Saturday, 28 December 2013

Should I Study Any of the Social Sciences in College?

Many high school students going onto a four year college have a rather hard time picking out what to study. And you have to admit it is indeed problematic, after all whatever they pick to study will cost them a pretty penny and it better be something that gives them a return on investment if they are to pay off all those student loans right?

So, let us say the student is not really into the sciences, medicine, computers, and chooses to chase a social science degree. This becomes a really tough choice. For instance if they pick history, will they really learn history? History is something that we continually re-write based on politics, power, and control. Victors re-write the history always. And as one person said; "they just re-arrange the piles of crap to keep you on your feet, besides unless you were there, you can't know."

Well, how about a degree in law, politics or economics, as there are jobs available and you might actually learn something right? Ha ha ha. Okay, let's take that premise and consider this. First, Law cannot be learned, oh sure, you can learn some theory and memorize some laws, but it's constantly changing. And really it's all gray, never black and white, it just appears to be.

Politics is sound and fury, and while it is interesting, it really is quite a disgusting field to be in. Economics is funny, because it is obvious that no one has a clue, and in a room with 100 economists to the global economic crisis, you get 100 different answers.

Okay that leaves; Business and management. Of course, business shouldn't be taught by professors who've never done it, I just laugh at them, they are mostly clueless. The more prestigious business schools are worthy, they have actual business people from industry teaching, but have you seen the cost lately? Yes, well, I can see why college students are so confused really. Please consider this and don't default on your student loans, I already pay enough in taxes.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Obama and the Politics of Love - A Scientific Perspective

Politics: It's a love thang

If President Barack Obama were to christen his ship of state, it would perhaps be appropriate to name it The Love Boat.  When I listened to Obama's now-famous speech in Cairo in June, 2009, it occurred to me that Obama was the first world leader to wield his personal loveability as a tool of international statecraft.

Of course, other leaders past and present have been the objects of national and international affection -- Gandhi, Mandela, and Kennedy, to name but a few.  However, given the vast reach of the digital media today, and given further the USA's global hegemony, and given in addition Obama's multi-cultural and bi-racial appeal, it seems likely that Obama has become the most beloved leader in world history.

In Cairo, Obama not only personified a loveable America, he also portrayed America as a country capable of respect and love for others, most especially Muslims.  He did all this without ever addressing the obvious and inconvenient fact that lasting peace will not come to the Middle East until the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is substantially reversed (meaning that most Israeli settlements will have to be relinquished).  However, given the large number of Israeli settlements currently flourishing in the West Bank, a reversal of that occupation is extremely unlikely anytime soon.  This may be why Obama's Cairo speech projected a promise of love, but avoided specific commitments.  Was Obama whispering sweet nothings in the world's ear?

The impact of the speech was widely debated at home and abroad, but when frustrated Iranians began to take to the streets in protests a few days later, one had to wonder if they were not in fact partly motivated by a need to have a leader they, too, could love.  Perhaps Obama's love machine had scored its first victory in Iran?  But then...missiles continue to rain down on Israeli territory.  Hate remained healthy.  

Which leads one now to ask: Are Obama's politics of love likely to work?  Is Obama the world's Mr. Right, or is he just another sweet-talking heart-breaker? 

This line of enquiry allows me to rehash one of the world's oldest questions: what is love?  And: what is the role of love in politics? And further: is it a good thing -- or a bad thing -- that we love our leaders?

So, let's talk about love

The evolution of love

There has been a lot of scholarship and research on love in the past century, so we can look at love from a number of perspectives.  There are different elements of love (lust, attraction, intimacy, sharing, commitment) and different kinds of love (romantic love, parental love, brotherly love, hero worship, etc.).  In this essay, I want to focus especially on that particular kind of love that we shower on leaders and heroes, and which is sometimes referred to as hero-worship or celebrity-worship.

For those who may have forgotten, let me remind you that love feels good.  As James Brown put it eloquently, it feels "so good, so good."  This makes sound evolutionary sense.  Romantic love provides us with an overpowering stimulus to seek out and mate with individuals who are genetically well-suited to us (sorry to make it sound so clinical, since it can be quite fun in practice).  Feelings of parental love help ensure the survival of our genes and therefore our species.  Feelings of social love encourage us to seek out and associate ourselves with trustworthy, competent, helpful, knowledgeable people.  Throughout evolutionary history, love helped us survive.  It still helps us survive.  From an evolutionary perspective, we could say that humans are capable of love because love must have long served a powerful adaptive function.  In other words: Love works.

When we love a leader we are more likely to emulate that leader's positive qualities.  Americans, more than citizens of other countries, look to their President to serve as the nation's Example-in-Chief, a living incarnation of the republic's virtues (or more accurately, the virtues the nation aspires to).  Obama's imperturbable calm and long-range vision may be exactly the personal qualities that Americans will need to traverse a long and gloomy economic wilderness.

They say that breaking up is hard to do

Despite the undeniable satisfactions of hero-love or hero-worship, there are obviously strong drawbacks when it goes too far.  Brain scan research has revealed that the brain patterns of people in the first throes of love are not that different from the brain patterns of people suffering mental illness.  More specifically, romantic love is blind - on this the modern scientists confirm the age-old verdict of the poets. 

While the brain's dopamine reward system is turned on by love (the same brain chemistry that drives drug addiction), the centers of the brain associated with critical judgment and negative emotions are switched off.  When we are infatuated, we no longer see the beloved one's faults and vices, and won't believe it if our friends and family point them out.  When the realization finally comes, it can be brutal.

As the child famously entreated the corrupt baseball player, "Say it ain't so, Joe!"  Like our lovers, we want our heroes to remain perfect and - since humans are never perfect - we are perpetually disappointed.  Sporting scandals and political scandals share a common aspect of adolescent disillusionment.

For this reason many of us, after a certain age, stop worshipping sports idols or musical celebrities.  We realize that their unique and amazing talents do not necessarily correlate with any other admirable moral qualities.

Where does that leave us with Obama?  Are the world's liberals acting like love-struck teen-agers, blind to his faults?  As is always the case in politics, there will be more than two sides to a complete answer.  For the time being, let me conclude with another venerable truism which has been confirmed by modern science.  Sometimes infatuation turns into lasting love, and sometimes it doesn't.  A young, handsome President at the beginning of his term is as irresistible as a dewy-eyed Romeo, but by the end of his term he may be as lonely and forlorn as old King Lear.  

Whether Obama's initial appeal earns him the lasting affections of the nation will depend, as in happy marriages, on the transformation of passion into trust.  Promises will have to be converted into actions if the relationship is to work.  As in all affairs of the heart, only time can tell.

For references, further reading, or to blog the author:  

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Political Correctness and Human Righteousness

While we talk about political correctness ad nauseam, we sometimes tend to overlook the perpetrators of this noxious activity. Just who are the ones who act as the enforcing agents; who are the, ugh, police people? Who are these self-appointed moral vigilantes who continue to impose their views on us?

Well, for starters, I suggest we look at the work place to see what we can come up with. It appears those who would remind us of what is correct and not correct at work seem to be none other than the Human Resources people. Rather than spend their time rectifying the despicable compensatory behavior of their bosses or trying to preserve a modicum of traditional employee benefits, they seem hell bent on pointing out the ABC's of what some greedy consultant told them was proper corporate behavior. I recall years ago when I was braced by one of these types for using the phrase "mensch" while referring to a Jewish associate. (Mensch means a caring, decent and honorable person who can be trusted and who always tries to do the right thing.) Given the horror in this lad's eyes, you would have thought I had just been booked for a stay at Pelican Bay. I do recall, however, that this same "enforcer" was discharged some years later for a rather explicit sexual harassment incident. These types, while probably well intended, seem to spend too much time finger pointing and otherwise acting as corporate enforcers, and not enough time demonstrating a modicum of courage in doing something about the obscenely excessive severance packages granted to those who fail. Indeed, during the period of corporate accounting scandals from 2001 -2003, HR people were shamefully invisible when they they should have been spending their time serving as protectors of company values.

At many schools, we have the administrators to help us behave properly......and to help make their task easier, they have a one size fits all approach; namely, the dreaded, take-no-prisoners bastion of political correctness, the zero-tolerance policy. If ever there was a road to hell paved with righteous intentions, this is the one. Think not? A 10-year-old girl at McElwain Elementary in Thornton, Col., was one of a group of girls who asked a certain boy on the playground if he liked her. The boy complained to a teacher with the result that school administrators, citing the district's "zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy," decided to suspend her. Nothing like spreading penut butter to evade consideration of each individual's personal history and the intentions that inspired their actions. Zero-tolerance policies do just that. They deny the unique worth and dignity of every student by homogenizing the playing field. How about reconsidering concepts like mediation, negotiation, forgiveness, compassion, and empathy? How about making zero-tolerance a last resort rather than the first option?

And as we look at the greater community in which we function, the PC police seem to be everywhere telling us, for example, how to speak and act. We have to be fearful of what we say, write, and think. We are fearful of using a word denounced as offensive or insensitive. Maintenance cover instead of manhole cover. Strawman is now straw; chairman is now chairperson, assemblyman is assembly person. When will selectmen become selectpeople? No more using the words cowboy or cowgirl, landlady, or landlord. The phrase Founding Fathers has been removed from America's textbooks and, if used at all, is replaced with "framers." Illegal immigrants are now referred to as "undocumented immigrants." Easter vacation is now spring break and Christmas is winter break. You can't sing traditional Carols in our public schools any more. But the PC police are involved in more than just changing words. In New Jersey, even though there had been patients across the nation who may have been infected by their dentists with AIDS and then died, NJ health providers who are HIV-positive do not need to tell their patients that they are so infected. Almost as scary, The Boulder City, Colorado Town Council will soon be taking up the matter of allocating public funding for a "hate hotline," which would give residents an opportunity to report incidents in which Boulderites use tactless language. No "mensch" comments in Boulder.

Political correctness is alive and well in religion, too. As just one example, we find that some foster intellectual supression by ostracizing others who wish to preserve the sanctity of science by keeping so-called intelligent design out of the public classrom.

The beat goes on and on, but if it were just about politeness and good manners, no big deal. However, it's about a lot more and it's time we acknowledge that this insanity is changing our society from within and that we, the the citizens of this nation, are increasingly censoring ourselves and losing our freedom of speech out of fear of socially engineered repression. We also need to understand that those who enforce political correctness are enforcing nothing more than an illusion. A dogma, a creation, if you will, to keep people in check and and from running amuck. A creation that in turn generates its own bodies of work, entire fields of study, and even new uses of language to go with them. In this strange universe, the rules of engagement are so vague no one is quite sure how to challenge them and yet we labor to incorporate them into our lives. Unless we begin to push back, more people will lose their careers, children their privileges, citizens ostracized, all because the fashionable and appropriate behavior of the day is so oblique no one can possibly see what exactly they are to do. Very insidiously and subtlety, we seem to be creating for ourselves an intellectual handicap that limits free-thinking, irreverence, push back, being analytically independent and/or intellectually curious.

The real shame is that we seem to turn away from the simple and move to the complex each and every time. We know what is innately and instinctively the right thing to do in any given situation, what behavior to display at what moment. But until we learn to follow our own simplest behaviors, how can we possibly be correct about anything? Perhaps some of us are tuned to a higher and more eloquent frequency, but each of us knows the small, easy-to-understand truths that are so manifest........ no insulting, show kindness, be sensitive and empathetic to the feelings of others, be honest and frank, but in so doing try to cause no pain, avoid securing laughs at somebody'e else expense, understand that no one is any "better" than anyone else, and above all, realize that the intent of your communication may not always square with the way it is received. Being wounded by a warning shot is still being wounded.

In the words of Wendy McElroy, "Sweeping up the debris of political correctness means demolishing the laws, the institutions and the tax-funded bureaucracies that are its structure. But it also means eliminating the vicious attitudes of intolerance and anger that are its spirit." More to the point are these words of Anthony D'Angelo, "transcend political correctness and strive for human righteousness."

"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." Benjamin Franklin, statesman, philosopher, publisher, and scientist (1706-1790)

Saturday, 21 December 2013

2007 Issues In The Hypothetical Science Of Common Sense

Hypothetically speaking common sense should prevail in all the decisions we make and any decisions our elected representatives take. Unfortunately we all know that common sense is lacking in modern societies and we have witnessed in the United States a sort of political correctness, which is spreading through our population like a wildfire.

Why is this happening to such a strong nation with such a history of making common sense decisions? Well, it appears that in our push to treat everyone equal in every category of our society that we are in fact agreeing on the premise that there is no right and wrong answer, only a perception. The only problem is the resultant of the decisions made seemed to done so without any common sense whatsoever.

Is common sense a science you ask? Indeed, if you consider how common sense works then hypothetically it really is a science because it is derived from actual observation and experience, which is duplicate-able. Why would anyone make a decision, which defies common sense? It seems social conditioning has handed us a dilemma. So, often we argue the point; Does the Ends Justify the Means? Yet rarely do we take the reverse consideration when making decisions.

For instance consider if you will; Do the Means Justify the Ends? In other words if you do everything the politically correct way, yet you know that in doing so you cannot achieve your desired objectives or goals (Ends) then why are you doing it at all? Are you doing it for busy work sake? If so why; why do something you know spits in the face of common sense and will ultimately lead to failure?

This is indeed a good question and we need to ask ourselves why we make decisions in the name of the common good only to watch these things fail? It simply makes no sense at all. In the end each failed project takes its toll and proves the defeatists right and promotes more cynicism and leads to the "Blame Game" yet if common sense were applied early on, then victory or accomplishment would have prevailed instead.

I wish to thank you for reading this article on the "common sense" and realize it is time to wake up America and dump the Tsunami of "political correctness" that is drowning our nation and put a little common sense back into the process of governance and decision making. Thanks again. Perhaps this article is of interest to propel thought in 2007?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Science Fair Projects - Making a Winning Science Project Step 7 - Your Presentation

How to Present Yourself

Science fair projects require a decent level of presentation. You may be asked by your teacher to orally present your project in front of the whole class. Your presentation must be short yet complete. Explaining your project to your class may be the most difficult thing you will ever have to do. You off course would want to do a great job, so you will require a lot of practice.

Actors and speakers always record their acts or speeches on a tape or a video recorder and look at it or listen to it so as to evaluate their performances. You could probably do the same as science fair projects may require a similar effort. Seeing yourself present your project on video could be the biggest eye opener. Moreover, it could teach you tons of things you can improvise on.

Think about this: Your project is all ready and your display looks great too. Then the judge asks you a couple of questions, and you are dumbstruck because you are too nervous, or these questions never crossed your mind before. You wouldn't want this to happen, would you? Yes, a well presented display speaks volumes about your project, but in the end it all depends on how you answer the questions and convince the judge that you know what you are doing, and that the work was done by you.

Invite your friends over for some snacks and encourage them to ask you any question that crosses their minds. Try to answer the questions in a scientific way. If you cannot answer the question, you must never exhibit ignorance or try to 'wing it' or guess it. Rather, honestly mention that you never came across the answer during your project research, and skillfully offer another piece of convincing information. The bottom line is that you must present yourself before the judges with confidence and zeal.

Your display gives the first impression about your science project, but your appearance gives the first impression about the person behind the project. A well dressed person naturally sends out positive vibes and enables you to introduce yourself and your project well. Your appearance may very well set the mood for the rest of the analysis.

What the Judges Are Looking For
All science fair projects have judging formats that are similar, but it will do you well if you are aware of the fact that judges start by giving each project average marks. The marks are subsequently added or subtracted from that point on.

You will be in a position to receive better points if you can:

  1. Objectives of the Project
    • Present unique ideas
    • State the problem in an understandable way
    • Pinpoint the variables and use controls
    • Help the judges to relate to the problem
  2. Project Skills
    • Know your equipment
    • Be acquainted with what has to be done to arrive at the stated result
    • Conduct the experiment on your own
  3. Collection of Data
    • Maintain a full-fledged journal
    • Finish the project within the stipulated time limit
    • Repeat the experiment in order to verify the verify the end result
    • Present results that can be easily measured
  4. Interpretation of data
    • Represent data in the form of tables, charts and graphs
    • Interpret data by using research
    • Collect sufficient information to reach a conclusion
    • Make your conclusion purely based on the data collected
  5. Presentation of science fair projects(oral, written, display)
    • Create a report the is complete and includes all necessary facts
    • Answer questions correctly
    • Use the display to support your oral presentation
    • Verify conclusions based on experimentation results
    • Summarize all facts learned
    • Present a display that reflects your originality and creativity
    • Present an appealing display

Some dos and don'ts at Science Fairs:

  • Always bring some reading material along since you never know how long the judge or judges will take to arrive.
  • Introduce yourself to your fellow presenters. Be sociable and polite.
  • Enquire about your fellow presenters' projects. Brief them about your project if they would be interested.
  • Have fun.
  • Be silent and don't distract or disturb your fellow presenters.
  • Remember that you represent your school. So your attitude and actions will definitely affect the way they think about your school.

Hello World

Hello World

Monday, 16 December 2013

Science and Myth: The Changing Search for the Eternal

Bringing together science and myth in order to consider religions scientifically as entities that evolve over time, we can begin to see how ideas within them change. One of the most unexpected, perhaps, of these changes is that of the idea of that which supposedly does not change: the eternal.

There are few ideas as inspiring as that of the "eternal." It is one of those notions that has lasted through the ages--it has itself proven rather eternal, so to speak. But the meaning of "eternal" has proven quite the opposite. Over the centuries it has taken on different meanings in different contexts, betraying its own mutability. Furthermore, today's intellectual climate is completely overturning how the ancient world thought about the eternal. Where the sensual world of becoming was once scorned in favor of the "changeless" realm intelligible only to the mind or spirit, the empirical sphere of the senses is today revealing universal order while dogmas of the spiritual realm are growing ever more splintered, diverse, and unreliable. The eternal is becoming mutable, and the mutable eternal.

By and large, the ancient world valued the changeless over the changing. Seasonal cycles and other signs of natural order made an impression on early thinkers. Cyclical notions of an eternal return, or changeless pattern underlying change, characterize many early myths and cosmologies. The Greeks, like many peoples all over the world, contrasted their own perishable lives with those of the gods, who were deathless. Immortality is of course none other than exemption from the ultimate change, namely death. Early astronomy revealed remarkable order in the heavens, and this contrasted starkly with the confusing turns of fortune common in earthly politics and daily life. In this intellectual milieu, philosophers in both India and Greece began to seek a changeless being or substance underlying the world of impermanence.

In India, the Upanishads transformed the polytheistic religion of the Vedas into a monastic philosophy aimed at oneness with Brahman, the eternal being which is neti, neti ("not this, not this"). Jains likewise sought release from the round of worldly rebirths through union with the eternal Purusha. Buddhism preached non-attachment to impermanent things, in favor of awakening to the eternal way of the dharma. These paths developed out of still earlier traditions, possibly shamanic in origin, practicing detachment from worldly sense experience in order to achieve spiritual or magical power. Common to all these Indian traditions were ascetic practices of varying degrees aimed at detachment from the world of the changing.

Later, in Greece, similar developments took place. The pre-Socratic philosophers sought a unified substrate underlying variable forms. Thales proposed water, Anaximander the infinite, Anaximenes air, Heraclitus fire, Pythagoras number, and Empedocles the four elements. Meanwhile, Skeptics deconstructed the world of the senses, pointing out optical illusions and other apparent absurdities in order to lay to rest any hope of obtaining true knowledge through the sensual realm of change. Cynics practiced a radical ascetic lifestyle to detach from the deceptive and illusory world of appearances.

Of the Greek monists, Parmenides was perhaps the most radical. He divided all things into Being and non-Being. Being was absolutely changeless and eternal, while all things subject to change were relegated to non-Being. Only Being was real, everything else was mere deception. All value was therefore granted to the changeless, and withheld from the mutable. When Plato laid out his philosophy, which would become the foundation of most later Western thought, he was responding to Parmenides. Plato's theory of Ideas mediated between Being and non-Being. While all was ultimately unified in the infinitely simple and changeless One, through a process of increasing complexity the universe of particulate, changing things came into being. Platonic philosophers practiced detachment from the senses in order to concentrate on the realm of changeless Ideas. This pattern developed into what is now called Neoplatonism, which was in turn absorbed into Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Both in India and Greece, true reality was sought via the mind or spirit, while the senses were considered unreliable. The changeless was associated with the real, the changing with the unreal. The ancient notion of the eternal was thus that of a unified, unchanging reality accessible only via the mind or spirit.

But that was not the whole story. Other currents of thought existed. In Greece, the atomistic tradition of Democritus, taken up later by Epicurus, grounded its reasoning in the empirical world of the senses. It still advocated a simple life of disciplined desire in order to navigate the turbulent waves of fortune, but did not categorically reject the world of change. In India, materialism was preached by philosophers quite a bit earlier. Buddhism, too, though it sought release from the changing world, did not ignore the world but sought insight into change via the senses. Back in Greece, the Stoics endeavored to live according to changeless reason in a changing world, but without ignoring or seeking escape from the world and its politics. Thus, while thinkers of the ancient world largely valued the changeless over the changing, there were also those who placed some value in the changing realm of the senses.

When Christianity achieved hegemony in the late Roman and Medieval periods, the earlier patterns were taken up and continued. Changeless reality was transposed onto the next life, mutability onto this life of mortal toil. Though the concept of time was no longer cyclical but linear, the basic nature of the eternal remained as it was: changeless. Traditions of the ancient philosophies found expression in Christian monasteries, where ascetic disciplines enabled detachment from the world of change and concentration on God and the hereafter.

Key to all these traditions was the promotion of doctrines purporting to reveal the changeless way of the universe. By and large, authority lied in theories laid down by founding teachers and developed by ensuing disciples. Each attempted to account for changeless reality according to their separate theories. But if reality was changeless, it did not require multiple theories. There could be only one best way to describe it. The ceaseless debates between the traditions betrayed the flaw of their project: the world of the mind or spirit did not reveal one unified, changeless reality underlying the changing world. Rather, it gave rise to a myriad of competing speculations.

But the world was not yet ready to admit this. The rise to dominance of Christianity seemed able to promote a unified theory once and for all. Clerics in power did their best to make it so, convening to decide what would and would not be included in the canon. A myriad of competing Christian sects were gradually corralled into a unified doctrine. Thereafter, the official theory of a central, organized Church enjoyed hegemony, despite perennial outbursts of dissenting activity.

It was this same Church and its symbols of dominance that brought about a change. Demand for ever more wondrous cathedrals to dominate the land led to a rediscovery of ancient architecture. Return to the architectural principles and mathematics of the ancients, preserved and developed in the Arabic world, precipitated the Renaissance. Ancient styles of sculpture, literature, and philosophy rattled Christian Europe. With their nude bodies, sensuously-described myths, and rational philosophies dealing with appearances, they appeared sensuous and vibrant by comparison. A new interest arose in the changing world of the senses.

Meanwhile, the invention of the printing press allowed new theories to be disseminated widely. This caused a change similar to that of the Internet today: the flow of information could no longer be effectively controlled. Though the centralized Church attempted to keep its pet theory on top, it could no longer do so. The Reformation began as Christian thought splintered once again into a myriad of competing theories about the changeless.

Simultaneously, the printing press also enabled wider dissemination of new theories about the world of the changing. Empirical experimentation based on the senses developed out of the mingling of influences in the Renaissance. Gradually, modern scientific method began to emerge. By the 18th century, empirical investigation was firmly established as proper scientific method. Isaac Newton had already laid down his theory of gravity, and Descartes had forged his purportedly-empirical reductionist philosophy.

It was in this context that the ancient pursuit of a unified, changeless reality began to be turned upside down. Instead of being contradicted by the changing world of the senses, it began to be confirmed by it. No longer was order found only in the stars above but in all aspects of nature. Despite the apparent impermanence of worldly things, there was a permanent order behind it, a natural order. Levoisier managed to demonstrate empirically that matter is never destroyed but only changes shape. This led to the periodic table of elements. Faraday showed that electric and magnetic forces were one, and this led to a unified concept of energy. These and other experiments laid the foundations for our modern scientific concept of the universe. No longer placing authority in theories laid down by teachers like Parmenides, whose Being was absolutely distinct from the "unreal" world of the senses, science found being (no longer with a capital B) in the empirical realm of becoming.

There was a growing confidence that the scientific study of nature could reveal the eternal. This manifested in Deism, which captivated many 18th-century thinkers, including many of America's "founding fathers." Deism is the belief that a supernatural being created the world but has thereafter refrained from intervening in it. Thus, the laws of nature revealed the plan of the creator, the very mind of God. This miraculous revelation was accessible through empirical, scientific study using the five human senses. The world of the senses, once scorned for being mutable, was now the very locus of spiritual truth. The changeless laws of nature revealed the eternal.

Meanwhile, another important development was taking place in the 18th century. The Romantics became interested in passion, which was always viewed with a wary eye by ancient philosophers. Passion was disdained principally for its variability. But the Romantics saw meaning in it. Lord Byron wrote of moody, flawed characters, while William Blake composed the following poem entitled Eternity:

He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise

In this four-line poem, Blake encapsulates a new perspective on the eternal: no longer is it changeless and forever; now it is fragile, fleeting, and interwoven with emotion, namely joy. In other words, instead of extending vertically across the linear march of time, or through cycles of time, the eternal now begins to expand horizontally to fill the depths of the moment. Eternity can last but an instant, just long enough for a kiss, but that instant is full of depth and meaning.

Blake was deeply influenced by the religion of Emanuel Swedenborg, which taught that each person could know God through deep, intuitive, personal introspection. This idea that the divine could be found by looking within - not without in scripture or above in the unchanging stars, but within the mortal person, the very body that aged and would suffer the ultimate change of death - permeated the ensuing centuries. In America, it found expression in Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists, who idealized the power of personal intuition and the natural world. Henry David Thorough's Walden made a spiritual adventure of a return to nature, and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass drenched its readers in rich sensations, the very sensations so mistrusted by the ancient world.

Today, this direction continues. Joseph Campbell observes in Myths to Live By that the old spiritual orientation of the universe, with the divine above and the mortal below, is no longer convincing now that we have traversed the farthest reaches of the sky and beyond into outer space. The new orientation is within and without, with the spiritual being located somewhere deep inside the person. The growing popularity in the West of meditative practices, which give an experience of one's inner being, supports this observation. From New Age gurus to Oprah Winfrey, the message is that the new spirituality is to be "in touch" with oneself.

At the same time, the old notion of a single, unchanging, monolithic truth engraved as doctrine has lost much credibility. Protestant denominations now number somewhere in the thousands, and all the major religions espousing exclusive truth are comprised of sects and sub-sects with different versions of that truth. There is no doubt that this has made an impact on the modern mind. Trends toward ecumenism and interfaith dialogue seem to acknowledge that there must be something else to religion besides the ceaseless variation of these "changeless" truths. While those of the ancient world, such as Plato, sought the eternal in that which is intelligible only to the mind or spirit, seekers of today are realizing that such a route produces not one unchanging truth, but endless diversity and change.

So, what is the meaning of the eternal today? Is there still something of the old idea of the forever changeless, or have we embraced completely Blake's eternity of the fleeting moment? As in the ancient world so today, there is plenty of diversity on this point. By and large, however, it seems apparent that the modern age has developed a radically different concept of the eternal than that of ancient Greece and India. This change was not sudden, but developed over millennia, as charted in this historical overview. The eternal may still have something about it that is changeless and forever, but it also connotes a rich depth of experience capable of embracing even the most fragile, the most fleeting, the most changing of moments. Correspondingly, the eternal is no longer located exclusively in scripture or the stars above, but also in the natural world of the senses and our own mortal selves. Seekers of the eternal now look within.

This consideration of religious ideas as entities evolving over time, a view bringing together science and myth, has uncovered a most unexpected change within the very idea of the changeless: the eternal.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Global Warming Politics

The Global Warming Politics have involved many different political debate, policy designs, and legislation involving the science of global warming and the response to global warming. The war of political words has involved many different governmental bodies, scientific organizations, and special interests groups. Most English speaking countries have supported the action to help limit global warming. The predicted effects of global warming are way too much to pass by which is why the governments of many countries have combined forces to help stop global warming. The war on global warming is an endless battle. The possible outcomes are frightening so we as people must help as much as possible.

The most noticeable change because of global warming politics occurred on December 11th 1997 with the creation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol from the international Framework Convention on Climate Chance that intends to help reduce greenhouse gases that causes change in climate. The Kyoto Protocol became into effect on February 16th 2005. Since late 2007 one hundred and seventy five parties have ratified the protocol. However, only thirty six developed countries are actually required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required for each country in the treaty. There are three other countries that are predicted to participate soon.

While the global warming politics have made major improvements in the war against global warming there is still much more to do. The Labor party in Australia has ratified the Kyoto Protocol however it just went into effect in March of 2008. The Liberal Party government of Canada has ratified the protocol. New Zealand's Labour government of Helen Clark ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The Labour Party of the United Kingdom has also ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In the United States Bill Clinton's Democratic Administration has signed the Kyoto Protocol. Many democrats have support a number of the bills that mitigate emissions. However, The Democratic Congress has never voted on whether or not the United States is bound to the treaty.

The global warming politics have long debated whether or not global warming is really all that dangerous. Many countries are fighting to take strong action against global warming. Others have disputed the scientific consensus on global warming or simply refuse action to mitigate global warming. In February of 2007 surveys discovered that ninety five percent of the forty one Congressional Democrats agreed that Earth's surface is warming because of man made problems while only thirteen percent of the thirty one Republicans who were surveyed agreed. Skepticism about global warming includes many newspapers in the United Kingdom and a few in Canada.

The global warming politics battle on to determine what to do to stop carbon emissions. While the United States has never officially agreed to be required to reduce emissions one hundred and ninety five cities in the United States have committed to reducing carbon emissions to seven percentages below the levels of 1990. That is over fifty million Americans committing to the cause. California, the world's sixth largest economy, committed in 2005 to reducing the emissions of 2000 levels by the year 2010. It is estimated that by 2020 if California's automotive standards were implemented nationwide drivers should save up to twenty six billion dollars a year.

The global warming politics are always debating and trying to implement new methods of stopping global warming. The nasty after effects of global warming almost always end with death and destruction. If it is true that we as humans are the cause of global warming we must do all we can to help the governments stop or at least delay global warming. We must take action before it is too late. Many skeptics believe that the effects of global warming will one day lead to the end of the world. Whether or not that is true nobody really knows. However, with such a shocking statement being said we must work hard along side the politics to prevent that from ever happening.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Social Sciences In The Blessings Of Psychology

In order to stress the importance of psychology and its distinctive and intricate attributes, here is an attempt to reveal the essence of the discipline of psychology. In doing this, this essay will answer: How does psychology's mission add unique elements to the social sciences?

Social Science

Social science has a number of different factors and is made up of many different disciplines which include geography, anthropology, psychology, political science, economics and sociology. Although some of these disciplines have been researched and developed more thoroughly than others, psychology may be argued as being the most prominent. Psychology's theories have been evolving for well over a century and are the subject of continuous debate in the academic world and beyond. The key factor that differentiates psychology from the other five social sciences is its individual humanistic focus. The study of psychology is based upon the human condition (who am I? why am I?) whereas the other five disciplines are focused on humans as a group (who are we? why are we?). It is this factor that separates psychology from the other social sciences.

The four main psychological theories to be discussed below are:

o Psychoanalysis

o Behaviorism

o Humanistic Psychology

o Bio-psychology


Little value was giving to the discoveries of early pioneers of this social science until in 1900, when Sigmund Freud developed the first theories of psychology. Freud's most fascinating theory was psychoanalysis which was based on observations made in his private practice in Venice. David G. Myers of Hope College in Michigan describes psychoanalysis as Freud's theory of personality that attributes our thoughts and actions to unconscious motives and conflicts. The techniques Freud used to treat patients with psychological disorders were sessions to expose and interpret unconscious tensions. Freud used these sessions to analyze the dreams that his patients had, believing that dreams were the ultimate road to the unconscious. Although only a very small percentage of current psychologists follow Freud's theories and clinical methods, they continue to resonate in the popular mindset often laying the foundations for more recent theories.


Shortly after publication of Freud's psychoanalysis theory, Russian biologist Ivan Pavlov began publishing accounts of his experiments on animals involving conditioned response which researched conduct that was motivated by a series of rewards and punishments. Inspired by Pavlov's experiments, John B. Watson founded the move of behaviorism shortly after World War One. Many believe Watson's theory was a reaction to Freud's often controversial psychological theories. In any case, Behaviorism, like most psychological theories in the early years of discovery was thought to be a break-through in social science.

Humanistic Psychology

In the 1960s, a third wave of psychological theory came into play. Humanistic psychology has many differing theories yet a majority of humanistic theories conceive of personality developing continuously over time. Psychologists of the humanistic revolution derived much of their inspiration from the humanities. In particular, Eric Erikson, who was influential in the humanistic movement, much of the enthusiasm surrounding humanistic psychology was due to the lack of humanism found in earlier theories such as psychoanalysis and behaviourism. Humanistic theorists believed that past theories had overlooked a meaningful part of human experience: humanity's need for love, self-esteem, belonging, self-expression, creativity and spirituality.


As technology became increasingly stronger in the 1990s, many psychologists turned their attention back to science. Now they had the ability to thoroughly research why our bodies accounted so much for who we are. This was a very different view from the humanistic psychologists who believed that the experiences people faced in life constantly shaped and molded them. Biology became very sophisticated and research was undertaken to find out just how humans developed the way they did. Bio-psychology revolutionized psychology with biologically based rationales for behavior and new therapies for treating patients.


In conclusion, this article adds weight to the hypothesis that psychology's mission to further develop the social sciences using the applied knowledge of how the human mind operates. Psychology enhances the study of geography, anthropology, political science, economics and sociology by understanding the unique elements of the mind and applying this knowledge to group behaviors. We are, to a certain extent, the product of our genetic and cultural influences and psychology allows us to explore the unseen recesses of the human mind. There are no real facts, just theories and thoughts about the mental processes that the human mind goes through. The study of psychology offers itself as the ultimate social science for the benefit of our society.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Teaching Earth Science - Its Challenges and Rewards


Knowledge in earth science is very vital in nation building. Almost everything we do each day is connected in some way to Earth: to its land, oceans, atmosphere, plants, and animals. The food we eat, the water we drink, our homes and offices, the clothes we wear, the energy we use, and the air we breathe are all grown in, taken from, surround, or move through the planet. According to American Geological Institute (AGI) Foundation, by 2025, eight billion people will live on Earth. This number of people will undoubtedly continue extracting resources to maintain a high quality of life. As we benefit from all the resources we get from the Earth, then we, as individuals and citizens, need to know more about our planet - its processes, its resources, and its environment. And only through Earth Science education can students understand and appreciate our complex planet. In this present time, the old and the young must join hands and help one another in the serious task of nation-building, the young to learn from the wisdom and experience of the elders, the elders to recognize the impatience of the youth. In contrast, not all young students are willing to cooperate in order to acquire the needed knowledge, attitudes and skills essential for a secure future. It is then a burgeoning task for the teacher to facilitate learning so that quality education will be acquired by the students. This paper will discuss the different challenges faced by the teacher in imparting knowledge about Earth Science in public secondary school, likewise it will also discuss the positive aspects in learning the subject.



My first experience in teaching earth science was on September 2005 in one of the public secondary schools in Davao Oriental, specifically in District 1. I can still remember the first day when I entered the class of more than fifty (50) students crowded in a classroom. Some of them were busy chatting with their classmates, some were busy doing different tasks in their seats, etc. The first question that popped into my mind during that moment was: how can I get the attention of the students? As I introduced myself to them as their new science teacher, I saw different emotions reflecting on their faces. There were emotions of excitement, worries, anxieties, happiness, etc. I am not really sure if they were prepared to take new lessons in earth science. What I did was to let them get a piece of paper and let them write in there: their names, favorite subject, subject they hate most and why they love/hate a certain subject, and their expectation/s of the subject. I did this just to know whether they have interest in the subject or to know what subjects they liked best and the reasons why they love the subject. From that, I learned that out of more than fifty (50) students, only four (4) said that they like science subject. When I asked them why they do not like science as a subject, the common answer was: "Science is a difficult subject". From that experience alone, I got an insight that students will have difficulty in learning a subject if they do not like the subject. Indeed, teaching Earth Science to undergraduates or high school students could be difficult "if the students are not motivated or if they are not interested in the subject".

There are several ways of motivating the students to be interested in Earth Science. In my own experience, I used songs as part of my lessons - songs which are easy to learn and frequently heard by the students. I used the tune of a particular song and changed the lyrics so that it will fit with the topic I am discussing. There are also songs introduced to us during seminars that are very helpful because students would find it easier to memorize certain science concepts by just singing the songs over and over again. Example of these songs are: "We're the Scientist" - in the tune of "Ako'y Isang Pinoy"; "Sistemang Harana" - in the tune of "Harana" as popularized by Parokya ni Edgar, this emphasizes the importance of scientific method in solving problem; "Super Science" - in the tune of "Superman", stressed on the contributions of science in enhancing our lives; and a jolly song - "Youngsters Love Science". After introducing these songs, I found them useful in memorizing scientific terms, concepts, and processes. With this, I feel happy when I heard some of my students singing those songs and sharing them with their friends.

There are different ways of motivating students to learn Earth Science. Teachers should bear in their mind that flexible approaches and connections to other subjects is the key to success in a classroom for motivating student interest. It was proven true with my personal teaching experiences. One should not stick to one option if it doesn't work. Here are the motivating techniques which have been proven to work well with most students:

1. Relate local or national or international news items to some aspect of Earth Science. One may choose from a variety of items from the news. Some of the older news items and their impact on social/political life may also be of interest to students. Any news items relating to the following are generally welcomed by most students for class discussion: Earthquakes; Volcanoes; Tsunamis; Floods; Meteor Showers; and news items related to disasters - present or from past.

2. Pick a topic of common interest to most of the students, such as social or political problem that they are familiar with: nuclear power plants, illegal logging, global warming, consequences of urbanization; and mining. In my case, I used illegal logging, illegal fishing and mining as my point of focus because these issues are really happening in our locality.

3. Historical or biblical or religious locations and the geology associated with it: the Chasm at Delphi and the Apollo Temple in Greece and the vapors that emanates from the location; the geology of biblical areas such as the ones in Middle East; the Taj Mahal in India; the Pyramids in Egypt; the Great Wall of China; Niagara Falls and Grand Canyon in USA; Stories of Precious stones and gems; and any other similar ones.

4. Anecdotes from the scientific discoveries/contributions of great men/women of the past and present: Aristotle; Eratosthenes (measurement of the circumference of the earth); Ptolemy; Copernicus; Tycho Brahe; Johannes Kepler; Archimedes; Newton; Einstein; James Hutton; Charles Lyell; N. L. Bowen; Alfred Wegener; Harry Hess; and many more names that are worth mentioning in Earth Sciences.

5. Space exploration always fascinates students: anecdotes of Lunar exploration; Mars missions and life on Mars; Jupiter and its clouds and moons; discovery of new stars and other galaxies outside our own; and other similar explorations.

6. There are several facts that intrigue and fascinate most Earth Science students: a. Deepest mine in the world b. Deepest bore hole in the world c. Comparison of the above numbers with the radius of the Earth This can show them how little we know about the earth through direct observation. d. Compare these distances with the distance to the Moon These numbers can raise questions like "how come we did not go too far down inside the earth" and "how come we went almost quarter of a million miles to the moon". e. Latitude and longitude and their use in navigation and the time zones f. Deep sea drilling and the mid-fifties project to drill past Moho into the mantle g. The election of President John F. Kennedy and his pledge to land a man on the moon h. The theory of continental drift and the evidence for it i. The fascinating new theory of Plate Tectonics and its development

I used some of the items stated above and they worked for me in classrooms. Good general knowledge coupled with interest and knowledge of a variety of items in Earth Sciences "can help the teacher in getting the students enthused in the subject". As teacher, we should always bear in mind that Earth Science poses questions that are exciting as well as practical to children and adults alike.

Comprehension of the English Language

Provided that the students are well motivated in learning the subject, another problem comes in - how they will understand the instruction with the use of English language? It is an inevitable fact that most of my freshmen (first year) students do not understand spoken or written English. Those that can fairly understand belong to the first section but there are also students in the first section that cannot speak or write in English language correctly. This is really a problem because teaching Earth Science should be in English and all the references are written or published in English. It is also a known fact that English is the "Universal language of Science". Therefore, in imparting knowledge to students, teachers should use English as a medium of instruction. I must also admit that I am not perfect in terms of elaborating concepts with the use of English so what I did was use the vernacular in some part of my discussion. To maximize understanding of a certain concept, I translated some scientific terms into the students' vernacular so that they can fully understand what am I talking or explaining about.

In our school it was really noted that non-readers or readers with poor comprehension pull down the performance of the school during achievement test (Division, Regional or National). To partly solve the problem, if not totally eradicate, an Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) was conducted. This will gauge the reading level of the First Year students so that the school, especially the teachers can identify who among the students are non-readers or has poor reading comprehension. After the inventory it was found out that there are students with reading ability that is of Grade I level and there are really non-readers. So another burden is given to English teachers because aside from teaching their usual subject loads, they will do remedial classes for those students identified as non-readers or with poor reading comprehension. It is not only a burden for the English teachers but for other teachers as well who taught subjects with English as a medium of instruction. It should also be noted that poor or substantive English background slows down the process of scientific development because it is hard to understand scientific concepts while at the same time learning English language - this is learning two things simultaneously.

Discipline Inside the Classroom

In a classroom of more than fifty students or in some classroom sixty students, it is really important that discipline should always reign for maximum learning. In my first year of teaching, classroom discipline is really an issue for me. I easily got irritated by students who were noisy, always going outside the classroom without valid reasons, and students yelling or fighting with each other. But through reading books and attending seminars about classroom discipline, this problem was slowly been elucidated.

A well managed classroom will give the students rich opportunities for mental growth and development. Good classroom discipline produces favorable working conditions conducive to good learning and makes school work enjoyable and interesting. One aspect of the teacher's role under the concept of discipline is to help students practice self-control and to develop standards of individual values and activities that will be carried on regardless of whether the teacher or parent or someone else in authority is around or not.

The concept of discipline when I was still in my elementary years is really different as compared with modern concept of discipline which is based on democratic principles. A good discipline is one that develops self-direction and self-discipline rather than discipline based on compulsion and obedience. In addition, he laid emphasis on becoming familiar with the cause of violation of discipline in order that such causes may be minimized, if not prevented, and offenses may be more satisfactorily diagnosed and treated.

As facilitator of students' learning in Earth Science I should always bear in mind that classroom discipline is really one of the vital tools so that learning could be attained. It is an inevitable fact that the teacher can be an effective facilitator of learning only when there is discipline and proper classroom management in teaching-learning.

Making Use of Technology

The use of textbooks alone in imparting science concepts and processes is not enough. Any ordinary classroom on Earth is not the best place to observe interactions ranging in scale from solar system to the components of a cell. With just pure lectures, often learners are forced to create their own mental images to understand situations they cannot view directly. In many instances the result has been a misconception that takes on a reality of its own inside the students mind. Standard textbooks have been ineffective in changing these deeply rooted misconceptions. Students remain confused about topics involving basic spatial relationships such as the reason for the seasons. To solve this problem, there is persistent call for a teacher to be creative in his teaching and maximize the technology present.

To keep pace with the advancement of Science and Technology, teachers need to have creative and inquiring minds. Such thoughts and ideas "conceived by the inquiring minds" inspire and challenge the teacher to be creative. In connection with the call of being creative and to equate myself with the evolving technology, I constantly visit the World Wide Web so that I can make my lessons updated. This was not easy for me because the place where I've been teaching has no internet connection and only during weekends that I can browse the Internet for topics that need further elaboration through videos or flash animations. In addition, I used PowerPoint in order to make my lessons interactive to the students and I've found out that their interest in my lessons was elevated with the use of computers. Moreover, I was happy because our Principal really encouraged the use of PowerPoint in classroom instruction. In fact he proposed and spearheaded the implementation of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) in the Division of Davao Oriental.


Students' Achievement

The first person that would feel happy in the achievement of students in terms of learning Earth Science is the teacher. I personally beam with pride when my students perform well during exams or on the top rank during contest related to Earth Science. It was remarkable for me when my two contestants for the 2008 Division Science Quiz held in San Isidro National High School ranked second and third respectively. I felt that this is my reward for exerting effort in reviewing students about science concepts not only through books but also from the information retrieved from the internet and by helping and teaching them how to use the computer in exploring the Encarta Encyclopedia. I also felt fulfilled when I see my students embraced positive attitudes in learning the subject. With this, I established in students' heart the love for Earth Science that could be very helpful in learning other sciences like Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. A course in earth sciences can provide to students an introduction to subject matter in all other sciences that illustrates their relevance and connections. With a strong foundation in Earth Science, students will no longer find difficulty in learning other sciences.

My Contribution in Nation-Building and for the Future

As a teacher in Earth Science, I can say that I have a great role in building a nation -- a nation that maximizes its resources but does not sacrifice the future. Our lives and civilization depend upon how we understand and manage our planet. Earth processes affect us all. Weather patterns influence the availability of water resources and the potential for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and floods can kill large numbers of people and cause millions or even billions of pesos in property damage. If our students are well informed about those processes affecting our lives then they would be cautious in every actions they will do like cutting trees, burning too much fossil fuels, the use of aerosol sprays, etc. Every lesson in Earth science will somehow connect students to the past, as well as challenging them to think about the future.


Teaching Earth science in secondary school is not an easy task. A lot of challenges must be surmounted so that teaching-learning could be a pleasant experience for both the teachers and students. My first three years experiences in teaching the subject have really shaped my knowledge and attitudes towards the subject. Since my elementary years as a student, I still bring the passion and love in understanding the complex world of science. And now that I'm in the field, then it is my turn to permeate my enthusiasm in learning science subjects to my students especially during their first science subject in secondary education which is the earth science.

The earth sciences provide the best all-around introduction to science. The earth sciences integrate concepts from all other major disciplines of science, including biology, chemistry and physics. Thus, teaching of earth sciences throughout the elementary and secondary schools will promote scientific literacy in general.

As teachers we should always keep abreast of the technology so that our knowledge in the subject matter will be updated from time to time. We should always let our students view science as part of their everyday lives so that they will not feel alienated from it.

Lastly, we should always bear in our minds that an understanding of the earth sciences is critical for a secure future. When we emphasize Earth science education, everyone benefits.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Political Gridlock In Washington

A lot of people are asking the question as to why government in Washington is unable to respond to the wishes of the people as expressed in elections or in the national polls.

The answer is that in a presidential system when the executive and the legislature are from different parties it causes stalemate and the executive is prevented from implementing its platform.

In the current crisis President Obama is a Democrat but the House of Representatives is under Republican control. In such a situation both sides have to compromise with each other in order to pass legislation as happened in the Reagan and Clinton years. It is the inability to bridge this partisan divide that is causing the gridlock in government.

These days government seems to just muddle along from one crisis to another, kicking the can down the road until it pops up a few months later. Since President Obama took office in 2008, we have had the impasse over the extension of the Bush tax cuts and the increase in the debt-ceiling, then we had the budget crisis leading to the current draconian spending cuts (the sequester) and most recently the failure of the proposed assault weapons ban following the Sandy Hook massacre in December of last year.

The issue over the budget should have been settled in the 2012 election when the people clearly decided that the budget should not be balanced on the backs of the middle class and the poor. But the crisis still obtains.

As regards the proposed assault weapons ban, the polls show that most people favor it but the bill did not even get a vote in the Senate. On this issue the Democrats are not faultless as some Democratic Senators from red states backed away from it obviously fearing a backlash from the National Rifle Association which might harm their reelection chances. In simple terms the people cannot get legislative protection from guns designed for mass killing like the AR15 because Congress is afraid of the NRA which represents a small minority but has political influence through their big money and lobbyists.


We have had disagreements before between Congress and the President but the looming question is why in this crisis is compromise so elusive. There are two reasons.

First, we now have a new GOP, a Ayn Rand inspired party which is inflexible and uncompromising, with a fantasy philosophy that the rich do not have enough and that the poor have too much, and that there is no role for government which should be shrunk so small that "it can be put in the bathtub and drowned" according to Grover Norquist.

This contrasts with President Obama who came from humble beginnings with an appreciation of the importance of government to protect the small man and whose professional background is community oriented.

President Obama has been obsessed with bipartisan consensus and despite the philosophical differences he has reached out to Republicans (much to the disappointment of some in his party) only to get rebuffed. On the health care initiative he left the writing of the Senate health bill to a bipartisan "Gang of Six" and in return he got no Republican votes.

In the budget discussions he put entitlements (which Democrats consider as sacrosanct) on the table but there has been no reciprocity from the other side on revenues.

Second, I would be remiss if I did not say that a lot of Republicans can't come to terms with an African American being in the White House. This is what the tea party is all about hence their slogan "take back the White House".

Another question is, how the Republicans who only control the US House of Representatives can so effectively block President Obama's legislative agenda at every turn.

They are able to do it in two ways:

(1) In the Senate they use the filibuster i.e. pursue an endless debate to block legislative action. This ploy was only originally used in exceptional circumstances by both parties but between 2007 and 2009 it affected a record 70% of major legislation (New York Times, Congress Reconsidered).

It is worth mentioning that in the current Congress majority Leader Harry Reid had a chance to change the rule but took a pass presumably with his eye on the day when he could be in the minority.

(2) The Republicans have effectively used their increase in control of state legislatures in the 2010 elections to carve out an almost permanent majority for themselves in the US House through the system of gerrymandering i.e. they increased the number of districts in the areas of their support and reduced the number in Democratic areas by enlarging their size.


With the government unable to even pass a budget, the US might like to look to its neighbor to the south, Mexico, for a model for what can be done when a nation says 'enough' to self-inflicted hardship.

Since December 3, 2012 Congress set aside its differences and newly elected President Nieto and the three main political parties signed a pledge called the "Pact for Mexico" to seek 94 national reforms after suffering for years from self-inflicted gridlock. Many years of gridlock was too costly, the drug wars had gone on for too long so under the "Economy first" strategy of President Nieto the government with the backing of the legislature has taken on the big interests that for years held back Mexico in education, energy, broadcasting and telecommunications.

Mexico is now on a turnaround from past stalemates. The government has opened Pemex (the state oil monopoly) to private investment that has led to a boom in oil exports; there are new tax reforms to pay for social programs and new infrastructure; a constitutional amendment has led to a drastic improvement in education and the President has broken up monopolies in the TV and cell phone industry and made it more competitive (Christian Science Monitor - A model to end Washington gridlock: Mexico 3/24/13).

The Mexican model might not be a model to end gridlock in Washington. Today the partisan divide is much deeper and the political culture far more vitriolic than 20 or 30 years ago. The Republicans block bills proposed by President Obama though they originally supported them such as Cap and Trade, infrastructure spending, mandates under the Affordable Health Care Act, the Dream Act and raising the debt-ceiling.

It's not in the political interest of the Republicans to work with the President. They have retreated behind a firewall of gerrymandered rural districts, mainly in the south where their base of support is built on anti - Obamaism so that they cannot be seen to be working with him. GOP Senator Lindsay Graham said that criticising President Obama was "good politics" (Huffington Post-Obama criticism 'good politics': Lindsay Graham 4/2/13). Furthermore, they fear a primary challenge from their right flank.

Given Congress' unwillingness to return to bipartisanship in the US, the Mexican model is not helpful in breaking the stalemate and so I would propose that the following measures be taken to solve the structural problems in Washington:

First, in accordance with the principle that government should come from and not at the people there should be public education programs to educate people about their political interests and the workings of the political system. This can be done through the media of the local town hall and social networking. The need for this is illustrated by polls that show that people who want to cut government can't say what should be cut and as regards those who want to abolish Obamacare, when asked about its elements say they want to keep them. How can people pressure their leaders for change if they don't know what changes they want?

Second, introduce a parliamentary system to replace the presidential one. Under the parliamentary system people elect a parliament and the party with the most seats gets to form the government. Since it has the majority the government has a clear path to implement its platform and if the people don't like what the government is doing that is easily rectifiable at an early election.

The parliamentary system would remove a lot of the structural problems in the present system because:

(a) It's faster and easier to pass legislation because the executive is often members of the legislature where it possesses more votes to pass legislation. In the presidential system if the executive and the legislature are from different parties that leads to stalemate unless they can compromise, but that only leads to watered down legislation such as Obamacare which left 10 million people uninsured and does not contain a public option.

(b) In the parliamentary system a party is voted in on the basis of a platform so the will of the people is more easily instituted.

(c) In a parliamentary system a Prime Minister has less importance than a President in whom all executive power is concentrated so people are more likely to vote for political ideas rather than the personality.

Third, big money should be taken out of politics and replaced by public funding of elections. Political Action Committees and Citizens United should be abolished. This would spare us of these long election campaigns and free up Congress to spend more legislative time on the people's business and less on fundraising. More time would be available to deal with real issues like unemployment, global warming, the national debt and cyber attacks which threaten national security and industrial infrastructure and which experts agree we are unprepared to resist. Lastly it would break the stranglehold that big money has on our leaders by cutting the nexus between political office and political contributors.

One good thing that might come out of the present crisis in Washington is that it may spur people to develop more political awareness, vote their interests and be more informed to pressure both parties to return power to the people.

Victor A. Dixon
April 5, 2013

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Avoiding Business Politics Can Derail Career Success

Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

Authors: Rick Brandon Ph.D. and Marty Seldman Ph.D.

Survival of the Savvy was on my bookshelf about a month before I had the privilege of meeting the author, Rick Brandon, at a leadership conference in San Francisco where we both were speaking. Our talks were at different times so I was able to attend Rick's presentation.

That was when I realized how important this book could be to all the women I work with who are sometimes underestimated, overlooked, and denied proper recognition for their accomplishments because they abhor and avoid anything associated with the word politics. If this sounds like you, you are not alone.

Survival of the fittest! That is what it feels like in the work world sometimes. I know how tough it can be. I have worked in business since the mid 1980's where I have witnessed political games of all sorts - power struggles, back biting, turf wars, and blind ambition.

Reading the book you will learn that the stereotypical image of the term 'political', that usually is thought of as overly political and at time unethical behaviors are definitely not what the authors are recommending.

Survival of the Savvy describes the political style continuum that ranges from the less political type who believe hard work, facts, and good ideas are enough to the overly political individuals driven by self-interest.

Brandon and Seldman suggest a high integrity middle ground (aka ethical and more palatable,) approach to politics that even the most politically averse can employ. They call it the green light/safe travel zone. This vital balance is neither too political nor politically naive.

Power and politics are not dirty words. You can promote yourself with integrity. These are important messages in the book for all women in business and especially for those in the traditionally less political career tracks who want to advance to leadership positions - women in science, R&D, Information Technology, engineering, and other technical fields.

The authors successfully help readers, who hate the thought of workplace politics, reframe how they think about power and politics. They offer useful and practical advice even for the political novice.

The further you advance, the more vulnerable you are if you remain politically naive. The authors claim in their experience ethical political skills are a leadership competency.

If you want to get ahead, but are so opposed to the concept of politics and to any of the ideas in the book the day will come when your subject matter and expert technical status are no longer good enough for you to advance. Your career will plateau. Shunning even high integrity, ethical politics can mean you are destined to succeed only in a job in the ranks below management and leadership. If you do progress into management you are at risk to derail in all but the most non-political cultures.

Reading and applying the information in the book is not easy but worthwhile for all who want to land the top jobs and earn the income they deserve. If you feel frustrated or have plateaued in your career advancement, it may be a political blind spot and reading this book can help.

Although not a book written specifically for women, the authors offer 'political' success strategies especially relevant for women.

Monday, 2 December 2013

2010 - Politically, It Was Much Worse Than You Thought

As we come to the end of the year, it is usually a good time to look back and see what the year brought us and hopefully, be thankful for our health, wealth, and good times. However, from an American political class perspective, the events of 2010 were not healthy, wealthy and good for most of America. The exact opposite was true, events of the year were much worse than we think they were, based on some recent news reports:

- In the lead up to the passage of the legislation that would extend the Bush tax cuts for every American for two years, the Democrats were hollering that the legislation was not a good idea to extend the tax cuts for those Americans making over $250,000 a year. It would add about $70 billion a year to the national debt and this horrified them. Never mind that while in control of Congress the past four fiscal years, they managed to add over $4 TRILLION to the national debt.

The Republicans have spent most of the year decrying how out of control Federal government spending was, using that fact as a rallying cry to have a great midterm election. Wow, both parties seemed so interested in taming the budget deficit. However, according to an article in the December 17, 2010 isse of The Week magazine, once the two parties got together to work out a compromise on the tax cuts, the resulting compromise legislation ended up increasing the national debt by $900 billion in just two years. Thus, although all Americans will continue to be taxed at their same level, each U.S. household has now been burdened by an additional future national debt burden of almost $8,000.

How come every time the political class does anything, current and future Americans get hit with more onerous debt burdens? What makes this latest travesty so frustrating is the hypocrisy of both parties who claimed to worry about curbing government spending but ended up making a bad situation even worse.

- According to an article in the December 20, 2010 issue of Business Week magazine, the United States added 937,000 jobs in 2010. This was not nearly enough to begin bringing down the almost 10% unemployment rate. Conversely, a single company in Taiwan, Foxconn, by itself created 300,000 jobs in 2010. Let's see: one foreign company creates 300,000 all by itself, our political class creates only three times that much for the entire country. Proves once again that no matter how much government money is wasted in "economic stimulus programs," it cannot compare in either volume or cost effectiveness in the job creation capability of the private sector. Pathetic. When we will they ever learn?

- One reason that entities like Foxconn can create so many jobs and the United States political class cannot, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars, was vividly illustrated in the December 27, 2010 issue of The Week magazine. According to the article, the last economic stimulus program spent money on a new heating system for an Indiana Methodist church, bought new windows for a Wyoming Catholic church, and food for a Pennsylvania Christian organization's homeless program. Combine them with other such wasteful stimulus programs as researching insect colonies on an island off the coast of Africa and you can see why much of the stimulus spending had absolutely no chance and no leverage of creating jobs.

A real company in the real world spends money efficiently. In the political realm, money is spend inefficiently to get incumbents re-elected by fixing their places of worship or counting bugs.

- Staying with the bad financial management theme of government, prepare to be horrified by the assertions from various sources in a December 17, 2010 article, also in The Week magazine. According to a a quote from the Financial Times, a recent document dump by the Federal Reserve Board, as required under the recently passed financial markets regulation bill, revealed that the Fed had not dumped about $800 billion into the market to rescue the banks and other financial institutions from the Great Recession, as originally and widely thought.

It was much worse. The Fed had actually dumped more than four times that amount or $3.3 TRILLION. These TRILLIONs were lent to domestic and foreign banks (I cannot understand why the U.S. taxpayer would bailout a foreign bank!), hedge funds, and even Harley Davidson. All of these TRILLIONs were disbursed without congressional oversight or approval.

According to the article, the Fed took massive risks with current and future Americans' wealth and financial health by taking on not good loans with solid collateral but "toxic assets." The article goes on to pint out that the Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, pushed to bailout AIG, the most toxic of all the bailed out companies even though his staff concluded that any AIG bailout was unnecessary.

The article quotes the CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, when he told his shareholders "that the bank hadn't actually needed the Fed's help - but the program (loans from the Fed) did save us money." This verifies the assertion made many times in this blog that many of the financial institutions did not really need the Fed's help to survive. They could have made the hard business choices needed to get themselves out of the problems they created (issued more stock, sold off assets, cut salaries and expenses, etc.) but were more than happy to have an out of control and foolish Fed give them a lending hand, courtesy of the American taxpayer.

Thus, the American taxpayer was actually not on the hook for the original $800 billion dollars of bailout (almost $7,000 per U.S. household.) It was much worse with each household responsible for closer to $30,000 per household ($3.3 TRILLION) due to the Fed and Bernanke being out of control and accountable to no government oversight or institution.

- Another article in the December 17. 2010 issue of The Week magazine reported that American students finished 17th in reading test scores, 23rd in science test scores, and 31st math test scores in an international survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These scores were ranked relative to the 60 countries included in the survey. A recent Associated Press article revealed that almost 25% of those wishing to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces cannot complete basic reading and math tests.

Thus, as we are closing the second year of the Obama Presidency, we see that we are seemingly further and further away from properly educating our kids to compete in the world. Combine these results and findings with a recent quote by Robert Reich in (as reported in the December 27, 2010 issue of The Week magazine) where he stated unemployment rate of those Americans without a college education is more than 20 percent (double the national average) and you can see what an education hole the political class has dug for the country.

This continuing public education failure by our political class, regardless of who controls Congress and who controls the White House, is drastically undermining the future economic strength of the country along with the ability of our armed forces to defend us. Shameful.

- Not only has the failure of public education in this country not been addressed in 2010:

  • We still do not have a national, comprehensive, and rational energy policy.
  • We still do not have a national, comprehensive, and rationale immigration policy.
  • We still do not have a rational, comprehensive, and rationale health care reform policy with Obama Care coming apart at its financial underpinnings and in courts throughout the country.
  • We still do not have a national, comprehensive, and rationale drug addiction policy. The current policy, the lost "War On Drugs" has not worked for the past forty years, has wasted untold billions of dollars, has not materially reduced drug usage, and has allowed a near lawless, violent narco state to evolve just south of our borders.

- Although we do not have many policies listed above, as we look back to 2010, we still have the following in this country, courtesy of the political class:

  • We still have the prison at Guantanamo despite Obama campaign promises to close it.
  • We still have the Patriot Act, one of the most freedom inhibiting laws of all time.
  • We still have an ineffective SEC who has not prosecuted anyone of consequence despite the largest financial meltdown of our generation. Was everyone involved in the financial markets during the meltdown completely honest and law abiding?
  • We still have an effective Congress and political class which continues to work on useless legislation such as the recently passed law to regulate the sound of television commercials.
  • We still have a perverted election process that allows incumbent politicians to almost ensure their perpetual re-election via controlling earmark allocations, gerrymandering Congressional districts, accepting money from money well endowed organizations (PACs, corporations, unions, etc.), and moving money around the country to benefit of the political parties but to the detriment of local voters.

We should be looking forward to 2011, that it cannot be any worse than 2010. However, every time we say something like that, the political class proves us wrong and makes things worse. Instead, let's hope and work towards replacing those in office with a better and smarter class of people with higher standards of integrity and performance, both in 2011 and beyond. We cannot afford a lot more years like 2010.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Cut From the Budget - Pennsylvania's Award-Winning Science in Motion

STEM makes headlines every day--a definite education priority from the highest levels of government on down. The goal: invigorate the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math in our middle and high schools and raise America's academic standing in the world.

Like many others, President Obama has been quite vocal about the shortcomings of STEM teaching and our students' lackluster testing performance, hence the government's push for improvement. To that end, he has...

o Initiated an annual White House science fair.
o Launched his "Educate to Innovate" campaign, a nationwide effort to move America's students up from the middle of the pack in math and science.
o Challenged scientists, engineers, educators, the private sector, and governors to join him in a national campaign to engage students in STEM fields.
o Given a competitive edge to states that commit to improving STEM education in his Race to the Top grant contest.
o Recently honored about 100 outstanding middle and high school math and science teachers from around the country at the White House.
o Applauded the grassroots National Lab Day initiative intended to revitalize science and math education and lead to increased American competitiveness.

And as he has said, "Passionate educators with deep content expertise can make all the difference, enabling hands-on learning that truly engages students-including girls and underrepresented minorities-and preparing them to tackle the 'grand challenges' of the 21st century, such as increasing energy independence, improving people's health, protecting the environment, and strengthening national security."

Despite such good intentions, however, there's been no apparent trickledown effect when it comes to the award-winning Science in Motion program.

In 1987, a group of Pennsylvania teachers teamed up with Juniata College and the National Science Foundation to find a way to help high schools access the modern high-tech equipment they needed to prepare their students for STEM careers but could not afford.

Ever since, thanks to their efforts and a partnership of twelve Pennsylvania colleges and universities, Science in Motion (SIM) has been providing the equipment, scientific personnel, and hands-on modern science and technology training our students need and should expect.

For instance, in Montgomery County, that service is provided by Ursinus College's SIM program. Students in such districts as Norristown, North Penn, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Souderton, and Spring-Ford have all benefited. Just last week, seventh graders at Spring-Ford Middle School were trained on digital microscopes.

All this at no extra cost to the individual school districts.

Says Ursinus's SIM Mobile Biology Educator, Ron Faust, "Science in Motion is simply a great way to improve science education in an incredibly cost-effective way. It gives teachers the tools and instruction they need to effectively teach their subjects... I have taught for 41 years in this area and have never found any program that was more effective in bringing students the joy and excitement that science offers."

Sounds grand, doesn't it? And yet...

Despite all the political talk about the need for exceptional science, technology, engineering, and math instruction, the axe has fallen on this unique-to-Pennsylvania, Governors Award for Innovation-winning program. After Saturday, February 6th, it all ends. Governor Ed Rendell saw to that when he cut all funding for Science in Motion--$1.9 billion-from the state's budget and immeasurably set back STEM education throughout Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Methods to Screen Political Candidates

How to better achieve the age old goal of having political candidates that are right for the job? The job of course being to visibly and tangibly advance social welfare and involves:

a- decreasing price (in caloric energy spent) while increasing quality/quantity of food, electrical output, transport, shelter, education

b- decreasing necessity for backbreaking work and subsistence living

c- increasing safety from violence and coercion and advancing interethnic harmony

d- preserving and even expanding human autonomy during the process of all of the above

Yes, very difficult and definitely not the type of job that morons, pandering charismatic narcissists, rich man's stooges, and quick fix/gimmick driven individuals should engage in. Unfortunately, very often these days these 4 types are blended into one toxic package. To know what we want from candidates is to conceptualize a way to screen them. The public desires 3 basic simultaneous things from a person seeking power:

1) sufficiently competent to run and evolve technologically complex and very populous (over 10 million people) social units

2) sufficiently independent of oligarchic corporate influence

3) sufficiently legitimate in eyes of the public without it minimizing 1) and 2) (successfully approved by some sort of democratic input)

It is becoming very clear that neither public or private financing of candidates is achieving these. Rather than engaging in a futile task of tweaking an easily abused system (more public financing, ban on ads, regulating funds, etc), it is possible to cut off degradation and corruption of the candidate pool at the root. What needs to be made structurally obsolete is a need for money in politics in the first place. This in turn eliminates the need for advanced election marketing propaganda, fund raising pandering, and for extremely self absorbed individuals that possess a solid acting/lying/showmanship ability.

Screening method 1: Technical Exam

As I have previously written, since economics is an engineering challenge, it is imperative to dramatically increase the quantity of candidates with scientific, civil engineering, and technical backgrounds. This calls for a comprehensive examination that candidates have to pass. Unlike the 1920s progressive era desire to screen voters via literacy tests and such, screening of ambitious power hungry candidates will find a lot more support. Relatively unbiased apolitical technical exams can rapidly be formulated and mandated for those who are to appear on the ballot the same way signature collection is.

The difficulty of the examination process can depend on the level of responsibility the candidate will possess. Perhaps the highest offices in the land may mandate taking a general exam, then secondary more closely watched exam for top 10% of scorers, and finally a final filtering test for 10% top scorers of surviving group. The last individuals left standing (say 10 people) can then be put under rigorous investigation of their personal and psychological backgrounds and be made to engage in debates before the public finally votes for who they want.

"But who controls the process! Who makes the exams! Wouldn't rich people just have super specialized prep schools to create super engineers that always pass! We're back to where we started!"

Sigh. The rich ivy leaguers are nowhere near as advantaged under the examination system since they would not get the automatic social networking and money raising boost. The materials to pass would be much more diffused and available in society (unlike the ivy social networking advantage many politicians have that prevents average people from even trying to run for office). This means that more people can try their luck at higher office. Additionally, due to the color blind nature of the meritocratic candidate selection process, the chances are a lot better for a highly qualified individual to make it into the final candidate pool (who would otherwise not get there due to voter bias against race, gender, ethnic group, age, class, etc).

We must keep in mind that the goals of candidate competence and independence from corporate control determine the means of candidate selection. If for example, one looks at a hypothetical proposal where some sort of social networking-video presentation candidate selection method is implemented, it becomes clear that once again the visually presentable and narcissistic are at an advantage. Visual selection of candidates via videos of speeches filters out the potentially far more competent individuals who may be camera shy, not be sufficiently attractive, not possess superb verbal eloquence, and so on. As of today, politics is dominated by extroverted semi psychopathic backstabbing individuals who are very eloquent and presentable. This corporate type led our society to disastrous consequences on a planetary scale. Reducing reliance on video presentation and increasing other ways of evaluation is key.

The exam itself would consist of sections such as systems thinking, civil engineering, organizational architecture, basic materials science, energy science, history, systems analysis, organizational psychology, infrastructure design, etc. If children of rich people do have some advantage of specialized prep schools, so be it, they'll be better occupied than snorting coke and becoming lawyers.

Screening method 2: Psychiatric Exam

This would test candidates for psychopathy using cutting edge medical and psychological means. This is a very serious if not the most critical issue for leadership filtering in terms of preventing damage to society. There has been a substantial volume of literature written in recent years concerning the societal justification for separating psychopathic individuals from vital public organs. Foot in the door towards mass scale screening can start with public school educators. It will be socially doable.

A hypothetical argument against this can be made from certain possibility that as the ability to pass the technical exam increases, the ability to pass the psychiatric one decreases. This may be true to a degree considering schizoidia leaning introverted individuals with low empathy may excel more at engineering and systems analysis the colder their temperaments are. What has to be kept in mind is that a degree of physiologically determined empathy and emotional intelligence is not in conflict with competence but is a significant characteristic of it (especially for a political leader). Even emotionality can be taken into consideration when determining policy in a group context (or even formulating a candidate exam).

The reader can be assured that humanity can overcome the problem of balancing the need to screen out genuine psychopaths (who are not likely to be synonymous with advanced technical/analytic ability to begin with according to Lobaczewski) from the candidate pool while allowing very cold but harmless people to participate in evolution of social policy.

Final thoughts:

It is worth noting that technical and psychological exams can be applied to all levels of public recruitment even if the leadership is still selected completely democratically. A council of engineers instead of council of economists by the side of the mayor, governor, or president would go a long way. Some countries have already engaged in trying to screen out psychopaths during hiring of new police officers. This can be expanded easily to entry level positions within all public hierarchies. If we are to have proper reindustrialization of the Western world, the public cadres must be up to the level of the task.