Monday, September 26, 2011

9/11 was an outside job

I watched a YouTube video recently called Loose Change. This is one of the most popular 9/11 conspiracy videos out there. The description of the video on the YouTube page is as follows:

For anyone who still has doubts about 911, weigh out the facts and the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting the reality that the events of 911 were one big set-up.

This exposes the lies, disproving every aspect of the bogus 911 commission report put forth by the corrupt government.

Judge for yourselves, but investigate the facts and evidence before jumping to a conclsuion [sic].

The video is about an hour and twenty minutes long. The film is professionally shot and edited, and there are a number of computer animations which are also professionally done – what I mean by that is that it looks good. This is not something done in the basement with a hand-held video camera by some conspiracy theory nut. The film states and attempts to prove that all of the terrible events of September 11, 2001 – the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the airliner crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania – were designed, orchestrated, and then covered up by the American government. It contains descriptions of physical evidence, scientific discussions, and interviews with witnesses, firefighters, airline industry spokespeople, and scientists.

It is also complete and utter horseshit.

There are numerous web sites out there (here, here, here, here, here) that address the claims made in the film in great detail, some of them point-by-point, so I'm not going to do it here. Suffice it to say that the makers of this film get many facts wrong, misinterpret facts and evidence (whether accidentally or intentionally), and use many of the standard logical fallacies including straw men, observational selection, appeals to ignorance, and red herrings.

For me, the most damning evidence that this whole conspiracy theory is wrong is the lack of whistleblowers.  If this were a government plot, the number of people that would have to have been complicit is immense. The people that flew the airliners (who must have been OK with a suicide mission). Pilots that fired the missiles at the Pentagon. Demolitions experts that planned and planted the explosives. Air traffic controllers and other staff at the airport in Cleveland (where United flight 93 landed in this scenario). Communications experts who faked all of the cell phone calls from flight 93. There must have been some firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other first responders that were in on it, so they could hide or destroy evidence of the explosives if any was found in the rubble. Many experts in many different fields to come up with ways that this could all happen but still look like a terrorist plot. The President of the country. Numerous senior members of the armed forces, CIA, and FBI. Who knows how many other members of the Executive Branch as well as advisors and assistants. There would have to be people whose job it is forever to ensure that any evidence found in the future is covered up, and witnesses and others involved in the conspiracy paid off or killed. We're talking about hundreds of people here.

If this was a government plot, the majority of the people I listed above must have known about the plan, or at least part of it, beforehand and agreed with it. None of them had any trouble planting bombs in the iconic twin towers in downtown Manhattan that have hundreds of thousands of people going through them every day. None of them had a problem with firing a missile into the Pentagon. Even if they didn't know about the attacks or agree with them beforehand, they've had plenty of time since then to realize what they were a part of and reflect on their role in this event. But in the ten years since the attacks, not one person has had a change of heart and come forward. Perhaps the American government has had each and every one of them murdered in such a way that their friends and families didn't suspect murder. If that's the case, why hasn't the government just killed the makers of this film for revealing the truth?

The funny part is that the conspiracy theorists describe the most complicated conspiracy ever conceived, which was apparently pulled off to perfection, and at the same time point to many mistakes that the conspirators made and clues that they left behind. So they're saying that the most evil government conspiracy ever was pulled off by a bunch of incompetent boobs.

There was no government conspiracy to kill American citizens on September 11. The attacks were pulled off by a bunch of Islamic extremists who hijacked four airliners. That, my friends, is the 9/11 truth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Three and one from the Jays game

Quick post about the Blue Jays game I went to with my dad the other day. Three weird things and one complaint – a complaint about complaints.

Weird thing #1: At one point, the Angels had back-to-back doubles, with no outs or stupid baserunning plays in between, and nobody scored. How do you hit a double with a guy on second and not drive him in? Glad you asked. The second double was a popup a mile high to the right side, so the runner on second had to wait to see if it would be caught. The batter, of course, just kept running. When it fell in front of Bautista and behind Lind and Johnson, the runner on second only had time to make it to third but the batter made it to second. Nobody blew the play so it wasn't an error, so the scorer had no choice but to credit the batter with a double. I'm sure it's not unique in the world of baseball, but with your standard double, you can usually assume that all the runners will move up at least two bases, and a baserunner scoring from first on a double is not unusual at all.

Weird thing #2: During Eric Thames' third at-bat, the scoreboard showed that he'd flied out to LF in his first at-bat then flied out to CF in his second at-bat, so my dad and I decided that he should hit it to RF this time. I said "Put it over the right field fence!". Thames hit the very next pitch over the right field fence.

Weird thing #3: "Batting ninth, the designated hitter, David Cooper." The DH hitting 9th? Does someone not understand the concept of the DH? Yes I know: end of the season, the team is out of the playoffs, give the young kids some at-bats, and all that. Still weird.

The complaint about complaints involves Vernon Wells. Each time his name was announced, there were both cheers and boos coming from the crowd. The people booing Wells irritated me. Wells played several seasons for the Jays, and in some of those years he was very good and in the rest he was excellent. After one excellent year he was rewarded with a huge contract. Was he worth it? Probably not. But can you blame him for taking it? If someone said to you "We're going to give you $125 million over the next seven years", are you going to ask for less because you don't deserve that much? Not on your life. So he took it and promptly got injured, hitting 20 home runs only once over the next 3 years. Then he returned to form in 2010, hitting .273 with 31 homers. Are these $15-million-a-year numbers? No but again, his inflated salary is not his fault, it's J.P. Ricciardi's. Wells was traded solely because his contract was so big. He never asked to be traded (Roger Clemens) never said he didn't want to play in Toronto (again, Roger Clemens), didn't sign somewhere else as a free agent (where do I start?) and never admitted to not giving his best during games because he wanted to play somewhere else (Vince Carter). I have even heard the tired old line about "now that he's got the big contract, he doesn't have to play hard." I don't buy that for a second.

Any player playing at the major league level has likely been playing baseball all his life because he loves the game. To get to the highest level in the sport, he'd have to have worked hard and excelled in Little League, high school, college, and several levels of minor leagues where he was making very little money. His hard work and determination paid off, and he made it to the majors where he continued to work hard and excel. And I'm supposed to believe that when he gets a huge contract that ensures that he can continue playing at the highest level, he suddenly doesn't bother trying so hard anymore? The previous 20 years have been solely for the unlikely possibility of the huge payday? No. He's been working his ass off and playing as hard as he can his whole life - he doesn't know any other way to play. That refers to any professional athlete, not just baseball players, and not just Vernon Wells. Well, I guess it doesn't apply to Vince Carter.

Hey Vernon, I was clapping for you.

OK, so that wasn't such a quick post.

Educating the public

This letter to the editor appeared in the Flamborough Review on September 17, 2011:

I was puzzled – but not surprised – to read the comments offered by the provincial candidates regarding education (Review, Sept. 8). The big picture to these players is the bricks and mortar and infrastructure. They really need to pay attention to the people.

Wait, where have we heard that before? I am a parent, and the biggest concern among all parents I talk to is the curriculum.

We are inundated with fundraising for this, awareness for that. The kids come home telling us about all the “activities” they do.

Wait a minute. What happened to the three R’s?

What happened to sitting down and having a deep discussion about something relevant? Has school turned into glorified daycare?

I’m sure there are some teachers who are just fuming right now, but I don’t care. The public system is failing our kids. The adage that they “never leave a child behind” because it may affect his “self esteem” doesn’t wash with me, or many other parents. Who will worry about their self esteem when they can’t fill out a job application?

I don’t agree with technology and keyboards in primary schools. What is wrong with pen and paper? Apparently, spelling tests are too much to bear anymore. Standardized testing is also an issue with many parents. Many teachers I have spoken to say that they are pressured into spending more time in preparing the kids for these tests.

Let’s get back to basics. Our kids need a stable base of readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic, not volunteering activity time to promote corporate marketing.

Kevin Inglehart

The only phrase missing from this rant was "Back in my day..." My first thought upon reading it was "spoken like a man who hasn't set foot in a school in thirty years." Gail, who has been involved as a volunteer and on the school council at our kids' school for eight years and is currently going through teacher's college, was indeed fuming when she read it. If Mr. Inglehart had done the slightest bit of research before writing this, he might have understood the current goals of the education system and why they're different from those of years ago.

"What happened to the three R's?" – Literacy (which is far more than just reading and writing) and mathematics (which is far more than just arithmetic) have always been the core of the education system and still are, though they are being taught in a different way than in the past. When my parents were kids, and to a lesser extent when I was a kid (I'm currently 42), mathematics in primary school was mostly arithmetic and was almost entirely memorization. Here are the times tables, learn them by rote (i.e. repeating them out loud over and over and over until it's burned into your head). There you go, that's math. Did the students understand what it was they were memorizing? I'm sure some did but many did not. In public school, we had to memorize the times tables up to 12 times 12. To this day, I can instantly tell you that 12 times 12 is 144. If you asked me 12 times 13 it takes me a half-second longer to come up with the answer – but I can come up with the answer. In all modesty, I am one of the ones that understood how the times tables worked (I always did well in math and went on to get a Bachelor of Mathematics degree) but I know that some of my classmates would have been completely lost because 12 times 13 wasn't on the chart we learned memorized. That's not the way math is taught these days. Kids are not just given the answers but are taught how it works so that they can figure out the answers for themselves.

"What happened to sitting down and having a deep discussion about something relevant?" – That depends on the grade level. Just try having a deep discussion about anything with twenty 8-year-olds and see how far you get. That hasn't changed in a hundred years and so has nothing to do with this issue. But I know what kinds of projects Ryan (currently in grade 7) has worked on over the past few years, and they are having deep discussions about relevant issues.

"The public system is failing our kids." – Evidence please. Don't go spouting off a claim like this without backing it up. Show me evidence that children are coming out of public school less prepared for high school or university than they were twenty or forty years ago and I'll start listening.

"Who will worry about their self esteem when they can’t fill out a job application?" – Show me a teacher that allows a student to pass their class with high self esteem but without the basics of reading and writing and I'll show you a teacher who needs to be fired. That's not the way the public education system works, now or in the past. The difference is that now teachers consider a student's self-esteem whereas in the past they did not. Were people in Mr. Inglehart's classes ever singled out and humiliated in front of the class? Let me guess, stuff like that "builds character", right? It doesn't take a genius to realize that humiliating a student or telling him he's stupid because he didn't do well on a test or assignment does nothing to help the student learn. If a child is struggling in school and you tell him he's stupid, after a while he will come to believe it himself. Alternatively, you can give him extra help – both in the curriculum and in believing in himself so that he has the confidence to continue. If a student's self esteem is ignored and he struggles, he is more likely to hate school and leave as soon as possible. How is that good for the student or the community?

"I don't agree with technology and keyboards in primary school. What is wrong with pen and paper?" – Technology is not replacing pen and paper. Both of my kids go through plenty of paper during the school year and they do far more printing and writing than typing. But considering the pervasiveness of computers and technology in our world, how does it make any sense not to start familiarizing our children with it as soon as possible?

"Apparently, spelling tests are too much to bear anymore." – That's because many studies have shown that spelling tests are ineffective. Students learn how to spell the words in the few days before the test, write the test, and then promptly forget them. Teaching them the fundamentals of English grammar and phonics is far more effective in teaching kids how to use language.

"Standardized testing is also an issue with many parents. Many teachers I have spoken to say that they are pressured into spending more time in preparing the kids for these tests." – Then whoever is pressuring the teachers doesn't get it either. The idea is to prepare the children for life – teach them how to think, not how to answer the questions on the test. Once you've done that, they will succeed on any test you give them.

I don't know what "corporate marketing" thing Mr. Inglehart is referring to in his last line, but I assume it has to do with fundraising which he mentioned earlier in the letter. It's a fairly well-known fact that schools are given far less money now than in previous years. As for why that's true, that's a political issue that has nothing to do with the teachers or how they teach. When I was in school, all the materials we used were provided by the school itself. Now, teachers spend their own money to outfit their classrooms. Over the years my kids have read and studied many books that were purchased by (and then borrowed from) their teacher, not the school or the Board of Education. Fundraising is a way to help further equip the schools. Without it, schools wouldn't be able to afford many of the materials necessary, and programs like music and art may need to be cancelled altogether.

Mr. Inglehart needs to realize that society is constantly improving its knowledge of how children learn, and changes must be made to the education system to reflect that knowledge. Yes, sometimes money is a factor in such changes, but not always. Things don't work the same way as they did when he was a kid, but that doesn't make the changes unnecessary.

There are always people who say things like "it was good enough for me when I was a kid", but is that really what you want for the next generation – "good enough"? Don't you want "better"?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Make a teaching fairyland

Nicky was given a toy last week – a 3D puzzle of a Ferrari racing car. The puzzle was made in China, and the people who created the packaging were obviously not English-speakers. Perhaps they had access to Google Translate and decided that translating the Chinese text a word at a time was the best way to go. We had a pretty good time reading the instructions:

Use hand and head --- Training kid's flexible for their proportion on the hands and eyes. Develop them imagination ability. Make a teaching fairyland.

Design munificent --- It can be assemblaged detached over and over, and looks like veritable. It needn't any assist tools.

Perfect in workmanship --- Materials are daintiness. Safety and slightly. Full of colour printing.

It could certainly be said that it's not fair to make fun of these people because their English, as bad as it is, is better than my Chinese. This is absolutely true – I don't know a word of Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other Chinese language. But I'm not writing Chinese text for a product that will be sold in China. If that was my job, I might try talking to someone who actually speaks Chinese.  If I were to write it myself, I'm sure it would be pretty damned funny to Chinese speakers.