Archive for February, 2011

They’re still testing the wrong people.

| February 28, 2011 | 2 Replies
They’re still testing the wrong people.

Dafna Linzer wrote a piece for ProPublica (I found it on Slate) on February 23rd, titled “The Problem With Question 36” with the subtitle “Why are so many of the answers on the U.S. citizenship test wrong?” (On ProPublica, she called it “How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test: By Keeping the Right Answers to Myself“). She was summarizing her experience becoming a naturalized American citizen in January of this year. As you may guess from both titles, she found a few problems with some of the questions on the test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). She quotes Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS:

“The goal of the naturalization test is to ensure America’s newest citizens have mastered a basic knowledge of U.S. history and have a solid foundation to continue to expand their understanding as they embark on life as U.S. citizens.”

I thought of my own short rant I wrote a year ago on my personal blog that I called “They’re testing the wrong people“. I considered rewriting it for here, but I’ll just highlight (and elaborate) a few points in relation to this and not quite in relation:

  1. We make people wanting to become citizens of the USA take a test that I doubt most natural born citizens could pass. I speculated that many of our elected legislators couldn’t.
  2. Adoptive parents endure tremendous invasion of privacy, screening and considerable financial impact, yet “natural” parent require no such tests.
  3. The military requires a test, but Congress doesn’t.
  4. Civil service may require a test, but Congress doesn’t.
  5. Boards of Education decree testing standards, but undergo no such tests themselves.

Ms. Linzer’s story might enlighten you, or not, but I now have to add the USCIS – or at least the scholars, educators, and historians they consulted to create the current test – to the list of people who need to be tested.

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The most poetic thing in the universe

| February 28, 2011 | 3 Replies
The most poetic thing in the universe

Lawrence Krauss discusses the most poetic thing he knows about the universe:

The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

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Fantasy world

| February 28, 2011 | 2 Replies
Fantasy world

I just watched an hour of the Academy Awards tonight, and I was impressed with the snippets of movies that were shown (though I haven’t seen any of the featured movies yet). I love movies. I’ve seen hundreds of movies in my life, I’d bet I’ve watched two or three movies per month over my 54 years of life. Many of them have inspired me. I’m glad we have the opportunity to watch well-crafted movies. I should add that I watch almost no live television.

I’m increasingly disturbed about the great number of Americans who know far more about the movies and television they watch than they know about the real world. They know more because they watch dozens of movies every month. They can talk for endless hours about movies, movie stars and even the gossip regarding movie stars. Most people I know have a far greater grasp about movies than they do about any of the big issues facing this country. Movies are as real to them as the world they actually live in.

The following statistics are from the Kaiser Foundation:

Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

The Academy promotes movies as opportunities to escape, and movies function too well in that regard.

[More . . . ]

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You pay more taxes than many large corporations combined

| February 27, 2011 | 1 Reply
You pay more taxes than many large corporations combined

Check out this quote and this link to ThinkProgress:

“I have one dollar in my wallet. That’s more than the combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America. That means somebody is gaming the system.”

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Banning sharia law?

| February 26, 2011 | 6 Replies
Banning sharia law?

Submitted without comment.

Justin Elliott at Salon.com writes in What sharia law actually means that a Tennessee Republican legislator introduced a bill to make following sharia law a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Okay, one comment: America, where you are free to practice any brand of Christianity you want.

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Importance of free play

| February 26, 2011 | Reply
Importance of free play

Free play is unstructured, imaginative play. Scientists have determined that free play is:

Critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem-solving. Research into animal behavior confirms plays benefits and establishes its evolutionary importance. Ultimately, play may provide animals (including humans) with skills that will help them survive and reproduce.

The above quote is from an article called written by Melinda Wenner titled “The Serious Need for Play” found in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind.

Despite these many benefits regarding free play many parents are packing their kids’ schedule with structured activities that deprive them of these opportunities to freely engage in play. According to one study, between 1981 and 1997, the amount of free play by American children has dropped by one quarter. Wenner blames competitive parents:

Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters after school hours are now being filled with music lessons and sports reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.

Wenner’s article cites psychiatrist Stuart Brown who suggests that limiting free play “may result in a generation of anxious, unhappy and socially maladjusted adults. What is it about the right kind of play? It is different than playing structured games or playing musical instruments. Because free play has no obvious function short-term and no clear goal, it inspires creativity and it invites trying out new activities, fantasies and roles. It also appears to hone our social skills, including our abilities to negotiate with others. Scientists have concluded that there is a connection between these two things: imaginative play helps build fantasies that helps children cope with complex social situations. It creates a “social buffering.”
For adults who seek the benefits of free play, Stuart Brown suggests three approaches:

Body play: participate in some form of active movement that has no time pressures or expected outcome (if you are exercising just to burn fat, that is not play!).
Object play: use your hands to create something you enjoy (it can be anything; again, there doesn’t have to be a specific goal).
Social play: join other people in seemingly purposeless social activities, “from small talk to verbal jousting,” Brown suggests.

Which leads me to a story from last fall. My wife advised me that her cousin was coming through St. Louis with her boyfriend Don. Who is “Don?”, I wondered. It turned out that Don Fogle, a former world Frisbee champion and a professional juggler, had formed a small company that gave workshops to grade school and high school students to encourage them to learn how to engage in cooperative play through various types of physical activities including juggling. Before he left St. Louis, Don allowed me to videotape him engaging in some of the play activities he teaches kids. Don’s presentation includes some scientific claims that I would like to know more about. Even if one is not completely sold on Don’s specific scientific explanation for the importance of his program, it seems intuitively correct the children and adults all need unstructured physical activity for their peace of mind, and that juggling seems like an excellent approach. Certainly, human animals did not sit still in classrooms for 8 hours a day reading books and staring at computer screens. At a time when many schools have cut out physical education, it seems intuitively correct to stir in these sorts of unstructured activities (after the structured training, the participants are encouraged to play.

Without further ado, here’s Don demonstrating ways of playing using juggling sticks.

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Website aimed at the lack of knowledge about Christianity

| February 24, 2011 | Reply
Website aimed at the lack of knowledge about Christianity

Truth Saves, a site designed by Joseph R. Hanson, is “not a website against Christianity.” Rather, it is against the lack of knowledge about Christianity.”

This site is not against religion, most religions are beautiful and helpful. This site is only against dogmatic systems. Christianity happens to a religion AND a dogma, it is both a system of beliefs and a system of claims. It is not the religious side of Christianity that this site is concerned about.

Truth Saves is an upbeat site filled with easily digested information about the Bible, skepticism and science (here’s the page on “evolution“). Here’s the site’s motto: “It’s time we all become more honest and knowledgeable about Christianity and its claims.”

If you know a Christian who is starting to ask skeptical questions, Truth Saves is an easily accessible place to send him/her.

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PayPal freezes account of Bradley Manning legal defense fund

| February 24, 2011 | 1 Reply
PayPal freezes account of Bradley Manning legal defense fund

Since when is it against the law to help anyone–ANYONE–afford their legal bills? Well, PayPal has decided that it has an “internal policy” that justifies shutting down the account of a group that is attempting to help Bradley Manning pay his legal bills. This shutdown is despicable. With this logic, we should also shut down all public defender offices and thus require all poor people accused of crimes to fend for themselves. If you would like to write to PayPal to express your opinion on this matter, follow this link provided by Firedoglake.

Here’s FDL’s suggested template:

According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, PayPal has frozen the account of the group that supports Pfc. Bradley Manning’s legal defense.

Citizens around the world have donated to the Bradley Manning Support Network to fund the legal defense of Pfc. Manning. This grassroots activism is now hindered because of a political policy decision by PayPal to block these funds.

The Bradley Manning Support Network has not been accused of any impropriety. Your company has essentially admitted that there is no legal reason to shut down account access, and that it is simply an internal policy decision. Additionally, the organization has complied with every reasonable demand from PayPal to restore access to its account – short of the extraordinary and unnecessary step of providing PayPal direct access to its checking account.

PayPal should drop its unreasonable demands of the Bradley Manning Support Network and restore access to the group’s PayPal account.

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Military Psy-ops, this time illegally directed at Congress

| February 24, 2011 | 3 Replies
Military Psy-ops, this time illegally directed at Congress

Keep President Eisenhower’s warning in mind as you read this post (see video below).

The U.S. Department of Defense defines “Psychological Operations” or “Psy-Ops” as “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign government, organizations, groups, and individuals.”

Such operations may be based upon truth or based upon deception, but the goal is the same: to alter perceptions and “ultimately the behavior” of others. As a matter of law, such actions are supposed to be directed against the “foreign hostile groups”, or at least not against Americans. Unfortunately, this law is routinely ignored:

  • In 2009, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) awarded a multi-million dollar contract to General Dynamics to wage a psy-ops campaign aimed at France and Britain. The goal of the campaign was to create “influence websites” to build support for the Global War on Terror.
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