Archive for November 1st, 2010
Fact: “Big Cotton” in America grows poverty around the world. Since the days of legal slavery — a labor subsidy for cotton production — to today’s taxpayer-financed cotton grower welfare (which the majority of Americans oppose), the Made-in-America cotton that you wear is destroying economic opportunity for millions of cotton farmers around the world.
From Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: No wonder then that the West African nation of Liberia’s unemployment hovers around 80 percent.
Against this backdrop of unfair trade barriers and underhanded market competition, in Liberia — founded, suitably, by former American slaves — a fair-trade clothing factory is competing internationally. It is the start of something important in the new Africa. It is globalization to believe in.
Probably the first image in your mind was yet another textile sweat shop, only profitable because the workers are exploited. To the contrary! Made In: Liberia is Africa’s first factory built to fair trade standards, air conditioning included — a rarity in that part of the world. It employs 32 women at reasonable wages, providing basic health care and a monthly bag of rice as employee benefits.
Thirty-year-old Chid Liberty, a Liberian educated at Western universities, is the force behind Made In: Liberia. For the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project, a women-owned workers cooperative making T-shirts and other cotton clothing, Liberty’s organization coordinates financing, manages the supply chain and production schedule, and acts as the sales representative.
Liberty believes in rock solid business ethics. He once told National Public Radio, “That’s actually our competitive advantage over a factory in China or a factory that uses sweatshop labor is that we say, listen, we have a supply chain you can actually boast about.”
Made In: Liberia from French Press Films on Vimeo.
Liberty is a master craftsman at turning probabilities into profits to combat poverty. A distinguished Delegate to the Opportunity Collaboration two years in a row, he tells the story of converting a chance encounter into gold, “We just ran into each other on the path, and then sat down for lunch together. I was describing the work we do, and our goals, and all of a sudden, he pulled out his cell phone and made a call, setting me up for a meeting back in the Bay Area. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’s on the Levi Strauss board. When I had that meeting, [it] led to concrete negotiations. It’s far beyond what I thought I would get out of this conference!”
The Liberia to Levi’s connection occurred at a poverty leadership conference. If you don’t go to conferences, don’t happen to be on the Levi’s board, or can’t travel to Liberia, or don’t know how to make a T-shirt, or hate writing letters to your Congress person to protest wasting taxpayer dollars on Big Cotton, at least visit Made In: Liberia and see what else you can do to help 32 women in Monrovia, Liberia.
Goodwill is more than a place to donate your used clothing and household goods. People of all backgrounds and experiences gain independence, self-respect and dignity by learning skills at Goodwill that enable them to become employable, find jobs, and participate fully in their communities. Goodwill employees are the lucky ones, though, because we get to be witnesses to the amazing triumphs and transformations of the individuals who walk through our doors each and every day.
Soon, people everywhere will have the opportunity to witness this as well. A documentary film, “For Once in My Life,” follows the members of The Spirit of Goodwill Band as they prepare for the concert of a lifetime.
The Spirit of Goodwill Band, made up of program participants at the Goodwill Industries of South Florida in Miami, began in 1981, as a way to foster and encourage social and recreational skills among people with disabilities, and to actively integrate them in the community. Today, the band is made up of 28 members with a wide range of disabilities, including Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness and behavioral disorders.
In the film, the band is preparing for a performance at the 2008 U.S. Mayor’s Convention in Miami, attended by more than 1,000 people, including mayors from 440 U.S. cities and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
The film won the Documentary Feature Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest Conference and Festival. Filmmakers Jim Bigham and Mark Moorman collaborated with the Goodwill in Miami to launch a film that would spotlight the abilities, rather than disabilities, of the band members. Music icon Emilio Estefan also supported the film, providing access to his music and his artists.
“For Once in My Life” shatters stereotypes of what it means to be “disabled.” Each band member’s story shows the triumphs and challenges faced in the goal to be a musician — first learning an instrument, then playing together as a group. Most of the members never played an instrument before joining the band, and those who did had never before played in a band.
Viewers follow the lives of lead singer and saxophonist Terry, who is blind; pianist Christian, a virtuoso who is blind and autistic; and soprano Nancy, who has a mental disability and is the primary caretaker and breadwinner for her two older siblings, who also have disabilities, and many other inspiring individuals.
“For Once in My Life” provides a message that is consistent with Goodwill’s philosophy: the people we serve have the same potential and warts that we all possess. Just given the opportunity, we can all do amazing things.
There are many great moments in the documentary that illustrate the band members at work, alongside their case managers and fellow program participants. The profound impact the musical experience has on their lives is evident as they develop new skills and confidence, and experience accomplishment, pride, joy and satisfaction in their music. Thanks to this program, they have overcome many challenges in their social lives, learning to see themselves as productive citizens contributing to society and inspiring many with their talents.
Goodwill is a visionary organization that is making this happen in communities every day, in programs like the one featured in the film, and through vocational rehabilitation training and employment services. We believe in the abilities of people who have disabilities. We give them opportunities to succeed and help make their dreams come true.
It is extraordinary to see these 28 people performing music at as high a caliber as their non-disabled, professional peers. “For Once in My Life” is proof that people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as everyone else.
To watch the movie trailer, meet the band and find out about upcoming screenings, visit www.4onceinmylife.com, or follow the film on Facebook or Twitter.
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THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS **** out of ****
At the Lyceum Theatre
It’s easy to call the new musical The Scottsboro Boys a fitting swan song for the legendary Broadway team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, who died in 2004. But “swan song” is too tepid for a show this vital and exciting. The Scottsboro Boys is quite simply a triumph. What’s most exciting about this show is how it’s pure Kander & Ebb. After decades in the theater, they’ve produced one more classic that easily ranks alongside their greatest works, Chicago and Cabaret. It’s that good.
The true story is as unlikely a choice for a Broadway show as you can imagine: nine young black men aged 13 to 19 were arrested on trumped up rape charges in 1931 Alabama and became a national cause celeb. Though sentenced to death at repeated trials (which were overturned again and again by Yankee courts), none of the nine were killed outright by the state. But they spent years, in some cases even decades in prison and suffered a remarkable disruption in their lives that was hardly offset by the fame their case engendered. And don’t look for a happy ending: four of them worked in vaudeville to trade on their fame but their lives were broken and shattered all down the line.
So how did Kander & Ebb frame this tragic tale? As a minstrel show, of course. Led by a white master of ceremonies (the wonderful John Cullum), the nine young men sing and dance their story, with an assist from two stock vaudeville performers, Mr Bones (Colman Domingo) and Mr. Tambo (Forrest McClendon), who also play other roles like the jailers, the lawyers and the such with broad, winking style. The stage is set off by three giant, rusting steel frames that suggest the train the men were riding on and the tilted reality they must endure in Alabama. A dozen chairs are provided for the cast, which become supports for wooden planks they sit on to mimic the train ride and are later stacked up to serve as the jail cells they’re stuck in for so many frustrating years.
This setting is boldly theatrical and plays to the strength of Kander & Ebb: their ability to offer up a rousing or touching number that can peer into the darkness at the heart of society. And what numbers: the opener “Minstrel March”/”Hey Hey Hey Hey” is pure razzle dazzle, with Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo even offering up flat, intentionally obvious jokes to punctuate the singing and dancing. The audience I saw it with was a little confused and overwhelmed at first. They knew how serious the subject was. Exactly how entertained were they supposed to be? Should they laugh? It’s the same tension Kander & Ebb mined when revealing the rise of Nazi Germany or celebrating women who offed their men.
Swiftly and with precision, we get to know the men, ranging from two brothers to a little boy to the strong, unwilling to bend Haywood Patterson (a standout Joshua Henry). They’re just riding the rails and searching for work during the heart of the Depression (the charming “Commencing in Chattanooga”) when two white women threatened with imprisonment for also riding the rails accuse the nine men of raping them. (The women are played hilariously and to great effect by Christian Dante White and James T. Lane, who also portray two of the Scottsboro Boys.)
What follows is a tale of frustrated hopes and despair, all softened somewhat by the witnessing presence of The Lady (Sharon Washington), who we easily spot as Rosa Parks. (That’s not just a theatrical device to link the Scottsboro Boys to later developments in the struggle for basic civil rights for blacks. Rallies were held all over the country to spotlight this injustice and at one rally sponsored by the NAACP in 1931, then Rosa McCauley met her future husband Raymond Parks.)
Of course, presenting it all as a minstrel show is a constant reminder of the racism that underlies everything that happens to the men involved. (And boy, since one of them is only 13 at the start and doesn’t even know what rape is, making the claim even more absurd. Jeremy Gumbs handles the role with the same multi-talented aplomb as everyone else.)
John Cullum’s presence as the Interlocutor helps tremendously as well. He’s an avuncular, seemingly friendly presence, who calls them his boys and encourages them to wow the crowd with this or that shuffle. It’s one of the show’s many brilliant sleights of hand how their performances range from the full-on enthusiasm of the first number (though we sense something is off-key) to more and more reluctant as the show goes on, climaxing with a blackface routine when they wipe off the makeup and resolutely refuse Cullum’s entreaties to do the Cake Walk and smile the way people love to see ‘em.
This tension is captured most perfectly when Cullum exhorts the boys to sing one of the oldies and they launch into the lovely, pitch-perfect “Southern Days,” which sounds exactly like a bygone gem about darkies singing in the fields and the mythically idyllic world of the slave states. Kander & Ebb are so good here you actually feel the tug of nostalgia for a verse or two. But the nine men — while singing beautifully — don’t seem very happy. Then Cullum says “Smile!” with such steel in his voice they immediately plaster on forced grins and you know everything you need to know about this paternalistic fool who thinks he does right by his boys and can’t understand why things would change. Even he gets the message when the lyrics shade into menace and the song describes lynchings and other evils. It’s just one of many highlights.
Others include the lovely yearning for family called “Go Back Home,” the very funny “Alabama Ladies, “Electric Chair,” “Nuthin,” and pretty much every other number. Needless to say, the brilliant material raises everyone’s game. Joshua Henry gives a magnetic star-making turn as the principled Patterson. But there isn’t a weak actor in the show, from the empathetic reactions of Sharon Washington (in a tricky role where she might have easily looked awkward onstage with little to do but react) to the fluid stand-out dancing of Kendrick Jones.
All the technical elements from the set to the lighting to the costumes and sound are perfectly in sync. Writer-director Susan Stroman (Crazy For You, The Producers, Contact) has simply never done better work. The book by David Thompson (Steel Pier) is a career peak for him as well. And above all, it’s Kander & Ebb, who after a remarkable career produce not one last gasp, not a gentle valentine (a la Curtains) but a corrosive classic that embodies everything that makes them great. I predict it closes in nine months and then we catch up with it 20 years later when The Scottsboro Boys turns into a big hit. Or you could just go see it now and count yourself lucky.
What others are saying:
Charles Isherwood of The New York Times said, “Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb have written a zesty if not top-tier score, but the pleasures of a jaunty ragtime melody and a clever lyric are hard to savor when they are presented in such an unavoidably grim context. Like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the intermissionless “Scottsboro Boys,” which runs a bit under two hours, suffers from a problem of monotony, as the scabrous comic tone spreads like shellac across almost every sequence.”
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News said, “It’s exciting to see “The Scottsboro Boys” on Broadway boasting so many things a musical should have. That includes good songs, a provocative story (not from a movie), a rousing staging and a hugely talented cast. But it also has a split personality. It wants to shock; it yearns to charm. They’re not always compatible goals…isn’t perfect, but it’s worthwhile. It deserves credit for tackling a slice of history that needs to be known.”
Elizabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post said, “John Kander and Fred Ebb have given American musical theater a pair of un disputable, stone- cold classics, “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Now they’ve added a third one to the list: “The Scottsboro Boys,” which opened last night on Broadway…. But you can’t separate the songs from Stroman’s staging, a model of visually striking economy. She needs only chairs, tambourines and a few other props to evoke a variety of locales and situations, including a chain gang and an electric-chair execution…. Yet this is also a thrillingly inventive and entertaining night at the theater.”
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter said, “In an age when institutional racism endures in more veiled forms, this bold musical keeps you tapping your feet while it socks you with an emotional punch to the gut. That’s a tough combo for mainstream commercial acceptance, but it makes for arresting theater.”
Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News said, “Unveiled last spring in a smashing production overseen by director-choreographer Susan Stroman, “The Scottsboro Boys,” seemed an unlikely candidate for transfer to the commercial arena. Here it is anyway, subtly but smartly retooled, in the intimate Lyceum Theatre. It’s still smashing, and it’s still shocking…. The story is wrenching and the songs rank with Kander and Ebb’s most gorgeous.”
Andy Propst of Theatermania said, “And now more than ever — thanks in part to some judicious tweaks from director-choreographer Susan Stroman and the replacement of three cast members — The Scottsboro Boys grabs audiences as soon as the members of the ensemble burst down the aisles of the theater and never lets go. The audacious, troubling, and yet strangely entertaining work tells the true story of nine men falsely accused of raping two white women on a train traveling through Alabama in 1931 within the framework of a traveling minstrel show, led by the white Interlocutor (a winningly smarmy John Cullum).”
Elyssa Gardner of USA Today said, “In short, Scottsboro, which opened Sunday at the Lyceum Theatre, wears its social conscience and its political incorrectness on its sleeve. And while the result is thoughtful, vibrant entertainment, the earnestness and irreverence can seem self-conscious.”
Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.
NOTE: Michael Giltz was provided with free tickets to the show in previews with the understanding that he would be writing a review of the show.
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Stop whining about the wildly eclectic nature of Tuesday's elections. This is all part of a design, intelligent or otherwise.
When you open the cultural door to possibilities, you can't have a bouncer there deciding who comes in. The door is open. Period. Possibilities are endless. Everyone who has the money, moxie or serendipity can and will push their way through.
This dynamic was no more in evidence than when the country elected its first African-American president two years ago, something that would've been unthinkable not too long before. Did you not realize that this broadened opening is the same force that birthed the Tea Party, Alvin Green and the god-like truthiness of Jon Stewart?
You can't have a Barack Obama without a Sarah Palin. Rachel Maddow, meet the ubiquitous Bill O'Reilly. For every Al Franken, there's a Sharron Angle or Christine O'Donnell. They're all the spawn of the same dynamic, an expanding new reality where anything is possible and nothing is predictable.
And everyone who is successfully part of this cacophonous national uber-party, from wingnuts to traditional worker bees, has become a representative of San Francisco values.
How much fun is that?
Our local door's been open to anyone with entrepreneurial flash and public panache since the 1800s. Wacky ideas are always welcome. A bench in a Palo Alto garage led to billions of dollars. Fortunes were made and lost and crackpots like Emperor Norton and the Human Jukebox became the stars.
Sure, it may feel like we're in the Roman Amphitheater portion of our historical roller coaster. But get used to it. This is likely to be a very extended phase, just like our confusing and stubborn recession.
That's why traditional pros like Russ Feingold and Harry Reid are in such trouble. Too calculable. Too yesterday's sure thing.
And why not? The politicians are right that a lot of news has become entertainment and the cable news channels are right that the politicians are nonsensical. The seams of our society are splitting and we don't know where the next tear will come from.
We need more voices, not less, more participation, not apathy. And yes, a little craziness might actually create some perspective in the long run.
This time of year I can't help but think of the outrageous Halloween celebration that used to take place in San Francisco's Castro District up until our city canceled it a few years ago. I don't miss the gunshot wounds, but I know I'm not alone in my nostalgia for the outrageous, beautiful, creative, and obscene frisson that made the event such a popular and potentially dangerous circus.
Well, don't let anyone kid you with those SF demon seed Nancy Pelosi/Barbara Boxer ads. The San Francisco dynamic of the old Castro blow-out is now the underpinning of our national political scene.
But San Francisco's uniqueness was never in its predominant and often boring liberal stew. Who cares, really, that the Board of Supervisors passes resolutions calling for democracy in Dubai?
Now, as San Francisco has drawn back a little from its Halloween sensibilities, that kind of shocking unreliability has spread around the country.
But it is our shocking unreliability and unpredictability that has gone big screen and nationwide.
Just look at the San Francisco Giants.
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Talking about losing weight is easy, but as the obesity rates in the U.S. attest, living up to that talk is something else entirely. Most people try, fail, and try again, stumbling each time back to old habits. It’s surprising — and depressing — how hard simple things like eating less and exercise more can be. But perhaps the solution is more than just willpower or eliminating temptations. There might be a need for a new kind of tool that approaches the challenge from a smarter perspective.
One on the horizon is healthmonth.com, and it takes a tech-savvy, yet easy and fun, approach that might make all the difference. As the name suggests, it’s modeled on the calendar. You sign up for free, set up a few basic behaviors you’d like to change, and track your results. This sounds simple, and it is. But the the big difference is unlike other tools that use the metaphor of a to-do list, Healthmonth frames your health as a kind of interactive game. An interactive game you play with yourself, or your friends. It provides rules, based on theories of human behavior and science, that you can customize to your own particular goals.
According to Buster Benson, the site’s founder, there are four key ingredients needed to make change happen, and rarely do we get them all at the same time. They include:
Ability to make better choices
Fun and sustainable triggers
Most of us can summon one or two, but few have reliable sources for all four. His goal in designing the website was to build one tool that helped with all of them. By using simple user interfaces to create and follow rules, and integrating social media features so you can share your activity with friends, he may have created something very clever and surprisingly powerful.
One mistake I’ve made in the past is trying to improve too many things at the same time . But with Healthmonth, as you create rules you get feedback on just how realistic or not what you’re doing is going to be. As you pick individual rules, such as eating more vegetables, or going to the gym 3 times a week, depending on how hard the rule is to achieve, you get a certain number of points. Like a video game, your total score for all of your self created rules determines how well you are doing, and how much healthier you are getting. Friends can form teams to watch each others scores, engage in friendly competition or even share rules.
If this sounds interesting, now is the time to give it a try. Healthmonth.com is currently in a free beta release, and there are seven days left before the next game begins today (November 1st). You can do it solo or find friends to form a team and help each other along. The first few rules are free, but if you want more you pay a few dollars to get more. Seems worth a try: I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month.
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Remember the name Marisol Valles Garcia. She’ll either go down in history as a selfless heroine or she’ll soon be dead. Maybe both.
20 year old Marisol lives in the small and violent Mexican border village of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerro, population 9,149. Marisol is a criminal justice graduate student, married and the mother of a little boy. The baby calls her Mama. The rest of her village now calls her Chief, their Chief of Police. It’s a job no one else in her village would take for fear they’d lose their lives if they put on a badge. The last man in Marisol’s position, Chief Manuel Castro, was kidnapped tortured and beheaded last year. But Marisol says she took the job because she’s just tired of everyone being afraid. She said after being sworn in, “We have to reclaim our lives!”
It’s no wonder her villagers are scared. Their Juarez Valley community sits smack in the path of a war zone where two rival drug gangs fight for control of a nearby highway. And the senseless violence there is taking place just half a mile from the Mexican-Texas border, just about 100 miles south of Corpus Christi.
Tens of thousands of murders have been attributed to the marauding lawlessness that’s gripped Mexico so far this year. The outlaws are trafficking the most valuable of illegal commodities: drugs, guns and other human beings. They let nothing and nobody get in their way.
Children have been gunned down while having fun at a birthday party; Innocents standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and several Mexican police officers in communities all along the border region with the United States have turned up dead, many with their corpse’s mutilated as a signal to others of how ruthless the criminals can be if someone tries to stop them. The death toll is sure to rise by the end of the year.
But Marisol Valles Garcia waves off the idea that her new job – for which she’s paid just $640 dollars a month – is akin to a suicide mission. She simply saw a desperate need for a return to peace and safety in her home village and so, she says, she stepped up to accept the challenge.
“There is a lot of fear in this town, but we can’t live like that,” she recently told a reporter.
Perhaps just as courageous is her bare-bones staff equipped with paltry resources. Marisol commands just 13 officers, 9 of whom are women. They have just one patrol car and four guns – that’s it. That’s the sum total of their arsenal and the Chief has decided she won’t carry a gun because she’d rather her officers have them out in the field.
“The best weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention,” she told CNN en Espaol. Marisol readily admits she’ll have to rely on the Mexican Army to handle the traffickers and her influence will be limited to local crime prevention and minor infractions. For now Chief Garcia says she’s content to concentrate on her own backyard and to try to re-instill in her neighbors the idea that they can take back control of their community. This woman either has her head in the clouds or she’s on to something. I’d like to think it’s the latter. I’d like to think more brave souls will stand up with her and re-claim their peace of mind.
Why should we Americans care? Isn’t this Mexico’s problem? The answer is clear: Americans are getting caught in the cross fire. It’s only a matter of time before the violence spills across our border in even more vicious ways. Just last week, A Texas National Guardsman was killed in the bloody border city of Ciudad Juarez which was once known as a popular party destination. Just why 21 year old Jose Ramirez defied the military’s suggestion to stay out of the area is unknown but he became the latest of at least three American service members killed in Juarez since the drug war began.
Last November, Staff Sgt. David Booher, an airman from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, was among six killed when gunmen suddenly shot up a bar. In 2008, Lance Cpl. Gustavo Zubia Lopez, was shot and his body thrown off a cliff in Juarez after he ventured across the border to get his car repaired.
Look, we’ve spent one billion dollars so far trying to build an ill conceived fence between our two countries to keep the violence “over there”. After 4 years only 50 miles of the fence has been completed. Maybe our tax dollars would be better spent funding more Chief Marisol Garcia type projects – providing vehicles, weapons and tools to empower the local Mexican population along our border. I’d much rather my money go to Marisol than to an ineffective fence.
The situation brings to mind the biblical saying that “A little child shall lead them.” Maybe in this case it’s a determined 20 year old woman who could use some help.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com She is the author of the new book Cirque Du Salahi – available at www.Amazon.com
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The image below is a direct political result of the Rally for Sanity.
Voters in Lower Providence and Worcester Townships in Pennsylvania will see the following sign at their poll on Tuesday.
It is highly unusual for a political party to endorse a person outside its party.
The state has a closed Primary system, but allows citizens to cross-file for the position of School Board Director.
The Democratic Party in these towns are opening up the process for their endorsement in next years’ school board races to all citizens.
The political parties need to act sanely if they want to be respected.
There is no reason why anyone who is a member of a political party cannot petition their local party to do something like this.
This Blogger’s Books from
Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet
by Deepak Chopra
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment
by Deepak Chopra
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Yes you read that right – iPhone-ism – a word which handily describes the effects of designing a user-centric device, with easy to learn [albeit subconsciously taught] functions, that make for an instant consumer hit. It’s akin to “Wessonality” without the Florence Henderson. In my concerted effort to learn more about my new cellphone, I am left wondering why iPhone-ism is so hard to obtain in the world of electronic consumer gadgets.
Allow me to digress.
I have had my trusty Motorola Q for more than 3 years now. With its little color screen, and an array of tactile chiclets for a keyboard, I existed with its many features and limitations, always wondering what was it like on the “greener” side of the cellphone hill. The touch screen had always enchanted me, made me consider all the wonderful-ness there could be in being able to operate a device without buttons. A personalize-able machine that I could tailor to my own use, with my own touch. I started down this road with a Sharp Zaurus, back when PDAs were the “in” thing. If you didn’e carry a PalmPilot, or some other form of electronic assistant, you were so “80′s pen-and pad leather planner”, and it hurt. The Zaurus was so cool, with its slide down keyboard and touch screen. I used it daily until it died a horrible death after being sat upon while in my back pocket.
After a few trial-and-error experiments with other PDA phones, I happened upon a Samsung i730. It was a brick of a cellphone, but it had a touch screen, and I could make calls on it. Battery life sucked, but it looked cool… as cool as one could look while carrying a brick in their shirt pocket.
After some 3 or 4 more tries at cellphone PDAs, I said forget it, and went into separate devices. A used HP iPaq 4300 would handle PDA duties, while a Motorola Q would cover cellphone tasks. I did this for the last 3 years until my trusty Motorola Q bit the voicemail dust.
So this weekend I opted reluctantly to move back into a touch screen cellphone with the Droid Incredible. The cool touch screen feels crisp and lively, though maybe not as precise as an iPhone or iTouch device. There are tons of apps, although I can’t figure out how to get rid of or manage many of them. Battery life seems on par with an iPhone 4, as does physical size. Yet with all of the similarities, it still feels like the Droid is missing some of Apple’s mojo; that feeling of sleekness, of coolness, that sense of technological “control” that you feel with an Apple device, that childlike enchantment of using a device that does just what you expect it to do and does it well, even though you don’t really know how it does it… its that elusive “iPhone-ism”.
Chalk it up to Apple to show us – no – actually dictate to us, how a consumer electronic device should work, and how we should use it. Perhaps this is the wave of the gadget future; Big Brother showing us how we should enjoy our devices by teaching us how to use them. Its sort of like preschool – teach Johnny that a triangular shaped drawing is the letter “A”, and after awhile he gets used to calling it an “A”.
However Apple is doing it, they’re doing it and its working. As much as I hate to admit, through all of Apples corporate advertising, and through all of the hoopla that is Steve Jobs Marketing Mania 101, their devices really do work well. Apple MOJO.
Now if only I could get some of that mojo to make its way into my Droid Incredible –
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I’ll admit, it’s probably my own fault for having boys. If I had just given birth to girls like I had originally intended then I most likely wouldn’t feel this supremely encompassing guilt over contributing to the disproportionate number of men to women in computer science. At age six, my oldest son was already dabbling in game creation using Scratch and my five year-old could navigate pbskids.org better than many adults that I know. My goal of equalizing the gender gap in technology has been set back by two.
According to NCWIT, in America, fewer than 18% of all people who earn degrees in computer science are women. Women hold only about one quarter of all American IT positions. This disparity is gigantic and it’s starting to affect the economy as jobless rates increase, even while nearly 3.2 million jobs sit unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. Computer and IT jobs are on the rise, with the number of Computer and Information Systems Managers expected to jump by more than 85% by 2018.
Before I left for college, I had no idea that computing was perceived as a men’s club. Computers have been my passion since I was very young. My father had three girls and he taught us from the beginning that we could be anything if we worked hard enough. I sometimes joke that my dad raised me believing that women belong in the kitchen, but only because that’s where we kept our computer at the time. He frequently warned me not to set my sights too low, because the career that I was destined for probably hadn’t been invented yet. As it turns out, he was right.
Having been one of only two women in my undergrad CS classes and one of four in my Master’s program, it became painfully obvious that something needed to be done. It’s my personal belief that the best chance that we will get to imprint a love for computers onto a young girl’s soul will be while she’s still learning the fundamental workings of the world. My target? Third grade, an age when princesses are still real and Barbie(TM) is still one of her best friends.
I propose that the third grade is the perfect time to introduce computers as an additional tool to provide both fantasy play and educational structure. If we incorporate this skill when girls are young enough, they will never know a time when they are “no good” at computers, so they won’t develop that negative stereotype which will have to be overcome later.
This is where “Picture Me in Computing” comes in. We at Picmecomp have instigated a world wide *digital* flash mob to bring our cause to the public eye. Together with Google, Mattel, NCWIT and the National Girls Collaborative Project, we’re targeting parents, educators and children using social media. Our goal is to take over the most popular social media sites for one day, November 10, 2010 (111010) by tagging all of our uploads and status updates with #picmecomp. We encourage the full participation of anybody online, so that we can eventually reach everybody with our message: “We happily support women in computer science. Come join us!”
For more information about participating in Picture Me in Computing day, please visit www.picturemeincomputing.org.
The next few hours are critical for the future welfare of countless hundreds of thousands of animals — from dogs to wildlife.
Please join me in the waning hours of the 2010 election season in making the calls and sending the emails to friends, family and acquaintances — and, if you can, to business contacts — in four states where voters will weigh in on policy issues related to animal protection in the 2010 election. Those states are Arizona, California, Missouri and North Dakota.
Below are a sampling of comments I’ve received from energized blog readers. I think you’ll find them inspirational, as I did. I hope you will find time to join them in spreading the word that animals need us this Tuesday. One mighty push now can put a stop to enormous suffering.
First, to recap the important animal issues on state ballots:
Arizona: NO! on Prop 109. This is a special interest power grab to block future wildlife protection ballot initiatives. Very broadly, it is an attack on voting rights, and a thinly veiled effort to hand all state-level wildlife policy over to state lawmakers, who are generally too beholden to the NRA. The trophy hunting enthusiasts at the NRA and Safari Club International are pushing Prop 109, but we’ve heard from many rank-and-file hunters who think it’s dangerous and overreaching. Prop 109 also puts the state’s voter-approved restriction on the use of steel-jawed leghold traps on the chopping block, and that’s not something we can stand for.
California: YES! on Prop 21. This measure would create a stable and adequate source of funding to maintain state parks and beaches, and promote wildlife conservation and habitat protection.
Missouri: YES! on Prop B. Missouri is the puppy mill capital of America. In these breeding mills, dogs are crammed into small and filthy cages, denied veterinary care, exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and given no exercise or human affection. Prop B will stop puppy mill abuses in Missouri by establishing common sense standards for the proper care of dogs, giving thousands of suffering dogs a better life. The Missouri Farm Bureau has run a deceptive campaign against the measure, saying it would lead to restrictions on animal agriculture. But that’s just a false and fear-based claim. The same people opposing Prop B last got together to work against our Missouri anti-cockfighting ballot initiative 12 years ago, and their claims about a cockfighting ban morphing into a ban on hunting and animal agriculture haven’t materialized in any way. They won’t in the wake of Prop B’s passage, either.
North Dakota: YES! on Measure 2. We agree with many hunters that it is plain wrong to shoot animals confined in pens for the sake of a trophy — often tame animals who have been hand-fed. Measure 2 would outlaw such “canned hunting” operations. North Dakota hunters qualified and led this fight for Measure 2, and we’ve added a voice of support. They’ve been badly outspent, and we’ve worked to level the playing field. We applaud these hunters for standing up for the values of ethics and sporting conduct. The opponents, mainly the North Dakota Farm Bureau, say it’s an issue of property rights. But there’s no absolute right to do whatever you want on private property — whether it’s poaching, canned hunting, or even animal fighting.
Now, your thoughts:
Dear people of Missouri, you must be smart people, as you passed the anti-cockfighting law (for which I applaud you). Now it’s your turn to help the dogs. Their future is in your hands, so please get out and vote yes on Prop B. And to Betty White, I applaud you for standing up for this good law; please keep up the good fight. –Erin
We must stop these puppy mills. It’s just a money making operation at the expense of these poor animals living in these awful conditions. Please, everyone, do what you can to stop this. –Christy A. Mattingly
To so thoroughly and completely deny one shred of dignity or decency to these innocent, sweet-natured, loving animals — sentient creatures who feel, who think, and unfortunately who also suffer horribly — constitutes abuse and cruelty so appalling and sickening, that it makes me want to go personally to each and every single voting adult in Missouri to personally beg them to pass Prop B. But I’m way out here in California so all I can do is to support Prop B in every way I can think of or am asked to, but also to hope and pray to the Good Lord that these precious dogs, who suffer such unspeakable horrors, will be rescued and protected in the future by the passage of this common sense measure. –Victoria Rouse
As a veterinary surgeon for nearly 30 years, I commend my colleagues in Missouri for becoming involved in the opportunity to help alleviate the unconscionable suffering of puppy mill dogs. All too often, my colleagues are quite lax in lending a learned voice for the fight to protect the animal community. –David M. Clark, DVM
I am in Texas but used to live on the Missouri-Illinois line. You guys vote this in and save the dogs. –Bennie Jones
This must stop now. People unite. This is a war on cruelty. Vote yes on Prop B. If you love dogs you must get out and vote. –Denise Edgar
Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, President, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037
This post originally appeared on Pacelle’s blog, A Humane Nation.
Five years after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans, assessing the progress of recovery from this complex, massive disaster remains fraught with contradictions and conflicting conclusions. Random conversations with business owners, politicians, community leaders, and artists range from outright despair to unbridled optimism, and every nuanced perspective in between.
In fact, many neighborhoods and a slew of new businesses are coming back to life. And a $1.8 billion dollar federal grant for upgrading New Orleans schools, in large measure secured through the sustained leadership of Louisiana’s senior senator, Mary Landrieu, along with governor Bobby Jindall, will be a game changer. Tulane and other local universities are seeing a major surge of applicants. And New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, is on a roll. Among other items on his considerable and multi-dimensional “to-do” list, the mayor has focused successfully on creating an unprecedented network of neighborhood health clinics, a critical development for a city that had never before had a sufficient health care system, especially for low income communities.
But there is another side to the story. Of immediate concern are the day-to-day realities of a local economy that has been struggling; hit once by Katrina, again by a very difficult recovery process and yet again by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Many local business owners are struggling and pessimistic about the prospects for economic recovery. Homelessness is on the rise and many neighborhoods remain blighted.
Still the passion for the recovery and resurgence of New Orleans is remarkable. Recently, Harry Connick, Jr. one of New Orleans’ most best known celebrities, appeared on television saying that while people concerned about the long-term viability of the city’s “have some logic”, the passion of the city’s most ardent rebirth proponents will prevail. We deeply hope so. But important as it is to return rapidly to a sense of “normalcy” in the culture and functionality of the city, the long-term survival of New Orleans will take more than new schools, health care clinics, music and cheerleading.
It is essential that policy makers, community leaders and citizens get a grip on the persistent and growing challenges facing the region. The fact is that it is now or never for confronting the most important existential threats to the survival of New Orleans, of the U.S. Gulf coast generally and of many nations in the Caribbean basin and Central America. A series of 21st century challenges face citizens and political leaders with greater immediacy than most people realize: accelerated climate change, coastal erosion and subsidence (literally, a sinking of the land), and massive pollution.
At a meeting called “Fighting for Survival,” held in New Orleans last August, scientists and political leaders gathered to discuss long-range planning for the future stability and resiliency of the region, it was Senator Landrieu who most succinctly articulated a theme for going forward. She called upon conference participants to think about the notion of “smart growth and sustainability”. In other words, rebuild – but rebuild better than existed prior to the disasters of 2005. Make the economy stronger, the neighborhoods more livable and the culture even more vibrant, and be aware of the potential for disaster if risks are left unattended.
Most importantly, serious attention and remediation must be focused on the larger forces which, if unchecked, could mean the end of New Orleans, massive changes to the coastline of the U.S. Gulf coast and devastating consequences throughout the Caribbean basin. In the oil-and-gas economy of the Gulf, it’s easy to pretend that human-induced climate change is a hoax. But those who would defend the region’s economy by denying climate change are actually accelerating the demise of the region. The risks are real, science-based, and undeniable.
The challenge is not just for the Gulf region and the Caribbean economies. The recovery and sustainability of the Gulf Coast is a matter of economic, energy, and security significance for the entire country and indeed for the entire hemisphere. Success will require honesty, science, and persistent national focus and resources.
Doing what needs to get done to avert a major, unimaginable dislocation for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, will not be easy or inexpensive. But if this city is to survive for the children and grandchildren of our nation, we have little choice but to control the forces of climate change and environmental destruction that, if unchecked, may mean the devastation of a region of remarkable beauty, economic importance, and cultural uniqueness.
This past weekend, I attended Barack Obama’s “Get Out The Vote” rally in Chicago for Alexi Giannoulias.
As tens of thousands of people filed in, I pulled some aside and asked them what they thought about the unlimited spending in elections by multi-national corporations that was brought to us by the Citizens United case. Take a look at some of their responses.
Thankfully, the American public seems to grasp the devastating effect corporate spending has on our country. But will that knowledge be enough to stop the flood of corporate influence? With RepubliCorp front groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the US Chamber of Commerce spending over $6 million dollars to get Mark Kirk elected in Illinois… I guess we’ll find out November 2nd.
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US bond insurer Ambac has said it may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection before the end of the year after failing to make an interest payment due on Monday.
The company said it had been unable to raise the capital needed to avoid bankruptcy protection.
Ambac shares in New York closed down 50% as a result of the announcement.
The company has struggled for the past two years as a result of the collapse of the US housing market.
It was forced to pay out huge sums on bonds linked to mortgages that defaulted during the downturn.
The company's debts currently total 1.6bn (1bn).
It said discussions with “senior debt holders” to restructure its debt through a pre-packaged bankruptcy were ongoing, but there was no guarantee that an agreement would be reached.
If the discussions do prove unsuccessful, then the company would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection “prior to the end of the year”, it said.
Analysts said they were not surprised that Ambac was heading for bankruptcy.
“Ambac has been a corpse for some time,” said Matt Fabian at research firm Municipal Market Advisors.
“With the credit crisis ongoing and getting worse, it will make any kind of bankruptcy restructuring more difficult and painful for creditors.”
San Francisco may soon become a national model for election reform. Voters tomorrow will decide on the Saturday Voting Act, a proposition that would require San Francisco to open all polling places on the Saturday before Election Day in the November 2011 city election.
Alex Tourk, organizer of San Francisco’s weekend voting campaign, says: “If we really want to increase access to the democratic process, especially for working families and single parents, we should do what the rest of the world does and vote on the weekend.”
A weekend voting option would make it much easier for working citizens to get out and vote. According to a Census Bureau study of the 2008 election, the most common reason registered voters reported not voting was due to their busy schedules. Though 2008 had the highest voter turnout rates in 40 years, the United States still ranks near the bottom on voter turnout compared to most other developed countries.
The measure would create a pilot program to open hundreds of polling stations around the city. And best of all, it would be funded by private contributions, so the 2011 experiment wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. This could explain why Proposition I has racked up endorsements, including from the San Francisco Chronicle and Board of Education. SF’s campaign is inspired by the national “Why Tuesday?” movement, an organization founded in 2005 that seeks to increase voter turnout and participation.
If successful, the city’s program could spark action on weekend voting elsewhere. In an interview with the New York Times, Tourk said he’d like to expand the plan to statewide and national elections. And last week, New York Mayor Bloomberg voiced his support for the Act, and indicated that New York could be next. Bloomberg said: “I look forward to working with local civic and community leaders to develop our own weekend voting proposal. Weekend voting is an idea whose time has come.”
The Saturday Voting Act is an innovation that could significantly boost voter turnout, and at the same time help improve our electoral process. It will be exciting to see if San Francisco can make this happen.
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Crossposted with www.TheGreenGrok.com.
The energy industry is pulling out the stops against proposed government regulations.
Remember when the enactment of climate legislation by the 111th Congress seemed within reach? (See here, here and here.) For those of us once sanguine about the prospects, it became an exercise in counting chickens that never hatched.
There were lots of reasons for the reversal, but certainly staunch opposition from the energy industry played a significant role.
Now, with climate legislation off the table (for this year at least), the energy industry appears to be setting its sights on a new target: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its proposed regulations and rules. According to the New York Times, “[coal] industry officials believe they face a hostile administration that could seriously harm their business with a range of new federal regulations in greenhouse gas emissions, mountaintop removal mining, air pollution, coal ash disposal, and mine safety.” In the words of one industry official, coal is facing a “regulatory jihad.”
If you’re facing annihilation by jihadists, you gotta pull out all the stops and the energy industry appears to be doing just that — pouring tens of millions of dollars into the current election. (See here, here, and here.)
In addition to dollars, the energy industry is marching out a series of reports predicting bad news for the nation’s electricity system if EPA goes ahead with its regulatory plans. The basic argument [pdf] is that the new regulations will force utilities to “accelerate the retirement of a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants” with dire consequences. To wit:
A May report from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America concludes that “a number of impending environmental regulations have created uncertainties about the ability of certain coal-fired power plants (utility owned and merchant owned) to remain profitable into the extended future.” The trade group predicts that putting into effect two new regulations proposed by EPA would mean the retirement of some 50 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical generating capacity. (The total generating capacity in the United States is currently about 1,100 gigawatts with 340 gigawatts coming from coal [pdf].)An analysis from September by the Scotland-based energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicts that up to 60 gigawatts will be retired over the next 10 years from four new regulations. And most recently a report [pdf] released in October by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an industry-funded group that oversees the reliability of the nation’s power grid and enforces reliability standards, concludes that the promulgation of four new rules proposed by EPA aimed at protecting air and water quality will cause “up to a 78 GW reduction of coal, oil, and gas-fired generating capacity and potentially undermine the stability of the national grid during periods of peak demand.*
Not surprisingly the Wall Street Journal has also gotten into the act, using the NERC report to blast EPA, the White House, and their “covert program” to use regulations to advance their “carbon agenda.” “Supposedly,” the editors of the WSJ write, “all this is separate from greenhouse gasses, but the White House and the EPA are clearly targeting fossil fuels and coal in particular to achieve via rule-making what even the Democratic 111th Congress has rejected as legislation. As much as a fifth of the perfectly functioning coal-fired fleet will be forced into early retirement, to be replaced with a largely more expensive energy mix, especially natural gas.”
And politicians have not been slow to enter the fray, “declaring war on the regulatory state,” as Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) did in a recent op-ed, for its “aggressive actions.”
Holy climate conspiracy! Is it really time for Congress to enact articles of war against a federal agency? Well let’s take a look.
Stealth Climate Agenda?
According to the WSJ, all the supposed regs being proposed by EPA are just a smoke screen for a stealth campaign to clamp down on greenhouse gas (i.e., carbon) emissions. Let’s take a look at the regs actually being discussed:
rule revisions to minimize the impact of thermal power plants that draw cooling water from surface water (read related post);rules to dispose of coal-ash waste safely from coal-fired power plants (read related post);new Clean Air Act standards (the so-called MACT rule) for power plants that emit hazardous air pollutants like mercury; and new Clean Air Act standards [pdf] for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that cross state lines and form fine-particle and ground-level ozone pollution.
I don’t know about you, but I think a reasonable argument can be made that we need these regulations. For example: Why regs on the disposal of coal ash? Did I hear anyone mention the coal-ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee? And why regs on hazardous pollutants? Well, let’s see … how do you feel about eating fish laced with mercury? In the words of an EPA spokesperson the agency is just “doing its job … to minimize the pollution.”
Power Plant Retirements
OK, there appears to be a general consensus that if EPA’s regs go forward, we are looking at retiring 50 to 80 gigawatts of electrical generating capacity in the United States. But will that be as bad as some have made it out to be?
First of all, a significant number of the projected retirements are plants that are old and inefficient. And some of these are on the chopping block anyway … to the tune of about 45 gigawatts through 2035.
What to Do About Lost Generating Capacity?
Retiring power plants is not the whole story. We can plan and react. Even the authors of the NERC report admit the situation is far from disastrous; given enough time, we can plan for these retirements and act accordingly. How?
Excess capacity. We already have a lot of excess capacity in the system: some 100 gigawatts worth. NERC reports [pdf] that the scenario that retires 33 gigawatts by 2015 without replacement would only change the reserve margin** by four percent on average — putting only one of the eight regions below a 15-percent excess capacity target.New Capacity. There are planned additions already in the works between now and 2013, which would add another 60 gigawatts to capacity.Efficiency. Achievable energy-efficiency scenarios have the potential to reduce energy consumption by seven to 20 percent in 2015.Demand Response. Demand response could reduce peak demand between five and 20 percent (or 45-150 gigawatts) in 2015 depending on what degree of incentives and which programs are deployed.
So let’s please get past all the hype about jihads and war and covert programs, and calmly focus on the real question. Do we want to pay what will likely be modest increases in electricity costs for the benefits, including economic ones, of a healthier populace and a healthier environment? Now, discuss amongst yourselves.
* For planning purposes, roughly 15 percent excess capacity is held as a reserve margin to ensure the reliability of supply especially during peak demand. The reserve margin varies by region. More info here [pdf].
** Margin from the Adjusted Potential Capacity Resources (APCR) reserve method [pdf].
In general, the planned and excess capacity is in the right regions to cover the loss in old generating capacity.
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No founder had as detailed a plan, or worked more diligently to create the kind of country he had in mind than Benjamin Franklin. Two things he knew were important were healthcare and having enough to eat. He was a founder of the first hospital on these shores, and worked tirelessly to create opportunities so that more and more poor people could move up into the middle class, thus assuring hunger would not be an American issue. As we prepare to vote it is worth considering where we are on Franklin’s goals on the eve of the election.
In 1950, before the inception of the present illness profit industry, the United States, compared with the world’s other leading industrial nations was fifth with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands.
In 2010 the United States position concerning female life expectancy had fallen to forty-sixth. And when both men and women were combined it fell to forty-ninth. Americans live 5.7 fewer years of “perfect health” — a measure adjusted for time spent ill — than the Japanese.
Is this the result of lack of spending on the part of the U.S.? Most emphatically it is not.
Health Policy expert Uwe E. Reinhardt, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University, headed a team that specifically considered this. They found,
Peter A. Muennig, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, in New York City, and Sherry A. Glied professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health, and currently on leave as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), analysed Reinhardt’s and many other studies, in a ground breaking exegetic survey of health care. They concluded that:
It doesn’t get much more basic that not having enough to eat. It is hard to think of America as a place where large numbers of people are facing hunger as a daily reality for themselves and, even worse, for their children. That happens in Africa, Haiti, someplace like that, but surely not here. You think not? Welcome to the American reality; millions of your fellow citizens routinely are forced to make life decisions based on whether they or their children will eat or go without in order pay for housing or medical bills. Today as we prepare to go the polls more than 1 in 8 Americans are now on food stamps, participation in the program has jumped about 70 percent from 26 million in May 2007, while the nation’s unemployment rate rose from 4.3 percent to 9.2 percent through September of this year.
According to the largest study of domestic hunger ever done, Hunger in America 2010, a study which based on more than 61,000 interviews with clients and surveys of 37,000 feeding agencies “hunger is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States.”
Feeding America, the largest foodbank system in the country has just reported it is “annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when they were feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.”
Here are more of their findings:
Feeding America’s nationwide network is feeding 1 million more Americans each week than they did in 2006.
Thirty-six percent of the households they serve have at least one person working.
More than one-third of client households report having to choose between food and other basic necessities, such as rent, utilities and medical care.
The number of children the Feeding America network serves has increased by 50 percent since 2006.
They have seen a 64 percent increase in hunger in senior citizens’ homes.
“Clearly, the economic recession, resulting in dramatically increasing unemployment nationwide, has driven unprecedented, sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, which operates some 200 food banks across the country.
“It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities,” Escarra said in a statement.
She added, “[t]hese are choices that no one should have to make, but particularly households with children. Insufficient nutrition has adverse effects on the physical, behavioral and mental health, and academic performance of children.”
Feeding America’s report is far from alone in reporting this food catastrophe.
The Food Research and Action Center reported that: “In July 2010, SNAP/Food Stamps participation set a new record: 41,836,330 persons, an increase of 560,873 individuals from July 2010, the prior record level, and an increase of more than 6.2 million people compared with the prior July.”
Further that, nearly one in five of America’s men, women, and children — 18.5 percent — reported that they had gone hungry in the past year. This was up from 16.3 per cent at the start of 2008. Even more alarmingly they said households where children were present were even likelier to experience hunger. Nearly 25 per cent of these families reported hunger in the past year.
Perhaps worst of all, the Feeding America study shows just how close to the edge the entire private food network has become. A point which is important since anti-government ideologues expect what social safety net there would be, if they had their way, would be private. Feeding America says 70 percent of their emergency food centers are reporting “one or more problems that threaten their ability to continue operating.”
As the Pew Research Economic Mobility Project put it:
While belief in this American Dream remains a unifying tie for an increasingly diverse populace, it is showing signs of wear, with both public perceptions and concrete data suggesting that the nation is a less mobile society than once believed. This is not good: the inherent promise of America is undermined if economic status is, or is seen as, merely a game of chance, with some having the good fortune to live in the best of times and some the bad luck to live in the worst of times. That is not the America heralded in lore and experienced in reality by millions of our predecessors.
The world Franklin hoped for us.
Tuesday we are going to decide whether to further degrade the already frayed social network that has left us in this situation. Our problem is not debt or taxes; it is an unwillingness on the part of a significant fraction of our citizens to recognize that for a healthy democracy to thrive, a nation must have a healthy middle class. A healthy middle class can only be achieved when a compassionate social government network assures a minimum quality of life. No other institution can do this. To achieve it we need to develop policies based on data, not ideological mantras.
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At the Microsoft Health Users Group Exchange last month at the Microsoft Corporate Campus in Redmond, WA, patient engagement was the overall theme.
Whether presenters were talking about “Cloud Computing,” “Care Coordination,” or “Population Health Management,” empowering the patient was the paradigm.
“At the end of the day, we’re all patients,” Bill Crounse, M.D., keynote speaker and Senior Director, Worldwide Health of Microsoft Corporation, Executive Producer, Health Tech Today, and blogger at Health Blog, said. “People don’t get all that enthused about their health until they get sick or their loved one gets sick,” he added.
While there were many useful and informative presentations focusing on modernizing health information, embracing mobility, managing data, leveraging technology, re-designing work flow, to transforming health through health information technology, to electronic health records and cloud computing; the one common denominator was the patient (or health consumer).
What This means For You
Since the one constant is you, the consumer, the need to include you through the health ecosystem and technology road map is paramount for companies building their brands and making head way in this lightning-fast technological world.
Consumers need to be engaged from the ground up. While companies and institutions focus on improving health and wellness, they need to get close to the consumer, engage them, their opinions and respond to their needs.
If companies don’t seek out the consumers in a real and transparent way, technology almost becomes sterile.
While better outcomes and quality patient care is the backbone of any hospital or health care organization, implementing technology that makes consumers’ lives better, simply makes sense.
I asked Praveen Soti, M.D., MBA, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at CGI Federal and Board Chair of the MSHUG Advisory Committee, how important is patient engagement when it comes to health care technology.
No matter what technology solution one implements, one fact is constant, “patients will only trust their physician or loved ones when it comes to making healthcare decisions.” Patient engagement is absolutely vital for achieving sustained improvements in quality of care and cost savings, he said.
Today’s patients are savvy health care consumers, proactive and empowered patients. They are knowledgeable and they want a collaborative respectful relationship with their providers and physicians.
In fact, “Gallup’s extensive research has identified the crucial characteristics of the emotional connections between healthcare providers and their best patients. These patients are not just “satisfied” or “loyal,” they are emotionally attached to the provider’s brands or services. They are engaged.”
Fascinated with the wide array of presentations, the one presentation that moved and inspired me was Microsoft’s Health Tech Today’s host, and keynote speaker, Bill Crounse, M.D. since he focused heavily on individuals.
Why is managing your health information for the engaged patient important?
Managing your health information is critical for organized and collaborative care. Many times, people visit different doctors, take a variety of medications and at times undergo various tests. By keeping track of all your health data in one place; it makes it easy to simply view your health information and share it in a safe and private way.
A platform for consumers to handle their health information:
While federal health IT initiatives are underway for health care systems to implement the electronic health record (EHR), Microsoft has developed a platform designed to put consumers at the center of handling their health information. That platform is HealthVault, a personal health application allows consumers to be in charge of their health and health information.
With HealthVault, you can collect, store and share your health information online and for health organizations it can deliver connected health solutions to help their patients and clients better manage their health; (presented by speaker, Paul E. Smolke, Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation).
In Mr. Smolke’s presentation, he quotes Aurelia Boyer, RN Chief Information Officer at New York- Presbyterian Hospital.
You can create a free account on HealthVault and begin your journey into the world of technology by using tools to keep you and your family’s health records organized and accessible. You can choose to share this data with your doctor, with your family and caregivers. You can upload data through a health and fitness device, track your information, track your prescriptions, connect with your pharmacy and manage your chronic conditions.
The best part, you can print out your latest health data and bring it with you (along with your list of questions) to your next doctor’s visit. This will empower you to be proactive and to take charge of your health.
Enthused, Motivated, Proactive and Empowered
While it may be true that many people don’t become enthused with their health until they become sick or their loved one gets sick, as Dr. Crounse mentioned, by being empowered to take charge of your health, it’s possible to become enthused and motivated about health, by focusing on healthy living and being organized with your own health data.
So while companies forge ahead developing cutting-edge technology to help improve the lives of consumers and find solutions for better patient outcomes; companies have you in mind.
And, while I’m a huge fan of HealthVault, I have not yet set up an account. When I do, I will let you know my experience.
We would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on health information technology (Health IT)? Do you care? Do you use a personals health record to manage your health information? What’s your experience like? What would you like companies to be aware of when it comes to your health? Please share your stories with us.
Thank you for your time.
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As an election strategy conservatives blocked or watered down everything they could that might help the economy, hoping voters would blame the President’s party for job losses. Tomorrow we will learn if this strategy succeeded. But Wednesday can we start doing things to help the economy and the country again? Please?
Candidates on both sides are running ads asking for fixes to trade with China. Chinese manufacturers are starting to fight, claiming that (now jobless) Americans will have to pay more for goods if they have to adjust their currency toward market rates. But Chinese manufacturers are doing just fine, according to recent surveys, because their government is doing everything it can to stimulate their economy, their manufacturing and their jobs.
Where’s our government?
Today’s Progressive Breakfast hilites two stories:
What kinds of things is the Chinese government doing to help its manufacturers? Earlier this year I wrote, in Lessons From China’s Stimulus
Frank Sobatka describes one of the main reasons for the problem:
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Outgoing people appear to suffer worse from the effects of lack of sleep, US army researchers suggest.
They kept 48 volunteers awake for 36 hours, with some allowed to mix with others, the journal Sleep reports.
Those defined as introverts did better at staying awake and in reaction tests.
And those extroverts who were denied social contact also did well, suggesting it is “social stimulation” that tires out the parts of the extroverts' brains linked to alertness.
After a good night's sleep, they remained awake for a day and a half, with various tests each hour to measure the effects of lack of sleep.
Some of the test subjects – both introverts and extroverts – were allowed to take part in group discussions, and play board games and puzzles for 12 hours of the 36. The others were not allowed any such social interaction.
First of all, the test subjects who were “socially enriched” in this way were tested to see if there was any difference between the natural extroverts and introverts.
While there was little difference in one of the tests, in which volunteers had to push a button as soon as possible in response to a light, introverts fared better in a “maintenance of wakefulness test”, which checks whether sleep-deprived people are able to stay awake over a set period of time.
The extroverts in that group did badly in the test, but the extroverts in the second group – those denied social contact – performed markedly better.
The researchers, from the Walter Reed Army Institute in Maryland, said the results suggested that personality type might not only have a bearing on ability to cope with military tasks which required being awake for long period, but also with shift work.
They reported: “Overall, the present results might also be interpreted more generally to suggest that waking experiences, along with their interaction with individual characteristics, influence vulnerability to subsequent sleep loss.”
One possibility, they said, was that intense social interactions might lead to fatigue in brain regions which also played a role in alertness.
Conversely, they said, it was possible that introverts might always have a relatively high level of activity in parts of the brain affected by social situations.
On a day-to-day basis, it is suggested this could mean that social contact leads to “over-stimulation”, explaining why introverts would withdraw or shy away.
However, the constant activity might also make their brains better placed to fight the effects of sleep deprivation, they said.
One UK academic said that there might be a simpler explanation for the different impact of sleep deprivation.
Professor Mark Blagrove, a neuroscientist from the University of Swansea, has published similar research into effects of sleep deprivation on the mood of introverts and extroverts.
Again, he found extroverts more vulnerable to mood changes driven by lack of sleep.
He said: “We suggested that extrovert people might be more heavily influenced by the sleep-deprived appearance of people in the group around them.
“They found no differences in the objective test of alertness they used, but did find differences in the wakefulness test, which is a slightly less objective measure of how someone is feeling.
“This supports a slightly simpler argument – that the extrovert is more likely to be influenced by a perception of what is going on in the group.”
It took four years and some very bad mistakes (Iraq), but the Bush Administration realized sometime during its second term that international cooperation is a means to an end, a common sense tool that actually produces more results than a “my way or the highway attitude.” The election of President Obama and recent advancements in the Middle East peace process, nuclear disarmament, and multilateral success at the United Nations has continued to swing the pendulum in the right direction. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s midterm elections could stop this momentum in its tracks, if not force it in the opposite direction all together.
It’s no secret that in the House of Representatives, Republican Chairmen-in-Waiting have been measuring the drapes for weeks. For Democrats and the Administration, losing control of the House could have serious and long lasting policy implications across the board, including the imminent derailment of Obama’s foreign policy.
A glance into the crystal ball and the world of tomorrow shows a return to bully politics, and where words like “cooperation” and “engagement” are out of favor.
Let’s take a look and see what a potential 112th Congress may look like.
First there’s Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the current ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who is next in line for its Chairmanship.
In this Congress she has introduced legislation that threatens to strip funding from the United Nations, withhold contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and continue the prohibition of American participation in the ICC.
Ros-Lehtinen wishes to return to the bad old days of American unilateralism. Her United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act, would not only prohibit the government from making contributions to the UN Human Rights Council, but would expressly forbid the U.S. from taking a seat at the table.
Her appetite for global disengagement doesn’t stop there. As lead on the American Self-Defense Protection Act, she would forbid any funding from being used by government officials to participate in the International Criminal Court. This is a direct assault on the Obama Administration’s current policy of active engagement with the Court, one which has allowed America’s voice to be heard despite the fact that it is merely an observer.
And as representative of the large Cuban diaspora in South Florida, you can forget any additional good will overtures to the Cuban government. Expect a return of good old fashioned Cold War style anti-Castro rhetoric.
In the past, Democrats made sure that many isolationist initiatives never made it out of Committee, stuck in a perpetual legislative limbo. But with Republicans (and Ros-Lehtinen herself) controlling the agenda, expect it to change dramatically.
This shift will be felt on the floor of the House as well, where the agenda will be set by Eric Cantor, the presumptive Majority Leader.
Cantor is a fierce opponent to the Administration’s recent Middle East peace overtures and opposes ratification of the New START anti-nuke treaty. He recently claimed the U.S. should “rededicate itself” to a foreign policy that seeks “peace through strength.” Expect to see extremely hostile legislation aimed at inciting direct confrontation with the Administration’s foreign policy plans.
The House and its 12 Appropriations “Cardinals” control the power of the purse. While the Obama Administration may submit whatever funding levels it wants when it comes to international aid budgets and foreign assistance packages, it is up to the powerful members of the House Appropriations Committee to draft the eventual language and levels that will become law. In a Republican House, that task would probably fall to Texan Republican Kay Granger, who this summer voiced concerns that we don’t “increas[e] foreign aid at the expense of our troops.”
Cantor also voiced his opinion on future foreign assistance levels when he recently told the Jewish Telegraphy agency that a Republican Congress would defund aid to countries that did not share U.S. interests.
Then there’s the House Rules Committee, where members decide which amendments will be considered before the full House. In the past, it served as a firewall against Republican sponsored slash-and-burn defunding attempts. It was where efforts to strip U.N. and other international institutions of their dues were often blocked and prevented from reaching the floor. With Republicans in control during a recessionary period, armed with a renewed concern for government spending, expect to see some of these funding amendments actually reaching the floor.
I hope enough folks get out and vote on Tuesday so that this scenario is just a bad dream. This is our moment to keep the pendulum swinging towards a cooperative world with a better and safer future for us and future generations.
*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*
“In a work of art, chaos must shimmer through the veil of order.” ~ Novalis
Unthinkable not long ago to vacation in Nicaragua, but now, fully bathed in peace, and blessed with preternatural beauty, it is a beginning blip on the adventure travelers’ radar; perhaps at the brink of a tourism revolution.
So, with family and friends (the well-traveled Baird and Kaye families), I make the tramp to Lago de Nicaragua, a lake too vast to see across, second largest in all the tropics, where 25 years ago guerrillas skulked among the broad-leafed trees of the 365 volcanic islands. Now the islands are garlanded with eco-lodges offering pieces of paradise to snowbirds, and we decide to check out two.
We fly to Managua, drive a couple hours, board a ferry at San Jorge, and then purl across water the color of tea towards Ometepe Island. Mark Twain, on first seeing Ometepe from a boat on New Year’s day 1867, wrote a passage uncharacteristically lacking in wit or irony:
Out of the midst of the beautiful Lake Nicaragua spring two magnificent pyramids, clad in the softest and richest green, all flecked with shadow and sunshine, whose summits pierce the billowy clouds.
The pyramids are the Madeas and Concepcion Volcanoes, and on a high saddle squats the small, earnest ecolodge of Totoco. For the last miles of the trip, we trundle up a dirt road outstanding in the number and quality of its ruts, to a lodge that fits funkily in ecotown. In the most wholesome sense it pongs eco, with spartan bamboo cabanas and dormitories equipped with independent renewable energy supplies, grey water recycling systems, pit-toilets that guests compost, and service roped in rubber time. But what it might lack in amenities, the lodge makes up for in the volcanic views, blizzards of butterflies, and the weapons-grade margaritas.
Then there are the green iguanas meditating inches beyond the balcony, looking like watercolors, or Tantric art. In the pre-dawn there are the calls of howler monkeys, who sound like a composite of all the voices ever heard. But the greatest assets are the activities, such as peak climbing, hiking to petroglyphs, biking, kayaking, and most rewarding for our families, with kids ranging from 3 to 15, horseback riding from the town of Balge up the fecund volcanic flanks, past fields and forests practically vibrating with various shades of green, to the haunt on the hill.
Next, though, we sail over to the private island of Jicaro, off the shores of the old colonial capital of Granada. Here, at a small stone pier, we step into the alternative universe of the Jicaro Island Ecolodge, managed by Cayuga, the firm that oversees a chain of high-end but rigorously sustainable eco-lodges in Central America.
At landing it is evident this is a lodge on the other side of epicurean, stylistically tropo, comfortable, pampering, artfully crafted. The difference between the two lodges is like the difference between a drum beat and a Bach fugue. Where Totoco is decorously austere, Jicaro is rather a boutique luxury retreat, complete with cool welcome drinks under sweeping palm fronds, fresh locally-grown coffee served on private decks, designer dinners, and a decadent Zen-like spa overlooking the still waters. Yet, it is guilt -free, with water heated by solar panels, the two-story casitas made from Rainforest Alliance certified wood (salvaged from Hurricane Felix, no less), and organic and biodegradable soaps, cleaning detergents and spa products throughout. Even the straws, bowls, placemats, and other utensils pulse with nature, made as they are from the local jicaro wood.
It is a place so tranquil, so steeped in frangible scenes of beauty, it defies the popular cobwebs of conflict that seem not so long ago.
The Nicaragua that capers in most minds is from images from the late 70s, a country then bleeding in civil war. The conflict ended with the Sandinistas’ 1979 overthrow of the Somoza family’s four-decades-long regime. Then came the dozen years of postwar fighting as the American-backed contra rebels — with the assist of a U.S. embargo — pushed the Sandinista Front of National Liberation out of power.
Though Daniel Ortega is back in command, quietly the country has returned to a state of grace. Visitor numbers have increased 170% since 1993, from 200,000 to 525,000 last year; tourism dollars increased some 400% in the same time frame, from $30 million to $150 million. And some think the tourism volcano is just beginning its trembles.
Yet everything registers at rubber time here. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly. So, after a morning lounging about, inhaling the floral perfumes, swimming in both the warm lake waters and the saltwater dipping pool, built around the island’s natural rock, we decide to take a kayak trip to the hot springs at the foot of the nearby Mombacho Volcano. We rotor across the quiet lake as the mile-high volcano blends with the uncertain sky, recalling the important but fugitive parts of ourselves. We glide beneath a rainbow of feathers, from tropic cormorants to Amazon kingfishers to green herons. Along the shore are ceiba and banana and ficus, and bright emerald clusters of sea lettuce (Chlorophyta), water hyacinth, giant mango trees, the fruit tree called poponjoche, and the bright-blossomed national flower, the Sacuanjocheink. Outlying islands look like green animals in repose. The whole world seems alive here, top to bottom, and we seem very much a part of an interconnected ecosystem.
Like Mesoamerican warriors we bevel through a wedge in the dense vegetation to a small lake within the lake, where the water temperature increases to near boiling, and here we strip and take quick dips in water we hope offers some sort of healing. There is something about warm water in the tropics…it invites us to join in a mood we find incapable of summoning elsewhere.
Later we sail over to Granada, a city where franchise culture has yet to foothold. Not long ago the ghosts of the Chorotega Indians haunted this city, crossing telephone wires to kindle intrigue and evocations of clashes with the Spanish who settled here in 1524, one of the earliest foreign settlements on the continent. But self-pity is absent now. The mood is one of hope, lambent optimism for the future, and the streets are busy: wares, from hammocks to human hair brushes to hawksbill turtle shells, are being hawked with zest; horse-drawn buggies spindle in and about the cobblestone streets; children are skylarking in the alleys.
In the silky afternoon air we clop along past Spanish-style pastel-hued houses, under palms and pepper trees, by clumps of old men with leathery skin stretched tight over high, sharp bones, alongside energetic murals, beneath baroque cathedrals with big cedar doors, and beside shops flogging crocodile boots and Cuban cigars. The entire city was gutted by William Walker, the American filibuster who declared himself president of Nicaragua in 1856, and was shot by firing squad four years later. The city has been given a face lift, freshly painted in mustard, peach and salmon, and now looks more like a colonial city than in its heyday. Yet so much of the city, and the nation, remain true to an earlier time and sensibility.
During the California gold rush ships sailed south from New York to the mouth of Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan. Gold miners then boated up the 100-mile-long river to Lago de Nicaragua, and then made a 15 mile overland trek to the Pacific Ocean, where another ship took them north to San Francisco. This was also the route that for many years was considered the preferential path for a trans-ocean canal, but politics (and caveats about the dangers of volcanoes) pushed it to Panama. That hinge of history may be a blessing today for Nicaragua, as it basks in an authenticity long lost in Panama and other isthmus nations.
As we make the twilight crossing back to Jicaro, we pass a soccer-field sized island with a “For Sale” sign, one of many scattered throughout Lago Nicaragua. My wife insists we pull over. Beneath the palms it hosts a couple of structures in need of repair, but as a realtor might say, it is ‘bursting with potential.’ Our guide says it has been listed for quite some time, as most island seekers are still nervous about buying here. The price tag is just $80,000, and my son, Walker, says, “Let’s buy it!”
Nicaragua may be transforming from hot zone to hot destination, but history is just a rough draft. Betwixt its tousled past and its eco-lined future, the country is a magic glass through which the past elides, and the future flows thick with possibilities.
Did we buy the island? We’re still in discussion…
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The view from Totoco Ecolodge, photo by Laura Hubber
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What causes young people to decide to end their lives? That’s an important question, of course, just as suicide prevention programs and crisis hot lines matter. But it’s equally important to examine the environment, to map the terrain that almost all of our adolescents occupy, because that environment may be harmful–and sometimes fatal–for our children. I believe that some of our organizational structures, not just our behavior, are negative influences on children. My particular concern is the way we isolate our children by age and grade, from kindergarten through senior year of high school.
I’ve spent the last week in and around Palo Alto, California, where five high school students have ended their lives violently in the past two years–and more than a few others have been prevented from trying, often at the last minute, by observant adults. That community is in shock but is determined to find out all it can and make whatever changes are needed to keep tragedy away. Experts are conducting an in-depth ‘forensic audit’ of the community’s strengths and weaknesses, with that report due in next spring.
Palo Alto is a high-achieving community, and many parents expect their children to do as well or better than they did. Many kids face the pressures so powerfully depicted in “Race to Nowhere,” the film I recently reviewed here. In one sense, that film is a “call to inaction” because it says to schools and parents, “‘Back off!’ You are endangering your children’s health.”
No argument there, but backing off will not be enough, according to the film, the Youth Development Initiative and some community leaders in Palo Alto. They list 41 so-called “Developmental Assets” that, if present, provide the roots and life lines that are particularly important to those who are in the middle of huge life changes–such as adolescence. These assets are both ‘external’ and ‘internal,’ but the list makes it clear that it takes a village to raise healthy, grounded children.
The list emphasizes ‘constructive use of time,’ which may be creative activities like music, theater or other arts; youth programs; religious community activity; and time at home and hanging out with friends ‘with nothing special to do.’
In early September a teacher at Gunn High School, where the suicide victims were in school, wrote an open letter to the community. I urge you to read it.
The writer makes any number of critical points. Perhaps the most important is the observation that kids need to be connected, not ‘independent,’ whatever that may be.
That’s impossible to argue with: we all need to be loved and to be able to talk openly with people we trust, and a thread that runs through the list of Developmental Assets mentioned above is the importance of community, which I interpret to mean ‘Get outside of your peer/age group.’
Adolescence is often defined as the time when youth separate from their parents. They push away because that’s what’s expected and even encouraged. It’s an important step toward independence, or so they are led to believe.
Unfortunately, that’s a dangerous oversimplification. What does ‘independent’ really mean? Is that a worthy goal, or illusory? Isn’t real maturity the healthy balance of independence and interdependence, and enough confidence in yourself so that you are able to form relationships with many others across a range of ages and interests? But how can you form those relationships if you’ve been told that you’re now supposed to be ‘independent’?
Unfortunately, ‘independence’ for today’s adolescents turns out to mean that, once they turn their backs on their parents, they are left alone with their peers–and no one else. Since Day One at school, they’ve been segregated by age, never encouraged or required to function beyond that artificial boundary. The very structure of most schools is pressuring them to be something that we, the adults, neither are nor wish to be.
Schools segregate children by age for the convenience of the adults who run the system, but we will have stronger, more resilient children when we encourage and reward cross-age activity as much as possible. We can make cross-age tutoring, group projects, community service with adults, and so forth part of the basic curriculum.
Organizing by age may make sense, but isolating by age is counter-productive and unnecessary. Instead, administrators should assign every new student, regardless of grade to one of three clubs, say Alpha, Beta or Gamma. Throughout the year these clubs would be competing, with so many points for Gamma when one of its members makes the honor roll, wins a varsity or JV letter, earns a part in the play or a position on the Board of a student publication. In the spring, each club might put on a play, with the faculty and staff awarding one club the ‘Oscar.’ And so forth, until at year’s end one club wins the annual trophy, its to defend for the year ahead. In a school run that way, students of all ages and grades get to know each other in the easiest way possible, through real activity. Across-grade hazing (by seniors toward freshmen, say) is less likely when every freshman belongs to a club that includes one-third of the school’s seniors.
The way things are now, the typical adolescent is left with his or her peer group, and we all know intuitively, experientially and from “Lord of the Flies” just how unreliable peers and peer groups can be.
Because it takes a village to raise healthy children, we need to understand that human connections across a range of ages are as important as independence. Telling kids that they need to be ‘independent’ flies in the face of what their hearts tell them–that they want to feel connected. We need to support connections beyond the peer group. And it’s not enough to just ‘encourage’ these connections; let’s rebuild our institutions so that they happen naturally. Our kids will be stronger and healthier.
John Merrow’s new book, Below C Level, is now available on Amazon.
He blogs regularly at Taking Note, where this post originally appeared.
This Blogger’s Books from
Choosing Excellence: Good Enough Schools Are Not Good Enough
by John Merrow
Below C Level: How American Education Encourages Mediocrity – and What We Can Do about It
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By virtually all accounts, the GOP will win landslide victories tomorrow, likely capturing 40 or more seats to take over the House of Representatives, netting at least half a dozen seats in the Senate and nabbing about that number of governorships. The country is struggling economically and the public thinks Washington is broken and unresponsive. As the incumbent party, the Democrats are going to pay dearly for these facts. But as surely as the Democrats are going to lose badly tomorrow, the Republican Party leadership is going to misread its mandate.
It is a party now almost fully in the thrall of extremists, with virtually no position too outrageous to merit full-throated condemnation (John Boehner’s campaigning on behalf of Rich “who-are-we-to-judge-the-Nazis” Iott being a signature example). And the public can’t stand the GOP. Poll after poll shows that substantial majorities of Americans disapprove of the party (they do Democrats, as well. But Democrats aren’t going to conclude from Tuesday that the country loves them). On the GOP’s (and Tea Party’s) presumably signature issue, reducing the scope of government, the public disagrees, by large majorities in many cases.
After their landslide victory in 1994, the Gingrich Republicans convinced themselves that the country actually wanted them to shut down the government (and hold Medicare hostage in the meantime). This fundamental failure of political judgment revived the moribund Clinton presidency and paved the way for his landslide victory in 1996. They similarly misread the public in 1998-99 with their ludicrous impeachment trial, which a large majority of Americans thought a waste of time. President Bush insisted that he’d won a mandate in 2004 (presumably because any victory in which he actually won a majority of the votes had to feel like a landslide) and then ran into the brick wall of public opposition to his major policies – notably the Iraq war and his attempt to “reform” social security. The GOP is a more extremist party now and lacks anything approaching a coherent policy agenda. It probably won’t try another government shutdown or impeachment trial, because these are proven failures
But it will try something extreme, in all likelihood. After Tuesday, it will have no meaningful goal other than to continue to do what’s it has tried to do since January 2009 – obstruct whatever plans Obama and the Democrats might have for dealing with America’s myriad problems. In an extraordinary interview on This Week yesterday, Republican Senator John Cornyn could not answer a direct question about the party’s policy agenda in the next Congress. After fumbling for a moment, the Texan said that he looked forward to hearing what the bi-partisan commission on deficits had to say when they released their report in December. That was it. Whatever else one says about Democrats, they are a governing party, with a policy agenda. The Republicans are not. Their one clear purpose is to sow fear, anger and resentment in service of achieving elected office. Whether the target is gays, Muslims, Latinos or whomever is irrelevant. Cornyn, when given the opportunity yesterday to repudiate an overtly anti-Latino ad run by David Vitter in Lousiana, demurred (Sharron Angle, of course, is running similar garbage in Nevada). They’ve been reduced to little more than appeasing to their authoritarian base. This will work in 2010 because mid-term elections are base elections and because the public mood is so (justifiably) sour.
This strategy will not win them long-term support, however. It’s no longer a question of hunting where the ducks are, as was often said of the Silent Majority approach of Richard Nixon. The country hates the GOP now. As it becomes less white, it will hate them more. They are facing a long-term dead end, and nothing can stop that unless the party fundamentally re-orients what it is and who it appeals to. Mainstream pundits will spin a tale of an immoderate Democratic Party that lost because it went too far. But the public, as a whole, doesn’t care whether Democrats have gone too far or not. All they care about is whether government is effective. Government isn’t good or evil. It’s a flawed but necessary instrument for dealing with problems that affect the common good and for administering justice and and security. But the modern Republican party can’t think in these sorts of qualified, contingent terms. It’s all or nothing for them – black and white, good and evil. People who look and act and sound different are to be treated with suspicion, if not contempt. And the government is nothing more than a racket that helps those sorts of people at the expense of “real” Americans (especially when the suspicious looking and sounding Barack Hussein Obama is in charge of that government).
A weak and compromised Democratic Party may struggle to take full advantage of these developments for a time and most Americans will suffer in the meantime, because GOP intransigence and Democratic recalcitrance will hurt our prospects for recovery and for visionary long-term problem-solving. Much of the mainstream media will fall back on old platitudes (like the one I mentioned above, about Democrats going too far) and mis-characterize the public mood. But whatever else tomorrow means, it will not mean that the country wants its leadership to engage, above all else, in demonization of people who are different and downtrodden, and this is precisely what the GOP will continue to do. Because it cannot do otherwise.
Jonathan Weiler’s most recent book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, was published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press.
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