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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dialogue With a Journalist

Russ Baker, on his site whowhatwhy.com, ran an article on the dirty tricks being used by the Romney campaign to defeat Pres. Obama.  Mr. Baker is a rare breed these days - a journalist without fear.  His book, Family of Secrets, is a masterpiece of history, current affairs and government malfeasance.  The chapters on the JFK assassination are thoroughly researched and some of the most groundbreaking material on the topic this past decade.  I found it odd on the day I visited his site, the seemingly partisan slant to the Organized Establishment Left.  I noted this and our dialogue went as follows.

MeComing here the last two days is disappointing. I can read about how Mitt's advisors have no clue about foreign policy, how he cheated during the debates, and how a video might be able to dive bomb Obama's chances. 
This, combined with the absurd stance on guns, seen in the "Oakland Paradox" article, does not sound like a site dedicated to dispassionate journalism. What's Obama's foreign policy? Blow people up with drones? Augment the 'war' in Afghanistan? It seems like the leftist roots are hard to shed. The 'Obama good, Mitt bad' meme is tired, as is its converse. You mean there'll be a 'difference' if Obama is elected, as opposed to Mitt? Please walk me through the Obama vs. W differences because I don't see them.
Family of Secrets is a towering masterpiece - odd that this site has devolved into partisan team play. The Rockwell interviews with you got me here in the first place - I'm not sure I'll stick around.

Russ BakerYou sound like you're looking for a place that confirms how right you are about your pre-existing beliefs. That being the case, you probably will not want to stick around.
This site is a journalistic one--we research, we think, we come to conclusions. It is full of tough reports about Obama. You'd have to be willfully blind not to see that. But, we're not interested in creating false equivalencies, because that's not journalism.
There are many similarities between Obama and Romney, as noted repeatedly here, principally on foreign policy and finance, but also many differences--which we've reported on here. For one thing, many of Obama's domestic appointments, his approach to the basic mission of departments like EPA, the kinds of court appointments that appeal to him--he's strikingly different. He also has a very different attitude toward income equality, consumer protection, and other areas. Just ask Romney. Generalizing about there being no difference at all would not not be non-partisanship. It would be journalistic malpractice.

MeThank you for your reply - you have integrity and this sets you apart. You, however artfully, dodge the issue of the appearance of the site. My point was how slanted things seemed to be here. It is criticism. I am not looking to justify how "right" I am - I am simply trying to provide criticism that could possibly help. It wasn't until I started doing my own research and backing away from the Mainstream Opinion Creators (FoS was a large part of this as I was a "conservative" at the time) that I realized how wrong I had been most of my life.
I think you show the slant about which I spoke with this: "He also has a very different attitude toward income equality, consumer protection, and other areas. Just ask Romney." First of all - "approach" and "attitude" are superficial to the core. I am not swayed by that low level rhetoric. Income equality? Is that a goal? Should the gov't have a role in making incomes equal? That is as repellent as Romney trying to further line the Eastern Banking Establishment's pockets - which seems to be his main purpose. Consumer protection? Where? The FDA is run primarily by Monsanto - one of the most rapacious corporations on the planet. The SEC and the Obama justice department have gone after none of the big banks. Zero bankers are in jail. And you know what? People don't need an Overlord seeing to it that incomes are 'more equal' or that they are 'protected'. Folks are capable enough. We are people, not domesticated animals. What they need is a forceful 4th estate populated by people like you and Chris Hedges to hold their feet to the fire.
Thank you as always for the forum.

Notice how Mr. Baker replied to my comment in a serious and professional matter.  I disagree with him.  I think he has a bias, and it bothers me that this shows on his site.  However, it is his site, which he runs well as it is current and provides a forum for discussion.  Find sources of information on the web that have people with integrity and allow dissent and discussion.  The web is the greatest information superhighway in the history of the human race, and you should do your research and reading at the highest level possible.  Find out the Russ Bakers and Chris Hedges of the world, and get what you can out of their experiences - even if you disagree with some of their philosophies.  As a libertarian / anarchist type, Baker and Hedges are too trusting of government for my taste, but their journalistic skills are beyond reproach, and burgeoning journalists should check them out.

Here is Russ Baker - eliminating inconsistencies and using reasoning to counterpoint his book vs. former Pres. Bush's book:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Their Plan is Working

My plan, however, is not. I have a few tenets that I've used for the past 5 years or so.  They're usually effective.  Through literature, I try to show students that for the past few centuries, there has been a faction quite interested in keeping them sick, stupid, broke and afraid.  This of course invites the label of conspiracy theorist, a label I gladly accept.  This is unique among teachers, opens up many discussions, and we're off and running.  I prove my case in many ways.  Plato's Allegory of the Cave is pure apologia for the State, Poe vicariously kills off his freemason 'father' in "The Cask of Amontillado", the lawyer becomes otherworldly bright in his cell in Chekhov's "The Bet"...  We have a lot of fun.  Writers throughout time have been warning us to be on the lookout for sinister forces, all the while telling us to read voraciously.  "Have some intellectual self-defense", "understand reason and logic", "reading provides and anti virus program for your brain" - say all the classic authors from the grave.

This approach has worked well, with all of my classes.  The good classes cover a lot of ground with me.  We invariably cover a lot of historical ground - literary analysis demands it.  Current affairs comes into play, as the literature and the history echo the events of the old days.  As stories reflect wealth and greed (see Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"), we'll discuss economics, money, gold and silver.  The less stellar classes get caught up in the conspiracy discussions and we're able to approach literary material from that angle.  Intellectually, everyone gets a turn.

Not this year.  This year the forces of the dark side have won.  I have an inability to reach but a small fraction of the groups.  The instant gratification corporate media and social media have destroyed attention spans.  Students openly feel that nothing should ever be 'boring' to them and are offended if they aren't entertained.  The ability to listen and concentrate is gone, as is the ability to use discretion and prioritize.  What bothers me the most is the fact that everyone is happy about their lot.  There is no urgency, no awareness of the danger that comes with being intellectually misguided.  The incessant student conversations are cheap, silly and false.  This current group wants to be yelled at and TOLD what to do.  This is maddening.  As a libertarian I find force repellent, but it's almost as if this cohort craves it to be used on them.  There is no intellectual curiosity, and when I have tried to spark it - I'm told that what we're talking about is 'boring'.  The progenitors of compulsory public schooling were open and blatant about their plan. They intended to indoctrinate and inculcate obedience and docility in the masses.  If this year is any guide, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

"I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man." - - Frederick Douglass

" We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." - - Woodrow Wilson



Friday, October 19, 2012

The Writing Revolution - article review

The Atlantic had an article called "The Writing Revolution" last month.  It is noteworthy in that it promotes a classical method to teaching writing, and eschews the modern methods of the past 30 years, which have produced nothing except students who cannot write.  My neighbor showed me this article, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a publication like The Atlantic pin the blame on the methods of writing instruction in schools.  Modern public schools are usually beyond reproach.  The 'criticism' that one usually sees is tepid - tinker around the edges type stuff that is meaningless and impossible to implement.  After all, the public schools are bastions of good feeling, hard working teachers, and the students, but for a few minor tweaks,  would be scholars in the lyceum mold.

SLOGANEERING
The article analyzes New Dorp High School, a middling high school on Staten Island, in NY City, that recognized a problem, and was determined to actually fix it.  The article mentions some admirable teachers and administrators, particularly the principal, who were willing to fix what was broken, and not just say the right things and 'hope' that they would get better.  The article begins with a student, Monica, who was a decent student, but who had no idea how to write.  Here was a high schooler who could not form a well done paragraph, let alone connect ideas for an essay.  How does a teenager get that far and not know how to connect ideas in writing?  The teachers realized that the crux of the problem was that Monica (and others) had no idea how to use conjunctions.  This paragraph tells the sordid tale:  "But the truth is, the problems affecting New Dorp students are common to a large subset of students nationally. Fifty years ago, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling and the structure of sentences. Later instruction focused on building solid paragraphs into full-blown essays. Some kids mastered it, but many did not. About 25 years ago, in an effort to enliven instruction and get more kids writing, schools of education began promoting a different approach. The popular thinking was that writing should be “caught, not taught,” explains Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University. Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. Kids, the theory goes, will “catch” what they need in order to be successful writers. Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression."  (bold and italics mine)

Imagine any part of a child's life other than school.  Would you accept a mentor, coach, guide - a leader of any kind - saying that the child will "catch" the skill and incorporate it into their lives?  I think most of us would dismiss it as charlatanry and immediately fire the person who promotes the 'catch' strategy. Look carefully at the motivation: "In an effort to enliven instruction and get more kids writing".  Now look at the cure: "Give students interesting creative-writing assignments: put that in a fun social context in which kids share their work.  Students will "catch" what they need in order to become successful writers".  Look at the results.  Monica is asked to write a paper on Alexander the Great.  She came up with six borderline coherent sentences and was unable to continue.

The article goes on to talk about other 'feel good' methods of writing instruction - peer editing, journal writing, personal narrative, poetry...  None of these things involve grammar instruction or any type of drill activity.  They are all 'fun'.  Peer editing is what I call 'lazy teaching'.  Having peers, who are no more knowledgeable about writing than you, editing and commenting on your work, is useless.  What can they contribute?  It does lessen a teacher's workload, however.

TEACHER EDUCATION
At teachers college, you read a lot of theory, like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but don’t learn how to teach writing,” said Fran Simmons. How could the staff backfill the absent foundational skills their students needed in order to learn to write? "

This small anecdote in the article is hugely important.  Freire went into the jungles of the Amazon, and wrote socialist and communist friendly pap about how his work with them proved the merits of his leftist worldview.  While he was right about the innate power, skill and ability to learn of the average person, he used this platform to push a political agenda.  The colleges of education picked this up (along with the fraudulent Jonathan Kozol) and used it to dumb down teachers and students.  Aspiring teachers get a lot of theory, about politics it turns out, and not instruction on how to teach children how to write.  My experience was similar.  I was introduced to Freire's work in graduate school, while getting my MS in Instructional Technology.

If one wants to express complex thoughts in writing, he must get formal (and not always fun) writing instruction.  This was talked about in the article, and it reinforced my study of the Trivium, as rhetoric, the third leg of the Trivium, instructs how one might share, via speaking or writing, complex ideas.  Yet more evidence that multiple choice exams are useless.  They were abandoned by the Elite universities over one hundred years ago.  This is not a coincidence.

THE CLASSICAL FIX
Here is the author on the Hochman Program - a program that would "not be unfamiliar to nuns who taught in Catholic schools circa 1950": "Children do not have to “catch” a single thing. They are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts—but,because, and so. They are instructed on how to use appositive clauses to vary the way their sentences begin. Later on, they are taught how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own. It is, at least initially, a rigid, unswerving formula. “I prefer recipe,” Hochman says, “but formula? Yes! Okay!”

What I put in bold letters has been almost totally abandoned in the garden variety public schools today. Grammar instruction - appositive clauses (!) - as part of a formula for formal instruction?  I was taught in the Colleges of Education that this is no longer done as it is no longer necessary and it is so boring that who could do it anyway?  The experience shown at New Dorp HS by the teachers willing to adjust and the principal  to subsume her ego and try something new shows that the old classical ways weren't broken, and the politically correct feel good approach has been an abject failure.

A litmus test for the efficacy and usefulness of a program is now to look at the Education Establishment's reaction to it.  If it dislikes the approach, adopt it.  If it loves the approach - abandon it.  Here is the response to this successful paradigm shift by Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College: "While (Calkins) welcomes a bigger dose of expository writing in schools, she says lockstep instruction won’t accelerate learning. “Kids need to see their work reach other readers … They need to have choices in the questions they write about, and a way to find their voice.

So despite the evidence in the article, and the evidence in the nation as a whole, the evidence at your local public school - Prof. Calkins says lockstep instruction "won't accelerate learning".  My track coach in high school told me in the late 1980's that Teachers College had done more to ruin education in the United States than any other institution.  Now I can see why.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Debate About Nothing

My Facebook 'wall' (it is now called 'home) is filled with posts about tonight's presidential debate.  The Establishment Liberals are putting up posts about how wonderful the "Democratic Liberal" side of things are and how wonderful their government programs are, while the Establishment Conservatives are putting up posts about how horrid government is and how awful our current President is.  It reminds me of a sporting contest, how people cheer for their team, and whatever their team does, well, that's OK.  On a side note, Yankee fans are the worst offenders in this arena.  Big money, steroids, arrogance and fan disconnect are terrible, but when an Yankee does it, nothing to see here, move along...

The political discourse seems to be cut from the same cloth.  The "Teams" are gearing up for their guy to debate the other, and they will both announce that their guy was the winner.  Both sides seem immune to fact.  The more H.L. Mencken I read the more I agree with his term 'booboisie' - the term he used to describe the uninformed and incurious mass herd of sheeple.  What are these debates about?  If you listen, they aren't about anything at all.  There is tinkering around the edges.  Should we tax the masses at 36% or 39%?  Should we use the unconstitutional powers of the Patriot Act or the NDAA?  Which of the 5 major banks should get more billions of taxpayer funds?  How long should the unconstitutional wars continue?

These are all the wrong questions.  "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers".  This Thomas Pynchon quote is perfect because the questions in the 'debates' are all wrong, and they serve no interests but those of the State, and those connected to the State.  I used to buy into these flawed lines of 'reasoning'.  I was a person of the Left for a long time.  As I saw the policies of the Establishment Liberals collapsing around me, I reflexively figured the 'other side' was the answer.  I wasn't even close.  There was a third way.  The non aggression credo of the libertarians and the economic freedom of the Austrian School economists is exactly what made sense to me.  The timing was perfect, as I was, unknowingly at the time, searching for a philosophy based in logic, non aggression, freedom and common sense.

I use the terms Establishment Liberals and Conservatives because they shill for the established powers.  I am currently conversing (on FB) with a woman who professes extreme levels of support for our President.  The fact that he has simply repeated the policies of the previous president is meaningless.  When I mention the most basic things - the continuation of the wars, the wretched alliance with the Big Banks and the FED with the top echelon of government, the cronyism, the violations of privacy - I was dismissed as a peddler of "BS" and called a 'conservative'.  This is indicative of the state of affairs today.  Establishment Liberals agree with whatever the Democrats do.  We're seeing this now.  We have had a repeat of all of the previous administration's policies and wars, but the former protesters are now 'for' the policy.  The Establishment Conservatives decry the aggressive advance and onslaught of Big Gov't, but the previous 'conservative' administration expanded gov't at an alarming rate.  Then it was OK with these people of course.  This is not logical and it defies common sense.

I remember being told that "common sense isn't so common" by one of my graduate school professors. I wasn't sure what he meant at the time.  I'm sure now.
War under the other guy - bad.  War under this guy - good.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

4 Classic Teams

I haven't been as focused on sports as of late, but I was glad to see the final four teams in the MLB playoffs as follows: the NY Yankees, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and the SF Giants.  What do these teams all have in common?  They are not expansion teams.  These are part of the original 16 teams that made up Major League Baseball from 1903 - 1960.   As an old hand at reading and studying Major League Baseball, this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the teams still active in the playoffs.

The Yankees were originally the NY Highlanders.  They played in uptown Manhattan - what would now be called Heights Inwood.  They were part of the 'new' American League - a challenge to the original and monopolistic National League by one of the most interesting men in MLB history, Ban Johnson.  The NY Franchise changed its history and the history of baseball by buying a young left handed pitcher from the Red Sox named Babe Ruth.  This move vaulted the newly named Yankees from tepid, also ran status to the top of the American League.  They shared the Polo Grounds with the NY Giants baseball team (now in San Francisco) until the original Yankee Stadium was built in the early 1920's.  The Yankees are arguably the most successful sports franchise in history - only the Canadiens, Packers, Celtics and possibly the Lakers are allowed into the discussion.  (For the global readers, Manchester United, the Yomiuri Giants and the Taiwanese Little League franchises should merit consideration...).
Thurman Munson - the Captain.

The Detroit Tigers are an old franchise.  For many years they played at one of the most beloved stadiums in the AL - Tiger Stadium.  They had a great announcer in Ernie Harwell and were able to compete most years.  I grew up with the Jack Morris, Darrell Evans, Allan Trammel and Lou Whitaker Tigers.  The 1984 team was completely dominant.  I remember them as always having a veteran team and not being cowed by anyone.  One of the surprises of the 1980's was when the 1987 Twins caught a capable Tiger team looking the other way and eliminated them in the ALCS.  The Tiger uniform is a tasteful classic, and the orange, gothic "D" on the away uniform hats has always been my favorite uniform idiosyncrasy, along with the red #'s on the Dodger uniforms.

C. Granderson and the Tiger Colors.

The St Louis Cardinals are the storied franchise of the National League.  They are, along with the Reds, one of the oldest franchises in MLB history.  They have one of the most impressive alumni lists in baseball history. To name a few: Lou Brock, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Albert Pujols, Bob Gibson, Whitey Herzog and Curt Flood.  For a franchise that has been in existence since 1882 they have been remarkably consistent in keeping the tradition of winning alive, and have revamped the team in order to stay competitive.  Even now, after the retirement of Tony LaRussa and the defection of Pujols, the Cardinals have been competitive and are still alive.  They recently and unexpectedly won a world series, and somehow stay around in order to bother the favorites.

Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The San Francisco Giants are the only team that isn't in its original city.  Originally the New York Giants, they were the original dominant franchise of MLB.  They played in an old, oddly shaped park called the Polo Grounds - now the site of apartment buildings.  The early 1900's had a team that included Christy Matthewson, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbel, John McGraw and Frankie Frisch.  The Giants' standard bearer is Willie Mays - arguably the best player in MLB history.  Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth enter into the discussion, and it hurts Giants fans to no end that they are both Yankees. The Yomiuri Giants use the old NY Giants colors because at the time they toured Japan, the NY Giants were the best team in baseball, had the best players and the richest tradition.  Recently, the SF Giants did a wonderful thing, they moved from the impersonal and windy Candlestick Park, and moved into San Francisco proper to a fantastic stadium.
The original Polo Grounds.

The current stadium for the SF Giants.

Prediction:  The SF Giants, with their superior pitching, defeat the Cardinals.  Tim Lincecum seems to have regained his form, and Barry Zito has possibly resurrected his career from the scrap heap and is now a serviceable left hander.  The Yankees will defeat the Tigers, simply because Justin Verlander won't be able to pitch three times.  Because Verlander was needed to defeat the A's, the Yankees will win.

The Yankees win the World Series, in a matchup reminiscent of the 1951 and 1962 World Series - a nostalgic NY fan's fantasy.


Friday, October 5, 2012

People of Influence

My technologist friend NDA reminded me that it was a year ago today that Steve Jobs died.  The Apple site has a wonderful mix of images and quotes from Jobs.  The entire video is 1:45 seconds long.  It contains cello music, fade in/out images of Steve Jobs at varying times of his life at Apple, and quotes by him, in his voice.  It is, as my friends LS often says, "elegant in its simplicity."  The first quote by Wayne Gretzky, is arguably the best - "I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."  Apple Computer is one of the companies that has been innovative and forward thinking - unafraid of corporate backlash or making some mistakes along the way.  They've been able to be ahead of the game to the point that they've 'missed' by being TOO advanced.

Apple, in the tribute, uses words like 'cool' and the hockey quote - all within the first 25 seconds.  This works.  There is a prank call, ordering "4000 lattes to go" - all on a phone / iPod / www connected device.  This is brilliant psychology, as well as proving the pragmatism inherent in the Apple device.  It is different, it's exciting, and it's new technology.  It isn't corporate or boring or dry.  At 1:08, the video shifts, and Jobs says something wonderfully profound.  He notes that the "Apple DNA" is not just the technology, but the liberal arts, the humanities.  This is the the idea of 'Think Different' that is personified in their philosophy as a company.  Thinking about what people want, how they act, how they feel, and what decisions they will make throughout the day, and merging these thoughts with devices made of plastic, metal and glass is truly extraordinary.

It is because of people like Steve Jobs that we are able to look at trends, analyze information, check the historical record, and feel creativity coursing though our system.  Jobs spoke often of creating, of failure, of being a flawed person.  Sharing his journey so candidly was one of his strengths.  Hearing his story, being reminded of his untimely death from pancreatic cancer reminds me that although he is gone, it is legacies like his that allow human motivation and creativity to flourish.  This, in a way, allows for his legacy to live forever, as he helped provide the tools for people to add to the world that are at our fingertips.

----------------

There is an unlikely connection here.  This TED talk by Rory Sutherland on perspective reflects the ability of people to now realize that the human recognition of technology is vital when it comes to its marketing and reception.  The second half of Sutherland's talk deals with human action instead of a cold, disaffected technological response to a 'need'.  The speaker is talking about how the firms that deal with image, human feeling and human decision making are the ones that are more successful, and they will continue to dominate.  He mentions Ludwig von Mises as his hero, as Mises realized this one hundred years ago.  Mises' magnum opus was Human Action.  It is a book on economics, yet because he realized that the economy was organic, the economy was us, he was wildly ahead of his time.  There are few people throughout history who fit into this category.  Steve Jobs was one of them.

Never did I think I would ever connect Steve Jobs, von Mises or Rory Sutherland.  I 'think different' than most people - never have I been more proud of that fact.  Thank you Mr. Jobs.