A Billionaire With A Conscience?

I have written often about the income disparity between the 1% and the rest of us, and I’m often critical of millionaires and billionaires for hoarding their wealth when children are dying every day for lack of food, medicine and hygiene.  Today I came across an OpEd in the New York Times by a millionaire who is a bit different than most, Eli Broad.  While I do not agree 100% with everything Mr. Broad says, what he proposes is a start, a step in the right direction.  Mr. Broad has an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, so he can well afford a bit of philanthropy and a higher tax rate.  If we must have millionaires and billionaires, at least let them have a conscience. Take a look …


I’m in the 1 Percent. Please, Raise My Taxes.

Wealthy people like me should commit to reducing the ravages of economic inequality.

By Eli Broad

Eli-Broad.jpgThere’s a story we like to tell about American capitalism. Ours is a country that prizes merit, rewards risk and stands apart in its commitment to the collective success of open markets and the free flow of capital. We are a nation of strivers who can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps with the right combination of grit and determination.

That’s the tale we love to tell and hear. But take it from a person who has found himself on the fortunate side of that narrative: This story is incomplete. For most people, our system isn’t working.

I say this as the child of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who came here with little more than an oversize belief in what America could offer. Their faith was well placed: My parents watched me build two Fortune 500 companies and become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

Two decades ago I turned full-time to philanthropy and threw myself into supporting public education, scientific and medical research, and visual and performing arts, believing it was my responsibility to give back some of what had so generously been given to me. But I’ve come to realize that no amount of philanthropic commitment will compensate for the deep inequities preventing most Americans — the factory workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and electricians, teachers, nurses and small-business owners — from the basic prosperity we call the American dream.

Some of us have supported closing the gulf between rich and poor by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, reforming our education system, expanding access to medical care, building more affordable housing.

But even in cities like my adopted hometown, Los Angeles, where many of these policies have been enacted, they have not adequately addressed the crisis. Our country must do something bigger and more radical, starting with the most unfair area of federal policy: our tax code.

It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax.

Some will say I’m calling for the populist masses to take out the pitchforks and take down the titans of Wall Street. Some will say it’s just too difficult to execute. Others will call it a flight of fancy.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating an end to the capitalist system that’s yielded some of the greatest gains in prosperity and innovation in human history. I simply believe it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else.

This does not mean I support paying higher taxes without requiring government to be transparent, accountable and equitable about how it spends the revenue, particularly for health care, public education and other programs critical to social and economic mobility. But let’s end this tired argument that we must delay fixing structural inequities until our government is running as efficiently as the most profitable companies. That’s a convenient tactic employed to distract us from the real problems.

The enormous challenges we face as a nation — the climate crisis, the shrinking middle class, skyrocketing housing and health care costs, and many more — are a stark call to action. The old ways aren’t working, and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges.

Democrats have offered an array of plans. Senator Elizabeth Warren would levy a 2 percent tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million. There’s an overdue proposal from Senator Bernie Sanders to increase taxes on estates and inheritances. And then there’s the mark-to-market approach proposed by Senator Ron Wyden, which would treat capital gains income as what it is — actual income for the wealthiest people in America. Currently people who have stocks and other investments that appreciate in value — usually people of means — are taxed at lower rates and are allowed to defer taxes.

I’m not an economist but I have watched my wealth grow exponentially thanks to federal policies that have cut my tax rates while wages for regular people have stagnated and poverty rates have increased.

So when the Democratic candidates take the stage this week for their first debate, I invite fellow members of the 1 percent to join me in demanding that they engage in a robust discussion of how we can strengthen a post-Trump America by reforming our tax code.

Let’s admit out loud what we all know to be true: A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too. What we can’t afford are more shortsighted policies that skirt big ideas, avoid tough issues and do little to alleviate the poverty faced by millions of Americans. There’s no time to waste.

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♫ The Logical Song ♫

As best I recall, I am familiar with only two songs by the English rock group Supertramp, and this is one of the two that I found bobbing about in one of the vast, empty caverns of my mind.

Released in 1979, this was the group’s biggest hit in both the U.S. and UK.  Keyboard player Roger Hodgson wrote this song and sang the lead vocals …

“I think it was very relevant when I wrote it, and actually I think it’s even more relevant today. It’s very basically saying that what they teach us in schools is all very fine, but what about what they don’t teach us in schools that creates so much confusion in our being. I mean, they don’t really prepare us for life in terms of teaching us who we are on the inside. They teach us how to function on the outside and to be very intellectual, but they don’t tell us how to act with our intuition or our heart or really give us a real plausible explanation of what life’s about. There’s a huge hole in the education. I remember leaving school at 19, I was totally confused. That song really came out of my confusion, which came down to a basic question: please tell me who I am. I felt very lost. I had to educate myself in that way, and that’s why California was very good for me to kind of re-educate myself, if you like.”

To accentuate the “d-d-digital” line in the lyrics, the band borrowed a Mattel handheld electronic football game from an engineer named Richard Digby-Smith, who was working next door. This device, which predated Nintendo, provided an unusual sounding, layered bleep. The specific byte occurs near the end of the song just after Hodgson sings the word “digital.” The sound itself indicated a player had lost control of the football.

Rolling Stone called the song a “small masterpiece” praising the “hot sax” and Hodgson’s “wry humor”.

The Logical Song
Supertramp

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical

There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am

I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re Acceptable
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable!
Oh, take it take it yeah

But at night, when all the world’s asleep
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man
Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am, who I am, who I am, who I am
‘Cause I was feeling so logical
D-d-digital
One, two, three, five
Oh, oh, oh, oh
It’s getting unbelievable

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
The Logical Song lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The State of DISunion

I did not watch Donald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address last night, for three very good reasons.

  1. I was already not feeling well and knew that having to see his face, hear his voice, and see all those strange contortions he does with his face would make me unbearably ill.
  2. I feared that my strong reaction to having to listen to him would cause me to irreparably damage my laptop, and frankly I cannot afford a new computer at the moment.
  3. The most important reason of all is that the speech was sure to be filled with lies, or as Keith would prefer I say, ‘untruths’. Why bother?  I have better things to do with my time.

I have worked my way through most of the transcript this morning, have read a few analyses, read The Washington Post’s fact check, and concluded that I was correct in my assessment – it would have been a colossal waste of my valuable time.  That said, I do have some things to say (surprised, aren’t you?) about it all.

First of all, one has to wonder why we even have a State of the Union address every year.

Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution states that the president shall ”from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Somehow, I think that goal could be accomplished without all the pomp and circumstance that surround the event these days.  And, with today’s instantaneous communication, the speech seems really to have outlived its usefulness.  In fact, of what use is it to waste the time of Congress, the Supreme Court, other guests and the home viewing audience, just to listen to fairy tales?  Why couldn’t he just tweet it, as he does everything else? I won’t bother to bore you with the fact-checking … you can get that from any of the major media outlets.

The speech is most notable for what was not addressed.

Climate Change.  How can a speech that is intended to inform us about the state of the country, completely ignore the thing that, by most measures, is the single most important issue facing this, and every other nation?  Under Trump, the U.S. has pulled out of major agreements to work toward reducing carbon emissions and has rolled back the regulations that were intended to help protect the environment.  We have seen the results with our own eyes in the past year, even the past week, yet he says not one word?

Renewable Energy.  The future is not in the coal, gas and oil that Trump has so adamantly vowed to protect, but the future is in renewable energy such as solar, wind and water.  Under Trump, there is no major push by the federal government to explore and expand on renewable energy, but a number of states and corporations are participating.  This could have been a genuine feather in Trump’s cap, had he opted to do the right thing, to take seriously the need to distance ourselves from fossil fuels.  Instead, he chose the most destructive path.

Relations with Allies.  Our relationships with our allies are crumbling, thanks to Trump’s policies that have, in many cases, left our allies scrambling to try to make up for the failure of the U.S. to pull its weight, such as in the Paris Accord, NATO, the Iran nuclear agreement, and NAFTA, and the latest threat to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.  Add to that the disdain he has shown for the leaders of allied nations, such as Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Theresa May and others.  We are no longer a good and trusted friend, to put it quite simply.

Poverty.  Despite Trump’s claims that wages have risen, jobs have been created, 13.4% of people in this nation are living below the poverty level.  As the population increases, and some jobs are replaced by technology, the number of people who struggle just to put food on the table has risen and will continue to rise.

Education.  We are falling behind in our education system, as I have mentioned more than a few times, and this is the key to almost everything I have listed so far.  The new trend seems to be moving away from developing minds and more toward job training.  This is a mistake … a huge mistake … and to add insult to injury, this nation has made it nearly impossible for a young person from a lower-income family to go to college.

National Debt.  With the December 2017 tax cuts that benefit almost exclusively the wealthy in the nation, we severely reduced the nation’s revenue.  To maintain a balanced budget, thereby keeping the national debt at current levels, would require spending cuts equal to the revenue reduction.  But those cuts, under Trump’s plan, would come from programs that help disadvantaged people.  Trump’s fiscal plan is rather a reverse Robin Hood – rob from the poor to give to the rich.

Gun Regulation.  The U.S. is the only nation on the globe with almost no regulations on firearms.  Those who claim the 2nd Amendment gives them the right to own an arsenal that includes assault-type weapons that can mow down a crowd inside of a minute are fools.  On this, the 37th day of 2019, there have already been 510 gun deaths in the U.S.  An average of 14 per day.  And yet, this topic was not considered important enough to be addressed in the State of the Union.

There is more I could add, but you get the picture.  The address was a public relations event, nothing more.  I found it strange that he would call for unity, when he has, in fact, been the most divisive president in the history of the nation.  “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution …” he said, when he is the very source of revenge and retribution, he has pursued a divisive political strategy very much focused on his base.  Last night’s speech, like most everything he does, was intended only for his base … he told them what they wanted to hear and left the rest of us with the clear knowledge that nothing is changed, that the state of the nation is _____________________. (Fill in the blank)

Good People Doing Good Things — Axana Soltan

Axana Soltan may be only 21 years of age, but she has already done more for human rights than many of us ever do in our entire lives.  When she was only 10-years-old, Axana immigrated from her native Afghanistan to the U.S.  At the time Axana lived in Afghanistan, the Taliban controlled the country and women endured unspeakably harsh conditions and were deprived of their basic human rights like education, employment and freedom of speech. Girl’s schools were burned down, teachers were threatened and women who spoke up against their regime were flogged and executed.

Axana’s family was forced to flee the country and became refugees. Axana has spent much of her childhood in refugee camps where there was no school, no medical facilities, no electricity, heating, and not even access to the very basic life necessities such as water. After witnessing the disparities in Afghanistan, she has witnessed the harsh life in exile inside a refugee camp in Pakistan: children passing away due to preventable illnesses, children not being able to get schooling, and families begging for food just to survive.

refugee campsWhile in the refugee camps, Axana was drawn to the good works being done by UNICEF – providing education, food, medicine, and other essentials to the dispossessed in the camps. At a very early age, Axana made it her life’s mission to help people in much the same manner as UNICEF.  Just five years after arriving in the U.S., her work began in earnest – at age 15!

In 2013, Axana founded Enhancing Children’s Living (ECL), a non-profit organization whose goal is “a world in which every child lives a healthy, fulfilling life and builds into smart, creative, and healthy children.” The stated mission per their Facebook page is …

ECL-2.jpgEnhancing Children’s Living is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit philanthropic organization based in Richmond, Virginia. Established in 2013, the society is organized to be a humanitarian unit that ignites the lives of children living in destitute. The organization provides access to meal nourishment, education, advocacy, and medical care to children in and out of the country.

Enhancing Children’s Living invests in a better future, a different future. It invests in a world in which no child left behind. Where children everywhere have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. By partnering with local government, and child advocacy organizations, we ensure every child has a voice and no child feels neglected.

For the past five years, ECL has done so much good for children around the world, from putting together backpacks full of school supplies for children in Pakistan, to sending nourishing meals to children in Haiti, to buying hundreds of pairs of shoes for children coming to the United States from Afghanistan.

ECL-1Axana has achieved global recognition for her activism. On May 13th, 2017, before an audience of 2,500 people, Axana spoke against the travel ban of refugees in her Commencement Address, declaring the ban of children from the seven Muslim countries a violation of the Article 22 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was the first Afghan-American Hero recipient on CBS and received praise from national magazines, such as Blaze and Value Magazine.

Last year, Axana graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University where she received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Criminal Justice.

Axana aspires to become a human rights lawyer and continue her advocacy through policy to ensure that  all children, regardless of country of origin or refugee status, are awarded children’s rights protections as guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).AxanaAxana Soltan has been the energy and the inspiration behind Enhancing Children’s Living, and ECL has secured the education of over 1,700 children around the world. The organization has also been actively providing these children with thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies, hundreds of shoes, clothing and even food.

Next time you hear somebody comment on how terrible immigrants are, that they are all lazy criminals and bad for our nation, think about Axana.

“Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Once you have determined your purpose in life, then chase after it.  In the process, please remember to help others. I strongly believe that a just and compassionate world stars with each one of us. You don’t have to be a doctor, lawyer, or a rocket scientist to make a difference in the world. There is no timeline.  Together we can create a world that places human needs and human-rights above all.”  – Axana Soltan

Hey Democrats — Listen UP!!!

As a left-leaning, liberal-thinking independent voter, I have had serious reservations regarding the ‘blue wave’ that everyone is talking about.  It is a theory that democrats will win big in November simply based on the fact that Trump and his sycophants in Congress are doing such a horrible job that all sensible voters will vote in a democratic candidate … any democratic candidate.  For months, I have said that it wasn’t enough, that the democratic party needs cohesion, that the candidates need a solid, respectable platform.  I have called for the DNC to find and support candidates who are ‘squeaky clean’, who carry no baggage that would give the GOP an opening for mud-slinging and under-handed shenanigans.  Last night I found my sentiments echoed by Anthony Zurcher, a journalist for the BBC.

“One of the ongoing criticisms of Democrats since Barack Obama moved out of the White House is that the party has been defined by what it opposes, instead of what it wants to do.

They’re not Donald Trump. They’re against travel bans, border walls, trade wars, financial and environmental deregulation, corporate tax cuts and repeal of the Obamacare health insurance system.

But what are they for? What are their ideas?”

It’s true.  Think about it … we know exactly what the GOP stands for because they are loud and obnoxious about it.  They will defend to the death their 2nd Amendment rights, they applaud Trump’s vision of a wall along the southern border, they want immigration stopped, they want environmental regulations removed on businesses, especially the fossil fuel industry, and the list goes on.  There is no doubt what they stand for.  But ask the average person what the democrats stand for, and the answer would likely be … the opposite of all of the above.  They know what they are against, but they don’t know what they are for.  Which, of course, is not quite true, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was, given that the democratic party as a whole is not speaking above a whisper these days.

“We’re not going to win if we spend all our time bemoaning that he’s there. He’s there. And we have to offer an alternative.” — Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar

“People ask how come you’re not offering alternatives. And I say we are.” – Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown

During a recent “Ideas Conference”, democrats tried to zero in on the party platform …

  • Minimum wage increases
  • Expanding public schooling
  • Ethics, reform and oversight
  • Dismantling the oligarchy
  • Guns, the environment and health care

That’s it … that is what comprises the core values of the democratic party.  Okay, I am on board with all of the above, but there is so much more.  And why are the three arguably most important issues lumped together at the very end???

My concern is that this election will devolve into a mud-fest.  I am also concerned that for democrats, it will become a single-issue election:  gun regulation.  While gun regulation is certainly among the top concerns today, if it is allowed to become the central focus, I’m not sure how well the democrats will fare, for it is also the single most contentious issue on the docket, with far too many being told by the GOP that democrats want to abolish the 2nd Amendment and ‘take all your guns’.

While political ideologies do have a base platform, the day-to-day issues tend to be reactionary.  In this, the era of Trump, they are typically a reaction to whatever horrific thing he has most recently said or done, and there is no dearth of material on which to react.  But this gets us nowhere, it pulls us down to the level of the GOP, and it won’t win elections in November.

The Democratic Party stands for many things:  social & economic equality, social programs, labour unions, affordable college tuition, universal health care, equal opportunity for all, consumer protections, and environmental protections, to name a few.  This, then, is what the candidates need to be focusing on, the message they need to be getting out.  It will help that Trump & Co are making a mockery of our government, and the anger that generates will certainly play a role, but it is not going to be enough to carry the day.  It is absolutely essential to the continuation of this nation as a democratic republic that the demographics of Congress be changed.  The current majority in both the House and the Senate are naught but sycophants, book-lickers, who will bow to Trump’s will and who will fight to keep the madman in office, for he is their job security.

Please, democratic candidates, focus on the issues rather than simply being the “anti-Trump”.  Trump will, I firmly believe, help sink his own boat as well as that of the GOP, so leave him to it, and focus on presenting a united, sensible, humanitarian front. It is easy to argue against every single thing Trump has done or will do between now and November 6th, but there is a bigger goal here, and to achieve it, we must do better than to be the “Party of No”.

Entertainment?

Our friend Hugh, aka the Professor, is a deep thinker, as one would expect of a former professor of philosophy. Today (actually a few days ago) Hugh delves into the effects on society, on humanity, of television and other electronic media. It is something we often don’t think much about, but … we need to … we really need to. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post, for it is, as always, food for thought. Thank you, Hugh, for both this post and permission to share it!

hughcurtler

I have suggested on occasion, sometimes generally sometimes pointedly, that the entertainment industry has been one of the more pernicious influences on the development of such things as intelligence and character that have been seen of late. It’s influence is felt everywhere and since we know that animals, including the human animal, learn from imitation it follows that the ubiquitous television and the social media (of late, especially) have had a tremendous effect on the development of young minds and hearts.

Robert Hutchins once pointed out that the invention of  television held out the greatest of possibilities for humankind. It could be an educational tool like none other and could bring about the elevation of minds and the enlargement of experience among all those touched by it. But we know that has not happened. Not only does public television — which was the last bastion of hope — struggle against…

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Love of Country

The survival of our freedoms in this nation relies on good governance. Good governance relies on informed voters. We can only have informed voters if we have educated voters. Friend and fellow-blogger Hugh Curtler has summed it all up nicely for us and I urge you to read this most thought-provoking post. Our current system is in peril from those who believe there is little value in educating all people to think for themselves rather than blindly follow, as lemmings off a cliff. Thank you, Hugh, for this post and for allowing me to share your thoughts.

hughcurtler

Back in July of 2012 I wrote this post about the relationship between education and democracy, a relationship I, like many others, consider essential. A part of that discussion is about patriotism, and given today’s sudden interest in the notion, featuring many who have no idea whatever what the word means, I thought it timely to trot out the post and ask readers to consider it once again. I have modified the post a bit to bring it up to date.

Years ago John Dewey wrote a book titled Democracy and Education in which he argued convincingly that a democratic system required an educated citizenry. In fact, Dewey went so far as to insist that the purpose of education is to turn out citizens who are enlightened enough to select their leaders and understand what they are up to. It’s not about jobs or self-esteem; it’s about gaining control…

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A Disturbing Trend …

A couple of weeks ago, two headlines grabbed my attention:

A Majority of Republicans Think College Is Bad for America – The Week, 10 July 2017

Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions – Republicans Increasingly Say Colleges Have Negative Impact on U.S. – Pew Research Center, 10 July 2017

The headlines, I believe, say much about why our nation is in chaos today. 58% of Republicans now say that colleges “are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” while just 36% think colleges positively affect the country, Pew reported. The other 6% presumably are scratching their heads asking “what’s college?” A short two years ago, 54% of Republicans thought that colleges had a positive effect, while 37% said they had a negative effect. Two short years … what changed?

I think we all know the answer to that question and it can be summed up in two words:  Donald Trump.  In mid-2015, Donald Trump threw his proverbial hat into the ring as a contender for the office of president, and since then nothing has been quite the same.  Donald Trump spent a year-and-a-half telling America how successful he was, even though he had more business failures than successes.  He spent a year-and-a-half telling America how rich he was, even though he is far less wealthy than he would have us believe, and at least a portion of his wealth was not acquired honestly.  And he told the country those things in rambling, bumbling half sentences, using words that do not exist in Merriam Webster, and he somehow made it seem okay to be uneducated.

Donald Trump convinced Republicans that making lots of money was more important than things like honesty and integrity, knowledge and compassion.  More important than protecting the environment, helping people, accepting and understanding other cultures, or even understanding how our government actually functions.  Donald Trump showed America that literacy is not essential to ‘getting ahead’.  Unfortunately for all of us, a majority of Republicans believed what Donald Trump said.

The value of a college education is multi-fold, and I have neither time nor space for a full analysis, so I will focus on one aspect.  A college education does, or at least should, teach the students to think for themselves – to sort fact from fiction, to assess the facts, and then to make decisions based on that assessment.

My blogger-friend Hugh Curtler1, a retired college professor, has written a number of articles lamenting that colleges these days are not doing a good job of this, and in large part, I agree with him, and his theory is supported by the U.S. decline in worldwide ranking.

education-ranking-2.pngHowever, I would also argue that rather than abandon the idea of a college education altogether, society and government need to work together toward fixing the problems by returning the primary focus to academics rather than sports, holding students accountable rather than giving praise for substandard or average work, and returning the institutions to places where many and varied ideas are presented and discussed openly.

Donald Trump is not an educated man.  Yes, he graduated from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics.  However, an education is what you make of it, and one need only listen to him for about 30 seconds to realize that he is uneducated in even the most basic language skills.  But to take it a step further, he focused only on real estate and economics, eschewing what higher learning had to offer in such subjects as history, science, literature, cultural studies and basic civics.

The fact that so many Republicans are following his lead, viewing a college education as being detrimental to the state of the nation, is highly disturbing.  It also explains a lot.  It explains, at least in part, the reason so many are turning a blind eye to the facts, such as climate change.  Scientists have proven that human activities, often those that are involved in a pursuit of wealth, are damaging our environment, killing both animal and plant life essential to our very existence, but rather than listen, research and learn, rather than support policies that may save the planet, some choose to believe Trump when he says climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.

Another Pew study in October 2016, found that only 16% of Americans (across all political parties) think that a college education prepares students very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy. Americans view workforce-relevant skills and knowledge as more important than personal and intellectual growth. That is disturbing to me.

Certainly I do not deny the need to earn a living.  One must have a home, food, clothing, transportation and the ability to do those things that make life enjoyable.  Those are requisite.  But beyond that, there is more to life than money.  If you look at some of the very wealthy … and there are plenty to look at on the front pages every day … they may have millions or even billions of dollars, own real estate and investments, but they are poor in the ways that matter.  They are without values, they care not about humanity, they do not understand nor care to understand cultures that exist beyond the walls of their mansions.  Money, status and power are their worlds.  To me, that is a very sad, shallow, narrow existence.

If a college education is allowed to fade into oblivion, what pool will future leaders be drawn from?  We have elected a president who is basically uneducated, who does not understand how the government he is supposed to lead even operates, and has never even read the Constitution, the foundation of our government.  The result has been chaos – chaos that could lead to the erosion of a governmental structure that ensures our citizens certain ‘inalienable’ rights.  And yet, the majority of Republicans do not see the value in a college education.

I ask you to consider something.  Donald Trump’s policies are contrary to what most thinkers and humanitarians believe.  Is it not, then, to the advantage of Trump and those like him to keep the populace uneducated, unable to think and reason for themselves? To be, instead, content to follow what Trump says, rather than having the ability to study and understand the issues and thus draw our own conclusions?

We need more, not fewer, thinkers in our nation.  We need people capable of working with other nations to solve environmental problems.  We need innovators in science to educate and find solutions for problems that threaten to destroy our very future.  We need educators to open the minds of our young so that they are able to see the world and its possibilities, rather than live in their own narrow confines. People like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson have only one vision and see no value in anything that does not have dollar signs attached to it. If we allow our institutions of higher learning to become defunct, or to become cost-prohibitive simply because our government leaders tell us they have no value, then we are destined to lose our place as a developed nation.  More importantly, we are destined to lose our humanity and our humility.  Think about it.

1 Links to a few of Hugh’s posts:

Trump and American Education

Democracy and Education

The Business of Education

In Defense of Educaton

 

On Chocolate Milk, Baby Carrots and Mind Bounce …

A story in The Washington Post this morning caught my eye:

The Surprising Number of American Adults Who Think Chocolate Milk Comes from Brown Cows

Surely this must be a joke, right?  WRONG!

“Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.

If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

One Department of Agriculture study, commissioned in the early ’90s, found that nearly 1 in 5 adults did not know that hamburgers are made from beef.”

Now, I did not grow up on a farm, though one of my pseudo-uncles was a rancher, and a friend of my parents’ was an orchardist.  But, I know from whence most of the food I eat originated.  The article, once my initial shock had worn off, brought back some memories.  My sister-in-law used to think that hamburgers came from pigs … ham-burgers.  Okay, I guess I can see that.  And my niece was visiting one summer when I made French fries one night.  Now, I most often eschew the frozen ones and make homemade French fries by peeling and cutting potatoes, then frying them in hot oil.  When I did so, my niece said, “Wow, Aunt Jill, I didn’t know you could make French fries from potatoes!”  Sigh.

“When one team of researchers interviewed fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at an urban California high school, they found that more than half of them didn’t know pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants. Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows. And 3 in 10 didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.”

I did learn something new today from a related article:  baby carrots are not baby carrots! They are, rather, sculpted from full-sized adult carrots.  The story:

“In the early 1980s, the carrot business was stagnant and wasteful. Growing seasons were long, and more than half of what farmers grew was ugly and unfit for grocery shelves. But in 1986, [Mike] Yurosek, itching for a way to make use of all the misshapen carrots, tried something new. Instead of tossing them out, he carved them into something more palatable.

At first, Yurosek used a potato peeler, which didn’t quite work because the process was too laborious. But then he bought an industrial green-bean cutter. The machine cut the carrots into uniform 2-inch pieces, the standard baby carrot size that persists today.”

Who knew?  I guess I’m as under-educated in matters of agriculture as the rest!  Today, the ‘baby carrots’ account for 70% of all carrot sales.  It’s rather sad, though, to think of how much carrot is going to waste in this manner.  I typically buy the baby carrots, as they are just the right size for soups and stews, snacking, and roasting, but I think I will go back to buying full-size carrots now … after all, it only takes a minute to peel and cut a carrot!

produce.jpgAs tends to happen frequently these days, one thought sets my mind down a perilous path of many twists and turns, and the original article, about ‘food-ignorance’ led me to an ugly place.  Sigh.  But one must wonder, with the bulk of our population living in urban areas and never having grown so much as a scallion, what happens if … if there is an extended power outage, if through an act of aggression or a natural disaster, we are not able to run to our local supermarket and purchase veggies, cheese, milk and chicken?

We have become all too dependent on our food being always available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we do not give a second thought to how that food got there.  When the weather forecaster says “a chance of flurries in the overnight hours”, the supermarkets are suddenly packed with shoppers who simply must stock up on milk and toilet tissue.  In the past year or so, people have become even more dependent, as now most major supermarkets offer a service where the consumer can go online, select their groceries, specify a pick-up time, then simply drive to the front of the store and pick up their grocery order.  I have not tried this service, and probably won’t, for the bulk of my shopping happens in the produce department, and I prefer to select my own peppers and onions.  But to others, it is a time-and-energy saver, and is gaining momentum, from what I understand.

All of us have become far too dependent on things that could disappear in the blink of an eye, and I am no exception.  I do not pretend to know what the answer is, and certainly we cannot live our lives in fear of the unknown.  I remember during the cold war, families building ‘bomb shelters’ in their back yards, stocking them with surplus food and other essentials.  Even more recently, in response to a panic that computer systems would not be able to handle the date switch to the 21st century, rumour had it that the entire electrical grid of the U.S. might be down for a long period.  Remember Y2k?  So no, I do not think panic is in order, but I do think it would behoove us to at least understand some of the more basic things in life, such as how to grow a few veggies, how to bake our own bread, and most importantly, how to live with less.

Now how the heck did I go from what was intended to be a humorous piece to this?  See … this is how my mind works.  I call it ‘mind bounce’, for it is as if there is one of those small bouncy balls inside my skull jumping from one place to another with warp speed.  Welcome to my world!!!

laugh

A Smart Pill?????

smartI am, apparently, not quite as smart as I once thought.  But wait … there’s a pill for that!  In fact, I have often joked, upon doing something dumb like putting my coffee cup in the clothes washing machine, that “I must have forgotten to take my smart pill today!” But who knew there really was such a thing? Now, I knew, of course, about performance-enhancing drugs in the sports world.  There has been much controversy over athletes who use anabolic steroids to build up muscle, and other drugs that may decrease both reaction time and fatigue.  And I certainly knew, having a daughter who is a urological nurse, that there are certain drugs that improve … functionality in certain areas of men’s lives.  But I never knew that there were drugs to make you smarter!

They are called nootropics, cognitive enhancement drugs, or ‘smart drugs’.  They came onto my radar just this evening via a headline in the Guardian:

Universities must do more to tackle use of smart drugs, say experts

Academics call on institutions to consider measures such as drug testing to stem UK rise of drugs used to cope with exam stress

According to the article:

“As hundreds of thousands of students across the UK prepare to sit their summer exams in coming weeks, Thomas Lancaster, an associate dean at Staffordshire University, said we were entering a “dangerous world” where students have access to the “study drugs”.

“Universities need to seriously consider how to react to the influx of smart drugs on campus. Educating students about smart drugs and seeing if they view this as cheating is important here. If the trend continues, universities may need to think about drug testing to ensure the integrity of the examination process,” Lancaster said.

Smart drugs, also known as nootropics, are a group of prescription drugs used to improve concentration, memory and mental stamina during periods of study. The most commonly used ones are Modafinil, Ritalin and Adderall. These substances are normally used to treat disorders such as narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In May 2016 the Oxford student newspaper, the Cherwell, published a survey that showed 15.6% of students knowingly took Modafinil or another such drug without prescription.

A recent European study co-authored by Robert Dempsey, a lecturer in psychology at Staffordshire University, found that the majority of university students believe it is normal to use such drugs to enhance academic performance.”

Looking back on my college days, during exam time my drugs of choice were caffeine and tobacco … still are, for that matter.  Sure, exam time was stressful, but … so what?  Life is sometimes stressful … stressing over exams is just a small bit of preparation for the real world, for life!

My fellow blogger and friend Hugh Curtler has been saying for some time that our education system is not holding students fully accountable, and that many are being spoon-fed, passed year after year without gaining the knowledge they need. In his post titled “Academic Freedom” from December 2016, Hugh says:

” … the increasing tendency to ask little of spoiled students who complain when asked to do what they really would rather not do, will reduce our academies of higher learning to country clubs and mental health clinics where students can feel safe and protected from the realities of the world “out there.” In a word, universities are rapidly becoming more concerned about the “well-being” of the students than about their intellectual growth.”

I know this to be true, but this latest, the fact that they think a pill can make them smarter … just floors me.  Not only are they being mollycoddled, but now they need drugs to make them smart enough to pass their exams?  Whatever happened to good old-fashioned studying, paying attention, reading, then studying some more?  No need – just buy a set of Cliff Notes, take a pill, and BOOM … exam passed!

In another Guardian article from February 2017, students talk about their use of these ‘smart drugs’:

  • “Everybody’s feeling it. The pressure. There’s just so much pressure. Everything. I shouldn’t even be here. I didn’t even want to go to university but everyone said I should. And the work! It’s just… there’s so much of it! I feel like I wouldn’t even have a chance if it wasn’t for modafinil.”

  • “My ex-girlfriend used to say that to me … She was like, ‘I don’t agree with it. It’s unfair.’ And then when the pressure was on, she was like, ‘Can you give me some?’”

  • “It’s not that it makes you more intelligent. It’s just that it helps you work. You can study for longer. You don’t get distracted. You’re actually happy to go to the library and you don’t even want to stop for lunch. And then it’s like 7pm, and you’re still, ‘Actually, you know what? I could do another hour.’”

  • “It gives you this amazing concentration but you have to make sure you’re actually in front of your books. I spent five hours in my room rearranging my iTunes library on it once.”

  • “I didn’t know anything about it in my first year. It’s all coming from the international students. It was the American students that we discovered it from. They’re all medicated and they’ve got prescriptions and they sell them on.”

I am torn between feeling rage that these young students have no better sense, that they think these pills are a substitute for hard work, and feeling sadness that they will be so woefully unprepared for the careers they choose, for coping with life’s pressures.  Shame on the drug companies that manufacture the drugs, though some were developed for legitimate purposes.  Shame on parents who haven’t taught their kids that life doesn’t come to you on a silver platter, that you must earn it with hard work and responsibility.

So, maybe I am not as smart as some, but one thing is for sure – I am smart enough to know that I cannot gain knowledge from a pill bottle.  Knowledge comes only from reading, studying, thinking, listening to people, opening your mind, and experiencing life.  It is a sad statement of our education system today, but worse, it is a sad statement of the next generation to whom we will ultimately turn over stewardship of our world, for they will not be up to the challenge.

This brings to mind a song from my youth …

white-rabbit

“White Rabbit”
Jefferson Airplane

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head