Archive for May, 2012

Get Rid of Competitive Team Sports in Public High Schools

May 21, 2012

Are competitive sports programs a requirement for a well-rounded school? There are many aspects that should be discussed around this question, as this is not a straight-forward budgetary or even a student activity question. In the simplest terms, however, it goes to the heart of what constitutes a school, be that a high school or even a university.

What is the mission?

In its most basic terms, we must ask the purpose of a school. From Little League Baseball and other organized children’s sports to private sports academies all the way up to the minor leagues, the mission is quite clear: teach the participants how to play the sport. There are no academics involved, and no one makes a fuss about the lack of them. Well, the mission at schools is also quite clear: teach the participants all of those other things, from math and language skills to science to history to philosophy. Frankly, that’s a hell of a mission for one institution to accept, let alone live up to. In the second place, that’s how most people actually make their living; a very small percentage of the population is employed by a professional sports team, and that goes for the marketing people and administrative staff as well as the players and coaches.

So why is it, with all of the other options in every community for their children to participate in organized sports, that the public screams as soon as a school eliminates sports, whether one or all of them? In my opinion, it’s because of money. Other than occasional fund raisers for a “special” trip for a team, the school district covers most of the costs of their sports teams. If they did not, the parents would have to pay for those private options, which would eat into their discretionary spending. In other words, enrolling the kids in sports would become just as much of a personal budget item as going out to dinner or a movie … or to a professional sporting event.

What is the non-monetary value of extra-curricular activities?

It is argued that sports “build team spirit, character, and the thrill of competition.” Well, so do many other activities. Band builds a lot of team spirit, without the constant contact. Art lets a person delve deeply into their inner personality, only without the interference of vitriolic parents. Science fairs encourage intense competition, but include leaps of imagination backed up with research and experimentation. Public speaking and drama provide highly-charged emotional outlets, only they combine intellectual thrills and insights into the human character that most sports don’t even pretend to encompass. And so on.

What’s more, I believe that those other types of activities are not only much closer to the actual mission of a school, but much more valuable to the overall development of the mind and spirit of a person. Perhaps more importantly, there are a lot fewer options for those sorts of activities in the average community, at least at the moderate cost that most Little Leagues or soccer leagues charge to participate. And, finally, I can’t imagine a violinist using steroids to enhance their performance, or a debater knee-capping a rival to win a competition. Competition in other eadeavors can be cut-throat, but not literally.

Don’t public school students need exercise?

Absolutely. Studies show that obesity impacts nearly one-third of the children in the U.S., creating massive health problems that ultimately impact our healthcare system. “Mens sano in corpore sano” is a maxim I’ve always believe in. But, in my opinion, competitive sports actually lead to many high schools minimizing the effectiveness of their general physical education program. In California, the standards call for a minimum of 200 minutes each ten days (20 minutes per day) for grades 1-6, with a minimum of 400 minutes each ten days (40 minutes per day) for grades 7-12, with the equivalent of two years of physical education required for high school. There are certain exceptions and waivers, but on paper that sounds reasonable.

However, the practice is a lot worse. The primary monitoring of recess in elementary schools is to watch out for bullying or injury, not to ensure that kids are actually getting exercise. In high school, periods are 50 minutes long. After 10 minutes to get into the gym and get suited up, then change afterwards, that leaves 30 minutes for possible exercise. If the students ran around the track every day, they would get their cardiovascular requirement. However, I’ve seen many instances where a P.E. teacher cannot monitor 40-50 kids adequately, so many either move listlessly or stand around and talk.

Because certain students participate in competitive sports, they are excused from P.E. That’s totally reasonable, whether the sport is part of a school program or outside of school. But those who do not participate in verified activities – which constitute the vast majority – are given short-shrift in this aspect.

Allow the community sports programs to take care of that competitive fire. Put the resources into ensuring that the students at school get adequate exercise. That may mean increasing time for P.E. classes to an hour and twenty minutes, as well as hiring more P.E. teachers to work with smaller groups. One of the reasons schools start early and end early is to allow time for after-school sports programs to practice and play during daylight. If we allocate our resources better, we can improve the health of our children while focusing on the correct mission, which is not to train athletes.

How much does it all cost?

In the end, almost all arguments come down to the overall operating budget for the institution. A few public schools I know of have divested themselves of competitive sports. However, I’m aware of many more that have eliminated public speaking, shop programs (auto, wood, etc.), orchestra/band, creative writing or art programs, and so on, in order to keep their sports teams. While most sports are not nearly as expensive as football (nor as dangerous, for that matter), I suspect the budget would pretty well support those other, more intellectual or career-oriented activities in lieu of competing with Little League, Pop Warner, the Amateur Athletic Union, Boy’s Club/Girl’s Club, private swim and tennis clubs, etc., not to mention all the local rec programs around.

What is the solution?

In the end, it is up to us. We must first remember the mission of our public schools, and then we must demand that the people we have entrusted with running those schools deliver the highest possible quality of education with the least frivolous budget. Keep physical education; it’s relatively cheap. In fact, longer hours and more serious exercise should be incorporated. But let other community organizations handle the competition of sports. Save the budget of public schools for more academic, enlightening activities that are usually given short shrift in the local community.

May 12, 2012

As a writer in general, and specifically related to HF, I found this article very interesting in that numbers and comments give great insights into what interests readers or turns them off. I made a comment on this blog about POV, another area that, in my experience, is very important to many readers. Any reactions to this blog, or thoughts on POV?

All about historical fiction

588 readers responded with enthusiasm to the question “what detracts from your enjoyment of historical fiction”.

44% Inaccuracies – includes seeing modern sensibilities in a historic setting, anachronisms, dialogue that does not fit the period, poor research, moving major dates to suit a story line and so on.

2% Dialogue – several people complained that using too much dialogue from a long ago period takes away from the ease of reading.

9%  Sex & Violence – this refers to stories with too much sex and violence rather than too little 🙂 In addition, some readers specifically mentioned gory battle scenes.

15%  Too much detail – refers to stories weighted down with reams of historical detail, almost as though the author wanted to include every bit of research found on a particular aspect of history.

15% Pace, Plot & Character – in the main, these comments referred to problems that can…

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More New Articles on International Travel, Including Huntingdon and Oxford in England and Tours vs Independent Travel

May 10, 2012

If you visit England, everyone goes to London. How about a couple of easy daytrips that are well worth the taking? And a few answers to the question of whether to travel on a packaged tour or to go it alone—or possibly combine the two.

All Saint’s Church, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England

Visit Historical Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, England, Home of Oliver Cromwell

Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Visit the Colleges of Historical Oxford University, England


Fred and Karen in front of Schonburg Palace, Vienna, Austria


Take a Packaged Tour or Travel Internationally on Your Own?

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth” – Part 2

May 8, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “What is Truth” a few weeks ago brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. For an in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

A quick refresher from those blogs: There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In my first response, I only dealt with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. Because that “higher being” topic, and the last comment about “wisdom”, were much more involved and subjective, I said I would write an answer in another posting. Here it is.

A Higher Being/Consciousness vs Philosophy

While there can are many definitions of this, I’m going to try to simplify it a bit so that this article can actually get finished. I absolutely concede that all monotheisms (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are searching for a “higher being”, as are all polytheisms (although, to my knowledge, the only strong polytheism still in practice is Hinduism, with Shinto, Taoism, etc., comprising very small populations).

One of the problems westerners have in conceptualizing Eastern life philosophies (as opposed to such Western philosophies as existentialism, nihilism, and others that are blatantly atheistic) is that they assume (incorrectly) that all Eastern philosophies are religions. In fact, all of their definitions and texts list Confucianism and Buddhism as religions, when they are nothing of the sort.

Confucius taught that when societies operate under laws, people are punished by authorities after having committed illegal activities. People generally conform to the laws, often without necessarily understanding the rationale behind them. He promoted a different way: to internalize behaviors so that actions are controlled beforehand. Because relationships are central to Confucianism—particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others—people will then behave properly because they wish to avoid feeling shame and want to avoid losing face. In theory, the result is a reduction in the number of coercive laws required for smooth functioning of the society. “Social harmony — the great goal of Confucianism — therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well.”

You will notice this is actually a philosophy of social behavior, having nothing to do with a being more supreme than the head of state, and nothing to do with a world consciousness. While Confucianism does not necessarily negate religion, most adherents do not find religion necessary to attain this “proper” behavior toward others.

But Confucianists are a pretty small group, so let’s move on to Buddhism. According to, the generally agreed minimum number of Buddhists is estimated at around 350 million (6% of the world’s population).  The numbers range up to 1.5 billion. By any reckoning, that’s a significant amount. So what is Buddhism?

Between 563 B.C. and 483 B.C. a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived who taught that life is suffering, and that we must each find our way to ultimate enlightenment, at which time we will also become a Buddha. While it’s difficult to summarize Buddhism succinctly, moral conduct is an important part of the beliefs because it promotes harmony with all living things. Karma, a concept that states that a person’s actions have consequences over him/her in the future, is an intrinsic part of this morality. A person’s basic essence (the “soul” for you monotheists) can experience either rebirth or reincarnation (not the same), which gives a person the opportunity for attaining enlightenment through meditation, loving kindness and compassion towards all human beings.

Note two important factors: nowhere is a supreme being/consciousness mentioned. The first Buddha was a man; he never claimed to be a god or even a prophet. Further, every human has the potential to become a Buddha. Second, there is no heaven, hell, or life other than on this planet. The phrase “one with the universe” is very literal, in that every little dust mote is a particle of all others, which is a very scientific concept, not one given much credence by any monotheism. While Buddhists chant, perform meditation, and do other activities that Westerners perceive as religious, they are actually contemplating their own flaws, attempting to focus on what they personally need to do to improve themselves as a person. Yes, they often do these things in a group with a ritual, but the same could be said about political parties, social organizations, and even sports enthusiasts. That doesn’t make those things a religion. Well, with the possible exception of the Green Party, but that’s another story. If there is a “supreme being/consciousness” in Buddhism, it is the potential enlightenment each person might achieve for themselves, with the ultimate goal of reaching such perfection that will make them into a Buddha.

Is “The Search” Universal?

In my personal studies of religion and philosophy, it was this belief in the potential enlightenment of each individual—including myself—that attracted me to Buddhism. As I cannot accept the concept of rebirth or reincarnation of the “life essence” within each person, however, I ultimately rejected that philosophy as well. However, I was not searching for a god, I was searching for a way to make myself a better person.

Therefore, I will give you all the monotheists and polytheists. I will even give you most of the agnostics—after all, being “in doubt” means the person is searching for something. Many agnostics say they are “spiritual” (which often means some flavor of pantheism), although they don’t subscribe to any formal religion. However, I suspect a lot of people who identify as agnostic are hedging their bets, and many who identify as theistic don’t want the social stigma (especially in the United States) of admitting they are atheists.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people in the world who openly state they are atheists. In fact, in many countries they are the majority! Look at these figures:

It’s very difficult to estimate, but combined I would say at least 15 percent of the world’s population are openly not hunting for any supreme being/consciousness. Never mind that any child born into a religious household is instantly indoctrinated into that religion and only emerges from that life-long submersion if they are of a very strong mind and willing to do a lot of “seeking” (see my blog on Holy Smoke). But let’s just use that conservative figure.

On March 12, 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated that the world population exceeded 7 billion. That would mean more than a billion (1.05) people are in no way deistic. The search for a supreme being is a “Universal Truth”?

On a somewhat separate note, I find it highly ironic that these two major Eastern philosophies, which are truly founded on the concept of “moral” behavior in the sense of society, have never as an organized force waged war. They have never used any form of force to convert others to their beliefs. On the other hand, every single monotheism has a history rife with physical coercion. (While Judaism never to my knowledge forced conversion, since escaping bondage in Egypt they have never shrunk from killing those of other cultures and faiths. They still have a pretty damn good military force.) Therefore, being a highly religious person does not necessarily make one a “good” person, in the sense of being tolerant, considerate and compassionate to other members of the human race.

Ignoring “The Truth”

The second point I wanted to address was her comment that “men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth”. This is an argument that goes back at least to the Persian Empire before Greece became united, when the Persians claimed that their religion was “the truth”, and all other people ignored this truth because they were not wise enough to recognize the obvious. To sum it up: “I know the TRUTH, and if you don’t believe me you’re an idiot!” This is almost too smug, self-serving and ludicrous to address. But I will.

How do they know the truth? Because their holy book (Torah, Bible, Qur’an) tells them what the truth is. Never mind the book was written by the hand of mere mortals. They were all “inspired” by god, weren’t they? In the case of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a resurrected Moroni visited Smith and kindly delivered engraved plates to him (The Book of Mormon), which he simply had to copy before they made their way back up to heaven. And every single one of the books is the absolute truth.

But, because I’m a little skeptical about this divine inspiration—or at least which version to believe—and am indeed searching for my own “flawed philosophy” based on truly being kind and considerate of others rather than killing them in the name of god for being unbelievers, this makes me stupid. Okay, I can live with that.

I believe in the theory of evolution because there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence in support of it, and more comes in every day. It’s still a theory. Every single religion throughout the history of Mankind has developed a creation myth for both the universe and for man. Yet there is not one shred of evidence, in spite of every religion looking for that proof, which supports creationism.

Who is being wise here, and who is ignoring wisdom (i.e., logic based on evidence) in order to cling to their terribly flawed beliefs?

“Holy Smoke, I’ve been blasted into belief!” Or: Deprogramming the Indoctrinated

May 3, 2012


I was watching a movie the other night called “Holy Smoke”. A young Australian woman (Kate Winslet) travels to India with a friend. Ruth (notice the nice OT name?) attends a religious ceremony, becomes enthralled with the spirituality, and decides to stay with the guru in a “spiritual marriage”.  Alerted by the friend, her good Christian mother contacts an Australian anti-cult psychotherapist. Ruth’s mother travels to India where she psychologically blackmails her daughter to follow her home. Back in Australia, the girl is taken to a remote farm where a hired “deprogrammer”, Harvey Keitel, waits to begin “exit counseling”, as he calls it.

Naturally, this got me thinking: where had she been programmed? She traveled to India with a friend as a holiday, and chose to attend the service. At the age of 20, she knowingly studied this religion and chose to become an initiate.

But I actually know where she got programmed. It is the same with all monotheisms. Within days of her birth, without her knowledge or consent, a child will undergo indoctrination; the specifics will only change according to the religion.

With Christian sects, the rituals vary. In Catholicism, naming and christening follow within a few days after birth. While most Protestant sects postpone baptism, the baby dedication is a challenge to parents and grandparents to raise the child to serve God. God parents are appointed, certificates accompany the naming ceremony, bibles are often placed in the hand of the child, crosses, prayer books, etc.

With Judaism, naming ceremonies and ritual baths are also prevalent. Jewish boys undergo a brit milah (covenantal circumcision ceremony) on the eighth day after birth, or a brit bat (covenant ceremony for girls) where they are named. These “welcoming acts” involve scripture readings, prayers, songs, etc. and may include candle lighting, footwashing, or being wrapped in a tallit as part of the rituals.

In Islam, immediately after the new-born baby is bathed, the Adhan is recited in the right ear of the baby, and the Iqamah in the left ear. Shortly after, the sunnah is fulfilled: a date or some other sweet is applied to the child’s palate. While this is done so that the child may easily suck milk from the breast of its mother, a “pious and God-fearing scholar or a venerable saint may be invited to do Tahneek”; thus, it is a religious ceremony. The hair on the head of the new-born must be shaved (Aqeeqah) on the seventh day. The child is then named, and then comes the sacrifice: two goats on behalf of a boy and one goat for a girl, or their equivalent. Some Muslims believe that circumcision is obligatory, others that it is a sunnah.

In all cases, throughout their infancy the children are taken to the church, synagogue or mosque constantly where they are subjected to prayers, religious music, sermons, and the teachings of whatever holy book is used by that religion. There are more ceremonies as they get older. The dangers of lack of faith or other “evils” are carefully described to them.

What would any of these religions think of some professional “deprogrammer” kidnapping and psychologically badgering their children out of the indoctrinations they had to undergo from the first day of their lives? In the movie (and in real life), Ruth chose to adopt the religious beliefs of the Indian guru out of the full consciousness of an adult. Do they ever consider the irony–or hypocrisy–of their actions?

Therefore, which of these groups are really the brainwashers and coercers? Which of these groups are really dangerous to the mental health of young children?