Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Student Loan Debacle

Or is it, in typical political terms, a "crisis"? In any case, the Wall Street Journal examines the situation and provides some enlightening information on how these kinds of disasters occur. 

From the Friday, April 30, 2021 edition:

"One instance of how accounting drove policy came in 2005 with Grad Plus, which removed limits on how much graduate students could borrow. It was part of a law designed to reduce the federal budget deficit. A key motive was to use projected profits to reduce federal deficits, said two congressional aides who helped draft the bill.

Each change was publicly justified as a way to help families pay for college or to save the taxpayer money, said Robert Shireman, who helped draft some of the laws as an aide to Sen. Paul Simon (D., Ill.) and later was deputy under secretary of education the Obama administration."

It turns out that elected officials either don't have the knowledge and expertise to draft legislation or that they're time is being monopolized by the electioneering efforts needed to retain their seats, most of which is either media grandstanding or private conclaves with donors and election advisors. So unelected and generally unknown staffers like Mr. Shireman are the ones who attempt to legislatively keep the promises made by their bosses. Simply having a tenure in such a position is a gateway to bureaucratic advancement, even if their work ultimately results in failure.

The failure in this case is that federal student loan programs could cost taxpayers as much as half a billion dollars as borrowers continue to default, according to the WSJ article, which also states that this fiasco could exceed the dimensions of the S&L melt down of thirty years ago.

There is an even deeper dimension to this problem. Where does the money being borrowed in these programs go? Of course, it goes to the educational institutions themselves, organizations top-heavy with expensive administration that have become gate-keepers to the social/economic futures of modern Americans. Students at exclusive schools like Amherst and Bentley are being subsidized by janitors and truck drivers.

While private universities are at liberty to charge whatever the market will bear, tax-payer subsidized public schools are even more profligate in being homes for over-paid, tenured professors that don't teach many classes because they're devoted to research and writing papers that few ever read.

There's a strong possibility that the Covid-19 pandemic, or actually the government response to it, will provide an impetus for change in an academic environment that has been substantially the same as it was in 18th century Germany, where it was born. We can only hope that this will be the case. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Black Hawk Speaks

 Here, for the first time I touched the goose quill to the treaty---not knowing, however, that, by that act, I consented to give away my village. Had that been explained to me, I should have opposed it, and never would have signed their treaty, as my recent conduct will clearly prove.

What do we know of the manner of the laws and customs of the white people? They might buy our bodies for dissection, and we would touch the goose quill to confirm it, without knowing what we are doing. This was the case with myself and people touching the goose quill the first time.

We can only judge of what is proper and right by our standard of right and wrong, which differs widely from the whites, if I have been correctly informed. The whites may do bad all their lives, and then, if they are sorry for it when about to die, all is well! But with us it is different: we must continue throughout our lives to do what we conceive to be good. If we have corn and meat, and know of a family that have none, we divide with them.If we have more blankets than sufficient, and others have not enough, we must give to them that want. 

Life of Black Hawk or Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, Dictated By Himself, Penguin Books, New York, 2008, Pgs. 44-45.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Dog Food

This article describes what can happen if your dietary ideas differ from that of elements of your community.

 The action took place in South Korea, perhaps the most Americanized locale anywhere in Asia, so it isn't unusual for US ideas to have found a home there. 

Americans, who ridicule the veneration for cows of the Hindus of India, hold a perhaps greater esteem for canines. After all, dogs are actually considered to be the legal equivalent of some humans, namely policemen. Hindu cows don't become agents of law enforcement.

At any rate, what does this mean, if anything? Should a culture be able to employ the legal system to determine the dietary habits of its members? If Sharia law becomes the norm somewhere in the West will pork in the form of bacon, ham, chops and sausage be forbidden? In the US the consumption of horse meat is already prohibited, perhaps because bygone military leaders of the northern-most section of the country are frequently portrayed in paintings and sculpture mounted on horses. Not long ago horse meat was routinely eaten, by the Harvard faculty as one example, and still is in many other parts of the world. 

One question might be, "Why should anyone care what others eat?" Do-gooders, always worried about the health of others and the economic externalities of crappy diets, can't be too worried about horse meat or even dog meat, neither of which have the long-term fatal effects found in ice cream and cotton candy. So it must be some ethical or even religious thing. It's just wrong to kill and eat an animal that can be trained to fetch sticks.

What about other animals? Lambs are cute and cuddly but don't seem to have an effective lobbying organization. Both domestic and wild ducks and geese aren't idolized, maybe because they poop on golf courses and occasionally hold up traffic.

This is not to say that an individual can't try to discourage others from engaging in eating habits he deplores. He's probably within his rights to forbid his children from eating live frogs or other amphibians. But is it right for him to use the governmental power to enforce his own food ideas?

This is actually the crux of the matter. If a kind of behavior is "good" or "better" or whatever, its proponents should be able to convince others of that fact and their behavior would change to voluntary acceptance. That's not how it works when government is involved. "You can't do it because we said so." 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

How Language Works

Language carries many messages beyond the simple definitions of the words we use. Words have denotations and connotations. The denotation of a word is it's basic dictionary definition. The connotation of a word might include attitudes that give that word positive or negative qualities in the mind of the listener. For instance freedom fighter has a positive connotation but war lord has a negative one, even though both terms could often be used to describe the same individual.

There's daily evidence in the world of advertising of this kind of thing. General Motors calls one of their auto models the Impala, an athletic, graceful antelope native to Africa that's never tipped over an American garbage can or pooped in the yard. The response to the name is generally a positive. On the other hand, no cars are named Skunk or Raccoon, animals that regarded as varmints and pests by suburban homeowners. These animals are simply animals. They aren't inherently good or evil.

This newspaper item regarding a recent incident demonstrates how denotation and connotation work: 

The hateful messages received last week by Black students at White Bear Lake Area High School were a “hoax,” sent by a female student who was trying to raise awareness of problems at the school, according to school and city officials.

The FBI helped identify the student who created the anonymous Instagram account, and she took responsibility Monday afternoon, Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak wrote Tuesday in a letter to families.


There's a lot of interesting verbiage in these two paragraphs but the most interesting is the phrase took responsibility. The writer of this article, Josh Verges of the Twin City Pioneer Press, had some options available in composing this sentence. If the actions of the individual involved some kind of criminal or even anti-social behavior, and the individual involved acknowledged that action, it would ordinarily be described as an admission. The person admitted guilt. Admission in this case has a distinctly negative connotation. It's a close cousin to confession, which would also have negative connotations in this context.

Instead, Verges called the individual's response to the discovery of something so heinous that the FBI was called in to assist the local gendarmie in an investigation as took responsibility. In ordinary circumstances taking responsibility is regarded as an act of virtue. It has  very positive connotations. The  flip side of taking responsibility, being irresponsible, has hugely negative connotations.

Perhaps one could make the case that the incident was, in itself, a case of irresponsibility. Or criminal mischief. Or, since the messages were purported to be from another, identity theft or maybe digital fraud. It's possible that the rapid development of electronic communication has left behind some legal consequences for digital wrong-doing.

However, that's not the issue. The real issue here is in what light a media figure cares to present the actions of a certain individual. If there had been no hoax, or it had not been discovered, the person deemed responsible for it would likely have been expelled from school and tarred  forever with the disgrace of racist behavior. The actions of the anonymous Instagram commenter are magnitudes worse. If taking responsibility, also anonymously, is the sum of her punishment, it's another example of true cultural corruption and, in terms of this article at least, the continuing debasement of the English language in North America. It's more "mostly peaceful demonstrations" and "no widespread voter fraud".   

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Police and Citizen Interactions


Police and citizen interactions occasionally produce violence and death, followed, in some cases, with community outrage, rioting and looting. Assuming that eliminating these occurrences would be a good thing, it's time to adopt a technique used in other parts of society to achieve that goal, namely education.

At some point long before a youth is even able to get a driver's license, the educational system should begin instruction on how an individual should respond to an encounter with law enforcement. Of course American children are witnesses during their lives to many thousands of hours of television news and drama based upon cop/criminal interactions but these generally focus on behavior that leads to disaster. A different approach is needed.

Junior and senior high school law enforcement safety programs would be much like other areas of instruction, typing and industrial arts, for instance. Student driver education would be a particularly relevant course. 

But the use of lectures and media techniques isn't enough. There must be more realistic presentations. A special classroom should be constructed with a typical SUV parked in front of a squad car. The student should be seated at the wheel and with the lights of the room extinguished a siren would sound, lights would flash and two policemen would emerge from the squad car and go to each front door of the car. The student would receive the normal instructions in a real event of this kind, "Let me see your hands", "Get out of the car", shouted at the driver. The point is that this sort of an encounter isn't a daily feature of anyone's life. It's rarity means that it's the kind of an emergency that an individual should be prepared for, like learning the basics of artificial respiration to save a drowning victim or the use of the Heimlich maneuver if a friend gags on a hot dog.

Instruction of this kind should be a part of getting a driver's license.


Friday, April 9, 2021

How The Chinese Communist Party Works

According to the Hong Kong paper, The South China Morning Post, the Communist Party in China operates like this.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Justice For Brandon Elliot

This article from the South China Morning Post describes a violent incident that may be considered a hate crime and the response to it by some members of the Asian community in the US, specifically Filipinos. 

 There's a lot to digest in this entire episode. First of all, the accused in the case, burly 38 year-old Brandon Elliot, is on lifetime parole, whatever that is, convicted for the murder of his mother in 2002. He was incarcerated until 2019 and living in a nearby homeless shelter before his arrest. Elliot is also an African-American, a victim of systemic racism. 

The other victim, diminutive 65 year-old Filipina immigrant Vilma Kari, was walking to church when Elliot kicked her in the chest, knocking her down and then stamping on her head three times while berating her as an Asian that should  go back to wherever she came from. Elliot then sauntered across the street. Several observers, including one employed as a security guard in the building where the attack occurred, did nothing during the episode. These individuals appeared to African-American as well. The lady was reported to have suffered a fractured pelvis.

The focus of the SCMP article is not the incident itself but instead the response of Filipinos in the US to it and other attacks on Asians. 

   Leon Villavicencio, a Filipino-American researcher, says 

“I grew up in a place where the only other Filipinos I knew were my cousins, and other Asians were few,” he said. “You would always feel you’re the other. You’re different.”

He said he used to laugh along when he encountered racist jokes in high school in an attempt to fit in better. “I think it’s part of being Filipino to not take offensive jokes seriously, but looking back at them now you realise it’s wrong,” he said. 

Well, yes. While Filipinos are the fourth largest group of foreign-born immigrants in the US they still number only 2 million. They're bound to be "the other" in all but the tightest Filipino communities. A similar status would be held by Americans in the Philippines. Historically, Chinese have been the primary recipients of discrimination there. In fact, the Philippines has had a reputation as a dangerous, violent place since the Cebuanos killed Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 during his attempted circumnavigation of the globe. The US experience in attempting to colonize the islands after the Spanish-American war resulted in a 13 year battle with the Muslim chiefs in the surrounding islands, headed by Black Jack Pershing who would have remained there for years longer if he hadn't been moved to Europe to help settle some dynastic issues in 1917. The activity in the Philippines was the longest military engagement in US history until Americans occupied Afghanistan.

Statistics seem to indicate that racist attacks by black Americans on Asians are on the increase. Is the Brandon Elliot affair a disgusting example of this? Or is the sociopath just an example of what can happen when a mentally ill individual with violent tendencies is allowed to roam the streets? We'll probably never know. The event doesn't fit the narrative.