Education and Humiliation Don’t Mix

I was reading this unbelievable story reported by the Associated Press of a mother who made her 15 year old son stand on a street corner for 4 hours wearing a sign that said “GPA 1.22:  honk if I need an education.”  The brief AP article offered sketchy details about the context, other than the mother, Ronda Holder, along with the boy’s father, seem to have been at their wits’ end to try to help their son pull up his grade point.  It’s not clear what kind of support they provided the son beyond an offer to help him study, but it does appear they adopted a fairly strict approach including various punishments including grounding and taking away his cellphone.

Having raised two children, one of whom is still a teenager, I know how frustrating parenting can be.  And as a former teenager myself, I know how well-meaning parents can make a situation worse.  And in my view, humiliating your child or threatening to do so, will not produce the desired behavior, in this case, better grades.

We only have one side of the story, the mother”s, and due to the boy’s age, we are not likely to hear from him publicly.  We don’t know anything about the boy’s social situation, whether he is popular in school, involved in clubs, or whether he has any close friends.  Nor do we know of his interests, his skills, his aptitude, or anything about his family life other than the parents are concerned about his grades.  Given the lack of details, it is probably unfair to blame either party.  However, no matter the situation, I think the mother, (who I believe really cares about her son), in an clear act of desperation, went too far.

If I were the boy’s parent, the first thing I would do is contact all of his teachers.  I’d ask them what they recommend he do to improve his grade and also ask how I could best support him.  If there were any hint of behavioral problems or learning differences, I’d request an evaluation by the counseling staff at the school that could lead to an Individual Education Plan (IEP).  Secondly, I’d monitor him a little more closely.  I’d spend more time talking to him in general about his  daily life to get a sense of his psychological state.  If I felt something was terribly wrong, or if he seemed strangely detached or agitated, I’d arrange for counseling.  Maybe he simply needs more attention at home or someone to talk who won’t sound judgmental. I’d back off a little bit and not bark so many orders.  Instead of constantly critiquing his performance at school, I’d give praise every now and then for doing homework, or bringing up a grade, even something small like cleaning his room.  In fairness, I’m not suggesting the parents haven’t tried any of this, maybe they have; we simply do not know.

At the risk of sounding preachy, all you parents out there be sure to tell your kids you love them.  They need to know that and just saying it once is not enough.  Kids and teenagers need to know that mom and pop love them unconditionally, and believe in them.  And also, parents, you are not alone.  There are millions of parents out there.  If you think you’ve come to your wits’ end, look for support – there may be a parent support group in your community, and family counseling could help too.

Unions Under Attack

I don’t understand the problem people have with unions.  Unions have been around for years and have helped reform labor laws that most of us benefit from in some way. However, I can understand why big business would want to destroy unions.  It’s really very simple, profit.  And it’s the same story over and over – in the words of Noam Chomsky,  “profit over people”.  And I’m not just talking a little profit, I’m talking obscene profits.  Look no further than Walmart, a wildly successful garganguan box retailer.  It has a reputation for shoddy employment practices accentuated by low wages, unaffordable health insurance and gender discrimination lawsuits.  And there’s the outsourcing.  Certainly not unique to Walmart, but happening nonetheless.  And yes, Walmart is expanding,  and creating jobs, but also driving out competition from small business.  And what good is a full-time job if the pay is low and the benefits unaffordable?  If Walmart allowed unions, its workers would have better working conditions, there’d be fewer disputes in the long run and perhaps its workers would be healthier, more productive and loyal.  Sounds like good business to me.

I realize that the Wisconsin dispute is about public sector unions, and not the private sector, so let me say this – contrary to Republican rhetoric, unions are not responsible for the fiscal crisis states now face.  The economy is to blame.  The near collapse of the financial markets due to poor regulatory oversight is not the fault of labor.   States should endeavor to find new revenues.  Gaming – riverboat gambling anyone?, closing corporate tax loopholes, and raising income taxes.  It doesn’t always have to be cut, cut, cut.  And who to cut?  Your child’s teacher?  Come on.  If you think teaching is easy or unimportant, try it for a year.  Why do you think the turnover rate among new teachers is so high?  And despite what you may be thinking, the starting salary for a teacher is abysmal in most states, though higher in New England where the cost of living is significantly higher.  But if you are a teacher, and you commit to professional development and obtain a master’s degree, advanced certifications, you are financially rewarded thanks to union contracts.  But of course this is no different than the private sector where starting salaries are quite a bit higher, where education and credentials also matter.

On the national scene, Republicans are busy with a coordinated strategy of dividing the middle class along economic and social lines.  They blame unions for the economy hoping to gain support from socially conservative blue dog type democrats, independents, tea partiers and libertarians.  But let’s not forget the Republicans pledge to be a job creating machine.  I guess that machine is broken down and in the union shop for major repairs.

The King’s Worthy Speech

The King’s Speech is the best movie I’ve seen all year.  Ok, it’s the only film I’ve seen on the big screen this year and may be the last.  The truth is, I don’t much like going to the cinema anymore.  Paying a premium price to watch a flick on the big screen seems to me a dying form of entertainment with all the competition from movie channels, Netflix, Red Box and home theatre systems with Blu-Ray, HD and surround sound.  I’m surprised so many people continue to frequent the cineplexes of America given the bedbug infestations, skyrocketing prices at the box office and concessions and those terrifyingly loud movie previews that cannot be muted and shake the theater.  At home, I mute all commercials.

In the last few years, I’ve only been to the cinema a handful of times, and then mostly at the invitation of family members.  These are the movies I’ve seen in the last 2 years, some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog: SALT, The Secret in their Eyes, Sherlock Holmes, The Social NetworkStar Trek and Sweeney Todd. As you can see, I seem to favor flicks that begin with the letter S.

I’d rank The King’s Speech right up there as one of the best movies I’ve seen in years and certainly worthy of all the accolades it has received.  I hope it wins a few Oscars.  It has all the qualities I like in a movie:  a straight forward plot, superb acting, an all-star cast, a fantastic original screenplay by David Seidler with witty and intelligent dialogue and well-developed characters, among them David, the irresponsible socialite and heir to the throne of King George III, who relentlessly teases and bullies his younger brother Albert, the Duke of York.

The movie begins with the Duke of York, played by Colin Firth, known to the Royal family as Bertie, standing frozen in front of a microphone during a live radio broadcast at Wimbley Stadium. As we quickly surmise, Bertie, the man who would become King, has a debilitating stammer.  Despite numerous treatments, some bizarre like reading with a mouth full of marbles and smoking to relax the throat, the Duke continues to stutter.  In desperation, the Duke’s wife, the future Queen of England, played by Helena Bonham Carter, contacted a controversial speech therapist known for unorthodox methods.  The first meeting between the Duke and “Dr.” Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, ended abruptly after the Duke in disgust read Shakespeare into a vinyl recording machine.  He was forced to read loudly while listening to classical music on a set of headphones.   As a souvenir, Logue presented the recording to the Duke, who vowed never to return.  But return he did and for continued therapy on Logue’s terms, for example that he be allowed to address the Duke as Bertie, a term reserved only for members of the Royal family.  The movie focuses on the peculiar speech therapy sessions which often consisted of carefully orchestrated cursing,  dance steps and a song or two complemented by psychoanalysis to get to the root of the stammer.    In the process, the unlikely duo, divided by class, background (Logue is Australian) and purpose, become friends.

The acting is superb.  Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush deserve Oscar attention.  I agree with my daughter who thinks Jeffrey Rush should win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  I’d also like to see Colin Firth get the nod for Best Actor and Helena Bonham Carter for Best Supporting Actress.

Whether the film is worthy of the Oscar for Best Picture is a question I can’t answer in good faith as I have not yet seen most of the films nominated, including two that I want to see most prior to the Academy Awards: Inception and True Grit.  I can say without hesitation, though, that The King’s Speech is better than The Social Network.

Green Cars

An article in the New York Times referenced a list of the greenest cars put out by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  At the top of the list is a car that burns gas, rated higher even than an all electric car.  Personally, I’m not big on green cars.  I prefer silver, blue or any of the metallic varieties.  Tan is fine too though many years ago I might have called my grandparents square for owning tan cars including a Plymouth Valiant, a VW Bug, and a Chevy Vega Wagon.  Actually, I’m square too as my first car was a tan Honda Civic Wagon.  To my grandfather’s credit, he also purchased a green VW Bug for my aunt.  Anyway, 30 years later, I’m still driving a Civic Wagon which is now called the Fit.

But as fuel efficient and clean as the Fit is, and it is both in droves, it did not make the green list, though several other Hondas did including the hybrid Insight and a CNG burning Civic.  In fact, this natural gas Civic model ranked as the top green car on the market, beating out the all electric Nissan Leaf.  One question, though.  Where do you buy Natural Gas?  My local Sunoco does not deal in CNG, nor do most of the other stations in the area.  I admit that at the moment, CNG is cheaper and certainly cleaner than gasoline, almost $1.00 per gallon cheaper, if you can find it.

The problem with the Leaf is not the technology, or the hassle of recharging it all the time.  The problem is the name.  Leaf.  A leaf does not inspire confidence.  I don’t like leaves.  I battle them every Fall when they fall off the trees and litter my yard.   And the leaf itself is not very powerful.  It waves in the wind, and blows around on the ground quite irresponsibly without a care in the world.  Nissan could have gone for a better name like the Acorn.  Now that’s an armored nut that packs a punch when falling to the ground.  And they come from the majestic Oak tree.  Maybe Nissan will develop an all electric version for the family Sedan and call it the Nissan Oak.  I’d buy one.

Watson Bests Jeopardy Champs

In the third and final Jeopardy match between the supercomputer with a chip and  two confident champions, the outcome was uncertain until the end.  Unlike the first two days, the questions presented more of  a challenge for Watson who seemed lost and even a little intimidated.  Both Brad and Ken, who Matel could profitably make into action figures, answered question after question leaving Watson in need of a reboot.

Watson finally got its groove on Midway in and nearly ran a few of the categories.  And with some android humor, bet $367 on a daily double.  I like Watson.

And in the end, Watson prevailed with a three day total of over $77,147, over three times that of Ken and Brad.  Watson’s creators at IBM should treat the electronic wonder to a cold microbrew.  Ken and Brad did the human race proud in defeat. And I couldn’t help but feel that the two actually knew more than Watson, who perhaps had an unfair speed advantage.

For complete coverage of the tournament, see my blog posts below:

Day 2

Day 1

Computer to play Jeopardy Champs

IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy Day 2

After two days of competition on Jeopardy, two former champions badly trail Watson, the IBM supercomputer.  Amazingly, Watson leads by over $20,000 despite missing the Final Jeopardy question the champions correctly answered.  And get this: the question was so easy that even I got it right; and usually when I play along l wind up with a negative score.

Is it possible that I’m smarter than Watson? Possibly, and all humans too, because we can do  something a computer can’t – connect to each other by language and shared experience.  For the record, here’s the Final Jeopardy question Watson flubbed:  What U.S. city has an airport named after a WWII hero and a WWII battle? Watson answered, “Toronto”.  Most people of  modest intelligence, even a fifth grader, would know that Toronto is not a U.S. city.  And anyone who has ever flown domestically would surely know that Chicago has two major airports, one named after a person – O’Hare, and the other after a famous war battle, Midway.  But not Watson.  Watson is a baby.  It has never traveled.  It has never had the frustrating experience of lost luggage or a canceled flight.

Watson may be a bit naive too and may not have been aware that it was leading Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two formidable challengers by more than $30,000 going into Final Jeopardy.  Had it known, it might not have wagered anything at all, instead of the seemingly random $947 it did risk and lose.

Watson will win the tournament, largely because it seems to have a built in speed advantage and can buzz in faster than the others.  I would wager that almost all of the questions it answered correctly, Ken and Brad knew too.  And significantly, the questions it did not attempt to answer, Ken or Brad correctly answered.  Not to take anything away from its creators at IBM – Watson is an amazing machine with the analytical powers that could one day cure cancer, but come on, Toronto???? I sure wouldn’t trust it to give me directions.

IBM’s Watson Plays Jeopardy Day 1

The IBM supercomputer Watson  developed to play Jeopardy made its debut against two of the greatest players in the game’s history, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  In the first of a three game exhibition, the match ended in a deadlock between Brad and Watson with Ken trailing, but on the board.

Watson got off to a quick start confidently answering question after question in a voice that sounded like Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.  Watson is clearly a Beatles fan nearly running the board category about songs by the Fab 4, answers like who is Jude and Eleanor Rigby.  However, Watson did make some mistakes once even buzzing in with the same wrong answer Ken gave, really showing the limitations of its intelligence.

After the first pause in the action Ken and Brad seemed to adopt the strategy of ringing in instantly to beat Watson to the punch which was a risky strategy that mostly paid off, given that there were only a few wrong answers delivered in the round and believe it or not Watson answered incorrectly four times, Ken twice.  I don’t think Brad made any mistakes at all.  Many of the points scored by the champions came when Watson failed to buzz in.  We saw a graphic that gave Watson’s three best choices and if it was not highly likely that one of them was correct, Watson passed.  On these questions, Ken and Brad mopped up.

Stayed tuned for a review of round two.

Grammy Afterglow

I watched the Grammys for the first time in years, mainly to see Mick Jagger perform.  I was pleasantly surprised to also catch an aging Bob Dylan take the stage though for most of the song, he was drowned out by a slew of adoring and highly caffeinated musicians.

Lady Gaga tried to steal the show coming out on stage inside a plastic egg.  I was reminded of the bass player trapped in a plastic stage prop in This is Spinal Tap who had to be cut out with a chain saw.  Frankly, I thought the Stonehenge prop in Spinal Tap was more convincing then Lady Gaga’s egg.   But as she would say, “be what you want to be, do what you want to do”, no matter how silly.  Silly sells.

Justin Bieber might have been performing at Disney World for a group of tourists wearing Mickey Mouse ears.  I’m no Eminem fan but to see the two perform on the same night really highlighted  Bieber’s amateurish talent.

The highlights for me came when Nora Jones sang Dolly Parton’s song Jolene with John Mayer and some other guy whose name escapes me.  Mick’s performance and tribute to Solomon Burke was spot on.  Berklee graduate bass playing vocalist Esparanza Spalding winning for best new artist over Justin Beiber was another highlight as was her performance with a talented group of high-school all-star jazz players.

Lowlights included Rhiana’s performance with Eminem.  She was off pitch for the whole song as if she couldn’t hear herself.  And Seth Rogen’s joke that he had been getting high with Miley Cyrus backstage was awkward and in poor taste.  Attempting to one-up Rogen, Neal Patrick Harris delivered a similarly demeaning joke about Katy Perry that fell flat.  And what about the jazz and blues awards?  Do they not deserve prime time attention?

Despite the low notes, I enjoyed the variety show.  I’ll be back for another helping next year.

Car Addict

I’m always working the remote  to find a car show.  I can’t get enough of shows like Chasing Classic Cars, Wheeler Dealer, West Coast Customs, Mecum Auto Auction.  My memory is not all that great so I watch episodes I’ve already seen. My wife says “again”? I don’t know what it is about cars, but I enjoy seeing new ones, old ones, classic cars, muscle cars, vintage cars, sports cars, and roadsters.

I guess it all started when I was kid.  Hot Wheels.  I had a ton of them and a coffee can full of plastic cars too.  I remember driving a pedal car and a souped  up tricycle with a roaring toy motorcycle engine.  When I got a little older, I was into building model cars and collecting car cards.

I inherited my love of cars from my dad.  He raced track cars at  some smoke filled pool hall with Schlitz and PBR on tap.  My dad was a Kools Filter Kings Schlitz drinking man.  He also had some Kool cars.  One was a aqua colored Ford Falcon.  It didn’t run well, but I remember sitting in it and pushing and pulling all the knobs on the dash. My dad also bought a used MG Midget and it was the car on which I learned to drive a stick.  Later he bought a Camero that became mine when I went off to college.

And even though I have not owned a special car since the Camero, I have not abandoned the idea of one day buying a roadster or a new Camero to relive my youth.  Until then, I’ll be watching car shows and driving my wife crazy naming every car I see on the road.


AT&T Rethinking Minimalism

AT&T just aired another “Rethink Possible” ad, the one showing a vending machine that sends a signal to its owner when empty.  The commercial itself is not so impressive, but the music, the music is sublime.  I can’t be certain, but I think the minimalist background music is from a Steve Reich composition.  Maybe it’s a clone of his award winning Music For 18 Musicians.