Monthly Archives: August, 2012

Isn’t there a Commandment against bearing false witness?


From the Detroit News,
some car talk. It’s called ‘lying’. Why are there not enough real failures to hang on the president if he is as bad as they claim, or do Republican speech writers not even care?

Washington -Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan inaccurately said Thursday that President Barack Obama “broke his promise” by failing to keep a General Motors plant open that closed in 2008 – before the Democrat took office.

Ryan, the House Budget committee chairman, recounted the decision by GM to shutter the Janesville Assembly plant in his hometown in June 2008. The last SUV rolled off the line in December 2008.

“I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open,” Ryan said at a campaign stop in Ohio Thursday, recounting the fact that his high school friends worked at the GM assembly plant. “One more broken promise. We used to build Tahoes and Suburbans. One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline. You see, this costs jobs. The president’s terrible energy policies are costing us jobs.”

In fact, Obama made no such promise and the plant halted production in December 2008, when President George W. Bush was in office.

Read the rest at The Detroit News.

Attention Members of the Faculty: You are NOT Part of the Middle Class

In case you harbor any delusions of grandeur that you or your children will someday rise to fame and fortune in academia, let me gently harsh on your mellow.  The truth is, most of our higher education faculty members are now adjuncts, or under a more fancy title, contingent faculty.  As this article details, many adjuncts earn about $10,000 a year.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, this applies to other people but not to my little Johnny because he is going to be a scientist.”  Good luck with that.  Science jobs are also getting harder to come by in academia, or anywhere.

Finally, before the reality party is over, I invite you to take a trip to 100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School.  It is extremely well-written and well cited (the links all work and bring you to current and relevant articles).

And, on a note of full disclosure, yes, I did apply to graduate school this past year.  And yes, I am not going.

Job of Work

I was stuck waiting in my car yesterday evening so I improved my mind by listening to live coverage of the Republican National Convention.

There were politicians talking about how their parents, their grandparents, their families started small businesses. We love small businesses no matter what party we vote for. The big businesses and multi corporations that both parties answer to for the big bucks were staying discretely in the background. That’s always the way. McDonalds hides behind the Mom and Pop diner and Walmart wipes out the corner store. Good luck, small businesses, you are minnows in the shark pool.

Anyway, I am sick of this phrase, ‘Job Creators’. If you are religious, there is only one Creator, and His name is not Donald Trump. If you are scientific you know that Einstein said you can’t make something from nothing. Since when have some of our population assumed Godlike powers? This couldn’t be Evolution, could it? Wouldn’t that be problematic with the base?

With all this self-congratulation about being the party of Job Creators, the politicians I heard seldom used the word ‘work’. Perhaps because ‘workers’ has a slightly discomforting sound, as if perhaps the workers might start organizing. It’s better to focus on the Job Creators, who bestow employment on the deserving if we just give them enough tax breaks and deregulation.

I think we are all, Republicans and Democrats, looking in the wrong direction. A job is a task. You can get a job digging holes and filling them in, but that would not be meaningful or dignified work. Anyone with their eyes open knows that there is abundant opportunity for work that needs doing. Construction and rehabilitation of our cities, roads and bridges, creative problem solving, service work for our growing elderly population to name a few obvious crying needs. There are qualified people ready to do this work.

We still use construction almost 80 years old from the WPA. I wish the Obama Administration had called it that. ‘Stimulus’ doesn’t have the historical connection that would have made it clear how we got the job done in the Great Depression.

Beyond that, we are in a new millenium. No one has to spend forty years kicking a foot press in a stifling mill. It’s all automated. The human being, who is capable of so much more than being used as industrial machinery could make her contribution though meaningful work, or be discarded and despised for her unemployment.

It’s been said that ‘workfare’ only makes sense when the government is committed to 100% employment. You don’t shove someone out of the plane without a parachute. There are not enough jobs. There is more than enough work. To balance the real needs and resources will require both private and public institutions in coordination, with some commitment to the good of our country.

There was a phrase I first heard at Occupy Providence, ‘solidarity economy’. An economy that takes into account mutual aid and the public good, independence and free enterprise, equal representation for all regardless of social class. If we get too fixated on ‘jobs’ we are not aiming high enough. If we don’t recognize that we all built it, we are deluding ourselves.

It’s like a game of mis-direction. No matter which side is talking, don’t watch their mouths, watch their hands.

Tom Sgouros has an analysis of job destruction in North Kingstown at Rhode Island’s Future.

Randi Weingarten: “Won’t Back Down” is a “false and misleading depiction of teachers and unions”


Diane Ravitch provides the full text of Randi Weingarten’s response to “Won’t Back Down,” the hollywood film that Walden Media is releasing in September.  The purpose of the movie seems to be not only to demonize teachers, but to direct everyone to vote for the parent trigger laws in November so we can hasten the privatization of public education.  Randi Weingarten responds with scathing criticism of the movie on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

The silly picture is from another website I learned about through Ravitch’s blog, Last Stand for Children.

Kiersten Marek:

Diane Ravitch reminds us about the origins of “the best and the brightest” — it probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

A reader remembers that when David Halberstam used the phrase “the best and the brightest,” it was not praise. It was an ironic reference to the seemingly brilliant Harvard graduates at the State Department, the National Security Council, and the think tanks who got us into the war in Vietnam.

You often hear education reformers, including President Obama, talk about how we must have the “Best and Brightest” from the most elite schools enter the teaching workforce to improve education.

I always want to say to say to them, the phrase “Best and Brightest” doesn’t actually mean what you think it means.

When David Halberstam used the phrase “Best and Brightest” for his book on the Vietnam War, he used it ironically to show how these so-called geniuses from the so-called elite colleges took the nation down the path of an insane policy that cost many lives.  Even when it…

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God of Wrath Whacks My Enemies

Thanks to Pam Spaulding for catching this outrageous rant from Michelle Bachmann. As Tropical Storm Isaac approaches the Louisiana coast, we revisit this statement…

“Washington, D.C., you’d think by now they’d get the message,” Bachmann said at a town hall in Florida last August while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination. “An earthquake, a hurricane, are you listening? The American people have done everything they possibly can, now it’s time for an act of God and we’re getting it.”

Is she really serious about God speaking through natural disasters? What does she think Isaac is, a thumbs-up from the Lord and a punch at the heathen Gulf Coast?

She talks like she’s The Godfather, and the Almighty is her very own Luca Brasi– a big, mute, hit man who whacks her enemies. But that’s just her lighthearted sense of humor…

Her campaign press secretary at the time, Alice Stewart, later said the congresswoman’s remarks were a joke.

Bachmann is a major star in the Republican Party. Perhaps Isaac and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will open some discussions more improving than speculations on the spiritual meaning of loss and suffering in our neighbors.

Is memory so short that they have forgotten Hurricane Katrina? Have they forgotten that after a botched evacuation that left thousands of the poorest and least able stranded in the center of New Orleans, the levees catastrophically failed? That this historic disaster threw into sharp relief the worst that corruption, neglect and political dysfunction can do to worsen a crisis? That the good energy and skills of Americans who came to help our own were often squandered and aid diverted? That we have unfinished business in New Orleans?

That would be too materialistic, wouldn’t it?

Beasts and the Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina

Buzz about ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ led me to expect a visually beautiful and inspiring story of childhood resilience, and there is that. But so much more. A review by critic, Rex Reed in the New York Observer gets it…

The setting is the emotionally parched and geographically designed cartographer’s view of hell called The Bathtub—what’s left of an area of makeshift cardboard and toothpick shanties that Katrina devastated, scattering the region’s population to the wind like dandelion fuzz. It lies low between the Gulf and the Mississippi River—a man-made wall has gone up on the dry side of the levee to protect against annihilating floods. This is where nothing grows, catfish and crawdads from polluted water are the only food, and stubborn Cajuns who refused to evacuate to higher ground when Brad Pitt and Sean Penn came down to rescue them on CNN News still live in the ultimate depths of poverty and ignorance. It’s the most sobering view of the uneducated and disenfranchised outcasts the world has forgotten since Precious.

The tone of the movie is deeply sad and brings up unfinished business. Hush Puppy, played by six-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, is the center and heart of the story. She and her father Wink, played by Dwight Henry, struggle to keep above the rising waters of their bayou shantytown, The Bathtub. It’s a desperate and doomed struggle. Wink is dying, and the community of The Bathtub is trapped behind levees–the ocean rising as icebergs melt and the debris and pollution of the more affluent poisoning their waters. They have a survival ethic and skill that is deeply human, they wear the history of the human race tattooed on their bodies. But they are among the majority of the seven billion on our planet who, lacking power, could disappear beneath the waters without a trace.

This Wednesday, August 29th, marks seven years from the landfall of Category 5
Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Residents in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, like the residents of ‘The Bathtub’ in the film, lived below sea level. The levees in New Orleans failed catastrophically and more than 1,800 died. Those walls were intended to keep the water out. Years of other priorities, as foretold in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Washington Post, left the most vulnerable citizens unprotected against the worst forces of nature. The elderly and handicapped were too often left to their own resources, and many, having survived other hurricanes, stayed in their apartments and hoped for the best. The fall of the levees was an unexpected and overwhelming disaster.

For the rest of America, the news footage of people stranded on rooftops, miles of water where neighborhoods used to be, a woman dying in a wheelchair on an overpass above the flood waters– these images will stay with us.

The news obsessed about ‘looters’ and pumped up stories of violent anarchy that slowed rescue and opened the gates to vigilante tactics by police officers. Crime was real enough, but in the crossfire between the frightened and armed, the innocent were left to die in abandoned rooms and drowning hospitals.

Some stats from the Common Dreams Katrina Pain Index

21 Percent of all residential addresses in New Orleans that are abandoned or blighted. There were 35,700 abandoned or blighted homes and empty lots in New Orleans (21% of all residential addresses), a reduction from 43,755 in 2010 (when it was 34% of all addresses). Compare to Detroit (24%), Cleveland (19%), and Baltimore (14%). Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC).

27 Percent of people in New Orleans live in poverty. The national rate is 15%. Among African American families the rate is 30% and for white families it is 8%. Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development (CEFD) and Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) Assets & Opportunity Profile: New Orleans (August 2012).

33 Percent of low income mothers in New Orleans study who were still suffering Post Traumatic Stress symptoms five years after Katrina. Source: Princeton University Study.

All of us who watched this disaster unfold are left with a sense that we could have done better. A barn-raising sort of mutual aid was needed, and volunteers from every state were eager to help. This good energy was squandered, along with the relief money and the teachable moment that this new level of disaster may be a warning of storms to come.

One of our two great political parties, the GOP, is holding their convention in Tampa, FL. They had to delay the convention by a day for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is predicted to strike land with hurricane force on the very anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

It would be a crime to let the 24 hour spin cycle rob us of the longer view. The struggling poor in Beasts of the Southern Wild are haunted by ghosts from pre-history. America is haunted by ghosts from the drowning of New Orleans who have not been appeased, and will not rest easy as long as we close our ears to their warnings.

Neil Armstrong

Earthrise from Apollo 8

Earthrise from Apollo 8

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon has died at the age of 82. As we celebrate his extraordinary life, let’s celebrate the pride, the audacity and the achievement of that America. The rover, Curiosity, travels the surface of Mars. The torch is passed.

What He Said– What I Heard

There are ‘dog whistles’, subtle signals that only the base can hear. Mitt Romney isn’t even bothering with that– just going straight to Birtherland. So no one ever asked him to show his birth certificate? Yeah, Mitt, I’ll bet that no one follows your wife around the store when she goes shopping, or asks you in your own country ‘where you’re from’? Why would that be?

Never in my life have I ever heard a president’s nationality questioned until we elected our first black president. If Mitt Romney thinks the meaning of his ‘joke’ is lost on Black Americans he will find out different in November.

Washington Post thinks Mitt was blowing a dog whistle too.

When the driver made my mother-in-law go to the back of the bus in Selma, Alabama, he didn’t ask for her papers, or where her father was born. It was all about color. Too often, it still is.

(thank you, Public Domain Clip Art)

Dismantle the Master’s House

Hello, Sisters and Brethren,

We got too much anger, hurt and snark coming at our Body Politic, which is running out of bandaids and wishes everyone would stop throwing darts. FYI, most of the US is not following the fine points of what our elected representatives are up to, and this is too bad. Because most of the US just wants simple justice and common sense. But if you were born into a Democracy, it is your responsibility to be one of the People the Government is Of. And if you elect fools you will get stupidity. And even worse if you don’t vote at all.

What, exactly, is stupidity?

One definition from Merriam Webster Online Dictionary is-

: dulled in feeling or sensation : torpid

Here is a related word, ‘stupor’–

: a condition of greatly dulled or completely suspended sense or sensibility ; specifically : a chiefly mental condition marked by absence of spontaneous movement, greatly diminished responsiveness to stimulation, and usually impaired consciousness

Of course, some people are really dumb, and many more just don’t care. Some are impaired by bad choices or bad luck. But some very smart people can be misled by deception and distraction…

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. —

Matthew Scheidt’s attorneys are trying to prevent a 3-hour-long tape from being played during his upcoming trial. He is accused of impersonating a physician assistant and even treating patients.

The 17-year-old even admitted to performing CPR on a patient to fill in for a doctor.

“I swear to God I did not do nothing. I would not have done. I felt so uncomfortable even doing that. And, you know, the only reason why I did do it was because there was nobody else in there. And I’m not going to let her die,” Scheidt said during the interrogation.

During the hours of interrogation, Scheidt admitted that he should not have worn the physician assistant badge and that he did deceive doctors at Osceola Regional Medical Center.

How did very smart professionals get punked by a 17 year old? Distraction, deception. They were probably all maxed out busy, juggling a thousand competing priorities in their day, wondering how they would cover all they were responsible for. They probably did not focus their attention on the young-looking guy in the white coat with the badge. A visitor walking through would be more likely to have the eye for something not right in that guy. They might look past the white coat and see their teenage son’s punky friend walking by.

You don’t brake at every intersection at rush hour. You have to assume that when the light is green you should go.

We trust our lives to life as usual. We base our social life on half-conscious assumptions. It’s woven into our shared reality. If you love English you appreciate and work with the spin and slant that can be worked into the most innocuous-seeming sentences. It’s unspoken assumptions. Some of us are very sensitive to words, others have a different lens for seeing the world.

We are in an election where a deeply divided America struggles with competing visions of what our common reality will be.

Sometimes the differences are thrown into sharp and painful contrast.

Rep. Todd Akin’s phrase, ‘legitimate rape’ was too honest for the Republican Party. I’m not of the ‘no rape is legitimate’ rejoinder that focuses on that one unfortunate word. I do think I understand what he meant. He meant that any woman who was forced into sex should be able to show dire physical injury comparable to what he imagines he would suffer if he had to fight off sexual assault. This type of reasoning goes back to ancient times, as when the good Patriarchs of Israel wrote The Law…

Deuteronomy 22:23-24

English Standard Version (ESV)

23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

For the Good Patriarch, it’s common sense that a cry for help would bring rescue. But for the less powerful, it’s clear that violence, deception, coercion and seduction could be fatal. The world of the Old Testament was a world of purity and execution by stoning, a world of slaves and servants and wives whose husbands held the power of life and death. The wisdom of the Old Testament is that human nature has not changed much in 5,000 years and we can learn from the past.

It’s a huge cultural shift to acknowledge that sexual violence, bullying, coercion and humiliation are crimes against personhood. It’s a huge shift to take it on faith that there is worth and dignity in every person, and we don’t gain by excusing the abuse of power. It’s a huge shift to defend the rights of people who do not act the way we wish the righteous would– the woman in the city too scared to scream, the child afraid of getting into trouble.

So snarking at Todd Akin won’t change hearts and minds. Too much focus on his too-explicit words distracts from the fact that there is no difference between his agenda and that of the Republican Party except style. Underestimating the power of the unspoken assumptions woven into our culture leaves us open to being punked. You cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.

The problem is, the master’s tools are most of our toolbox. We are products of our culture. We have to reach into the box for Justice, Civility, Dignity and Freedom. We won’t use those tools to reinforce the old inequalities. At best we will be living in the People’s House under construction. Sharing rooms with people we didn’t expect to have to deal with.

This is a plea to remember where we came from, and not to underestimate the hold of the past, or the power of the people who fear the dismantling of the old world.

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