Archive for May, 2012

The circus ends today

A benefit to living in a smaller community is the digestible nature of the police reports. They appear every Tuesday in these pages, the paper of record. I usually read them, right after I marvel at my own work.

Some reports make me feel bad about our world. Others make me feel good about myself. Either way, as in last week’s edition, there’s always something for everyone.

There’s comedy:

“After a caller reported there was no one inside a store to help the customers inside, police found an employee sleeping in the office.”

“A doctor’s office reported a patient was in no condition to drive in his physical state, but the fellow was already gone.”

“A caller said her 17-year-old ran away from home, but not to school.”

“A woman called to complain that the meat portion was missing from her Meals on Wheels lunch.”

There’s tragedy:

“A woman who had just gone through a bad break-up asked an officer to check if she had just run over the nail in her tire or if someone put it there.”

“A caller said his ex-girlfriend stole a $2,800 dog.”

There’s even satire:

“An intoxicated man found sitting on a curb said he was waiting for his father to pick him up after his girlfriend had kicked him out of her apartment because he was so drunk.”

The reports often cut to the heart of a matter. Some can make observations about our world that at once can be so simple and yet so deep. For example:

“A woman complaining about the ‘circus-like atmosphere’ around the voter registration office wanted to speak to the mayor about the situation.”

That “circus-like atmosphere” was, of course, campaigning at the early voting polls.

The caller is not the first to describe our politics as a circus, though she may be the first to call 911 about it.

The comparisons are striking, really. Like a circus, politics come to town very couple of years. There are signs and banners and flyers.

Big-bellied elephants and trick donkeys are paraded out for review. Promoters go door to door to enhance turnout. Tents shade the animals from the sun. Hot dogs are served.

There are claims (“World’s smallest horse!”) and promises (“Greatest show on earth!”), not to mention, exaggerations. Where there are animals, there is mudslinging. There are also raw facts that campaigns try to explain away as mudslinging.

This year’s elongated primary season has made the circus seem particularly obnoxious.

Bumper stickers grew into complete rear-window decals. Plastic signs turned into gigantic vinyl banners. Political ads squeezed local news to the margins. Some voters surely asked, “Does anyone have a real job anymore?”

P.T. Barnum would have been impressed by the hype.

Nevertheless, the travelling road show ends today. Polls close at 7. I hope you went – or go before it’s over.

As smelly as the whole ordeal may be, we should be thankful the circus still comes to town.

There are places where it doesn’t. They are not places you would likely want to live.

 
 
Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

A higher ed quandary

A university finance professor asked which of his students were paying for college with student loans. Most were. “And what is the collateral on those loans?” he asked.

After a moment of awkward silence, one courageous soul spoke up: “Our textbooks?”

With graduation season upon us, let’s examine the state of higher education and the system that finances much of it.

Reportedly, student loans are about to surpass credit cards in aggregate debt outstanding. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Americans now owe approximately $1 trillion in student loans.

I’ll spare you the statistics of how dramatically college tuition costs have risen. Suffice it to say the increases are as big as the Lifetime Fitness-like student centers popping up on many college campuses.

But are the exponential tuition increases driving greater student loan debt or has the widespread availability of student loans spiked demand that inflates tuition?

It’s tough to say. It’s not tough to say the plight of today’s average college graduate:

He has low to mid five figure debt. He holds a general degree in a “soft skill” (e.g., marketing, communications, English). He is entering a weak job market that makes him consider even more education (and even more student loan debt). He may accept some form of underemployment.

I’ve noticed an extra piece of jewelry recently on the fingers of some grocery store cashiers: Texas A&M class rings. That’s not an Aggie joke. That’s a sign of the times.

It’s true that there is no better indicator of earning power than the possession of a college degree. But I wonder if that is a trailing, not a leading, indicator.

I wonder if the expensive degrees conferred in recent years will burden – either by their cost or by their disutility – more than they will elevate.

I’m not alone. It’s why San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro pushed for an Alamo Colleges degree that costs less than $10,000 – that’s total, not annual.

It’s why 22 per cent of U.S. families making $100,000 or more chose community colleges in 2010-11, up from 12 per cent the year before (source: Sallie Mae).

And it’s why debt doomsdayers like Dave Ramsey advocate only pay as you go educational strategies.

Many educated people predict a tectonic shift in the economics of higher education. Think newspaper publishing industry.

Ivy League-caliber schools are already offering their courses for audit free of charge online. The Internet, of course, is making more and more content more and more of a commodity.

And fewer and fewer employers are concerned about a diploma on the wall so long as an employee can do a job.

Inevitably, there will be low-cost, “build your own” degrees from the universities and including the classes of one’s own choosing. The oligopolies of learning will be disrupted, the keepers of the knowledge keys displaced. The assistant vice provosts of institutional advancement will enter the same job market their graduates have faced.

If I had it to do over again, I would find a less burdensome way to finance my education. In retrospect, the student loan dollars came too easily.

If this were an advice column for high school graduates, it might end like this: Congratulations on being accepted into that prestigious university. Now, don’t go.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

From the White House: A kid’s eye view

Sometimes Dad says things that I don’t understand. I usually don’t question him. People say he’s pretty smart. He IS the most powerful man in the world, after all.

Last week he mentioned me in an interview. (I get a letter from the media relations office whenever he talks about me in public. The media relations people say we need to stay “on the same page.”)

The interview was about something called marriage gay. Dad talked about my sister’s friend who lives with her real mom and another lady. Dad said people like that should be able to get married. I understand it’s important to be fair.

But I can’t really see how it’s the same. I mean, I love my dad. I can’t imagine not having him.

He is gentle with me, but he also has strength that’s different than what mom gives me. I feel extra protected when he’s around. I wish every kid could feel that.

I like my mom’s friends – most of them anyway. But I wouldn’t want one of them in our family instead of Dad. Something wouldn’t be right. Something really special would be missing.

I get that my sister’s friend’s mom and the other lady should be treated with respect. But I sure wouldn’t want to be in my sister’s friend’s position: you know, having no dad around. I would feel like I had a hole in my heart.

Dad said that marriage gay is a generational issue, that young people understand it better than old folks. But I thought older folks knew best. They have something young people don’t. I think it’s called wizdom.

Dad also said he evolved on this issue. Sometimes I wish we had less evolution and more foundation. Less mutability and more stability. (Okay, I found those in a thesaurus.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is: the world changes enough. Some things need to stay the same. It’s best if kids like me have a mom and a dad. Every kid wants a mommy and a daddy, not an extra mommy or an extra daddy.

So it’s hard for me to understand when Dad says that two boys or two girls should be able to get married. What do you do about the boys and girls bathrooms? And I thought it took a mommy and a daddy to make a baby?

Speaking of babies, there’s something else Dad talks about that I can’t figure out. He says that moms should be able to choose whether to have their babies or not.

Why would a mom want to kill her own baby? That’s so mean. Meaner than mean, actually. I’ve played with my dolls since I was two. The thought never crossed my mind to hurt one of them. It wouldn’t feel right. And those are just dolls.

What if that had happened to me? The thought takes my breath away. It makes me feel empty inside.

Mom and Dad have always told me that babies come from God. Surely God wouldn’t want someone to do something bad to a baby, especially if it’s really little inside of his mommy’s tummy.

I really wish Dad would help the babies. I bet he can. People say he’s pretty smart. He IS the most powerful man in the world, after all.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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