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Out of Time

timehasrunout

This is it.

As promised over a year ago, this will be the final post for this blog. The reasons for this are primarily:

  1. I think it has reached a point where I am saying many of the same things over and over, only differently. Not useless, but less than ground breaking.
  2. It is time for ME to move on, which has been one of the underlying themes as well.

I figured the last day of the year would be a good time to make the change, but one thing led to another, and I couldn’t get it done. So here we are. It is not easy. I like doing this, but, in addition to the reasons above, I don’t really have time for it anymore.

My plan a year ago was to work through all of the posts I had in a draft state to get them online before signing off. I failed. Just like what happens in life, time caught up and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do. There are dozens still sitting incomplete. I have decided to let them go. I’m not a big fan of symbolic actions because I think they ultimately don’t work. We know we’re doing it symbolically, which belies our sincerity and speaks as much to a need for drama. Show business can be powerful, but the power is often fleeting. All of that is true in this case as well. So…I’m not suggesting I will not write again. Only that it’s time for this blog to rest in peace.

On the occasion that I go back and read previous posts I am at once astounded and proud of how good and insightful some of them are, and also disappointed at how incomplete or lacking in any innovative thinking others are. To the astute reader, I have revealed a lot here, about myself, and human nature in general.

It was never for anyone but me. I never promoted it or cared how many people looked on. It’s simply my art, and started as a way to get some basic thoughts down. Something about writing things down codifies them, forcing the writer to think rationally in complete sentences and to ground statements and feelings. A worthy exercise, and one I think I got better at over the seven years of posts.

It evolved, as I knew it would, though I found myself surprised at how it evolved. I don’t know how obvious it is, but there was actually a turning point in the nature and presentation of the subject matter. It would be interesting to bring someone in to read through it all to see if that stands out. It’s blatantly obvious to me when I read many of the posts before and after that time. It happened over a number of months, but began here (not coincidentally, that post is the most linked to throughout the rest of the blog, barely beating this one.), and began to get momentum here. Life changes, sometimes in ways that there is no undo button for.

As a sort of farewell gift, I offer up my top 50 favorite posts (not already linked elsewhere in this one), which was an agonizing process that probably wasn’t worth the time it took, especially since the list would likely be different if I did it again next week. I hope that for those who come along later, this might get you started with what’s behind the scenes here. In chronological order…

  1. Common Sense
  2. If the Voltage Gets High Enough…
  3. Boundaries
  4. Start by Doing a Good Job
  5. Religion and Politics
  6. Hierarchy of Money
  7. Science Has a PR Problem Too
  8. Policies
  9. Brass Tacks
  10. Battle of the Unknown
  11. Compromise
  12. Love Will Find a Way
  13. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  14. The Curse of Perseverance
  15. Love and Trust
  16. I See Dead People
  17. Serendipity
  18. Dedication
  19. The Drain of Friction
  20. The Value of Images
  21. What Life Really Is
  22. Ideal World
  23. The Chosen Ones
  24. Forgive
  25. A Metaphor for Life
  26. The Result of Answers
  27. Creativity
  28. In the Flesh
  29. Move Past Go
  30. The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed
  31. A Beautiful Story
  32. Hope is Not a Strategy
  33. Morality
  34. Caged
  35. Free Will is Fake
  36. Burning Ships
  37. Blind Spot
  38. Delusions
  39. Why Love Wins
  40. Strength
  41. One Step
  42. Trust, the Hidden Part
  43. Probability: Facts, Statistics, and Reality
  44. Changes
  45. Pride and Face
  46. Comfort
  47. Atheism: Instrumental versus intrinsic
  48. Reasons or Excuses
  49. New Information
  50. The Opposite of Success
  51. Bonus: the whole Happiness series

 

And here are a few random facts.

  • The most visitors to the blog in one day was on 1/6/2015, after this post.
  • 2015 was the busiest year for visitors, with 2011 close behind.
  • 2015 also has the most published posts, at 81.
  • Nearly 2,000 unique people visited the blog throughout 2015.
  • After the United States, Germany had the most visitors.
  • The most viewed page, by far, was the home page.
  • The most looked at post was this one, followed by this. It appears traffic to the site was more influenced by my use of a couple of popular terms people search for than the actual content of the blog. Humbling, though not surprising.
  • The longest time gap between when an entry was started and when it was actually completed and posted was 56 months.
  • There are almost 1,000 comments posted across the 493 blog entries.
  • There are over 22,000 comments not posted, as they marked as spam. Unfortunately some of those are/were legitimate comments. I never got to sorting them all out. Sorry about that.
  • There were 520 images posted over the course of the blog. The images are very important, and often contained additional information/meaning.

To quote a friend, “It’s time.” I could drone on about all that I’m thinking as the final letters get typed, and the unused material gets trashed, but it’s a frivolous delay of what I have decided.

It’s a lot like life. Time runs out while we still have things on our to do list.

I do have another potential endeavor in the works. If anything gets going on that I may return here to leave a trail of bread crumbs to it.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

All the best,

David Stewart

 

 

 

 

Organization’s Effects

artguy

If you take a group of people, a subgroup of the larger population, and expose them to focused messages again and again, you will start to change their point of view. If you augment those messages with exposure to other members of the group, the messages will begin to have ever more impact.

We generally tend to align ourselves with those we’re around. We don’t fully understand why. There is a lot of psychology we know, and then other stuff we can’t explain. Yawning, for instance, can be statistically shown to be contagious. It has been studied for years, yet we don’t know why it happens.

Once a group starts to become aligned, and starts acting like a tribe, the messages of the tribe will become self-reinforcing. When someone is born into that tribe, there is a very high probability she will never know the difference. It is simply her common sense about the way the world works.

Programmed.

The Racket of Education

educationracket

The government doesn’t do a great job of educating our children, mostly because there is inherently some level of corruption, and people and organizations think they need (more) money to do the great work. So it all ends up gamed, and the blame diffused. There’s a lot of good, mind you. I’m not advocating tearing it all down. But we do need to learn to see through the B.S. and maintain accountability.

The Show versus Reality: For the most part teachers are evaluated primarily on observation and test scores. For the first few years performance is evaluated by an administrator who comes into into classroom to watch. It happens about two or three times a year, and they generally know when it’s going to happen because either the admin team wants to be sure the administrator is there on a day and time that makes sense for getting the evaluation done (not wasting his or her time) or simply to give the teacher a chance to shave up the dogs and ponies as a favor. I don’t mean to imply that all teachers get a pass all the time. The principle usually figures out who the good and bad ones are, but this process, which could be instrumental, is only incidental toward that end. It lets them put the right things on a checklist, and takes the pressure off of them to take significant action that would otherwise be warranted.

Standardized testing is a measure that’s semi-objective, at least on the surface, but is fraught with its own problems. One of the big ones is that many teachers will teach to what they believe the test is, rather than to the overall betterment of the student. It makes the teacher look better, and again removes the burden for anyone to take more difficult action.

The other concern is establishing what the standards should be that are tested. This process is inherently filled with bias, whether cultural, demographic, religious or otherwise. “Standard” by definition ignores the individual. How much of this makes sense is debated. One problem I see everywhere that I’ve spent years talking about in this blog is how programmed we all have become. We’re made to think and act in certain ways so as to more easily fit or conform to society and be good workers. Of course, this mindset comes from a time when we needed people to show up for work every day and be good, consistent, quiet workers who don’t upset the way things are done or challenge anyone or anything. To conform. These days we struggle because the world has moved on, and this deeply ingrained training no longer serves us. We can’t figure out what to do. Schools have been very slow to respond to these changes.

Principals and superintendents shave the dogs and ponies for their shows as well. Schools and districts are compelled by honors and accolades from various sources. From Lighthouse Schools to National Board Certification for teachers to publisher rankings to accrediting agencies, school leaders are compelled to score high. Competition is good and it makes us better, but the problem here is that schools are going through the motions. While accolades from publishers or high scores from accrediting agencies seem great, they’re merely snapshots. If you look good that day or that week, by teaching something that will impress them (in spite of what lesson really should be taught in the context of the course material), it creates a perception that’s not reality.

You may have heard of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which in many ways is an organization that tries to help. Teachers who receive NBPTS accreditation have done good work and have done a LOT of work. I’m sure many people have been through the process and found it to be incredibly effective and rewarding. However, some get the certification and the promised increase in pay only until the next time the state decides budgets need to be cut. The state got the appearance they were looking for and moved on.

It’s not just firms like NBPTS that cash in on education. Publishing companies write textbooks specifically for large districts or large states. We’re talking big money here. Once books are adopted, many firms have a leg up on their competition. Textbook adoption is usually a district level decision. I’m not going all the way down this rabbit hole here because this one topic is covered quite a bit elsewhere, and one would truly have to have her head in the sand to not have an inkling of how gamed it all is, but suffice to say that the values of a few in power impact the many in unusually profound ways given how few controls there are in place to manage the merits of texts. It reminds me of the phrase, “History is written by the conquerers.”

Software developers also benefit from this situation. Schools are eager to adopt a new program or system to manage grades or attendance or all sorts of student data with only a cursory review. Sure, they talk a good game: peer review, teacher and parent consultation, blah, blah, blah. What it often amounts to is a five or six person panel calling the shot for the whole district.

None of this compares to the accrediting boondoggle. These are for profit companies hired to manage…accreditations. Their agenda is to produce sales. Each time the accrediting agencies show up, the school puts on a nice show and blows a nice chunk of change on wooing them. They usually don’t even eat or spend time with students. Teachers, have you ever seen anyone from an accrediting agency so much as eating in the same cafeteria with the students?

Then there is the Cool Stuff Arms Race. Interactive white boards that barely can be kept working, or are so difficult to use they end up wasting more time than they are worth. Never mind that the school asks teachers to be careful about using it because the bulbs are expensive!  iPods (not pads, “pods,” the music players) were rolled out at many schools a number of years ago. Hardly used. Eventually dropped. Districts don’t seem to understand what it takes to feed and clothe these technological wonders they bring home. Each school seems to have its own handful of things, but the teachers are rarely consulted about what they need, and once they have (what they don’t need) they struggle with a less than fully trained IT staff to keep it running. It ends up being not worth the effort, and traditional means are often used, which in most cases work just fine anyway. It’s all up to whether the teacher is committed and good at it, not so much the technological pyrotechnics involved. Cool new stuff keeps getting added to look good to parents, the media, and accrediting agencies.

This is not to say it is all bad. Good schools do well overall. It’s just frustrating to watch the massive amounts of waste in the process. Waste that results in no money for things that matter. Like the teachers. They are treated like the same commodity pens and paper are in a lot of ways. We try to build a structure that forces them into a paradigm that some idealistic administrator visioned without really understanding that it’s nearly impossible to manage that type of human interaction so systemically. (The medical profession, by the way, suffers from the same thing.) Instead, we should be taking every possible step to build the competency of the teachers, and then paying them accordingly so that once they become brilliant and skilled, they will actually want to remain in the profession, rather than going out to get a real job where they can earn a professional living.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, and it really shouldn’t take more, but the reality is it probably will. Government is horribly inefficient, but it’s the best thing we have. Until people get serious about (first) understanding what education is needed for kids and then (second) demanding it, I doubt things will change significantly anytime soon.

Meanwhile, how do you know if your kids’ teachers are doing a good job and the district is a good one? You can start by asking your kids and watching what’s going on with their scores on standardized tests. Look deeper. Ask your kids’ teachers what the kids are supposed to learn and ask the kids about those topics. Talk to your kids about the content of their courses. If you’re kids’ teachers are worth their pay, they’ll be glad you did. There’s no substitute for being an involved parent. Not an overbearing, annoying one. But one whose head is in the game paying attention, and talking with the teachers.

Some take this to the extreme of homeschooling. In some situations this may be a viable alternative, and I absolutely applaud folks who can do it, but I expect there are precious few qualified to teach their kids AP subjects in multiple disciplines. Private schooling can be a good answer answer. Certainly many of the inefficiencies and half-baked decisions are minimized, not to mention the elimination of the grindingly slow pace of any kind of change in any governmental body such as eduction. The good private schools can’t game their reputations as easily because they are accountable for what happens to the kids once they leave because they are populated by kids whose parents have resources and talk to each other in the community, not to mention many of them knowing themselves from experience what a good education looks like. But that’s the elite. Below that, it’s still going to require diligent parenting to ensure success.

Hands on. No escaping that. Look past the BS for reality.

 

 

What’s under the Peak

buildingsmountainpeakI often hear young people (we’ll use the Millennial generalization for convenience) talking about and doing things to “raise awareness” on certain issues.

Raising awareness…

It makes total sense to them. They have good intentions, and want to see the world be a better place. They think the way to do that is to raise awareness about issues they see. There is a tendency to give a little to a large number of things because they confuse symbolic gestures with real commitment.

They see the peak. What they fail to notice is that it comes with a mountain.

They know something is missing in their lives, but living them out on social media distracts them enough to muddle through.

Raise awareness, the Millennial catch-all, so others can engage in the hard, grinding work to forge the change. Little real sacrifice. Little guts, and ultimately fleeting glory. They’re robbed of the serotonin or oxytocin producing parts, which leads to more loneliness and isolation. People need to do the hard work together. That’s how we’re wired.

The Marketing Drug

marketpharmasl

Every time I see my dentist he tries to sell me stuff. Various services they provide that will in some way (they claim) improve my life by addressing some shortcoming or concern taking place in my mouth. I never knew my mouth had so many problems!

I’m all for selling people on things that can help them take care, even if they are merely for pleasure or aesthetics (vanity), but like everything else, there can be a tipping point where we sometimes take it too far, or are too manipulative.

It reminds me of how food is marketed. The marketing has become so powerful that some of the people being hurt actually are eager for it to continue. This creates a cultural feedback loop, where some aspire to have these respected marketing jobs, to do more marketing of similar items. It creates a society where the owners and leaders of these companies are celebrated as risk-taking, brave businesspeople, not as the modern robber barons that they’ve become.

The cultural feedback loop can’t be denied. The NAACP, which represents a population that is disproportionately impacted by the health costs these products create is actually allied with marketers in the fight to sell ever more and bigger portions to its constituents.

The crime continues because the money taken by corporations that change our culture is used to fund campaigns that conflate the essential concept of ‘freedom’ with the not-clearly-articulated ‘right’ to respond to marketing and consume stuff in quantities that would have been considered literally insane just three generations ago. And we like it.

[I’ll write the previous paragraph’s point again here to be clear: we’ve decided that consumers ought to have the right be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power.]

We ban accounting that misleads, and we don’t let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There’s no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment. Every profession we respect has limits created and enforced by society. These rules make it more likely we don’t race to the bottom as we cut those corners or maximize our profits.

The question is this: are you responsible for the power in your hands? If so, then we need to own the results of our work. If not, someone else needs to step in before it’s too late. No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.

Just because marketing works doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we’re too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.

And don’t even get me started on the marketing of drugs. The pharmaceutical complex is as out of control as anything humanity has ever witnessed. It’s capitalism, and the battle is to win. At all costs.

 

Religion’s Social Reinforcement

2facereligionsocialreinforcement

Once culture or set of behaviors becomes intertwined with our lives for a period of time its distinctiveness fades. In the United States, religion is a part of our way of life. While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” only recently have many realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.

We celebrate some religiously based holidays in an official (governmental) capacity. Many of us share some fundamental beliefs and values in terms of how our society is organized and operated. They are based on, parallel to, but independent of the the theological tenets of each specific denomination or religious belief. This dates back to the early notions of the nation as religiously diverse by design (free from religious tyranny), but while not being too overtly biased in any one tradition, it clearly was based primarily on the Protestant ethos and set of values.

So here we are, a religious country that while presumably based on freedom of religion, doesn’t necessarily subscribe to freedom from religion, and certainly doesn’t appear to honor its own tenet of separation of church and state. (All of which varies somewhat according to your geographic location in the country.) This produces a bias worth briefly pointing out.

  1. Religious Bias – If your chosen set of beliefs happen to align well with the Protestant framework the country and society was built upon, you have it easy. Things invisibly make sense to you, and you probably don’t even see how biased and gamed it all is. Of course, if you happen to be of some other religion, lots of things stick out and seem to fall somewhere on the continuum from weird to downright unfair or discriminatory.
  2. Anti Religious Bias – In recent decades the pendulum has swung more towards an increasingly forceful resistance to all things in our culture that reek of being driven from a religious notion. The divide has widened. It has at times appeared to reach a point of near irrationality. Unfortunately, the baby sometimes gets thrown out with the bathwater here. There is a history of statesmen who happen to fit well within this parallel civil religious state, but who are great and effective leaders first and foremost. They can get tossed aside, which seems to leave even more room for the more dogmatic to get their voices heard and rise into a consciousness of a generation that otherwise would have recognized them as extreme.

Certainly the chasm between the different religious groups, not to mention those who do not believe in anything religious being part of our government, stands in stark relief these days, largely due to our ability to consume the media that paints these pictures. Often people on or near the fence are pushed away in the crossfire.

Perhaps we would be better off it it wasn’t so blatant. Things would be a little less cozy and comfortable for those who’s values align with the prevailing values of the society we have now, but if the overall populace were more validated and respected, the chasm could close. I argue that if we’re smart, in a rising tide lifting all boats way, the WASP’s would proactively give up the bias to help produce an environment of better dialog and growth. This is one where meeting half way may not be enough. Things have been too skewed for too long, and aside from arguably not being right, it’s obviously just not going to work effectively anymore.

Civil religion (“civility” being the operative concept) can be a great way to build a society, but in order to work it must walk a well thought-out line between being too biased towards one group versus being too watered down to be meaningful. That’s a big challenge for some capable leadership. Without it, things will continue to degrade.

Ominous.

 

Canned

cannedWhen our desire and need for simplicity and efficiency replaces authentic human interaction we betray ourselves. Of course nobody is fooled. That’s not even the question. The perfunctory gestures of a polite society help connote a mood of civility. But in order to work, we must care enough to make them authentically.

Of course, it is far better for both parties to engage genuinely. Without that it all races to the zero of noise in the background that, given how busy we all are, isn’t only not needed, but actually becomes a nuisance. And transitions to a burden: “do I have to acknowledge these people?” Maybe you could write a subroutine for it. Let the computers talk to each other!

It’s no wonder we feel more alone than ever, even though we have far more input than ever.



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