Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Tyranny of the Majority, Part 2

So, what other happening made me think about John Stuart Mill's idea of Tyranny of the Majority?

Mrs. Kid is the Vice President of the PTA at Boy Kid's school. Recently, it came to light that the PTA had an odd relationship with a Faith-Based Organization (I'll call them FBO) at the school. In order to make it right, the PTA had to either sever their relationship or formalize it.

Making trouble isn't really Mrs. Kid's general MO, but this situation got her going. Neither of us like organizations that are exclusionary and we are big fans of strong separation of church and state, so when the exclusionary FBO requires that the PTA essentially sign on to their charter, this caused a conflict.

The FBO parents got wind of the controversy and mobilized. There were lots of confrontational emails and meetings. Battle lines were drawn as Mrs. Kid tried to explain all the reasons that the PTA should not sponsor the FBO. Around the country, few schools sponsor the FBO; most sponsors are churches, which makes perfect sense. Note that I have nothing against the FBO. I just choose not to support them and would rather not support any organization that supports them. It's entirely inappropriate for a public school to support them

Eventually, the matter of formalizing the relationship was put to a vote of the PTA, so in the weeks leading up to the vote, scads of FBO folks joined the PTA. Probably 5 times the normal attendance appeared at the meeting (including bunches of members who joined on the same day as the meeting) for the vote to approve signing the FBO's charter. Many of the PTA's leadership were absent from the meeting, but Mrs. Kid stood her ground.

Only three people voted "nay" on the motion: Mrs. Kid and two other brave souls. As a result of this, it looks like we probably won't join the PTA next year and Mrs. Kid will not serve as President.

Boy Kid has no idea that this has been going on, but some day, he should be as proud of his mother as I am. She stood by her principles even though doing so was politically unpopular. She ticked off some of our friends (some kids on Boy Kid's soccer, basketball, and swim teams are members of the FBO) and has ended her relationship with the PTA. I am proud of her and hope our kids can someday learn from her story about standing up for what's right. I am pretty sure that John Stuart Mill would agree with me.

Note that I have avoided my normal level of linking out to pertinent info, but in an earlier post, I provided appropriate links to info about this FBO. Anyone who cares can search the blog for references to them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Tyranny of the Majority, Part 1

In his 1859 masterpiece On Liberty, John Stuart Mill lays out an argument for personal liberty and for restraining government's power.

One aspect of Mill's argument that struck me is the tyranny of the majority. The idea is that strong democracy prevents tyranny by a single despotic ruler, but does not prevent the oppression of a minority group by the majority.
Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread,.... Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. (On Liberty, Introduction, Page 3)
So, what made me think about this? Washington, D.C.'s battles with gay rights. Some folks in D.C. wanted to put the city's same-sex marriage law (which was approved by the City Council and signed by the Mayor) to a referendum vote.

Ultimately, these people failed. Still, it worried me that they thought they had any chance. The idea that putting something to referendum is always the answer is wrong-headed. John Stuart Mill was talking about just this sort of thing. What if Lincoln had put the Emancipation Proclamation to a referendum vote? What about the Civil Rights Act of 1964? When the majority use a referendum to impose their opinions on minority groups, it is morally reprehensible.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Strong Spirit

A few months ago, I saw the documentary Five Years on Mars about the Mars Spirit rover. The story is amazing. Spirit was sent to Mars on a 90-day mission. Several times, it was in great peril, but it survived far longer than it ever should have.

The xkcd strip Spirit is a nice angle on the amazing rover. Having seen the documentary about the mission, it is easy to understand why someone would anthropomorphize the over-performing rover.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Music Monday: Reliving High School Afternoons

While working today, I have been listening to albums that take me back to afternoons in my bedroom after school was done. I didn't have much when I was in high school, but I had a Fisher receiver, a Technics turntable, and a pair of pretty crappy speakers. When I got home from school, I would crank the tunes.

As I look back on that music, I find that some albums still work for me, while others have a very small niche to fill. Here are some of the albums from that time in increasing order of their likelihood of my listening to them today.

Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan
Video: Surrender
When I went to an Episcopalian youth group retreat at St. George's Camp in southern VA, it was my first real introduction to rock and roll. My most vivid memory from that week before my Sophomore year in HS is everyone yelling along to Surrender at the top of our lungs.

Supertramp, Breakfast in America
Video: The Logical Song
These lyrics always worked for me. Mrs. Kid and I chose Supertramp's Downstream for our first dance at our wedding, but before I knew Even in the Quietest Moments at all (beyond the nice album cover), Breakfast in America had me with a handful of great tunes.

Led Zepellin, In Through the Out Door
My first Led Zep album was their last. It's not their greatest album, but I still like it. I liked that the inner sleeve for the vinyl changed colors when you wiped it with water. Fun gimmick for a fun album. After listening to Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti, and other more well-regarded albums so much in the last several years, coming back to In Through the Out Door is kinda refreshing.

Yes, Fragile
I still love this album. The opening track Roundabout was my favorite song for a couple years when I was in HS, but now I find much of the album still works.

Some time, I will post other lists of albums from my deep, dark past.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Web Stuff Friday: Am I a Gadget Update

Many of us have seen the Did You Know video. It presents a bunch of data about new media versus old media (that's a dramatic oversimplification, but you can judge it for yourself).

Did You Know 4.0 has some new data that are interesting, but it still leads me back to my post Am I a Gadget?

A Vision of K-12 Students Today is supposed to "... inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways...." I'm not a Luddite, but I reject the idea that teachers need to follow every technological fad. I also have solid research on my side when I say that providing instruction in the format that a learner chooses is not necessarily better for the learner. Yes, teachers need to evolve and use technology appropriately. They also need to understand their students and the ways they use technology. That said, it is a foolish teacher who tries to pander to his students' every whim.

Education Today and Tomorrow has interesting tidbits. In some ways, it doesn't seem that different from the previous video, but I like it far better. It seems less preachy and more inspiring.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seeing the Language of the Universe Through GeoGebra

Galileo once said:
The universe cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.
Good stuff. Think back on the post Math Illiteracy and this becomes pretty distressing.

In all honesty, I was never much of a geometry guy. I like algebra and math modeling, but have generally avoided geometry, which has always seemed like stuff that was either obvious or magic. I never wanted to teach it because I never felt like I had a good enough intuitive feel for the content that I could convey to anyone else.

In the past several years, some software has helped me see the light of Galileo's wisdom. First, I liked Geometer's Sketchpad, but now I am digging some new (and free) software called GeoGebra. I think it is really cool stuff. If I had GeoGebra at my disposal when I was a teacher, I would have begged to teach Geometry. Software like this really makes the ideas of math come alive. Install it and give it a try. When you actually engage with the content, you can see beyond the onerous two-column proofs and begin to understand the language of which Galileo was speaking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Am I a Gadget?

I rarely read book reviews. I rarely read books, so what's the point? Still, a Post review of Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget caught my eye. I know it's a bit ironic to be discussing this particular book in this medium, but so be it. As Lanier said in a recent interview:
... the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to, and that will typically be the collective expression of the Wikipedia.
Some of Lanier's thoughts about this really work for me. I feel that we are losing sight of the value of ideas and real critical thinking. The Internet (really the Web 2.0 version) brings the focus to little sound bites and aggregations. We all have ridiculous amounts of information washing over us (RSS feeds, tweets, Facebook updates, news pages filled with dozens of headlines), but how much are we really absorbing? How well are we thinking about and synthesizing all this information? At times, I feel like we really are inching toward being stateless automata.

Don't get me wrong: I use Google Reader,, Twitter, and Facebook, but I try to review my use of all these services to see how they are enhancing my life. I am not interested in twisting my life to fit technology; I want technology to help me to
  • do things (pay bills, do work, store information for convenient, intuitive retrieval, etc.)
  • find voices that make me laugh or think (see the Blogroll)
  • stay connected to my family and real friends (Picasa, Gmail)
I think it is important that we all stay vigilant and assess how technology controls our lives. It's seductive and easy to let our gadgets and other technology take over.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Language Changes, but We Don't

My mother and I have some recurring arguments. The two main topics are math education (e.g., should Niece 2 have taken Calculus AB or BC?) and language (e.g., does one graduate from a school, or does a school graduate students?)

Anyway, my father has heard all these arguments and thus when he read this article in the New York Times magazine (Jan Freeman's Bierce's Bugbears), he thought of me. Language changes constantly, but that won't stop people like my mother and me from getting stuck in the past. I am already the fogey who insists that "data" is a plural. Oh well.

When he and I have an argument in another twenty years or so, maybe Boy Kid will read this post and make me re-read Jan Freeman's article. If I'm lucky, the article will be gone by then and I can pretend it just supported my point.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Music Monday: Love Vigilantes and More Accordion Music

Love Vigilantes by New Order (the original) versus Iron & Wine (and here is a nice live version)

When driving somewhere with Mrs. Kid, I heard the acoustic version by Iron & White on the radio. I proceeded to sing along with every line and Mrs. Kid was pretty confused. This was clearly a new-ish song and i am not a particularly hip guy. It was a driveway moment for me in that we were on our way somewhere and I wouldn't get out of the car until the song was done. Love this song -- both the original and the remake.

Follow-up on last Monday's post about the accordion-playing kid. I have been reading the Capital Weather Gang blog at They mentioned that Corey Pesaturo is a weather enthusiast who is also a world-champion accordion player, so I thought I'd check him out. Holy cow, Corey can play that accordion.

Corey's YouTube channel has lots of videos. Here are a few of my favorites.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Web Stuff Friday: Report and My Twitter

It's been a while, so I need to dig through all the cool stuff I have seen over the past month or so.

Dan Meyer's Annual Report is amazing. Very humbling.

RestonKid is now tweeting! If I actually get followers, maybe I will tweet with some regularity. No idea if the medium will work for me, but you never know. Follow me and see how it goes.

Come to think of it, I haven't seen that much cool stuff online. For the past month and a half, I have mostly been shoveling snow and going to community meetings. Oh well. Maybe someone will share stuff with the rest of us.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Slavery, Colonization, and Divorce: Buddha Nature at Work

In response to a recent post about big government, Jaeger commented that people in African countries that were recently colonies have no drive or pride, while those who live in huts and were not subjected to strong colonization live in mud huts, but have pride and drive.

The people in mud huts have stayed close to their Buddha nature. I know it seems like hokey, new-age stuff, but I really believe that when we get away from our essential nature, things go wrong.

When Africans were brought to America to be slaves, they were separated from their Buddha nature. When whites colonized Africa, they subjugated the indigenous people and separated them from their Buddha nature.

I am not going to go into a long diatribe on the topic of the ramifications of these departures from their Buddha nature. Rather, I think it's worth noting that the separation is a problem.

This plays out in smaller ways as well. For instance, I know some formerly married couples who are now divorced. In most cases, we outside observers thought they were an odd match in one way or another. Essentially, we all saw a disconnect between each individual and who they were trying to be. Most of these people have returned to type and are trying relationships that keep them closer to who they are at a basic level. This is a good thing.

The more we can understand ourselves and strive for careers and relationships that are consistent with who we are at a very elemental level, the more we can make good, stable situations for ourselves.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Music Monday: Shredding on Accordion

Now that Lawrence Welk is gone from the air and Judy Tenuta is no longer enjoying her 15 minutes, who plays accordion any more? Aleksandr Hrustevich plays and he is great.

Kid Shreds on Accordion: This kid is amazing.

Kid Shreds on Accordion Encore: Kid is still amazing. The pathos he puts into his performance makes it work. This one starts mellow, but picks up. Bear with it until 2:30 before passing judgement.

Kid Shreds on Accordion Final Encore: Starts strong, then gets mellow, then gets strong again. It's an accordion-fueled joyride.

Maybe Boy Kid will take up the accordion. He's just cool enough to pull it off.