Objective Reality, RIP

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell

What do we know anymore? And how do we know it?

We live in scary times. Not because of threats at every turn – we exist in the greatest era of human history, with record degrees of ingenuity and comfort and freedom. What makes them downright frightening is the degree to which – in the blink of a cultural eye – we have lost our ability to divine truth from fiction.

What is “on the record” anymore, beyond the ability to be changed? Orwell’s Oceania from 1984 was a totalitarian nightmare, where any and every fact could be erased or retro-fitted into existing dogma at any moment. You simply had to have the access to edit the record. [Read more…]

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Stop failing our kids

Apparently, the number one thing you can do in school is Fail. Not “fail,” as in the lowercase meaning of “missing a standard.” No, I mean “Fail,” as in “make a particular grade that comes with a negative connotation.”

I was talking with my friend K., whose child is close in age to mine but goes to a different local school system. We talked about the ridiculous nature of the modern science fair — and about my belief that they have become ridiculous pageants to appease the parental ego. The percentage of school science projects actually done by the children is beginning to fall even below the percentage of Pinewood Derby race cars that aren’t built by Dad. (If soccer started allowing the parents to do all of the work, the games would be more entertaining, if only for the fistfights.)

Type casting

Anyway, K. and her little R. (age 9) have been struggling all week with an assignment to develop a new book cover for a short story. Instead of just asking for a brief book report, a synopsis, the teacher is asking for a selling point. Show us the blurb that would sell others on wanting to read it.

I actually like that twist on the assignment. You have to read the book, and then figure out how to pitch it. Anyway, the kids were given a template page, and told to ‘neatly print’ their synopsis on the cover.

Yesterday, one of the moms turned in the assignment, and the teacher showed it off as an example of what to do.

It was in PowerPoint.

Now K. is freaking out, because R. has been working on improving his penmanship, and practicing writing his words very carefully. Because, as it turns out, the “printing neatly” part is worth 20 percent of the grade.

Failing to measure

This is where I have a problem with the assignment. As you might know, I am a huge fan of incentives/disincentives. If you reward the proper things, you will get the proper things in the future. If you punish good things, you get less of them.


Clippy is hear too help!

In this instance, you would hope the grade would be based upon what R. learns this year. Just three weeks into school, I don’t believe any teacher has the expectation that his handwriting will have improved. So if R. just has ordinary penmanship for a nine-year-old, he will be penalized. Yet, if R. (and his mother) type and print the entire thing, then by all means award the full 20 points for that part of the assignment! Never mind that when it’s typed, you lose all grasp of who actually did the work. Did R. type it? Did K.? Did R. catch the spelling errors, or did Clippy?

This sends a number of clear messages to students:

  • It doesn’t matter what you learn.
  • It doesn’t matter whether you improve.
  • We are going to base today’s grade on things you did or didn’t learn in previous grades.
  • It doesn’t matter whether you do your own work.

Lord knows we have enough issues with helicopter parents. Teachers, I am looking at you for this one. Stop rewarding the obvious meddling in a child’s education. If a kid is obviously turning in Mommy’s work (or Dad’s,) then call them out on it. Stop celebrating the “genius” of a child who isn’t learning anything!

Encourage the kids who try. Not with bogus participation ribbons, but how about reserving the A grades for kids who do their own work? Stop failing our kids. Not with the assignment of a silly letter – but by giving up on making them do the work themselves.

If you like this rant, share it. And tell me you liked it, so I might be encouraged to write more of them. Because I believe that incentives matter.

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Talking Back to the Fans

This just goes to prove that you never know who is listening in social media these days.

Here’s the thing: Erik never used any special syntax to flag Rodney – and he wasn’t replying to anything in particular that would have gotten Rodney’s attention. Rodney is apparently just checking out who is talking “Dead Milkmen” after all these years, and is engaging them.


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How Podcasting Can Save America

…from the simultaneously mind-numbing and stress-inducing tedium that is our presidential process.

Or maybe it can just save you from the numbing and the stress.

I didn’t watch the GOP debates the other day. Not Trump’s prime-time glory show, nor the “kids’ table” that preceded it. It’s not that I don’t care (and at this point, I don’t, but that’s not it.) It’s that the format is too short, all wrong, and needlessly combative. [Read more…]

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Opining on The Origin of Outrage Culture

My friend Carl Carter posed an interesting notion on Facebook, that I share here:

I’m not a big scripture quoter, but reflecting on our instant collective condemnations of distant people and things we’d never hear of but for Facebook, “Matthew 7:3 comes to mind: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

What’ll today’s viral outrage be? A tacky note left on a car? (I suspect half those are faked clickbait anyway.) Yet another police shooting video?

Whatever it takes to escape our own little reality…

That prompted my thought:

escher-crystal-ballWe have always been connected to a smaller sphere of immediate proximity. Now we are connected to the world at large, and we seek some sort of commonality to make the proximity less awkward.

So we share outrageous outrages, that are of little importance to any of our lives, but serve to give us a sense of belonging and communal head-nodding and finger-wagging.

It makes the Big Empty less scary.


There are many other forces at work in determining what we share and why. Have you identified your own triggers? Share in the comments.

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Armadillos, leprosy, and media hype

This is a disturbing headline, but not for the reason you think:

armadillo leprosy headline

If you can’t read it, the text is “Armadillos cause spike in leprosy cases in Florida.”

The confluence of two unusual words (“armadillo” and “leprosy”) makes you sit up and take notice (even if the other noun, “Florida,” somehow makes it seem less unexpected.)

So, just how bad is this leprosy epidemic?

Florida typically sees two to 12 cases of leprosy a year, but so far there have been nine cases in 2015, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Okay, let’s unpack that for a moment.

  • Usual range is between two and 12.
  • We have had nine in the first seven months of the year.
  • TREND!

Even if that extrapolates up to a whopping 17 people, we still don’t know what the mean is, nor what would constitute a standard deviation. Also, we don’t have data on where these are occurring — for instance, if a family of five all touched an armadillo, that would be a single incident with five cases, and not indicative of some zombie-inducing plague of armadillae. [Read more…]

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Understanding Understanding

Good listening is a sign of respect.

As we approach another campaign season, some thoughts.

Maybe we can have more light than heat.

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