Internet cultural dropout

Hello friends.  Yes, this is a new post.  It’s been nearly a year, and some of you may be wondering why it’s been so long.  It’s simple.

I dropped out.

I’m generally a pretty well-adjusted and happy guy.  I’ve always worked hard, enjoyed spending time with my wife, and tried to stay connected to and participate in society and culture.  I enjoyed getting into the blogging scene and experimenting with the medium.  I had no audience, really, except for those who are close to me, but I know my playful attempts to add something to the Internet will be out there in the ether, along with countless other individuals’ similar musings.

But the Internet is a communication medium, and my dropping out probably has more to do with a change I’ve seen since my early days on the web.  I put my first page up in 1995.  Things were very different then.  There was no real formula for contrubuting.  Bright flashing animated graphics, music in the background and links to cool things that popped up on the web were the norm, I guess.  People took care in what they posted, there was a community responsibility to add value to the internet in the process of crafting a presence for yourself.  But somewhere along the way, anonymity took over and the results of that have snowballed ever since.

I first noticed the shift on Usenet news groups.  There, new identities were much easier to create than a webpage presence, and people started assuming multiple identities.  These people were invariably the folks who would be argumentative, stirring up trouble on the news groups, and delighting in lowering the level of discourse.  They are known as “trolls.”  The multiple identities often times were used to back up the original troll identity, pretending to lend support and keep the regular members angry.

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.  The more savvy internet contributors get, the further away from the original ethic of contributing positively we get and the more trolls with their “nym” armies start “flame wars” and then enjoy the fireworks.  With no reputation at stake, people who used to post technology articles to social media sites like are now vastly outnumbered by people spouting hostility.  Anonymity on the web = no consequences for hateful behavior.
Even an article submitted telling about today’s solar eclipse is met by trolls.  One comment:

“What’s new in this? Is it the first Solar Eclipse ever? wtf?”

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.

That’s just a technology site.  Don’t go looking for intellegent and civil discourse on a site like the Daily KOS.  But news sites aren’t the only thing affected by this.  In fact, anonymity allows for much, much nastier behavior.  For instance, last year a mother created a fake MySpace profile in order to start an online relationship with one of her daughter’s rivals for a spot on the school cheerleading squad.  The resulting harassment inflicted on the teen eventually caused her to commit suicide.

This is not the Internet I knew when I made my first page.  That is why I haven’t spent much time inhabiting it.  But you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.  The web may be anonymity and hostility run amuck, but this little space I’ve carved out can be more.  It, along with the spaces of my friends, family, and kindred spirits around the world can make something better here.  Something that can provide some good-natured fun and elucidation.  Where disagreements don’t end up in name-calling.  To contribute to this web, not to degenerate it.

I’m going to start blogging again.  On my terms.

A tale of two teachers organizations

goofus…in the style of Goofus and Gallant.

Goofus is locked in an “us vs them” mindset.

Gallant practices collegial negotiations based on trust.

Goofus sends a chunk of your dues to a national chapter.

Gallant keeps all of your money in Missouri.

Goofus has exclusively supported Democrats for president since its founding.

Gallant supports candidates based solely on education issues.

Goofus sends 90% of its political contributions to Democrats.

Gallant does not use membership dues for political contributions.

Goofus spends its money to support liberal causes like Rainbow Coalition, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington.

Gallant spends its money on professional development opportunities for teachers and teacher grants.

Goofus petitions to become sole bargaining authority even if he is clearly in the minority.

Gallant sticks to his principles allowing everyone a seat at the table, even when he is clearly in the majority.

Goofus tells teachers to remove all references to Muslim terrorists in lesson plans for September 11th attacks.  Goofus suggests teachers  discuss “historical instances of American intolerance” instead.

Gallant believes in local authority to set lessons and curriculum.

Key:  Goofus is the Missouri National Education Association; Gallant is the Missouri State Teacher’s Association.

Sources:,, School and Community Magazine, Summer 2008, Wikipedia

Goofus and Gallant is a feature in Hightlights Magazine.

Moral development of politicians

gwbush“So, who do you like in the presidential election this year?” A coworker cornered me with that zinger last week. My friends and my family know what I think of the election this year, but a pointed question from someone who has only a common employer and professional courtesy in common with you is an invitation into a minefield.

Since I was asked at the school where I teach, I wanted to answer in terms of education. Everyone is familiar with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” a very detailed plan. Looking over at Senator Kerry’s plan on education, you see a mishmash of sound bites: Make sure schools get the funding they need…how much do they need? Doesn’t say. Make sure good teachers are in classrooms…don’t local schools have a better idea about who is effective in the classroom? No specifics. Keep schools open until 6:00 PM…after all, the more time kids spend away from their parents and in government-run education, the better, right?

I’m not a one-issue voter by any means, though. I wanted to answer the question across the board. I thought about what makes a good leader. What distinguishes good presidents from ineffective ones are the decisions they make. A good president must have a rock solid decision-making process. The more advanced, the better.

Lawrence Kohlberg studied the moral development of humans. Moral development is the framework that we use to make decisions of right and wrong. If we apply Kohlberg’s work to the two presidential candidates, we may find some interesting patterns.   Continue reading Moral development of politicians

Good decisions require good information

Can anyone make good decisions without good information? On the verge of writing a piece in favor of a particular candidate for president, I realize that information quoted is only as good as its source. Never has this been more clear to me in the wake of Rathergate.

I recently had an online chat with an old friend as we debated the value of television news programs. I’ve been so frustrated with all of them that I advocated going the extra mile and shunning all secondary sources. “Look at the record” was my mantra in the discussion.

What frustrates me most isn’t media bias, although that’s right up there. It’s media laziness. Nearly every story on television and radio news goes like this:

Senator Smith blasted Representative Jones today on the issue of abortion (insert sound bite here), while Representative Jones spoke to crowds about Senator Smith’s record on the environment (another sound bite).

No checking of the record. No verifying the veracity of what was said. Just repeating what was said. Here’s a real example that has been getting a lot of superficial play on the “news” lately. John Kerry has been hitting George W. Bush on the issue of health care using the flu vaccination shortage, taunting, “Sounds just like [Bush’s] health care plan: Hope and pray you do not get sick.”   Continue reading Good decisions require good information

Followups & updates

Things are still very busy here. With first quarter winding down, I’m pleased by what I’ve been able to accomplish with my students this year. Time away from school has been divided between my software project, a couple of computer hobbies, and a narrow social life. As the holidays approach, I expect the latter to ramp up.

I’m also trying to work on exactly what I need to get my dad’s notebook computer to wirelessly connect to his dialup Internet service. He needs to not be tethered to a cord, and broadband is not available where he lives. All I’ve come across on the web have been vague references to certain wireless routers with COM ports to hook up with certain external modems. All theory, no concrete brands and models. If you know something about this, please drop me a line.

Cassini continues to make fascinating observations of Saturn. Here’s one of many such stories.

Saturn’s Perfect Storms (Astrobiology Magazine) – Saturn is the windiest planet in the solar system, which is one mystery of the ringed giant. Imagine not what qualifies as a terrestrial hurricane with category five status assigned beyond one hundred miles-per-hour. On Saturn the superstorms can produce a thousand mph wind.

I wrote my Rathergate entry immediately after Dan Rather “apologized” for running his political attack piece. Since then, CBS seems to want to proceed as if nothing happened. I’ve chosen a couple of slightly different viewpoints that have appeared since my first story.

All eyes are on Rather’s future (Variety). Variety – NEW YORK — The morning after Dan Rather admitted the biggest mistake of his career, he agreed to go on Larry King’s primetime show and talk about the worst crisis ever to strike a network news anchor.   Continue reading Followups & updates


So far, I’ve shied away from controversial political issues on this blog, but I have to warn you, I am feeling very harshly toward this story.

CBS News Concludes It Was Misled on National Guard Memos, Network Officials Say (New York Times) – After days of expressing confidence about the documents used in a “60 Minutes” report that raised new questions about President Bush’s National Guard service, CBS News officials have grave doubts about the authenticity of the material, network officials said last night.

CBS backs off Guard story ( – CBS News acknowledged Monday that it received disputed documents critical of President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard from a former Texas Guard officer who now says he lied about where he got them and has doubts about their authenticity. [Yahoo! News – Reader Ratings]

I think the forged Killian documents are a much bigger deal than most people realize at this point. This scandal will have far-reaching consequences in the world of journalism regarding investigative reporting, bias, and the expectations we have for the news media.   Continue reading Rathergate

Ronald Reagan

rreaganI was a teenager during the Reagan Revolution. I knew then that there was something extraordinary about our 40th president.

His policies were straightforward and completely consistent with his belief that people knew better how to run their lives than career politicians in Washington. His successes, the greatest economic expansion in our history and bringing an end to the Cold War, are nothing less than stellar. As a president, Ronald Reagan belongs alongside our greatest leaders.

As a man, Ronald Reagan was every bit as great. His relationship with Nancy exemplifies what it means to have a life-long love affair with your partner. And anyone who has met him seems to have a story about his graciousness, his simple kindnesses, and his disarming humor. But what always struck me most about Ronald Reagan was his infectious optimism.

It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams…. Let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope…. The crisis we are facing today… [requires] our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And after all, why shouldn’t we beleve that? We are Americans.” – Ronald Reagan, First inagural address.

Thank you Ronald Reagan, for your terrific service to our country and for being a model of great character with your kindness and optimism.

Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.” – Ronald Reagan