Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Argument

I just watched Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story and was glad to know that we do have a good alternative to capitalism (democracy). How exactly this would play out is left, I suspect, to Michael's next blockbuster.

My neighbor said that he thought the only problem with capitalism is that it isn't alway moral and that what we need is moral capitalism, where profit isn't the main goal. This seems a little like phone sex, or maybe phone sex where you talk about nothing but the weather. The beauty of capitalism is that if you are focused on profit and your customer is a shopper, in the end both will be served well. Here is an interesting discussion on Morality and Capitalism.

So why did capitalism almost tank the country? Why did banks take risks that in hindsight looked foolish. Was this a fault of capitalism? Did the banks know that no one would let them fail? Did they play us to the hilt? I don't know.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Complaints

Are complaints on the other side of gratitude? Recently found myself getting upset about the small things: miso soup that tasted like dirty water, fire alarms that go off at 430am making our room flash like we were from Star Trek. Was it a matter that I had not eaten a wholesome meal for am few days, or that my wife was so startled by the flashing room that she hurt her back getting out of bed? So things were not the way I wanted them to be. Who said they were supposed to?
The oil leak has been stopped. What can I do with my wory brain now?
Saturday the priest talked about how we take it personally when bad things happen to us. The miso soup, obviously prepared especially for me, and the defective alarm system... obviously programmed for my wife's entertainment. So what happens when we realize that the bad stuff of life is not directed to us, but is just a product of "things as they are?" We'll see.

Note about picture: Worked a week on this with the ipad... then got frustrated that it was taking so long so I started working on it in Photoshop for another week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gravity is an Illusion

In this NYTimes article gravity is under suspicion of not really existing. Just to be sure about the ridiculousness of this idea, I picked up a pen on my desk, lifted it up a few inches, and then let go. It fell back to my desk. These guys are discussing this heretical topic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

M's Shadow and Haiti

He told me
that his shadow
wasn't him.

He sat
all weekend long
looking at his shadow,

and realized
he didn't know
at what
he was looking.

Was it him,
or was the light
surrounding the shadow,
him?

We look at ourselves.
Seemingly impossible
except
in a hall of mirrors.

Crazy stuff? Maybe.
And yet others
in Haiti
hold a cloth
over their kids' mouths

when the smelly diesel trucks
drive down the road
next to their tents.

There is so much
rubble
that if there were
1000 trucks
removing it every day,
it would take
two or three years
before it was gone.

(And there are
only 200-300 trucks.)

And some of us
try to figure out
if they are their shadow,
or the light
around their shadow,
or neither,
or both.

What would a
Martian
say?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More on Privilege and Busing

Yesterday I wrote about privilege, but I didn't post it because I was afraid I'd offend someone. The short guy on the basketball court has to be much better than the tall guy to keep from being benched.

And today I read about the current conditions in Haiti. It reminds me of the use of the continuum that we would use over and over again to describe situations in my last job at a college. Privilege is a continuum, with the displaced people in Haiti towards one end, and me towards the other end. Someone with little privilege has such a little chance to be thinking of much more than whether or not a car or truck will smash into their tent situated between two lanes of a road. For me, I had support all along, laced with both love and intelligence. I always had what I needed, and was only limited by my diligence.

Kate suggested in her comment to my last post "busing" (can be one "s" or two, in case you are interested). I remember that a number of kids were bused to my daughter's nearby (and then thriving) school. The school created special classes for the under prepared students, and in the mornings and afternoons these students always hung out together. Were they better off? Now they were in an environment where they were not as good as the others.

There are no simple solutions, but there are entire school districts who are able to close the achievement gap. Supposedly it takes three years of excellent teaching to make a difference for a kid. It is a slow process, and unfortunately, the success of "best practices" are sometimes hard to replicate. Years ago, one education professor told me about one study where both successful and unsuccessful teachers were told to employ a variety of strategies in their teaching. Guess what? The successful teachers continued to succeed, and the unsuccessful teachers did not.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Questions on Education

Kate raised so many questions in her last comment on my last post that I thought I'd give them a try.

I don’t ever recall taking out a loan for my K – 12 education. That is not the education cost we are talking about here is it? 

I was amazed to find out that in Washington DC over $13000 $25000 is being spent per K-12 student (the highest in the country) and yet the schools are failing. Kate, you are taking out a loan when schools fail. It costs everyone when kids grow up and are not productive. So there are loans and there are loans... and they all cost us money. See the article in the NYTimes 7/9/2010 for more on expenses in education.

I think people pay for that early education in various other ways, but they don’t take out a personal $50,000 loan for the first semester of 8th grade. So while I would agree that teaching in the public education system seems like a very demanding job, I don’t think students getting personal loans from a bank to pay for education is a better alternative than collecting taxes to fund a public system to which more people have access.

Much of the public system is failing. Some are working their hearts out to improve it. Another alternative is to dispense the funds to the students, and let them and their parents choose where they will go to school. Competition is needed in the school marketplace. Though I have to admit that some of the charter and voucher schools have not done as well as I expected.

I think it is good to ask why the cost of a college education is so high when it seems that the current job market more and more requires people to have this costly education in order to work. Why do we have to buy financial security? 

Should financial security be an entitlement? Even if a country could afford that, I'm not sure it would promote either happiness or any other worthwhile accomplishment. Do you?

I do not believe that the only way to cut the cost of college education is to cut teacher salaries. (You are really going to have to work to prove that one to me.) Why is it that our society can offer K-12 public education, but huge personal cost keeps people from higher education? 

Oh, it is not just teacher salaries. There are many administrators and other staff. Too many people on the payroll. State universities and community colleges are largely supported by taxpayers, as are K-12 public schools. I think loan programs are a great way to give everyone a chance to obtain higher degrees. 

Why do some colleges not accept federal funding available to students? Might there be benefit to a college if they push loans from a given financial institution even if they are not in the best interest of a student? 

I know nothing about this... unless you are talking about some for-profit trade schools.

In a way, college education is mirroring the housing market. You got these educational institutions that are selling knowledge at a relatively high price and one can only obtain this knowledge if one takes out a loan. In many cases, you don’t have a ton of options as to what kind of loan you can get because the school dictates that; just like reverse redlining dictates what kind of loan you have to get in order to obtain shelter in a given area. And these kinds of situations lead to loans that in many cases are inflated and ridiculous.

Community colleges are a good option for many. I hope that educational institutions do more than sell knowledge. Knowledge is everywhere. There is more knowledge than air. What the institutions should be "teaching" is how to put you finger up in the air and feel which way the wind is blowing.

Thanks Kate! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Student Loans

Note: I wrote the following a couple of days ago. I mentioned to my wife what I had written and she (in her normal Zen way) let me know that I was taking sides, and that really there are good arguments for both sides. Of course she was right. Students will have to pay less which will make them happier (I guess), and banks will get smaller (which may make them more manageable in times like these). In any case, life is too complex to be certain about the effect of any action (dependent origination in Buddhism).

Uncle Sam (US) is now taking over student loans from banks. They will be still making a profit, and will put that profit into supporting community colleges and other educational institutions. And they will never raise loan rates when interest rates go up, like the banks do.

The article in the UT newspaper claimed this was a win-win situation for both US and the students... and the public at large.

The apparent brilliance of this act raised a number of questions in my mind. If Uncle Sam can run the student loan business more efficiently than banks, then could they also run most other businesses more efficiently as well? Clothing, home improvement stores, toys, art, oil drilling. What is their track record?

I assume that the banks will need less workers now that they aren't doing student loans. Will these workers now be hired by Uncle Sam? I assume too that the banks will not need bailing out again, given that one of their income sources has been curtailed.

If US is not able to actually run this loan business more efficiently then we must assume that they are (or will be) subsidizing it, especially when interest rates rise and loan rates do not. Is this still going to be a win-win-win situation?

Who are these brilliant business people who have shunned bank CEO wages to work for US? What do they know that people being paid 100x as much do not know?

There is an implication, as well, that banks have been "screwing" students with high interest rates. This message is bothersome to me, especially as we start to believe that banks and all other institutions that make a profit are in essence taking advantage of their clientele. The banking industry has provided the possibility for education for millions of kids. They have done countless good and should not be labeled a thief.

I suspect that, in the end, this program will cost the taxpayers untold dollars.

Can the US really charge less and still turn a profit? Can I jump over the moon?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Blackboard

When I was in grammar school, I was slow to get my stuff together to go home and the janitor (they were called that then) would come in and with a sponge and a bucket of water would wash the blackboard. All the muck from the day would be gone, including all the chalk dust (except at the corners). Poof... just like that!

The Buddhists used to think of night as the beginning of the next day. And when we are born our minds are blank. As we live, our minds become repositories for all our numerous experiences. Loves come in and out and cements those experiences.

Then, at the end, we don't want to go home, so we take our time. Before we know it, the funny old janitor comes in and washes the blackboard. Our day's toil is now a clean slate.

Our tears for such a beautiful one ready us for another day... and another life.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Experience

I read something today about experiencing life fully. It talked abut jumping into water and not thinking about oneself or the water... only swimming. This appears to be so contrary to "education." That is, education defined as thinking about one does.

I'm reminded about a man called Slim in Garibaldi Oregon (I expect that he is long gone). Every night he'd go to the tavern and drink. Every morning he'd be at the dock to meet the fisherman coming back with catches. I would watch him for hours cleaning the fish and throwing their remains to the seagulls.

Is this what the zen teachers are talking about when they say to experience whatever you are doing fully? Is zen training a process of uneducating? I understand in ancient times most people were peasant farmers who were involved with farming. Were they doing what the Zen masters preached?

One of my art teachers told me about teaching in a mental institution. He said that at first the patients had lots of fun, but then they started thinking about what they were doing and they started getting so disturbed that they had to stop offering the art classes.

If what I'm saying (that education keeps us from experiencing things fully) has any truth then why do we do it? And how could schools be changed so that students would be more capable of experiencing life fully rather than less? Ideas?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Two irrelevant ideas

or are they? I recently experienced a situation where people were at odds with each other. Not unusual, I guess, on Earth... but this time they really loved one another... and yet didn't want to be with the each other. It was sad. Life is so short and when we can't let go of our "positions" long enough to be with someone we love... that is even sadder.

And then there is my girl friend from 50 years ago who stopped being my Facebook friend because she suspected I had become a Republican. My claims to being a libertarian must have just made things worse. If I was only friends with libertarians I'd be spending all my time infront of a mirror. So I didn't look her up after traveling 2000 miles to where she lives (no, that wasn't the reason for my trip).

And then death roars its ugly head... not once, but five times in four weeks. And with my contemporaries. When we die, we are reduced to a few grains of sand. How can that be? The priest said the other evening that when we are born our minds are blank, and then when we die we return to that state. The next day he said that when we sit zazen, we are facing death. I did not understand that when he said it, but tonight, sitting, I realized that when we focus on our breath we return to that state where there is no garbage in our noodle... and then we notice when she (the garbage) raises her ugly head, and we smile, and thank her for coming, and tell her she can leave now by the same door she entered.

He asked if I have time to mourn. I said yes, logically finding no reason why I didn't have time. But I really felt uneasy saying yes, because maybe I wasn't ready to mourn. I mentioned that my mom would say that when we mourn, we mourn our own death. Maybe, "do you have time to mourn" meant "do you have mourning time" or "are you going to allow yourself to mourn." We have time for lots of things that we don't do. Don't we?