Archive for April, 2013

What do U.S. colleges sell today? Knowledge or just access to jobs?

by David McElroy

UA graduation 2011

When I was a student at the University of Alabama, I never seriously asked myself why I was in school. It was just understood that I was there to get a degree that would prepare me for a career. My parents both had degrees and it was just an assumption in our family that everyone gets a university degree.

If you had asked me why I was in school, I might have struggled to answer. I might have wanted to say that the purpose was to be an intellectually well-rounded and thoughtful person, but if I’d been honest with myself, I would have admitted I was there to get a piece of paper that marked me as acceptable as socially acceptable for employment. (The photo above from a UA graduation two years ago suggests to me that students still mostly see graduation as a ticket to employment.)

As much as I love learning, I’ve come to have serious doubts about the way the university system works in the United States today. (For readers in other countries, “college” and “university” are used interchangeably for practical purposes here in most usages.) I’ve come to see college as a long series of expensive hoops to jump through — which mostly just show that someone has the tenacity and willingness to stick to a plan and follow orders.

On Monday, a friend posted a link on Facebook to an article questioning the value of getting master’s degrees in library science and suggesting that some sort of apprentice program would be more useful. My friend is a librarian and a very bright woman. She’s decided to get a master’s in “library science” — which in itself as an odd name — but it’s not because it will help her do her job better. It’s because she’ll be paid more.

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Global warming or a new ice age? Anyone who claims to know is lying

by David McElroy

Time-The Cooling of AmericaIn the 1970s, we were regularly being told to worry about a coming ice age. I can remember reading about it in Weekly Reader. Time magazine ran this story, right, in 1979. Here’s the introduction to a 1978 documentary warning us about it. And here’s a whole boatload of other predictions from the ’70s assuring us that we were facing serious cooling.

Then everything switched. The popular theory was suddenly that we faced global warming. We were told over and over again that the science was settled and decided. The Earth was warming up — and it was the burning of fossil fuels that was responsible. We must change our standard of living and quit using so much energy.

Those who dared to question the “scientific consensus” were labeled “deniers” in order to shame them by lumping them in with Holocaust deniers.

The only problem is that reality hasn’t matched the predictions. Climate scientists — still wedded to their dear theory — are struggling now to explain why warming isn’t happening as their models predicted.

And now Russian scientists are claiming that we could face a cooling period for the next 200 to 250 years.

I don’t have a clue what the climate is going to do. I really don’t. But I do know that the people loudly telling us what’s going to happen have no credibility, as far as I’m concerned. When predictions change this much over a 40-year period, it’s impossible to have confidence in the people making the predictions. It’s not necessarily that they’re bad people or that they have poor intentions.

But it does mean that they’re making predictions with a level of certainty that just isn’t possible.

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Looking for the Boston scapegoat? You’ll never find perfect security

by David McElroy

Perfect security?

Only 10 days after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, ugly partisan politics is taking the story over. Some in Congress are starting to openly blame the Obama administration for not keeping the country safe. The head of the CIA quickly fired back, essentially saying, “Hey, don’t blame us.” And there’s NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying we’ll have to give up more individual rights (and add more surveillance cameras) to make everyone safe.

The truth is that perfect security is impossible. Even in a totalitarian society, attacks can happen every now and then. But in a free society, we have to tolerate even more risk. It’s just part of the trade-off of remaining mostly free.

You are going to die one of these days, and I am, too. Every one of us will. I might live to be 120 years old or I might be killed in a car accident later today. We just don’t know. We can take reasonable steps to minimize the dangers we face, but we can’t eliminate risks. It’s literally impossible.

So if perfect security is impossible, why are politicians arguing about it? And why is the media filled with so much news of terror that it scares so many people?

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Other than meaningless rhetoric, are Bush and Obama really different?

by David McElroy

Bush becomes Obama

Five years ago. Barack Obama was running for president for the first time. George W. Bush was president, and Obama was running as the anti-Bush. Everything about his pitch to voters was essentially, “Bush has messed everything up, so I’m going to give you hope and change by doing everything differently.”

Five years later, what’s really different?

Bush supporters would protest that Obama is far worse than their man. They have a visceral hatred for Obama, because he represents everything they hate. They see Bush as tough-minded and patriotic, whereas they see Obama as a weak peacenik who’s giving everything to welfare recipients.

Obama supporters also protest, because they are certain that Bush was far worse than the man they saw as a savior. They saw Bush as stupid and war-like, whereas they see Obama as smart and kind-hearted. They see Bush as hateful to minorities and immigrants, but Obama is generous and is a leader who represents the country’s best values.

When it comes to actual governing and results, both groups are wrong. If you ignore their rhetoric to their own parties’ voters, you find they have much more in common that you’d think. I’ve been saying this for years, but people in the mainstream of the political system are now saying the same thing.

In a new article from the Associated Press this week, there’s a look at how these two men who are so different in ideology, personality and so forth have ended up with such similar policies.

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How can affluent and desperately poor live as two societies forever?

by David McElroy

Squalid apartments

I live in a middle class suburb about 15 miles west of downtown Birmingham. It has nice subdivisions and a collection of middle and upper-middle income families. It’s safe. I frequently walk the streets after midnight and don’t have a concern in the world. It’s a great place to live and a great place to raise children.

This past Sunday, I visited a different world for a few minutes. The contrast was scary. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

We all know there are parts of just about every city where “everybody knows not to go.” But even expressing the idea that way reveals a terrible bias. “We” know not to go there, by which we mean people with the money, education and the ability to live anywhere else.

Just before noon Sunday, I headed to downtown Birmingham because I wanted to catch Amtrak’s Crescent passenger train coming through, because I’d been wanting to shoot video of it. By the time I got to the station, the train was already in, so I needed to find a place just west of the station to catch it as it started leaving town.

I don’t know that part of town well. The part just to the west of the train station is industrial and the streets are cut up. Many of the buildings seemed abandoned, so it felt a bit like an industrial ghost town. I had to turn down confusing and cut up streets to find my way past the area. Using my iPhone’s GPS, I was able to see that if I’d head about six more blocks and then turn and head in another direction for four or five blocks, I should get to a railroad crossing not far from the main line after it left the station.

I was quickly scared. Nobody looked like me. The cars they drove were different from mine. They looked at me as though I were an alien.

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Why fixate on nationality, religion and ethnicity of some mass killers?

by David McElroy

Eric Rudolph

When the two suspected Boston bombers turned out to be Muslims from another country, the drumbeat of the ignorant started again.

“The Muslims are out to get us,” they ranted. “If we close the borders and quit letting foreigners in from those countries, things like this won’t happen.”

Let’s assume that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are the Boston Marathon bombers. They came to this country about a decade ago after leaving Chechnya, a region controlled by Russia, but filled with an ethnic group that’s mostly Muslim and that has a deep desire to become independent. So for those eager to close the borders, we have the things they seem to hate the most: Muslims from an ethnic group that doesn’t look like white Americans, who were born in another country.

So is this the quick cure for ending mass murder? Keep Muslims out? Keep out ethnicities that don’t look like most of us? Keep foreigners from moving here?

Unfortunately for the people who seem to imply this would fix everything, their narrative falls apart quickly.

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If Boston bombing suspect doesn’t have rights, neither do the rest of us

by David McElroy

Dzhokhar TsarnaevThe available evidence leads me to believe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the people who bombed the Boston Marathon last Monday. I certainly can’t prove it — and I would want to see first-hand evidence if I were on a jury trying him — but I’m comfortable assuming he’s guilty for now.

If he’s guilty as I assume he is, he’s a cold-blooded killer. A monster. A selfish murderer with no regard for other people.

Despite that, I’m very concerned that police don’t intend to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. He’s injured and can’t speak right now, but when he’s finally questioned, he’s not going to be told that he has the right to remain silent. He won’t be told that he has the right to an attorney to represent him. It will just be up to this 19-year-old to happen to remember for himself what his rights as an American citizen are. (And you can bet that police and the FBI are going to work hard to convince him he has no rights.)

If you want to know about the history of the so-called “public safety exception” to reading a suspect his rights, take a look at this article in Slate. I’m not going to rehash the legal history of the matter, but you’ll understand the issues better if you read it.

I only want to emphasize one thing about this. If we’re supposed to have rights that are guaranteed to be honored by government — but those rights can be set aside at the sole discretion of that same government — those aren’t really recognized rights. Those are just privileges that we’re allowed to have when it’s convenient for government to allow them.

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W.V. student suspended from school and arrested for pro-gun t-shirt

by David McElroy

Protect your right

When eighth grader Jared Marcum got to school Thursday morning, one of his teachers objected to the shirt he was wearing. The Logan, W.V., school doesn’t have anything in its dress code forbidding pictures of weapons on clothing, but he was suspended from school and then arrested by local police. He faces two counts, for “obstruction and disturbing the education process.”

“I never thought it would go this far because honestly I don’t see a problem with this, there shouldn’t be a problem with this,” Jared told WOWK television.

Jared’s father, Allen Lardieri, is completely supportive of his son’s position and says he can’t understand why anyone would object to the shirt. He’s angry that he had to rush away from work to pick his son up at jail.

Didn’t we settle this sort of free speech argument long ago? In 1965, five Iowa students were expelled from their high school because they wore black armbands to show their opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. The students and their families sued the school and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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When did someone decide we have the legal right not to be offended?

by David McElroy

Hyun Lee-CVS receipt

A New Jersey woman was offended at something a CVS Pharmacy employee did on her recent visit to the store, but she’s agreed to quit being offended if CVS will hand over a million dollars.

Hyun Lee placed an order with the pharmacy by phone. When she came to pick it up, the receipt was in the name of “Ching Chong Lee.” (The term “Ching Chong” has long been used as an insult for Asians, although mostly for ethnic Chinese.) Lee complained to CVS management, who told her that the employee responsible would be “counseled and trained.”

But that’s not good enough for Lee, who is of Korean descent. She wants a million dollars to go away.

Let’s be clear. The employee’s action was racist and completely unacceptable. If I were store management, I’d fire whoever did it. Period. No questions asked. It’d make it clear that it’s not the way I want my employees to treat customers. There’s no excuse for what the employee did.

But with that said, why should it be illegal? Why should Lee be entitled to financial damages? Why should lousy customer service be against the law? When did we get the legal right not to be offended?

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Best way to fight terror? Turn off your TV and get back to real life

by David McElroy

Fear of terrorism

There are a lot of people who want you to be scared and obsessed with public safety right now. I’d like to suggest that it’s in your best interest — and the best interest of everyone around you — to turn your television off and quit obsessively following the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.

If you live in Boston or if you have family there or if you somehow have such a personal tie, I understand that you want to keep up with it more than the rest of us. That’s understandable. It’s a local story for you, and it affects you in a personal way. But for the rest of us — the vast majority — it’s worse than a waste of time. It’s creating exactly what terrorists want. (I’m calling the perpetrator of the bombing a terrorist on the assumption that creating terror was his intent. I’m not implying anything about who it might have been or what the person’s cause might be. Because I don’t know.)

Terrorists want you to be scared. Pure and simple. They want you to be looking over your shoulder and wondering when something bad might happen again. They want you to wonder whether it might be in your city next time. They want you to eventually feel that you’re willing to do anything to convince them to leave you alone.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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