Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brooks on Welfare and Character

In last week’s New York Times, David Brooks broached the highly charged topic of welfare and personal responsibility in an article entitled “The Character Factory.”

There are good reasons why politicians and pundits won’t talk about this. In Brooks’ own words, “Nobody wants to be seen as blaming the victim.” And, of course, there is no reason to believe that the poor have less character than the rich.

A perceived lack of compassion for the poor is the biggest obstacle facing the Republican Party and is probably the main reason conservative doctrine has so little appeal for young people, women and immigrants.  Caring for the weak is the most fundamental value of modern progressive political thought.

Brooks wades into this hazardous terrain with a simple premise.  He compares the way we interact with the neediest segment of our population with the way we raise our own children and grandchildren:

“Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children.  Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.”
Brooks goes on to tap into his considerable knowledge of behavioral science to support the concept that the ability to delay gratification, work hard and control impulsiveness is more important to later achievement than pure cognitive skills.

It’s one thing to agree with this premise and to practice it by means of the influence we have over the children in our own families.  And quite another to assume there’s some way such skills can be imposed by a government agency.

That said, the discussion of character building shouldn’t be off limits in our political discourse.  Those of us who hope to improve our collective future by decreasing the wealth gap and ensuring equal opportunity should not ignore the need for strength of character, not only in our own offspring but throughout society.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

An Open Letter to Stanford University

The Committee for Dish Access speaks for friends, alumni, donors, former and current faculty and staff and other local supporters of Stanford University. We do not live on campus, but we do love and appreciate the university and all it brings to our area.

In particular, we love the Dish. So do lots of others, witnessed by 750,000 entries through the Dish gates annually.

The popularity of the Dish trails can be attributed to an increasingly urban environment surrounding Stanford, intense residential development, awareness of the health benefits of exercise, desire for access to nature, women’s safety concerns, the convenience of paved paths for mothers with strollers and an accessible and challenging 3.5 mile workout for people with busy schedules.

The traffic congestion along Stanford Avenue is the result of too many cars competing for too few parking spaces. The university has reduced available parking over the past few years by implementing parking restrictions on almost every nearby street, even as the Dish has grown in popularity.  And the Stanford Avenue gate has become virtually the only access point to the hills.

Although there are many sites where the university could accommodate parking and many gates that could be opened, Stanford has resolutely resisted proposals to provide parking or to open alternative access points. We believe this is based on outdated and overly conservative legal advice about loss of private property to public use in a way that might limit the university’s future options.

Stanford’s current proposal to eliminate half the parking along Stanford Avenue and replace it with parking on Coyote Hill Road, without providing access anywhere near Coyote Hill, can only be explained as an effort to limit the number of hikers and runners on the Dish.

The plan Stanford filed with Santa Clara County makes Dish access more difficult and hazardous, sending hundreds of Dish walkers across the busy Page Mill/Junipero Serra intersection at rush hour.  The proposal works at cross-purposes with the university’s own promotion of healthy lifestyles -- BeWell@Stanford -- and with the construction of a new $5 billion hospital complex.

We urge Stanford to reconsider its current parking proposal.  The university should promote the common good of its greater community and find a way to facilitate, and not discourage, access to the Dish.