Once again, unsurprisingly, I am baffled.  My state’s AG today joined the lawsuit against the Obama administration’s new requirement that all employers (excepting some actual religious institutions like churches) cover contraception in the health plans they offer their employees.

There are numerous reasons that I think the requirement makes sense that have been enumerated in many other places.

One thing I do want to ask, though, is what is wrong with options?  It’s not like you’re forcing women that you employ to *TAKE* contraception.  You’re merely required to cover it if they do want to go that route.  I hear the argument that it’s not fair to force an organization to pay for something that runs counter to its beliefs, however, I respectfully disagree.  I expect, for instance, tobacco companies to cover prescription smoking cessation drugs in their plans.  There are religious organizations that are very strongly opposed to mental health treatments, but I expect them to cover prescription mental health drugs too.

An organization should never be allowed to put its beliefs or its bottom line above its employee’s health, it’s that simple.

I’ve really found the SOPA/PIPA situation interesting to observe.  I don’t, however, feel like I have anything particularly relevant to add that hasn’t already been said specific to the law(s).

However, one thing I do find fascinating and will comment on is books.  Specifically, libraries.  If one was to apply pro-SOPA/PIPA logic to a library, all that would be apparent was a lot of lost book sales.  To me, this is so obviously short sighted it’s crazy.  Libraries turn people into *readers*.  Readers buy books.  It’s just not that complicated.  Are there lost book sales because people check something out that they might have bought?  Of course, I’m sure there are.  But that’s such an overly simplistic way to look at it.  The fact is, more readers means more people talking about books, more people buying books and less people turning to competing forms of entertainment.

A fair response to that paragraph would be “yeah, look how great book stores are doing”.  I’ll grant you that many book stores have shuttered their doors, but if you look at the timing it becomes clear that libraries and bookstores coexisted for decades.  The real change here was the coming of big box stores and the internet carving out huge chunks of bookstores sales.

I know the general call of the anti-SOPA/PIPA forces is ‘make it easier to spend money on your stuff and we’ll do it’, and I certainly don’t disagree with that.  But I think rather than scrambling for incrementally larger pieces of the pie, someone might want to acknowledge that more people watching your movies and listening to your music GROWS THE PIE.  And who doesn’t like pie?

The enemy of democracy is not communism.  It’s not Socialism.  It’s not republicans or democrats.  It’s not a religion, an ethos or an ideology.

The enemy of democracy is apathy.

In today’s splintered media world, where if people consume any serious media at all it’s likely to be media that they ‘agree with’, there are fewer and fewer unbiased sources of data.  If people don’t make a serious effort to stay informed, then they’re probably getting their information from Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show.  That’s not democracy.

I know, I know, we’re not technically a democracy, we’re a republic or maybe a representative democracy…. My point remains the same.

Is there any wonder that in an America where it’s getting harder and harder to stay informed that government officals are being more and more affected by lobbying interests?  Sure money talks, I don’t deny that.  But if you have a lobbyist talking in one ear and a horde of apathetic constituents back home that can’t even be bothered to be aware of what’s going on… what do you think you’re going to do?

That being said, the forces of democracy in its American best form came out strong on the PIPA/SOPA thing, there’s no question about that.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.  The people make their opinion clear and the government responds.  If only we had that kind of participation every day.

A wiser man than me once said that people should not be afraid of their government; government should be afraid of its people.  In this case, I’d substitute responsive for afraid, but the idea is similar.  When people can be shocked out of their apathy by their favorite internet sites being unavailable, that gives me hope that it’s not too late.

I’ve been using freecycle a lot recently both to unload stuff I no longer need and to fill in some gaps I had as I flesh out my new house. (One day I’ll rant about the usage of “flush” instead of flesh in the previous sentence, I promise!)  It amazes me to see the stuff that freecycle is able to redistribute.  I strongly encourage you to offer anything you’re considering getting rid of on a site like freecycle or craigslist:free before putting something at the curb. 

Anyway, I bought a George Foreman grill a few years ago and used it, maybe, four times.  One day I plugged it in and the light lit up, but the grill wouldn’t heat up.  I scoured the web for suggestions, but the best I could come up with was ‘buy a new one’.  They’re simply not designed to be repairable.  So I took a perfectly good grill that hadn’t even been used enough to get properly seasoned and put it at the curb  (this was before I used freecycle).  Isn’t it crazy that we’ve come to that as a society?  That we make products like a grill that are intended to be used for maybe a year or two and then junked?  Does that seem crazy to anyone but me? 

So I was frustrated.  I took it apart and tried to find something wrong inside, but ultimately decided that the circuit board was the problem.  Even if I could have found someone to repair it, I find it highly unlikely that they could have done so for even twice the price of a new grill.  Some day, the greatest natural resource left on earth will be North American dumps.

Oh, and I didn’t replace the grill.

I was listening to npr this morning and they were discussing etextbooks.  It led me to thinking that it’s probably inevitable that whatever happens with the paper book, learning is about to evolve beyond the textbook.  And of course, that made me wonder further, clearly the model of education that we use now has not aged particularly well.  So, what might change in the next decade or two?

First, the aforementioned texts.  The democratization of information has changed the world.  Fifteen years ago I worked in a library and we actually had people that would answer the phone and look stuff up for you in giant leatherbound tomes.  Well, I think it’s clear that those days are far in the rearview mirror.  At one time, the best source of, say, macroeconomic information was probably a college textbook.  Now, is there any question that the internet contains vastly more and more updated information than a printed book ever could?  The world changes at such a fast pace now, how could someone expect to use a textbook published even last year to learn about a world that changes… daily?  Hourly?  By the time you finish reading this sentence?

The rise of the ebook reader has conclusively proven that people can accept reading from an electronic device (trust me, this really was a legitimate question at one point!).  Once that became clear, it was really only a matter of time, I suppose, before “e” invaded every fortress of the printed word.  A medium that is cheaper, dynamically updatable, more portable, more convenient and more available is so clearly a winner in retrospect that I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to buy a kindle!

The next place I expect to see change is in actual classroom instruction.  Teachers vary in quality, obviously.  Does it make more sense to take the very best teachers in the country and have them virtually teach massive classes through their proven methods and materials?  And then have students ask questions virtually in smaller groups with discussion guides?  Inequality in education is a major limiting factor for many that come from impoverished communities… how much would those students benefit from the level playing field of an equal primary education?  Getting the very best teachers in the country in front of every single student just seems more efficient than having 100,000 different teachers teaching multiplication in 100,000 classrooms in 100,000 different ways (there are approximately 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools in the US).

Finally, I think brick and mortar schools are also going to change, if not disappear as single purpose (for the most part) buildings.  Schools serve many purposes, one of which is education.  If you remove education, though, and focus on the other needs (socialization, day care, nutrition, exercise, etc), I think you’ll find that the school as we know it today might not be the best way to meet those needs.  Think of what kids do in the summer compared to during the school year.  Think about what you did during your summer vacations when you were a kid.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess here, but I’d be real surprised if a lot of people had a big problem with *not* going to school all summer.  The fact of the matter is that sitting in a classroom all day is completely against the nature of childhood!  Doesn’t it make more sense to educate children in a way that works with the tendencies and interests they have rather than trying to get them to conform to a stale ideal of what education should look like?

So yeah, those projections are a bit of lunacy.  What would this even look like?  Well, a virtual education allows us as a society to create learning centers that cater to different learning styles to meet different needs.  If my son or daughter is an auditory learner, they could be in a place with other auditory learners participating in a learning experience that was customized to their needs!  They could be assisted by members of the community in a community and recreation center where learning could be combined with recreation, socialization and participating in community activities. If my child is a particularly fast or slow learner, a virtual arrangement allows him or her to pace themself, focusing on areas that are more difficult.  If my child really has a passion for something that very few other people care about, chances are good that there are people somewhere else in the virtual classroom just as interested that my child could learn together with.

I don’t think there’s much of a question as to whether education will change in the next twenty years, I think it’s more a question of how.  Further, I don’t think a virtual classroom is much of a reach given the success of online universities coupled with the fact that children now grow up using technology in a way that would make all of this extremely natural and easy to understand.  The first time your son or daughter comes home from school and logs into a virtual chat room to work on homework… that will be the beginning.  Keep your eyes open and keep thinking about what’s going on around you!

Of course, I’ve been wrong before….