Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dangerous Thinking

Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn't break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility.  . . . Open thinking points beyond itself.
Theodor Adorno

That is, there are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise.  . . . nonthinking is even more dangerous.
Hannah Arendt

Quoted to begin "Thinking Dangerously in An Age of Political Betrayal", a very thorough and engaging essay by Henry A. Giroux, that will make you question everything from what actual learning is to the whimper of a decaying culture.

Below are some other mots justes:

• Insofar as the laws of mathematics are certain, they do not refer to reality; and insofar as they refer to reality, they are not certain…The important thing is not to stop questioning. - Albert Einstein
The utmost extent of man's knowledge, is to know that he knows nothing. - Joseph Addison

  When students cheat on exams, it's because our school system values grades more than students value learning. - Neil deGrasse Tyson

   Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. – Voltaire

 What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. - Christopher Hitchens

   To fear death is to think that we know what we do not know. - Socrates

[Source:  Generation Terrorists, a marvelous place to wander through]

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Voices of Reason

Here are voices of reason who want to provide better access to education for EVERYONE.

Jonathan Pelto and Ebony Murphy have decided that it's time that the truth about education reform should be brought to the attention of the tax payers by way of the ballot box.

It's the way reform is supposed to happen in a democracy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

You, Them And Facebook, Et Al

As I read Jaron Lanier's op-ed today, I considered writing  a brief response.  I knew that would be problematic, not only because most of what I write is typically not brief, but also because I would seem once again and unnecessarily to be curmudgeonly negative about the culture I happen to live in.  So I let it rest.  But that also bothered me.  I have something to say to all the lemmings rushing to be friended or followed or linkedin or tweeted, groping and grasping for a "social" beingness to assure them of their ontology.

See.  That's why I hesitated to write something.  I get going about how people need to think about what they're really themselves.  But they think or, I guess, believe that places like Facebook, and Twitter and Quora and even Wattpad simply want to facilitate their sense of social well being, what used to be called "popularity."

But while I scanned the recent visits to my posts for this week, I discovered that I had already written about this.   See my post for Monday, September 16, 2013.

But I think the Lanier piece does a better job of explaining to us just how manipulative the avarice of social media can be.  He's kind of an interesting person.  He works in the world of online media and has acquired some opprobrium from the online hawks out there.  But I think they don't read hm carefully.  As this current piece suggests (and to paraphrase Shakespeare), he wants us to understand that the fault is not so much in the purveyors of social media but in ourselves from our lack of judiciousness.

Oh, almost forgot.  Disclaimer:  As you might have guessed from what this blog's banner says, having multitudes of friends and followers has never been one of my top priorities.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Big Data for Social Good

Disclaimer: I am neither a computer scientist nor a data scientist, nor a statistician.  Moreover, I assume, like most people I am conflicted about whether Big Data is a benevolent master or a malevolent servant, infecting what's left of the good parts of being human.

All that said, I had a look at this video by Drew Conway (who happens to be my son) on how Big Data can and should be used for social good.  And in his view the heavy lifting of analysis and application so far has been done by volunteers, so it doesn't need a lot of money.  Have a look.  It's about 25 minutes long, and it's not full of esoteric vocabulary and complex theories.

Things can get better.  But we need to want them to.

Friday, June 13, 2014

If Only We Could Listen Surely (a belated testimonial)

If only we could listen surely
Then here’s to Leo*, too long gone—
Who knew what poetry is, who
We thought could use some of
Our schooling to oversee him—
Who bent low to keep the food
Coming because
The words could never stop—
Who listened politely and ignored
Our constructs and numbing flotsam.
You created lines of flow and rupture,
Rapping long before it got a name.
So much for scholars’ delights.

Thirteen years since then, and I’ve
Passed your marker already by three
But still, and this is it, really, why
This now, this now so many years gone and
How you passed almost unnoticed so few
Bothered to honor your resting hulk, and
The why, I suppose, is that fact, that
Actually of my countdown coming along.

You earned the little grub you got grubbing
The hard way…I never could see you there,
A seller of stuff to material minds.
What you really had for us we couldn’t buy
And anyway it was for giving, not for sale

You made me want to meet Amelia, Mrs. Brooks,
To be there, to save Federico from our madness
Smashed against the wall, to assert its foul
Righteousness, oh yes, you knew it in your bones,
Which is why you gathered your clan to cross America,
Welcoming the air of Walt, Allen and Hart, bound in the
Soul and heart, the sound in lines of America,
Flow and rupture, with them, you accused
In the bluster of your full-throated love.

You were always able to see the unseen ones,
The cowering, fearful woman, pushing cart,
Portering the motel in Provincetown, her spirit sister,
Your Amelia, the kind of love so deep it takes
Your voice to dig it to our lives, the kind of love
That put Boppledock in sauce draining wonder in Mass.

It’s why they looked askance at your honoring
Dylan and Federico and Hart and all the others
In your clan, who took the risks and hated the price.
America always has the price, the America you
Showed what love means, who couldn’t care less.

*Leo Connellan, Connecticut poet laureate, 1996-2001
(read "Crossing America" here)
(from: "Amelia, Mrs. Brooks of My Old Childhood" go here and scroll down)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

American Exceptionalism

America has experienced 74 shootings at schools since the Sandy Hook shooting in December, 2012.

That's just the shootings at schools.

Anywhere people gather—malls, theaters, sporting events, public parks on bright warm days...these are likely killing fields...yes very likely.

And Americans are told by their leaders that their representative are too intimidated by the NRA.

No other developed country experiences this kind of excused mayhem.

American exceptionalism, indeed.

Late Breaking:

     Another example of American exceptionalism:  Passing laws that make feeding the poor illegal

(punishable by a $2,000 fine).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Here's A Thought

A question, really.  What would happen if all of us suddenly decided to stop answering questions from total strangers?

The phone rings, you forget to look at caller ID, because you're expecting an important call from a family member, and you say "Hello?"  A long pause (because the caller has to look you up on the screen as "answering"), and then the caller says, "May I speak with So-and-So?"  "This is he," you say.  A brief pause, because the caller is unsure of the grammar of your response.  And then comes the crucial moment in this encounter.  The caller asks, "How are you today?"

Up to this point you haven't been certain as to the possibility that this might be a legitimate call regarding some business or purchase on your part.  But this question tells you this is either a pollster or a salesperson.  In either case, you know she doesn't care at all about how you are.  So you have a couple of options, depending on how charitable you're feeling.  The most charitable action for both you and the caller would be to hang up.  Absent that, depending on how you actually are, you might want to say, "Up until you asked that question, I was having an OK day."  That will elicit another pause, and might end the call.  A more hostile but honest procedure would be for you to say, "No!" and hang up.  I'll call that the Nancy Reagan approach

I think the polling and marketing industries have done enough invading of our personal lives.  Every time I'm approached with the question "Would you mind if I asked..." I want to say , "Yes, I would and do mind."  Or worse.  I've made a purchase, I'm satisfied with everything about the purchase, but the marketing department isn't.  They need to know the specifics about my satisfaction.  Really?  No.  They want to fine tune their so-called "best practices"—we need to get rid of that phrase, and soon—so that they can target market and serve more accurately...and they want the necessary information from of charge!  On my time!

I could go on like this, but the fault with what I've written so far is that it's viewed in isolation.  My issue is my problem, and that's just the way the pollsters want it.  But what if more people out there, lots more, millions even, feel similarly inconvenienced and angered?  What if the millions exercised their options and shut off and shut down the pollsters.  What they would have left is trusting Big Data to do their work for them.

Are there ways of flummoxing Big Data?  Possibly, but it would require a change in our true-blue American behavior.  We would need to cut our purchasing of non-essentials considerably and we'd need to stop purchasing with plastic.  These are major behavior modifications, so they're a bit utopian.  I intend to begin with my isolation module.  Delete all spam on the cell phone and do my best Nancy Reagan on the cell as well as the landline.

I must live in a consumerized and commodified society, but I can limit my cooperation with it.