Friday, June 29, 2007

Add This to Your Summer Reading List

I am highly recommending Daniel H. Pink's "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age To The Conceptual Age". I am half-way through this book and while I have some reservations about the book, this is unquestionably a compelling and critical book for policy-makers, Board of Education members, parents,and especially teachers.

I will revisit this book shortly.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why the RIAA is Killing the Music Industry

See what you think of these tactics being used against children in the RIAA's crusade against music copying by kids. The story is called RIAA tried to shake down 10-year-old daughter, suit claims
An unemployed single mom with health problems has renewed her legal challenge of the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) with unseemly new details. They include accusations that the cartel's goons tried to contact the woman's 10-year-old daughter at school by impersonating the girl's grandmother on the phone.

RIAA agents pursuing bogus copyright violations also called the apartment of Tanya Andersen looking for her daughter Kylee and demanded they take the girl's deposition, according to a complaint filed last week in federal court in Portland, Oregon.

Later, during settlement discussions, the RIAA told Andersen she had to abandon all legal rights she may have in a countersuit or the association would once again demand to "interrogate and confront her little girl at the offices of the RIAA lawyers," according to the suit.

"Defendants' lawyer threatened persecution of Kylee in an effort to force Ms. Andersen to abandon her counterclaims against the defendant record companies," Andersen's complaint claims. "Their demand for face-to-face confrontation with Ms. Andersen's then 10 year-old child in a deposition at the offices of RIAA lawyers were also intended to coerce and threaten her."

Monday, June 25, 2007

First Amendment Shredded by the -cough- "Supreme" Court

Jesus, what a disaster this country is becoming. Today, the president was asked to ban the use of torture by high school scholars visiting the White House [Scholars urge Bush to ban use of torture]. So Bush did what comes naturally, he lied to them.
"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.
The other possibility that exists is that Bush pretended to read the letter, didn't understand a word of it, and just let somebody else lie for him.

The man is an embarrassment to the human race but I'm tired of even dealing with another Bush rant.

More significantly, these scholars were unaware that the Supreme Court decided that students have no first amendment guarantees. In the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, the Court in all its witless wisdom decided that school officials can make up any damned excuse they want to shut up students under the pretense that the speech is interfering with the school's "mission".

So the message that protests torture delivered by high school students may never be allowed again. And its too bad because nobody else in this country has the guts to tell our leaders what is morally reprehensible about their policies.

But this is also one of our first whiffs of this new Supreme Court. Man are we in trouble. At a time when this country desperately needs vision and clarity, a hand-picked bunch of judicial jokers is playing havoc with the Constitution.

Soon these students may be serving in Afghanistan protecting the poppy farmers there to process and deliver the world's finest heroin to Western markets. Some will die. But thank Bush for protecting us from their right to satirize a society that punishes thought and rewards criminal politicians. After all, its not real drugs, gangsters, or criminal government enterprises that threaten us, it is high school newspaper editorials.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Darfur Project; An EO Smith Success Story that is Great!

Saturday's Courant ran a back story on an event that EO Smith seniors sponsored a few weeks ago. Entitled Service Project Was Smith Grad's Salvation By Melissa Bruen, it tells the story of how the event came to be.
[Anthony Brashier's] English class, taught by Nicole "Waz" Waicunas, had been studying the Holocaust in February when Brashier spoke up and asked what they, as a class, were going to do about the genocide in Darfur. With the permission of the principal, Waicunas threw out the syllabus and allowed her students to drive the direction of the class.

Brashier became one of the leaders on the project and began attending school every day. He and some of his classmates worked on planning events, such as the festival, to raise awareness about Darfur. For two months, they worked most days from when school let out until 5 or 6 p.m.

"I told Anthony again, as I try to remind all my students, that he was a star, that he had a special mission to accomplish in this world that was entrusted to no one but him," Pivarnik said. "Weeks before graduation, Anthony took the lead and ignited the senior class to respond to the devastation and genocide in Darfur."

Brashier said the senior class raised $15,000 to send to Darfur.

Over the course of the last year, "I learned anyone has the opportunity to pull themselves up," Brashier said. "Any kid or adult - I am an adult, and I have been for a while - I recommend to find something that drives you. It doesn't have to be organizing an event, or doing something lofty, but do something that inspired you."
What I love about this story is that Anthony Brashier was a student at risk of dropping out and the school did something extraordinary.
Last fall, Anthony Brashier was starting his senior year at E.O. Smith High School, but graduation and the future were the last of his concerns.

His home life was unstable and becoming too overwhelming to deal with, so Brashier, 18, said he began skipping school a lot.

"I didn't think it was possible to graduate, given my family situation," Brashier said. "I was going to go the whole GED route."

But his passion for helping others and the constant push from guidance counselor Barbara Pivarnik motivated him to turn his life around and lead his class and the school in raising money for the crisis in Darfur. He graduated alongside his classmates Tuesday night.
What the article fails to mention is that the event attracted Joe Courtney and Peter Tork to attend.

As a school board member I am never more proud of EO Smith than when it sheds the NCLB bullshit agenda and does what schools are supposed to do. Bruce Silva, Lou Deloreto, Barbara Pavarnik, Nicole "Waz" Waicunas, the senior class and everyone else pulling this together deserve State recognition for giving a damn and making it count.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why Honest, Independent Boards of Education Matter

In my forty years of political awareness I have never read a more bizarre or shocking story about the administration of schools. It is indescribable.

From An "F" for Effort by Sarah Fenske, New Times, Phoenix:
Only in Arizona, kids.

For decades, school districts like Maricopa County's have been virtual dictatorships. Superintendents like Dowling are elected, often with little opposition, and then answer to no one: They're literally a one-person governing board. That's the way the law is written, and past legislative efforts to change it have failed. No wonder Dowling thought she could get away with hiring virtually her entire family — and, more importantly, running the district into the ground, even while smiling big for the cameras.

So State Representative Mark Anderson, a Mesa Republican, introduced a bill earlier this year to mandate that school boards, whether elected or appointed, be set up to oversee county superintendents. Great idea, except Dowling managed to squash it. The word at the Capitol is that Dowling practically camped out in the hallways for six weeks, campaigning against the bill. (I can confirm that she's also enlisted her own registered lobbyist and several district employees to blitz state lawmakers with e-mailed objections.)

Apparently, it wasn't enough that she screwed up the county school district, thereby dooming thousands of kids to lousy educations. Dowling has the chutzpah to lobby the state from preventing similar mismanagement in the future.

You have to wonder: Why is anyone giving this woman the time of day?

It's been clear for some time that Sandra Dowling had absolutely no business running a school district — much less doing it without accountability for 17 years. Look at her track record: a big budget deficit, a history of horrific test scores, and enough evidence of personal corruption to get her indicted.

But don't take my word for it. Read the report from the experts brought in to run the schools after Dowling's indictment. That three-person board of receivers, appointed by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields earlier this year, has the unenviable task of straightening out the district's finances and getting education on track. (Click to view their February and May reports.)

Nancy Haas, an education professor at Arizona State University, has been on the receiving board since November. More than 10 years ago, Haas spent her sabbatical at one of Dowling's schools. She witnessed enough problems to become one of the district's few outspoken critics during Dowling's pre-indictment heyday.

But even Haas is getting an education these days.

"I had knowledge at the high level of critical issues that were working against providing good educational services to the students," she says. She still wasn't prepared for the rat's nest that she and her fellow receivers have found: "Even I am surprised at how bad it is."
Considering John McCain's presidential bid, one can't help but wonder how this could be going on under his nose without comment.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Disgraceful Saga of 'Zero Tolerance' Policies

After twenty years or more of the terror of 'zero tolerance' laws and societal policies, some humanity and intelligence is running these ridiculous and disdainful things out of town after town.

The reason is simple, zero tolerance has left a legacy of broken lives, scorched public trust, and destitute justice in its mindless rampage through America. Judges were not trusted to exercise good judgment and enforcement officials were required to press on with even the most bogus of criminal claims.

The American courtroom more resembles a horror show 'red room' than a house of justice.

Read Has 'zero tolerance' in schools gone too far?
Some states' lawmakers move in that direction on violence, drugs policies
and thank god the country is waking up.
Lawmakers in several states say the strict policies in schools have resulted in many punishments that lack common sense, and are seeking to loosen the restrictions.

"A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets," said Rhode Island state Sen. Daniel Issa, a former school board member who worries that no-tolerance rules are applied blindly and too rigidly.

Issa sponsored a bill requiring school districts to decide punishments for alcohol, drug and non-firearm weapon violations on a case-by-case basis after weighing the circumstances. It passed the Senate and House and now heads for the governor's desk.

Some have long been aware of the problems of zero tolerance. For the last decade, Mississippi has allowed local school districts to reduce previously mandatory one-year expulsions for violence, weapons and drug offenses.

More recently, Texas lawmakers have also moved to tone down their state's zero-tolerance rules. Utah altered its zero-tolerance policy on drugs so asthmatic students can carry inhalers. The American Bar Association has recommended ending zero-tolerance policies, while the American Psychological Association wants the most draconian codes changed.

"It may be a bit of self-correction that you're beginning to see where the pendulum is coming back," said Kathy Christie, vice president of a research clearinghouse for Education Commission of the States in Denver.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Right-brainers, Censorship, and Education' s Contribution to National Health

A Dice discussion board entry is being censored and has alerted me to what looks to be an important new book about teaching in western countries. It appears that the thread is being attacked because the book discusses foreign interests who are objecting to calling attention to them as bigotry.

As long as we live in an open society, my preference is to air the subject matter and let citizens make up their own minds.

The thread, Right Brainers Will Rule The Future, is attributed to an anonymous writer and this is the entry whose responses are being deleted;
Or so says Daniel H. Pink in "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age To The Conceptual Age". It discusses the three forces which are changing America as the three As. They are abundance, automation, and Asia. He purposes that thinking with our left side of our brain is not enough anymore and we also need to give a new more important focus to our right hemisphere. He says this will bring on a new age in America called the Conceptual Age. Six principles will help us in this direction. They are design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. He provides a chapter on each and how to improve them. Really informative, helpful, and interesting book.
This looks like a great summer read for all teachers and administrators involved in curriculum development. I plan on reading the book and providing some follow-up but in the meanwhile, let Dice know that in the free world censorship is bigotry against ideas and open discussion.

Until there is no United States, freedom of speech trumps the abuse of blunt instruments of political correctness. Preserve our right to be offended!

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Unknown Artist: Strangest Space Pop Band Ever!

Johnny Depp appears on a Japanese television show that features a number of young Japanese children (who will absolutely astonish you). Fun and interesting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Are Learning Disability Students Being Discriminated Against in Car Insurance Rates?

It is the time of year when grades come out and students who meet certain grade point criteria can get a break on their car insurance premiums.

The trouble is that students with learning disabilities can often fall short of that criteria. In many cases they work as hard if not harder than the unblemished academics.

Students earning credit under IEP programs should get reviewed by the IEP team to be awarded a merit designation for preferred car insurance rates. Academic grades do not tell the whole story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A By-product of the Julie Amero Case

The group of experts who pooled their talents in a volunteer effort to aid the defense of Julie Amero have set up a website that hopes to address the myriad issues that afflict teachers, parents, schools, business, and others who get trapped in the legal system.

The Julie Group will identify worthy cases of injustice and see where they go. We do not expect to always be right but we do hope to shed some light on the subject no matter what the conclusion.

Education will be a big subject. Preventative computing practices that minimize exposure to inappropriate content will be endorsed. Educational materials for use in schools will be examined and recommended.

Lawyers looking to offer pro bono services might drop in to see what we're up to and recommending as worthy causes.

Police and enforcement agencies will find the Julie Group receptive to offering independent second opinions of cyber-crime cases.

The new home for computer forensic discussions are The Julie Group or

Tho not always identified the Julie Group includes the planet's finest computer forensic practitioners and generalists as well as key journalists and enforcement observers.

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Teach the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a Lesson

Isn't it about time that The Monkees get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

A lot of fans think so. If you want to sign a petition to teach the Hall a lesson then by all means sign here.

And because Peter is playing the area soon, check out his website - fascinating stuff.

In fact he offers a few free MP3s here.

But let me up the ante a bit. Not only should the Monkees be inducted to the Hall of Fame but they should drive there in the Monkee-mobile! Oh, yeah. Change the oil and let's take that baby for a spin!

Friday, June 08, 2007

New, Free and Recommended Security Software

I'm updating my recommendations for parents, schools, and teachers based on a new report from A-V Comparatives. Their evaluation of anti-virus software unveils two virtually unknown market players; ESet and Avira.

Avira offers a free anti-virus package that blows away many commercial and older free products.

ESet offers free one-shot anti-virus removers and a strong anti-virus commercial offering for schools. Again, a product that is way ahead of the pack.

Finally, with the disclaimer that Alex Eckelberry is a personal friend of mine, I am adding Counter Spy to my recommended security suite for parents, students, and teachers.

Don't take my word for it if you think I'm selling something. I make not a penny and I believe this will secure your computer better than just about any other affordable suite of software.

My links are on the left and the updates are worth doing now.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Julie Group

I have never in my life been associated with a stranger brew of people. Men, women,young, old, liberals, conservatives, law enforcement, lawyers, teachers, journalists, skeptics, experts, writers, and by-standers. And, of course blog readers.

The people who worked so hard as volunteers were told repeatedly that Julie Amero was convicted and that there was no chance this conviction would be abandoned. None. It doesn't happen hardly ever at all.

Jurors swore she was guilty in written comments. The police expert claimed secret knowledge and promised block-buster revelations (we're still waiting). The story was so bizarre and had so many impossible co-incidences that many thought it was written by Lewis Carroll.

I stopped blogging so that the defense team could do their jobs. And people would come up to me as if to take mt temperature and wonder if the fever had worn off and would say, "Too bad about that teacher." They'd shake their head and realize I hadn't given up. They would shift their eyes away to discreetly lament to themselves that I must be a lost cause.

The Julie Group changed the world.

Collaborative investigative journalism worked. Collaborative judicial intervention worked. Tolerant, speculative discussion threads came and went and the ones bearing merit were not diminished because lesser ideas were vetted.

The Julie Group changed the world.

Injustice as usual was replaced by justice for a change. The cockroaches are fleeing. The system smells better.

The Julie Group changed the world.

Here's what Walt Le Baron, EdD said so well just yesterday in addressing the volunteer community:
I was sort of on the side of this group, but I am just as excited as all of you that Julie has been in effect exonerated.

I can only imagine that the time and effort was considerable that you computer experts put into correcting the false testimony of Lounsbury and for setting forth the correct interpretations for this case.

You deserve the appreciation of all teachers and educators in the United States, possibly other countries as well. It is comforting to know that despite the present efforts of the federal government to destroy our liberties, there are still gallant citizens who will rise to the fore when justice demands their help. I hope your efforts are recognized by both educational and computer organizations concerned with professionalism in these fields. Meanwhile, my personal thank you for helping the cause of electronic education as well as saving Julie.
This is reprinted to make sure everyone out there gets congratulated. I think Walter speaks for everyone involved - we're all glad the others showed up.

And let me remind everyone that Julie and Wes still need contributions to their defense fund. They are a long way from being made whole. See my link in the left column to their donation site.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

American Redemption: Julie Amero

I grew up during an age of American legal giants. William O. Douglas, Ramsey Clark, Abe Ribicoff, John Dempsey, and a crowd of others. America, Connecticut, and the world would routinely witness the birth and rebirth of the American Dream as it pertained to justice. The little guy in America often got a fair shake.

All those so-called "activist" judges created a judicial system that was the envy of the world and is now a historic high-water mark that we can only dream of ever achieving again.

You see it takes vision, courage, and compassion for justice to flourish and these days, under the dismal and perverse direction of the Bush administration, nothing resembling justice dare expose itself. To this degree my understanding of justice is far different from what an American High School student might today expect to believe.

The rule of law must sound like a myth to today's student. There are no innocent defendants and turning in your neighbor, fellow teacher, or your parents is a national blood sport. And truth is just a word invented by scientists who can't prove a thing.

But today, a crack in the guilty-no-matter-what-machine appeared. Not a tiny crack. Today a marching band of international goodwill bulldozed across the landscape and did something extremely rare in American justice. Today, Julie Amero, falsely convicted of endangering the morals of minors, was granted a new trial because the first one was found wanting of truth, justice, and the American way.

Yes indeed folks, the American secret weapon for world domination was dusted off and taken for a test drive. It's a muscle car like its always been.

You're more likely to see cockroaches sunbathing than find someone who believes Julie Amero was a criminal today. Julie looked stunning from the Courant pictures taken at the courthouse today. And the smiles of relief exposed an obvious innocence that can't be manufactured by all the computer experts in this world.

Teachers in America can no longer fear being labeled a hypocrite for teaching that, in America, justice triumphs. It can and it does. No the system does not necessarily "work". In Connecticut, the system more resembles judicial racketeering than justice.

But today an indifferent, hubrionic system met its match. Citizens like you and me and our neighbors had enough of this bald injustice and refused to take it anymore. The system was cracked by goodwill, intelligence, and, most surprising of all, a resurrection of journalism that pundits like Steven Colbert ridiculed as being dead - intrepid, persistent, and unwavering journalism (Rick Green and Lindsey Beyerstein come to mind). And the judge hated it - accused bloggers of attempting "undue influence" on the court.

No, the system didn't work at all because it actually performed the task it was always supposed to perform - blind, impartial, compassionate justice. It surprised the hell out of everyone and, Julie's lawyer, William Dow III, deserves kudos for getting the thing running properly.

This is a happy day for all of us who blogged, investigated, and championed Julie Amero and Wes Volle's cause.

May today represent a return to blossom of the American judiciary. Lord knows it's long overdue. Today's ruling is what American justice should look like. Let's be sure it's not a shooting star.

There's a ton of great material out today on Julie.

As they used to say in the newspaper business, READ ALL ABOUT IT!

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Peter Tork Coming to Ashford June 28, 2007

Last year, I got an astonishing response to my humble review of Peter Tork playing for the Joshua Land Trust. Read them here and here.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you'll know Peter Tork as a former Monkee. Last year he took the stage alone and was fantastic. This year he's bringing his band, Blue Suede Shoes (Richard Mikuls, John Palmer and Arnold Jacks) with him and, as proud owner of a Blue Suede Shoes CD, I am betting they knock your socks off.

The concert on Thursday, June 28, 2007 benefits Joshua's Trust again and the tickets can be purchased AT THIS LINK using THIS FORM.

The photo shown here, is linked from Joshua's Trust's website in good faith and fair use to promote this worthwhile event. If you can't make the concert, please consider making a donation directly to them.

BTW: This was a sellout last year. It is a small hall, intimate, and a great atmosphere, and Peter is loose, funny, and throws away some very interesting insights into his career. If you missed seeing great talent in smaller venues back in the day, you'll regret not coping a ticket for this.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Introducing Gapminder

Gapminder, recently purchased by Google is a rich set of visual, dynamic, statistical analysis tools that are available freely to anyone - most specifically educators.

Anyone interested in global trends of population, education, wealth and so on are covered beautifully and certainly deserve the attention of all social scientists, historians, and policy wonk-abees.