Sunday, December 30, 2012

What we want for our children

I want my children to be happy.  I want them to have wonderful life full of adventure and creative pursuits.  I hope they make a difference in the world.  I think similar things are what most parents want for their children and all children.  And the question for society is - How do we make this a high probability for most children?

One-hundred years ago they wanted the same thing, they thought about it differently, but ultimately they thought if they could get their children a steady job, get them out of the country and into the city, get them an education that employers demanded, then their kids would have more options and a higher probability of "succeeding" and having a happy and prosperous life.  100-years ago this meant that they should learn the "basics" in school and become good at factory work.  Learn to listen, learn to mind your manners, learn to respect authority, learn to speak when spoken too, learn walk in a straight line, raise your hand and ask to be excused to the rest room, learn to compete against your friends/foes/classmates/cross town rivals in the classroom, playground, and sports field, all meant to give children their best chance at a healthy, productive, and happy life.

Today, almost all of that advice is wrong.  Absolutely, completely, wrong. 

We're in the middle of a fundamental economic and cultural transition that is completely changing the way we live, work, and learn.  Simply (although it is more complex) technology (mainly the internet), globalization, and demographics have completely changed the way we live, work, and learn, this is true whether you're 79, 39, 19, or 9.  But, if you're 9 or 19 you had better be prepared for it, or you will get left behind and there's a damn good chance that you will struggle for most of you life.

And those of us who can make a difference, who are old enough to demand different, are screwing these kids by putting them in schools that are still designed to train kids with the skills the world demanded in 1900 and we've got to change it.

This is a common theme for my blog, I've written and linked to articles about it many, many times:

Education Reform....continued
In times of dramtic change,why can't we change?
Education, Godin, cont.
The Goal of Education...cont.
Closing Education Gaps, to what end?
Why the United States is Destorying it's Education System
The Purpose of Education
Corporate Education
Brooks: On Education
Making the Strings Easy to Pull
Stop Stealing Dreams
Collaborative Education
Seth Godin

Look at better models, talk to your neighbors, write letters, lobby the school board, talk to the PTA, talk to your child's teachers, demand they stop standardizing in a world that demands individuals.  Demand they stop this silly testing, have the Superintendents and politicians back when they want to innovate, have their back when they get chastised for not giving a damn about the latest test scores or when they recognize that there are more important things than STEM.  And if that doesn't work?  I don't know.  I've got two kids, and I want the best for them, but right now I'm making them go to an institution that is hurting their chances at a great life. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fading the public and political correctness

This blog is entitled "The Essence of Normality" which comes from a book called The Denial of Death ... by Ernest Becker, the rest of the quote is this - "The essence of normality is the refusal of reality."  And my argument is essentially that, for lots of various reasons, we don't have a clue of what's really going on in our world.  We "refuse reality" and very often it's because those in power don't want us to know what's going on and are "pulling our strings" to see the world in ways that is most advantageous for them and their interest.  I would argue it's generational, our parents and grandparents beliefs were established this same way and then passed on to us as "family values" or family beliefs.  It's easier to believe what our parents told us, and look only for confirmation from other people and ideas who share or reinforce our world view, then to suggest to ourselves that our parents were idiots, or that we've been duped.

I make this general argument on a number of fronts, some silly, most political, but others not.  I've written a couple of times about another book I thought was fascinating from the world of self-help, The Four-Hour Work Week by author Tim Ferriss.  This is one example of my overall theme in that early on in that book Ferriss challenges one of our most basic assumptions - if we work hard, pay our taxes, invest in our retirement, and play by the rules, at some point in the future we'll be able to retire and live the life we want to live.  Bullshit, Ferriss points out, it almost never works out that way for lots of reasons.  Then he challenges us to live the life you want to live now, take mini retirements, and basically follow your bliss (in the words of Joseph Campbell). 

However, most of my examples and blog post are from a politically liberal look at the issues of the day where I get the sense that one group or the other is trying to maniupulate public opinion.  I am a liberal/progressive/leftist call me what you will, but having been born and raised in the South in rural areas well below the Mason-Dixon line,  I like Joe Bageant's idea of a "LeftNeck", which he describes as a "gun toting liberal who can change his own oil"...probably describes me pretty well.  But, I'm also bit of a contrarian by nature and am arguing against "conventional wisdom",  arguing to in essence "fade the public" on a variety of issues.

The political pendulum in the United States has moved way to the right in the last 30+ years.  For all of the bloviation of demagogues like Limbaugh, Beck, Fox News, etc. arguing about some mythical socialist/progressive movement, I think it's clear that political correctness is now firmly in the hands of the conservatives.  The range of debate is now remarkably narrow on a host of issues, from taxes, to deficits, to government programs, guns, etc., modest gains recently regarding marriage and marijuana notwithstanding.

Paul Krugman's piece today in the NYT is interesting, accurate, and in large part, in line with this general theme.  Entitled "When Prophecy Fails", he first lays out the research that suggest when prophecies do fail, those who are most invested in them, the champions of the coming prophetic moment don't lose faith, they double down on their faith.
"Back in the 1950s three social psychologists joined a cult that was predicting the imminent end of the world. Their purpose was to observe the cultists’ response when the world did not, in fact, end on schedule. What they discovered, and described in their classic book, “When Prophecy Fails,” is that the irrefutable failure of a prophecy does not cause true believers — people who have committed themselves to a belief both emotionally and by their life choices — to reconsider. On the contrary, they become even more fervent, and proselytize even harder."
Krugman's piece is primarily about economic myths and prophecies and the true believers.  But, it's relevant in a number of areas of politics and our daily lives, he ends his piece saying:

The key thing we need to understand, however, is that the prophets of fiscal disaster, no matter how respectable they may seem, are at this point effectively members of a doomsday cult. They are emotionally and professionally committed to the belief that fiscal crisis lurks just around the corner, and they will hold to their belief no matter how many corners we turn without encountering that crisis.
So we cannot and will not persuade these people to reconsider their views in the light of the evidence. All we can do is stop paying attention. It’s going to be difficult, because many members of the deficit cult seem highly respectable. But they’ve been hugely, absurdly wrong for years on end, and it’s time to stop taking them seriously.
Twice recently (HERE and HERE) I tried to make this point, Krugman does it much more concisely.  If whomever you follow, whatever you "truly" believe, has been dead wrong for years now... do you, or I, have the courage to step back and wonder who's been pulling your strings?  And, perhaps, consider stop taking them seriously?  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Daniel Inouye - Father's Admonition, War, Final Salute

Fathers Admonition:
"My father just looked straight ahead, and I looked straight ahead, and then he cleared his throat and said, 'America has been good to us. It has given me two jobs. It has given you and your sisters and brothers education. We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country. Remember – never dishonor your family. And if you must give your life, do so with honor.' I knew exactly what he ment. I said, 'Yes, sir. Good-bye."

"Inouye was promoted to the rank of sergeant within his first year, and he was given the role of platoon leader. He served in Italy in 1944 during the Rome-Arno Campaign before his regiment was transferred to the Vosges Mountains region of France, where he spent two weeks in the battle to relieve the Lost Battalion, a battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment that was surrounded by German forces. He was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant for his actions there. At one point while he was leading an attack, a shot struck him in the chest directly above his heart, but the bullet was stopped by the two silver dollars he happened to have stacked in his shirt pocket.[9] He continued to carry the coins throughout the war in his shirt pocket as good luck charms until he lost them shortly before the battle in which he lost his arm.[10]

Inouye as a Lieutenant in the U.S. ArmyOn April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy called Colle Musatello. The ridge served as a strongpoint along the strip of German fortifications known as the Gothic Line, which represented the last and most unyielding line of German defensive works in Italy. As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions just 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach; ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and fire from his Thompson submachine gun. After being informed of the severity of his wound by his platoon sergeant, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he also successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss.

As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, eventually drawing within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade into the fighting position, a German inside the bunker fired a rifle grenade that struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm and leaving his own primed grenade reflexively "clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore".[11] Inouye's horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. As the German aimed his rifle to finish him off, Inouye tossed the grenade off-hand into the bunker and destroyed it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. When he awoke to see the concerned men of his platoon hovering over him, his only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them to return to their positions, since, as he pointed out, "nobody called off the war!"[12]

The remainder of Inouye's mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him.[13]

Although Inouye had lost his right arm, he remained in the military until 1947 and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. At the time of his leaving the Army, he was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart. Inouye was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in this action, with the award later being upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton (alongside 19 other Nisei servicemen who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were believed to have been denied proper recognition of their bravery due to their race).[14]

While recovering from war wounds and the amputation of his right forearm from the grenade wound (mentioned above) at Percy Jones Army Hospital, Inouye met future Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, then a fellow patient."
Final Salute:

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 20: Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., salutes the casket of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, as his body lies in state in the Capitol rotunda, as Dole's wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., looks on. Bob Dole and Inouye knew each other since they were recovering from World War II battle wounds. Dole was assisted to the casket saying "I wouldn't want Danny to see me in a wheelchair." (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senator Inouye's story is featured in Ken Burns great PBS series - WAR.  Click below to order:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fundamentalist, surprising no one, work their angles

And to the surprise of no one (as Michael Keegan also points out here), the fundamentalist are laying blame for the shootings in CT.  Just as the NRA has pushed out the Pearl River story to suggest the cause was too few guns, Dobson, Huckabee, Westboro Baptist, et. al. are blaming gays, liberals, and all their usual suspects.

Some selected quotes:
"Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said Monday that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary resulted from America turning its back on God, joining other conservative Christian leaders in assigning blame for Friday's Connecticut shootings. Speaking to listeners of his "Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk" program, Dobson said God "has allowed judgment to fall upon us."
"Mike Huckabee appeared on Fox News to complain about school prayer. "We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools," he said."
"Members of the Westboro Baptist Church say that America is being punished for its acceptance of gays and lesbians. In recent days, Phelps family members have sent tweets about the Connecticut shooting that have said "God sent the shooter.""
"Sunday, Rev. Sam Morris of Old Paths Baptist in Tennessee suggested that America should be more concerned with 4,000 abortions rather than with "20 children being shot in a day care." He goes on to accuse the public school system of teaching children on "how to be a homo.""
It's easy for many of us to ignore these folks, we may cringe when they say these things.  Some may even laugh them off and ask where these guys are when great things happen?  Is their god hedging his bets and rewarding us for our efforts?  But, I think they deserve some consideration because they, as I tried to point out in the previous post on the NRA, are simply doing basic propaganda.  Scare the hell out of their followers, convince them they alone know why this tragedy happened, tell them they can only get the truth from "their media", blame the "others" ... and their flock increases, their influence increases, their power increases.  They're not interested in a rational conversation or a reasonable, logical look at the issues... they're interested in themselves.  They are self-righteous narcissist and their sole mission is exploiting this tragedy for their own gain.  And for them it's all about timing, when many are asking why or how something this sad, this terrible could happen the fundamentalist have easy answers.

The great challenge is that fundamentalism makes governance and progress for our nation, and our world, harder...

NRA and the Pearl School Shooting example

Throughout the years, this post has gotten more visitors than any other on this blog... it's also gotten more comments, usually negative, from advocates on either side of the gun control issue calling me out for my position...(I've deleted the real nasty ones).  The point of this blog isn't necessarily about any given political issue, like guns, the blogs primary argument is that the "essence of normality, is the refusal of reality"... that no matter which side of the issue you're on somebody is trying to pull your strings...thus, your "reality" has been paid for and manipulated.  At the top of the page is a link to a video, about one of the prime string pullers, Bernay's, watch the video then order this book for more details...

The NRA may have gone publicly silent after the CT school shooting, but they are behind the scene's pulling the chains of their members.  Posted on Facebook and in "enlightened" forums such as this one NRA members are bringing up the 1997 shooting at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi.  They see it as an example of where a well armed citizenry, in this case the school's Assistant Principal, valiantly pulled his Colt and subdued a deranged gunman, preventing more deaths.

But, a closer look at that case - from wikipedia and other sources - doesn't tell the story they want it to tell.

First, the weapon - Woodham had a Marlin 30-30 hunting rifle.  Would the damage had been greater with an AR-15 and multiple Glocks?

Was it a gallant Assistant Principal, thanks only to his concealed weapon, who subdued Woodham?  No.  As the newspaper accounts in the second link makes clear, but Wikipedia leaves out, Woodham wrecked his car trying to flea, then the Assistant Principal grabbed the gun from his car and held him until authorities arrived.

And what this case clearly shows is that Woodham was a bullied, cross-dressing teen, growing up in a politically and socially conservative, Christian dominated part of the United States.  What if the community had welcomed diversity?  What if mental health treatment was as easy to get as a gun? 

Update:  Let me make another point, when I googled the Pearl shooting this morning and went to the wiki page it made clear that Woodham had hit a tree before being subdued by the Assistant Principal, that reference is no longer there.  So, looking at the edits on that Wikipedia page we see nearly 50 of them just this morning ...  Obviously, someone wants to make sure the strings get pulled and the Pearl River story gets told in the way they want it told.

A couple of books I'd recommend on the subject of gun control that take a reasonable look at the subject... the authors reach different conclusions but, they are well researched and may help you may your own decisions -
Targeting Guns - Kleck
The Gun Control Debate
The Politics of Gun Control

And a polemic that will piss many people off, but it it very well done and looks at a the various issues around these incidents - fear, bullying, culture, etc. - Bowling for Columbine

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yves Smith on Bill Moyers with Bruce Bartlett

A number of salient points in this piece from Bill Moyers show... clearly they're spot on the fear-mongering of the fiscal cliff but also, as I've pointed out previously (here and here), Mr. Bartlett points out that far from a socialist, our President is in fact a moderate conservative.  

Click below for Yves great book - "ECONned; How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some Reading Recommendations for Progressive, Liberal, and Free Thinkers

Most of these are links to books on Amazon, a couple links to videos and websites - this time of year we see book lists and recommendations, so I thought I would offer some of my own, many of which I've mentioned before... some of these are polemics, others are not... but all, in my opinion, are good reads for contemplation, thought, and action.

On thinking:
C. Wright Mills - HERE and HERE
Christopher Hitchens - HERE

On Education:
John Taylor Gatto -  HERE and HERE
Sir Ken Robinson - HERE and HERE
Deborah Meir - HERE

On Religion:
Huston Smith - HERE
Hitchens, et. al. - HERE

On Politics:
Joe Bageant - HERE and HERE

On the Media:
Noam Chomsky - HERE

On the economy and alternatives to Corporate Dominated "Capitalism"
Charles Eisenstein - HERE
Gar Alperovitz - HERE
Yves Smith - HERE