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Gender Relations Bender

14 Mar

Guys, I haven’t written anything even vaguely political on here in a while, and well, I can’t hold off any longer. So without any further delay, it’s time to piss people off.

There are some self-descriptors which I react to in a sort of visceral way, labels that don’t really deserve the reaction. In general, if you can describe yourself in one word that is not extremely vague, I don’t have time for you. If, when asked “who you are” you say “white” or “Methodist” or “American” or “straight”… I’m not going to waste my time getting to know you, since you’re a word and I can look those up. If you were to say all of them, well now you sound like a complete and interesting person. But any given one of those things is so narrow and pre-defined that I can assume you will spend your life struggling to make yourself fit into the ludicrous label you’ve affixed to your self-identity.

Other terms I dislike because they offend me: rapists and White Supremacists believe and do things so radically different from what I can accept that describing yourself as one puts us on rocky footing. A man who introduces himself as a misanthrope shouldn’t expect to make friends. It’s pretty simple. I don’t know anyone who really wants to be buddies with a self-described Fascist. That’s just not what people are into.

But not every term I react viscerally too is universally reviled. Nor are they universally mono-dimensional ways to demarcate one’s self. Generally, these are terms that are tied to some person or persons who have soured this word for me in the past. A perfect example, a word that causes this a visceral (and inappropriate) reaction, is feminist.

Huh?

Now let me do some QUICK explaining here, before someone comes over and screams at me for being a chauvinist pig. I am absolutely, 100%, a fan of equal rights. I am crazy about equal rights. I think the government should treat everyone equally regardless of creed, language, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or preference in music. All human beings should be given equal opportunity to do all that they are able to do (that doesn’t hurt others).

Specifically, I think women should be paid every bit as much as a man doing the same job with the same ability. I think women deserve equal access to divorce, custody, income, voting, education, employment, property, and seating at professional racquetball tournaments. I think women are full human beings who deserve every single protection, privilege, and right afforded their male counter-parts, without any caveats.

What I’m not a fan of is blaming every single thing wrong in the world on men. I’m not a supporter of making a 100 pound woman who can’t lift 160 pounds a fire-fighter for the sake of gender equality in that particular work-force. I’m not a fan of painting men (and me with them) as violent brutes who are seconds away from their next murder-rape. Or even of saying that I try to keep women down so that I can have more power.

Obviously, I’ve been on the receiving end of some vitriol from some feminists in the past who have soured that term for me. I am not a student of feminism, and so I will not pretend to know whether this is reflective of feminism at large or if I’ve just run into some serious bad-apples from the Second Wave (okay, I’m student enough to know there are believed to be three waves of feminism). If true feminism is just the seeking of equal rights for women, then by God, I support feminism. If it really does involve these attacks on everything with a penis, sorry, I’m not really buying it.

I bring this up because a very good site/publication, the Good Men Project, has been running a series of articles on something I had never heard of: the Men’s Rights Movement. It’s pretty much the male equivalent of feminism, because being a masculist sounds too much like masochist. Now I say male equivalent of feminism because A) the community has a similar make up from what I can tell, and B) its opponents paint it in the same strokes that the opponents of feminism do.

On the first part here, from what has been depicted by La Intertrones (that’s fake French for “the internet”) the MRM is comprised by 10% people with reasonable demands and concerns, 10% raging misogynists, and 80% guys who agree with the first 10% and put up with the second. From what reasonable people who identify themselves as feminists have told me, that’s about the break down for that movement too: 10% people with legitimate complaints and demands, 10% bitter man haters, and 80% people who agree with the former group and put up with the latter. Which is to say, they are rational groups with legitimate concerns, led by some charismatic thinkers with strong points, that also contain some grade-A assholes (because this humanity and avoiding jerks is impossible).

Both groups also get depicted in much the same way. People arguing with the MRM go immediately off topic to counter a given point. For instance, when men want to make sure that males are given an equal and fair shake during child custody hearings, they are countered with “how can you bother complaining about that when women still make 80% of what men do!?” Or even “Men are worse parents than women!” One is an illogical response to the issue in hand and the other is openly sexist. Much like when feminists point out that women are under-represented in many fields they are met with “there are more women in college now than men!” or “Women shouldn’t be fire-fighters.” Again, one has nothing to do with the problem, and the other is baseless sexism.

Are dead beat dads a serious problem? Of course. Should women who wish to be fire-fighters need to meet the physical and mental requirements of such a strenuous job? Absolutely. Do either of these conclusions mean either gender is fundamentally deficient? Certainly not.

We have quite a ways to go in women’s equality. What we need to understand is that this is causing an absolutely massive shift in gender roles. As women change, men are undergoing a similar shift as well. As women move into male dominated sectors, it is only reasonable that men will move into previously female dominated areas. Shifts in power at work and at home are changing things in a dramatic way, one of more equality on all fronts.

Men are doing much, MUCH more housework than they used to (though, yes , it’s still quite uneven). There are good things and bad things. With the decreased risk of pregnancy and a constantly diminishing stigma, women are trending strongly towards a traditionally “male” level of sexual promiscuity. (I will come out and say that sleeping around is something I dislike for either gender, not sexism, just good old fashion Judeo-Christian morals). In short, almost everything we used to know about gender stereo-types is changing (women still menstruate at least periodically and have larger communication structures in their brains).

From what I can tell, the MRM movement isn’t about fighting this change. It isn’t about keeping men in a position of greater power. It’s about making sure the pendulum doesn’t swing the other direction (at least not too far). Women should not oppress men, just as men should not oppress women. There are, believe it or not, a number of biases that directly favor women for no reason other than their gender. These are every bit as wrong as those that support men for no reason other than their testicles.

I don’t really know all that much about the MRM or feminism. But I do understand the desire for equal treatment. I support it whole heartedly. If both of these movements really want that, just equal treatment regardless of gender, than I am receptive to them and back them up. If they are opposing shades of sexism, I don’t really have time for that crap.

And now I wait to get schooled on my ignorance.

 

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The Captain and I (part 1 of 4).

18 Feb

When I was 16 I started sneaking whiskey from the cabinets in the kitchen. This was not a difficult proposition for a number of reasons: My mother was very ill, and the medication she was taking didn’t exactly sharpen her senses. My father was working ten hour shifts what felt like seven days a week, and he didn’t really have a lot of time to check the fluid level of his Jack Daniels. Both of them were asleep from exhaustion by eleven. So at 16 I could easily sneak down stairs, pour (what now seems like) a pitiful amount of Jack into my coke, and wince through my grand rebellious gesture. I doubt I ever really felt the effects of the ethanol, but the drama of the act generated its own buzz.

Unlike 99% of American youths, I did not actually increase my alcohol intake when I (first) went to college. In fact, I more or less completely cut it off. I remember both instances of under-aged college drinking. One was a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which I discovered was delicious when my Aunt snuck me a couple over the summer. The other was a party in Ohio, where I was also introduced to an interesting method of imbibing: binge drinking.

Now I made a point about Mike’s Hard being delicious because most alcohol is decidedly NOT delicious (or so I thought at the time, more on that later). In the great, broad spectrum of alcoholic beverages, the vast majority are vile. This is because ethanol is a poison and your body wants you to NOT put poison in it. Fortunately human beings have evolved sufficient self-control to overcome such primitive and backwards wishes.

Binge drinking addresses this problem, the taste problem, head on. One is drinking alcohol to get drunk; at 20 this feeling is incredibly novel and the lowering-of-inhibitions has the added effect of stripping you of your incredible awkwardness. Plus it’s something grown-ups do and everyone is making an enormous deal about how we’re all adults now. Regardless, you are not drinking $10 vodka because you “enjoy the flavor.” So you do not sip it, you chug it. This gets the most “drunk” for the littlest “taste.” A single shot of vodka will make your tongue miserable for two minutes, but this clock resets with each new shot. If you take the shots in rapid procession, you can REALLY cut down on the amount of tongue misery. Plus, once you’ve committed to your buzz, it does you the favor of cutting down on ANY sensation, which makes the flavor a LOT easier.

Thanks buzz.

The party in Ohio was the first time I ever binge drank along with many other new things. It would be the first time I would run around in a parking lot – shouting in what I thought was a whisper –  about how ridiculously drunk I was. It was the first time I would perform that celebrated bit of theater: pretending to be sober when in a place where being drunk might get you arrested (a friend desperately required green beans).

Ohio was also my first hang-over, and this is where a problem begins. You see, when one ingests poison, one will in time feel poisoned. That is the nature of poison, it poisons you. Unfortunately, I did not have much of a hang-over. This is unfortunate because this is when MOST people learn what is ubiquitously known as “their limit.” The miserable hang-over is like the sun, melting one’s ethanol wings for flying too high (that’s an Icarus reference, because quoting Greek mythology during my dissertation on drinking makes me seem sophisticated). I did not learn my limit. It would be four years before I would reach that point.

So, having learned only that Southern Comfort and Rum are pretty easy to shoot, I approached 21 with no consternation, only anticipation. As the oldest in the group, I had the unique distinction (for a month!) of being the only guy who could buy booze. Not having any money, this meant I had the unique distinction of being the guy who takes his friends money to buy everyone else’s booze. As the only supplier, I could do this without much complaining. We all got completely shit-faced, and it was wonderful. We had a couple of parties, accompanied by a couple of drinks. I had just moved back to Indianapolis and everything was going absolutely wonderful. There was so much to celebrate! First apartment? DRINK! First day of school at the 2nd Best Graphic Design School in the United States? DRINK! New job at Best Buy? DRINK! The girlfriend seemed ESPECIALLY in love with you? DRINK! Suddenly there was nothing too small to celebrate and life was great.

Until Admiral Nelson came.

(To be Continued)

From Act 3, Scene One of Hamlet

29 Jan

Being sad sucks. Depression is one of the worst diseases I know. That’s not just because I’ve had it, though my intimate relationship with it has certainly informed my opinion. No, the reason depression sucks is because it ruins everything. Every. Thing. That’s not an exaggeration… everything sucks when you’re depressed.

Everyone has been depressed, be it a chronic thing or a phase you went through after your high school break up. Everyone has felt the lack of energy, the lack of motivation, and the lack of satisfaction. Unfortunately, if you haven’t had chronic depression, it gets hard to understand the effect that depression can have on your life at large.

When you’re depressed for a month, your grades in that period will slip, you’ll let yourself go, and you’ll lose a few friendly acquaintances that don’t have time for your crap. Then, when it passes on, you get up off your butt, make up your homework, hit the gym, and go out and meet new people. That’s when you’re depressed for a month.

When you’re depressed for years… your grades slip… for semesters, You let yourself go… and gain thirty pounds (if you’re lucky!), and you destroy relationships you thought would last forever. And the fact that you’ve ruined your life makes getting out of the depression increasingly difficult. Maybe you will get over it, and have an energy and optimism you thought you’d never feel. Just one thing…

What the hell do you do now?

When depression has become your norm, when the bar you’ve set for yourself has gotten that low, trying to be something more is terrifying – and very, very difficult. The million things you never bothered to do because it was a triumph getting out of bed, suddenly they matter and you either forgot or never learned how to do them.

When you’re depressed you forget that the reason people get haircuts every couple weeks isn’t because their obsessed with shallow things, it’s because you look ridiculous if you let your hair grow out that long without a trim. You realize that showing up on time isn’t required because people are uptight, it’s because everyone has things to do and waiting for you isn’t one of them. You realize that liquor isn’t calorie-free and maybe that’s why you’ve got that gut.

That’s the easy stuff. As you care about your appearance, you figure out how to work a trip the barber in (note to self: barber). When your time matters to you, you start respecting other people’s more. And when you Google “calories in a shot of rum” you switch to zero-calorie Pepsi and drink a lot of water. Quick simple fixes.

What do you do about four semesters of lack-luster to awful grades? The school doesn’t really give a damn that you had some self-esteem issues, because your employer won’t either. And didn’t, that’s why you were unemployed and have that comfortable mountain of debt now. You also destroyed your social circle, so that the only people you know are either depressed themselves or uncomfortable introducing your sad-ass to their other friends.

The answer is the same as when it was a month. You work hard, and while a month of depression only requires a month of extra work, three years takes three years.  In order to recover from your three years of being miserable, you have to spend three years working your ass-off. That’s the deal.

Now you’ve got some aces in the hole here. Everyone you know by now expects absolutely nothing from you. These people love you, but they had to lower their standards. There is a reason they would go on and on about how good you look with a shave: this was a legitimate milestone for you. So now when you roll in with a 3.0 GPA, by God, it’s amazing. Cause they’ve been conditioned to hope for a 2.5 and expect a 1.8. You also feel effing amazing. You know that day every year, the first time you get to wear shorts? Remember how amazing that feels? You can’t the stupid smile off of your face, hell, the air even smells better. Imagine how that would feel after a three year winter and you start to get the idea of what it’s like. Finally, your own expectations are pretty much crap too. In order to cope with how inept you were because of the depression, you came to expect very little from yourself as well. You became incredibly skilled at making excuses that you never believed. So now when turning in homework (which it turns out, isn’t all that hard) gets you good grades, you feel like the most capable and skilled individual on planet earth.

Except when you throw a 3.0 semester on top of four semester with a cumulative 1.8 GPA… you get… a 2.0 GPA. And even though YOU know everything has changed, and your friends and family can see everything has too… the school, which also lowered its expectations, is a bit harder to convince. So instead of affordable federal aid, you’ve got what’ll turn into tens of thousands of dollars in private debt that you have to start paying off NOW. Oh, and now that you’re capable of functioning like a real person, all those lowered expectations from everyone you love feel condescending.

So here you are, and you’ve got a choice to make. This is going to be hard. Really, really hard. Everyone is hedging their bets on you, from your parents to your college to, yes, yourself. You’re broke enough that you’re considering the Ramen diet and the reason you haven’t gotten to the barber is because you need food. You don’t know a single person in your classes, and while the work seems easy and interesting, you’re sure that’s just cause you’re missing something critical. You’ve lost a little weight, but you don’t look anything like you did before everything fell apart. It would be easy… so very easy… to just slide back. Hell, people would understand! The excuses start making themselves…

Fuck that.

Life is hard. That’s not some cynical hard-ass comment, that’s the truth. You’re not the only one flailing around not knowing what to do. Barack Obama is the president of the United States and he had an absentee father who died when he was fifteen. Your great-grandparents lived through the great depression. No you didn’t ask for depression, no you didn’t deserve it, but they didn’t deserve what happened to them either. It’s never going to be easy. It’s never going to be simple. That was childhood. And back then? That stuff seemed pretty complicated and intense. This is how it is.

It’s doable. More than that, it’s possible to excel. You can do this. I don’t need to elucidate the reasons why you want to. Satisfaction. Purpose. Hell, something to do other than think about how much things suck right now. Make your own reasons.The important thing – really the only thing – is that you ARE doing this, and until you absolutely can’t?

You will.

Trying Times

27 Sep

I used to want to be the best person. That is a fairly tall order. I wanted to be the best human being. This involves a variety of other bests too. The best listener. The best communicator. The best pancake flipper. So yeah, believe it or not, I was a perfectionist.

There is a lot to be said for perfectionism. Fastidiousness, meticulousness, and other ousnesses are all shades of perfectionism. The word “perfect” is in there for the Lord’s sake. The relentless pursuit of excellence is sort of our cultural fetish; true super hella’ hard and you’ll get everything you want. And the inverse is true, if you don’t try hard, if you don’t do it right, you don’t get squat.

That is the unspoken contract “good” young people enter into with society. The good kids decide they are going to follow the steps/rules/established mores. In exchange, the world is supposed to give them everything they want. If you are a good citizen, the good kid thinks, the world will reward you. If you break the rules, cheat, or slack off you don’t get anything.

The problem is that this is never, ever true. For one, the people who break rules very often get away (and ahead) with it. I’m all for being sensitive (lord knows I was a failure at sports when little), but everyone doesn’t get a trophy. When you play baseball, you are competing. Winners win, losers lose. Celebrate failure and you mitigate victory. On the other hand, the top is lonely for a reason: the people who populate it often aren’t really in the mood for company. Nobody at the top reaches down and lifts you up just because you followed the rules. It’s cool that you did, but if you’re not as good as someone else, for any reason, then tough luck. Your mom died so you’re emotionally drained for that interview? Ouch, that sucks. A goose hit the engine of the plane you’re in so you had to land making you late for the conference? Too bad that didn’t happen to the other guys.

As if anyone needed more reason to hate geese.

The contract isn’t a guarantee. It’s a  guideline. It’s an “all else equal.” By the time you’re old enough to realize “all-else” is never equal, you’re up to your eyeballs in commitment to doing things this way. You’ve passed by opportunities to act out, to explore, to try for something else… to look to see if there is anything else. And your role models, the products of this contract, they keep telling you it’ll work, and you keep hoping they are right. That years of hard work will pay off.

It will to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the unspoken factor no one talks about because there’s nothing to be done about it. That factor is, of course, luck. It’s fair that we don’t discuss it, that we don’t go in depth about it. What is there to say? Sometimes the other guy runs a red light. Sometimes your computer really does crash. Sometimes things happen out of your control and completely dominate your life.

But this is why we need to talk about it. Because if everything that happens to you is YOUR fault… is YOUR decision… then when you get, oh I don’t know… pneumonia, it’s your fault. When that, let’s say, gets you kicked out of school, it’s your fault. And if for the sake of argument that feeling of failure sent you into a tailspin of depression that shatters almost everything you’ve worked for… well, you had it coming.

(Where ever do I get my outlandish examples I wonder?)

Anyone who knows me knows I didn’t exactly cherish that social contract. But that’s because I was the worst kind of perfectionist: the kind that won’t do something if they can’t do it perfectly. It’s the fallout of that delightful adage fathers teach their sons: if you’re going to do something, do it right. Except what I took from that was: if you’re not going to do something right, don’t do it at all.

Woops.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but life involves a considerable amount of trial and error. For example: dancing. You cannot do a dance move without practicing it. Someone who does not dance cannot simply watch a music video and then produce anything like that. It instead results in shame, self-conciousness, and very often injury. Given that most people need to be drunk (or otherwise under the influence of outside chemicals), this all gets exaggerated. No one wants to fail. I can gyrate with the best of them, but I fell over my first time trying to learn swing dancing steps. (That a well practiced eight year old then swept in to dance with my date, while mocking me loudly, did not help). Guess who never went back to learn swing dancing? This guy.

No.

This idiot.

I say idiot because not doing something for fear of failure, or worse, rejection, is stupid. Sometimes… maybe often times… hard work doesn’t pay off. No matter what you do… how hard you work… loved ones will die, computers will break, and yeah… you’ll get sick. That’s no reason to hold back… no reason to go at life with anything less than one hundred percent. You just need to go in knowing you’re going to fall. (And when the eight year old mocks you, just smile and remember that the little &@$% has the joys of puberty coming soon).

What it comes down to is that while we are alive, there is almost nothing that is certain. You know you were born. You know you’ll die… some day. Other than that, it’s all guess-work. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s strangely comforting. You have to work. You have to try. And you have to fail. It’s going to happen. Learn from your failure. Understand the part in your life it plays. But remember. It’s just a part.

And for God’s sake, don’t take your failure as a moral fault. Who you are doesn’t change because you didn’t make the shot/get the interview/overcome a lung full of fluid. You aren’t a worse person because of it. Learn from it, get back on your feet, and do something with what you’ve learned.

I don’t want to be the best person anymore. Well maybe I do… but I define it a little more forgivingly now. Mostly I want to be happy. If what I’m doing is making me happy (in a sustainable, responsible way), then I’m doing a good job. I have goals, I have things I want. But if I fall short… in work, learning, or even love; I’m not a bad person. Just someone who needs to try again when he’s ready.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
— Henry Ford

Math: Hero or Evil?

22 Sep

I am not a fan of math. In fact, I don’t like it much at all. If you made a list of things I don’t like, you would have a very long list. And if it was in order of overwhelmingly hated to almost bearable, math would be near the top, along with bits of gristle in pastrami and thinking your ex is happier than you. As far as I’m concerned, math is the way the universe proves it doesn’t actually make any sense. Which is funny, because I hear math is how we make sense of the universe.

I haven’t always hated math. In fact, back in middle school it was like every other subject – incredibly easy and boring. I may have wanted to sleep through it, but that didn’t mean I hated it. I instead spent the time I should have been doing math drawing in-depth battles between TIE fighters and X-wings. (Like a true nerd, I know you must capitalize TIE. Ladies… I’m still single).

It was in high school that I learned to hate math. This is because in High School I suffered from a mental handicap known as “Self-Control Atrophy”… a debilitating disease that affects such high profile people as Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods. Math requires one actually learn the concrete principles, you can’t just extrapolate from chapter two when you get to chapter five. And unlike the English language, History, or anything that’s actually interesting, one is unlikely to pick up on Algebra or Pre-Calculus while putzing around on the internet.

So since 9th grade I have had an extremely adversarial relationship with Math. Someone would say the word, and I would begin another tirade on the vile disgusting nature of Math. Never mind that, in its way, English is far more complicated and difficult to master (with its almost complete lack of concrete rules) than much Math. Or that when I actually bother to study, Math comes to me about as quick as anything else does. No, clearly it is the devil, and I refuse to believe otherwise.

Unfortunately, some schmuck decided that being a well rounded college student meant that I needed to demonstrate at least a facile grasp of linear equations. This is… yes, the worst idea anyone has ever tried to sell me. I have tried to convince everyone otherwise, but most people seem to think this is not, in fact, the worst thing ever.

An amazing thing has happened though. A truth has been uncovered. You see… around 9th grade a magical thing happened. Puberty. At that time, my brain was flushed with hormones that not only made my naughty bits and arm pits grow hair, but also made finding a woman and making her happy basically my one over-riding goal in existence. I pursued it with literally reckless abandon. Which is to say I recklessly abandoned everything else in my life. Including me.

Now that I’m single, a horrible truth as emerged. I can do math. In fact, if I stop getting impatient for five minutes, I can do math pretty well. I learn it as quick as anything else I want to learn. It takes a little more patience, but that’s honestly because I’m out of practice. It is with this knowledge I posit my theory:

Women make me stupid as hell.

This is obviously wrong. But my bitter, shriveled husk of a heart wants to think it’s clever. Truly, like everything else, I have to make something a priority for me to perform at an acceptable level. It’s an ugly lesson, as I wanted to think I could skate by on raw talent and spend my time fawning over (and being fawned over in return by) a future wife. Instead I learn that things take work and I have to do what needs to get done before I can do what I’d like to get done.

It only took me twenty four years.

What Is Wrong

22 Sep

There were, by official estimates, over three hundred and seven million citizens of the United States in 2009. These citizens produced or provided over fourteen and a half trillion dollars worth of goods and services. That means that the United States produces over forty seven thousand dollars per citizen, every year.

Well not per person.

Only about half the population, or one hundred and fifty six million people, is actually a member of the workforce. Official unemployment is at nine point nine percent of the workforce. When expanded to include marginally attached and partially employed people, this number jumps to over seventeen percent. Over fourteen percent of the United States population is below the poverty line, which for individuals is ten thousand eight-hundred dollars. In a given ten year span, two out of every five Americans will spend time living below the poverty line. In the past twenty years, the United States’ economy has more than doubled, even after being adjusted for inflation. Median income on the other hand, has increased by a little over sixteen percent in that same time period.

The United States is also overwhelmingly in debt, and the government has actually been getting better than the rest of us. In 1946 the United States government owed one hundred and fifty percent of the GDP. Currently federal debt is at fifty four percent of GDP. On the other hand debt owed by the financial sector has gone from one point three percent of GDP to over one hundred and nine percent of GDP. Households have gone from owing fifteen percent of GDP to over ninety five percent. At every level the United States is over leveraged.

Money isn’t the only problem. The Infrastructure of the United States is hurting too. And by hurting, I mean almost completely failing. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the over all infrastructure of the United States a “D” grade. The highest rated segment of the infrastructure was solid waste management, with a lackluster C+. As mentioned before, the size of the United States economy has more than doubled (in real dollars) since 1990, yet spending on infrastructure has been going down (in real dollars) since 1980. Even as more than twice the money was made available actual spending dropped. ASCE estimates that due to lack of maintenance the current cost of bringing the United States infrastructure back into shape would be over two trillion dollars.

United States education is falling behind the rest of the “developed” world. Public schools cost more than private schools to run and continue to see worse results. The cost per student in the United States is the highest of any country, roughly eleven thousand dollars per student, per year. Yet this cost is not helping students to perform better. The cost of a college education, critical to the growth of the skilled work force, has increased by over four hundred and thirty nine percent between 1982 and 2007. During that same period (unadjusted) income increased by only one hundred and forty seven percent. The cost of college is growing three times as fast as the average American’s ability to pay for it.

The United States has four main problems: income distribution, a lack of capital, deteriorating infrastructure, and a dwindling ability to educate its people to address the problems of tomorrow. These four problems will determine our ability to move forward. Solving them is absolutely critical to fixing the American reality and bringing it closer to the American Dream. There will be no quick fixes. None of these problems will be addressed by the next election cycle. Nor will they be fixed by the fourth election cycle after that. But if we don’t move now, when we finally do, it may be too late.

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

On Giving

22 Sep

The world needs heroes. I’m not talking about in an abstraction. I’m not talking about people in tights. I mean the world desperately needs people to stand up and do what’s right. The world needs people to stop complaining about what is wrong and to actually CHANGE the things that need changing. People who sacrifice and make changes, not for themselves or even their own children, but instead for the world. Fortunately, these heroes are here. We are here.

Charities. Civil Sector Organizations. Foundations. Non-for-Profits. No matter what you call them, they are an incredibly important part of our society. And they are growing. The number of Non Profit Organizations (NPOs) has more than doubled in the past twenty years. The sector, as a whole, is worth over $1.2 trillion a year. By comparison? Farming in the United States takes in less than $0.1 trillion a year.

Charitable donations are at over $300 Billion. Eighty-three percent of that came from private individuals. Seventy percent of households donate. The average donation? Over $2,500. In 2006, over twenty-six percent of American adults volunteered their time with a charity. Six point five percent of the population a day. That’s over fifteen MILLION PEOPLE, every day. The amount they volunteered? Almost thirteen BILLION hours. That’s the equivalent of seven point six million full time workers. That’s not counting the paid employees. The average hourly wage in the United States is $22.60. Those thirteen billion hours are the equivalent of $293 billion in wages.

NPO’s generate a lot of money through sales of services, tuition, and grants. That’s because they do a lot. Most hospitals are NPOs. Same with most Universities. It’s more than just the YMCA and the Red Cross. There are millions of NPOs and they are vital to our society.

Why do I love NPOs so much? Because they perform a vital function in our world. They bridge the gap between the private sector and the public sector. They do jobs that aren’t profitable more efficiently than governments. They innovate, and most importantly, they make a difference.

There is a lot going wrong in the world. So much going wrong. There are wars on every continent (except Antarctica). There are over a billion people without clean water. Sixteen thousand children die every day from lack of food. These are massive problems. The governments of the world are moving to fix them, but they can only move so fast. They must care for their citizens first. NPOs are how those citizens do what their governments can’t.

It can take months or years for a bill allowing the dispensation of state funds to pass in a Western Modern Democracy. NPOs are smaller and faster. Many times, it doesn’t take THAT much money to make a difference. What it takes is hard work, determination, and a willingness to figure out what works. That is where the Non-Profits come in. They can work with people governments can’t or won’t. While the government is still debating whether a problem is really a problem, NPOs will step up and start addressing it.

NPOs are one of the fasted growing sectors of our economy. They are fueled not by greed, but by a desire to get things done. They are how ordinary people achieve extraordinary things. A dentist may not know how to feed children in Malawi. A plumber doesn’t know how to help child soldiers in Uganda. But by pooling their resources, by giving their time, they are changing lives.

Bit by bit, the people of the world are making changes. Bit by bit we are fixing our world. Not because we are paid to. Not because we are made to. But because we want to. And that gives me more hope than anything else.

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For the hourly wage statistic: http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab3.htm

For facts on NPOs:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411664_facts_and_figures.pdf

http://philanthropy.com/section/Facts-Figures/235/

For a quick rundown on the industry: