My Favorite Superheroes

Well, today it is time for something a little lighter. Violence and education in America seemed like two heavy topics and if you have read those blogs, you have probably had enough philosophy for a while. So today let’s talk about something that most of us can relate to. The topic is Superheroes.  Now depending on which generation you belong to you will no doubt have a different catalog of Superheroes. In fact, when I was a kid, I did not know what a Superhero was.  The term seemed to emerge somewhere in the 60’s when heroes became even more wonderful, awesome, spectacular, powerful and fantastic than any “heroes” who had gone before. But if we go back to perhaps the first heroes; we can find some equally powerful and spectacular men and women.  These first heroes include: Achilles, Athena, Atlanta, Diana, Beowulf, Hercules, Odysseus and Penthesilea. I am not enough of a historian to pretend to know how the ancients viewed these Superheroes or how they actually played a role in their lives. (A disclaimer here!  Many Superheroes are actually Superheroines. History is full of powerful extraordinary women who merit mention and I will try to pay homage to them as well. However, to simplify my writing I am using the term Superhero to include both men and women).   

In my youth (I was born in 1946) most of my heroes were cowboy and cowgirl stars who played in early movies made prior to WWII.  With the advent of TV in the early 50’s, many of these early movies were serialized on TV to provide content for the first stations.  There is no comparison to the elaborate system of content that is available to TV watchers today.  Many older people will remember only two or three channels that went off the air at 10 or so PM.  You could then sit and watch the channel test pattern that would emerge on the screen.  However, just before the test pattern came on, you would have a chance to hear the national anthem. It is difficult to imagine anywhere in the world today where you can’t find a TV program on anytime of the day or night.

This is an example of a test pattern from channel 4 in Dallas, Texas. 

My early heroes included such dashing figures as: The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, Cisco Kid, Zorro, Flash Gordon and the Phantom.  Some of the early women heroines that went from movie to TV included: Annie Oakley, Dale Evans and Calamity Jane.  Many of my other heroes came from comic books but only a few of them managed to get a TV show. I presume it was because the special effects of the time were not up to depicting the abilities necessary to show them as Superheroes.  Nevertheless, some early era Superheroes did make it to TV during the late fifties and early sixties. These included: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Some of the Superheroes that emerged in comic books during the sixties included: Electra, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic 4, Firestar, Prince Namor, Wolverine, Invisible Woman and Spiderman,(Just to name a few). The Hulk managed to get a TV show in the later 70’s, but the full panoply of Marvel Comic and DC superheroes that was emerging to supplant many earlier and now more boring and mundane heroes would have to await the technology for film making that we now have in the 21st Century. These Superheroes are now being depicted in our movies with a wonderful array of special effects that provide thrilling viewing and almost unimaginable lifelikeness.  Some of you will remember the early George Reeve Superman shows where you could almost see the strings attached to helping make him airborne.  Special effects have come a million miles in the last twenty years.

Surprisingly, it is not the awesomeness or super-abilities of these later Superheroes which I most remember.  It is also not the most powerful Superheroes whom I most admired.  In fact, some of the heroes I most admired were some of the least awesome figures in terms of super natural powers. I admired Hopalong Cassidy because of his sense of humor and his kindness to others. I will never forget the scene where he brings his sidekick and friend Windy (played by Gabby Hayes) a pipe as a gift. I admired the Lone Ranger because he was a stand-up guy who would risk his life in the pursuit of justice. I admired the Phantom because he was always out to help others regardless of color or creed.  No neuroses, no melancholy, no sexual hang ups for my heroes. They did the right thing because they wanted to stand up for freedom and justice.  They put their lives on the line for no gain and without expectation of kudos, medals or even getting the girl at the end. In most cases, there was little sexuality depicted on any of these shows so the best we could expect was the hero might kiss his horse.

Well, of course, heroes and heroines change over the generations and my early heroes are just as unrealistic as the Thing or Captain America or Black Widow.  But what is the point of a Superhero or Superheroine anyway?

“Although we find it true that heroism is in the eye of the beholder, we do acknowledge that people’s beliefs about heroes tend to follow a systematic pattern. After polling a number of people, we discovered that heroes tend to have eight traits, which we call The Great Eight. These traits are smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring. It’s unusual for a hero to possess all eight of these characteristics, but most heroes have a majority of them.”
(Scott T. Allison & George R. Goethals, “Our Definition of ‘Hero,'” 2011)

We look up to heroes because they provide a larger than life portrait of the kind of people we want to be.  Every one of us has the potential to be a hero and a Superhero is simply a manifestation of the powers we now envision possible to possess.  Wikipedia says the following about the term Superhero:

“A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of stock character possessing “extraordinary or superhuman powers” and dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes—ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas—have dominated American comic books and crossed over into other media. The word itself dates to at least 1917. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine). “SUPER HEROES” is a trademark co-owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.”

However, if we include many of the early historical figures that I mentioned before in my list of Superheroes, we can see that superheroes went back much further than the usage of the term. (I am referring to such figures as Hercules, Achilles etc.) I would argue that each of these earlier Superheroes possessed the “eight traits” of a hero as well as most of the common traits of a Superhero that are described in the Wikipedia article on Superheroes.  (See the Wiki article for a description of these traits.)

Thus, throughout history, men and women have wanted to have role models that were larger than life to look up to and to help guide them in their behavior.  This desire to identify ourselves with those who dedicate their lives to helping others speaks volumes about the innate goodness of humanity.  The next time you feel like the world is not as good as it once was or that you live in a time of trouble and turmoil, think of the heroes and Superheroes that most people want to be like. You can then thank God that most people do not want to be like the villains that our heroes are continually battling.

Ok, time for questions:

Who were your heroes/heroines when you were growing up?  What did you most admire about them?  How did your heroes/heroines change as you aged?  Why did they change?  What do you most want in a hero/heroine today? Do you think children need role models?  Are role models the same as a hero/heroine?  How are they different?  Should we get away from the idea of Superheroes?  Are Superheroes just a Madison Avenue contrivance or do they serve a role in our society?  Who are your favorite Superheroes?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

Fifty Shades of Red

Dam, just when I have got over my fixation with Porn and what do they do, they publish a series of “soft” (What is soft? As in flaccid?) porn novels that are now being made into a series of movies and I would presume a TV series, comic books and eventually bubble gum cards.  Women all over America are running into “Adult” shops to buy whips, handcuffs and blindfolds. 

By the way, here is a disclaimer, if you can’t take “Hard Core Porn” stop reading now.  I can’t stand wishy-washy watered down forays into anything. If you are going to go for something, go all the way.  Life without Passion is Unforgiveable!  Stole that line from Sean Combs!  So why bottle it up with shades of gray when you can have pure unadulterated lust.  Let out your real Marquis De Sade or your real Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, depending on what turns you on. These names of course are the two historical figures from which the terms sadist and masochist derive.  A sadist and masochist are complimentary lovers.  Somewhat like the Yin and Yang concept.  One loves to inflict pain and the other loves to receive pain. 

Just when I thought Americans could not plumb any further depths of sexuality and lo and behold, out comes a book that turns every woman who reads it a-quivering with lust and passion.  Furthermore, whereas Lady Chatterley’s Lover was “Banned” in Boston, there has been no discernible effort to ban “Fifty Shades of Grey.” What is this sign of the times telling us?  Are we getting more permissive?  Are some women getting to realize that maybe they are missing out on something?  Is it a sign that the aging “boomers” never really were as sexually liberated as they thought they were?  Or is it a symptom of frustration with the Right Wing Puritanical Evangelism that has saturated this country over the last few years?  Will we soon see readers of Fifty Shades of Grey streaking through the streets wearing nothing but handcuffs and blindfolds?

Sex usually requires a partner and therein lays one problem with this phenomenon.  Assuming that this “Grey” frenzy is mostly attacking older women, it is unlikely to find fertile ground among their aging mates.  I like to think that for many of the “real” men I know our porn has always been Red for passion. A “real” man dishes it out hard and fast.  But let’s be honest here. In terms of baby boom “real” men, hard is not what it used to be and fast means we are probably asleep by 9:30 PM or else too tired to pop or even think of Red passion.  Of course, there is Viagra and assorted “hardeners” but most of us have learned that no matter what the drug is there are always side effects.  Not to mention, that many of the positions in the Kama Sutra are beyond wishful thinking for either us or our spouses.  The last time I tried one exotic position, I almost had to call 911.  Even years of Yoga practice did not seem to help.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is now beyond weak.  Marathon sex sessions are a thing of the past.  Actually, I have never had a “marathon” sex session.  This suggests a title for my next book which could be marketed to all of the “Grey” readers.  “How to Have Marathon S&M sessions without Dying of a Heart Attack or Dislocating Your Hip Socket.”  

Perhaps, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is more of a fantasy for the young. They have the stamina, they have the energy, they have seen and absorbed more information about sex than the previous 20 generations combined and they are still capable of contortions that would disable most elderly.

Nevertheless, I am still left wondering why so many people are always fantasying about sex.  Our ads and commercials routinely sell products and services by depicting women as sex objects.  Our TV shows blare innuendoes and double-entendres about sex faster than a politician can lie. Movies are even more unbelievable.  What used to pass for “Hard” core porn a few years ago now is close to carrying a “Family Fare” rating.  Porn is perhaps the biggest seller on the Internet with more sites dedicated to porn than even t-shirts. 

To return to my original question, why are we so engrossed in reading, watching, imagining and fantasying about sex?  Are our love lives so impoverished that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a decent substitute? Or are we so afraid of the real thing that we would rather watch others do it than do it ourselves?  How many people would engage in S&M with their partner? 

I think we are a nation of voyeurs and hypocrites. Fantasy lives of sex would be okay if we not so contradictory in dealing with the reality of sex.  We condemn unbridled sexuality but secretly watch it in a myriad of safe guises.  We want to imagine “doing” it but we would never really do it. The reality of sex denigrates and condemns those who really do it or who make a living doing what we only fantasize about doing. Porn stars are considered second rate actors in Hollywood where they are mistreated and abused by the porn video industry.  Prostitutes and escorts are illegal in most states despite their ubiquitousness.  Strip-tease dancers are banned to shady “adult” clubs where they can be watched by people not wanting to be seen in public places observing such displays.  Millions of people spend a few billion dollars a year on Internet Porn secretly watching others do it and wishing it were them.  These same voyeurs would never admit to their spouses or lovers that they were engaging in Internet porn, hiring an escort or watching a strip-tease dancer. 

We have a society wherein the “Good Girl” “Bad Girl” paradigm still holds sway.  The good girl you marry and the bad girl you “—-.”  Now we see those “good girls” reading “Grey” and fantasying about what it would be like to be a “bad” girl.  Renowned relationship and psychology expert Lisa Firestone echoes my questions with her comment about the “Grey Phenomenon.” She says:  

“My concern is whether the popularity of a text like 50 Shades of Grey reflects a more pressing psychological matter regarding sexuality. Does it really reconnect readers with their desire to be physically intimate? Or does it merely point out how easy it can be for us to lose touch with our own sexuality? How much are we drawn to real romance, connection, passion, and affection with a partner? And how much are we drawn to fantasy? Are our actions moving us toward or away from having a close and fulfilling sexual relationship?”

Nathan Bransford also answers my question as follows:   

“Why now? Maybe as we sprint toward chartering new gender and relationship dynamics with more sensitive guys and greater equality there’s some appetite to escape into a story with a less complicated and familiar throwback to a dominant man and submissive woman. Maybe we’ve become such a sexually open society people were ready for the needle of mainstream edginess to be moved a little farther over.  Maybe Christian Grey and his dorkily named helicopter are just that hot.”

I thought I would conclude this blog with the above two comments that address the questions I raised in respect to the mass popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Being an aspiring author, I can only admit to wishing I had written the tome.  Being an aging man, I bought my wife several copies of each edition of the series, just to make sure she would read them. I would love to report that my sex life has improved dramatically since she started reading the series, but I cannot tell a lie.  At my age, truth becomes a very valued commodity.  Besides, Karen (my spouse) tells me it is more about romance and less about S&M.  She explains that if I were more romantic, ate less garlic and did not fall asleep so fast, our love life would improve dramatically. 🙂  I am sorry though, I am addicted to Garlic and Sleep. Maybe if I could just get a Sex Addiction going or perhaps I could dress up as Christian Grey and sneak into my bedroom some night with handcuffs and whips?  Would she still notice my Garlic breath? 

Ok, time for questions. 

How’s your sex life?  Did you read “Fifty Shades of Grey?”  Do you think we are too obsessed with sex?  Why so many Romance novels?  Why so much sex on TV and in the Movies? Are we just a nation of “voyeurs?”  Are we really Puritans at heart?  What do you need to do to have more fun in your sex life?  Are you adventurous?  Would you have sex in an up elevator or a down elevator?  What limits your sexual nature?  Are you afraid of what the neighbors might think? 

Life is just beginning.

 

What is wrong with education? Part 2

ul_protestIn Part 1 of “What is wrong with education?”, I described some of my history, experiences and beliefs about the American Educational System.  I think most of my ideas are probably unconventional and in part that may be because I have been an outsider to the system.  Dr. Deming used to say that “Change comes from the outside by invitation only.”  I have never been asked to help bring change to our educational system and in fact many fellow educators are rather turned off when I tell them that I would close all schools in this country and turn them into 24 hour community centers or perhaps libraries.  I have never been one for understatement and Karen keeps telling me that my hyperbole has the effect of killing my message.  My problem is I mean it.  Schools are dead and dying only they do not know it.

Marshall McLuhan knew this was true because the times have changed and both the Industrial Design of our educational system and the density of information transfer that can happen inside a school are now fundamental impediments to learning and education.  For the past 40 years educational studies (The Goodlad Study, Nation at Risk, Fitting the Pieces) have continually shown that we need to make major changes in our school systems.  Numerous studies point to the decline in standardized test scores of American students relative to students in other countries. I have been in and out of schools for the last 40 years (from kindergartens to university classes) and the only thing you will find changed in most schools is the technology.  You will probably find computers, projectors and maybe the use of IPads or Smart Phones in some classes.  In many schools, you will also find an increased emphasis of sports for the elite athletes and those that can afford to pay for athletics and a decreased emphasis on Physical Education for the majority of students.

So-called education experts, politicians and the ubiquitous “run it like a business advocates” all push for more “industrial era solutions” like

  • Higher pay
  • Teacher testing
  • Pay for performance
  • Stricter teacher selection criteria
  • Getting rid of tenure
  • More money for schools

Unfortunately, what made for success in the old paradigm cannot make success in the new paradigm.  The new paradigm is gradually emerging as our schools collapse from within, our students drop out at alarming rates, the half-life of curriculum makes for obsolescence even before most students graduate and most destructive of all is the current cost of attending, maintaining and supporting schools today.  Consider the irony, that most kids who are home schooled do better on standardized tests than kids in either public or private schools.  At a home school, you often do not have any of the following:

  • A certified and licensed teacher
  • Large laboratories or extensive facilities
  • Bonus pay
  • Pay for Performance
  • Tenure

And consider what it costs for Home Schools to achieve better than average results. The following facts about Home Schooling are from Investopedia, not exactly your usual biased pronouncements from school administrators:

There’s no doubt that research speaks very kindly of homeschooling. Not only is it cheap compared to other education options, but the results are generally better. Most parents who homeschool spend less than $600 per year compared to the $10,000 average spent per pupil by public school systems. However, parents who homeschool are still paying a portion of that $10,000 expense. Surprisingly, spending such a low amount on a child’s education produces impressive results. One study found that the average homeschooled student outperformed the average public school student by roughly 30 percentile points.

There is an excellent online article called “Eight Reasons Home Schooling is Superior to Public Education”.  Some reasons given for its success may be open to criticism but they will surprise you:

  1. Free thinking is allowed and encouraged
  2. Focus is on education
  3. Freedom from Pop Influences

One would think that given the performance of home schooling that anyone in the traditional school paradigm would have some serious doubts about the effectiveness of the current educational system. Instead teachers, unions, and administrators all rally around the flag and continue to either resist change or support panaceas that offer no real change to the present educational system.  The Teacher of the Year is heralded in every school district and local press as the solution to the problems that are seen as “individual centered” rather than system centered. Thus, if only we had better teachers or more caring teachers or more motivated teacher or smarter teachers than everything would be okay.  No it would not be okay.  And unfortunately, neither President Obama’s agenda for change or his new Education Czar have any real insights into the changes that are needed in American schools.

A recent article in the Economist Magazine was titled: Higher education: Not what it used to be: American universities represent declining value for money to their students. The problem with American education goes all the way from grade school on up to the university level.  There is hardly any part of the American Education system that should be retained or that could be said to be useful to our country.  We are falling behind the rest of the world, because they are catching up.  Ironically, they are simply imitating a system that is failing in this country but with some modifications has allowed other countries to gain parity with the U.S.  In my research and travels, I have found no reason to think that we should adopt a system used in Germany, China or Japan.  They are more disciplined in their application of the U.S. Model, but it is no more effective in these countries at creating a New Paradigm for a new millennium of education than it has been or will be in this country.

You may be wondering “Well, what is the New Paradigm?”  In a nutshell, the solution is to design a new educational system from the ground up.  Some design factors for such a system must include the following:

  • Eliminate school districts, school boards and 90 percent of all current school administration.
  • Eliminate standardized school curriculums and create customized educational design programs for students based on need and interests.  We don’t need a factory to produce learning for a limited time. We need a system that will produce learning and education for a lifetime not a lockstep grade by grade progression system that ends with a MBA.
  • Develop Schools of Excellence with specific discipline foci that will be located where need and population are greatest. Thus, Minnesota might have 10-15 Art Schools in the state, 30-40 Math Schools, 10 Music Schools, 20 Vocational Education Schools and 30-40 writing schools. Students would attend these schools voluntarily and only for as long as indicated by their customized curriculum.  Some students would go to three or four of these Schools of Excellence and others might just attend one.
  • Hire experts as Teacher/Facilitators. Emphasis should be on critical thinking, hands on learning and blending theory with practice.  Teachers should not need “credentials” if they can demonstrate competence in the subject being recruited for.
  • Eliminate standardized test programs.  All these tests do is encourage cheating by teachers and students.
  • Eliminate generic diplomas and degree requirements.  No longer should anyone have to go to school for 16 years and college for 4 years to get the training they need for gainful employment.
  • Create a standardized education tax for the U.S. so that students regardless of where they live would have the same funds available for education.
  • Provide parents and students educational vouchers to use at the school of their choice or to support the accomplishment of their child’s educational curriculum.
  • Abolish seniority and tenure systems for all educators.  Schools should be allowed to hire who they choose, when they choose.  Schools should be “Employment at Will.”
  • Schools would have to publish yearly “transparency” data including dropout rates, completion rates, grade averages and where relevant hiring and placement rates.  All schools would have a financial statement available to the public and a standardized business plan or education plan. Such a plan would show need, customers and how customers were going to be served.
  • All schools would be “education at will.”  Schools would be free to terminate students at will and students would be free to leave at will.

Chris Hedges noted author, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner says this about education in the US today:

“We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”  — (Empire of Illusion, 2007)

John Gatto, who was New York City teacher of the year in 1989, 1990 and 1991 has the following perspective on education:

“I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.” – (Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education)

Andrew Hacker, Professor Emeritus at Queens College New York with over 40 years’ experience in Higher Education believes that:

College is not worth the cost. Our system of higher education is broken…Our principal premise is that higher education has lost track of its original and enduring purpose: to challenge the minds and imaginations of this nation’s young people, to expand their understanding of the world, and thus of themselves. — (Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It)

I have included some of the above quotes to show that I am not alone in my belief that “lower” and “higher” education in the USA today are outmoded, defunct, obsolete, wasteful and counter-productive.  Higher educators commonly blame “Lower” educators for the problems they inherit at the “Higher level” while “Lower” educators blame parents, funding, administrators and students.  “Kids today are lazy, do not read, watch too much TV, play too many video games, only care about making money and feel entitled to everything.”  The “Last Great Generation” is fond of knocking the “latest” generation and calling them the “Entitlement Generation.”  The problems with schools could all be solved if we did away with students, tenure, parents, administrators, unions and teachers. Colleges would be a lot better off if they only had “good” students who really wanted to get an education.  These and other shibboleths continue to obscure the real problem which is the SystemDr. Deming noted that:

“The Appreciation of a system involves understanding how interactions (i.e., feedback) between the elements of a system can result in internal restrictions that force the system to behave as a single organism that automatically seeks a steady state. It is this steady state that determines the output of the system rather than the individual elements. Thus it is the structure of the organization rather than the employees, alone, which holds the key to improving the quality of output.” –(The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, second edition)

My list of changes needed would only scratch the surface of providing a New Paradigm for education in the new millennium.  I am suggesting that we strongly need to rethink every aspect of the delivery and provision of education in America today. Without making substantive changes in how we educate all of our population, not just children but adults as well, we will never regain the greatness that America had during the 20th Century.

Ok, time for questions. 

Did you think school was fun when you went?  Do you think school could be fun?  What if we combined Play, Education and Work into the functions of a school? What do you think it would be like for students?  Do you have any idea of what Higher Education costs today?  Do you know what the average salary of an NCAA Football Coach is?  Click on the link if you want to find out!  Do you think teachers are paid too much?  Do you think American schools are the best in the world?  How do you explain the high ratings for Harvard?  Should we allow students to leave high school to perform community service or join the military?  What would you do to FIX education?

Life is just beginning.

Are We Living in More Dangerous Times? Part 2

In my previous blog, I asked the question are we living in more dangerous times.  Now I hope you have read my prior blog.  If not, now is the time to go back and read it.  This issue will make a lot more sense if you have read the first part of this blog.  Everywhere you go it seems that people are concerned about the threat of violence and mayhem.  The newspapers provide daily grist for the mill. Each day brings a never ending series of sordid tales of rape, debauchery and brutality to our fellow citizens.  Who do we blame for this? Should we blame anyone or is it all in our imagination?

Let’s look at some statistics which while they are admittedly broad brush strokes (i.e. not your local town data) will still tell us something about the state of crime in our world.  The first statistic is the murder rate.  Now since the population has grown a great deal each year we need to look at the per capital murder rate, that is the rate adjusted for population growth.

REGIONAL MURDER RATES, 2001 – 2011


MURDER RATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE

REGION

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

EXECUTIONS
(As of 1/17/13)
South 5.5 5.6 6.1 6.6 7.0 6.8 6.6 6.6 6.9 6.8 6.7 1080
Midwest 4.5 4.4 4.6 4.8 4.9 5.0 4.9 4.7 4.9 5.1 5.3 155
West 4.2 4.2 4.6 5.0 5.3 5.6 5.8 5.7 5.7 5.7 5.5 82
Northeast 3.9 4.2 3.8 4.2 4.1 4.5 4.4 4.2 4.2 4.1 4.2 4
NATIONAL RATE 4.7 4.8 5.0 5.4 5.6 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.7 5.6 5.6

 The above chart from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#nat1970  shows us several facts. Sorry, I could not get the entire chart in this blog. The link above will take you to the actual chart which includes some additional data not able to be seen on the chart above.  Of primary importance is the number of executions for murder by each region.

  1. The murder rate has actually declined from 2001 until 2011.
  2. Executions do not seem to have any impact on homicide rates.  In fact, the reverse looks like it could be supported in that states with fewer executions have a lower homicide rate.
  3. The Northeast looks quite a bit safer than the South.

If you are interested in state and city data, you will find it on this same website.

The next statistics to look at would be the rates for burglary or home break-ins, assaults, car thefts, rapes and violent crime. One could argue, that any one of these statistic is much more likely to leave us feeling nervous and insecure than the murder rate. We all fear the thought of some deviates breaking into our house, assaulting, attacking or raping us.

The following chart is too small to read but if you click on it, you will enlarge it and be able to see the figures more clearly.

Image

Looking at the above chart:  (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats)  you can see that from 1992 through 2011, the following happened despite the increase in population:

  1. Violent crime rate dropped from 757.1 per hundred thousand to 386.3
  2. Rape rate dropped from 42.8 per hundred thousand to 26.8
  3. Burglary rate dropped from 1,168 per hundred thousand to 702.2
  4. Vehicle theft rate dropped from 631.6 per hundred thousand to 229.6

If you are interested in regional, city or state data, you can find it at this website or various other websites such as for Arizona:  http://www.azdatapages.com/datacenter/crime/fbi-ucr-crimes.html

Now granted, there are wide spread differences between cities and between states but the overall crime stats are such that at least nationally, most people should feel much safer and more secure.  This is obviously not the case.  The following data was taken from a Poll by CBS in 2009.

Do Americans feel safer now than before 9/11? For many, the answer is no, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll.

Fifty-four percent of Americans say they generally feel safe, but 46 percent say they feel somewhat uneasy or in danger.

Compared with five years ago, 39 percent of Americans say they feel less safe now, compared with only 14 percent who say they feel safer. Forty-six percent say they feel the same.

More also say the threat of terrorism has grown since 9/11 than said so a year ago. Forty-one percent say the threat has increased since the attacks, an 11 percent jump from last year. Just 14 percent say the threat has decreased, while 43 percent say the threat has not changed.

How safe do you feel compared to five years ago?

More Safe
14%
Less Safe
39%
Same
46%

I could not find more recent data for this than 2009, but my guess would be that there has been a continued decline in how safe people feel.  Let us summarize the key points so far.

  1. People feel less safe in the USA than they did years before.
  2. The behavior of most people seems to slide towards more fear of being attacked and the need arm themselves or take other preventative measures: e.g., guard dogs, security systems, gated communities, pistols, concealed weapons, assault rifles, neighborhood watch groups, etc.
  3. The Crime Stats show we are actually safer than anytime in the past 20 years.

Thus, the simple conclusion should be that threat of crime is a growing perception but not a growing fact.  What is the answer for this paradox?  Why are we more afraid, when we should be less afraid? Why are we carrying more weapons, when we do not need to?  Why are we barring our gates, alarming our homes and spending huge amounts on safety, not to mention curtailing our lifestyles, when in reality we should be dancing in the streets?  Perhaps, some areas are more dangerous, some cities have higher crime and indeed some areas should be avoided by the prudent, but on the whole, we are a safer and less violent country than years ago.  So WHY the FEAR?  Is it simply a sign of an aging population or is it the media and news obsession with crime that creates a distorted image in our minds and paralyzes some of us with a fear of becoming the next victim or headline?  Maybe you can send me your thoughts on this question?

Ok, time for questions.

What is behind the increase in fear in our society?  What can we do about it? What do you do in your life to help overcome the fear that seems to surround us? What changes do you think we need to make in this country to reduce the fear and violence in our society?

Life is just beginning.

PS:

I just had to add this PS. After writing this article I was driving to a meeting and heard the following news report on NPR.  Apparently a family making maple syrup in their home was raided when neighbors reported the funny smells and called the police to report the house as a suspected meth lab.  The full report can be found at:  http://www.informationliberation.com/index.php/a/?id=42835

The mother living at the home reportedly gave the SWOT team each a bottle of maple syrup to take home. She then told the reporters that she wanted to invite any of her neighbors to a Pancake Dinner at her home where they could try her maple syrup.

This TRUE story illustrates the “paranoia’ that seems to plague our country today.  No one is safe from “imagining” a fantasy of criminals just waiting to ravage our homes and neighborhood.  Add the “Illegal” immigrants to this potpourri and you have a volatile mixture of fear, xenophobia and hysteria. “Hold it, I see a bunch of young Arab kids grouped together across the street, I need to call Homeland Security, they could be plotting another Arab terrorist attack.”

Aside

Are We Living in More Dangerous Times? Why Are So Many People Afraid?

How many times have you thought about going out someplace but decided that it was not worth the risk?  How many people do you know that carry guns, Mace, or other concealed weapons?  Years ago, we did not have gated communities, neighborhood watch groups, child alert systems and an endless barrage of news about school shootings and “random acts of violence.”  Children could walk to school by themselves.  Kids actually went Trick or Treating on Halloween and were not afraid to eat unwrapped goodies.  Today, the headlines daily blare a cacophony of events that continuously seem to eclipse previous events in terms of violence and horror.  Just when I think I have heard the most heinous crime ever, tomorrow’s paper brings a story of even more devilry and devious mayhem.  It is like an infinite number of horror writers were banging on an infinite number of typewriters to create an infinite number of stories that will terrorize and incite fear in our communities. 

Is it any wonder that more and more states are passing concealed weapons permits and groups like the NRA fight to limit even reasonable efforts at gun control?  We have a vast population of people who are terrified of being raped, robbed, kidnapped, murdered, shot, slashed, assaulted, run over, or somehow other horribly victimized by a system and society that seems to relish and exalt crime.

Many of us blame “Kids Today” for this.  As Socrates said:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Two thousand and five hundred years later and many of us would say this sounds like what we could say in the 21st Century except we might substitute “Shoot their teachers” instead of “tyrannize their teachers.” 

We blame a society where no one seems to have any responsibilities but everyone seems to have rights.  This generation of kids has been called the “Entitlement generation.”  Margaret Wente writes the following to explain the problem:

The entitlement mindset didn’t come from nowhere. It came from us. It came from a generation of adults who believed that kids should never be allowed to fail, or told the truth about their abilities, or learn that getting what you want is sometimes hard. On top of that, we have the modern fallacy of higher education – much beloved of politicians, who believe the acquisition of a BA is a sort of alchemy that can transform intellectual dross into gold and ensure that everyone, no matter how inert, can succeed in the knowledge economy.

Dr. Ken Coates cited in the Wente article believes we should bring back vocational education and that university level education should be for students who are interested in, and capable of, high-level work. Colleges and tech schools can offer more practical, job-oriented education for everyone else.  The problem with Ken’s ideas is that we would need to reverse the clock, to go back to a time when not everyone needed or was expected to earn a college degree.  I am a firm believer in that you must go forward and that there is no turning back the clock.  Coates is right however when he notes that “There is no easy route to great success. A generation has lost touch with that.”

But is this the reason for the increase in fear and violence in our society?  Are a generation of spoiled, lazy and highly indulged kids to be blamed for the walls and gates and guns that are now endemic in our society?  And more to the point are our fears well-founded?  Are we really more violent than in past years?  Or are our perceptions out of touch with reality?   

In my next few blogs, I would like to touch on this subject of violence and whether or not we really should be more fearful today. I would also like to show the role that education plays or could play in ameliorating some of the problems that our society now faces.  It is my belief that we live in different times but not worse times.  I think many people confuse a difference with a deficit and this leads to the conclusion that times are bad, people are worse and the Apocalypse is right around the corner. 

How many times have I listened to some “Religious Nut” who ranted about the Rapture and the coming ending of the world? I suppose this is a natural outcome of a desire to escape from a reality populated by maniacs, serial killers, pedophiles, crooked politicians and “entitled” people.  Surrounded by such a backdrop, is it any wonder that many people seek solace in the belief that the end is coming and that an avenging angel will come down to smite the evil and take the “good” up to their just deserts? 

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. 12 I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave[a] gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. 14 Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. 15 And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”   Revelation 20:11-15

 Ok, time for questions. 

Are times more violent today?  Are we faced with more dangers today than in past generations?  Are kids the problem?  Is entitlement the problem? Are schools the problem?  Are guns the problem?  Do we have too many people today who are lazy and expect something for nothing?  Are you more afraid then you were years ago?  Do you fear more?  Do you live in a gated community?  Do you carry a concealed weapon?  What do you think it would take to help make you less fearful? What would it take to make society less fearful? 

Life is just beginning.

What is wrong with education today? Part 1

Creativity-vs_-Formal-SchoolingMy father always put a great store in my getting an education.  I am not sure if my mother could have cared less.  However, from an early age, it was my dad who always looked at my report cards and wanted to make sure that I was doing well in school.  Oddly enough, his interest in education did not seem to entail putting away any money for college. I remember quite well sometime before I finished high school when I told my dad “I would like to go to college.”  His reply was “Great, good luck.” No mention of money, no talk about how it could happen financially.  Realistically, it was rather a moot point. Most of my high school teachers disliked me; my grades were abysmal, my SAT scores below average and my desire to attend college was well below my desire to party and score with the “chicks.” (Please note this was a colloquialism of the times)

Thus, the future was clear.  The time was 1964.  The Vietnam War was looking for bodies and the military would take anyone who could still breathe.  I checked out the uniform options and decided (with limited knowledge) which uniforms might be the best “chick” magnets.  Based on this rather biased assessment, I decided to join the Air Force and enlisted for four years.  During this time, I partied, drank, read, exercised, partied, drank, read and did less and less exercise.  I honestly cannot say whether my uniform attracted the “chicks”, but I did not seem to want for drink or sex, the two most important things in my life at the time.  One thing not on my radar was “school.”

Often, other enlistees would ask me about attending classes or going nights to a local college.  “John, if we get enough guys interested, we can have Professor So and So come out to the base to deliver the class.”  My typical answer was “Professor So and So can shove his class, I am not interested.”  I managed to stay away from any education for my entire four years (One notable exception being my AFSC training school.  I will talk about his situation in a later blog.) When I married my first wife in 1967, I informed her I had no desire to attend college or ever set foot in a school again.  High School had been enough torture for me.  My favorite class in HS was detention where all the other goof-offs went and we could have a swell time finding creative ways to harass the detention monitor.

I should note a fact here.  I am the only member of my immediate family who ever went to college, not to mention obtaining a Ph.D.  Not my mother, father, brother or two sisters and hardly any of my first cousins, nor aunts, uncles and other relatives ever set foot in a college.  I have subsequently found a long lost and now deceased cousin who also received his Ph.D. but a college education was certainly not typical in my family.  It was rather like getting a winning lottery ticket. It was something that everyone espoused as a greater good, but few if any every obtained a degree or even thought about what it took to get a degree.

At this point, I am boring you with the history of my life and you are probably wondering why and where this story is going?  I want to show you that education was not something that was part of the woof and warp of my existence.  Unlike many people today, I did not have any chart memorized that showed how much a college degree versus no college or versus a high school diploma would be worth. In fact, I would venture to maintain that most of the people I knew in the sixties went to college simply because they wanted to get a liberal arts degree and sincerely believed that Higher Education would make them a better person.  The Democratic Liberal Arts Paradigm was still dominant in education at the time as opposed to what I call the Technocratic Function Paradigm that now dominates education. Today, students by a large margin, go to school to get jobs, make more money and have a planned career. This was not the case in the 60’s.  One is not better than the other as a motive, just different.

Ok, time for questions.  I will continue this blog next week.

What are your beliefs about the value of education?  Do you think older people are wiser than younger people? Does aging lead to wisdom? Does education lead to wisdom?  Can young people be wise and old people be fools?  How much is a Higher Education worth?  Do we have an education bubble in this country?  Should we have free Higher Education for all qualified students?  Should we allow students to leave High School to perform community service or join the military?

Life is just beginning.

Beginning Again

I want to thank all of you who have followed my blog here and posted comments or sent me feedback.  I am starting a new blog and have written the first post today. I will try to do 2 per week and the subject is on Aging.  This subject affects everyone of us since we are all, whether young or old, aging.  You can read my first post at my new blog site:

https://agingcapriciously.com/2013/02/06/aging-or-saging/

I look forward to your comments and continued readership.  If you enjoy my blogs, please send them to others, print them out and use them wherever you like or send me ideas you might have for subjects or content.  I don’t know about other writers but I enjoy feedback and like Mark Twain said “I can go six months on a small compliment.” 

Aging or Saging?

Once upon a time there were four friends who were inseparable when they were growing up.  None of them had started school yet and they spent their days together playing and having as much fun as they could.  Each of them had special gifts which were recognized by the others. No one friend felt superior because of their gifts but instead tried to share them with the others. One of the friends was a rabbit named Bolt.  Bolt was named after the famous sprinter Usain Bolt who could run like the wind. Bolt was so fast that no one could up with him and he would frequently take one of his other friends on an insane ride through the woods.  Round the trees, up the cliffs and down the gulleys. It was like a wild roller coaster ride with the wind and branches whipping around the rider and Bolt.

A second friend in the group was a young monkey named Reinhold who was named after the greatest Alpine climber in history Reinhold Messner.  Reinhold could climb any tree in the forest with either his hands or his tail.  He would swing from tree to tree with his eyes closed and when he let go, he would somehow fall so magically that before you could blink he was now swinging from another branch far off in the distance.  All of his friends loved to go for a ride with Reinhold because his acrobatics and maneuvers were so unpredictable.

Amphitrite was a fish.  The other friends had met Amphitrite on one of their journeys down to the sea for a drink of water. Amphitrite was named after the goddess queen of the sea and she was smart and graceful.  She was half mermaid and half fish and could outswim any creature in the sea.  She would take a friend for a ride on her back across the sea and plunge down into the depths past sunken ships, undersea mounts and vast schools of smaller brightly colored fish.  These trips were enjoyed by all because of the incredible differences they would find between the surface world and the world beneath the sea.  Amphitrite was also very intelligent and when any of her other friends had a problem they would come to Amphitrite for a solution.

The final four of the friends was an eagle named Felix who was named after the great base jumper and flyer Felix Baumgartner.  Felix was as fearless as his namesake and would ascend to unbelievable heights and then come straight down like a rocket.  At the last minute, he would turn and follow the contours of the land below him.  Felix could soar on an updraft or downdraft practically in his sleep.  When he wanted to accelerate, there was not another bird in the sky who could keep up with his speed.  Trips with Felix were always hair-raising to say the least.

Well, one day, the parents of the four friends, decided that it was time for them to start school.  Enough playing, now it was time to become serious and think about what they would do for the rest of their lives.  Swimming, running, climbing and flying were all well and good but they needed a more balanced education.  A Liberal Arts program was the trick.  The parents enrolled the four friends in the school taught by the wise old owl named Professor Harvard.  Professor Harvard had degrees in everything and was widely known as being the smartest animal in the forest. There was not a factoid, equation, puzzle, dilemma, mystery or riddle that Professor Harvard could not solve.  Professor Harvard was happy to enroll the four young students.  “We will make adults out of them yet and set them on the course to a prosperous and useful life.”

The school was organized into five classes: One for climbing, one for swimming, one for flying, one for running and one for literature.  It was understood that a well-rounded education was the key to prosperity and success.  Of course, everyone must know how to read since literature is the cornerstone of fairytales, Aesop Fables, Uncle Remus tales, Hans Christian Anderson stories, Winnie the Pooh stories and many other animal tales too numerous to mention.

Upon the first day of school Professor Harvard advised the new students that the curriculum would be rigorous and none could pass unless they completed their studies in each area.  Each student would be tested at the end of the class by a physical demonstration of their prowess. The best student would get an A. Next best would get a B, and so on.  The worst student would get an F for flunk and would need to take the class again. The literature test would be based on a written test where students would have to describe the moral in a series of well known tales.

Now some of the students were indeed worried about the curriculum but they were assured by all that if they only put their minds to it, set their goals high, did not let failure deter them, and thought positively they would have no problem with getting their diploma.

However, things did not work out so well for our four friends. By the end of the running class, Bolt was an A student, Reinhold a B, Felix a C and poor Amphitrite was given a F and told she must repeat the class.

By the end of the Flying Class, all but Felix were feeling very discouraged and frustrated. Try as they might, none of them could get the hang of flying.  Reinhold squeaked out a B although some thought his acrobatics were not really flying but it was decided to give him a B anyway. However, Bolt and Amphitrite were both colossal failures and were given F’s.  Amphitrite was now a straight F student.

In the climbing class, Felix got a B, while Reinhold received an A, Bolt managed a C but poor Amphitrite again received an F.  She was on the verge of dropping out but being a very smart person and wanting to fit into the world around her, she would not let her 3 straight F’s daunt her and finally she was rewarded for her perseverance.

When it came to the swimming class, Amphitrite received her first passing grade. Indeed she excelled in the class and received an A.  Felix, Reinhold and Bolt all were modest swimmers and managed to pass the class with C’s.

The final class was the most feared by all except for Amphitrite.  Most of the friends dreaded literature as their memories and reading skills were well below average. Amphitrite however loved to read and had no problem relating the stories to their intended morals. One example should suffice:

What is the moral of the following tale?

The Blind Man and the Cub – A Fable from Aesop

There was once a Blind Man who had so fine a sense of touch that, when any animal was put into his hands, he could tell what it was merely by the feel of it.  One day the Cub of a Wolf was put into his hands, and he was asked what it was.  He felt it for some time, and then said, “Indeed, I am not sure whether it is a Wolf’s Cub or a Fox’s: but this I know—It would never do to trust it in a sheepfold.” 

Amphitrite could quickly grasp the essence of each story and received an A in the literature class.  The other three friends could not seem to comprehend the meaning of the various tales and much to their regrets each received an F in this class.  Professor Harvard gave out the various grades and pointed out the option of summer school to each student.  None seemed overly excited about the prospect.

By the end of school, the four friends were no longer friends. None of them saw any fun continuing the activities that had previously meant so much to them.  Indeed, the various grades and tests they had been subjected to created feelings of inadequacy and superiority which further alienated them from each other. Thus, each friend went their own way in the world, never to see each other again.

Felix was killed when he collided with an airplane at 47,000 feet.  Amphitrite could not get over all of her F’s, became a drug addict and died of an overdose.  Reinhold felt mediocre and decided not to take any more risks in life. He was penniless and lonely when he died from drowning while trying to swim across a small pond. Bolt decided running was not that useful and became more of a slug and couch potato.  He would spend endless hours in front of the TV watching football and baseball games.  He was killed by a fox that caught him one day right outside his den.  He had become so fat and slow that he could not get back into his den before Mr. Fox caught him.

As we grow older, do we grow smarter, wiser, and sager or do we simply grow old and die?  What is education? What is school?  Are they the same?  What happens when we keep doing the same thing and expect different results?  In my next blog, I want to tell you about my Ph.D., my education, my schooling and my results.  I am planning to do 1 blog each week and they will be capricious.  What does Capricious mean and why Aging Capricious?   Please follow me for more stories, fables, myths and tall tales. 

Life is just beginning.

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