Archive for May, 2012

The Ratings-Mad Society

The other day, at WalMart, where I do my grocery shopping, since, like or not, it’s the best grocery store in 60 miles, the check-out clerk informed me that, if I went to the site listed on my receipt and rated my latest visit to WalMart, I’d be eligible for a drawing for a $5,000 WalMart gift card.  The next day, at Home Depot, I had a similar experience. That doesn’t include the endless ratings on Amazon, B&N, and scores of retailers, not to mention U-Tube, Rate Your Professor, and the student evaluations required every semester at virtually every college or university. Nor does it include the plethora of reality television shows based on various combinations of “ratings.”

It’s getting so that everything is being rated, either on a numerical scale of from one to five or on one from one to ten.  Have we gone mad?  Or is it just me?

Ratings are based on opinions.  Opinions are, for the overwhelming majority of people, based on their personal likes and dislikes… but ratings are presented for the most part as a measurement of excellence.

Yet different people value different things. My books are an example. I write for people who think and like depth in their fiction… and most readers who like non-stop action aren’t going to read many of my books, and probably won’t like them… and those are the ones who give my books one star with words like “boring”… or “terminally slow.”  By the same token readers who like deep or thoughtful books may well rate some of the fast-action books as “shallow” [which they are by the nature of their structure] or “improbably constructed” [which is also true, because any extended fast-action sequence just doesn’t happen often, if ever, in real life, and that includes war].

Certainly, some of the rationale behind using ratings is based on the so-called wisdom of crowds, the idea that a consensus opinion about something is more accurate than a handful of expert opinions.  This has proven true… but with two caveats – the “crowd” sampled has to have general knowledge of the subject and the subject has to be one that can be objectively quantified.

The problem about rating so many things that are being rated is that for some – such as music, literature, cinema, etc. – technical excellence has little bearing on popularity and often what “the crowd” rates on are aspects having nothing to do with the core subject, such as rating on appearance, apparel, and appeal in the case of music or special effects in the case of cinema.

Thus, broad-scale ratings conceal as much as they reveal… if not more.  Yet everyone with a product is out there trying to get some sort of rating? Obviously, those with a product want a high rating to enhance the salability of their product or service.  But why do people/consumers rely so much on ratings?  Is that because people can’t think?  Or because that they’re so inundated with trivia that they can’t find the information or the time they need to make a decision?  Or because the opinion of others means more than their own feelings?

Whatever the reason, it seems to me that, in the quest for high ratings, the Dr. Jekyll idea of applying the wisdom of the crowd has been transformed into the Mr. Hyde insanity of the madness of the mob.


The Hullabaloo Over College Majors

Now that it’s the season for college graduation, once more the articles and commentaries are popping up everywhere – and most of them either tout certain undergraduate majors as “good” because employment in that field is up or bad because immediate job prospects aren’t as good.  What’s even worse is that politicians are getting into the act, some of them going so far as to suggest that students shouldn’t major in fields that don’t pay as well or where employment prospects are aren’t so good, with hints that government and universities shouldn’t offer aid to students interested in such fields.

There are enormous problems with the whole idea of over-emphasizing undergraduate collegiate majors, the first of which is that many students entering college don’t have the faintest idea what their true talents are or whether their interests match their abilities. This problem has worsened in the past several generations as the general academic rigor of high schools has declined and as more students enter colleges and universities without ever having been truly tested to the limits of their abilities.

The second problem is that the emphasis on a “profitable” major is also a growing emphasis on turning college into what amounts to a white-collar vocational school, rather than on an institution devoted to teaching students how to think and to learn on a life-long basis. Colleges themselves are buying into this by pushing departments into “accountability” and insisting that departments determine how many graduates are successful and employed in that field years after graduating.  But does that really measure success?

In addition, the emphasis on selecting a major based on future projected employability neglects two incredibly important factors.  The first is the student’s aptitudes.  A student who is weak in mathematics is highly unlikely to be particularly successful in fields that require that ability, no matter how many jobs exist.  Second, most students take four years or more to finish college.  Projecting what occupations will be hiring the most in four years is chancy.

As for the subjects students choose for their major, the “employability” measurements used are generally employment in the first year after graduation, and the differences in various fields aren’t that significant.  For example, in a recent Georgetown University study, there was only about a 10% difference in employment between the “worst” and “best” undergraduate majors. Such measurements strongly suggest that a student who likes a field and works hard to excel is more likely to land a job, even in a field where employment is not as robust, than a student who tries to game the employment field and who picks a major based on projected employment and earnings rather than on picking a field suited to his or her abilities. In short, it’s far better for students to be at the top of a field they like than at the bottom of one that they don’t.

More than a few studies have shown and projected that today’s educated workers will have changed fields of work three to four times between entering the workforce and retiring – and that today’s students will face even more need to change their field of work.  Such changes place a premium on the ability to think and to learn throughout life, not on a single set of skills tailored to one field or profession.  Yes, there are some fields where dedicated and directed learning is required from the beginning of college, but those fields are a minority and call for initial dedication.  They seldom attract students who are unsure of what they want to do in life or students with wide interests.

In the end, all the political and media concern about “appropriate” majors, despite protests to the contrary, ignores much of what is best about college and for the students by emphasizing short-term economic goals that cannot possibly benefit the majority of students.


Media Dumbing Down

When we first got satellite television some fifteen years ago, in the infrequent times we watched television, our tastes ran to channels like Bravo, A&E, History, and Biography. Now we almost never tune in those channels, or many others of the hundred available.  Why not?  Because over the last decade, those once-independent channels have been purchased by major networks, who changed the programming that made them attractive to us.

Where are the biographies of the Founding Fathers, the great industrialists, great painters, poets, revolutionaries, thinkers, architects, authors – or the other notables of the past and present?  They’re gone, replaced by hour after hour of “Notorious,” each hour devoted to some heinous criminal or another, or other uplifting shows like “Outlaw Bikers.”

As for the History Channel, where are the great events or pivotal points in history?  Also gone, replaced by documentaries on the history of plumbing and endless hours of “Swamp People” or “Pawn Stars.”

A&E used to provide a wide range of material, from architectural/history gems like “America’s Castles” to docudramas like “Catherine the Great” (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, no less). Now what is there?  Six straight hours of “Storage Wars!”

I love science… but I can’t watch most science shows anymore, not when they’re presented at a third-grade level and when, after a commercial break, the narrator repeats the last minute before the break, as if the viewing audience were developmentally disabled.

And the commercials, endless minutes, each one ending, I suspect, with the immortal words, “But wait!  There’s more.  If you order now…”

The movie channels aren’t much better, except for TCM, because each channel takes its turn with the same movie.  How many times do you want to see “Secretariat”… and I liked that one a lot?  But most aren’t that good…

Now… if I wanted, I could subscribe to every sports event offered in the United States and hundreds more from across the world… but March Madness is enough sports for us for the entire year.

Yes… satellite/cable television once was a good thing… until the media titans took over and turned it into a true triumph of capitalism… dollars over quality, and while the dollars are rolling in and the quality degrades further, the politicians in Washington are trying to gut public television, which is about all that’s left with offerings that aren’t dealing in endless moronic variations on pop culture, sex, violence, or sports.  But then, public media channels, supposedly regulated by the FCC for the people, are only about the dollars, aren’t they?

Political Dialogue and Analysis

With just a bit less than six months before the fall elections, in one sense, I can’t wait for the elections to be over, if only to get a respite from political news and sensationalism… but even that respite isn’t likely to be very long, because politics has become not only continuing news, but something resembling a spectator sport.  And like all spectator sports, the political arena is filled with commentary.  Unlike athletic spectator sports, where the acts of the players and the results can be seen immediately, in politics the results of political actions, laws, and policies, in the vast majority of cases, can’t be discerned clearly for years, if ever.

This allows everyone to comment with “equal validity,” because very few members of the public have the knowledge of economics and politics, as well as the patience, to wait and see how things actually worked out.  Nor do most people remember what did happen accurately.  So they tend to trust the commentator whose views most nearly mirror those, not necessarily the commentator or expert who’s most likely to be right.

One of the things that appalls me the most is how both parties distort not only each others’ positions, but also employ the most inaccurate comparisons, and truly inapplicable facts and comparisons.  What makes it worse is that very few commentators or talk show hosts, or columnists, have either the ability or the nerve to suggest that such distortions are doing extreme violence to accuracy [I won’t say “the truth,” because that’s become a pseudo-religious term] and relevance.

Some of the worse offenses to such accuracy lie in the fallacious ignoring of well-known and proven facts.  For one thing, economies react slowly, often ponderously, to changes in law and policy. So like it or not, Bill Clinton got a tremendous boost from policies enacted by the first President Bush, and in turn, the first President Bush was forced to raise taxes by the policies of his predecessor, a fact gloriously ignored by those who cite the great Reagan prosperity. Admittedly, in Clinton’s case, he had enough sense to continue them when he was under pressure to change them, but the conditions for his highly praised period of expansion lay in his predecessor’s actions.  Likewise, to blame President Obama for current high unemployment and recession when those conditions were created by policies created well before his election, and when the U.S. also has to absorb economic fall-out from all across the world, is politically easy, but factually inaccurate, especially when political gridlock in Congress has restricted his ability to attack the problem in the way he would like.  But few of his critics will admit that they’re judging him as much, if not more, by Congressional inaction than by his own acts.

Comparing one economic recovery, or non-recovery, to another is not only inaccurate, but disingenuous, because the underlying factors differ greatly, yet such comparisons are a staple in the political arena, because politicians and their aides have an addiction to the simple and superficially relevant.

In addition, some factors are beyond any President, or any Congress’s, ability to change.  Oil is a fungible global economic good, and, in the short run, no change in U.S. environmental, energy, economic, or tax policy is going to measurably lower the price of crude oil in the months ahead, although the Saudi actions to flood the market with cheaper oil will likely cause a temporary respite, at least until world economic activity picks up.  Unwise government action can, as Richard Nixon proved with his ill-fated experiment with price controls, cause gasoline and heating oil shortages and increase prices in the long term.

Another problem in assessing government/political actions is determining how effective preventative actions are… or accepting the benefits while disavowing the means.  We know that the U.S. safety net for the poor has in fact historically reduced overall poverty in the United States – but which programs really work the best?  Which are failures?  Which work, but are so inefficient that they should be replaced?  How many of all the Homeland Security measures are truly necessary?   Most Americans seem to have forgotten that before the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland actually caught fire, or that the Potomac River was actually toxic.  Or that before the enactment of the Clean Air Act, office workers in Pittsburgh often took a second white shirt to work because the first got so soot-filled by midday that it looked black and gray?  Instead of the debate being about drinkable water and breathable air, it’s become about whether environmental protection costs too much and slows or hinders job creation, and almost no commentator questions the terms of the debate.

As I’ve pointed out all too many times, there has not yet been any determination of personal accountability for the latest economic meltdown – and now we’ve had a reminder, in the recent Citibank derivatives loss/scandal, that neither Congress nor the President [either Bush or Obama] ever truly addressed the problem, but merely papered it over.  But I’ve never heard any commentator mentioning that – or attacking the corrupt culture of the financial world and those who lead it.

Instead, we get media and political emphasis on the irrelevant, the inaccurate, the inappropriate, and the inapplicable… and the worst part of it all is that it’s only going to get worse over the next six months.


Excellence and Self-Promotion

I grew up in a time and a place where blatant self-promotion was deeply frowned upon.  My father made a number of observations on the subject, such as “Don’t go blowing your own horn; let your work speak for you” or “The big promoters all lived fast lives with big mansions and died broke and forgotten.”  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that promotion and self-promotion have always been with us, dating back at least as far as Ramses II, who, at the very least, gilded if not falsified, in stone, no less, his achievements in battle.  And to this day most people who know American history [a vanishing group, I fear] still think that Paul Revere was the one who warned the American colonists about the coming British attack on Concord – largely because of the poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which promoted Paul Revere, possibly because Longfellow couldn’t find enough words to rhyme with Samuel Prescott, the young doctor who actually did the warning after Revere was detained by the British.

Still… in previous times, i.e., before the internet age, blatant self-promotion was limited by economics, technology, and ethics, and there were more than a few derogatory terms for self-promotion.  And who remembers when the code of ethics of the American Bar Association banned advertising by attorneys?  Lawyers who tried to promote themselves publicly were termed ambulance chasers and worse… and disbarred from the profession. The same ethics applied to doctors and pharmaceutical companies.  Of course, there were never many restrictions on politicians, and now, unsurprisingly, there are less.

Unhappily, in field after field, excellence in accomplishment alone is seldom enough for success any more.  For more than modest success, excellence also requires massive promotion and/or self-promotion, even among authors. Some of us try relatively tasteful self-promotion, by attempting enlightening and hopefully entertaining websites, such as this.  Others go for a more sensational approach, and for some, no excess is too much.  From what I’ve observed lately, massive promotion and mere marginal competence in writing, along with cheap wares, results in sales that far outshine good entertainment or excellent writing that does not enjoy such promotion. One of the associated problems is that promotion or self-promotion takes time, effort, and money — and all detract from time, effort, and resources an an author can devote to the actual writing

Several years ago, Amazon embarked on a campaign to persuade people rating books to use their real names, rather than pseudonyms, because authors [yes, authors] were using aliases or the aliases of friends to blatantly praise their own work, and in some cases, to trash competing works. I have no doubts that the practice continues, if slightly less blatantly.

In today’s society especially, my father’s advice about not blowing your own horn leaves one at a huge disadvantage, because amid the storm of promotion and self-promotion  all too few people can either finds one’s unpromoted work or have the time or expertise to evaluate it… and if someone else blows a horn for you, it’s likely to be off-key and playing a different tune.


The “Competitive/Comparative” Model in Teaching

The local university just announced a merit pay bonus incentive for faculty members, and the majority of the Music Department greeted the plan with great skepticism, not because they opposed recognition of superior accomplishment… but because the proposed structure was essentially flawed.  In fact, for many university departments, and for most schools, as well as many businesses and corporations, such “merit” awards will always be fatally flawed.

Why?  Because all too many organizations regard their employees and even their executives as homogenous and interchangeable parts, even when duties, skills, responsibilities, work hours, and achievements vary widely, and those variances are even greater in the academic community and yet paradoxically, in terms of administration and pay, they’re even less recognized than in the  corporate world.

Take a music department, for example, with instrumentalists, pianists, vocalists, composers, music educators, and musicologists.  How, with any sense of fairness, do you compare expertise across disciplines?  Or across time?  Is the female opera director who built a voice program from nothing over 15 years, who has sung on low-level national stages intermittently, who is a noted reviewer in a top journal in her field, and who serves as a national officer in a professional organization more to be rewarded than the renowned pianist who won several prestigious international competitions and performs nationally, but who limits his teaching to the bare minimum?  Or what about the woodwind player who was voted educator of the year for both the university and the state, who is known regionally but not nationally  as a devoted and excellent teacher? Or the percussionist who revitalized the percussion program and performs on the side with a group twice nominated for Grammies? Or the soprano who sings in an elite choral group also nominated for a Grammy?

Then add the fact that all of them are underpaid by any comparative standard with other universities [which also indicates just how hard music faculty jobs are to find and hold]…and with other departments, even though the music faculty work longer hours as well as evenings and weekends, and the fact that the annual “merit pay” award would be a one-time annual payment of $1,000-$2,000 to only one faculty member.  In essence, the administration is attempting to address systemic underpayment and continued inequalities with a very small band-aid, not that the administrators have much choice, given that the legislature won’t fund higher education adequately and tuition increases are limited.

In primary and secondary schools, merit pay has become a huge issue, along with evaluating teachers.  Everyone, even teachers, agrees on the fact that good teachers should be rewarded and bad ones removed.  But determining who is good or average, and who gets paid what is far, far, harder than it looks, which is why most teachers have historically opposed the concept of merit pay, because in all too many cases where it has been actually implemented it’s gone to administration or parent “favorites,” who are not always the best teachers.  A competent teacher in an upper-middle-class school where parents are involved and concerned should be able to boast of solid student achievement on tests, evaluations, etc.  A brilliant, dedicated, and effective teacher in some inner city schools may well be accomplishing miracles to keep or lift a bare majority of students to grade level, while a competent teacher may only have a few students on grade level.  Yet relying on student test scores would suggest that the first teacher of these three deserved “merit pay.”  And in “real life,” the complications are even greater.  How do you compare a special education teacher with standard classroom teachers, even in the same school, let alone across schools with different demographics?

In addition, when teachers feel overworked and underpaid, and many, but not all, are, offering merit pay tends to turn people into competing for the money — or rejecting the entire idea.  I’ve seen both happen, and neither outcome is good.   Yet the underlying principle of ratings and “merit pay” is that such comparisons are possible and valid.  So far, I’ve yet to see any such workable and valid plan… and neither have most teachers. And when merit pay is added in with all the other problems with the educational system that I’ve discussed in other posts, all merit pay usually does is make the situation worse.  It’s an overly simplistic solution to a complex series of problems that few really want to address.  But then, what else is new?



“Willing” It to Be?

Last year, a voice professor listened, aghast, as a talented, but still far from top soprano vocal student announced she was going to forgo getting the more demanding Bachelor of Music degree and settle for a straight B.A., because she really didn’t need the extra work to get into the graduate school of music that was her choice. Needless to say, this spring the voice student received both her B.A. and an unequivocal rejection from graduate school. This particular scenario is becoming more and more common, according to the professor, who has been teaching at the collegiate level for over 30 years, is also a national officer of the National Opera Association, and, incidentally, is my wife.  She didn’t mean the rejection from graduate school, although that is also becoming more common in the field of music, particularly for women, because more women want graduate degrees and the competition is becoming more and more intense, but the growing tendency of students to make plans based on what they want, with no consideration of their abilities and no real understanding of the fields that they wish to enter.

In voice, for example, as my wife puts it, “good sopranos are a dime a dozen.”  For a soprano to get into a top-flight graduate school, she must not only have an outstanding voice, but excellent grades, performing experience, and a demonstrated work ethic.  On the other hand, the requirements for a bass, baritone, or tenor, while stiffer than they used to be, are not so demanding, for at least two reasons.  First, all operas and most musical theatre pieces have more male roles.  Second, not nearly so many men are interested in vocal performance, and many of those who do simply lack a work ethic.  So a hard-working male voice student with a decent voice and good grades may well have a better chance at both graduate school and a career than an outstanding soprano, because there are so many outstanding sopranos and fewer roles for them, not to mention the fact that there are also more tenured and tenure track university voice positions for tenors, basses, and baritones than for sopranos and mezzo-sopranos.

This tendency for young people to ignore reality is far from limited to the fields of performance. I’ve certainly seen it in the field of writing.  Every year I run across dozens of young would-be writers convinced that they’ll be published, if only they can get an “in” with an agent or an editor… or that, once they finish their epic, they’ll self-publish it as a e-book, and the world will reward them by purchasing tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. And I’ve read enough of what they’ve written to see why most of them can’t find an editor or agent.  But, I have to admit, occasionally, an author will make the big time through self-promotion and self-publishing –  and those authors were usually rejected by editors or publishers not because what such authors have written was poorly written, but because what they wrote was outside the boundaries of what “conventional” wisdom believed was popular. Such successes will happen… in perhaps in one in a thousand cases. I can name several cases where it has…at most a handful over thirty years.

I’m not knocking either ambition or dreams, but I am knocking the misleading idea that students can do anything they want, if they only work hard enough.  As I’ve said before, there’s a huge difference between “be all you can be” and “you can do anything you want.”  We all have both talents and skills… and limitations.  And willing yourself to be successful in areas where those skills don’t exist or are modest at best is usually an exercise in futility.

You can’t simply “will” something to happen because you want it badly enough.  Wanting it badly enough is merely desire.  Beyond desire, to reach a goal requires talent and polished skill in the field, knowledge of the field, and a willingness to work one’s way up through long and grinding work. A noted chef declared a few weeks ago that almost none of the young people seeking to become chefs in his restaurants ever wanted to start at the bottom.

If you don’t have the basic tools and mental or physical abilities required in the field, all the work in the world won’t help.  If you have the talent, but not the work ethic, you won’t make it, either.  And even if you have all of that, sometimes you might not, either, not because you aren’t capable, but because there are only so many openings at the top of any field… and sometimes it just takes luck and timing to go from being near the top to the very top.

In the field of classical music, for the past decade, professional performers and experienced music professors have been telling students just these points – and yet, very few of them, or their parents… or the politicians, appear to be listening. In the area of writing, I’ve witnessed many of my colleagues making the same points, and, frankly, I imagine this has occurred in other professions as well… so why aren’t the students listening?  Is it a media culture that shouts louder that anyone can be anything? Or is it a national epidemic of wishful – or willful – thinking? I have to wonder.

Patriarchy, Politics, and Religion

This past Wednesday, the lead story on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune was entitled [unsurprisingly] “Multiplying Mormons expand into new turf.”   The story was based on the latest once-a-decade U.S. Religion Census.  According to the Religion Census, the fastest growing religions in the United States are Islam, the LDS Church, and Evangelical Protestant churches.  The single largest Christian faith is still the Catholic Church.  I find this combination rather unsettling, because, despite their theological and sectarian differences, all of these faiths share one commonality.  Despite all protests to the contrary, all are highly patriarchal/paternalistic and sexually chauvinistic and effectively place men in a higher socio-theologic position.

In addition, the three nominally Christian faiths [I’m including the Mormons, because they consider themselves Christians, even as some Christian faiths do not] have a large and growing presence on the political front, particularly within the Republican party. No matter what people do or don’t claim, in the end what people and what the politicians who represent them believe tends to find expression in the political dialogue, in proposed legislation, and, eventually, in law.

Once upon a time, the vast majority of the United States was more highly religious than it is today, and there were considerable sectarian differences and beliefs.  Because of those fierce differences, in effect, the founding fathers created a system that attempted to keep religion out of government… and it worked for quite some time.  I’d submit that it worked because religion was a key issue for a great many people, possibly a massive majority, and no one wanted any other faith to gain an advantage through government.  But times have changed, and although 80% of Americans claim to be “Christian,” only about 50% of Americans actually actively belong to any type of Christian congregation, and another 16% are professed or practicing atheists.

This suggests that close to half the population doesn’t possess the same burning concern about religion as it once did… but the first political problem is that these more “moderate believers” and non-believers are in the position of attacking religion or “morality” when they oppose the attempts of the “true believers” to enact religious-based standards as part of government policies and law, even when those standards effectively discriminate against women. The second problem is that the entire movement of true equal rights for women is essentially a secular movement.  It has to be, because with the exception of a few faiths with very small followings [such as Christian Science or the Wiccans], the vast, vast majority of all organized religions have a paternalistic and chauvinistic tradition, and only a few of those faiths have made much effort to change those traditions.

While there are exceptions, in those countries dominated by paternalistic religions, in general, women have fewer, and in many cases no rights.  Yet here in the United States, those religious faiths showing the greatest gains in adherents are those that are fundamentalist and patriarchal. But whenever women raise the issue, such as in the recent Democratic Party effort to point out that Republican legislative initiatives are a “War on Women,” the general reaction is that women are over-reacting. And some Republican partisans have even suggested that the current administration’s efforts to strengthen women’s access to birth control and contraception were a war on freedom of religion.

But, of course, that does raise the question of whether freedom of religion extends to using legislation to reinforce the historical patriarchal male domination of women has any place in a nation that supposedly prides itself on equality.

Spaceflight Fancy?

I recently read an interview with the noted biologist E. O. Wilson, who is rather eloquent on the need for a far more environmentally conscious public, and I was agreeing with much of what he said – until I got to the part of the interview where he essentially said that human space travel was a dangerous delusion that should be scrapped, and that, if treated properly, the earth can provide for humanity for as long it needs s place to live.  Now… I understand what he was saying in one sense, because there is no physical way that we could ever move even a significant minority of human beings off Earth to another locale.  The earth is likely to be habitable for far longer than the existence of any previous species in the history of the planet, but without greater environmental awareness and action, that habitability for humans will be threatened, if not destroyed.

Am I an unrealistic dreamer in wanting humanity to reach beyond one planet – even if only a tiny minority of men and women do so?  Or am I a realist, considering that at least once a large space object struck earth and the resulting ecological and physical disasters wiped out thousands of species, among them the dinosaurs?

One of the better traits of human beings is to reach beyond the here and now, to dream of what might be.  A second trait is that we tend to do better when we’re pursuing dreams, even impossible or impractical dreams.  We certainly made far greater strides in many fields, including technology, when we were engaged in the space race with the USSR – regardless of the motivations behind that gigantic effort.  Is it mere coincidence that the ancient Egyptian civilization that pursued its dreams of immortality, however flawed the basis of those dreams, was also the longest lasting?

We also have a tendency to become insulated and self-seeking when we don’t pursue dreams, as at present, when political and social conflict after conflict is taking place in the United States, and elsewhere, over who gets control over what.  The entire debate over healthcare is an example.  Rather than finding ways to expand healthcare coverage to those who don’t have it, all the powerful political factions are arguing over why this group and that group shouldn’t have to pay for it – an argument along the lines of “I’ve got mine; you get your own.”  The anti-immigrant debate follows the same logic, ignoring the fact that the nation made massive strides in the past based on immigrant contributions.

The science budgets of almost all major nations, except the Chinese, are dwindling, and certainly U.S. politicians have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear on all but modest scientific studies.

And what are the dreams of today? A better tiny gadget for introspection [the I-phone], video games with super graphics, the establishment of a theo-political state, the amassing of great concentrations of wealth, the celebritization of society?

No thank you, I’d prefer the dreams of endless space, and the wonders of the stars. What about you?