Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ignorance About the Declaration and Constitution

We are apt to assume that the American people not knowing the difference between the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is strictly a contemporary problem, but it has existed at least for a few decades, and I am afraid that it is a much older problem than we think. Still, I believe that, say, fifty years ago, most high school graduates and certainly most college graduates knew the difference, while, according to a recent survey, only twelve percent of high school seniors are able to identify what those documents are. I doubt that today's college graduates could do much better.

Partly this might be explained by the fact that at one time fewer people graduated from high school let alone college; however, I do not think that can explain the difference in knowledge because I also believe that the rate of high school graduation has increased in some quarters from the 1930s to the present. Also, there was a push in the 1950s to teach American history with an emphasis on the founding. That push came to an end, however, by the 1970s.

American history is no longer being taught with the emphasis on things like the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration. I know that the documents are being taught in some school systems even at the elementary level, but I do not know for how long this has been so at those schools and whether this reflects a wider trend. Naturally, for any real understanding to develop, a subject must be taught at higher levels than the elementary. Second and third graders are not prepared to grasp very much about the meaning and context of these two documents. If they never hear about them again, they can be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference.

Those who cannot be forgiven for the ignorancve of our children and the adult citizens they become are the educators and, especially, those who decide what goes into the curriculum and text books and what is left out of them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Do We Dream to Forget?

The late Francis Crick’s thesis was that we dream in order to forget. That is, we are not supposed to remember our dreams but, rather, we are supposed to forget them. Was he right or at least onto something?

No, simply because we do NOT forget our dreams. They do not go away, as he suggested, even if we do not consciously recall them.

Recurring dreams, for example, recur precisely because we remember them (unconsciously).

The fact that people who pay attention to their dreams come to remember them demonstrates that all of our dreams are stored in our brains just as all of our waking memories are stored in our brains.

The interesting question is whether dreams and waking memories are stored in different places or in the same place. Is there something different about the storage of waking memories and dreams that explains the difference in their recovery? Perhaps the difference has less to do with storage than it has to do with access (how we remember dreams versus how we remember waking memories), but I am not sure what that means.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who Is John Hospers?

John Hospers died at age 93 in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 12. He was the first Libertarian party candidate for president of the United States and got one electoral vote in 1972 when a renegade elector from Virginia, who had been committed to Richard Nixon, instead voted for Hospers and his running mate, vicepresidential candidate Theodora "Toni" Nathan, the first woman to receive an electoral vote.

Hospers was at one time head of the philosophy department at the University of Southern California and the author of the textbooks "Meaning and Truth in the Arts," "Introduction to Philosophical Analysis," and "Human Conduct." He had befriended Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged," in 1960, but the two eventually had a falling out.

My favorite story from his presidential campaign (he was on the ballot in only two or three states) is about his reply to a reporter who asked, "If elected, what will you do for me?"

Never one to lose sight of his libertarian message, Hospers replied, "I'll leave you alone."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Never Said It and Doesn't Exist

I Never Said That!

“I invented the Internet.”

--Attributed to Albert Gore. He never said it, although he took credit for helping to pass legislation that kept the Internet from being overregulated back in the 1990s.

“Mission accomplished.”

--Attributed to George W. Bush, but he never said it. He made a speech that was televised from the deck of a ship that was being brought back from the Middle East because the SHIP’s mission had been accomplished.

“I can see Russia from my backyard.”

--Attributed to Sarah Palin, but she never said it. Professional Palin impersonator Tina Fey said it.

Do Not Exist--or Do They?

Ask the relevent governments and they'll tell you that the following do not exist:

Seal Team 6, a.k.a., DEVGRU or U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG). This unit of frogmen goes by all those names and yet doesn't exist. But everyone knows they killed Usama bin Laden, and there are movies about them.

Area 51. U.S. secret testing area near Groom Lake, Nevada, where stealth technology and so much else was invented. There's also an Area 52, but it doesn't exist, either. Yet there is a new book out: "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base," by Annie Jacobsen.

MI5 and MI6. United Kingdom intelligence services. The Crown officially used to deny their existence. Although now they have their own websites: https://www.mi5.gov.uk (MI5) and https://www.sis.gov.uk (MI6).