Reaction

I know the polite thing to do is to accept the decision of the people. This will be very difficult. There is a point at which I cannot accept a rejection of the core values I believe in above all else. It is easy enough to ignore the president. It is more difficult to deal with the general acceptance of intolerance and self-centeredness and the rejection of science. Offering a nod to such beliefs may be a way to tap into the frustration felt by so many, but it is not the way to make America great. I can only hope the approach taken was a way to get elected and not a harbinger of the future.

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Don’t point that thing at me

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I encountered this sign outside a nail salon in a small town near Colorado Spring. I was conducting my online class from the front seat of my car and Cindy was looking for something to do while she waited. She decided to find something else to do, but she did suggest I look at the sign in the window.

What is it about guns and some areas of the country. I must say I saw no one with a gun holstered, but I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. There is such a mix of “rights” here. While I was teaching my class, I was watching some folks who seemed to be workers from a nearby shop smoking weed during break. I must be getting old – the mix of weed and guns just seems a little off. I get this image of a hippie who is packing. Back in the 60s I could not have imagined this is where the country was going. I wonder if this is what Donald means by Make America Great Again?

 

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Mark the artist

Wanting to be something you are not must be a basic human need. I feel this way. I wanted to be athletic. I wanted to be able to sing and dance. I wanted to have hair. Actually, that hair thing is less and less of a problem. I like the close-cropped look and a nearly shaved head seems to be quite fashionable. It is only when my hair starts to grow a little I start to look bald. I think of the close-cropped head as fashion sort of like the rugged look of the two-day growth of beard.

Having just a little artistic talent would be very helpful. There must be great personal satisfaction in being able to draw or paint. I would find such skills of some professional value. I find myself creating digital content almost daily and I know that what I produce is fairly pedestrian. However, I can barely generate a legible signature let alone a recognizable sketch.

I do think I take interesting pictures. Is this counted as art? I avoid situations in which people expect me to take great pictures. Being asked to photograph a wedding would drive me crazy. What if you had the lighting wrong for a one-take opportunity. Capturing a given image is difficult, but given I can place myself in enough interesting settings, can bring my good equipment, and can take enough pictures, some great images will emerge. I accomplish my picture taking art through perseverance and heavy use of delete.

I like this picture. It is a great example of being in an interesting place with good enough equipment and taking enough pictures.

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I also like this picture, but Google Photos made it into art after the fact. Some AI bot created a more artist image that I ever could using Photoshop. Still, I had enough sense to originally points the camera in the right direction.

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There is a certain element of artistic expression that is illusive. What makes creative art? Is it art if you can convince someone else or is it good enough if you can convince yourself?

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Make American great again

The mantra “Make America great again” has been used by Mr Trump in this election season to summarize what the candidate suggests he can change about the United States. I disagree with Mr Trump on so many things and also reject his candidacy based on what he has demonstrated to be his personal values.

If you feel it is necessary to make America great again, allow me to offer a very different vision starting from a similar place. “That used to be us” is a book by Thomas Freidman and Michael Mandelbaum (see the wikipedia summary). While Trump and Friedman are both concerned. they have very different perspectives on globalization, diversity, education and energy. I have read most of the Friedman books and his analysis and explanations are deep and nuanced. You get a very complete picture without the vagueness I find in the Trump rhetoric.

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So what we teach is not reality?

I put most of my writing time into content for those in education. Some feel uncomfortable when comments on political issues are mixed with comments on educational issues. I understand this concern, but also feel that it is naive for educators to be passive when it comes to such issues. Public education is by nature political as funding and direction can be determined by elected officials. I sometimes accommodate this disparity by commenting on education issues on this site.

This has been a political season like no other. The issues associated with the Presidential race have been so contentious that the media offers nearly continuous commentary on the blow by blow developments. In comparison, other races seem almost invisible.

I wonder how educators are dealing with what students have seen and heard and how the “issues” have been explained in their homes. It seems to me that the model of the political process and notions of capitalism we promote as the “American” way have been exposed as idealistic and not useful for processing the reality that young people now see. This is far more than learning that democrats and republicans have predictably different perspectives on the role of government, funding responsibilities, and what we mean by equity and social responsibility. It seems business success involves more than the basics of having a great idea, borrowing money to develop and offer this idea as a product or service, compensating investors fairly for taking a risk, and supporting workers through reasonable compensation including benefits such as health care.

The very public reality is that successful business includes exploiting loopholes and stiffing investors and employees. Taking advantage turns out to be “genius”. Vague promises, simplistic charges of political failure, blatant sexism and racial bias promoted as telling it like it is, and dismissal of serious personal flaws as inconsequential in comparison to what I can do for you are the all too visible information offered as the basis for the decision voters are to make.

Students must wonder at the disconnect between the noble vision presented to them and the reality they experience outside the classroom. What is a teacher to do?

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Poilitical responsibility

This may seem like a civics lesson. It is not intended as such. I was not that interested when I took any coursework related to the subject. My understanding of government is pretty limited, but I am bothered by certain illogical positions politicians and perhaps the individuals who back them are willing to take in the political season.

What bothers me at present is the argument that because someone was President, Secretary of State, or a member of a specific party, things that happened when it is assumed these things are bad or do not happen when these things are good are the responsibility of those being held up for criticism.

They way government works was explained to me as a separation of powers. It is very difficult to do most things on your own. So, typically, responsibility for any given situation must be shared.

There are exceptions. For example, the President as “commander in chief” has certain decision-making powers regarding military issues. Accordingly, the rise of ISIS are attributed to the decision making of the president and secretary of state. As I understand the complaint, drawing down the military left this power gap allowing the germination and flourishing of ISIS.

Remembering your history is important here. What I remember is the frustration of the American people that the large number of troops and casualty levels in Iraq while we were mostly going it alone and feeling unsupported by Iraq was not received positively by the American people. Do you remember things differently?  I tried to find what I could about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You might be interested in what I found. President Bush (GW) signed the Status of Forces agreement establishing a commitment to get our troops out by 2011. The lower level of commitment was not the decision of President Obama and it was agreed to by both the U.S. and Iraq under a different administration.

While on the topic of the situation in Iraq. The situation in Iraq was destabalized based on the position that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and was using and developing weapons of massed destruction. Of course, both arguments used to gain the support of congress and the American people were false. One of the unfortunate consequences of creating a vacuum in a deeply divided region without appreciating the complexities of the region or without a long-term plan established the conditions for the present situation. Whether the decisions were appropriate is not the issue. Maybe it was a good decision (Saddam was a bad guy) and maybe it was not. Holding the present administration responsible for the consequences of decisions made by others represents simplistic thinking when a simple explanation is not sufficient and inaccurate.

Consider a different situation. The Affordable Care Act was passed with the President and majority control from the same party. The Affordable Care Act is complicated, but it set out to do some specific things. One important commitment from my perspective was the provision that prevented insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. My wife and two daughters have a genetic mutation that makes certain cancers highly likely (BRACA). My wife has already dealt with cancer on two different occasions.  I assume you would agree with me that putting people who must deal with this reality is a situation that an insurance company can ignore them is unacceptable and the type of thing the government should remedy. The percent of uninsured has dropped from 15 to 9%. I assume this is a good thing. Since the uninsured tend not be denied treatment, but do receive inferior treatment, I assume this is a good thing.

What about the increases in cost? Some increase might be expected.The reason insurance companies do not want to cover those with pre-existing positions is because they have pre-existing conditions. This does change the odds a bit. Again, if you are against the role of government in addressing this issue, I regard you as self-centered.

There were potential opportunties. As I said, those without insurance are seldom ignored. They end up in the ER for things that could often be treated in the office because they cannot afford to go the office when a condition is in the early stages. They do not engage in preventative measures that would reduce the problems that puts them in situations others do not face. It is hard to know how these potential advantages have worked out.

What else has happened? It appears that some businesses have taken advantage of the situation to ask employers to seek insurance on their own. Medical costs and charges from the insurance company costs have increased.

So, here is where the political establishment and the business establishment have a different take on things. If you struggle with understanding how this works, I refer you to that genius Donald Trump and his explanation of how the job of a business person is to maximize profits for self and investors and take advantage of those situations allowed by the government. I am not sure what to say about responsibility in this case.

 

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The tax thing

Here is why transparency matters. Without an explanation, the present situation allows folks like me to use the limited knowledge they have to understand what is going on for self and others.

Here is how I understand the “genius” move Mr. Trump made to spin a billion dollar loss into gold. I am basing this on the analysis provided by economists explaining how a developer with what appears to be limited assets could invest and lose nearly a billion dollars and then receive multi-year tax breaks.

As I understand the explanation, Mr. Trump and those who provided funding to his company made investments that failed and the company had to sell at a substantial loss. The key here is who had the billion dollar loss. Say three individuals went in with Mr. Trump each putting in $300 million. Say the sale of what remained of the investment was worth 200 million and each investor received 50 million back. Who has lost nearly a billion dollars? One way of understanding what likely happened would be that all parties made a deal that the investors would provide funds to Mr. Trump’s company and he would provide some type of expertise with the expectation of some return to the investors. At one point the billion dollars belonged to Mr. Trump. A different interpretation would be that each party involved lost 200 million.

If the first scenario is accurate, most folks would probably not assume Mr. Trump deserved to benefit for taking a billion dollar loss when Mr. Trump or his business did not really experience this loss. Taking advantage of others for personal benefit is not what most of us consider representing business genius. Legal or not the impression it leaves matters.

For the record, the economist claimed that this scenario is no longer allowed under the law. Mrs. Clinton voted for the law that closed the loophole.

Is this an accurate representation? I don’t know. Given no additional information and an explanation that seems quite logical, it is hard to know what to believe.

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A genius?

There are fields in which it is helpful to bring in someone who knows how to abuse or manipulate a system in order to improve that system. Black hat hackers are often brought in by online security agencies to explain their tactics so that countermeasures can be prepared. Rely on criminals to explain how they do what they do is helpful if it is criminal behavior that has you mystified. Does the way some with the most resources avoid taxes a mystery?

Surrogates for Mr Trump are now describing Mr Trump as a genius because he has been able to take advantage of federal tax laws to increase his own wealth. Does Mr. Trump have insight that other politicians do not? I doubt that this is the case. The issue of loopholes afforded the very rich are well known and constantly noted by politicians. The problem is not so much with understanding or with the individual who happens to be the president, but with the unwillingness of congress to address the problem. It is important to understand that it is congress that makes the laws. Executive powers are quite limited in the area of generating the funds to maintain the needs of the country. This is one of those division of powers things.

The congressional representatives who could change the tax laws are heavily lobbied and supported by the wealthy. Ask those who represent you about the tax law.

The logic that a successful businessperson can use these same skills to benefit the country depends on what skills apply. As a leader of the country you cannot rely on bankruptcy as a solution to thee organization you represent. You pretty much have to pay those folks for goods and services you ask them to provide.

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Debate?

In a few hours, the presidential candidates will engage in a “debate” with tremendous consequences. The impact their words have on the voting public may determine the results of the upcoming election. But, is what is about to happen an actual debate and will the public be informed in the manner expected from a debate?

Actual debates have some obvious differences. An actual debate is evaluated by judges looking for specific things. As neutral observers, the judges are to evaluate how well the participants support the position they are advocating and contest the position taken by their opponents. The quality of arguments is what matters. Are positions taken clear? Is a clear rationale provided for the position and is evidence offered to support the position? Are the rationales and evidence provided by the opponent accurately identified and disputed with evidence? Redefining the issue being debated, drifting from the topic, and personally attacking an opponent are evaluated as irrelevant (a waste of the allocated time) or reason for a more negative evaluation.

The debates leading to such important decisions for the nation are likely not to meet these expectations. The American people and not neutral judges will evaluate the performance of the participants. The actual moderator may not be able to keep the participants from deviating from the agreed upon topics. Reactions of the viewers may not be based on the quality of arguments and the accuracy or existence of the evidence offered in support of the evidence. Showmanship rather than substance may be what gains participants credit.

Argumentation (debate) is being taught in schools because it develops the skills of critical thinking. This focus is deemed necessary because so much information floats around that requires a critical eye and because people, in general, are not good at carefully evaluating the information they encounter.

I must say that while my position may seem biased it bothers me greatly that affiliation of voters with the two candidates taking the stage this evening can be related to the level of education of those who tend to back each candidate. Of course, there are many exceptions, but this difference stands out in analyses of possible predictive variables. As an educator interested in critical thinking and sound reasoning this just seems like a reason for concern.

So, my suggestion is to be critical when you listen tonight. Are the candidates staying on topic? Are candidates making clear explanations for the positions they propose? Is there evidence offered for these positions?

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Fantasy failure

Located in the deep woods or not, Sunday is still the day for football. Time to check my fantasy team. I have never been a fan of the fantasy game. You should root for one team and stick with your team. Being loyal is a big thing with me.

I have been participating in a fantasy league to keep other people happy. It seems to be the thing to do.

My team has been struggling. Today I am down 50-12 while having more men in play than my opponent. My quarterback earned one point today – two interceptions and no touchdowns. I did draft Tom Brady, but then I remember that he was ineligible for the first four games. I told everyone else that I thought this was a good move because the others thinking they were smart passed him up. I would have him for all, but the first four games. There are more quarterbacks – I think mine got to play the entire game. My players seem to be turning in poor performances just to spite me.

I see there is a button labeled “get a team”. Maybe I should give that a try.

My wife keeps trying to explain this fantasy thing to me. “You have to drop some players and look for better ones,” she says. I try to explain my loyalty thing to her, but she says that is not how the game is played.

Just wait – Tom Brady will return and my fortunes will turn around. This is probably why they call it fantasy football.

BTW – the Vikings (the team to which I am loyal) did win today (again). Take that all you midwest loser Packer fans. (Note – if you are really loyal, you get to trash talk.)

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