Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Good Ideas Gone Wrong

November 4, 2015

Any idea can be carried too far. When that happens, good ideas become bad ideas. As examples, consider the Veterans Administration and the American public school system. Neither institution does what it’s expected to do. How did they go wrong? And are there lessons in why they’ve failed?

In both cases, the failure is caused by believing that government programs can be operated like a business. Eliminating waste in business makes the business more competitive. If carried too far, market influence will force a correction. But schools and the VA aren’t businesses and they aren’t subjected to market forces. Instead, they’re controlled by politics. Politicians invariably cut too much, because claiming they’ve eliminated ‘waste’ appeals to voters.

But what happens when you cut too much? You make the programs ineffective at doing what they’re supposed to do.

In both of these systems, the operating budget controls everything that’s done. The focus should be on the outcome, on what the institutions do, but invariably it’s on the budget. As a result, underfunded institutions don’t do what they’re supposed to do, educate students in the case of the public school system and provide for the needs of veterans through the VA.

Both institutions must select between two choices: provide a quality product to the few, thereby rejecting others, or provide substandard services to the many. We’re seeing that now. Our public education system does not educate students, the VA does not provide adequate, timely care for veterans. Uneducated students can’t successfully operate their own businesses. They lack the qualifications needed to work for others, and there are few good middle-class jobs anyway. This leads directly to high rates of criminal activity and huge prison populations. As for the VA, veterans die while waiting for care.

Testing in schools highlights the system failure, but does nothing to solve the problem. And Mr. Trump plans to ‘reorganize’ the VA if he’s elected. It’s funding, not organization, that’s the real problem.

We can do better. We must, if we expect the American nation to endure.

Of Riots, and Causes

April 29, 2015

The president has condemned the rioters, as have most politicians.
I’m not happy with them either. They did indeed burn businesses, loot them, put their neighbors out of work. All those and more beside.
I read a few statistics about that neighborhood in Baltimore. I hope you’ll take the time to look up things for yourself. I certainly don’t know everything about it. I don’t know anything at all about the police who arrested the young man or what they did to him. I’ll only say it’s suspicious, and that officials are looking into the matter. Six officers have been suspended. Some will probably be charged, although it hasn’t happened yet. An investigation is ongoing, although it seems to be moving far slower than a similar investigation would take that involved a civilian.
So what’s the neighborhood like, other than that it’s filled with minorities who are likely overwhelmingly black?
Less than half of the residents have jobs. Why?
One in four young men have been arrested by the police in the past. Why?
There are gangs in the neighborhood, criminal gangs. We know that because the police know it and implied that they’d received intelligence that major gangs were allied and were going to ‘take out cops’. The gangs quickly responded and said that no, there was no such alliance and they weren’t going after the cops. Duh.
I wonder how these folks live? You can be sure their income is less than the official poverty income. So how do they buy food, buy clothing, pay for electricity and gas service, things like that?
And of all those politicians, from President Obama all the way down to the mayor and city council, how many have had an opportunity to do something about the impoverished, black neighborhoods of Baltimore?
And decided that no, it wasn’t worth fighting the entrenched interests who insist on no taxes. No taxes to improve people’s lives. No taxes to build good schools, hire good teachers, hire enough policemen to suppress the gangs and the drug trade that supports them. No taxes for urban redevelopment.
It’s a vicious slope. The residents don’t have enough money to do anything, including pay the necessary taxes. State and federal politicians aren’t willing to spend the money on a blighted neighborhood filled with blacks.
And then, when a trigger point is reached, the riots erupt. Arson. Looting. Violence and vandalism. Police cars torched. Rocks thrown, sometimes shots fired.
Most major cities have neighborhoods just like the one in Baltimore. And, before Baltimore, Ferguson.
It will happen again. Los Angeles? New York? Kansas City? Atlanta? Birmingham, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston…
I expect a long, hot, summer of unrest.
And all the politicians, including the wannabe’s, will wring their hands and condemn the rioters.

About Philosophy, Religion, and Faith

January 20, 2015

From a conversation on a Facebook group dealing with why religious belief persists:
I understand your comment, my friend, but I can’t agree. I understand that there are many things unseen, but attributing them to a deity doesn’t work for me. Too often, that explanation has been simply wrong.
The more we learn, the more concepts that have persisted because of ‘faith’ are debunked. Why, then, should we have faith that things in future will be different, not understandable?
Consider for a moment the concept of believing that some entity organized the universe.
When people knew nothing other than the ‘Earth’ and ‘the Heavens’, one could accept that perhaps magic was involved. Magic, defined in this context as not being bound by what we call natural laws, e.g. the laws of nature as we understand them. But we now know there’s much more to the picture than that. The sources of current religious belief, faith, come from a society that knew little to nothing of our true place in the universe. Whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of them are rooted in the writings, the codified beliefs, of thinkers whose background was herding, farming, fishing, and handicrafts. Of a people who simply ignored what didn’t fit, who claimed that such things were the will of the deity, hence not to be understood by humans even though, basic to that belief, is the concept that humans are the image of the deity.
If that’s your philosophy, that all this order has to be by design, I can’t argue with that. But…
If we disagree, why should we stoop to some level that’s not based on philosophy? Why should we enslave, murder, torture because someone believed differently?
Nothing in that basic belief requires that. Nothing in that system excuses murder, torture, rape, slavery.
But those things have been with us since first we climbed down out of the trees. Why?
THAT I attribute not to belief, but to systems of organized religion. Systems with a few ordering the many how to believe, how to think. And inevitably profiting thereby. For every starving philosopher of religious thought, there are a dozen priests of some ilk profiting. Living well, even as the ones who provide that good living are impoverished.
Little by little the evidence builds.
You’ve had dinner with us before, my friend. Enjoyed the turkey, did you?
That turkey, presumably, is different. We benefited from someone who slaughtered the beast so we could have Thanksgiving dinner. Cows, pigs, fish…
We’re supposed to be superior. We think, we feel.
Yet we now know how similar we are to those other organisms. We know that animals can even catch ‘human’ diseases, that humans can catch ‘animal’ diseases. We share genes.
We’re all part of a huge biosphere, a mix of genes that sometimes we share, sometimes we don’t share. Just a few genes more or less changes us from chimp to human or gorilla. Or pig.
If a pig is slaughtered, is he transported to heaven? If a dog dies, does it go to heaven? Dogs think, dogs feel, dogs communicate.
But we’re told that only humans have a soul. That the soul embodies those things, the ability to reason, to feel, to make choices.
That we can treat other animals as we do because they lack this soul.
Really?
Do we not see evidence, clear and indisputable evidence, that those lesser animals grieve when a close associate/family member dies? Do whales not grieve, do they not understand the concept of death and regret when it comes? Do they not sacrifice themselves to save their offspring?
They do.
Only faith insists those things aren’t so.
Its why faith is not enough for me.
I DO have faith of a sort, except it doesn’t depend on organized religion.
I’m a part of a greater whole, humankind. I share genes from the human gene pool. My genes are not unique, but the combination I currently possess is unique.
When I pass, those genes will still be there in the human genome. My particular combination will go on, at least in part. Children, grandchildren, descendants, they’ll possess a tiny bit of what made me what I am.
I hope that greater whole persists for a long time, but I understand that ALL species before humans have gone extinct or at least branches of those species/particular genomes have vanished. Yet their genes persist, even today. That turkey had genes that once, reshuffled, were part of dinosauria.
Of humans, H. sapiens sapiens.
Me.

Growing Old…Or Maybe Not

June 7, 2013

I played and sang a couple of songs last night; it’s fun to do that for an audience. Bosque Farms has a building that works well for this.
Bunch of people dancing, old people like me providing music, one autoharp, one pedal steel guitar, three bass players, a mandolin picker, the rest played guitar and fiddle.
There’s a single drawback: there were 24 musicians, most pretty good, playing instruments. And six people who just wanted to sing, and most of them were pretty good; think live karaoke.
The woods here, and probably a lot of other places, are full of musicians. Some of them are former traveling professionals who have retired but still like to play. And some are like me, not even wannabe’s but people who just enjoy music and playing for an audience that appreciates your efforts.
Old people, back when I was young, had few social venues to interact with others. Widows in particular simply had little other than church as a venue for socializing. There was a lot of rocking-chair-sitting, and a visit from friends or family was a big deal. Reading, if your eyes were still up to that, was entertainment. Quilting and sewing and such too.
Not now. Now, they’re out there, playing, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, and sometimes just sitting and listening for some of them.
And maybe this has something to do with why there seem to be more people who live longer and who enjoy life right up to the end.
One of the guys in the band, a fiddler, was wearing a cap that said “World War II Veteran”. Another couple who were out dancing and socializing have celebrated their 70th Anniversary this year.
Live life and enjoy it; does it really get better than that?
A $3.00 entry fee that goes to hall rental and buying the amps and mic’s that we used. Cheap entertainment. And with that many musicians, no one cares if you get up and walk around and talk to people. Have a coffee and maybe a piece of cake or a doughnut. Be sociable.
They did. Some of the musicians took a break and danced too, but my dancing days are over. Bum legs. Sigh.
But by golly, I can still play and sing! I did, and it was more fun than a non-musician would believe. I’ll do it again in a couple of weeks, next time the Old-Time Fiddlers and Musicians of New Mexico get together.
And five of the musicians from last night, counting me, will be playing for a senior citizens center in Belen next Monday afternoon. Some of the same audience will be there listening to us too, and perhaps even dancing.