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I was a math teacher at a high school in Chula Vista, California. A few months after Columbine, there was a similar shooting rampage by a high school freshman at a high school a few miles away. My kids came to school the next day and they were scared. I wanted a way to explain to them that the boy who took so many lives the day before wasn’t average and wasn’t normal. I did it by drawing a bell curve.
I pointed that people behave in many different ways and if you put it on a curve of good vs. evil and how they will eventually benefit society, most people fall near the middle. I explained that if you look at all 7 billion people in the world, this shooter was about 15 feet to the left side of the curve on the evil side, such a small group and so evil that there were just a very small handful of 15 year olds that had done or in their life would do something as horrible and evil as this one person.
Then I pointed out the converse. I promised them that there was another student their age who was so talented, so kind, and so smart that someday he would do something that would save many more lives than this shooter would ever take but there was one problem. It would be his or her life’s work that would come to fruition in 30 more years in a research lab somewhere and while we and our children and grandchildren might benefit from it in untold ways, it would never show up as Breaking News on CNN with helicopters orbiting and hundreds of people cheering. That’s just the way our screwed up society is. We celebrate our villains and can’t quite remember the names of our heroes. And my students would never think about the fact that at one time this future hero was, at one time, just like them sitting in 9th grade Geometry. And now we are coming down from another horrible experience involving guns and kids.
And then I found out about 15 year old Jack Andraka. Remember that name. You will hear it again. Jack is considered by his classmates to be the prototypical Young Frankenstein, a true mad scientist. He comes from a normal overachieving family. His father is a civil engineer and his mother is a hospital anethsetist. His older brother is into science as well. His uncle recently died of Pancreatic Cancer, one of the deadliest and most common forms of cancer in our country killing 40,000 each year. And Jack has an obsession. Since his dad introduced him to the concept, Jack wanted to find an application for carbon nanotubes. Nanotubes are tiny particles 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair and they have interesting electrical particles. He was reading a paper about nanotubes in biology class when the teacher started talking about antibodies.
Jack then spent the next 7 months combining the two concepts. Jack magically mixed the protein indicator for Pancreatic cancer and carbon nanotubes. He then dipped the paper into a small sample of blood. The conductivity then changed in a significant and measurable way to detect the blood from a person with pancreatic cancer. And it was 160 times faster, 126,000 times cheaper and almost 100% accurate compared to existing tests. Jack has patented what is now believed to be a cheap and reliable test for Pancreatic cancer that can discover the precursors of Pancreatic Cancer as a part of a routine physical. The greatest way to cure cancer is through early detection. Pancreatic Cancer does not become symptomatic until it has become almost incurable. Steve Jobs died of Pancreatic Cancer after living with it for 9 years. 94% of patients don’t make it to 5 years.
Jack Andraka’s simple dipstick method for Pancreatic Cancer Detection could save many lives after it goes through testing. Jack won a $100,000 prize at Intel and is forming a company to exploit his patent. And at 15 years old, Jack Andraka probably has a couple of more tricks up his sleeve.
We are all looking for a positive context after the so many children were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. Many children wake up with nightmares about the Dylan Klebolds and Adam Lanzas. Jack Andraka is at the other end of the bell curve from those boogie men. And for many young children, his story might be a nice bedtime story to keep the villains away.
The 2012 Election is over and we now know which candidates and issues won and lost at the ballot box. Here are my thoughts on which of the abstract concepts underlying our current body politic won and lost.
Winner: Separation of Church and State. All of the Gay Marriage and Anti-Gay Marriage proposals were decided in favor of freedom from religious interference. The senate candidates who made incredibly inane statements about abortion and rape were similarly vanquished.
Loser: The Religious Right imposing their beliefs on the national electorate. The Romney-Ryan ticket promised their supporters to promote a personhood amendment and an anti-gay marriage amendment.
Winner: Social Safety Net programs. The progressive democratic party will face great challenges in maintaining these services at their current levels but they will avoid the knee-jerk response of cutting out great swaths of benefits and causing great damage to the poor while protecting the wealth of those whose need is least.
Loser: The wealthiest Americans. Just kidding. The rich always get richer especially in Democratic administrations when the economy is managed effectively and everyone benefits from economic growth.
Winner: Intelligence, pragmatism, well-reasoned compromise. This would be my hope. It will take effort from both sides and the progressive left has to convince the regressive right that there is benefit in supporting common compromise. Maybe I should say a dream.
Loser: Idealistic, Simplistic Demogoguery. I hope that we will hear fewer simple obvious and totally unworkable solutions. How many times in this election cycle have you heard someone ask, “Is it fair for rich people to pay higher taxes than poor people?” Economics is not a simple science. It is immensely complex. When you hear really simple solutions to complex problems, that is just what they are, oversimplified explanations directed at people that they believe don’t get it.
Winner: Truth. Last night’s election was a vindication for those who presented true information using good journalistic practices. It was a victory for people who used complex algorithms to analyze situations and provide usable information unfettered by partisan agendas.
Loser: Truthiness. It was obvious to way too many Americans that Obama was a bad man and a bad president without the benefit of any corroborating evidence. It left much of the electorate hostage to a network and a bevy of commentators promoting a conservative agenda that presented falsehoods, half-truths and negative representation of the facts. These bad actors will remain on the stage but last night’s election showed them that they can no longer parade down mainstreet without a shred of clothing or more importantly journalistic ethics.
Winner: A progressive future. In four years a white female will take center stage as the Democratic nominee. She will not have to overcome the badge of “other” that the right has unsuccessfully tried to cause our current president to bear. She will have educational and policy credentials that exceed that of anyone who might challenge her. And she will have the backing of a national electorate that is well-educated on the backward policies of the Republican Right that want us to return to a much earlier point in history long before everyone was eligible for the American Dream.
Loser: Republican Regressivism. The Tea Party, the Religious Right and the immense arrogance of monetary wealth thought that they could sell the American People a bill of goods last night. They lied about history. They lied about the intentions of the Democrats. But most importantly, they lied about their own intentions for America. Every Republican running for office yesterday knew that if the electorate knew their true intentions and knew what they would actually try to turn into law that they could not even win the votes of their own party faithful.
As much as we worry about the lack of wisdom on the part of the “sheeple”, they were in fact able to sniff out the truth and reject the policies that would be very good for just a few, much, much worse for many but pretty much bad for everyone.
I have great concerns about our economic future based on the fact that there are way too many people using up very limited finite resources. We are at the end of sustained economic growth. We need to begin downsizing and powering down and, unfortunately, lowering our expectations of the future. Given this, I believe that we made the best choice for those to carry us toward these eventualities in a fair an equitable manner.
Getting Started with WordPress is a new article in MacWorld about WordPress, our favorite blogging/website/communications/promotions tool. At a recent WordCamp at The Ohio State University, I was discussing the growth of WordPress with a tech entrepreneur and founder of a website that caters to WordPress newbies. I did some thumbnail math and concluded that the market penetration of WordPress was significantly less than on-tenth of one percent. I believe that WordPress is on the verge of a major breakout and will eclipse its current market share by magnitudes in the next few years. As the incredibly large current generation of Facebook users become more sophisticated with their tech skills, their writing skills and their design skills, they will want to take much greater control over the depth and quality of their presence on the Internet.
In the tech world, we are always looking for the Next Big Thing. I have watched the history of this revolution for over thirty years with innovations like Visicalc, desktop publishing, digital video, the Internet, the World Wide Web and the family of iThings. Each of these innovations has given the individual user more control over their world through technology. I believe that WordPress will be the vehicle that will achieve the ultimate vision of giving every person the opportunity to have a unique and compelling individual presence on the Internet.
Last evening, I received a chain email from a friend. It was the one that accused President Obama of dissing the troops and saying that they are whiners and should pay for their own health care. I copied about a sentence of it and googled it. Politifact popped up and debunked the email as a ridiculous lie.
Explain to me hour people are normally reasonable can look at something that is so obviously false and just believe it. Worse, they pass it on to their friends and colleagues as factual information.
There are many issues with which the opposition could respectfully disagree with the Obama Administration, some of which I disagree with as well. Opponents might make telling points on his handling of the economy, the debt, foreign policy and social programs. While many pundits endeavor to form legitimate, logical attacks on these issues, many find this too difficult and ineffective. So, they make stuff up. They use radical forms or rhetoric and argument. They pull many different cards from the deck including race, Hitler, communism, socialism, Christian Muslim, birther and many more.
In this current climate, the Truth has a Liberal Bias. The political right understands this but couches it in terms that their constituency will more effectively understand. Terms that describe the mainstream media as having a liberal bias like Lamestream Media. They create villains like Rachel Maddow. She’s gay, liberal, single, outspoken, and sarcastic at times. That is why that it is obvious that she is bad but they never seem to argue effectively that she is wrong. The reason for this is that she and other effective commentators like Jon Stewart are so effective at allowing the right to state their case in their own words, in context and on camera. We all understand the moral of The Emperor’s New Clothes but the political right wants us to believe that the child who points out the Emperor’s lack of textiles is the villain who should be scorned for pointing out the obvious.
Our great freedoms in this country give us the right to have any opinion that we want and the further freedom to stand in the square and shout it at the top of our lungs. Our citizenship, though assigns us the responsibility to make sure that those opinions are based on rational facts and that the serve the needs of our country and her citizens and not self-serving and designed to disdain our opponents. Obama campaign aide Robert Gibbs said it most effectively on ABC’s “This Week”, “I think it’s time in our politics that we get rid of this mindset that if we disagree, we have to disqualify each other”
If you receive an email that has questionable veracity, highlight about 10 words and google it. You will quickly receive a number of links that either support the fact or debunk the lie. Quickly respond to the sender and appeal to reason and right and ask the sender to withdraw or qualify the message. It probably won’t happen but at least you did the right thing. For yourself. For your friend. For your country.