Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fundamental Facts by C.M. Chumbley

This is my backup copy of a post published at Accidental Blogger in 2012.

I lately discovered to my happy surprise that our new printer/copier/fax/scanner -- a Christmas gift from one of our kids -- has a feature that even someone at the local office supply store didn't know about: OCR. Optical character recognition is a scanner option which captures print content in character form (not a photo image) which can then be formatted and managed like any other print content. It's not an easy process because the program doesn't recognize all fonts accurately. Upper case "i" comes in as the numeral "1," for example, as well as a host of broken words, page headings, numbers and page breaks. It's probably easier and certainly less time-consuming to simply type a copy, but I'm not that good a typist so OCR is for me a technological marvel.

That's a poor introduction for this post, but since I am lifting someone else's content directly from the printed page of a book it seems important. I'm not in violation of copyright laws since the book was published in 1936 and the author was my maternal grandfather. It may not be one of the great books of the Twentieth Century, but The Man Invincible, written and published nearly a decade before I was born, has been an important part of my personal heritage and intellectual development.

The Ministerial Directory: 

Ministers in the Presbyterian Church 

Charles Melvin Chumbley was a Presbyterian minister who would have been about my age as he wrote this, the first chapter of his only published book. According to Mom, her mother, who outlived him by nearly a decade, "never really approved of his book," so we never discussed it around her. But Mom's view of the world and The Word tended to be more pliable than those of her mother. Consequently she came to terms with the social and theological changes of her lifetime more gracefully than many of her peers. She understood, for example, that when I had a falling out with the Southern Baptist Church in the Sixties over the matter of desegregation, that rift reflected her own conflicted spiritual life. Until my father's death she was obliged to be a closet Presbyterian, forced to keep her opinions to herself all the years she was married with my Dad, whose bonds with the Southern Baptist church were unbendable and unquestioned.

As this first chapter of his book illustrates he was a man ahead of his time. His book is one man's attempt to stir interest in the Bible among those who for whatever reason had none. The chapters unfold in story form with Prince Satan and God as the main characters. He delights in making up scenes to underscore a point, like a meeting of the United Dames of the House of Israel the morning after a radio address by Prince Satan announcing the pregnancy of Mary, whom they had all heard about, and they fell to gossiping about "poor, dear old Joseph...old enough to be her father." So with that scant introduction, here is Chapter One of his book, "Fundamental Facts."

Today's reader must be patient with a slower, more formal writing style now called florid, but which readers of old books will recognize as everyday courtesy. (As we see clearly in today's world, simple politeness is especially important when someone is apt to be easily offended. The turmoils of the last week would never have occurred if old-fashioned rules of politeness were still alive.)

~~~~~§§§~~~~~

SOME years ago a brilliant writer published a treatise on the Bible under the catchy title The Book Nobody Knows. These words constitute a challenge! Is it true that nobody knows the Bible? If so, is it knowable? Or is it an inexplicable riddle after all the centuries of study expended upon it?

Certainly a great deal is known about the Bible, as Mr. Barton himself shows in presenting his case and as attested by the countless volumes that have been written about it Certainly, also, a great deal of its contents is familiar to every intelligent person, as Mr. Barton shows in his discussion, in spite of the lamentable ignorance concerning its simplest statements That author’s story of God’s tempering the wind to the shorn lamb can be matched - by scores of like incidents.

Even preachers are not exempt. It is related—on unimpeachable testimony—that a certain parson, whose zeal no doubt, exceeded his knowledge upon one occasion, announced that his text was recorded in the Book of First Clover. An interested hearer challenged the statement, asking “In what book did you say?" The preacher replied “I said the Book of First Clover, but it don't sound jist right. Anyhow, I know it's one of the long grasses." For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the names of the various long grasses, it may be suggested that the preacher had in mind the Book of First Timothy.

On the other band, no intelligent person has ever claimed to have mastered the Book nor will it ever be mastered, any more than the secrets of nature will all be learned, for the simple reason that infinite truth is concealed within its pages. And herein lies the perennial interest in this Book. For, however familiar one may be with any passage, he may go to it again and again, and each time find new and richer meanings. We may, therefore, fairly conclude that while the Book is not known in its fullness, it still is knowable, and ever, invites further and more earnest study. And such study is richly alluring, as is probing for some secret of nature or excavating some historic ruin; for one, never knows just when the break will come that will bring to light some rare and hidden treasure.

However, in discussing the question "What is it all about?" the writer does not come as a faddist with some fantastic claim of new discovery, but rather as one who has sat beside the highway of life and watched the crowds go by, and recorded somewhat of the things he has heard and seen.

The individual ideas herein presented, except perhaps in the manner of their presentation, may be old and commonplace; but when brought to the touchstone of our theme they are seen to glow with light and beauty. It is in the relationship of these facts and ideas, rather than in new discoveries, that the writer hopes to make a book worthwhile; one that will be read with interest and profit, and that will lead to new interest in the old Bock, the truths of which are ever fresh and new.

The material has been gathered, not with the purpose of writing a book, nor in special research for the purpose of elaborating our thesis; but in listening to the talk of all sorts of people in all sorts of places over a period of a good many years. A few preachers have said some things in such a way that they have stuck in memory; lecturers have made their contributions; ponderous tomes of orthodoxy and flippant heretical pamphlets have been laid under tribute; street preachers, gypsies, and blatant iconoclasts, who were not conscious of mingling words of worth with their strident verbosity, have added their meager contribution; especially, to be mentioned, are some humble saints and pious shut-ins who have yielded up many nuggets of pure gold. This heterogeneous material has been sifted and assorted, and is here presented in an effort to show what this Bock, which we call the Bible, is all about.

Perhaps we should tarry to say clearly what our title implies, namely, that the Bible is a book, not a collection of kindred book that it has a beginning, is occupied with a central theme, of which sight is never lost, and in the end comes to a logical conclusion. Special characteristics of the Book, making it different all other books, will be mentioned as they occur, so need not be noticed here.

A man of wide culture was visiting a hermit philosopher, who was noted for his eccentricities. Noticing a number of well-worn Bibles in a case to themselves, he said to his host, "You must make much use of the Bible, judging from the number you have worn out."

The hermit answered, "Yes, my vocation is studying the new discoveries and inventions in the light of the Word of God."

"What course do you follow when science contradicts the Bible?" inquired the visitor.

"I just wait till science discovers her mistakes," he answered complacently.

"You are a fundamentalist then, I judge?"

"No," answered the hermit, "a rank modernist -- as modern as the Book itself I insist, as every earnest scientist does, upon the right to assemble facts, weigh testimony; and then upon drawing honest conclusions."

"How do you deal with the claims of geology and astronomy that the earth is many millions of years old, while the Bible says it is only a few thousand years at most?" asked the visitor.

"Does your Bible say that?" he asked gently—far more gently than his visitor had imagined he could speak.

"Well, er- er- er," he hesitated, "that's what I've been taught."

"Too bad," he answered, still speaking gently, "that a man of your intelligence should not have seen the error of such teaching. Why not go to the Book and get firsthand information?"

"I do not now recall any statement touching the case."

'Yet you charge the Bible with error" rasped the hermit with biting sarcasm.

"I admit your charge," the visitor answered, "and if there is anything in the Bible on this subject I should like to know it, for I confess that my sympathy with the findings of science has brought me to doubt the truth of many things I was taught to revere." For answer the recluse handed him a Bible, and pointing to its opening verse said, "Read."

Curiously he read the words that as a child he had learned by heart, "In the beginning God created the haven and the earth."

"'Well?" asked the hermit, and waited for an answer.

"Well countered the other, "that doesn't seem to me to touch the subject."

"No?" and there was a question in his tone. Then he continued, "When was 'In the beginning?' What followed? How long did it last?"

"I don't seem able to catch your meaning," he-replied.

"Well," he answered, 'In the beginning' is as far back as thought can go, is it not?"

"Yes," the visitor conceded cautiously, "but it also may mean only a few thousand years, as the Bible says."

"That's a libel on the Bible," roared the hermit. "The Bible says no such thing."

"Of course it says it," persisted the visitor stubbornly. "The statement is in close connection and a part of the account of the first day's creative 'work."

"Certain?"—and his tone awed the other into silence.

After a moment the recluse said, "I think there is a period, marking a full stop, at the end of that verse, is there not?"

"Yes," replied the other.

"It is properly there, I think," answered the hermit, "though the original text was without points of any kind. So we’ll leave the period stand, and call this verse, 'The first chapter in all this first chapter in all history’”

“'The first chapter in all this first chapter in all history!’” exclaimed the other incredulously.

“Yes,” he replied, "this one detached statement of ten words – seven of them monosyllables—settles three vital issues for one who is going to study the Bible in order to find out what it is all about, or who purposes intelligently to follow the development science. First of all, it assumes the existence of an almighty God. The Bible offers no proof of His being, but assumes it as essential and necessary fact. As the writing of a letter implies writer, so the Book implies an Author. Both are axioms. What folly to suggest proving an axiom! This God is beyond doubt knowing, all-powerful, all-good; and His will the supreme law of His universe. As will be seen later, righteousness is conformity to His will; sin is defiance of His will. The second statement of the Verse is that He 'created the heaven'; that is, He is Maker of the visible universe—sun and moon and all the Stars. This verse also asserts that the same God, who created the heaven, created the earth also. Of the millions of worlds that science says swing ceaselessly about their several suns the name of one only -- little Earth upon which we dwell—is recorded here in the Bible story of the creation. This statement puts us on notice that especial concern of the Bock is the Earth—its origin, its history, its destiny."

The speaker paused as if expecting some response, but his visitor was speechless, realizing that be had discovered an iconoclast -- hating convention and form, but warmly interested in his search for truth. When the recluse saw his visitor had no reply, he added whimsically, "In fact, the Bible is a very earthly book. lt speaks only incidentally of heaven and of other worlds."

As his guest made no reply, the hermit asked, a bit sharply, “Have you an imagination?" “Of a sort," the other answered.

"Then this ten-word chapter, at which we have been looking, has boundless possibilities. God; what is He like? Where did He come from? Why is He especially interested in the Earth? The heaven: what its extent? How many suns and how many worlds swinging around these suns? Is the Earth like other worlds? What was the Earth like when it was created?"

The speaker hesitated, as if feeling that this was unfamiliar ground to his visitor, and the latter broke in cockily, "The earth was without form and void, and.. .

"Not so fast, please," begged the hermit. "We have not yet finished with the first chapter of our story. lt's a good plan to finish one chapter before going into another; and you are quoting from another. Great misunderstanding of the Bible has come about by disregarding this simple principle. So let's not leave verse one just yet."

"Now," he continued, "as God is all-powerful and all-wise, I think He must have made a perfectly beautiful and lovely world which He 'created the heaven and the earth.' In imagination I can see it in its pristine beauty; full of trees and grass and flowers; great herds and flocks of living things roaming fields and forests; flying reptiles and birds of resplendent plumage; and crowning all, a race of beings, very godlike and beautiful, which for the want of a -better name we'll call "men."

"Now," charged the visitor, "you are getting away from the story."

"Perhaps from the meager record here," he conceded, "but not from the record written in the strata of the earth's formation; in the remains of those ancient times as revealed by the fragments found in the rocks and coal, and in other fossiliferous deposits."

"Of course there were great forests and giant monsters inhabiting the earth in some bug past age," conceded the other, "but I cannot agree with you that there ever existed a race of human beings before our own race came into existence by the word of God, or possibly by the process of evolution. I grant the possibility of, the latter, in case some man wishes to claim kin with a far-off simian ancestry,' and he looked quite well pleased with himself for his advanced and liberal attitude

"We'll not drag in the question of evolution until we have to do so," replied his host, "and as to the existence of a prehistoric human race upon the Earth we may hold that in abeyance for the present.. The ten words in the first verse of the Book have sufficient suggestions to keep one busy for a lifetime."


~~~~~§§§~~~~~
Bruce Barton, mentioned as "Mr. Barton" in the second paragraph, has a Wikipedia link for those who are interested. The Wikipedia article does not mention the book cited, but it can be found at ABE Books which has a database of out-of-print books. Unless they keep livestock, city folk will not make the connection between Timothy and Clover, something I knew without thinking, probably because I was reared in the rural South. Timothy grass is a widely-used field cover providing good grazing during the growing season and hay in the fall. Clover is another field cover, also widely used for grazing.

My thanks to Ruchira for providing a forum where I can indulge myself in this obscure exercise. I'm sure a few family members will find it "interesting" while others from the Creationist camp may call it heresy. For me what he said and the impact it has had on me is as much a part of my being as midriff bulge and male pattern baldness, qualities over which I have no control anyway. And come to think of it, I rather like it a lot.

Monday, May 29, 2017

George Halvorson and Cenk Uygur on Health Care

This video is a rational discussion of health care systems in other countries and commentary about the American variety of systems. 
Remember there is no single system in America. As you listen to descriptions of health care in other countries, keep in mind the crazy patchwork of systems we call health care in America. This is what a few people still like to imagine is the world's best healthcare.
Here is the duke's mixture...
  • Group insurance -- individual or family
  • Medicare for old people -- pays 80% of controlled prices, and the beneficiary either pays the balance out of pocket or purchases a supplemental private insurance policy
  • Medicare Advantage -- This is NOT the same as original Medicare but a reborn HMO, also called "managed care." About a third of Medicare eligible beneficiaries have MA.
  • Active duty military and their families -- full medical support.
  • Veterans who qualify -- either by a service-connected injury or other medical condition (or not, but the system is means tested for those who apply later).
  • Tri-care -- formerly known as the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) a health care program of the United States Department of Defense Military Health System for U.S Armed Forces military personnel, military retirees, and their dependents, including some members of the Reserve Component. 
  • Medicaid -- medical care for those who are officially destitute
  • SCHIP -- State Childrens Health Insurance Program. In Georgia we call it Peachcare
  • ER -- Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that requires anyone coming to an emergency department to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay, but since its enactment in 1986 has remained an unfunded mandate.
  • And finally, the exchanges and other features of the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare (By now everybody claims to already know about ACA so I feel no need to describe that system here.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Marsanne Golsby Comments on Confederate History

I'm blogging this post for quick reference. This is excellent. 
I have nothing to add other than my admiration for her courage to speak out at this time. She has my enduring respect and best wishes.  

About the removal of the Confederate monuments in NOLA:

This right here is where we've tripped ourselves in the South all these years. We've confused sentiment, familial loyalty and especially, a love of place, with a connection to a cause utterly unworthy of almost all of us.

There's nothing romantic about enslaving people. There's nothing romantic about rape. There's nothing romantic about lynchings. Enough!

I've been to a bunch of Civil War battlefields, most notably Vicksburg, where my great great grandfather, William Monroe Goldsby (Golsby) , was fatally wounded. He died a few days later in a hospital in Newton, MS. I never met him but I love him. My grandfather was named after him. I grew up with his legend around me. Honestly, with what he knew, I'd likely have done the same thing. Ima sit with this a moment. I'd likely have done the same thing. Be careful about judging people.

My GG grandfather sacrificed everything because he was duty bound. It's not his fault he lived in the wrong place for that time. But. I will not confuse my family love or my respect for his commitment with an endorsement for the cause for which he died. For 156 damn years we've had this backwards. It's twisted. It's messed up.

I love the South! I love my family, and the drawl, and my grandmother's butter churn and the recipes, connection to the land, sense of community, the flint and powder shotgun above the fireplace mantle when I was a kid and the GENUINE FRONTIER fearlessness from which I was just two generations removed! We lived in the country just outside Shreveport. My dad taught me to shoot when I was just seven and I'm a big proponent of responsible gun ownership.

I have my great grandmother's spinning wheel in my dining room. That's William's daughter in law he didn't live to meet. I'm PHYSICALLY connected to the 19th Century. I honor and cherish those family ties. I had loving parents and grandparents and I'm a sentimental gal.

But NONE of that translates into embracing bigotry.

It's time to color inside the lines of the history books. In Southern classrooms, they lied to us, out of institutional racism. Maybe not out of spite, but at the very least out of a need to avoid guilt and grief. My parents and teachers were children during the Great Depression. I've been tight on money but I've never been within 10,000 miles of forced hunger.

I've been to Gettysburg. On the way to fight that battle Lee's army kidnapped free blacks in the North and sent them back south into slavery. There is NOTHING to romanticize or justify. Lee's army kidnapped free blacks in northern states and sent them back to the south to be enslaved, raped, their children
stolen or sold off.

Monuments are for those we want to HONOR. My GG grandfather left a toddler and pregnant wife. I don't think he'd have wanted a damn monument. He'd probably preferred to not have his life wasted in a senseless and immoral fight.

Not all of my great great grandfather's blood rotted in a trench for rats to eat in 1863. Some of it is in my veins. And every bit of that implores me to implore us to create a different legacy, one he'd think was worth his sacrifice, one he could truly embrace, one in which his spirit can feel genuinely redeemed.

Put the statues in museums. Don't destroy them. Use them as teaching opportunities. But burn that nasty flag. To those of you who are upset at the removal of the monuments, I ask you, what do you tell your black friends about your support for honoring the defenders of slavery? What about how they feel? I'm not accusing anyone of racism and I don't mean that question as an accusation. For me, in considering my position on this issue that point was what made the difference.

I originally wrote this a month ago, when the first of the NOLA Confederate monuments came down. Now I just saw where they took down Lee's statue. I'm going outside to cheer. I'll betcha my great great grandfather, Private William M Goldsby (Golsby) First Louisiana, Heavy
Artillery, CSA, age TWENTY SEVEN, the age Adam is now, will be cheering with me. Grandpa, this is for YOU! You did not die in vain because I'm here, running my mouth on your behalf, more than 150 years after your death.
#monuments

PS:
This is now a public post because folks asked. I don't usually make my posts public because I'm 62 and I don't give a crap if you agree or not. But if you disagree and cannot do so cordially, you can't imagine how much I will enjoy blocking you or how quickly it will happen. I'm fast, especially for my age.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Medicare for all" or Public Option

Medicare for all has been a popular refrain, but there are a couple of points that need to be mentioned.

First, most other countries have a system that is a combination of "government" services plus private-pay providers, with the system knit together by some form of private insurance. I don't know the details, but the main difference between Canada and the UK, for example, is that Canadian Medicare is virtually all-encompassing (administered at the provincial level, not nationally) with no private insurance -- though I have read that some private insurance and providers do exist. Britain's NHS, on the other hand, is a universal provider for everyone, but the services (and wait times) are replicated privately, augmented by a robust private insurance alternative for those who can afford them. A series of reports at The Health Care Blog several years ago offered a first-person report by an American physician who went to Britain to see for himself. His reports were fascinating, and I was left with the impression that NHS is more comparable to our own Medicaid than Medicare -- and he specifically said many Brits never darken the door of a NHS facility. However he underscored the fact that in the case of any emergency or for some complicated cases NHS was preferable to any private providers.

That said, I decided some time ago that a public option is a better alternative -- using the exchanges already in place -- than displacing everything with Medicare for all. That would truly satisfy those cries about choices. And if you like your doctor (and insurance) and want to keep it -- and can afford to do so -- good for you.

A word about American Medicare


Most people don't realize that Original Medicare has been slowly losing beneficiaries for the last few years with the advent of the misleadingly named Medicare Advantage private alternatives. MA is basically the cleaned up version of PPO and/or HMO "health maintenance" systems -- all privately organized and knit together by a private insurance company. About a third of all Medicare eligible people are no longer beneficiaries of Medicare, having been kidnapped by the MA private sector alternative.

I am familiar with both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage because my wife and I have been with both. When we first qualified for Medicare a MA plan was available in our area and we both decided for that -- not knowing all the details, but attracted by the bizarre fact that not only did we not need supplemental insurance, but that the "premium" for MA was ZERO!
I was mystified, but that was the case and the attraction was irresistible.

At the end of that year, that particular MA plan was discontinued for our county, and we then faced two options: either return to original Medicare (plus a supplement) or enroll in a different MA plan from a different insurance company. By then we had learned that original Medicare is a better option for someone with a complicated medical picture (read "expensive") but for someone in pretty good health, MA is less expensive.

MA vs original Medicare is the senior version of what the insurance people call "adverse selection" with MA being the senior analogue to young people who don't expect to have expensive health care, but who hit the wall should they get hit with a catastrophic medical problem (or combination of issues).

So here is the dirty little secret not widely known about PPACA: once someone has been enrolled in Medicare Advantage, the price of returning to original Medicare can be steep -- in the form of "medical underwriting" which is essentially the equivalent of having a preexisting condition. It's like life insurance. The older and/or sicker you are, the more the insurance will cost. (That "community rating" system the GOP wants to retroactively make optional for the states never left for the Medicare set. Think "preexisting conditions" writ large.)

Which brings us back to the "Medicare for all" discussion. Most people don't realize that Medicare does NOT cover 100% of medical costs. Thanks to a lifetime of payroll taxes only 80% of charges are covered. The other 20% of medical bills is the responsibility of the beneficiary. The beneficiary then faces two choices -- pay out of pocket, OR pay for supplemental insurance covering the other 20% -- and even then, there will be co-pays, deductibles and limitations that come with private insurance.

It becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don't choice. And in the end, American health care remains a rationing system -- rationed by affordability.
And anyone who wants to pay privately is welcome to do so -- hence a thriving field of cosmetic and other options, including medical tourism. But when the money runs out, and "spending down" depletes enough assets, the safety net finally becomes Medicaid.

And that is a completely different conversation...

Friday, March 3, 2017

Notes on Education & Science

I'm reblogging this post from 2005 for safe-keeping. 
"Students face consequences if they choose to accept evolution in a family or a church or a community that patently rejects evolution ... It might affect whether you get a date to the prom, or whether you get that summer job or not," McCoy said. "You may even anger close family members. Conversations about evolution can make family reunions very tense. "
LINK
It is bound to happen.
The same thing that happens to the children of divorced parents is now happening to students as the debate over teaching evolution rages on.

Mixed signals is the worst of all shortcomings in management, in parenting, in education, in politics, in every human endeavor that requires the transmission of information. And mixed signals is what students are getting in this debate. The odd part is, it makes no difference if a well-meaning parent is home-schooling or sending the student to a private school with a curriculum that has the Good Faith-keeping Seal of Approval. The finished product, the student, will still have to live and work a world that is, according to their training and instruction, deeply flawed to a dangerous point. Lacking the adult interpersonal skills that allow us to sit together in the same place with publicans and sinners, and others of ignorant, illicit and misguided creeds, adolescents and young adults are still trapped in that idealistic place where everyone who can't agree with them is simply ill-informed. All they need to do is persuade others of the truth, and in time ignorant people will see the truth and the truth shall set them free.

We are witnessing the indoctrination, polarization and intellectual vaccination of a generation of young people prepared to engage in another civil war over principles, if necessary to defend and protect what they know to be "right." We are already teaching them the skills of actual combat in the proving grounds of the Middle East. After all, it's not about land, or oil, or international politics. It's about principles, you know. When the seeds of mixed signals are sewn, a lifetime of irresolvable conflict is the harvest. Social workers, pastoral counselors and others who work with children can attest to the fact that children will love and often try to protect a parent or parents who are abusive or negligent.

The bonds of affection in healthy families are stronger than dysfunctional ones, to the point that children from that family can express the family identity even more than that of society around them according to how well the family has succeeded in passing on its values and beliefs. But in the long run, society carries the heavier weight. How else to account for the changes in first-generation immigrants whose children don't speak the mother tongue as well as their new language? Whose grandchildren engage in habits or wear fashions their grandparents find unacceptable?

How else to explain the desegregation of public schools and accommodations, followed by private schools, clubs and churches? I remember widespread creation of "private schools" in the South, meaning "white schools." An avalanche of social opinion eventually prevailed, as in the case of smoking. Prejudice survives along with the use of tobacco, but the voice is sotto voce, just as more and more buildings are designated non-smoking. For me the question is not about faith versus science. It is about how faith approaches the world, not only its science, but its whole being. How can we teach our children to be IN the world, but not necessarily OF the world? Not how can the world teach our children, but how can we teach our children...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am a supporter of both public and private education. There is a place for both in society. I know people whose private school education was far superior to what I received in public schools. Thank God, I say, that those people are well-prepared to make excellent, achievement-oriented contributions to the world. I had enough experience with Applesoft Basic to appreciate that there are programmers who have a passion for writing tight programs so that I don't have to write my own (even though many of those people tend to be at the margins of education...geeks, you know...which is why I don't worry about the flaws of education, public or private).

I hear voices calling for the abandonment of public schools. At its most benign, the message is to get your kids out of the public classroom at any cost, as though there were no important differences among the spectrum of public schools. Quickly, for their sakes, get your children into a private setting (never mind what agenda, curriculum or quality it may have) because private is by definition better than public. As we worship more and more at the altar of market economics we conclude that the marketplace holds the best possible remedy for just about every problem. No one seems to notice the self-fulfilling prophetic nature of such advice: the students taken away will be the very ones whose faith, values and family support will most likely ameliorate the problems they purport solve by quitting.

Try to picture a society that does not support public education at all, which is where I sense a lot of people wish to go. When I was in Korea I spent my off-duty hours teaching English conversation to high school students, as well as young professionals who planned to study in America and wanted to be conversationally prepared. Korea in 1966 could not afford to provide public education for all its children, so beginning at about year six, students had to pass tests to continue receiving free public education. By the time a student got to college he or she had already been tested three times by the system so that only the brightest students could take advantage of post-secondary education.

There were private schools in Korea at that time, as well as private tutors. But private education was the resource of financially able families whose children, for whatever reason -- sloth, indifference, dullness, or other problem -- failed to pass the tests to remain in public school. Korea was desperately poor, so without free public schools the future of the country would have been bleak. Private education was a safety net for underachievers, not the repository for the best and brightest as in America. Knowing that some of my students were better at speaking English than others, I asked the Korean English teacher how to speak to them as a group. Should I use simple words and make a conscious effort to speak slower so that more of them could understand what I was talking about. He told me not to worry about those in the middle or at the bottom, but to speak with the best students at whatever level they could understand. "The rest will follow," he said. And there was no hesitation in his answer. As an educator, he knew that his role was to set the standard and let others strive to reach it. Anything less would be cheating those who were near the top. The rest, as he said, would follow.

He didn't say it, but there will always be followers. Followers always outnumber leaders. My instinct is that as Christians we should be producing good leaders for the public good, not trying to transform the public into a Kingdom of God on earth. Anything else strikes me as another attempt to build a Tower of Babel. Christians have a duty, alright. But it is not what is being advertised. Their duty is to be good Christians in the world around them, and teach their children to be the same. And since followers will always outnumber leaders, it would be wise to teach their children to be good Christian followers. St. Paul didn't attack the institution of slavery when he sent Philemon back to his master. Elsewhere he even advised slaves to set a good example for their masters. I have managed a lot of people and know from experience that leadership in a peer group is more important than leadership at the top. There is a lesson here, but there is too much noise in the public debate for it to be taught.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Footnote:
Two weeks ago when we turned on the air conditioner for summer, we found, much to our frustration, that the compressor was not coming on. (Why do we wait until the weather is uncomfortably hot? Why not try it out in early spring to avoid frustration in case it stopped working over the winter? It's like using the stapler. We only run out when we are attempting to staple something...anyway...)

So we called for service. We called the best and most reputable heating and air company in the county, a business now in it's second-generation of private management, still owned and operated by the man who started it years ago. We learned to our surprise and delight that the owner of this business, who had personally come to make arrangements for the installation of a heat pump when we were finishing the basement, a prosperous man who owns rental property and has a street named for him... this man cannot read and write. He flies his own airplane, but has no license because he cannot pass a written test.
The moment I met him, I knew that he was a man of good character. You can tell from how a person carries himself, shakes hands, or things that he says. Sometimes you just know. The moment you meet someone. I have met millions of the public myself and I can tell when I have met someone like him. You aren't gonna tell him anything that he hasn't already heard. Just know that you have met one of the good guys.

Finding out that he couldn't read only underscored my good feelings about him. I already liked him, but I like him better now than I did before.

Go on. Tell me about education.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Deep State"


I am enshrining this excellent post here as a backup copy for future reference. Experience has taught me how quickly content can vanish from the web. Ansel Sigmar is the screen name for an American living in Thailand. 

Considered without partisan hysteria, the existence of a "Deep State" is natural to any enterprise as complicated as a modern superpower. At present, the United States is the largest and most powerful state in the world, and likely contains the most advanced Deep State on the planet. I've watched US politics evolve for nearly sixty years. Claiming only that qualification, I'd like to make some personal observations about this hot "new" concept making its way through both left and right-wing media, but with the caveat that neither I nor anyone else knows enough to claim a comprehensive understanding. We're all tempted by the charms of reductionism, which accounts for our never-ending fascination with conspiracy theories, but it's clear to me that, in spite of my fondness for a good story, simplification isn't an appropriate way to describe complexity.

The idea that some sort of continuing institutional management exists beyond the political arena is hardly new, and those now loudly decrying the Deep State aren't exactly original thinkers, but it's easy to understand their confusion. The only way to begin understand the apparent contradictions that govern American life is to accept that there is no such thing as an omniscient and omnipotent Other that runs things behind the scenes. We also must understand that there is no secret set of agreements among the people and institutions that are the alleged Deep State. There are always a variety of goals and ambitions among the participants in any game with stakes this high, but the goal of farsighted players has always been stability above all else. Breaking the state means breaking everything, and the cost to a society is beyond calculation. Only vultures profit from mass destruction, as we saw in the case of post-Soviet Russia.

The sometimes chaotic arena of electoral politics has the highest visibility in public discourse, but it's not the only place political decisions are made, and not without reason. As I first understood the Deep State, it was simply a collective noun referring to the entrenched bureaucracy that gave long-term continuity to government. As partisan parties won and lost control through elections, they could temporarily dominate the public conversation about policy, but could not interrupt the necessary functions that make it possible to have a coherent state delivering services and executing laws, without regard
to the prevailing political ideology.

Steve Bannon, our revolutionary du jour, understands this very well, and is leading a blitzkrieg insurgency whose first targets are fundamental to what he calls the "administrative government." As long as there are independent institutions carrying forward the long term objectives of the state, there can be no revolution that will effect structural change in the US. Unfortunately, Mr. Bannon and company have arrived on the scene at the moment in history when political parties are in tatters, when there is no coherent debate emerging from anywhere on the political spectrum, and when disinformation has become as easily transmitted as fact. He has a great thirst for deconstruction, a fondness for violent conflict, and a very great secret. He's never told us exactly what he wants beyond the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

In this environment, some interest group is going to take charge. That's inevitable. Whether it's the so-called Deep State or the nihilist oligarchs running the show around Bannon, we're going to be living with the result for a long time to come. When you next hear someone fretting over the Deep State posing a threat to an elected president, consider the option. There's only one, and it's exactly what the US has been carefully structured to avoid for more than 200 years. As far too many citizens appear to have forgotten the long-term commitments made from the Declaration of Independence to the present, the most powerful memory we can rely upon to preserve the rule of law, and to ensure the orderly dispatch of governmental duties, is institutional. I might not have said this forty years ago, but I've decided it's much better to opt for institutional stability than to jump off the cliff we're being led toward.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Public & Private Education -- a Facebook Colloquy

This exchange is lifted verbatim from my Facebook post and comments February 6, 2017.



DeVos will likely get confirmed, unfortunately, but my concerns have not changed. I'm a firm supporter of public schools. Federal, state, local, whatever -- pubic education is as much a tax-supported project as fire protection and safe roads. However when private sector PROFITS derive from education it's a diversion of tax dollars.

America has a long tradition of private academies, both parochial and endowed by foundations, where tax money sometimes benefits students but with marginal institutional benefit. Even now there is a rising crop of private-sector schools -- call them charter, private, target, magnet or whatever -- many of which do a good job at educating their respective student bodies. Outfits are now getting in the game that are organized, clean, with cutting-edge resources, even well-compensated faculty and/or operating as non-profits. What could be more attractive?

The problem is two-fold:

1) By further enabling "in loco parentis" they are collectively eroding the importance of family (even community) input to the growth and development of upcoming generations, and

2) most of them are cherry-picking the most promising students from the "public" population, thereby giving their respective institutions a differential advantage in the education goal, while leaving the public sector teachers the task of educating a more challenging population -- not to mention removing from that group the very peers who would otherwise have become role models for others as well as surrogate teaching assistants ("teacher's pets" at whom we have been taught to sneer).

(Also, damn few, if any of these private school alternatives accept kids with mental or behavior problems or those who don't speak English as their mother tongue.)

I'm sorry, but I still regard this government-can't-do-anything-right attitude and doctrinaire libertarian-privatization-free-market worship to be lies from the pit of Hell.

Philip Eismann  But what to do,if in your neighborhood,the school aren't functioning,your child can't wait till we fix the public school system,ideals and all. At the moment we test schools and students,to determine who gets funds,who goes on to higher education. A student who needs to work,in order to feed his siblings,isn't going to have his homework done but in truth works harder then most but is lucky to get a C or D plus,but no higher education . Those struggling students,with broken homes,those are the teachers pets ,both teacher and student are lost in our current system.

John Ballard You make excellent points. Sadly the circumstances you describe are widespread across the country in many public education systems, and I have no problem with private options in those cases. I'm very impressed, for example, with KIPP Academies and any number of similar alternative systems. I'm not painting all private alternatives with a broad brush. But I am keenly aware of a proliferation of doctrinaire efforts often driven by politics, ROIs and/or religious motives more than the admittedly more challenging task of improving schools in the public sector.

Atlanta's Westminster and Lovett schools are truly excellent, and one of my children went to Howard School for two years because the public school teacher she encountered "didn't believe in" LD -- said she was "just lazy and needs to study harder." We knew better thanks to a private opinion by a clinical psychologists advised otherwise. I was fortunate to have a friend in public education to guide us, but all that was decades ago and since then much has changed.

I wish I had better answers. But from all I have read an avalanche of private schools has more to do with private sector mining of taxes for profits ahead of education. The trend has been more pronounced in the post-secondary sector than primary and high schools, but that segment also has a growing share of the problems from which my objections derive. It is a pernicious trend that over time will only make public education worse for the students you describe so well.

John Ballard My opinions derive in part from when I was a GI in Korea all of 1966 and half of 1967. Most of my off-duty time was learning about the country and teaching English conversation to advanced students at the local high school. Korea was so poor at that time that it could not afford universal free public education, so private alternatives in that case were available for those young people who couldn't pass the entrance exams to attend public school. It was exactly the opposite of what I knew from America where "private" meant "exclusive top-grade" settings. By the time one of those Korean high school kids got into my after-school, weekend classes they had already passed two entrance exams to remain in public schools. And those who were academically strong enough to go on would have to pass more tests to advance to college -- again, most of which was publicly funded. I did have a chance to tour Ewha University once, founded by Methodists in the nineteenth century, but as with today's American alternatives the places with truly good standards were few and far between.

Philip Eismann  Yes,I agree. Education has never been a one size fits all. Some children learn by route ,that may work for you as a teacher but others need something else. Here in Germany, the Rudolf Steiner,and Waldorf education, also known as anthroposophy, pay a big role. Its pedagogy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development . All of it ,pretty ideals,if you happen to believe.

I leaned about the ideals of a public education,I went to NYPS,PS32 and when I came up ,we were sure this was the best answer,with standardized teaching and testing,that was the ideal behind the Iowa tests. Now that public schools are rated by they're students test results and teachers worried about the schools ratings,only prep,for those tests,SAT's,college enrollment,those troubled neighborhoods ,zones,students are the big losers.
In a world where kids grow up wanting to be famous.

John Ballard  I forgot about rote learning. It's no longer highly regarded by most professionals, but I'm also a believer in memory discipline, having come from a time when memorizing the multiplication tables and committing poems and segments from literature was pushed hard in school. My Korean students often carried with them homemade strings of flash cards, about the size of postage stamps on a string, to help them memorize the many Chinese characters in widespread use all over Asia. Pronunciations change from country to country but the meanings of Chinese pictographs doesn't change. I learned the phonetic Korean alphabet quickly (it's phonetic, like the Western alphabet, so I could "read" without knowing what it meant -- rather like "reading" any Western foreign language -- but those characters remained a mystery to me).
And who can forget that the Scripps national spelling bee is always won by Indian kids who come from an education tradition heavily invested in rote learning?

Philip Eismann  If only one size fit all. I liked memorizing. I was no good at it but it taught me nonetheless.To do what,what was hard. That my material,took on many shadings,that a text wasn't a fixed thing, that words had colors, that an idea was only fascinating as long as it was in movement.( which is why I at times I write ,out to lunch posts,keep it moving,what did you say?)Like looking out over the same view but from a slightly different shift in position, that you can never enter the river in the same spot idea,(whether life is a river,that's an amusing discussion. Are we shipwrecked,for the moment, is there such a thing as progress? )Memorizing text may hold a key.

Memorizing poems,formed a national identity. Every child could recite,Paul Revers Night Ride, even the weekly hit parade,built a national memory,stuck in traffic on the way home from the beach,every car with its windows rolled down,played basically from the same hit list,in the dinner the jukebox played the same songs,now we have climate control. For some this was stifling,the constrictive Eisenhower's Years.( it's funny to find hippies,posting Eisenhower quotes)And we rebelled,rebellion is patricide. This urge for destruction,this instinct, to blame the system, this idea that out of a vacuum something new and better will emerge, is probably a terrible notion(my argument with Buddhism ).Trump as Cultural Revolution.
I like Chinese poems,simply cause ,you have to learn in read a different way,both vertical and horizontal.

Cicadas' voices gather in the old monastery
Birds' shadows fly over the cold pond


"cicadas' voices ,"echo the "birds shadows', ""cold "prolongs "old "and "monastery "is reflected in the "pond."
We just can't be exposed to enough trivial stuff that leads nowhere ,in a pragmatic world. Crime and Punishment,is reason with a sledgehammer,but it's no longer on the school curriculum.