Archive for June, 2010
I’m looking for a single word to capture this attitude, perhaps an entirely new word:
I really appreciate that you’re doing important task for me without any compensation. I don’t know anyone else capable of doing it at all, and it’s miraculous that you are doing it at all, and doing it this quickly, but could you please do even faster? And could you do it more often? But thank you so very much!
Bald Machiavellian compliments, just enough compliments and pleasantries to keep the volunteer going . . .
A friend recently asked me about the ideas that moved me over the past few years. I’ve written about many of those ideas at Dangerous Intersection. Today, I’m offering links to some of my favorite posts. I decided to gather these posts into one place as a reminder of some of the “Best Of” ideas, those that have especially challenged and moved me. It’s not my own writing that interests me here, but the content–most of these ideas are not my own. I was working mostly as a reporter. I should also note that thought I’ve gathered the ideas about which I have written, there are quite a few other authors who write at this site. To view the posts of any of the authors, simply go to the bottom right corner of the home page and click on one of the author names.
I’ve divided the posts into some broad categories. The titles appear in the link, so I haven’t bothered to link them all properly.
Cognitive science and linguistics
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Barack Obama is doing the bidding of Osama bin Laden. It’s utterly clear that this is true. Obama is doing what bin Laden desires by buying into the Neocon approach to warmongering in the Middle East. Obama has fully bought into the world view of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Consider this excerpt from an article by Alan Grayson:
Today, the war in Afghanistan becomes America’s longest war. Longer than the war in Vietnam. Longer than the Korean War.It took America two years to end World War I, and bring peace to the world. World War II was a little harder; that took us 3½ years to finish off.
The war in Afghanistan is over eight years old. And we’re sending in more troops. We’re not getting out. We getting deeper in. Would you like to know why? It’s not hard to find the answers. Just read the transcript of Osama Bin Laden’s 2004 speech.
Bin Laden’s plan was to bankrupt America, and he’s well on his way. All he had to do was press America’s SELF-DESTRUCT button with a dozen men with box-cutters, and we’re helpless to turn off the fearful war-mongering. Here’s Grayson’s solution:
And at all times, Bin Laden’s essential strategy has remained the same. Not, as so many think, to launch more attacks on American soil, but rather to make us destroy ourselves: “we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy . . . .”
Listen to Bin Laden summing up his strategy: “the real loser is … you. It is the American people and their economy . . . .”
How strange. It turns out that America’s chief military strategist for the past decade is Osama Bin Laden himself. We’ve been doing exactly what he has wanted us to do: spend staggering sums on the military, until the American economy is bled dry.
But it doesn’t have to be that we. We are a democracy. We can choose peace. I have voted against Bin Laden’s strategy to destroy America, and I will continue to do so. But I’ve done more than that. I have introduced a bill called The War is Making You Poor Act, HR 5353.
Take a guess . . . what percentage of young adults from Philadelphia would be qualified to serve in the military? 92%? 45%? Now check this out:
A nonprofit group says that up to 90 percent of young Philadelphians are ineligible for military service because of criminal records, obesity or lack of education.
So you’re probably thinking that the problem is with young adults in big cities, but you’re an optimist:
Nationally, the Defense Department estimates that 75 percent of young adults are disqualified from military service.
Ouch. We need boot camp for everyone. We need to put a moratorium on French fries, television and the “war on drugs.”
Most of the big problems we face today are created by human beings, and they have human solutions. If only we could and would change our ways. If only we could switch to a non-fossil fuel economy, we could solve dozens of well-known environmental and political problems. If only we would “just say no” to drugs, reckless conduct, sloth, and rampant consumerism. If only we would just buckle down and be more informed and more active citizens, we could keep a better eye on our government. It goes on and on. Well designed solutions already exist for so many of our problems. If only we would change, but we can’t seem to change. We tend to be trapped in our own destructive and ignorant ways.
How can we break out of this stagnant cycle? Back in 2002 at Psychology Today, in an article titled “The 10 Rules of Change,” Stan Goldberg wrote that change isn’t easy, but it is possible, and there’s more to it than just saying yes (or no). He offers ten observations and strategies for implementing change. They include the following (these are Goldberg’s ideas, as I interpret them):
1. All behaviors are complex. Therefore, break down the behavior into smaller parts and take baby steps. If you want to be a better musician, practice your scales, study your theory, practice new pieces, listen carefully to others performing, and a dozen other things.
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It was summer; a hot, muggy summer in Philadelphia where Virginian Thomas Jefferson presented to the Continental Congress a document which would be a shot heard ‘round the world, a Declaration of Independence.
The brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 put their lives, liberty and sacred honor at stake for the good of what they believed should be a new nation, one conceived in liberty and where all men were created equal. How do we Americans in 2010 view the Declaration of Independence? Too often, we view the Declaration of Independence only as a part of our past, an historic document that is not relevant to us today. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is time that we declared our independence from those which would have us be satisfied with less than the complete American dream. It is time to reclaim the American Revolution for the good of our country and the good of the world.
In the Declaration of Independence, the first principle to recognize in reclaiming the American Revolution is to re-affirm that America is a shared dream, a dream meant for all to share not just a few wealthy individuals or corporations.
Our nation faces a fiscal crisis. We spend far more than we take in revenues. A fundamental decision must be made as to how it is we will spread the burden of supporting the American dream, if we wish the dream to endure.
A frequently cited statistic by those which would advocate drastic reductions in federal spending is the percentage of debt as a percentage of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Frequently, advocates of our nation adopting more “fiscal responsibility” forget that until FY 2011, since 1980, each Republican administration has only increased the percentage of our national debt as a percentage of GDP. Since 1980, each Democratic administration had reduced the percentage of national debt as a percentage of GDP.
Of far more importance in preserving the American dream is to examine the percentages of wages as a percentage of GDP. In 2006, Bill Moyers reported that the share of GDP going to wages was at its lowest point since 1947, when the government started measuring such numbers.
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Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardner has made a strong case that “general intelligence” is a socially stifling concept, even a dangerous concept. He argues that there is much more to being “intelligent” than mastering the academic content that we have traditionally measured, topics such as reading, writing, and math. I find Gardner’s arguments intuitive. After all, many people struggle with traditional subjects, but they are incredibly proficient (geniuses, if you will) at interpersonal skills (think of community organizers) or spatial skills (think of carpenters). Gardner has set forth the criteria for what constitutes an intelligence: “There are at least eight discrete intelligences, and these intelligences constitute the ways in which individuals take in information, retain and manipulate that information, and demonstrate their understandings (and misunderstanding) to themselves and others.”
To be clear, an “intelligence” is far more than a skillset for Gardner. Here he describes it in even more detail:
Fundamentally, an intelligence refers to a biopsychological potential of our species to process certain kinds of information in certain kinds of way. As such, it clearly involves processes that are carried out by dedicated neural networks. No doubt each of the intelligences has its characteristic neural processes, with most of them quite similar across human beings. Some of the processes might prove to be more customized to an individual. The intelligence itself is not a content, but it is geared to specific contents. That is, the linguistic intelligence is activated when individuals encounter the sounds of language or when they wish to communicate something verbally to another person. However, the linguistic intelligence is not dedicated only to sound. It can be mobilized as well by visual information, when an individual decodes written text; and in deaf individuals, linguistic intelligence is mobilized by signs (including syntactically-arranged sets of signs) that are seen or felt. From an evolutionary point of view, it seems probable that each intelligence evolved to deal with certain kinds of contents in a predictable world. However, once such a capacity has emerged, there is nothing that mandates that it must remain tied to the original inspiring content. As the term has it, the capacity can be exapted for other purposes. . . . I’ve put forth a candidate set of intelligences that are said to have their own characteristic processes and to be reasonably independent of one another. Over time, the particular intelligences nominated, and their degree of dependence or independence of one another, will be more firmly established.
How does Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory compare to traditional methods of defining and measuring intelligence? The traditional approach involves assigning an overall score (e.g., an IQ score) to each person, thus characterizing the degree to which that person is smart. What’s wrong with this approach whereby we assign a “general intelligence” (or “g” score) to each person?
MI theory questions not the existence but the province and explanatory power of g. ‘g’ is a statistical outcome and its strength varies to some extent on the assumptions that are built into the factorial model being employed. We do not really understand what is measured by ‘g’—it could be anything from sheer intellect to motivation to skill in following instructions to the ability to shift facilely from one kind of problem to another.
I’m going to make an over-generalization, but it might be one to which you can relate. Imagine your class valedictorian from high school–you know, that student who aced all of those tests, including standardized tests. Now consider . . . Was that person adept socially? Was he or she artistic or an athletic “genius”? Was he or she in tune with nature? He or she was probably not equally capable in each of these areas. Therefore, why assign the label “smart” to the student who excels at math, reading and abstract thinking, and disparage the student who excels at emotional IQ, spatial skills or athleticism, but who only does passably at traditional academic subjects? Gardner comments:
I am uncomfortable with the assumption inherent in g: that an individual who has a high ‘g’ could be equally accomplished in any intellectual area. MI theory is an extended argument against this all-purpose view of intellect.
The theory of the multiple intelligences recognizes many forms of intelligence (Gardner has recognized at least eight so far:
The theory of multiple intelligences then goes on to urge that we evaluate each other by this wider range of competencies, rather than sizing up everyone in the room by how they would do on a standardized IQ test.
The theory of the multiple intelligences is a double-edged sword for those who want to be seen as achievers. Yes, those who have traditionally been recognized as “intelligent” will still be at the top of the heap, but only within a particular intelligence or two. But they can’t any longer claim their superiority based on their standardized IQ scores, because IQ scores only measure a narrow range of competencies. There’s a lot more work to be done for one to be recognized as an all-round “intelligent” person. Many of those who don’t excel at traditional IQ tests might also benefit from Multiple Intelligence Theory. No longer should they be labeled as “not intelligent” across the board. Many of them excel at other types of valuable skills, and they they should be recognized for these proficiencies. We never ever ask about IQ scores when we consider the genius of John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Ansel Adams, William Shakespeare, Michael Jordan or Abraham Lincoln. In fact, we would probably hesitate to make any of these people take a standardized IQ test because such a narrow test would probably declare that many of these geniuses were geniuses in the IQ sense, which would, of course, cast judgment on our stifling narrow method of defining and measuring intelligence via IQ tests.
The Multiple Intelligence theory is thus liberating in that it allows us to fine-tune what we mean when we label someone as “intelligent.” But Gardner was just getting us started. What if you are an organization looking for people to run your organization? You’d likely be seeking certain “competencies.” Microsoft, working with Lominger, a leadership development firm, set out to define these competencies, which then led to a fascinating list of “educational competencies,” which define the full range of characteristics needed to help a school district achieve its organizational goals and vision. I believe that Microsoft came up with an excellent list of qualities that individuals need in order to help school districts succeed in the 21st century. These qualities, or success factors, are:
1. Individual Excellence: Ability to achieve results by working effectively with others in various circumstances.
2. Organizational Skills: Ability to communicate by various means within different organizational settings.
3. Courage: Ability to speak directly, honestly, and with respect in difficult situations.
4. Results: An emphasis on goal-oriented action.
5. Strategic Skills: An array of skills used to accomplish focused, longer-term goals.
6. Operating Skills: An array of skills used for daily management of tasks and relationships.
But there’s still more. The above six categories are just the basic categories. Each of them branch out into yet other, more specific skills. They are often displayed graphically on the Educational Competency Wheel. The Microsoft Education Competencies were designed to help educators and administrators develop their professional skills and proficiencies. They were also designed to help school districts and other educational organizations “find the right job candidates fill key jobs.” I found the Wheel to be a humbling one as well as a tool that should inspire us to teach others and improve ourselves in the many ways that I had not previously considered. Truly, I don’t know any person who excels in most of these areas. Take a tour around this wonderful Wheel, then ask yourself the extent to which we need each other, in that it is a rare human being who excels at all of these qualities.
Many of us have come a long way from the traditional method looking to IQ tests to determine who is “smart,” and that is a good thing, because the traditional way of evaluating each other blinded us to many of the geniuses among us. For those of us who did well on the IQ tests, it also blinded us to the many areas in which we, ourselves, could use improvement. These new methods of evaluating intelligences and competencies should tell us that we are all special education projects, and that most of us have valuable qualities to offer, even if we struggled at filling in those little circles with our number 2 pencils.
The International Business Manager of the U.K. Telegraph is sounding the alarm.
Entitled “Deflation: Making Sure It Doesn’t Happen Here“, it is a warfare manual for defeating economic slumps by use of extreme monetary stimulus once interest rates have dropped to zero, and implicitly once governments have spent themselves to near bankruptcy.
I’m no economist, but this sounds ominous. This article sent me off to read more about deflation.