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As usual a long post, but you have a chance to learn some cool science!

I'm a middle school Science teacher.  I teach 6-8th grade Science, namely Earth Science, Biology, and Physical Science in that order.  Part of the Biology curriculum is evolution.  This is no surprise: modern Biology makes no sense whatsoever without Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.  Literally, it would all be a gigantic illogical nightmare if evolution is left out of the equation.  How would you classify animals?  How would we be able to explain interactions between species in their natural environment?  How could we make sense of the inner workings of our bodies and compare that to other animals?  If species just popped into and out of existence, we can just hang up our coats and go home.

Of course every biology teacher has to face off against Creationists.  What surprised me in this case was how many Creationists I would have to spar with.  One of my very own colleagues was a creationist! First off, I do not back off from scientific fact.  There is no "It's not my place to present information that challenges people's beliefs."  That's not science.  My job is to teach science, as it is, and to teach kids that they can cultivate within themselves a scientific mindset that is valuable for their everyday lives.  Knowing things about science is just plain beneficial.  

My style is more confrontational than other teachers might be used to, but you cannot back down from what you know to be true.  The children come first, and if they do not learn to question what they think, you're only helping to bring about a generation of sheep.  So, here's what happened, I know you're dying to find out.

I was discussing evolution in my 7th grade biology class after our unit on DNA.  My science class is probably more technical than most.  I did this fun lab where I had the kids use LEGO pieces to decode an RNA strand to figure out what amino acids it would code for.  For those not in the know, the way DNA works is that it is a series of letters, a code of sorts.  Each letter corresponds to one of four chemicals: Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine, aka base pairs.  In RNA, Thymine is replaced by Uracil (a much less stable version of a nearly identical molecule, must be too much reality TV).  Your DNA splits in half, and an RNA strand comes along and is formed based on the original DNA strand.  This is called "messenger RNA."  The RNA leaves the nucleus of your cell and heads to a nearby ribosome.  Think of ribosomes like scanners you feed paper through.  The mRNA is fed into the ribosome.  Transfer RNA (tRNA) links up to one end of the ribosome.  Transfer RNA has two parts: one side is an amino acid and the other side is one of the four chemicals we talked about earlier: Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Uracil.  

Now, the four base pairs link up with each other in certain ways.  Adenine always goes with Thymine (or Uracil) and Cytosine always goes to the dance with Guanine.  I tell my students to think of each base pair as "inseparable besties."  7th graders love that.  Now, the base pairs on the mRNA strand (the RNA strand that left the nucleus and is being fed like a paper ream into the ribosome) is going to bond with the base pairs on the tRNA strand, in groups of three, called codons.  So for example, let's say you have a strand of mRNA like this:

AUGCGCCCCAUCUG

So we look at the first group of three base pairs, namely AUG in this case.  AUG is called the "start codon," meaning the reaction won't start until the start codon is fed into the ribosome.  So, the AUG on the mRNA strand will bond with a tRNA strand that has the opposite base pairs, namely: UAC.  Remember the amino acids I talked about?  Well, the tRNA comes equipped with them.  So that means that the AUG on the mRNA strand will attract a tRNA with the amino acid known by the sexy name of "Methionine."  Next, the ribosome will read "CGC" and this will bond to a tRNA strand with the opposite base pairs, namely "GCG." Then, we will take the lovely Methionine we already have present, and link it up to a shiny new molecule of Argenine.  You can use a handy dandy RNA codon table to figure out which amino acid goes with which codon.

This process goes on and on and on until you reach a "stop" codon, where the reaction stops.  You get a peptide chain, and through some very complicated processes, you'll eventually have a protein.  The proteins made by this process are used for pretty much everything your body could ever need.  There are proteins that digest food, color your hair and eyes, keep your blood vessels nice and firm, and help you sense danger in case a bear attacks.  Different sequences of amino acids make different kinds of proteins; the list is endless!  

Changes in your DNA code due to mutations could have a big impact on the proteins that your body makes!  Many mutations in the DNA code are "silent mutations," meaning mutations that don't do anything.  For example, if your DNA code changed from CCU to CCC, it wouldn't make a difference, because your body would still make Proline.  Even if your body uses a different amino acid in the chain, some amino acids are so similar, it doesn't make a difference if you use one or the other.

However, sometimes, mutations can cause BIG changes.  Sickle cell anemia is an example of how a change in just ONE SINGLE BASE PAIR can make your cells go from a healthy looking round cells on the left, to bent, sickle shaped cells on the right.

One letter change, that's it!  

Now, granted, my explanation is simplified and I am just giving you a breadth first overview, so for those that have deep knowledge of this subject, please forgive me :)  If you're still awake, I went through this long explanation to make a single point: There is no magic in the way our cells work and the way our bodies work.  There is no magic at all.  DNA is not a mystic code handed to us by neo-Moses.  It is explicable.  

Btw, in case you're wondering, 7th graders can indeed understand this if you spend enough time and make sure you're as obvious as possible.  Back to creationism.

So, we started talking about human evolution and natural selection.  I showed the standard pictures of Austrolopethicus Afarensis, Lucy, Homo Habilis, etc. etc. and explained human ancestry.  One of the creationists in my class looked a a photo I was showing, and then gleefully raised his hand to say that there was a "missing link" between the forms.  My diagram was purposefully incomplete because I didn't want to include every single transitional form.  Remember, 7th graders, not people with the greatest attention spans.  I let him go to the front of the class, handed him my marker, and let him happily point to where he thought there was a gap.  "If this is a monkey and this is a monkey, then where's the link between this and a human?"  I then asked him a question...

"What gap?"

"This one, this one right here!  You need something here."

"No I don't."

"Yes you do, you need something here."

"Why?"

"Because if you don't have it then this doesn't make sense."

The kid was dumbfounded by the fact I just wasn't impressed.  He laughed and was excited.  His father is a pastor, so I know that his father passed this idiocy onto him, and he was making dad proud.  It was kind of sick in a way.  I then rolled up the overhead projector, and did a quick sketch of a jigsaw puzzle.

"Class, let me ask you a question.  Is there a puzzle here?"

"Uhh..yes...?"

"Well, according to the logic of our classmate here, there is no puzzle."

"Wait, there's a puzzle right there..."

"But we're missing pieces!  And because we're missing pieces, there is clearly is no puzzle."

One bright young  girl raised her hand and said "Well we can figure out what pieces should be there because we know the shape 'n stuff."

"Exactly."

The creationist kid was flustered.  He hadn't thought of that.  His dad hadn't put it into his mind and he didn't have a cookie cutter response.  I decided to go on in an even manner.

"If you don't believe in evolution, then you don't believe in DNA . If you don't believe the planets were made from the accretion of dust and large particles in a nebula, you don't believe in gravity.  If you don't believe in radiometric dating, then you don't believe in atoms."

Now I know, some of you will say I'm being mean and using my authority, blah blah blah, but honestly, you can't have it both ways.  Mutations in genes happen and we can predict their frequency with a bit of calculus and some observation.  Mutations can cause big changes in an organism.  We don't need to have Homo Erectus just morph into Homo Habilis one day, we just need 10-15 mutations to occur within separate individuals of Homo Erectus and for those mutations to be beneficial, and for them to spread out through the population over the course of millions of years.  Some mutations can occur once every 1,000 years.  The earth is 4.5 billion, so really, that's just a drop in the bucket.  

We know that our ancestors in the fossil record are linked because we can examine their DNA and use techniques, like a molecular clock, to tell us when two species diverged from one another.  DNA doesn't lie.  There is no magic.  You get DNA from ancestors, and that is the only way you get it.  If I can compare the DNA of one fossil, to another, I can even predict that there should be a transitional form, AND even tell you what it should look like and where you can find it. We have plenty of transitional forms for humans which you can peruse here:

If you don't believe in evolution, then you don't believe in DNA, or you believe DNA is magic.

Some of the students didn't care about what was going on because they were more concerned with trying to impress members of the opposite sex.  The boy in question was stunned to say the least, but I did not single him out.  He simply came to me with a misunderstanding, and I corrected him as a teacher should.  The great thing, was that many of the kids in the room had a light bulb go off.  Science was logic.  Science was reason.  Science had evidence.  Science left no room for magic.  This was a lesson I hoped they would take with them for the rest of their lives.

In case you're wondering, I went up to the creationist kid afterwards and simply thanked him for participating in class and helping with our discussion, and that it will be reflected kindly in his participation grade.  He smiled.  

Discuss

Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:49 PM PDT

Common Core and Education Hysteria

by sujigu

As usual, this is a long diary, so get some warm cocoa.  Much like the health care debate, the insanity over Common Core has become frustrating.  When will people learn that if you don't do a slick marketing campaign to define yourself, crazy people will define you instead? I recently read an article that is against the Common Core standards written by someone who I highly doubt understands what Common Core is.  You can read it here.

Just as a disclaimer, I'm a teacher at a private school and I use Common Core in my classrooms.  I am under no obligation to do so. Private schools in my state can teach what they want, how they want, so long as the parents keep paying tuition.  I use Common Core when I teach Math and English because as a new teacher it gave me a guidepost as to what I was supposed to teach.  I taught myself the Common Core by finding professionals who have already implemented it, and just plain reading it myself.  This process has made me a huge proponent, so that is why the disinformation campaign is so disheartening.  

When you don't explain an issue thoroughly, people will define the issue for you, and they will define it based on their personal list of good guys and bad guys.  I've seen Common Core attacked from every angle. I've seen progressives attack it because they're angry about standardized testing, its effects on lower income and minority students, and that it's a neoliberal power grab.  I've seen liberals attack it because they believe it's a means for the state to privatize schools with the evil corporations pulling the strings in the background.  Far right tea-partiers attack it because they think it's a federal mandate.  Libertarians hate the "one size fits all" education theory, and conservatives think that the Common Core doesn't prepare kids for the "real world" and is instead developed by ivory tower academics.

                     You see?  People insert their own boogeymen where they want.

All of this is BS.  All of it.  People of each political walk of life get it wrong, but, like the Affordable Care Act, no one has come forward to really explain it, and then people's fear and ego takes over.  Surprise, surprise, those on the right are the ones that are the most factually incorrect and incoherent, but for centrists, liberals, etc., there's no excuse.  I'd like to spend some time to share my own educational experience using Common Core and some basic facts so that we, the "Reality Based Community" can be the ones to speak the most intelligently on this subject.  

1. Myth: Common Core is a big government federal program that will allow government to invade our lives.

Common Core is not a federally mandated education standard or set of reforms like "No Child Left Behind."  Common Core is the brainchild of the National Governor's Association and was developed from the best practices of each state, and included input from parents, teachers, administrators, etc.  International benchmarks were used in the development of the Common Core.  Each individual state can agree to utilize Common Core or reject it at their discretion.  There are 6 states (Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, Alaska, Virginia, Nebraska) and Puerto Rico who have not agreed to institute Common Core.  THEY DON'T HAVE TO.  NO ONE IS FORCING THEM.  For example, in my great state of Michigan, the Michigan Senate passed Common Core, and it was accepted June 15, 2010.  In fact, Common Core was, in many ways, a response to the central overreach that was NCLB.  

The only thing you could possibly say is that states who don't implement Common Core won't get Common Core related aid, but implementing Common Core can give the state a waiver from President Bush's NCLB.  States can get "Race to the Top" grants from other means besides implementing Common Core, but as you can see, most states decided getting NCLB waivers and getting grants through "Race to the Top" for implementing Common Core were icing on the cake for implemeting Common Core.

2. Myth: Common Core will force children to only study for the standardized test.

Standardized testing is different from state to state.  Over-usage of standardized testing is the dark offspring of education hysteria and the misinformation campaign of people who make money off privatizing schools and turning communities against  their school districts.  However, that has nothing to do with Common Core.  That madness had already been brewing for quite some time.  There are tests that align with Common Core, and in 2014 there will be a standardized Common Core test that states can elect to give to their students, but as far as how important standardized testing is, that's up to the state and federal mandates that were already in place.  You can't blame Common Core for the governor or legislature of your state being in the pocket of big education companies like Pearson, etc.  Common Core doesn't give them the authority to test your kids more or less, and nowhere in the curriculum (which you can read for free online!) says your kid has to take an inhuman battery of tests.  

I am not against having a standardized test, but just like one per year.  I have an International Baccalaureate, and I studied 4 years to take standardized tests that would determine whether or not I got my high school degree.  Standardized testing is fine, but de-funding schools who do poorly on tests without taking into account externalities such as funding levels, teacher training, socioeconomic factors (which have been proven to have a deleterious effect on education, thank you very much neoliberals), and other things that could hamper a school's ability to give a quality education, is the height of stupidity.  

We do not want a country where we lay on extreme pressure to take standardized exams.  I taught in a nation that is obsessed with quantifying student achievement, and the social costs are enormous.  

In short, it is a problem, but take it up with the right people and direct your anger in a constructive way.

3. Myth:Common Core teaches kids with methods that only make sense to ivory tower eggheads.

This is a criticism levied by many on the right, and as usual, the libertarians and conservatives are the ones that are off in "LaLa" land.  Common Core presents a set of skills that a child should have by the end of a given year.  Nowhere in the Common Core does it design a lesson for you.  There are education systems in the world that do that, and their rigidity gives lackluster results.  Common Core just says what the child must be able to do.  How you get to Rome is up to you.  If you want a central bureaucracy mandating that everyone across the country be exactly the same, pack your bags for France.

Don't believe me?  Well let me show you something!

If we use the power of the interwebs and visit the Common Core Standards website (did I mention it's free?) we can take a look at the standards.  Want a real world example? I was teaching my 3rd graders area and perimeter.  It is a big part of the 3rd grade Math curriculum.  I pulled up the website, and saw this:

CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.C.6
Measure areas by counting unit squares (square cm, square m, square in, square ft, and improvised units).
CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.C.7.a
Find the area of a rectangle with whole-number side lengths by tiling it, and show that the area is the same as would be found by multiplying the side lengths.
CCSS.Math.Content.3.MD.C.7.c
Use tiling to show in a concrete case that the area of a rectangle with whole-number side lengths a and b + c is the sum of a × b and a × c. Use area models to represent the distributive property in mathematical reasoning.
Yes, real esoteric stuff there.  The last one might be, but keep in mind, this curriculum is for me.  I'm an educator, so if I don't understand that last one, I shouldn't teach math.   To be honest, I think most people are just too lazy to actually, you know, read the standards.  There is nothing there that tells me HOW to teach that idea, just that I have to teach it.

Would you like to know how I teach area and perimeter?  I made up a game called "Island Conquer!!!" (Yes, it has that many exclamation points).  You take turns making square/rectangular islands on grid paper, and see if your partner can figure out the area. If they get it, they color in the island, and the person with the most land at the end of the game wins. You can change the difficulty level so that the kids have to multiply  the sides to find the area, and you can even allow "weird shapes" made up of squares and rectangles that you have to figure out by counting squares.  3rd graders love it!  I made laminated boards and it's a fun activity, because 3rd graders like to play.  Just saying.

Common Core does not stop me from doing that.  In no way shape or form does it tell me HOW I have to teach the idea.  If you see some stupid meme on Facebook with an example of a teacher teaching an idea poorly or in a confusing manner, blame the teacher, not the curriculum.  

#4 Myth: Common Core doesn't leave any time for arts, foreign languages, underwater basket weaving, etc.  How is my kid going to become the next Van Gogh?

Common Core just covers English and Math.  That's it.  It doesn't tell you how to teach Spanish, Science, History, or anything else.  It doesn't touch other subjects.  The English standards do include being able to read texts on Science and History, but that doesn't mean it counts as standards for teaching History.  It just counts as "Hey, in your English class wouldn't it be great if kids were well versed in reading documents about a variety of different subjects, and not just Chaucer?"  For example, if we go back to that free website anyone in the world can read, but no one actually does, it says:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.4
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.
In normal people speak, this standard says kids should know how to figure out crazy science words in context using background knowledge from their Science class.  Do you know what I do for my seventh graders studying Biology?  We read articles from Scientific American in English class!  We read all about what is going on in Science with respect to evolution, cosmology, genetics, etc.  I have my children find articles on topics that interest them, mine the article for words they don't know, look them up, create word webs, and even write their own articles on scientific subjects using knowledge they got from Science class!  Wouldn't it be great to have a society that was just as versed in reading technical articles and sociology articles as it is in following the movements of the Kardashians?  

My school teaches Spanish and Chinese and Art, etc. etc. and we have plenty of time for Common Core.  We do yearly standardized testing, so I'm not under the gun to have them take 4 tests in a year or some insanity like that.  If your school doesn't, it's probably because the funding is being ripped away for a corporate tax break, your governor gets big bucks from education corporations and uses suburban hatred of inner city schools to gain political clout to standardized test your district into oblivion which makes it so you can't, or you just are in a state that doesn't value public education.  None of that has to do with Common Core, and Common Core is not some Trojan Horse to ram all of those hideous things through.  

#5 Common Core will exacerbate the divide between rich and poor by enforcing standards that minorities can't meet.

Actually, one of the disadvantages of the American public education system when compared to other countries is lack of uniformity.  In countries like Norway, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, the uniform curriculum assures a standard of education.  Common Core does not go to the extent that say, France does, in trying to standardize the curriculum.  It gives teachers latitude; a very American value.  In other countries, even in poor schools the kids have a base level of knowledge.  Raising that base gives them a better shot at moving up in the world.  Education is not the only means where that can happen.  There are too many variables.  However having many of the same basic traits as your richer counterparts goes a long way in bridging the opportunity gap.  A poor South Korean can study hard and do great on the Su-Neung (the national exam to get into college) and then land in one of the big Korean corporations because his rural school followed the same practices as a nicer school in Seoul.  

Can anyone give me a good argument as to why kids in Massachusetts should have a higher quality education than kids in Mississippi?  Resources might be different, but why should a 3rd grader in Mississippi not learn area, and a 3rd grader in Massachusetts should?  This has nothing to do with standardized testing, it has to do with the quality that is delivered to each student.  If everyone in the United States got the high quality education that kids receive currently in Massachusetts, we'd be number one on the list.  We should be number one on the list.  Please don't give me this garbage about "ethnic/cultural homogoneity" being the reason we can't deliver the same quality education to everyone whereas Finland and S. Korea can, because if we actually emphasized true equality in our system, it wouldn't matter if it were a Black kid in downtown Chicago or some suburban White kid living outside of Nashville: they'd get the same thing.  We have a culture that binds us just like every other nation.  

The fact that we aren't delivering high quality education to all children is a problem, but most of the solutions to that are outside of the ability of Common Core to address.  That problem is addressed by the manner in which schools are funded, how well schools work with parents to create community, general attitude towards public education, and a myriad of other factors.    

Are there things to dislike about Common Core?  Sure.  I think in some places it can be vague, and also, it utilizes skills that kids are sometimes not used to.  Counting up to easy numbers is hard to teach kids who were trained all their lives to use a rote algorithm.  However, if you're a flexible teacher and are dedicated to your job, those kinds of hurdles are nothing.  I'd like a better rubric to tell if a book is grade appropriate according to the standards.  Of course, you'll hear horror stories of the Common Core telling 4th graders to read Grapes of Wrath (despite the fact the educator has final say as to what book will be used.)  Those horror stories are written by conservatives though, so we know how fact free they are.  

It is important we are the ones in the know.  

Continue Reading

First off I'd like to say that I'm not a mind reader, I'm not an Ukrainian/Russian scholar with 20 years of experience, and I'm not some ex-CIA/KGB agent.  I'm just writing this diary to work through some thoughts that have been bubbling in my head after watching and reading both Western and Russian media, and having talked with people who are actually in the Ukraine right now.  I wanted to game out what President Putin, President Obama, and other world players may be thinking, and how this all might play out in the end.  This is all stream of consciousness, but please feel free to chime in!

Before we begin, Wikileaks has taught me that essentially all important things happen off camera, so the only way to know anything half the time is by guessing, taking whatever you know to be true and just extrapolating.  It's how conspiracy theories are born, but if you try to stick to some facts, it can just be a conspiracy hypothesis :)

First off, the American Right fawning over Putin is both disgusting and telling of exactly how authoritarian the American Right has become.  They are shameless and should be called out on it.  Putin, like all other politicians, displays himself just as the public wants him.  Any politician worth their salt does this.  They sublimate their own ideas, their own feelings, their own emotions, and display a hologram based on their voting public.  

Russians want their President to be an emotionless robot.  They want someone who makes decisions quickly without hesitation, regardless of the consequences.  That is because there is no consequence, as far as the average Russian is concerned, that is worth more than the thrill of glory for Russia.  I am not overstating my case.  Picture an entire country that is majority Republican.  Really picture it for a second.  After the Soviet Union fell, and Russian elected its first president, that was the first real democratic election the country had in 1,000 years.  Coincidentally, their experiment in democracy occurred in the Ukraine, but I digress.  

This gets Russia into big trouble sometimes.  Rudy Giuliani fawns over Putin because he "makes a decision, and in half a day, it's executed," but in many cases in Russian history, this has proved fatal to the empire.  You can decisively do something stupid.  The invasion of Afghanistan was idiotic and set off a chain reaction that led to hyperinflation and an economy in free fall.  What about the environmental disasters brought on by trying to compete with the United States in corn production which drained the Aral sea and caused mass topsoil erosion all through Kazakhstan?  Russian incursions into Chechnya has created an entire lost generation of young Russian men whose only solace to escape from the horrors of their war crimes is a bottle of vodka.  Russia is gripped with AIDS, poverty, brain drain, alcoholism, and income inequality that is pervasive.  To make it worse, the average Russian does not believe in liberalism or trying to gain human rights or equality within society.  There are the elites, and the non-elites.  You try to be an elite if you can, because once you're dug into the hole, that's where you stay.  

The disgusting trappings of Putinism show off that deep in the Russian soul is a streak for authoritarianism and offering up one's individual self for "God, Tsar, and Orthodoxy."  Attempts at liberalizing Russia have historically ended in failure.  From the Decembrists to Catherine the Great, Russia has always loved the material trappings of the West, but never gets around to truly instituting, at a personal level, the fruits of the enlightenment.  

Russia has a beautiful culture, they are an advanced nation, and there are plenty of good things to say about them.  Don't get me wrong.  However, you have to play the ball where it lies.  Putin must maintain an image that aligns with his people.  He is not the person he displays himself as.  He has a parliament filled with men who are almost all over 60, raised in the Soviet Union gripped in competition with the West.  He has to maintain an image, but in fact, he's a conservationist.  He is a political realist with respect to Europe.  He has to bend to his people.  Look at Edward Snowden.  Please don't tell me that he, the President of Russia, wants to have an American spy defector in his country.  He would've dumped him off at the first boat leaving for the Arctic Circle, but the Russian populace felt that Snowden had humiliated the United States and that letting him stay in Moscow would be a slight towards the United States.  Notice how Putin gave him a year, just long enough for Russian to feel happy, but short enough to shove him out once people forget.  

Things might not be so dire.

First off, let's consider events.  Putin has the ability to invade the Ukraine.  He has naval assets in the Black sea and a land army nearby Ukraine which he could easily mobilize.  The Pro-Russian leader has been ousted by a popular movement.  There is no way Putin or anyone in the KGB really thinks neo-Nazis are behind the coup, but there presence is important to inspire fear in the Russian populace.  Ukraine is an important region for Russia strategically as the ancestral Russian homeland, and also given the fact that there are gas lines running through the Ukraine, and it'd be difficult to defend oneself given the fact you could strike at a lot of major Russian cities through the Ukraine, Ukraine has clear strategic importance.  

However, closer ties with the EU and the US are inevitable for the Western region of the Ukraine.  There is a serious cultural divide between the east and the west.  The West sees the eastern part of the Ukraine as backwards and conservative.  The east is the industrial center and people there, economically speaking, receive a lot of Russian support, not to mention the fact, that the region identifies itself as more Russian than Ukrainian.  The Ukrainian identity is not firm across the board.  Some people see themselves as Ukrainian, some people see themselves as Russians living in the Ukraine, and some see themselves as their own background and living in the Ukraine for awhile.  Russia is a multi-ethnic nation with a divide between the "Rooskee" people, ethnic Russians, and the "Roseeskee" which mean people who fall under the imperial power of Russian hegemony i.e. Jews, Azerbaijanians, whatever.

With this in mind, Putin sees a Ukraine that is really three separate countries.  From a Russian perspective that's cool.  They kept a vast multi-ethnic multi-religious empire together cohesively for a long time, so a region that is tagged as one country, but really is like five, is not a new situation.  In fact, usually Russians are quite keen on knowing the cultural makeup of a given region because it helps to figure out whether you should assign them to make plane parts or tank parts or whatever.  

Get to the point.... Okay got it!

So, back to Crimea.  Putin, the gun-slinging, take no prisoners, shoot first questions later, president, does the militarily minimalist thing he could possibly do by picking Crimea as his invasion point.  He must invade and do something decisive, or people at home will turn on him.  Remember, Putinism is a monster of his own making.  Once the authoritarian nature of the Russian people is awakened, it's Frankenstein's monster: no going back.  Russians already turned on a president before for not acting "decisively" enough.  Well, Putin must act then, but honestly speaking, this was the least aggressive option.

Crimea is mostly Russian, and by that, I mean "Rooskee" not "Roseeskee."  The people there consider themselves to be Russian.  After all, the region was a gift to the Ukraine by Nikita "We will bury you" Krushev himself.  The people there are not fighting off the Russian soldiers, protesting, or really doing anything aggressive towards them (as far as I know).  Think about it a sec. Normally, when a foreign force invades your area, some people have the balls to try and fight back.  The Crimeans aren't.  It could be fear, but it also is the fact that many of them buy into Putin's state run media and think of the Russians as saviors.

Russia could have invaded the entirety of the Ukraine already and would have caught the Ukrainian military off guard.  Think about it.  That's the best time to attack.  If your goal is to crush Yanukovich's opposition and restore him to power, then you send the brutal Russian army into the Maidan and you suppress everyone.  If the West doesn't like it, then give them the middle finger and finish your operation up quickly.  Yes, it invites a war with the U.S., but if you want the entirety of the Ukraine to fall into your control forcefully, then war it is.  The Russian army is absolutely brutal and inhumane.  They wipe out whole families and have no regard for the rules of war.  I understand war is brutal, but if you look at the conduct of American soldiers, for the most part, their goal is just to kill people they're sure are there enemies.  Russian soldiers will convince themselves, in a purely authoritarian fashion, of who there enemies all and treat everyone accordingly.

So why not take the open, easy (relatively speaking) door?  Because Putin doesn't want that.  That'd make enemies out of the Western Ukrainians, and excessive brutality will only make enemies out of Eastern Ukrainian nationalists, and may even make Pro-Russian people at best neutral.  Ukraine is necessary for Russia's oil and natural gas economy.  Just as Angela Merkel is thinking about the fact she can't go without 30% of her natural gas, Putin is thinking that without his pipelines through the Ukraine, his oligarchs can't trickle down the wealth to Russia and make it a powerful nation.  Remember, the average Russian has no shot and should be content knowing teh gays won't get him, so pumping the oligarchs with more money is a viable strategy.

Something does have to be done, because the Ukrainian opposition is so disjointed, all it can really offer is what it tried to put in place before.  However, from Moscow's perspective, Tymoshenko might represent everything Ukrainians had been trying to get away from, and that a divided, factional opposition that doesn't gravitate towards a singular leader is impossible to control.  

So instead, we go the route where we risk the fewest amount of casualties to our own soldiers, go to an area that's open to us, invite both Yanukovich and the opposition leader Tymoshenko to Moscow, and try to go about solving this problem Soviet style, i.e., finding a way to make sure the leadership is to our liking but so that we can be mostly hands off while we take care of our own polity.  I can see the Ukraine as being redone with some sort of multi-leadership kind of deal where the separate parts are governed or effectively controlled by viceroys loyal to each faction, so that no one faction gains too much power. Given the importance of oil and natural gas to Europe, I don't see a more pro-EU Ukraine being too much of a threat to Russia, so long as Ukraine is divided enough not  to ever belong to NATO.  Sure, that means part of the country does go the the E.U., but as long as the other two parts are equally powerful and strategic, no one part outdoes the other.

This can mean an effective split for the Ukraine.  In which case, the most aggressive move on our part would be to take an East-West Germany strategy of ensuring our piece is economically more viable than the other parts.  We brought down the Soviet Union with better living once, it can happen again.  However, it might be difficult because our aid package cannot be used to buy Tymoshenko, or whoever, a fleet of Mercedes Benzes.  

Putin is a savvy leader, but he's not crazy; he's Russian.  He really is just operating from a standpoint of what is best for his country and using a lot of the same business as usual strategies the Soviet's employed.  Given the anti-gay laws and the level of authoritarianism in Russia, he's started something he may not be able to stop.  He himself may be on a freight train to hell of his own making.  We'll see where it ends up.

Discuss

I've hated philosophy since high school.  My favorite subjects in high school were History and Mathematics.  Those were the two subjects I felt you could truly "know" something about the real world.  I know, I know, you can talk to me all you want about the philosophical basis for both of those subjects, but I was 16, ok?  You see, as part of my high school program, I had to take a class called "Theory of Knowledge."  How do we know what we know?  What is knowledge?  Why does this class feel like it makes time stop?  In all honesty, it was a great exercise in critical thinking, but we had to read some Plato, Aristotle, and a bunch of other philosophers who annoyed me.  I never knew why they annoyed me until today.  

The reason I bring this up is the maelstrom of controversy surrounding the "Turn Away the Gays" bills and the dismantling of state bans on gay marriage.  As the bans are dismantled and thrown away into the dust bin of history, we will see more attempts by the fundamentalists to use Far Right Libertarianism as their sword and shield to discriminate against gays and to avoid having an honest discussion about why their religion is as messed up as it is.   Far Right Libertarianism was the philosophy of the states rights crowd who wanted to go back to the good ol' days of discriminating against blacks and reinstating segregation, and the religious right will now tread down this dark path for their own ends.  

We will see if these "religious freedom" bills will ultimately be seen as constitutional.  Many on here think they will not.  Some people fear that the religious right will find some cunning means of pushing through their agenda.  I did some research, and found out that for the Civil Rights Act, the government used its powers to govern interstate commerce as a means of saying that it can tell a private business it has to serve Black customers.  I had always wondered what the legal reasoning was for the government to regulate a private business.  I'm not a legal theorist, but this makes me think that there must have been some shift in legal theory that departed from the puritan libertarian thinking of government as some alien force that must be limited, to a natural aspect of society itself with the expressed purpose of ameliorating it. With respect to preventing discrimination against Blacks in the private sector, I think the reasoning that undergirds the government's ability to do so is the fact that Black people cannot choose to be Black people, they just are.  

                                     We are getting to "Is-Ought" I promise.

"Wait, huh?  Where did you get that from?" you might be saying to yourself.  It occurred me to me that the fight for gay rights boils down to the fact that gay people are gay just like Black people are black.  Maybe not 100% the same (environmental factors during development and social factors), but if being gay is an intrinsic aspect of a person that is not alterable and occurs naturally among human variation (there is a genetic factor), then if you are discriminating against gays, you are just doing it because the holy book says for you to do it, not because you are protecting the innocent or because you are protecting people from their own bad behavior.  

                       Okay, okay, what does this have to do with "Is-Ought?"

Well, I was watching a debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig on the idea of "something from nothing."  Craig argued that because "something cannot come from nothing," that God's existence was inevitably logical.

                   Statements like these made me hate philosophy.

As far as I was concerned, Craig had no right to make the statement because he has never observed "nothing" and tested to see whether something could come from it.  He basically just did a thought experiment.  He decided it was logical, with no basis whatsoever to think so, then derides his opponents for not seeing the wisdom of his knowledge.  William Lane Craig is one of the most disingenuous debaters there is and his logic is often suspect, but he likes to use his knowledge of philosophy to catch his opponents off guard.  For example, when Lawrence Krauss began to state ways in which religions state ethics without regard to facts, the host reminds him of the "Is-Ought" fallacy.  You cannot logically derive what one "ought" to do from the way something "is."  This idea was formulated by David Hume who wrote:

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence.
Religious people take the "Is-Ought" fallacy a bit far (in my opinion) and conclude that ethics and morality can not logically be deduced from facts, but instead have to come from a celestial referee, i.e. humanists and secularists have no logical means to determine good from bad.  Secular ethics are relative because their "oughts" have no logical basis and therefore cannot be knowledge that all humanity can share.  Hume is simply stating that if you are going to go from an "is" to an "ought," there had better be a logical bridge to explain your journey.  That doesn't mean such a bridge does not exist, it just means you have to build it and not rely on a reader's bias to make the connection for you.  

Does this work in reverse?  For fundamentalists (and coincidentally, authoritarians), one has to start from an "ought" and then the "is" will magically appear.  Take gay marriage.  According to fundamentalists, God does not like human beings engaging in homosexual acts because Leviticus.  Don't gimme the "effeminate" in the New Testament, or else we'll be forced to play the Bible game :)  Now, if God says homosexuality is bad, it must have a reason right?  We don't see it now, but it must be there, or else God would never ban it.  Right?

Gay marriage opponents will argue in Michigan the "is" that is derived from their "ought."  Gay marriage ought not to be allowed because kids raised by gay parents are somehow abused.  Gays are pedophiles.  Being gay is a health risk.  Being gay is unnatural and not a normal sexual function.  Being gay is a result of a poor upbringing, dysfunctional parents, or some other aberrant environmental factor.  Above all, being gay is a choice.  We ought not to allow gay marriage, because all of these things are true and we deem them to be "bad."

What subconsciously frightens people who are conservative is the nagging realization that the "is"'s that derives from their "ought" are not true.  Homosexuals are not child molesters.  Scientific research has shown that gays are a naturally occurring section of the population.  There is a genetic factor to being gay.  You can be gay and have been raised by happy heterosexual parents just as you could from being raised by the Mansons.  Any negative effects that children raised by gay parents may show is actually the result of a society that rejects gay people.  

If being gay is little different from being Black, then you'd have to accept the fact that your God does not make moral prescriptions based on facts, but out of capriciousness and spite.  Your God would have to damn people from birth or force people into lives of suffering and deprivation for its own personal amusement.  You'd have to make humanity a dysfunctional family of favorite sons and daughters and red headed stepchildren.  

I actually brought up this point in my philosophy class as I was debating a Mormon.  He was very offended at my suggesting that his God damned people from birth, but if you start from moral prescriptions and say that W X, and Y are true and bad, so therefore we must ban Z, then if W, X, and Y prove to be untrue, then where the heck did your god get Z from?  The debate ended, and the Mormon guy was pretty mad by the end.  I'm not the world's most cordial debater, but if you're going to tell me I have no basis for my morals, then where the heck do you get yours from?

This is the battle the gay right's front has to be won on.  It will reveal that there was no morality to the ban in the first place and will help all people realize that there is nothing wrong with letting love flourish in our society, whatever form it takes.  

Discuss

I get being religious.  No!  Really!  I get it!  I'm not religious at all.  I wouldn't go so far to say that there is absolutely, proof positive, NO higher being of any kind.  Highly unscientific.  I've come to the conclusion that given the world the way it is, that if a higher being existed, its behavior and attitude towards our universe would be such that from our vantage point, it is as if it doesn't exist.  Weird huh?  But a God that never interferes in our affairs under no circumstances other than keeping the universe going is pretty much the same as there being none.  Only difference is what happens at death, but even then, there may be no difference.

I digress.

My life is usually too busy to keep up with the news cycle.  I work two jobs and am starting a new business in January (with a ton of lined up customers!)  Of course, this is a miracle given the socialist policies of President Obama, but I have somehow survived.  Ayn Rand would be proud (I guess?)  But, I noticed that there was a lot of fanfare over the Pope.  I remember him as he took the office, but honestly speaking I didn't care.  Catholicism holds no sway over me, and while I know a lot of Catholics, most of the ones I know fall into two categories:

"I'm a Catholic, but I don't practice any of its doctrines and disagree with the clergy on several key issues despite the fact my religion is so strict that it doesn't allow for that sort of thing.  But I'm a generally nice person and I can't ignore my upbringing."

OR

"I am super educated or just super materialistic, and I believe in Catholic doctrine because of my *insert authoritarian relative/ancestor here* who also did and my personal feelings of weakness and inadequacy make me want to hew towards his beliefs in a vain attempt to be a stronger human being vicariously.  Abortion, gays, poor people suck and Bible verses mean what I say they do."

Not exactly impressive.  But that's okay.  Like I said, I get religion and I get why people are religious.  Hell, even if I didn't, it's not like they're going anywhere anytime soon.  Then I hear a lot of my left wing Catholic friends slobbering over Pope Francis.  "He's prioritizing the poor!"  I raised my eyebrow.  That was already plainly stated in the Bible over and over, ad nauseum.  What part of "Bible verses mean what I say they do" was unclear to you?  "He wants to not talk so much about abortion and gays!"  Again, Catholic doctrine is pretty clear on that.  It ain't changin', as they say.  I let these thoughts bounce around in my unconscious, until someone finally verbalized them.

I hate to say this, but Pope Francis presents nothing new.  I mean, a lot of Right Wing idiots will hate the thought of having to do something other than revile the poor for not being rich and ruining their prestige.  Who wants to be reminded that Jesus and God aren't celestial vending machines for prosperity?  Caring for the poor was something that was already state a million times in the book they revere, yet never read, and now that the Pope is telling them to listen up, they haz a sad.  However, they should rest assured that gays will never be allowed to marry, that convoluted intellectual arguments based on Catholic supremacy (but never overtly so) will continue to be used to support dying in childbirth, and that the church itself will remain ultimately a human enterprise: well meaning in some cases but ultimately fallible.

It's a lesson in not being caught up in narratives and emotions created by sources who profit from them both in monetary terms and in terms of general support.  That was how well meaning liberals and Democrats were tricked into the Iraq War.  "I'm not going to let some dictator threaten me and do nothing like some pacifist!"  I actually heard a very liberal Democrat say this, until I reminded them that the exclamation only enters the realm of validity if A) A dictator is indeed threatening you B) If those threats actually mean something and C) that Pacifism somehow means literally doing nothing.  Shut him up right quick, but not soon enough for him to withdraw from the throngs of people screaming for the Iraq War until they saw 8 years of bloodshed, death, and little to show for it.  

Before people take a liking to the new Pope, I'd just like to remind them that the flock is still around, and the Shepard hasn't changed.

Discuss

Let me give you a scenario.  See if you can follow along.

It's 8:45 p.m. on a Friday night.  You're working at your local McDonald's and the after dinner rush is about to pull in.  It comes in everyday at about this time.  You're low on people.  So and so is having a fight with his girlfriend, another person has a math final this Friday, and yet another is sick. So that means you're down three people until 10 p.m.  

The rush comes in.  You are slammed.  There are people coming in through drive through and flooding your front counter.  Everything goes smooth for the first 10 or so minutes.  The runner is fulfilling orders, the fry person has fries cooking on time, and the grill area is making sandwiches without missing any special orders.  Esperanza is a one woman sandwich making machine.  Then the disaster happens.  Someone ordered a Large Sweet Tea in drive through, paid, is on their way to the second window, and your window person forgot to refill the Sweet Tea or tell anyone that he needed it because that was the one thing he/she forgot to restock and the drive through person just didn't know. On top of that, Back Cash needs singles because people keep paying with twenties.  The fry person is new (everyone who just starts out is put on fries) and can't seem to figure out why the blasted thing keeps getting stuck.  You're out of ice for the smoothie machine and someone ordered four large Mocha Frappes, and someone just came back from drive through with a sandwich error.  You are missing three people, so you have just enough for window, front counter, order runner, and fry guy is new: he has no clue what he's doing.

What do you do?

Well, the most efficient thing to do would be to grab anything that needs to be refilled, put it under your arm, and head to the back.  On the way, tell the fry person to take one of the baskets of fries he already had waiting (because you told him to do that beforehand) tell him to cook those and wait until you get back.  Waiting for fries will ruin your order time: they take 2 and a half minutes.  You drop off all of your empty bins for sauces, ketchups, and the like, tell your back cash person to refill those after telling the person at the window you're getting change.  Go into the cooler, get the bin of Sweet Tea, walk back up midway between the front and back, hand fry person bin of tea and tell him to refill.  While he refills, you can count cash and you know the Sweet Tea guy won't have to be parked, waiting on a drink while his food gets cold.  Grab a bin of ice from the ice machine, have it waiting for fry guy so he can get it once he refills the tea, and tell him to go up front with it as you're on your way back to the back cash person to give them their singles while you grab all of the (now) filled containers, go back up, meet "irate lady with the wrong McDouble order," and re-ring her order correctly while apologizing profusely and alerting her to the fact she has fresh, greasy fries in her bag.  After that's all said and done, show new fry guy the "reload" button he was apparently missing.  Make him feel better by reminding him the fry machine is a piece of junk anyways.  

Not bad for $7.40 an hour.

One of the talking points you'll hear in the minimum wage fight is that minimum wage jobs are "unskilled."  They're so low on the totem pole that "anyone" could do them.  McDonald's workers are stereotyped as dull witted, slow, and unable to make it at a job where intelligence would be necessary.  Paying them minimum wage is what they deserve.  This is garbage and an example of Republican elitism.  A McDonald's job is not unskilled.  It's fast paced.  It's stressful.  It has a lot of moving parts.  You have 90 seconds from the time someone orders to the time you give them their food.  You have customers who have an inflated sense of what a dollar gets them.  You always have to kill three birds with one stone.  You need to make split second decisions that will determine whether the customer leaves with a smile or they are yelling at you and giving a speech.  You get blamed for screw-ups that have nothing to do with you.  It takes one split second, poor decision to not fry something on time.  The timing is tight and following the rules does not necessarily allow for you to get everything out on time when a situation presents itself that's not in the rulebook.  What if the customer just wants a muffin and an egg?  How do you give someone the best bang for their buck if all they want is a Egg White delight, but on a bagel, and the gods at corporate didn't program the menu to do that?

Say what you want about what dollar value the minimum wage should be or it's effect on prices and unemployment, but "unskilled labor?"  Hardly.

Discuss

First off I've worked at the Golden Arches off and on since I was 15.  I've been in situations where the check was my only income, and other situations where I just worked McDonald's to pay off some bills while working another job that actually made money.  I was even the guy with the Masters degree flipping your burgers.  I've seen what it's like to live on minimum wage and what the reality of McDonald's is, without the centrist Democrat/libertarian spin that says any McPeon can be president of McDonald's if they believe.  That's why I was so happy to see McDonald's release their thoughts on how their wage slaves should budget their pittance, all the while condescendingly telling them that saving money with nothing is super easy and their lives will be all the better for it.  The article is a full-throated, strident argument for raising the minimum wage and maybe even linking it to inflation.

First off, the budget assumes you have a second job.  This showed some deep, empathic thinking on the part of Visa and McDonald's.  They know their workers in and out.  Really!  They do!  Most of the crew people you see at McDonald's fall into one of four categories (excluding management):

1. Teenagers working their first job.  This group has parents (ostensibly) floating the bill for housing, food, heat, electricity, and all that other first world fun stuff.  They usually work McDonald's part time, 20 hours max, to buy their cell phone or save money for a car.  Some even save for college!

2. Young people going to college.  Many of the young people you see at your local Mickey D's that are under the age of 26 are going to college full or part time.  It's funny, because older people tend to think that people working at McDonald's are there for their career, which was probably true 20-30 years ago.  People who couldn't aspire to anything greater probably did stay at the Golden Arches as their career.  Now it's a way for college students to have some money on hand and take responsibility now that mom and dad have the tuition bill to handle.  

3. Immigrants and refugees.  Guatemalans, Albanians, Somalis, Mexicans, you name it, they come from far and wide to work for minimum wage.  Usually, comparatively, McDonald's is better than experiencing genocide or trying to live through the transition from a communist country to a capitalist free market/mafia economy.  I know this makes moderate Republicans tingle.  These people are usually grateful for their job, but don't think for two seconds they enjoy it or that they want their kids doing it.  

4. Just-made-it-through-high school types.  Nothing against not going to college.  It's not for everyone.  The core of McDonald's are people who basically barely graduated high school and looked up when they were 18 and said "Well, not that there's much else.  This or the military."  

Now, the management is a different story.  They either were people who went to college and fell back into security instead of pursuing their dreams, they were the high school barely-made-it types, or they are deftly using McDonald's for some type of personal gain, be it the health insurance or tuition assistance.  The higher ups got into corporate through college or worked at a Mickey D's and waited until they got that degree to get into the upper echelons.  Sure, there is the story of the crew person who worked front counter and then worked at McDonalds' high command...after 25 years and a lot of backstabbing.  

For the crew, most people either don't depend on a McDonald's salary to live, or if they do, need a second job or a second person to make ends meet.  Most of the ones that rely on McDonald's as their income have roommates or receive income assistance from family or relatives (but that's hush hush usually).  McDonald's and Visa factored that into their budget!  They didn't go into those messy details, but they knew that no one that lives in an area with rent above $500 can live off their salary.

Oh, almost forgot: food stamps, medicaid, social security (if living with older parents), earned income tax credit, child tax credits, housing assistance, emergency heating assistance, WIC, Obama-phones (gotta love 'em!), and using the emergency room as your personal doctor.  You can check off all of these boxes.  McDonald's probably didn't want to give everyone a headache adding that onto their budget.  After all, it's what their taxes go for, right?  They ain't paying 35% (*cough* before rebate *cough*) corporate taxes for nothing!  It's not like they benefit from agriculture subsidies or the people who use food stamps who then gain extra surplus income to spend on McSwill.  No, that's out of the question.

Another great thing about the McDonald's budget was that they assumed the worker got 40 hours per week!  This was a subtle argument for minimum wage that McDonald's knew it's workers would get and most Americans would understand: Many McDonald's workers don't work 40 hours per week!  During slow season your hours get cut faster than a piece of fish at a sushi bar.  Can't make it on 15 hours per week?  Here's a Mc-Middle Finger.  During peak season, like summer, they may need you.  However, you'll also find that many don't want you to pay unemployment insurance, so they work you right up until 29 hours and then tell you to go work that second job McDonald's budgeted for.  Local laws may give you other benefits past 30, but the fact still stands they will just give you right to the limit, and then none at all.  

Also keep in mind, since you are paid every 1-2 weeks at your McDonald's the money you need for rent and utility checks isn't necessarily collected by the time you need to pay them.  Working 40 hours a week to get only 290 dollars, after taxes, is tiring and you need that money, so I hope you have the number to that local check cashing place!  They'll be sure to help you for 400 cents on the dollar.  

As for health insurance, McDonald's has that premier, gold plated insurance that gives you one visit to a clinic for a checkup, but nothing for anything past $1,000 in cost.  No emergency room, no prescriptions.  But everyone loves physicals and checkups.  Why shouldn't you hand over 2-3 hours of your McLife for insurance that doesn't cover you for most things you'd actually want to be covered for?  

McDonald's and Visa teamed up together to put out a budget for American's to see that McDonald's workers should take more personal responsibility for their lives and earn a higher wage to take care of their own health care, their own housing, and to be able to save enough money so that when their car breaks down, their kids get sick, or they need to pay something that is absolutely vital to their continually being able to go to work, they can, without the taxpayers footing the bill.  Americans can then take more responsibility for their families, their recreation, and their home life without having to spend 80 some odd hours in a repetitive, mindless job.  McDonald's budget deserves a standing ovation.  

Discuss

Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 05:26 PM PDT

In Pain Today - Writing Helps

by sujigu

One of the things I do when I face emotions that are so painful I can't deal with them is to write.  Writing clears my head and takes chaotic, emotional thoughts and condenses them into something of value, something I can look back at and try to calm myself.  This may be long, get comfortable.  

Where to begin?

If you've been reading my diaries you may know of my ongoing drama with my family.  You see, my father abandoned me as a child.  He wanted nothing to do with me my entire life.  My mother never sought child support and he moved to the other side of the state.  Things stayed in roughly that state until I was 28.  I had tried contacting my father when I was 19, sending him a letter.  I thought that once I was past the age of child support, he might be interested in at least meeting.

Nothing.

Fast forward to 28.  I found my uncle on Facebook and contacted him.  He knew I existed, but only as a rumor.  I met him in person, and then my second uncle.  They were very nice to me, but would not contact my father on my behalf. I found out a lot about myself by being around them.  I tried to contact my father again, but nothing.  I don't know if I got the right address or not.

But what does that matter?

Today I met my aunt.  I went a bit against the wishes of my uncles and contacted her directly.  We met today.  She was very nervous meeting me and said it was kind of weird sitting across from someone that looked like her brother.   She was very nice.  We had a good time, but the meeting was brief.  When she left, my uncle and I had a good talk.  He was straight with me.  My father didn't even want to acknowledge my existence.  My uncle of course, had never talked to my father, but he knew the man.  He knew even telling me "No, I don't want to meet you" is a form of acknowledgement.  My father probably is afraid of what feelings he might have seeing me and be afraid of how I might react.  

After all, how can you make up for 28 years of total absence?

I felt dead inside.  What's more, I also had to hear my grandparents are going to pass away without knowing I exist.  I learned that they were essentially deteriorating.  My grandfather was losing his sanity and control of his body, and my grandmother was not far behind.  News of a long lost grandson in a VERY conservative family would be too much for a 75 year old heart.  They come from Western Michigan.  In the heart of super conservative Christian America.  My uncle told me that in some neighborhoods, you didn't move your lawn on Sunday.  A mixed race kid like myself would've been a big deal to the people there.  It was very bitter medicine, but I needed it.

I was being naive.

I had a happy-go-lucky view of how reality would turn out.  I feel like a child.  I'm too old for that.  I thought maybe my father would at least talk.  I was an adult.  I've asked nothing of him.  Even when my mother and I were on the street I never dragged him into court.  I thought maybe I had built a case.  I met my uncles on their terms.  I never performed a sneak attack and I was, at every point, respectful of their boundaries.  I thought maybe I could see my grandparents, but not tell them who I really was.  My uncles ruled it out.  It's too obvious.  

Too bad I'm my father's spitting image.  We have the same sense of humor, the same temperament, and the same personality.  

Why do I go through all of this trouble?  My uncles missed the first 30 some odd years of my life.  I invited their children, my cousins, to talk to me, but they have yet to respond.  They don't want conflict.  What relationship could we possibly have?  What relationship could my father and I have?  He has a wife and raised her two two kids from a previous marriage.  What could he have to offer me?  Why did I even start off on this journey?  Wouldn't everyone have been happier if I just stayed in the shadows?  Why don't I do what most people do in my position, move on and learn to be happy?  What did I hope to gain?  Why spend hours on a trip to see people when you know you are going to feel awful in the end?  Why hold onto a child's fantasies of a father coming out of the shadows for you?

I am going to use this pain constructively to be better.  I don't like platitudes, so I can't use them.  I have to find someway to get my subconscious to accept reality.  I'm going to get married.  I'm going to have my own children.  I'm going to be there for them, even if it doesn't work out with the mother.  I am not going to shrug my shoulders and say "I didn't know what to do."  I'm going to finish my life with some goddamned respect, even if I don't have two coins to rub together.  

Maybe then I'll feel a bit better and get some answers to some questions.

Discuss
The Great Wall of China, not so much visible from the moon, was the crown jewel of ancient Chinese government programs.  The Great Wall was built, in theory, to protect China from incursions from the northern barbarian tribes and to control immigration.  It was a symbol of the difference between Chinese culture and not-Chinese culture.  The wall wasn't built in a day.  It took hundreds of years and it was done piece by piece depending on the will of the leader and how much money the Chinese empire had to blow.  The wall built during Qin Shi Huang's time, around 220 B.C. or so, is the part most people associate with the Great Wall, although like I said, it was built and repaired over a much longer span of time.

Well, now that immigration reform might carry with it a much more technologically sophisticated wall to keep barbarians out (yay drones!), are there any lessons we can glean from history to tell us if this is actually a good idea or not?

Of course there are.

First off, I'd like to just say before we even begin discussing this topic that I think the entire debate over illegal immigration makes absolutely no sense.  Republicans, conservatives, and their centrist allies have yet to make a case as to why Mexicans and Central Americans coming into this country is actually a negative thing (and of course, this debate is about Latinos coming into this country, not Swedes).  They just basically assume it is bad and then operate from that assumption.  Republicans fearing the loss of White America is one thing.  I get that.  Don't agree, but it makes sense.  But, immigrants can bring a lot of positive things to the community.  They bring rusted out, dead cities back to life by owning businesses and doing the jobs Americans don't really want to do anymore (fair wage and labor rights implied here people).  If someone wants to come to America and work hard and raise a family, then why are we standing in their way?  We didn't do that when poor European serfs from Eastern Europe and god knows where else came here and did the same thing.  Oh wait, they were White.  The drug connection is because of our idiotic drug laws, so we are the ones to have to take responsibility for that.  

But I digress.  The Great Wall.

(Qin Shi Huang, wall builder extraordinaire)

Well, the Great Wall was a symbol of the demarcation of Chinese culture, which was seen by the Chinese as the greatest, most sophisticated, and envy of the world, and everybody else who wasn't Chinese and therefore inferior.  The problem here, as is the problem with all ideologies that say that belonging to ethnicity A means that all non ethnicity A's are inferior for no good reason, is that the Chinese would get invaded and be forced to concede that they were homo sapiens sapiens too.  Sometimes they'd win sometimes they'd lose.  When they did get invaded, Chinese culture would come under attack.  China has always had a mix of cultures surrounding it.  People of different religions, ethnicities, and cultures coming in and out paying tribute or just trying to get where they were going.  China had a lot of enemies and a lot of frenemies.  But that's the way empires go.

The Great Wall was not all that effective at keeping people out, but it had it's moments.  It worked to slow invaders so that your city walls could do their thing.  Unless your opponent had siege weapons.  That sucked.  You cannot say it was 100% ineffective or effective, it just depending on what was going on at the time.  And good sky god was it expensive.  Not just in terms of building materials and money, but in the human cost in the number of corvee laborers who died while building the wall.  We'll never know the exact number, or even an estimate of how many people died building this thing, but it was a lot.  Hundreds of thousands, easy.  And the expense was not entirely up front.  The wall had to be maintained, lest parts of it were to crumble.  You had to hire soldiers to man it, and they had to be paid enough to actually want to do their jobs.  Remember, Qin Shi Huang cannot call you up on his cell phone and make sure you're watching out for the Jurchens.  After Qin Shi Huang, the wall would be rebuilt, but it would cost a lot and the mood of the people could turn on you if you send too many of their sons to die in prison camps building your wall.

(Your tax dollars stemming the brown tide, every day.)

"So what does the Great Wall have to do with today?" you may be asking.  "It won't take as many people to properly man our Great Wall of Mexico, we have drones to survey the area.  Building it won't cost human lives, and even if it did, it would be on nowhere near the scale of the Great Wall of China."  That's true, but it will still cost you a metric crap ton of money to build, and the maintenance is a steep check you'll have to pay every year.  You'll divert tons of resources in terms of man power, automation or no automation, which is man power that could be used for other pursuits that could just as effectively defend your country.  Also, bribery and lawlessness on the border still occur.  Do you want far right, proto-fascist minutemen patrolling the border, using Mexicans as target practice?  The penalty for illegal immigration is death now?  Secondly, I mean, the Great Wall actually had a military dimension to it.  The Chinese were being invaded by nomadic tribes that would come in and kill people and take the riches of the Chinese empire.  We're afraid that someone might come into our country and use public schools.  More educated people in the world.  The horror.

Wait a second.  

Could the Chinese have done something different themselves?  Did they have to kill off millions of their own people, use an untold amount of resources, bankrupt themselves in some cases, and live in constant fear, or could they have handled the situation differently?  What if they treated the nomadic peoples and the non-Chinese, not as inferior barbarians that need to be subject to Chinese ego stroking...erm...I mean the tribute system, but as trade partners and people who were of a different culture, but not necessarily inferior?  After Mongolia was annexed during the Qing dynasty, the native nomadic cultures simply integrated to some extent (although not fully, even today).  The PRC now makes attempts to share in the wealth of the coal mining boom in inner Mongolia with the peoples there, rather than push them out of the main polity and wonder why they try to force themselves in.  

I'm not naive enough to think humanity at any stage of its development would have no war, but if China had simply accepted that its geographical position came with the fact that people who were hungry and starving would come around every once in awhile, that they could use their technological prowess to make everyone's lives better.  This same mindset might have spared the Romans from feeling the heel of the Visigoths on their necks.

Ah well, wishful thinking.  Great Wall of Mexico it is.  

Discuss

There's a lot of brouhaha about Eric Erickson and Megyn Kelly going at it about the statistic that the number of households headed by a single female is going up day by day.  Eric Erickson's "science based" reasoning is that men are there to head the household and that women are submissive and exist to complement men.  This has hints of biblical thinking, hearkening back to Adam and Eve.  The idea that men need to be the breadwinner while the little woman sews at home is an old American trope, and has transformed in the modern world into something conservatives fear.  Conservatives think that the number of single women who are the heads of households is a result of feminism and women giving up marriage to go and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  This is tone deaf to the point it's comical.  No conservative has really understood this statistic, nor have any of them taken the time to get to the reality of the situation.  They just want to hate liberals, which is their life blood.  If conservatives were actually interested in the American family, they'd be mad about this:

The number of American men who abandon their families and don't take responsibility for their children.

What could be more conservative?  Why isn't Eric Ericson at the forefront of this issue?  Why isn't he criticizing his fellow males for abandoning their post?  There are millions of men who have children and leave their family behind.  There are millions of men who don't pay child support.  There are countless men who don't visit their children and are content to leave the mother to do all of the heavy lifting.  Of these single female households, many of those women didn't tell the man "Bye, I'm a feminist and I don't need my man!  I'm going to make it big as a cashier at Walmart! $7.40/hour, here I come!"  That would be ridiculous, but that's what these conservative men think is happening.  

They're just plain blind.

I was raised in a single parent home because my father is a dead beat.  My mother was a shark like businesswoman.  The fact that women before her opened doors allowed her to raise me alone so that she wouldn't have to prostitute or marry someone she hated just to pay the bills.  Women years back did that.  When their husbands or boyfriends left them with the kids, they found someone they had no attraction to but was a good breadwinner to marry.  Or, they went from man to man and found that no one seemed to be better than the previous.  Feminism was a reaction to a series of sick situations people wanted to be free from.  Conservatives never look at the dark side of things, and they are obsessed with blaming their trophy phantom specters.  

Many women would love to have a partner!  It's not the woman's fault her lover decided he had no balls to raise a family.  Even with married couples, many families bring home two paychecks.  Women working in the workplace just makes sense economically and for day to day living. Couples work around it.  But the number of single women running households is not entirely the woman's choice, but thank god those women have access to the workplace they didn't have years ago, so that even when the male proves to be useless, they have a court system to get child support and they have access to jobs that can aid them in getting enough money to raise their kids.

And by the way Ericson, this child raised by a single parent went to one of the best high schools in the country, then one of the best universities in this country, and got his Masters.  In your world, I'd probably be living in a shack.

Discuss

I'm an educator with only a few years experience, and most of it abroad, so today was my first day giving out and administering a standardized test.  I thought I would collect my impressions and try to weigh in on the big debate.  I was neutral beforehand.  I know that effective teaching can only be measured in ways that cannot be put on a test, like giving someone confidence or inspiring someone to reach new intellectual heights.  I think most teachers would be happy to know that a kid they educated went on to become a molecular biologist that works on ending world hunger rather than knowing their class scored "above average" on a test. I also know standardized tests are not completely useless.  You need to track progress some kind of way. So, what happened when I first got some real life experience?

First off, it's so easy to cheat.  If you really wanted to.  I don't care about the test myself.  I know my kids will do fine, and a lot of them are ESL learners who haven't been in the U.S. even a full year.  Even the ESL learners were telling me the test was a cinch after it was all done.  When I collected their sheets, I thought to myself "If I were being paid based on the results of this test, then I could just switch some of these answers in the office.  Heck, I could even offer subtle hints now as to what the answers are."  No official from the standardized testing company was there to vouch for the integrity of their test.  You just send the results off.  I'm sure that other schools probably have more stringent rules, but without someone from the company there, the only way you could tell there wasn't cheating would be whistle-blowers.  

If I were going to be able to get a new car or make a few extra thousand from erasing a few bubbles, I could see how some people could sleep at night doing it and pull it off.  

I don't teach what's on the test.  First off, most of the questions have no real world applications, have little to do with critical thinking skills, and most of the time test to see if the child can mine for important words or spit out rote, memorized information.  My 7th graders do Algebra I, World History, Chemistry/Physics, and a host of other topics at a much deeper level, beyond what the core state curriculum calls for, which is what I thought the test would try to capture.  I have 12 year old children in my English class comparing short stories for imagery and symbolism, and crafting thesis statements, so having them read long, boring stories and answering questions that oftentimes you can just answer by looking at the wording seems like a poor use of class time.  

I couldn't imagine teaching what's on the test.  The lessons would be stale, half the time they wouldn't be challenging, and all I'd do is churn out drones.  I'd rather have kids who knew what logical fallacies are and how to reason than if the know what a memometer is.  If they need one, I want them know how to find it for themselves.  These tests can't capture that.

So where do I come down in this debate?  I feel the test was a waste of time.  I don't think designing lesson plans around what is being tested would make for lifelong learners.  I don't see how the test has any integrity, and I'm not sure why our school shells out money to do the test just so they could put that they do well on standardized tests on some pamphlet.  Wait.  Well, the testing company does make a tidy profit there doesn't it?

I get it.

Discuss

Austerity grips Europe and has been the heavy anchor the keeps the Democrats from being something other than a center right party.  The idea that entitlements must be cut to "save them for future generations" is on the lips of everyone in Washington.  It plays on the deepest desires of most conservatives.  They get to wave their finger at the disabled, the downtrodden, and the elderly, and tell them "You've lived too high on the hog.  It's time you took more personal responsibility," thereby implying that all the money these groups PAID into these programs is for naught.  Many authoritarian Democrats will join in, and agree with the need for austerity without any understanding of why there would be such a need in the first place, or offer anything other than an echo of Republican policies, except packaged nicer.  

The austerity movement and the trickle down warriors wave Reinhart and Rogoff as the intellectual basis for their cruelty.  The study that "proved" that debt and job growth were somehow related and that countries with high debt loads experience low economic growth.  The Tea Party flooded the streets with this as their battle cry.  Cult of logic centrists nodded their heads in assent, without anyone questioning WHY this correlation even existed.  After all, what does the local bakery care if the U.S. government's debt is 1 or 2 trillion?  Investors can bet with derivative contracts about whether or not the debt will be financed, but these people put their money towards horse racing, not building new innovations or establishing new foundations for knowledge.  Well, a young graduate student has taken an axe to Reinhart and Rogoff, and has proven that their data set is flawed and their study does not prove what it says.

Why?  Well, they left out data.  You see, to progressives, the entire conservative and libertarian platform is contradicted by reality.  If conservatives are right, and providing systems to manage health care, housing, food, education, and retirement, through government, to their citizenry makes their citizenry lazy and shiftless, then all of the Nordic countries should be filled with shuttered business and obese, money crazed thieves who would kill their mother for an Obama-phone.  However, Nordic countries have stable economies with parental and maternal leave, have great health care outcomes, and in general were able to weather the financial collapse of 2008-9.  Canada's housing market was stable because of their regulatory environment and Australia has a high minimum wage.  Yet business booms in these countries and it's not just due to fossil fuels.  

Not surprisingly, conservatives try to say that the reason socialism works in these countries is because they're small, they are ethnically homogenous, or that the system is small enough for people to handle.  The first one is illogical, the second is racist, and the third is contradicted by reality.  High minimum wage does not lead to high consumer prices, government health care can in many ways HELP businesses who do not want to be in the health care game, and regulation agencies work when they do their job and are not corrupt.  You'd think economists like Reinhart and Rogoff would have taken this into account into their study.  

Data from Canada and Australia were missing, as well from several other countries.  The data DOES NOT tell the story of "countries with high debt to GDP ratio experience low rates of economic growth."  Rogoff and Reinhart may not have intended to leave out precious data, but at the same time, they cannot be cleared of their bungling.  And we cannot let their bungling translate to our elected leaders.  That's what conservatives and right wingers do.  

Austerity makes no sense.  It does not take a hard nosed look at your economy.  It just says to cut programs, even if they are successful and are helpful to the country.  All other voices are silent.  Morality is not taken into account.  It is alright to oppose austerity because now it has lost it's intellectual support.  If anyone, including the President, wants austerity, then they are destroying the economy based on their conservative leanings; and let's get one thing straight, Obama is a center right person with a center right philosophical bent.  

Discuss
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