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!!!


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”
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

New Weekly Feature … Good People Doing Good Things!

I am trying out a new feature here on Filosofa’s Word.  My Monday morning ‘no-politics’ column has become quite popular since I started it last year, and I have come to realize that, while the things I write and opine about are important and cannot be ignored, we all need a bit of a break from the serious stuff every now and again.  So, I want to try a new Wednesday afternoon, mid-week post that will feature ‘good people doing good things’ around the world.  Unlike the Monday morning post, I cannot promise Wednesday’s will be completely free of political issues, because often politics and global affairs are the reason people need to become philanthropists. But politics will not be the central focus. Hopefully I won’t run out of material after week #3! Please let me know your thoughts, and PLEASE … if you are aware of a person, family or NGO that is doing good things to make the world a better place … send me a suggestion!

I am kicking this experiment off today with a post about Bill and Melinda Gates, and their foundation called … Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)!  Launched in 2000 BMGF is said to be the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world. Their primary goals are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Warren Buffett is the third trustee of the organization and has contributed generously from his own wealth.  Bill Gates, as of 2013, had contributed $28 billion of his own money to the foundation!  Buffett’s contributions, made in annual installments, have totaled $18.76 billion as of July 2015.  The three trustees are fully invested in this venture, unlike other foundations that serve primarily as a pass-thru for donations taken from others and distributed to a cause.

gatesA bit about Bill and Melinda.  In 1975, along with Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded Microsoft Corporation, that today is the largest PC software company in the world. Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was the wealthiest from 1995 to 2007, again in 2009, and has been since 2014. (Eat your heart out, Donald Trump!)  His current wealth is estimated at $84.2 billion.  In 2006, Gates stepped down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in order to devote more of his time to the good works of his foundation.  In addition to financial contributions to his own foundation, Gates has made significant contributions to other philanthropic organizations in the fields of science, medical research and education. Time magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005, and 2006.

gates-mBill and Melinda met when she was employed at Microsoft in the 1990s, and the couple married in 1994.  In addition to her work with the Gates Foundation, she has been involved with a number of other charitable works, including serving as chairperson for a campaign to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital and personally contributing $10 million to her former high school.

The foundation’s programs, grants and investments are far too numerous to list in this post, but in general, they are broken down into the following areas:

  • Global Development Division – to combat extreme poverty through grants. Works include financial services for the poor, agricultural development, water/sanitation/hygiene, sanitation technology innovations, and other more specific causes, such as helping out after the 2004 earthquake in India.
  • Global Health Division – major contributor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids. Other projects in this area include polio eradication, a children’s vaccine program, HIV research, working with World Health Organization (WHO) on tropical disease research, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
  • United States Division – supports two primary initiatives: libraries and education.  The foundation has given grants, installed computers and software, and provided training and technical support in partnership with public libraries nationwide in an effort to increase access and knowledge. The foundation has provided scholarships far too numerous to list, but also works with teachers’ unions, United Negro College Fund, and many other education-based organizations.
  • Global Policy & Advocacy Division – is best defined by a statement from the foundation’s website: “Because our resources alone are not enough to advance the causes we care about, we engage in advocacy efforts to promote public policies that advance our work, build strategic alliances with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues.”

The foundation has won numerous awards, and in 2016, President Barack Obama honored Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.

Two things put the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation far and above many other philanthropic organizations:

  1. They do not merely solicit and collect donations, then distribute them to causes, but they have invested heavily of their own wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have pledged to give away half their wealth over the course of their lifetime.
  2. The trustees of the foundation have invested more than just money. They give of themselves, their time, their energy.  This is what many such organizations fail to do.  If you are wealthy, it is not a huge sacrifice to give away money, but no matter who you are, or how wealthy, your time is your most valuable commodity, and Bill and Melinda Gates also give their time to overseeing their projects.

Two things made me decide to write about this particular foundation this week.  First, after the confirmation of Betsy DeVos last week, I was looking at her family’s philanthropic works, and they cannot even hold a candle to the humanitarian causes supported by the Gates Foundation.  DeVos family mainly donate, it seems, to politicians … politicians who seem compelled to take away from global humanitarian causes.  My other reason was an article in the Guardian this morning:

“Trump’s ‘global gag rule’ could endanger millions of women and children, Bill and Melinda Gates warn”

The “global gag rule” imposed by Donald Trump, blocking US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care overseas, could impact millions of women and girls, endangering their lives and those of their babies, Bill and Melinda Gates have warned.

The changes are expected to result in funding from the world’s biggest donor to family planning and women’s health programmes in the developing world being slashed. It could, Bill Gates told the Guardian, “create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill”.

I rest my case.  In addition to the billions of dollars spent on humanitarian causes, and donations to other good works around the world, the BMGF has inspired others, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to follow in their footsteps.  Doing the small bit of research I did for this post was uplifting and gave me hope that we can still yet learn to help one another, that while we talk of the greed of big corporations, and that infamous ‘one percent’, there are people out there who want to be a part of solving the world’s problems, or at least do a small part to make the world a better place for humanity.  Two thumbs up to Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett for their courage, hard work and generosity!

Note:  I just realized, after working for 3 hours on this post, that today is, in fact, not Wednesday but Tuesday!  Sheesh.  Well, from this point forward, this will be a Wednesday afternoon feature.  If I can remember what day it is.


Academic Freedom

I meant to share this post by fellow blogger-buddy Hugh Curtler yesterday, but as sometimes happens, I got sidetracked. Hugh, an educator and philosopher, speaks to the current trend of what is happening with higher education in today’s world, and why our young people are graduating from college without having learned the only thing worth learning: to think for themselves. It is an excellent post, and I hope you will take a few moments to read it … it provides much food for thought about what today’s colleges and universities are doing, and what they should be doing.


Back in the day when I was teaching at the collegiate level we worried about academic freedom. In those days, it amounted to insisting that administrators allow faculty of differing opinions and philosophical convictions to speak their minds without recrimination. It also insisted on equal pay for equal work. It degenerated into unionization which, while it did raise salaries and save the careers of a number of faculty members, it also set a tone that I always felt was inimical to the ideals of collegiality that ought to be found on college campuses. But then I have been spitting into the wind so long my saliva is about used up.

Of late, however, the university faculties themselves are interfering with academic freedom. Increasingly, they are refusing to allow speakers to speak on campuses across the country, “controversial” figures like George W. Bush, Madeleine Albright, George Will, Paul Ryan, Condoleezza Rice, and Ayaan Hirsi…

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Half of America

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

– John Donne

Yesterday, Americans had a choice.  Almost equally divided, half of America chose to bring to a close 240 years of a mostly great nation.  Half of America spoke and here is what they said:

  • We no longer wish to be a part of the larger world, but rather we wish to be an island. On our island, we wish to have only people with very pale skin, Aryans, so to speak.  On our island, we wish to have only those who believe in the same God as we do. We wish to expel all those who believe, think or look differently than we do by whatever means are necessary to achieve our goal of an all-white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual population.
  • We no longer wish to spend our time and resources to help other people, but to attend only to our own comfort. We no longer wish to pay taxes to ensure that those less fortunate than us can feed, clothe and shelter their families. In the words of Marie Antoinette, “let them eat cake!” We no longer care whether people who are sick can get medical attention.  We have too many people on earth using our precious resources as it is – let the sick people die for all we care.
  • We no longer value human life. Although we plan to abandon much of the U.S. Constitution in favour of a more authoritarian form of government and a more elitist society, we will continue to expand our 2nd Amendment rights. We do not intend to have restrictions on the possession of, not only firearms, but any other weapon. We believe that each of our lives are more important than any other, and we will be armed wherever and whenever we so choose.
  • We no longer wish to participate in our government, but rather we prefer a dictator to make all decisions for us. Participation in the decisions of government require effort on our part, require that we read and learn about pesky issues such as the economy, infrastructure, and foreign affairs.  We prefer to leave such things to the men at the top so that we may spend our days watching Duck Dynasty and gossiping on social media.
  • We no longer care about preserving the earth and the environment for future generations. Rather, we think of ourselves as the ‘now generation’.  Who knows what will happen in the next century, decade, or even tomorrow, so we shall live for today and let future generations worry about themselves.  We consider it an inconvenience to be told to turn our thermostat down, or to drive our cars less.  Our comfort is paramount.
  • We no longer believe in the importance of education. We are tired of our tax dollars being spent to send our children to schools where they are not even taught the values we believe in, but rather are taught such frivolous things as environmental science, history and the like.  We are tired of our young people being taught to think for themselves in colleges and universities – we prefer that their minds remain closed to outside ideas.
  • We no longer believe that women should be considered equal to men, but rather that they exist solely for the comfort and convenience of men. We believe that a woman’s place is in the home, not above some imaginary glass ceiling making decisions that men are more capable of making. We no longer wish there to be laws to suppress a man’s natural inclination toward women, and further, we will henceforth allow men to make all decisions about a woman’s body.
  • We no longer wish to be a nation that supports equality or promotes financial security for all. We do not believe that wealthy people should be obligated to share their wealth, nor to pay taxes in accordance with their wealth.  We believe that wealthy people are special and that they have been chosen to rule our nation, to make the decisions for us so that we do not need to think for ourselves. We no longer support minimum wage laws, nor will we continue to support such programs as Social Security and Medicare.
  • We no longer wish to trade goods and services with other nations. We wish to produce what we need here in the U.S., keep our products in the U.S., and we do not wish to import goods and services from other nations.  Our new motto will be ‘self-sufficiency’. We no longer wish to see cheap clothing from Taiwan, or Christmas ornaments made in China.
  • In sum, we no longer wish to be the United States of America of yore. We no longer support the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, but only for ourselves. We no longer care about people who are struggling, but only ourselves.  We no longer wish to concern ourselves with the world as a whole.  Other nations will no longer be able to rely on our friendship, and we no longer wish to have friends outside our own borders. We believe ourselves to be a race superior to all others and we no longer need to have tolerance for any who are different than us.  Those who do not wish to live in our new nation have exactly 72 days to ‘shape up or ship out.’

And those are the values, if one can call them values at all, that will define the nation after January 20, 2017.  To the half of America that made this choice, I say only that I hope you will be happy with the results of your choice, but I suspect that you will not.  When you realize the consequences of what you have chosen, be very, very quiet, because the other half of us will not wish to hear your lament, nor will we be quick to empathize with your plight. As the old saying goes, ‘you made your bed, now you have to lie in it’.  To the half of us who tried to do the right thing … I send hugs, love, and a hope that we can survive whatever comes next.

Note to readers:  I realize the tone of this post is sardonic and negative, and I apologize, but I needed to say what I said.  Bear with me, please, while I find my new direction.

Democracy and Education

Nothing sells news like fear. If marketers can make us afraid of something, we will buy any product that promises to help us avoid that fear. Those who create a fear in order to sell a product are known as snake oil salesmen.

Today there is a new ‘product’ on the market, a product for which new (unfounded) fears have been created and the lemmings are falling for the ploy – hook, line and sinker. The product? Donald Trump. The fears? Everything from Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities, free trade agreements, jobs, and more. He claims that only his product, himself, can keep us safe and “make America great again”. .

An excellent post by writer-blogger Hugh Curtler explains why so many Americans today are vulnerable to Trump’s marketing strategy and that the solution to this “politics of paranoia” lies in our education system. He claims, and I agree, that democracy cannot continue to exist in an environment where education is declining. Please take a few minutes to read his post and let him know what you think. Agree? Disagree?


Years ago John Dewey wrote a book about the relationship between democracy and education, making the claim that the former relies upon the latter. Without an educated citizenry democracy cannot survive. I have been harping on the same theme for many years now and am saddened to say that Dewey was spot on. We are seeing his prediction come true, especially of late.

Thousands of qualified American citizens are ready to vote for a demagogue who has openly lied and insulted whole classes of people while making it abundantly clear that he is an autocrat in the mold of Vladamir Putin: he wants to (and thinks he can) run the show by himself. He doesn’t realize that as president he must work with the sitting Congress in order to achieve anything. Given his past performance it is fair to say that if the Congress doesn’t act as he would want them…

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Let’s Talk About The Issues … Part IV (FINAL)

This is the fourth and final (I heard you breathe a sigh of relief!) post discussing the issues I think are most important in the nation today as compared to the ones that citizens consider the most important according to a national  Gallup survey of July 13-17:

  1. Economy
  2. Racism/Race relations
  3. Dissatisfaction with government
  4. Crime/Violence
  5. Ethics/Moral/Religious decline

In this post I will conclude by discussing the last two issues on my list::

  1. Bigotry/racism
  2. Environment/climate change
  3. Gun control
  4. Education
  5. Refugee crisis/immigration

One could argue that #4, education, should be at the top of the list.  Education is very much linked to almost all other issues, as the more enlightened we are as a nation, the more likely we will be to make wise decisions, smart choices.

In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degrees among 25-34 year-olds; today, the U.S. ranks 12th.  Why?  What happened?  One theory is that college enrollment always follows the economic cycle:  when the economy is in a recession, college enrollment increases, and when in a period of recovery, as we have been for some years now, enrollment decreases as jobs become more readily available.  This theory makes some sense if you think about it, however it is only a part of the reason.  Rising college costs must be considered to have a significant impact on enrollment.  According to data recently released by the Organization for Co-operation and Development, the U.S. has the highest cost, $26,021 per year, of all nations surveyed.  This, as compared to Russia ($7,424), Canada ($23,225), Japan ($16,445), and Israel ($15,553).  Over the past 30 years, the cost of a four-year college degree in the U.S. has tripled.

The unemployment rate for Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is just 3.2 percent, compared to a national average of 6.1 percent. This, in itself justifies education being among the top issues facing the nation today!  Not only is the college-educated individual more likely to have a job, but that job is more likely to provide a living wage.  According to Pew Research Center, the median income for a college graduate is $45,500 compared to $28,000 for a high-school graduate, or 62.5% higher for the college grad.

The facts speak for themselves.  We must make college more affordable and ensure that the opportunity is available for every high school graduate.  Tax credits, lower interest on student loans, additional grants, and loan deferments are just a few of the ways that government may be able to help, and I am sure there are others.  We need lawmakers who are dedicated to making college affordable to all, else we are destined to end up a nation of citizens working at minimum wage jobs and worse, unable to think for themselves.

Finally, the 5th item on my list, the refugee/immigration issue.  Though this, also, is truly a global issue, I am speaking here only of the situation in the U.S. as regards our current and potential immigrant situation.  Current and reliable data is difficult to come by regarding the number and origin of our immigrant population at present.  The most recent reliable data is as of 2014, which ordinarily would not be a problem, but in this situation, there has been significant change during that time, so I am uncomfortable using it. I can certainly understand the dearth of valid data, as it is, I am certain, rather like trying to hit a moving target. However, the table below shows the number of immigrants as of 2014 for a base reference, since this data agrees with that of several sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau.


When I include refugees/immigration as one of my top five issues, I do so from a different perspective, perhaps, than many people.  Today, in the furor of certain political candidates who have convinced a portion of the masses that all immigrants are in one way or another a bad thing for this country and must absolutely be stopped, it is difficult for saner voices to actually be heard.  My perspective, the reason I see this as an issue, is that it makes no sense to ban immigrants, however we absolutely must have plans and processes in place to absorb those immigrants, to help them survive and assimilate into our society.  At present, I can tell you based on my hours spent dealing with government agencies on behalf of my neighbors, Syrian refugees, if there is an organized plan, it is elusive.

Private organizations often help refugees for the first year or so, but after that they are on their own.  Imagine escaping from a country where terrorist attacks and bombings are the everyday norm, leaving behind everything except a few clothes … family pictures, money, furniture are all left behind … to come to a country where hardly anybody speaks your language, there are mounds of paperwork required simply to find food and shelter, all of it in English, having no car, no family, no friends.  Just try to imagine it for a minute.  The government is trying, I do believe, but I have found that even with my command of the English language the hurdles are frustrating.

The massive, ongoing violence in the Middle East and economic situation in other countries are such that every nation must do its part to help displace people.  That includes the U.S., and I do not foresee that we will realistically be reducing the number of immigrants seeking refuge in the near future.  Thus it is imperative that our elected leaders come together to plan and implement those plans such that we can provide the most amount of help to people, with the least amount of disruption to the country.  It is foolhardy, to say the least, to think that we can just toss all immigrants out of the country.

Thus concludes my fourth and final post of this series.  I appreciate all who stuck with me for all four!  My purpose, for any who may have wondered, was not to force my opinions on anybody, but to highlight the fact that, as voters, we need to be thinking about the issues facing our nation.  We need to vote in November based on which candidate we believe will best serve our nation overall, not which can yell the loudest or be the most obnoxious or come up with the wildest schemes.  We need to ask the candidates to clarify and provide detail on the issues.  Pick your own five top issues and then check the candidates records on those issues, check what they have said about them, then decide.  Do not be swayed by braying voices and false accusations.  And most importantly of all … make certain that your voter registration is current and then GO VOTE!

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Something Evil Lurks In School …

  1. San Antonio, Texas – 29 March 2016 – Officer Joshua Kehm intervened after two female students became verbally aggressive toward each other. A video, which was posted to YouTube shows the officer struggling to restrain a female student, identified by her mother as 12-year-old Janissa Valdez, as other students stand on either side of the pathway, some frowning, others smiling and laughing, using cellphones to record the incident. Some students can be heard urging the girl to “chill,” then the officer suddenly throws her down. Kehm was put on paid administrative leave and the administration as well as the district’s police department are investigating.
  1. Beaumont, Texas – 08 April 2016 – Mary Hastings, a 63-year-old geometry teacher at Ozen High School, was filmed attacking a student who reportedly asked about a grade. The teacher reportedly threw a stack of papers at the student, slapped him five times, called him an “idiot ass”, and mocked his speech. Interestingly, students who were interviewed after the fact, described Hastings as generally ‘cool’, caring and laid-back.  Hastings is on administrative leave pending evaluation of her contract, and was released from jail on $2,500 bond.  98% of students at Ozen High School are minorities.
  1. Undocumented children have the legal right to enroll in school. And under federal law, schools cannot discriminate against children based on their immigration status. However:
  • After 16-year-old Juan made the journey from Honduras to the United States, he tried to enroll at a school in Texas. But the principal — concerned that Juan wouldn’t be able to pass state standardized tests, which would reflect badly on the school’s averages — initially wouldn’t let him. Although Juan was ultimately able to attend school, he received little to no guidance to help him navigate his courses in English. He eventually dropped out.
  • wacoA 12-year-old African-American girl in a predominantly white school in Waco, Texas, was helping to swing the other kids before stopping to watch. The next thing she felt was the rope going around her neck from behind before it pulled against her neck. The girl fell to the ground and was tugged backward. None of the students helped her, the girl added, and so she removed the rope, only to find small pieces embedded in her neck. When she looked back, the girl said that she saw three boys, all of them white, who she claimed had been bullying her before.
  • Texas school officials also barred an undocumented 14-year-old girl who wanted to live with her 18-year-old sister rather than the sponsors the government placed her with when she arrived in the United States, saying her sister couldn’t be a caretaker because she was also enrolled in school.
  • Some Texas schools declined to enroll children because parents weren’t able to present the necessary residency documents on the day that they attempted to enroll, even though families are legally allowed a 30-day grace period to submit the required documentation while their children attend school. In several instances, school officials told family members who weren’t proficient in English that they didn’t have enrollment documents translated into Spanish, even when those Spanish-language forms did exist in the district.
  • Even after immigrants in Texas were able to enroll in schools, some were placed in alternative programs meant for students who had prior involvement in violent behavior and gang affiliation. Many families reported that they weren’t given a choice about whether their kids would be enrolled in these alternative schools.

Granted, Texas is not the only state where racism is on the rise in schools.  Texas is ranked the 3rd most racist state in the nation, behind Mississippi and Alabama.  Texas also ranks 47th nationwide in state government expenditures per student.  Other recent cases I researched but have not presented here tell of minority high school students finding nooses and hate notes on their cars, consistently having racial slurs aimed at them, and only nominal punishment, if any, for the perpetrators. However racism exists in schools across the nation.  Some statistics from around the nation confirm racism in our schools:

  • Black students accounted for 18% of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but made up 48% of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions.
  • Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students.
  • American Indian and Native-Alaskan students represented less than 1% of students, but 3% of expulsions.
  • Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys.
  • American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls were suspended at higher rates than white boys or girls.
  • Nearly one in four boys of colour, excepting Latino and Asian American students with disabilities received an out-of-school suspension.
  • One in five girls of colour with disabilities received an out-of-school suspension.
  • A quarter of the schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students did not offer Algebra II.
  • A third of these schools did not offer chemistry.
  • Less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students had access to the full range of math and science courses, which consists of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.
  • Black and Latino students accounted for 40% of enrollment at schools with gifted programs, but only represented 26% of students in such programs.
  • Black, Latino and Native American students attended schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers (3%-4%) than white students (1%).
  • Black students were more than three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60% of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.
  • Latino students were twice as likely to attend such schools.

There is no single thing that will ensure the future success of our nation and its citizens more than providing each and every young person a solid education.  Yet today’s schools, particularly in some southern states, are not doing that job.  42 states have adopted Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.  But what is the value in that if we have schools where less than 60% of teachers meet certification and licensure requirements?  How can a child learn in an environment where he is treated with hostility and discrimination?  How likely is a child to take an interest in his own education, if the schools, teachers and administrators do not take an interest in him?  We need well-educated adults to remain economically competitive, to provide effective governance, to teach future generations, etc.  We cannot have well-educated adults in a decade or two, if we do not provide our children an effective education in a safe, non-discriminatory environment today.  Think about it.

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State  % High school graduate Rank  % Bachelor’s degree Rank  % Advanced degree Rank
Wyoming 91.8% 1 23.8% 40 7.9% 39
Minnesota 91.5% 2 31.5% 10 10.3% 18
Alaska 91.4% 3 26.6% 24 9.0% 28
New Hampshire 91.3% 4 32.0% 9 11.2% 13
Vermont 91.0% 5 33.1% 7 13.3% 6
Montana 90.8% 6 27.4% 21 8.3% 37
Iowa 91.4% 3 25.1% 34 7.4% 43
Hawaii 90.4% 8 29.6% 15 9.9% 21
Utah 90.4% 9 28.5% 19 9.1% 27
Maine 90.2% 10 26.9% 23 9.6% 23
North Dakota 90.1% 11 25.8% 27 6.7% 48
South Dakota 89.9% 12 25.1% 35 7.3% 45
Nebraska 89.8% 13 27.4% 22 8.8% 30
Wisconsin 89.8% 14 25.7% 28 8.4% 35
Kansas 89.7% 15 29.5% 16 10.2% 19
Washington 89.7% 16 31.0% 11 11.1% 14
Colorado 89.3% 17 35.9% 2 12.7% 9
Oregon 89.1% 18 29.2% 17 10.4% 16
Massachusetts 89.0% 19 38.2% 1 16.4% 1
Maryland 89.0% 20 37.3% 3 16.0% 2
Connecticut 88.6% 21 35.6% 4 15.5% 3
Idaho 88.4% 22 23.9% 39 7.5% 42
Michigan 87.9% 23 24.6% 36 9.4% 25
Pennsylvania 87.9% 24 26.4% 26 10.2% 19
Ohio 87.6% 25 24.1% 38 8.8% 32
Delaware 87.4% 26 28.7% 18 11.4% 12
New Jersey 87.4% 27 34.5% 5 12.9% 7
District of Columbia 87.1% 48.5% 28.0%
Missouri 86.8% 28 25.2% 33 9.5% 24
Indiana 86.6% 29 22.5% 43 8.1% 38
Virginia 86.6% 30 34.0% 6 14.1% 4
Illinois 86.4% 31 30.6% 12 11.7% 10
Oklahoma 85.6% 32 22.7% 42 7.4% 43
United States 85.3%   27.9%   10.3%  
Florida 85.3% 33 25.3% 31 9.0% 28
New York 84.7% 34 32.4% 8 14.0% 5
Rhode Island 84.7% 35 30.5% 13 11.7% 10
North Carolina 84.3% 36 26.5% 25 8.8% 31
Arizona 84.2% 37 25.6% 29 9.3% 26
Georgia 83.9% 38 27.5% 20 9.9% 21
Nevada 83.9% 39 21.8% 45 7.6% 41
South Carolina 83.6% 40 24.3% 37 8.4% 35
Tennessee 83.1% 41 23.0% 41 7.9% 39
New Mexico 82.8% 42 25.3% 32 10.4% 16
West Virginia 82.8% 43 17.3% 50 6.7% 48
Arkansas 82.4% 44 18.9% 49 6.1% 50
Louisiana 82.2% 45 21.4% 46 6.9% 47
Alabama 82.1% 46 22.0% 44 7.7% 40
Kentucky 81.7% 47 21.0% 47 8.5% 33
California 80.6% 48 29.9% 14 10.7% 15
Mississippi 80.4% 49 19.6% 48 7.1% 46
Texas 79.9% 50 25.5% 30 8.5% 33

Above data obtained from United States Census Bureau  (www.census.gov)

No Blame, Just Solutions

They were unified for centuries under the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910), and share the same language and essential culture. Yet for the last six decades and more, North Korea and South Korea have been divided. Why do North and South Korea exist where once there stood a unified kingdom?

In the middle of the 19th century, the United States divided along what is known today as the Mason-Dixon line. The divisive issue was slavery, and it led to a war being fought, 620,000 lives lost and indeterminate property damage/loss.

Today we stand at a fissure that seems all but destined to become a chasm, an abyss, in the foreseeable future. As the right moves farther right, the left moves farther left, what is left at center but a hole? Think, if you will, of a rubber band. Use your imagination to pull one end right and the other left. Good. Now pull harder with both hands … pull harder until … SNAP!

The United States Constitution established a government that is durable, flexible and able to rise to most challenges, but it is not infallible. Our government can be broken and is rapidly approaching that point.

It does not much matter which side gave the final tug that broke the rubber band. Both hands got snapped, both were pulling too hard, and both are responsible. That said, one hand or the other by itself cannot fix the rubber band. It will take both hands, working together, to repair the rubber band.

As a nation, we cannot continue to argue over every single issue that confronts us. The immigrant issue, to cite just one example. There is no simple solution. Europe is struggling with the same problems, and the solution is not going to be found in extreme measures such as deporting and barring all immigrants or, on the other hand, accepting unlimited numbers of refugees. The solution, as with almost everything in life, lies in the art of compromise. And make no mistake, compromise is an art, it requires educated, moderate thinkers who are willing to work as a team to make things happen, not the politicians spewing rhetoric from either side of the fence.

Another example is the divisive issue of healthcare. One side would have us deny even basic medical services to anyone who cannot pay the exorbitant fees charged by doctors, laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies while the other lobbies for unlimited healthcare for all, paid for by the wealthiest 1%. Neither is a solution, both are rhetoric, and yes, there is a solution, a happy medium.

On the issue of raising the minimum wage: The current level of $7.25 per hour is below the poverty level for a single person, let alone a family of 4 or more. One side thinks it should not be raised at all, the other calls for a 100% increase to $15 per hour. What if we settle somewhere around $12 per hour? The poverty level for a family of four is currently $28,410 per annum in the U.S., which works out to approximately $11.66 per hour. Some would argue that this is too much to pay a high school student working evenings at McDonalds. Maybe so. Maybe there could be an exclusionary clause to the effect that for people under 18 years of age there is a cap of $9 per hour. Note that I am not proposing this, I am merely throwing out reasonable compromise ideas, which is what members of Congress, republican and democrat alike, should be doing. Instead, they are trying to bring the federal government to a screeching halt by sidling further away from compromise and far more to the extreme outer reaches from which there may be no clear path back toward the center line.

I accept and respect that conservatives will vote for a republican and liberals will vote for a democrat. I accept and respect that we each have different ideologies, values, and beliefs. It is what makes us unique, it is what sets us apart as a nation, and it is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing, however, when our divisiveness leads us to hatred, causes us to forget that we are “One Nation, Indivisible … “

Healthy and Educated? Or Sick and Poor? Your Choice …

Two talking points in this election year have gained a lot of attention: health care and education. While one side proposes to demolish both the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education, the other side supports expanding ACA to a universal health care system and providing free college education for all. Perhaps there is a happy medium? What is your stance on these two issues?

Health Care

Bernie Sanders states that “We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Is Mr. Sanders right? It turns out that depending on how one defines “major country”, he is very nearly correct. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States and Mexico are the only two member nations that do not provide universal health care coverage. As of today, Mexico has made remarkable progress toward some degree of universal healthcare, given that Mexico is a much poorer nation than the U.S. and is still considered to be a developing nation. That said, one could argue that even Mexico provides better healthcare to its citizens that the U.S., even with ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare). ACA was never actually intended to provide universal care, but merely to make health care insurance affordable for all, a goal which to date is approximately 90% successful.

For the purpose of simplification, let us look at only the OECD member nations, though there are many nations around the globe outside this list that do provide some form of universal health care ranging from free health care for only pregnant women and children, to full care for all. Below are the OECD nations that do provide universal heath care:

• Virtually all of Europe has either publicly sponsored and regulated universal health care or publicly provided universal healthcare.
• Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel
• Asia: Japan, Korea

Just a few examples of non-OECD nations that provide a significant level of universal health care

• China, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UAE …
• African nations of: Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia

I bet some of these surprise you. As you can see, many countries that are considered “developing” nations yet offer better opportunities for at least basic health care than the U.S. There are some differences between “universal health care” and a “right to health care”, differences that are too detailed to cover in any depth here. Additionally, each nation has its own definitions of coverage that makes a complete analysis worthy of a book, which is not my intention. My point is that almost every other nation on earth has acknowledged the need to provide its citizens with some form of health care. Apart from Medicare/Medicaid, the United States had done very little toward that end until President Obama launched the Affordable Care Act. Even that is not enough, but it is a start and needs to be built upon going forward. I find it impossible to understand the mentality of those who completely oppose ACA without even a thought of alternate proposals. For one of the most technologically advanced nations on the globe, it is shameful to let people go without health care under any circumstances.

A couple of very useful links for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into healthcare systems around the globe:




Do you remember the time when you often heard “He/she is the first in the family to go to college”, or “I am going to make sure my son/daughter gets the opportunity for college that I never had”? That was once the way in the United States … each generation saw more young people entering college than the generations before. Today, however, the reverse is true. The reasons are fairly simple: college costs have soared, student loans are a lifelong burden for many, there is very little help available outside student loans, many “blue collar” jobs pay better than those requiring a college education. The OECD released a report on college graduate rates in 2014 saying that the U.S. ranks 19th out of 28 countries included in the study. Not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly far from top of the list. In 1995, we were at the top of the list, ranking first in graduation rates (33%) of all OECD nations. We have fallen from 1st to 19th in just over two decades, leaving us to wonder where we will be in another twenty years.

In this election year, the politics point to two polar opposite sets of ideas: one side seems convinced that we need to disband the Department of Education, that there should be no free rides for college students, while the other side strongly advocates at least two years of free tuition for all students. Free college tuition, while not nearly as globally prevalent as universal health care, is the norm in several countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Demark, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, France, and Brazil. Many other countries provide additional assistance to students, including free college tuition for certain courses of study, no interest or low interest student loans, and other incentives.

The Department of Education, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, is a cabinet-level agency tasked with three main goals:

• Provide financial aid
• Collect educational data
• Identify education issues

Ronald Reagan attempted, but failed to abolish the department in 1980, and the republican party has rallied to abolish it almost ever since. The argument in favour of abolishing the department is purported to “end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” The bigger reason, I suspect, ties to economic platforms and the desire to “get rid of big government”. (One word here, to be covered in depth in a later post, is that the U.S. is a large country with over 318 million people … such a large and diverse country requires a large central government.) With all the controversy surrounding “common core” today, there is ever-increasing and understandable support for abolishing the department. However, there are also some strong arguments against such a move:

• Some states would fail to implement minimum standards and there would be no national standard, resulting in inequalities from state-to-state
• Elimination of the Department of Education would also eliminate federal funding for schools
• Left to the states, it is almost certain that civil rights violations would occur in many states

In my own opinion, our system of education, both at the federal and the state level needs an overhaul, however I do not think that simply abolishing the Department of Education is the answer. I am almost certain that it would lead to a further drop in our ranking within the next decade, and that is not acceptable if we wish to maintain our status as one of the world’s leading technological and humanitarian nations.


In sum, universal health care and education are two areas in which we lag woefully behind many other developed nations. Improvement in these areas will take much work. Neither education nor healthcare are free, but we need to address both as a nation, distributing the cost more equitably rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and leaving “every man for himself”. We will not resolve this overnight, it will take years, decades perhaps, to catch up in just these two areas. Any move in the opposite direction, such as dismantling the Department of Education or abolishing the Affordable Care Act is a step in the wrong direction and can only have disastrous results for the citizens of this nation. These are not the steps we need to take if we truly want to “make America great again”.