Higher Education, No Cost No Value?

I don’t think FREE college education is a good idea.  Making a child work to buy that bike he wants has long been a way of making the child value the bike, they won’t leave it out in the rain if they had to sweat to get it.  I’ve seen too many students who are at the university because it’s what’s next and don’t take it seriously.  I propose that we set the cost to the undergrad student for a year’s worth of public university education to be 80% of a summer’s worth of minimum wage.  It’s an attainable amount is not a crushing sum if the student decides to travel for a summer of has other unpaid responsibilities, and yet it instills a sense of value in the student for the education.  The student needs some skin in the game…but not a major organ.

In the current debate about student loans, tuition, and higher education I am certainly in the camp of providing students with all the education we can get into them.  In an educated society we can have informed discussions about a host of troubling issues.  I believe a good bit of the difficulty we are having today is because rather than being informed by a good education people are being informed by information bits, some true, some false, and don’t really have the tools to discern one from the other.  The smooth delivery of the factoid they want to be true is the one they pick…so education.

If you are a parent with kids in college you know that the cost of education is ridiculous.  When we were in school in the 80’s the proposal outlined above pretty much held for all public universities, now a summer job is chump change compared with the cost.  Why? Well the facilities are pretty posh, it would be nice to be able to opt out of the student center with the climbing wall for the sake of cost…especially since serious students don’t have much opportunity to use it.  High powered research professors? undergrads seldom see these guys, they give the institution chops but do they contribute to your child’s education…I don’t know.  Whatever the reason, we need to get these cost down to an attainable level, the cost of both the student debt and the lack of education in our society is snowballing.

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The Other Price of Freedom

Let’s talk about the other price of freedom. Many of us have people who have served in the military, fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters. Some have died or had their lives changed forever by terrible injuries or memories. It’s certainly easy to see this price for our freedom, it’s pointed out all the time to motivate this or that action or behavior… but there is another price, one that it seems less and less people are willing to pay. It is the price of our safety.
It’s a risk to give your neighbor the freedom to be different from you, but if we don’t pay this price, if we don’t sacrifice our safety, a price that is sometimes paid in blood and violence at home, then neither your neighbor nor you are truly free. You may not like that your neighbor is gay and lives with his partner, or that she is a Muslim and wears her hijab to the store. You may not like it that he burns the flag, HIS flag on HIS front lawn. You may not like the confederate flag in his pickup truck, or that she’s disrespectful to your religion, or our country. That said, if we are a free county it all needs to be allowed.
We all have to follow the law, we should all treat each other with decency, but that doesn’t always happen, and we can’t be both free and safe. Sure, those who step over the line need to be found and punished, it is a travesty that some of the perpetrators of some of the most infamous violence against blacks in the 60’are just now being found out. When actual planned violence can be seen coming it should be stopped, but you can’t just ostracize a whole people because some of them MIGHT be dangerous, what kind of freedom is that, and how long before this preemptive justice is applied to you.
Allowing you only the freedom to do what I like is no freedom at all.

HSA

It’s a new year and one of my resolutions is to give this woefully neglected blog a little more attention.  So what have I decided to write about on this auspicious kick off you ask?  Well I’ve decided to write about:

The shiny new health insurance policy we have been blessed with this year.  My employer, and in their defense this is a national trend,  has switched us to a HSA/High deductible plan.  It saves a little on your premium, it saves a lot on the company’s premium, and you can save up for when you get sick since the HSA or “health savings account” can roll over into next year if you don’t use it.  This sounds good right?  We’re pretty healthy, well here comes the sticker shock.  Since you will be paying 100% of the first $3000 you might be surprised to find out that the doctor visit is between $60 and $90.  Multiply that  times how ever many are in your family and it adds up fast.  Now just suppose you need a prescription every month, thyroid around $160 per month, suppose you have a child with ADD, $330 per month, suppose you have more than one.  You’ll burn through that $3000 pretty fast this year…and next year and the year after.

The move to shift health care costs off of employers is national, and I can’t say it’s bad, but the shift to the employee is awful.  I can afford this, or at least it won’t break me, but what about all the people just getting by?  Obamacare was supposed to fix this but it seems like it just made it OK for employers to shift the costs faster.  Wages are stagnant, costs are going up, this system is going to crash and crash hard.  The sad part is it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Fun Size

Well, it’s the day after Halloween and we are left with the “cushion” of several bags of candy that we got just in case the handful of trick or treaters that make it down our 200 yard driveway somehow morphed into a shuffling mob of candy zombies. Well they didn’t so I’m here in my office mustering the courage to set all that chocolate free…unfortunately some of the “Fun Size” bars aren’t going to make it, I am weak!

In the course of my culling of the candy herd, I have notice that the Fun Size bars are…thinner. I think they are the same length and height, the wrapper is even the same size, but the thinner bar has a lot more freedom in the wrapper than it used to. I can only assume that:

  1. They have managed to pack more fun in a smaller package.
  2. They have reduced the fun by about 20%.
  3. There have been cases of too much fun in years past and thank god now we have some regulation.

I suspect it’s number 1 because I seem to be here in my chair just jittering to go release some of this stored fun.  Apparently they contain plenty.  An informal poll of parents of small children indicate that there has been no reduction of wall bouncing fun.  Well I gotta go.

LISTEN TO US!

Right now, the rich and powerful are trying to marginalize the group called “Occupy Wall Street.”  They are saying that this mix of blue collar and professional, working and unemployed, fearful and the foreclosed, this group of regular people, don’t have a coherent message, that no one knows what they want.  Well it’s true that they don’t have a public relations rep, or a lobby group but they do have a unifying message.  Their message, and it runs through the whole spectrum of people involved is…are you ready:

WE ARE SICK AND TIRED IF BEING POWERLESS!

Yup, that’s it.  As individuals, they feel they have no voice against injustice.  They are:

POWERLESS to stop being abused by BANKS,

To demand an interest rate that approaches inflation instead of 100 times less than inflation (0.01% last time I looked).

To stop them from using fees as a gotcha profit center.

To demand accountability for their actions and for the use of our bailout money for…what?

POWERLESS to demand that our Government represent us instead of Corporations and whoever can buy their time and attention.

Why can’t we have a choice during an election, we are forced to pick who will do the least damage, the leper with the most fingers and then we are told that we are responsible for his actions.

POWERLESS to control the actions of Corporations.

The corporate person has all the rights that we have but is not held accountable for his actions, his only goal is to maximize profits, and he has a lot more resources to achieve his goals.

POWERLESS to stop the Wall Street and Corporate boards from dismantling and corrupting key institutions for short term gain.

POWERLESS to stop the Health Care Industry and the Insurance Industry from preying upon us at our most vulnerable and blocking every effort to reform them with fear, mistrust, and misinformation.

POWERLESS against a media that is more interested in selling the show, or representing a viewpoint (or an owner), than delivering news and information that could be used for informed decision making.

Here’s a real shocker for you, the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the Tea Party crowd are after the same thing, empowerment.  Unfortunately the Tea Party seems to think the problem is Government and want to remove of it as much as possible.  I believe that the Government is the only one with a stick big enough to represent us against the true enemy of individual and corporate greed and power, unfortunately they appear to be uninterested in representing us.

“The Question” and Yo Mama

If our society is to continue with any resemblance to what we think of as traditional American Society, we, as a people, need to start using “The Question.”  The Question is what you should ask yourself when given a choice or opportunity. It’s a simple thing really, you turn to yourself and ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

I’ve had long talks with one of my more conservative coworkers about this and he tends to get hung up defining answer, but I contend that the important part is that you ask, with heartfelt sincerity, The Question. The answer, born of whatever rationalizations you can convince yourself of, is for you to work out. For instance, we’d like to give you $30M a year to be our CEO…is this right for the company, for myself, for my family, for the country? Can I justify my taking money that could go to hard working employees or for growing the company?

How about this, if I lay off a division of my company my bottom line will be high enough this year to get a big, multimillion dollar bonus. Is this good for the long term life of the company, or will short term gain benefit me at the cost of many. If you can convince yourself it’s right than do it, the answer to The Question is not nearly as important to society as that you asked, wrestled a little and then decided on an answer you believe to be honest. There are too many situations to make rules, but we have to find a way to institute a societal effort to do the right thing, an expectation that everyone is doing what they think is best. Think about this, if we disagree with someone, say a company president, a politician, or and insurance adjuster, but you believe they are doing their best to answer The Question, we are far more likely to cooperated to find a way to work together.

How is this different from what we have now? After all, we have laws and rules. True, but is it legal, or will I get in trouble, are not questions upon which a good society is built. Game theory has shown time and again that cooperation is mutually beneficial to all, individual benefit at the cost of others is a short term, unsustainable approach…unless you have so much power that others are forced to play on your terms. There have always been those who take at all costs, it’s just that now many of these individuals are out of reach of society as a whole. Worse, the example is bleeding down into society in general and the altruistic are seen as chumps.

Hence, part 2 of our problem, the Mama. If you are in a position of power, wealth or authority, and you are using it to acquire more power, wealth, or authority without asking “The Question,” your Mama should be calling you up and telling you, “Son (or daughter), you are shaming me by taking advantage of all those people.” Instead, it’s more like, “we are so proud of our son (or daughter), they are doing so well, look at what they bought me.”

I’ve tried to teach my kids that doing the right thing has a cost. It might be that you don’t take that last dollar for something you’re selling, but instead ask for a fair return. It might be that you give something back that you don’t have to, like the wrong change at the supermarket; the cashier might have to make your “windfall” up out of her pitiful pay. It might be that you don’t take all of that raise you are offered because the gas prices are hitting the lower wage workers harder than you. It might be that you are injured or even killed trying to help someone.

Sure we’ll get hammered by some opportunistic scum from time to time, but eventually they will be found socially unacceptable, instead of being held up as examples of captains of industry. We can’t wait for others to change, we can only change ourselves…and put pressure on those around us.

We, as a people, need to hold those who are willing ask “The Question” and to pay that price in esteem, instead of that they are somehow naive chumps, so our mama can call us up and say good job, I’m proud of you.

Saturday

Last Saturday around noon I was about to fire up the lawn mower and mow my lawn for what I hoped was the last time.  Unbeknownst to me, fate had other ideas.  It had pretty much decided I was going to spend my day under a car in the middle of nowhere.

My youngest son is a struggling musician.  He had decided to travel over the mountain to the “Treasure Mountain Festival” in Franklin, West Virginia.  He was going to meet a friend of his and they were going to seek their fortune by casting their musical pearls before the crowds.

The phone rang, I picked it up, “Dad, the brakes went out on the van, don’t worry the van is ok.”

“But are you OK?” I asked in my most fatherly tone, calm, considered.

“Yes, it’s in the church parking lot across from Snowy Mountain Road.”

Turns out he was about as far from anything as he could be on this trip.  Luckily, there was a parking lot across from the stop sign he blew when his brakes stopped working.  It doesn’t behoove a parent to think too much about close calls.  Either you would end up constantly stressed up like a violin string, with the accompanying squawks of a novice fiddler, or you just keep your kids at home, safe and underfoot.

My initial inclination was to tell him to wait there, I would come and WE would fix it.  Before I could say anything, he said that he had called someone and they were coming to get him.  He and that someone have been having a rough patch lately so I figured what the heck, I can fix it.

Now this is a ’91 Astrovan.  I swear that in the night, the nuts and bolts in these things swap between metric and English.  When I work on these things I can never remember which bit is metric and which bit is not so out to the garage and load ALL my tools in the car, wrenches, sockets, a jackstand, big hammer, little hammer, pry bar, flashlight (in hopes on not needing it), and a piece of cardboard, because you never can tell where the boy has parked (and hence what you have to lay in).

An hour later I arrive.  I quickly find where the line has ruptured, which as it turns out is not too bad a place.  I don’t think it will be too bad to fix.  I even get it apart with less difficulty than I have any right to expect.  Fate is toying with me.

The part off, I drive 20 minutes to Franklin, site of the ongoing Treasure Mountain Festival; food, music, Civil War reenactment, and a great parade.  A lot of towns in West Virginia are built in a wide spot along a river.  A lot of them have one road in, one road out, and no good way around.  From the direction I was coming, Franklin was like that.  I pulled up to the parade route just as it started.  The Treasure Mountain parade is something to behold, bands, dance school exhibitions, civil war characters, politicians, and tractors.  There was probably 20 minutes of John Deere tractors alone, and I got to see them all, because all the stores in Franklin were closed for the festival anyway.

The parade clear, I head up the road another 40 minutes to the next town, Petersburg.  Sure enough, I see a good sized part store.  They should have just what I need.  I pull up to a dark store and see that they had closed 20 minutes ago, that would have been about when I saw the Indians in the parade.  Well, the Indians were cool, the all shot their guns and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them.  Besides, this gave me an opportunity to practice my organic language skills.

The next town is Moorefield, another 30 minutes or so.  There was indeed an open parts store with everything I needed, tubing, tubing flair tool, tubing bender, tubing cutter. I left the store considerably less weighed down by negotiable worldly assets.

The road back was beautiful.  It runs a good bit along the river, and with the leaves turning, and the sunset was worth the cost of having to work in the dark, and dark it was.  With the help of my blazer’s headlights and a variable brightness flashlight (you could adjust the brightness by banging it), everything went pretty well.  For those of you who don’t do auto or house repairs this translates as, I didn’t break anything else while I fixed this.

With everything back together, I put the tire back on and lowered the car.  I put away my tools and took it for a test drive.  The brakes still need bleeding but they work well enough.  I have to leave the van for him to pick up since he’s spending the night with a friend so I threw in the keys and head home, it’s about 10pm.  About half way home I remember that I went from letting the van down to putting the jack in the back.  I had skipped an important step; I hadn’t tightened up the lug nuts.  So, back I go hoping that he hadn’t come to get it, not because the wheel would fall off.  I knew where he was spending the night and it wasn’t far, but because I didn’t want to have to tighten the lug nuts in his friends yard.  As luck would have it, it was still there and I got away with it.

I finally got home around 11:30, my wife was a little worried since I told her it would only take a couple of hours.  I was gratefully wrong.  What kind of story would that have been?