Yes! That’s it Exactly!

I was nearly brought to tears this morning when what I have been feeling, worrying about, and thinking for the last, well, for a long time, was encapsulated by three New York Times essays. That constant background noise of my thoughts, worries and emotions might be akin to an individual’s constant tinnitus or even the background radiation of the universe. I was literally brought to the edge of tears–but I held it together, not so much from pain, fear, or sadness, but just as an emotional release, of: “Yes! That’s it exactly!”

My background noise is processed through writing–any kind of writing–from books about teaching to songs. I wish I was more accomplished at it so I could better express and release more of it. Then, maybe I’d also provide for others, “Yes! That’s it exactly!” moments.

I ask you, what is your method of exploring your background noise of thoughts, worries, and emotions?

My songwriting, long undisciplined and feral, has recently become more intentional and nurtured, is always an attempt to explore and understand my background noise. My two non-fiction “sciency” books, Within These Woods and Ecological Identity were explorations of my (our) place in, among, and coming from our connection to our ecological (so everything) world. And even my book on teaching Consider, Construct, Confirm (edition 2 the result of my current sabbatical work and out in August by the way) is, in large part, an exploration of how this background radiation applies to my chosen profession. I think that explains why, though a “textbook,” many of my students have said, “it’s actually enjoyable to read.” We all need to explore our own background noise. And if you have followed my blog these past few years you undoubtedly find this background noise expressed in a confusing mix of media and styles. If I was better at any of them, I’d be a renaissance man. Instead, I’m just a guy in the 21st century with access to the internet.

The last essay I read this morning tapped into the feeling part of my background noise and my attempts to understand and process our current times. Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote in “The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus“,

Sometimes people ask me what it takes to be a writer. The only things you have to do, I tell them, are read constantly; write for thousands of hours; and have the masochistic ability to absorb a great deal of rejection and isolation.

I’m out I thought. This is why I have a real job with a steady salary! He continues,

As it turns out, these qualities have prepared me well to deal with life in the time of coronavirus…The fact that I am almost enjoying this period of isolation — except for bouts of paranoia about imminent death and rage at the incompetence of our nation’s leadership — makes me sharply aware of my privilege…Many of us are getting a glimpse of dystopia. Others are living it.

Right!? I realize many of the emotions I’ve been processing are rooted in guilt, and maybe some shame thrown on top for spice. That’s not a particularly healthy jumping of point for action or creativity. Yet, we have no choice but to leap.

The rest of Nguyen’s piece describes how the varying affect of coronavirus on different peoples in our society is largely a function of inequity. Coronavirus has further exposed the inequity throughout the enacted story of the American dream. He thoughtfully ends by providing signs of hope coming from this crisis, by identifying things we might do to strengthen the sustainability of our democratic society, closing with,

Americans will eventually emerge from isolation and take stock of the fallen, both the people and the ideas that did not make it through the crisis. And then we will have to decide which story will let the survivors truly live.

Before reading Nguyen’s piece, Paul Krugman punched me in the gut, hitting my solar plexus of worries in “American Democracy May Be Dying.” In this, he describes the shift from democracy to authoritarianism in Hungary over the past few years, outlining parallels to here in the U.S. He focuses on lessons from the Tuesday Wisconsin primary, writing,

Wisconsin, in particular, is well on its way toward becoming Hungary on Lake Michigan, as Republicans seek a permanent lock on power…in 2018, Wisconsin’s electorate voted strongly for Democratic control. Voters chose a Democratic governor, and gave 53 percent of their support to Democratic candidates for the State Assembly. But the state is so heavily gerrymandered that despite this popular-vote majority, Democrats got only 36 percent of the Assembly’s seats.

Most troubling for Krugman was the over-ruling of the Governor’s attempt to delay the primary requiring voters to counter stay-at-home directives and congregate in public polling places, thus endangering themselves and/or further spreading the virus.

So why did Republican legislators, eventually backed by the Republican appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court, insist on holding an election as if the situation were normal?

He asks, and then answers:

[t]he state shutdown had a much more severe impact on voting in Democratic-leaning urban areas, where a great majority of polling places were closed, than in rural or suburban areas. So the state G.O.P. was nakedly exploiting a pandemic to disenfranchise those likely to vote against it.

What we saw in Wisconsin, in short, was a state party doing whatever it takes to cling to power even if a majority of voters want it out — and a partisan bloc on the Supreme Court backing its efforts. Donald Trump, as usual, said the quiet part out loud: If we expand early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

That disenfranchisement leads me to the first piece I read that resonated with the logical/thinking component of my background noise. David Leonhardt and Yanya Salez, in “America Will Struggle After Coronavirus. These Charts Show Why.” provide a startling series of short descriptions and data sets outlining the history and impact of income/wealth inequality in the U.S. It’s illuminating when you look at the data. Two stand out.

Since 1980, the GDP has risen 79% while after tax earnings of the low and middle income population has risen 20% and 50% respectively, while the wealthy after tax income has risen a staggering 420%.

Since 1989, median family net worth increased somewhat equally among all Americans, rising about 60% until the great recession beginning in 2007. At that time, all median gains made by all families were wiped away, and then some, with a recovery of about 10% above what the median net worth was back in in 1989 as of 2016–so still down 50% from where it was in 2007. However, the richest 10% lost about 10% of their median net worth, from 2007 to 2013, and since have recovered not only all losses, but increased the median net worth by an additional 10%. So now,

…the richest 0.1 percent of American households own 19.6 percent of the nation’s total wealth, up from 15.9 percent in 2005 and 7.4 percent in 1980. The richest 0.1 percent now have the same combined net worth as the bottom 85 percent.

This wealth inequality is now fully exposed and laying bare the fatal impact this will eventually have on many of our fellow citizens and on democracy itself. The majority of Americans struggle daily just to survive, and will not do so if their daily lives are even temporarily interrupted economically. Because of the growing wealth inequity of the past 30 years, we are now going to be faced with either a forced, very rapid redistribution of wealth, or while those that can afford to wait out the coronavirus the working poor will need to get back to work to resume production of the supply chain and to fuel the economy. We are seeing an increased call already to get back to work despite the dangers. This will only exacerbate the impact of wealth inequity. Those with can and will still hide away or access health care if infected while those without cannot.

The only way forward, then for those holding power and wealth, is to rely on authoritarian means to silence the majority at the mercy of greed. The only way forward for that silent majority to not get stuck in a Hunger Games-like dystopian future is to reclaim its voice and not only stop the increasing wealth gap, but reverse it to post WWII, but pre-1980 levels. Hopefully this can be done via a peaceful, political process. Otherwise, we will eventually see the end of democracy or capitalism, or both.

My background noise of thinking, worrying, and feeling comes out in all of my professional and personal choices and activities. I have taught primarily in the public sector, with a short stint in a private school that left me feeling like I was contributing to the inequity.

In my personal life it is explored primarily now through my hobbies of writing, focused right now on songwriting. This is evident if you look at what I have written of late. The only “hit” (meaning anyone else wanted to hear and play it) is my song, “My Heart Aches.” This summer Eliza Gilkyson heard it and asked to help me finish it and record it. Her album, 2020, including this song is being released today. The album and song encapsulates a great deal of my background radiation. As I listen to her 10 songs, I keep thinking, “Yes! That’s it exactly!”

Here’s are the lyrics and Eliza’s recording of our song.

My Heart Aches
(c) 2020 Tim Goodwin Music / Gilkysongs

We marched 50 years and 500 hundred miles
From a Mississippi bridge to a Ferguson mistrial
Stepping over bodies of other mothers’ sons
Singing how someday, “we shall overcome…”
My heart aches. My heart aches

We marched 50 years and so many miles
With folded hands and complacent smiles
Condemned a generation to circumstance
And all we were saying was “Give peace a chance…”
My heart aches. My heart aches

We marched 50 years and countless miles
Ignoring the signs of our own denial
Waiting for some others to take a stand
And “hammer out justice all over this land…”
My heart aces. My heart aches

For the children locked in cages, far away where no one sees
For the helpless and the hopeless, and the homeless refugees
My heart aches. My heart aches

For the voices who’ve been silenced, at the mercy of our greed
For the prisoners of conscience who speak out for those in need
My heart aches. My heart aches

For the victims of the hatred, they are lying there on the ground
In the churches and the schoolyards, from the shots that took them down
My heart aches. My heart aches

For the claims made on our bodies, and who we can and can’t embrace
For the children of tomorrow, and the world they have to face
My heart aches. My heart aches

This song expresses concisely the constant background noise of my thoughts, worries, and feelings. That’s its purpose of course. That’s the purpose of art and creativity.

I have my own version of this song I’ll be releasing by the end of April along with 10 other songs on an album titled “The New American Way.” Through them I explored and understood much of my background noise at this time, I hope in a useful and productive manner. Eliza has expressed that it is her hope that her album, 2020, while serving as a necessary cathartic expression of concerns and pain, can help foster unity and coming together as one people.

It’s obvious why I have followed, looked up to, and often attempted to imitate or emulate her songwriting. That is also the hope and purpose of my my album. I don’t know if it’s really any good (except for one song I suppose). In the end, the purpose is, for me, a necessary exploration and expression of ideas and emotions. This brings me back to my earlier question: What is your method of exploring your background noise of thoughts, worries, and emotions?

Our individual and collective health relies, in part, upon us all knowing our answer to that question.

It Comes Down To Empathy

We say we are all in this together. But we are not. We cannot even say the virus attacks one and all the same. Like everything else, we find that one’s income and zip code greatly affect how the world affects the individual.

For example, the residents of the Navajo nation tribal lands are being hit harder with this virus. This is due to 40 % of the population lacking running water needed for increased hand washing as well as higher rates of health issues such as diabetes. Unique to this population is compromised immune systems from uranium mining pollution.

Individuals living in areas with higher rates of air pollution also may become sicker or have increased mortality rates due to prior damage to the lungs. Naturally then, populations living in poorer communities, who have been exposed to more pollutants, who also have less access to healthy food and affordable health care will be hit harder than the more affluent as an aggregate. We’ll hear about the celebrities taken by this virus. I too am greatly saddened by the loss of John Prine. Remember, thousands of individuals have lost their “John Prine.” Many of them grieve alone.

Of course, those that do not have the luxury of sheltering in place in the manner as me, are also at a much greater risk of contracting the virus. This burden is not just falling on the necessary work of nurses and doctors and emergency service professionals, but also all other lower-paid workers in the health care system. Much of our essential supply chain, and the workers in the service industry getting those goods into consumers hands are all kept functioning by lower-paid labor. This virus has turned those professions into high-risk professions.

The majority of Americans face choosing to work and increase the immediate impact of the virus, plus putting themselves and family at risk, or sheltering at home and potentially default on their rent/mortgage, car payments, and struggle to buy food. Both options are potentially life-threatening.

Comfortably watching TV last night, I saw numerous ads from companies, using celebrity faces stating “you are not alone.” But that is not true if you are bearing a stronger impact of the virus or the economic impact of the efforts to contain the virus. Those words mean nothing. Talk is cheap.

What it comes down to is to pause and have empathy. In what way is everyone struggling, and therefore, in what way will my actions help or endanger others in my community?

For example,when you go to the store, wear a mask. Not for you. For them. And go to the store fewer times, making more purchases so you don’t have to come back to the store after just a few days to get something you could have purchased last time. The more trips to the store, the more times the virus has an opportunity to use you as a vector to carry it to a new host.

We could be in this all together. What can you do to make this so?

PLASTIC!

How you are you doing sheltering in place? My family is healthy and able to adjust and continue with work and schooling. The biggest impact so far is psychological; it’s difficult to think or converse about anything else. My family is incredibly fortunate so far. However, it does mean that we stop thinking about other things.

For example, I normally attempt to purchase as little food as possible packaged in single use plastic. For example, I usually purchase parmesan cheese whole instead of grated in a plastic tub. I hope the thin shrink wrapping on the wedge of cheese has a smaller ecological footprint than the plastic tub labeled with a “5” in the recycling symbol on the bottom. I’ve opted for the shrink wrap though not recyclable and the tub technically is as our community collects and attempts to recycle plastics labeled 1-7.

While the tub is recycleable, I am not confident it actually gets recycled. And even if it did, one must consider the resources that were required to make the plastic in the first place. I suspect the plastic wrapping had less of an environmental footprint in terms of resource consumption to make than the thicker, more dense, larger tub. But, I don’t really know, which is also a problem.

The reality is studies have found that at most 10% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. I bet you think, and I thought, that the symbol meant that it was recycleable to some degree. That isn’t the purpose of that symbol. The purpose is merely to identify what kind of plastic it is so you can know if it is recycleable or not. This was a purposeful decision by the plastic industry.

Recognizing that we had a plastic problem, the decision was made not to reduce or reuse plastic, but instead to recycle. Focusing on the first two would hurt profits, so recycling was the only course of action and industry could take. What happened was that plastic production and consumption dramatically increased. We consumers thought erroneously that by recycling we were doing our part to “save the planet” and we could wash our hands (for 20 seconds remembering to wash the back of your hand, get between your fingers, and don’t forget about the thumb!). See, always thinking about the pandemic, even when not.

This dramatic increase in plastic production means the recycling market cannot keep up with the amount produced. Recycling only works if there is a market to purchase the plastic and reuse it as a raw material for more plastic production. We have a significantly greater supply of raw recycled plastic material than a demand for it. And when there is a high demand that is because we are producing more plastic (which 90% of will not be recycled). That means that most of the plastic doesn’t ever get recycled. The plastic that does not get recycled does not often end up in a properly designed landfill since it was separated from the traditional refuse pickup. 32% of plastic packaging ends up in the ocean.

That puts us into a positive feedback loop. We make more out of plastic, so we purchase more plastic. But, if recycling it is too expensive, the material is contaminated with the wrong kind of plastic or other refuse, then it is not usable as a raw material. If oil prices drop, as they have dramatically now, it is cheaper to make plastic from new raw materials rather than recycled. It is a sure bet that as oil prices drop and we shift to other sources of fuel, the oil industry will shift to plastic production as a market for their oil and we will see increased campaigning for the need for recycling instead of reducing or reusing plastic.

So what does this have to do with the pandemic? The last time I shopped I purchased the tub of parmesan. I don’t even really know why. I wasn’t thinking about the packaging. I was consumed with purchasing 2-3 weeks of groceries instead of my typical 1 week of groceries. I was thinking about convenience, what will keep longer, what can I fit in the freezer, etc.

It is of course natural to be consumed with the largest disruption to our economy and daily lives since WW II. At some point, however, we will have to return to normalcy, even if that normalcy is somewhat different. We will still have a plastic production and consumption problem. We will still have a climate crisis. We will still have a water and air pollution problem. The longer we are consumed with other thoughts and efforts of mere survival of one crisis, the other crises will expand. That’s a real problem, because all of these crises are interconnected, and none can be ignored as an increase in one will compound the others.

For now, shelter in place as much as possible so we can all get through this crisis. Then, when life begins to resume keep these other crises in mind. They are all interconnected, and ultimately these environmental crises will make this pandemic like like child’s play by comparison. In the end, it won’t be Mother Earth that will lose, it will be us fragile Homo sapiens economicus that will lose.

Here’s a link to a useful article that explains the recycle symbol and number key: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/. Check with your local municipality to get a precise list of what plastic can be recycled in your area.

Hard Times Come Again No More

The song, “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster, from 1854, still resonates. While how we conduct our daily lives today is different than during the industrial revolution, Gilded age and Civil War, maybe we are seeing the underlying ideals still remain. As we progress through this pandemic, some are quickly shifting from necessary patience for protecting one another by sheltering to a desire to simply let the disease run its course and let the chips (bodies) fall where they may. America, our Social Darwinism is showing. We may be revealing that the plan for individuals to survive this pandemic is to not get sick. And those that do, can’t afford access to a respirator, and cannot afford the time away from employment, may just have to suffer the consequences. This was America in the 1800s. Are we going to regress back to that or progress beyond it?

In his song Stephan Foster, begins with a call to all who have access to life’s pleasures to consider the plight of those without in the first verse and adds in the chorus that hard times can come for anyone, not just those who “deserve” it:

Verse 1:
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh, hard times, come again no more.

Chorus:
‘Tis a song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times, come again no more.

Foster challenges us throughout the rest of the song to see, hear, and recognize those around us who’s lives are one of toil and struggle. He’s reminding us that those without are not ever far away, even if rendered silent.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er;
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day.
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh! Hard times come again no more

Still today (even before the pandemic’s impact on our economy) more and more struggle to live comfortably despite low unemployment and (previously and presumably again) a surging stock market. Those gains however, are not felt by many that labor day to day fueling our economy. If we really wanted to make America great again, I don’t think a return to the Gilded Age is the correct aspiration–maybe instead we should aspire to a time of strong worker rights bolstering the middle class. Though this time, in a way that includes all races in that prosperity. Maybe we’d also work to structure our elections to inform and then facilitate participation of all so the “sigh” of all citizens was heard and they were represented in order to further a more perfect union of the people, governed. by the people, and for the people.

Here is my rendition of this song with a few of the lyrics updated.

A Global Teachable Moment and a Bag of Carrots

My wife came home from work yesterday with her computer and other desk supplies in a box. Today she starts working from home. That’s my gig. We now have two home offices set up. My daughter arrived home from college late last week, but still taking a full load of courses. So, she’ll be working from home too. This is all instead of leaving last Friday for a week at the beach at Dauphin Island of the coast of Alabama. My wife also brought home twenty-five pounds of carrots from work. Wholesale purchase from the farm that contracts with the college (and other schools’) food service. Expect the unexpected.

So far that’s the extent of the impact of the pandemic on our lives–change and inconvenience primarily, but at the moment nothing to complain about. As my wife said yesterday while the three of us watched a movie together on the couch in our sweats and with snacks, “the Goodwin’s have been preparing our whole lives for this.”

I aI am in no way downplaying the impact I think we will see. I believe we are at just the beginning of some very difficult and disruptive times. For many so far, it is just a surrealness wafting through the air. It feels like we are in the first chapter of a young adult dystopia novel.

The reality is probably that we have no idea what to expect, how to prepare, and how to deal with such massive health and the economic disruption. For the foreseeable future my family is economically secure, not facing any loss of employment and income. We understand our fortunate standing and that this is not the case for significant segments of the population working in jobs completely dependent on other people having the means and needs to purchase services or goods they provide or help manufacture.

The twenty-five pound bag of carrots is a reminder that we are all connected much more so than we often realize. No one’s financial, health, or happiness security is isolated and self-determined. We all absolutely need one another.

Assuming we keep our heads and have the capacity for any sort of collective processing and reflection (which will require significant positive leadership from our elected officials), we could be in the beginning of a very “teachable moment.”

Income inequality is not just a problem for the working poor. The wealthy rely on the working poor to provide services and goods. And, maybe an economic system built on perpetual expansion of goods production and more and more services is not sustainable.

Lack of affordable health care and paid medical leave for many in the population affects the health of all in the population.

Schools are providing many more services for our children than just education as evidenced by concern for children going hungry now that they aren’t fed by the school five days a week.

High-speed internet access might need to be considered a public utility like electricity and water, and not a luxury.

Our supply chain may not be as stable as necessary.

Actual fake Actual fake news and disinformation used to divide and maintain power has a direct impact on the actual survival of actual human beings. It isn’t just schtick, entertainment, and/or the new politics. Facts matter, and opinions not based on facts are corrosive to our society.

IIn the past, we have shown a great propensity to come together generously providing assistance for one another in times of need. This very well could be the greatest time of need and disruption that we have faced in three or four generations.

But I think we can do this. Who’s up for some carrot soup?

Exposed

We’ve been exposed to and by covid-19.

We are unprepared for a significant national emergency and interruption to our daily routines and economy. This interruption isn’t due to the number of individuals that are sick and actually afflicted by the virus, but instead our lack of preparation for the virus and our early responses to it.

We are now seeing that prior cuts to the CDC, NIH, and other agencies that are the front lines to predict, prepare for, and lead the response to such an emergency have greatly compromised our ability to respond. Covid-19 is most dangerous to those with a compromised immune system. These cuts have compromised the immune system of the U.S. And it was a choice that we made.

We are now seeing that the impact is going to be felt the greatest by those already living on the edge of poverty and in the margins of our society. This is the norm, but as that population goes, so goes the health of the more affluent. As Wellstone said, “we all do better when we all do better.” This applies not just to social justice and wages, but equity in access to paid sick leave and affordable health care.

Our unwillingness to address these two issues means a significant number of our population is now endangering the entire population. Many individuals do not have the luxury of staying home from work when they are their kids sick, getting to the doctor at the first signs of infection, let alone then quarantining themselves for fourteen days. Even that temporary loss of income plus medical bills might result in eviction or bankruptcy for the working poor. Why are there even working poor?

Our distrust of our own government and/or our own news sources, coupled with a proclivity to assign a grand conspiracy to any inconvenience rendered us largely impotent to take early steps. The result might be an overwhelming of our already-at-capacity health care facilities that could have been avoided.

We’ve been exposed.

And now we are panicking.

Maybe this exposure can serve as an inoculation for the next national crisis and emergency so that we can do better.

Don’t Feed the Fear Monster

Does it seem to you that we are collectively on the edge of panic and in a state of fear? The impact of this on our daily lives and our ability to make reasonable short-term and long-term decisions is not good. When in a heightened or prolonged state of fear, the upper (or conscious) brain essentially gets shut down, or at least sidelined, by the amygdala. During such times the amygdala directs new stimuli to the lower brain (subconscious) which is responsible for operations during times of “fight or flight.” It’s sort of like being booted up in “safe mode.” Only essential operations are processed and the rest are set aside.

This was a really useful adaptation when we were the tall predator and also prey species in the tall-grass savanna. Survival relied upon instinctual, immediate reactions when suddenly sensing a fatal scenario. This isn’t our world anymore, but it is still our biology.

Of course, this adaptation is still useful today in the rare, truly life-threatening situation. Recent brain research indicates, however, that even in non life-threatening situations, but prolonged states of high anxiety, stress, and fear the amygdala “over-corrects” and redirects stimuli to the lower brain instead of to the frontal cortex for proper cognitive processing of stimuli and incorporating into our collected wisdom.

Our biology is skewing how we view and interact with each other our modern world. These are indeed perilous times when it comes to seismic shifts in politics, potential environmental collapse, and income/resource inequity. Now, add growing concerns over a pandemic that could easily rival the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, and I get it. I’m fearful too and at times and feel myself slip into a downward spiral and am searching simply for the escape route away from the danger.

The trouble is, at these times our lower brain is taking over, and the only goal is immediate fighting or fleeing for survival. However, the problems we face require not fighting or fleeing, but instead require the evolutionary gifts humanity has over most other vertebrates that also have the fight or flight response. We have an incredible capacity for critical thinking, empathy, morality, and collective wisdom and collaborative problem-solving. With these skills housed in our upper brain, we have capacity for great accomplishments.

To achieve this, we have to recognize when our fear is being fed and taking over. At that time we are not longer utilizing our uniquely human evolutionary (or divinely given if you like) gifts to override the more basal fear response of our lower brain. Don’t feed the fear monster.

Tune out and turn off politicians and pundits that are stoking this constant state of fear. It is literally disrupting our cognitive ability to make reasonable choices and take proper action in response to legitimate anger and fear. Anger and fear can be useful emotions and fuel action and change.

Unfortunately, many of us have been pushed beyond anger to a place of rage. Now, from this place of rage, our lower brain takes over, ready to fight, and we no longer make choices based on wisdom needed for a complex modern world, and we then resort to potentially violent or irrational action. Plus, we become subject to the brainwashing influence of the fear peddlers and no longer utilize our upper, conscious, thinking brain. This can lead to spiraling deeper into fear and then vent it out as rage.

Turn off FOX news, MSNBC, and talk radio. Their business model is to feed this fear to keep you tuned in for the next hour with the next pundit telling you how dangerous it is out there. It may indeed be dangerous, but choose news consumption wisely and in limited doses. A constant barrage of news and a continuous scrolling ticker is not necessary to productively participate in our democracy.

Here’s some potential resource to use to help wade through the noise:

The CRAAP Test

When you search for information, you’re going to find lots of it… but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. From the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.

Evaluation Criteria:

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is the one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author / publisher / source / sponsor?
  • What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source (examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net)?

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors / sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

You can download a PDF version of the CRAAP Test here.

Six questions that will tell you what media to trust

I found this resource from the American Press Institute useful for helping to evaluate news sources. Here are the six questions with some summary, but find the full article here.
1. Type: What kind of content is this?
Is it a news story? Or is it an opinion piece? Is it an ad or what some people call native advertising produced by a company? Is it a reaction to someone else’s content?
2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited and why should I believe them?
Is it a police official? A politician? What party? If it’s research, what organization produced it and what background if any is offered about them?
3. Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?
Is the evidence a document? Was it something the source saw as an eyewitness? Is it hearsay, or second-hand? Or are they speculating about someone’s motives or what they might have done?
4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence?
Do they follow logically from what has been cited? Sometimes this is a matter of some conclusions making sense but others going too far. Are too many conclusions being drawn from evidence that doesn’t support all of them?
5. Completeness: What’s missing?
Most content should lead to more questions. An important step in being a critical, questioning consumer is to ask yourself what you don’t understand about a subject. Look back at the piece. Did you miss something? Or was it not there?
6. Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need?
Think about what media you consumed yesterday. What did you learn about? What did you read about?

Here’s a list of sources for fact-checking

  • Snopes Known as the “definitive internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation”
  • Lead Stories Lead Stories uses the Trendolizer™ engine to detect and debunk the latest trending fake news stories and hoaxes found on known fake news sites & networks, prank generators and satirical websites.
  • Media Bias/Fact Check Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News), founded in 2015, is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.
  • Allsides.com Mission: By providing balanced news, issues and civil dialogue from all sides of the political bias spectrum, AllSides heals polarization and improves our democratic society.
  • False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources
  • Open Secrets “The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy. It maintains a public online database of its information”
  • Fact Check “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases”
  • Politifact “PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics.”
  • “Fake News,” Lies and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction
  • Google Image Search
  • Misinformation Directory A list of websites that have posted deceptive content from Factcheck.org
  • Fact Checker- The Washington Post From columnist Glenn Kessler, focusing on accuracy of statements of political figures “regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local.”
  • Vote Smart Check voting records, background, and public statements of candidates from around the country.
  • Quote Investigator This records the investigatory work of Garson O’Toole who diligently seeks the truth about quotations. Who really said what? This question often cannot be answered with complete finality, but approximate solutions can be iteratively improved over time.

Thinking About Being a Liberal

I participated in the Democratic caucus yesterday. In Minnesota it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party. Because Minnesota now has a presidential primary in addition to the caucus the primary function was to select delegates for the next level of party nomination and platform-setting business and to solicit resolutions for the party platform.

This has prompted me to think about what it means to me to be a liberal. For me, it really comes down to this quote from Paul Wellstone. “We all do better when we all do better.” I believe through government we can most efficiently pool our resources and provide equitable assistance to everyone so all have an opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our constitution allows us to make the government whatever we want, being of the people, for the people, and by the people. So, we should be able to make it work for all.

This does not mean that I think “half the people should get a bunch of free stuff while the other half works hard so the government can take their money and give it to them.” This is a condemning description of liberalism I have seen floating around social media. I don’t know any liberals who believe this. This is built on a false assumptions going back to the “welfare queen” stereotype of the 80s and 90s. I don’t know anyone who would choose to live in poverty on limited government assistance just so they didn’t have to work. And I bet you don’t either if you really think about it. If this were the case there’d be a lot more wealthy and middle class individuals who’d give up their daily grind of work to live the life of luxury of a “welfare queen.” It isn’t a life of luxury. Plus, (nearly) everyone wants to have purpose and be useful.

Yes, no matter the system there will always be those who commit fraud and try and milk any system involving money–from welfare cheats to hedge-fund managers. But we shouldn’t deny a safety net to all because of the illegal activities of a few, just like we shouldn’t suspend trading on Wall Street because a small percentage engage in insider trading.

I do believe that it is unconscionable that in a society with our collective wealth and resources that we have individuals going hungry, without shelter, proper education, or health care, and therefore not able to participate fully in the “American dream.” In this country the top 1% holds about 38% of the wealth, the next 9% holds an equal amount, leaving the remaining 24% to be shared by the remaining 90% of individuals. This kind of inequity is unethical and unsustainable. Currently, a significant segment of our population lives paycheck to paycheck and maintaining shelter, having minimal food, and access to healthcare is a day-to-day, all-consuming struggle for survival funded by piecing together sub-standard paying, part-time employment. Working full time should provide enough income to live comfortably and with dignity above the poverty line.

I believe that we still have significant racism in this country and systemic racism still contributes to wealth and resource inequity and we have a responsibility to work to correct for the fact that this country was in large part built by slave labor on conquered land. This doesn’t mean I think I’m a bad person because I’m white and benefit from this systemic inequity. It does mean that it is wrong to ignore or perpetuate this inequity.

I believe in gun control, meaning I believe in the second amendment as written, not as interpreted currently. I think that the word “regulated” is there purposefully. Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to come and take your guns. However, I don’t accept that we are all going to be safer when more of us are conducting our daily business packing heat. I think we have the right as a society to decide that we want to regulate and control who has access to weapons designed for one purpose–to kill fellow humans. We regulate how many shells a duck hunter can put in their weapon. We should provide victims of mass shootings the same chance for survival as a duck.

Being liberal doesn’t mean that I want to abort pregnancies and kill fetuses. My preference would be that there is never another abortion. But, I do believe a woman should have complete control over what happens to their body. I also know that we reduce abortions most effectively by preventing pregnancy and providing proper reproductive healthcare to all, not by criminalizing it. And I don’t know any liberals who support practices as has been described by President Trump of delivering a baby and then deciding if it should live or not, or even late-term abortions purely for reasons of not wanting to continue the pregnancy. For God’s sake, we’re not monsters.

And speaking of God, I believe all have the right to pray whenever and wherever they want (even in school). I also believe in the right to not pray or worship a specific God at the behest of the government. Freedom of religion means complete freedom to practice or not practice a religion. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom to use one’s religion to discriminate against or mandate behavior and practice to another.

I believe that no one succeeds all on their own. Those with tremendous wealth have (possibly) earned it, but have done so within the system of our government, economy, and infrastructure which has contributed to that wealth acquisition. Our capitalist democracy contains many significant aspects of accepted socialism. We should embrace those that enhance everyone’s pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness and reject those that do not. I believe that we will all do better when we all can do better and fully participate in the economy. I believe economy trickles up, not down.

Being a liberal means I believe that we have a moral responsibility to care for one another and treat each other with dignity, respect, and humanely. We all have the same value as a human beings despite the circumstances and place of our birth, upbringing, or cultural origin.

Thoughts From a Loser Teacher

Well, it’s official. I’m a loser. Have been since the age of 24 when I got my first teaching job. Probably longer since I was raised by a loser teacher and knew that’s what I wanted to do before I entered college. Damn. This is according to Donald Trump Jr. anyway.

I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t

Donald Trump Jr. 2/17/20 El Paso Texas

I should clarify that his opinion of me doesn’t really matter to me. But it does continue to worry me that the primary crowd motivator that the Trump campaign uses is to prop itself up by putting others down. It’s such classic strategy of a bully with low self-esteem. And yet, it is working. It is destroying us as a country.

Do I need to counter the tired criticism of “summers off” and “working 8 am to 3 pm?” Most teachers work other jobs or use summer to continue their own education and complete required professional development to keep their license current–professional development not funded by the employer requiring that professional development. Teachers in most schools spend seven hours of their day conducting instruction of a class. The time to plan that instruction, attend meetings, grade student work, communicate with parents, consult with colleagues, etc. takes considerably more time than the remaining hour. Teachers in Scandinavian countries spend about half the time conducting instruction, leaving much more time for planning and professional development. Just saying. Teaching in the U.S. is routinely a ten-hour a day (minimum) profession if done properly, not counting coaching or leading an after school extra-curricular activity. Losers.

I think what DJT Jr. is really troubled by is his perception of “indoctrination.” I suppose there is some truth to this since beginning in kindergarten we teach children to share with, and care for one another as fellow humans. And as they mature and develop more ability for abstract thought we attempt to teach them the complexities of history, the scientific method and analyzing properly collected data and conclusions, and in general, critical thinking skills. Fucking socialists.

Years ago, during the Newt Gingrich-led contract for America days, there was a push by conservatives to take over school boards and address the liberal agenda in the curriculum (primarily the teaching of evolution by natural selection). This occurred in the small town where I was a young teacher. I was appalled when one of these new board members described what he thought a teacher did (and why they were over-paid and over-appreciated). Paraphrasing as best I can he said, “All they need to do is open up the book and tell the kids what assignment to do according to the script they have to follow.” I was working way too hard apparently.

Trouble is, the accountability movement of the last 30 years has led some school districts to adopt such a scripted curriculum. Scripted lessons that are completely homogenized and one-size fits all, that can be read by an automaton to the students and then assessed with an objective, standardized test.

Unfortunately, everything we know about how the human brain works, how children learn in social settings, and how complex information and skills are committed to permanent, long-term memory tells us what we are doing is completely wrong. Ironically, while teachers are expected to get all 30+ students/class to the same point by the same date in time, they are also required to complete professional development on how to individualize the instruction for the 30+ different learners with different backgrounds and abilities. This is of course a monumental task and paradox.

It is emotionally exhausting to care for that many dependent individuals (up to 150+ for secondary teachers) day after day for months at a time. Without some extended breaks to change up what we do, either summers or extended breaks in year-round school, the burnout rate of teachers would be much higher than it is now. Currently, about 50% of teachers leave the profession during the first five years.

I was recently observing a small progressive school complete professional development discussions about utilizing thematic, project-based learning. We know that having students learn subjects integrated together and doing so through inquiry and then assessing using projects and other “performance” assessments is much more effective than didactic delivery of information and testing memorization of facts. This kind of teaching is nearly impossible to do in almost all public school settings because class sizes are too large.

Let’s do the math. If I have 30 students/class and each student completes a unique writing assignment, project, presentation, etc. as their means of demonstrating not only knowing the facts but also then application to a problem to be solved this takes considerably more time to 1) plan for, 2) conduct with the students, and 3) provide meaningful feedback and assessment. Let’s assume that each student’s completed work requires ten minutes to review and provide feedback. That’s working quickly. That means it would take the teacher 25 hours to complete that feedback. This is during time other than the seven hours working directly with his or her classes, planning the instruction, attending meetings, etc. The math doesn’t work.

There really is a simple solution. If we did these three things I believe we’d see changes in education “like no one’s ever seen before.” Oops, slipped into Trump hyperbole there.
1. Pass legislation that class size cannot exceed 20 students–and then fund it.
2. Keep the standards, but eliminate the standardized testing that is driving current instruction back to turn of the 20th century drill and practice memorization. Allow schools to conduct their own assessment, individualized for students and the setting and then report on the progress of students.
3. And then expect schools to expand instruction to curriculum that integrates subjects, utilizes hands-on, real-world, experiential learning, and assesses with more complex writing, projects, and performance assessments. This is how us loser teacher educators are training those loser teachers, but most don’t end up in a place where the logistics allow for this kind of instruction and assessment. Those that cannot do this need ot be trained or ushered on to a new profession.

Yes, this would be expensive. We are currently spending $750 billion a year on military. It’s just a matter of priorities.

I don’t think that’s actually what the current power- and wealth-holders want out of education. In order to keep working-class wages at a minimum they need to keep education designed in the factory model to train the working class to play their part. And part of doing this is to stoke anger and fear towards one another and the “others” so that anger and fear doesn’t turn on them. The GOP beginning with Reagan has been very successful with this strategy. But in the end it is not sustainable. Those voting out of anger for Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) due to frustration with being stuck generationally as working poor will eventually turn on the power- and wealth-holders when things don’t get better (and most likely get worse) for them. You think it’s ugly now. Just wait until those in charge have to resort to direct, violent oppression quell the rising anger and keep the labor class in line.

But, what do I know. I’m just a loser teacher.

Water is Life

Water is life. Yet, the EPA, under the direction of the current administration is changing the interpretation and implementation of the Clean Water Act. This will result in up to 6 million miles of streams (half of the total in the U.S.) and 42 million acres of wetlands (again, about half) no longer being protected from being used as a dumping ground for industrial and household pollutants.

The change is to focus on only protecting permanent waterways and not bodies of water that dry up at any time during the seasons. This is 2020 isn’t it? How can this even be a consideration with so much evidence that pollutants such as lead and mercury have had profound effects on the population of the U.S. (and other countries), let alone the damage done to these ecosystems.

The willful ignorance is shocking.

Water is life. This is not a metaphorical statement. Coursing through my body are water molecules that could be thousands, millions, even billions of years old. Our lives are sustained by, and intimately connected to the flow of water throughout the global water cycle. This is a physical connection we all experience every moment of every day. The majority of water on the earth is in forms we cannot use and to sustain living function the available freshwater must be continually recycled by the earth system.

Once polluted, that water cannot be truly cleaned unless effectively distilled (through the evaporation component of the water cycle) when the individual water molecules float into the air and leave behind the pollutants dissolved and suspended between the water molecules. Problem solved, right? No. Those pollutants are left behind in the soil in greater and greater concentration.

We know this. Individuals in the administration making decisions know this. And if they don’t, they aren’t qualified for the job they are doing. But, we know this too.

Water is life. Water in our streams and wetlands are not a commodity. But this is how we treat it. We know that if you remove regulations controlling what corporations or home owners/individuals can dump into wetlands or streams, they will begin putting pollutants like lead and mercury back into these water systems.

Even though these waterways are not liquid 100% of the year that doesn’t eliminate the impact of the pollution dumped there. The next time that waterway fills it will “dissolve” those pollutants and carry those chemicals to anything that uses that water, be it plants, wildlife, or humans. What isn’t absorbed by an organism in that location eventually gets carried to a more permanent body of water fed by these vernal or temporary pools/streams either downstream or in the aquifer connected to that body of water. Either way, it eventually gets into the larger system and into all living systems relying upon that water for life–including us.

We know this too. Why are we even having to discuss this? How can anyone think it is not wrong to dump waste anywhere? I mean really, WTF?

Water is life. But instead of treating it as a sacred component of life, we once again are letting the interest of corporations’ profits dictate our decisions. The metaphorical swamp that was promised to be drained is now going to destroy the real “swamps” that sustain our ecosystems and therefore us! It’s very difficult to not just type a string of expletives in an angry tirade at this point.

A few will make even more money by destroying a public commons of fresh water and we the people will eventually pay the price. We will do so literally when we fund some future clean up effort with tax dollars, and we will pay the price with the health of our children and grandchildren.

Of course this will affect the poor and marginalized in our society the most since corporation decision-makers won’t dump waste in areas that affect their homes, but instead in areas nearer the poor and marginalized. This repeated pattern demonstrates they know it’s wrong and harmful to do this, but will do it anyway and then resist all efforts to be held accountable. In the end the cost of clean up will be less than the profit made so for them it is just a cost of business. But for the rest of us it is the cost of our lives.

Water is life. Until it isn’t.

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