Movie Review: Tomorrowland. The best film I’ve seen so far in 2015.

Caution: Mild spoilers ahead. I’ll try not to give too much away.

Here’s a review of “Tomorrowland” by some pretentious soul who holds himself or herself out as a film critic:

“An aggressively optimistic script admonishes the lazy and irresolute and urges humanity to end war and save the environment; the proselytizing burdens an already onerous plot.”

This is exactly the type of person that the film’s conceit addresses: nothing is wrong, all is well in Zion, and those who dare to dream are optimistic fools.

The plot of the movie revolves around a young girl who was taught by her father to feed the wolf inside her that stands for light and goodness, not darkness and evil. She is shown a vision of a future that could be, and encounters people who are dead set against allowing that future to happen. And she has to make some difficult choices along the way.

George Clooney stars, but the characters that swirl around him, notably Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson, and the ever-curmudgeonly Hugh Laurie, turn in performances that carry the film along in a convincing and delightful manner.

The effects are stellar and imaginative. Not much more can be said.

And the message of the film is one that is desperately needed in the world today. We need more dreamers, people who are willing to step up to the plate and do something about the pressing issues that face our world. We need more Elon Musks, more inventive kids like the ones out there who are figuring out better ways to provide clean water and cheap power to impoverished areas, provide better lighting, clean up the plastic in the oceans, diagnosing diseases quickly and cheaply, and countless other wonderful things.

Instead, our own country is arming police departments like they were SWAT teams, killing people with abandon, taxing the poor in favor of the ultra-wealthy, allowing robber barons to get off scot-free, cutting science, arts and literacy programs in favor of standardized testing and cookie-cutter education, and generally doing everything it can to cut creativity off at the ankles.

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The last movies that made me feel this good were The Peaceful Warrior and The Ultimate Gift. We need more messages like this in the world, despite what the self-appointed naysayers preach.

I recommend this movie wholeheartedly. Not a perfect show by any means, but I left the theatre with my heart singing.

Overall rating: Eight out of ten stars.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

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Nothing Equal about This

“Separate but Equal” was the rallying cry of racism.

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Original caption: Charlotte, NC: A crowd of youths taunts Dorothy Geraldine Counts, 15, as she walks to a previously all-white Harding High School to enroll. Leaving the school, she was pelted with trash, small sticks and pebbles. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

Anyone who dared go up against the idea that schools should be integrated found themselves the target of really classy behavior;

On the morning of September 4, 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts set out on a harrowing path toward Harding High, where-as the first African American to attend the all-white school -she was greeted by a jeering swarm of boys who spat, threw trash, and yelled epithets at her as she entered the building.

Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the ugly incident on film, and in the days that followed, the searing image appeared not just in the local paper but in newspapers around the world.

A week later, the girl in the photograph was gone. Her parents -having been told by the school administrators and police officials that they could not guarantee her safety -sent her to live with a relative in suburban Philadelphia, where she could peacefully attend an integrated school.

The text above, from an article about Dorothy Counts today, recounts just one incident among countless – but sadly, the story doesn’t really have a happy ending.

Ms. Counts, who has long been active in the fight to attain racial tolerance and equality of education and other opportunity, sees things headed in the wrong way.

At West Charlotte High — a predominantly African American school her granddaughter recently graduated from — she says the lack of resources is disturbing.

“At the beginning of the school year, they would go for weeks without books, for weeks without enough chairs for everyone in the classroom,” she says. “When I heard about that I thought, Lord, this brings back memories.”

I wonder what kind of memories Ms. Counts could relate? Here’s a quote from Jonathan Kozol, in his troubling book, Death at an Early Age, which recounts his first year of teaching in the Boston schools in the 60s, Kozol recounted the attitude of racist teachers who infested the system:
“You children should thank God and feel blessed with good luck for all you’ve got. There are so many little children in the world who have been given so much less” [said teacher who didn’t care to address reality.] The books are junk, the paint peels, the cellar stinks, the teachers call you nigger, the windows fall in on your heads. “Thank God that, you don’t live in Russia or Africa! Thank God for all the blessings that you’ve got!”
And now we live in the 21st century, when such inequality, such oppression, such discrimination should be behind us. Yet in a December, 2014 essay, two prominent voices for equality (Grace Ji-Sun Kim and the Rev. Jesse Jackson) point out that what we are now seeing in Baltimore (which at the time of writing had not yet happened) is the result of a continuing pattern of inequality.

The dying words of Eric Garner symbolize our situation. “I can’t breathe” speaks from the grave and describes the circumstances faced by many who are being choked by a system that treats different races and classes of people unequally.

When the banks of black and brown homeowners drove them into foreclosure, we couldn’t breathe.

When inner-city hospital trauma units are closed to those without insurance and the poor are denied access to Medicaid, we can’t breathe.

When inner-city residents are denied access to public transportation to get to where the jobs are, we can’t breathe.

When inner-city schools have a lower tax base to support public education but students have to take the same exams as suburban kids with a stronger tax base, we can’t breathe.

When they changed the formula on PLUS loans loans, poor and black parents couldn’t breathe.

When student-loan debt is greater than credit-card debt, students can’t breathe.

When corporations we support will not advertise with black media, black-owned media can’t breathe.

When Silicon Valley locks us out of boards and corporate suites and locks us out of employment, contracts and entrepreneurial investments, even though we disproportionately use their products, we can’t breathe.

When banks cut off lending and investment to African Americans, they cut off our breath; but the government gave failing banks oxygen tanks with no obligation to help those who paid for the oxygen.

As inequality persists, many are left in the dark, desperate for life and breath.

And yet there are some who wonder why things like Watts and Baltimore happen. What I wonder is why it doesn’t happen more often.

Middle-class America is talking a lot these days about living as the 99%, and there’s merit in that conversation. But I hear more outrage from people who live better than most of the world’s population with regards to their own situation than I do about people in our own country who have virtually next to nothing, and who are being kept in that situation by societal pressures which persist in large part from the days of slavery.

I believe in Reverend King’s dream, but my own dreams go farther.

I have been accused of hoping for a utopia, a socialist paradise, but I believe that as a species, we as humans can do much better for one another than we have ever done. I believe in a world that works for 100% of humanity, where those who have give freely, and where those who have not can work for what they receive; where hate and envy do not trouble us; where divisions over race, religion, and gender are done away; where children are taught principles of humane living with just as much vigor as they are taught their three Rs.

To those who would dismiss these dreams as pie in the sky, I simply say that if we do nothing today, we will live tomorrow the same way we lived yesterday.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Please support our HeadFunder campaign!

I’ve written about the Academy of Greatness before.

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GreatOnes

We have begun a HeadFunder campaign to raise the necessary funds to take the establishment of this unique school to the next level.

Why Another School?

For the most part, our school system is failing. With the occasional exception, schools are bogged down by government restrictions and imposed curricula, and focus on increasing national test scores to preserve their funding, rather than turning out educated, powerful, and socially-aware students who will hit the ground running and make a difference in the world. Bullying remains a rampant problem, largely unaddressed by school administrators and school boards. Most schools are, despite their best intentions, not safe places: you can’t learn if you’re always worried about who is going to slam you into a locker today.

We have good ideas that deserve to be incorporated into every school in our nation, but getting past the moat is a challenge. Every school, every district, and even private schools are run like small fiefdoms, and trying to bring new ideas into a school is usually met with the answer, “That’s not how we do things around here.” If you’re lucky, you might get 1% of your ideas even considered, poorly implemented, and soon forgotten. The only workable solution is to build a school from the ground up, with every member of the faculty and staff grounded and centered in the principles of excellence, safety, and contribution, to serve as a model for what the rôle of education in the world should be.

Existing School Structure

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Today’s schools are so bogged down in a framework of adhering to what other people think they should be that there are scarcely any resources available to teach children the skills that will enable them to face the world as compassionate leaders, able to see global problems and realize that they have the skills to contribute to significant change.

Planned School Structure

The school must be built on an underlying structure of social excellence which will build people of humanity and power who know how to learn, how to build, and how to give.

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It is our intention that by the time a student graduates from the Academy, they will have a clear grasp of not only the major problems facing the world, but the skills and determination to say “I can do something about that” rather than “someone ought to do something about that,” and be in a position to be lifelong contributors to the betterment of humanity.

Please help. Your tax-deductible contributions are welcomed and needed. And thank you.

Curiosity and Learning

A recent article in Science Daily outlines some research on how the brain changes in response to curiosity. Executive summary: “The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic.” I’ve long known this about my own mind – if I get really curious to learn something, it absorbs more easily and sticks around longer.

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. […]

Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward. […]

Third, the team discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.”

The full article is worth a read.

Bill Watterson illustrated this principle delightfully almost 20 years before this study was ever done. Calvin and Hobbes find a snake in the garden. They marvel at its fluidity, the flicking tongue, wonder how they sleep with their eyes open, what they eat, and realize they know nothing about snakes. Hobbes suggests that perhaps Calvin’s mom would get them a book. It’s a captivating idea, until Calvin realizes that it’s summer vacation, and he’s determined to learn nothing, whereupon Hobbes intones, “If nobody makes you do it, it counts as fun.” The last panel makes the whole strip:

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The problem with curiosity today is captured by Randall Munroe in his wonderful XKCD panel:

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This holds true not just for Wikipedia or TV Tropes (Stay away! Stay away!) but for the Internet in general. Falling down the rabbit hole makes time compress in a way that Isaac Asimov could never have imagined.

That said, I would have paid dearly for the internet when I was a child in the 50s. I wanted to know things. I wanted to understand things. But I didn’t have the patience to search the World Book, or the Brittanica, or the Americana, or the card catalogs, only to come up with results for a single topic.

On the other hand, given what’s out there, it’s probably a blessing that it wasn’t available.

Doonesbury - Truth of the Net

I struggle enough as it is.

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The Old Wolf has spok… ooh squirrel!

A shout-out to Weird Al Yankovic – Word Crimes

I make misteaks when I’m writing. But I try not to make big ones, and I do my best to correct them when they occasionally crop up.

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These gigantic erasers have been around since I was a kid in the 50s; fortunately I have never needed one that big. Whilst typing, I can’t ever seem to spell “friend” right the first time; it’s just a quirk, I suppose.

That said, I am always gobsmacked when I see people confusing loose and lose, or their/there/they’re, or its/it’s. Maddening. I tend to be a descriptive linguist rather than a proscriptive one, knowing that languages flow like the mighty Mississippi river over time, and that usage is king – but there’s a difference between colloquialisms and ignorantisms (that last is a neologism.)

Now comes Weird Al, with his second music video in a stream of 8, released one each day. I’ve always loved his work, and this one immediately rose to the top of my favorites list because of the subject matter, near and dear to the heart of a linguist.

I’ll let Al speak for himself.

And now the Old Wolf has done spoke.

Happy fishbowl to you, me, and everyone.

Thus ends one of my favorite stories by the Good Doctor Asimov, “The Dead Past.” I won’t tell you much more about it, because it would spoil the read, and it’s one of his best pieces.  However, it addresses the issue of privace in a way that few people could; Asimov has a way of being able to take concepts to their logical, illogical, or eternal conclusions.

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Image courtesy of redditors SexualWeasel, joystick354, and Sqorck (more about that at a previous post.)

In today’s world, its very difficult to maintain the illusion of privacy. Just how much information about each and every one of us is available out on the Internet would curdle your plasma if you really knew, and scrubbing the ether of our presence is, while not impossible, a challenging task.

So the question is raised: how much privacy are we entitled to, and what constitutes a violation?

An interesting article over at the Huffington Post addresses both the issues of bullying/abuse and privacy in a story of a father who sent his autistic son to school with a wire, and uncovered some very unsavory behavior on the part of a teacher and a classroom aide.

Certainly we are entitled to an assumption of privacy about our vital statistics, financial data, and medical records (much stricter now since the introduction of HIPAA); whether or not that privacy actually exists is another issue, but that’s a subject for another discussion. What we do in our own homes or on our own property should be inviolate, although government has long been pushing for inroads, and whereas they were formerly chipping at the cornices of this right with small hand tools, they are now drilling at the foundations with jackhammers. Again, a topic for another day.

But when we are out in public – on the streets, in stores, in view of other people, it should be fairly assumed that we are being watched by someone, somewhere – even if it’s only by a duck.

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Gary Larson, “The Far Side,” Image ©1988 Universal Press Syndicate

Bullies don’t like light. Like cockroaches, they prefer to hide in dark corners, exercising their unrighteous dominion over others in places where they think they won’t be seen or caught. Unfortunately, schools have long been shielded from public scrutiny, but this HuffPost article suggests that this immunity may not be long for the world.

I remember when I was in elementary school, in another geological era, our school installed closed-circuit cameras as part of there experimental educational regime. I had forgotten about those until one of my classmates – even 50 years on, many of us have stayed in touch – reminded me about them during a reunion in June of 2012. We had to be on our best behavior when those cameras were rolling – it was an odd sensation. Today, recording devices on school buses have become more common, installed to protect students, aides, teachers, and drivers in the event of mishap or misbehavior. They’re not always used to best advantage, but they are there. This implies that intrinsically, there should be nothing wrong with having a video camera in every classroom, because it is in essence a public place, and teachers and students alike should be operating under the assumption that they are being watched. I don’t feel very George Orwell about this at all; when you’re sitting in a classroom with 40 or 50 other students, this is hardly a private environment. And, every parent of every child in that classroom has the right to know that their children are learning in an environment of safety.

Where every piece of technology can be used for good, there must also be the assumption that it can be used for ill. As a result, I can hear 1,000 legal hands waving in the background[1], each attached to an attorney who will a) have an opinion as to why this is a bad idea, and b) offer their services at a very reasonable hourly rate. But the point here is not about practicality, it’s about the rights of our children to learn without fear. The only thing that is certain is that things in the world of education will change, and it will probably move in the direction of greater scrutiny and less privacy. That may be a good thing, or it may not – but going forward, I will support any reasonable proposal that makes this world a safer place for our children and all of us.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 


[1] I’m sure a whole raft of educators will have their hands up as well, and that’s not a bad thing. These are the people in the trenches, and their ideas need to be heard, but for myself, I do not look favorably on ideas that sacrifice safety for convenience.

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Are you triangulating mission-critical units?

15 years ago, Scott Adams was making fun of business buzzwords.

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In fact, something called “buzzword bingo” became a thing for a while, at least before managers caught on to the fact that they were being mercilessly mocked in meetings:

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Here’s an example of a typical bingo card:

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Rank and file employees, who are less concerned with leveraging proof of concept paradigm shifts than with trying to get their daily work done have long realized that management’s core task is to look impressive to the next level of management; the following chart has been in my files since the late 70’s:

Virtual Storage Buzz Phrase Generator

Imagine, then, my dismay to find out that this phenomenon has infiltrated the world of education. A recent article at Slate, “Parents Left Behind: How public school reforms are turning American parents into dummies,” takes a hard look at this phenomenon.

The author lamented,

“Then my friend Duncan helpfully explained that he was as confused as I was about the pedagogical objectives and aims of his child’s public elementary school in rural North Carolina. Until he realized that the school had seamlessly adapted Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Successful People into its curriculum, and his first grader started accusing him of failing to be sufficiently “proactive.” Last year I was grappling with rationalizing my son’s fractions. Suddenly I am also failing to employ proactive strategically dynamic new paradigms as well.

I have nothing against Covey personally, but his writings – along with those a plethora of other one-minute-manager types – have been adopted by bureaucracies and executive food chains nationwide in a frantic attempt to boost the bottom line, not realizing that giving a 5¢ item a $10.00 name doesn’t change the nature of the beast. Jennifer understood this all too well and saved herself from a career of servitude in the worst of all possible companies:

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Only marketing departments have failed to grasp the essential truth that buzzwords are a sham, and an excuse for not obtaining actual results:

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Doc Rat by Jenner

The important thing to remember is that results are often harsh, but always fair. If schools are focusing on finding new ways of describing “teaching,” which is what they should be doing, then they are spending needless time and effort on one-off tasks, and the quality of their results will suffer.

I want to see schools do the following, at a bare minimum:

  • Spend less time “teaching to the test,” and instead focus on the needs of individual students. In other words, “If students cannot learn the way we teach them, then we must teach them the way they learn.” [1]
  • Put as much emphasis on the character/social development of their charges as they do on the “3 R’s”
  • Pay teachers a living wage and make it easier to offload unproductive, burned-out or ineffective ones.

Make no mistake – in order for our schools to become effective at teaching again, instead of administering, the entire system will need to be overhauled. That means taking a good hard look at the power vested in teacher’s unions. I have nothing against unions themselves – my parents were proud members of AFTRA and SAG – but if a union has shifted its goal from ensuring fair treatment to the preservation of all jobs at any cost, it has missed its mark and needs to be reformed.

If you want to amaze your education colleagues, you can wax eloquent about disintermediating mastery-focused learning; if you want to turn out well-rounded, well-educated students, you can get away from the bureaucratic camel-ejecta and simply teach your kids, looking at them as distinct individuals instead of statistics on a performance chart which will determine next year’s funding.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] This quote has been attributed to Kenneth Dunn, Kenneth and his wife Rita, Robert Buck, and a number of others. Regardless of who said it, I consider it valid.