4. Teachers Speaking Out

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Public school teachers seem to have become the next group to be targeted in the neo-con crosshairs. They’re doubly evil: not only do they have unions who have demonstrably gotten them valuable benefits over the years, but they teach students to think critically (which has, as the Texas GOP noted, “the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”). Fortunately, teachers are eloquent, and they’re fighting back. Below: dispatches from the front lines.

* Letter to a Member of the Liberal Party of Ontario Amy Gottlieb

Was it that you knew that if you let collective bargaining proceed and no agreement was reached, that an arbitrator was likely to recommend a settlement that your government disagreed with? Was it to override collective bargaining rights in Ontario and in the process weakening the union movement thus making it easier for the Liberal government to implement austerity wage and benefit cuts? Was it to try to sway public support in your direction with a message that despite the nine year friendship between teachers and the Liberal government, teachers had to take a hit to show that your government is serious?  We think it is all of the above.

But really is it about the money? As a number of teachers pointed out, if the government wanted to save money, revoking our banked sick days was the wrong way to do it. On average we take 6.5 days a year. Banking sick days is an incentive to use them prudently and it is something that we earned in collective bargaining, in exchange for less pay and benefits. With the end of banking sick days, the government will be paying a lot more (likely another 3.5 days per teacher) for supply teachers. How is this cutting the deficit? Surely this proves that this is a political decision as much, if not more than a financial one.

* I Ruined Everything The Luminous Page

I’ve taught art for seventeen years. I’ve complained about certain things at work, but I’ve never regretted my profession. We all knew what we were signing up for when we chose our jobs; I knew I wouldn’t get rich, but I knew I’d have summers off, and a steady pay check. So did you, actually. The summer thing is an antiquated agrarian anachronism, (read, not new), so please don’t act outraged at this fresh new insult. If you became a banker or waitress or IT guy or whatever job you have that doesn’t seem to mind your constant vigilance of pro union tweets, you knew it had two weeks vacation a year. You knew the salary, and the risks of advancement. When i started teaching in 1993 my contract said $20,000. I thought that sounded AMAZING. I thought a bulldozer with a haystack of twenty thousand dollar bills was going to pull up and dump them all over me. When i started getting paid I had to take a weekend job at Carmen’s Pizza taking phone orders for delivery so I could pay my bills. But I had no complaint.

To earn this $20k I taught art on a cart to 850 kids at 3 different schools every week. Almost every kid was on free lunch. My budget was $1.50 per child per year. This is *actually* possible. My classes applauded when I entered the room every single time! I took up Spanish lessons again at my own expense, so that I could say “Quieres lapel amarillo, o azul? Doblalo, y desdoblalo. Ok, cortalo. Bueno!” So that the new kid off the boat (so to speak) wasn’t terrified that they had to talk to the gringa teacher. We made puppets, paper mache, tissue snowflakes, and lots of chalk and tempera paintings. I loved going to work every day. I loved festooning each little school with the happy art. I enjoyed telling wide-eyed kids I actually lived in the dark, mouse-poopy art closet down the hall. I worked in the lowest paying district in a 300 mile radius, but I didn’t care. I felt needed, and I knew I was making some little soul’s morning, every time I went to work.

* Only Teachers And Their Unions Can Save Public Education Rick Salutin Rabble

Who will save our schools, and public education?

Not Premier Dalton McGuinty, who’s bought into the common obsession that the money “just isn’t there.” So he freezes public sector wages, pulling even more money out of the economy, assuring there’ll be even less in taxes to spend on programs, leading to the same death spiral that Europe is following. I know high-school kids who understand this better than Dalton, but maybe it’s because they can still take economics and business courses — although his stress on standardized tests in the “basics” is undermining all that.

Not titans of business like Bill Gates or the Weston foundation, who have anointed themselves to solve a (still unproven) crisis. They intend to apply business savvy and money in order to discover the most “effective” teaching methods, then sell and proselytize those. But effective teaching is simply teaching that’s effective, which can be almost anything that works for a particular teacher.

Think of your own best teachers. Did they teach the same way? Then why narrow down the focus? It’s because if there is one right way, and you can patent or monopolize it, you’ll profit vastly, as many businesses already do. I’m not making this up. A recent Reuters story, “Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools,” called it “the next big thing . . . You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up. . . a golden moment has arrived.” Beware of billionaires bearing educational breakthroughs. Nor can you count on profs and experts, who are at the trough applying for grants from the same foundations and, even when they know better, often tread carefully.

* Chicago Teachers Draw a Line Sherry Wolf

Stanley Heller of The Struggle Video News interviews Sherry at the Sept. 10, 2012, NYC rally in solidarity with striking Chicago teachers of the Chicago Teachers Union.



7. New Technology: New solutions (and some new problems)

Sep-14-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Here are a handful of interesting developments in technology. Some (the solar cooker) have wonderful upside potential. I’m less optimistic about 3D printers printing out guns. Boing Boing has a brilliant look at why new tech may not be harmful to the next generation, and the Dear Esther link leads to a video that gives you a sense of what seems a quite magical game, for all that free time you have.

* A Solar Grill Prototype for a Greener Tomorrow  BarbequeLovers.com

Students at MIT are working on a case study for a new type of solar powered outdoor grill. Based on the technology from MIT professor David Wilson, this grill would collect thermal energy from the sun and store it to allow cooking times for up to twenty five hours at temperatures above 450 degrees Fahrenheit. … Wilson’s technology uses a Fresnel lens to harness the sun’s energy to melt down a container of Lithium Nitrate. The Lithium Nitrate serves as a solar battery. Due to its phase change reaction, the thermal energy is able to be stored at longer periods of time and at higher temperatures. Heat is then redistributed through convection, which allows for outdoor cooking.

This study is very timely because although the students are creating a new grill for American backyards, the business plan is designed to allow the grills to be deployed in developing countries as an alternative source for cooking. Wilson originally came up for the idea during his time spent in Nigeria. While there he noticed a large set of problems linked to practice of cooking with firewood. These problems include reports of women being raped during their daily search for firewood, constant increase in deforestation, and respiratory health issues due to the daily inhalation of smoke in closed proximities. According to the United Nations Statistics Division, 55 percent of households in sub-Saharan Africa depend on firewood. In developing countries this Solar Grill would become a solution to a growing need.

SolarGrillDesign2.jpg

* How 3D Printing Is Inflaming The Gun Control Debate

If you think the gun debate in the United States is heated now, technological advances are about to make it a whole lot more intense. Last week, Forbes highlighted a project called Wiki Weapon that wants to prototype the world’s first fully printable gun. 

In the same way that the Internet democratized publishing and the flow of information, Second Amendment advocates want to make acquiring arms as easy as downloading a file and hitting Print. Defense Distributed, the group behind Wiki Weapon, aims to raise $20,000 to buy aStratasys 3D printer and further develop the concept. The initiative, unsurprisingly, has raised  a few eyebrows. 

The project may or may not reach its goal, but the idea of a fully 3D-printable gun now seems inevitable. Last year, 3D CAD models of a lower receiver for a semiautomatic rifle sparked controversy when they popped up online. Then a gun enthusiast tried – and succeeded – to use one to fire 200 rounds of ammunition. 

* Why Technology Might Not Make Children Stupid, After AllBoing Boing

All this newfangled technology is going to make young people stupid.

This is a very old argument, dating back (at least) to 370-ish BC, when Plato wrote the The Phaedrus. At one point, Socrates tells a legend of an Egyptian god who invents writing and tries to give the gift of the written word to a wise king. The king is … less than enthused.

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Basically, all these damn books are going to make the kids dumb. This is usually my go-to story that I bring up whenever somebody is fretting too much about how the Internet will totally make kids stupid. But journalist Annie Murphy Paul has found an even better argument against techno-fear. …

It’s sobering to realize most humans that have lived and died have never read. And so, we’ve been able to change what our brain does based on having the written word and having this environment. And so now the question is will we be able to change to keep up with the new flood of information coming from all kinds of sources. And up until now the human brain has done a great job of changing—adapting to these environments, but there are limitations to this capacity. And so it will be very interesting to see that these so-called digital natives… the children that have grown up never not knowing the multimedia devices… whether their brains will be able to adapt differently than older people. 

* Review: Dear Esther is an interactive story in a gorgeous 3D environment

Dear Esther  is a Mac (or PC) game unlike any you’ve played before…. Though, the word game doesn’t seem quite right. There are no weapons in Dear Esther. No crowbar or shotgun. The first person environment you explore feels like open terrain with barren moorland and rocky clifftops. It’s a billion miles away from the test chambers of Portal.

While other games reward the completion of puzzles or the destruction of zombie hordes, Dear Esther unravels in its own sweet time. Exploration brings its own reward. All you know as you begin is that you’re on an island. There are clues to your identity and clues to something more. Something unsettling. As you progress, you hear fragments of letters that uncover more of the story.

You won’t want to rush through Dear Esther. There are no special achievements for speed-runs here, but that’s not the only reason. The environment is built to linger in. This goes beyond the 3D world too—though wonderfully rendered by level designer Robert Briscoe. The writing is poetic and spare, the soundtrack by Jessica Curry is compelling and creepy….Bottom line: Dear Esther is a collaborative work of art; a blueprint for future creators of interactive fiction.



6. The Depths of Sales Evil

Aug-31-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Not all sales or ads are bad. But sometimes they are morally reprehensible scumbags who should burn in the sulphurous flames of hell till eternity is just a distant memory. And I mean that in the nicest way. Take these guys for an example….

* Rogers Misleading Advertising Case Heads To Ontario Court Huffington Post

“Rogers Telecommunications, having been ordered to pay a $10-million penalty for misleading advertising, is arguing before an Ontario court this week that regulations preventing it from providing false information violate its Charter right to freedom of expression.”

* Does Cigarette Marketing Count as Free Speech? - Garrett Epps - The Atlantic

In other words, free speech has taken on a strange shape in recent years. These reflections are sparked by the decision of the District of Columbia Circuit Court in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Food and Drug Administration. By a vote of 2-1, the Court invalidated an FDA regulation requiring color photographs and text warnings on each pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S….The cigarette companies rushed to court, claiming a gross violation of their First Amendment rights. They concede that the government can require some kind of warning; but not these, because — well — they might be effective. “FDA is communicating an ideological message, a point of view on how people should live their lives: that the risks from smoking outweigh the pleasure that smokers derive from it, and that smokers make bad personal decisions, and should stop smoking,” the companies’ brief complained. In the new world of the First Amendment, the claim that smoking is good is an “ideology,” and government attempts to combat this public-health scourge are a kind of politically correct liberal propaganda.

Two judges of the court bought the argument.

* Map Blips Sink Ships The Tyee

I’m speaking here of a video Enbridge has made and circulated far and wide to demonstrate the North Gateway pipeline project’s route from Alberta to Kitimat, making it look safe and doable, including sending the diluted bitumen forth in tanker ships out of Douglas Channel. However, opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline have created their own video showing how the Enbridge video grossly misrepresents the logistical challenges, and risks, of building the massive project. Enbridge has, you can see, altered the overview of Douglas Channel down which tankers will, if we’re dumb enough to let them, go from Kitimat to the Pacific. After the clip passes the Rockies rendered as mere gently rolling foothills, you will see, Enbridge takes us down Douglas Channel and manages to erase most of the islands!

The opponents’ video shows what the overland route and channel really looks like. Have a look:

* The Top 10 Most Dangerous Ads | Collectors Weekly

Often the criticism of vintage ads focuses on their inherent sexism, racism, or other displays of social prejudices, which we find laughable today, despite their continued presence. But what about ads that steered consumers into dangerous territory, espousing outmoded scientific evidence or misleading half-truths to convince people that appallingly toxic products, or even deadly ones, were actually good for them?

While some faulty campaigns were merely the victims of evolving scientific knowledge, many blatantly ignored facts in their race for the dollar, using so-called experts to promote products terrible for public health, like cigarettes. Revered professionals like doctors and scientists routinely told us precisely the wrong things to do, as they are likely still doing today.



July 6th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 25

Jul-06-2012 | Comments Off

1. Followups

Bird’s Eye: Many thanks to all who responded to last week’s question on Tikkunista’s future. My response is below. We have a classic experiment that looks at just how early self-control shows itself (or not) in children, and how predictive it is. A fascinating piece from the Times looks at the link between the “Do your own thing” of the 60’s, and the selfishness of the .1%. Maybe we should have been more careful what we asked for? And in a followup to Rio, Will Hutton points out that the Right needs to deny global warming, because the only solutions involve collective government action, which is bad. So climate change can’t be real. Just start with the conclusion, and make the data lead to it.

* Thanks for the responses!

(And to those who preferred email, phone, etc). With occasional breaks Tikkunista will continue for the immediate future. It will not change its format to good news only. As it says in “The Two Towers”:

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

* Stanford Marshmallow Experiment   Wikipedia (Thanks, Linda)

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on deferred gratification conducted in 1972 by psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University.  Amarshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so was correlated with future success.

…In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow. Age was a major determinant of deferred gratification.

It was the results of the follow-up study that would take place many years later that surprised Mischel. Since Mischel’s daughters knew and grew up with many of the original test subjects, through casual conversation, Mischel discovered there existed an unexpected correlation between the results of the marshmallow test, and the success of the children many years later. The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”. A second follow-up study, in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores. 

* Selfishness Won Kurt Andersen New York Times

THIS spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?

There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room.

What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.

* A Catastrophe If Global Warming Falls Off The International Agenda  Will Hutton The Observer

A month’s rain fell in a day last week in parts of Britain. There were 140 flood warnings in the north of England, rain forcing the evacuation of Croston and Darwen in Lancashire; elsewhere, it washed out the Isle of Wight festival. Indeed, rainfall over the last three months has broken new records – following two years in which less rain had fallen than at any time since the 1920s.

This is part of a wider pattern. It is not just that world temperatures are on average steadily rising, the weather everywhere is becoming more extreme. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the hottest on record, and the growing volatility in our weather is linked to global warming. As the earth warms, the relationships between ocean currents, the ice caps, atmospheric pressure and the jet stream become more turbulent, and the weather turns more unpredictable.

…. Climate change sceptics, most vividly in the US where it has become a basic credo of the modern Republican party, are sceptics because to accept the case is to accept the need to do something collectively and internationally that must involve government. But government is bad. It is inefficient, obstructs enterprise, inhibits freedom, regulates and taxes. Climate change activists want carbon taxes and to set targets for efficient resource use; they also want regulations to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour. This is the back door through which socialism will be reinvented – and scientists have been unwittingly captured by wild leftwing environmental ginger groups.



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