Saturday, April 19, 2014

Twenty Questions for a Passover/Easter Weekend


Full disclosure, I am a self-described Atheist Jew 



20) If there is no archaeological evidence that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, where did the whole Matzah thing come from?

19) Are Gefilte Fish, fresh or saltwater fish?

18) Where can I find chocolate bunnies in the Greatest Story ever Told?

17) Was Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, hotter than the Burning Bush in The Ten Commandments?

16) Why do so many people go out of their way to call themselves a Patriot or a Christian, when they’re probably neither?

15) Has the Catholic Church condemned Hannibal Lecter for eating so much meat on Friday during Lent?

14) If all politicians lie, why do people fall for the “Jesus Christ told me to run for President.”

13) If faith forces the suspension of free thinking, how does the tag line Faith and Freedom, make any sense?

12) How can Israel expect to be both a democratic and Jewish state while it occupies Judea and Samaria?

11) Can you have freedom of religion without first having freedom from religion?

10) Is there a better example of how screwed up the Republican party is? “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Paul Broun (R-GA) Member House Science Committee

9) Why does ABC describe “The Ten Commandments” as Drama and History for tonight’s broadcast when there is no archaeological evidence to support the story?

8) When did guns and religion become comingled like peanut butter and jelly?

7) If you’re faith is as strong as you claim, why are you threatened by teaching evolution in the class room?

6) If there are no atheists in foxholes, how many Christians work on Wall Street?

5) Does it make sense have non-Christians swear on a Bible before taking the stand?

4) If you’re an atheist, why do you care if someone believes in a higher power?

3) Is there a book with more murder and mayhem than the Old Testament?

2) What is scarier: we are the only intelligent beings in the universe or we are not?

1) If science is literal, is the Bible figurative?

 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Politicizing Education


 

I am not a teacher, administrator, legislator, technocrat , bureaucrat, parent, or student, but I did go to school and I believe education is a matter of national security.  Economic national security to be exact, and many of the stakeholders have lost site of the objective.  Instead education has, like everything else, become politicized.  Keeping prayer out of the public schools is hard enough and an ever-increasing distraction without the battles between states and the federal government, teachers and administrators, unions and charter schools, democrats and republicans, science and intelligent design, and so forth.  The grip of politics has taken hold of education, like it has healthcare, infrastructure, defense, civil rights, guns, and fracking.

Sadly, one of America’s crowning achievements, Public Education, has become the latest political ground zero.  The great Progressive John Dewey of the Progressive Education Movement said the purpose of public school: “to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities."  During this Progressive period more Americans received a secondary education as high school became compulsory, igniting America’s economic engine.

Every aspect of education seems to create a full blown argument.  Debate is necessary and healthy, it promotes change and it generates innovation.  But what is lacking is mutual agreement of the ultimate objective.  Too many of the stakeholders are focused on their own agenda and worse, many of those sponsors championing change are less altruistic than it seems.  But who is right?  What is right?  What is the goal and how do we get there?

I believe in meritocracy, oppose “last in first out”, understand charter schools have their place, think unions protect bad teachers, but still support teachers and believe they are grossly underappreciated.   The adage “that there is no substitute for experience” is not necessarily true, after all aren’t we warned that “past performance is no guarantee of future results”?   The fact that holding any of those stated positions makes me the enemy exemplifies how the mix of organized labor with education turns a logical debate into emotional conflict.  A conflict fueled by millions of dollars on both sides.

Standardized testing needs to be part of school, but it shouldn’t be the most important part.  Instead focus needs to be on creating an environment where learning and the quest for knowledge are planted, nurtured, and developed.  The controversial Michel Rhee, founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, wrote in an Washington Post opinion piece on April 4th We don’t need to opt out of standardized tests; we need better and more rigorous standardized tests in public schools. Well-built exams can tell us whether the curriculum is adequate. They can help teachers hone their skills. They can let parents know whether their child’s school is performing on par with the one down the street, or on par with schools in the next town or the neighboring state.”

I never understood why we spend so much time analyzing and studying failure, when should study success.  We hear about failing schools and try to find someone or something to blame when we should studying success and mimicking it.  Organizational Development teaches to find the best of the best and make it the new standard.  Borrow from a district that excels in math and science, look somewhere else for the best in teacher development.  Who excels in developing problem solving and critical thinking?  Where are children the most engaged?  Copy, borrow, steal and above all keep an open mind.  Yes standardized testing can be a good metric to determine progress and evaluate teachers, but it cannot be the only metric and it certainly shouldn’t THE focus.  Teachers and unions shouldn’t afraid of teachers’ performance ratings and they need to realize that the union’s fortunes are not the ultimate objective.  Likewise, privatization isn’t the answer either as plenty of private enterprises fail every year.

No Child Left Behind or Race To The Top were well intentioned federal government initiatives to revitalize education.  The problem, national solutions to dynamic problems where state , local, cultural, and other factors are at play are usually unsuccessful.  States’ rights is a legitimate concern and federalism with respect to education is real.  Perhaps someday politics and money will no longer be part of education and the focal point won’t be tests and unions, but students, kids, and families.  This problem cannot be solved by money alone.  It requires adaptability, flexibility and not just a common core, but a common goal.

 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In Search of Wisdom


I did not intend on writing another piece about religion, but those Graham siblings just got me going again.

The more alleged ‘men of the cloth’ talk, the more religion seems like the spiritual version of the hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The latest into the foray is Franklin Graham, who recently supported Vladimir Putin’s stance against LGBT rights.  'In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,' Graham wrote. 'Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation's children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.’  Yes, because LGBT = sexual predator.  What an ignorant jack ass.  But wait, there’s more.  'Our president,' he continued, 'and his attorney general have turned their backs on God and His standards, and many in the Congress are following the administration's lead. This is shameful.'

But then again, it does run in the family.  Graham’s sister Anne Graham Lotz said “I would not vote for a man who was an atheist because I believe you need to have an acknowledgement or a reverence or a fear for almighty God. And I believe that’s where wisdom comes from.”  Wisdom comes from reverence and fear for deity?  Wisdom comes from free thinking and challenging conventional wisdom, popular opinion, doctrine, and the status quo.  It comes from seeking knowledge, not from being afraid.

Why do organized religions fear science?  Because science and the enlightenment it brings challenges the same doctrines.  When science proved the earth was not the center of the universe 400 years ago, these early opponents of the status quo were mocked, persecuted, and killed. When the foundation of your organization is built on exclusion, fear, and suppression it is the furthest thing from wisdom.  Perhaps that is why the socially conservatively dominating faction of the Republican Party promotes ignorance over enlightenment and programming over free thinking.  After all, Georgia Congressman and Senate contender Paul Broun told an audience that evolution and the Big Bang Theory were “lies straight from the pit of hell”.  Not surprisingly, Broun sits on the House Science Committee.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”  -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Critical Thinking and The Atheist Jew


 

It is often said that common sense is all too uncommon today.  There may be some truth to that as stupidity and ignorance do not seem to be on the wane.  However, what I find equally disturbing is a lack of critical thinking, perhaps because there is no universal definition and the concept, like emotional intelligence is so abstract.  Regardless, a lack of critical thinking is harming our competitiveness, foreign policy, national security, and domestic tranquility.

So what is critical thinking?  According to Michael Scriven & Richard Paul of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. 

Growing up Jewish, I remember my Hebrew School teacher George Goldstein emphasizing that being Jewish means challenging everything, after all didn’t Abraham challenge God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac?  The cornerstone of the Passover Seder is the asking of the four question by the youngest children, inviting them to question tradition and the status quo.  In fact while everyone relates to the overbearing Jewish mother as the ubiquitous symbol of Judaism, the fact is Jewishness is best described by Gil Man as:

• Speak up when you see injustice!
• Do not be satisfied with the status quo!
• Honor a minority opinion!
• Stand up for what you believe in!

In contrast, Christianity is about faith and infallibility.  This is not a criticism of Christianity, but a condition of being a Jew, that is, the Atheist Jew to be exact who exists because of critical thinking.  To challenge popular opinion, the status quo, conventional wisdom, and other established thinking is the core of critical thinking.  Do you seek confirmation of an opinion?  Refuse to accept anything at face value?  Ask how or why?  I consider myself a critical thinker driven by data, self-reflection, observation, research, and conceptualization.  Reagan said “Trust but verify”, some are called reluctant optimists, skeptics, or doubting Thomas, but they all refuse to accept anything at face value. 

In business we talk about hi potential employees, our first assessment of a new employee is his or her resume, but what does that say about their ability to think critically.  I don’t believe it can be taught, it is inherent in our DNA, and through self-awareness, we experience an awakening and then suddenly the light goes on for us.  But to feel it, see it, and experience it is rewarding and daunting.  Knowing that you can never shut it off, the machine is indeed perpetual, ideas never stop flowing, and you cannot take anything for granted or at face value.  It can be draining while rewarding.

I love a lively debate and often enjoy the minority opinion as it makes me work harder.  I want future generations to challenge the status quo, I want them to not accept “because I said so”, I want them to ask why and how.  If common core can hone these synapses we have succeeded even if the curriculum is troubling and foreign to educators and parents.  I am out of my element when it comes to describing the clinical science behind critical thinking, but I know it when I see it and we need more of it.

Never stop seeking wisdom, never stop learning, become self-aware, never forget your past while take the reins of your future, and never go along to move along.  If I had children, that would be my gospel and my Talmud, it is my free thinking enlightened opinion.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

One Man's Oscar Predictions and Favorites


 

Digg’s Oscar Predictions and Commentary

Best Picture

  1. American Hustle – Will Win
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Gravity
  5. Her – did not see
  6. Nebraska
  7. Philomena – did not see
  8. 12 Years A Slave – Should Win
  9. The Wolf of Wall Street

I am shocked that 12 Years hasn’t won more Best Picture awards this season as it will be the movie people best remember years from now like Pulp Fiction losing to Forrest Gump, Goodfellas losing to Dances With Wolves, and especially Saving Private Ryan losing to Shakespeare in Love.  That is not to say that American Hustle is not a great movie.  It is, with terrific performances from Cooper, Bale, Adams, Lawrence, Renner et al, but the visceral primal emotional impact of 12 Years and the performances of Ejiofor, Fassbender, Cumberbatch, Paulson, Pitt, Nyong’o, Dano, and others  under McQueen’s direction deserve the Oscar.  As for all of the films that I did see, they were all outstanding in their own way and I highly recommend you see all of them.

Best Actor

  1. Christian Bale – American Hustle
  2. Bruce Dern - Nebraska
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave - Should Win
  5. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club - Will Win

There has been a great deal momentum for McConaughey this awards season.  Academy voters love actors who do the transformation thing and that plays into the man from Austin.  His performance in DBC was great, though I love his Rust Cohle portrayal in True Detective more, but Ejiofor’s performance was so emotional and captivating.  You feel is confusion when he awakens in captivity, the pain of his torture, the conviction in his survival instinct, and joy when unified with his family. As for the others, they were all terrific: Bale’s physical transformation, Dern’s effortless performance, and DiCaprio’s scene getting into the car was great physical comedy.

Best Actress

  1. Amy Adams – American Hustle
  2. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine - Will Win/Should Win
  3. Sanda Bullock - Gravity
  4. Judi Dench - Philomena
  5. Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

As critically acclaimed as she is, I think Cate Blanchett is underrated and underappreciated and is often considered the bridesmaid to Meryl Streep.  But this year, she gets the statue based on her performance as a fallen socialite struggling with coming to grips with her new reality.  A classic performance.  As for the other candidates, Amy Adams was terrific, Gravity may be Sandra Bullock’s best performance including the Blind Side, and Meryl Streep’s cancer-stricken mean as an ill-tempered rattlesnake matriarch in Osage County was tough to watch while being entertaining.  As noted above, I have not seen Philomena at this time.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
  2. Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
  3. Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
  4. Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club - Will Win/Should Win

I think Leto was great as the transvestite with AIDS in DBC.  The 100% all-in physical and emotional performance was Oscar worthy and one of the best in recent memory. Fassbender comes in a close 2nd for his performance as one mean nasty slave-owner, what can I say, I am all in when it comes to 12 Years a Slave.   The Abdi story is the Hollywood story,  Form Somalia to Yemen to Minneapolis limo driver, his story is fantastic, but in this company he comes up short.  Cooper was entertaining, though I think he is generally overrated, and Jonah Hill is fortunate to be nominated.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
  2. Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
  3. Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave - Will Win/Should Win
  4. Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
  5. June Squibb – Nebraska

Shocked?  Yes I am going with the 12 Years nominee.  From a PA on the Constant Gardner years ago, Lupita Nyong’o was absolutely amazing as the victim of the heinous slaver couple of Fassbender and Paulson.  This is a no brainer.  That is not to say the others are underserving of the nomination.  Sally Hawkins rivaled her co-star Blanchett in their scenes, Jennifer Lawrence was pure fun in a small role in AH, Julia Roberts was solid and owns one of the best lines of all of the movies “Eat the fucking fish bitch”, and I absolutely adored June Squibb as Bruce Dern’s down to earth say what’s on your mind wife.  The scene at the cemetery was the funniest and most memorable of the nominees.

Best Director

  1. David O. Russell – American Hustle – Will Win
  2. Alfonso Guertin - Gravity
  3. Alexander Payne - Nebraska
  4. Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave – Should Win
  5. Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Am I broken record?  But honestly, if 12 Years a Slave is the movie that will stick with you for years then the director must have done something right.  Right?  I love O. Russell’s work and he got the best out of  a great cast, Guertin’s cinematography made you feel you were with Bullock and Clooney in space, Payne’s stark black and white depiction of small town Nebraska gave you the sense of the opposite of Scorsese’s crazy manic New York.

There you have it, enjoy the show.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Grab your label makers because this is what I believe


 

If I support abortion, I am labeled a murder.  If I support meritocracy, I am labeled anti-union.  If I criticize the Israeli government, I am labeled anti-Semitic.  If I disagree with Richard Sherman’s post-game actions, I am labeled a racist. If I question our leaders, I am labeled unpatriotic.  If I say the Estate Tax is unfair, I am labeled the 1%.  If I am thankful for the ACLU, I am labeled a bleeding heart liberal.  When I call for banking regulation, I am labeled an anti-capitalist.  When I call for less regulation, I am labeled a free market fascist.  When I call for safe regulated fracking, I am labeled both a tree hugger and an oil and gas stooge.

Have an opinion and get a label.  Labels are easy because it enables people to put others in nice pre-described buckets. And when you think for yourself, deny the premise of the party line talking point, and offer a new opinion, be prepared to be criticized.  I have previously talked about what it means to be in the middle, but in hindsight, that offers only a one dimensional depiction.  The world is much more complex than that.  Think quadratic, not linear.  Analog, not digital. Volume, not distance.  There are social issues, economic concerns, foreign policy, fiscal policy, national defense, and many other factors.

So here I go:

  • I believe over reliance on drones and JSOC operations are illegal, immoral, and ineffective
  • I believe the truth about the power and policies of NSA needed to come out, but I believe Snowden went beyond that and crossed the line from whistleblower to traitor.
  • I support charter schools and New York Mayor de Blasio’s attack on them mayhave significant adverse impacts on education.
  • I believe Common Core State Standards will raise the learning process and better prepare our future generations, that being said, they need to be monitored and modified to enhance effectiveness.
  • I believe politics is an ugly big business game that has adulterated and bastardized the American political process where lobbyists are the bagmen, the Kochs are the mob, and politicians are errand boys.
  • I believe America still needs to be THE Superpower, but to exert that power it needs to do so bilaterally with less reliance on military might while managing to promote democratic principles and protecting our national interests.
  • I believe abortion is a woman’s right and I oppose any person or organization that tries to erode that right.
  • I believe the 2nd Amendment protects gun rights, but is not absolute and there is room for gun control.
  • I believe we put way too much faith in the Federal Reserve, Congressional Budget Office, and economists in general.  They make poor predictors of the economy and in the case of the Fed, poor custodians of Monetary Policy.
  • I believe religion has its place in the public square, but not in the creation of legislation.
  • I believe in science over faith
  • I believe we need long term fiscal management that will require tough medicine
  • I believe our politicians lack the will to administer the necessary fiscal medicine
  • I believe government acting in what it thinks is in citizens best interests can overreach
  • I believe the Patriot Act encroaches on our freedom a lot more egregiously than the Affordable Care Act
  • I believe the Affordable Care Act is imperfect, but to assume it would be otherwise is foolish
  • I believe you can neither tax nor cut your way to a balanced budget
  • I believe if you have to put “Freedom” in the title of your organization or bill, you may be full of shit
  • I believe the governors who continue to oppose same sex rights will face the same ignominy as those that resisted the civil rights movement 50 years ago
  • I believe fracking is here to stay and we need to lift the limits on oil exports
  • I believe in improbabilities not in miracles
  • I believe a restless mind stimulates problem solving and problem solving is the output of critical thinking
  • I believe sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy
  • I believe I could vote for a pro-choice, pro-equality, anti-corruption visionary Republican…not holding my breath however

I believe…

Grab your label makers

 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Twenty Questions for a Tuesday


 Twenty Questions for a Tuesday

  1. If climate change isn’t the biggest threat to the earth, where are the dinosaurs?
  2. If creationists are right, why is man still here but not the dinosaurs?
  3. Why are conservatives so worried about leaving their children and grandchildren saddled with debt, but not worried about leaving them with an uninhabitable planet?
  4. Why do Creationists love Christian Mingle, but hate Carbon Dating?
  5. When did all-star games become shitty exhibitions instead of contested games?
  6. Who has had a worse Winter Olympics: Ralph Lauren or Under Armor?
  7. How can President Obama be both a dictator as Paul Ryan says and spineless as Oliver Stone claims?
  8. In the age of streaming, On-Demand, and DVR’s, are the Nielsen Ratings still relevant?
  9. Have MSNBC, CNN, and Fox in the race for ratings hastened the end of cable ‘news’?
  10. Couldn’t Edward Snowden have blown the whistle on the most heinous civil liberty challenging NSA practices without disclosing critical national intelligence?
  11. Is it not possible to frack safely?
  12. If the private sector is better than the public sector how come so many businesses fail?
  13. If video killed the radio star, then did Netflix kill the video man?
  14. Now that Leno is gone, is Letterman on the clock?
  15. Is True Detective the best new show since The Wire?
  16. If President Obama is allowing de facto amnesty, then how do you explain the 2 Million deportations since he took office?
  17. If your Olympic event is decided by judges’ opinions, then it is not a sport but a competition and worthy of Tom Bergeron hosting.
  18. Are Curlers athletes?
  19. Don’t you think ambassadorships should be based on experience and knowledge, and not fundraising acumen?
  20. Is $65Billion really worth it Mr. Putin?