Friday, February 22, 2008

George F. Will on Experience

Washington Post columnist George F. Will had this to say regarding "experience" in yesterday's Post:

Nothing, however, will assuage Clinton supporters' sense of injustice if the upstart Obama supplants her. Their, and her, sense of entitlement is encapsulated in her constant invocations of her "35 years" of "experience." Well.

She is 60. She left Yale Law School at age 25. Evidently she considers everything she has done since school, from her years at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm to her good fortune with cattle futures, as presidentially relevant experience.

The president who came to office with the most glittering array of experiences had served 10 years in the House of Representatives, then became minister to Russia, then served 10 years in the Senate, then four years as secretary of state (during a war that enlarged the nation by 33 percent), then was minister to Britain. Then, in 1856, James Buchanan was elected president and in just one term secured a strong claim to being ranked as America's worst president. Abraham Lincoln, the inexperienced former one-term congressman, had an easy act to follow.



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

You Like-a The Vergina?

I recently discovered this beer during a trip to Chicago:

No, this isn't a joke. And yes, it's a beer called "Vergina." I found it at this Greek restaurant. It was the only Greek beer they had on the menu, so my friends and I figured, why not? It wasn't a bad beer either. But the waiter kept coming over and asking us, in a mildly creepy, dead-pan tone, "So... You guys like-a the Vergina? Eh?" To which, we hesitantly replied, "Y...Yes. Yes we do."

The best part is that, according to their website, they also have a variation of the beer called "Vergina Red." I'll let you mull that one over on your own...

Vergina is apparently also a small northern town in Greece. Who knew?


Monday, February 18, 2008

"The Dumbing of America"

Recently, Susan Jacoby wrote an amazing (and frightening) opinion piece for the Washington Post called "The Dumbing of America." In it, she discusses how, as a nation, we've become, well, stupider.

She first recounts one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses (or "fireside chats") during which he took the time to explain to the American people why our troops were doing so poorly in the Pacific. One of the main difficulties stemmed from the long distances over which the supplies had to travel in order to reach the front lines. So FDR actually asked people to take out a map (!) so that they could really understand just how far the supplies had to go. He reasoned that if people actually comprehended the situation, they'd be much more understanding of it. Not a bad thought. Oh, and not only did 80 percent of Americans tuned in to hear the president, but maps sold out in stores across the country.

Jacoby makes the point that we live in a very different time with very different attitudes towards learning and knowledge. She then goes on to cite some very frightening statistics:

According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

Are you freaking kidding me?! Look, it's one thing if your Middle Eastern/African/Asian geography is a little foggy. I'll readily admit mine is. But to think that it's not necessary to know? And furthermore, to think that knowledge of a foreign language isn't important at all? Wow. Just... Wow.

That part of her article actually reminded me of an old gripe I had. In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding 9/11, many musicians wrote and released songs with inspirational themes. However, one song called "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" by Alan Jackson always rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, most of it was about being close with your family and loved ones during such a horrible time. But the first few lines of the chorus always made me scratch my head a little:

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

Now, I realize that these lyrics don't necessary actively condone ignorance and stupidity. From what I can tell, he's saying that so long as you have faith, hope and love, you're all good... Even if you're an idiot and don't know any world geography. I can just imagine millions of Americans thinking, "Gee, that Alan Jackson is right... I don't know what them A-rabs are all about, but as long as I got faith and hope and love, everything is okay!" This song, while mostly about treasuring time with loved ones and honoring those that had died, is tinged (tainted, even) with xenophobia and ignorance. In a situation like that, you can have all the faith, love and hope in the world, but it isn't going to do shit to change anything if you're a dumbass... Not for the better, anyway. People like Alan Jackson are the same kind of people that, if we ever got into a war with North Korea, would be saying, "North Korea? South Korea? China? Japan? Whatever! Fuck 'em all! They all look the same and speak that ching-chong stuff!" Bah. But I digress...

Anyway, Jocoby then describes another factor behind what she calls "the new American dumbness." That is, the fact that not only do Americans not know shit about anything, but we think that it's totally fine that we don't know shit about anything. Think she's exaggerating?

...consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth.

Yeah. We're fucking dumb.

Lastly, she notes that there is no quick fix for this kind of "arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism," and that training students to give "specific answers to specific questions of specific tests" just isn't the answer. She's absolutely right. Standardized tests are useful for some things. But when it comes to actually educating children, they really don't do shit... And neither, by the way, does training for them. I've seen first-hand how insistence on applying the same standard to all students discriminates against those that are below the curve because they are spending too much time trying to pass some fucking test instead of learning subjects and skills they really need. And those that are above the curve, well, most of them just don't need to try all that hard to pass, so they do what they need to do to get by and don't bother pushing themselves any harder.

It's a difficult situation, educating all the young'uns. Individualization of educational plans is probably the way to maximize the amount of benefit American children can derive from school. Of course, this puts an immense burden on the school systems and the teachers. But with the help of technology, these things are actually possible. I recently met a guy named Michael Horn who's writing a book called "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns." As you can guess, it's about how disruptive innovation can be applied to education. I'm trying to figure out the name of the book because it just got released recently. But I think with the aid of online courses and further integration of computers/technology in classrooms and lesson plans, it will eventually be possible to tailor educational plans to each student so that perhaps the next generation of Americans, at least, will be able to tell the difference between Iraq and Iran.

...Or whatever countries we happen to be angry at.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Evermore: Never Let You Go

I don't see very many music videos these days. And those that I see are generally pretty lame or totally devoid of original creative thought.

This one, however, is fun, creative, funny, weird, and surprisingly moving. Check it out.

The use of babies towards the end is probably my favorite part.

...And the shot of the cute little fox (or whatever furry little animal that is).


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Crazy Subway Person #3: Stair Stopper

Okay, this CSP doesn't reference a specific encounter I've had in the subway, but rather several separate experiences I've had with the same phenomenon. That is, people who stop on the stairs in subway stations to look around, check their watch, make a phone call, etc etc.

For instance, when I was coming out of the 14th Street subway station the other day, in a rush to get to work, the lady I was following reached the top of the stairs at the exit and simply stopped moving. Would it have killed her to stop, oh I dunno, TWO STEPS further away from the stairs to allow me, and the horde of rush-hour workers behind me, to get by?

So, if you're going up or down a set of subway stairs, PLEASE do not stop until you have cleared the landing by at least a few steps to let the people behind you get by!!