White chocolate and red liquorice are just wrong

These are wrong

Did you know that there’s no such thing as “white chocolate” or “red liquorice”? No, really …

Maybe sure you’re thinking, “But I’ve had white chocolate, and I’ve had red liquorice. What do you mean there’s no such thing?” What I really mean is: these names are misnomers.

“White chocolate” isn’t really chocolate. “Red liquorice” contains no liquorice.

Of course, these foods probably got their names because it was easier to refer to them by these names than something more accurate. Or, perhaps it was a clever act of marketing. Still, I’m doing my part by spreading the word about these inaccuracies.

Know of any common misnomers, things that people call by a certain name, which is actually technically inaccurate? Let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

A fine Dungeon Master in the making

I came downstairs this morning and noticed that someone, most likely Charlie, was playing with the LEGO table. What do most kids build out of LEGOs? Little vehicles? Maybe a pet shop? Or spaceships? And what do my kids make … ?

The beginnings of a LEGO dungeon.

Yeah, that’s right — it’s a LEGO dungeon. With a secret, hidden treasure room, an altar that looks like a diving board, and its own red dragon guardian and giant serpent.

Every day, I wonder if today’s the right day to try and introduce D&D to her … I have a feeling we’ve got a fine Dungeon Master in the making, here.

And this is how I get to start my day, today. I think it’s going to be a great one.

Erica Goldson, 2010′s epic valedictorian

I love this time of year, with graduations and their corresponding speeches. This year, Erica Goldson of Coxsackie-Athens High School won my heart and mind with this stellar speech, originally posted on Sign of the Times.

Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” 
The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” 
Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” 

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective. 

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt. 

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.” 

Comment: The full passage reads: “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth? 

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is. 

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us. 

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still. 

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation. 

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades. 

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake. 

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth. 

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians. 

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

Perhaps there is some hope for this country, after all. Erica, I wish–no, I pray for–you, the best of luck. I will be cheering for you.

The only constant is change

At 9:30 AM this morning, I was informed that my employment was terminated. Once again, I’m a free agent, and its time to start hustling again. If we’ve talked about work opportunities in the past, now is the time to take those conversations to the next step.

Over the next few days, I’m going to do some deep thinking about what kind of services and products make sense for me to offer given today’s demands. Even with the depressed economic situation, I know that there is still more work to do than talented people to do it – the challenge is identifying what I can deliver better than others.

The second half of 2010 is going to be very exciting and I’m looking forward to crushing it

***

Suzie, my younger daughter, at seven years old, loves to ask me if I can put songs on her iPod Nano. She loves to dance, and often hears songs at the dance school that she likes and wants added. Today’s request was for Let Me Think About It.

I like the song – the music is awesome. But, after having a quick chat with my wife, we both agreed that the lyrics are totally not appropriate for Suzie to be listening to over and over. She was a bit disappointed when I told her that we didn’t approve of the song’s lyrics and I wouldn’t put it on her iPod, but I did say that I would be looking for a copy of the instrumental version without lyrics and if I can get it, I’d be happy to put that one on her iPod, which made her happy. So, I went and found one on the Intertubes and now she’s got a copy of it.

Rational religiousness, oxymorons all of you!

I still don’t understand why people feel they have to choose between Judaism, Christianity or Paganism, or any other supernaturally-based religion. If you believe in a God or Gods at all, why not believe in them all?

cookie-monster.jpg

I can understand atheists: if you don’t believe that any God or Gods exist, you just don’t believe. This is actually rational and sound, regardless whether you’re right or wrong in the end. You have a fair, 50/50 chance of being right. But non-Christian Paganists, or non-Pagan Christians, or any combination of the various God-worshipping religions … to believe in the possibility of even one God at all is a tremendous leap of faith, but to believe that you, personally, are able to accurately discern which of the many religions is correct and which God or Gods actually exist is either ignorant hubris or outright stupidity.

This all might sound like an argument in favor of atheism, but I feel that’s a cheap exit that shouldn’t be taken by anyone of intellectual integrity. What I actually wonder is why more people don’t argue in favor of omnitheism.

I have generally self-identified myself as an igtheist Lutheran. However, I’m not fully committed to that label, as igtheism is a very strong position that simply defers the conversation of God’s existance. More accurately, I’m an apatheist Lutheran: I enjoy being part of a community of Christians who value a personal understanding of faith and their relationship with God. It just so happens that my relationship with God is one of irrelevance. But, the people I commune with, many of the values we individuals share, our concern for the world and each other … these things I value.

However, pushing forward from apatheism to omnitheism is a huge leap. Am I “missing” something by not incorporating Gods into my life? How will I ever know if I don’t try? What do I have to lose by trying?

Apatheism is a very convenient position, but life without risk yields little reward. Clearly, I need to do more deep thinking about this and make some decisions.

Do you identify as an apatheist? Have you wrestled with the conundrum of whether to make the leap to omnitheism? Do you have a story to share? I’d love to hear from you.

Sex toy or video game controller?

Sony, in the tradition of missing the boat, again, after the success of Nintendo’s Wii and its Wiimote, is still trying to catch up after four long years. Sony has finally unveiled … the PlayStation Move!

Hitachi Magic Wand

Waaaaaaaait a second. That looks awfully familiar … oh, that’s not the Move, that’s the Hitachi Magic Wand! Here’s the PlayStation Move:

PlayStation Move

I’m sure you can see where the confusion came from. Oops! ;-)

Nice job, Sony. If you’re still in the game console business in four more years, maybe you’ll actually build something interesting other than a Blu-Ray player with a sleek looking vibrator.

On making fun of disabled people

There’s been a lot of noise around the recent Family Guy episode involving a Down syndrome character making a reference to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. For context, here’s the clip:

One of Sarah Palin’s responses includes an alleged quote from her daughter Bristol posted to Facebook. Besides totally mis-using the phrase “begs the question,” Sarah asks: “when is enough, enough?”

I’m not really concerned that a show mocked or satirized a public figure; that kind of treatment comes with the territory. What I find oddly strange is the reaction of Sarah’s, that it’s inappropriate to make fun of people with Down syndrome.

People spend a lot of effort and energy trying to suggest that people with disabilities can live “normal” lives. However, part of being normal is being made fun of for our shortcomings, whatever they happen to be. While disabled people obviously need certain adjustments made in order to accomodate them, suggesting that their disabilities are “out of bounds” or off-limits denies them that particular aspect of normalcy which they otherwise could have had.

As a person, I can sympathize that Sarah may be hurt that the Family Guy show chose to target her. As a parent, I can sympathize that her child was indirectly involved in the process and I would want to protect my child. But, the content of the episode itself does not actually make fun of her son Trig, nor of Down syndrome itself. The character in the episode with Down syndrome named Ellen, played by Andrea Fay Friedman who has Down syndrome herself, is actually cast as a very independent and assertive woman, who just happens to have Down syndrome. She’s about as “normal” as the rest of the zany, defective characters that are part of the Family Guy show.

See, she’s being treated just like everyone else, and as I wrote earlier, that’s the best thing you can do for a person with a disability: besides making the necessary accomodations required by their disability, treat them like the people they are instead of insisting on preferential treatment that perpetuates their outsider status.

Halloween 2009 is just another swine flu transmission vector

Halloween candy bowl.jpg

I know we all love this time of year with kids dressing up in cute costumes and the mounds of candy and parties, but with the current H1N1 swine flu pandemic, have we stopped to think about what we’re really doing?

Picture this: people who may be carrying the swine flu virus are handling candy that is being given out to children, who will then handle it and eat it, possibly putting their hands in their mouths in the process.

See the problem, yet?

Happy Halloween! :-)

Being a dissocial extrovert is hard

Last night, Samantha and I went into NYC to see Daniel Bauer’s “Purity” show at The Duplex Theater with my friend Ian. It was a fun show and his magic is simple but effective. The Duplex is a very small venue and the intimate setting really lets you enjoy the experience nicely.

But, that’s not the point … what I really want to write about is some introspecting I did. I’ve known that I’m an extrovert, but oddly I don’t tend to enjoy myself amongst a large number of people. I usually end up spending time with the same few people once I identify who I want to spend time with.

A while ago, I stumbled upon the definition of dissocial personality disorder which fits me to a tee. I’m finding that the Paxil and Wellbutrin combo are helping a lot with this, but it hasn’t totally eliminated the feelings of “gee, I wish there weren’t so many people here.”

I realize that the definition of extrovert doesn’t necessarily speak to the number of people one interacts with but merely the fact that external interaction brings positive effect, and it’s clearly possible to be a dissocial extrovert because I am one, but it also means finding people that I enjoy spending time with is difficult.

I just wanted to get these thoughts down in writing before they escaped my head, so I can reflect on them later, and perhaps some of you have insights to share that I may not have thought of, yet. See, there I go again, that extroverted nature which thinks better by expressing than reflecting, looking for external inputs …

From “Hello?” to “Yeah? Hey. What’s up?”

While waiting for my daughter at her hip-hop class, listening to folks answer their cellphones, it dawned on me that “telephone etiquette” has changed a lot. I remember the days when a person would answer their phone with a “Hello?” Now, most people seem to answer with a more casual “Yeah? Hey. What’s up?” I’m pretty sure this is a pretty common thing now, perhaps starting about 10 years ago. I think it all stems from the widespread adoption of Caller ID.

Years ago, before everyone had Caller ID, when you received a phone call, you didn’t know was on the other end. To err on the side of caution, we answered our phones more formally — the caller could be a parent, an employer, etc. But, now with everyone having Caller ID, we now know who the caller is before we answer and that familiarity results in the casual response when we answer.

Have you noticed this trend? Think there’s another explanation? Just curious …

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