Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Friday, December 28, 2018

Is the (Federal) Government a Useless Waste of Money?

 So now we have another government shut-down. It’s a stalemate between Trump and Congress about “the wall.”

I log onto my web portal/browser (Yahoo!) and I get the news story of the hour - This one about the government shutdown that started on December 22. The article of the hour is usually followed by many comments, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands.

I often scroll down a few dozen of these comments, because I am a sociologist and I am keenly interested in public opinion. I understand that these comments are obviously not representative. Many of them are probably written by trolls with an agenda to grind, many of their authors may not even be Americans. Yet, these ARE voices. And when I scroll down the list, peruse a few dozen of them randomly, and find an OVERWHELMING majority of them writing more or less the same stupid and WRONG thing, I worry.

Today, the vast majority of these trolls, while using different iterations of it, agreed with this familiar imbecile meme:
That the present (federal) government shutdown hasn’t made a damn bit of difference in anyone’s life; and that this is proof that the (federal) government is an utterly useless and wasteful institution, which employs millions of pencil-pushers who enjoy fat paychecks while doing nothing of value; that the permanent shutdown of this bureaucracy would make no difference in our lives, and that it would be a blessing. Read more...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kando's Dogma - Part Two

 About a year ago, I posted a piece called. Kando’s Dogma. I now add some further beliefs which I hold to be true:

1. All people are created equal (Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson). There are no inherent differences in intellectual aptitude between the races and between the genders. The science of psychology has not discovered any. Differences in wealth are the result, to a small extent, of aptitude and effort, but much more the result of social class, family wealth and above all: luck.

2. There is no (anthropomorphic) deity, no super-brain which decided at some point in the past to create a world. The universe is a physical reality in which life and mental processes develop. In other words, the universe becomes aware of itself. It is a psycho-physical reality.

3. The nature and processes of the universe are best discovered and understood through science.

4. Science distinguishes between truth and error, and through it, knowledge increases. Humans progress by increasing their knowledge. The total amount of knowledge is infinite.

5. In addition to science, there is philosophy and there is religion (Auguste Comte’s three stages). Philosophy discusses metaphysical questions. These are questions beyond those pertaining to the physical world. Positivist science cannot answer them. Answers to such questions cannot be proved or disproved empirically. Read more...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to Make America Great (Again)

Here are three competing political and economic agendas. (1) Liberal, (2) Radical Socialist and (3) Conservative:


1. The economy: The problem:

The federal government is on a trajectory towards bankruptcy. Sooner or later, Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent.

Each year, the share of the federal budget that is spent on financing the debt grows. Obama  managed to reduce the government’s annual deficit to around $400 billion, but the new Republican tax cut for the rich is predicted to cause this to rise to $1 trillion. In addition, interest rates have been at an unprecedented low for years, and they are bound to rise soon. Gradually, financing the debt will crowd out other expenditures - health and human services, unemployment, infrastructure, housing and transportation, science and education, food and agriculture, energy and the environment, veterans and even the military.

The Trump administration is already proposing to cut food stamps. Stingy as our safety net and assistance to the needy are compared to other advanced social democracies, they will be reduced even further, as our government goes broke.

The solution:

A. Full retirement age for social security should be raised. Life expectancy has risen, so this makes sense. Raising the age at which dozens of millions of Americans begin to collect benefits will save the government BILLIONS. Read more...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

For Happier and Healthier Human Beings

 My sister Madeleine wrote a very intelligent piece about the “dangers of spirituality.” In her review of Kramer and Alstad’s book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, the failure of Buddhism and Hinduism is explained. Many good points are made by the book’s authors and by Madeleine.

I have wanted to write an alternative piece related to the same topic. First, I had to spend three weeks in Hawaii, so I am only now getting around to this.

Since I know little about Buddhism and Hinduism, I dot not intend to defend those perspectives here, or other Eastern spiritual philosophies in the “Zen” tradition, or other “New Age” trends.

However, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is today a convergence among many strands of modern psychology towards certain principles. Following these principles may help humans to become happier and psychologically healthier. And in my view, they appear to be empirically true.

The common thread I see in the emerging paradigm includes the following elements:

1. Humans experience life through interpretation. The world is not given to us. We make the world in which we live.
2. Thus, we experience life “from within to without,” not the other way around, as is claimed for example by Behaviorism (“we respond to stimuli”).
3. We have minds, we think, and we have consciousness.
4. All human experience occurs in the present - NOW. No one has ever experienced anything in the past or in the future. We can only THINK about the past and the future. We cannot live in those realms.
5. Thinking tends to be verbal.
6. Thoughts produce feelings.
7. We are the totality of our thoughts and our feelings. Read more...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Located

Preface: Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.

You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

Countries and Regions:
Of the top 200 universities, 77 are located in North America. That is almost 39%.   Actually, North American preponderance is even more notable among the top 100 universities, of which over half of  are in the US and Canada. The United States has 70, or 35%,  of the top 200 universities, and 48 of the top one hundred.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dutch Santa Claus and Black Pete

The Dutch celebrate Santa Claus on December 5 - Sinterklaas Day. In recent years, this celebration has become problematic. An old custom has become controversial, namely the Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete” tradition:

The way the Dutch have celebrated Sinterklaas Day traditionally is by having him arrive by boat from Spain. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that the Netherlands were under Spanish rule until about 300 years ago.

What has made this custom problematic in the 21st century is that each year, Santa is accompanied by a bunch of helpers called “Black Petes.” These are supposed to be young black Moorish boys, perhaps formerly slaves. They are usually enacted by white people who splash on blackface. Read more...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Fanboys

I am a fan of the Fanboys. Were it not for them, life would be short, nasty and brutish. 'Fanboys' is an acronym for what grammarians call 'conjunctions', those little things that function as superglue between parts of sentences, and consequently our thoughts.

Without the Fanboys, we couldn't 'like cats but not dogs', 'eat raisins and nuts', 'wear skirts or pants', 'work hard yet enjoy ourselves', and 'wear glasses so we could see'.

You guessed it, each letter in 'Fanboys' stands for one of those conjunctions: For, And, Neither, But, Or, Yet and So.

Can you imagine if we didn't have the Fanboys as a shield against those uppity independent clauses? So full of themselves, thinking they are always right and everybody else is wrong? The Fanboys are there to put them in their place, cut them down to size and make some room for compromise. 'My twin sister is very pretty' sounds ok, but 'My twin sister is very pretty, but I am prettier' sounds a lot better. Read more...

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Texas Textbook Wars

In Texas, a series of new textbooks will hit classrooms this fall, which more than five million public school students will be using for nearly a generation to come. These new textbooks are filled with errors, omissions and revisions that promote a Christian Fundamentalist world view, courtesy of the Texas State Board of Education.

So what, you might say? What else would you expect from one of the most backward, conservative states in the Union, a hotbed of Creationism? Why bother write about it at all? The problem is that Texas is one of the biggest customers of publishing giants like McGraw-Hill Education. Together with Florida and California, they have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools and although California has more students, Texas spends more of its budget on textbooks. It literally rules the textbook market in the US. This fact and the Texas State Board of Education's relentless efforts to politicize textbooks in order to advance its religious agenda, has given the state enormous influence over what gets included in school textbooks in many states throughout the country. Read more...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Things that Didn't Happen

Today so many things didn't happen to me, that I feel I should write about them. On other days, things start to happen as soon as I wake up. I trip over some carelessly strewn about item on my way to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, but today I made it to the kitchen without stubbing my toes. I didn't find the coffee jar empty and didn't have to resort to the dreaded emergency decaf container; I didn't burn the milk and didn't have to spend half an hour cleaning the stove.

While I was not doing all these things, I couldn't help but notice other things that had not happened: the pile of laundry was still waiting patiently next to the washing machine and the dirty dishes had not seen any action either.

As the day progressed, more and more things gathered on the didn't happen pile. While I was taking a shower, I noticed that the paper thin sliver of soap had not been replaced by a healthy, new fresh bar and the hair ball in the drain had not budged, giving my feet a good 15 minute Read more...

Monday, May 18, 2015

An Ode to the Letter A

It has come to my attention of late, that we, as writers, don't give enough credit to one of the most undervalued letters in the English alphabet: the letter A.

Let's face it, we misuse, abuse and overuse many letters, but the A is like the Angus of letters. For one thing, it has various pronunciations, sometimes it sounds like 'ey', sometimes like 'uh', sometimes like 'aw'. It is like a chameleon. It changes from 'mat' to 'mate', from 'glass' to 'glaze' and from 'hat' to 'hate', depending on which vowel it keeps company with. It even has to do the work of other letters when people become lazy in their pronunciation, like in 'whateva' or 'seeya'.

It is as selfless as Mother Theresa, coming to the rescue when a person is not sure what to say: 'aaah… let me see'. Or when someone has an epiphany: 'aaha', an orgasm: 'aaaah', feels sorry for someone: 'aaw', or just pretends to understand something complicated: 'ah (yes)'.

Singers use it to practice their voice, without even considering paying the A a decent living wage. Doctors diagnose throat conditions, again at no extra cost to them, knowing that the A has no collective bargaining power. Can you imagine if the A went on strike? The consequences are too horrible to contemplate. I couldn't finish this essey without committing orthogrephic mistekes. The Spanish language would particularly be in trouble, with their feminine endings and the poor Hawaiians wouldn't be able to talk at all, since most of the consonants in their language fell overboard when they came to Hawaii in their canoes. Besides, everybody would get lost on the islands, since all the streets have names like Kal'ia'iou'amaa'aaa'eiou. Read more...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Demography is Destiny - Part Two

In my previous post, I argued that when it comes to variations in violence and murder rates, AGE explains more than just about any other variable. In other words, Auguste Comte was right when he said that demography is destiny.
2. Today I want to show the importance of demography in another related area, namely (im)migration and population shifts. This, too, is something that threatens  a lot of people today, something quite topical in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath and the incessant chatter about  terrorism. Many Europeans fret about the “Arabization” of their continent, and many  Americans fear the “Latinization” of their country.  The reaction in both cases is Eurocentric Christian nativism. Europeans are marching and rallying behind nativist leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Some,  like Hungary’s Jobbik Party, attack gypsies. In the US, many Republicans  want to evict millions of Hispanic immigrants. The unifying theme on both sides of the Atlantic is:  “Save Western civilization.”

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Demography is Destiny - Part One

Our last three posts have been about Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and Islamic immigration. There has been excellent response by readers. The present post is also related to those topics.

The title of this piece is usually attributed to Auguste Comte, the father of Sociology, and I want to show  how   true it is.

Two of the things  which the media never let us forget  are:
(1)   terrorism/crime/violence/war and
(2) immigration.
These  two issues  are related, as in the Charlie Hebdo case, because some of the violence is committed  by Muslim immigrants to places like France.

Western societies, foremost among them the United States, are in a never-ending search for the explanations and solutions to  this dual problem, always  trying to implement a variety of  policies. Experts are  pulling their hair out trying to explain crime and violence. The explanations and  policies range from various criminological fads, all the way to war.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dutch Obsession with Diminutives

The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on earth. Not only are they tall, but every time I travel to Holland, they seem to have grown taller. Whatever feeling of confidence and superiority my above-average height might give me in the US, it evaporates the moment I arrive at Schiphol airport, and start to navigate my way through a sea of giants. It's hard to get used to feeling 'short', even if it's just for a week or so.

You would expect this propensity for height to spill over in the way the Dutch speak, with bombastic, aggrandizing words and phrases. But it's just the opposite. The Dutch are extremely fond of diminutives. They add the suffix '-je' or '-tje' to practically any part of speech. When I visit my friend Edith in Baarn, we often go for a 'fiets tochtje', a little bike ride (even though they might take up to three hours). We'll stop on the way for a 'kopje coffee met een gebakje', a little cup of coffee with a little desert. On our way back, we'll go into town and buy a 'jurkje', a little dress or hunt for a 'koopje', a little bargain. It's all little this and little that in Holland. Read more...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do we need more “Freedom,” Like the People in 'Mockingjay"?

The prevailing trend today is to favor “freedom,” and to hate the government, particularly the big, distant, central government. “Local” and “grassroots” are seen as good things, going hand in hand with “freedom.”

Popular culture is also on that side, of course, as I was recently reminded by the wildly popular Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games movie. It’s not my intent to dignify this mediocre picture with a review or a serious political analysis, as it is essentially a money-making piece of entertainment, which is fine. But it shows precisely the ideological confusion which I want to talk about:

The main theme of the entire Hunger Games series is that of an evil central government (Capitol) that oppresses the local districts, which then start a revolution. It is a story about the quest for freedom at the grassroots level vs. the tyranny of the central government. As banal as could be. The story of every revolution in history - the American, the French, the Russian, you name it. Read more...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What is Important?

We are drowning in politics, in elections, in agendas. The public is incessantly  being told what we should worry about. The powerful (and often corrupt) power structure is supported by the media, it brainwashes  the populace, tells us what the most important problems are, and  how we should devote our energy and our resources. Over the past century or so, Americans have by and large been told to be AFRAID;  to protect themselves against, and to fear,  the following things:

Communism in the past, Muslim terrorism now.
Crime, always.
Alcohol in the past, drugs now.
Various countries: Russia in the past,  China, Iran and Arab countries  now.
Nuclear Armageddon.
Foreigners and immigrants.
Racial miscegenation.
Epidemics: AIDS in the past,  Ebola now.
The government.
Government surveillance (NSA, CIA, FBI, etc.).
Wall Street.
Global Warming.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mandate, My Foot

Is America becoming  the stupid country? The easy-to-brainwash country? A country of lemmings? Other countries have lost their way in the past - Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Mexico - is it America’s turn now?
Millennials and other young people made up  13% of all the votes on November 4.  Oh sure, it’s not worth voting, you say, because you are terribly busy, and the system is rigged anyway...Those are some of the excuses. Well, good luck with that! If you keep letting old men decide who is going to rule, you will continue to get screwed by the plutocracy  for the rest of your lives. Better learn to live with that. You make your bed and you’ll have to lie in it.

Reactionary Behavior: Obama saved us out of the Great Recession, the worst thing in eighty years, and Americans are practically ready to lynch him. What is that?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are Our Political Beliefs Hardwired into Us?

The terms 'left-right' in politics originated during the French Revolution when members of the National Assembly who were loyal to religion and the king stood to the right of president's chair, so as to avoid the shouts and insults that came from the opposite side, where the more revolutionary members took their seat.

There is nothing more guaranteed to create conflict than opposing political views, but as John Stuart Mills said: 'Having a party of order and stability and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.'

But what makes someone a 'leftist' or a 'rightist'? Is it something that you learn from your parents, like potty training? Do we acquire our political beliefs on our own? Or do we acquire them at birth, like the color of our hair? Is it the environment or the genes?

In "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology," John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska argues that what makes conservatives conservative, is their heightened sensitivity to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in the environment. We all react to negative stimuli, which is a good thing, or we wouldn't have been able to survive as a species. Our ancestors didn't approach a saber-toothed tiger cooing 'nice kitty', but wisely followed their negative bias instinct and ran for their lives instead. Read more...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Decimal and Metric

by Tom Kando

On August 5, National Public Radio had a skit on the fact that the US remains one of three countries in the world which don’t use the metric/decimal system (the other two are Liberia and Myanmar).

Maybe so. Of course, metric and decimal are not synonymous. This country IS decimal in many ways - starting with the dollar and our entire monetary system, thanks to Thomas Jefferson who at least pushed that through.

And by now, much of American science, medicine and commerce takes place decimally. Your meds are all measured in grams and milligrams, your primary care physician might record your weight in kilos, etc. But we are not metric. Nor are we decimal in our measurement of weight and temperature.

But I don’t want to nitpick how accurate or inaccurate the statement is that “the US is one of only three countries that remain non-metric/non-decimal.” Instead, I want to share with you some interesting thoughts about this subject:

Friday, May 2, 2014

Five Ways We Can Reform Young Offenders

by Daphne Holmes

While instances of crimes committed by young (under 21) offenders seem to be in slight decline, the violent nature of those crimes is on the rise, and the age of the offenders seems to be getting lower, according to a report by the Australian Jesuit Social Services, titled Thinking Outside: Alternatives to remand for children. The response on the part of most countries’ governments and school districts has increasingly been to handle these young offenders’ crimes by means of the criminal justice system. While such a response is indeed understandable, it has not to date proven particularly effective, so we must look beyond the immediate knee-jerk reaction to youth crime if we hope to see the trend reversed.

Who are the young offenders?
In the above mentioned report, it is noted that a significant majority of youths who are processed by the criminal justice system "have been victims of abuse, trauma, and neglect, with high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, child protection involvement and school exclusion. Mental health issues and intellectual disability are also prominent.” It is also noted that minority children constitute a much higher percentage of offenders than their ratio within the overall population. While the report was based in and focused upon the situation in Australia, it documents a trend that is consistent with findings in other countries, as well.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

God Created the Earth, but the Dutch Created Holland

Once more, I am visiting beautiful Holland, where my mother still lives and where I grew up. She is settled in the northern tip of this small country, her flat abutting a pristine stretch of green fields dotted with sheep, cows and horses. It is spring time and the high-pitched bleating of newly born lambs calling for their mother, fills the air. Giant white swans slowly navigate the small 'ditches', like miniature barges with elegant wings. I cannot resist driving on these tiny polder roads, barely able to keep my wheels from veering into the trenches that separate the fields.

It is miraculously beautiful. The landscape has not changed since the Dutch masters of the Golden Age immortalized it in their famous paintings. A sliver of a horizon dotted with church steeples and poplars, domed with an immense sky. The light from the intricate web of waterways, lakes, rivers and the surrounding sea is reflected back on a hazy countryside, as if it were bathed in milk. Read more...