Saturday, March 31, 2007

Suggesting Expectations

A few months ago, this study covered briefly by the Washington Post is interesting.
Telling women they cannot do well in math may turn out to be a self-fulfilling statement.

In tests in Canada, women who were told that men and women do math equally well did much better than those who were told there is a genetic difference in math ability.

And women who heard there were differences caused by environment -- such as math teachers giving more attention to boys -- outperformed those who were simply reminded they were female.

The women who did better in the tests got nearly twice as many right answers as those in the other groups, said Steven J. Heine, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

"The findings suggest that people tend to accept genetic explanations as if they're more powerful or irrevocable, which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies," Heine said.
I can't help but wonder if before giving these high stress achievement tests if we should put together a carefully worded pep talk about how well our students always do by being conscientious and so on.

It might raise the scores simply by suggesting the scores will be higher.



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Friday, March 30, 2007

To Bee or Not To Bee

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” - Albert Einstein
A few days ago, I read an article that raises an alarm about something that must become a top priority for the global community. Our bee populations are under siege and we need to figure out why quickly and reverse the damage or harden the bee population.
Honeybees are vanishing at an alarming rate from 24 US states, threatening the production of numerous crops.

The cause of the losses, which range from 30% to more than 70%, is a mystery, but experts are investigating several theories.

American bee colonies have been hit by regional crises before, but keepers say this is the first national crisis.

Bees pollinate more than $14bn (£7bn) worth of US seeds and crops each year, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts.


Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home
David Bradshaw, Beekeeper

The mystery disappearances highlight the important link that honeybees play in the chain that brings fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables.

The crisis threatens numerous crops, from avocados to kiwis and California almonds - one of the most profitable in the US.

"I have never seen anything like it," California beekeeper David Bradshaw, 50, told the New York Times.

"Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home."

Under pressure

With an industry increasingly under consolidation, some fear the disorder could prove the breaking point for even large beekeepers.

The bee losses range from 30 to 60% on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70%.

Beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20% in the offseason to be normal.

Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

"The real question is why they leave," Jerry Hayes, a bee expert for the Florida Department of Agriculture told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

"Bees are highly social insects. They don't leave their babies and the queen."

The investigators are exploring a range of possibilities to explain the losses, which they are calling "colony collapse disorder". These include viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.

They are also studying pesticides banned in some European countries to see if they are affecting the bees' innate ability to navigate their way back to their hives.

In some cases, bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. This could have lowered their immunity to viruses.

Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill them are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many workers.

Read the entire article. This is a non-trivial issue. Our food supply may be in grave danger if this continues.



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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The State of American Software Employees

President Bush has recently echoed Greenspan's sentiments that the free market must have exceptions with one of them being that software developers, architects and engineers in this country must be constrained from making a fair market wage.

Here's ComputerWorld's coverage of Round 2: H-1B Battle: American engineers vs. President Bush! by Dino Perrotti.
It hurts to get slapped across the face by the most powerful man in the world, but American engineers are not down and out yet. At the very opening moment of round 2, President Bush comes out swinging; knocking down any argument American engineers and other high-skilled professionals might have against H-1B immigration laws.

The president fired the first salvo in the 2007 H-1B Battle, telling selected employees of Dupont that he feels strongly that America needs to raise the cap on H-1Bs. Here is the exact excerpt:


...As an aside, when I talked about the immigration bill last night, I also want you to know I understand that we need to make sure that when a smart person from overseas wants to come and work in DuPont, it's in our interests to allow him or her to do so. We've got to expand what's called H1B visas. I know the Senator and the Congressman understand that. I'm looking forward with Congress to do just that. It makes no sense, by the way -- I know, I'm getting off topic here -- (laughter) -- but I feel strongly about what I'm telling you. It makes no sense to say to a young scientist from India, you can't come to America to help this company develop technologies that help us deal with our problems. So we've got to change that, as well, change that mind set in Washington, D.C. I know we can work together on that.
The article goes on to warn students and citizens of what is at stake.
So far the conversation has been controlled by studies paid for by special interest groups representing technology companies.

What affects the engineers of today, affects the engineers of tomorrow. Today, American students who yearn to learn mathematics and science are discouraged to do so. Why should anyone study so hard for a career that is in dire jeopardy?

Over the last several years, university engineering enrollment has plummeted as engineering opportunities have dissipated. Anyone who feels that their children should be encouraged to study math and science should voice their concern over this issue.

There are also serious national security concerns. It is widely known that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are attempting to use loopholes in our immigration laws to slip in those who wish to do harm to our country. Mohamed Atta was here on a student visa. It does not take a writer from "24" to imagine how much damage engineers sponsored by terrorist organizations can do to this country. Most applicants are rubber-stamped completely by USCIS, and tracking over 900,000 visas is nearly impossible for Homeland Security. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the outgoing chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security has raised serious concerns over the program. It's worth noting that nuclear bombs are created by nuclear engineers, biological weapons are created by biology and chemical engineers, triggering mechanisms are designed by electrical engineers, hacking is performed by software engineers, and methods used to demolish buildings are developed by civil engineers. If all of this seems too overwhelming, take heed, there is something the average citizen can do.

Most Americans are getting tired of watching our beloved democracy become a plutocracy and they are doing something about it, voting.

VOTE!

Voting is the most powerful tool that Americans have to influence politicians. For the last decade or so, getting votes meant raising campaign contributions. With those funds, politicians advertised themselves in the media (television, print, and billboards), the same as a breakfast cereal would be. So the more money they got, the more commercials they would play and the more votes they would get and so on. Through campaign contributions and soft money, corporate America slowly took control of American politics to the detriment of U.S. citizens. Once our representatives realize that their constituents feel strongly about the H-1B issue, they will begin to discuss the program openly and honestly on the floor and in committees. All that engineers can ask for is a fair fight.

Disclaimer: H-1B's best and brightest

When used properly H-1B visas can be very good for America. Americans are pro-immigration as long as they do not face massive layoffs as a result. At the beginning of the H-1B program, the engineers who came here were extremely bright, pro-American, and wanted to become assimilated citizens. The H-1B program is considered a guest-worker program but every visa holder wanted to become a full citizen if possible. These were mostly engineers with Masters degrees and Ph.D.s, many of whom have spent years teaching at American universities. They were welcomed and appreciated.

Currently, there are over 900,000 H-1B visa holders in the United States, the majority of whom are fresh B.S.E.E. graduates with average technical skills, and some with extremely below average social skills. It is in our best interest to accept those with advanced degrees such as Masters and Ph.D.s, those who've graduated at the top of their undergraduate classes and those who've demonstrated an ability to assimilate into American society. If this was the case, the current cap of 85,000 per year may even be difficult to reach.

This fight is NOT between American engineers and H-1B engineers. Tech companies have abused American engineers by replacing them with H-1B engineers, but they have also abused the very same H-1B visa holders. H-1Bs are paid less, asked to work free overtime, cannot easily change jobs, and have the constant Damoclean Sword of deportation if they get fired. In addition, law firms and job shops such as Wipro take large portions of their salary for doing paperwork. Plus there are many other visa loops they and their families have to jump through just to stay in America. With proper H-1B reform, the quality of life for H-1B holders should dramatically improve.

Scorecard

In case you're keeping score, Round 1 was won by the engineers and the middle-class when an increase to the H-1B cap was averted in the last moments of the 2006 session of congress. It was a hollow victory, however, because it turned out that the cap was not enforced for the last 2 years anyway, which effectively increased the cap by an additional 75,000 visas. In layman's terms, they won the round but the judges ruled against them.

Round 2 was easily won by the tech companies. Regardless of what Lou Dobbs exposes, the President has the ultimate pen-power of signing the immigration reform bill into law. If engineers cannot convince the president to change his views, all may be lost. There is little evidence of the President ever changing his mind, but members of Congress who are concerned about the next election, may take a closer look at it. So it's still anybody's battle to win.
If any of you give the slightest care about this country you will write your House representative to reject any riders attached to the bill calling for an increase in the minimum wage. Today a Kennedy/McCain rider is attached to a Senate bill that will open the floodgates to a new tsunami of cheap imported labor.

It won't stop until you tell them we've all had enough.



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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Feed Me

Last night's budget meeting convinced me to vote for this piece in the Saatchi Art Gallery showdown. It is called "Business as Usual" by Albo Jeavons, 2001. In addition to voting on this year's school budget, you can vote on art as well.


Business as Usual

And business as usual it is as I'm sure it is every year.

The longer I am exposed to the public school budget process the more I am convinced that public schools are writing their own one way ticket to being dismantled. I can support school budgets that hold the promise of reforming curriculum, upgrading process and content, and reinvigorating the vitality of the school.

You can rest easy there will be none of that this year or in the foreseeable future. You can stop staring as though you're fitting me for a straitjacket for suggesting such a thing.

The delicate flower of education is once more awaiting its ritualistic meal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Animal House Prototype

Abe Lincoln e-mailed me last night. He told me that an old friend of ours died a few weeks ago. Abe had been doing a Google search looking for former classmates and happened upon the obituary.

Joseph "Bo" Scott, III

Joseph "Bo" Scott, III, 53 of Beaumont died Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at St. Elizabeth Hospital. Funeral service will be at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, March 10, 2007 at Mercy Funeral Home Chapel with burial at Greenlawn Cemetery under the direction of Mercy Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 9:00 a.m. until time of the service at the funeral home. He was a native and lifelong resident of Beaumont. He graduated from Charlton - Pollard High School in 1971, and retired from E. I. Dupont in 2006 with 30 years of service. He is survived by his wife of 17 years, Gloria Staves Scott...
What's missing is the fact that in 1972 Bo Scott plugged into a cosmic Doane College fraternity called Alpha Pi Epsilon or APEs. It was a shared journey that I can offer my own subjective view of.

The historical relic called "The Sixties" is loosely a period of time between 1964, the arrival of the Beatles and 1974 or so, the end of the Vietnam War. In those days, students were encouraged by federal and corporate policy to attend college out-of-state. It was inexpensive and it broadened the student.

For me and many others it was also an opportunity to leave home where family relations strained because of lifestyle and the war. When I evaluated colleges, I remember walking up to a map of the United States and pointing my finger to a fairly exact middle of the country, eastern Nebraska. I found Doane College and in 1970 arrived on campus along with lots of other east coast students as well as healthy contingents from Texas and California.

To our horror, one had to wear a sports jacket and tie to be served Sunday meals and no matter what social revolution might be happening in New York, Boston, and Berkeley, we were warned the police in the nearest city, Lincoln, would issue you a jay-walking ticket if you failed to cross at a cross-walk! No foolin'

I studied Education because I hated the way schools were run. I had been regimented into a college track since seventh grade, was forced to take certain courses and couldn't take courses I really wanted to, and so on. And I said so. And then I ran into Dr. Dudley, one of the heads of the Education Department who asked a simple question, "Who's stopping you from changing it?"

And I sputtered back, "Well, THEY are!"

"Who is they?"

Eventually, he won the argument. I never forgot it. It was electric in the breeze.

And so at Doane, Sunday meals soon became informal and lots of things changed because of the mix of students. One of the last bastions of stoic resistance remained the fraternity system, then almost exclusively a sports-centric enterprise.

In my freshman year, an unusual offer was being presented to a small social group that I belonged to at the time, "Will you guys join a dying fraternity that is largely a laughingstock of the campus?" Alan Fineburg was asking us to do something very scary at the time, sacrifice our self-esteem if we joined and failed to transform the fortunes of his -cough- fraternity.

We eventually said yes and within a meeting or two proposed changes so unpalatable to some of the existing members that they quit. The fraternity that was the laughingstock of the campus was now all ours! The word 'nerd' had not yet entered the vernacular of the American public but there we were.

We changed the name of the fraternity to Alpha Pi Epsilon to capitalize on the APE acronym and worked hard to turn this enterprise around (I'm glossing the details, but... hey). This is where Bo Scott enters the picture.

The next year we solicited new pledges and to our knowledge a black had never pledged to a Doane fraternity. There were a number of issues involved but aside from the obvious, many of the blacks on campus despite being social, largely organized themselves into a loose special interest group. Couple that with an offer to join the APEs (we were still NOBODY-I-KNOW) and Bo's choice must have been very difficult. I can well imagine him thinking, "Christ, I'm black which is no picnic to begin with and these idiots want me to become an APE!"

When I write here about transforming education, changing the world, or making some noise I speak with the memory that nobody stops us from making this world a better place. Nobody. Today Alpha Pi Epsilon is the most respected and popular fraternity on campus thanks to the generations who followed and continue to transform that piece of America.

Bo did join us and eventually served as our fraternity president (another first, maybe even nationwide). It took real courage on a number of levels as many of you know. He was one of the first to hear the call to do something new and different and bold.

Bo Scott in my mind occupied an archetype for the Mr. Bo Jangles musical character. Physically his arms and legs just naturally seemed to swing out in a devil-may-care gait that radiated internal peace and joy. And he was a party favorite - funny and a pleasure to share company with and a great friend.

When my days end I'll join Bo on the other side to party one more time. Today, I miss Bo Scott.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Moyers on Learning Democracy

I try to create as much original content as I can here but some things require no annotations. This is an important read for all Americans.

From A Time for Anger, a Call to Action, by Bill Moyers (CommonDreams.org)
I have come across the continent to talk to you about two subjects close to my heart. I care about them as a journalist, a citizen and a grandfather who looks at the pictures next to my computer of my five young grandchildren who do not have a vote, a lobbyist in Washington, or the means to contribute to a presidential candidate. If I don't act in their behalf, who will?

One of my obsessions is democracy, and there is no campus in the country more attuned than Occidental to what it will take to save democracy. Because of your record of activism for social justice, I know we agree that democracy is more than what we were taught in high school civics - more than the two-party system, the checks-and-balances, the debate over whether the Electoral College is a good idea. Those are important matters that warrant our attention, but democracy involves something more fundamental. I want to talk about what democracy bestows on us, the revolutionary idea that democracy is not just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency. "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being" - those are the words of our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson.

I've been spending time with Woodrow Wilson and others of his era because my colleagues and I are producing a documentary series on the momentous struggles that gripped America a century or so years ago at the birth of modern politics. Woodrow Wilson clearly understood the nature of power. In his now-forgotten political testament called The New Freedom, Wilson described his reformism in plain English no one could fail to understand: "The laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak." He wrote: "Don't deceive yourselves for a moment as to the power of great interests which now dominate our development... There are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States. They are going to own it if they can." And he warned: "There is no salvation in the pitiful condescensions of industrial masters... prosperity guaranteed by trustees has no prospect of endurance."

Now Wilson took his stand at the center of power - the presidency itself - and from his stand came progressive income taxation, the federal estate tax, tariff reform, the challenge to great monopolies and trusts, and, most important, a resolute spirit "to deal with the new and subtle tyrannies according to their deserts."

How we need that spirit today! When Woodrow Wilson spoke of democracy releasing the energies of every human being, he was declaring that we cannot leave our destiny to politicians, elites, and experts; either we take democracy into our own hands, or others will take democracy from us.

We do not have much time. Our political system is melting down, right here where you live.



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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Suburban Implosion and Rat Poisoning

I got tired of complaining about Bush years ago. He and Rove and Cheney never fooled me for a second and I wrote with a fair degree of accuracy about what they were doing when they did it. It required no crystal ball or psychic powers, I had lived through Nixon and Kissinger before and anyone who says they didn't know what this gang was up to wasn't paying attention.

Some of the nearest and dearest people in my life are hardcore conservatives and fine people by any measure. The scorched earth of the Bush administration is unrepresentative of a one of them.

Tonight we learn that rat poison imported through Chinese grain and food additives are responsible for the deaths of pets who've been eating it. And furthermore that same stuff may be in human foods. The race to the global supply-chain bottom looks like this. To save money we sacrifice our pets and health. I'm guessing the stock market approves. I suspect Tom Friedman is revising his flat-earth theory yet again.

But the rat poison isn't working because every night on the news the rats hold their press conferences and remind us that they're still in charge and that they will not be held accountable. The race to the bottom we are told is more important than the race into space that resulted in our lunar landings. Our priorities are different.

Alan Greenspan described the enemy the other day, "Allowing more skilled workers into the country would bring down the salaries of top earners in the United States, easing tensions over the mounting wage gap, Greenspan said.

"Our skilled wages are higher than anywhere in the world," he said. "If we open up a significant window for skilled workers, that would suppress the skilled-wage level and end the concentration of income."

Income inequality has risen in the past three decades."

Yes, you read that right. American middle-class workers are the problem and America must economically subjugate them (myself included) as a national priority. In many ways the rat poison imported from China is for us not our pets.

I spent the last few years watching Greenspan's vision play out in my own life. As a computer scientist I am as often unemployed as employed. I am forced to interview with foreigners who I can barely understand and who ooze the same arrogant contempt for us that Greenspan poisons us with. I am a whipping post in this rotten global game and the poison of the Bush administration is working. The free-market American middle-class is dying.

Yesterday The New York Times reported Foreclosures Force Suburbs to Fight Blight by Erik Eckholm.
“It’s a tragedy and it’s just beginning,” Mayor Judith H. Rawson of Shaker Heights, a mostly affluent suburb, said of the evictions and vacancies, a problem fueled by a rapid increase in high-interest, subprime loans.

“All those shaky loans are out there, and the foreclosures are coming,” Ms. Rawson said. “Managing the damage to our communities will take years.”

Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland and 58 suburbs, has one of the country’s highest foreclosure rates, and officials say the worst is yet to come. In 1995, the county had 2,500 foreclosures; last year there were 15,000. Officials blame the weak economy and housing market and a rash of subprime loans for the high numbers, and the unusual prevalence of vacant houses.
Damage to communities? What are these observers thinking? This isn't damage. This is Greenspan's idea of global social engineering.

We are told to sell our communities the kool-aid that promotes the idea that we need mathematicians and scientists while the government prepares us a hearty helping of imported gluton. We can choose to sit back and let their poison work or we can fight back and say enough.

The rats are at our doors.



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Friday, March 23, 2007

Rough Boys

About a week ago, Man-Of-Steel Mentality Helps Guys Heal Faster by Jeanna Bryner appeared in LiveScience.com.

It is very interesting because it confirms what many of us have a personal intuition about and that is that we heal faster when we are more alive.

Many of us older guys often have the discussion that "in the day" we'd sprain our ankles playing basketball one day and suit up to play two days later, hobbling a bit but getting by. But today, there are insurance agents, trainers, coaches, physical therapists, and a host of attendances that seem to all get in the way of the kid getting on his feet and toughing it out.

I've also been reading Carl Rodgers' "On Becoming a Person" lately and he talks about enlightened stages of personhood as someone who feels pain and pleasure more acutely yet in my experience the nation seems to be prescription drugged to a state of numbness that is frightening. Far from broadening the range of emotion and feeling, the slightest discomfort demands intervention.

So, for the macho guys out there (macho with a small 'm'), here's something to take comfort in.
The stereotypical “tough guy” or “real man” rarely asks for help or shows signs of weakness, because then he wouldn’t be a guy, right?

While many scientists have considered these masculine tendencies to be barriers to health and recovery, a small study of about 50 men suggests the opposite. The man-of-steel mentality, often associated with military men and those in other high-risk occupations, can boost and speed up a guy’s recovery from a serious and/or traumatic injury possibly.

“It has long been assumed that men are not as concerned and don't take as good of care of their health,” said lead study author Glenn Good of the University of Missouri, Columbia, “but what we're seeing here is that the same ideas that led to their injuries may actually encourage their recovery.”
...and...
Good and bad

The study found that increased masculinity had some negative effects on the recovery of “manly men.” The participants who believed it was appropriate to hold in their emotions, be self-reliant and have power over women had less favorable views toward seeking psychological help. This “I can take care of myself” attitude could be detrimental to already injured men.

The researchers also found that men who had strongly believed in male dominance over women were less satisfied with their lives.

But, men who focused on their careers, success, power and competition reported better relations in their community. These same participants showed greater improvement a year after their hospitalization.

Perhaps, the scientists report, an inner narrative is the engine behind the boost in health. For example, a brawny boy might think, “Yeah there are tough challenges, but nothing will stop me from reaching my goal,” the scientists state in a report of this study published in a recent issue of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

Even so, the resistance to psychological help concerned the scientists. “The immediate message here is to encourage psychotherapy along with traditional methods of healing,” Good said. Therapists trying to help men recover from serious injuries could encourage men's masculine tendency to seek success but discourage them from believing it's appropriate to exert power over women, he wrote.

“This study also can shed some light on what the wounded soldiers from Iraq may be facing,” Good said, in a prepared statement. “The war in Iraq is the first in which such a large number of soldiers are surviving injuries that would once have been fatal,” he said, “and we as a nation are going to be living with their care for a while.”



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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Biorhythms of Learning

The New York Times just concluded a three-part series on the difficulties of teaching Jr. High School students And something that jumps out at the reader is that Jr High School is the wrong place to try to drill facts. In watching the compelling videos and listening to the teachers describe their experiences it becomes obvious that subject matter is less important than psychology and sociology.

And you cannot help but feel that there is a biorhythm that introverts during the Jr High school years.

For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills by Elissa Gootman is a worthwhile read.
The most recent results of math and reading tests given to students in all 50 states showed that between 1999 and 2004, elementary school students made solid gains in reading and math, while middle school students made smaller gains in math and stagnated in reading.

Yet many middle school teachers land there by happenstance. “More people end up in middle schools because that’s where the openings are,” said Carmen FariƱa, a former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system who is now helping 35 middle school principals reshape their schools. “It’s not necessarily a choice.”

JoAnn Rintel Abreu, 40, an English and social studies teacher at Seth Low, graduated with a masters’ degree in English literature, the “bare minimum” teaching requirements and glorious visions of turning high school students on to Shakespeare and Chaucer. She was offered a middle school job first.

Now, after 16 years at Seth Low, Mrs. Abreu takes great satisfaction in trying to figure out how to reach adolescents. The rewards come with breakthrough moments, like when a sullen eighth grader who rarely does his homework handed in a bitterly descriptive, beautifully written memoir about his father’s new girlfriend, “the witch.”

“Middle school is like Scotch,” she reflected in the teachers’ lounge one afternoon. “At first you try to get it down. Then you get used to it. Then it’s all you order.”



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Monday, March 19, 2007

Holy Moley! Bong Hits 4 Jesus!

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a Freedom of Speech issue driven by our old friends Kenneth Starr and George "The Decider" Bush.

A high school student seeking nothing more than his fifteen seconds of local TV exposure created the nonsensical banner entitled, Bong Hits 4 Jesus. The principal of the school destroyed the sign. The issue is whether or not students have the right to free expression when the ideas expressed distress the school administrators. This is not about pornographic, salacious, or profane messages, this is about words.

In this case the prosecutors think that if the substance implied in the message is illegal then the words used as labels for the stuff that's illegal is illegal as well. Welcome to Bush World.

From Free-Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right by Linda Greenhouse, New York Times:
On the surface, Joseph Frederick’s dispute with his principal, Deborah Morse, at the Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska five years ago appeared to have little if anything to do with religion — or perhaps with much of anything beyond a bored senior’s attitude and a harried administrator’s impatience.

As the Olympic torch was carried through the streets of Juneau on its way to the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, students were allowed to leave the school grounds to watch. The school band and cheerleaders performed. With television cameras focused on the scene, Mr. Frederick and some friends unfurled a 14-foot-long banner with the inscription: “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

Mr. Frederick later testified that he designed the banner, using a slogan he had seen on a snowboard, “to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television.” Ms. Morse found no humor but plenty of meaning in the sign, recognizing “bong hits” as a slang reference to using marijuana. She demanded that he take the banner down. When he refused, she tore it down, ordered him to her office, and gave him a 10-day suspension.

Mr. Fredericks’s ensuing lawsuit and the free-speech court battle that resulted, in which he has prevailed so far, is one that, classically, pits official authority against student dissent. It is the first Supreme Court case to do so directly since the court upheld the right of students to wear black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, declaring in Tinker v. Des Moines School District that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Furthermore;
What galvanized most of the groups on Mr. Frederick’s side was the breadth of the arguments made on the other side. The solicitor general’s brief asserts that under the Supreme Court’s precedents, student speech “may be banned if it is inconsistent with a school’s basic educational mission.”

The Juneau School Board’s mission includes opposing illegal drug use, the administration’s brief continues, citing as evidence a 1994 federal law, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which requires that schools, as a condition of receiving federal money, must “convey a clear and consistent message” that using illegal drugs is “wrong and harmful.”

Mr. Starr’s main brief asserts that the court’s trilogy of cases “stands for the proposition that students have limited free speech rights balanced against the school district’s right to carry out its educational mission and to maintain discipline.” The brief argues that even if Ms. Morse applied that precept incorrectly to the facts of this case, she is entitled to immunity from suit because she could have reasonably believed that the law was on her side.

The religious groups were particularly alarmed by what they saw as the implication that school boards could define their “educational mission” as they wished and could suppress countervailing speech accordingly.

“Holy moly, look at this! To get drugs we can eliminate free speech in schools?” is how Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic University, described his reaction to the briefs for the school board when the Liberty Legal Institute asked him to consider participating on the Mr. Frederick’s behalf. He quickly signed on.

Having worked closely with Republican administrations for years, Mr. Destro said he was hard pressed to understand the administration’s position. “My guess is they just hadn’t thought it through,” he said in an interview. “To the people who put them in office, they are making an incoherent statement.”

Incoherent? And that's a surprise?



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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Unknown Artist: El Perro Del Mar

Every once in the while there's a sighting of the Yellow Submarine floating around in the shared subconscious of the world. Here's a sighting, God Knows.





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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cuomo Reports Student Loan Corruption

This is a story flying under the radar that is important. MSNBC reports in N.Y. AG alleges student loan corruption by the Associated Press that colleges are getting kickbacks on certain student loan arrangements.
“There is an unholy alliance between banks and institutions of higher education that may often not be in the students’ best interest,” Cuomo said. “The financial arrangements between lenders and these schools are filled with the potential for conflicts of interest. In some cases they may break the law.”

Investigators found that many colleges have established questionable “preferred lender” lists and entered into revenue sharing and other financial arrangements with those lenders.

In the process, students have been denied their choice of lender, or faced difficulty using that lender, hurting their chances of getting better loan terms, the attorney general said.

Two-thirds of college students take out loans for college, he said.

According to Cuomo, investigators found:

* Lenders pay kickbacks to schools based on a percentage of the loans directed to the lenders.

* Lenders foot the bills for all-expense-paid trips for financial aid officers to posh resorts and exotic locations. They also provide schools with other benefits like computer systems and put representatives from schools on their advisory boards to curry favor.

* Loan companies set up funds and credit lines for schools to use in exchange for putting the lenders on their preferred lender lists and offer large payments to schools to drop out of the direct federal loan program so that the lenders get more business.
How uncool is that?



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Friday, March 16, 2007

Black Like Grandma

Some teen filmmakers in Chicago recreate the Brown versus Board of Education experiment. This video deserves an award and after the Connecticut Department of Education gets to view it they can explain to us why the urban schools in Connecticut don't work.



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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Both Parties Agree! End NCLB Now.

I was watching CSPAN this morning and the host of Washington Journal was holding a call-in segment with a Board of Education member from Iowa. The topic was No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The most interesting response she made was to say that NCLB has put extraordinary pressure on special education students who in many cases receive no special considerations on NCLB standardized tests. And it is these students who bear the brunt of failing school blame and high-pressure remedy. In other words we're adding stress, tension, and absurd expectations on the weakest populations.

So I was heartened to read Dozens in GOP Turn Against Bush's Prized 'No Child' Act by Jonathan Weisman and Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post.

The article contends "Republicans voted for No Child Left Behind holding their noses," said Michael J. Petrilli, an Education Department official during Bush's first term who is now a critic of the law. "But now with the president so politically weak, conservatives can vote their conscience."

I hope every politician in Washington finds the backbone to eliminate this piece of cancerous dreck as soon as possible. Our schools need to be free to catch up with the world and the times. Today under NCLB they are dying a slow, dumbed down, and increasingly irrelevant fate. This is not about Bush or Kennedy. This is just shit law.

Here's what the Republicans have found (and I agree whole-heartedly with their assessment).

Burson Snyder, a spokesman for Blunt, said that after several meetings with school administrators and teachers in southwest Missouri, the House Republican leader turned against the measure he helped pass. Blunt was convinced that the burdens and red tape of the No Child Left Behind Act are unacceptably onerous, Snyder said.

Some Republicans said yesterday that a backlash against the law was inevitable. Many voters in affluent suburban and exurban districts -- GOP strongholds -- think their schools have been adversely affected by the law. Once-innovative public schools have increasingly become captive to federal testing mandates, jettisoning education programs not covered by those tests, siphoning funds from programs for the talented and gifted, and discouraging creativity, critics say.


Furthermore,
Under Hoekstra's bill, any state could essentially opt out of No Child Left Behind after one of two actions. A state could hold a referendum, or two of three elected entities -- the governor, the legislature and the state's highest elected education official -- could decide that the state would no longer abide by the strict rules on testing and the curriculum.

The Senate bill is slightly less permissive, but it would allow a state to negotiate a "charter" with the federal government to get away from the law's mandates.

In both cases, the states that opt out would still be eligible for federal funding, but those states could exempt any education program but special education from No Child Left Behind strictures.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that advocates do not intend to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, they want to give states more flexibility to meet the president's goals of education achievement, he said. As a House member in 2001, DeMint opposed No Child Left Behind when it first came to a vote, but he voted for it on final passage.

"So many people are frustrated with the shackles of No Child Left Behind," DeMint said. "I don't think anyone argues with measuring what we're doing, but the fact is, even the education community . . . sees us just testing, testing, testing, and reshaping the curriculum so we look good."
Eliminating NCLB must become a Democratic and Republican priority. As a nation we cannot afford to play politics with this.

Please, please, please tell every politician who has a brain to vote this thing out.



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I Think Bill Gates is Trying to Kill Me

About a week ago, I read Bill Gates Pushes for Better Schools by Nancy Zuckerbrod over at the Huffington Post.

Bill Gates has become a bit of a perennial, one-man, dog and pony show in Washington. Politicians kiss his ass in the hopes of landing Microsoft campaign dollars and he is given the attention usually reserved for people who have something interesting to say. The mind-numbing redundancy of his perennial self-serving platitude makes my eyes water. Only listening to Joe Lieberman drone on makes my eyes water more.
"As a nation, we should start with this goal: Every child in the United States graduating from high school," he said.
That's commendable at face value but this country has a severe illegal immigration problem. One would think that Gates would couple this platitude with, "and, by the way, another goal is that every able-bodied citizen have a job and pays taxes before I ask you to lift the limit on H-1B visa workers."

No such luck.

"We simply cannot sustain an economy based on innovation unless our citizens are educated in math, science and engineering," Gates said.

Legislation moving through the Senate, backed by Democratic and Republican leaders, seeks to get more people to become math and science teachers and would improve training for them. The bill also seeks to get more highly trained teachers in poor schools and would offer grants to states to better align their teaching with what kids should know to succeed at a job or in college.

Gates said the nation's economy depends on keeping the country's borders open to highly skilled workers, especially those with a science or engineering background. Federal law provides 65,000 H1-B visas for scientists, engineers, computer programmers and other professionals every budget year. High-tech and other employers say that's not enough.

"Even though it may not be realistic, I don't think there should be any limit," Gates said, adding that Microsoft hasn't been able to fill approximately 3,000 technical jobs in the United States because of a shortage of skilled workers.

What Gates fails to mention is that he dropped out of Harvard with very little math, science and engineering to get where he is today. And he is no futurist because he fails to mention that many things learned in high school and college are obsolete every three years. But he's not there to reform education but to whine.

His real issue is the latter, cheap and unlimited floods of technical labor. You see I've been unemployed for about six weeks already and I've got 25+ years of technical expertise. And I'm not alone. High-tech professionals are unemployed more often and for longer periods than unskilled labor these days according to unemployment studies. But Bill Gates can't find us because he would like us to go away somewhere and drop dead.

In the past two weeks, I've applied for a half dozen jobs that I fit to a very close fit. All are local. But in a number of interviews, outrageous claims of mismatches occur. And at least two agencies have confided in private that the effect occurs with many of their clients. "It's reverse discrimination. You're a white, middle-aged guy who knows what he's doing and the industry is driven by the profits of prolonged, over-staffed, other-sourced projects - many in one stage of failure or another all over Hartford."

The issue that Gates and his disciples skirt is that the people like myself who evangelized his products to begin with are being ruthlessly thrown under the bus. He won't lose a wink of sleep over that but I do.

But his replacement workers are not cheaper or more desirable. In a recent Courant article, families of these workers often have no health insurance and leave behind expensive health care bills for tax-payers to assume. And educating children of fluid populations taxes the ability of school boards to plan expenses, enrollments, and staffing.

I wish Gates would hire unemployed Americans long before importing legions of "highly-skilled" workers. While these workers may be cost-effectively skilled they often lack the cultural sensitivity and ethical fortitude to understand American values and freedoms. When American workers are discriminated against in their own country as a new American underclass caste then I think we need to wake up.

The cost of American education no matter how you slice and dice the numbers means that a college graduate needs to make a professional salary to pay that cost back. H-1B visa workers bear no such burden. Bill Gates might want to run the numbers through his spread sheet again before trying to starve off what's left of us. We don't deserve being kicked while we're down.

This country has a rich technical workforce and Bill Gates should put it to work instead of knee haul it.



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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Perjury in the Amero Case Revisited in Finer Detail

In a previous post, I speculated as to whether or not a site that was viewed by one of our victims may have been something far more innocent than testified to by the prosecution. Upon closer inspection of the details, there may be a more compelling disconnect than first speculated upon here.

In cross-examining the class rosters, the witness whose testimony is ignored by police actually shared the (approx.) 10 to 11 a.m. Language Arts class with Student four. I had mistakenly thought it was the homeroom class early in the morning that our mystery girl was part of. [The class schedule is just making sense as we piece it together from scraps of information.]

Certain parts of that previous theory fit but Student Four would have had to have really mixed up the time that he claims to have seen women in bathing suits on Amero's screen. And the police report insists that the porn storm occurs between 9:24 and 11:11 a.m.

The fact that upon closer inspection the girl's testimony is not thrown out because she's outside the window of interest is all the more perplexing. Clearly she describes a very similar site as S4 and insists it is not pornographic. As a girl, she may be exposed to beauty or women's magazines that bare skin but have no pornographic connotation. A boy may see it erotically but that doesn't make it porn.

The fact that police cited a women's health link as a pornographic destination Amero visited only further erodes their credibility. The site femalesexual.com is actively protesting being called pornographic in the Amero case. They are not. And another site is also protesting, insisting they are simply a dating related venue. The Norwich Police have managed to insult legitimate web enterprise by not checking the facts.

It appears that the school, police, and court were hoodwinked into confusing the label as the thing. And despite rather bland descriptions of pictures of nude people standing around, no one ever questioned how such things could be corrupting. In fact they might be little more than medical illustrations of people showing symptoms.

The kids called it porn but the sites may be no more than dating, women's health, and porn sites all of which may have been connected to the account and not Julie's co-incidental activity. Yet these kids insist it was purely porn presumably because of their vast reservoir of experience with the genre. We don't know what they saw or imagined it to be.

The fact that the officers never investigated the claims of the students beyond getting caught up in the indignation of the porn assertions speaks poorly for their testimony. In the tsunami of provocative links found in the computer logs, didn't anyone ever wonder how a teacher could page through so many pages if she were not trying to protect the kids?

But let's not forget our one witness who describes in such blistering detail the sex act that deviates from everyone else's testimony. Did he really see this or did he just relate the biggest fish story told in seventh grade in 2004?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I'm Hopelessly a Beatles Fan

I just read this Reuters news stream about some of New York's finest studio musicians creating a lost Beatles album of songs rehearsed but never recorded as Beatles songs. It sounds fascinating and I'm hoping their concert is recorded.

Here's a blurb:
The Fab Faux's set will include the John Lennon songs "Jealous Guy," "Instant Karma," "Mother," "Remember" and "Gimme Some Truth." From Paul McCartney comes "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Every Night," "Another Day," "Hot as Sun/Glasses" and "Oo You." They'll also perform George Harrison's tunes "All Things Must Pass" and his solo hit "My Sweet Lord" and "What is Life."

And no late Beatles album would be complete without a Ringo Starr song, in this case, "It Don't Come Easy."

Many of the songs were tried out by the Beatles while they were together. But the Fab Faux chose December 1970 as the cutoff date for when a song had to be started to give them the best material to work with. The Beatles officially split in April 1970, when McCartney said he was leaving the band.

'WE'RE NOT A WIGS AND NOSES BAND'

The Fab Faux was dreamed up a decade ago, by musician Will Lee, who has played with all four Beatles and whose regular gig is playing bass in the house band on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman." He wanted to start "the greatest Beatles band that anyone has ever seen."

Within a year, four other musicians joined the project. There was Rich Pagano, who has toured with Rosanne Cash and Patti Smith, and whose love of the Beatles dates back to playing in a Beatles-tribute band as a teenager.

Petruzzelli, who has played with Joan Osborne and Rufus Wainwright, was also added to the lineup. So too was Jimmy Vivino, Lee's neighbor and the guitarist for NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" band. Guitarist Frank Agnello, who had toured with Marshall Crenshaw and Phoebe Snow, rounded the Fab Faux out as the fifth member.

"We're not a wigs and noses Beatles band," said Vivino. The band's obsession with detail sets them apart from mere pretenders, he said.

"We look at it totally, totally from the music side, the way a chamber orchestra does Mozart or Beethoven."

Maybe John and George whispered in their ears that the world could use a hug right about now.



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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Curriculum Resources

At Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, Bob Kremer handed me a flyer about Scott McNealy's Curriki open source k-12 curriculum wiki.

Now this is an idea everyone seems to love. That is eliminating the expensive textbooks and operating off of a common curriculum backbone that teachers can customize to suit their students. Wow. I've been advocating thi skind of thing for a while now and it looks like McNealy may make it happen.

In District Administration Magazine McNealy had this to say;
My point is that we'd be better off giving teachers the electronic building blocks to assemble a curriculum that works for the students in their classrooms. That's what they're good at. That's what we pay them for. In fact, when we move curriculum online, we should take the money we're spending on updating books, and pay the teachers more.

In the technology business, we understand the importance of standards. They give everyone the opportunity to participate equally. We also understand the importance of innovating around those standards. That's how things get better.

So we must give teachers the flexibility to innovate around our educational standards, so education can get better.

That's the idea behind the nonprofit Global Education and Learning Community, or GELC-provide teachers around the world with free, "open source" content that they can add to and localize. What this community is about, basically, is opening up a new way to develop, distribute, and evaluate curriculum (based on achievement) at low or no cost.

Free access to open content will allow teachers to address more styles of learning-visual, auditory, hands on, project based, whatever works best. If you look at material prepared against a standard set by a state, it assumes a linear path of learning as opposed to the zigzag path or dynamic path that most students like to take.

Of course it's more difficult to evaluate nonlinear media, more challenging to assess a model that's designed to be constructed and explored, but that's where the network comes into play. With the global reach of the Internet and a growing online community of teachers sharing content and best practices, we could be approaching a real change in education-a change ensuring that no teacher is held back.
Amen!



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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Spending on Schools

Today's Rick Green column is worth your time. Rick's main question is whether or not Connecticut gets a reasonable return on investment when it comes to education dollars and he argues that we need to be sure that we are funding quality programs.

In his column he advocates;
If they're going to jump on the billions-for-schools express, perhaps Gov. Rell and the legislature could also include some less expensive - but controversial - reforms. They should:

Allow parents in failing schools to leave for another public school, immediately.

Demand merit pay for teachers who succeed.

Make it easier to open experimental model schools.

Recruit non-educators to fill critical shortages in school administration.

Create a simple report card with a letter grade for all public schools.

Actually close schools that fail.
I want to simply talk about one of his suggestions and that is to make it easier to open experimental schools. Let me revise that to say, "make it easier to create experimental schools". I strongly believe that what Rick is writing about is a national meltdown in education primarily fueled by NCLB legislation and constraints.

E.O. Smith is not a failing school and will never be but NCLB educational practices are preventing it from becoming a place where our population can learn and grow and stay technologically fit. NCLB's Little House on the Prairie pedagogy is turning this country into a nation of peasant learners while technology, innovation, and creative educational avenues can not even be considered. As a Board we are fighting to upgrade classrooms with smart-boards and other technologies that will bring our students up to what they experience in their basements at home - interactive environments.

Our students [and this applies to all of Connecticut] should all have their own laptop computer. The school is wired. The students and teachers are begging for them yet E.O. Smith cannot break loose of the educational pox of NCLB.

We would be far better off as an independent experimental, innovative high school than an American public high school. How sad is that? Every school district should have every option available to improve schools at its disposal not just the toxic and terminal NCLB prescriptions.

The reality is that the Bush administration and his neo-con henchmen have succeeded in destroying public schools. The administrative bullet to the head that all public schools in America are dying from is called No Child Left Behind. Until it is rescinded we continue down the path of wasted money, lives, and opportunities.



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Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Banality of Totalitarianism

I have repeatedly commented on the censorship of art over the years. First because I was brought up to believe that the voices of others were important opportunities to re-examine our own ideas and second because I myself will someday die an artist.

I rarely whine about First Amendment rights. This country has long hated and denounced the rights to free speech whenever such a thing is exercised. Yes, the Bill of Rights is saluted with a grudgingly perfunctory grunt of acknowledgment like something the founding father's shoved down our collective throats. No one in authority ever wants this right to be exercised as it detracts from its value as a historical artifact whose platitude works so well on designer doormats.

And conservative detractors of free speech have nullified the amendment with extreme prejudice by proclaiming it a privilege or a crime. Yes, by all means, exercise your right to think and say something we might disagree with and you risk your job and ability to find another or maybe we'll simply sue you for liable, slander, or whatever. There is no need for substance to such remedies but we can quickly drain your resources in endless specious court proceedings that will destroy your life.

So I won't bore anyone with the idea that artist's have a right to free speech because that's like asking them to wear a tee shirt with a bullseye on it saying, Shoot Me!

But today, the Courant offered a story called The Art of Argument by Stephanie Summers that informs us that a piece of art by George Jacobi was removed from the Mansfield Community Center because it offended at least one veteran.

This link displays the artwork as covered by the Courant story.

Here's some of what the Courant story says about the removal,
When Air Force veteran David Kloss looked at George Jacobi's photo collage that included images of an American flag, he saw an anti-war statement inappropriate for a family-oriented town facility. He took it to the Mansfield Community Center staff, who took the piece down to quell any controversy.

The move backfired.

"We have an ongoing debate about the censorship of art for moral reasons," Jacobi said, "but political censorship in a public place is unacceptable."

Jacobi declined to replace the artwork with another piece and took a second piece down as well.

Two sculptures thought to be too sexual also were removed, but that artist, Eda Easton, did not contest the decision.

The main focus, however, was on the Jacobi photo collage. Seventeen citizens, including some of the 5,400 community center members, objected in writing to the town about removing the artwork and called for a procedural clarification.

"We believe that it is wrong that one person have the power to determine what the community should or should not see. These decisions are too important to be decided on an ad hoc basis by any town employee who happens to be the recipient of a complaint," the letter read.

Monday night, the town council unanimously voted to order a policy be drafted for choosing artwork for public buildings, except for schools, and dealing with complaints. That task will go to the arts advisory committee, which selects the art work for display at the center.

As director of parks and recreation, Curt Vincente oversees the center. He said he made the decision to take the photo collage down after a couple of complaints because of "the potential for offending veterans we should have the utmost respect for in the community."

"I don't believe that this facility should be a conduit for that public debate," he said, adding that there was plenty of non-controversial art out there. He said he partly considered the risk of losing memberships over the matter.

In comments to the council Monday night, Kloss said that although Jacobi's work was well done, its use of the American flag was disturbing. Kloss' own photographs of a father-daughter backpacking trip he organized through the rec center were declined for display.

"I was very surprised that the photograph was removed," he said last week, adding that he did not believe it was a result of his complaint alone and that the issue was overblown.

The 12- by 48-inch work, titled "Local American History," strips together segments from three photographs: a display of orange flags at a local church yard that marked the Americans killed in Iraq; an American flag; and gravestones at a local cemetery.

"Someone complains and they take down the artwork. Is that censorship?" asked Kloss, a local surgeon who likes to photograph nature.

Yes, said Jacobi and others on that side of the debate. "Regardless of the interpretation of my artwork ... the soldiers represented in it died to protect our right of expression, and our right to interpret anything in our own individual way," he said.

Jacobi said even Norman Rockwell's iconic small-town America art dealt with the theme of war.

An exhibit of Jacobi's work opened Friday at Windham Hospital, although he is not including the flag piece.
and furthermore,
Easton, an artist since 1958 who has done shows in New York and Europe, was more amused than angry when a mother imagined a penis in one of her sculptures and insisted the artwork be removed. Vincente said other adults and children commented on the suggestive nature of two of Easton's pieces.

"That's the first time that's happened to me," Easton said. "I'm used to Europe, and I'm used to the human body being indeed a part of life, and I think a certain amount of sensuousness is a part of art."

Easton's sculptures have been displayed at the University of Chicago, in Boston and New York, and at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich. A self-described loner, she taught for 25 years and still takes in students because "it's good to be asked uncomfortable questions."

Still, the German-born Easton sees the local dispute as a serious matter, her family having fled Nazi Germany in 1938. "You have to think, I'm an immigrant from Germany ... and so I can see what can happen if government overreacts."

Artists and town officials alike doubt a policy will remove risk of controversy in the future, but they hope it will make the process more transparent for the public and artists alike.

"I don't necessarily think we're going to prevent this from happening again, but what we'll have is a process for handling these situations," Hart said. "That's what we want."

Curt Vincente's argument requires discussion though.
"I don't believe that this facility should be a conduit for that public debate," he said, adding that there was plenty of non-controversial art out there."
As a member and artist-in-waiting for a show at the Community Center, I found this latest exhibit exhilarating because it actually featured real artists. For far too many shows, children's artwork and very provincial pieces lined the walls as though our community were devoid of grasping anything more visual than close-up photography of flowers or drawings of horses or provincial scrapbook adventures.

Art is not about public debate. It is about personal introspection. There is no debate society that I'm aware of at the community center and the fact that it is run by fear instead of pride is just one disturbing aspect of this event. The strength of having a community center is not just to keep the community physically fit but to keep it mentally fit as well. The most shocking thing Mansfield could do would be to support the arts, the artists, and the country by providing a laissez-faire attitude about artists and their art. This is not to say that salacious material should be shown, merely that artist's who express opinions should not be silenced.

But what truly disturbs me above and beyond the pedestrian banality of removing the work is that someone who fought for this country was the trigger. Not a day goes by when someone in government justifies brutal killing, torture, and war as the means to protect our freedoms and to spread those freedoms across the globe. And not a day goes by when these same soldiers and politicians who wrap themselves in self-glorifying patriotism don't use their political clout to censor, intimidate, or shout-down the god-given rights we profess to be fighting for and protecting.

My father was a Marine who served in the Pacific theater during World War II and I grew up learning The Marine's Hymn that ends with the line "if the Army or the Navy ever look on heaven's scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines". It's a liberal assertion. It transcends petty politics. The silent graves of soldier's who died fighting for these liberties died unconditionally for this stuff. They didn't sit around saying, "But what if my neighbor objects to that opinion - geezus, maybe Hitler and Hirohito are right! Society really must be controlled."

Whenever I hear that an artist, political activist, or peaceful assembly is being attacked or marginalized or demonized by someone in this country I keep hoping that someday a soldier will put on a dusty uniform and stand guard to serve notice that THIS, THIS is what we protect and fight for and swear our honor and pledge our allegiance to.



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Friday, March 02, 2007

The Amero Case from the Back of the Room

The other day Steve Jobs provided a wake-up call about Teacher Unions and Marcie Hull wrote an open letter back to Steven Jobs that in part contained the following.

I would also like to ask you what type of people do you think THIS (national average $47,808 in 2005) salary will attract? How can education attract the best and the brightest and this goes for the administration TOO, when the salaries being offered are not a living wage in this country! What person in their right mind is going to weigh their options upon graduation and think that being a teacher is the right move economically!

You may now ask me why I stay because in the private sector my experience could reap WAY MORE! I stay because almost every teacher that I have met is incredibly dedicated, loves their job and loves the kids they teach even more. I learn more in a day as a teacher then in any job I have ever had. I love the interactions I have with kids, parents, colleagues, and administrators. These reasons along with a ton of others is what keeps me going as a teacher.

I have been a teacher in one of the toughest schools Philadelphia and every teacher there got cursed at, spit at, laughed at, made to feel worthless and completely disrespected AND everyday these people showed up! Showed up for the kids!

Steve Jobs I challenge you to spend one hour in my shoes - ONE HOUR! I challenge you to walk into West Philadelphia High or Overbrook High School... meet some teachers there! Go into a failing school anywhere USA, I will wager you that you will find a school full of teachers that care and do the best possible job they can with what they are given to work with!!!!

Mr. Jobs I love your products and I love what you say about form being as important as function, but I totally disagree with what you say about teachers and their unions.


"Go into a failing school anywhere USA, I will wager you that you will find a school full of teachers that care and do the best possible job they can with what they are given to work with!!!!"

I think Marcie has just expressed why so many people have lined up to support Julie Amero as much as they have. These schools are tough places to be.

When we read court transcripts where four of five students who mention where they sat in Julie's class answer that it was the back of the classroom we cannot help but question why the school administration somehow decided that these students had more credibility than the teacher.

You see the administration insists that it was obvious that Julie should have pulled a plug. But isn't something even more obvious?

Isn't it obvious that out of the 60 plus students interviewed a cluster who sit at the back of the class claim the most graphic sex scenes. And these scenes are not visible to the other teacher, Jenny Fagin, sitting at the front of the room or the rest of the classes all of whom sit that much closer? And wasn't it obvious that the vernacular sometimes used on the original police reports to describe what they saw could more likely have come from a New York City pimp as a responsible middle school student?

As Marcie's letter to Steve Jobs states, teachers are targets in tough schools. Teachers aren't corrupting any morals there, they just hold their ground if they can. And, as Marcie says they, "do the best possible job they can" just as Julie Amero claims she did.

The school administration used the poorest of judgment in the Amero case and I think it's obvious they deserve to be fired.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Perjury in the Amero Trial?, Part Deux

I just realized something today, that escaped my notice yesterday. It has to do very much with the loss of accuracy in the accounts of what the students claim to have seen.

You see, the police deferred the interviewing of students to Principal Fain who knows nothing about establishing fact from fiction, establishing the context of an assertion, or what might might prejudice the sworn statements of a witness. And that's why something very curious happens with the students who the police identify as victims instead of witnesses.

When Sgt. Belair testifies that all the students assert seeing something inappropriate on the monitor we and the jury are led to believe that these students saw the inappropriate material under Julie Amero's supervision AND during the time period that the police claim the computer logs show pornographic traffic. Belair testifies to this because he believes Fain has properly screened these students whose statements the police transcribe from Fain's original dialogues.

What goes very wrong is that no one investigates the allegations with an unprejudiced eye. And what you'll learn next may surprise you and render the trial a mistrial.

Our attention turns to Student #4 [S4]. On October 19, S4 had Julie as a substitute teacher in Language Arts approximately between 9 and 10 o'clock and he's heard rumors that Julie was surfing for porn and he or his parents believe he saw something inappropriate.

He describes seeing people in bathing suits on a body rating site so naturally both police and those of us independently investigating the case try mapping what he saw to the porn images and decide he's seen women in lingerie [after all Julie admits to seeing porn and this seems to fit]. But we're all wrong!

Update and correction:


You see, Student #4 also had homeroom with Mr. Napp prior to 9 a.m. and the interview with Girl #2 [G2] that Belair threw out in yesterday's blog says she saw the same site on the monitor. The only class she has in this room is homeroom. This means S4 and G2, see the monitor while in homeroom BEFORE the porn logging activity. In fact what they witness but falsely remember as belonging to Amero may belong to Mr. Napp's browsing in homeroom while Julie is out or before Julie gets there.

So what are they reporting? Possibly this. Mr. Napp's machine logs the access of a dating website prior to 8 a.m. called eHarmony. In 2004, the national website craze was something called Hot or Not? where users would rate all kinds of things including the looks of potential dates. What S4 and G2 may have seen was an artifact of Mr. Napp's or a student's search for a romance date.

Furthermore this activity may have seeded the Orbitz pop-up [for, say, a singles cruise] and maybe the hair-styles site [to look good on a date] that Julie finds on the machine when she returns from the ladies room with students looking at the monitor.

In other words, S4's testimony may relate to Mr. Napp and not Julie. And the trigger for the subsequent porn - the hair-styles site may have been the trailer to Mr. Napp's morning activity and not anything having to do with Julie's use.

But here we encounter a second malfeasance. Napp is allowed to investigate Julie's network activity with Mr. Hartz and they exclude Napp's potential duplicity by focusing on computer activity logs starting after 8:38 when homeroom has ended. They assume Julie is guilty inadvertently veiling Napp's morning browser activity.

Troubling stuff, no?

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Cartoons (click to site of ownership):