Universal Secrets of Happiness?

I asked a clerk at the grocery store today if there were any universal secrets of happiness.

He said, “I’m not sure.”


I asked if there were any universal secrets of unhappiness.

He said, “I’m not sure. Are there?”


I said, “The question is for you.”


I said, “What makes you happy?”


He said, “Hanging out with friends, people you love and care about.”


I said, “Is that universal?”


He said he thought so and I agreed. Aristotle would agree.


Love and friendship.

Morsels from the Wall Street Journal

Morsels from the Wall Street Journal

July 10, 2014

Today and recent days

Comments in italics


Bike Programs Are Facing Uphill Climb

Insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois recently agreed to pay $12.5 million in the next five years to help the 3,000-bike system (in Chicago) expand. That’s $416 per present bicycle.


Our Financial Crisis Amnesia

It is now five years since the end of the most recent U.S. financial crisis of 2007-09. Stock have made record highs, junk bonds and leveraged loans have boomed, house prices have risen, and already there are cries for lower credit standards on mortgages to “increase access.” For the Left, it’s always about access; access to education, access to health insurance, access to health care, access to college, access to legal services. It makes you wonder if what they really mean is “funding for” whenever they say “access to.”


Foreign Aid: The Folly of the 0.7% Solution

Well-meaning but muddled interventions can backfire.

Such botched projects often result from the obsession with hitting targets and goals—hey, let’s give all kids free education—with little attention to the mechanisms for achieving them, or whether the goals are ever met.

Tear down the walls of trade protection, tackle the tides of dirty money that undermine democracy, loosen immigration controls so people can go abroad to earn and send home remittances, and invest in fighting diseases that kill poor people.


The Attorney General as Captain Ahab

Mr. Spitzer refused to say how much his office had spent in his pointless endeavor.



The barnacled, leviathan state






Plutarch on Lycurgus on Happiness

Lycurgus thought “that the happiness of a state, as of a private man, consisted chiefly in the exercise of virtue…”


Contrast this with the ambivalence I get when asking others if they know of any universal secrets of happiness.

Happiness and Poverty

Happiness and Poverty


I asked a cashier at a sporting goods store if there were any universal secrets of happiness.


She said, “No, I don’t think so. There probably is but I don’t know of any.”


I asked a Subway cashier in Laurel, Montana, what causes poverty.


He said, “I have no idea.”


Then he had an idea. “The laziness of people.”


I asked if poverty is accidental. He thought not.


I asked a Subway cashier in Parowan, Utah, what causes poverty.


He said, “Money.”


I said, “Having money causes poverty?”


He said, “Some people having too much, maybe.”


Then he said, “At the job I just left, my boss needed three workers. He went to the state job service, (which, in Utah is housed with the welfare agencies, in an effort to direct beneficiaries toward work.) Four males were sitting there.


He said, “I have three jobs to fill. Do any of you want a job?”


They all said, “No, we’re waiting for our food stamps.”


The cashier concluded, “That’s the country we live in.”



Life at the Bottom

Wealth and Poverty

Coming Apart

A Welfare Mother

Fatherless America

The New Politics of Poverty

The Dependency Agenda

Tyranny of Kindness




Are There Any Universal Secrets to Happiness?

“Are There Any Universal Secrets to Happiness?”

 I ask store clerks this question. Lately I’ve gotten two certain “no”s and two qualified “maybe”s.

 A retail clerk, a female, said, “I’m not sure.”

I followed up with, “Are there things that make all people happy?”

She said tentatively, “Maybe love.”

I came back with, “Love given or love received?”

She said, “Love received.” 

I said, “What makes it possible to receive love?”

Our conversation had to end there.

(I wanted to ask, “Isn’t it more reliable to give love than to wait to get it? Aren’t our kindnesses just as satisfying to us as they are to those we love?”)

 At the next store, a young woman with the radioactive symbol tattooed into her forearm, neon hair tints, and a silver ring puncturing her nostril bridge waited on me.

“Are there any universal secrets of happiness?”

“No,” without hesitation.


At a sporting good store a young female clerk answered my question saying “no.” She seemed pretty confident about it.

I followed up with, “Happiness is different for every person?”

She affirmed that.

 At a medical office, I asked a receptionist, “Are there any universal secrets of happiness?”

She wasn’t sure. She knows what makes her happy; trying to be good to people, treating them like she’d like to be treated, writing an extensive loving note to her father in the Father’s Day card she gave him.

She wasn’t sure her methods were universally applicable but she tended in that direction.

We discussed the possibility that negative responses to the question may indicate the dominance of relativism in modern thinking, that the absolute belief that no moral absolutes exist could be at work.

I wondered if the writers of the Declaration of Independence were 1) asserting that universals exist in the “pursuit of happiness, or 2) that no universals exist and that the liberty they prized and demanded only allows every person to define what happiness is to them and what methods they might employ to attain it. The latter posits the moral relativism seemingly accepted by the two young ladies that flatly denied that there are universal secrets to happiness.(The Closing of the American Mind: Allan Bloom, 1987.)

 I may ask the next quick “no” this question: do all methods of seeking happiness return the happiness result? Can people be happy no matter what they do? Is there any way at all to be happy? Is happiness possible? Is anyone happy? Are there any universal secrets to being unhappy?


Photo: Catherine Scott: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Happy_faces#mediaviewer/File:Happy_family_(1).jpg


My Birth Family

This photo was taken in between performances of a concert we gave in Arizona, where our parents spend the winter.

I have:

Married parents-a father and a mother

Eight supportive siblings

Twenty-seven first cousins

Forty-one nieces and nephews

An extended-family organization of my father’s siblings numbering 243 living individuals

An annual family reunion

A loving wife to whom I’ve been married for 36 years

Four children and their spouses

Four delightful grandchildren


How blest I’ve been!

Family photo

My parents and siblings. We performed a concert of popular and folk music in Quartzsite, Arizona, February 22, 2014.





What Are MOOCs?

What are MOOCs?

Do MOOCs impinge the current model of higher education? How disruptive is this technological change?

What are MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses. College level courses, undergraduate and graduate.

Coursera screen shot


What kind of courses?


Everything from poetry to artificial intelligence to logic to computer circuits.


How many people take them?

A recent course in logic attracted 170,000 sign-ups. (I took it.) Half showed up for the first class. 10% of them may have completed. That sounds paltry, but 8,500 students completing that course represented a professor’s lifetime output using the old classroom model.

Where can I see an introductory video about MOOCs?


Professors from what colleges are making courses available for free or little cost?


Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and many other colleges, both prestigious and obscure.


Which websites are the major providers of MOOC content?


Coursera, Udacity and EdX

How much do they cost a student?

Most are free. Sometimes they cost $30-50 in proctoring fees. Sometimes students will purchase an e-textbook or a paper textbook. This is one way professors who author a book that accompany their course can really cash in.

George Tech offers an accredited master’s in computer science, entirely on-line, for $7,000, a fraction of its normal cost. (This program is not free, “open,” though it is part of the disruptive technology revolutionizing higher education. This fact sheet deals with the larger picture, not just MOOCs which are technically free.)

How might they transform higher education?

Students will take lectures from the best professors. Students can be remote; many more can be served, for little marginal cost. Students can work full-time and view courses at an hour of their choosing. Tests can be proctored at testing centers for validity. Tuition will be free or perhaps 1/10 of present tuition. That portion of a student’s education that has been provided in impersonal lecture halls is highly amenable to this new format for learning. 10-100% of various degrees can be earned through MOOCs. History is well-suited. Computer science, too. Ceramic arts is poorly suited. Biology, chemistry, and physics labs require equipment and in-place learning, rooting at least this portion of learning these disciplines to the same mode as at present. Surveying, nursing clinicals and teaching practicum are on-site. Many psychology, sociology and education courses, to name a few, lend themselves to on-line presentation.

Who will save money?

Students. Parents. Taxpayers.

How many more students will be served?

The world-wide audience is boundless. In Montana, students in remote areas could gain knowledge and skills, un-hampered by distance problems.

How will student debt change?

Total student indebtedness now tops $1 trillion. Watch this number plummet.

Who will lose pay and position?

Unskilled lecturers. Administrators. Support staff.

Which universities are employing MOOCS?

The large and small, the prestigious and the lowly. A University of Chicago graduate-level finance course blends the professor’s video lectures-which he shares with the rest of the world for free- with classroom experience for the three dozen paying grad students he has.

Are they the future of education?

They have great potential to open doors to many more students. The mix of short videos and quick quizzes gives feedback to course presenters that show them where to improve their courses.

What are their strengths and shortcomings?

One shortcoming is the fact that some learning is best accomplished face-to-face, though MOOC teachers are quickly learning how to engage students with each other, teaching assistants, and themselves. Interaction hurdles are evaporating. Low cost is an obvious strength, from the student perspective.

How will universities re-configure themselves?

When the accreditation hurdle is cleared, greater variety will emerge. Research universities may retain their research function, while their teaching function splits into in-person and video segments. No brick and mortar space, and few state financial resources will be devoted to remedial courses in reading, writing and math. Students seeking accreditation from 2-year schools will fulfill most of their core requirements online. Campus footprints will shrink. The number of brick and mortar campuses will decline. One expert estimates that half of all colleges will merge or disappear in the next 10-15 years. The savings could be enormous.

How is Northern Arizona University side-stepping the accreditation hurdle?

Offering a competency-based degree. Competency is what employers are looking for after all, not credentials based on “seat time.” (Advertisement in WSJ, April 3, 2014)

How will a school with an on-time graduation rate of 2.5% like MSU-Great Falls change?

MOOCS and other disruptive technologies may threaten its survival.

How will university building budgets change?

No new brick and mortar investment will be needed. Campuses can be re-purposed.

How will state budgets alter?

States spend millions per year-Montana spends $281 million in general funds-to support higher education and could see that figure drop by a third to a half. Taxpayers get more graduates with skills and wisdom at a lower cost.

How will federal spending change?

Federal budgets in support of higher education can take a partial sabbatical.

Who will profit the most?

Besides students, parents and taxpayers, rock-star professors who have mastered the craft of teaching lucid lectures laced with funny examples and demonstrations stand to become wealthy. Certification and proctoring companies will arise. Technologists who enable the delivery of these learning platforms will profit. Talented teaching assistants will command better compensation.

“It is only a matter of time before many university classes are taught virtually by superstar professors assisted by armies of low-paid onsite assistants. State universities will then be able to educate significantly more students at a fraction of the current cost. For many students this will be a great boon—a certified and possibly quality education at a cheap price. For most California voters, this is a good deal. But it is precisely what the faculty at San Jose State fear.” http://www.hannaharendtcenter.org/

For more information consult this Wikipedia page.








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