A Snippet

Very busy day today.  No time to write much.  So here’s a snippet from one of my WIPs (one that should be released soon, if all goes well):


Special Agent Reid, FBI, stood up.  He removed his phone from his pocket and turned it on.

“We captured one of those…things…a little over a week ago.  He ignored being tazed.  Being shot didn’t even slow him down.  In fact, when we examined him later, we found no evidence of bullet wounds.”

“I thought you feds were better shots than that?” Tanner interjected.

Reid ignored the interruption. “We ended up piling bodies on him to subdue him.  In the process he killed two officers, including my partner, and put three others in the hospital.  He broke the first pair of handcuffs we put on him, leading to two more officers hospitalized before we restrained him with three pairs of handcuffs.”

Reid paused for a moment before continuing. “We’ve got him in a basement cell.  He goes comatose every dawn.  No attempt to wake him between the hours of sunrise and sunset has any effect.  No deliberate attempt, I should say.  The first day, we tried to remove him to the hospital wing.  The instant the attendants wheeled his stretcher into a room with a window, he woke.  He broke the restraints on the stretcher and knocked his attendants out of the way as he ran back into the elevator. His attendants only suffered minor injuries.  He was more interested in getting past them than in hurting them. Security footage shows that he collapsed on the closing of the doors.”

“Dani?” Ware said.

I nodded. “Legend and fiction have a mix of truth and falsehoods about vampires.  Early stories did not claim any particular aversion to sunlight.  The ‘burst into flames’ thing came with the movie Nosferatu.  Real vampires don’t.  Sunlight does hurt them and enough exposure will kill them, but it’s not a quick process.  It’s slow and agonizing.  Vampires do sleep during they day.  Young vampires drop with the first light of the rising sun only to awaken with the last ray of the setting one.  Old ones can remain awake for a couple hours of daylight, but no more.”

I nodded to Reid. “But as Agent Reid has seen, any vampire, when at immediate risk of sunlight exposure, will wake up long enough to evade that exposure and seek shelter.” I looked Reid in the eye. “You’re lucky that Gerald, or the thing that was Gerald, is as young as he is.  As you noted, his instinct was only to seek shelter.  He didn’t stop to kill along the way.”

“Thank you, Ms. Herzeg,” Reid ground out then turned to Ware. “Don’t interrupt me again.”

“Cram it,” Ware said. “This is my case.  You’re here as a courtesy.  You don’t want me to pick up a phone to your supervisor back in Seattle, do you?”

“Is that a threat, Detective?”

“You bet your ass, Special Agent.”

“Please,” I said softly. “Can we save it for the vampires?”

Ware turned to me then back to Reid. “If you would continue, Special Agent.”

“There’s not much more,” Reid said. “Except that about every three days someone in his vicinity would go nuts and try to free him.”

He stopped.  The room went silent for a moment.  After a few seconds, Ware said, “Thank you, Special Agent Reid.  Dani?”

“Vampires can…Push at people’s minds.  They’re limited in how often they can do it, how far they can reach, and how much they can Push a person into things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Most things don’t change for a vampire as they get older.  They don’t get physically stronger or faster.  Older vampires do get better, and stronger, at Push.  For a new vampire like that one, reaching people he can’t see, and forcing them to free him, once in three days is about right.”

Ware nodded. “Can you tell us a bit more about what we’re up against?”

“There has been fiction about vampires, before that, legends.  Forget most of what you’ve read.  It’s wrong, stuff the writer created to tell a good story.  Vampires are not pale, romantic creatures of the night.  Instead of being lean and sallow, they tend to puffiness as though bloated, and dark ruddy complexions.  They are bloodthirsty.  Well, Antisocial Personality Disorder is as close as you’ll get in human terms.  They are utterly self centered and utterly arrogant.  They are stronger and faster than humans.  Most weapons have no effect on them.  Shoot them with a lead bullet, and it’s like shooting smoke.  Cut them with steel, and there isn’t even a wound.”

“How about a stake through the heart?” Blake asked, his first words since saying he didn’t believe in vampires.

“Immobilizes them,” I said. “Doesn’t kill them.  Remove the stake and they return…as the people at your morgue found out to their cost.”

“How do we kill them, then?” Tanner asked.

“Two ways are reliable.  One is to behead them, stuff their mouths with garlic or communion wafers–don’t ask me why communion wafers work because I don’t know–and sew their mouths shut.  With the rising of the sun, they are true dead and cannot be brought back.  The other way is to burn their bodies to ash.” I pulled my lips back, more a baring of teeth than a smile. “I like to do both.  Just to be sure.”

“Anything else, Ms. Herzeg?” Ware asked.

I nodded. “I’ve seen vampires fight.  Their fangs, even their hands and feet, create wounds that heal only slowly.  They can even kill one another true dead that way.  Something to think of if we can get them to turn on each other.”

I shrugged then continued. “For all their strengths, vampires have weaknesses too.  They’re vulnerable to sunlight.  You can’t rely on it to kill them, but they have to seek shelter quickly or they will die.  Most of the daylight hours, they’re immobile and insensate.  And they tend to be few in numbers.  And while they can sometimes find humans willing to work for them, such servants never last long in the care of psychopaths who see them as food.  ‘Happy Meals with legs’ as one writer put it.  Historically vampires used two strategies to overcome their weaknesses.  One was to operate in secret.  They strike in the darkness from stealth, leaving no witnesses, or at the very least none that anyone important would believe.  If no one believes in vampires, no one hunts them, and the vampires can hunt with impunity.” I stopped and licked my lips.

“You said there were two ways?” Ware gestured for me to continue.

I nodded. “The other way is terror.  They keep people so terrified, so off balance, that they can’t coordinate, use their greater numbers and ability to operate in daylight to hunt and destroy the vampires.”

“And that appears to be what’s happening here,” Ware said. “The government has become aware of the existence of vampires.” Ware’s eyes flicked to Reid.

Reid slapped a hand on the table. “Are you saying this is our fault?”

Ware looked at Reid for several seconds. “No, Special Agent.  By the very rules the vampires operated from, it was the vampire who put himself in a position to not only be identified but captured.  It’s not about blame.  It’s about what to do now.”

“So what do we do now?” Tanner’s voice was surprisingly calm given the series of revelations at this table.

“You work your sources,” Ware said. “You know what we’re looking for now, so keep an eye out.  And don’t try to take them on alone.  Ms. Herzeg thinks we have at least thirteen working together in the city.  We need to fight them on ground of our choosing, when we have the advantage.  Don’t let what they are, and what they’re doing, drive you into anything rash.  We find out where they are, and then we take them down when we have the advantage.”

Tanner drummed her fingers on the table for a moment then looked up at Ware. “By ‘take them down’ you don’t mean arrest them, I take it?”

“You saw Riley, and IUPUI.” Ware shook his head and sighed in obvious frustration. “Can you imagine one of those things in holding or in general pop at State?  Scum and villainy they may be, but they don’t deserve to be massacred by vampires.”

“So we find them,” I said. “We find them and we kill them.” I looked Tanner in the eye. “Can you do that?”

“I helped sort bodies at Riley,” Tanner said. “Oh, yeah.  I can do that.”

Blake nodded. “I’m in.”

“Reid?” Ware turned a hand up to the agent.

Reid sighed. “Dammit, this is supposed to be my case.”

“The powers that be made it mine,” Ware said. “But the truth is, I’m a rookie.  You’re a rookie.  Everyone here is a rookie.  Everyone except Ms. Herzeg.  She’s the one with experience hunting and killing vampires.  If she says ‘jump’ you don’t even ask ‘how high’, you just bounce off the ceiling.”

“Detective…”

“That’s the best deal you’re going to get, Special Agent, so take it now or you can walk out of here.”

“I can go to your Lieutenant,” Reid said.

Ware grinned. “You sure you want to do that?  I mean, all things considered?”

“Damn you.”

“Your call, Reid.  Your call.”

“All right, I’m in.”

Advertisements

So Elizabeth Warren Still Claims to be Native American?

Short one today.

DNA tests show, basically, 1/1024th (0.09765625%) “Native American.” This is about half the average white American (0.18%).  Oh, and the Cherokee nation shut that claim down right away.

So, one part in a thousand “Native American” genes as opposed to just “human” in general.  but how does that stack up to other things?  Well…

Humans have about 96% commonality with Chimpanzees.  Not to say that 4% difference isn’t pretty important but still, it does make the differences between humans of various groups look a lot less important when you consider that all of us are 96% Chimpanzee.

Humans have 60% DNA shared with chickens.  If somebody calls you a chicken, they’re 60% right.

Humans have more than 60% DNA identical with bananas.  Yep, apparently we have more in common with a tasty yellow fruit than with chickens.  So, perhaps a comeback of someone calls you a chicken?  Yeah, well you’re a banana.  The genes in question are those involved in the inner workings of cells which are extremely common throughout the animal and plant kingdoms and involves stuff that evolved a long, long time ago and remained largely unchanged because it worked well enough not to need to change.

Fruit Flies also have 60% identical DNA with humans.  And I guess we’ll stop here because “Yeah, but you’re a fruit fly” just doesn’t have the ring to it.

Land of Second Chances: A Blast from the Past Redux.

One of the thing I like best about the US is that, more than just about anyplace else in the world, it’s the land of second/third/fourth/morth chances.  The ability to say “I screwed, up, but I can still make things better” and have that mean something is quintessentially American.

It makes sense, in a way.  So many people originally came to America because they were looking for a second chance.  For one reason or another things weren’t working for them “back home” so they came here for a new start in a new home.  Maybe they were looking for wealth in a new land.  Maybe they were looking for religious isolation.  Maybe they wanted to build their own farm in the wilderness where they wouldn’t be beholden to anyone.   For whatever reasons, they left what they had behind for a new try in the “new world.”

There’s this “demonstration” that’s supposed to be an illustration of the concept of “privilege.” The demonstrator puts some money out that’s the prize for the first person to reach it.  Then the demonstrator has people take head starts based on various things that he considers “privilege.” His intent is to show that the world isn’t fair and it just sucks for those lacking in privilege.  However, the whole thing fails because it makes some pretty big false assumptions.  It assumes that there’s only one “prize.” It assumes that everybody is striving for the same prize.  You can combine those into an assumption that one can “win” only if someone else loses.  It assumes that the “prize” is all or nothing.  But the big one is, it assumes that people only have one chance at the prize.  They can’t try again for a different prize.

Yet this whole “try again” attitude permeates American culture.  It did, anyway.  Lately it seems to be falling by the wayside.

My own life has been driven by a series of bad choices made on my part and new chances to make better choices.

In High School I never learned to study.  I didn’t need to to “get by” and simple unstructured reading in subjects that interested me was enough to get me “good enough” grades in most of my classes.  But I never learned the discipline of sitting down and studying a particular subject, especially any that didn’t particularly interest me at the time, until I’d mastered it.  Bad choice on my part.  Also in High School I never took the time to seriously look for work.  Whether I found it or not, I needed to be looking for it..  This resulted in my having very poor work habits by the time I graduated from school.

But the real bad choice I made in that era was only applying for one college.  It was a religious school, run by the religion I was practicing at the time.  When the local clerical leader essentially vetoed my application (because I wore my hair too long–it touched my ears and yes they were that strict) I had nowhere else to go.

So I went with “second chance” number one.  I joined the military.  Here I made yet another bad decision.  I originally planned to go into electronics, take whichever job had the longest school (thereby getting as much electronics training as possible), and parlay that into college afterwards.  I let the recruiter talk me into switching to another field.  I would prove remarkably unsuited to that field (thus making a military career out of the question) and it was also almost completely devoid of civilian application so I couldn’t turn military training into a decent civilian job.

I have, in the past, described switching military fields as not the worst mistake I have ever made but possibly in the top ten, certainly the top twenty.  On reflection, I have revised my opinion.  It definitely was the worst mistake I ever made.

Still, I could have put my time in the military to good use.  The military was willing to pay 75% of tuition costs in accredited colleges while served.  Also, the “GI Bill” of the day was voluntary—save up to $2700 for college and the government would match it 2:1.  Bad decision on my part was to not take advantage of either of these.  The only “college” I got from my military tour was from my technical training itself.

So, as the end of my enlistment neared, I got to “second chance” number two.  I applied to college again, several colleges this time.  Each of these colleges, however, required recommendations from high school teachers.  I sent the proper forms back home, to my mother, with lists of teachers to contact.  Once again I made the bad decision of putting my future in the hands of one person . . . who failed me.  She never forwarded the forms.

On returning from the military with no job prospects and no college, oh, and a broken collar bone because I was hit by a car shortly before separating from the military, I ended up in some menial jobs–bussing tables, washing dishes, that sort of thing–and I got to second chance number three.  I tried again to get into college.  Money was tight even for application fees so I applied to only one college, the state university.  I hand carried the forms to the college, met with various people at the college, and got accepted.  The proposed financial aid package would cover my need and all would be well except . . . bad decision:  I had been spending my money, even at the menial job, as fast as it had been coming in.  I had been working at a resort in Virginia at the time (my State of Residence was Ohio).  The job came with a room and cheap meals.  If I had sucked it in for just one summer–banked my paychecks and lived extra frugally for just one summer all would have been well.  But I didn’t think I needed to.  I had the financial aid package that would cover college, including room and board, so I thought everything would be fine and did not plan for the unexpected.  Naturally, something unexpected happened.  I would not receive part of the financial aid until halfway through the semester.  However, the housing arrangements required payment up front.  No one would grant me a short term loan to cover the gap between needing the money and getting the money.  So no college for me that year.

So I went back to menial work yet again, falling deeper into depression.  That’s when I took second chance number four.  My mother had returned to school in Akron and, when the resort job had ended (they closed for the winter) I moved back there.  I was unemployed, selling plasma for cash, and was walking with a cane because of problems with my knees (since improved).  The knee problem, which meant I couldn’t stand on my feet for long at a time, even prevented me from taking most menial jobs.  I was so depressed that I had largely stopped trying, but my mother (whose financial situation as a college student was little better than mine) said she would front the application fee if I would just apply at the local university.  I did.  This time I was accepted.  I found housing I could afford based on the financial aid I would actually be receiving.  I entered the University of Akron majoring in physics.

While I was at school, I learned to study.  I learned to talk to people who actually worked in industry about what I needed to be able to get a job and to act on what they said so that when I graduated I would be able to get a good job.  I then acted on that and got the job.  Once I had the job, I got married.  Once I’d been stably employed for a couple of years I then went looking for a house, one I could afford (even though lenders were urging me to take more based on the “ratios” I had at the time) and would be able to continue paying for even if things took a “downturn” down the road.

I’d like to say that I’ve stopped making bad decisions but it would be a lie.  I still make them.  But when I make them, I have to realize that they are my decisions and it’s up to me to make them right.  I cannot rely on other people to make them for me.  They have their own interests at heart and if they also have mine it’s happy chance, not something on which to count.  My choices are my responsibility.  I can take advice or leave it but in the end it’s my choice.

And so I continue to be employed.  I have a wonderful daughter.  I have a house that is not in imminent danger of foreclosure.  And I did it despite the very many bad decisions I made along the way.  And I did it by recognizing that the bad decisions were bad decisions, that they were my bad decisions not anyone else’s, and that I needed to make better decisions if I wanted to move ahead.

A snippet

From a work in progress


Ed Cartwright, Tyrian representative to the Terran Confederation Assembly, nodded at the security guard at the entrance to his apartment building.

“Welcome back, Assemblyman.”

“Glad to be back, Andre.  How are the kids?” Cartwright handed his ID to the guard and placed his hand on the scanner.

“Getting bigger every day.  You know how it is.” Andre ran the scanner through a reader and glanced at the telltale which confirmed that ID and hand both belonged to the same individual who was a resident of the building.

“I do indeed.  Any messages?” Cartwright took his hand off the scanner and placed it on the door, waiting for Andre to unlatch it.

“Usual junk, Assemblyman.  Usual junk.”

“Thank you.  If anyone calls I’m out.”

Andre chuckled. “Bad day?”

“Very.  So if you don’t mind.”

“Oh.  Yes sir.”

The traditional buzz and click indicated the unlatching of the door and Cartwright pushed himself through.  As the door locked shut behind him, he sighed. Andre was one of the more pleasant guards Cartwright had dealt with, a retired Marine double dipping in the Confederation Civil Service.

The lift deposited Cartwright on his apartment’s floor.  While he could, with his position, have a luxury suite at the Tyrian Residence in the capital city, or even a private mansion, he preferred an apartment close to the Assembly Hall.  A comfortable apartment, to be sure, and providing privacy in a way that the ever present staff at fancier accommodations could never afford.

Cartwright slid his keycard into the slot in the door and typed a short code into the pad.  The door opened and the lights in the apartment blinked to life. He hung his jacket in the autocloset which would clean and press it before he needed it again then removed his dress sidearm and placed it in the rack next to the door.

The processor in the kitchen already had a mug of cocoa waiting for him, lightly seasoned with cinnamon and just the right temperature.  He took it with him to the nook that held his private comm console.

Cartwright slurped down a big swallow of chocolate then set the cup down.  He tapped a code into the console. A moment later, the machine confirmed a C plus route available to his destination.

A face appeared in the screen.“Lieutenant Winthrup, Tyrian Militia Cruiser Göll.  How may I–” Winthrup’s eyes widened. “Admiral. How may I be of assistance.”

Cartwright chuckled. “It’s just ‘Assemblyman’ now.  I need to speak to your captain. Speare, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir.  One moment, sir.”

The screen went blank for a few seconds then Speare’s face appeared within it. “Admiral Cartwright.  How may I help you.”

“Stand by to take a data transfer from this terminal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cartwright slid a data chip into the reader on his terminal.

In the screen, Speare looked away, waited a few seconds, then turned back to Cartwright. “Transfer received.”

“Those files include a new set of orders issued under my reserve rank.  You’re in kind of a limbo right now. You haven’t, officially, been handed off to Confederation Navy so we can do this without breaking chain of command.”

Speare’s brows knit in puzzlement. “Yes, sir?”

“The Eres are leading those…Yabanjin, Ybanji, whatever they’re calling them…forces to an ambush at Chakentak.  If all goes well, the Eres will decisively crush the Yabanjin and buy plenty of time for us to plan for the future.”

“Nobody ever said the Eres couldn’t fight, sir.”

“Tell me about it.” Cartwright shook his head.

“And if all doesn’t go well, sir?”

“That’s what your orders are about.  And remember, Captain, the Yabanjin got where they are by copying somewhat outdated Eres tech.  We can’t afford to have them copy ours.”

Speare’s grin went feral. “You can trust us, Admiral. ‘Till Valhalla.”

“‘Till Odin’s Table.” Cartwright cut the connection.  A moment later he let his head fall into his hands. He hated giving orders like those.  He belonged out there, with the men on the lines, riding with them to victory or Valhalla, not here in perfect safety, hundreds of light years from the fray.

But Roberts had asked him to take this damn position and the people of Tyr had agreed.  And so he was stuck until a new Assemblyman could be chosen, perhaps someone who liked working behind the scenes.

Cartwright snorted.  One thing the Tyrian people would not accept was a person who liked the kind of political maneuvering required in the Capitol.  Just his luck to both hate it, and be good at it.

Are you sure?

Recently we have had the following:

“What we’ve got to do is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box, and now there’s the momentum to be able to do this. And we’re not afraid of the popular outcry, we’re energized by it and that’s going to help us do our job and do it better.” former VP Candidate Tim Kaine on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”

Fight in the streets?  Really.  Can Mr. Kaine explain how that doesn’t mean exactly what it sounds like?

On Facebook we had:

“White women should be hunted and killed.  That way we won’t get white babies who think they own the world!” Laura M. Zanders

Now, ordinarily this would be just an idiot venting except the post was reported to FaceBook which came back that nope, this recommendation to hunt and kill white women did not violate “community standards.” Perfectly fine.

Then there’s this gem from Former Presidential Candidate, Senator, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton:

“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

She’s saying that they can only be civil once they are in power?  Would she be bothered if I pointed out that since she personally as well as her party wants to destroy what I stand for and what I care about (individual liberty, limited government, and rule of law–what were classically considered liberal values before big government, central planning, micromanagement of the individual, and out and out socialism appropriated the term “liberal”) there’s no expectation for me to be civil to them.

She reminds me of another quote: “We shall only talk of peace once we have won the war.”

The writer for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” tweeted:

Whatever happens, I’m just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh’s life.

This is justified because we’re supposed to “believe” a woman who changed her story repeatedly, whose every word that could be and was verified proved to be false, and whose own named witnesses denied her claims (and she was the most credible of the various accusers; the whole thing was a sham).  But people with actual evidence, police reports, and bona fide witnesses who supported their story are to be dismissed.  “Believe all women” apparently means “believe women when it is politically convenient for Democrats”, no more, and no less.

Or how about this Ole Miss professor, JT Thomas (who, admittedly, appears to be a little incoherent):

Don’t just interrupt their meals, y’all.  Put your whole damn fingers in their salads.  Take their apps and distribute them to other diners.  Bring boxes and take their food home with you on the way out.

They don’t deserve civility.

A university professor, tasked with educating the next generation of society.  Is that what he’s “teaching”?

We also have Antifa taking over the streets in very liberal Portland, OR and the police just letting them.

And on and on and on.  Ever since November 6, 2016, leftist groups have been engaging in increasing levels of violence and intimidation.  And we’ve had people in power and influence cheering and encouraging the harassment of others because they believe differently.

Well, have these people ever given a moment’s consideration to just how dangerous those of us of a conservative or libertarian bent will be once we are convinced to play by their rules?  Yes, there are leftists with guns.  But most of the gun owners are in those conservative or libertarian groups.  More than twenty million military veterans in the civilian population.  That’s ten times more than the combined manning of both the miltiary and all federal, state, and local police in the nation.  Sure, some of them will support the neo-socialists but most won’t.

I have argued in the past that a civil war in the US would be ugly, with no winners. (Examples here and here, And there’s this to show why it wouldn’t be as one sided as you might think; and that’s assuming you actually get the military on your side.)

So, I ask again, have you really thought how dangerous the other sides (there are, after all, more than one) will be once you push them to the point where they start playing by your rules?

And are you really ready for that?

The Education-Industrial Complex Again

One of the arguments made for public schooling is that the proper functioning of a Republic such as the United States requires an educated and informed electorate.  And to that end, hundreds of billions of dollars per year at Federal, State, and Local levels are shelled out.  Education is also one of those things that has what Milton Friedman called a strong “neighborhood effect”–people obtain benefits from other people being educated whether they pay for it or not.

But is that really the best way, or even a good way, to go about it?

In the early days of the colonies that would become the United States, one of the first things small settlements would do, after their immediate survival needs were mostly taken care of, was build a school and hire a schoolteacher.  This was all done with local resources, people pitching in what they had including the actual physical labor of building the schoolhouse.

The upkeep of the school, and the teacher’s pay, was funded by fees paid for the children to attend.

This was all strictly voluntary.  It was also nearly universal.  Everywhere you went, there was a school.  And children, despite their being no laws mandating attendance, went.  Some folk might have been dismissive of the idea of formal schooling, but that was the exception.  A strong majority sent their children to school.  Even the poor would usually scrimp and save, take extra work, trade labor for tuition–whatever they had to do to see that their children attended school.  These local communities could also control what was taught and how so that it suited what they saw as best for their own children.  If they didn’t like the way the school was operating, they could change it.  And any group that could get together enough resources for a small building–which could even be a room in their own home which did double duty when school was not in session–and hire a teacher could do so if they did not like the way the rest of the community ran the school.

It wasn’t until 1852 that Massachusetts became the first State to pass a compulsory school attendance law.  It was not until 1918 Mississippi became the last of the then 48 States to pass a compulsory attendance law.  Even without the compulsion a strong majority did.

This was all done locally.  Over time, however, the State and later the Federal government took more of an interest.  This wasn’t driven by parents saying that they needed government intervention to make the schools better for the children’s sake.  It was driven by educators who, I am quite certain, believed that they could do a better job with better funding and a more secure livelihood (with pay not entirely dependent on what the local community can scrape up).

Let me reiterate, the motive for making the schools publicly funded was not any dissatisfaction with schooling but by a relatively small group of teachers and administrators believing they can do better.  And, as I said, I am quite certain they were entirely sincere in their belief.   They might be excused for the paternalism inherent in the belief that the instructors knew better than the parents and that the State, and later Federal, officials knew better than the locals but it was there.

As time went on and more and more State and Federal funding, and with it control (Federal money always comes with Federal strings) increased, the power of the local parents say over their children’s education decreased.  The problems were the same ones that came from any central planning scheme–bureaucracies tend to evolve according to their own inherent logic and larger organizations tend to involve more of a standardization a “one size fits all” approach.

One size, however, does not fit all.

Nevertheless, the arguments were made that public education would give us better schools, would make us more competitive in the world, and also provide the educated electorate that would make our Republic work right.  Arguments were that it would be more efficient, that it would help “level” the difference in education between rich and poor, and would create a common heritage to help foster national unity.  Those arguments, however, fail on examination.

First there’s the efficiency argument.  That can be dismissed almost immediately.  What public funding amounts to is taking money away from people, passing it through a government bureaucracy, then using that money–less what was spent to pay for the bureaucracy–to fund schooling.  More efficient than letting people who choose to do so pay for the schooling that seems appropriate to them.  While there might be an argument for funding the education of a small part of the population–say as an aid to the destitute (and even there I am skeptical that government solutions are better than private)–basically taking from everybody to give back to the bulk of the population is not economically defensible.  It’s having people pay for their own and their children’s education with extra steps.  As I point out in a previous post, we spend more and more money on education without producing better results.

The economic efficiency aspect is also where the “neighborhood effect” would come into play.  However, in many ways the neighborhood effect is of a lesser role when it comes to education.  Yes, it’s good to live in a society with well educated doctors and engineers so long as somebody pays for them.  But the doctors and engineers themselves benefit enough from their education (and while there are some exceptions parents are generally willing to count benefits to their children as though they were their own benefit–I know I’m willing to go to a lot of trouble for my daughter’s welfare) to justify the expenditure without the need to “bill” for the neighborhood effect.

Second, there is “leveling,” the “equality” argument.  A simple examination of public schools in well-to-do neighborhoods compared to poor and inner city neighborhoods should quickly disabuse anyone of that notion.  When you also include that the very well-to-do are much more capable of affording the “double payment” (the taxes paying for public school plus tuition for a private school) to send their children to expensive and “elite” private schools, you can see that this argument breaks down entirely.

Then there’s the common heritage for national unity.  While once that was a stated purpose of schools that has largely been abandoned.  In the age of “multiculturalism” schools often don’t even require a common language, let alone teach a common heritage and culture.  Add to that the constant experiments in changing teaching methods to “solve” what are essentially solved problems in teaching basic skills with a “one size (at the moment anyway–tomorrow we may try a different size) approach” and you have a recipe for disaster. (Yes, some few might not respond well to the traditional methods of teaching arithmetic but most do–and if the new techniques might work better for those few, then use them on those few, don’t inflict them on the majority who respond well to the traditional methods).

There’s a fourth argument:  if we don’t force people to pay through taxes they won’t bother to provide for schools, spending all their money on profligate living.  History, however, tends to suggest otherwise.  This is just another bit of “daddy knows best” paternalism.  Perhaps it is too late to turn back that clock, at least quickly, because people are so dependent on tax-funded schools that they’d be lost if that were suddenly taken away.  I have discussed that particular problem–sudden reversals of long established policies causing more problems before.

And for this fourth reason I do not think that just dropping public education is an achievable goal.  However, it would still be beneficial to return power to the parents.  One way to do that is with a voucher system.  They get brought up from time to time and usually the ones leading the argument are, like in the case of bringing in government funding, not the parents but the educators and government officials.  I’m not going to go into great detail on the arguments against vouchers.  Most of those arguments bespeak, on examination, a lack of faith in the public schools.  If vouchers would lead to a stampede away from public education that would “destroy public schools” perhaps they should look at why they are failing their students so badly that their parents would want to take them out?  If that is a legitimate fear, then maybe they need the competition to motivate them to clean house themselves.  The kids will be better off for it.

One argument I do want to address.   The “First Amendment argument”.  I. e. vouchers would allow parents to send their children to religious schools violating “separation of Church and State” (actually “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion” since “Separation of Church and State” is nowhere in the Consitution–it’s from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote assuring a church that the Federal government would not interfere with them).  This is a baseless argument.  Consider various government college student aid packages.  Those packages tie to the the student, not the school itself.  The student can, if he or she chooses, use them at a religious school just as much as at a non-religious institution.  All that is required is that the school be properly accredited.  Likewise, with the old GI Bill grants.  The First Amendment has never been considered an issue with any of these things any more than it has been if someone drawing government assistance should put some of that money in his or her’s church collection plate.  The voucher funds the student.  If the student (or the student’s parents) choose to use that money in a religious institution, that’s their choice, not the government’s.

A related argument to that, one that has explicitly been made to me, amounts to “But I don’t want my tax dollars to be used to teach values I disagree with.” As it happens, I’m already in that position.  Schools, funded by my tax dollars (among others’) is being used to teach values with which I disagree.

If we could get a voucher program in place, I’d put some very basic limitations on how a voucher could be used.  It could only be used in an institution that met certain minimum educational standards.  It could offer anything beyond those standards that it thought might attract students, or more accurately their parents, to it.

The standards I would call for are very basic indeed:  English and math, what used to be called “the three ‘r’s'” (Ironic since two of those, to be “r’s” would have to be misspelled), a basic knowledge of the Constitution–what it actually says; if it wants to go beyond that to interpretation and meaning, that’s at its own choice, but they have to cover what it says–and some basic natural sciences.  Now, I’d never want to send my daughter to a school that taught only that minimum but I’m content to let competition and the market deal with the rest.  If some schools want to teach communist agitprop as part of their curriculum, in competition with schools teaching “Rah!  Rah!  America is the best!”, then more power to them.

Because I believe in competition in the “marketplace of ideas” every bit as much as in the marketplace of goods and services.

A snippet

From a work in progress.


Sheshak sat in his quarters on the Jin Long, sipping at the human beverage known as tea.  Biochemists had pronounced tea safe to drink. And while the tea did nothing, not even provide taste, to Eres, the lemon that humans sometimes added acted as a mild stimulant to Eres physiology.

On his screen he read from the book of Jekat.

“The Art of Politics is the art of the hunt,” Shekha had written. “It is a hunt played out with words and ideas rather than fang and claw.  When Eres play the game of politics, their drive to hunt is satisfied. It is hunt, but it is also challenge. And so, in its form of challenge, it is the only hunt where it is lawful for Eres to hunt Eres.  As hunt and as challenge, it is no less deadly for no blood being spilled.”

Sheshak closed the file and leaned back in his seat.  In his position as Lesser Stalker, he read much human writing, not just their news and histories but their stories and legends.  Humans responded to politics with all the savagery of their response to the Great Hunts. But better to stalk them, to pounce and be pounced upon, in that field, than among the stars in ships of blood.

Humans did not hunt Eres.  They simply killed. Shekha understood.  So many others had not, still did not.

Even without those others, to continue the Great Hunts would,at the last, have meant the end of the Eres.

Sheshek placed his claw on the computer, contemplating the Book of Jekat held within.  The Way of Jekat was right. He knew that now. He would bind his pack to that sect and to alliance with the humans and their other allies.

As he was making his silent vow the door to his compartment opened.

Surprised, but not startled, Sheshek looked toward the door.  The small human female, Coll was her name, stood in the doorway.  Her right hand tucked behind her back.

“I thought I secured that door.”

Coll simply looked at him.  Of course, Sheshak thought, she was their chief engineer.  The whole ship would be open to her. “Is there a problem, Ms. Coll?” He asked.

“Oh,yes,” Coll said.  Her voice carried agitation and excitement, fear and…was that mania? “A big problem.  But that’s okay.” She removed her right hand from behind her back. In it she held a large pulse pistol.  She pointed it at him. “It won’t be a problem much longer.”

Sheshak studied Coll.  He could cross the room before she could fire.  Probably. Maybe. He had just sworn Jekat so humans were not lawful to hunt.  Did her pointing the gun constitute challenge? Sheshak did not believe the humans would think so.  What did his inner being, the Heart of Eres, tell him?

Yes, Challenge, but, was it a lawful challenge?  He was a Great Pack Leader, one who bested the Greater Thisok Hunt.  And she? She was not. He clung to that thought and let it guide him.  Challenge was not lawful, but she did not know.

“May I know the reason you threaten me?” He modulated his vocoder to produce soft, calming tones.

“Reason?  You’re a monster.  That’s reason enough.”

“I have done you no harm.”

The gun shook. “No?  In the war my ship…my ship was captured.  I was taken to one of your prison camps, your…hunting preserves.  Every day I waited, waited for my turn, my turn to be dragged out and made to run.  Would I take a spear through my guts? Would I be driven over a cliff? Would I feel your fangs on my throat before you ripped it out?  I waited. Eventually I started praying you would take me just so it would be over. And still I waited. I almost went mad.”

“We did no honor hunts.” Again, Sheshak kept the sounds from his vocoder soft. “Our hunt was in the stars, ship to ship.  Taking your people was the coup, not hunting them after. Honor was in the number we held, not the number we killed.”

“You lie!  Tell me you do not.  Are you going to tell me your honor forbids you to lie.”

“No,” Sheshak said. “I am a thinking being.  All thinking beings lie when it suits them. But there is no need now.  We knew. Two other Great Hunts had taught us. If we continued the honor hunts, your people would extract a price too terrible to contemplate.  We…dared…not.”

“Then what happened to those they took out of my pen?  They’d take people out and I’d never see them again.”

Good, Sheshak thought.  She was arguing, thinking.  He opened his mouth to respond.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I can kill you.” She raised the gun and pointed it at the base of his throat, where the control center for his autonomous functions resided in its armored box. “I can kill you.”

Her finger tightened on the trigger.