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    • The First Great Environmental Crisis Will Be
      Water. As I’ve said for many years. The world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40 percent by the end of this decade, experts have said on the eve of a crucial UN water summit. I’ll use the US as an example, though this going to effect almost all countries, some much worse than others, and it wi […]
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This week’s Short Takes from Moi

These are my short summaries of thots based on current events. Enjoy! Or not.

1.) I’m still here for Ukraine. I haven’t forgotten or moved on. It’s like a steady hum in my head, like background noise. At any moment, an event can push it to the front and I’ll pay attention to nothing else. But sometimes, the news is just too much to bear. I can’t even imagine how terrible it is to live it. I feel like we are waiting for something, like our own Pearl Harbor. It’s hard to stand back and watch this level of destruction and human tragedy by a mad man. It’s frustrating and makes me feel useless. Slava Ukraini.

2.) France is voting for president today. I can’t understand how anyone can look at what’s happening in Ukraine and decide that what they really need is to cooperate with the man who is on a rampage to tear Europe apart. But voters around the world have made stupider decisions based on short term goals.

3.) Speaking of Donald Trump, I keep seeing tweets about proof of his supposed dementia. I guess Big Orange talked about his cognitive test again recently, probably not for the reasons we think. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Donald has dementia. I don’t think you can generate this much bile and propaganda as performance art if you weren’t able to read the room and talk people into a frenzy. Here’s how I think of Donald that might be helpful: Imagine a shark decided to get into Cosplay and dressed up like a human. He could probably act like a human to some extent but most of us would feel like something was “off”. That’s because sharks are predators and to be really successful predators, their brains have no use for certain functions. The areas of the brain that contribute to our conscience and longitudinal thinking and art appreciation or math, for example, do not contribute to predatory behavior. So they’re shut off. On the other hand, the predator part of the shark brain is overdeveloped. So, maybe a test for dementia is irrelevant. He knows exactly what he’s doing. His executive functions are finely tuned to satisfying his own urges and getting adulation. The dementia test should be administered to his loyal audience since their behavior does not lead to positive outcomes for themselves and they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between genuine humans and sharks in costume.

4.) Integrated Math. What is it and why is Ron DeSantis so pissed off about it? Everything old is new again. Integrated math was one of the reasons I ran for the School Board many years ago. Our school district was starting to introduce it and some other math techniques that, to ME, looked like party tricks. Integrated math, as I understood it, was an effort to take the fear out of math by making it social and familiar. There was a lot of emphasis on making math relatable. How can a student use math in the real world to understand issues that are important to him or her like how to read graphs and statistics in newspapers or calculate the value of common items like groceries. There was a lot of emphasis on working in groups to solve problems. The idea was to make math less likely to freak people out.

My thought is that integrated math was the result of projection of hundreds of thousands of math insecure k-8 teachers who thought math is hard. I can relate to a certain point. I attended 14 different schools before I graduated high school, the majority of those transfers happened during my elementary school years. It severely affected my ability to do arithmetic and algebra and without arithmetic and algebra, it’s very difficult to solve problems even if you can see the solution. For me, every problem involving math is like relearning and reliving my elementary school years. It’s a math Groundhog Day. And for someone with my background and the ensuing panic attacks during test scenarios, I must have been out of my mind to go into chemistry. One of my math teachers in college told me that in order for me to succeed in math related classes, I should do EVERY problem in the book, not just the assigned problems. For a student who was the first in their family to go to college and had to work a full time job to pay my expenses, this was an impossibility. So I understood math anxiety that a lot of teachers had. It’s just that integrated math was not the answer for everybody.

Math is a tool to solve problems and some of us will be required to use it in a way that goes beyond calculating unit pricing in stores or simple statistics. Adding friendly cultural scenarios is cute but could be a distraction to actually learning the rules and orders of operations. In other words, integrated math wouldn’t have helped me one tiny bit if I had wanted to study for a STEM related major. It’s not intended to. It’s supposed to help students not fear math.

Do you know how to help students not fear math? Make them good at it. Learning math is like a helix. The helix only holds it shape because it makes bonds with what has come before and what comes after. The student has to have a grounding in the basics in order to be able to progress to the next turn in the helix. The best math texts, as I found out from doing my research when I was on the curriculum committee, took the approach of steady progress up the helix with revisiting previous instruction periodically so that concepts, rules and algorithms are reinforced and become second nature. That’s how you eliminate math anxiety.

There’s nothing wrong with using diversity or culture or current events in math texts if the idea is to teach math in a way that is reinforcing. Integrated math is not that. The problem is not the cultural elements, which is what DeSantis is focussing on. The problem is the pedagogy. It treats those concepts, rules and algorithm in a disconnected way without the reinforcement and repetition to make the tools second nature. It’s not a good way to teach math.

So, there might be a good reason to chuck some of the text books. I just doubt that they’re the same reason or reasons as Florida’s, which seems to be freaking out for over critical race theory. You want to know how I would teach critical race theory? Ask any MAGA weirdo how much money they would have to be paid to live the rest of their lives as an African American. How many millions per year for the rest of their lives for how many years. There’s a math problem that sums up the entire history of racism in one simple scenario. Some intrepid reporter should ask DeSantis that question at a press conference.

I’ve read somewhere that there might be profit in throwing out integrated Math texts for some Republican politicians who have investments in other text books companies. Gov. Youngkin of Virginia was mentioned. It could be coincidence. Needs more research. Anyway, my point is that Republicans may be partially right about integrated math text books but for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to integrate history or social sciences to get kids to like math if the pedagogy is right and unfortunately, integrated math, at the time I was researching it, sacrificed sound methods in order to make math relatable. If it hasn’t improved test scores over other available teaching methods, it should probably be replaced.

“To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield”

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d ,and wrought, and thought with me–

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine and opposed.

Free hearts, free foreheads–you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done.

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset. and the baths

Of all the Western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulf will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the brave Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

That was the last stanza of “Ulysses,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is one of the greatest and most memorable poems ever written.

Tennyson imagines Ulysses, Odysseus in Greek, having returned home to Ithaca, after the travails of the Trojan War and then the many dangers described by Homer in “The Odyssey.” He has saved his land, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. And there “The Odyssey” ends.

Tennyson wants to tell another story: that Ulysses cannot go back to a former life, he is by nature and experience impelled to seek adventures, achievements, and risks. So he summons what is left of his sailors, and urges them to come with him once again.

It is such a powerful and moving poem. Tennyson wrote this in 1833, at the age of 24, and it seems like a poem from someone much older. It also, at least to me, seems like a poem which expresses some of the themes of the great later Romantic poets, Keats, Byron and Shelley. However, Tennyson is not considered to be a Romantic poet. But if one reads the mid-Victorian poetry, this seems much more Romantic in feeling and passion than many of those works.

I copied it, because it seems to me to be very apposite, and maybe that has been the case ever since Tennyson wrote it. Right now, we are in one of the most dangerous and threatening situations this country has ever faced. I do not need to review all of it for anyone.

It does certainly more often feel like perhaps a hopeless task; how do we fix things; how do we redeem the promise of democracy from the totalitarians, the fascists, the religious zealots, the warped or psychotic or completely ignorant and brainwashed people that surround us, and are on their way to taking over, maybe for good?

One can look around the internet, and see all sorts of people say things like, “It’s over.” “We are going to be a dictatorship, with books being banned and burned, the right to abortion and contraception gone; the planet burning up; guns proliferating; and a large number of individuals simply refusing to follow any government rules or advisories which they do not feel inclined to follow, or which the fascists tell them not to.”

Some of the people who write those things are plants, tools of the fascists who try to discourage and demoralize, just like those who kept writing “Walk Away,” to people who wanted to vote for Democrats in 2016. Some are professional prophesiers of doom and despair. And some, too many, are sincere people who are just very depressed about it all, and have every right to be.

But what are the alternatives? Just give up, and let all the American history and the struggles, some of them won, go down the drain? Try to ignore it all, and watch TV comedies or superhero movies or sports? Stake out a position on one issue or another, and say that unless Democrats come to that position, they will simply abandon the party to the fascists? Look for another one of the dwindling amount of democracies to live in?

I would not tell people what to do, but I would hope that they will stand and contest, “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” It isn’t a matter of age, or the Age, it is what humans must do if they are to possibly triumph over all the adversity, hate, and evil out there.

We’ve got midterm elections in six months. We have not lost them yet. Each race matters. Maybe each of us can try to convince just two other people of what we know to be true: that Democrats have their flaws and differences of opinion, but they care about free speech, and a woman’s right to choose, and saving the planet, and trying to help everyone; whereas the Republicans are ONLY about brute power, forcing everyone else to do what they want, and to give all their money to them, and be ruled by them, as in the thousands of years of humanity where there were emperors, dictators, tyrants, with power to control or eliminate anyone they saw as a threat to their rule.

The choice is so stark as to be almost mythological; decency against pure, depthless evil. Roger Stone, a perverted and degenerate man who is the embodiment of pure evil, just said that he and his forces are the ones who represent the good, and his enemies the evil. Well, evil always tries to put on the illusion of good, but any still functioning heart and brain can easily see through the camouflage.

So we get up and we put on our gear, and we fight, in the best way we can. The game is not completely fixed. The people that we desperately want to do more and say more, are not secretly in collusion with the enemy, at least most of them are not. The January 6 Committee will have televised hearings, and the very admirable and courageous Jamie Raskin says that they will blow the roof off Congress; and of course he means it figuratively, because it is the Republicans who are the party of insurrection and sedition and violence.

Now, I am not saying that I might not wake up tomorrow and be more depressed about all this; or when I see another poll where people simply do not understand the economy; or what the Republicans plan to do to get rid of Social Security and Medicare, and to burden the middle class and poor with more taxes, so they can build their tenth house, and take rides on Elon Musk’s space attraction.

But Tennyson wrote that poem; and it wasn’t just about ancient Greece, or 19th Century England, or about him, or anyone he knew. It was about the human race and the human spirit. And that is why the poem is so moving today. It doesn’t say that we will win, it says that we must not stop trying.

It has been said that “poetry says what prose cannot.” And sometimes one can see and feel that, perhaps when it is needed most.