Friday, March 29, 2013

Excerpts from three articles on education: Dorothy Sayers, Richard P. Feynman, John Taylor Gatto

To say that our education system is broken and in need of a gargantuan overhaul is an understatement, but it will happen since it is an inevitable side effect of the liberation of data that comes with an open internet.

What form these new systems of education will take are yet to be determined: only time will tell if they will be optimized replicas of the present models, or if they will be based on a new way of teaching and thought. Either way, the overhaul is long overdue and I for one am excited to see the transformation.

Below you will find excerpts from three excellent articles on education that address some of the problems with our current systems. They are well worth the read:

1)The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers: “Let us amuse ourselves by imagining that such progressive retrogression is possible. Let us make a clean sweep of all educational authorities, and furnish ourselves with a nice little school of boys and girls whom we may experimentally equip for the intellectual conflict along lines chosen by ourselves. We will endow them with exceptionally docile parents; we will staff our school with teachers who are themselves perfectly familiar with the aims and methods of the Trivium; we will have our building and staff large enough to allow our classes to be small enough for adequate handling; and we will postulate a Board of Examiners willing and qualified to test the products we turn out. Thus prepared, we will attempt to sketch out a syllabus--a modern Trivium ‘with modifications’ and we will see where we get to….

“Mathematics--algebra, geometry, and the more advanced kinds of arithmetic--will now enter into the syllabus and take its place as what it really is: not a separate ‘subject’ but a sub- department of Logic. It is neither more nor less than the rule of the syllogism in its particular application to number and measurement, and should be taught as such, instead of being, for some, a dark mystery, and, for others, a special revelation, neither illuminating nor illuminated by any other part of knowledge….

“It is difficult to map out any general syllabus for the study of Rhetoric: a certain freedom is demanded. In literature, appreciation should be again allowed to take the lead over destructive criticism; and self-expression in writing can go forward, with its tools now sharpened to cut clean and observe proportion. Any child who already shows a disposition to specialize should be given his head: for, when the use of the tools has been well and truly learned, it is available for any study whatever. It would be well, I think, that each pupil should learn to do one, or two, subjects really well, while taking a few classes in subsidiary subjects so as to keep his mind open to the inter-relations of all knowledge. Indeed, at this stage, our difficulty will be to keep ‘subjects’ apart; for Dialectic will have shown all branches of learning to be inter-related, so Rhetoric will tend to show that all knowledge is one. To show this, and show why it is so, is pre-eminently the task of the mistress science. But whether theology is studied or not, we should at least insist that children who seem inclined to specialize on the mathematical and scientific side should be obliged to attend some lessons in the humanities and vice versa. At this stage, also, the Latin grammar, having done its work, may be dropped for those who prefer to carry on their language studies on the modern side; while those who are likely never to have any great use or aptitude for mathematics might also be allowed to rest, more or less, upon their oars. Generally speaking, whatsoever is mere apparatus may now be allowed to fall into the background, while the trained mind is gradually prepared for specialization in the ‘subjects’ which, when the Trivium is completed, it should be perfectly will equipped to tackle on its own. The final synthesis of the Trivium--the presentation and public defense of the thesis--should be restored in some form; perhaps as a kind of ‘leaving examination’ during the last term at school….

“But I am not here to consider the feelings of academic bodies: I am concerned only with the proper training of the mind to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world. For the tools of learning are the same, in any and every subject; and the person who knows how to use them will, at any age, get the mastery of a new subject in half the time and with a quarter of the effort expended by the person who has not the tools at his command. To learn six subjects without remembering how they were learnt does nothing to ease the approach to a seventh; to have learnt and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door….

“What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers--they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”

2)Judging Books by Their Covers” by Richard P. Feynman: “I was giving a series of freshman physics lectures [in 1964], and after one of them, Tom Harvey, who assisted me in putting on the demonstrations, said, ‘You oughta see what's happening to mathematics in schoolbooks! My daughter comes home with a lot of crazy stuff!’

“I didn't pay much attention to what he said.

“But the next day I got a telephone call from a pretty famous lawyer here in Pasadena, Mr. Norris, who was at that time on the State Board of Education. He asked me if I would serve on the State Curriculum Commission, which had to choose the new schoolbooks for the state of California. You see, the state had a law that all of the schoolbooks used by all of the kids in all of the public schools have to be chosen by the State Board of Education, so they have a committee to look over the books and to give them advice on which books to take….

“I had a special bookshelf put in my study downstairs (the books took up seventeen feet), and began reading all the books that were going to be discussed in the next meeting. We were going to start out with the elementary schoolbooks.

“It was a pretty big job, and I worked all the time at it down in the basement. My wife says that during this period it was like living over a volcano. It would be quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden, ‘BLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!’ -- there would be a big explosion from the ‘volcano’ below.

“The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for ‘sets’) which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to understand what was meant by ‘rigor.’ They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child.”

3) The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher” by John Taylor Gatto: “Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.

“Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:

“The first lesson I teach is: ‘Stay in the class where you belong.’ I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive….

“The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of….

“The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory….

“The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity….

“In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down to a single percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective- seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers….

“In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too….

“It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals….

“A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Three Game Changers: Standard Chartered admits fraud, Cyprus, and BRICS Nations discuss proposal to challenge World Bank and IMF

The changes that are taking place on the global political landscape are unprecedented. Our recent economic crisis has allowed us to lift the veil on financial institutions revealing their vile business practices that have allowed them to control our governments.

Below you will find three recent significant events that are acting as catalysts to accelerate the inevitable restructuring of the way we do business:

1) Sending a Message for Backpedaling on Settlements: “Earlier this year, John Peace, the chairman of Standard Chartered’s board, spoke at a news conference announcing the bank’s quarterly earnings. He was asked whether any employees would be held responsible for violations of United States laws restricting financial dealings with Iran and other countries that led to settlements with federal and state authorities costing the bank about $667 million. He responded, ‘We had no willful act to avoid sanctions; you know, mistakes are made — clerical errors — and we talked about last year a number of transactions which clearly were clerical errors or mistakes that were made.’

“There is just one big problem with attributing violations to mere ‘clerical errors.’ The deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department specifically provides that no one at Standard Chartered can make ‘any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility’ in the settlement. And the statement of facts accompanying the agreement says that the bank ‘knowingly and willfully engaged in this criminal conduct,’ something far beyond mere mistakes.”

From London to New York to Cyprus, Fraud and Financial "Insanity"

2) Cyprus: It’s not over yet : “This was not a good weekend for Russian billionaires. First, Boris Berezovsky was found dead at his English country estate. Now, all the uninsured depositors (read: Russian plutocrats) at Cyprus’s two largest banks are going to be hit much, much harder than they feared they might be when the Cyprus crisis first erupted last week.

“Back then — a long, long week ago — Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades stood firm: there was no way he would allow uninsured depositors to lose more than 10% of their money. What a difference a week makes: now, if your uninsured deposits are at the Bank of Cyprus, you’re probably going to lose about 40% And if they’re at Laiki, you’re going to lose everything.

“The agreement between the Cypriot government and the Troika of the EU, IMF, and ECB is a bold and brutal geopolitical power-play. There might be language in the official communiqué about how ‘The Eurogroup looks forward to an agreement between Cyprus and the Russian Federation on a financial contribution’, but given the billions of euros that Russians are being forced to contribute unwillingly, the chances that they’ll happily throw a bit more money into the pot have to be tiny.

“In the Europe vs Russia poker game, the Europeans have played the most aggressive move they can, essentially forcing Russian depositors to contribute maximally to the bailout against their will. If this is how the game ends, it’s an unambiguous loss for Russia, and a win for the EU.”

Bernanke Fails to Answer Concerns about a Cyprus-Style Seizure of American Bank Deposits

3) BRICS Nations Plan New Bank to Bypass World Bank, IMF: “The biggest emerging markets are uniting to tackle under-development and currency volatility with plans to set up institutions that encroach on the roles of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“The leaders of the so-called BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- are set to approve the establishment of a new development bank during an annual summit that began today in the eastern South African city of Durban, officials from all five nations say. They will also discuss pooling foreign-currency reserves to ward off balance of payments or currency crises.

“’The deepest rationale for the BRICS is almost certainly the creation of new Bretton Woods-type institutions that are inclined toward the developing world,’ Martyn Davies, chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Frontier Advisory, which provides research on emerging markets, said in a phone interview. ‘There’s a shift in power from the traditional to the emerging world. There is a lot of geo-political concern about this shift in the western world.’

“The BRICS nations, which have combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion and account for 43 percent of the world’s population, are seeking greater sway in global finance to match their rising economic power. They have called for an overhaul of management of the World Bank and IMF, which were created in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, and oppose the practice of their respective presidents being drawn from the U.S. and Europe.”

Leaders of world's emerging economies gather in South Africa to discuss proposal to challenge World Bank domination

Monday, March 25, 2013

Creating torture centers and death squads in Iraq: Allowing psychopaths to abuse and rape children in the United States

For me, the most amazing aspect of our society is that we have not yet come to terms with the origin of the horrors that are visited upon us. How is it possible that we do not understand that there are consequences to our actions? That if we do not begin to hold psychopaths responsible for creating death and misery around the world in our name, then how can we hope to have a different fate from those who we have victimized?

I believe the following paint a pretty clear picture, that the old axiom, we reap what we sow, is not just some abstract proverb.

In Iraq

BBC-Guardian Exposé Uses WikiLeaks to Link Iraq Torture Centers to U.S. Col. Steele & Gen. Petraeus - “A shocking new report by The Guardian and BBC Arabic details how the United States armed and trained Iraqi death squads that ran torture centers. It is a story that stretches from the U.S.-backed death squads in Central America during the 1980s to the imprisoned Army whistleblower Bradley Manning.”

Full documentary available at: James Steele: America's mystery man in Iraq

In the United States

Steubenville: this is rape culture's Abu Ghraib moment: “The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures?”

To answer this question, it is the same type of culture that creates torture centers and death squads in Iraq, as well as the same culture that allows psychopaths to abuse and rape children: Sex Abuse Victims Demand Justice
"To feel the hands of the priest on my neck, to feel his breath on the back of my neck, to hear him talk to me, to feel his body against me, to feel him violate me - you have to put yourself into that moment to understand what the Catholic Church is protecting. This is what Cardinal Mahony, this is what Bishop Curry, this is what vicars of clergy, nuns, attorneys; this is what they all got together and spoke about and in secret made these deals to protect these priests."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a reminder, according to the UN charter, the invasion was illegal

Update, Thursday, March 26, 2015: Endless War: As U.S. Strikes Tikrit & Delays Afghan Pullout, "War on Terror" Toll Tops 1.3 Million.
The war in Iraq is not over, not by a long shot. For decades to come we will have to deal with what the United States and its allies have unleashed.

It’s anyone’s guess if those responsible for this war of aggression (crime against peace) will ever be held accountable for their crimes, what we do know however, is that the decision to invade Iraq has transformed the global political landscape (emphasis added):
“Kofi Annan, declared explicitly… that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal. Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN's founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service… he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: ‘Yes, if you wish.’

“He then added unequivocally: ‘I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.’

“American officials have defended the war as an act of self-defence, allowed under the UN charter, in view of Saddam Hussein's supposed plans to build weapons of mass destruction…

“Mr Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.”
Below you will find four videos embedded within excerpts from a 2006 article by Tony Judt entitled, “Bush’s Useful Idiots”. It was relevant then, it is relevant now, and it is well worth the read (emphasis added):
“Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?...

The New York Times and "Liberal Media" Helped Sell the Iraq War

“To be sure, Bush’s liberal supporters have been disappointed by his efforts. Every newspaper I have listed and many others besides have carried editorials criticising Bush’s policy on imprisonment, his use of torture and above all the sheer ineptitude of the president’s war. But here, too, the Cold War offers a revealing analogy. Like Stalin’s Western admirers who, in the wake of Khrushchev’s revelations, resented the Soviet dictator not so much for his crimes as for discrediting their Marxism, so intellectual supporters of the Iraq War – among them Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick and other prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment – have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name….

"We’ve Lost Our Country": An Iraqi American Looks Back on a Decade of War That’s Devastated a Nation

“They may see themselves as having migrated to the opposite shore; but they display precisely the same mixture of dogmatic faith and cultural provincialism, not to mention the exuberant enthusiasm for violent political transformation at other people’s expense, that marked their fellow-travelling predecessors across the Cold War ideological divide. The use value of such persons to ambitious, radical regimes is an old story. Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America’s liberal armchair warriors are the ‘useful idiots’ of the War on Terror.

Dahr Jamail on what happened in Fallujah

more from Dahr Jamail: Dahr Jamail Returns to Iraq to Find Rampant Torture and a Failed State Living in "Utter Devastation" and Ten Years Later, U.S. Has Left Iraq with Mass Displacement & Epidemic of Birth Defects, Cancers
“It is thus depressing to read some of the better known and more avowedly ‘liberal’ intellectuals in the contemporary USA exploiting their professional credibility to advance a partisan case. Jean Bethke Elshtain and Michael Walzer, two senior figures in the country’s philosophical establishment (she at the University of Chicago Divinity School, he at the Princeton Institute), both wrote portentous essays purporting to demonstrate the justness of necessary wars – she in Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, a pre-emptive defence of the Iraq War; he... in a shameless justification of Israel’s bombardments of Lebanese civilians (‘War Fair’, New Republic, 31 July). In today’s America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them.”

Tony Blair Publicly humiliated by Reg Keys

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Three lectures for our time: David Graeber, Chris Hedges, Jonathan Nitzan

The following lectures by David Graeber, Chris Hedges, and Jonathan Nitzan are well worth the time. They’re a really good summery of what ails our society, and they complement each other quite well.

Authors@Google: David Graeber, DEBT: The First 5,000 Years

Edmonton Public Library Presents Chris Hedges: Injustice and corporate greed in America

No Way Out: Crime, Punishment & the Capitalization of Power -- by Jonathan Nitzan

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Hugo Chávez has died. To have a full appreciation of this man, his work, and the Bolivarian Revolution that he spearheaded, the following documentary is a must watch. R.I.P Chávez.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Monday, March 4, 2013

Some not so random sound bites

John Taylor Gatto - The Purpose Of Schooling

Banker Admits "We Engineered the Global Financial Crisis" 1

An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak (Drawings by Christoph Niemann)

Bradley Manning admits to leaking 'the most significant documents of our time'

Fantastic Fungi: The Forbidden Fruit

RI Teacher Says"I Quit!"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Excerpts from Carl Sagan's Cosmos

In the 1980’s the Cold War entered its final stage and one of its most dangerous and important periods. It was a time when the rhetoric of nuclear Armageddon with its biblical implications had begun to consume the Western World.

During this period there were many unrelenting voices pounding the war drums, much like today. However, there were also many benevolent voices trying to educate us by showing us the beauty of life and our part in it. One of those working relentlessly towards the betterment of society was Carl Sagan, and his masterpiece was the Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, “a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter.”
“It covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe…. The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, and was the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until [1990]…. As of 2009, it was still the most widely watched PBS series in the world. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people.”
I first came across this series when it was finally released on DVD in 2000. I was hooked after watching part 1 and for the next few days I became a Cosmos addict and a serious Carl Sagan fan, especially after I found out that he was also a marijuana advocate.
“Under the pseudonym ‘Mr. X’, he contributed an essay about smoking cannabis to the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered. The essay explained that marijuana use had helped to inspire some of Sagan's works and enhance sensual and intellectual experiences. After Sagan's death, his friend Lester Grinspoon disclosed this information to Sagan's biographer, Keay Davidson. The publishing of the biography, Carl Sagan: A Life, in 1999 brought media attention to this aspect of Sagan's life. Not long after his death, widow Ann Druyan had gone on to preside over the board of directors of NORML, a foundation dedicated to reforming cannabis laws.“
Considering our present geopolitical situation and the recent events that have unfolded regarding the legalization of cannabis I thought it would be a good idea to share some of Sagan’s message.

Below you will find two videos that I put together in 2010. They are some of my favorite excerpts from the series - just a few minutes from a timeless masterpiece.

Excerpts from Carl Sagan's Cosmos (Part 1 of 2)

Excerpts from Carl Sagan's Cosmos (Part 2 of 2)