Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dumpster Diving

This post was inspired by Buster Blonde's fine post here.

I try not to talk much about my own personal life here.

Essentially, I strongly feel my opinions, work and profession should depend on the work I produce, not the path I took to become who I am that produces it. If I write a story with a black man as the main character I want it to be judged on the quality of the work and not judged that I, a white man, might dare to write about a black character. Similarly, if I write an opinion about how the poor are treated here in the US of A, I want that opinion evaluated whether or not I am poor or rich or somewhere not either.

I also feel that anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all. If we have a statistic-- say, percentage of people who are poor that manage to change their state. We'll say, arbitrarily and with no supporting fact, that 90% of the people who are born poor stay poor. (The statistics are much more interesting. See here. But for the purposes of this discussion we'll say 90%.) Then, someone comes along with an anecdote that such and such (insert name: Herman Cain, Henry Ford, etc.) raised himself out of poverty by dint of his own work ethic. That anecdote is immediately used to counter the statistic.

This is more than bogus. This is called bullshit.

Anecdotal evidence doesn't say anything about circumstances.

My life reflects who I've become but has no relevance to the world at large save that it formed my opinions.

My father was an aerospace engineer. He worked hard. Relentlessly, brutally hard. He had been raised as a farmer-- his family (read: him) plowed the farm with a horse because tractors were for the wealthy. They had no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. He was critically unprepared for any technical education.

Then, World War II happened.

Dad wanted to be an aviator but had no math skills at all. He had a high school education from a high school that wasn't that good to begin with. He hadn't taken advantage of what had actually been there. He had been rejected by a music college because of insufficient math skills.

He received his draft notice. Dad didn't want to be fodder. He didn't want to die in the bowels of a ship. The rules were that once you received the notice you had a period of time to enlist before you were required to show up. He wanted to be an aviator and tried several times to so enlist, being rejected each time for various reasons. He would solve one problem and then find another. The last one was high school geometry.

Dad was walking down the steps of the courthouse and passed another gentlemen who had the same problem and was explaining to his friend that he'd gotten around it by agreeing to take a geometry course at a local school. Dad turned around on the steps and went back inside with this information and managed to get into aviation school.

Understand, I am enormously proud of my father. He was the sort of man who actually could take a sow's ear and make a silk purse. But, like anyone else, he had to have the luck to get the sow's ear in the first place.

Dad didn't help me in college. Not because he didn't want to but because in 1971 with the oil embargo and such the bottom completely fell out of aerospace and Dad was finished as an aerospace engineer. Eventually, he found his feet but I was on my own.

Which I managed by working two jobs and grabbing every National Defense Student Loan I could find. NDSL: thank you to Lyndon Banes Johnson. Imaging paying a guaranteed 3% loan for your education. NDSL stopped: thanks a lot, Nixon.

If there had been no GI bill, Dad wouldn't have been able to get into college. He would have had to go back to farming or selling pianos or cars or something because his high school education had not prepared him for much else. Did the country need him to do that? If there had been no NDSL, I'd have been screwed. I didn't have the grades to go to college on scholarship. I worked damned hard but so what? Effort does not always equal reward. Did the world need me pumping gas or digging ditches?

Sure I worked hard and made some good decisions but it was national policy and luck that got me here. Commodity Foods fed me that first year in college before I found my feet. And the places I had to live-- well, let's just say I know what I know about dumpster diving from personal experience.

So, does that mean I want my son to have proper instruction in dumpster diving to better prepare him for the workplace? Hell no.

Sure, I think people ought to work hard. But do I think opportunity is available to everyone without help? The statistics don't bear that out.

For my own part, anyone who thinks they did it without help is dreaming. And that's why we have to make sure people have help.

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