Saturday, April 26, 2014

Quiet Time

I must admit I find a certain satisfaction in reflecting on the weekend.  To move at a speed that suits me, and see small things accomplished.  I envy those who find comfort in large groups and noisy venues, but as I move though this life I think I am forever shaped by the solitude of my youth, where I was never the core of the group, but always an observer, invited to be or not be in the mix.

As phantoms, slipping quietly past in the night, memories of good times will flash on my consciousness.  I can close my eyes and return there to see the brilliance of a day, or the smell of the mountains in springtime.  Other times I close my eyes and see a party on a cold NY winter’s night.  I see only shadows of others, but I vividly recall a group of classmates playing the song of the day, a little number by the Royal Guardsman, called “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”  I know I've posted this before, but I do like the song.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Trouble with Wealth and Its Redistribution

I’ve met very few people who are actually happy with being poor.  I know of a few who do believe the accumulation of wealth is to be avoided and humble lives serving society or God is better, but it has been my experience these are rare individuals.  I would bet for every one of these humble humans there are three or four hundred others who given a choice would choose individual wealth over the service to others model. 

But these two extremes are both minority views.  For the vast majority of our society we strive for rewarding lives that do not require vast wealth, but certainly seek to be comfortable and secure in the idea that their physical needs for shelter and food are met.  There is also a sense in our society that individual worth is measured not in the good acts of the individual but by the wealth an individual can acquire.  For example, let’s look at a baseball player.  How do the MLB owners show their appreciation for the talents of a great player?  They reward them with contracts that create significant fortunes for those able to secure them.  I would guess if you look at all of professional baseball, the number of players earning $15M/year or more would be about the top 1% of the profession.  Wouldn’t it be better if the owners took half of what they will pay a star and have that money put into increased wages for the minor league players who struggle each day to pay their bills and earn a living?  Surely the star won’t mind, he has more than he needs and it’s better for baseball.

Our society is like MLB.  There are those who through talent, good fortune, or family circumstance are wealthy far beyond what is required to meet their basic needs.  Why aren't they obligated to give their excess wealth away to the members of society that have not risen to the top, and who struggle to survive?

So what’s the problem, why can’t we do this and make society a much better place where there is no poverty?  Here are just a few of things to consider, if you can fix these then I think it is clear sailing to Utopia.

Greed – This seems to be an inescapable human condition.  We all seem to want as much of something as we can get, and once we have it we don’t want to give it up.  How do we overcome greed?  How do we convince the entirety of the population they should not be greedy?  We see efforts on the part of the liberal establishment to accuse corporations and the wealthy of being greedy, but they exhibit the very same qualities when we start talking about their money and not someone else’s.  I think the first evidence that society will be making progress eliminating greed is when we stop seeing people killing each other for money, envy, or jealousy. 

Personal Ambition – Historically this has been a quality that separates the successful from the failures.  This should not be confused with people who have failed, but rather those who give up when failing.  As Thomas Edison allegedly said “I’ve not failed, I have discovered 10,000 ways it won’t work.”  That dogged determination is foundational to the success of America.  If the population is given wealth, with no expectation of achievement tied to it, will America continue as it has or will we cease to exist?  How will you stop the ambition of some to succeed beyond the rest and rise to a level above the others?  For the later will be equally bad if we are talking about a Utopia were everyone is equal.

Political Agenda’s and Government Incompetence.  I put these together because they seem to go hand-in-hand.  On the one side we have shown when either of the political parties tries to do something it will never turn out as they promise.  For example, all those who are talking about income inequity never seem to have a plan that does not involve writing new laws or creating new taxes.  I would point out that one of the reasons income inequity exists to the degree it does is because we have created loopholes for some, programs for others, and tax shelters for the rest.  Each and every new law or regulation we implement, regardless of Democrat or Republican sponsorship has done its small part in widening the gap between the rich and the poor.  So to believe we solve this problem with more government involvement flies in the face of common sense.  As Albert Einstein defined it, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  So I have to wonder, why do we think our government can make this better?  My conclusion is we don’t!  It is just a convenient sharpening stone for those with political axes.  They push the mime because it plays well to their fan base.

So there you have my synopsis of the minor hurdles to solving the income inequity problems created by having rich people getting richer and poor people staying poor.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Does Godwin's Law Apply?

From Wikipedia:  Godwin's law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1"--that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.
While this is a somewhat humorous assertion when talking about problems with the subway system, it becomes frighteningly real when the scene of Jews being told to register with the government or lose their citizenship occurs in today’s world.  We cannot help but make the direct correlation to the horrors of the Nazi’s on the Jewish people.  We see in today’s society increasing condemnation of Israel and the entire faith of the Jewish people by those who would support Islam or radical Christian sects.  Supposedly liberal, and forward thinking peoples, are among those most vocal in their opposition to the existence of Israel as a mistake pushed by the British on the supposedly peace loving people of Palestine. Those actions give rise to the bigotry and anti-Semitism we see displayed today.
I rise in opposition to these intolerable acts.  The Martin Niemöller poem displayed at the Holocaust museum in Washington seems most fitting. 
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

It is a sad thing to see the affects of an inconsistent and ambiguous US foreign policy that has failed to maintain its support for the western principles that have served this nation so well since we abandoned the isolationists stance of the 20’s and 30’s.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Question on Education.

I read a post from an elementary school teacher today, reflecting on an earlier time when the nation was not as litigious and teachers could teach as they thought they should, not regulated by the demands of a common curriculum that turns out a standardized product. I can appreciate his sentiment, but he and I seem to be in a distinct minority, where so many other variables are at work that his simple precept is not longer possible.
On the one hand we have an entire educational system questioning why our students do so poorly in the math and sciences when benchmarked against almost everyone else in the world.  On the other, we have our nation challenging whatever theologies and beliefs we once held as a unifying core.  Caught squarely in the middle are the teachers who serve as the lamps enlightening the young minds they are given. 
Add to this the questions of teacher pay versus worth, safeguards for child protection, challenges from parents, expectations of the administration, federal or state standards and compensation, and the breakdown of a common set of society standards; it is unimaginable how anyone can teach for a career.

I wonder, would we be better if we returned to a concept of one-room schools where a single teacher taught everyone from kindergarten to sixth grade?  Where older students helped the younger students and the teacher expected children to learn to be a society, not just learn the words in a book.
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