Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Final Four

I have long loved the excitement and enthusiasm that the NCAA basketball tournament brings. For a few week much of the country is focused on the Thursday/Saturday - Friday/Sunday games. 65 teams start the journey that ends with one standing as National Champion for Division I men's basketball. At the same time the woman's tournament is being played. While the woman are not as spectacularly athletic as the men they play a great level of ball. I enjoy the woman's tournament because being shorter they play a brand of ball that is more reminiscent of the ball played in my era. No spectacular dunks, or "in your face" shot blocking, but excellent fast breaks, great three point shooting and tough no nonsense defense.

This is a time of year that everyone has a bracket and office pools become intense topics of conversation in the break room. It is as though we collectively take a break from the tedium and issues of life and even the President takes his hand at bracket selection on national TV.

What I really enjoy is the frantic pace of the tournament. In the first round there are sixteen games play in various parts of the country in a day. Sixteen teams go home victors, sixteen teams go home with the taste of defeat, yet they participated. Some stellar programs are laid low, some small colleges become heroic. It seems that everyone pulls for the underdog except when our favorite team is involved. The Friday round of sixteen games repeats Thursday's interest. Then come the round of 32 and there is intense interest in who will make the "Sweet Sixteen." The story grows around who will be the "Cinderella" team and how far will they go.

As the tournament progresses you get to see the variety of styles of coaching. The maddening, methodical pace of the Wisconsin Badgers, Bo Ryan's magic at work. The powerful, athletic powerhouse of Kentucky or Kansas is on display. Cornell, not an athletic scholarship on the team, but a smooth successful year for the "Big Red." Kansas gets knocked of in the Sweet Sixteen by a courageous and talented Northern Iowa team and expectations and hopes of young men lie dashed while other young men get to battle another day. Everyone has a chance. That is, I guess why I like March Madness. Everyone has a chance. In the end, a great team usually emerges victorious, but for a month in March we lose our distrust of society, we become involved in speculation with strangers and talk about common issues that will have no bearing on the direction of our lives. But just tell that to the players at Kansas, Kansas St., Kentucky and Syracuse who went home early humiliated at their lowly defeat when the expectations were so high.

It is a reassuring, fun, fascinating process our country goes through once a year. All made possible by the athletic prowess of a bunch of 18 - 22 year old young men trying.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

College, who needs college?

Not everyone. In a recent Time article it was stated that roughly 40% of people who enter college do not get a degree within six years. Over 25% work in positions their degree does not support. In 2007 most people do not work in jobs that require a college degree. 50% of the people who enter college do not finish. Yet, thousands of parents and students go into debt to obtain a degree that may be of little or no use. I read one financial analysis that said the real estate debt problem we've recently been battling is just the tip of the iceberg. Credit card debt and student loan debt are even larger, and have the potential of being just as big a problem.

So why go to college. One argument is that college educated people earn more on average than non-college education people. However, recent studies are starting to say that people who go to college have a higher level of intelligence and that may be the factor that improves earning potential, not the fact that you have a degree.

I am a firm believer that manufacturing is one of the fundamental creators of wealth. There are those who argue that the service sector creates wealth and to the degree that a person is exchanging their personal effort and knowledge to provide a service such as a auto repair technician, or a plumber I agree. However, the bulk of the service sector such as insurance is simply a redistribution of money based on statistical data and doesn't create wealth except for those executives with bloated pay checks. The hospitality industry doesn't create wealth, except in the local economy by furnishing jobs, but I consume a sub and its value in terms of use in simply nutritional. I would also say that software creators could create wealth in the performance of their programs, but I would also argue that the design, development and production of software is manufacturing, just not the traditional type we think of.

In our area I see industrial firms who came to the south because of cheaper wages now having to battle the same issues industry does nationwide. The diminishing number of technically qualified technicians. College degrees are not necessarily needed for these jobs. It is becoming a real problem. How then can we build back our manufacturing base, and compete with off shore industry when we can't fix something when it breaks.

The answer is in parents becoming more involved in, in tune with, and willing to consider that little Johnny doesn't need to go to college to earn a good income. Two-year colleges offer the best alternative though many two-year colleges view them selves as an important link in the transfer process. That is providing cheap, home bound basic education, then the student transfers to a four-year institution to specialize. We still need to emphasize what is truly needed by our society, trained technical personnel. Amen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Did President Bush commit murder?

I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR yesterday on my way to work. The moderator made a statement that in a recent book Carl Rove, a Bush confidant, made a statement concerning the Iraq war. The statement was to the effect that had they known there were no WMD in Iraq they would've never gone to war. One of the panelists said when he read that he wanted to vomit.

Rove apparently made that statement during a debate. In addition, Bush recently said that he regretted the intelligence inaccuracy most of all and did not know if he would've made the same decision to go to war had he known the truth. Yet in 2005 Bush stated that even if he had known there was no WMD it would not have altered his decision.

As of this morning checking a Washington Post data base there have been 5372 fatalities associated with the Iraq war. In my mind, Bush's decision now qualifies him as a "mass murderer." Are we arrogant enough to believe that we should've gone to war to install democracy in a region that has no desire for democracy? Are we arrogant enough to go to war because women appear to be chattel property as opposed to being equal, in a society that does not recognize gender equality. Just what did American families sacrifice their most precious assets for? What justification can now be made that makes sense of 5372 deaths. For the life of me I cannot think of one argument.

It is bad enough that human history is filled with tyrants, kings, emperors, and other methods of governance who sacrificed human life for personal gain or empire building. Our country was supposed to be a different experiment. We can easily justify the loss of life for the Revolutionary War, it is what created the opportunity for the grand experiment. We can understand the War of 1812, we will be free. We can defend the Civil War, it was to keep the country united at all costs. We started going a little astray in WWI, however there was a period of time where a number of military conflicts we participated in were to help some ally, or to protect U.S. interests in various parts of the world. WWII was the "righteous war. There are few that would defend the madness of Hitler and say the war wasn't justified. Even Korea was to prevent the spread of a system abhorrent to our way of life. Then comes Vietnam. It was insanity. The first Iraq war was to shove a madman back into his box, but wasn't out to recreate the governmental system in Iraq. Then comes the latest involvement in Iraq. It is insanity. The American public was mislead by our leaders who used bad intelligence to send 5372 of our finest to their deaths.

At least in Afghanistan we are not trying to impose democracy or right a social belief system that has been in place for thousands of years. At least we are saying to the Taliban participate, quit trying to subjugate. Even so, I think we make an attempt, then get the hell our and render their poppy fields infertile forever.

A life removed by war is opportunity removed forever. It is a person who won't get to walk in the woods and view the beauty of nature. It is a person who will not know the joy of watching their children grow up, likewise participate in the heartbreak of behavior gone wrong. It is a person who won't have the opportunity to participate and contribute. Life is gone forever. Memory does not build, experience ceases. There must be an overwhelming reason to place for flower of youth in harm's way.