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Friday, September 27, 2013

Alternatives to Mainstream Media

The mainstream media is a corporate backed disgrace.  As usual a fake debate has been created for the American Sheeple - FOX vs. CNN, NY Times vs. Wall St. Journal - these are silly and artificial constructs.  For those of you who think NPR and PBS are worthy alternatives, the PBS special on drones (you can find it on the Frontline site) was financed by Lockheed Martin.  It is basically a commercial for drones and killing from above.  NPR?  There was a special on the BP oil spill, and the "specialist" being interviewed was on the BP payroll.  Are these things shared by those outlets? No.

So where does one go for news?  It is necessary to go to the web - here are some choices:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Into Thin Air - Book Review

"Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragedy which is actually being staged in the civilized world."

- - Jose' Ortega y Gasset

Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air fittingly begins with this quote.  The book tells the story of a group of people who, in May 1996, attempted to climb Mt. Everest.  It unfortunately became the deadliest day in the history of Mt. Everest.

Normally, this would not be news. It is the undercurrents within the book that are more entertaining than the surface news of the tragedy.  People climb mountains often, and there are often accidents and deaths.  What makes this different is that the groups were part of a wave of clients who essentially paid big money to 'get' up the mountain.  Some weren't experienced climbers, some were experienced (as Krakauer was), but none were what any experienced mountaineer would call 'prepared' for a climb such as Mt. Everest.

Krakauer diligently details the parameters of the trip, the high cost in time and money, and his constant doubts about the whole enterprise.  His ability to foreshadow disaster while keeping reader interest is unparalleled.  Each character is introduced in such a way that I wanted to know how it turned out for each one, even though the list of people who didn't make it is in the front of the book.

Krakauer is understandably wary of the whole enterprise of guides, for large sums of money ($15,000 to $75,000), essentially pulling up Regular Joes and Janes up Mt. Everest.  Postal clerks, social butterflies, photographers and airline pilots seem miscast among the sherpas and the tour guides.  Because of the worst storm in years, the inherent weaknesses in the guides, the plans, and the clients were all exposed, all at once.  May 10th 1996 was a day of intense tragedy on Mt. Everest and the story is fascinating.

While reading about the book, I found out that Krakauer took a lot of abuse after writing the book - enough to warrant his issuing a rebuttal in the 1999 version of Into Thin Air.  The criticism is unwarranted.  It seems that people are unwilling to admit mistakes, that no one ever is guilty of overreach, as the guides both were.  No one should tell the truth, or admit that people screw up, or get into situations where they had no business being.  Krakauer actually admits serious wrongdoing on his part in the book.  Yet, he was accused of unfairly attacking one of the assistant guides. I did not see it that way at all nor did I get that impression while reading it.

Ortega y Gasset was right.  It is the 'civilized' world where the tragedy is.  At least one can see why people will go into the mountains and play at tragedy to escape it all.

Ken Kamler, who was on Everest that day, recounts some of the horrors:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fred Reed Explains The Old Days - Part I

Recently, Fred Reed wrote a nice piece describing America prior to 1964. It was a different world.

"At age eight I walked every morning the perhaps six blocks to Robert E. Lee Elementary School, alone. Why not? There was nothing to be afraid of. My friends and I rode to Westover, the shopping center on Washington Boulevard, and left our bikes on the sidewalk for hours while we read comic books in the drug store. Why not? Nobody stole bikes. My family never locked the doors of the house. Why should we? There weren't any burglars."

"A virtue of a dominant culture is that it doesn’t have to be imposed. It polices itself. During my five years in rural Virginia, we all had guns. The substantial number of blacks in the county had guns. Nobody ever shot anybody else, either on purpose or accidentally. It wasn´t something we did. It wasn't in the culture. White or black."

While reading this I thought of a conversation I had with one of my colleagues yesterday.  The premise of that conversation was that most, if not all of what we were taught / told in school and by the 'cultural elite' was wrong.  This American Culture of yesteryear was mocked and laughed at when I was a young boy.  I clearly remember hearing that the America that Fred Reed speaks of never existed.  I never caught the inconsistency - if the culture of the '50's "didn't exist", then why laugh at it?

The problem with this constant belittling of this American past is that there is ample proof that it did exist.  Even though I was in New York City, my brother and I walked to elementary school by ourselves every after I was in 1st or 2nd grade.  Manhattan in the 1970's would hardly be considered old rural America, but there we were, two children walking.  Even earlier, when we lived in Staten Island, a more suburban part of NYC, we would play with the other children outside, unsupervised.  The pack of children we were a part of ranged in ages from 3 - 7.  When we heard our mothers calling for us to come back home, we did.  

Reed is succinct and solid (and refreshingly politically incorrect) when talking about culture and what it means.  One of the problems of multiculturalism is that when you get taught that all cultures are equal, then all behavior becomes equal and acceptable.  The culture of the American past, which certainly did exist, is mostly gone, as far as I can tell.  I saw the old way in Iowa, where my mother was from.  Was it perfect?  In a word, no.  But as late as the 1990's the town I would visit in northern Iowa had unlocked homes and cars.  It would be nice to live in a place like that.

This constant attack on "rugged individualism" (never heard anymore), respect for civil liberties (gone), and the understanding that actions have consequences (now you blame someone or something else) means that we have wrought schools with metal detectors, young adults who are not only unable to exercise self control but also eschew the opportunity to educate themselves.  Anyone doubting this can come and look at my 8th period class.

It's going to take a while to climb out of the hole we've dug for ourselves.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"You Don't Have to Stay Poor" - Walter Williams speaks

"No one can blame you if you start out in life poor, because how you start is not your fault. If you stay poor, you’re to blame because it is your fault. Nowhere has this been made clearer than in Dennis Kimbro’s new book, “The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires.”"

- - Walter Williams, John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Walter Williams wrote a great article on Lew Rockwell's site about success.  Williams points to Dennis Kimbro's book and message about how lifestyle choices reflect success.  

This may seem obvious to many, but it isn't a preferred message from our society's Elite, nor is it the focus of what teachers are told to explain to students.  It is a politically incorrect message.  Why?  Because it doesn't let you blame some outside force.  

"“The Wealth Choice” argues that wealth (millionaireship) is not a function of circumstance, luck, environment or the cards you were dealt. Instead, wealth is the result of a conscious choice, action, faith, innovation, effort, preparation and discipline. Or, in the words of billionaire W. Clement Stone, founder of Combined Insurance, whom Kimbro met with and mentions early in the book, “Try, try, try, and keep on trying is the rule that must be followed to become an expert in anything.” He also said, “If you cannot save money, the seeds of greatness are not in you.” Saving is necessary for investment and wealth accumulation."

I think I will use this with my 11th graders as part of my college preparedness / entrepreneurship unit.  Kimbro's video, even though it really is an ad for his book, is worthwhile as well.

Thomas Sowell goes into much of the same message here.  Both men are worth listening to and reading.  Both provide excellent examples of how to deliver a message in print and orally.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The 2013 - 2014 School Year Begins

There are a few strange things among the many run of the mill events this September school beginning.  

The Routine

- Every year the district begins with a 'convocation' - all the schools come to the high school for speeches and a song or two.  The speeches are dry, some are borderline embarrassing and some are halfway decent.

- This year we have a new plan!  This has been the way of schools since the 1980's with the release of  'A Nation at Risk'.  Actually, it predates that as the Soviet Sputnik launch launched the USA into the space race, and the nation produced innovators and math / science gurus.  Apparently that intelligent a populace created a problem, so now we study critical lens essays, diversity, global warming (climate change - which one?), social justice and other non subjects that demand no rigor whatsoever.

- The 'culture of poverty' is back.  Despite being wealthier and having accoutrements that would make the sultans of the past drool, we have been re-inroduced to poverty being an excuse for lack of academic rigor and performance.  This old saw has been trotted back out despite the higher ups admitting that all of our students have smartphones (these are the cheapest I could find), and the irrefutable evidence of high dollar sneakers protecting the feet of our downtrodden charges.

Odd Things

- A public school is a progressive, Democrat / Liberal place.  Despite the Left's classic hatred for church and religion, our district thanks God often during these convocations, and speeches abound with faith based sayings and speeches.  I like it because I think communities should have control over their schools, and ours has many churches, but mainly because none of the political Liberals have the guts to take on the black pastors and churchgoers.  These (usually white) Liberals go bananas about separation of church and state when it comes to the (almost exclusively white) religious right, but are mute in a district like mine.  It is enjoyable to watch as the citizens of the district are speaking freely about God - and no one says anything.

- As one goes through teacher training in Education School and hours of teacher training, we learn that top down strategies are bad and student driven strategies are good.  If this is the case, why is the State, the same institution that has run the Education Train off the rails, coming up with a one size fits all top down solution?