American Choices

Noam Chomsky once wrote that the United States is a one-party political system called “The Business Party” divided by two factions which we call the Democrats and the Republicans. This Business Party is called so because despite the wide ideological divides concerning many social, political, economic, and philosophical issues, both factions essentially cater to interests that finance them to secure special favors which often times work against the collective benefit. These special interests place profit in the highest of pedestals, far above any other material thing including and especially the environment and, not controversially, life itself.

Although the fringes are easy to identify, it is the conventional that we should be worried about. Not because they make bad choices difficult to see, but because they make them easy to pick. These choices stand before us in the form of our two current contenders for the presidency, the most unpopular in decades.

A few days ago 80 million Americans tuned in to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although Clinton currently holds a small lead over her Republican rival, the country seems to overwhelmingly disapprove of both by historical margins. But despite American bewilderment as to how we have to come to be in this situation, and the public’s reluctance to elect what they believe is “the better of two evils,” there is a very logical narrative that explains just how we ended up in this debacle.

Unfortunately to say that it’s the work of ‘power’ is too broad an explanation to properly cover the specific complexities that make this system what it is. So to try to understand these choices, I will try to narrow this diagnosis into five main points of contention.

At first it might be difficult to see how this ties to our candidates. But what you must realize is that to understand the background and the motivations behind the systems that cultures these choices, and the systems that benefits from it is to understand the candidates themselves, where they came from, and what they represent. And what they represent is more than the parties they are part of and the people they claim to fight for. The reality is that they are working parts in a dysfunctional system that no one can fix because no one truly understands.

Capitalism and Democracy: A Marriage of Convenience

A good place to start is by defining Capitalism as it pertains to our way of life politically, socially, and economically. Since Capitalism currently controls how we live, perhaps it’s a good idea to properly know what it is and what it does.

Capitalism is a term best defined by comparing it to current competing economic systems, and more importantly against the best elements of itself. Placed in a political context however, it’s easier to see the many ways, and the few important ones, in which the system has influenced, in this case negatively, the politics of a nation.

I am well aware of how socially expensive it can be to talk critically about Capitalism in the United States, especially considering the near-religious fervor it still carries from the days of the Cold War, a time when it was absolutely imperative to defeat Communism, a system just as exalted by the other half of the world. Therefore, to start a conversation about the failings of Capitalism in the context of American politics I ask that you do two things: know that there is a difference between Capitalism and Democracy, and that you suspend your biases and prejudices to allow for a more open and rational conversation.

Having said all that, let it be known that I’m neither a Communist nor a Capitalist. I espouse certain Socialist principles only within the parameters of a free society, such as the one that, admittedly, Capitalism and the Constitutional Democracy in which we live have formed. But I also recognize that Capitalism, like everything else, operated unchecked and without any sort of regulation will eventually turn from a deliverance of tyranny into a tyranny itself by means of economic slavery.

Capitalism is a system of economy that places the means of production in private hands rather than the state. The vast differences between Capitalism and Communism are many and obvious. The main one being that Communism, although logical in theory is impossible in practice. If properly defined, Communism could only work if society willingly agrees to become a united global community in all its aspects. Any other form of Communism that is not its true form will inevitably cause it to become overly restrictive to the point of infringing on personal rights and freedoms. We saw it with Communist Russia in its 70-year failed experiment and we see it now with Communist China where Capitalism in the country has become the de facto economic system while remaining politically Communist.

Although it sounds like Capitalism should be a threat to the state because of its purchasing power, it’s in fact a threat to society itself. Instead of rivaling state power, Capitalism is rather a marriage of convenience between markets and the state. In this union everyone  who can afford to play wins, provided that markets are allowed to operate freely with minimal state intrusion. While everyone else loses.

But given that both Capitalism and Democracy share the ethos of political and economic freedom, to draw a line between the two is a much harder thing to do. The problem is not semantics. It is rather the innate talent of Capitalism to take advantage of the human condition that humans will seek freedom where there is restriction, even if there is a structured system already built in place. The talent here is that it sells economic freedom with the caveat that social freedom should not infringe on markets. This makes “freedom” an expensive proposition–hence the “freedom is not free” apothegm–to the very people who can’t afford it. It’s no surprise to see then than even in Capitalist utopias there have been a variety of labor movements against corporate power and state intervention that have ended up imposing regulations on both corporate power and the state.

Business and Ethics: Incompatible Partners

When I use the phrase “freedom is not free,” my intention is not to conjure images of soldiers fighting off enemy troops in foreign soil to protect our rights. Rather I speak of developing nations whose politics are not fertile enough to accept Capitalism such as we’ve adopted it in the industrialized world, but whom, through coercion, are forced to accept the system to align themselves with the Western-style Democracy. Historically–meaning during the Cold War–this pressure was applied in two forms, militarily and/or economically. But the same meaning can be applied in our own land where citizens have been conditioned to believe that the alternative to Capitalism, whatever that may be, is worse. Ironically the effect is more pronounced in some of the most impoverished communities in the country where local economies are not just lacking, but in some places nonexistent. The pressure in these communities is applied a bit differently though, in the form of politics. But I’ll come back to this.

Due to the nature of free enterprise, profit is the justification for the evils of Capitalism, be it environmental destruction, economic disparity or classism, and even gross disregard for human rights.

In the case of the physical state of the world, the environment is on the brink of collapse. Unfortunately there are very few in positions of power that will touch on the issue head on. As for the rest, this conversation is put in the backburner or not even discussed at all in fear of losing profit and corporate support. In the U.S. is what we refer to as a “football issue,” or an issue that gets passed back and forth without any significant advantage. Despite the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the fact that the Earth is warming faster now mostly as a result of human-made causes, this is one of the most controversial subjects to discuss in a legislative capacity. Both Republicans and Democrats, mainly Republicans but also Democrats in a lesser degree, are fiercely adamant to enact legislation to curb greenhouse gases, regulate the fracking and fossil fuels industries, and support alternative-fuel initiatives.

I make a slight distinction between the parties here because Republicans are the main beneficiaries of fossil-fuel money and climate-denying industries and individuals. Their Conservatism, which is aligned with absolutist free-trade philosophies has created a party that is not concerned at all with environmental issues.

If the U.S. is behind most of the industrialized world in the race to slow down global warming is only because fossil fuel industries spend billions yearly in well-crafted strategies to lobby Congress to roll back regulations, while simultaneously preventing alternative-fuel industries from ever developing.

The gist is that dividends will be paid to workers, stockholders, and the local and national economies, in payment of social and environmental deterioration. And in many cases even economic, which is counterproductive to the whole ideal. Basically short-term profit is the end-game.

It’d be fair at this point to note that Capitalism does promote competition and progress. But in the erosion of an equally free society protected by a political system such as a strong Constitutional Democracy, this fair competition will eventually erode into economic feudalism.

Although Democracy encourages change and the adoption of the best principles of economic and social security with the precondition that all members of its society be able to practice their rights freely, in some Democratic countries Democracy itself gets in the way of Capitalism when it is restricted to act naturally. That’s what makes Capitalism, in all its glory, so depressing to accept. In a comical twist of fate, generational ideologies will allow markets, free enterprise, and profit to affect the very freedoms that protect those ideologies to the point that they are limited. And again, it is the ardently loyal who will be the most affected.

In a few words, Democracy is not synonymous with Capitalism. In fact it is in the best interest of Democracy to restrict Capitalism in order to survive in the long run.

I am obviously generalizing and condensing a lot of complexities that go into forming a viable society out of chaos, especially with the fusion of two revolutionary governing and economic systems that sparingly existed in one form or another throughout history, e.g. Democracy and Capitalism.

But strictly speaking  in the context of the second half of the 19th century and all of the 20th century, after regulations were imposed by Roosevelt and subsequent presidents, Capitalism in the 1970s and 80s was given a gift in the form of economic and political deregulationThe erosion of the latter then caused the erosion of the former. A barrier that clearly cataloged and separated political contributions made by corporations was torn down and allowed public servants, who would otherwise be entirely accountable to their constituents, to be accountable only to their financiers.

This obviously added pressure and had an adverse effect on communities, large and small, but mostly on the most impoverished communities I spoke about earlier, by applying a combination of predatory economics, local political forces through vested interests, religious alliances, campaigns of fear, and other political maneuvers.

For example, in the poorest areas in the nation, mainly in the Southern part of the United States (colloquially known as the “Bible Belt”) local Republican policies have decimated the region economically. And yet, despite the damage that the fusion of powerful religious interests that aligned with the party in the 90s and unhealthy free-market and Conservative ideologies astoundingly, the South continues to elect Republican candidates to public office.

Although Democratic-held states tend to fare better socially, Democratically-run cities do see a mixed view of income inequality. Nevertheless, very powerful interests that sell to both parties continue to influence policy at every level of government. At the moment we can see it in president Obama’s push to pass the newest trade agreement, the TPP, which if adopted by all twelve signatories, would give unprecedented power to global corporations. The fact that both presidential candidates, as unpopular as they are, consider the TPP to be a very imperfect form of legislation can tell us that this isn’t just politics, it’s a reflection of the public’s fears.

Adding insult to injury, not only have wealthy donors and individuals been allowed to tip the scales with their contributions, but their industries have been bulking up with the ranks of politicians who act on capacity of mediators between them and Congress, consultants, or executives. Even worse still are the appointments of industrialists and executives as department-heads to regulate the very industries they are part of and lobby for.

One could make the argument that as a free society people can be allowed to serve on public office if they so choose to, if they have the capacity to, and if they are elected democratically. Furthermore, as experts in their industries they add specific inside knowledge. But as it turns out, departmental appointments are not elected by the people and in many cases they present concerning conflicts of interest. And although they are perfectly legal, the guidelines to abide by are not enforced and even less revised.

Over the last four decades the rate of the “revolving-door” phenomenon that exists between corporations and politics has also increased exponentially. The problem is so prevalent that it almost seems as if politicians are being manufactured right out of the conveyor belts of this system to work interchangeably for state and industry, and not specifically in that order. This is where the marriage between Capitalism and Democracy is made. It is this union and the lucrative investments in politics that assure a permanent and endless supply of candidates for hire. Those who toe the line are often rewarded handsomely, while idealists are usually scrapped and replaced.

Keep in mind that as Capitalism grows so does its power to overtake Democracy. When it happens, rule-free enterprise ensures that financial interests water-down regulation and eventually these enterprises begin to grow out of the government’s control. A prime example are the many American companies which have been incentivized by the government to evolve from local enterprises into little nations of their own. Today, with the help of governments, these conglomerates are now edging closer to become autonomous states with economies and rules completely independent of the places in which they operate, mainly through free-trade agreements and tax maneuvers. No borders exist for these pseudo-countries. They exist solely in the virtual space where their money is collected, and coincidentally, wherever their executive boards happen to meet.

These pseudo-nations, with some having economies large enough to compete with actual nations, are still bound to U.S. supremacy through legal and financial obligations, which are then eased by the various personal relationships kept with government representatives. Representatives that rely on corporations and industries to fund their campaigns and political parties.

In the past, regulatory restrictions used to [legally] prevent industries from funding political campaigns by injecting more than the allowed funds. Used to. Today, by allowing corporations to attain personhood and be considered single entities, they can weight in on political matters through their virtually unlimited contributions which have been redefined by the Supreme Court as a form of speech. By this rationale if money is a form of speech, then corporations have the loudest voices.

But personhood doesn’t exactly mean what you think it means in the case of corporations. Because these organisms are composed of tens of thousands of individuals that think differently from each other and share different responsibilities and ideologies, and whose only common trait might be to work as an organism, it’s sometimes difficult to determine individual culpability. Thus, the culture that is built on immoral behavior cannot be equally culpable or financially liable as single individuals might be, and the cycle continues. In the case of high financial crimes where heads of industries have ties to government officials, corporate heads rarely pay their dues or even so much as get their day in court. This is the point where the scales of justice get tipped in power’s favor.

Deregulation makes it easier for corporate investments to be made into politics, and for politicians to deliver on those investments ahead of everything else. This colluding will inevitably result in a conglomerate of power that in all cases will protect its own interests in whatever way they see fit, even at the expense of Democracy itself.

The 2008 financial meltdown is evidence that powerful interests who are allowed to operate as they naturally would in the wide latitudes of Capitalism often go unpunished and continually cause a great deal of harm. In this case when the very system they bet against collapsed nearly bankrupting the entire world economy, and leaving a trail of damage hundreds billions of dollars wide and decades long. Eventually the money provided by Congress through TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program) was mostly eventually paid back. But not before corporations made off with a profit and high executives gave themselves multi-million dollar bonuses–you know, for their hard work. However, the way things transpired opened up an old precedent that if it’s “too big to fail” it’s also too big to be regulated. And of course there’s also the moral aspect to consider.

The aftermath of the crisis left everyone content, except homeowners and investors of course. And up to this day huge investment corporations continue to gamble away the people’s money in the huge casino that is the world economy with chips provided by the federal government.

This is true of any industry that is too big to be contained. Recently, medical insurance behemoth Aetna threatened the DOJ (Department of Justice) that it would pull out of the ACA, colloquially known as Obamacare, if their merger with healthcare giant Humana was not approved by Congress, a deal that if approved would violate old anti-trust laws designed to break up monopolies. Meanwhile we are still waiting on deliberation.

But Big Pharma is not the only industry that has the power to undermine the government should a collaboration fail, especially one that favors profit over the public interest . This goes for any industry ranging from energy (oil, coal, nuclear, even solar and wind) to information (media, news, satellites, Internet entities) to manufacturing of any kind (weapons, infrastructure, vehicles), banking, and curiously also, religion.

Although the public shares interests in many of these industries it seems that from public-opinion polls and attitudes mapped out over several decades, policy definitely does not match public attitudes.

Of course if we consider the government as an entity struggling for its own survival, it’s entirely logical to assume that as an entity it will protect its interests. But the fact of the matter is that the government is an entity composed of public power. Power shared by the many not the few and privileged. I agree that it’s not the government’s job to advance progress, but it should definitely not be its job to actively impede it.

As I explained before, in the U.S. power is exercised through political pressures. Abroad, a combination of shared interests and diplomacy is used. However, military force is never off the table. A quick Google search on the United Fruit Company will give you a glimpse of how colonialism established a firm bellicose-Capitalist American system in the world at the start of the industrial revolution. It is this trend that developed early when the U.S. was a nascent nation and that continues on to today in some form or another. Slavery, for example, is to this day the great stain in the history of the United States. For even as the American Revolution was raging on in defense of human liberty, our forefathers never got around to discussing the worth of a human being until nearly a century later. The same could be said about the Native American holocaust and the mass deportation of American Indians out of their own lands. And yet, from an economic point of view, without these two events the American economy would not be what it is today. So we are, in one way or another, still reaping the benefits of two of the greatest tragedies in human history.

Of course, from a moral point of view there is nothing beneficial about these two terrible events. Quite the opposite. But it demonstrates from historical accounts, just how power if presented with a dilemma where economic and moral pressures are at odds, it will always choose to resolve the former first.

In the near-past and in the the present, our national shame manifests itself in our interests abroad. In recent history in the shameful alliances throughout the world which suspend Democracy and overlook severe human-rights abuses in favor of national security or profits. In South America and the Caribbean for example, Democratically elected governments were forcibly replaced with brutal dictatorships and Banana Republics with the help of the United States to attain some political, economic, or ideological goal. More of the first two than the last.

These actions decimated entire regions ecologically and economically and displaced millions. In addition it created a deep-seeded anti-American hatred that worked counter to what the United States believed Democracy was, and what it was trying to achieve. Not to mention that the effects of these early interventions are still being felt today in the mass migrations of South Americans, specifically Guatemalans, who have fled their home countries as a result of bloody civil wars in some part perpetuated by American interventionism.

Today this support continues in countries like Saudi Arabia, a nation that is as close as any brutal tyranny can become. Our alliance with the Saudis could not be any more confusing. The official position is that the Saudis provide valuable intelligence to secure the stabilization of the region, which coincidentally was partly destabilized by anti-American, pro-Wahhabi propaganda that is much closer to ISIS than to Democracy. We then purchase billions of dollars worth of oil from the very country who is, in some capacity or other, pushing radical Islamist propaganda and sponsoring world-wide terrorism with our money. Propaganda that fueled terror that culminated in tragedies like 9/11 and which we then fight by invading  and destabilizing the region even further.

To this day, Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the major human-rights violators, and we continue to do business with them.

Of course, in recent history these global pressures can be, and are, explained in some relatable context or other: defense against Communism, regional stabilization, business, etc. As they say, the ends always justify the means.

Education vs. Information: Roots of the Problem

There is little that disenfranchised foreign populations can do against American-style Capitalist hegemony, especially in collusion with their own governments. But in the United States the population still has enough stakes in the Democratic process to hold their government responsible for its failures. That we don’t–or at least that we don’t in large numbers–is a failure of magnifying proportions. I’ll explain why.

The failure starts at several points in the socioeconomic ladder. Disenfranchised and dismayed voters will not commit because they don’t believe in the political and economic process that has eroded the middle class over the decades. Ironically, politicians turn to those who do vote and favor them, which causes those already disenfranchised to become even more so. By way of restrictive voting laws, gerrymandering, and resource allocation, local governments can concentrate power and maintain numbers. While the demand for political participation exists, supply is low or impeded.

But the problem is actually worse than it seems, because most poverty occurs where there is a history of suppression and current limited education. Mistrust brews into hatred for one’s own government, even when economic situations are favorable. In turn, the government, along with other powerful agents, see these areas as economically ineffective and as a result become areas that can be easily dismissed. The issue is that when something is not adding to the pie it’s considered worthless or low priority. While underlying problems like education and the allocation of resources gets lost. As these areas grow, power then becomes concentrated into smaller and smaller circles and a destabilization of justice, accountability, and economy ensues.

It’s not difficult then to turn people against each other. In fact, the old strategy of divide and conquer functions much more efficiently when there’s a scarcity of education than by using violence. Not only does it effectively segregates and subdivides communities and races for generations, but it turns them into surrogates. All without the need to spill blood.

The result is where we are headed as a nation. A modern feudal kleptocracy where the choices and opportunities of the powerless are reduced and where the need for education in all areas of a person’s life become more pronounced. This lack of education among the population is without a doubt the root of the problem.

Although power is the staple of every government however, these American choices cannot entirely be blamed on them or even on the rich.

At a time when political education is a responsibility left more up to individuals rather than news sources, which have become increasingly partisan, people, and specifically the newer generations, now have a great burden to carry, that of searching and making sense of information for themselves. A task that requires an immense amount skepticism and judgement good enough to separate noise from content.

The fact that in this highly competitive world, where the space for information is limited and expensive, even noble pursuits like journalism are starting to become liabilities instead of assets for the consumer, and the opposite for those that own them. Whereas in the past the news were seemingly less biased and more objective, today journalistic integrity can now serve a purpose–profit for the company, a spin for the government. Of course this was always true of the latter. However, it seems that in recent years this old façade has been cynically abandoned depending on who happens to be in power.

It is a sad reality that, in the United States at least, all major news come from privately owned corporations. Corporations that not only compete against each other, but also with information that travels literally at the speed of light. And occasionally against truth itself.

It seems now that independent journalism is set to become the only objective source of unadulterated news for future generations.

The mismanagement of objective news, and the allocation, or rather trickling down, of resources toward education is a major concern in the United States–more than in most industrialized nations. Education in some parts of the country is lacking at best, almost nonexistent at worse. Of course, you can guess which communities are less adept to handle these issues, and which are privileged enough to enjoy the benefits of the best kind of education. This is a problem that affects neither Republicans nor Democrats nor Independents, Conservatives or Liberals or Libertarians, black or white. By virtue of high-quality education communities can be lifted out of poverty, as they reemerge so does the country as a whole.

Today the opposite is true. Educators in the U.S. earn less than in most other industrialized nations. In places like the Bible Belt the problem with education is in the inability for local governments to adopt secular curriculums, especially in the “hard sciences”. In prestigious, mostly Liberal universities, the problem lies in PC (political correctness) culture, which is also a case for concern.  And in the suburbs of major cities, where poverty is rampant, it is in the lack of basic resources such as transportation, school lunches, school supplies, libraries, or even teachers.

As a result of these compounding problems, people have become terribly misinformed about their responsibilities as citizens and that of their government, misinformation that they pass on to their children, mostly those in poor communities, who then grow up ignorant and further disenfranchised.

Political Parties: Divided Loyalty

Taking these factors into consideration we begin to plot a narrative. Suddenly, the names we’ll see on the November ballots are hardly surprising. In part, they are the failure of the American voter to resist the whims of the political machine, which includes loyalty to party rather than nation. But they are also the result of inefficient policy, party bickering, and mistrust in the power of elected officials and outright corruption based on, again, party loyalty. That whole money and politics marriage thing.

It doesn’t take much to alienate the voter as I’ve already said, but parties still rely on votes and a core membership that aligns with their ideologies to survive. However, if voters are able to see past their divisions, it is inevitable that policies that had never aligned with their own views will be questioned.

This stagnation of progress and sincerity in a changing world has begun a mutiny in the ranks of the two main political parties. As a result, both parties have been  forced to adopt and favor outsiders over their rank and file in the form of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump for the Republican. Under the current system this is a sign of deficient politics. As a whole however, this is more in line with the apparatus of an efficient government. But taking the point the further, this realization of the American voter and its subsequent repercussions, meaning the changing attitudes towards more open candidates, is dialogue between two groups: those in power and those that are not.

Naturally, populist cand  idates will emerge out of this shift. This sends a strong message that since established parties do not carry favorably with the common people, outside parties must be included in mainstream politics. At the moment this is of little consequence to the entities that have built and perfected entire mechanisms to exclude the voter and outside third-parties. Surprisingly, these methodically established systems have met little resistance or have gone entirely unchallenged.

Third-party candidates, treated as a little more than tie-breakers, serve no other purpose in the political arena other than swing votes one way or the other. Or at least that’s how they are seen by mainstream politics and by the majority of people. Most often they are not taken seriously enough to believe they can even come close to winning a presidential election even though their policy alternatives often seriously challenge the views of regular candidates.

Under the current system a third-party candidate has little chance of influencing any national election except to pull a mainstream candidate into the party’s or the people’s ideoleological orbit. Or alternatively to aid the opposition by running a parallel campaign to the party they align with the most.

The parties have been aware of this problem for a long time. Thus, they have mutually deviced ways to legally bar third-party candidates from ever participating in this process, which for many of them is the only way to make themselves and their policies known. One of those is to directly influence the information that is disseminated, literally in the news media. The other is a joint decision between the Democratic and Republican parties to raise a debate embargo to outsiders. The way they do this is by formally requesting that the candidates poll a certain percentage before being invited to a debate. But because third-party candidates have limited means to make themselves known, this is rarely the case.

Bleak as it seems,  the only way to change the game is to change the rules, which can only happen by popular demand.

The Revolutionaries of the new American nation had contrasting views on political parties. Some thought they were inevitable in a free political system, others believed that they would eventually become cause for strife. But everyone agreed that no one’s rights should be infringed upon by the government or the parties themselves. Today’s situation is a sign that old dilemmas die hard. These divisions that are becoming so entrenched into the American psyche are rapidly deteriorating the unity of the nation. We can only hope that the situation that will eventually come to a head will get resolved peacefully rather than not.

Constitutional Requirements vs Political Aptitude: At a Crossroad

As the time comes to choose a new president, there is yet another failure on our part that is more urgent and troubling, that of electing a qualified candidate.

As if the task is not made difficult enough by the issues I mentioned before, it is compounded by the lenient requirements laid out in the Constitution that grants virtually anyone the power to serve the office, provided they are elected democratically.

These outdated requirements complicate the situation further for their leniency rather than their restrictions. They are as follows:

1. Candidate must be at least 30 years of age.
2. Be a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.
3. Be a natural-born citizen.

There is a logic to this leniency however that the Founding Fathers purposefully allowed when the Constitution was being formulated. They envisioned the new American nation ruled by a government the exact opposite of a monarchy, where just about anyone, provided they had the qualifications, could be elected president. Unfortunately, a current uncompromising complacency to follow a 300-year old document to the letter is deeply concerning for its implications, some of which, in the most extreme scenarios, could end up suspending Democracy for future generations.

The founding fathers were well aware of this problem. Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent for Constitutional revisions. More specifically, he argued that every generation, or roughly every 19 years, the Constitution should be updated for the very logical reason that things change with time, and as a result ancient laws applied to modern times would only hold back progress. Later, these revisions were abandoned in place of the amendment process, which has been used with success and failure throughout our history.

However, considering the choices we have today, if we were to follow Jefferson’s advice, Constitutional amendments to extend the requirements for the presidency would significantly increase the quality of candidates we elect. By explicitly requiring a minimum time of public service and/or verifiable social, political, military, economic, and diplomatic knowledge, at the very least it would leave less of an opportunity for unqualified candidates to make a mockery of the election process; or worse, to allow an unprepared candidate to hold arguably the most powerful office in the world.

As the country has evolved, so has its influence in the world. The role that our country plays in geopolitics is reason enough for the office to demand strict qualifications for any candidate who would fill the seat. The fact that it doesn’t leaves the power to decide the presidency not up to the voters as it should be, but to another obscure system that is now largely useless and ineffective–the Electoral College–but which the founding fathers believed could save the country from, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “the tyranny of the [majority].”

The Constitution of the United States is a near-perfect document unlike any other seen before. It is direct and concise and as least infringing as the framers could make it. However, the framers weren’t naive in their illusions that the presidency would always be occupied by morally incorruptible men. They understood that just as the requirements to occupy the seat were lax, there had to be a system in place to disallow tyrants, even those chosen by the majority, to trade the seat for the throne.

In the early days of the republic, this protective layer between Democracy and bureaucracy was added to quell populists uprisings that might do away with the rights of the minority. The job of the Electoral College was to aid the Constitution to elect candidates who not only met the proper requirements, but who also possessed the constitution and common sense to lead the nation fairly.

Nowadays however the institution is mostly useless. With the advent of high-tech polling methods, and the inability of the Electoral College to look past party lines, it is no longer necessary to have an arbitrary body to weigh in the elections. Most times the commission will vote along with public opinion rather than against it precisely because the EC is there to represent the people. But it is also composed of party loyalists, rather than independent arbitrators. One of the rare instances when the Electoral College did not vote for the most popular candidate was in the 2000 election, when George W. Bush Jr. defeated Al Gore, by a decidedly small margin. And although it has been agreed that Al Gore won the popular vote, we know which of the candidates history favored.

As is explained in this brief article by Factcheck.org, the point of the EC is to vote past party loyalty to protect the interests of the nation not that of the state. Today, a country divided presses even harder the question of how we should elect candidates for the presidency. The Electoral College exists to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” But if the majority is the tyranny, then how best to prevent it?

It seems more apparent now than ever that popularity, not education, plays a more decisive factor in determining a candidate’s political worth. In the majority of cases this popularity is fueled by political contributions that finance “recognition campaigns” that make the candidate known. It is only a negligible percentage of populist candidates that build grassroots campaigns by appealing to the public with sensible policies and public contributions. It’s even rarer for these candidates to receive country-wide public recognition, which hinders the chances of more progressive bipartisan politicians to ever rise in the ranks.

Of course, there are more considerations and unwritten rules that account for a candidate’s competency before being elected to the presidency. But when a population is overwhelmingly under-educated about their role as citizens, the role of their government in relation to them, the social contract to be decent citizens, and the actions, secret or open, that the state contrives, then no amount of preparation will help any leader steer that country in the right direction. This is precisely the kind of tyranny of the majority that Alexander Hamilton wrote about.

There is little however, that any fail-safe system can do against this type of tyranny. Only an overhaul of the educational system to instruct all manners of people can bring about a significant change in any society. This is the reason why there is nothing more threatening to the supremacy of power like an educated population. Our collective national weakness is that we have been convinced that as a society we cannot take care of ourselves and that we require adult supervision from people who know what is better for our future, when in fact this cannot be further from the truth.

But opening our eyes is not merely enough. We must embrace education in its totality to arrive at the best conclusion, and to make the right decisions, and not descend into the pitfalls of past tyrannies.

American Choices: Voting for A Practical Future

If we are to improve the mechanism of the government, we as a coutry must take a very careful look at the ideologies that support these mechanisms and change our way of thinking. Citizens must force elected officials to self-impose regulatory restrictions to limit outside influence. That is to roll-back unlimited campaign contributions and repeal Citizens United. We must forcibly detach by means of civilian regulation the heads of the three branches of government from their party-held positions: the president from his party, the president of Congress and senior leaders from their respective parties, and the Supreme Court justices from their loyalty to their parties.

Capitalism must be held accountable for the irascible focus on its expansion. Production should be limited to a manageable level that the planet itself can sustain. By understanding that material goods cannot ever replace immaterial goods such as knowledge and collaboration, we can limit our consumption. Consumption that also cannot replace the limited amount of resources the planet can provide for us. If we fail in this task, the generations that directly follow us will see themselves regressing to very difficult and dark times.

This is not a plea to change our socioeconomic structure. We must learn to do this without resorting to philosophically and morally corrupt ideas that we do not understand. Democracy has proven to be the best type of government for all citizens. It now falls on us to find an economic system that strikes a balance between a stable government and society, and the environment, so that we don’t bankrupt one or the other.

As a global society, we must advance by adaptation. As a country, we must catch up to the rest of the industrialized world–a term that should change to “technologically advanced world” to signal an evolutionary leap as a global group–in terms of social welfare. By this, I mean that if we have the means, it is our responsibility to raise the means of living for its poorest, most disenfranchised citizens. Not merely because it’s morally correct, but because it will, in time, raise the living standard of the country as a whole and make it a freer, better society.

Ultimately, these choices are ours to make as a free society. If we are to change our way of life for the better, we must first change our political system. By involving ourselves more. By self-educating. By making an honest attempt at understanding the greater social forces that only seem out of our control, but which are intrinsically connected to our reality. There is no need to resort to violent revolution or to wait until that time comes. These are choices that we can make today. But only if we possess the will to do so.

 

 

 

Extra Research:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/08/c-wright-mills-power-elite-port-huron-new-left/

Sut Jhally “Advertising and the End of the World”

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School Me: America’s War On and For Education Pt. 1

The year is 2015 and America is fighting a war that has nothing to do with WMDs, drug-lords, or crazy religious fundamentalists in some remote country. Nope. The war is at home and we’re fighting it for and against ourselves to win and lose even though we’re doing everything we can to lose it (to win it) while fighting to win it (to lose it). Confusing isn’t it?

Just like any war, the battles we’re fighting each and every day leave collateral damage behind, only this time the victims are not enemy combatants, or traitors, but our children. Our what? Yup, kids. But even more importantly what our children represent- the future.

If this sounds drab, dark and slightly apocalyptic, is because it kind of is. I might be a bit melodramatic, that at least is true, but that’s only for effect. But we can at least agree on one thing, that the education system in America is failing from the bottom up and soon this war that our politicians, our corporations, our religious institutions, ourselves and each other are fighting will set us on a path that eventually will lead us to one of many eventual demises.

So, sit back and relax, and let’s explore how the war on education is rotting the core of what America is. A war that is unnecessary and easily winnable, but a war that we seem determined to keep fighting for better and for worse.

 

First Steps

 

Think for a moment about how you raise your children, or if you don’t have any children just daydream for a second about how you would raise kids if you had any. It’s a scary thought, I agree. After all, going to any Chuck-E-Cheese anywhere in America will make you think twice about having kids if you don’t have them, or make you re-think your choices if you do. And although making kids is probably the most fun you will ever have, raising them is no picnic- at least not a sunny one. Each stage of raising a child has a different level of difficulty that no one expects. Life is uncaring as to your early baby-planning or your college fund, and it’s something that not even the wealthiest parents in the world can prepare for. Remember that having money doesn’t exactly mean that they will turn out to be the best people in the world- in fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. It’s then that the old adage fits perfectly: No one is ever truly prepared for kids. That’s just one of those inescapable universal truths that every parent learns one way or another.

But think about how you were raised. You turned out fine, right? Kinda? Don’t feel too bad if you still live with your parents, or if you’ve been to juvie, or at 30 you don’t have a stable job, or haven’t gone to college yet or blah blah blah. All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll immediately feel better and realize that “kinda” maybe isn’t all that bad. Agreed, it’s a half-assed way to live life, but in context, “kinda” is just the space between good and bad and nothing else. You are at the center of the balance and only you have the power to tip it one way or the other.

But what got you there? Sure, a lot of people talk about genes and outside influence. But if you pay close attention, you will notice that while DNA plays a huge role in who you are, for the most part, what you do is closely related to how you were raised. And this is where we start.

You’ve probably heard the saying “education begins at home.” People don’t just say it for nothing, the path to education begins from the moment you come out of the womb and continues throughout those first fragile formative years. By the time formal education begins (meaning school), kids are already walking and talking, and like it or not they have also adopted some of their parents’ ways of thinking including basic forms of thinking and prejudice. And you can’t really blame the way they are- at least not during the first few years of school- on their schoolmates, seeing as how they spend most of their time behind school walls, because the behavior had to have come from somewhere in the first place. So being totally frank, if your kid is an asshole in school it’s mostly not his/her fault. Then again, it’s not mostly your fault either- although you did raise them. No excuses to be had here Biebs.

But that really is an interesting question to ask, whose fault is it for children’s bad behavior? Is it the parents’ fault; is it the schools’ fault? Is it no one’s fault (genetics)? Environmental? Chemicals in the food? Media content? Someone has to bear that responsibility, but who? In my non-expert opinion I believe the problem to be an unequal combination of all of these factors with two being the main culprits- the parents and the education system. “Why me?!” I can hear parents and teachers yelling in unison. Well, again, child-rearing begins at home. It’s simple, if your kid watches Jersey Shore and acts like the douchebags in it, it’s only because you allowed them to. If your kid curses it’s not her fault, she probably doesn’t even know what it means. If your kid punches some other kid, it will inevitably be part of his genes to be prone to anger, but it’s learned behavior that dictates how he will behave in the future given the appropriate instruction and/or punishment. In other words, morality is instilled at home. Technical instruction is given at school.

Consider this, conventional wisdom- and science- tells us that the perfect age to have kids is in your 20s. Too young (20s-) might mean an unstable financial situation and too old (30s+) could mean more of a burden on your body.  Of course there are more things to consider than just a good job and a good uterus, but for the most part you’d want both to be in good condition. But the thing that no one really thinks about is that no matter at what age you get pregnant, the thought of becoming a first-time parent can be a daunting and scary thing to prepare for. It’s only logical that you would need help with that responsibility, not only from other parents but also from experts in child-rearing and education. After all, you want to give your child the best possible start.

This 2008 report by statesmanjournal.com, details how 95% of funds going towards education are allocated only for formal education, which means that what the state spends on education is only relevant until after children have already been acclimated to their parents’ way of thinking. Forget sponges,  during those formative years children’s brains are more like powerful (and fragile) machines that react to nurturing just as much as they do to nature-ing. In fact, there’s research to suggest that due to neural interactions, a child learns much faster than you do.

What this is all saying is that between the age of 0 and 5, a child’s brain develops faster and stronger than it will ever do in that child’s life; during those years the information it acquires is essential for his/her psychological development and it is crucial in establishing a well cemented base for future learning. And yet- at least in the U.S.- less than 5% of the educational resources are going towards this age-group. Why?

I’m not sure exactly (or maybe I’m too incompetent to find out why- thanks school!) but it seems that those in charge of the money do not consider this to be a priority even though amounting research suggests that more money should be put to good use in this area. It appears the government trusts YOU too much with your own child not to offer much help.

In my opinion, more resources should be allocated to implement government-subsidized child-rearing classes that continually evolve with new research, to help young parents and/or first-time parents raise their children better until they start school. I’m sure there is something like that already, but is it enough? It’ll take a whole generation to find out.

Of course, education has changed in the classroom. If we read into that history and compare educational methods, say, from 100 years ago, then even the poorest of nations has a lot more information to impart in the classroom than they did before- and hopefully better methods also. That they don’t want to or don’t care to is another matter. That also varies by country, by region and even by school.

 

Resources: Substance and Style

 

But education is dependent on more than one factor, not only on what we know. For example, children who live in poor nations, in conflict-ridden areas, and girls more than boys are much more at risk of missing out on the kind of education that children are afforded elsewhere. This is something we know, but still not enough resources are available to help with children’s educations besides a few charitable organizations and UN programs. Food availability, distance,  parent’s marital and social status, social conflict, etc. These are all factors, among many more, that can greatly affect the chances of a child going to school.

But what about here in America? Surely we don’t run into issues like those. Do we?

If you’re naive enough to think so, you are dead wrong. Recent studies show that the link between poverty and children’s educational development is strong stateside. And with poverty come a whole slew of other problems: family instability, domestic violence in some cases, and behavioral problems.

For example the Bible Belt, which is the Southernmost area of the United States, is the poorest clump of states in the nation. Not coincidentally it is also where students K-12 are the least educated. This interesting report by the Huffington Post finds the connection between what each state spends on education and children’s education ranking by state, among other criteria.

But lack of money is not the whole problem. Ironically, having it and not using it properly can be just as detrimental.

Look around you. Most people now have more than three devices to use to watch their favorite shows, download music, read stuff on the internet, watch cat videos, blog, vlog, etc. Just now I’m sitting at my desk watching Netflix on an iPad. My laptop is sitting right in front of me, my phone is in my pocket, my TV five feet away from me, and my roommate’s TV ten feet away. Each and every one of these devices capable of doing all of those things I mentioned and more. So in a fifteen feet radius I have more computing power at my disposal than all of the computers in the world combined during the 60s. You see where I’m going with this?

Somehow we haven’t realized that the future so many sci-fi writers wrote about in past decades is now! We are not making use of the technology that we have at our fingertips precisely for the most noble purpose there is: the advancement of education. Or at least, we’re not doing it enough. Any parent should walk into a classroom and see their tax-dollars at work (or at least a bigger chunk of it) in the form of a personalized computer for their kids. We have enough resources to provide every child in America with an iPad to use and to learn from.

Schools should prioritize what they teach our kids. Cursive writing is not a priority, computer science is. For the sake of our future generations, it is imperative that we get rid or minimize non-essential subjects and replace them with advanced sciences and skills that they will need in the future.

This very day, most countries are sitting on endless mines of information and we simply do not use the tools at our disposal to get to the treasure. Like the likable character Roman on the film Ocean’s 13 once said, we are “…analogue players in a digital world.” The children in our classrooms are still using notepads and pencils when they should be using iPads and stylus pens. And even poor nations have these capabilities, if they spent more on education that is.

The internet came at a time of vast technological advancement and that advancement doesn’t seem to be slowing down but rather speeding up. Not only has technology caught up with the power of the internet itself, but it’s now helping it grow faster and stronger. That’s something to exploit to the maximum.

The perfect analogy to use here is a dam. We are like fish, living in a little puddle of information while water trickles down from a wall. On the other side of the wall is a vast lake that we just can’t get to. I suppose I don’t have to tell you that what any of this represents.

This knowledge that I talk about is universally beneficial. But is knowledge even enough? With the amount of information that we now have at our disposal, it is more than just an excuse not to impart it correctly. We have come far from when used the abacus to make simple calculations, now we use calculators. Perhaps it’s time we upgrade, and not just what new technology we have available, but also in our right to use it. Teachers should encourage children to use the technology at hand to acquire as much information as possible; but we as parents also need to learn Information in bulk is not necessarily education. Another problem I see today with the way schooling (institutionally and at home) is done is that we are too preoccupied teaching children what to think, and not necessarily how to think.

 

Making the Grades: The Evolution of Teaching Methods
Image source: www.topeducationdegrees.org

 

Scoresheet

 

Considering that the United States is still a technological, military, and economic superpower it’s only logical that we should also reign as an educational giant as well. And yet, in terms of primary and secondary education we’re not in even in the top 10 in two of the most important areas!- science and math. By now it’s probably been drilled into your head from several different sources how education in America is lagging behind other countries in K-12 education, especially in the mentioned disciplines.

This research by pewresearch.org, with data from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), shows that improvement in areas like math and science for American students has been a slow one, and we still shadow many countries, including most industrialized nations.

The average scores indicate that for all 15-year-olds from various nationalities who participated since the triennial survey was last taken in 2012, the United States scored in 27th place in mathematics, just above Sweden and Hungary but lower than any of the major industrialized nations in the world with Singapore taking the top spot. As far as science goes Americans fared a little better in 20th place, scoring well ahead of Italy, Norway, and Russia.

It’s encouraging to know that we are doing better than we did a couple of decades ago, but let’s not pat each other’s backs just yet, we’re not that well off. If we take into account our massive budget, we should be spending much more on education that we give ourselves credit for. There is no excuse why these scores shouldn’t be much higher.

The 2014 federal budget  provided $71 billion in funds to the Department of Education, or 4.6% of national spending. Yeah this is a huge number, but it’s nothing compared to the gigantic $526 billion allocated to the Department of Defense.  That’s seven times more than what the DoE gets! You would think that those 71 billion dollars would put us ahead of little Singapore in something as small as math and science education, a country with a relatively small GDP of $298 billion compared to America’s $16 trillion, but somehow something just doesn’t fit. Of course, Singapore doesn’t have nearly as many enemies as the U.S. and their budget doesn’t allow for much international expenditures as our does, but… come on! 71 billion dollars! If Singapore can subsidize its entire education system and pay its teachers better than we do ours, then surely we can move some money around and give the DoE a couple more billion dollars and do the same or something similar here. It would not only make sense, it’s the right thing to do.

This is a noble competition in which every country should strive to take the top spot. Education is nothing to compete over, except when we’re doing it against ignorance and the countries that can afford to do so are helping themselves by coming to the aid of those at the bottom and helping them rise.

 

Put To the Test

 

We talked about outdated technology. Now let’s talk about outdated methods. In the post-internet era, we are still teaching children with the same methodology that schools used from before even the fall of the Soviet Union, despite psychiatry, psychology and neuroimaging making new important discoveries every year, including child rearing and child behavior. And unfortunately one of those areas in which we don’t seem to be advancing but rather regressing, is standardized testing.

Children today in the United States get tested on as if they were all about to colonize Mars! You might be thinking “what’s the big deal? So they get a few tests here and there.” But they don’t just get a few tests here and there. While testing is an important part of learning, just like everything else, in excess is counterproductive. Kids today get tested on English, Math, Science, Physical Education, History (one of the few subjects that actually evolves merely for its content, or rather by its content). They get tested two, three, five, sometimes even ten times per trimester. They get federal testing, state testing, school testing and on top of that, they get regular periodic tests. Dozens of hours are spent on just testing these kids; and you as a parent are left thinking, “What the hell are they teaching them that they have to test them so much?” Mars huh?

Many parents- perhaps even you yourself- are now wondering if we are overtesting kids. A lot of them are wondering if all this testing is actually leading us somewhere or if we’re just walking to the edge of a cliff. And many are starting to push back.

Well, it didn’t take long for the issue to become political. Now Congress is also starting to ask the same questions parents around the nation are asking- “Is there a benefit?

To get to the root of the problem we have to observe our own kids. When they get ready to take a test, are they doing everything they can to learn the information and use it on the test, or are they doing everything they can to pass the test no matter how they do it? And if it’s the former, is the information even being retained?

Where I’m going with this is that if school is supposed to be beneficial in the sense that it’s meant to be a knowledge machine, why are we throwing nuts and bolts into it thinking it’s helping when it’s just breaking everything inside?

But don’t be too quick to blame teachers. Many of them also think that testing- or rather administering tests the wrong way- is bad for our students; psychologists have taken careful notice of what goes on when we overtest and have arrived at the same conclusion- when it comes to testing, or more importantly, to learning, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

 

Homework? So 1900s

 

“Oh no, don’t mess with the homework dude! That’s my off time.” Some parents are undoubtedly thinking this. Kudos to you if you actually help out your kid with her homework, or with that science project that we all know will turn out to be a papier-mâché volcano.

Well while it will help you bond better with your kids, making them bury their noses in a notebook for three or four hours a day will not necessarily do anything.

Just like exercising the muscles, working out the mind also has a resistance limit after which there is no beneficial gain to keep pushing. Well, it turns out that contrary to what you may believe (possibly arrogantly about yourself), humans have a rather short attention span of just minutes. For adults it happens to be between 15 and 20 minutes while children have much shorter attention spans.

What does this tell you about homework? Yes, you might be walking by their rooms and they’ll be pretending to read the book. Hell, they might even actually be trying. But I- and more importantly, psychologists- assure you that while their eyes are scanning the words, their brains are flying far far away.

Like over-testing, spending too much time doing homework seems to have a negligible result in standardized testing, and in more cases than not, it directly hurts the chances of a better score. This study from researcher Jose Muñiz from the university of Oviedo in Spain says as much- while effort, parent aid, and [daily] frequency of homework helps a lot, spending more than two hours a day on homework doesn’t.

The alternative is much simpler- school should make learning much more accessible by allowing students free expression and help mold the young mind into something desirable to pursue. While parents need to devote the time to fine-tune that learning at home, and not necessarily doing homework.

Let’s not kid ourselves (pun not intended), homework will not go away anytime soon- although it should. However, the way in which homework is done can have a great impact in how well your kid advances not in class, but in understanding. Psychologists and sociologists have concluded that the manner in which you as a parent help your kid with homework makes more of a difference than you taking direct control. This just plays into the whole idea that kids need to be allowed free rein and explore imaginatively, rather than being dictated to and limited.

 

Invisible Roadblocks

 

If you thought I wasn’t going to mention religion in this one, you are dead wrong.

Already too many states in the United States (guess which ones) teach creationism along with evolutionary biology by local political mandate, despite the 2005 landmark Supreme Court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, where the court ruled against the teaching of creationism, or the word-savvy intelligent design, in public schools.

In the first link provided (in the hook “too many states”) you will find an interactive map of all the states that have, in some form, a creationist curriculum that openly challenge evolution science as something more of a fable and not completely testable. The fucking irony.

As if it wasn’t enough to have kids recite a Pledge of Allegiance (something bordering on creepy and Big Brother-y), and one created in part to sell flags, Eisenhower added the word “god” to counter the godless Communist threat back in 1954. As if being godless was actually what inspired Stalin to kill 100 million of his countrymen… or as if adding the word “god” to the pledge actually helped.

The point is that since the pledge and even before it, schools still have the nerve to question hundreds of years of data without base. These people are more than eager to teach their absolutely unverified and untestable version of the “truth” to all children alike, without regard or consideration for children’s backgrounds, something which puts everyone behind. And on top of that, the children of secular parents are being punished for something which they have little control over.

If you know this blog then you must know that my feelings towards religion are ones of suspicion and contempt. I, along with millions of others, feel that religion is in its most intrusive,  most harmful, and most illogical form when it is taught in the classroom.

Personally, I see no useful purpose for religion in today’s world, not even- and especially- as a moral yardstick. Contrary to popular belief, science can now explain morality thoroughly without the need of superstitious rituals. Yet, a lot of people don’t see it that way. They hold on to the old beliefs and what’s worse, the religious are playing the last card they have to play, children. Because they are innocent and thus impressionable, it is easier to manipulate a child to believe in abnormal things.

I would be understating the issue if I said that religion has absolutely no place in public schools, not just legally but also in terms of relevant information. And before we get into a theological debate, you should note that I said religion, meaning all religions. What is especially troublesome about an imposition of religious rituals or religious teaching in school is that you can’t possibly accommodate the thousands of religions that exist in the world in a place that intends to make use of the most down-to-Earth (pun intended), verifiable, and impartial information there is. Which is why science is there to save the day.

While religious fundamentalists argue about whether the Earth is 6,000 years old or 10,000 years old based on nothing else than Bible interpretation, the core of science has gone out and researched endlessly and compiled all known data into verifiable textbooks that kids now use in the classroom. It is unfair, not to mention arrogant, for religious parents and teachers to force distorted views of the world as they see it to kids who will very much grow up believing this stuff. What they fail to realize is that everything has a connection to something else. For example, teaching a kid that the Earth is younger than some known tree species we know might not make much of a difference if the child grows up to be a musician or an actor. But if that kid wants to become a biologist, or anything science-related actually, he or she will be the laughing-stock of academia a la Waterboy. 

I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to believe in whatever you want to believe, just not in a public taxpayer-funded school. The Constitution of the United States expressly prohibits the teaching of religion in places funded on the taxpayer’s dime, so in the interest of fairness, or at the very least for the sake of your child’s future, keep the Bible at home or at church where they belong, not in the classroom.

 

Okay, Einstein, what’s the best thing to do?

 

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

The concept of school is an ancient one. For thousands of years people have been teaching each other what they know about the world. It hasn’t always worked the way it should, but it has worked- case in point, we know a lot about a lot today. So it would only make sense that school should be an institution where knowledge is born and not merely cascaded down. However, it seems that’s actually the way it is. The institution has come to a point where individuality is repressed in favor of mass instruction. Something especially apparent in testing- which we mentioned before.

Do you remember that part on Forest Gump where Sally Fields’s character tells young Forest that he’s the same as everyone else, but then when the principal tells her that her son is different she comes back with, “Well, everyone’s different…” Of course it sounds way funnier in the movie, but it’s true, we’re all different and we’re all the same in different contexts obviously. Yet, school seems to want to make us all the same. At least in the way that we learn.

Like I mentioned before, now we know with proof what we’ve always known subconsciously, that kids learn at different rates and with different techniques. Some kids learn best by reading, others by looking at pictures, others are better at math than they are at history. The point is to instill in students a sense of comfort. To play their strengths and work their weaknesses, but what tests do is assume that every student is the same. Again, benchmarking is important because there definitely needs to be a basic average level that every student needs to be in every subject, but it seems that we’re only stopping there. Where’s the individuality? Where’s the push for greater knowledge?

You might infer from what’s being said that exclusion will lead to kids becoming territorial- even more so- but what we’re trying to achieve is just the opposite- inclusion. And inclusion is key. Due to many factors, some kids will learn faster than others. That’s just one of those things not even a teacher can control. However, taking into account those earlier things I mentioned about psychology, psychiatry, and technology, surely we can devise ways to measure kids’ performances without having to burden them with endless homework assignments, stressful rounds of testing, and outdated teaching techniques that don’t do much more than make kids loathe school, and as a consequence possibly even learning. They have enough to worry about in the recess yard to make them worry about what goes on inside the classroom.

 

Graduation

 

Let me conclude by saying that I am no education professional, medical professional, or an expert in any of the fields mentioned here, so do read this with a grain of salt. I merely offer my personal opinion on an issue that I consider to be one of the most important ones in our time, but more importantly for the future.

Of course there are many more things that can affect child behavior and learning capabilities: nutrition, bullying, outside influence, etc. I will probably touch on these subjects later on in other blogposts. But for now I just wanted to go a bit more in-depth about how education is not being given absolute priority in our country and elsewhere in the world.

The question to you is, do we really want to stress our kids out? School is undoubtedly necessary for our children, it’s not only a right of passage, it will prepare them at least in an academic level for the things they will need to know in the future. In the courtyard they will get a taste of what’s to come in life in terms of social connections; while the classroom is supposed to make them wonder about the bigger things. Children are supposed to go in to school with a hunger for learning, not to be afraid to do so. We need to demand, as well as help forge the better way to make the former happen and avoid the latter. Is stressing them out more important, or teaching them? Is showing them more important, or letting them discover? Is it more important to tell them which problem to solve or teaching them how to solve it? Are we hoping to build robots, or thinkers? Do we want them to come out of high school reading about the future or writing it? It all starts with learning. But learning is also a process. I guess the most important question of all is: are we doing it right?

 

fascinating book

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In part two I’ll be talking about college and the roadblocks students encounter while trying to continue their education at the next level in America and abroad, the consequences of these limitations, and what we can all do to help each other and ourselves.

And please leave a comment, a question, or curse me out if you want to if I missed something you believe is important or if any of my information is wrong. I welcome all feedback! And if you’re a teacher or a parent, I don’t mean to step on any toes, I welcome your thoughts as well.

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Interesting Reads:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/07/09/36jouriles.h33.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/spending-too-much-time-homework-linked-lower-test-scores-180954814/?no-ist

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/01/15/cutting-through-the-stupid-on-annual-standardized-testing/

http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/21-things-that-will-become-obsolete-in-education-by-2020-474.php

School Me: America’s War On and For Education Pt. 2

Back again for more huh!

Okay so this is part two of last week’s post when we started talking about our education system and about the challenges our kids face with homework and standardized testing. I also talked about technology and outdated methods, and even religion got an (dis)honorable mention in there. No one was safe from it, parents, teachers, politicians… since we are all part of the pie, we all got a slice of it.

Today I’ll talk about the challenges college students face (provided they made it all the way to college) in the classroom, but mainly outside of it. On this post the blame will be almost completely shifted to our policy-makers, corporations, and the universities and colleges themselves so I will not go in-depth about fraternities or the “college experience”, but rather focus more on the financial aspect of higher education and the ripple effect they cause. But, while distancing myself from too much math, I’ll mainly be talking about student debt and we’ll analyze a risk-versus-reward type situation. So if you’re one of these people suffering from studentdebtitis (don’t try to pronounce that), then you will read some facts here that perhaps you didn’t know. Hopefully I can help in some way or another.

Let’s get into it!

 

All In the Numbers

 

Assuming you passed all that required testing we talked about before- SATs, college admission tests, etc.- college is a new and exciting time that is about to begin! No more lectures about being late to class, no more bullshit about cleaning your room, in fact, if you choose to live in a dorm, no more parents for a while. Man is life great! Well for you. For your parents it’s a different story.

For those putting themselves or their kids through college, it’s important to know where they are in terms of payment if they stand a chance. Forget for a second the very confusing college-application lingo, first you have to know if you can even afford it. The pressure of not knowing whether it will be possible to send your kids to college (or put yourself through college) is only part of a reality we live in today’s America where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a good job, and even harder without a college education, an education that while beautiful and necessary is not free.

So with that in mind, let’s check out some important numbers and see how it all ties in with this higher education I talk about.

College Tuition- Since the 1970s, college tuition has been increasing steadily over the years to an unimaginable 1120% (yikes!), and even without inflation we are paying more for higher education now than we have in the past 40 years, or ever actually.

Student debt- American students have an outstanding $1.2 trillion dollars (that’s 1,200,000,000,000) in student loan debt which is significantly more than American credit-card debt which stands at a little under $700 billion. To put it into context, our national GDP is $17 trillion, which means that student debt is roughly 7% of that. Insane!

Number of Americans with college debt- 40 million. For comparison that is roughly the entire population of Argentina.

Average debt per student- Today college graduates are entering the job market with an average of $26,000 in debt.

Interest rate for college loans It floats between 3% and 6% depending on the type of loan you get.

National median income- As of February of this year the median income was roughly $41,000.

Now comes the hard part trying to make sense of it all.

We all pretty much know the ritual. Students go to college, they get jobs, get married, have kids, and they pay for kids’ college. Well, that’s not happening so much anymore. Less parents are now paying for their kids’ education, which means that now more than ever American students are financing their own educations. This is just a side-effect to the increasing college tuition. But it is also due to other causes one of which is the disparity between what parents make and what college tuition amounts to.

According to a report by the Washington Post from March, adjusted for inflation take-home pay only increased by a measly 0.1% in 2014 for middle-class people, and although the unemployment rate is at a little under 6%- the lowest it’s been since the middle of 2008- and 2.6% for college graduates, job outsourcing to other countries has left the middle-class worker with little or no leverage to negotiate higher wages. This leaves college students in a bind. They can either choose to pay for college themselves, take out a bank loan, try their luck with financial aid, or, if they’re not agile enough to get a scholarship, opt out of college altogether. But wait there’s more bad news.

As of last year, interest rates rose again for college students, mind you it’s not an outrageous amount, but it’s not a negligible amount either. I’m sure that there are a thousand fiscal details to work out that have endless ramifications, but the fact of the matter is that middle-class parents cannot afford inflating college costs, especially when interest rates on college loans usually float around between 3% and 6%. And I’m not even including bank loans, credit cards, or any other alternative means of paying for college, simply what the federal government loans out.

Now this is where you might get a little pissed off, the Federal Discount Rate, which is the interest rate at which the Fed loans money out to banks is .75%. True, this is only for very short-term loans, but even regular loans to huge multi-billion dollar banks are disproportionate to what the regular American student borrows. In other words if the regular American student were a corporate bank (with the current interest rate on college loans), it would’ve either dissolved a long time ago, collapsing under its own debt, or it would’ve gone overseas for a better deal. The reason for that is that a bank would never agree to such high borrowing rate as American students now graduate with. The fact is that the interest rate for students is disproportionate to what they and their parents make, and still a heck of a lot more than what the government loans out to banks. And while the whole comparison between students and banks is an apples-and-oranges scenario, it’s actually more of a gala-apples-and-golden-apples situation.

So it seems that pay-raise is not proportionate to the inflating college bubble, so just as we feared, there is no sustainability between what middle-class people make and the college debt accrued by those same people. And if I told you what investor and shareholder pay, corporate assets, and golden parachutes is, you might just go into a passive-aggressive fit of rage and throw your puppy out the window.

Ironically, for a lot of these students- younger and older- the problem is not acquiring the money they need to start their careers (although that is a problem too), rather the problem is actually getting it. And in a cruel twist of fate what many of these students end up in a “beware what you wish for” situation as soon as the first loan clears. And since a college loan is the only financial instrument that allows you to borrow more and more while your interest balloons up, it makes it a very dangerous tool to resort to.

Obviously the details are varied and extensive but this is pretty much a summary of what’s going on.But that’s still leaves us wondering why college tuition keeps going up despite a slow economic growth.

This is a difficult question to answer since it depends on more than one factor including: rising costs for room and board, slower graduation rates [1], budgetary limitations (whatever that means), skyrocketing costs for research institutions (which actually makes sense), government subsidies for grants and loans, and even the rate at which universities recruit can have an impact on these rising costs. There’s no way I can list all the reasons and the figures for each point, but this comprehensive article by the Washington Post from 2013 lists more exact figures for why tuition has been increasing, especially in smaller colleges and universities around the country.

What this all means is that it costs the state and the students more money and energy to pay tuition and to pay off that debt than to actually use the skills they went to school for in the first place. It’s a psychologically discouraging thing to graduate from college with upwards of $50,000 in debt without being ever comfortable in a job that you love, only to work in a job that you need. That is a debt that most likely will take someone the rest of their lives to pay. The true American dream is to accrue an insurmountable amount of debt after you start working, not before.

Some students and alumni are worse off and some are better off, but the harsh reality is that for of those who do owe, most of their financial decisions for the next few years to come (hopefully just a few) will be based around that debt.

 

Where Does It Go?

 

So where does the money go? Let me ask a simpler question, do you sit back with a beer and relax to watch college chemistry competitions; or college advanced math lectures? Unless you’re Ross from Friends, then I’m guessing the answer is no. College football, that’s the thing you watch.

Turns out that in some universities- those whose intercollegiate athletics programs are not self-supporting- a large chunk of what students pay goes to athletics programs that many of those students will never even attend. This also includes the salary for coaches and their assistants which is an obsene amount of money (in the millions) compared to what a regular college professor makes- less than 200K for the most experienced, much less for the majority. According to research by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, not only is the cost for these athletic programs increasing- which of course has an impact in rising tuition costs- but also almost 20% of Ohio University students wish there was less funding for these programs.[2] I can’t speak for any other colleges, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to assume what other sutdents around the country think about their own athletics programs.

In no way am I suggesting that we scrap athletics programs, but it seems that colleges are more known for how well their football teams and their glorified players performed than for how academically competent they are. Now it would make a big difference if the money the games brought in were evenly distributed across the board (meaning to cover other university costs other than the athletic departments) or even to compensate the players OR their families, but I am pretty sure that’s not the way it is.

Fortunately, most of the money a university receives from tuition, grants, government and private entities, and other sources, is efficiently utilized to pay mainly for instruction and research, and also for other services that the university provides. And a big part of that money goes towards financial aid which is mainly aimed at working-class students in an effort to get them in school.

But the less that states spend on college-level education, the more that public and private universities will need to make up the shortfall by increasing tuition and making cuts in how much it is spent per student. It’s simple economics and as much as I hate to admit it, colleges and universities are a business (even if educaiton isn’t), and as such it also governed by the same laws of economics as any other business.

 

Noble vs. Practical

 

Today everyone and their grandmothers know that going to college is part of an evolving society and by-and-large a great asset to possess if you want to make it in the real world comfortably. While in college you’ll form a relationship with blah, blah, blah.

The truth is that while there are many reasons why people go to college, they all boil down to two main ones: the noble, either because they find some discipline or art truly intriguing and they want to learn everything about it; or the practical, because they want to make money. These two people are not too different from one another, because they both know that whatever the reason, whatever the motivation, having an accredited higher education stamped on a diploma opens a lot of doors in the real world that are becoming increasingly hard to open without it.

This is a mantra that has been drilled for generations into the minds of children. Not a bad one to have drilled actually, but we’ll get to that. The point is that when people finally realize that everything we have now, from the laptop sitting on their desks to the crowns on their teeth, are the product of an incredible amount of study, perhaps a college education is not a bad thing to back you up.

But this constant reminder, like an alarm clock going off at all hours of the day, that they need to go to college right after high school, that they need to graduate and that they need to start making money right away becomes a tedious affair, one that undoubtedly bores some people. They get it from every angle, their parents, their teachers, their employers, even from banks themselves. Again, not a bad piece of wisdom to be given, but for what purpose?d

The message is clear: make money before you die!

It might sound a bit cynical to say something like that, but it’s a truth crudely reflected in numbers. In a survey taken in 2012 by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) in collaboration with UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that 87.9% of first year college students go to college to “get a better job.” [3] This pretty much translates to “because I want more money.”

That answer comes to no surprise to anyone since we are still recovering from a very nasty recession and the housing-bubble burst. And even though that survey was taken three years ago, an article by the Washington Post included data from a more recent survey by the same collaboration that echoes the data from 2012. So basically, yes, most people go to college to make money. Can you blame them?

From the 2014 survey, the second most important reason why people go to college is “to learn things that interest me” at 82.2% as opposed to 86.1% for “…a better job.”

What does this mean for college students?

In the first part of this blog-post I mentioned that schools should do away with unnecessary subjects or at least increase school-time in subjects that will be productive and necessary, like technology and the sciences. But I also mentioned that it is our responsibility to make them think and wonder, and not merely become slaves to themselves.

In this second part, it may seem as if I’m changing my views, but I’m not. The point is quite pragmatic in itself: those skills acquired in more elementary education is partly to prepare them for the college life and/or a life that is more technologically centered. I’m not suggesting we get rid of the sciences, or art, or sports, but rather that while elementary education is important in awakening the mind, college education is supposed to refine it, shape it, and prepare it to send it out productively into the world. It’s not really a change of mind, merely just an evolution of ideas.

There’ no doubt in my mind that there are lawyers who simply love law, or doctors who are passionate about human anatomy, or architects who are drawn to numbers and design, otherwise how could they live with themselves for all their lives doing something they hate just to make money? However there are those who view college as a business decision rather than an intellectual one. Which brings me to my next point.

You know how most children when asked what they want to be when they grow up choose the most selfless, most noble careers, e.g. firefighters, cops, doctors; but when they do grow up the smartest ones end up being stockbrokers and politicians? Well there’s a reason why that happens.

Every single day we read in the news words like “golden parachute”, “billion-dollar deals,” “Fortune 500 company,” and if you’re like me, you think to yourself, “man, I’m in the wrong business.”

The fact is that the rest of the arts and sciences are being out-competed by the money and the behavior that making money is more important than anything else is being reinforced in practically every aspect of American life. Fortunately, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) sciences are on the rise, but we need to build more of that momentum and reward those who make our lives easier (scientists) instead of those who merely make life easier for themselves. That’s where college culture comes into play.

Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson said it best when he remarked:

 

I’m not here to convince you that money doesn’t get you happiness, believe me it does. However, I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to sacrifice something that you really like for something that makes you money. So in choosing a career, it is better to choose something that satisfies your curiosity, and a career that you’re drawn to (or a variation of it that will get you a bit more money), rather than something you hate that will leave you more money.

Case in point, when I was younger my grandfather knew the benefits of going to college and he urged me to choose a career in medicine or law. I have nothing against doctors or lawyers, but I immediately hated the idea of becoming either one, and I knew that if I ever succeeded at it, it would not only be half-assed, but I would be risking more than my own life in the process. I am now 27 and I finally have an idea of what I want to do with my life, and not one second goes by that I regret that decision. I am perfectly happy with who I am and what I do, and I know that I would have been miserable otherwise.

Life is about happiness, your happiness. Not anyone else’s. And it’s not a race, nobody wins at life, in fact the only way to win is to be the happiest that you can be without hurting anyone else or the world around you.

The issue with student debt has been an efficient political tool for both parties in “the Hill” for quite some time now, and a hot-button issue in Main Street; many even point out that student debt not only affects things here at home, but abroad as well. In this competitive world where countries like Russia, India, and China are fast risers in the global economic food-chain, it is more important than ever for America to invest in the best resource and asset it has to outcompete these nations and become once again a leading nation in education, technology, etc: an army of high-skilled and educated people. But is it possible- or have we lagged too far behind?

Today we discuss the education business in America and the next generation waiting to take the torch.

 

A Solution?

 

Often we read cases about graduates living frugally or doing economically-savvy things to pay off their loan so, and we rejoice when we hear one or two people did extraordinary things and got rid of their debt in a few short years. Honestly, yay for those people. But personally, I find it depressing that we have come to glorify the exceptions to the rule, as if it were a heroic thing to live on instant soup so for years on end just to not live with that debt until the day they die. That’s not how the American dream was sold to our generation. Debt wasn’t supposed to happen until later on in life.

The issue that we have is that with college debt, it’s not only the students and parents are paying the bill, but also you, the taxpayer. And it’s an expensive bill.

President Obama’s loan forgiveness program which he passed in 2013 aims at giving college graduates the opportunity to pay only 10% of what they earn towards their premiums for a period of 10 years, after which time their college debt will have been forgiven. But what happens to the rest of that money? Put simply, we pay for it, college graduate or not, we’re all paying for all 1.3 trillion dollars of student debt. As Jeffrey Dorfman of Forbes appropriately writes in this article, “If government wants to subsidize college education it could simply directly subsidize it rather than making loans that are designed to be forgiven.”

He’s completely right. Why do we keep beating around the bush when it comes to college tuition and loans that hurt financially not just the students and their parents, but also universities, financial institutions, and ultimately the government by loaning money we don’t have to people we know will have a hard time paying? A direct subsidy will save us billions in the long run.

But President Obama has his eye on two fronts, this one and also in his plan to make all two-year community colleges completely free to all students who wish to go- rich and poor. The move is not exactly a novel idea as it has already been implemented in Chicago and Tennessee for high school graduates. But his plan, formulated to cover all students regardless of previous education, is intended to be available across the nation.

By making it possible for students to go to college for free, at least for the first two years, the government would be giving those students a break to save up for their continuing education or to make it easier for them to obtain one, once already in college, basically providing a foothold.

But the program intends to do much more than that. By making it easier for all students to start college, its intent rests also in more socioeconomic integration by raising the number of minorities, and economically disadvantaged students and mixing them with students of higher means. The psychology behind it is very promising as it will undoubtedly boost campus and individual morale, something which can have a good effect in the future of those communities.

But what does that matter?

According to a report by Christina Ciocca and Thomas A. DiPrette of Columbia University- using various statistics and surveys- they found that minorities and economically disadvantaged students are at a higher risk of dropping out of public universities and two-year colleges than white students and middle-class students by several percentage points. Following is an excerpt of their findings:

“The National Center for Education Statistics (Snyder and Dillow 2012: Table 379) reports that while 63 percent of white first-time beginners in four-year institutions receive bachelor’s degrees six years after college entry, only 41 percent of Black students achieve the same. Gaps also exist at the two-year level, with 17 percent of white students and 11 percent of Black students receiving associate’s degrees, and 13 and 5 percent of each group transferring to four-year schools and achieving a bachelor’s degree, respectively.” [4]

The report (which I recommend you read) is very interesting and lists possible reasons as to why that happens not just for black students for also for other minorities.

So it makes sense that anything that can be done to help those drop-out rates, should be in place already. This idea (modeled after a Republican plan) has already been met with skepticism from liberals and conservatives alike, both demanding to know just how exactly are we going to pay for the $60 billion that it will cost over a decade. But fret not, my friends, there’s already a plan in motion for that as well. The government will pay for three quarters of the cost while the states chip in with the rest, obviously the tax-payer will get some of that bill.

But why the hell should we get to pay for college even if we’re not attending? Well, why pay taxes at all unless it’s for my own benefit? That’s basically what you’re saying. And since we’re on that question, why don’t you ask the same about elementary and secondary education, it is basically the same argument.

There is something fundamentally flawed about the education system in America. In my personal opinion, it has been commercialized and treated too much like a business rather than a necessity. Obviously we cannot dismiss certain businesslike aspects of it, especially when it comes to big research universities that depend on grants and also tuition money to continue important research. But if we’re admitting things, then we also have to admit that at its most basic level, higher education in the U.S. is becoming much too expensive to afford, and almost not worth the job that most students will get upon graduating- if they’re lucky enough to get one.

And although admirable, even Ivy League schools like Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale- which provide free education for students and families making less than a certain amount ($125K/yr, $120k/yr, $65k/yr, and $65-$150k/yr respectively) [5]– are the exception, not the rule.

Which brings me to my next question. What, if anything, could take from our European neighbors?

 

Brain-Drain

 

You might have heard that in other industrialized nations, higher education is incredibly more accessible than in the U.S. and in many cases entirely subsidized by the government- I use “subsidized” to not use free, because as it happens, there really isn’t such a thing as a free lunch. These are the countries we’ll use as a model of what an outdated system should turn into and I will try- in my limited knowledge- to explain how they do it (although it’s obvious enough).

Nordic countries, as well as some historically socialist Western European nations, have taken up the noble course of lowering college tuition to- wait for it- NOTHING. I can already feel the seething anger at the mention of “socialist”. But if you can get over it for a second, I will have you know that the word “socialist” here is not strictly implying a socialist political system- at least not in the way that those European nations conduct business. What I mean by socialist rather is the implementation of social programs for the benefit of a society modeled after a socialist framework. This means that the government controls these programs and not private entities.

If you, as a red-white-and-blue blooded American, staunch opponent of Big Brother politics and faithful defender of all things free, believe that America hasn’t been touched by the evil wand of socialism (the political system now) then I’m sorry to tell you that you have not only been fooled, but you have been the recipient of this socialism.

Long story short, these socialist programs created and enforced by the government have in fact made America a better country for it. Among these that have benefited all citizens of this great nation are: emergency services, postal service, transportation, the military, some forms of health care, even ones that you wouldn’t expect like sewer systems and trash collection. And education. All of these programs and many more have been introduced to the American public administration after administration, sometimes with opposition. Can you imagine any of these in the hands of private companies? It’d be disaster. Even without the hand of privately owned enterprise, education in the United States is costing trillions of dollars and not getting much better. Surely some European countries are doing something right if they beat us in: record numbers of college graduates, higher test scores, more productivity, etc.

So where in the world is college education cheaper than in the U.S.? Trick question: everywhere!

Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, and France are among very few European countries that offer free or low-tuition college education, all in their respective populations’ dime. For the first three countries mentioned, foreign students are also welcome to enjoy the same educational benefits as their own citizens- higher education free of charge! In the case of Sweden that law has been rescinded to ban foreign students to study there completely tuition-free; but nevertheless the country has allowed many organizations to help cover the tuition of non-EU students, or other students who wish to study there, which still makes higher education in Sweden an inexpensive option.

But what about the rest of the world?

While many universities around the globe might not offer cheap or free tuition to foreign students, they do still offer those same privileges (incentives rather) to their own students. Some of the countries with the cheapest college education include: Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Brazil.

While these are just some of the countries with low-cost college education, they are by no means the only ones. This site has an interesting composite of information about the aforementioned nations on college costs, as well as other ones around the globe that also offer low-cost higher education. It’s important to note that for some of these countries (as in the case of my native Mexico) low-cost education is only available for state universities and colleges, while private universities will be more expensive.

But where do we rank in terms of higher education in comparison to other countries?

Well, we’re drawing from a different bag there.

According to this independent research judged by top academics from all over the planet, eight of the top ten universities in the world are in the U.S. of A. In fact, the website offers information on the rankings of more than 300 academic institutions and more in-depth information about them.

So being that American universities hold the top positions for education among the most respected in the world, why is it so difficult for Americans to obtain a college education… in America?

While this question is significant, I believe the better question to ask is: why do some of these other countries allow others to come and study- sometimes for free- only to leave, taking the skills they obtained to another country?

Perhaps they believe in the real value of higher education, or maybe they understand that not everyone can afford to go to college. Maybe it just makes good economic sense to allow students to take advantage of a good thing and offer them the opportunity to stay in their country and exploit those newly acquired skills there. It’s not only ethical, it’s practical. Not to mention that making education free makes good political sense.

Let’s form a comparison. In Germany, the state pays for college education for everyone who wants it, even for foreign students. Parents and students do not need to worry about tuition debts and high interest rates that will slow down their education and therefore increase drop-out rates. The snowball effect of leaving college in the middle of a degree is detrimental in large numbers. Therefore, by using pure mathematical logic, we can see that the cost of sending a whole generation of students to acquire high-level skills is minimal compared to the debt accrued if they don’t pay. The latter is essentially betting on the failure of students. And a debt that governments and financial institutions will be forever trying to collect.

On the other hand, if the education budget can be restructured properly, the gain from creating generations of high-skilled workers is nothing compared to the subsidizing of education in large scales.

We could bring up monopolistic sentiments about why the American education system is fairly inadequate in comparison to the mysticism that the United States has in the world: a powerful country unrivaled in mostly everything. But the simplest answer is usually the right one- our politicians simply prioritize other things over education.

 

Alternative Education

 

In this day and age there are still plenty of people- even here in America- who still don’t have access to education in their own countries and communities. For that reason, charitable organizations and public and private universities, who believe in the power of education have decided to get together and collaborate on massive projects that aim to change just that.

MOOCs- or Massive Open Online Courses- are exactly that, online courses available to anyone with a computer and internet connection in virtually any part of the world, and completely free or of very low cost to those who wish to take them.  These courses, or rather crash-courses, vary in length and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and some can even last for months at a time, like a regular college class would. They are taught in many languages and you can find just about any subject you want, anything from cooking, to advanced trig, to film critique, to computer programming. Not only are these courses taught by accredited professors from some of the best universities in the world, but they also follow the rigorous online-college course model.

Most universities though do not certify credits accrued from MOOCs however, although there are some that do. But at least those interested in learning something new or in using MOOC services as aid to their actual schoolwork can have the opportunity to do so free and with virtually no restrictions.

MOOCs and other alternative forms of education are a great way to get started on a path for higher education. I, myself, have taken several MOOC courses and am a very big fan of them and I recommend them. So if you’re interested, here‘s a list of several MOOC providers that are for-profit and non-profit. Honestly, I have only used Coursera, but I can tell you that all the courses I’ve ever taken have been free. So feel free to sign up for something interesting to get your mind tickling.

 

Graduation

 

To conclude this, let me tell you that although I believe in the immense power of education, college is not for everyone. Don’t mistake that for “education is not for everyone”, because that would ring false and counter to my beliefs, not to mention detrimental to our society. But employers, teachers, parents, and most of all you, need to understand that true education, true knowledge can only be the product of true curiosity, unhindered by rules and social norms, by restrictions and roadblocks. Forced desire to learn will always yield negative, or at least lukewarm, results. We have to encourage our kids and ourselves to learn, but we also have to provide them with the means to do so.

In the first part of this blog I wrote that America is waging a war against our youth, against education. Let me tell you that it is a false war, an illusion of sorts. Because education transcends all barriers and ideologies, it is one of the few non-partisan issues that we can all make better. But only if we really want to. It is of no consequence what political party you belong to, or nationality, or religion (or lack thereof), or socioeconomic bracket you’re part of- I think we can all appreciate the huge benefits that a well-educated, well-informed generation can bring. And we can make it happen if we work together to make it so.

 

“There are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it’s just one, and it’s education.” -Malala Yousafzai

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” -Benjamin Franklin

“He who opens a school door closes a prison.” -Victor Hugo

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” -Helen Keller

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Citations

[1] http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/6-reasons-college-costs-are-soaring-3.aspx

[2] http://www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/Funding_the_Arms_Race.pdf

[3] http://heri.ucla.edu/briefs/TheAmericanFreshman2012-Brief.pdf

[4] http://paa2015.princeton.edu/uploads/152299

[5] http://thinkprogress.org/education/2015/04/02/3642085/stanford-free-tuition/

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Interesting Reads

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/07/college-tuition-is-getting-more-expensive-heres-whos-actually-to-blame/

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/corinthian-college-graduates-protest-student-loans-175051741.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2014/09/04/fed-data-show-college-isnt-a-good-investment-for-all/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-13/college-tuition-in-the-u-s-again-rises-faster-than-inflation

http://college.usatoday.com/2014/08/26/how-much-student-loan-debt-is-too-much-2/

http://useconomy.about.com/od/monetarypolicy/a/fed_funds_rate.htm

http://www.forbes.com/sites/keithweiner/2014/12/22/can-the-fed-raise-interest-rates-2/2/

http://consumerist.com/2015/03/19/legislators-once-again-introduce-bill-that-would-allow-student-loan-refinancing/

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2015/03/25/take-4-steps-to-understand-student-loan-interest-rates

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-salaries-dont-rise/2015/03/11/38c08cea-c81d-11e4-b2a1-bed1aaea2816_story.html

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-12/world-ranking

Government Expenditures

https://www.usaspending.gov/Pages/default.aspx

http://demonocracy.info/infographics/usa/us_deficit/us_deficit.html

https://www.usaspending.gov/Pages/default.aspx

Pew Data

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/10/07/the-changing-profile-of-student-borrowers/st-2014-10-07-student-debtors-03/

A Universe of Knowledge

 

 

What’s Been Happening Lately

 

Excitement galore people!

I just finished reading Andy Weir’s “The Martian”and I have to say that if you haven’t picked it up yet, you are missing out on some great literature!

In the same way that Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” spark an old curiosity for space exploration, Mr. Weir’s book- which is being turned into a movie by Hollywood and scheduled to be released next year- does the same, and in a great way!

Praised for its technical accuracy and flowing story line- even by actual astronauts- this story about an astronaut who gets stranded in Mars after a series of freak accidents is a total page-turner. From the moment that you open the book until the last paragraph read, it’s evident that Andy Weir did his homework researching each and every element of space exploration, not just the big-picture stuff, but even the most minute details, and it is these that make the book so realistically possible. Most authors will only go so far as to research only the essential stuff while leaving some room for interpretation or for fantastical elements (what is known as “creative license”), but as we seem to enter a new literary age of hyper-realism, it’s clear that Weir did not wish to leave anything up in the air. And as you read paragraph after paragraph you begin to imagine the scenario come to life in a way that leaves no room for creative licenses to distort the story. The math alone will make your head spin, but Weir is always careful not to lose you. Told from a first-person perspective, in a sort of entry  log or diary-type situation, all the technical stuff is essential to the story, but if you are not math-savvy, don’t worry- neither am I; the story takes care of itself and unfolds effortlessly, even with the math which is told as if you yourself were NASA, being part of the tale in a one-way conversation with our hero. But the calculations that Weir clearly did research on, baffle you, but they don’t belittle you. In fact, its gravity pulls you stronger and faster and soon enough you’re sitting there amazed at all the technical bits that are often missed in the science-fiction genre.

As the world comes together in this age to begin a new chapter of space conquest, this book, whether it self-includes or not, is part of a new wave of interest in space, a legacy that was briefly forgotten after the last of the U.S.’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Union’s Luna missions concluded.

For the past several years, new breakthroughs, both in technology and in research, have been building up to tackle the mother-lode of all space projects, Mars.

On December 5th, the unmanned spacecraft Orion– an updated version of the old Apollo spacecraft, and in a way the first of its kind- completed two full laps around the Earth before splashing down just off the coast of Baja California. Technicians and scientists working for NASA (that’s the guys that put someone in the moon all those years ago) declared that the launch, trajectory, and crash had gone exactly as planned, in other words a perfect flight. Completely flawless. Now that is good news because eventually, that same rocket will deliver a payload of supplies, technical equipment, and research stuff…oh yeah and humans, to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Mars. Not shitty, old moon, but Mars. Okay it would still be pretty cool to send someone up to the moon again, but you gotta walk before you can crawl. Or something like that.

If it works, that’ll be a huge step for mankind and something that we have dreamt about doing since humans had imagination. I mean if we put someone on the surface of the planet at any point during the 2030s- albeit without killing them- then that means that less than a hundred years before the crew of the Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface, and a little over a hundred years after the invention of the airplane, a yet-unknown crew will have set foot on Martian soil, effectively colonizing the planet in the name of mankind.

This is very exciting for a lot of reasons. For one, it would be the most ambitious project humanity has ever worked on. Secondly, it would give us a foothold into another neighborhood turning the planet into a sort of gas station that would help us hop onto other worlds. Eventually- I mean far into the future- I’m sure humanity will be able to colonize all the other planets, providing us with immeasurable information about our little galactic corner. Thirdly, the moment the first human sets foot on Mars, we will know for sure that we are not grounded to this world forever; that day we will know that there is always a horizon to cross. But the main reason why all of this is exciting, is that perhaps humanity will come together for some other purpose than destroying ourselves and the only home we have ever known.

But that’s not the only thing that’s been going on lately.

Over the next few years another very ambitious, although much less dangerous, project will poise to tackle another one of those scientific conundrums that at some point even scientists thought would be impossible to accomplish. I guess we still haven’t learned not to use that word anymore- impossible.

With a “little” tool called the Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, researchers at M.I.T. will be taking high resolution images of the black hole that lives right at the heart of our very own Milky Way galaxy. And if you know just how much of a diva our black hole is (that sounded weird) then you might guess just how hard it is to paparazzi a pic of it.

In this groundbreaking project  all the major super-telescopes around the world- and outside of it- will work in tandem in unprecedented collaboration to basically turn them into a giant mirror the size of Earth. Working as one, the new “it” will be programmed to snap a series of composite pictures of unrivaled quality (even by the Hubble Telescope) that, if it works as it is supposed to, will finally prove the existence of black holes by taking the very first picture ever of the one that resides near Sagittarius A.

Super-massive black hole (SMBH) swallowing nearby star. photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc

Super-massive black hole (SMBH) swallowing nearby star.
photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc

How is it that we know where black holes are, if their namesake says it all? Up until now, the famous black holes we hear so much about have only existed on scientific papers and in computer simulations, even though there is very strong evidence that supports the idea that such phenomena actually exists in the universe. Scientists and researchers have been able to find where these black holes exist by measuring the loops and velocity of the stars that surround them (and the ones being gobbled up by them) with great success although lacking in actual visual technology. By using an array of existing equipment and powerful infrared and radio telescopes, these astronomers have spotted where most major super-massive black holes, or SMBH, are.

But why haven’t we done this before- you may ask? As I said before, black holes by definition are exactly that- super-massive vacuums that range in size, from several million solar masses to several billion (meaning the weight of several billions of our suns); however, they are totally and completely black. That’s because their gravity is so powerful that any information they eat, cannot escape, and that includes light- so far as we know. Hawking Radiation, named after astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, does a good job at explaining what goes on in the life of a black hole. By using light refraction and other methods, scientists have a pretty good idea of the size of these monsters and where they reside. And it just so happens that with some very advanced math (more advanced than your run-of-the-mill high school physics), they know just where to look. Up until now, the only impediment we ran across was that we didn’t have a sophisticated-enough camera to take that picture. Well, that is just about to change. And if it works, not only would they prove a theory that many thought could never be proven, but we, as humanity, would be taking a huge step forward in science, and THAT my friends is worth talking about.

Now if for some reason you think this is bullshit science or you believe that it cannot be possible, when you consider the amount of resources and thinking that go into making this possible, your head would spin faster than a neutron star (for this specific science reference check this out).

Just think about this, from our planet to where astronomers believe this SMBH is located- at the center of the Milky Way in the cluster of stars that is known as Sagittarius A– is a distance of 26 THOUSAND light-years. That means that going at the speed of light, it would take you 26 thousand years to reach it. That translates to a measurable distance of 141,087,012,989,961,860 miles. quatrillion is it? Not sure, but that’s a lot of numbers. Anyways, even with the most star wars-y ship ever constructed, there is nothing we could build that can go at the speed of light and thus, nearly impossible that we’ll ever see one up close. Then again, impossible is not something that applies anymore.

As for a wormhole that could bring us close to the black hole- impossible, they are purely theoretical, despite what the movie Interstellar might suggest. And besides, who the hell other than Matthew McConaughey- and maybe Han Solo- would want to get close to an object that swallows you forever? Okay I would actually want to see one…but still! Even though the math does have some evidence that wormholes could exist, they are not nearly as observable as black holes, and that is saying A LOT.

And then there’s the telescope itself. The technology involved in the project is state-of-the-art, and it even makes the Hubble Telescope look like a disposable camera next to a Canon EOS. Not to mention the painfully exacting level of coordination that it requires to coordinate most of the world’s major telescopes. The most precise atomic clock ever constructed was tailor-built specifically for this project in order to get all these major telescopes to work together in tandem.

So imagine being able to peer through the lens of a very, very, very expensive camera that is able to take a few pictures of something we cannot see, at a distance that is inconceivable. Not an easy thing to do. And that is why it is impressive.

 

The Push for Knowledge

 

It is the hunger for knowledge that drives humans to forgo the quickly-aging concept of conflict and war in order to discover the secrets the universe has in store for us. In a more adult way, we are like children being distracted at playing Indians and cowboys by the fireworks.

Right now, the world is currently experiencing the most peaceful era yet since we evolved into our current form of existence. I know what you’re thinking, “Are you fucking nuts?” Yes I agree with you, just when the world seems to be at its most fucked up, how can anyone say that nations are at their most polite behavior with each other? That says a lot about our nature. But if you step away from a minute from the constraint of time and become omnipotent- not sure how you could achieve that, but if you manage it let me know- then you would see that most of the wars that have been fought throughout history have been wars of ideologies and greed and not exactly for the acquisition of resources. I’m no one to argue with an historian, but I will venture my personal opinion and say that from my own look at history, it seems that until very recently, we’re talking merely a few dozen years, wars have been fought for the acquisition of resources. Even if it might appear that kingdoms and governments went to war for the natural resources of other nations (England and France are experts at this), with a little research what we start to realize is that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, conflicts due to ideologies are quickly becoming the thing of the past. Now this is actually a bad thing, for it means that the types of conflicts we are engaging in now are becoming increasingly about resources and less about “you don’t think what I think so therefore I must kill you.” Even at its most depleted, the world had healed enough that every nation- or nearly every nation- had enjoyed a higher level of natural comfort that urbanization has now taken away. So what we are left with is to investigate other reasons for why conflicts happen other than to take the same stuff that the people we are conquering already have.

Ideas. Mankind has fought and died for them, only because we had nothing to fall back on. In the good old days when you could make a claim about pretty much anything and if you made it sound convincing enough turned out to be “true”, nobody had the burden of proof. This created a huge problem because what the majority said, was law. This is a momentum that was violently halted several times by those in power who had different ideas about how the world was and about the questions and answers that a sixth grader could easily answer today. What we were left with were endless conflicts and violent suppressions of knowledge precisely because we knew nothing.

Since reason made its leap, humanity has slowly realized that the need for war is an obsolete human concept, a bad habit that is hard to get rid of. More and more people are banding together to cash in from the accomplishments of earlier men and women who dared to ask how and why. And their curiosity is justified. Scientific projects like the I.S.S. (International Space Station), the thousands of research efforts to eradicate disease, those others aimed to create more sustainable ways to keep the planet producing fuel and food for us while at the same trying to keep from destroying it, are only possible because more and more humans know now that together we make bigger and more significant leaps than the small steps we all take alone. How could any one country hope to do this all by itself? It would be nearly impossible, it takes a whole world to make it happen.

It is true that wars of ideologies still exist, you see them all the time on the news. But so do the wars for control of natural resources, and it is unfortunate that in this day and age, more and more battles are being fought to claim the resources of other nations. This only means that we should be doing a better job at keeping the planet healthy and alive. But it also means that there is still time and that opportunities should not be squandered fighting for them, but working actively and proactively to share them. It is illogical to use the resources you are fighting for, to make war to destroy another nation for those same resources. In this endless cycle of destruction, these resources like oil and natural gas and coal pollute not only the planet itself, but our future. And while the water-wars are claiming more lives every day, on the other side of the world, we couldn’t be happier about getting our new swimming pools installed. This is not a criticism for either party, for we should all be able to enjoy a drink of water as well as a morning swim, but it is a harsh criticism at the inability for all of us to help each other.

Meanwhile, there are idiots still fighting 14th century wars. And as the guns and bullets (objects shaped and created and dominated by scientific principles used for nefarious purposes) fly all about, those who fire them are still stuck in the notion that they know everything there is to know without any proof whatsoever. While the rest of the world is already several steps ahead of the curve, these miscreants are still killing each other over what a curve is. Now this wouldn’t be so bad if these children didn’t drag the adults behind. By this, I’m not saying that the rest of humanity doesn’t have a responsibility to stop this type of behavior, or that we should be content with the ignorant killing each other, but simply that some ideas warrant more attention than others. In my personal opinion if I have the choice to stop two idiots from killing each other over what the color red means, or to be able to peer into the depths of space with a telescope, admittedly 99 times out of 10 (you read that right) I would choose the latter. Of course if I can get the idiots to stop fighting by letting them peer into the universe themselves, then even better. But realistically it can’t be done simply because of the adamant ingrained hatred these idiots have for knowledge. What we come away with is a deep sense of sorrow that the rest of us can, quite literally, see the stars that dot the night sky, while others merely imagine that they’re there.

But do we have the resources to make the proverbial blind see? The answer is an easy ‘yes’. I would assume that if the transcendental works of Plato, or Newton, or Curie, or Einstein, or Hubble, or Hawking could bring us nearly infinite sources of energy like nuclear power, or things like rockets that shuttle us to structures of unimaginable size that house people that live outside of our planet, or devices that allow us to see trillions upon trillions of miles into the heart of the cosmos- then we certainly have the power and ability to get everyone on Earth involved in the future that all these people imagined for us.

 

What Does Science Do For Us? 

 

Science dominates our wor…err… our universe rather. It is is not a concept that can be divorced from our physical reality because it itself is our physical reality. Science is not just one thing that we can choose to ignore if we don’t like one, or all elements of it, it is an explanation for how things work, for how they are, for why the are. Science is both the interpretation of the order of things and the order of things themselves. But what is most beautiful about it is that we don’t have to rely on the interpretation of anyone else to know it is there, we can see it for ourselves if we are willing to look.

Everyday, the various fields of science create, destroy, discover, unearth, build things that only the crazy minds of all those science-fiction writers have thought of. In essence, science as a whole is a discipline of creativity.

A friend and I were talking about astronomy the other day and she explained to me how she is in love with math. I told her that I love that math exists (and how could it not), but that I cannot understand it even though I have such a passion for it as an amateur observer. As our conversation went along, she said that sometimes to think about math is to think outside the box, and I corrected by telling her that from what I’ve seen, especially in all those Wikipedia articles- probably the easiest way to read advanced math for me- is that all the math that has been discovered by all of those men and women who have dared to go into the crazy that crazy and abstract territory, have formulated these theories outside the box. There’s no other way really. Math in essence is a gift for those who are crazy enough to be that creative, and a curse to all of those who simply understand it. Math being the framework of all things scientific, is rebellious in that more rules exist outside of it than within it, we just haven’t discovered them all yet.

But from a practical standpoint, science has given humanity everything we see around us. Everything from your shitty old cellphone to your shitty new cellphone. Just think about the world that we are living in today and you will realize that all the stuff you see is the product of scientific discovery. From the pavement we walk on, to the very shoes we wear, to the cars we drive and yes, even the pollution that they cause.

problem solving concept

I know what you’re thinking- … okay I don’t know what you’re thinking but I can guess. Yes science can and has been used for nefarious purposes, in fact science is always being used for nefarious purposes. Guns, poisons, missiles, explosives, nukes! All of these inventions cause pain and suffering every single day. So why trust something that creates morally reprehensible objects of death! Valid question. Nuclear power, for example, has brought much calamity to humanity since its discovery. During World War II- a time when most of mankind’s greatest discoveries went to cheapen humanity’s ingenuity by being applied to things to kill other humans- two whole cities were obliterated and literally leveled due to man’s appetite for destruction. Over time, thousands of lives have been extinguished both in intentional and unintentional incidents involving nuclear power, some of them very recent. It is a bit depressing, after all, to know that the first thing created after the discovery of nuclear power was specifically invented to incinerate the bodies of living people, and whether or not you believe that dropping those bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved more lives than they took, we will never know. What we do know is the unprecedented destruction that they caused, not to mention the millions of lives (Men, women, children, the elderly, and animals) that they took as the terrifying mushroom clouds towered up into the Japanese skies. And then there’s the peace-time accidents such as those in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the most recent in Fukushima. But if we look at things objectively- hard to do when you’re talking about human lives, or any lives actually- since their invention, guns alone have killed many times more people than all the nuclear accidents combined. And just like any other invention, guns too hold a special place in the Wall of Shame of human inventions. In this case, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that nuclear power has been grossly misused, when it could be used, as it has been, for peaceful purposes, creating cheap energy that is virtually limitless.

Yes, science can be scary and deadly, but it is also a thing of beauty. And without going too much into philosophical or religious themes, I can also say that contrary to what many people believe, science does offer a moral framework that we need not look anywhere else for, and it lies in the peaks and valleys of human comfort (to borrow from Sam Harris‘ “The Moral Landscape”). By how we behave with ourselves and others, we can infer as to the type of people we are and the type of humans we hope to be. By learning more about the world and about the universe and about humans and how we relate to everything and to each other it is possible to have a good moral standing when it comes to knowing what to do with the power at hand. In effect, science can bring us together, as it has before.

 

The Humans of Today

 

And then we have the scientists who actually push the envelope to educate and inform the people about what science is, how it works, and why it’s useful. People like the astrophysicsts Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye “the science guy”, and the team of the Orion project, and the White Coats who work in labs and hospitals all over the world, and those honest ones who wish to advance this knowledge, all of them, a few among many, who wish to change the environment of ignorance that still to this day plagues our schoolrooms. With their own knowledge, they wish to entice people to learn about science and to be curious about it.

And behind them there are students, artists, bloggers, reporters, and amateur scientists, or simply the ranks of the curious, always pushing for new discoveries and always standing by when called upon for help. These people are the modern humans of today who see a benefit to all this. Those are the humans that our early ancestors considered gods as they wondered what was in the plants and in the waters and in the stars as they gazed up at the firmament.

science

The humans of today, well most of them at least, understand the importance of scientific discovery. And one of the beautiful things about science in general is that we can all be players to a game for which its rules we all understand and one where we all stand to benefit in some way. Which is why we are spending more and more money on scientific research worldwide- granted, not as much as we should be spending, but still a lot.

But as we acquire a deeper understanding of those mysterious and hidden things, it would serve us well to exercise a measure of control in the way we use that knowledge. Unless we want to see the next invention disappear an entire country into a plume of dust a la Angels and Demons, we need to be morally responsible for how we use science and be held responsible for when we misuse it. It’s bound to happen again, hopefully our discoveries will not end the planet as we have threatened to do in years past.

 

WHY SCIENCE?

 

Why not? Nothing else is- or has, for that matter- advanced knowledge the way science has in all of human history. Let’s go back a couple of million years when our primate cousins were starting to get down from the trees and were experimenting walking upright. The thing we now know as science was pushing these creatures to discover new “heights”. Now let’s move forward a few thousand years. Sometime in our early past, a person discovered how to make fire, how to carve a wheel out of stone, how to wield iron; all of these examples of our early ingenuity are examples of the early science of mankind. And although we don’t know the names (if they even had names) of these early humans, their discoveries remain with us to this day. That’s pretty impressive for someone who still fought sabretooth tigers!

So as we enjoyed watching the meteor shower that just happened a few days ago, or the bright objects in the firmament some of which are planets, other stars, and yet others objects made by the hands of men and women, we can be certain that scientific inquiry will not only find ways to explain the seemingly unexplained but can also create seemingly impossible things to create in a universe where the “impossible” is just another frontier waiting to be crossed.

 

 

A beautiful nebula (irregular galaxy, NGC 4449) over the Earth

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For more information about the Orion spacecraft and other space articles, check out these interesting pages:

http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/5/7338839/the-first-test-flight-of-nasas-new-orion-spacecraft

http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/8/7353221/us-navy-rescued-orion-from-ocean-nasa

http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/OrionMARAugust2013.pdf

http://news.yahoo.com/russian-scientist-spies-mountain-sized-asteroid-heading-way-170022867.html

And if you wish to know more about science in general check out these websites:

http://www.livescience.com

http://www.nasa.gov.

http://www.howstuffworks.com

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Oh and by the way, if you wish to see a really intersting movie about one of humanity’s brightest living minds, you should check out “The Theory of Everything” about astrophysicist Stephen Hawkins’ life. It will not disappoint you.