How other People see the World

One of the most perplexing issues in life is the fact that people do not see the world in the same way. Women don’t like cat call and blacks know that the police are not as helpful as they appear to white folks. So how can it be that there are racial difference in thinking there is or there is no problem with racism in this country?

The answer is to put yourself in the situation of an other person. Not easy, but let’s explore some simple situations. Women walking alone at night, no matter what neighborhood, simply always are on alert when a man they do not know approaches them. Most men do not have this fear, lest a white man walks through a black neighborhood, where every black man seems suspicious. Most white folks have probably not been stopped ever by police, unless they have clearly violated a traffic rule at the wrong time. But when you are dark skinned, the chance of being stopped driving legally in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood or the wrong time of day (night) are simply much higher. As a Caucasian male immigrant from Switzerland I have never been stopped and searched at a Southern Californian immigration checkpoint along the I-5 or I-15 (that was particularly true back in the 90’s when the boarder patrol operated around the clock). My scientist friends from India who frequently traveled from San Diego to LA were stopped and asked questions every single time.

So when you are privileged and society does not suspect you by default because of your skin color, or because you are well dressed male living in a rich neighborhood, you cannot understand the frustration of being subjected to profiling. So how can we improve understanding of perceptions, which are always rooted in some experience, or hearsay from someone we know (and thus trust), we must simply educate our selves, and spent time with ‘people who are not like us’ to take a peek into their lives and understand how they view the world near and afar. Understanding means being respectful.

Who Hates Congress?

There are political rituals in Washington. One of them is fighting over who hates Congress the most. It appears that while voters in their districts reelect incumbents 90% of the time, they are also supposedly unhappy with Congress as a constitutional body incapable of getting things done. Congress’ approval ratings hovers around 10%. Quite astounding and at first sight incomprehensible given the reelection numbers.

Blaming Congress, I think, is a ritual because it is a meaningless exercise in deflecting blame away from the real culprits, the American voters.

Congress is ‘divided’ because the electorate is divided (“Bush destroys America”, “Obama destroys America”). Yet American democracy is simply a reflection of ‘We the People.’ Members of Congress represent their constituents, closely aligned with their every whims, working for reelection rather than cooperating for common solutions. Such cooperation, when it happens, is actually punished by voters, which are corralled into oddly shaped voting districts to create safe one-party electorates.

I believe a solution is to make districts as square and round as possible, clustering postal zip code areas into geographical areas with close to equal numbers of voters. Voters should follow the districts, not districts following the voters.

Colleges are not Job Factories

The latest trend in higher education reform is to assess colleges on the jobs their alumni get. It is all about money it seems, so it is shocking to see that corporations basically demand that colleges ought to do the on-the-job training for them. It is lovingly called ‘real world’ experience and applies to trade-colleges and vocational programs. Yet to judge non-trade colleges, what we call a University, on outcomes they are not designed for (to get a particular job at a particular company for a particular salary range), puts them up to ‘fail’ their students by default.

Universities teach young people how to think about the world from multiple perspectives, a world that is made of entities other than a job. A world that needs answers to what a Constitution means as a social contract, a world where the theory of evolution explains how we humans are members of the animal kingdom and share a great deal of metabolism with plants and bacteria though common ancestry. A world where the current brutalities in the Middle East and Ukraine are reverberations of decisions made a century ago by an aging European colonial world system. A world where the artistic expressions of thought, vision, and hearing are proliferated by developments in information and computer technology. A world where we realize that economic laws are not laws at all, but the results of complex and irrational (i.e. non-economical) human behavior.

So let as teach the young to think and explore, and let’s not worry how much money they will make later. And let them contemplate why money cannot buy happiness, nor knowledge, nor wisdom. If all of this is true, then also let them get this education free of debt, such that all of us share in the costs of giving our young the tools to think for themselves.

America’s Economic Playing Field ain’t Flat.

Inequality in the US is rising according to the latest statement of the Federal Reserve’s chief Janet Yellen. Here are three examples.

The Fed should now, as it is responsible for some of this inequality. The Central Bank infused and keeps infusing free money into the financial system. Banks get very cheap money, which they and the federal government lend at exorbitant interest rates to people going to college in the hope their college degree furthers their American dream. Many of these people are stuck with 6% plus interest rates, accumulating debt that is exempt from bankruptcy law.

In California, a Silicon-Valley billionaire is sticking the public with a multimillion dollar public exercise in futility, proposing to split the state into six states, all the while acknowledging that the initiative will have no chance of passing. Democracy as a playground for the super-rich.

Alon Musk gets a 1.25 billion tax credit from the good people of Nevada to build a battery factory that costs him 5 billion to build. Basically, the public is paying Tesla’s tax bill.

Ooh the sweet taste of corporate welfare.