Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"For Truth must be common to all." -- "Children haven't changed. We have."...

Looking at the shoulders of giants: This week I am drawing almost exclusively from other people's printed material, as I feel the proverbial wheel has already been created better than I could have re-imagined it. I have little extra to offer this topic other than a hearty "I CONCUR!" 

I have long held beliefs similar to those offered by Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 18th century enlightenment period. Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), this notable feminist wrote in her preface; 
my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if [woman] be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue; for truth must be common to all.
Simply put, if you don't offer equal access, why would you expect anything that resembles equality? The imperative that Wollstonecraft presents us with is teach all the children so that they may fulfill their full potential, [regardless of gender.]

They tried to teach me a gender bias that rang hollow: When I was a kid I heard grown-ups (parents, teachers, employers) say things like "girls are good at language, and boys are good at math." When we asked our grade-school PE teacher, Mr. B., why girls played badminton while we played football, he said "boys and girls are different, and besides, you guys wouldn't want girls with muscles would you?" I knew immediately that I didn't care... I loved Mr. B., but felt bothered by his answer. It felt creepy. I didn't feel as close to him after that day (which is why the memory has stuck in my head all these years). Years later, when this sort of topic came up in my all-boy high school, I remember arguing that if girls were encouraged to play with legos or erector sets more, there might be more "mathy" girls out there. As a father of both a boy and a girl I can attest that boys are girls ARE different. But their capacity for intellectual understanding and interest is not split by gender. Their potential is in no way tied to their sex. Some of their toy interests somewhat align with social norms, but there are so many exceptions that designating girl-pink for her and fire-engine red for him seems rude and wrong! I am proud that both my children believe rightly that there is nothing they cannot achieve if they work for it. I love that their interests are all over the map despite what the world around them tells them is "normal".

The Heart of my post this week started with this comic: Web comic artist M. Patrinos of Seasonal Depression made this clever comic about the questionable marketing decisions LEGO has made to target girls with the "LEGO Friends" line. She simply said on her facebook page"I love you Lego, but-"... 

Reuniting 1981 with the present: I stumbled across an article reposted on social media, but originally appearing on a blog Women You Should Know. In it Lori Day explores this larger topic in part by speaking with the young girl who graces the Lego ad that appears at the top of my entry this week. I will not reprint the article here, but suggest you use the power of the inter webs to click the link and read it either now or after you finish my entry: The Little Girl from the 1981 LEGO Ad is All Grown Up, and She’s Got Something to Say. Lego seems to be trying to win a larger audience (who may have bought into certain gender stereotypes equating serving cakes to guests and pink everything) at the expense of maintaining a beautiful original stance on a gender-less creative toys for kids. To Quote a line from Lori Day's article, "Children haven't changed. We have." I cannot help but think there could be a more subtle way of mixing all sorts of bricks together so that children could creatively seek their own preferences. If color is the issue, why could you not have three bags of the stock bricks to pick the color of your submarine or spaceship walls? Creator legs already offer three sets of instructions for use with the same bricks. Why not three sets of some bricks for the same set of directions?  

ALL is the critical word for me in education: The following instruction sheet from the early 70s reveals Lego's original stance on creative toys for all children. It is included in another blog entry, this one by Stephen Luntz on IFLScience!
A closing: Wollstonecraft writes: "Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison"... Take it for what you will... we may have come a long way in the last few generations but I think we still have a lot of work to do...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Inside outside, under my skin..."

Dad's Treat: This weekend I took my wife and children to see Pixar/Disney's Inside Out, an animated film that follows the psychological processing of 11 year old Riley, a happy, hockey-playing, creative girl from the land of 10,000 lakes. After a family move to San Francisco, Riley struggles to process the radical changes to her life, and we get to watch most of her story from the inside of her animated head. Initial responses when the film was first teased over a year ago were mixed, people worrying that the concept of watching emotions inside a little girl's head would be too silly, or even boring. I remember one article asking if the subject matter was too dark when it was suggested we would be watching Riley go into a deep depression. Well, Pixar managed to avoid these worries, making a film that to date has grossed $750 million.

Two notes of criticism and one delight: We watched the movie in 3-D finding it added little if anything to the experience. Some minor visual depth was passingly interesting at best, but was not worth the real headache and distraction of having to wear cheep 3-D glasses. The whole family agrees that 2-D would have been preferred. Secondly, although there were a few interesting bits and gags in the end credits, they were not up to Pixar par where waiting through the entire credit roll is a pleasure in itself. That said, neither of these criticisms are about the story and movie as produced and have no real bearing on the quality of the film. On a different note, there was a lovely music-based short before the feature film called Lava that actually made me cry. I feel like a sap, but it touched a nerve. The music is performed by Kuana Torres Kahele and reminded me of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Hawaiian sweetness; the story is simple and takes place over the lifetime of a volcano (millions of years?). The result of good music and a tale of love over millions of years...? I leaked a bit.

The conclusion: Rather than analyzing the good and the great, I'll cut to the chase. Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen nailed Inside Out. Much like Pixar's Up (also one of Docter's stories), the subject matter feels real and involves both humor and sorrow. Resolutions are believable and therefore, satisfying. Anything less would have made the film feel silly (perhaps like Cars). Metacritic's 94/100 and Rotten Tomatoes' 98% tells the rest of the tale of how this film was received by viewing audiences. It ranks highly for me in the Pixar opus, but cannot top WALL-E, Ratatouille, or Finding Nemo.

Sadness is crucial to renewal: I found the following wikipedia entry about the story creation quite interesting, especially Pete Docter's thoughts on his own emotions and the time he spent working on this story for Pixar:
Docter estimated it took four years of development for the film to achieve success in marrying the architecture of Riley's mind and her personal troubles.[26] The concept of "personality islands" helped develop the film's emotional stakes, as they directly affect events inside her mind and in her life.[25] In one draft, the characters fell into "Idea Fields", where they would "cultivate new ideas", much like a farmer would cultivate crop.[26] The character of Bing Bong—a discarded old imaginary friend—came about in one draft of the film as part of a refugee camp inside Riley's mind.[25] It was difficult to achieve the correct tone for the film; for example, viewers could not be distracted by Joy's nature or feel negative about the mess she helps steer Riley into.[25] Rivera credited the casting of Amy Poehler, in addition to the idea of moving, with helping the film find the right tone.[25] 
An early version of the film focused on Joy and Fear getting lost together, as it seemed to be the most humorous choice. By July 2012, the project was set for an evaluation screening with other Pixar filmmakers. Docter gradually began to feel that the story was not working, which led to fears that he might be fired. He took a long walk at his home one Sunday, in which he began to consider himself a failure, his previous successes "flukes", and a general sense that he should resign from the film.[21] While pondering what he would miss about Pixar, he concluded that he would miss his coworkers and friends most of all. He soon reached a breakthrough: that emotions are meant to connect people together, and that relationships are the most important things in life.[22] He decided to replace Fear with Sadness, which he felt is crucial to renewal. He met with Rivera and Del Carmen that night to explain his change of plans, and to his surprise, they reacted positively to it. At the screening, he informed his superiors that new plans for the film were in order. Although a "scary moment", the film remained in production.[17]
Joy and Sadness: Even though I felt connected to Riley's character (and its obvious complexities), it is her emotions that I find myself dwelling on; not the more one or two-dimensional characterizations themselves, but her actual emotions exhibited. My takeaways from the film are not character based, but rather, observations about emotions, the concept: Without joy ahead of us (hope?) we are doomed. Sadness is not despair (the former is necessary, the latter is hell), and sadness serves a healthy place in our lives. While these are probably not the messages intended by the creators of Inside Out, they are emotional conclusions that are turning in my head as a result of this lovely and well crafted story. I find it a tremendous win when a fun and thoughtful animated film that is age appropriately rated PG can provoke serious thought in me. It makes me wonder... as I mention "things" turning in my head, who's at the controls in there? 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

ref·u·geeˌ (refyo͝oˈjē): a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster..


  1. a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
    "tens of thousands of refugees fled their homes"
    synonyms:émigréfugitiveexiledisplaced personasylum seeker;
    "collecting blankets for the refugees"

There are roughly 10.5 million refugees in the world today, most from Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. Emotionally it hurts me more to know that huge numbers of these refugees are children. Imagine how many parents and other care-givers are traveling with these children, each feeling that desperation for the child that only primary care-givers can know. It is overwhelming in a list of so many other overwhelming tragedies in the world that we are aware of due to the instantaneousness of information in the 21st century.
The news is increasingly filling with stories of the politics of rendering (or not rendering) support for the massive number of Syrian refugees. Memes have offensively popped up all over social media sites to help "inform" the masses, leading us astray, while scoring sarcasm points. 

I worry that unless folks develop habits of inquiry, driven by a healthy level of skepticism we fall pray to the one-shot, quick-laugh education of the politically-biased meme. Our knowledge of a thing becomes tempered by the background chatter of social-media culture. How many minutes a day do people check and post on FaceBook? How many minutes a day reading a reliable news source? I would be pleased if I were wrong about my suspicions that the social media feed is on almost constantly for so many for whom the news is sought out only in fixed short parcels of time.

Like so much else we are confronted with in this information age, numbers are used by varying positions to support a stance (bias). The US "only" admitted 172 Syrian refugees in the first three years after the conflict there started in 2011. On the other hand the US admitted nearly 200,000 refugees in those years from other places around the world. Which fact serves the purpose of the reporter? The Washington Post reported that the US admits and permanently resettles more refugees that any other country in the world each year. The key language for that claim lies in the words "permanently resettles". 

In addition we hear claims that Australia accepts more refugees per capita, or that Germany has pledged to spend 6.5 billion in accepting 800,000 across their border in 2015. Each of these claims are true when taken in the context of the specific language used in each claim. The politics of spin. 

Jordan has 1 refugee per 3 native citizen. Australia 1 per 1000. The question I want to learn more about is: How are the refugees (people with real and tragic and scary stories) treated, handled, processed, cared-for in each of their destinations? [Research for later once I post this rant to FaceBook and turn off my social media for a while and read some more news.]

I am impressed with any meaningful assistance offered the disenfranchised of the world, and am saddened by the opportunists who campaign with the stats of this misfortune. Bless Germany for accepting so many refugees on a temporary basis. Bless the US for integrating so many into its multi-ethnic ideals. 

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
[located in the base of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, NYC, USA]