Friday, December 17, 2010

Pertussis Vaccine Doesn't Work

Ever since the outbreak of whooping cough among vaccinated children in the early 1990's in Laguna Niguel, it's been obvious that the shot doesn't work.

Now new studies show even greater cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, among the vaccinated groups, and "experts" claim it may be due to a new strain. But these experts receive funding from the manufacturers of the shots:

Public officials around the world rely heavily on two groups of pertussis experts when setting vaccine policy relating to the disease. Both groups, and many of their members, receive money from the two leading manufacturers of pertussis vaccine. []

Bottom line: stay healthy; avoid all vaccines.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roger Schank Sets Straight Education Curricula-Again

Once again Roger Schank cuts to the chase better than lesser experts in his field of how people learn:

When you think about education, think about this. We have made people so stupid through our absurd system of memorizing nonsense and repeating it back on a multiple choice tests that we have set the stage for FOX News to simply say what it wants to say, and having millions of people believe it, because no one ever taught them how to construct or refute an argument...

...the problem is that school is boring and irrelevant and all the kids know it. They know they will never need algebra, or trigonometry. They know they will never need to balance chemical equations and they know they won't need random historical myths promoted by the school system. When all this stuff was mandated in 1892 it was for a different time and a different kind of student.

My daughter is a top student in a class of 650. She is taking advanced algebra in order to not have to take it at some future time in high school or college when there will be other, more important subjects she wants to put her mind to. She drives herself down that road to her goal regardless of the burdens and problems in the way.

I'm not so lucky--I hate automatic authoritarian rules that require school children to have to master any subject which not only may not be necessary for them at any point in their lives, but for anyone's life. But I am lucky that my daughter will get through this morass and prevail--I only hope it happens without her losing her divine right to question.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jimmy Carter on Tavis Smiley's Show

Want to learn something about which you thought you already know? Watch Jimmy Carter's interview on Tavis Smiley from October 25, 2010:

Issues covered included the Supreme Court decision earlier this year that paved the way for unlimited corporate contributions. Carter succinctly details the results of huge secret contributions to candidates that the law allows to be hidden; US dealings with China as the world economy shrinks--Carter's been there and has a better understanding than anything you'll hear in the mainstream media.

He reminisces about working with congress on a bipartisan level that is gone in our times. If the republicans win back the House, it might be OK after all because then blame can't fall on the democrats for everything wrong in our society.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Paid-For Republican Takeover

Not that the dems don't do it--use huge amounts of money to buy ads to win elections. But since Watergate, there were supposed to be some controls on this system of who donated what funds to whom...

“It creates all the appearances of dirty dealings and undue influence because our candidates are awash in funds the public is ignorant about,” said Roger Witten, a partner in the New York office of WilmerHale, who served as assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate special prosecution force. “This is the problem that was supposedly addressed after Watergate.”

Does the average citizen care? Does he or she vote? Think of all that money going to charities, like Haitians who are struggling because of the earthquake, or the mess left over from Katrina...or bailing out homeowners who want to make mortgage payments but can't because of the wrong choices of their elected representatives.

But this isn't new news:

"In 1907, direct corporate donations to candidates were legally barred in a campaign finance reform push by President Theodore Roosevelt. But that law and others — the foundation for many Watergate convictions — are all but obsolete. This is why many supporters of strict campaign finance laws are wringing their hands."

(Very nicely researched and written by JILL ABRAMSON of New York Times.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Vaccine] Side Effects That Were Unavoidable

The meaning of the title of this post is up for grabs in the Supreme Court in a vaccine case against drug company Wyeth, now owned by drug giant Pfizer. It's a complicated case in legalities, and which court should be hearing the arguments, and more jargon and nonsense.

What it's really about, is that a little girl was severely harmed by a vaccine years ago, and several years later that vaccine was removed from the market because it was so dangerous. Yet the courts say the proof is not there that the vaccine was at fault.

" turns on the text of the federal law, which bars ordinary lawsuits “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.”

Much of the argument concerned the meaning of the word “unavoidable.”
“The language that they used is certainly, to say the least, confusing,” Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg said." [NY TIMES]

The Obama administration sides with Wyeth. The record of the FDA in coming to the aid of US public health is so abominable, it makes the reference to it in the following quote worse than any Comedy Central punch line:

"The U.S. government filed a brief and argued on behalf of Wyeth, with assistant to the solicitor general Benjamin J. Horwich telling the court that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control make determinations about which vaccines are safe and effective, and it should stay that way.

'It would be extraordinary to institute a system where juries would be second guessing a decision' by federal experts, he said." [Post-Gazette]

As they say in the movie business, "What a throw-away line!" Any jury would have the benefit of input from various experts from all sides--and in this age of skepticism of government oversight, from Katrina on down to the recent multi-million-egg recall, who wants to have the sole last word on vaccine safety be the FDA and CDC? Hands please?

"Justice Sonia Sotomayor, meanwhile, seemed to sympathize with the argument that manufacturers could keep less safe vaccines on the market without a legal incentive.

'What is the motivation for manufacturers to continue testing [vaccines] and voluntarily stopping [sales] if a better design is found somewhere else?' she asked. 'I don't see why they should stop before they cause as many injuries as they need to before the FDA tells them to stop.' " [Post-Gazette]

--A voice of clarity amidst the dense fog.

Foreigners in Our Midst

I met an interesting Guatemalan yesterday. He spoke English very well, with a noticeably excellent vocabulary, and a Spanish accent. He was picking through my recycle trash barrel trying to secure bottles and various plastic items to bring to a recycle center in return for a small amount of cash.

I walked down the driveway with 2 more bags to see if he could use anything more--gallon milk cartons and empty cleaning bottles. He was very thankful, and then I asked where he was from.

He has three children who are not US citizens and he said it's too dangerous to bring them here without documents. He himself has papers so he's not in fear of deportation, but he said he must return home to Guatemala because of his family.

He had a job as well as picking through trash, but every little amount helps. I asked him about life in Guatemala, and he said it has bad sections, like parts of Los Angeles--maybe not that bad--and good sections, like where he goes to find recyclables.

It was very hot standing in the 90 degree afternoon sun, so I broke off the conversation to get him a bottle of water. I offered him $5--in my mind it was a token confirmation that at least one American citizen doesn't believe all immigrants are lazy drones sponging off the rest of our immigrant-descended society.

He refused my handout! So I explained it was a small payment for a short interview that would go into my book about bigotry in this country. Then he thanked me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Foggy Hope

Frank Rich really is the eternal hopeful optimist. I haven't heard an "encouraging word" from any Democrat recently about Obama's chances for re-election, let alone the mid term congressional seats coming up. Among my top favorite columnists, Rich sites varying polls and trends to show that, with a good "oomph" from Obama, as opposed to the steady monotonous teaching speeches, the President could change the course of what seems to be looming--Republican takeover of the House at least.

Then again, if you think back two years from right now, with Obama about to be elected President and the country turning against the incumbent Republicans--the atmosphere sure feels different.

In fact, based on historical statistics, it's entirely possible Obama and the dems will hold their own in the upcoming elections:

"...examples of 1962, 1990 and 1998 demonstrate that an incumbent president can in fact lose ground in Congress without being "shellacked."

All of this speculation isn't helping those out of work, or the poor, or people who are losing their homes to the banks. It's still worth a second to think about who would be better in charge now--the Bush/Cheney/Republican congress debacle of the last decade, or the possibility of hope, even in the mist, now.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stone's Throw Causes Ripples

Simon Wiesenthal spoke at a huge temple in Los Angeles in 1978. I paid the fee and bought one of his books in order to see him speak in person. He was said to be in poor health at the time--he was 70 years old--and I wanted to see the man who I thought was the figurehead of the mantra of the Holocaust--of the Jews murdered by the Nazis in WWII--to "never forget," and thus never repeat, such atrocities.

Mr. Wiesenthal signed my copy of Sails of Hope, his book that concludes that Christopher Columbus was Jewish, which Mr. Wiesenthal wrote, among many others, in order to raise funds for his Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Austria. I wonder if I had known that he was to live another 26 years, if I would have gone to see him speak that day.

I remember what he said to this day, 32 years later. I was stunned by his ferocity, and his profound and unfamiliar ideas!

Wiesenthal was known as a Nazi criminal hunter. That was the simplistic explanation for his documentation of thousands of Nazis who escaped Germany after the war and whom Wiesenthal methodically tried to bring to justice, in order to keep the memory of the crimes alive.

I even remember a period in my youth when people, including Jews,said "enough is enough--let's put all this behind us and move on." Wiesenthal never heard that. He only knew that the memory of the holocaust would prevent it from happening again.

But I could not have imagined that he would have an idea I hadn't already heard, in his speech the day I saw him. And to this day, what he said has not been heard enough.

I can remember the basic premise, not the actual words--Mr. Wiesenthal said that the Jews of the world, the world Jewish community, lost so many friends after the war, because the common cry, the universal appeal for humanity, was that 6 million Jews--civilians, not soldiers--were systematically killed by the Nazis in WWII. Mr. Wiesenthal said that the world Jewish community, trying to gain support for their cause as a misplaced people, and as a beaten-down people, lost empathy from other non-Jewish groups by repeating this number: 6 million murdered--because in Europe, under Hitler's Nazis, there were also 5 million non-Jewish civilians murdered--11 million total non-combative innocent men, women and children--murdered by the Nazis in Europe.

I have heard the number of 6 million Jews killed in the holocaust all my life--but I always correct that if I can to say that an additional 5 million were killed by the Nazis in Europe--political dissidents, Gypsies, homosexuals, clerics, handicapped--11 million total.

The other point Mr. Wiesenthal made, which should have been obvious but was not, was that most of the Nazi war criminals he had in his files were not old men--they were younger than I am today which is 60. Why was this an important and shocking statement? Because my generation considered World War II to be ancient history, and it wasn't. It had happened as recently back then, as the Vietnam War seems to us today--35 years. So, people of my generation, children of the 50's--Clinton's fellow baby-boomers--should be able to relate to events such as Wiesenthal describes with an equally objective point of view.

Guess again!

Mr. Wiesenthal left out of the calculation of 11 million killed, additionally the Russians who were non-combative personnel. Who can tally the tens of millions of Russian people killed by Hitler's army, as well as by the dictator himself, Stalin?

It's no secret that today the American quasi Jewish community harbors such difference of opinion and outlook that an article which describes this appeared in the New York Review Of Books under the title The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. There are young liberal Jews, Jewish Zionists who support Israel, liberal secular Israeli Jews--on and on.

There are Jews around the world who are poor--hundreds of thousands in New York City alone--to counter the "rich Jew" stereotype. There is also a highly persuasive, mega-rich, powerful Jewish lobby which has openly been able to steer US pro-Israel policy since that country's inception 62 years ago. While many people have voiced concerns about a skewed US friendship with Israel due to disproportionate influence from the affluent American Jewish community, who can blame Jews for concerns about protection and betrayal?

After 2000 years of anti-Jewish hatred in the western world culminating with the systematic killing of half of the Jews in the entire world in WWII, any remarks made in a public forum which reinforce old negative stereotypes, or make up new ones, raise a tremendous response from many Jews and their friends.

Oliver Stone's recent remarks about Jews in a newspaper interview are an example of how crackpot statements can cause trouble, and also how over-reaction to someone who happens to be in the public eye can add flame to a fire that should be put out, not fanned on.

Stone is an award-winning filmmaker who is very good at his craft. His forays into politics, both in his films like the conspiracy in JFK, and his friendships with unsavory Latin American despots, show him to have an open mind, but not necessarily more than a superficial one.

Some of what Stone said were,

"...that Hitler caused more damage to the Russian people than to Jewish people, but that the American focus on the Holocaust stems from the "Jewish domination of the media."

"Hitler was a Frankenstein but there was also a Dr. Frankenstein...German industrialists, the Americans and the British. He had a lot of support...

"Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than [to] the Jewish
people, 25 or 30 [million killed]."

The reason few people know this, according to Stone?

"The Jewish domination of the media," he said. "There's a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years."
Stone immediately apologized for these remarks, lest he insult the "Jews who dominate Hollywood" and lose funding for a future project. The most stunning and fascinating thing is that Stone was basically right about what he was saying, except his facts and presentation were wrong if not goofy. He still got pilloried by, among others, the Anti-Defamation League ("This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.") and The American Jewish Committee ("By invoking this grotesque, toxic stereotype, Oliver Stone has outed himself as an anti-Semite," David Harris, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "For all of Stone's progressive pretensions, his remark is no different from one of the drunken, Jew-hating rants of his fellow Hollywood celebrity, Mel Gibson.")

And his connection of the Jewish lobby in Washington to the lack of facts getting out about numbers of Russians killed in WWII and Hitler's involvement--serves to aggravate anti-Semitic sentiment rather than to instigate intelligent discussion.

Since Stone is half-Jewish, it's hard to label him anti-Semitic. Rather, the term for a label could be "misinformed," or "loudmouth?" Also, it would be nice, if not unbelievable, if Foxman and Harris were equally incensed and vocal when someone with a public platform made ridiculous rants against Muslims, simply because a handful out of millions who follow Islam are renegade terrorist monsters, or otherwise foment hatred. Seems like we Americans like labels more than we relish understanding and tolerance.

Wouldn't it be a better outcome, instead of finger-pointing and name calling, if Stone's half-cocked, unstudied remarks started a new, objective, real analysis among Americans about our government's policy towards Israel, and Israel's policy toward an imminent peaceful settlement of issues in the Middle East?

With nuclear weapons involved, we all--Jews and non-Jews--have a stake in this ongoing process, and our best hope is that cool heads prevail.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Frightening First Grade

"Milo, my grandson, will enter first grade in September 2011. I find this news so frightening I hardly know where to start." --Roger Schank's web site.

Will add more later...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Obama, Afghanistan, and the "Long War"

Is it a coincidence that the same day Tom Hayden writes about The 'Long War' quagmire, Obama pops up in Afghanistan on an "unannounced trip?"

Probably--but the implications of Hayden's op-ed piece are dire: in the absence of an ongoing "Cold War" to stoke the fires of unbridled defense expenses, the neocons will need to promote 80 years of undeclared war against "insurgent groups from Europe to South Asia."

Of course, along with defense contractors keeping in business--big business--there is the untold correlating hardship of casualties of Americans in the field.

So is Obama in Afghanistan today to reassure troops on their mission, to discuss options for the long haul with his generals? Or is he developing a way to sell the taxpayers on why they need to pay for 100,000 ground forces in a country who's biggest export is based on the opium poppy seed?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Pope Turns His Back Again

The Catholic Church is mind boggling to me. Most formal religions' teachings are pretty far-fetched, but my exposure for most of my life is to the basic tenets of Christianity, some of which are man as God, virgin conception, rising from the dead--not to mention innumerable miracles, more like magic tricks, that we haven't seen the likes of since--are simply...mind boggling.

And I am surrounded by people who call themselves Christians, and I have learned through the years that some of these people actually know what beliefs they are following, including the ones mentioned above.

I'm really not trying to start a discussion of religion--I'm more interested in how far from any concept of morality and grounded spirituality the Catholic Church has strayed. Granted there was the Inquisition, among dozens of other historical transgressions across the centuries. But now in the middle of mass media and internet scrutiny, the Pope himself is turning his back on the victims of sexual abuse caused by his own flock under his own nose--right there in Europe, even Italy, where the tourists flow to the Vatican to get back to the origin of the religion. And he's done it before--

Christopher Dickey puts this bit of monumental hypocrisy in trenchant perspective -- Newsweek on line: When Death Came For the Archbishop.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hey bartender, Gimme some Pig Virus

Federal health authorities recommended Monday that doctors suspend using Rotarix, one of two vaccines licensed in the United States against rotavirus, saying the vaccine is contaminated with material from a pig virus. (CNN)

Infants have an immature immune system that naturally gets challenged all the time by germs and toxins from the environment and people. This constant exposure helps the complex primary (mucous membranes and gut) and secondary (cellular blood cells and antibodies) human immune systems to keep the body as free from disease as possible.

Vaccines play havoc with this interweaving of and interplay of organic chemistry and which has an effect on every part of the development of the child. This interference is evident in the latest story of the rotavirus vaccine having a DNA contaminant from an animal during its manufacture. this discovery was by chance through a research group's examination of vaccines looking for any such contamination.

Rotavirus symptoms in babies and toddlers tend to be much more serious because of their developing immune system. (

Doesn't it stand to reason that the "developing immune system" is also heavily tested by vaccines?

Around 4 to 5 million babies are born in the US each year. 100 infants have been reported by the CDC to die from rotavirus each year, which is a severe stomach ailment. We'll never know the huge toll getting vaccines takes on infants because the government, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and establishment medicine, close their eyes to this travesty in favor of the money to be made from vaccines. 1 million children received the vaccine for rotavirus already this year.

Almost all children have become infected with rotavirus by their third birthday. Repeat infections with different viral strains are possible, and most children have several episodes of rotavirus infection in the first years of life. After several infections with different strains of the virus, children acquire immunity to rotavirus. (

Vaccines for rotavirus require multiple doses, and most vaccines do not confer lifelong immunity, as do the antibodies to the actual germs.

And, as the drug companies like to state, the bottom line is that no one can prove the efficacy of any vaccines because there has never been a scientific double-blind study to prove they work. The statistics cited by the CDC are admittedly self-serving and vague in order to provide P R for citizens to line up for their vaccines.

As for me--my own DNA is quite enough, thank you. I'll pass on the pig virus.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Kinda Makes me Chortle

Let's talk about middle-aged men taking photographs of adolescent girls. Dressed in provocative poses, or naked, all in exquisite style...photographically.

I don't like the subject, and I'm sure the reader isn't at ease with it either. Surely a man caught engaging in such activity would be arrested for child endangerment at least.

There are several organizations devoted to the interest and caretaking of the life of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who indeed took pictures of young girls at the dawn of the age of photography, a century and a half ago, and who used the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll for his books about Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The fascination with Lewis Carroll is partly due to his creative proclivities crossing over from knowledge and studies of math and logic to his use of words and story telling, and partly from the huge success of his books.

Who knows if he was a pederast? I heard similar stories about Walt Disney when I worked at Disney Studios in the 1980's. Supposedly--he was an anti-Semite who employed Jews; he was a skirt-chaser about whom Julie Andrews gushed as if he were a father-figure; he was an alcoholic who I loved to watch once a week in the 1950's, when he appeared as host of a TV show called"Disneyland." This TV show used Disney's movies and was sponsored by ABC, which financed the amusement park experiment, Disneyland.

Years later when I heard and read the truths and rumors about Walt Disney, the actual man, it was like waking up and getting it right. Like when I found out Mickey Mantle was a roaring drunk, and not the "hero" I watched play baseball when I was 8 years old.

Even if only a percentage of the rumors about Disney were true, there were enough to make me realize this wasn't the same "Uncle Walt" I enjoyed watching as a kid.

My favorite "Disneyland" show was "Alice in Wonderland," divided into segments over several weeks, on a 19 inch black and white television set. It was mesmerizing, especially the caterpillar "dude" with the hookah (bong?) blowing smoky letters of messages out to little Alice (just as Carroll wrote her she was a young girl in the animated version).

Never mind drugs (this one makes you small, this one makes you tall) the interest for me dates back way before the 1951 animated feature. Walt's initial fame came from drawing "Alice" adventures back in Kansas in the 1920's using a real child model and putting her in animated settings. This was a clever and creative expression at the time.

It doesn't seem fair to compare the current Disney "Alice" mega-millions-budgeted 3D release with the lineage from the past. Just for starters--the "Alice" character in the new movie is 19, and she is being proposed to for marriage. The innocence of the 7-year-old "Alice" of the books is already lost before the movie begins. Obviously Tim Burton & co are not interested in maintaining Carroll's or Disney's point of view of this little girl getting into big trouble, or any otherwise psychological dysfunction. Why should they?

The "Alice" I remember is bizarre, frightening, and wildly imaginative.

So if the forest trees don't scare the crap out of me and Snow White, Bambi's mother doesn't get shot, Pinocchio doesn't turn into a donkey, and little girls napping out by the tree don't fall down a menacing hole with weird-speaking unbelievable beings--

Then I guess 3D "Alice" notwithstanding, my happy childhood fairy tales are over.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Cap'n, thar be whales here!" -- Scotty, Star Trek IV

As the dolphin becomes just another victim of
humanity's utilitarian attitudes towards the Earth, it
seems as though the ancient friendship between our
respective species is no longer entirely reciprocal.

Such exploitation is nowhere more evident than in the
capture and display of cetaceans for profit. Stripped of
their natural identity, deprived of their own culture
and environment, the dolphin and whale incarcerated
within the oceanarium not only symbolizes an abuse of
that ancient relationship, but above all our
estrangement from nature as a whole.

Prince Sadruddin Khan

The Bellerive Symposium on Whales and Dolphins in Captivity (1990)

I'm not a vegetarian. I love a juicy red and char-
blackened steak. Hopefully, the more of Temple Grandin's
methods for humane slaughter of cattle are adopted, the more
times I'll eat meat with a clear conscience.
Never mind the carbon-footprint aspect, which negates
all the humanity stuff. I didn't say I had no vices.
If I thought the fat and sodium wouldn't kill me at an
earlier age, I'd eat bacon all the time. And pigs are
considered one of the more intelligent animals.

I don't eat veal, which I used to love, because I found
out how grossly inhumane the animal is treated.
I wouldn't advise reading up about how chickens get to
market if you like eating them either.

I'm not an "animal lover," though logic and morality
demand a recognition of the co-members of nature
taking up a percentage of space with us humans on
this planet, including plants and fish. Even crystals are
known to exude and transmit energy, so maybe rocks
and dirt for that matter have some input in our shared

After all, on a molecular level, we're all made of the
same stuff that comes from the creation of stars...
whales have been mistreated in the world over
the last 250 years.
'The Whale' by Philip Hoare describes instances of total
thoughtlessness on the part of humans' use of an
"As their land-borne counterparts drove buffalo from
sixty million to extinction, so these oceanic cowboys
pursued whales to the brink. . . . For America, the
common enemy was the wilderness; and just as that
wilderness was in fact full of animals -- and native
peoples -- so the American seas were full of whales,
ready for the slaughter."

The Russians don't escape blame either in this
"During the Cold War, gargantuan Soviet factory ships
dispatched and processed their quarry with grim

Lamps no longer burned whale oil during the 1950s
and 1960s; whales were made into lipstick, margarine,
vitamins, lubricants, fertilizer, glue, leather and food
for minks and other fur-bearing animals."

The overall issue is about the animals we live with.
There has been a long term outcry against making fur
clothing from animals. Very recently I have seen increasing
activism about so-called "puppy mills" where dogs are
bred beyond the ability of the demand of puppy lovers
to absorb them so that many have to be killed.
We got our dog from a shelter, and there were hundreds of
other dogs there waiting for a home they'd never see.
We have no control over our fellow citizens of the
earth in other countries where tigers have been
poached down to near nonexistence.
Then PETA makes a silly ad comparing the
problems with tigers to the problem of a guy named
Tiger in order to make a point--but not a good point.
So they pulled the ad.

Animals kept in captivity, in zoos, aquariums, or in
any of a number of other unnatural habitations
is not healthy for them, or for our human
perception of them. If a parent thinks the child will
become more knowledgeable about an animal by
observing it in a zoo, circus, or constrained in water
when it was meant to roam the sea, that parent should
realize that the real lesson the child learns is how
people can be bullies over even the most powerful of
creatures. That's what I learned from seeing monkeys
in a zoo or graceful dolphins in a small area, or huge powerful
lions chasing their tails over and over in confinement.

It is especially souring that a woman who is said to
have loved her relationship with the great Killer
Whales, was killed by one of them in an accident.
This incident needs to bring to the headlines that these
animals need to be let loose and out of captivity.
The news reports are even blaming the trainer for dangling her
ponytail in the water, and this confused the Killer Whale. Her fault
was not in trying to embrace and love this whale, it was the fault of
a system that says that humans can invade the world of nature with
no consequence, and no thought. In the wild, a human would never
try to interact with a large Killer Whale. It's not natural. Dogs are
domesticated animals over several thousand years--Killer Whales, not.

Circuses need to be disbanded, and animals fit for the
wild need to be released into their native habitat.

Let Sea World hire James Cameron to develop a huge multi
-screen "Avatar"esque 3D show about how Orcas live,
eat and produce in the wild. Show them sneaking up
on the California Grey Whale calves and munching
down in a few bites as the Greys make their way with their
mothers down to Baja to spawn. It's terrifying,
grotesque--but it's natural and none of our business--
go ahead and film it for the sake of educating our
children. Sea World would thrive on punching
those tickets for that filmed 3D show.

There's more to learn in the natural activity of the food
chain than there is in the artificial depravity of human
technology conquering an ignorant beast.

All of this sounds pretty way out and far-fetched--let all the
zoo animals go and close down the circuses...
How do you think it sounded to the Sperm Whales when
they were being hunted and killed to use their oil to
light the gas lamps of London 160 years ago? They
couldn't believe it either!

People are so bizarre. Try talking to one sometime--
you won't believe what you hear next.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Genius on Education: Roger Schank

I have quoted Roger Schank several times regarding the dismal state of the education curriculum in the US. Mr. Schank's background and biography are so complex and profound that my quick take is that he is an expert--possibly THE expert--on how people learn.

Actually, he is an expert on how learning happens, because his initial studies over 35 years ago were not about people, but about how to develop computers that could learn. Schank thinks so far outside the box, it's hard to describe briefly what his field is.

How'd I know about Roger Schank and his amazing research? My dad played in a softball league with him in Florida. As they became friends, my dad told me about Mr. Shank's work, because my dad knew of my interest in the issue of US education--or at least of it's failings. I didn't know of Mr. Schank's work--I received a Master's Degree in film production from Boston University, so what did that have to do with education?

I have now read enough of Schank's work and his anecdotal quotes to know that if he offers advice, you're always better off following it. I am referring to particular advice in terms of how our US publi school system.

It seems to me that most parents take for granted that their children will attend schools grouped by grades, divided by year chronologically, and that they will be taught separate subjects like math, history, English literature etc. The buildings used for classrooms are usually divided into rooms lining a hallway. The rooms may or may not have windows, and children line up a lot to move from room to room, or lunch cafeteria.

On the whole in this country, prisons and school buildings are indistinguishable from each other. Who questions this structure? We've all gone through it. Surprisingly, not all parents swallow this route for their children's education hook, line and sinker.

These people, motivated and stimulated by publicized alternatives to US public school education, have found state-sanctioned recourses such as Montessori, or the new charter schools which are not wholly obligated to the local school district's curriculum.

Some parents even teach their children themselves--home school--although sometimes the reasons for this are not due as much to the education deficiencies in the school district as much as to the religious preferences of how evolution or the bible is taught.

Children also get more homework these days--unless you're a teenage parent, most of us had less homework than our kids do now. In many situations, the heavy homework burden is because "we, the people," decided our "children
doesn't read" as well as they should, or know enough about 'rithmatic, or whatever.

So we fixed it where the powers that be--Bush & Co. "No Child Left Behind," would see to it that these kids'll get the practice they need. And if that means
30 repetitive math homework problems to do every night--instead of dance class, or a singing or piano lesson, or baseball or just plain old playing with your friends...buck up and take your medicine before the Chinese overcome
you and communism rules the world.

Well, maybe that's a little "over the top" as the drama critic says--not every parent who wants his child to succeed, and thinks homework helps, is afraid of the overrunning "Asian hoard"...But Schank isn't the only one who thinks the
"system" is broken, or that kids are inundated with homework

What if you, as a student or former student, or parent, closed your eyes for a moment, and thought about something you once learned while travelling, or watching a movie, or the History channel? What if you thought about how
much an adult uses advanced algebra equations, who isn't working on sending rockets into outer space, and what if you thought about just sitting around with your friends discussing something that interests everyone?

Some enlightened experts in learning, including Mr. Schank, have asked the question, "why do children have to learn by subject category." Maybe there shouldn't be a demarcation between history, English, Math etc. In fact, why teach math at all, unless a certain student enjoys math and wants to learn more about it--there are some who do!

Here are the core issues: immediately urgent is that kids spend six-eight hours in school every day. Why should their family life be ruined by two to five additional hours of homework?

And ultimately, the entire curriculum and set-up of our school system needs to be re-evaluated and revolutionized to conform with how a human being actually learns. One thing is for sure--people do not learn by being lectured to and repeating by rote what they can remember from the lecture on a test. Yet that's exactly how the public school system is set up to teach our children.

Which brings me to the interesting portion of this post -- my conversation about all the above with the principal of my daughter's middle school in Sherman Oaks, CA.

If you want to speak with your child's school principal, you make a phone call, then leave a message, and eventually you may speak to him or her. In my case, the principal called me! We had a nice talk, and we were in total agreement.

He is unhappy that the system is geared towards "teaching for tests," in other words, making sure students get high test scores so the money keeps funding in from the state and federal coffers to the local school. He agrees with me
about too much homework intruding in family life--especially repetitive math problems. And he says his hands are tied as much as mine to make changes.

I initially thought the principal's phone call would revolve around his explanation of why the schools are set up as they are, and how this was good for children. I was gratified that his end of the conversation was the exact opposite--he agreed that kids are set up to fail, average achievers are discouraged from creatively branching out, and a high percentage of teachers and parents--both sides of whom are ignorant about the subject--think a lot of homework is better for the student. He told me of every 3 parents like me who complain about too much homework, 2 parents think it's just fine as is or that there isn't enough homework!

My daughter still has too much homework, she gets all A's (I personally don't care about grades or tests, but she likes the A's), and she still wants to stay in school. She's as tough as the system itself!

Why did the principal phone me in the first place? He called me because of a letter I wrote to the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The LAUSD serves around 700,000 students, has around 45,000
teachers, 38,000 other employees, and a budge of roughly $13.6 billion.

Here's the letter I wrote to Ray Cortines,
Superintendent of LAUSD (the vitriol is self-explanatory):

January 30, 2010

Mr. Superintendent:

Once again my dinner was unnecessarily interrupted by an annoying recorded phone call from you to report about a report card regarding school's performance. Who cares!

It isn't enough my daughter attends Millikan for 7 hours a day, and then has an average of 3 to 5 hours homework per night, and at least 12 hours over each weekend--that's AVERAGE!--but you or someone in the school also send out recorded messages which are either not urgent,nor meaningful, to my daughter's education.

Today is a beautiful Saturday on which my daughter should be outdoors, playing with friends, or having some recreation not involved with indoor school paperwork homework. Instead, she is doing repetitive math problems, a science report she already did in December but has to add to, and other busy-work homework.

If I have to quote you the studies done through the years which prove that the amount of homework a student does is NOT commensurate with his or her achievement in school, or career, then you have a huge gap in your back ground as an educator.

The lack of social interaction due to homework assignments; the immense pressure exerted on students because teachers act more like prison guards than educators, putting utter fear into each student about turning in homework assignments on time; teacher and administration accent on standardized tests which score how a school compares in terms of test scores with other schools; the "tone" of collusion of the LAUSD that all of this is better for our students--these aspects of my daughter's experience in school show a tremendous failing on the part of administrators, and teachers, in understanding of how children learn.

I don't believe this one letter will change any of the amazing damage the policies regarding homework is doing to students.

But I do know that my daughter is an exceptional, better-than average, bright student who is inundated with unimportant busy work homework. So how does a student who doesn't have my daughter's capabilities and acumen even keep up?

No wonder I see so many youngsters throwing up their hands, giving up, and dropping out. Maybe it's time you reassessed this homework barrage. It's wrecking social and family lives.

David Goldenberg

ps: I just got another recorded phone call at 6:30 PM Thursday,Feb 4. 2010, informing me that tomorrow is a minimum day and that Monday is a regular day. this was an wasted phone call and a waste of my time. The school and your district has notified parents already of this information. These phone calls are intrusive.

BUT--if I choose not to receive these phone calls, I have been informed that some of your information is ONLY delivered by phone. So I must continue to be a victim of LAUSD intrusion and incompetence.

After this venting, I didn't care who contacted me or not, because I don't believe in this circumstance one voice can make a difference--which goes against everything I ever say or teach about speaking out against injustice and

So I did receive a response:

Dear Mr. Goldenberg,

I apologize for interrupting your dinner. I am trying to be transparent and communicate with parents. I receive complaints that I do not communicate enough with parents, and your complaint is that I communicate too much with parents.

Nevertheless, I do believe that there should be time for play and enjoyment for young people. I have shared your email with the principal and local district superintendent and I have asked them to get in contact with you directly
regarding the homework policy.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to communicate with me.

Ray Cortines

Nicole Elam-Ellis
on behalf of Ramon C. Cortines
Office of the Superintendent

Two items come to my mind upon reading this email from Mr. Cortines:

1 - when someone in authority complains that whatever he or she says or does always pleases some people and rankles others, it's time to get another job. I
knew about this when I hit puberty and don't need the head of my child's school district to remind me.

2 - How does Cortines know I have a busy schedule? That's a huge assumption, and a smear against me being bothered by his intrusive phone calls. Busy or not, I don't like having my time wasted for anything, especially when it's done on purpose.

Nevertheless, that letter lead to the the principal's phone call. And despite the positive tone and discussion between the principal and me, my now assured assumption is that nothing will come from my letter or phone call to change the rotten public school system in this country. I didn't expect it to anyway, but I always like to add one more "weight" to the side of the scale in favor of rationality, in case it could matter.

And in case I wasn't sure about my hopeless assumption, here's an email exchange between me and Roger Schank about the school system, homework, and correspondence from the school district (and my trust and admiration is on the side of Mr. Schank, along with hope after all!) :

Dear Mr. Schank --

I really just want to say you are a tremendous inspiration for me, as someone who has been educated (might as well read tortured...) and has many untutored reservations about how our children are being treated in school.

I have a daughter who is inundated with homework,is one of the top students of her class (out of 650) in 7th grade, and can't see daylight because she fears the system. She also gets all A's (as if that matters to me!!!--only to her) but they've got her, if you know what I mean--they've got her right by the cinder blocks that make up her schools walls.!!

Anyway--I am not an expert in education, and when her principal called me the other day subsequent to the letter I wrote (Not very diplomatic--I was pissed can you tell?) to the LAUSD superintendent who is on the "take" as board member of a company that sells textbooks to the's a mess...[Cortines has since gotten out of this conflict of interest]

The principal agreed with me (essentially you--since I only have your quotes and studies as a back ground to me) and said it was because of "No child left behind."

Anyway you know all about this.


David Goldenberg

Roger Schank's Response:

The system is very hard to fight and getting worse every day; my advice is get her out of school; how to do that is another question; we will be offering a new virtual high school from a school here in Florida open to students anywhere if you want to try that option


So there it is--good advice, hard to take. Public school structure needs a revolution in the US. Our legacy is at stake.

There are examples of what really works. Parents have to take note and become informed--unlike most of my children's friends' parents who shrug their shoulders and talk about how much homework they had when they went to school, or how math is good for the brain. My accountant can't even do math.

Maybe if I drank the fluoridated water supply like everyone else, I wouldn't mind so much either...

...At the head of this post--The top photo is a prison, the brick building is a school.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Short Sound Bites & Jack Benny

We've all learned for years about the "sound bites" that sprinkle the news on TV and radio. Anyone under 20 now reads and thinks in even shorter "bites" due to the contractions of texting and Twitter. If you can't speak your piece in 140 characters or less, you're not worth hearing.

For those who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, this shortening of the pay-attention span is a good thing. Since I may be one of those (at 60 years of age now, I was too young to be diagnosed waaay back then), the sound bite delivery works for me. It just doesn't happen to be illuminating or enlightening, but the basic info is there.

Although I still read long articles, and even books (I hate to brag), but I have to retrace sentences or even paragraphs at a time often to cover up for where my thoughts wandered.

But I digress (naturally-that's my ADD)--how far back do you think this contraction of information started? I can't answer that, but I was surprised to see the following story about Bob Newhart, now 80 years old, in the Los Angeles Times, and about how he had to shorten his stand up comedy stories over 45 years ago because people's attention span at that time had dwindled!

Newhart says he learned comedy from the best, especially Jack Benny, with whom he became close friends.

"I would watch the Sullivan show, the Paar show and 'The Steve Allen Show,' but I would watch the comedians clinically," he says. " 'Why did they use that word? I understand where they are going.' For a comedian, there is nothing better than watching another great comedian."

Another classic routine from his first album featured Abraham Lincoln being coached by his press agent before giving the Gettysburg Address.

"Abe Lincoln came out of a book by Vance Packard called 'The Hidden Persuaders,' " says Newhart. "It was a book about subliminal advertising. I read the book and somehow I made a connection, because all comedy has a connection and an association with something else."

It was Benny's favorite routine. "I was at the Crescendo on Sunset and Jack came in with Mary [his wife] and George Burns and Gracie Allen. They came back afterward and Jack said, 'If we are ever in the same city and I'm in the audience, finish whatever bit you are doing and do Abe Lincoln.' "

Fast forward a few years and Newhart is winding up his engagement at the Palmer House in Chicago. "He's about to open there and he's in the audience. So I do Abe Lincoln. Jack comes back afterward and says, 'You left that out, you left this out. . . .' He was absolutely right. I had tightened it because of the attention span of the public. It was around the time of 'Laugh-In,' and I could tell in Vegas that you couldn't do eight-minute routines anymore. You had to do it in about five minutes."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haitians R Us

The earthquakes in Haiti have caused a huge, terrifying, catastrophe. The people affected by tragedy in Port Au Prince represent a large plurality of the people of this planet:

...our world is home to 6.7 billion people.

In 2005, almost 1.4 billion people lived below the international poverty line, earning less than $1.25 per day.

1.02 billion people across the world are hungry.

There are a lot more statistics to show that the average middle class existence of an American family is unusual, in fact almost amazing, compared to so many people around the world.

Naturally, in an environment which is not immediately affected by the problems of hungry and poor people, the US citizens who are eating every day and don't go to bed hungry, may tend to take for granted their amazingly good fortune. Even though many of us see homeless people begging for money right under our noses.

The one-two punch of the earthquakes striking near a major city of Haiti, a totally poor country, and the mainstream media able to get stories and visuals back to American citizens so quickly, provides a clue of how bad off much of people of the world really are. But we still have to be told that Haiti's problems, which began before the earthquake, are more universal than unique.

Unlike the tsunamis which were half way around the world, this natural event is much more close to home--680 miles from Miami.

An act of nature on this scale makes a rational person want to see an end to the petty squabbles of various groups within the species of humanity, and recognize the real enemy is within each of us, and not from someone else.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bra Baby and Mark McGwire

You see the picture of the "Bra Baby." This is an item I purchased in K-Mart in Burbank, because I was intrigued that the entire box is covered in lettering written in Hebrew. Since Burbank is not known for a large Jewish population, I could only assume that the shelves full of this item with Hebrew blurbs on it was because Jewish immigrant women need to wash their bras and keep the cups from collapsing more than other women. Even if a lot of Jews lived in Burbank and the women need "Bra Baby's," how many of them would be fluent in Hebrew enough to understand the packaging?

If the Bra Baby explanation seems strange, it's nothing compared to what follows, which is mostly current events:

Sarah Palin's going to be paid to comment on Fox News; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid not only got caught making telling racial observations about Obama's chances as a man with black blood to be elected president, he substituted the arcane term "negro" for "black," not to mention he got the issue right! The big banks who got bailout money from taxpaying citizens, are now reporting huge profits, and they are planning to reward the rank and file with huge bonuses as they continue to foreclose on homes of the taxpayers from whom they got the bailout money.

So my big beef about Mark McGuire's confession of steroid use when he broke Babe Ruth's home run record possibly inching him closer to acceptance by the sportswriters as a member of the sacrosanct Baseball Hall of Fame seems out of place, priority-wise.

Actually, the number one issue is that while we, the people, once again are committing untold billions of dollars, manpower, and time, to pound the crap out of some warlords in Afghanistan, thousands of little terrorist-wannabes all over the world--yes, even in our United States--are trying to create little explosive messes to get their 15 minutes of fame and martyrdom or whatever by killing innocent people and only the NYPD has a clue where some of them are.

The CIA, FBI, TSA--you spell it--are more concerned with strip searching every single last ethnic-looking Muslim-possible coming onto or off of any plane from any number of countries who have big numbers of Muslims in them. Which should include the US where over 6 million Muslims call home.

My problem with McGwire is that he was taking drugs to "enhance" his performance, which some consider cheating against another player who wasn't doing that. And of course, the possibility of becoming dead from steroids, or at least having a vastly altered organic system detrimental to your health, and standing there as a role model from young kids (or even 50+ year-olds like myself) who love baseball and want to emulate the "heroes" who make and break records--doesn't feel right to me to have this person in the hall of fame.

When I was growing up, prior to modern baseball parks, and modern cork-filled bats, and modern bouncier baseballs, and steroids, there were a few heroes in the game who stood out. My favorites were Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Both of them, I found out by the time I reached middle age, were drunk most of the time. Ruth also over ate. Not like we do at Thanksgiving. He ate so much during a single game--the bat boy brought him over a dozen hot dogs--he was hospitalized and had to have his stomach pumped.

Just to make a good Hollywood ending, the Babe Ruth Story in 1948 starred William Bendix as Babe Ruth--and Bendix had been the bat boy at that game!

So if Ruth and Mantle could bang out home runs, and make plays in the field--in fact Ruth was one of the all-time great pitchers in major league baseball before they realized he packed in bigger crowds hitting home runs every day instead of pitching every four--while handicapped by booze and late nights etc, then it seems to me like McGwire is nowhere near their league.

McGwire might have been sober, in shape, and a good family man, but when you take a drug--a steroid, or human growth hormone--to make you a better hitter even though that drug may have a bad effect on your health, you don't belong in the same class as the great ballplayers who were drunks and whore mongers who didn't cheat by artificial means.

And if you think that doesn't make sense--look at the big stories this week: Leno may move to 11:30 and Conan may go to Fox. Simon Cowell says this is his last year on American Idol.

Who really cares about Geithner and the emails?

If I were really focusing on what's important, I'd be worried about Pete Carroll leaving USC for the Seattle Seahawks and the scandals in that wake. But I'm really a baseball fan, and the machinations of the economy and banking are something I could never understand. If it involves people, I'm always confused.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Are You Trying to Seduce Me, Mrs. Goldstein?

When I graduated high school in 1968, my girlfriend lived across the street from me. Her mom was a very attractive middle-aged lady who I liked very much. Like an aunt. Maybe more like a sexy aunt with a great figure!

That really isn't the point. It seems that a well-known politician in Northern Ireland, has a wife who is fooling around with a teenager. So the story makes news because of the name, "Mrs. Robinson."

The report alleged that Iris Robinson — then aged 59 and, like her husband, a well-known politician in Northern Ireland — had obtained $80,000 from two property developers for a 19-year-old man, Kirk McCambley, with whom she had been having an affair. According to the report, the teenager allegedly used most of the money to set up the cafĂ© but saved $8,000 to give back to his lover, the appropriately named Mrs. Robinson.

Interesting that over 40 years after the book and movie, "The Graduate," that "Mrs. Robinson" still makes news.

I tend to notice these tidbits because my girlfriend's mother's name was...not Mrs. Goldstein.

Can you imagine the kidding I got about "Mrs. Robinson" across the street? Actually, I didn't get kidded very much--in Hartford, CT in 1968 it seems that movies were not the pinnacle of interest that I thought they were. Even my girlfriend's mom, Mrs. Robinson, thought it was humorous -- but not THAT humorous.

I used to say, "What are the odds?" Now I say, "There are no coincidences."

Good night, Irene! (That's what I call Mrs. Robinson.)