Annual Narrative for 2019-2020 Academic Year

Annual Faculty Narrative

Name: David Terrell Ph. D.

Title/Department: Professor of Physical Science, Division of Natural Science and Health.

Date: May 2020 (2019-2020 Academic Year)

Creating the future by reinventing ourselves

“We become who we are in part by how we respond to the shifting circumstances against which our lives delineate themselves.” Sissela Bok in her book Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science.  

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi Berra

Overall Summary.

To say that this academic year has been extraordinary is a complete understatement! This year has been extra-extraordinary, it began as any other, connecting with our new students and advising them of the year to come. I used similar syllabi as previous years with some small changes to adapt to the new year but basically expecting that the year will be as any other in the recent past, and the MyWPclasses site for the class was cloned from previous classes. For the first semester it appeared to be the case, and I worked with my students using the pedagogical tools that I have developed in the past years. Having open and visible lesson plans at the beginning of the class, having attendance quizzes every day so they can use them as guides for tests, partial and final, using the MyWPclasses LMS to deliver information. The semester went well for both Organic Chemistry and General Chemistry. And so, the spring semester started with the assumption that we had everything under control.

There is a saying is Spanish: “Tu propones y Dios dispone” that translates to something like “You propose, and God makes”. This saying comes to mind thinking about the coronavirus pandemic, as we all had plans that were completely shattered. (My daughter’s wedding in July for example.) So, it was with teaching. We had to move online and do labs in a different way. We had to create and re-create how we deliver, how we teach. Fortunately for me I had been enthusiastic about online learning tools and was somewhat ready for the change. So, we moved to online classes and I feel it was a success. In his book “Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto” Kevin Gannon writes “I have hope in the future, the thinking goes, so I just need to survive the present; this too shall pass. But hope without actions is merely fantasy.” The success is not permanent, so we need to keep working on it. One point that Gannon makes is the difficulty, these times, to be a transformative teacher. Thus, one thing I am grateful for this year is the opportunity to serve and be a transformative teacher. With respect to the transformative power that we as teachers have, let me mention the email I received (attached) from a student that is grateful for me helping her to be transformed! This transformation is in line with the initial stamen about re-inventing our-selves. 

            The challenges that higher ed have in some ways have pushed colleagues to a sense of desperation and cynicism. Charging students with their lack of motivation, and low success rate. Including retention. Blaming and criticizing their institution and in many cases their colleagues as well. We have to do everything in our power to work together, so as in the book Great Potential we can bring the best in us as we help others get their best.

            Chemistry is intrinsically complicated, its complexity stems from the interconnectivity of various components, from language and nomenclature to algebraic formulation. Thus, students need to develop the skill of thinking outside the box, which for iGenners (or Gen-Change as some of them like to call themselves) is not easy due to their previous education based on hyper-connectivity. Again bringing the idea of transformation to the learning/teaching process.

The beginning of the second half of the semester was disrupted by the arrival of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We had to move to a full online delivery system including laboratory instruction. This change that was imposed by circumstances, not by will, made us take extraordinary measures and reach out to unexpected tools. The good news for me was that I was already working on, and being trained on tools for online teaching. The pandemic only accelerated the transition. For many years I have followed some of the “Process Oriented Guided Inquiry” (POGIL) techniques and used some books written in this format such as the one for Organic Chemistry written by Straumanis.

Since the beginning of the lock-down many small groups that were in their infancy matured to be more active, extensive, and useful. One of those groups is the Technology Networking in Education, a Google group within CCCU in which I have been participating for some time.

In order to learn more about the tools available I attended webinars provided by zoom.us, Smart Tech (for smartboard and smart suit for online (cloud) teaching), ScreenCast-O-matic, Screencastify, Labster, and McMillan Learning (“Latenitelabs”) (for online laboratories).

Professional Development

            An important concept that I developed during these last years and keeps growing and deepening is the misconception of how we learn. I read and participated in several discussions, seminaries, and conferences to learn more about this topic. Following are some examples of these conversations and reading.

  1. The Science of Learning PDF in iCloud Misconceptions about learning done by https://deansforimpact.org
  2. Wesley K. Clark on the NYTimes (May 23, 2019): Over the years, thousands of cadets at the United States Military Academy, myself included, have memorized and recited West Point’s Cadet Prayer. “Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” the prayer goes, “and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice, and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”
  3. What goes around comes around. Thoughts about the social upheaval going on right now. “In fact, organizations with happy employees are also more successful and consistently demonstrate greater profitability” Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.
  4.  Polling students about their conceptions before and after the semester and after the whole year. Foer. 2017
  5. In the book The Coddling of the American Mind a reference to critical thinking at The Foundation of Critical Thinking (definition of) www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766 (retrieved 6/3/2019)
  6.  The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Truth about Student Success: Myths, Realities, and 30 Practices That Are working. This study done with strong data supports the idea that financial aid is critical for retention and success, more than integrating academic support with education or faculty training.

Major Accomplishments Related to Current Academic Year Goals

Development of Pedagogy

I have been working on the concept of non-linear teaching of chemistry adapting the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) technique that I have been using for a while.

Below is an example of the information I have used from Class Teaching in the UK.

https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2019/11/03/a-walk-through-making-every-lesson-count/

Scholarship

At the NORM 2019 conference I presented a paper on non-linear learning in General Chemistry where I included as an example the use of coding in Chemistry using the Tao equation that I developed last year to calculate the change of pH of a buffer solution when a small amount of acid or base is added to the solution.

Other activities related to scholarship and professional development are listed below:

  1. ACS  Webinar on Laboratory Safety August 15, 2019
  2.  Webinar on Oct 3 Effective Interactive Teaching (With Beth)
  3.  ACS Webinar on The Future of O-Chem in water. October 10, 2019
  4. ACS Webinar on Designing drugs for diabetics with computers. Oct 24/ 2019
  5. ACS Webinar on November 7, 2019 “Combating Climate Change with New Nano Bugs: Teaching Bacteria to Eat Carbon Dioxide and Light with Quantum Dots” 
  6. Participation at the Energy-Environment Future Summit at OIT  Nov 1, 2019. In this meeting I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Naganathan president of OIT and had a very constructive conversation about more collaborative interaction. Also met Maria Pope CEO of Portland General Electric who mentioned that she would be happy to help us have a PGE electric car charging station on our premises.
  7. Murdock Undergraduate Research Conference November 8-9, 2019. 4 WPU students presented papers, I was one of the judges. At this conference I attended a Meeting on Collaboration (Sat 11/9) where very important opportunities were apparent. In particular I met Dr. Daniel Beck Central Washington University Director of Latino and Latin American Studies. Department of Biological Sciences. With whom we talked about the possibility of having some kind of meeting of LatinX biology students.
  8.  Nov. 14, 2019, ACS Lecture on Colorant Chemistry. Lisa R. Cox from DEQ Oregon who is promoting the program Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience Developing environmental workforce through hands-on internships.

Other activities

Webinar on student retention and summer courses Acadeum Monday, Jan 30th. 2020.

January 30, 2020, “How Your Summer 2020 Enrollment Strategy Can Boost Retention and Bottom Line” Webinar Acadeum on retention using summer courses online.

Why would an online course work when the face to face didn’t?

Time management, taking only one at the time, etc.

The cross-functional team at WPU, most questions related to financial aid. 

Using intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation has been a positive change in the way I address my students’ learning. As articulated in the article “I’ve changed the way I grade My Students” in EdWeek magazine Feb. 18, 2020 doing the same thing and expecting different results is insane. We have been teaching based on the same premises of external motivation for many years and we have seen a drop in student performance over the years. That is why I have changed focus from external to internal, from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2020/02/18/ive-changed-how-i-grade-my-students.html?cmp=eml-enl-tu news1&M=59046352&U=900517&UUID=dd7f090c1b74b7451c0893826c723966

Service

This year I participated in the Accreditation Committee, the Promotions committee, the search committee for the Associate Dean of Nursing, and the School of Innovation and Technology SOIT’s Curriculum Council.

As a reader in the HUM 410 of two students one in fall and one in spring. I had the opportunity to serve them and to help them find ways to deal with their paradox.

Continued being a liaison with High schools participating in our “Concurrent enrollment” program.

I continued being an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) participating West Hills Friends my local meeting. As an active member of the American Chemical Society I continue to participate regularly in activities such as monthly lectures. Being the chair of the Non-Partisan Policy Advocacy NPPA committee I have been leading the public relations of the Portland Section of the ACS (Officially as a Chemistry Ambassador), and as member of the Steering Committee of the Portland March for Science that this year had to postpone the Science Fest that was initially scheduled for April 5th but had to be postponed for later in the year when the coronavirus emergency allows it.

CORE THEME

How have you incorporated this year’s Core Theme in your teaching, scholarship, and service?

This year Core Theme is “Investing in the formation and success of students from diverse backgrounds”, I asked my students to include this core theme in their final paper, by answering the question how did learning in my Chemistry classes help you in your life, in particular taking into account the diversity represented by them.

Goals for Next Academic Year (Connect to WPC Mission)

Personal Goals

Continue to grow spiritually, finding how to better serve my community and in particular my students. As the attached email sent to me by Amelia Pullen shows there is no better reward than the recognition from our students. 

Teaching Goals

            In parallel to teaching General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry and the new course that I developed this year as Introduction to Electronics and Computing; I would like to develop new programs (as I mentioned in my annual narrative of last year) and continue to push for a new major in Environmental Chemistry/Chemical Hygiene and Hazardous Waste treatment and disposal as well as a Pre-Engineering degree that will bring students who now do not come for the lack of this opportunity. Also related to promoting WPU for new students I will work hard to promote the creation of an Urban Observatory and a Business Incubator. 

In particular for General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry I want to develop a feeling for a strong personal connection including adding to the syllabi a paragraph about team learning and team teaching. The format of the lecture will include students presenting the topic assigned in advance and I as the professor filling in the concepts not explained by students.

Scholarship Goals

Again, this year I could not find the time to do some research on nuclear activation analysis at the Reed College nuclear reactor, so I will continue to hold-on to this project. I will try to get funding to do research on bitterness related to the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) used to measure hop content in brewing. Prof. Heidi Owsley and I have continued writing our book “Earthkeeping: Human Nature and The Natural Environment” which is well advanced, and hopefully during this summer of 2020 we will have a final draft.

Service Goals

I will continue my service in Institutional committees, like Accreditation, Education Technology, Acadeum Consortium, SOIT, and any other assignment I am asked at WPU such as being a liaison with High Schools participating in Concurrent Enrollment. I will continue service at West Hills Friends Church, where I will continue being an active member of the congregation. At the American Chemical Society also I will continue being active. Finally, I will continue participating in regional meetings of the Oregon Academy of Science, and the Pacific Northwest Association for College Physics.

Finally 

Last year I wrote how we can’t predict the future, and every moment this thought comes to my mind. As I am writing this final touch to my narrative, I am getting news of the transition of our esteemed Dean Dr. Reginald Nichols. If you have asked me a week ago what was not going to happen the answer would be that Dr. Nichols would be still at WPU in June.

Bibliography

Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. ISBN: 978-1-4426-4556-1

“Slow Professors act with purpose, taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience, able as Collini puts it, to hold our “nerve” (What Are Universities For? 85).”

Sissela Bok. 2010. Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science. ISBN 978-0-300-13929-7. 

James Boyd White 1984. When Words Lose Their Meaning. ISBN: 0-226-89501-7

“Whenever a person wishes to speak to another, he must speak a language that has its existence outside himself, in the world he inhabits. If he is to be understood, he must use the language of his audience.”  The lack of vocabulary of students these days needs to be addressed, so words like “empirical’, function or variable need to be explained and work with. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education report “The Truth About Student Success: Myths, Realities, and 30 Practices That Are Working” January 2019. 

The Innovation Imperative. 2019. The Chronicle of Higher Education Report.

Using case studies analyzes the barriers, how change happens, and high hopes.

Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.2009. The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World. ISBN: 9780767920643

Franklin Foer. 2017. World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. ISBN: 9781101981115

Donald E. Knutt. 1997. The Art of Computer Programming: Vol 1 Fundamental Algorithms. 978-0-201-89683-1 vol I (3rd. Ed)

G. Lukianoff and J. Haidt. 2018. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. ISBN: 9780735224896

Scott, Laurence. 2020. The ASMR Cure. Wired Magazine February 2020. P 14.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. “Perhaps every age feels strung between extremes, and the strategies that help people cope are one way of identifying the times.”

Richard Stengel. 2019. Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation & What We Can Do About It. ISBN 978-0-8021-4798-1

*** Appendix  

Student’s Email 5/10/2020

Dr. T, 

This is student Amelia Pullen from your Organic Chemistry 2 class at Warner Pacific University. I just wanted to email you to let you know how truly grateful I am to have had you as my professor this year. Coming into organic chemistry at the beginning of the year, I was quite terrified and filled with stress and anxiety about what the year would hold. I had heard so many horror stories from people I knew who had taken organic chemistry at other Universities and I was dreading it to be completely honest. I came in with the attitude that I was just going to get it done and get out. However, little did I know that I would have one of the nicest, kindest, most caring and compassionate professors probably in the world! That first day, I remember I was so intimidated being in a class as a freshman with only other upperclassman but you jumped right in to begin us in a prayer and passed out a welcoming letter addressed to each of us specifically. This gesture meant everything to me. It put me at ease immediately and your warm personality was so welcoming and inviting that all of my anxiety slipped away that very first day. I realized right then and there, that this was not going to be the dreadful class that I had made it up in my mind to be. I realized that this was going to be an enjoyable place for me to come and to learn and to HAVE FUN!!! Dr. T, whenever I met with you in office hours, you did your very best to help me not only to answer the questions that I had but to also help me with life in general and seeing the big picture in life and the most important and meaningful things in life. You helped teach me that its not worth torturing myself stressing over one class when in the big scheme of things, what really matters is being able to learn and enjoy the journey along the way and learn to appreciate life and all that life has to offer. We had some really good chats about both chemistry and about life and I appreciate how much you genuinely cared for me as a person and not just as a student. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me and for all of your students. I just want you to know that your effort does not go unnoticed. You go above and beyond for your students and you make it your priority to help each student to learn in ways that they individually learn best. I have never had a professor that cares as much about each of their students as you do about us. Even in these last couple months where this whole COVID-19 virus issue has arisen and things have seemingly fallen apart, you did your absolute best to accommodate and work around and through these issues. I am so blessed to have gotten a whole year with you at Warner Pacific University even if the second half of the second semester went a bit unexpected with the whole online formatting stuff and all. I hope you know how appreciated you are and as sad as I am to be leaving Warner Pacific University next year to head off to WSU in Pullman Washington to study Animal Sciences and probably Vet School, I will forever remember you and the things that you have taught me throughout my year at WPU. 

Thank you again one thousand times over. I hope you have a wonderful day and Mother’s Day today and have a wonderful summer and life ahead of you. I hope to stay in contact next year and keep you updated on my journey as well!

Sincerely,

**Student’s name* ***

Other important information.

Fran Haynes in Classteaching.worldpress.com 

https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/explanation-made-easy/

The Durrington Research Blog this week summarizes the findings from the Department of Education’s recent paper ‘Cognitive Load Theory in Practice: Examples for the Classroom’. This paper provides seven teaching strategies that teachers can employ to help ensure that students’ working memories are neither dealing with too much cognitive load nor too little. When this balance in explanation is struck, students’ learning is optimized.

Strategy 1: Tailor lessons to students’ existing knowledge and skill.

A key element of an effective explanation is to tether new knowledge of what is already known. Ways to do this in the classroom include making comparisons, using analogies and using concrete examples. A recent example from Durrington comes from an English teacher explaining the meaning of the word ‘imperceptibly’ to a Year 10 class. This is a tricky concept to elucidate that could result in a very convoluted and abstract discussion about the tangibility of observational matter. Instead, the teacher explained how fingernails are examples of something that grows imperceptibly, that is something that definitely happens over time but without you noticing until a later stage. The use of a concrete example, to which all students could relate, pinned this slippery idea to rock-solid understanding.

Strategy 2: Use worked examples to teach students new content or skills.

Worked examples provide students with fully guided instruction by labeling every step of the process required to solve a problem or successfully complete a task. This strategy helps to free up students’ working memory and allows them to focus on the process. In turn, this means they are more likely to be able to solve a problem using the same process later on. An example from Durrington comes from a history lesson on the Cold War. The teacher wrote an exemplar paragraph step by step on the board, labeling each step as he went. The teacher then left this labeled example visible for the students on the board and presented a new (but similar style) question for them to complete.

Strategy 3: Gradually increase independent problem-solving as students become more proficient.

Fully-guided instruction is useful for teaching new material but can become less effective as students increase their proficiency. Eventually, students need to be pushed into their struggle zone (see last week’s blog on ‘challenge’) by practicing independently. The process of removing explanation in the form of scaffolding is a finely-tuned one involving very accurate knowledge of how expert students have become with specific skills. One approach that we use at Durrington is the ‘I – we – you’ model. In the first step of this strategy, the teacher models how to successfully complete a task or solve a problem. This involves the teacher thinking aloud and thereby explaining the questions, decisions, and checks that she is making as she works. There is no input from students at this stage – their job is to do as the teacher is doing: watching, listening and recording what happens. In the ‘we’ stage, the teacher presents a new but similar task and this time questions the students very carefully on what she should do to complete this successfully. The questions will probably be about the procedure, for example, ‘How do I start?’, ‘What do I need to remember to do at this point?’ etc. From this questioning, the teacher must judge where she needs to step in with direct guidance because there is a knowledge gap or misconception, or where it would be more beneficial for the students to think hard about the process for themselves. In the final ‘you’ stage, the students complete a new but similar task independently. The teacher can use this feedback to identify if any parts of the process need explaining and modeling again.

Strategy 4: Cut out inessential information.

On average, we can only hold around seven chunks of new information in our working memory. This means that teachers need to think very carefully about the details they are providing in an explanation of material to students and minimize anything that is not relevant. Ways of doing this include:

  • Thinking carefully about PowerPoint presentations and avoiding images or words that do not directly contribute to an understanding of the material.
  • Not presenting students with words on a PowerPoint and speaking to the class at the same time. A better strategy would be to allow the students to read independently, or read aloud with no visual presentation of words.
  • If students have been studying material for a long time, minimizing resources that are based on the knowledge they have already secured. This will free up students’ working memories so that they can focus on the next stage of learning.

Strategy 5: Present all the essential information together

A key aim of the explanation is to avoid the split-attention effect. This is when students have to divide their attention between two or more sources of information that have been presented effectively but can only be understood in reference to each other. The English Department at Durrington has recently been developing resources with this strategy in mind. Year 11 students have been practicing their extended transactional writing pieces with a particular focus on structuring their writing effectively. To support the explanation of how these pieces should be constructed, every student is provided with examples, with the labels integrated into the model (rather than on a separate resource or different page) to show how the structuring strategy works in the piece.

Strategy 6: Simplify complex information by presenting it orally and visually. 

Our working memory has two separate ‘channels’ that can cope with visual information and auditory information. If information is spread across the auditory and visual channels at once, the cognitive load can be better managed by the student. Ways to enact this strategy include using images to support verbal descriptions (as long as the images are directly linked to the explanation) and summarising key ideas in a diagram. Our Geography department makes excellent use of this strategy through their case study diagrams, which you can read about here.

Strategy 7: Encourage students to visualize concepts and procedures they have learned.

This is a strategy for when students have already been taught the necessary declarative or procedural knowledge and have a very secure and accurate understanding. The aim is for students to mentally visualize themselves carrying out a task or solving a problem. The process of visualizing helps to make this knowledge automatic by storing it in long-term memory. For example, imagine a teacher has spent considerable time taking students through the process of answering a 6 mark question in PE. The subject knowledge has been taught as well as the steps to answering this type of question, and this has been practiced many times. With visualization, the PE teacher may present the students with a new 6 mark question and ask them to imagine every step they would take to answer the question. This strategy can be an effective way of gradually removing guidance on the way to independence.

The Truth about Reality

There is only one reality, but many ways of looking at it. This post is about the economic reality of our society, and will focus on a “reality” created by the influence of monetary powers. By Wall Street. Several mentions will be done to David Korten’s work so a link to one of his books in included.

Agenda For a New Economy

 The Coronavirus pandemic affecting the world today (March, 2020) is making us think carefully about how the world is functioning, and how human activity is affecting the environment. The solution to the pandemic has exposed the different point of view, and the philosophical framework of these ideologies.

One is the point of view that the so-called free markets will provide the solution to any problem, this point of view is based on the philosophy that individuals are independent and free, auto-sustainable. Other point of view is that government should lead the way in the solution of the pandemic. This point of view is based on the idea that humans are members of a society with duties, obligations, benefits, and dividends. Wall Street is an example of how free markets are used to benefit a small group of influential people who in the short time make huge profits. A national health system (that is badly needed in the USA) is an example of the latter point of view.

Hearing right-wing pundits say today that we should sacrifice the lives of people in order to save “the economy” is perfectly understandable when we see that their point of view is based on the assumption that citizens are independent individuals who do not rely on others. Giving life, giving reality to “the economy” is a good example of phantom elements that so many people today believe are real. Believing in phantoms, ghosts, and so-called miracles, self-made billionaires, etc. is made possible by the point of view that we are independent individuals.

The reality is of course that we are not independent individuals. Since birth humans depend on other for their survival. Humans have advanced because of their ability to communicate (some times over very long distances) and to collaborate. Science and technology are the best example of human collaboration. Agriculture and comerse are also based on collaboration, even though is all cases collaboration implies some degree of competition, but competition is secondary to collaboration. (This point was made very clear to me during the time of my studies in England for my Ph. D. when there was an issue with the use of research nuclear reactors in G.B. and all the users came together to see how to solve the problem. At the time I witness how my advisor talked to others, including one of his most strongest competitor in the field, in order to find a solution for the problem. What a lesson I learned!)

Anyways, today we are here at the crossroad of the times. When we are stopping the economic life of countries but we are not stoping the life of countries. We continue to be alive, even if the economy is dead. So the questions is: Do we resuscitate the old failing economy, or do create a new vibrant economy that will be equitable and socially responsible?

Opportunities For A New Life

These are trying times, which is not new at all. Humanity has been changing and evolving all the time, but in occasions change seems to be a bit more radical. We have label these changes with names such as: The New Deal, etc.

Worldwide there is one recurrent theme today, the Coronavirus is in everyone’s mind. Here, there, everywhere people are talking, joking, planning, fearing, and thinking about the effects that the pandemic will have in our society. People with resources are using them to advance their own agenda. I am doing it now with the Internet, my website, and my network. These are some of my resources, not forgetting time, I have time. Time that we are using in different ways, some are panicking, hoarding TP, some are spreading conspiracy theories, and some are living a learning experience reading and writing.

Before continuing with this ranting, let me share how blessed I feel to be able to do this, to enjoy life in the midst of a terrible pandemic where many are dying, many are sick in danger of dying, and many are petrified, scared of contracting the virus. Also I am grateful for the opportunity to re-evaluate what we are doing as a society, and that is why I am writing this memo.

OK. For thousands of years society has evolved with ups and downs, peace times and wars. Flourishing and decadence, in what it seems a constant change that feels cyclical. Las century we witness two World Wars, pandemics like the 1918 Flu, and HIV. But as these events were happening a continuous improvement of living standards around the world was happening. In most areas the improvement was not even and some economic clases were better served than others. Accumulation of wealth became the norm. The gap between the 1% and the 99% became wider and wider, where now we have people living with less than two dollars a day and a few making millions a day/week/month or year. An example is AETNA’s CEO Bertolini making almost 19 million a year, more than $1.5 million a month! https://www1.salary.com/AETNA-INC-Executive-Salaries.html (Which is absolutely immoral, and obscene.) This is just an example of how insurance companies have been scamming society over the past few years. Of course Bertolini is not the highest paid CEO there are some like Michael Minogue from ABIOMED who is making more than $19 million.

Why are the republicans thinking about bailing out these corporations? Well they are the “donors” who bought them. These people are the ones that write the laws that benefit them with rents that are, in the long run, breaking the system. Just think about the oil and gas (fossil fuel) and other mining industries. They get huge tax giveaways, and rent from national owned lands. They use immense amount of national resources, like education, transportation, safety, and security that the state provides but do not pay the necessary taxes to sustain these services, so common citizens and small business are buried with the weight of sustaining them.

Now is the time to make more changes, let’s focus on these normal citizens, let’s find out what kind of help is necessary for the working class. Let’s see if strengthening education, health services, care for the environment, housing, security and wellbeing is good for society, for the whole of society not just for a few.

What do you think? Can we create a new society with better social justice?

Can we create a moral environment where we can live without fear of the “other”?

Where we can see each other as members of a family, the human family.

The Illusion of Privacy

As technology advances the sharing and storing of information the concern about privacy is being raised. We are constantly asking the question about who has the right to know about our private information. Then the problem arises. What is our private information?

Let us start with the basics. Our name. Our name is given to us in order to identify us to other people, first family, then friends and neighbors. Later to the whole open society. My name is the URL address of this blog. The Uniform or Universal (sic) Resource Locator – URL. Thus my name is not private, it is public. Then my birthdate, my address, my phone number, and other data is also public.

Our bank account number is know by my bank, and by those who I have given checks. Business like my “refuse” collector, utilities, retail stores, know my bank account number. What guarantee do we have that these bank account numbers can’t be used in a fraudulent way. Do we have a 2D or 3D security system for their use?

Our Social Security number is known by many people, organizations, and business. My bank knows it, my accountant knows it, my employer knows it, my health providers know it. So, what would happen if these numbers are shared or leaked to other players, some of whom might be undesirable. We know this happened before as we have seen the breach of the servers of big corporations some of them financial like Equifax that have reach settlements worth millions of dollars.

Our localization can be now shared through different applications both in our computers as in our smartphones. The Chinese government has recently used this information to keep citizens isolated and in curfew due to the Corona virus outbreak. It is not clear how these citizens feel about being watched and controlled by their government but it appears that the curfew has been effective, even though we do not know if the spread of the virus has been stopped. Citizens of some provinces in China have been indoors recluse in their own home for more than a week and only one member of the household is allowed to go out every couple of days to gather supplies. Meetings places like cinemas are closed. We don’t imagine something similar happening in the USA as we see the communist government in China having complete control over their population, but we really don’t know if our government has the same technological capability.

Then we move to our family and relatives, they carry a lot of our information too. How can we protect our privacy without intruding into their privacy?

Finally our browsing and purchase history is out there in the data cloud. We know that every time we click on a website, ask google, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or MSN’s Cortana for something, they store, analyze, and distribute this information. Every time we purchase something using our credit cards, the bank’s AI system will take note of our purchasing trends including amounts, localization, and items, so they know how to detect frauds and set alarms warning signals that can tell us if someone is using of credit cards without authorization.

With this thoughts in mind we know there is no real privacy, so what are we supposed to do? First is to be aware, to be conscious that we are observed in every move, every step we take is recorded (even if we are not moving as when we are sleeping, our “fit” app is keeping track of our sleep!) so we need to be aware. Second we have to learn how to use AI, as we understand how algorithms work we can feed the algorithm. You can use the credit cart to purchase things you want the algorithm to know, and you use cash when you don’t, as one example.

Please use the comments below to let me know if you have something

How It Is vs How It Looks

When understanding reality one is compelled to think that what we see is what it is. It is just normal and human. But in a closer analysis we find that time changes the way we look at things and that there are “optical” illusions that obscure reality. It has always been this way but we are now paying attention to the things we are living just because it is our time. What is happening now is what is affecting us now, psychologically, economically, socially, and in every singe aspect of our existence.

One of my daily routines is to read the column in The Oregonian “This day in history” as it gives me a perspective of what has been happening over the years, well beyond my own life. Events that happened sometimes decades, sometimes centuries past. It gives me for sure a sense of perspective about our history and our struggle as humans and gives me a view of a panorama of events that in a complexity of relationships have an impact of our lives today.

As, I believe, Yogi Berra said many years ago: “The future is not like it used to be” reflects the complexity in the analysis of present day events. My quest is now related to the things I can do now, and how should I feel about the present. Of course these feeling have to relate, one way or another, to the reality of the situation, and to the way I see what this reality is.

I will focus first on my perception of reality based on the knowledge that what I see is not what others see, as an example I can mention a book I am currently reading. “Educated: A Memoir” written by Tara Westover is an insight to how people can live entangled with their own perception of life. How we can base our action on assumptions created by the way we are educated. Growing up in the remote mountains in Idaho Tara Westover didn’t go to school, her father feared that his children would be indoctrinated away from the teachings of The Bible. Reading the Bible and doing his own interpretation of it was for Tara’s dad the only truth needed for life. His worldview was based on his interpretation. As it used to be many-many years ago, people born in farms would not have a birth certificate, as my grandmother born in the late XIX century didn’t have. My grandmother had to register just before getting married in 1911 with help of relatives who witnessed her birth and through affidavit stated that she was who she claimed to be. Living afraid of the government Tara’s dad never took his children to the doctor, to the hospital or to the registry. So when Tara was registered at the age of nine they didn’t remember the exact date of her birth, they only remember it was the last week in July. With one of Tara’s brothers it was even worst as they couldn’t remember if it was May or June when he was born.

Seeing life through the lens of trust or mistrust is one main difference between those who see the government in society as the enemy and those who see the government as of the people, for the people, and by the people. Attitudes and actions are developed accordingly. Living in urban environment where you need to trust the system versus living in rural areas where reliance is on one’s own capabilities.

In today’s world where we are more interconnected and interdependent we can’t afford to see others as the enemy. We must recognize that the solution to the problem today require the participation of all. We much come together even with our differences to find ways of improving life for all, here and everywhere.

Semantics and dictionaries

In the USA the conversation about socialism is getting front attention. Many articles are being written related to the political environment where ideas about the future are exchanged. It appears that in some cases people are thorned between believing in capitalism as a political philosophical ideology or, on the other hand, socialism.

But there is a big problem with this dichotomy. Capitalism and socialism are not on the same plane. They are not exclusive.

Most English dictionaries in the USA confuse the terms socialism and communism, for example, The Newbury House dictionary has for socialism “a political belief or philosophy that says the government should own and run factories, hospitals, schools, etc. with the people sharing in work and product: Under socialism, the government pays for most education.” and for communism it has: “a political system in which all business and other property are owned by the government for the use and good of the people: Communism took hold in Europe and Asia after World War II.”

As it is clear from the previous dictionary entries the definition of socialism and communism is the same. So why are there two words if they mean the same thing?

The answer, of course, is that this dictionary definition is not accurate. One thing is the economic system called communism where there is no private property. And, another thing is the social system where the policies established by a democratically elected government are to benefit society in general. The wellbeing of the individual is intrinsically dependent on the wellbeing of society. Thus education benefits the individual as it benefits society in general. That is why in the USA a public system of education, paid by its citizens guarantees free schooling up to grade 12. A socialist idea.

Free roads, highways, freeways, are other examples of how citizens come together to build infrastructure for the general benefit. Dams, levees, ports, that are managed by the Coast Guard and The US Army Corps of Engineers are more good examples of socialist endeavors.

The question today is: Is health care a national interest?

Philosophy of change

Why do we need to study philosophy?

One might love learning, or one might see the practicality of learning. Either way learning philosophy is something we cannot avoid or should not avoid. The good news is that there are many ways of getting into it, from a very introductory to a more sophisticated. Let’s start with a fun introductory way. Let’s talk about “The Hobbit and Philosophy” edited by G. Basham and E. Bronson.

You can learn more about the book following this link:

https://books.google.com/books?id=h2gpEAXIyaYC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Basham and Bronson start by quoting Aeschylus: “Men shall learn wisdom, by affliction schooled” and later quoting Confucius: “The gem cannot be polished without friction, not man without trials.”

These quotes made me think about what is going on around the world and particularly in the USA. It looks like there is a little friction and grinding as one is needed to polish a gem. The gem metaphor for me is humanity. We need to go through these changes, so we can mature from an individualistic selfish and childish society to a grown-up tantrum free, peaceful society.

The changes we are witnessing now make people anxious with a feeling of vulnerability but they are good and necessary for the maturation process. It is not an idiotic ignorant posture as so called pragmatics would say, it is a logical posture based on historical data. We have become better and better over the years, it is (called the better angels of our soul) what keep us going and struggling.

J. R. R. Tolkien in his “The Hobbit” makes it clear that in order to have a better life we must go through a transformation. One that brings us out of our comfort zone, the ordinary and forces us to see other perspectives. By doing so we learn more about ourselves thus becoming wiser and happier.

After all what is the meaning of life if it is not the pursuit of happiness?