right was surrendered when a number of you started demonstrating that you were willing to kill, attempt to kill, and destroy private property to make your point.  You became terrorists, by ambushing doctors and nurses and killing them for performing legal health care services.  Further since the vast majority of self-identified “pro-lifers” are also supporters of the death penalty, it is, again, just more to undercut your legitimacy to call yourself “pro-life”.  You are anti-choice.  You are against a woman’s right to chose what to do with her body.  Worse than that, you are just bullies trying to enforce your beliefs on others who are at a vulnerable time in their life and who are emotionally troubled enough without having to deal with the additional harassment of your terrorism.

There are, I am sure, a handful of you as individuals, who might legitimately call yourselves pro-life.  I respect that you have these sincere beliefs.  However, for those few of you that are truly pro-life, you must accept that your beliefs do not give you sway over any one else’s beliefs.  You do not get to impose your beliefs on others.

This is a complicated issue.  It is further complicated by involvement of the father’s rights as well.  That is a particularly difficult issue to address, and as a man, I understand it very well.  However, there is a very simple theory to resolve it.  It is a matter of proximate rights.  It would be entirely unreasonable for the man to exercise his rights to the extent that it forced the woman to abandon hers.  In a supposedly free society, this should be a no brainer conclusion.  Therefore, while it is not an easy choice and men may not be happy with the decision, if a woman has made the difficult decision that an abortion is the right decision for her at that time, then he must accept it and come to terms with it.

Speaking of which, while I will concede that there are possibly a handful of women who “use abortion as birth control”, however, these are rare cases.  Those women are almost certainly sociopaths.  They are not indicative of the typical situation.  The more normal situation is a heart wrenching decision.  It is not a decision that is reached lightly.  I have personally known too many women who have faced this decision.  Some have made the decision to abort and some have chosen not to.  None who made the decision to have an abortion, not one did so easily or without tears.  Not one enjoyed the experience emotionally or physically.  It is not pleasant.  It is painful in every way – mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Others chose to carry to term and give the child up for adoption.  Interestingly in my personal experience, and that is not a scientific survey by any stretch, it was those women who have experienced much more regret and pain from those choices.  They spent years wondering how the child was.  Many of them spent each birthday in tears over the decision to have given them up.  It was not a decision that they were at peace with.  And, then years later, they had the prospect of finding or being found.  For some of them, this was a desirable thing.  For others, it was something they feared.

I am not pro-abortion.  I do not know of very many people who say that they are, and of those who do, the vast majority are doing so simply to shock.  They are not serious.  Generally we all agree that the ideal situation would be a world where abortions were not required.  Of course, I think we would all tend to agree that it would be wonderful to live in a world where a military was not necessary, too.  Unfortunately, we do not live in that world.  We live in the real world with real problems.

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