Has the Public School System Lost the Confidence of the American People?

In this op-ed from the New York Times Jessica Grose makes some interesting points but I don’t think she’s pointing in quite the right direction. Here’s the kernel of her piece:

In an overview of issues from the 2018 midterms, Pew Research didn’t include education when surveying voters about what they considered “very big” problems; the closest one mentioned was “affordability of a college education.” In Pew’s 2022 midterm overview, however, education ranked sixth, with 58 percent of registered voters saying it’s a matter that’s “very important” to them. This election year, according to Pew, voters care more about education than abortion, immigration and climate change. (Notably, this poll was conducted during the first two weeks of August, after Roe v. Wade was overturned.)

All of this dovetails with what the longtime pollster and communications analyst Frank Luntz, known for his work with Republican candidates and campaigns, has been hearing in focus groups over the past couple of years: Many children are still reeling from the challenges of the pandemic, and not all parents have faith that the public school system can help their kids recover. “I’ve done work with so many education reform efforts, and parents just felt forgotten,” he said.

Luntz added that some parents say: “It’s my number one issue, my major source of frustration. I’m furious at the Democrats for turning it into an ideological issue and at the Republicans for dropping it, and for turning to other things.” Even if they don’t change their votes, they are moving with their feet: A recent survey cited by The 74 found: “Between spring 2021 and spring 2022, there was a 9 percent drop in families saying their children are enrolled in traditional public schools.”


While I think the leaching of trust in public education may not be so dire that it determines something like control of Congress, Luntz isn’t so sure. “It’s not slow. It’s fast,” he said. “That is the difference between you writing the story three years ago and you writing the story today. They were losing faith in 2020, 2019; they lost faith in 2022. That is a very important distinction.”

So, has the public school system lost the faith of the American people? I have long believed (and written) that the schools have a split personality. Are they a method of educating children or are they a strategy for employing adults? I certainly don’t believe that you can shutter the schools for months at a time and accomplish the first objective which leaves the second one.

Furthermore, as the percentage of adults with children declines, how long do you expect support for public schools to be as high as it traditionally has been?

Add all of these factors together and I think we may be nearing a tipping point.


The Acorn

Speaking of political corruption, here’s a good illustration that’s big news here in Illinois. From ABC 7 Chicago:

CHICAGO (WLS) — Illinois state Senator Emil Jones III is set to be arraigned Friday on bribery charges.

Governor JB Pritzker called on Jones III to resign from office Thursday.

Jones is accused of taking $5,000 from a red light camera company in exchange for voting against legislation that would require traffic studies for the camera systems.

Jones was also charged with bribery and lying to the FBI.

The Far South Side state senator has given up his Senate leadership posts, but still remains on the November ballot and is running unopposed.

Gov. Pritzker demanded he resign immediately, saying it would send a clear message to Illinois residents that, “corruption and abuse have no place here.”

Mr. Jones’s father, Emil Jones Jr., was a member of the Illinois Senate from 1983 to 2009 and its president from 2003 to 2009. His son has succeeded him in his district.

There’s an old saying that covers this: the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Barack Obama got his start as Emil Jones’s protégé.


I just noticed that the post which was supposed to precede this one somehow never got published. I republished it.

“Speaking of political corruption” was certainly a non sequitur wasn’t it?


Call Me Ishmael

I think the conclusion of the editors’ of the Wall Street Journal’s remarks regarding the indictments of Donald Trump, his organization, and his family deserve some consideration:

Mr. Trump has made a business and political career of getting away with whatever he can, and it’s easy to imagine he crossed a line. But the Democrats pursuing him have become Captain Ahabs bent on taking him down by any means necessary. Ms. James is a partisan prosecutor, and her charges and evidence need to be examined in that context.

As I have said many times before I think that Mr. Trump should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law but those who detest him should keep in mind that extent may be more limited than they might like. We’ll see how these cases work out.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded of Vyshinsky’s famous wisecrack: “Give me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” I think you’d be very hard put to find a completely honest individual in high elective office in politics, Democrat or Republican. If that’s not clear enough it’s an indictment of our politics, our system, and us.

The cartoon at the top of this page was drawn by Rivers for Cagle Cartoons.


Russia’s Paranoia

Russia has few natural boundaries. It isn’t surrounded by oceans (as we are) or separated from its neighbors by daunting mountain ranges or rivers that are hard to cross. It’s largely prairie in all directions. And it has been invaded by practically all of its neighbors at one time or another, in some cases within living memory.

Those factors have created a sort of cultural paranoia.

I’m not justifying that trait; just explaining it.


Can Poverty Be Ended by Issuing Ourselves Credit?

This post by Karen Dolan at The Hill for all the world looks to me like my story of the three merchants. Or the cat and rat farm. The author’s claim is that we can greatly reduce poverty permanently by maintaining measures put in place on an emergency basis when the lockdowns for COVID-19 were imposed indefinitely:

The U.S. Census data for 2021 demonstrates that poverty is a political choice. We chose during the pandemic to take it head-on relatively effectively. Now we must reaffirm that choice.

Repeat after me: perpetual motion does not work. It might appear to work in the short term but it does not work.

The author has failed to notice the inflation and the hardships created by it that the Fed is presently contending with or the hardships that are being created by raising interest rates. Those are at least in part a consequence of too much spending subsidized by expanding the money supply, i.e. issuing credit to ourselves for the spending.

All of that said I agree with the author’s claim that poverty is a political choice. More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle maintained that politics was the “master science” in that it was the underlying explanation in all human actions.

The author might consider that poverty has been chosen as the lesser evil. There are many, many ways of reducing poverty. For example, not bearing children until one has completed high school and is married are known ways of combatting poverty. Today it is fashionable to condemn that observation as anti-woman and racist but the condemnations do not make it less true.

We should also keep in mind the observation that when you subsidize something, you get more of it. That pertains to poverty as well. The decision to attempt to strike a balance between encouraging poverty and making the lives of the poor less burdensome is a political one as is the decision on where the proper balance resides.

We could raise taxes so that revenue pays for anything which we might wish to spend. Our failure to do that is a political decision, based, in part, on the trade-offs involved.


Two More Points

I wanted to make two additional observations related to Putin’s speech. First, Russia is estimated to have about 25 million “reservists”, defined as people who’ve been through military training. How many of those are actually available is unknown but that’s still a substantial pool.

Second, and this is something I have alluded to before, the role of NCOs and junior officers in the Russian military (most of the world to be honest) is quite different than in ours. Since the Civil War the U. S.has used a platoon system in which very small units are led by a junior officer and an NCO. These platoons have substantial operational latitude.

That isn’t the case with the Russian military which is very much more top-down. That’s why so many of their general officers are getting killed. They must go to the front to direct operations.


Myths, Prescriptions, and Observations

David P. Goldman, AKA “Spengler”, has a good post at American Mind I wanted to call to your attention. In it he lists five myths about China:

  1. America is making China rich, and can weaken it by reducing imports, investment, and so forth.
  2. China depends on stolen American technology.
  3. China faces demographic collapse.
  4. China wants to take over Taiwan because it is led by an expansionist Marxist-Leninist party that hates and fears democracy.
  5. We can deter China by shifting military forces to Asia and adding to conventional capabilities.

For the details read the whole thing. He also makes five prescriptions:

  • We need to fund federal R&D at the Reagan level, that is, an additional 1% of GDP, or roughly $2 trillion over ten years;
  • We need a radical revision of tax and regulatory policy to favor capital-intensive manufacturing;
  • We need selective subsidies for mission-critical industries;
  • We need to shift in educational priorities toward engineering and hard science; and
  • We need to shift defense priorities away from legacy systems toward innovation, including space-based missile defense, directed-energy weapons, cyber war, and drone swarms.

He also makes some solid observations. For example:

Six trillion dollars of stimulus bought Chinese rather than American goods, because our creaky supply chains can’t meet a surge in demand.

which aligns with observations I have been making since long before the pandemic. We don’t make enough consumer goods domestically for consumption subsidies, e.g. “stimulus packages”, to have the effect our political leaders seem to think they will have. They are more likely to stimulate the Chinese economy than they are ours. Except for Jeff Bezos, the Wall family, and a few others.

I don’t agree with everything he says and I think there are some omissions. For example:

There are two possible remedies for a declining work force: import young workers, or export capital to where young workers live. China’s Belt and Road Initiative plans to assimilate more than a billion people from the Global South into China’s economic sphere.

Neither of those strategies will revitalize the American economy. The immigrants we will attract in the greatest numbers can contribute to agriculture and manual labor. That will continue our transition to a peasant society. That will be more like an early 20th century America than a 21st century America.

Also, burn this into your brain. Production engineering follows production; design engineering inevitably follows production engineering; junior engineers today become senior engineers tomorrow. It isn’t enough to “shift educational priorities”. The reason more kids aren’t studying engineering in the U. S. is because engineering is hard, not everybody can do it, and you must be able to recoup the investment made in time and money over the course of a stable career. Seeing the jobs you might have sought

Another point about R&D investment. The best strategy is to establish a long-term objective and create a bipartisan commitment to fund that objective. Example: the moon race. The objective must be feasible, agreed upon, and funded. Basic research is good but a mass engineering project is better. A “war on cancer” won’t do for two reasons. The first reason is that particular “war” has been going on for 50 years and the second reason is that we have reached the point of decreasing returns to scale.


What Can We Infer?

What can we infer from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech? I think there are at least two things.

First, the Ukrainian counter-offense damaged the Russians. At least politically and strategically and possibly tactically. And second the Russians are serious—they are unlikely to back down easily

How will the U. S. respond? I’m concerned that most pundits will call for a redoubling of aid to Ukraine and oppose negotiations at this point on the grounds that it would be rewarding Putin and/or Russia.

That might be characterized as “calling Putin’s bluff” except I don’t believe that he is bluffing.


How Dogs Think

I also found this research, presented by Emory Universtiy, on how dogs think thought-provoking:

Scientists have decoded visual images from a dog’s brain, offering a first look at how the canine mind reconstructs what it sees. The Journal of Visualized Experiments published the research done at Emory University.

The results suggest that dogs are more attuned to actions in their environment rather than to who or what is doing the action.

One possibility that may not have been considered is that dogs my derive information from their senses differently than we do. Actions may be identified by sight where objects are identified by scent.


A Critique of EVs

I found this article at the Institute for Art and Ideas by Conor Bronsdon interesting enough to share:

If we’re still sprawling outwards as populations grow, we’re not going to be able to achieve the efficiency needed in transportation and housing to meet our climate and space needs. We’ll also deeply damage our environment, getting rid of green space for single-family housing, cutting down trees that are doing important work filtering carbon from the atmosphere, and poisoning our rivers and streams with the heavy metals present in car tires.

The short version: you don’t need to just take my word for it. Even if you believe that global climate change is a risk, even if you believe it is an issue, electric vehicles are at best a patch and at worst a false step and a waste of effort.

The author’s view is that we should be aiming at greatly reducing vehicular transport. My own view is that the first step shouldn’t be EVs but to stop subsidizing sprawl. WFH may be a good step in that direction by allowing those workers who are able to eschew commuting entirely thereby reducing the public support for the interstates that enable sprawl.