The Happiness of Self-deceit

October 1, 2020

Maybe I’ll perform a science experiment on myself. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’ll lie to myself whenever I feel like it. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’ll never lie to myself. Fridays and Saturdays, I just won’t talk to myself. Sundays, I rest.

At the end of each day, I’ll write a reflection in my journal and rate my daily happiness. My hypothesis is that I’ll be happiest on the days I lie to myself.

Let’s Monetize Justice

October 1, 2020

Somebody actually published one of my crazier ideas. It’s a libertarian site, and many would argue crazy ideas are the only kind they publish. I think there’s actually a shift in libertarian circles to include younger generations, which means to incorporate environmental and social justice ideas while maintaining a libertarian core. For the last 50 years, libertarian thought (and especially the Libertarian Party) has been nearly equivalent to an anti-tax agenda. I wonder if “leadership” (whatever that may be) saw its audience aging, and is trying to adapt.

My article at Being Libertarian:

This essay examines the possibility for a crime-prevention program that is neither punitive nor a safety net. The proposal is that the state monetize justice by providing payments to communities based on a crime-prevention score. Such a program would not necessarily redistribute wealth, as a high-income community would receive the same payment as a low-income community with the same prevention score. It would be defined by rights, rather than needs, and therefore meet the requirements of procedural justice with an effect similar to redistributive programs.

The Real Problem with the Ending of Game of Thrones

July 20, 2020

It’s popular to hate the last season of Game of Thrones, but for all the wrong reasons. Most of them come down to fans spending eight years watching a show that spurns Hollywood endings, getting upset at the lack of a Hollywood ending. 

The real disappointment with the series finale is the likely violation of the law of conservation of energy in the torching of King’s Landing. It is nearly inconceivable that a dragon could exhale that much heat (dragon-fire is much hotter than your fireplace) on any kind of reasonable diet.

Approximately how many calories did the dragon burn (literally) while destroying King’s Landing? And how many goats is that?

Method. An average blast of dragon-fire is sufficient to melt one Iron Throne. The dragon, Drogon, demonstrates this when he destroys the throne room. The chemical properties of iron can then be used to calculate the amount of energy in an average dragon-fire blast.

The number of blasts depicted in the sack of the city, multiplied by the energy per average blast, will yield the total energy expended. Converting energy to calories, and multiplying by goats per calorie, will give an answer in terms of goats.


Heat = mass of iron throne * specific heat of iron * melting temperature of iron

First, find the mass of the iron throne using mass = volume * density. Based on visual assessment of people sitting on the Iron Throne, it is 3x the volume of small person, such Geoffrey or Daenerys. That gives it a volume of 1.5 * 105 cm3. The density of iron is 8 g/cm3. So, the Iron Throne has a mass of 1.2 * 103 kg. That is roughly the mass of a small car, which seems right intuitively.

The specific heat of iron is 460 J/(kg*K) and the melting point of iron is 1770 K

Plugging the numbers into the formula, we get:

Heat = (1.2 * 103) * 460 * 1770 = 109 J of energy in an average Drogon fire blast.

There are 36 on-screen blasts of dragon-fire in the sack of the city, including the attack on Euron’s fleet. The total energy Drogon expended in burning King’s Landing is therefore 3.6 * 1010 joules.

Now, we need to convert joules to calories and multiply by goats/calorie to determine diet and whether, as I suspect, energy conservation was violated.

There are roughly 4000 food calories in a joule, so Drogon burned 1.4 * 1011 calories in the sack of King’s Landing.

There are roughly 13,000 calories in a goat, or 8 * 10-5 goats/calorie. 

Calories * Goats/Calorie = 107 goats. That means Drogon had to eat 10 million goats in order burn the city as depicted, which is completely unrealistic.

This is the real way the writers ruined the whole show.

Simplifying assumptions.

  1. Drogon’s energy expenditure in melting the Iron Throne is the average for one of his dragon-fire blasts.
  2. The temperature of the Iron Throne prior to being melted is low enough to be ignored
  3. The number of Drogon’s blasts shown on screen is a fair approximation of the total.
  4. Energy requirements of metabolism and flight were ignored.


  1. Dragon Diet
  2. Calories in Whole Animals (I equated a roe deer with a goat)
  3. Burning the City
  4. Discussion at Physics Forums

Why I Like James Baldwin

May 31, 2020

The best philosophy builds a model of how the world works. It’s a web of belief. Reading it gives you a sense of how the thinker sees the world.

Mundane philosophy (most of mine, I’m afraid), is more in the point-counterpoint vein. What’s a valid argument for this or that claim? “Prove it!” Even if the philosopher does, in fact, “prove it,” the philosophy falls short of the best. It has to tie its truths together to create a larger picture.

The philosophy of someone I may disagree with, but who ties his beliefs together into a coherent belief system, is the best challenge. I learn more from it than isolated logical arguments that are merely correct.

Esquire has republished an interview with Baldwin from 1968 with many of these features. It shows a mind running questions through a model of how race in America works, and the model is built from experience very different from my own. Some parts are also historically valuable, such as his interest in segregation and skepticism of unions.

What causes the eruptions, the riots, the revolts- whatever you want to call them- is the despair of being in a static position, absolutely static, of watching your father, your brother, your uncle, or your cousin- no matter how old the black cat is or how young- who has no future. And when the summer comes, both fathers and sons are in the streets- they can’t stay in the houses. I was born in those houses and I know. And it’s not their fault.


And a video…






Sonny Rollins

May 16, 2020

Damn, there’s a lot of great and historic music on the Internet nowadays.


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

May 16, 2020

Writing in the voice of the character is good. Over-educated narrative for the doctor, adolescent narrative for the adolescent, angry but sophisticated vocabulary for the itinerant Marxist. It makes it easier to see and feel as the character does. This story does that very well. The effect is especially pronounced, and the contrast the starkest, for Dr. Copeland and Mick.

The ensemble of characters is nicely diverse. An adolescent girl, an African-American grandfather, and a deaf mute in the same cast, with an aim to understand each in the light of the other. It allows multiple views of each character in a natural way: in their own words, and from the point-of-view of others.

Singer is a bit too symbolic. I don’t like overt symbolism.

They are all experiencing hardship: poverty, death, racism, adolescence, illness. Despite this commonality, they have different worldviews that are often clashing worldviews. They tend to see their differences more than their common bond, and often dislike each other. The universally liked one is the deaf mute, the most easily projected upon like a blank screen, most misunderstood, and symbolically suicidal.

Each has a pivotal life-experience in the story, although that experience never directly involves the other main characters.

It captures a time and place in American culture very well, and a time and place in its characters lives. It’s a bit slow, in the way that character-driven stories always are, but very thoughtful. It’s really hard to believe she wrote it when she was 23. It seems too full of insight and wisdom.

Privacy in a Shared World: Vacillating on Vaccines

July 4, 2019

Obviously, you have the right to harm others. 

Competition provides the classic case.  You may open your coffee shop next to mine, and “steal” my customers without regard for how much it harms me. That’s a capitalist example, but non-economic competition has winners and losers too. You have the right to “steal” lovers, compete for status and parking spots, and generally pursue your self-interest.

Most people are a little bit libertarian, albeit inconsistently. We believe in the right to make mistakes, yet they may harm our kids and others who depend on us. Self-destructive risks like alcoholism, double-bacon-cheeseburger consumption, and free solo rock-climbing are all natural parts of a free society.  Taking foolish risks also harms anyone who benefits from a social safety net (which is everyone), by draining resources. Nonetheless, our libertarian principles defend the right to be a fool, even in parents and even when it weakens safety nets.

Most people are a little bit socialist—albeit inconsistently—and socialist government harms people by design. Principles such as “the greatest good for the greatest number” and “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” imply a right to harm minorities.

Examples of legal freedoms that harm others abound. Having more than roughly two children in an overpopulated world and paying less tax than average are two ways people can take more from society than they give. Automobiles impose risks of lung disease and environmental damage on everyone, presumably without the consent of some.

Enter (stage left, or something): the public debate about vaccines and “anti-vaxxers.” Should children have to be vaccinated in order to attend school?

The usual argument for banning unvaccinated kids from school is that they harm others, by needlessly increasing risk. It’s like drunk driving: wrong even if it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s playing Russian Roulette with someone else’s health.

The problems:

  • It’s not necessarily wrong to harm others.
  • Driving is a legal privilege. Controlling your own body is a natural right.
  • Needless driving violates all the same principles as needless non-vaccination.
  • Most people consider education a right.
  • Children are innocent.

Driving needlessly, or driving needlessly large vehicles, is no different in principle from driving drunk. Intoxication merely amplifies the risk of driving; it doesn’t originate the risk. So, the argument used against anti-vaxxers applies to unnecessary driving as well, but even more strongly, since driving is a far weaker freedom than bodily autonomy. Why don’t we punish needless driving?

The last two points, that children are innocent and have a right to education, would make it wrong to deprive children of a free education because they’re unvaccinated, even granting the point that they should be vaccinated. Government must find remedies that don’t punish the innocent.

Why do people still think rights are surrendered when they harm others? Harming differs from wronging, and the distinction is ancient. Artistotle, possibly Socrates, discuss it. It’s older than Jesus, and most people know his morals.

Why pick on anti-vaxxers (part one)?

What do the SUV epidemic and vaccine hesitancy have in common? Both needlessly risk injuring others. Are the risks comparable?

Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks caused over 1,500 excess pedestrian fatalities in 2016, according to the Detroit Free Press. These are fatalities that wouldn’t have occurred had the pedestrians been hit by a car. A recent update found the trend is steepening due to a spike in SUV sales. In 2019, SUVs could easily kill 2,000 pedestrians who would have survived the same impact with a car.

Meanwhile, the measles has caused three deaths since 2000. That’s 0.17 deaths per year due to measles, and 2,000 pedestrian deaths due to the SUV.

You are approximately 12,000 times more likely to die because Americans just have to drive two tons of bling to the grocery store than you are because of measles.

What if no one got the measles vaccine? The next zombie apocalypse would ensue, if you believe the media, but is it true? Roughly 450 people died of measles the year before the vaccine was invented, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Factoring in the population increase, measles would now kill about 800 Americans per year if no one were vaccinated.

The CDC reports that about 800 people died by falling out of bed in 2017.

If the entire country were unvaccinated, measles would be as likely to kill you as a fall from bed. Admittedly, falling out of bed isn’t harm done to another (unless you were hogging or pushed them), but it’s not a scene from Night of the Living Dead either.  The excess fatalities caused by our cultural addiction to Grand Cherokees would still be more than double the fatalities caused by measles, if there were no vaccine at all.

Other pathologies of driving

The study by the Detroit Free Press only looks at pedestrian deaths. It doesn’t include excess deaths caused by collision with a smaller vehicle. Occupants of passenger cars are seven times more likely to die in a head-on crash with an SUV than with identical cars, according to a report from the University at Buffalo. 

The SUV’s size causes crashes around it, by obstructing lines of sight. The sedan approaching a crosswalk alongside an SUV cannot see the pedestrian crossing in front of the SUV, and the pedestrian cannot see the sedan. Similar dynamics hold for bikes. Reducing the field of vision of other people increases the risk they pose to each other.

Air pollution kills, and the SUV epidemic is causing more of it. The damage done includes lower life expectancy, higher risk of asthma, higher risk of cancer, and a higher rate of low birth-weight babies.

Sport utility vehicles kill.

Why pick on anti-vaxxers (part two)?

Did you know anti-vaxxer belief in America is the work of Russian spies? Here’s a typical headline from the Oregonian: “Anti-vaccination misinformation fueled by Russian propagandists”. Another headline warned: “Russian trolls spreading vaccine misinformation.” The Western media is full of depictions of Vladimir Putin as trying to “win a second Cold War” with disinformation on social media. 

If you want to blame government (and who doesn’t?), you don’t have to cross an ocean. Many states and the federal government actively promote fringe medicine.  What’s true of anti-vaxxer belief is equally true of naturopathy, and many states license naturopathic doctors.

Consider, for example, Portland physician Dr. Hillary Andrews, N.D. She is licensed by the State Board of Naturopathic Medicine. The Board is authorized by the legislature and its members are appointed by the Governor. She can practice as a primary care physician in Oregon.

Dr. Andrews takes a “reasonable people can disagree” approach to vaccines. She promises vaccine-free prevention of the flu, whooping cough and tetanus. She claims that the standard approach to vaccines “is archaic and may be unsafe”.  She links autism and vaccines, offering a test for genes that “may be linked to autism and other potential negative effects of immunization.” (Note, since this essay was begun, Dr. Andrews has announced a sabbatical and suspended her two Web sites.)

Dr. Andrews is a mainstream naturopathic physician. The Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OANP) features her on its Web site. Skepticism of medical science is a standard part of naturopathy, as established by the Oregon legislature and governor.

The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) takes the same, ambivalent stance on vaccines. Its official position statement says: “some of the current and past immunizing agents have been associated with significant morbidity and are of variable efficacy and varying necessity.” Translation: Some vaccines may cause disease or be useless.

Notice that the OANP and AANP deploy the terms “Oregon” and “American,” not “Russian.”

Multiple peer-reviewed studies report vaccine-hesitancy among naturopathic doctors. One investigation found that children treated at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine had lower rates of vaccination than average. Research on American practitioners reaches similar conclusions: “Most practitioners reported that they did not actively recommend immunizations and fewer than half of the nonphysician practitioners reported that they would refer a 2-week-old neonate with a fever to a medical doctor or emergency medical facility.”

A peer-reviewed study of naturopathic medical students found: “anti-vaccination attitudes were more prevalent in the later years of the programs.” 

Skepticism of vaccines sits squarely within the spirit and praxis of naturopathic medicine. Simultaneous antipathy toward anti-vaxxers and support of naturopaths is utterly contradictory. The government’s simultaneous attacks on anti-vaxxers and licensing of naturopathic doctors is discriminatory. 

What’s true of Oregon is true of most of states and Canadian provinces. New York, which has had outbreaks resulting in over 300 cases of measles in 2019, is considering approving naturopaths to practice as physicians.

The U.S. government grants millions of dollars each year to research the medical efficacy of remote prayer, telepathic qi gong (Oriental medicine), and the homeopathic use of rat poison.

Attack the mothership, not the drones


Naturopathy is the mothership of pseudo-science. Few controlled, unbiased clinical trials support any of its claims, particularly the claims that differ from conventional medicine. For example, one major naturopathic college recommends treating HIV-positive patients with St. John’s wort and garlic.

The pseudoscience has yet to be invented that doesn’t rely on dishonesty and hoaky claims about “energy”. Sure enough, the government tells us: Naturopathic doctors  are educated in conventional medical sciences, attend medical schools with admission requirements like those of conventional medical schools, and learn the standard medical curriculum. And, sure enough, our tax dollars also tell us that naturopathy “works on a subtle yet powerful electromagnetic level”. That’s a direct quote from the state Oregon. 

In fact, a license to practice naturopathy requires no medical residency, and is acquired in roughly half the time of a medical license. The state of Oregon’s Web site misleads the public.  (Everything you’ve ever experienced, except gravity, works on a “powerful electromagnetic level.”)

Former naturopathic doctor Britt Hermes regularly debunks her former profession on her site Her clinic classes at an accredited naturopathic university entailed almost no direct patient contact. Hermes says of the training in general: “naturopathic clinical training is not on par with medical or osteopathic doctors and is in fact far less, in terms of quantity and quality — and also less than nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants”. 

Hermes goes on to say “naturopathic education exists in a bubble without critical oversight.” The professional associations have no transparency or accountability, and routinely misrepresent the rigor of the discipline. In words all state legislatures should heed, she says: “the AANP disseminates false information to lawmakers.” 

Naturopath Jeremy Appleton is a good proxy for science of his discipline, whatever that may be. Appleton earned his doctorate from the National College of Natural Medicine and taught at Bastyr University, both top-ranked naturopathic institutions. He has been a department chair and held a number of scientific positions, e.g., “Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs” for a supplement manufacturer.  He is licensed to practice medicine. So, what does government-approved, naturopathic science look like? Dr. Appleton reports that:

  • Pomegranates have “great power to heal and prevent disease” including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. (Source: his book on the pomegranate which he’ll sell you for $22.95)
  • The acai berry has “great promise in helping to….prevent cancer” (Source: his book on the acai berry, which he’ll sell you for $22.95)
  • Creatine helps treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, emphysema, stress, high cholesterol, heart attacks, muscular dystrophy, and neuromuscular disorders. (Source: his book on creatine, which he’ll sell you for $22.95)
  • A supplement called MSM can be used to treat arthritis, chronic pain, stress injuries, inflammation, scleroderma, lupus, interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, myasthenia gravis, allergies, cancer and snoring. (Source: his book on MSM, which he’ll sell you for $60. His co-author was accused of bribing an FDA investigator, although the jury deadlocked, and disciplined by the State of Oregon for writing prescriptions without keeping records.)

Articles by Dr. Appleton report that “Vegetable Extract Prevents Cervical Cancer”, and that many other herbs and supplements prevent cancer or have “anti-cancer effects”. A random sampling of his many articles finds none that refute a naturopathic hypothesis, making the enterprise reminiscent of astrology. The scientific method requires falsifiability: the ability to make you change your mind. If there is no scientific method, there can be no standard of care, and the predictions of naturopathy are just horoscopes.

What’s the damage done? Cancer patients who forego conventional treatment and exclusively choose alternative medicine are 2.5 times more likely to die. Women with breast cancer fare the worst — with a 5.7 times higher death rate among those who choose only alternative therapies. Multiple studies agree, including a 2017 report from the National Cancer Institute: Alternative medicine kills.

Do naturopaths, like Russian troll-bots, harm others with their misinformation? Maybe that’s unfair, at least when the patients are adults and responsible for themselves. On the other hand, cancer patients are emotionally vulnerable,  which sets them up for exploitation. Who’s responsible for harm to the children of the “excess deaths” due to naturopathy? What if the cancer patient is a child, subjected to parental anti-scientific views? Anti-scientific views advanced by government-licensed physicians.

Does the government contribute to the damage done with the false reassurance of its licensing? Are we supposed to believe that relying on a “subtle yet powerful electromagnetic level” is less valid for measles than other conditions treated by naturopathic physicians?

Democracy is a popularity contest, and pseudo-science tells us what we want to believe. If scientific truths were easy, we wouldn’t have to discover them–we could just dream them up. So, the Deep South promotes Intelligent Design and denies global warming. Unfortunately, what’s true of the South and Creationism is equally true of the Pacific Northwest and naturopathic medicine. 

The measles outbreaks have nothing to do with Facebook or the Kremlin, and a lot to do with state government. If we really want evidence-based healthcare, the government needs to stop licensing quacks.

Privacy in a shared world

The case for anti-vaxxer belief is not the same as the case for their children’s right to an education. Anti-vaxxer belief may be mostly pseudo-science, but so what? The freedom to live your life according to your own belief, including mistaken belief, is a natural right. Some points favoring the right of unvaccinated children to a free education:

  • There is a right to control your own body.
  • There is a right to medical privacy.
  • Education is a right (some libertarians disagree).
  • Rights cannot be taken from innocent people, and children are innocent.
  • Rights cannot be taken because they harm society. Freedoms that can be taken away for the good of society are called “privileges.”
  • The government licenses naturopaths to practice medicine, and naturopathy supports anti-vaxxer belief.
  • Vaccines can cause harm, which is why many nations have a vaccine-injury compensation program.  The harm is probabilisitic, and the probability doubtless much smaller than anti-vaxxers think. Nonetheless, its existence makes vaccines a matter of personal judgement about one’s own body.

It’s the glaring hypocrisy that makes the antipathy toward anti-vaxxers prejudiced. Every ethical principle claimed to refute anti-vaxxers would, if true, be more applicable in refuting SUV drivers. In addition to ignoring the SUV epidemic and licensing naturopathy,  here are other examples of hypocrisy in the criticism of anti-vaxxers.

There’s a consensus among non-communists that a right isn’t forfeit when deemed contrary to the social good. For example, China used to have a “one family, one child” policy that made it illegal to have more than one child. Mandating vaccines has many similarities to regulating reproduction in an over-populated country. Both entail bodily autonomy, and clear social good in overriding that autonomy. Yet, most people regarded China’s policy as fascist.

Exxon-Mobile and other major oil companies funded a lot of research on global warming, All of it exonerated the oil companies. How rare! The tobacco industry produced scientific research proving tobacco isn’t addictive or carcinogenic. More rareness! The moral of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is not that there are no wolves. Quite the contrary, it is that a certain little boy deserved to be eaten. Life was harsh back in the day. Now, the vaccine manufacturers have funded research proving vaccines are perfectly safe. The research may be truthful, but perhaps it still deserves to be devoured by the wolf of cynicism. Could we settle on nibbled?

The explanation for double-standards like these is always power. Anti-vaxxers have neither the numbers to swing an election nor the money to buy one. The automotive  industry and its customers have both. The alternative medicine market is approaching $200 billion globally,  a nice tax base to a politician.

Looking forward

Those who want less contagion in schools can advance their goal by ending the licensing of naturopathy, homeopathy, and pseudo-medicine generally. They can also support free and appropriate education at home, such as with a home tutor or online education. It is more justifiable to block kids from physical school when online schools can meet their needs equally well (currently, they tend to be bad). More and better at-home options would also serve students most vulnerable to contagious disease.

We are confronted with one of the great unsolved mysteries of philosophy. Is the vaccination status of someone in a public place more like: health conditions generally (nobody’s business), or whether a partner is wearing a condom (definitely somebody’s business)? An explanation of the private-public duality of being human is essential to our construction of a complete moral philosophy.


A chart of some choices that pit the individual vs. society, and their characteristics.




Vaccines may harm mental health, or interfere with the immune system.

Air pollution makes COVID-19 more lethal. “The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from coronavirus,”

Air pollution study from spring 2020:

SUV Supremacy must be stopped:

Is Your Child a Pot Roast?

April 24, 2018

Do you want more choice in where you get your baby potatoes or your baby’s education?

I have a brilliant idea! We should create a system of government-run grocery stores. The government will run them according to majority-approved philosophies of food. Everyone will have to accept what is ruled best practice in food, because that’s how democracy works. We’ll subsidize these government-run grocery stores in order to provide free public nutrition.

Private grocery stores mostly won’t be able to compete with subsidized ones, but there are always niches. Health-food co-ops and splashy gourmet destinations could cater to hippy weirdos or the wealthy.

However, no government “vouchers” should be usable at private grocery stores. That would steal dollars from public nutrition.

Oh wait, my brilliant idea is really dumb.

Yet, the description does apply to a real case of how our society meets a fundamental need. Substitute “schools” and “education” in the proper spots above, and you have our system of public education.

Choice matters when many possibilities exist and your destiny is at stake. The connection between education and destiny requires no explanation. Here’s a sampling of the many possibilities:

• Benchmark-free education
• Assessment-heavy vs. assessment-light
• Lots of student choice vs. highly structured
• Lots of group-work and cooperative learning
• Lots of individual work (hey, there are no group transcripts)
• More philosophy, less literature and social studies (a study by the British Education Endowment Foundation found that teaching philosophy in elementary school improves language and math scores).
• Subjects emphasized according to economic importance, i.e. math, science, reading
• Less emphasis on subjects: described variously as phenomenon-based, interdisciplinary and holistic; aimed at understanding events and phenomena. (Finland has done this for years, and regularly tops international test scores while providing more vacation, more play, and less testing.)
• Subject specialization: arts, performing arts, science, engineering, language-immersion, etc.
Project-based learning
• More–much more–music and language in early childhood, because children learn those subjects best. (The German Socio-Economic Panel finds: “Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance….[kids who learn an instrument]…have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”)
• Hands-on vs. abstract
• Skills vs. creativity
• Responsible for the whole child vs. responsible for academics
• Lots of recess and play (recent Harvard study officially discovered the obvious: “Play is one of the most important ways in which children learn.”)
• Single-sex (some studies report substantial benefits, and others don’t)
• Multi-age classrooms
• Traditional humanities (emphasizes history of ideas, but also political power and heroes — “dead white males” — and most people find it boring).
• So-called “socialist” humanities (lives of women, marginalized groups, and the working class; might use A People’s History of the United States or Lies My Teacher Told Me as a textbook.)
• Direct instruction vs. inquiry-based or constructivist instruction

Some specific implementations include: Montessori, Playworks, Waldorf, Kipp, and other cultures with different philosophies of education and a well-educated public.

Finally, there are different beliefs about the relationship between individual and society, and accordingly different beliefs about the role of the school. In one view, the purpose of education is to preserve a culture:

….to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families, to have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

— Ronald Reagan

But, in another view, the purpose of education is to challenge a culture:

…. to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not… examine society and try to change it and to fight it.”

— James Baldwin

There’s no reason to financially penalize families for choosing any of these educational philosophies. Any reasonable approach to education should be allowed to compete for students as an equal (to suggest otherwise is a wee bit totalitarian). Government should not be picking winners and losers among philosophies of education.

Objections to school choice are rhetorical and narrow.

Standard union propaganda is that vouchers and charter schools “steal” money from public education. That falsely equates public education with government-run schools. The common-sense meaning of “public education” is just the education of the public. A child doesn’t cease to count as a member of the public because she goes to a private school. Public funding is not reduced or “stolen” because it is paid to a private, rather than government, school.

It is true that a voucher system, with no increase in public funding to back it, would decrease the total amount of money spent on education, because it would reduce the amount of private money spent on tuition. Currently, families of private schools pay for public education twice: once in taxes to fund government-run schools, and a second time in tuition for the school they actually want. A voucher system lets them only pay once, thus reducing total spending on education. But, it is merely rhetoric to say that’s stealing. It would make more sense to say that the current system of public education “steals” from families of kids who attend private schools, by taxing them for schools that don’t meet their needs.

Another common criticism is of particular cases, rather than the underlying idea. It may be true that many implementations of school choice are corrupted by politics. But, that’s like arguing all socialist ideas have been refuted, because, you know… Stalin and stuff. Showing that Betsy DeVos is wrong is not the same as showing that school choice is wrong (not that I’m comparing the Trump administration to Stalin, or anything).

School choice is not inherently conservative. Much government-run education in America features portraits of establishment heroes, a flag in every classroom, and regular recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s meager fare for families wanting a school on the James Baldwin model. Since governments represents majorities, reducing government control empowers the margins, source of society’s most interesting thinking. Less government control means more intellectual diversity, which is inherently more educational.

Suppose all so-called “public schools” are abolished. Public education is provided by the free-market and publicly funded. In other words, everybody gets “education stamps”, i.e. vouchers. In Medicaid, families with more expensive needs get more assistance. The same would be true of education, in the case of learning disabilities.

Such a scenario does not reduce government spending on public education, i.e., the education of the public. It’s merely a different model.

How would it be better? A reasonable libertarian position places the burden of proof on authority. Advocates of government monopoly, not their opponents, should have to go first and prove their case. Nonetheless, here are some good reasons to consider a subsidized, free-market approach to public education.

Less government means less politics.

Education is traditionally very political, and that harms it. The aforementioned propaganda is a typical example, and it’s trivial to imagine other ways damage is done when education is politicized.

Suppose you and other families want a type of education not offered by your district, say, more music in early childhood. How would that work traditionally? First, you would take your idea for a music-immersion school to the proper government agency. You would meet with an “education administrator”, an evolutionary descendant of politicians, who would nod politely and understand your feelings.

Since having your feelings understood was not your goal, your fellow parents and you are outraged. Since you are outraged, you make a lot of snarky Facebook posts and gain an audience with the superintendent who nods politely and understands your feelings.

You might try partnering with the teachers’ unions. Good luck! They see school choice as a threat to “public education” (by which they mean, unionized education). You could probably wrangle a meeting with a labor leader who would nod politely and understand your feelings.

Eventually, a reporter nibbles at the cheese of many angry parents, and your issue assumes its place in the natural order as a source of ad revenue for Google.

That’s the traditional account of public education in America. The stereotype always oversimplifies. Often as a result of grassroots activism by parents, school districts nowadays often offer a variety of approaches to education, such as publicly funded Montessori, magnet, and immersion schools. These options are often implemented as charter schools, precisely because parents’ power to choose has forced the institution of public education to adapt in order to stay relevant.

In general, more choice means less bickering about everything. It’s harder to blame the government for the lack of a music-immersion school, if the public can enroll in such a school without financial penalty yet nobody takes the initiative to start one. It’s also harder to complain if somebody does start a music-immersion school, and it can’t maintain sustainable enrollment. That’s true logically, but more importantly (since people hate logic), it is true psychologically. A society that expects the government to solve every problem will tend to have a blaming culture.

We keep hearing that education in America is broken, and international test scores prove it, and the reason it is broken is that it cares too much about test scores. Rather than engage in these illogical and endless arguments over whether “schools” (what schools? some schools? all? most?) emphasize testing too much, too little, or just the right amount, we should simply let parents choose whether they want a test-oriented school, or not.

Of course, maximizing school choice doesn’t mean lowering standards. The food supply is regulated and subject to standards, yet allows a free-market level of choice. You have to spend food stamps on real food, and you should have to spend vouchers on real education. Schools should not be allowed to deny global warming, promote religion, or teach respect for President Trump. The pursuit of truth has a few bare minimums.

More choice means better data for research.

We have farmer’s markets, food co-ops, Walmart, and Whole Foods, as well as organic, conventional, local, and free-range because people have both a) different philosophies about food, and b) the power to choose. Choice is what creates opportunities that the free-market fills, and the opportunities provide information about what people value and what works.

Equal funding for all legitimate philosophies of education means more kinds of schools. It means more tests of hypotheses about education, and that advances the science of education.

Maybe, by offering more choices, we meet more needs, and graduate more students. Maybe maximizing kinds of education maximizes human potential.

The bottom line is that educating is an art, just like raising a child is an art, and there are infinite ways to paint, sculpt or play music.

Monet serves one purpose, and Pollock another. They may serve the same purpose for different people, different purposes for the same person, or the same purpose for the same person at different times, and all the possible combinations in-between.

Usually I shop at my locally owned health-food store. Sometimes I want Safeway. Costco is just Walmart for liberals, and Whole Foods is so pretentious. Nonetheless, they all serve a purpose or they wouldn’t survive, and having a choice of whatever flourishes when everyone has choice is good.

A true free-market in education, actually identical to how we obtain groceries, may prove unworkable. Math is not a banana. (For one thing, kids like bananas.) The thought-experiment aims to sharpen thinking about schools and freedom, and especially to increase awareness of stereotypes and propaganda. Charter and private schools do not “steal” from public education: they educate the public, they are public education. School choice is not religious in principle. It is anti-dogma in principle, valuing the fit between school and student, asserting the validity of many paths. More school choice means less politics: more tests of hypotheses about schools, more science in the exploration of education, and more honesty.

Choice in education is morally equivalent to choice in how to live your life. If your life begins as a blank canvas, then your brushes and box of paints are your education, and everybody deserves a free choice of tools as they paint their masterpiece.



Music is good for your brain.

Jazz History, Race History

June 30, 2016

A lot of old jazz videos have entered the public domain, and can be seen on YouTube. This one is a fascinating study in so many ways:


Louis Armstrong nearly single-handedly invented the improvised solo, and thus what we now think of as jazz, with implications for rock as well (so-called “guitar gods” like Hendrix, Clapton, etc….). So, this is American history and music history in the making.

It also reminds me of a Miles Davis comment on Armstrong, acknowledging Armstrong’s legacy, yet adding something to the effect of “But I couldn’t stand all the smiling he did.” There’s some clowning in this video, presumably to please a white audience, seemingly a perfect fit for another Miles Davis observation on race:

White people have certain things they expect from Negro musicians — just like they’ve got labels for the whole Negro race. It goes clear back to the slavery days. That was when Uncle Tomming got started because white people demanded it. Every little black child grew up seeing that getting along with white people meant grinning and acting clowns. It helped white people to feel easy about what they had done, and were doing, to Negroes, and that’s carried right on over to now. You bring it down to musicians, they want you to not only play your instrument, but to entertain them, too, with grinning and dancing. –Miles Davis, 1962

Needless to say, a Miles Davis video roughly 30 years later, shows a very different demeanor:

In high school I was best in music class on the trumpet, but the prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn….

I don’t dig people in clubs who don’t pay the musicians respect. You ever see anybody bugging the classical musicians when they are on the job and trying to work?

Of course, there is nature as well as nurture. Armstrong was, by all accounts, a playful extrovert by nature, and that very playfulness probably led him down the path of increasingly improvised music. Davis was, by all accounts, a surly introvert, smiling so rarely he named one of his albums “Miles Smiles” in reference to his reputation (it’s one of my favorite Miles Davis albums, I might add).



Parental Homophobia

June 18, 2016

I’ve never seen a pride-based logo or meme for being the parent of a gay child. There are plenty of expressions of parental pride, such as “My child is an honor student at…”, and I once saw a bumpersticker proclaiming “My child can kick you honor student’s butt!” (I’m ashamed to say I giggled). And, there are many expressions of gay pride and straight support for the gay community. But, I’ve never seen an expression of specifically parental support.

Why does it matter? It’s widely reported that parental homophobia is very destructive, since it teaches the kids to hate themselves. It’s also a well-known cause of teen homelessness. Articles like these are increasingly common, and back in the late 90’s when I volunteered at an agency for homeless youth, we were told as part of our regular training that gay and lesbian kids being kicked out by their parents was a common cause of homelessness.

On that note, a few sketches of something that could go on a t-shirt, or become a meme in some way….

ppgc The triangle-heart combination seems a bit awkward, as a matter of graphic design. A friend suggested the pink triangle had a negative historical connotation, since it originated with the Nazis, although I think the gay community has completely reappropriated it.

Another style…..

rainbowheart ppgc

Some do-it-yourself design sites are set up to make this easy on a retail basis.

Maybe I’m out to lunch, having no personal experience with the issue. It’s just a thought that popped into my head after working with marginalized teens, reading articles such as the one from Rolling Stone, and then a story on NPR yesterday that the Orlando shooter may have had repressed same-sex interest. Basically, parents who support their LGBT children are good role-models for “at-risk” parents, so why not give them a vehicle to play that role?