Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Happy Birthday to me...."

Yes, today is my birthday. The greatest day of my life. And this utterly hilarious video was sent to me by a friend.

Monday, March 29, 2010

two of the coolest, funniest (and cutest!) artists in the world.

if you haven't heard about Garfunkel & Oates yet, then you're in luck! Check out their website, and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Here's a pic and a clip..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

former Bush speechwriter: 'we have only ourselves to blame' on HCR passing. 'it's Waterloo, all right; ours.'

This is an absolute SUPERB summary, with fantastic & concise insight on the passing of health care reform, from the perspective of an honest Republican. Dead. On. See original post at David Frum's really nice blog, Frum Forum. - sj

March 21st, 2010.
by David Frum

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Follow David Frum on Twitter: @davidfrum

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"So..I think I have an idea that would change the world. Mind helping me figure out what's wrong with it?" - by Kate

Kate is a well-informed, well-read, passionate person I recently met, whom I happen to agree with on most things. I've learned many things from her in the short time I've know her. I asked her if she'd like to contribute to this blog from time to time, and she said, "yes." The cx3 blog just got better. Sometime in the near future she'll make her first post, but in the meantime, I wanted to re-post a note/thought/question she recently posted on her facebook page here. This has to do with (or was born out of) the recent SCOTUS decision that now allows corporations & unions to give ludicrous amounts of money to political campaigns at all levels, based on the First Amendment (free "speech"). Welcome, Kate! We're glad to have you along for the ride - where we're going, no one knows! - sj

Title covers it: I have this idea, but I also lack all kinds of information that could change the picture and could also just plain be missing something. So I'm hanging this like a piñata on FB for people to whack at, and if it passes muster with my many insightful and intelligent friends, maybe it's worth thinking about some more. I've tagged the folks I've tagged because they've either seen parts of this thought before, or like talking about this kind of stuff, but I hope anyone with interest will chime in. And by the way, if anyone knows anyone who isn't on my friend list who they think would like to jump in on this, let me know and I'll make it visible outside of my own friends, or be friends with whomever :). Fwiw, while I did come up with this on my own, I'd be surprised to be the only one to have followed this line of thought. I've looked around a bit for other work about this without luck, but if anyone knows about what anyone else has to say about this, please let me know :).

So...this is coming out of my understanding of the of the Citizen's United v. FEC decision (see here, if you want to brush up). I agree that money is sufficiently inseparable from speech that to remove it would have a deeply chilling effect (ask me if you want to know why; otherwise I'll spare everyone the tangent :) ). And while corporations are not people, the First does not restrict its protections to people, stating only that speech shall not be abridged. Add to that the Constitutionally protected right to associate, and you've got a workable argument that corporations should be considered entities with certain rights, among them, speech. So I think those two avenues to getting corporate money out of politics are barred, or at least murky as heck.

However, I don't think that what they are producing is speech. Follow me here: political speech is communications about political values or desires. I believe that in order for such speech to be valid *as speech*, it must both completely voluntary and accurately reflect the political values or desires of the speaker. I do not believe that corporate speech is either of those things. First, the corporation claims the right to speak as an entity with a unified and distinct opinion, and I do not believe that they have that: both employees and owners frequently disagree, and strongly, with lobbying efforts by the corporations who are claiming to speak for the group. Thus, the speech fails to accurately represent the interests of the entity, speaking only for a portion of the group. But even if it did represent the unified will of the corporation, the speech is not voluntary. Unless a person is free to dissent, the speech is coerced, and order to not speak, a person would have to leave their place of employment, and I believe that that is an unreasonably high bar to dissent. So, corporate speech is not speech, in that it both fails to represent the unified will of the entity, and is coerced, to boot. It's as if, in order to keep a job, I had to agree that every week, using funds generated in part through my efforts, my company could take out a full-page ad in the paper every week supporting a political position with my name (as well as that of every other employee) included as a supporter of that position, but I would never be consulted, nor could I decline to have my name among those listed, and my name would be used against my will to give dishonest weight to an argument with which I disagreed. Foundationally, this strikes me as perilously close in kind to allowing a corporation to cast my vote for me, according to what they think are the best principles.

This line of thinking has some serious ripple effects. If we follow it, unions aren't allowed to lobby either. While, unlike corporations, they do get to vote, the vote need not be unanimous for lobbying to proceed, and in order to not participate in union lobbying efforts, people would have to leave their union shop jobs.

That leaves interest groups with voluntary individual membership in the political lobbying ring, and they fit my criteria: the speech is voluntarily produced and can be assumed to be an intentional and desired expression of the associated members, as if it were not, they would leave the group and deprive it of the support of their presence (and possibly funding). So the NRA, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, et al are fine. However, their funding is going to take a dive, as I do not think that corporations can donate to these groups, either - I think that's basically ventriloquism.

As you'll note, this sucks almost all of the money out of the political process, as only individuals can donate (though individuals can certainly form associations to promote an industry or market sector and can certainly donate to such groups as individuals, I think they'll have a lot more difficulty masking who benefits from the policies they advocate when we see who is actually doing the advocating). That's going to create the need for public financing of political campaigns, and I suspect the resulting campaigns are going to be a lot less flashy, and win way fewer of Ad Age's "Marketer of the Year" awards (yes, Obama won it in '08). And I think that's a good thing.

In fact, I think there are a lot of good things about this. Corporations get to stop wasting money trying to influence the field of competition, and just start competing, and maybe even hire some people with all of the money they just saved. With corporations not lobbying, unions can refocus on collective bargaining within the industry, and shed all of the union bureaucracy devoted to lobbying, coming out of this a leaner and more effective organization, with fewer higher-up in it for DC power thrills and ego stroking, and lower union dues for members, with dues used in ways that have more direct benefits to members. Yes, advocacy groups get the short end of the stick in this, but they will also hopefully have different battles to fight, and get to fight them with far greater effectiveness. And voters should be offered broader candidate fields with fewer of the participants entering politics for money and the power it leverages, as well as knowing that the people we do elect are accountable to voters, not donors. It won't get rid of all of the problems by any stretch, but I don't think it's a bad first hose-down of the Augean stables that is American politics today. At least we'd have a way clearer view of what precisely is going on.

Summary, then: both corporate and union speech lack the unified and uncoerced nature that characterizes true political speech, and effectively allows associations to co-opt and control the political voices of other people; in addition, the money vacuum that ending such coerced speech will produce demands public financing of campaigns. All of that actually happening would, I believe, significantly change the runnings of this country, and therefore...change the world :).

So, does that make sense? What else do I need to think about, and what am I missing?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thank you, Alex.

Alex Chilton passed away today, at the age of 59, of a heart attack, apparently. When this song was a number 1 international hit, in 1967, I was less than 5 months old. He was 17 years old, and lead singer of the Box Tops. Soon after, he would go on and form Big Star, and release one of the best rock records of all time, "#1 Record." We have your songs to always remember you by, Alex, so you'll never be too far away.

No Uncomfortable Questions Left Behind

I liked pilgrim99's blog on education issues the other day. I also laughed at spacejace's posting of Bill Maher's "Fire the Parents" rant. Like them, I am ambivalent about the Obama administration's proposed changes to No Child Left Behind, despite what is still -- for me -- much admiration and high expectations for the president.

However, some thoughts, if not exactly disagreements, of my own. I'll work backwards.

Regarding Obama on holding teachers responsible and the wisdom of wholesale firings, like the one that occurred in Central Falls, Rhode Island: the key word (or buzzword) has been responsibility. If students fail, the argument goes, someone must be responsible, someone must be held accountable. Would that this were true! But failures occur all the time and only sometimes is anyone held accountable. So I will quibble with the imperative, the word must in that statement. Crimes go unpunished, mistakes are orphaned, lies go unchallenged, secrets go to the grave -- all the time. Whether someone is held accountable for the failure of children or not, this truth persists: schoolwise, too many children have failed. I would prefer a world in which this were not so, but for now, can we recognize that this failure, this particular kind of failure, belongs to us all? And belong is not the same as the fault of? Because until we recognize this, there will be no progress toward the world I’d prefer. When the president points his finger at the Central Falls faculty and staff, it is not that he's wrong, it is that he is only so very partially right. He has stopped pointing too soon. His grade on this test is Incomplete.

Bill Maher’s standup routine begins to fill the gap between where Obama points and where he failed to point. Certainly parents also need a good talking to. But Maher's rant is, finally, only a routine, the more or less funny work of a funny man. He doesn't really know any better than the president seems to know about how to stop failing children. For instance, when he says "According to all the studies, it doesn't matter what teachers do," this is flatly untrue. ALL the studies? It doesn’t matter at all what teachers do? Really? That statement on its face is so stupid, so plainly false, that it can only be a joke. And what follows in that paragraph is the crafted patter of a talk-show comedian, ("Although everyone appreciates foreplay," is the next line), the comic exaggerations of a licensed buffoon going about his buffoony business. In short, don't take your talking points from Bill Maher any more often or seriously than you would want to hear someone dittoing Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

Pilgrim99 gets much closer to the heart of the problem than Obama or Maher, as we would expect from someone who has worked close to that heart. (Maher probably hasn't been near a classroom since the Carter administration. He doesn't impress me as someone who actually reads books -- though he might skim a guest’s ghostwritten pages in preparation for his show. Obama, however, is not only a famously adept student, but he was an accomplished law professor at a prestigious college -- what's his excuse?) But I hear two notes of uncertainty even in Pilgrim99's post. First, the refrain is posed as a question -- rhetorical, perhaps, but still: "When [the student] failed, was I the reason?" Every teacher, I think, when dealing with a failing student, will ask himself or herself this question -- and not rhetorically. My own college teaching experience only infrequently confronted me with this problem literally – I had no shortage of C students, but rarely an honest-to-god F -- but when I did, I would ask myself, with the pen poised above the grade sheet, did it really have to come to this? Do I really have to fail this student? Sometimes the answer was, yes. However, I also supervised and trained teachers for several years. And I had to confront teachers all the time with the question regarding the failure of students to learn: Were you the reason? But in a properly run school, the answer to this question is never alone a basis for terminating a teacher’s employment. Rather, it is a tool by which teachers and their supervisors and peers can evaluate their practice of their profession. Criticism and self-criticism and improvement are an important part of the job. What saddens me in Pilgrim99’s post is that he was apparently not allowed to ask himself in a useful way whether or to what extent he was a reason for each failing student’s failure.

Second, Pilgrim99 points out that his own solution to the problem was to leave an under-performing, dysfunctional school system for the presumably better-funded exurban district. This is the solution for many teachers and educators. And thank goodness! It is very good news for me and my children, living in a famously well-supported public school district. Good teachers and administrators give our search committees plenty of sound candidates for any open position – even though they are rarely paid enough to afford to live in the city where they wish to work. This is a system that is good for me but encourages exactly the opposite of what Obama tells us it should. Who can believe that the teachers qualified to fill vacancies in my city will be eager to take the newly-opened vacancies in Rhode Island?

And Pilgrim99’s point about the redistribution upward of educational wealth is only part of the bad news. Consider this point:

In the 1950s, smart women, except for truly determined trailblazers, had few professional options beyond teaching. Ditto for blacks and other minorities. If you had a particularly smart and ambitious daughter, people would say, "I bet she grows up to be a teacher!" While many things have happened to public schools over the last 50 years, one of the most important is that this low-cost captive labor pool of extremely talented men and women has evaporated completely—and along with it the respect that was once automatically accorded to those who entered the profession. Today, with so many more (and better-paying) careers to choose from, it's unclear [why any bright person] would be a teacher at all.

This is from a Slate review of Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I’ve not read it yet, but it is making quite a splash because Ravitch, for years a fairly reliable ally of social conservatives and Republican administrations, now rejects the articles of faith on which is based much of No Child Left Behind and Ravitch’s advocacy for those and similar policies. Among people who follow such things, Ravitch’s conversion against the gospel of standardized testing and data-driven administration and merit pay and standards-based evaluation and charter schools is truly unsettling. (I have this book on my to do list. So more later when I've read it. Meanwhile, I’m following a forum on with Ravitch and several critics.) What’s striking in the Slate review is that the reviewer dares to mention one of the most grim truths about our society: There were people willing to teach our parents who, given it to do over again, would not teach our children -- much less the children of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

The problem -- how to teach children, how to make them smart, how to make them ready to live in the world we’re leaving them -- is so damned hard. Way too hard for a cable TV comic, too hard maybe even for our very smart president and his very smart Secretary of Education. Pilgrim99 tells us he can only resolve, sort of, his own little corner of the problem – and Allah bless his efforts! Diane Ravitch (it seems) tells us that after forty years of wrestling with the problem, she only knows that what she has tried has also failed. For me, ten years after having abandoned my own career in education, I still feel compelled to serve on the local School Councils and volunteer for city committee work and help, whenever I can, any high schooler who will sit still long enough to take some help. I don’t know whether merit pay or mass firings or portfolio evaluations will solve the enduring human problem of how to teach. But I think that the equally inextinguishable desire to learn is our only real resource in this struggle. If that’s true, then the questions we should all ask -- ceaselessly, relentlessly, ruthlessly -- are: How many impediments can I remove from a student’s desire to learn? How can I not fail the children in my charge?

new Lady Gaga extended music vid/short film for "Telephone" - It's awesome.

Just saw this for the first time just now. Kind of blown away.

you can view it here, on her site, in a wider-screen format.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

a vacation destination for Libertarians and tea-bag mutants!!

Sure, this is a half-assed production, but it's still worth posting, and is good for a couple laughs, anyway. I love the imbecile at the Glenn Beck/Alamo rally who says, "we don't want our government to do anything for us!"

Hollis P. Monroe: never heard of him, but I love this rap...

So I stumbled upon this dude on facebook, as we have a mutual friend. clicked on the info tab, saw this rap on there and loved it:

"the old-school raver, the thong and panty saver, the kid that's best on bad behavior
the best friender, the leg bender, running up in spots that say "do not enter"
the unwilling procrastinator, the apparent quebecois fascinator, reading futures: that belt will be unfastened later
the music maker, the ass shaker, orgasm faker as not to be a heart breaker
the deep house music lover, the wack circle dancer shover, staring deep into her eyes when i'm standing above her
the no class dismisser, the dumb young girl disser, the takin' care of business, powersuit wearin' MILF kisser
the true love seeker, the tb-303 tweeker, over in the corner dancing by the speaker
the non-smoker non-drinker, the naughty thoughts thinker, whenever on the islands coconut bra clinker
the unpredictable, the pleasantly atypical, keeping my ambition linear and all my love cyclical
the anything once tryer, the shell toe adidas buyer, the peeps i don't know me trying add me deny-er
well actually, that's just for myspace, i'm more open on the book after face, anything can happen in that case."

it cracked me up. requested him as friend, live chatted a bit, and here I am posting about him. I'll be checking out his work 'more for sure' when I get a chance. he's got a Philly connection and a big fan base. If anyone wants to add more about him - clue me in, basically - please do, in comments!

here's his facebook page with lots more links..and here's the intro from the home page of one of his websites

"welcome and thanks for coming. most of you already know the gist of my story. i'm an electronic music producer and occasional dj. since 1994, i have sporadically released material under various pseudonyms with the most popular being dj decent, universal agents (with g-pal) and of course, my given name, hollis p monroe. within, you will be able find out some of the details...."

"What up Hollis!?!"

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Rule from Bill Maher: Don't Fire the Teachers; Fire the Parents!

This is a perfect follow up rant/partner piece to Pilgrim 99's great (and personal) post earlier this week (a couple posts below this one, or click here), about the mass firing of school teachers at a Rhode Island high school.

Maher nails it, as only he can. Let me state, for the record, Bill Maher is one of the good guys. He's an extraordinary talent, always calls things like he sees them, and is funny as hell doing it. He's done a lot for my generation, with regards to educating the masses, and fighting the good fight. I've been an avid fan of his since 1990 when his "politically incorrect" show first aired on cable. I've seen his stand-up 4 times, and met him twice. My wife and I even got in a bizarre shouting match with him one time, outside the backstage door, that had him running for his limo! We scared him I think, but he was cracking up also! - sj

New Rule: Let's Not Fire the Teachers When Students Don't Learn--Let's Fire the Parents
Bill Maher
Friday, March 12, 2010
Host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher"

New Rule: Let's not fire the teachers when students don't learn - let's fire the parents. Last week President Obama defended the firing of every single teacher in a struggling high school in a poor Rhode Island neighborhood. And the kids were outraged. They said, "Why blame our teachers?" and "Who's President Obama?" I think it was Whitney Houston who said, "I believe that children are our future - teach them well and let them lead the way." And that's the last sound piece of educational advice this country has gotten - from a crack head in the '80's.

Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It's just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers' lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school - canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We're chewing gum and no, we didn't bring enough for everybody.

But isn't it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn't us, and the fix is something that doesn't require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It's so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we're at it let's cut taxes more. It's the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people.

Firing all the teachers may feel good - we're Americans, kicking people when they're down is what we do - but it's not really their fault. Now, undeniably, there are some bad teachers out there. They don't know the material, they don't make things interesting, they have sex with the same kid every day instead of spreading the love around... But every school has crappy teachers. Yale has crappy teachers - they must, they gave us George Bush.

According to all the studies, it doesn't matter what teachers do. Although everyone appreciates foreplay. What matters is what parents do. The number one predictor of a child's academic success is parental involvement. It doesn't even matter if your kid goes to private or public school. So save the twenty grand a year and treat yourself to a nice vacation away from the little bastards.

It's also been proven that just having books in the house makes a huge difference in a child's development. If your home is adorned with nothing but Hummel dolls, DVD's, and bleeding Jesuses, congratulations, you've just given your children the gift of Duh. Sarah Palin said recently she wrote on her hand because her father used to do it. I rest my case.

When there are no books in the house, and there are no parents in the house, you know who raises the kids? That's right, the television. Kids aren't keeping up with their studies; they're keeping up with the Kardashians. We're allowing the television, as babysitter, to turn us into a nation of slutty idiots. By the way, one sign your 9-year-old may be watching too much One Tree Hill: if she has an imaginary friend with benefits.

visit Bill's "Blogga Please" blog here

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

59% in favor of health care reform; 30% against!

from Daily Kos, last Friday...
(click here for original post, w/ hi-lighted links in post)

Digging into the Polls on HCR: Public Wants Stronger Reform
by mcjoan

Barry Sussman, editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project at Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, goes beyond the headlines screaming public opposition to healthcare reform.

Comes now (Feb. 26-28) a McClatchy/Ipsos poll of 1,076 people that on first glance offers rocks to sling at Obama. The lead question asks, “As of right now, do you favor or oppose the health care reform proposals presently being discussed?” Forty-one percent said they favored them, 47 percent said they were opposed, and the rest said they were unsure. Those are numbers the Republican leaders could work with.

But the pollsters went a step further, asking those opposed – 509 people in all – if they were against the proposals because they “don’t go far enough to reform health care” or because they go too far. Thirty-seven percent said it was because the proposals don’t go far enough. Thus – are you ready for this? – the addition of an obvious, simple follow-up question completely turns the tables. The overall numbers switch to 59 percent in favor of health care reform, 30 percent against. Putting aside those with no opinion, it becomes 66 percent in favor of health care reform, 34 percent against. Some would call that a consensus, or these days, a super majority.

Whoa, what happened here: a plurality against health care reform actually is a landslide in favor of it? In the same poll? If other surveys turn up similar data, will Republican leaders stop citing public opinion as the basis for opposing Obama’s health care legislation? Fat chance.

The poll did find resistance to key measures in the legislation. Seven of ten interviewed said they opposed putting “new taxes on the most expensive insurance policies;” six of ten opposed “a government requirement that everyone buy health insurance.”

There is still the opportunity to maximize the popularity of what ends up passing in the reconciliation package--make reform stronger with real competition for insurers, make sure the excise tax does not hit the middle class, and offset the mandate with some kind of public option, possibly Medicare buy-in. There's very strong policy and political arguments for making this bill as strong as possible--the 66 percent of Americans who want reform being no small part of that. That's a message the Blue Dogs particularly need to hear.

I suppose these folks are part of the 30% against health care reform! - sj

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blame the Teachers

Here's a story, in light of the mass firing of an entire high school staff at a "failing" school in Rhode Island.

When I began my teaching career way back in 1994 in Youngstown, Ohio, I was well aware that working in an urban, "inner city" district would pose significant challenges. First off, though the population of the high school was racially mixed, though not "balanced" (whatever that was supposed to mean), it was the product of a downsizing merger in which the entire population of one school had been moved to one of the three remaining high schools in the city at the time. My school, naturally, had the largest number of the new students.

In their wisdom, the district administration had taken a large number of youngsters who were members of a social organization known as the Bloods and crammed them into a school with an already established social organization known as the Crips. Two smaller social clubs known as Vice Lords and the Folk also shared the halls.

And every one of them was a great kid. They didn't have much use for each other, but they were never a problem for me. Just like any other school, there was a wide range of abilities and effort represented. Just like any other school, there were wide-ranging discussions of literature and current events. Just like any other school, the vast majority of the staff did everything they could to help kids succeed.

But there was an awful lot going on outside of the school.

There was a rule that staff had to be out of the building by 3:15, so they could lock down the building. The door to the staff parking lot had a bullet-hole just below the reinforced glass window. I had nice morning conversations with the police officer who spent his entire shift out in that parking lot, as well as his five colleagues stationed inside the school every day.

There were plenty of fights each week, mostly between girls, but I can only remember one time that the officers had to actually chase down one of the male students. He was a 20 year-old sophomore who had been so horribly abused by his alcoholic father that he was considered permanently disabled and already collecting SSI. When he failed was I the reason?

One of my favorites was a petite girl named Tania. She was pregnant when school began, and had to leave around Thanksgiving to be with her baby for a while. She came back just as the winter weather was turning to spring. She was far behind, of course, and would make every effort while at school, but had very little time or willingness to work on anything outside school. By the time we said goodbye for the summer, she had become pregnant again. She had just turned 16. When she failed, was I the reason?

When it came time for parent-teacher conferences, my roommate (in a shared classroom) advised me to bring a book to read. I was appalled. After all, we had an entire day without students set aside, and an evening as well. I had a total of three parents show up, one of whom was so drunk he couldn't remember what class I taught for his son. When the son failed, was I the reason?

Every so often, I would arrive at school and notice a couple of unmarked police vans in the lot. Weapons check. That meant an absence rate of close to 50% sometimes, but at least 25%. Some of the police would walk around the building and search the bushes after the school day began. They always found a few knives. Once, a .22 pistol.

When these kids did abysmally on tests (and not all of them did), was it really the teachers' fault? For some, it was a small miracle that they even got to school every day. For many of them it meant two guaranteed meals that day, so that was all it took.

Now, I'm highlighting some of the more dramatic cases of what I experienced, but keep in mind that this was not at all unusual for high-poverty districts. It still isn't unusual for high-poverty districts to be faced with overall failure.

In the case of the Rhode Island high school, the town of Central Falls has a population of about 18,600 and a per capita income of $10,800. According to Wikipedia, over 40% of the population under age 18 lives in poverty.

So our Hope&Change president had this to say:
"If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability…And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests -- 7 percent."

Thanks, man.

Couldn't we make the case that it isn't so much the school that's "chronically troubled," but the neighborhood or town itself? In fact, shouldn't we take into consideration that the number one predictor of academic success is the education level of the parents and the accessibility of books (and reading) in the home? Should we maybe consider that poverty and lack of academic progress are consistently found to be related phenomena, that failing schools also have dismal attendance rates, high numbers of transient students and are usually in areas that over-rely on property taxes for school funding (a model that was found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court four times before a Republican majority was elected to the Court, which promptly overturned the decision)?

Seriously, Mr. President? That's all you've got?

Update 3-10-10: Here's a link to a blog called Tempered Radical,where the author says pretty much the same thing as I did (a colleague pointed out the similarity to me). Only, he published earlier, so hat tip to him. We even zeroed in on the same quote from Obama (originally from WaPo), which I cribbed from another blog about the speech. Personally, though I agree with this blogger on this issue, I don't have the same sense of disappointment overall. Yet.

I don't teach in Youngstown anymore. I found a job in a wealthy exurban district that is able to easily sweep all of its troubles under a rug. More on that another time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

perhaps the best ad (and reason) yet for indy-energy and fighting climate change

Listen to These Vets
by John Kerry, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
posted March 4th, 2010 (on HuffPo)
The Senate needs to listen to these veterans: Enough words have been spoken in Washington, with none as powerful as what these vets have to say. Let's keep it simple and straight. Politicians have talked for years about the link between foreign oil and global terrorism.

And these veterans are doing their duty once again when they remind politicians in Washington that it's not "tough" to vote for legislation that creates jobs, cuts pollution, and strengthens our national security -- what's tough is what happens when we don't and our troops shoulder that awful burden instead.

And it's true. Don't believe me? The Pentagon recently released their quadrennial defense review, and they included the instability from climate change as a factor that could cost the lives of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

The Center for Naval Analysis brought together a blue-ribbon panel of generals and admirals who concluded that "climate change is a serious national security threat." And General Anthony Zinni said flatly that if we don't deal with climate change now, "we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives."

And these veterans know it already does.

The politicians don't have it tough. The troops do. End of story. Now the Senate needs to do its job -- for them.

couple let baby starve to death while raising virtual baby on-line

this world we live in and life we live will never stop being cruel and strange. - sj

A Korean couple allowed their child to starve to death because of their addiction to raising a 'virtual' child in a Second-Life-style game online known as Prius, reports say.

Kim Yoo-chul, 41, and Choi Mi-sun, 25, would feed their three-month-old baby only when not at 12-hour-online sessions in a local internet café. The pair were obsessed with raising their internet child, called Anima, resulting in the neglect of their unnamed real daughter.

After one such session in September the couple found their daughter dead and called police. An autopsy found the baby died from prolonged malnutrition.

"The couple seemed to have lost their will to live a normal life because they didn't have jobs and gave birth to a premature baby," Chung Jin-Won, a police officer, told Korean press.

"They indulged themselves in the online game of raising a virtual character so as to escape from reality, which led to the death of their real baby."

The pair were arrested in the city of Suweon, south of Seoul, on Friday after months on the run.

"Online game addiction can blur the line between reality and the virtual world," Professor Kwak Dae-kyung of Seoul's Dongguk University told press. "It seems that taking care of their on-line game character erased any sense of guilt they may have had for neglecting their daughter."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Venus and Mars 2010

So many of us watched the Super Bowl- some for the spectacle, some for The Who (The Two) and some even for the football. I watch it mostly for the ads, which had been building over the years to a celebration of high concept, high budget marketing displays in the interstitial format. This year was a big letdown though. I might say it was the economy, but there was enough quantity of advertising, its just that the quality, and in this example the tone was way off.

Here's an ad for the Dodge Charger, as out of time a vehicle as there ever was but hey guys like cars (truism) and we're henpecked dolts ( FAIL ) watch:

Yeah I'm an enlightened, but emasculated prig 'cause I didn't find that ad smart or even chuckle worthy, right? Right.

Anyhow what was smart was this follow up video "Womans Last Stand" watch:

I like scratching my nuts as much as the next guy, but I adore and respect women, don't believe that they are bio-neurologically different from us and think that equality exists, if only in a cerebral sense most of the time. Ahh enough ranting for a while, I've got laundry to do...

Alan Alda

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Read this article by Al Gore, on global warming. Seriously.

"...January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago....Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept."

This editorial by Al Gore was originally run in last week's NY Times. It's a good read, with some good links. Most importantly, it's filled with facts. Remember those? - sj

We Can't Wish Away Climate Change
by Al Gore
Op-Ed Contributor
The New York Times
Published: February 27, 2010

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy — the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.

But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.

click here for rest of original piece, with great and informative links throughout

most leotarded current fad: Rahm-bashing

here's a comment I made on HuffPo after reading another Rahm-bashing piece, this one by Dan Froomkin, who I like, actually. - sj

Yawn. Rahm-bashing is SOooo 2009. The only way Rahm goes anywhere is if Obama makes another avoidable rookie mistake and cans him. Rahm has done more for the Democratic party than Froomkin or these other bloggers making a fashion statement could ever dream of. Expect this Rham-bashing festival by amateur progressive dems to be a distant memory in a matter of months. I'm a hardcore, radical, liberal dem progressive and I respect the guy, agree with him on most everything, and like him. And btw, Rahm was EXACTLY right: the progressives who wanted to spend their hard earned/raised cash to run ads against conservadems? It was an extremely stupid idea.