Monthly Archives: July, 2012

Kiersten Marek:

Diane Ravitch reflects on dystopian visions with their eerie likenesses to corporate education reform, and dishes up the truth about kids’ toys today…

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

In response to a post about Bill Gates’ prediction about the future of American education, a reader writes:

“Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it’s ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions.” – Rollerball (1975)

I didn’t see “Rollerball” when the film was released in 1975. It is a dystopian film about the distant future in 2018. It is not so distant anymore.

Dystopian films and novels are warnings, not predictions.

I just finished re-reading Brave New World, which I must have read fifty years ago. There is so much about the novel I didn’t remember. It bears re-reading. I was struck by the planned rank-ordering of people. No need to test them to put them in their status as Alpha or Beta or Gamma or Epsilon. The rankings were selected at the time the babies…

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Kiersten Marek:

Do school counselors make a difference? You bet they do.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

A reader responds to this post about the middle school in the Bronx:

In Vallejo, we did away with our counselors in 2005. Since then we have seen our graduate rate rapidly decline, increase in violence on our secondary campuses, and other issues as well. The teachers’ union have been advocating for a return of our counselors ever since because we have seen the profound negative impact it has had on our kids. It has yet to happen.


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Army Navy Store on Thayer Street

My father-in-law told me a story about self-defense with a gun.

The family lived far out in the country, and in Alabama in the 1930’s there was no justice for Black people in the courts of law. One day when the adults were away, a gang of racists drove out to the house planning some act of terrorism. The sight of a rifle barrel poking through the window persuaded them to move on. My father-in-law laughed at the fact that the rifle was held by a twelve year old boy.

A rifle in a farmhouse, though it saved a family that day, could not protect the Black community of Selma from many other crimes and violations. It took the intervention of the Federal Government to bring equal protection under law to those citizens.

For some people a gun is a means of self-defense. But where is the self-defense in an assault weapon? How many rounds of ammunition does it take to stop a housebreaker?

Why are our politicians so afraid of an extreme fringe that confuses self-defense with the ‘right’ to build a private arsenal and buy weapons of mass destruction? Who does it serve when one gun is not enough, when accountability is seen as an intrusion on individual rights. When each senseless, horrific murder of innocent people is a murder of our right to peaceably assemble– without high security, without fearing our neighbors.

Words Fail.

Before we get bombarded with news stories about the shooter, feeding into the myth that will inspire the next criminal to grab a gun and the headlines– here’s from Associated Press…

Twelve people who died in the Colorado movie shooting have been identified by the Arapahoe County coroner.

—Jessica Ghawi, 24, of Denver; aspiring sports journalist

—Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, whose mother was critically injured

—Matt McQuinn, 27, of Denver; technical support provider

—Alex Sullivan, 27, of Aurora; worked at Red Robin restaurant

— Micayla Medek, 23, of Westminster, Colo., student at Aurora Community College

—John Larimer, 27, of Buckley Air Force Base, Navy cryptologist

—Jesse Childress, 29, of Thornton, Colo., Air Force cyber-systems operator

—Gordon W. Cowden, 51, of Aurora, small business owner and father of two teens

—Jonathan T. Blunk, 26, of Aurora, worked at a hardware store, served five years in the U.S. Navy.

—Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32, of Aurora customer relations representative at a mobile medical imaging company

—Alexander C. Teves, 24, of Phoenix, earned master’s degree in counseling psychology in June from University of Denver

—Alexander J. Boik, 18, incoming freshman student at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design who planned to become an art teacher

The Stupid Human Factor

My GPS is a miracle of 21st Century technology. Linking to satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the GPS uses timing down to a milisecond.

When I turn it on it displays a message– Do not program the GPS while driving the car. Duh.

It’s not that we’re that stupid, it’s that when there’s a temptation to get it done fast, human nature leads us to figure we can get away with it. And we do. Until we don’t.

The same goes for corruption. Ever since I was a kid punching a power press in a factory, and the boss came around in a panic turning the safety shields back into the proper position– instead of pushed to the side so we could work faster– I am unsurprised by expedience. OSHA didn’t have teeth even then, but the prospect of a fine made more of an impression than protecting workers from losing fingers. Of course, after the inspection, he turned the shields back to where they were out of the way.

Raw Story posts this item from today’s Ashahi Shimbun…

A subcontractor at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant told workers to lie about possible high radiation exposure in an apparent effort to keep its contract, reports said Saturday.

An executive at construction firm Build-Up in December told about 10 of its workers to cover their dosimeters, used to measure cumulative radiation exposure, with lead casings when working in areas with high radiation, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other media said.

The action was apparently designed to under-report their exposure to allow the company to continue working at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, media reports said.

If we build more of these nuclear plants, we are creating a permanent hazard for future generations. Will human nature evolve fast enough to carry this burden?

Thomas Lewis Writes about the Prayer Banner Controversy and its Political Implications

Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.

Rhode Island: A Resident Hears Dissent in Roger Williams’ State | Religion & Politics.

Kiersten Marek:

Diane Ravitch discusses a recent report by her ex-husband, Richard Ravitch, sounding the alarm bell on how states must face and deal with budget problems.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

My ex-husband Richard Ravitch is a brilliant man who has spent most of his life in public service. He was born during the Great Depression, and he grew up idolizing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and believing that the highest ideal was to improve the well-being of the public.

We have an informal agreement that he doesn’t do education and I don’t do housing, transportation or public finance. But now he has stepped into my territory and I must step into his.

Yesterday he and Paul Volcker released a task force report on the budget crisis facing states. The task force report should be read by everyone because it contains an urgent warning. As of 2009, states now spend more on Medicaid than on K-12 education. That is a historic reversal. States are facing unsustainable costs and will have to make cuts to essential services if they can’t make appropriate adjustments…

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Rumble over Rosary at Brook Village

High Rise in the Dead of Winter

Humanists of RI posted a Facebook link to ABC 6 News– there’s a rumble over the Rosary at Brook Village—

It was a religious battle at a retirement home in North Providence. Seniors at Brook Village say they were banned from praying the rosary in common areas, but the company that owns the property is now saying the whole thing was blown out of proportion.

Every Monday morning, for the last 14 years, Nancy Davey has watched the same Catholic television show. She and a few others pray as they watch it in the community room at Brook Village.

“You know, we are not hurting anyone,” Davey said. “We sit there in front of a television. We have our rosary. We don’t say a word.”

Brook Village happens to be my old visiting nurse territory. It’s not exactly a ‘retirement home’. It’s a high-rise tower where tenants share laundry and community space, but mostly stay in their apartments. Not all of them are old, but it’s subsidized for elderly and disabled.

These places are physically very nice, but often isolating. When people do get social, disputes break out and grudges are held, often as not. Tenants retreat into their own space to avoid the other tenants they aren’t talking to. Honestly, this nurse thinks that human kindness is so precious in these places that she would almost recruit for the smoker’s group that hangs outside by the ash tray.

I have no doubt that, as Brook Village management says, the whole thing was blown out of proportion, and the management staff are popping Tums and wishing everyone would chill.

Some of my best friends are atheists, like Steve Ahlquist from Humanists of Rhode Island. He goes to my church. (If that sounds strange, let me tell you about First Unitarian some time.)

I have worked in places where, with no doubt good intentions, religious people created an environment that shut out those of us who didn’t believe. If your spirituality is not the majority, and you depend on your paycheck, you take a real risk in coming out as pagan.

I once worked in a nursing home, where a nice group of kids came to sing Christmas Carols, and ended with an altar call to bring all these unsaved elderly to Christ. I know they meant well, but some of those folks were Jewish, most were lifelong Catholics who shouldn’t be conned into renouncing Papism in their last days. My Christian family had no idea why I found this offensive.

Rather than trying to ban religious expression– which is impossible, I would like to see a policy of tolerance and respect for all our diverse beliefs, and non-beliefs. It might be hard to write into policy, but there’s a difference between using a common space and dominating it. You feel when you are in the presence of bullies though it’s hard to define exactly how you know. Maybe it’s a matter of time and space.

I’ve been around people who play religious TV stations, it’s as soothing as nails on a chalkboard to me, so I can understand how someone would not want to hear it in the common space. But at a reasonable volume for a limited time I could put up with it.

I would encourage the management of Brook Village not to be frightened of controversy, and to encourage the tenants to use the community rooms for activities, and to be good referees so that the rooms are accessible to everyone and no one group pulls a coup and takes over the space entirely. That’s a tough job, but I know that the building management could teach the UN a few things about negotiation and peacemaking, and I know they’re up for it.
[the picture is Centerdale Manor, twin building to Brook Village, they share a parking lot off the Centredale Rotary]

GOP Kills Disclose Act

From John Avlon at The Daily Beast…

The DISCLOSE Act was summarily executed via filibuster in the Senate last night. But this is one symbolic vote that mattered, because it offered at least an attempt to address the flow of hidden money into our elections.

But wait, you say—the promise of Citizens United was to balance unlimited money with unprecedented transparency. Well, brace yourself, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. In fact, the trade of cash for transparency has been undercut by a variety of vehicles, especially the use of 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations grafted onto super PACs that allow for anonymous donations and big-ticket expenditures that we won’t see until the election is in the rearview mirror.

Constitutional scholar David Cobb, recently spoke to a full house at the Pawtucket Public Library. Mr.Cobb is one of the founders of Move to Amend, an organization that seeks to amend the Constitution so that you have to be a person to have the rights of a citizen. The Supremes recently refused to challenge the premise of Citizens United, that corporate money is speech. Now it’s final that anonymous money is protected. That kind of citizen does not have to show its papers at the polling place, or even show its face.

Marketing to Men

Pericles at Daily Kos has an amusing and enlightening history of shaving and capitalism.

So instead, the market has gone two ways. The mass market has kept research labs busy churning out phony “improvements” that generate market-protecting patents and give advertisers something to work with. And vast amounts of money have been spent persuading men (successfully!) that there’s something new worth paying up for and something primitive about the double-edged safety razor.

For men who have caught on to that game, a connoisseur market sells expensive shaving paraphernalia to bolster an overclass identity. So whether you’re a mass-market Gillette-Fusion-type guy or a connoisseur wielding a buffalo-horn-handle Damascus-steel-blade straight razor, you support a market with high profit margins.

What worries me is that I see exactly the same dynamic in the pharmaceutical industry. It takes a huge investment in time, money and expertise– with big risk– to patent a new drug that actually cures something, or even is measurably better than older, cheaper drugs. That’s why you see existing drugs marketed in new forms– gel caps, dissolvable tabs– or new drugs that are almost the same as older ones in the same class.

Letting the free market lead is harmless enough when it produces a ten-blade disposable razor. When it comes to things that really matter, novelty does not reign supreme.

Whitehouse Tries to Get DISCLOSE Passed in Worst Congress ever

While being a member of Congress definitely has its benefits, it seems to be a pretty frustrating job these days. Take, for instance, this article by Ezra Klein outlining why this is the worst Congress ever:

14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.

Nevertheless, some people are trying to get work done, or at least make it look that way. In fact, some are willing to stay up all night if that’s what it takes to get some attention:

Senate Democrats to Hold “Midnight Vigil” on DISCLOSE Act

If GOP Blocks Effort to End Secret Election Spending, Democrats Will Continue Debating Past Midnight and Ask for Second Vote Tomorrow

Washington, DC – With Senate Republicans threatening to block debate this evening on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats are sending a clear message that they won’t back down easily. If Republicans succeed in blocking a key procedural vote on the measure today, a group of Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow.

The late night “midnight vigil” effort will be led by the members of the Citizens United Task Force, which includes U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). The group was organized by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who will also take part in tonight’s effort.

“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” said Whitehouse, the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours, identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It will require political groups posing as social welfare organizations to disclose their donors and will prevent corporations and other wealthy interests from using shell corporations to funnel secret money to super PACs.

“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Udall. “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide.”

“This is too important an issue to let it lie quietly,” Shaheen said. “New Hampshire voters were subjected to a flood of negative ads this primary season, many of them fueled by unregulated, secret money. It isn’t right. We need to stand up for accountability and fairness in our politics.”

“Tonight we will debate whether we truly believe in the first three words of our Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voice of the people,” said Merkley. “Indeed, those who oppose disclosure are seeking to replace ‘We the People’ with ‘We the Powerful.’ This is wrong in so many ways. It’s way past time to shine a light on the darkness and discover who or what this money really stands for.”

“Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people through anonymous groups,” Bennet said. “Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system.”

“The DISCLOSE Act will not fix all of the evil effects of Citizens United, but it is certainly a step forward,” said Sen. Franken. “And it will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten our democratic system.”

“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”

Individuals are encouraged to follow the floor debate throughout the night on Twitter, using the hashtag #DISCLOSEVote.


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