Sunday, April 30, 2006

Education, big business, maybe worse

Education, if you haven't noticed, is big business. It is no longer about teaching children the important and neccessary subjects required by adulthood. It has become an institution that doesn't educate in the first place and then introduces remedial education to make up for shortfall. Emphasis is placed on making schooling enjoyable and low stress instead of pushing, challenging and if necessary coercing students to attain their best performance. The big business aspect is quite visible if you observe the makeup of local school boards and the Parent Teacher Associations. Almost exclusively, the boards are composed parents with children in school, active teachers and an occasional outcast representing the oppressed taxpayer. The Parent-Teachers associations are by their very nature populated by parents of school age children. When you add up the forces representing the Education Business and who is representing the bill payers, the unbalance becomes very apparent. The net result is that school taxes are ever increased beyond the cost of living. The ancillary "educational" products include more after school activities, such as ice hockey, Ultimate Frizbee, fencing and drama. All of this,of course, requires facilities, which have to be the best available. In the meanwhile, foreign schools are turning out students that outperform ours at every stage of education. The teachers are protected by tenure against all but the most heinous of crimes. They work an abbreviated year, get well paid medical care, accrued sick leave, are unionized so they can strike for additional benefits. And observe what opposes this power, a school board beholden to the education business, teacher-parent organizations that can't oppose what teachers want for fear of retribution against their children and the taxpayers. The taxpayers, for various reasons, don't turn out to voice their concerns because, A) the value of their properties are tightly tied to the "perceived quality" of the local education system, B) It's too much trouble to stay current with the school issues, C) the increase will "only" be several hundreds of dollars per year. And, at the lower end of the "education system" food chain are the senior citizens who have footed these bills all their working lives. Now that they no longer can expect increased incomes, have to reallocate their resources to afford living in the homes that they bought and paid for. The fact of the matter is that seniors, more than working homeowners, are just leasing their homes from the school systems, local and state governments. If you don't believe this state of affairs just stop paying your property taxes and see how long it takes to be evicted from "your" property.If you stop paying your heating bill you may freeze but your house is still your home. Not so with governments, they don't bother turning off services, they just take your house for unpaid taxes.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The End of an Era

This has been said before but merits repetition. Our learned legal profession has succeeded in destroying one of the greatest scientific and technical organizations that ever existed on this planet. Starting with the 1950's monopoly lawsuit against what was then the Bell System and finally finishing with the current marriage of Lucent and Alcatel; the project is complete. When the Bell System fell prey to judge Green and gave up rights to it's invention, the transistor; the die was cast. Subsequently, during the 1970's the "justice" department, with it's infinite legal wisdom, decreed that the Bell System must be broken up because it was a monopoly. Of course through all of this Bell Laboratories was reconfigured and reconstituted and now has finally been transferred to a foreign company. This laboratory, the inventor of the transistor, discoverer of low noise cosmic source, developer of the test for lead in human blood, creator of hundreds of thousands of patents has been scientifically disabled. It now exists to propagate it's former glory in order to enhance the prestige of it's current possessor with having any of the substance of it's former self. It has been relegated to the task of instantly bringing financial rewards to the bottom line of it's current owners.
Why was this situation allowed to happen? The answers may lie in the propensity of the legal profession to believe what they pass as law has been handed down from some insightful deity instead of from the minds of legislators who are not neccessarily equipped with thoughtful foresight. The legal profession has diverted billions of dollars from useful applications to the defense and offense of litigation. Sometimes for the public good, many times to the public's detriment. The recipients of this legal offense are not without fault, either. The executive management of the Bell System didn't have to roll over and play lapdog for the legal beagles. These highly compensated people weren't equipped with the foresight or intestinal fortitude to fight the process. There were other companies that did so; IBM is one. The real loser is the nation, without the will or resources to establish a comparable facility funded by the taxpayers our scientific community will stagger on with the piecemeal funding of university research. We are fast becoming a nation of has-beens, just look at the state of the auto industry, the steel industry and semiconductor industry. Our industrial base is going offshore at an ever increasing rate and our highly compensated executives, safe in their golden parachutes, aren't worried. Part of the problem, maybe a large part, is because the people who should have their feet held to the fire are immunized from their decisions. The legislators have retirement plans guaranteed by,us,the citizens, the business executives have their golden parachutes and we, the masses, have an underfunded ERISA and Social Security to fall back on. Who is the loser?