Sunday, June 17, 2012

The shadow of death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
— 23rd Psalm


Friday, June 15, 2012

Food is a necessity.

Friend raised a lot of questions on my recent blog. I'll just deal with one at a time.

She wrote: Food is not a right. . .  It’s a necessity. Housing is a necessity. Education has to happen if you want to survive. It doesn’t matter if the constitution or the delectation of human rights considers them ‘rights’. . . Without food, you die. Without water, you die. Without housing, you are exposed to the elements and have no real security . . .  and you will probably not live long. So there is what do people deserve and what people need in order to live.

No doubt that food is a necessity. Even Buddha discovered as much when he almost died on his diet of 1/2 of a grain of rice a day.

Some people have too little food to eat. Some of this is unnecessary. We have stockpiles of food that are being kept off the market to prevent prices from falling. Distribution of this food to the peoples of the world should be an important initiative.

Going back to the fact that some people have too little, we have a number of alternatives. One is do nothing, another is to have the government give them food (or teach them to fish), and a third is rely on charity to feed (or teach) those unable to feed themselves.

Doing nothing is not a good option. Just from a selfish standpoint, I or my children could be without food at some point in our lives. I would not want to live in a society where help was not available. The libertarian asks whether this is a role of government or whether private citizens (most charity comes from individuals, not businesses) could take care of the hungry.

1 in 3 Americans helped charities in 2005, giving 260.3 billion dollars. I understand that when we had less welfare than we do now, an even greater percentage of our income went to charity. A good way to wean the government off the feeding of the hungry is to have an option on our taxes to get a tax credit (not a deduction) when we give to charity. That way the charities could compete for dollars. Those with the best record for giving (most of their money goes to the hungry, not to administration) could get the most dollars to give.

This is not a simple or easy problem. Sometimes not giving is the best gift. But sometimes it is not. What I don't think we need is coercive taxing to feed the hungry. Through voluntary giving we not only solve the problem but we create a world village.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charlie at 10 days old.

Short time with Charlie in the car while my daughter went into the drug store. But we got lots done. Took about 30 pictures. We worked on the vowels. I associated each vowel with a finger, as if we were counting with sounds. He tried to say some of them and was really interested (it made him stop crying (he was hungry)). We also counted and went to 5 instead of 4. I'm fascinated with the fact that we can count different elements in the same group and form a relationship that didn't exist (like 4 fingers and 4 apples). Oh, we also talked about fingers being part of the hand and the hand being part of the body and the body being part of the world. He's not quite ready for that, but it will be old hat by the time he is. Oh, I introduced up and down, a totally confusing concept that can't be explained unless you already understand it (like most concepts). Not bad for ten minutes in the back seat of a car!


What do we deserve?

One of the seemingly disagreements between the political parties seem to be about this question. I hope to point out that it may not be so much about what we deserve but rather how we might achieve that which we deserve.

The Declaration of Independence stated that we have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The latter was

"...one of the "unalienable rights" of people enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, along with "life" and "liberty." "The right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give them their highest enjoyment." Butchers' Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U.S. 746, 757, (1884.)"

Some say that we have the right to education, to food, to healthcare, and to housing. Though these are not specifically guaranteed by the constitution, one could argue that they are necessities for the pursuit of happiness and therefore also unalienable rights mentioned in the declaration of independence.

One means to achieve these "rights" is to redistribute wealth. This will work to the extent that there is enough to go around and that the powers-to-be have sufficient strength to make such a distribution.

There may be some consequences to redistribution. The "haves" might lose their incentive to accumulate. The "income" of the wealthy is a small part of their wealth. So in addition to high taxes, we would have to distribute their investments. Which may mean that companies that produce goods and services might become impoverished. The "have nots" might lost their incentive as well, having all that they need for their good life.

I love the saying, "give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach him to fish and he has food for life." It suggests a libertarian view of providing a better life for all. The ultimate outcome of a prosperous society will be happiness. That happiness will mean that more have the quality of life that they wish.

I believe both of the presidential contenders want the best for their citizens. The question is how that might be achieved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dialogue with friend on vouchers



Kim: A friend wrote a response to my posting the article about Romney supporting vouchers (though not calling them that). The local governments does three things with k-12 education: they make it mandatory up to a certain age, they tax people to pay for it, and they run the schools. Some have said that the schools could be run privately. The voucher system is a means to jump-start that process, taking some of the money generally given to public schools and giving it, through the parents, to private schools.

Friend: My thoughts about that school voucher issue. . . Not that you actually asked for them.

I once heard Bob Moses argue that we (the US) run a system of failing schools and we rescue the students that we can. We rescue them through ABC programs, charter schools, affirmative action, vouchers, ect. He argued that the reason the system doesn’t blow up is because the steam is allowed to escape in the form of these programs. He suggested there needed to be a national discussion about the SAT and/or ETS.

Kim: I think mandatory city-run schools are like the draft. If it was required that everyone must send their kids to public schools then we'd really see an explosion. Parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools because the kids get a better education there, and also are not subjects to the dangers of public schools.

Friend: I have also heard the argument that the voucher program is not a viable or desirable because you get a voucher for x amount of dollars (too lazy to look up the figure at this point) and this is not money enough to go to any private school. Moreover only fools would take there child out of a school system where their child is worth greater than x dollars to get a voucher for x dollars to try to get that kid into a school that requires greater than x dollars. The voucher program (at least as it runs currently) devalues a child’s worth in many peoples’ minds. (I have no child and am therefore uncertain if this is true.)

Kim: It is true that in practice vouchers are not equal to the amount spent per student. This should pacify the teacher unions who claim that vouchers deplete the resources of the public schools. Public schools profit when students choose to use a voucher for a private school, because they still get some money for that student. I've never heard that the voucher program devalues a child's worth, so I can't respond to that except to say the if any devaluing is done, it is in the minds of those doing the devaluing. 1/2 of the money given to public schools per student is a welcome tuition for some schools.

Having said that, economists talk about two ways of talking about costs. If you have a widget company, you can divide your investment by the number of widgets you produce to find the cost per widget. But if you decide to make one more widget, then you might spend a minimal amount ... nothing close to the cost per widget from the first calculation. If you reduce the number of students by 10% you don't reduce your cost of operation by 10%. Adding a few students to the classroom might not cost additional monies, thought it may negatively impact the learning.

Friend: I personally find it odd that the article you posted is using the words, ‘voting with their feet’ and that Mr. Romney talks about giving poor students the freedom to choose a public school outside their district. I think if Mr. Romney spent any time in the school I went to he would completely understand why I have to laugh about this. I do believe that Romney has never heard the argument that the school system went to hell when they started bussing in students. I have heard this argument many times and I am more than confident that you have heard this as well. I would argue that this is the number two reason people who participated in that white flight event playing out in the 90s give for having to move out (the number one reason being all the crime coming into the area). The bussing program was meant to give some poor students the (I don’t know that I would say freedom) ability to attend a public school outside their district. And this is the reason the schools got bad and forced many people to move away from their communities according to many. I really want to know how this voucher program is different than the bussing program in the minds of people who might be willing to pack up and leave (or vote with their feet) once those ‘poor students’ show up in their district. Also much of the opposition to the bussing program involves the idea that it is too expensive to bus students in and that it would be better to use that money to lift up the district the poor students are trying to escape. I think the very some argument would be applied to a voucher program in only a short matter of time.

Kim: I agree that bussing didn't work. The students were treated like stepchildren and never fully integrated into the school. There are many variables for success in school. One is the school, another the parents, another the upbringing and parental support for education. Vouchers put the responsibility of education back into the hands of the parents and for that reason should make more of a difference.

Friend: If one is willing to give students enough money to go anywhere they want for school, why not just start discussing how schools are funded. If it is the case (and I don’t know that it is) that the underfunded schools (those with a smaller influx of money) are also the schools that do not perform to standard, then maybe instead of sending the kids else where, the funding mechanism could simply be redesigned to redistribute funds more evenly. School funding is based on the property values of an area. Schools in neighborhoods with high property values have more money. In most cases around me, these are not the schools that are having academic performance issues. If the education money were distributed more evenly, I really think students wouldn’t need vouchers to travel across town to try to educate themselves in places that might be hostile to their presence. I realize that some districts have a money management problem (or that they are just controlled by thieves) but if the money was being redistributed than even those outside of an underperforming district would have a stake in how that money was being spent.

Kim: This article from 2008 in the Washington Post says that the cost per student in the Washington DC is $25000 per student. These are failing schools. I don't believe it has been shown that throwing more money at a school will necessarily improve it.

Friend: People already ‘vote with their feet’ when it comes to education. People are willing to pay more for less house and community services in order to ensure they are in a decent school district. This has been the case for my entire life. This (as I have already argued) is the number two reason mass migration occurs in my city. Vouchers and charter schools are not going to fix this issue.

Kim: I agree that people who can afford it will choose to live in neighborhoods with better schools. Hopefully vouchers will encourage new schools to form in neighborhoods with failing schools to give students a choice. This is the hope.

Friend: Don’t get me wrong. If given a voucher back in the day, I would have high tailed it right out of the unaccredited school I graduated from. But my education at a poor school allows me to recognize the absurdity in the idea that letting some kids go to schools outside their district is a solution. That shit was done before under a different name. And nobody. . . not the kids on the bus; not the kids in the good district, not the parents of any of these children seem really happy about how all that turned out.

Kim: That you'd choose a voucher is indicative to me that it is a good program. You want to choose your school. You might want to go to a school for kids interested in art or science or cooking. This will be more apt to increase your passion for learning, which, for me, is the key to getting an education.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Mountain is a Mountain


Edward Weston, in his Daybooks, wrote about the zen saying that a man who knows nothing thinks that a mountain is just a mountain. With some knowledge, he sees that a mountain is not a mountain. And then, when he understands, a mountain is once again a mountain. This painting is the mountain of the man who knows nothing. A tree blocks his full view of the mountain and he labels the mountain, "M," thinking he gets what it is. There are no details because it is just a mountain. I did the other mountains in 2009 but forgot to do this one.