Statistics to Ponder

  1. From “The life-changing magic of simplistic solutions to complex problems”.”The average American home contains around 300,000 “things”, while the average person spends 153 days looking for misplaced items in a lifetime.”
  2. One of the courses pro golfers are playing this week, The South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California, is 7,698 yards long.
  3. More factoid than statistic. First time five international players appeared on an NBA court at the same time, April 2001, Dallas Mavericks. Obinna Ekezie (Nigeria), Eduardo Najera (Mexico), Steve Nash (Canada), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Zhizhi Wang (China) . A 7’6″ human bean pole was riding the bench, can you name him? Hint: Some consider Utah another country. Don’t say Mark Eaton, who I once rode with in an elevator at UCLA. He was a mere 7’4″ and retired eight years earlier.
  4. From “Wal-Mart to Boost Wages for Most U.S. Store Workers“. “Wal-Mart loses about half a million store workers a year.” That’s out of almost 1.2 million hourly employees. Over 4 of 10 employees walk every year.

 

The Sorry State of Social Studies Education

These are tough times for myself and other past and present social studies educators.

Exhibit A. Kathryn Schulz’s cogent explanation of everything that’s wrong with Netflix’s 10 hour long documentary “Making A Murderer”. Thanks Alison for the link, you saved me 9 hours and 20 minutes. Not quite sure how to spend those savings, maybe an extra hour of sleep for nine straight nights!

Excerpt 1, “. . . we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.”

Excerpt 2, “. . . the documentary consistently leads its viewers to the conclusion that Avery was framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and it contains striking elisions that bolster that theory. The filmmakers minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence against him, including the fact that Brendan Dassey confessed to helping Avery move Halbach’s S.U.V. into his junk yard, where Avery lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Investigators subsequently found DNA from Avery’s perspiration on the hood latch—evidence that would be nearly impossible to plant.

Perhaps because they are dodging inconvenient facts, Ricciardi and Demos are never able to present a coherent account of Halbach’s death, let alone multiple competing ones. Although “Making a Murderer” is structured chronologically, it fails to provide a clear time line of events, and it never answers such basic questions as when, where, and how Halbach died. Potentially critical issues are raised and summarily dropped; we hear about suspicious calls to and messages on Halbach’s cell phone, but these are never explored or even raised again. In the end, despite ten hours of running time, the story at the heart of “Making a Murderer” remains a muddle. Granted, real life is often a muddle, too, especially where crime is involved—but good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion.

Despite all this, “Making a Murderer” has left many viewers entirely convinced that Avery was framed. After the documentary aired, everyone from high-school students to celebrities jumped on the “Free Avery and Dassey” bandwagon.

Excerpt 3, “As of January 12th, more than four hundred thousand people had signed a petition to President Obama demanding that “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon.” That outrage could scarcely have been more misdirected. For one thing, it was addressed to the wrong person: Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones, and the President does not have the power to pardon him. For another, it was the wrong demand. “Making a Murderer” may have presented a compelling case that Avery (and, more convincingly, Dassey) deserved a new trial, but it did not get anywhere close to establishing that either one should be exonerated.”

Exhibit B. The Republican frontrunner (tRf) repeatedly says we don’t win anymore and he promises to make America great again. His strategy of playing on people’s zenophobia, fears, and ethnocentrism is working. Most disheartening, few ask how a simplistic, single-minded focus on the U.S., will end up benefiting the U.S. in the medium and long-term. Similarly, few ask why international competition holds more promise than international cooperation.

Because his name wasn’t in the headline, tRf probably skipped this news story from last week titled “Slow Growth Clouds Progress on Global Poverty.”

“Unprecedented global economic growth over the past quarter century has lifted an estimated 1.25 billion people out of poverty, in one of the greatest recent achievements in human history.

. . . . In 1990, 37% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as living on less than $1.90 a day. Today, the bank estimates that 9.6% of the world is in this destitute state—agricultural workers and others who live in rural mud huts with no electricity or running water, work others’ land, and spend nearly all of their resources on food, often going hungry.”

We don’t win anymore only if “we” is defined in the most narrow of ways. Social studies education has failed when so many are so taken with someone who thinks so narrowly. If we had done a better job as social studies educators everyone reading about the stupifying progress on global poverty would immediately realize the positive ripple effects including slower population growth, reduced regional and international violence, increased security, military savings, and increased global trade.

Instead nationalism and demagoguery are winning the day. Given that, the profession and I get a big fat “F”.

Blasts From the Past

You’ve probably often wondered, exactly what kind of water polo player was Ron? If I’m gonna continue reading his blog, it would sure be nice to know.

Five goals against Western High in a Sophomore game. Probably shoulda played in the 1980 Olympics. Still upset at Carter for the boycott. A legend in my own mind. This Cypress High School 1980 pic is everything you need to know. Total baller.

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Nevermind that I was built like a pool cue. Major hops! In polo one’s manhood was determined by how high he could get out of the water. Waist high was big time, seeing suit, the equivalent of dunking a bball. Kneecaps, making change for a dollar off the top of the backboard.

Okay, I guess enough time has passed. It’s time to come clean. I had some underwater assistance. You can do it too. Here’s how. Find Steve Wright and ask him to crouch down in about 5-6′ of water. Then ask Kevin Babb to stand on the deck and take the pic right after Steve explodes off the bottom with you standing on his shoulders. Like in life more generally, timing is everything. Pre-Photoshop genius.

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[Steve, Kevin, Legend]

Thanks to Operation Declutter, here’s another one from the archives.

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In 1993 The Good Wife and I were moving from Denver, CO to G’boro, NC. I must have asked my dad a moving/tax question. In response, he went full memo. LOVE the cursive Dad. Had he not included that, I most certainly would’ve questioned the memo’s authenticity.

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One last one. A “gift” my from my loving brother when PressingPause was getting going. His idea of encouragement. It came to mind this week because I mistakenly used the phrase “school funding” in a blog post title. Sporadically checking my stats, I felt like the Seahawks at the end of the first half. And now me in a speedo probably means an even more precipitous drop in readership.

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Why School Funding Matters

In reference to the recent post, “Numbers to Ponder“, a loyal reader, okay my older brother, wrote:

This is an absolutely mind-boggling situation to me. Given my complete lack of experience / knowledge regarding school levies I must ask “What suggestions can one with your experience / knowledge make in a scenario such as this one?” It appears to me that asking for a school levy in the Bethel School District would be a totally futile pursuit.

At the end of our the district tour, I asked the superintendent what polling was showing and whether he thought voters would approve the bond. I was surprised by his honest assessment that it was going to be very difficult. Seemingly resigned to a negative outcome, he referenced a neighboring district that passed their bond on the tenth try. I followed up by asking if there was a Plan B. There is not, which may mean the gap in educational opportunity will continue to widen in Western Washington State.

In the US, the fact that we fund public schools largely through property taxes means communities with larger, more expensive homes generate more funds for schools than those with smaller, less expensive ones. Property tax based funding makes a mockery of one of the things we most like to believe about ourselves, that there’s equal opportunity. How can there be equal opportunity if there’s not equal educational opportunity?

More specifically, how can we expect Bethel students to achieve at the same level as others in Washington State when they lose class time walking from distant portables to the main buildings to use bathrooms or change classes, and when they lose class time to floods and unsafe plumbing and electrical problems, and when they don’t have as many books to choose among or computers to use, and when their teachers come and go? Not to mention rodents and unsafe athletic facilities.

During the tour I was reminded of a poignant documentary from about 20 years ago about your home state, O-H-I-O. That Public Broadcasting System film detailed the extreme differences between the most wealthy and poor districts/schools in the state. I read some follow up articles about the backlash it caused and several new schools were built in response.

In fact, activist groups in several states have succeeded in legally challenging the school funding status quo. Many of those states now pool the bulk of their property tax revenues and then distribute them in a more uniform manner. If we truly value equal opportunity, that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s an incomplete step because privileged families will always supplement what their children’s schools have available so that their children maintain a relative advantage.

Among other ways, our daughters schools, like a lot of 0thers, did this by holding fund-raising auctions for parents. They provided dinner, had local businesses—often owned by the students’ families—volunteer gifts, and then auctioned them off. I recall a plain looking chocolate cake going for $500. And an auctioneer that asked, “Who’d like to give $100 to the library so that we can order more books?!” A majority of people’s hands shot up.

Or maybe I didn’t hear him correctly, maybe he said, “Who wants their children to remain a leg up in the race of life?”

Leadership Insights

After 17+ years in SE Olympia, Team Byrnes is moving nine miles to NE Olympia. Consequently, we’re in declutter overdrive. While culling my files, I came across an interview I did with my dad, Don Byrnes, during my doctoral coursework. At the time he was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Spalding & Evenflo Companies, Inc.

Like my brother, I was really thinking about my mom during our first Christmas eve service since her death. And almost equally about my dad even though he died 20 years ago. Probably because I’ve assumed more leadership responsibilities at work and wish I could talk to him about that. That’s why the rediscovery and re-reading of this transcript is special to me. Hope there’s a take-away or two for you too.

Selected excerpts [with commentary]:

Ron: When did you first feel you were in a position of leadership?

Don: Though I don’t remember feeling it at the time, it probably began when I was chosen to do the Easter and Christmas stories in our church programs. This was followed by serving as president of the service, drama, an student council organizations in high school. However, my first position, managing an insurance underwriting department, left me with a leadership feeling. [Had no idea he ever even attended church. Love imagining him ruling the roost on the church stage.]

Ron: What motivates you and what do you to do motivate others?

Don: Initially motivation was a combination and a desire to excel together with a need for financial security. Today, with financial security, I’m motivated by achievement—this is successfully getting to the end of the objective. As I believe an organization takes on the good and bad characteristics of its leader, I strive to set a good example by displaying industriousness, loyalty, and integrity in my interpersonal relationships. People will always follow you and help you attain a mutual goal when they believe in what you are doing and in you as an individual. The best definition I heard of a leader is: a person who finds out where people want to go then gets out in front of them and takes them there. [I like this twist on thinking that leaders should have a vision and then convince others of its merits. Finding out where people want to go probably requires more patience and better listening skills than many people in leadership positions have.]

Ron: What form of communication do you find most effective for obtaining ideas from subordinates?

Don: My personal communication style is an open door policy, with “management by walking around” in all areas of the business preaching the doctrine of what I’m trying to accomplish. You must be a good listener in order to read the direction, attitudes and morale of your employees. Once you have learned that a change or correction is needed, you must implement it so the organization will stay open and continue to contribute. [For a classic example of how NOT to do this, read this article,
Washington State Patrol Chief takes issue with report on staffing issue“.]

Ron: What techniques for stress management do you follow for yourself and others?

Don: Stress to me is too often the result of poor performance, and is an excuse used by individuals who wish they were doing something else. I’ve never had much time for people who complain of being stressed out. My escape is riding a bicycle. After an hour of riding, I feel better physically and mentally. [Brilliant insight that needs no elaboration.]

Postscript:

Eldest Daughter: Liked your blog post today. Makes me think I should interview you sometime.

Me: Thanks, quite a legacy. If I work at it, someday I may be half the leader he was. I would’ve kicked his ass on the bike though.

 

 

 

 

Numbers to Ponder

3. Bethel School District schools I toured today.

500. Excess number of students at both comprehensive high schools.

0. Number of libraries and cafeterias at the alternative high school.

$273,700,000. Amount sought by the school district in a February 9, 2016 bond vote.

$148. Annual increase in property taxes for residents owning a $200,000 home in the district.

60%. “Yes” votes the district needs.

62%. U.S. citizens who can’t cover unexpected expenses.

7 out of 8. The number of district-area families that do not have any children attending district schools.

9%. The percentage of eligible district-area citizens who vote.

 

 

 

 

 

One of Us: The Story of Anders Beivik and the Massacre in Norway

One of the things I most enjoy in life is traveling to different countries and eras through the filmmaker’s lens.

In 1990, at the Denver International Film Festival, I saw Rojo Amanecer, or Red Dawn, which told the story of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City from the point of view of a family that lived in one of the apartments facing Tlatelolco Square during the shooting. “The film, Amaya Rachelle Elizindok writes, “became one of the biggest hits in what’s since been dubbed The New Mexican Cinema Movement.”

The entire film takes place inside one apartment. It does not end well. Afterwards, I was overwhelmed by sadness, unable to speak or move while the credits rolled and rolled and rolled. Same with everyone in the theatre. Lifeless, we sat perfectly still for several minutes.

Twenty-six years later, I felt the same after finishing One of Us. Completely drained. Heart-broken for the families of the seventy-seven people who were killed. The word “sad” doesn’t do justice to Asne Seierstad’s story of the 2011 massacre in Norway. An entirely new word is needed. Seierstad’s account is comprehensive, thorough, disciplined, and intimate. A remarkable work of journalism. It’s a disciplined telling of the story in the sense that she describes the events and the psychiatrists’ differing analyses, only offering her perspective on Breivik after 522 pages.

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Wrapped within the tragedy are innumerable social scientific questions concerning child development, family dysfunction, interpersonal relationships, video gaming, mental illness, the media, violence, policing, and criminal justice. An Abnormal Psychology professor would only need this text.

Seierstad’s first and last words were most memorable. The first are from an epilogue where she quotes Hjalmar Soderberg, the author of a 1905 novel, Doktor Glas:

We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feelings in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.

And from page 523:

One of Us is a book about belonging, a book about community. . . . This is also a book about looking for a way to belong and not finding it. The perpetrator ultimately decided to opt out of the community and strike at it in the most brutal of ways.

That view is echoed by Karl Ove Knausgaard in his essay “Inside the warped mind of Anders Breivik“. Knausgaard writes:

What can prompt a relatively well-functioning man to do something so horrific in the midst of a stable, prosperous and orderly country? Is it possible to ever comprehend it?

Based on Breivik’s political rhetoric and his self-understanding, and also on his chosen targets – Regjeringskvartalet and the ruling party’s youth organisation – it is natural to compare his act with the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, where Timothy McVeigh, in an anti-government protest, parked a truck bomb outside a federal building and murdered 168 people. Indeed, Breivik took the Oklahoma City bombing as a model for the first part of his attack. However, almost everything else regarding Breivik and his crime points away from the political and the ideological and towards the personal. He made himself a sort of military commander’s uniform, in which he photographed himself before the crime; he consistently referred to a large organisation, of which he claimed to be a prominent member but which does not exist; in his manifesto he interviews himself as if he were a hero; and the impression this gives is of a person who has erected a make-believe reality, in which his significance is undisputed. The way in which he carried out his crime, and the way his thoughts contextualised it, resembles role-playing, rather than political terrorism. The solitude this implies is enormous, not to mention the need for self-assertion. The most logical approach is to view his actions as a variation on the numerous school massacres that have occurred in the past decades in the United States, Finland and Germany: a young man, a misfit, who is either partly or completely excluded from the group, takes as many people with him into death as he can, in order to ‘show’ us.

A few months before Breivik carried out the assault, he visited his former stepmother and told her that soon he was going to do something that would make his father proud. His mother had left his father when he was one, and it had been years since Breivik had spoken to him.

He wanted to be seen; that is what drove him, nothing else.

Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.

In the United States we need to incentivize the giving up of guns and implement much tougher gun control laws. At the same time, Seierstad and Knausgaard remind us that seeing the invisible in our midst is at least equally as important. Seeing means making eye contact with and talking to those who’ve given up and begun withdrawing. Some of the most alienated are children. To reduce domestic terrorism, we need to see them most of all.