Free College? I’m In!

I heard a guy in Subway a couple of years back loudly ranting about public schools. He finished with “They want us to pay to educate other people’s kids! That’s how you destroy a country. That’s how you bring down America.”
He was talking about PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
I had this brief happy vision of a giant Monty Python thumb coming down from the ceiling and just crushing him into jelly. Silly ninny. Those young people — other people’s kids — are the ones who will eventually shoulder the load of making the world work. Not just doing all the physical and mental labor, but learning about the world, understanding it, and making decisions about it. They will be tomorrow’s movers and shakers and VOTERS. Tomorrow’s doctors and inventors and scientists and, hell, DMV workers.
Having them educated — as opposed to ignorant and helpless — is a damned good thing. Having them educated a LOT is a double-damned good thing. That part of my taxes that goes toward education — as opposed to, say, military spending or giving tax breaks to big corporations — oh boy am I happy about that.
This business about free college that’s come up lately — I see people reacting to it as if it’s some monstrous idea proposed by people who hate America. But I can’t help but think that investing in the minds of the people who will someday soon run the country and some significant portion of the world, that would be a good thing.
Yes, somebody has to pay for it. But no, it’s not the sort of point-of-a-gun robbery some people are making it out to be. Education is not an Xbox or a Ford that starts to lose value the day you take it home. It’s not you paying for your neighbor’s above-ground pool. It’s an INVESTMENT IN THE WORLD, one that pays off and pays off and pays off, over and over, for all the time to come.
I’d rather live in — and grow old in — a society filled with as many educated people as possible.
So: Free college? Yeah, count me as a supporter.

When We All Grow Up

adults2Every major change in life — and probably a lot of the minor ones — is accompanied by something I call Turbulence.

New job, turbulence. New baby, turbulence. Loss of a loved one, MAJOR turbulence.

It’s that period of discomfort and confusion that happens between one steady life state and another. Eventually you get used to new conditions of life — the new job is as familiar and comfortable as the old one — but meanwhile, you suffer the bumpy ride of the necessary transition.

I bring up Turbulence because I think we’re in it, society-wide, worldwide, right now. I suppose the people of every era feel their discomforts, but this one is a one-of-a-kind, first-ever-in-history discomfort, the sign of a BIG transition.

I’m thinking about Humanity on Planet Earth, and the changes in store for us, major ones, some of which are already taking place. What will be the end result of those changes? Where are we going?

Up til now it’s like we’ve been living through the human species’ childhood, where we could explore and play and fight and kill and burn and break and do pretty much anything we pleased, without any very serious repercussions. We could reproduce without limit, experiment with weird beliefs, exotic ways of living, silly fantastic ideas, and see what happened. All the while, we were rich enough in room and resources that our failures made only local differences. We could try out this thing and that thing and the other thing, and no matter how much we broke or burned, we could just walk away from the wreckage and try something new.

But there’s that time to come when we won’t be doing that stuff anymore. The time when we will practice restraint and finally become grownups, comfortable with ourselves and with life on Earth, living more or less gracefully and successfully, into the indefinite future.

I don’t say we’re GOING to make it. But if we do, it will be because we did this other thing, and so became able to survive. It’s like our doctor has said “Your heart is laboring, your liver is shot, your cholesterol if through the roof and your diabetes is getting worse. You’re going to lose 100 pounds or you’re going to die in a matter of months. There is no third choice.”

In the only good future imaginable, in the single survivable scenario, we change. Non-change, or half-assed change, will bring either extinction or something few of us today would want to live through.

The in-between time, the turbulence-riddled NOW, is our teen years. We’re still experimenting, playing and fighting and stumbling and living our rich fantasy lives, but with global warming, Peak Oil, so many other real-life realities being forced upon us, we’re discovering we can’t do just anything. Not forever. We’re finding out some things have uncomfortable, even deadly, results, both to ourselves and to the planet. We’re living in the midst of the transition from carefree childhood to … something.

I’m thinking about that “something” — the full adulthood of humanity, hanging out there in some hopefully not-too-distant future.

What will things be like when the human species is all grown up? What will be necessary? What will be necessarily avoided? How will we live? How will we relate to Planet Earth, and each other?

Humanity’s adulthood is a way off, sadly, and none of us will live to see it. It’s going to require generational changes; more than a few generations will be necessary before a critical mass of grownups appears on the world scene. The lot of us are unfortunately stuck back here in adolescence.

Doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. The fine details of that era are impossible to guess at — there will be arts and careers, entertainments, technology, unimaginable to us today — but I think we can predict something of the bigger picture, because some conclusions are pretty much unavoidable.

There’s a lot of stuff we simply can’t afford, or afford to do, anymore. For instance, we won’t be using fossil fuels in that future, because most of them will just be gone. Used up by we human children in a burning, partying, indulgent spree.

And some things, we just have to hope will be a part of the picture, because otherwise, that future won’t be anything those of us today could enjoy.

So here are some of my guesses about what it will mean for us to be sane and successful grownups on Planet Earth.

Population and Energy

First, like I said, we’re going to give up petroleum, and maybe even nuclear energy. Solar’s the way to go. Everything in our adult future will be powered by the sun.

Or yes, some “might be” futury energy source. But having gotten to 2016 with no sign of widely-available flying cars, which I’ve been reading about since the 1950s, I’m not counting on the rescue of out-of-the-blue science-fictiony solutions. I’d love to see fusion power perfected, but a question I’ve asked myself over the years is: What if it’s just not possible? What if it takes an actual star to keep a fusion reaction going? I’d like to see the research continue, but I don’t think it’s something we can count on.

There are going to be a lot fewer of us. Idiot optimists notwithstanding, Planet Earth just can’t support 7 or 8 or 12 billion humans. My guess is that somewhat less than a billion humans, maybe only a few hundred million, can live on the planet without eventually eating it down to bedrock. And why would we want more? If there are resources enough to allow 500 million people to live like royalty, or 12 billion people to live like slaves, cramped and poor, what good argument is there for NOT living comfortably within our means?

The question for me — and I think grownups in the human future — isn’t “Do people have the right to have as many kids as they want?”, it’s “Do children have the right to be born into a family, or a world, that can support them?” Note that I’m not saying some draconian governmental edict will come along and nix human population growth. I’m saying the real world will enforce some sort of solution, either voluntary on the part of Homo Adultus, or involuntary via any of a number of mass die-off scenarios.

There will be fewer of us.  How we get there is up to conscious decisions by us might-be grownups, or due to the already-in-progress default course set by the equivalent of idiot teenagers refusing to accept responsibility in a world of real consequences.

Education and Equality

We have to have full equality of every human, everywhere on the planet. Everyone has to have the right to vote, to medical care, to an education.

Speaking of education, we’re going to stop treating our kids like they’re children, and start treating them as if they’re going to be fellow adults expected to shoulder the load of making the world work. We’re going to give every one of them a full, free education — which we will expect them to actually work at and benefit from — up to and including college or trade school.

Speaking of medical care, we’re going to live a lot longer than we do now. Think about it: What’s the real goal of the field of medicine? To cure everything. Pretty much every disease is going down, and life extension will become a major focus of research. Because what is aging but just another disease? The end result of that research is going to BE life extension. How much? I like to think it would be well into the hundred-and-somethings.


We’re going to learn to live on Planet Earth without damaging it. Our smaller population will allow us to abandon large areas and allow them to go back to nature. We’ll have a reverence for life, with absolute protection of endangered species with no regard to national borders. Those mountain gorillas, for instance, are not Africa’s mountain gorillas, they’re everybody’s (and nobody’s) mountain gorillas, and we’ll feel they must be protected no matter what.


We’re going to stop tolerating lies. One of the things we haven’t yet understood is that Freedom of Speech has to have this other freedom attached to it, Freedom From Lies. Every person (and corporation) has the right to say whatever they want to say, but that freedom is limited by every OTHER person’s right to hear the truth.

I can lie to you in person and you and I will deal with that privately, but on public airwaves or wires, where millions might hear and be adversely affected by it, there can be no “right” to lie, to incite others to believe falsehoods, and the penalties will be severe.

Lying is a form of pollution, when you think about it. Lies are a poison that destroys human understanding of the truth. It’s like secondhand smoke — when the lies flow over your metaphorical property line and into my life, your right to lie has ended.

(In my view, there is already no right to lie to a child, about any subject or for any reason.)

We’re going to have a common language. English? Probably. Doesn’t mean all the others will go away. Does mean we’re going to talk to each other, all over Earth, in this common language.

We’re going to have a LOT more public transportation, a lot fewer cars. We’re going to spend a LOT less money on wars and weapons.

We’re going to end racism and sexism. Skin color is about the stupidest, most superficial way of judging people, and we — all of us — will eventually realize that. As to sexism, we’ll eliminate the prejudices and limitations based on gender, but we’re also going to accept that men and women each have their own specific needs, and figure that more into the balance.

Our lives are going to be a lot more transparent, but we’re also going to become a lot more comfortable with our own nature and the inevitable foibles which attend it.

We’re going to come to understand that not all cultures and cultural practices are equal. That some are good for human freedom and dignity, some are simply not, and we’re going to abandon the not-goods. Speaking of which:


We’re going to do away with religion and mysticism. Goodbye Islam — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. But also: Goodbye Christianity — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Schools will teach evolution with gusto, and every kid will grow up knowing he’s connected as family to all life on Earth. The idea of the universe being poofed into existence by a great big guy in the sky is going to seem like a fairy tale straight out of the Dark Ages.

We’re going to end genital mutilation of babies. Sorry Jews and Muslims, snip off the end of your own dick if you want, cut out your own clitoris once you’ve achieved the age of choice, but you can’t do that to kids anymore. They don’t BELONG to you, they belong to the adults they will one day become, and it’s that adult — and only that adult — who has the right to choose to make permanent changes to their bodies. You would no more cut healthy body parts off a baby than you would install garish permanent tattoos on their bodies. In both cases, it’s a trespass on THEIR right to choose.

We’re going to stop being ouchy about sex education for young people. Every kid on Earth is going to receive the full, unaltered Handbook of the Human Body in classes taught from kindergarten onward.

Business and Politics

We’re going to push corporations out of the driver’s seat of government. We’re going to end tax evasion by corporations and the wealthy, and the huge income inequality that flows out of corporate culture. In the coming era of transparency — particularly in international banking — I suspect most organized crime is going to go away.

Science and Technology

We’re going to use space, but probably not move into it. The minimum necessary life support system for humans is probably the size of a planet, and we only know of one. We’ll have robots out there, or humans for short periods, but we’re never going to have humans like you and I living on other planets.

Every person on Earth is going to have full, unfettered access to the Internet, and they will carry it around with them.

It’s almost inevitable that we’ll tinker with our own genes, improving ourselves in countless ways and ushering in an age of transhumanism. Not everyone will change, but everyone will have the chance. Overall, average intelligence is going to go up — we’re going to be a lot smarter.

Speaking of intelligence, we’re going to have Artificial Intelligence. It’s not going to be just like us, but one way or another it’s going to exist. It’s also going to be friendly, an intellectual partner rather than some horror-story master or adversary.


I doubt that nations will go away. Local units of government are better at handling local issues. But a worldwide community of individuals — and yes, I’m thinking Beta Culture — who agree that certain things must happen can make those things happen. Not by undercutting government, but by convincing a critical mass of people in each country that certain things — women’s equality, for instance, but also all this other stuff — absolutely must happen.

Here’s hoping.

Saying Goodbye to the 100-Year-Old Man

Today I went to the funeral of a friend, someone I’ve only known for about 5 years, but who was one of those quality people who brightens the life of everyone he comes into contact with.

Ed lived just shy of 100 years. He saw 100 Christmases, 100 Halloweens, 100 summers and winters and falls. And up until a couple of weeks before his death, he was still driving his own car, still — IN INK — working crossword puzzles. A mere three days before he died, he was traveling country roads with a friend, riding and enjoying the warm springlike day, laughing and making bad puns.

After the lengthy opening by a priest, his two sons stood up to speak, and one of the stories they told tickled me greatly, as it was both funny and warmly, completely ED:

In his early years as a math professor, Ed had a math-faculty friend who didn’t have a car. Ed readily volunteered to help out, giving him rides to and from work, day after day. One day as Ed and his wife Barbara were having dinner in a local diner, the guy happened in and saw them. “Ed! I just got a new car! I can start paying you back for how kind you’ve been over the past year. You have to let me give the two of you a ride home!” Ed and Barbara happily accepted the ride home, thanking the man warmly as he deposited them on their doorstep, waving as he drove out of sight.

After which, the two of them walked the mile or so back to the diner to pick up their own car.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a religious memorial, and I had forgotten how utterly odd they are. It may be the ritualistic ceremony really does give comfort and peace to the friends and family of the departed, but they’re still, to an atheist, distinctly strange.

The opening I mentioned consisted of a retired priest / friend of the family welcoming everyone and asking all to be seated. He waved a program (there’s some more devout name for it, but it’s not coming to me at the moment), making sure everybody had one so they could follow the ceremony. The program is 15 pages long, and it consists of long sections to be read by the priest, but also included call-and-response sections where the priest reads one line and the celebrants read a line back to him, with lots of Glory to Thee-ing and Amen-ing and bowing-and-praying along the way.

It is 12 pages before the name of the deceased gets mentioned, which in this case was some 32 minutes into the ceremony. To my atheist ears, the entire show up until that time seemed to be an extended arm-twisting, moment-of-grief commercial for God.

Again, if it gives people comfort, I can’t knock it TOO much. And if that’s what Ed would have wanted, I’m entirely at peace with it.

But … when I did the memorial ceremony for my Cowboy Dad, the entire thing was about the man. Not only did I read his entirely non-religious eulogy, everybody at the event was invited to share stories and memories of him. There was a single Bible verse — “To everything there is a season” — read by one of his cowboy friends near the end, but most of the ceremony was meant to focus on the life and happy effects this tough, good man had had on all of us. The purpose of the event was to celebrate a man’s life, not to send a tidal wave of religiosity over the attendees.

I often wonder why African-Americans and Native Americans can be Christians, as the religion was so obviously used to bludgeon them into line, but I can appreciate that if you grow up with it and never examine any broader context, it feels good and right to you.

Looking around me at this funeral, I could see that THIS ceremony felt good and right to the people there with me. But it still put me in mind of, oh, a tiny little sandwich in the middle of a heaping platter of garnish, or that friend who does you a 5-minute favor, and then spends ten times as long telling you what a nice guy he is for doing you the favor. It was a lot of goddy STUFF and only a little of Ed, and I would much rather have heard more about Ed.


Lefty Pet Peeve

mass hangingThis picture was shared on Facebook with the caption, “Americas (sic) largest mass hanging of Indians.”

Hey, I’m in. I’m on board. The LEAST you can say about the alleged incident is that it deserves to echo through history as one of our most shameful moments. It deserves to be remembered, reflected upon, regretted.

As a compassionate, reasoning being — or so I like to think of myself — my first impulse is to find out more. This is something that needs to be a part of my thinking, right?

But … no further information is attached. No link. No explanation. No date. No location. Nothing.

I can’t tell whether this incident was perpetrated by forces of the newly-minted United States, by the pre-Revolutionary British, by Mexico, France, Texas, some pre-1776 state, or just generic “white people” acting on their own. I can’t tell whether it was even on this continent.  Might it have been India? Australia? Feudal Japan? China?

We don’t know. Not only do we not know, we can’t even guess. (Okay, from the architecture, I’m going to wager it’s probably not Japan or China.)

I’d think it would be obvious why this pisses me off, but I’ll tell you anyway:

In my mind, there’s a stark difference between INFORMING and MANIPULATING.

Informing is when you introduce a subject and tell me the full details. Or at least give me a start and then point me to somewhere I can (without, say, flying to England and digging around in historical accounts) find out the whole story.

Manipulating is when you project a knee-jerk emotional appeal with NO FURTHER INFORMATION.

Here’s the pisser: I’M ALREADY SYMPATHETIC TO THE MESSAGE. I’m on the “this is truly terrible” team. I don’t need to be manipulated, I need to be informed. He who informs me is on my team, he who manipulates me is not.

I’m willing to do a little research to find things out for myself, but it would be peachy if the original assertion contained SOME sort of clue as to where or when to start looking.

But whoever posted the thing didn’t do that. Is it that they couldn’t be bothered? That it was enough to rile people up in righteous anger? Was this aimed at evoking pure emotion, with no action or understanding necessary?

Was it meant only to inspire the lame-ass conclusion that White People Are Evil? Because THAT conclusion I’m  not on board with. It’s as racist as any other race-related generalization.

Actually, I have no trouble believing this act happened, and was carried out by “Americans.” But I can’t AUTOMATICALLY place that blame any more than I can automatically blame fresh graffiti on my fence on the first random teenager who walks by.

In both cases, you have to KNOW.

Projecting an emotional message at me, a message which I am already inclined to sympathetically consider, but which contains zero facts, is either the act of a careless idiot, or someone deliberately manipulating his/her audience — me. Either way, it’s a betrayal of the faculty of careful thought and reason I like to think sets me apart — sets US apart — from those people who make up the crazy, excitable rabble who so vividly fill the ranks of the teabagger movement.

Two conclusions:

  1. The person who would do this is no friend. He/she is, in fact, my enemy.
  2. I have no need to look any further into the claim. The bullshit level is high enough that I can ignore the thing entirely, and suffer no loss.



Hillary, This Time You’re Goin’ Down! I Mean It! Really Really!

This bubbled up elsewhere, shared by someone I like.

Tell you what I think:

More than 20 years of investigations, accusations, smears, and innuendo have resulted in exactly zero charges. Is it because the fix is in, or is it because none of that stuff is true? Here’s the thing: If any of the accusations were true, Congressional Republicans — who hate Hillary and Bill with rabid passion, and who not long back CONTROLLED THE WHITE HOUSE AND BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS and had a free hand to do any darned thing they wanted — would have made sure she (and anyone else they deemed culpable) was arrested and charged and tried.

They would move Heaven and Earth TODAY to make it happen.

This woman is likely going to be the next President of the United States. Not because of some “fix,” but because a majority of American voters prefer her to all the alternatives. She’s one of the most admired Americans in the world.

Gonna be interesting to see how the real “patriots” react to her election. Will they attack and undermine her at every turn, the way they’ve done with Obama, or will they decide to support her? I’m predicting a breathtakingly vicious attack that will last every second she is in office, just as they’ve attacked Obama every second he’s been in office, further undermining American stature, effectiveness and progress.

And damn, I wish that wasn’t so. It’s disturbing to see even good friends, people I otherwise respect, falling into line on this never-ending nonsense.

Obama and Hillary aren’t the problem. The problem is that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and company would rather get ratings by broadcasting outrageous paranoid crap than they would help America succeed. The problem is that too many of US would rather attack and attack and attack, rather than cooperating and trying to get things done. Too many of US hate Obama — and Hillary — more than we love and support America. We would flush the entire country down the toilet before we’d believe in them or work with them on the least little thing.

Here’s something I’ve realized: If John Smith can’t think of a single good thing to say about some supposedly evil person, unless that person is Hitler himself, it’s not the “evil person” who is the problem. It’s John Smith. NOBODY is as underhanded and deceitful as certain conservatives paint Obama and Hillary. Hell, I hated Richard Nixon with a passion, but even I had to admit he did some good stuff.

People are STILL claiming Obama is a secret Muslim, born in Kenya, bent on destroying America, avidly trying to take all our guns and put us in FEMA camps.

At some point, you just have to start thinking “Wait, if this accusation was a lie, and that accusation was a lie, and this OTHER accusation was a lie … maybe all of this stuff is just lies. Maybe whoever’s sending out all these lies, maybe THEY are my real enemy, manipulating me for their own ends. Making me so angry or scared I can’t think anymore.”

What’s really destroying America is the unrelenting hate, the constant lies. The hatred and suspicion of government itself.

And I really don’t get why it’s all happening. We are freer and richer and safer than any moment in history, and some large part of that is because American government, and government regulation, WORKS.

And just FYI, I’d bet the Clinton camp itself worked to make this investigation happen, with the FBI carefully examining every detail and bringing the whole thing out in the open, so it would be determined OFFICIALLY she did nothing very wrong. It will be a non-issue by November — again not because of any fix, but because it really is a relative non-issue.