Children gathering potatoes on a large farm, v...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Most Americans consider hard work a virtue, but is it the only virtue? In the not-too-distant past, adults worked 12-14 hour days 6 days per week, while children started work at 9 or 10 years of age. Do we want to return to those days as Newt Gingrich has suggested for poorer school children? Our labor laws already encourage the children of migrant farm laborers to work at an early age at the expense of their schooling. Is our desire for cheap food so important that we are willing to sacrifice the education of poor children?

I attended a local meeting of the Patrick Henry Caucus at which a Utah state legislator spoke. Her biggest applause line occurred when she expressed disapproval of undocumented children in the classroom. The parents of those children may have been illegal, but I am willing to bet $10, not $10,000, that most of the children were US citizens. In poorer societies, working from dawn to dusk may be the only option. As societies become richer, other options become available. Some people may choose to continue working 70 hours per week, while others may decide to accept fewer material goods with at the same time more leisure. Leisure is not a waste of one’s time. We humans need leisure to maintain good health.

Leisure may be used for recreation and to spend more time with one’s family. In my opinion, this will create stronger marriages with children more likely to become drug-free adults, not criminal members of gangs. Leisure can also be used for self-education to advance in the workplace as well as keeping informed of current events for good citizenship and intelligent participation in politics. There have always been some who believe that an education is a dangerous thing; only the ruling elite should have a good education and the leisure to use it. College education in the US is changing from teaching students to think to teaching students an occupation.

I agree that work is a virtue, but it is not the only virtue. And hard work can be overdone. One of Newt’s excuses for a previous infidelity was that he was overworked. When I was in my mid-20s, I worked 11 hour days, 5 days a week for about six weeks when my employer moved from Chicago to Santa Barbara. It was an office job, but I remember how tired I was. Then when I worked in a hospital as an aide in my late 40s, I worked for 6-9 months from 11am to 1130pm, 12 hour shifts 9 days in a row and then 5 days off every two weeks. Working as an aide was not that tiring, but it did not pay well. I worked the extra hours to boost my income. The first day off was a day to recover and then I could enjoy the following 4 days. When I worked 11 or 12 hour days, I had no time or energy for any other activities.

If we expect all Americans to spend time with their families, to volunteer for community activities and to be informed citizens, then we must provide all Americans with an adequate income for fulltime employment. No one can be a good husband/wife/father/mother who has neither the time nor the energy to spend with his/her family.

Right to life

Jaap Vermeulen, Jacoplane in a Neonatal intens...

Image via Wikipedia

When does life begin? I worked part-time in a hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for almost 20 years and I had lots of time both on and off the job to try to decide when life begins. Some time between conception and birth, but when exactly? I lean toward the belief that life begins at birth or shortly before birth. As medical science has progressed, we are able to increase a child’s chances of surviving with shorter and shorter gestation periods. We have not yet reached the ability to produce a living child outside the mother’s body from the moment of conception, as in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Whenever it begins, life is sacred. The sanctity of life does not end at the moment of birth. We owe the child born due to our laws and our religious beliefs, the same support that we want for children born of our own bodies. Every child deserves a good start in life with adequate, healthy food and quality, affordable health care. Education to a certain level should be free to produce the next generation of productive workers and informed citizens. We must protect all children, and adults too, from random violence, contaminated food and water, auto accidents, demented shooters, and needless wars, at least as best we can.

It was traditional that saving a person’s life made the hero responsible for that person’s life from that moment on. If some of us believe that life begins at conception and propose to save the lives of children who might be the victims of abortion, then those who so believe become responsible for the lives that they preserve. We cannot and we must not abandon children to their fate after birth.

Surf’s up

Aerial photo: Santa Barbara, California

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Before we bought our first home in 1992, my wife and I with an infant child rented one home after another in Santa Barbara, not an easy thing to do since many landlords discriminate against children even as they demand exorbitant security deposits. During 1984 to 1986, we were fortunate to rent an ordinary, 1200 square foot tract home on a bluff one block from the Pacific. During a period of rapidly rising real estate prices, it probably would have sold for about $30,000, and during the peak of the real estate bubble exceeded $1 million. I expect that now it would sell in the neighborhood of $750,000. I walked past the house recently and it looked almost the same as when we rented it, perhaps a little larger with an addition to one side. You can actually see the area where we rented in the above picture. The green strip at the lower right is the park I mention below.

Homes in the same tract, facing the ocean directly across the street from a park along the bluff have mostly been remodeled upward in size to match their multi-million dollar price tags. Mitt Romney plans to upgrade his La Jolla property from 3000 square feet to 11,062 square feet. La Jolla is one of the most desirable addresses in California and his property includes ocean frontage. Reportedly the property cost $12 million three years ago. After the upsizing, let us assume the property will be valued at $20 million in round numbers. Since the annual property tax rate in California is 1.25%, Romney will be paying around $250,000 per year. That amount would buy a comfortable home in most of the US.

All coastal property in California is scarce and very valuable due to the demand and because of the restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Commission, a body brought into being by the will and an initiative of the California voters in 1972 to preserve the coastline from excessive development. Romney claims that he needs the enlarged house because of the size of his family, and he chose La Jolla because he enjoys the sound of the surf. From the two years we spent renting near the coast, I can share his enthusiasm for the sounds of the waves. With the windows open at night, our rental was in an area quiet enough to hear the wave action. I know of no other sound on earth that is so relaxing.

Regarding his need for so large a home to house his extended family, I have some doubts. His children are all adults and they have children of their own. Romney’s adult children do not need to live with him because they are unemployed or because they have unpaid student loans, at least to my knowledge. Unemployment and unpaid student loans are the two principal reasons today that adult children are moving in with their parents. Romney jokingly once told an audience that he shared their unemployment. The truly unemployed are not living in $12 million homes that are too small.

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