Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Common Core, New Math and the Confusing State of Education

After hearing people bitch about Common Core and New Math I decided upon some web research into the matter.  Looking up the actual policy pages for Common Core I came up with no clear picture of what the hell it was.  It was pointlessly abstruse and said absolutely nothing.  It tries to state that things will be stringent and simple and uphold students to a higher level so they can compete globally.  Specifically there is mention of competition economically in global level.  This is fine but these are skills we teaching to elementary school kids.  I do believe it is important to provide a base of knowledge, skills and most importantly teach methods of thought so that year by year children can increase said proficiencies until they graduate with the hope of being prepared for the real world.  My problem is to strong disconnect with what is stated, its mission plan, and the actions taken.  I remember my sister in law calling my wife while her daughter cried because no one in the household knew what the hell monkey letters were.  There was no explanation.  Nothing on the internet explained it.  My wife, an educator, started blankly as she held the phone.  The fuck are monkey letters?  Apparently it’s when the letters dip below the line. Lower case y’s, j’s, g’s and so on.  Awesome.  Let’s add some stupid phrases that lump stuff together for no apparent reason and confuse the fuck out of the kids.  Oh and not tell the parents.  That will help.

Shifts in academic policy are fine.  I am all for change.  But when change happens there needs to be a proper plan to inform those affected.  Also this new math is awful.  I’ve read the defense of it.  I understand the point but it’s still stupid.  Those unaware of new math I’ll give you an example.  Take 23 and 54.  Increase 23 to a manageable, easier, number.  Say 25.  That’s 2.  Draw a box around 2.  Now increase 25 to the next easy number.  30.  That’s five.  Draw a box.  Now increase to 50.  Draw a box around the 20.  Now increase by 4.  Draw another fucking box.  Add 2, 5, 20 and 4.  It’s 31.  Not wad that paper into a ball and throw it far, far away, wrap your arms tightly around yourself and pretend it never happened.  There is also the line approach.  Which is drawing lines to see difference.  Yes, these are actual methods, that do actually work.  The question is do they work better?  Do they work faster?  And most importantly do they create a process of thought that is better.  By process of thought I mean does this teach critical thinking or proper problem solving skills that will enable a person to use similar methods of thought to conquer other problems.  I’m rather sure the answer is no.  Best of all if a child learns the older math, answers correctly they still score low.  Why?  Because they need to show their work.  This is an old adage from math I always had to deal with and something I agree with (but not in the case).  But they have to show the work the way the curriculum demands with boxes and lines.

I’m sure teachers are not exactly in love with this, they have to learn and enforce rules that seemingly make no sense.  But teaching is still a job and they have to abide by the rules no matter how stupid if they want to keep making a living.  I am increasingly reading more about teachers’ quitting over this.  A long experienced kindergarten teacher quit because of forced changes that had her preparing five year olds for a test.  Five year olds.  I deal with small kids at the dojo and I’m happy when they pay attention and ecstatic when they remember things.  She has to teach them to be ready for a test.

Administrators are probably pissed.  Not all administrators are soulless abominations that exist simply to torture others and enforce pointless policy.  And they have to learn these standards and get the teachers caught up and totally change how they track performance.  Oh good, even more reason to love professional development.  My version of professional development is going out with the team for drinks after work.

Students who don’t know any better don’t really care because they have no frame of reference.  But parents are most likely frothing at the mouth.  So why is it still happening?  Well because the people who implemented this are not those who have to deal with the fallout.  It is generally agreed upon that CCSS (Common Core State Standards) was dreamed up by The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and The National Governors Association (NGA).  The CCSSO is not a group of educators they are officials.  Wiki decribes them as such:

“a non-partisan non-profit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity and five U.S. territories. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy and technical assistance on major educational issues.”
Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Chief_State_School_Officers

I’m not going to say they didn’t involve educators and learned scholars on the subject in crafting the curriculum, they did, however it seems they ran fast and loose with what they wanted from them as well as how they would go about implementing.  Meaning they paid very bright people to give a holistic idea and cherry picked parts of it.  I liken that to designing an archway then only building the parts of it they liked with no real insight as to why it was built in a particular fashion.  Maybe it will hold up or maybe the load above will come crashing down.  Hurray for keystones!

You can read Dr. Moats’ article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-bertin-md/when-will-we-ever-learn_b_4588033.html

So if an untrained eye can see that these standards and practices are out of whack why are so many states (45 states as well as the District of Columbia) irrationally following bad standards?  The answer it seems is federal money.  Not adopting Common Core costs states millions of dollars.  Indiana is one of the few states that initial bought in but is opting out now.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/25/indiana-becomes-first-state-to-drop-common-core-standards/

Here’s a quick reminder of the recent history of education and it has a lot to do with federal and state practices.  Each state is in charge of determining their own standards and curriculum.  All changes, improvements testing (with exception of the S.A.T.) was done by the state.  No federal programs really had traction.  This of course means there will be the best state for education and the worst state for education.  A lot of that has to with funding, how the people in the state want their taxes spent, and various infrastructures.  So as a parent if you cared about education it was best not to live in certain states or it was a good idea to send your kid to a private school.  The problem being this is not exactly beneficial to people with less money.  Less money means less options but that seems to be a constant in life in America.  Scholarships help but only for a small few and only for top performers.  So being an average student in a poor neighborhood in a state with poor national standings probably means a subpar education through no fault of the child.  But there have been programs to try and change this as well as wonderful people who make it their life mission to help educate everyone.

On the national level there has been pressure to change some of this.  I didn’t start with George W. but his No Child Left Behind program hinged on a resurgence of standardized testing.  Obama’s version Race To The Top also has standardized testing at its core.  There is a very big problem with standardized testing.  Testing on its own is not bad.  It’s great to have metrics and measurements to see progress.  It’s great to see where a student is next to others.  The problem comes back to money, or rather funding.  Test scores effect funding.  Administration wants that funding and puts pressure on educators to get scores up.  To get scores up curriculums must be changed to teach subjects covered by the test.  It’s called teaching to the test.  In doing so we have stripped freedom from the teachers to teach as they see fit to make sure the kids know the material for the test above all else.  Gone are the days when kids could be divvied up for special attention.  The kids who excelled in a subject could be grouped together so they would be challenged appropriately for their development speed and not bored.  The kids who are normal developmentally will be on their track and the kids who need more help (this doesn’t mean stupid) will have their own track designed to help them not make them feel like they are under water.  Now it seems we lump everyone together and teach the same.  People learn differently, at different paces and with different styles.  But teachers aren’t allowed to make that call as much.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves.  I’m seeing countless articles about teachers’ quitting or writing open letters about testing in Kindergarten/the destruction of their profession.  In a sense this could save the states money as those with more seniority and bigger paychecks leave while fresh new recruits come in with smaller salaries.  But the dropout rate for teachers is very high especially first years.  And it’s only going up.  This is not cheap.  Any decent HR person will tell you a revolving door of employees is very expensive in time, training and more.

“CTAF’s findings are a clear indication that America’s teacher dropout problem is spiraling out of control.  Teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent over the past fifteen years.  The national teacher turnover rate has risen to 16.8 percent.  In urban schools it is over 20 percent, and, in some schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate.  The pilot study shows:

  • The costs of teacher turnover are substantial.
  • At-risk schools spend scarce dollars on teacher turnover.
  • Teacher turnover undermines at-risk schools.
  • At-risk schools could recoup funds by investing in teacher retention.
  • Turnover costs can be identified, aggregated, and analyzed.
  • District data systems are not designed to control the costs of turnover.”


http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/08/high-teacher-turnover-rates-are-a-big-problem-for-americas-public-schools/

The funny thing about Common Core is that politicians on both sides hate it, for different reasons, and news organization report on differing reason why it’s awful.  But they agree.  Let that sink in.  Members of the Tea party and members of the Democratic Party agree on this.

A real big problem here is that to fix this we would need a massive overhaul.  And the industry has been having every few years a massive overhaul but never in the right direction.  Teaching and educating in general is in a tumult.  I think it’s time a better solution one that empowers the right people, namely those who actually work in the classroom, is put in place.  But that would be logical and politics it seems rarely uses logic.  But it’s okay, if we fail here it’s only dooming the next generation to failure.

Ben

http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/arne-duncan-youre-a-liar-common-core-will-destroy-american-education/
http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/24/the-biggest-fallacy-of-the-common-core-standards-no-evidence/
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/09/common_core_either_you_re_against_this_new_push_for_academic_standards_and.2.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/?tid=pm_local_pop

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Social Media Assholes

As we march forward in time one thing stays constant: humanity will always create assholes.  The advent of cell phones created new assholes.  The advent of television created new assholes.  If there is a new cultural milestone or invention there will be new types of assholes.  Humanity has this ingenious way of doing that.

One of the newest breed of asshole has been created by social media.  These people clog up you page with bullshit and remind us maybe we should be doing something better with our free time (at least in that respect go them).  But let me just check if I have any updates real quick...

I don’t have a lot of friends on Facebook for a reason.  Not because I don’t have any (jerk) and not because people don’t like me (dick). And it’s not because I’m grumpy all the time (eater of broken meats* – in case any Elizabethan jerk are around).  I’m actually significantly less grumpy with actual face to face social interactions just ignore the impression my ranting here might give.  The main reason I don’t have a lot of social media friends is that I don’t accept a lot of invites.  And this is where the first asshole comes in, the random dude who wants to be friends.  Maybe I met you at a party through a friend of a friend or we went to camp together for five minutes or maybe you know someone I do but don’t actually know me.  I wish Facebook would change the category from friends to people you may or may not know.  The one thing Google plus has right is that in circles I can place you into the category I call acquaintances or the category called people I block.  However if I spent more than five minutes every month on G+ I might care more.  I’ll get friend requests from people I met that day.  Often I’m undecided if I want to deal with you past our first interaction.  I’m exceptionally judgmental.  You might be a wonderful person well respected and like by many.  That doesn’t matter to me.  I’m picky and I own that quirk.  When I’ve decided I like you then you’re in.  I open the doors to my house, I’ll help you out when you need it, I’ll be the guy you can call at 2 in the morning.  Until then don’t expect much.  But online interactions don’t follow my unique method of dealing with people.  I often feel bad not friending a person but I still do it.  I culled a huge list of my supposed internet friends a while ago.  I stopped letting people I barely know friend me.  Hell, I barely let people I work with friend me.  Deny.  This is even more problematic with LinkedIn.  It’s not Facebook for older people.  It is meant to be a business network.  Stop making it Facebook with ties.

Narcs are not new kinds of assholes.  These are the people who ran to the teacher in first grade to get you in trouble for kissing Cindy.  And now everyone knows Cindy likes boys and makes fun of her.  You’re  a dick little kid who tattles.  Now Cindy is going to go into a shame spiral and twenty years later after bad decision, tattoos visible past the clothing line, a drug addiction and boyfriend who “buys” and sells found items she is just starting to get her life straightened out.  I hope you’re happy.  But that little prick aside it’s weird to be Facebook friends with someone at work.  Facebook is where I post stupid pictures of cats (it’s the Internet so this practice should be not only be accepted but expected) and people will tag me in embarrassing pictures.  Some people use Facebook as a place to rant about politics or the various things they seem to care about.  They seem to forget that social media is not the outlet for serious discussion.  Ranters are these assholes who make you roll your eyes at every other post.  Oh good, let’s see how Obama sucks today, maybe it won’t be totally racist or uninformed or both!  Nope, totally racist.  Also, the responses you’ll get from a heartfelt and intelligent discourse on a serious subject, when it actually happens, will be these:

  Totes agree with you bro
  Those dudes are asshats
  Why are you getting all butthurt??
  Burn
  Butthurt is not cool David
  Whatevs

Do you really need people at work to see you off of work.  These are two worlds that don’t really interact.  Work me and outside work me are not the same.  Work me doesn’t swear, is always polite, and for the most part innocuous.  I’m boring at work and try not to crack too many jokes  or insult people (ignoring those who have a desperate need to be insulted).  Remember kids pain from bludgeoning goes away while a good insult can wound someone deeply forever.  Not saying that I don’t friend certain people at work, I do, but it’s like playing minesweeper blindfolded.  The work mate you think is totally cool could be a stooge.  Unfriend.

I used to work with a lot of supposedly social media savvy people.  They jump on new trends and post articles from people jumping on new trends.   Essentially they are bullshit artists who try to rope you into the nonsense.  They see likes and shares as dollar signs.  They cultivate page views, click through and all this gobbeledy gook and try to peal real metrics from it.  Look we all understand marketing is half mad scientist, half creative insight and half funny numbers.  I’m so happy you are budding social media guru but my page is filled with enough bullshit without you’re plagiarized insights from LinkedIn.  Unfriend.

These guys may also be trying everything in their arsenal to build a brand.  Maybe they are shameless selfpromoters like that douche a with comb over Trump.  If you throw away all values, pride, and believe your own hype you too might become king of douchery and have a bunch of followers you may or may have created/bought.  Some are trying out new companies and promotions.  They’ll have pages for you to like and follow.  You should totally follow my band, and my art gallery, and my cake creating site, and my blog about cats who are really aliens (but indifferent aliens not the conquering ones), and my video series I update twice a year about video games you don’t care about.  Some of these people I actually like so I tolerate it.  And I understand this to an extent.  I post my blog link on Facebook and when I get off my butt and finish my web series I’ll post that too.  Does this make a hypocrite?  Probably.  But I’ll try to not to inundate your feed with constant update from all my pages, especially when they all contain the same thing and cross promote (hey by the way, follow my twitter @benscrotch).  But try not to have more than three Facebook pages.  Possibly unfriend.

This can relate to clogs your pages guy.  This is the guy who feels you need to know everything.  Oh good, he is at CVS and the line is totally long and they aren’t calling up another person to register and the person behind the register is a trainee who looks like zombie version of a drug user.  Okay, that might be interesting.  But he doesn’t post that in one update.  That may be fifteen updates.  Verbal diarrhea should not extend to the internet.  We don’t have to pretend to pay attention on the internet.  I had a few people on my feed that I would pass over.  And I kept doing this over and over again.  I began to wonder just how posts per day they had.  Before I decided I was curious enough to study this phenomenon of arrogance and silliness I decided to simply unfriend them.  If you are arrogant enough to assume that everyone on your list cares deeply about every status update and every little bit of your life you should get a horrible reality show to compete with the Kardashians.  Maybe you’ll post less.  I don’t expect people to read my posts.  You shouldn’t either.

Then there is the asshole who I really dislike.  Like work me I at least try to have veneer of politeness on the internet.  These dicks do not.  Hey, you know that stupid picture of a cat wearing a tie it shouldn’t need a comment talking about animal cruelty.  Hey, that post where I ask about what type of drink to bring to a party you don’t need to talk about roofies.  That posts where I was excited about my new car you don’t need to slam the company I got it from and say they messed up the design.  I paid a bunch of money for the design you think sucks.  If you have something negative to say that isn’t helpful kindly write it on a piece of paper rip it uo scatter in the wind and proceed to go to hell.  DO not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, go straight to hell.  Unfriend.

Then there are people who copy your post and steal the credit.  This is the new version of the guy who tells the story that you told him back to you.  Stop taking things from people and pretending they are yours.  Just because it’s the internet doesn’t mean you pirate or steal things.  Grow up.  Not that posting song lyrics while giving credit is much better.  It’s a song lyric.  Unless you have commentary other than, “this reminds me of mah gurls, too many exclamation points, smiley face” this is stupid.  Unfriend.

We already know about vague bookers (the jerks who post things that are vague are meant to make you comment but they remain coy and don’t specify, because they need seek attention and figured the easiest way is to be annoying instead of, say doing anything that deserves it) but their cousin is the people who post too much.  Those people who tell us every detail.  Especially if its gross, like placenta gross.  And then aren’t simply satisfied with their post.  The must comment on their post regardless if others have done so or not.  I understand the social aspect of the medium has led to interaction like “lol” and ok see you tomorrow’ being acceptable statements but for fuck sake don’t post just to post.  Remember when people used to write letters?  They would spend time crafting a well worded piece to a friend for correspondence. I’m not saying spend countless hours besides a candle toiling over the best word to use with describe that terrible vine you saw but spend more than five seconds before posting.  Think before you click.  Unfriend.

You ever take one of those annoying quizzes, that’s fine.  You ever post the results, occasionally fine.  You take those quizzes constantly and post constantly and tell me why it’s so awesome… I hate you and everything about you.  Unfriend as hard as possible.

At least that person leaves me alone unlike the poor fools sucked into the casual games.  These people fall in love with this garbage spend too much time playing a boring game that forces you to either watch adverts (at best) or pay to win.  What’s best is it builds in a mechanic that helps you if you sucker in friends.  Go away.
Then there is the one that I was guilty of a few times.  My secret shame, posting food pictures.  Stop taking pictures and eat it.  Those who post give me a bite or shut up.  Also, weren't you on a diet?  But that's fried fat with creamy fat sauce.  Why are you showing twelve pictures of apricot fritters, donuts surrounded by ice cream (ice cream donuts!), cakes, fried everything, and a diet coke.

Or the easiest thing would be to stop going online.  Or let it go and stop complaining.  Dudes who complain about everything are just…

And that concludes my list of assholes for today.

Ben

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Punish Big Business

Having worked in both small and large businesses I’ve gotten a sense of how ‘business as usual’ operates.  I don’t like it.  I’ve found that greed and aggression function as the baseline rather than the exception.  There are notable exceptions like Ben and Jerry’s whose corporate charter reads like a crunchy granola how to be a nice guy and help people booklet more than a system of operations.  This is why they are respected.  Also they load up the milk fat in their ice cream which is an excellent decision.  But for every Ben and Jerry’s there are five Enron’s.  The Enron scandal is over ten years old now.  Kenneth Lay never was sentenced (he died in 2006 before that finally happened) and the fervor and outcry has died.  For those that forgot Enron cooked the books, lied to investors and self inflated their own stocks.  They simply changed the numbers to make them look they way they wanted.  They created shell organizations for further number manipulation and generally did some very naughty things that a few execs got a lot of money and then the business imploded and thousands lost their jobs.  This is problematic.

I suggest a better solution.  It’s not the business that should be punished it’s the executives.  The trigger men and women.  Closing the business punishes the employees and clients.  The average workers only have guilt by association and lose their wellbeing through no fault of their own.  They don’t know their company is hurting people.  The company made oodles of money than won’t be recovered properly and a good chunk of that money lines the pockets of the top management.  Fine the company something reasonable so it can do more than simply limp on and be poached.  But reserve further fines and nasty sentences for the C class executives.  The assholes with the initials (COO, CEO, CFO, etc).  They are the ones who defraud, the ones who lie and then they find a new job after the business implodes.  After, of course, a nice soft landing with their golden parachute.  So stop the cycle.  Charge the executives with a felony, fine them for the millions they stole, and put them in jail.  The real jail where there are shivs and intimate moments in the shower, not the club penitentiary.  These are not stupid people.  If there is a real punishment and follow up these corporate atrocities will end.  Until people find a new way to subvert the law and make money in a different immoral manner.

If you don’t punish them here is a glimpse of what happens.  The company is sold.  The new owners gut the place with massive layoffs.  Those lucky enough to stay do the work of three people maybe more.  They work extended unfair hours simply to keep up.  If they complain too much they are fired and replaced.  You’re a number to them.  Not Mike who is expecting his first child, or Jen who is working her way through her Master’s, or Lisa who supports her two kids after her husband’s accident.  The new team leaders really don’t care about true output.  They care about metrics and numbers.  They are looking to push the needle.  The numbers only grow because costs have dropped catastrophically. Morale goes south but in this economy people are scared to jump ship.  The bright stars leave immediately as they are picked up quickly.  The office becomes a dark swirl of negativity.  A toxic cloud hangs over the place as the vultures perch on the windows.  What’s left is the scared married thirty and forty something’s who really need this job, who have two cars to pay, a kid in daycare, and a mortgage to pay off.  The stock goes up though but no one wants to work there.  Maybe the scared finally get moved from their inaction and overwork and find a few hours here and there to start moving their resume out there.  But the flood of workers and the name of this half dead beast of a company weigh down their cv’s like lead.  The new team announces a sale.  The stock has gone sky high now.  The investors make oodles.  But the company is a husk, a lie.  The new owners bought a fantasy.  It’s in shambles but it’s the others guys problem.  Business isn’t the law of the jungle.  In the jungle you die quickly and don’t suffer in business suffering is slow and drawn out.

That’s why big business can’t be allowed to self-monitor.  That’s why big business cannot be allowed to by elections, to send millions funneled through pundits and special interests to control legislation.  The thing that strikes me is that in college the popular course in business gloss over items like ethics, like morality.  They focus on lean six sigma, they focus on strategy, on metrics.  But they forget a few keys things like not being asshole and how to motivate people beside the threat of firing.  Here are a few tenets I find lacking from popular business ideals:

  • Treating people well is encouragement
  • Treating people well does not mean they will take advantage of you
  • Being nice is not a weakness
  • There a things that can’t be measured that are important
  • Paying a person is an investment in them and not an expense
  • HR is more than handling paperwork and hiring people it is meant for growing the employee and the company

But the easiest thing to do to punish big business is don’t give them money.  Be smart with your money.  Don’t like it when people skimp on wages and cheat by hiring part time and seasonal workers?  Don’t shop at Walmart.  Yes, it’s convenient as all hell but it’s not worth it.  Don’t like it when clothing stores think being fat is a crime?  Don’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch.  Like gay people?  Don’t buy from Chick Fil A.  The list goes on.

Money is what will change business.  Use yours wisely.  Every dollar you move away from the pockets of the immoral and to their competition the bean counters will eventually take notice.  And these people are the business of making money.  If treating people well becomes the standard by which you’ll give them money they will suck up their principles plaster on a fake smile and hand out raises.  They’ll hate it but they hate losing their bonuses more.

Ben

Monday, February 24, 2014

List of Awesomeness: Part Three

I feel very confident in my ability to compile a list of things that are awesome.  I plan on making it my doctoral dissertation one day.  Let’s continue the list in no particular order or demarcation of importance.


1. Urinal separators

There is a strange rarely spoken etiquette for men’s restrooms.  One primary rule is its rude to look at another man’s junk.  It can be an awkward experience peeing next to someone, especially in a crowded rest room.  Most gentleman won’t be standing arms akimbo like Superman peeing away majestically.  It runs the gambit from uptight guys who stare straight ahead with a small bead of perspiration falling slowly down their face to others who simply couldn’t care where they are and offer loud exclamations, fart audibly, sigh, groan, or worst of all strike up conversation.  Urinal separators give us men much needed separation and space.

2. A Good Toast
I’ve been to several weddings and most of the speeches have been acceptable.  One was almost disastrous, raising audible moans and sharp exhales at the missteps taken.  There were hushed voices and people leaning in conspiratorially to remark, “did she really just say that?”  I spent weeks mulling over my best man speech.  I had been given a lot of bad advice, with wonderful intentions, and ignored it all.  My favorite bad advice was simply to wing it.  Winging it is never good.  I tense up if I don’t see a small piece of paper in the best man or maid of honors hand as they given the microphone.  While I felt I did admirably and had many congratulations the best toast I have heard was from my Uncle the night before my cousin’s, his son’s, wedding.  He spoke softly but was able to command the attention of quite a few loaded up patrons.  He had the exact amount of humor and emotion.  I was extremely honored to be there.  And that is what a toast is meant to be.  It should be the distillation of long amount of effort into a special moment to commemorate and remind us that life is precious and that these good moments will be remembered.  A toast is a life affirming moment where we revel in our good company and proclaim our luck at having such good friends and family.

3. Fruit snacks
I freaking love fruit snacks.  There is something so purely wonderful in this small globule of processed sugar.  It is also my go to I feel like crap snack.  When I’ve had stomach issues (ranging from explosively unpleasant to I’m going to lie down when I play video games) this is what I eat.

4. Yoga Pants
The yoga pant is the push up bra for the behind.  It also has that spandex clingy deal going on which is vastly appreciated by us men.  All things being equal the yoga pant is non-discriminating so all manner of people can wear it, even those who you want to burn your eyes out after seeing them in it.  But that’s not the fault of yoga pants that is the fault of bad people.  Also, apparently they are rather comfy.

5. Jadav Payeng: the guy who planted a forest
As a teenager Jadav say took pity on some snakes, one of Nature’s terror factories, that happened to die in the sun displaced in an inhospitable land.  He started, by himself, to turn a barren sandbar into a thriving ecosystem.  He carefully seeded the burgeoning forest and nurtured balance with actions like physically bringing in ants to help the nascent ecosystem.  Now home to numerous plants and endangered animal species he has created, single handedly, a 1,360-acre forest over the past 30 years.  For scale Central Park is 778 acres (also it has a 37.5 million annual budget and I’m guessing an employee base of more than one).

http://www.younews.in/news/man-plants-a-forest-all-by-himself/

6. Stand up comedy
Laughter is a good thing.  Heck its health benefits are even noted.  Stand up comedy is just some possibly deranged, most often maladjusted, person standing in front of a audience trying to make people happy.  It’s a horrifying trade in a sense.  Up alone in front of rows of eyes being judged by something as hard to measure as taste.  Good comedy is a reflection of ills in society.  Good comedy makes us look closer at ourselves and think deeply about our lives.  Comedy is harder than dying.

7. NASA
Besides flinging people in space, which was done with items like protractors and slide rules and is perhaps one of the coolest things ever, NASA has brought humanity numerous scientific discoveries that have benefitted our way of life.  Anything satellite technology would not be in the same place it is now without NASA.  But less obvious without NASA we wouldn’t have or wouldn’t be as advanced in our knowledge of; memory foam; hearing aids; insulin pumps; water filters; invisible braces; invisible braces; scratch resistant lenses; shoe insoles; ear thermometers (usually kinda helpful with those small screeching baby things); shoe insoles (borrowing from space boots springy designs); safety grooving (those little channels dug into runways and highways); improved water filters; computer microchips (first designed for Apollo’s guidance); insulation that funky stuff that looks a wee bit like cotton candy (you’d think they choose a color that doesn’t evoke food when you know a child at one point would be exposed to it by itself at one point); and joysticks (also Apollo).  More impressive are items like Lifeshears.  Mini portable high tech jaws of life that slice through impairments in a fraction of the time and were instrumental in saving lives in both the Oklahoma City bombings (1995) and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers (2001).  But forget just saving our lives in times of disaster NASA also helps the environment with solutions that can neutralize toxic chemicals in the groudnwater (maybe we could use this in combination with all the problems with fraking)

http://www.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/top-5-nasa-inventions.htm
http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/ten-nasa-inventions.htm
http://www.design-laorosa.com/2012/11/26-nasa-inventions-that-we-take-for.html
http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/ten-nasa-inventions.htm

8. Wikipedia
A free online lookup for virtually everything that is far more informative than anything on the news.  It’s free you guys.  Like in the same PBS manner of hey can you spare a few coins so we don’t shut down due to expense costs.  Seriously, have you spent time on the site?  It’s like a random interesting fact generator/slash time suck.

9. Mr. Rogers
If you don’t like Mr. Rogers there is something truly, deeply, irrevocably wrong with you.  Perhaps the nicest person to grace the planet during my lifetime.  Every one of his cardigans was hand knit by his mother.  He got on televisions because he disliked TV (that’s changing the system from within).  He really made people feel special because he really was curious about people.  The story about his limo driver floating around is one of the more touching.  He invited his limo driver in from the cold during a long meeting and then stopped by his house and hosted an impromptu party and played the piano.  He kept in touch with the driver.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/16416/15-reasons-mister-rogers-was-best-neighbor-ever
http://www.lovelyish.com/2013/05/08/4-more-reasons-to-love-mr-rogers-as-if-you-needed-another/

10. Ferrets
They are god damn cute and they helped Ahnold in Kindergarten Cop.  Also the female ferret will die if it doesn’t have sex once a year.  Actually that’s kind of a bummer ignore that and focus on ahnold.  He never bites, unless you’re a bad guy then he bites which is rather helpful.  I want one desperately but I can’t because Mac will totally try to eat the ferret.  And I don’t like the idea of a ferret ball cage thing.

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/09/female-ferrets-will-die-if-they-dont-mate/

Ben

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Anti-Intellectualism

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ~ Isaac Asimov

There is a slow spring of ignorance and lunacy gripping the nation.  This goes well beyond party lines and the same old rhetoric of demonizing the other side.  It rests within the hands of a few influential and very naughty people.  I choose naughty because some of them are simply irrevocably misinformed.  They are the ostriches in the sand refusing to lift their heads out.  Reason and logic be damned.  Then there are the really insidious people (like the Koch brothers) who spread virulent falsehoods intentionally for their own gain.

I honestly think somewhere there is a handbook called ‘the politics of stupidity’ built simply to induce fervor and hatred among those of low intelligence.  Chapter one is about using scare tactics to incite foolish actions.  Scare tactics are the weapons of morally bankrupt people.  Scare tactics divides people who could be united.  Scare tactics lets you justify any action, like torture, that thing expressly condemned by most of the civilized world and Geneva Convention.  Nope, it’s okay against suspected terrorists.  Maybe they were tried in a kangaroo court, sadly much less fun than an actual court comprised of kangaroos or their captain, maybe they were never tried, while held indefinitely and their crime was never published.  Maybe they can never escape and their supposed wrong doings won’t see the light as the same closed door court ruled it private.  Maybe scare tactics fuel big scary things like the military industrial machine and big business which helps elect the people who use it.

Then there is the audacity and hypocrisy of politicians like Chris Christie and Ted Cruz.  I’d like to write about a Democratic idiot here but these two really scream to be included.  Chris Christie is so full of bluster and nonsense that he thinks saying one thing and doing another is okay.  He made a career saying he was tough on corruption without really being all that tough on corruption it seems.  And New Jersey is rife with corruption as their bosses rival the economic squeezing and tactics of Tammany hall.  What upsets me is his arrogant confidence.  The bridge scandal shows his merciless heartless side.  Closing down lanes in Fort Lee definitely hurt people and very well may have killed people.  Paramedics could not reach people in time.  It is unsure whether during these incidents whether or not the person may have been resuscitated and saved but it certainly could have helped their chances.  Every second is precious to first responders.  Christie's excuses treat the public like petulant children.  He claims not to have known.  He does not deny the closures and that they were in fact lying about the cause and that they were unnecessary.  He instead states that he had no knowledge of this.  This means one of two distressing things.  The man who represents himself as hands on politician who gets things done and knows what is going on is a total lie and he has rogue employees.  This means he can’t handle his responsibilities and should not be in a position of power and is totally incompetent.  The other is that he did know what is going on that this is his best excuse.  He was caught in his cookie jar and his best thought is to say it wasn’t me.  He threw a people onto the sword and hopes the scandal will go away.  Even better he wants, or Fox News does, brownie points for handling things well while the scandal goes on.

Ted Cruz is a dangerous man who is dividing and already damaged and weakened Republican party.  The Tea Party faction is already biting the hand that feeds it and will eventually eat itself once the public finally sees the damage they have wrought.  Sadly they will have left an impressive legacy of hate and corporate indulgence.  Thank you Koch brothers (sarcasm!).  Cruz has twice for his own personal gain attempted to blockade the debt ceiling raise.  No one in their right mind thinks defaulting is good.  And defaulting is what would happen.  The United States would sink even lower in the eyes of the world and our economy which is attempting to limp to recovery would be dealt a very bad blow.  Poverty would increase and in turn homelessness and starvation.  Those are things generally thought of as bad.  His latest stunt forced people to know which Republicans backed down from lunacy.  Sadly this is looked at as a bad thing.  For some reason many within the Republican party seem to think taking their ball and going home is a good political maneuver.  That toying with the future of America’s wellbeing is simply a tool to reelection and power.

I remembered a dangerous Democrat: New York idiot Anthony Weiner.  Now I feel better.  This idiot thought that halfhearted apologies would wipe away former wrong doings.  Also he was arrogant enough to continue to do what got him trouble in the first place.  Now sexting is not necessarily something that gets in the way of holding office.  But this casts a light on your character.  A broken character is important to know in your elected officials.   This is why the Lewinski scandal was a big deal.  However unlike Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner didn’t stop with the transgressions.  Unlike Clinton Weiner isn’t terribly good at what he does.  Also unlike Clinton Weiner wasn’t being investigated under a microscope.  The Lewinski scandal, for those that remember, started after an investigation into a Whitewater.  Nothing damning was found and the Gingrich led senate, frothing at the mouth, kept pushing for barbs to throw at Clinton.  The special investigator kept asking for more things to investigate and the sprawling investigation finally found the dress.  I do not want to condone what Bill Clinton did.  It was morally reprehensible, but it did not impede his work or his presidency.  Anthony Weiner, however, is a smug little scumbag who thinks he is above the law.  There is a big difference.  The odd thing is the same thing people revile Clinton for they celebrate in JFK.  But maybe that’s difference between banging interns and famous movie starlets.

But these actions are supported in part by the news conglomerates.  These monopolies of lies and falsehoods are gobbled up by individuals like Rupert Murdoch and simply live by their own rules.  They falsify, contort twist and misrepresent.  Many of these pundits have shelf lives, how Bill O'Reilly has managed to stay employed bewilders me, as their virulence and fervor can only be accepted so long.  And both sides are at fault.  Simply calling a man an idiot and a loser is not good enough.  Items like facts and data have to speak louder.  Sadly facts are ignored for fear and hate mongering.  Just ask Glenn Beck.  He would justify his ignorance by saying he was just stirring the pot and creating conversation a tactic that neatly dodged responsibility and repercussions.  Repercussions seem to be something heavily avoided.  News organizations give halfhearted apologies.

I don’t really get my news from mainstream media, left or right, anymore.   I mostly get it from the internet.  Which is why I constantly read about protests and riots (like the one in Kiev, Spain, Columbia, and Venezuela) that either never make it to the news or arrive months later.

But anti-intellectualism weaves itself throughout society.  It lets ignorance flourish and ignore criticism.  Facts become secondary to gut feelings and interpretations.  The thing about science is it is written down and can be countered with evidence.  There are plenty of corrupt (those funded with specific intentions which is counter to the spirit of science and intellectual curiosity) or incorrect studies.  This is why there are those who actively push for children not to have immunization shots and vaccinations.  This simply sickens me.  Parents who defy logic and hurt their own children for some ill-conceived notion.  These are often the same parents who won’t let their children be treated by modern methods.  They refuse lifesaving treatments like blood transfusions.  And these poor doctors and nurses have to deal with this horrid people midst their stressful lives.  Ask an ER doctor, or any doctor for that matter, their horror stories.  It’s enough to have a bad taste in your mouth about humanity.

If you don’t think scientific stupidity and confusion is wide spread or really that bad, you are mostly likely hopeful and, sadly, incorrect.  One out of every four American adults are actually unaware that the Earth orbits the Sun.  This hurts my brain and my soul.  It begs the question about whether these people simply never went to school or that it was never properly taught.  Hell, even the intro for The Big Bang Theory shows the planets and the earth revolving around the sun.  This isn’t some small notion that is not, say, universally shared by just about everyone (except apparent for 25% of the populace).

The next sentence then goes on the talk about that half of this same population thinks that antibiotics (that medicine that is specifically targets to bacterial infections) kills viruses.  Viruses and Bacteria are two wildly different things.  The human body is a carrier for countless beneficial and unique bacteria.  Not so much for viruses.  The story which hurt to read also include, thank goodness, some bright spots about positive endorsements for science and that the government should be involved in funding experimentation for the betterment of mankind.

http://www.iflscience.com/scientific-knoweldge-trails-support-0

The key, I think, is not to view this as science versus religion.  That is a battle that cannot be won.  Religion is a belief strongly encased within the hearts and minds. It is incorruptible to those that hold it dear.  It is beyond reproach.  Also some of these same people ignore the very advice given within their holy texts.  They pick and choose their sayings to support them.  The Bible is filled with inconsistencies.  There are sins that are ignored and others that are not seemingly at random (examples like shellfish, wearing clothes of mixed fiber and homosexuality being one often pointed out)*.

The problem fighting against the wrongs of religion is that the people who are carrying the banner are these whiny, smug Atheists.  Their problem is not that they have poor evidence and not that they lack logical arguments but that they lack humility and compassion.  You are attacking the very cornerstone of someone’s life and morality.  I want to agree with some of these assholes but I can’t bring myself to support, well, assholes.  People like Bill Nye are what we should aspire to be.  His debate over intelligent design and evolution showed acceptance, grace and compassion.  He did not slam or attack his opponent.  He did not belittle or begrudge he simply showed evidence and gave his opinions.  That is the key to enlightening others.  Everyone is on a different path and we don’t know where they are along it.  It is with ingenuity and compassion that anti-intellectualism will be felled.

*http://thecripplegate.com/shellfish-mixed-fabrics-and-homosexuality-picking-and-choosing/

Ben

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

There is No Friend Zone

I often hear, or read, about boys (I choose to use the word boys and not men for a specific reason) being stuck in the friend zone.  They lament that their perfect female friend doesn’t understand the depths of their love and that they should be together.  There are often two very specific problems with this kind complaint.
Firstly, you’re an idiot and that friend is allowed to make their own choice.  There is no destiny involved here, just your delusional sense of self-importance.  Secondly you probably didn’t voice your opinion and she isn’t a mind reader.  No one is, except for mind readers, if they happen to exist.

Being shy and nice doesn’t equate to being the one.  And being nice does not entitle you to the object of your fantasy.  And fantasy is a key word here.  Not that the woman is unattainable but that you heap all these praises on her raising her to demi god status.  She is no longer a human being but a thing, a fetish, totally unrealistic and far too perfect.  No person should have to live up to hype you created.

But, you ask, I do everything for her and she takes for granted why can’t she know that loving me is the right thing?  There are a few answers to this.  Only one of them is you being correct.  Another is that simply she is using you.  You have placed yourself into this master servant role willingly.  There is no contract that says hey hold my purse, go shopping with me, be a shoulder to cry on for like six months and then all of a sudden I’ll strip naked and fuck your brains out.  Nope, doesn’t happen.  You’re stuck there because you made that happen.  Accept being a friend-servant and never a boyfriend or move on.  More probably you never made a move and want to be near your beloved.  You never made it clear that your intentions were to wee her.  Maybe you write sappy poems or buy her presents but they are always calculated not to be too risky.  Asking a person out is risky.  It can be heart wrenching hearing a no.  It can be pure elation hearing a yes.  But if you always stay safe she won’t know your intentions.

If you keep hanging around you become a lead weight on her.  You might try to sabotage any perspective suitor who has the guts to ask.  You’re doing her no favors.  So get over yourself and ask.  Or, here’s a  novel idea, just be friends.  Being a friend isn’t a consolation prize.  And being a friend isn’t meant to be the path to romantic interlude.  This person owes you nothing.

Being a nice guy doesn’t mean being nice only for a prize (her love), it means being nice for the sake of being nice.  Being nice for a prize means you’re a dick.  You probably watched too many movies where the shy nerdy guy gets the girl at the end.  The problem with those movies is that it treats the woman as a prize.  By winning the game, or the election, or rallying the kids of the city they end up winning the heart of the girl.  That’s the job of the girl in these movies to reward the hero’s efforts.  That isn’t life.  Women aren’t a reward for a job well done.  There are two movie franchises I can think of where the hero didn’t get the girl but his friend did (Star Wars and Harry Potter) and I appreciated them all the more for that.

I know these things because I was idiot as a younger man.  That’s why you might have read some anger in these words.  They were not pointed at others as much as at a past self.  While I never placed myself in the friend zone exactly I never left my safe zone.  I was an admirer from afar.  It’s a weird, voyeuristic, hollow thing to be like that.  At one point in my life something just gave way.  I don’t remember the exact moment but I came to realize being so reserved and nervous about socializing did me no favors.  I liked people and I liked being around them.  I wanted to go to parties.  So I did.  I just stopped making excuses and stopped being safe.  It led to rejection, heart ache and sorrow but mostly it led to fun, to happiness and finally love.  I stopped admiring from afar and I never placed anyone so high up they were untouchable or sacrosanct.  We are all just imperfect people and I’m quite content with that.

So remember if you’re in the friend zone it’s because you made that choice not them.  Either ask them out, be a friend or walk away.  You’ll be happier in the end.

Ben

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pokémon Confuses Me

The world of Pokémon makes no sense to me.  I get the logistics of the fighting, of the card trading as well as RPG battles and all that.  What I don’t get is why young kids are traveling around unsupervised engaging in battle with wild monsters/animals.  The world itself makes less sense than rules governing the battles.  The battles all have reasonably complicated but balanced/thought out rules.  You have different types who are stronger or weaker against other types.  They can be leveled, upgraded, get new moves standard role playing nonsense.  It’s the world that makes no sense.  The whole place seems to hinge on these battles.  That seems to be what drives the economy entirely.  And it’s left to the kids.  The only thing that rings true is some evil mafia like organization trying to control the whole empire and win by stacking the deck behind the scenes.

Other games in the genre are rather ridiculous, magic how silly, but they make sense.  I can accept a world with wizards and goblins but without some manner of internal logic to hold it together it moves from odd to outright creepy.

Take Final Fantasy.  They have had countless games, spin offs, plenty of mistakes, but they generally keep to some internal plot and logic that makes sense.  There is life outside the adventure.  People in the world run towns, do the smithy-ing, farming, raising cattle or breeding chocobo (ostrich horse hybrids with their own theme music).  There is monarchies and established governments.  Why does this matter, it’s made up you ask.  Simple.  Because there is no frame of reference.  If everything is different it’s incomprehensible and worse still really awful plot devices can come out of nowhere and fix any problem.  “Oh, you can just use this magic water conveniently over there but never mentioned previously to now to fix the king”.  Fuck you lazy writing.  Fantasy/science fiction needs some stabilizing presence so their audience can understand what’s going on.  That’s why in movies that take place in some other realm or world we have some idiot the other characters keep talking to.  The new guy who is a moderately acceptable plot device used to explain to the audience through them what the rules are of the world.  Better than some hastily written words flashing across the screen or a bad narration.  Wonder why so many heroes are young people who know nothing of the world they live in?  Or that the story starts with some dude with amnesia, or some new student, a new recruit, and so on (see Hellboy, X-Men, The Matrix, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and more).

How is it creepy you might ask?  Well for starters they let kids wander around the whole world by themselves, encouraging them to capture and enslave wild animals/monsters, and tell them to fight with people to progress.  I’m pretty sure most mature societies frown on encouraging kids to fight.  And they might be more than slightly obliged to oppose animal cruelty or risking your life capturing vicious beasts.

But only the Pokémon fight each other you state.  That’s right.  It’s also fucked up.  Is some ancient pact never referenced that means a Pokémon can’t attack some stupid kid.  And why is there no violence besides Pokémon on Pokémon violence?  You’d think in any society there is some conflict between humans that escalates to physical harm.  I’m not talking bar knifings or gangs of groin punching hooligans - watch out for the leather clad cock rockers – but it’s weird a place so inured to violence has it only in these strict confines.

Let’s encourage child endangerment.  Sure there is some weird law never stated that talks about Pokémon only hurting Pokémon but sometimes these creatures do outlandish enormous attacks.  Maybe there might be some repercussion.  They aren’t fighting in some vacuum.  It’s the reason in Dragonball Z they always flew out to some unpopulated area.  It’s the reason any super villain who wanted a chance with Superman would throw a bus of nuns at a bus of orphans to distract him.  But forget the weird monster battles these kids are wandering the world by themselves.  Never once are they chastised.  Rather they’re encouraged in sweat shop mentality to catch them all.  Is this their version of school?  I guess they might learn statistics, some strategic and critical thinking but that’s about it.  No history, no reading, no writing, just bullshit.

No adults do this even they could own at the sport and have all the power.  This is odd.  There are scumbags out there.  For every person who volunteers at the shelter there is some dickwad who cuts you off in traffic as they sip delicately from their overpriced premium coffee while flipping you the bird and listening to bad German techno.  You wonder why only kids can do battle.  Or maybe he kids are just stupid enough to do the hard work and capture the monsters and the adults harvest the fuckers for something else.  Maybe every time you bring one to the hospital there is some nefarious goings ons before they returned to you.  Maybe that’s why their always so excited for you to come pick them up.  Now I no longer trust vets as a side note.  Damn you crushing paranoia.

The game teaches that kidnapping and slavery are okay.  They totally aren’t.  I don’t know if every Pokémon has some Stockholm switch and they are chill with people forced into some magical sphere prison but it seems weird.  Worse still one Pokémon gets to just wander around freely with their trainer.  The rest can go fuck themselves.  Stay in your cage until I need you to beat the hell out of another one of your species.  And totally don’t rise up against us even though we robbed you of your freedom and use you for our gain.  It’s not like you have superpowers that keep getting stronger and we’re just flappy meat popsicles.  Seriously, why don’t they riot?  Maybe the magic ball just reprograms their brains.  In that case the poor wild Pokémon should organize and storm the cities and try to free their borged (borged is a word right?) cousins.

I have no comprehension of how their communication skills work.  These Pokémon only seem to communicate via saying their species name.  Not even their name their species name.  But they clearly understand their trainer’s wishes.  No Pokémon disagrees with your choice of attack, even its stupid, and does another one.  They clearly listen and comprehend, and sadly obey completely.  Why won’t you love me trainer, I do everything you ask!  More bewildering one of the monster/pets learned to speak our language.  Just one.  And he isn’t famous or praised for his rare ability.  Which muddies the water when thinking about individual personalities and self-awareness.  They can comprehend, they can learn but they have no yearning for anything but being controlled?

My caffeine addled brain is probably looking far too deeply into childrens’ programming but remember this is what the youth are watching.  This is the material that is in their heads as they begin to form higher thoughts like ethics, morals, and a right way to live.  While entertainment is never really to blame for kids’ actions it isn’t free from criticism either.  But most importantly it may be best for parents to understand what the hell your kids are ingesting.  Then again I wanted to be a Jedi when I grew up.  I don’t think the market has any opening for that and I have almost entirely stopped trying to move the remote control with my mind.

Ben