Jeb Bush claims Climate Science is “Intellectual Arrogance”

Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush hasn’t been having a good past few weeks.

Between the heavily coveted endorsement from brother ‘Dubya’, statements made about the Iraq War and healthcare, and having to deal with getting his shit pushed in by a Universe of Nevada student late last week; it’s safe to say that poor ol’ Jeb could use a break. But not before he was able to screw himself over once more by opening his big fat mouth about climate change.

In a statement originally reported by CNN, Bush admitted his disgust with the science of climate change and moreover how an almost unanimous community of scientists voicing their agreement on the matter are making it impossible to have a ‘real conversation’ on the matter. I’m sure by “real conversation”, Mr. Bush meant ‘an equal number of dissenters backing up GOP talking points’. It’s probably safe to say Jeb isn’t going to be expanding NASA’s budget should the gates of hell open up and he become President in 2016.

Luckily for Mr. Bush the average republican voter has never been too fond of science unless of course it finds a way to justify homosexuality being a choice, stem cell research being the ‘devil’s work’, or a way to prevent ice cream sandwiches at Wal-Mart from melting in 80-degree weather. As for climate change, the percent that has been able to link climate change to human activity is at a whopping 97%, which by most people’s standards would be considered pretty damn conclusive.

Even with a quick ‘Google’ search it’s not too hard to come up with tons of information relating to climate science, particularly on the NASA website which has various info graphs, statistics and interactive presentations detailing the effect of carbon emissions in the atmosphere; but hey, I’m sure that’s just the work of those notoriously corrupt scientists. Just recently in a hearing on the NASA budget, Ted Cruz made it clear that he was the man for the job when it came to being Chairman for the Committee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, by grilling a NASA administrator over whether it was ‘really necessary’ for NASA to be involved in studies on climate change. Apparently, Ted only likes NASA when they help Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway fly to other planets and he’ll do anything in his power to make sure all their attention is space ward and not inward.

So yeah, I seriously doubt the latest development in Jeb Bush’s long road to 2016 will change the minds of those who are still sitting on the fence over climate change but it’s nice to know where everyone stands on the important issues nonetheless. Plus, when debate season rolls around this’ll just be one more thing Hillary and Co. can cite when talking about qualifications or lack thereof. We’ve got a long way to go folks; so strap in.

Latest ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode begs the question: When does Television go to far?

Sunday’s episode of the heavily watched and acclaimed HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’ sparked controversy early this week with its depiction of a particularly graphic rape scene featuring one of the shows female characters. For those of you who don’t watch the show, ‘Game of Thrones’ tells the story of warring families and factions in the medieval fantasy world of Westeros, which have been adapted from George R.R. Martin’s beloved book series.  While the show is no stranger to the headlines with its graphic scenes of violence and nudity, this past week’s episodes seemed to push the discussion towards the realm of ‘controversy’ among critics and fans alike who saw the rape of a character as being overly gratuitous. What’s more, many have taken to social media to display their disapproval, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri who described Sunday’s show as “disgusting” and “unacceptable”. While you can be sure that this isn’t the first time such words have been bestowed upon the series, it would seem the real issue is not so much the show itself but rather the fact that its current season has stopped following the plot of the source material. Unfortunately for fans, Season 5 of the show was the first time the length of the show had surpassed the length of the novels which are still being worked on by the book’s author, thus various changes have had to be made to the overall continuing plot much to the ire of some fans. But is this an example of ‘gratuitous sexual violence’ shoehorned in simply to generate controversy? Or is it simply another case of overreaction by audiences who aren’t comfortable with real world issues so blatantly making their way into entertainment media? The answer it would seem would depend on your definition of ‘gratuitousness’. Many shows in the past have received anger from audiences due to overt depictions of violent and sometimes shocking situations, one such example being the Season 4 ‘X-Files’ episode ‘Home’, which opens with a scene of a horribly disfigured newborn being buried alive. Other shows have been less obvious in their depictions of harsh realism, including ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Oz’. Programs like ‘Family Guy’ and ‘South Park’ have built their entire fanbases off being controversial, particularly when it comes to commenting on real world events and issues ranging from abortion and feminism to topics such as Scientology and racism. So where exactly do shows make the leap into ‘controversy’? The word itself has become somewhat overused as of late, especially when describing instances of someone simply trying to comment on an issue, thus my disgust with the media’s tendency to manufacture outrage from what amounts to little more than an individual’s opinion. I think the real issue we have is our habit of labeling dissent from conventional methods of storytelling as being something that’s ‘dirty’ or ‘sick’. It’s true there have been many instances of gratuitous violence in entertainment media, particularly when considering films like the ‘Saw’ series and cult flicks like ‘The Human Centipede’ and ‘A Serbian Film.’ Even shows like ‘Spartacus’ and ‘American Horror Story’ more often than not choose to delve into depictions of over sexualized situations and use of violence in the hopes of impressing the notion upon audiences that what they’re watching is truly ‘gritty’ and ‘mature’. However, having watched ‘Game of Thrones’, I can say that while the show is far from being PG-13 in nature, the violence is more often than not supported by character development and has a point beyond the spectacle of savagery. I can completely understand how depictions of rape upset people, particularly those who know someone who has or have themselves been victimized by sexual violence. It is indeed a terrible issue to discuss but to simply dismiss every depiction of such things as being ‘gratuitous’ seems rather close minded. The whole purpose of film as a storytelling medium is to provoke thought and use conflict to develop characters visually and emotionally. If a film or show decides to use hackneyed plot devices to get a cheap reaction out of an audience then that is gratuitous. However, if it’s done in a way that truly depicts the horror and emotional impact of a moment as life changing as rape beyond ‘shock value’ then in my mind, the writer has served their purpose as a storyteller. More often than not we try to escape into entertainment to try to forget everyday problems that plague us or maybe even use entertainment as a way of being able to cope and even laugh about them. But if a show wants to truly do justice by  commenting on the injustices of the world, it has to be done with some amount of control and be done with a greater purpose in mind.

Simon Pegg reflects on the impact of Big Budget Blockbusters

Simon Pegg

With the summer movie schedule well underway with the release of yet another post-apocalyptic film, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, the discussion about the impact of modern cinema has already kicked off as well. Simon Pegg, who you may know from comedy satire films such as ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and even more recently the Mission Impossible Series and Star Trek films; has more than enough to say about the state of the motion picture industry.

Early this week he spoke with the Radio Times and discussed what he viewed as the “dumbing down” of movies, citing films specifically in the superhero and comic book genres. He went on to say that in the past, films such as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘Taxi Driver’, and ‘The Godfather’ dominated the box-office due to their powerful narratives but now have been succeeded by pure “spectacle” and big-budget blockbusters.

Now many articles and such have delved into the territory of calling Pegg’s statements “controversial”; I’m not going to do that because to do so would feed into the zeitgeist of ‘manufactured controversy’ that we as a society seem to crave these days. What I will say is that it’s about time that someone in the industry made this observation, because I for one have been commenting on this growing trend in cinema for quite some time now.

The problem that Simon Pegg refers to is of course not isolated to science fiction on its own but rather the entire industry as a whole. Cash-cows like the Marvel films and franchise films eat up a lot of the budgets in film studios nowadays because they know that there’s a monumental number of people, young and old, who will run to see anything with the word ‘superhero’ attached to it. Modern cinema has taken a dive and forsaken powerful storytelling for the tedium of CGI-driven action and vomit inducing action films.

Simon Pegg is absolutely right to cite what we now refer to as ‘Classics’, because for a great period of time films such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, used to rule the box-office with their zeal and ability to tell an epic story. Even today, films like ‘Gone with the Wind’ (adjusted for inflation) still hold the record for ‘highest-grossing films of all time’. If you were to do a quick ‘Google’ search of films that hold that mantle now, you’d find that almost all of them are either comic-book or fantasy/sci-fi related. Gone are the days of people crowding a theater to see character driven films with a sweeping soundtrack and thought provoking dialogue,  all of which have been trumped by films that Pegg describes as “childish”.

It’s a real shame that films of this caliber have been isolated to annual festivals and limited showings due to the fact that theaters simply don’t get the audiences they used to for such movies. I can understand how someone like Simon Pegg laments that his career has amounted to being considered, “the poster child for (geekdom)”. It’s very hard I imagine, to break out of the mold you’ve been put in and get your fan base to follow you into projects that stray away from the what they’ve come to expect of you.

Even science fiction, a genre that Pegg himself attests to loving, has been diminished by the ‘dime-a-dozen’ postapocalyptic and dystopian young adult fiction that get new installments every year; none of which even compare to films like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or even recent efforts like ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Predestination’. It’s true, the genre has fallen into convention, with less focus on telling an interesting story and more attention paid to casting choices and sheer extravaganza.

People don’t want to leave a movie theater and be confronted with varying interpretations of what they just saw. Audiences like to play things safe and be told exactly how and what they should feel with each scene. Movies have become overly passive forms of entertainment, where the audience isn’t forced to ask questions or left to wonder at the subtlety of a character interaction. Even worse, these films have created to some extent a movie going populace that is reliant on a steady diet of tripe and base forms of entertainment which discourage discussion of real issues by replacing them with tired cliches and quippy pop culture references. Big budget flicks are safe and do not engage an audience beyond the visual spectacle and as Pegg notes, have resulted in a “dumbing down” of what we’ve come to expect.

Films have a real ability to tell a visual and engaging story even without the use of special effects or conventional plot devices. Surrendering to mediocrity and simplicity does nothing for the genre other than to bolster ticket sales and it shouldn’t be controversial to expect more from an industry that has proven itself capable of more in the past.

So to Mr. Pegg I say, “Thank you for saying what many of us who aren’t sold on spectacle have been saying for quite some time now.”

Technology in the Classroom: Where do we draw the line ?

Having observed various classrooms and been allowed a peek into the daily ins and outs of the education system, it’s not hard to see how much has changed even since I’ve been in public school. It’s amazing to see the subtle evolution of the classroom even over the past decade. One of the benefits of being a substitute teacher is getting to see a lot of teaching styles, learning styles and getting to see how those two clash and complement one another on a daily basis. Much of the burden falls on the educator to circumvent those situations where students for one reason or another, falter when it comes to   a lesson being challenging. Even as an outsider, I’ve always believed that a big responsibility falls on the home front, where more often than not, a child’s future is based on whether or not a parent decides their child’s education is worth meddling in. Unfortunately, the increase in technology has made that job ever more difficult as students young and old are bombarded with minute-to-minute apps, texts, Facebook notifications and twitter feeds.

Even as little as ten years ago, there were no phone apps beyond the most primitive ‘point and click’ games and organizer programs. Flash forward less than a decade later and you’d be hard pressed to find a person over the age of 10 who doesn’t have some form of smart phone, tablet or handheld device. It’s this sort of ubiquitous usage of technology that has seemingly made us deaf to the world around us. It’s common to turn on the news these days and hear about a young driver having killed or been killed by another driver simply because they were focused on a text or something related to a handheld device. Outside of vehicular fatalities there is an increasing implementation of technology in schools, from as young as elementary age children to those at the secondary level. Anyone who has stepped inside a classroom in the past decade will recall such things as computerized projectors and ‘Smart’ boards which are essentially ink-free chalkboards for teachers who prefer to avoid the hassle of wiping a board. However now even these tools are becoming more and more obsolete as more and more schools are beginning to go completely digital by implementing online ‘portals’ which are used to broaden the lines of communication between parent and teachers, who for the longest time have taken issue with ne’er-do-well parents who for one reason or another, never seem to know what their child(ren) are up to outside the home. Based on my experience and having spoken to teachers about the matter, it would seem that parent and educator alike appreciate the open line of communication that allow them to keep tabs on their children’s grades without appearing overly intrusive. It’s a rather ingenious setup that has proven to be a great aid to those forgetful students who need that extra reminder for when a particular assignment is due or a way to get instant feedback about a query they may have. Little things like using audiobooks and online reading programs, which help strengthen writing skills beyond the elementary typing class we all remember, have proven to be beneficial additions as well.

However, there is a rather significant push to implement large amounts of technology in the classroom which some critics have deemed as being a hindrance bordering on the intrusive. An article published in 2012 by the New York Times examined tech-heavy programs such as mandatory online courses for high schoolers and noted that while it saw “overwhelming approval”, it faced a fair amount of criticism from educators who noted that their state of Idaho effectively “shift(ed) tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators….making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.” What’s more, many teachers felt that too little effort was put on enforcing existing programs which were being crushed under the weight of “heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple.” There has been great concern among educators that with future mandatory changes that over reliance on technology will in effect replace physical teachers with artificial ones; claims that lawmakers have dismissed as “misleading”.

So where do we draw the line on technology? Are we to forego convenience and innovation for teaching styles which don’t suit everyone? Or is the age of computers and ‘instant’ everything creating a future workforce that can’t think for itself?

It would seem at least from my point of view that the answer falls more in line with the latter. Even in the past year, there has been significant overhaul in technology in the district that I presently work for. Every student at the secondary level has a Samsung Tablet assigned to them, which they use on a daily basis from everything including: guided reading, classroom activities, notes, accessing Powerpoint presentations, interactive videos, and their grades. Upon seeing that this was going to be the new norm I was incredibly skeptical, given how irresponsible this generation is when it comes to even managing their social media accounts. However, I must say that the assimilation process went much smoother than I previously imagined although that could have to do more with the age of the user than the difficulty of the change. Aside from the occasional network hiccup and server issue, there seemed to be little to no issue with the suddenness of such a big change in classroom habits.

What did disturb me however was one particular case in which a student at a middle school I work at, shared a graphic photo with another on a school tablet, which promptly required local law enforcement intervention. While I am not privy to the specifics on the matter, I can tell you that it did highlight an issue which I imagine could easily grow out of control if more obstacles aren’t put in place to prevent such behavior.

I suppose the real issue, more so than lewd behavior, is what sort of issues are we introducing into the classroom? An over reliance on anything can be detrimental to the desired effect. I’ve always been a believer that showing videos in place of an actual lesson does little to reinforce good learning habits than it does in providing the teacher with an easy way to avoid doing any actual work. As someone who’s spent more time in Social Studies and English classes, I can say without a doubt that there is a tremendous overuse of films and YouTube videos which are always excused as being a ‘interactive learning tool’ but end up amounting to little more than a time for students to mentally check-out of the days lesson and chit-chat with their peers. The same can be said for computers and ‘library time’ which can create a headache for anyone who is attempting to get any significant quality out of their students work, as ‘computer time’ to many students means ‘playing games and listening to music on the internet’. Far too often in classrooms with teachers who use computers over physical paper assignments, I’ve been witness to students who are allowed to essentially dictate what pace they learn at (usually not at all, if we’re being honest) as they plug their headphones in with the supposed purpose of watching some sort of video lesson which quickly devolves into watching YouTube videos and thus forcing the teacher who foolishly put trust in their students, to play catch-up the next week as they struggle to get the slackers caught up on material. Now I’m not going to sit here and say these are new problems but what I will say unequivocally is that far too many school districts are either willfully ignorant of such problems or simply don’t see it as a big enough issue to merit any significant change. My thought on the matter is this: sure you may not see test grades plummet at the rate you might expect them to but the trade-off on this over reliance on technology is that the workforce of tomorrow is going to suffer because of unwillingness across the board to say ‘no’ to such implementations. If you are going to dictate how individuals run their classrooms simply because you’re afraid of your district ‘falling behind the curve’, you’re going to sacrifice a lot of actual teaching time from trained professionals who are better suited to figuring out what their kids need than a tech or learning company that simply wants to find a venue for its product. It’s a sad day when teachers are essentially forced into the role of babysitter and are effectively pushed to the wayside because our society has become so attached to the idea that technology equates to progress.

As for the school in Idaho there seemed to be quite a large divide among those who supported and deterred from the idea of ‘online classrooms’, even after various events were staged in protest of the radical changes. A recent survey conducted this year determined that “96% of teachers reported that technology is making a significant impact in their classroom,” with over, “$600 million in venture capital poured into ed tech last year – a 32% increase over the prior year.”(Forbes)

Despite the numbers, there is still quite a discussion raging over the role technology truly plays in the future of students and whether that role truly matters beyond ‘test scores’ and ‘graduation rates’. The real question is whether universal access to limitless information can be equated to actual learning and retention of facts. What is certain is that technology isn’t going away anytime soon and as more and more companies realize the full potential of this market, you can be sure that the world will continue to pour funds into such programs; regardless of the cost.

Links to Articles Mentioned in this Blog Post: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/technology/idaho-teachers-fight-a-reliance-on-computers.html?_r=0

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/25/the_plot_to_destroy_education_why_technology_could_ruin_american_classrooms_—%C2%A0by_trying_to_fix_them/