Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Way of Laughter

Please forgive my philosophical bent, but I do so enjoy the humor of philosophy as much as the humor of science. You can't read Heidegger to get any understanding out of him (well, some people may, but not I), but you can get a sense of …well, something.

My example of philosophic humor comes from a dialogue between Heidegger, the (I)nquirer, and a (J)apanese visitor found in Martin Heidegger's On the Way To Language.

Let me offer a few preliminaries.

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation (of language, literature, the Bible, etc.). As you suspect, its origin refers to the Greek messenger god Hermes and, as Heidegger admits, "it has a playful thinking that is more compelling than the rigor of science."

Heidegger, at one point, advanced the idea of the 'hermeneutic circle' meaning that language is needed to interpret language, so, kind of like Godel's incompleteness theorem, we are already in the system we wish to explain. Also, the act of using language (Hermes delivering the message) is important (since it reveals Being itself), perhaps as important as the message (which reveals something about beings and reality).

By the way, I believe Heidegger (like Wittgenstein) would say that there is no isomorphic one-to-one correspondence between language and reality, but I'm not comfortable saying anything Heidegger would say.

Finally, 'Saying' probably means "the same as 'show' in the sense of: let appear and let shine, but in the manner of hinting."

Anyway, here is the dialogue:

J: How would you present the hermeneutic circle today?

I: I would avoid a presentation as resolutely as I would avoid speaking about language.

J: Then everything would hinge on reaching a corresponding saying of language.

I: Only a dialogue could be such a saying correspondence.

J: The course of such a dialogue would have to have a character all its own, with more silence than talk.

I: Above all silence about silence….

J: Because to talk and write about silence is what produces the most obnoxious chatter.

I: Who could simply be silent of silence?

J: That would be authentic saying…

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Should you teach children about God?

[note: as a convention I have capitalized God in all instances in using the word]

I've known quite a number of people who have had an abrupt apostasy when confronted with their childhood version of God. The most dramatic I have witnessed was in a theology class at Notre Dame, where an 18-19 year old, fellow student became visibly devastated when the professor-priest pretty much denied his 'Catholic upbringing' view of God.

Whether or not it's done on purpose, it seems most children develop a sense of God as a supreme holy person, a sort of super Santa Claus. Children will dismiss Santa in middle school, but this same magical person as God will last into college or beyond for many, if not most, people. I certainly believed in a super santa God into high school before my older brother Bob brought back stories from college. God saw everything and heard everything—that seemed pretty super human to me. And I think the longer one goes with these ideas from childhood the harder they are to break.

Anyway, I wish I could create a poll. But here is my poll question, especially now that a new generation is coming along, and parents will have to decide how to approach God:

How should parents teach children about God?

1. Do nothing. Let them pick it up the same way as they will learn about sex.

2. The values learned from science are more appropriate than any about God. Teach them about science.

3. Down play God per se, but teach humanitarian or social principles, such as compassion and the golden rule.

4. Teach God as the Mysterium Tremendum, overwhelming mystery, awe, and terror (the numinous).

5. Teach God is love. The rest is all but leather or prunella.

6. Teach the Christian (or preferred religious) tradition with the corresponding stories and values, but treat God as unknowable other.

7. Current religious educational methods are very good for teaching children, at least much better than any other alternative, especially when coupled by example from home-life as shown by the parents.

8. None of thee above. Please give alternative answer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

There is no Superman so Stop Waiting

Sorry to beat a dead horse but I have a lot of trouble keeping my thoughts to myself.

Ted has already touched on the difficulty of evaluating a teacher see, comments on Superman Redux.

Full disclosure, I saw the documentary months ago and only had a little time to watch a few clips to remind me the gripes I had with it.

I am fine with the argument that Waiting for Superman gets the discussion going about problems in education, however this does not absolve the movie of its glaring faults.

My main beef with the pseudo-documentary (anytime there is a narrative I find it hard to be a full documentary, See Babies, Restrepo for good documentaries) is that the movie says get good teachers plus charters equals many educational problems alleviated.  Good teachers duh…get rid of bad teachers, duh…not a groundbreaking documentary (We have all seen Dead Poets Society and High School High, latter far better).  Get good teachers by eliminating unions and tenure and use the resources to improve teachers is the simply equation espoused by the movie.

So the movie wants to eliminate the bottom 5-10% of teachers even though there is, as Myk’s Hansushek papers stated, not an effective way to evaluate a teacher’s aptitude, since little correlation was found with level of education and salary awarded.  Effectiveness is found, as in the paper, on future earning of the students (not applicable until 10 years later after the bad teacher has done some damage).   So eliminate the 5-10% of teachers, even though we haven’t put in an effective evaluation system.  If we did eliminate 5-10% of teachers,  being a teacher would become a high risk work environment, a lot higher than doctors or lawyers who are at .3% and .4% a year in Illinois respectively (have no idea how the documentary came up with 1 in 57 for doctors, no way do that many inept people go $350,000 in debt).   High risk work environment need a substantial increase in pay, not sure how you do this with current resources allotted as is.  That’s why the brain surgeon gets paid the big bucks.  According to Hansushek’s paper there is no difference in effectiveness between 5 year and 25 year teachers, maybe we could boot old teachers saving money on seniority salaries thus being able to hire more good young teachers, damn unions.

Now for the hero of the movie, the shaker the mover, Michelle Rhee.  She fires some 240 teachers/principals (great way to spearhead a collaborative effort), based on 5, 30 minute evaluation a year that the teacher must hit 22 modes of teaching (chanting, rhyming, voodoo dancing).  Evaluations, which resulted in borderline teachers to construct a curriculum just for the evaluators, most master teachers evaluators quit because of the shallow format of evaluation.  Interestingly, strong teachers tended to mark poorly (sticking with their teaching style) versus weaker teachers because weak teacher catered toward the evaluations. She ignores Gist, the State Superintendent, recommendation to investigate the wrong-to-right erasure discrepancies (by a 4 standard of deviations discrepancy) found in 96 DC schools, 8 were from the 10 campuses Rhee handed out the T E A M awards.  Monetary competition Rhee championed has resulted in higher wrong-to-right erase marks.  She failed to work with the communities of DC, approval rating going from 50% among Blacks to 25%.  Her increases in test scores were the same gains made by her 2 chancellor predecessors.

The documentary was a PR awareness call, saying lets get better teachers, with a no real way to do so, thus does not bring much to the discussion.  It was just like Guggenheim’s last documentary, An Inconvenient Truth- no duh global warming is bad but turning off a light and buying a hybrid is not the solution.  Solving complex problems with simple answers is like fitting a square block into a round hole.

My other point, teachers aren’t supermen, they are human.  How do you deal with socio-economic classes that have higher incarceration rates, divorce rates (children of divorce parents fair poorer in school)? etc.  Kids that can’t afford lunch and have to study hungry.  Good teachers are not going to fix a broken home, a hungry kid, no matter how good they are. Studies have shown pointed out that social programs do not alleviate educational problems, yet you expect a 20-something to make a difference nationally (social programs do work on a case by case basis, just like class by class basis there are good teachers).  How about giving more money to hire family councilors, tutors, advisers, have after school programs to keep kids safe, have free lunches, music classes, hire competent administrators to hire good teacher, better pay for teachers, pay for studies to develop an effective evaluation system of teachers, pay for international teaching collaboration (what are they doing right now with interesting information).  Documentary says throwing money at the problem is not helpful, sure, giving every kid an kindle isn’t going to make a difference, but to ignore our under funded education and how it could use more money in an effective manner is foolhardy.  

It’s important to note that the US spends the most (tied or slightly behind Switzerland) per student.  Yet money is still an issue because we need to spend appropriately.  Other countries with high educational performance recruit top college graduate and pay more than the countries’ average college graduate salary, we don’t.  Teacher salaries are not competitive with the job sector.  According to the 2005 National Education Association (NEA) report, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years teaching; they cite poor working conditions and low pay as the chief reasons.  How are we to retain good teachers when we view teaching as easy work with summers off and reward according to that belief?  Does working for Google or teaching draw today’s top college graduate (barring altruistic few)?  How do you draw US talent when the job market has occupations paying far more?  Most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates. Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.

Difference between America and higher achieving countries-

“The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.” They don't go around firing teachers.

Closer to home,
Bethel Park may lose elementary school music education and went into a hiring freeze because the federal government decided to make educational cuts.  Imagine federal cuts to non wealthy communities.    One has to ask, do you honestly think with the funds allocated toward education that our country will put together an effective method to determine good teachers while evenly spreading them throughout the national school districts?  The movie thinks so.  The movie says, get rid of the bad teachers and create competition but that doesn't change the fact our teaching talent pool is small, good teachers are rare.

Another point- evenly spreading teachers throughout school districts.  My friend wants to work in Mt Lebanon, or any of the South Hills, Bethel, St Clair etc.  because it is a great working environment. Why does Mt Lebanon get thousands of applications for one job versus a few hundred for inner city schools?  A good teacher would likely have more job options (not always the case but for argument sake).  Is it shocking that a teacher who lives in the community with a family may choose a safer neighborhood with better pay?  Incentives are needed to draw teaching talent into undesirable teaching environments, which cost money.  There is a reason more teachers apply to Propel McKeesport than McKeesport (hint- its green and it’s in your pocket and is not a shamrock shake).

Stop waiting for superman, a good teacher is a good teacher and will have a profound effect on the kids they teach; however good teachers alone will not solve the educational system especially with the scant resources available (scant resources also include the availability of good teachers).  Programs need to be put in place to cultural change the perception of teaching, increasing pay and prestige.  This will help create a larger talent pool for schools to draw their teachers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Television Debut -- A Star is Born?

Jones: "She [character Ann Perkins] does kind of exercise her freedom as a single person, and she gets busy with some dudes. She definitely takes advantage of that."

I guess so. James, care to comment?

Monday, April 18, 2011

No End in Sight

It's now six years and counting since the last installment of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire,” and the groupies are getting more cantankerous by the minute: JUST WRITE IT!

Waiting for Superman Redux

I saw the movie over the week end, and it is a very good movie. A couple of NYC schools were mentioned, but I couldn't pick out Katie or her colleagues. As has been mentioned it does point to teacher unions as contributors to the problem, a point that has been debated. Myk has pointed to Schoolwork as criticizing the movie for presenting "an enormously complicated realm" as "stock drama" and The Nation, naturally, also has a union-bashing rebuttal in Grading 'Waiting for Superman'.

Those articles present some fine ideas and expand the facts, but they do not discredit the movie, in my opinion. (And to say that we are better educated now than 100 years ago is false praise. You must compare yourself to the rest of the world now. Who cares if your car is better than the Model T or you can pass Gentleman's Chemistry.)

Sure, it is a complicated realm, but the movie continually states that. And despite all the complications, there is a singular, if not simple, powerful truth in education which is pounded and pounded and pounded by the movie and its makers—good teachers make a difference.

Sure, teacher unions have aided both adults and children and Finland does have teacher unions, but there are some policies/contracts by some teacher unions that do not promote that powerful truth—good teachers make a difference.

There is nothing wrong with illustrating the complicated nature of public education, but when there is such a powerful instrument for solving the problem and it has been shown to work, why not promote it? Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, and now Mt. Lebanon have or are building new schools. Perhaps the old schools were collapsing threatening the lives of the children. I don't know. But if they are being built to provide better education, it is a misappropriation of money. You will get much, much, much better return on your investment if you put all the resources you can into getting, making, and keeping good teachers. I know it sounds too simple, but it has been shown to be true time and time again.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Myth of Michaelphus

While traveling one wintery evening across the highlands of western Pennsylvania, I asked Michael what he had learned in school that day. Seemingly ignoring the question, he started to describe the wondrous sight of a snowflake caught on your mitten during recess. Renée wisely explained, "You know, Michael, no two snowflakes are alike. Despite their size, each is unique." Michael lifted his right hand to his nodding head, paused for a second, and said, "Well, when you think about it, no any two things are alike."
It was at this moment that our visual modality started to disintegrate. What had appeared to be a car started dissolving into individual parts—no, not parts, not even particles—I can't describe it, but each was unique. I could see our epidermal layers break into individual cells, which dissolved into protein molecules, then atoms and quarks, bosons, leptons and strange charms. I spotted a Higgs…briefly. Similarly, concepts such as gravity, Coulomb's law, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle disappeared. Even the mathematics faded away. There remained nothing but individual essence (and existence, of course) and each was unique. And yet the universe was still there, intact, and functioning. We were still driving along a sparsely populated, well constructed road.

So, it wasn't just the modality of the visual. All modality disappeared. Substantive, conceptual, temporal. Why? I can only guess that Michael's statement simultaneously triggered something in our brains that allowed us to drop all learned forms and relationships, and let us 'see' the universe as simple essence rather than all the patterns we have learned since birth. We were able to experience the innate essence of existence and that overpowered all of our learned sensations.

You may think it was an inspirational or even a so-called religious experience, but, for me, it was just the opposite. It was horrifying. Perhaps that is how the divine perceive the universe, but it also is how a brainless, heartless particle perceives it. I was the first to yank out of the vision. Perhaps my more familiarity with our world made the non modal one more terrifying for me. I much prefer struggling to feebly understand the universe than to experience its essence.

Renée seemed to be having fun with the experience, toying with bits of the universe. Yet ultimately she found little with which to relate, and returned to the 'real' world. Michael stayed the longest. He worried me a bit as he had the least amount of time in the world we are born into. He seemed to be contemplating the experience, but this was not true as there was no thinking during the vision. We were brainless. But he did seem to be soaking it up.

Finally, he matter-of-factly came back. "That was weird," is all he said.
"You're weird," said Renée who was already organizing an alphabet game.
"Are you all right?" I later asked Michael.
"Yeah, …but I miss my mom and dad."

Poetry is what you oft thought but ne'er so well expressed

I apologize for the vulgar language, but they just seemed to crystallize it so well. 'All the news that's fit to be visual.'

Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One of those 'how small we are' videos

I found this video while surfing the internet tubes, it is a little long coming in at 15 minutes but I really feel like its worth it, I feel it hits on religion a little too hard but whatever it's old enough to take it. It just reminded me about how amazing this universe is with all its complexities and when I'm hunched over math equations and stuck in my own little world I forget that there is so much more out there. Sorry for the gushing.

Just lines like "It's like the universe screams in your face. Do you know what I am? How grand I am? How old I am? Can you even comprehend how grand I am? What are you compared to me? And when you know enough science you can just smile up at the universe and reply. Dude, I am you"
really get to me


Language as the unruly house of being

I will look forward to comments as to what some of you language experts and amateurs think of this article.

I can't help thinking that using evolutionary biology techniques (although I do not really see where they were used other than selecting 'word order' as a part of Language's DNA) on language is another (possibly failed) attempt to think that Darwinism is the one and only hammer where everything else is a nail.

Also, I'm not sure that 'word order' was the best characteristic to study, other than it being the easiest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mental Health Break (see The Dish)

Human Rights Chinese Style

Just as no one in China cares about what the U.S. says about Chinese human rights' problems, no one in the U.S. cares about what the Chinese say about U.S. human rights' problems. Well, that's not true as the U.S. and Chinese care enough to issue their own reports. Here is a summary of the China report on the U.S. and here is the whole report.

Actually, both countries could learn something from both reports.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Quantum-Classical Boundary

Somewhere in the size contimuum, things begin to have an actual location. This marks the boundary between quantum physics and classical physiscs. The only problem is: we don't really know where that line is. Most recently, scientists have demonstrated a molecule of a record 430 atoms can exhibit quantum behavior: Researchers Find “Fattest Schrodinger Cats Realized to Date” . Perhaps the tree in the quad dissolves into a wave when we look away.

Monday, April 11, 2011

James Fallows on the Ryan Budget Plan

James Fallows lays into Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan: The Brave and Serious Mr. Ryan. (The links are also right on.)

Move over Goldbach's Conjecture

Is 48÷2(9+3) = 2 or = 288?  Enjoy math nerds or people who like to argue.

Infinite Jest Needs More Work?!

Continuing David Foster Wallace thread.
(Via Kottke)

Someone at Yahoo Answers posted the first page of Infinite Jest with the title "First page of my book. what do you think?" The crowd was not impressed:
No discernible voice/tone in this writing. Rambling descriptions. I, frankly, do not care where each and every person is seated. I don't care what shoe you're wearing. If you take out all the unnecessary details, you'd be left with about seven words.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Will Wilkinson (via Sullivan) writes a piece that combines two of my interests: David Foster Wallace and the psychology of happiness.

...a foible of neurology that keeps us from meeting our own high standards consistently can put us in a terrible bind. Our options are to (a) try, fail, and struggle to avoid becoming utterly defeated; (b) fail to try and struggle with self-loathing; (c) try with every ounce of effort we can summon, succeed, and leave ourselves too exhausted to succeed again, or to want to try; (d) lower our standards and meet them, but struggle with the thought that we have cheated ourselves and the world of our best.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do we have something to learn from the protests and revolutions in the Arab world?

Although we should be up in arms against the wealthy and elite (and the government in their continued support of the top 1%), our big protest movement is the Tea Party.

This article also includes a link to the Stiglitz Vanity Fair article, which is definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Links of Interest

Links of Interest has been added to the Blog. The first one up is Enegren Brewing Company.  It is located under recent comments on the right sidebar.

Bringing this Blog into the early 2000s

It was brought to my attention that when this blog has been accessed via bookmarks, the page does not have the latest posts/comments updates.  Added to the side bar, under the search box, is the ability to subscribe to feeds, most popular, atom etc.  I am also allowing a choice between subscribing to posts, comments or both.  For those of you who use RSS readers not available on the right, the RSS feed is

Monday, April 4, 2011

Winter is coming…apparently this Spring

The Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Fire and Ice series, comes to HBO in a couple of weeks. I was afraid that the show would not come up to expectations, but I'm fairly pleased with this preview. Apparently, they are strictly following the book (not a bad decision), if this is any indication.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pitt Basketball: We're Number 3?

Pitt had a great regular season this year, with a record of 28-6, winning the BIg East regular season title and landing a number 1 seed in the NCAA's.

Tournament play was not so good. They were eliminated in the third round of the Big East Tournament and never made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA's. Things, however, look a bit better if you consider who Pitt lost to and how they lost. Connecticut beat them in the final seconds by 2 points in the Big East Tourney and in the NCAA championships Butler won out by a single point in one of the weirdest endings of any basketball game ever.

Now Butler and Connecticut play for the NCAA title on Monday. Pitt lost very close games to the very best post-season teams.

And there's always next year.