Saturday, April 19, 2014

Richard Gere was just … cool. Breathless, ah!

When I was fourteen years old, and looking for the essence of identity, and seeking the cool that was just the sort of identity you'd expect a fourteen-year-old male to find perfect, I watched Breathless with Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky. The 1980s remake of the classic Jean-Luc Goddard film about fatalistic love resonated, for some reason, with me. In the scene below, Jessie watches Monica from the balcony. The scene is beautifully set against the amazing sounds of Philip Glass' piano composition "Openings," with a truly sexy saxophone accompaniment. It was … cool.




It was a moment that defined a lot for me, as strange as that sounds for a middle school Catholic kid in southern Illinois.  And then, of course, there was the ending. Perhaps, Richard Gere's greatest cinematic moment. It left us all … breathless, ahhhh.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Deaths Linked to Marijuana Use in Colorado

When the state of Colorado was considering legalization of marijuana for recreational use, one of the primary arguments is that cannabis is safer to use than alcohol, which is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. The statistics certainly support the idea that marijuana is not a deadly drug. It's been accepted that you can't overdose on weed, and no one gets violent or dies from high speed crashes when "baked."

Until now.

In the past month, two deaths in Colorado are being directly linked to ingestion of THC-infused products. In March, a college student died after jumping off a balcony in a Holiday Inn during what was apparently a marijuana-induced psychotic episode. Levy Thamba was a 19-year-old college student who had come to Colorado for spring break. It is believed that he joined friends here for the purpose of trying out Colorado's new recreational marijuana business. Thamba and friends bought several THC-infused "cookies." While the cookie's dosage was supposedly six servings, and Thamba's friends each had "a slice," Thamba apparently felt nothing early on and ingested the whole cookie. Later on, Thamba became agitated, anxious, and openly hostile. After his friends calmed him down several times, Thamba began hallucinating and left the room. He jumped over the balcony to his death.

The second death linked to ingesting marijuana "edibles" is being ruled a homicide after a man high on weed and hallucinating allegedly shot his wife in the head while she was on the phone with 911. Kristine Kirk was shot and killed by her husband who had apparently ingested marijuana candies a few hours before. Richard Kirk will be charged with first degree murder in the case. When he was arrested, he apparently made bizarre religious statements and admitted shooting her. Kristine Kirk pleaded with the police to hurry after her husband removed their gun from the safe and began threatening the family. The couple have three young children.

This certainly changes the image of marijuana as a safe alternative to alcohol.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

America Is Not a Democracy - It's Worse

For as long as I've been teaching, I have always encouraged my students to understand the nuanced reality that "America is not a democracy." Despite the platitudes and the grandstanding of talk television, the reality of "democracy" in America is, in fact, limited by the U.S. Constitution. Instead, as most astute voters will explain, the United States of America is a democratic republic. Basically, we have representative democracy in that the voters elect representatives to voice their views and govern for them. This is not a bad thing, per se. It's really a blessing. For democracy - or "rule by the people" - is actually a logistical nightmare. It quickly devolves into anarchy. This is what prompted Winston Churchill to note, "Democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others."

However, Churchill got it wrong.

The worst form of government is not a democracy, but more importantly, a democratic-republic that is actually not one, though it masquerades that way to a naive and ideological and misinformed electorate. And that is the conclusion drawn by a team of researchers at Princeton University. Apparently, close data analysis can reveal, and even prove, that America is not a democracy or democratic republic. It's, instead, a more sinister form of government than even fascism: The United States of America is an oligarchy. America is basically ruled by, and in the interest of, a small number of wealthy elite who can impose their will upon the legal system. Sadly, this is the system that people like Thomas Jefferson feared far more than tyranny. Tyranny is a clear and obvious enemy. An oligarch is a far more insidious one.

I have noted this for years in conversations and on blog discussions. America is an oligarchy because the power, for the most part, is concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few. And the recent SCOTUS rulings on campaign finance have only reinforced and emboldened this reality. Campaign finance is really nothing more than legalized bribery, and it's not "free" but instead very expensive speech. It only takes a cursory read of the news, or books like Perfectly Legal by David Cay Johnston to expose the true nature of our "democracy." Other great examples would include.

Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown by Charles Morris

Come Home America by William Greider




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Should Anyone Take Advice from Charles Murray?

Years ago, I was talking with a colleague about one of conservative pundit Pat Buchanan's books, and when I professed to like some of Pat's ideas, after I distilled the crazy out, my colleague asked, "Which part of his racist, sexist, anti-Semitism do you like?" That was, of course, a bit of a conversation stopper. Similar contempt and criticism could be - and is often - leveled at social critic Charles Murray, whose 1994 book The Bell Curve seemed to promote institutionalized racism on par with eugenics"theories" of the past. Since then, Murray has continued to publish, and while he continually upsets people, I would still say there is some validity in what he says after we "sift through the crazy."

After his criticism of poor, lower, middle class White Americans in 2012's Coming Apart, Murray has returned with a new book of advice, written in almost a lighthearted and genuine self-helpy sort of way. It's almost like something All I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten author Charles Fulghum would write, if Fulghum was much more close-minded and mean-spirited. Yes, irony is intended. So, anyway, Murray is offering "Advice for a Happy Life" in his book The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead. Among the tidbits that Murray advises:
  • Consider marrying young
  • Learn to recognize a soul mate
  • Stop worrying about fame and fortune
  • Take religion seriously
And my favorite:
  • Watch Bill Murray's Groundhog Day repeatedly
There is a lot of wisdom and insight in Murray's advice, which truly does come across as curmudgeonly.  But nothing bad could come from the lessons in the Harold Ramis existential masterpiece about weatherman Phil Connors who lives a single day over and over until he gets it right.  Now, of course, all this is coming from Murray. So there is obviously another shoe to drop. And there is no shortage of critics weighing in on why we should not listen to Murray, or buy his curmudgeonly and biased book.

Josh Idelson writes for Salon.com about "Tramp stamps, racism, and icky pronouns; 8 new tips from … Charles Murray"

Arit John at the Wire.com asks, "Can Charles Murray do for lifestyle what he did for race relations?"

Jacob Osterhout of Newsweek.com lets us know that "Bell Curve author Charles Murray knows what's best for you"


Monday, April 7, 2014

Wall Street Rigged, or Is It?

If you ask the average American if the stock market is corrupt, or even "rigged" to favor the wealthy, the answer would most likely be an unequivocal "yes." However, that represents a more general attitude toward the system, rather than true knowledge that the system is designed in a biased fashion. Now, it seems, there might be legitimate evidence of such corruption. Best-selling author Michael Lewis has uncovered in his latest book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt evidence that high speed traders can literally "rig" the stock market. He recently shared the basic facts with 60 Minutes.




Following the airing of the segment, Lewis also hit the talk shows to discuss his ideas and concerns.




Of course, not everyone believes there is such systemic bias and corruption. Immediately after the CBS segment aired, many Wall Street insiders and advocates quickly denounced Lewis' claims as "muckraking." Jack Bogle said "Michael Lewis Is Wrong."  Business Week said as much about the realities of high frequency trading. Now, Felix Salmon of Slate Magazine offers a detailed criticism of Lewis' book, basically arguing that Wall Street always has and always will be geared toward the wealthy.

While Lewis may be overstating the obvious - it is easier for the wealthy with access to greater resources to make money in stocks - I don't doubt or discount his concerns about what he exposed as some people legally gaming the system. It's just not right, and I am glad to hear that the government has opened investigations into the suspicions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top High School Speakers Shine at Colorado's State Speech & Debate Tournament


“Anyone who bemoans the state of public education need only spend a weekend at a high school speech and debate tournament to have their faith restored.” That’s the perspective of Curt Stedron, debate coach at Littleton High School. And anyone who joined the legions of debaters, coaches, judges, family, and friends at the state championship this past weekend would have to agree.  As the snow swirled outside on a cold Saturday afternoon, things were heating up inside the classrooms at Valor Christian High School, which served as the host for the 2014 Colorado state championship of high school speech & debate.

Check in on my coverage in the Denver Post's Your Hub for more information about this great event.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Napping Your Way to Happiness and Success

When I lived in Taiwan - or when I travelled in Europe - I was always amused by the office workers who kept pillows in a drawer at work. They would, literally, fall asleep at their desks after lunch or in the early afternoon. Napping was just an accepted part of the culture. Americans, on the other hand, have always looked at it as a sign of sloth - at least after pre-school they do. Now, it appears the good word on napping is that it is valuable, even necessary, for health and well being.

Matt McFarland looks at the positive side of napping in his article "Why You Should Be Proud to Sleep on the Job," published recently in the Washington Post. The experts say napping is actually good for us, leading to less stress and lower risk of heart attacks. Napping actually makes people more productive. In fact, it was a key component in the genius of both Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali, who would nap with metal objects in their hand, so they would wake up at the edge of consciousness when the objects fell to the floor.

While jolting myself awake to capture moments of creative insight doesn't sound fun to me, drifting off in my office chair or on the couch at about 3:00 pm sounds great. In fact, I love to nap. I will even nap around 8:00 pm, only to wake up, work some more, and then go back to bed at 11:00. Apparently, we are hardwired to napping, as most mammals do. It may have been a way to avoid the hot afternoon sun. And we should never resist the urge. Remember, that is one of Robert Fulghum's bits of advice in "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" - take a nap every afternoon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Russell Simmons Meditates - And He Wants You To, As Well

"Money doesn't make you happy … but happy makes you money."

That bit of insight - which seems to be a bizarre merging of the Buddha & Donald Trump or the Dali Lama & Marc Cuban - is the wisdom of one of the original moguls behind the rise of hip-hop music and culture. Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records and Phat Farm fashion line, is apparently quite the sage of the contemplative life.  Nicknamed "Rush,"or now Uncle Rush, Simmons concedes that at one time he was driven to succeed quickly and always be working.

However, somewhere along his journey to being one of the wealthiest and most successful African-American men in history, Russell Simmons discovered the value and benefit of being still. This epiphany has clearly brought him clarity and, perhaps, even more success. It certainly impacts his ability to enjoy and even perpetuate his success.



And Simmons concluded long ago, as all the great teachers do, that sharing the joy and sharing the wisdom is one of the primary benefits. Thus, he began to offer such wisdom through books such as Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. It contains the message that he believes so many of us need and could benefit from. "Everyone could benefit from stillness." Despite a driven life, Simmons learned that "the only true creativity came in moments in stillness.  Thoughtful conscious actions are what make you good … the fact is we need to be awake."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Standardized Test Opt Out Movement Gains Steam

Today, my son was required by the state of Colorado to take a standardized math test that was a full five grade levels below his current class and ability level. There is clearly something wrong with this system, and while I have never complained about standardized tests as a parent or an educator, I am beginning to feel the frustration that is fueling a growing "Opt Out" movement. The Fair Test organization is committed to providing parents - and even school districts - the information they need to safely and legally opt their children out of required state assessments. United Opt Out is another organization that seeks to provide information about the "option" and whether it does exist. Many parents are unclear and frustrated by the increased standardized testing and the pressure on schools to conform. And EdWeek has done an admirable recently of amassing information on the complexity of opting out.

One particular story from Lisa McElroy, a professor at the University of Denver, has hit the internet this week on sites such as Slate and the HuffingtonPost, where Lisa told of her frustrations when she attempted to opt her child out of Colorado's TCAP tests. Despite living in a rather liberal place like Boulder - where you would thinking fighting against the state would be second nature - Lisa was hounded by school personnel when she informed them that her children would not take the test. The school's response was based on the idea that students in Colorado are required by law to take the state tests, and schools whose students opt out receive a "zero" on that test. Thus, it lowers/skews the school's academic ranking.  Of course, the actual effect of opting out is rather ambiguous in Colorado. For several people challenge the notion that the state can force kids to take the test and can penalize districts for a student's refusal to do so.

The Coalition for a Better Education believes the state and federal government has no right or power to force students to take standardized state assessments or penalize kids and schools that fail to do so. Yet, there is no doubt that Colorado law requires such assessments. It all gets a bit ambiguous from there. Ultimately, a child's academic progress is accountable first and foremost to his own parents. And if parents choose not to place faith in a general standardized test, and instead trust the work of the teachers in the classroom and the grades/assessments they provide, should that not be enough? Is the state the right authority to counter that parental desire?

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Arts & Creativity Lay Claim to the Role of Innovators

More news from the STEM to STEAM movement, as research continues to extol the virtues of the arts and humanities in contemporary society. By now many of us know the role arts and design played in the rise of Steve Jobs and Apple. And more people are becoming attuned to the importance of the right-brain thinking that Daniel Pink so clearly enlightened us about in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. Now, writer Sarah Lewis continues the promotion of the arts with her book The RISE: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.

With a deft approach to the role of creativity and innovation, Lewis promotes the value of the arts in school, drawing from such left-brained, STEM icons as physicist Richard Feynman. Lewis and Feynman remind us that the mathematical world is so often about a clearly defined answer. And teachers can literally correct their students "errors." It's so much harder to be effectively critical in the arts. For, artists are prone to innovation and individuality, and they will naturally find a way where their predecessors saw none. For this reason, it's important that art students begin without the assistance of CAD (computer assisted design) and technology. Beginning with pen, brush, ink, paint, paper, and canvas is real the true innovation and creation comes.

And there is more than just aesthetic value in the arts, as Steve Jobs reminded us. In fact, as Sunil Iyengar points out in "Who Knew? Arts Education Fuels the Economy," there is great socioeconomic value in the arts.  Iyengar and colleague Ayanna Hudson at the National Endowment for the Arts articulate a solid financial argument for investment in arts education. The return is every bit as significant as a promotion of STEM skills.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mindful Meditation Now Has a Magazine

It was on that late night jaunt to the supermarket to return a movie to RedBox that I ran across a new magazine that should relax me - but may have only stressed me out more. Mindful is a new magazine and website that is designed to promote the benefits of "mindfulness" - or at least the practice of meditation to get there. Having never seen this magazine before, I was immediately intrigued, and my attention was drawn away from the latest edition of Fast Company which is such a fascinatingly busy magazine about all that's new and good in the world that it was hard to be mindful about Mindful. And so, drawn in by the title and the cover picture of Sandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy, I began leafing through the magazine, intrigued by articles such as "How to Meditate" and Sandra Oh's commentary on the joy of being mindful.

When I think of being "mindful" and the meditative life, I am generally inspired by Henry David Thoreau's advice to "live deliberately." Of course, standing in a supermarket magazine aisle, casually reading a magazine on meditation, I wasn't too certain I was being mindful or living deliberately. The magazine was a bit busy, I must admit. And that sort of thing can counter the peace that should come from meditation and mindfulness. For, how am I ever going to find the time to do all this? And still check out the article on the most innovative companies in the world. And, with that I returned the magazine to its shelf, returned my movie, and went home in time to put my eight-year-old to bed with a little reading of Little House, the Rose Years.

That was living deliberately.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Your 20s Matter … A Lot

The average American doesn't consider him or herself truly "an adult" until about the age of 26. For me that was certainly true - I think I figured it all out at about the age of 27. And I had a marriage, "real job," a house, and a son by the age of 32. In many ways, it all worked out for me, even though I lived a very "twenty-something" lifestyle for the first five years out of college. For me, it was teaching English 20 hours a week in Southeast Asia, and traveling around with little thought about a career. However, the foundation I grew up with led me to build up "working capital" during that time.




Psychologist Megan Jay has written extensively about the conflicts, challenges, and potential pitfalls of our lives between college and "real life." One book I have recommended to many young people is her book, The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter - and How to Make the Most of Them. Some interesting advice - especially for the hook-up generation - is "the best time to work on your marriage is before you have one." The decade should be about figuring out who you really are and what you really believe. It's liberating and challenging, scary and exciting. And it will all be fine as long as we follow the advice of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau - live deliberately.

As Longfellow advised, "Neither joy and not sorrow is our destined end or way, but to act that each tomorrow find us further than today."

Progress.