Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Teacher diversity, wake up call....

We don’t have enough African American/Hispanic/Asian/Native American teachers in our schools.

Students of color make up nearly half of our school populations. That percentage is growing.

About 82 per cent of public school teachers are white, according to the Center for American Progress.

Anybody can learn from any good teacher, and we have a couple million of them.

But how many students of color go through their elementary and secondary school years without seeing a teacher who looks like them?....without having a role model or mentor who looks like them?

 And by the way, this disparity isn’t an all-of-a-sudden problem….

At the time of the breakthrough 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, there were about 82,000 black teachers in America’s public schools. Ten years later, 40,000 black teachers and black school administrators had lost their jobs, as communities started to dismantle their separate black and white school systems.
And by the way, a recent study by the American Sociological Association finds that white teachers “evaluate black students' behavior and academic potential more negatively than those of white students.”

The problem of racial segregation in public education hasn’t been fixed yet….

p.s.  ….and by the way, I did a Google search for “black teacher white students picture” and I could not readily find one….

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bill, the Duke, and Billy

Here’s a somewhat off-the-wall offering from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, maybe not their best work but you gotta admit it has some unique elements…. dug up this 1957 collaboration that Billy and the Duke believed was a celebration of the art of William Shakespeare.

I leave it to you to discern the connections, to your own satisfaction.

Even if you don’t really get their salute to the Bard, it’s pretty good listening….

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cost IS a part of health care decisions….

Some doctors and medical professionals are acknowledging that consideration of cost must be part of our society’s rational steps to reform health care.

More explicitly, some doctors and medical professionals are starting to talk about bringing cost, effectiveness and benefits into play, from a societal perspective, in making decisions about health care and what should be covered by health insurance.

Look, let’s call it as it is: if you’re Bill Gates, you can afford any medical treatment you can ever want, regardless of cost or benefit calculations.

If you’re not, it’s a different story—if you’re a poor, 102-year-old guy with heart problems, leukemia and advanced renal disease, it makes sense for you to get pain medication, but it really doesn’t make sense for your health insurance to pay for triple bypass heart surgery.

Viz., the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have announced that they would begin to use cost data to assess treatment guidelines and performance standards.

We have to start talking more candidly about effective health care that we can afford—both costs and benefits—and about a health care system that can be sustained by our society.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bessie, won’t you please come home?

Does it bother you when friends wantonly say things like “French cows just don’t get it” and “Cows in France can’t appreciate good music”?

Just click here:     A concert in the field....
 ….so you’re prepared to respond severely next time your buddies are doing their cow-bashing thing….

As you know, William Congreve, the English Restoration poet, wrote this in 1697:
“Music has Charms to sooth a savage Breast . . .”

Yeah, the original phrase was “breast,” not “beast”….

Anyway, that’s just a literate set-up so I can say:
“Forsooth, the jazzmen’s music doth verily transfix the curious milkcow….”

OK, check out the video again, those cows are diggin’ it….

Maybe cows are tuned in to Ray Charles and Basie and Kenton and Ronstadt and “Walk across the fire . . . “

Maybe cows are playing “Name That Tune” as they shamble down the slope of the far meadow….

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Your tax dollars “at work”….(part 2)

Last year state and local governments handed about $80 billion in tax breaks and other financial incentives to private companies, in highly competitive efforts to attract “new business operations” and “more jobs.”

There’s really no evidence that these government subsidies to corporations have any enduring positive paybacks—short-term or long-term—for the states and cities involved.

The “industrial development” funding is a high-profile political gimmick in many cases, and in all cases it’s pretty much a bald giveaway to the companies.

Why do taxpayers tolerate this misuse of public funds?

See this report from the Council on Foreign Relations, using New York Times data.

Government officials claim that they’re spending the money to attract new jobs to their jurisdictions, but there’s really no serious accountability for the companies—often the touted job creation never happens, or lasts only a short time.

In case you’re wondering, $80 billion is about 7 per cent of state/local tax revenues, so you can figure that 7 out of every 100 dollars you pay in taxes is being handed over to big and medium-sized companies that are looking for the freebies, like low-interest construction loans, tax forgiveness or land that’s been improved at public expense.

The report mentions: “In many . . . industries, subsidies have less influence on location decisions; manufacturers, in particular, require local networks of suppliers and employees with specialized training. Local governments usually lack the sophistication to negotiate successfully with big companies, so they end up subsidizing businesses that would have invested in the state regardless.”

It’s a good bet that your local Industrial Development Authority is pretty much wasting your money.
Your tax dollars "at work"....

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Either high school is easier or….

OK, this little item really isn’t a shocker….

….but I think we should try to make sure that truth doesn’t become boring or irrelevant.

Were you an “A” student in high school in the 1960s? If so, you weren’t lost in the crowd. In his online New York Times offering on May 6, David Brooks mentioned that only about 1 out of 5 high school graduates who went to college in 1966 could boast an A or A- average.

A recent UCLA survey finds that 53 per cent of college freshmen have high school grades in the same range.

Now, sure, there ARE a lot of smart kids out there….but college freshmen in general just didn’t get that much smarter in the last 50 years, y’know? No matter what the report card says….

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Global climate change is happening now

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is going to disappear.

It’s been an “uh oh” week for the doctrinaire climate change deniers:

A NASA glaciologist issued a stark report confirming that the eventual loss (melting) of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) “appears unstoppable.”

I think this is worth caring about for several reasons, not least of which is the confirmation that global climate change and global warming is actually happening now, and, ummm, it’s “global,” that’s world-wide, it’s everywhere, you can’t buy a desert island to escape it….

The WAIS contains about 528,000 cubic miles of ice, enough to raise the worldwide ocean level by about 4 feet when it’s all melted. That’s catastrophic. Just as an example: in Bangladesh, about 10 million people live on coastal land that is less than 3 feet above sea level.

The NASA scientist and his colleagues are estimating that it could take several centuries for the last vestige of the WAIS to melt into water.

I think the highest importance of this report is the inevitability part. NASA says that warming trends and changes in ocean currents that were noticed as early as the 1950s, along with destabilizing elements of the seabed under the ice, are combining to make the eventual loss of the WAIS “unstoppable.”

This is the cruel reality of some elements of the ongoing global climate change: it’s already true that some of the destructive changes can’t be reversed or stopped.

We have to get busy around the world working on technological, economic and policy changes that can slow down all the other elements of global climate change.

This is the only planet our grandchildren will have to live on.

If we don’t do something about dangerous climate change, we won’t do anything about it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Top of the charts in 450 BC

The ancient Greeks did a lot of things right, of course, and let’s not forget that there was music even before there was iTunes and jazz and amps and 600-watt speakers….

You wanna hear what was on the Greek Hit Parade 2,500 years ago?

Try this exotic offering  from Open Culture.

I assume you just tried it. That was David Creese, a classics scholar at the University of Newcastle, playing an authentic melody on the 8-string “canon” (like a zither).

Maybe you weren’t snapping your fingers, but I bet you were intrigued….

Now, mind, this is the kind of stuff they played to warm up the audience at performances of plays by that Aeschylus guy....

....I’m not trying to suggest that you should stop listening to Eric Clapton….

Saturday, May 10, 2014

“. . . led by donkeys . . .”

At the outbreak of World War I, Britain had a relatively small professional army (247,000 men). Close to half of them were stationed overseas throughout the British Empire.

Thus, on the home island in August 1914, Britain’s generals mustered about 150,000 men to be the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that crossed the English Channel, to join the French in fighting the German attackers.

Within three months, that half of Britain’s professional army was gone. Most of the men in the BEF were dead.

p.s. Britain’s total WWI casualties: 673,375 dead and missing, 1,643,469 wounded

Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492- Present (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005), 360.

See also:

Friday, May 9, 2014

The wisdom of George Washington

"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."
George Washington (1732-1799)
Y’know, the cherry tree thing is probably bogus….

Think about getting ready, now, to be a resistor in future, when the temptation comes your way.

Think about asking yourself: what does the highest bidder really want?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Let’s focus on the deadbeats….

More than 8% of Americans are delinquent in paying their federal income taxes.

A recent piece on Yahoo Finance revealed this troubling data point. It ticks me off, because I always pay on time.

Hey, I get it, it's possible to make a mistake in filing your tax return, and there are some folks who deliberately underpay and wait to get caught.

OK, we’ll always have late payers, but 8.2 percent seems unconscionably high for "delinquent collections in process." Think of it this way: if you know 12 people, there’s a decent chance that one of them hasn’t paid all of his taxes.

The IRS has 100,000 people on staff, you’d think they should be keeping the delinquency rate lower. After all, our government borrows money to cover unfunded expenditures….

And by the way, that Yahoo story mentioned that 70% of IRS employees got a bonus last year. Nice work if you can get it....

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Can you say “phony juice label” ?

I think this is in the category “Grownups are doing this? Seriously?”

Are you pretty sure that the Food and Drug Administration is defending your best interests?

The Supreme Court of the United States is now pondering its ruling in Pom Wonderful vs. the Coca-Cola Co., 12-761.

Too bad the high court doesn’t have a “Bullshit” stamp, ‘cause that would come in handy on this one.

Look, this is just so grotesquely and disgustingly silly, 

I’ll try to do this quickly:

The savvy marketers at Coke are selling a beverage labeled “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend Of 5 Juices.” The label prominently features a large pomegranate….but, uh oh, only half of 1 percent of the contents is pomegranate and blueberry juice, about 99 percent is apple or grape juice, and there’s some other trace amount of juice.

So, in fact, it’s “Apple And Grape Juice With A Tiny Amount Of Flavoring From 3 Other Juices.”

Pom Wonderful, which sells a more bona fide pomegranate juice beverage, is suing Coca-Cola for false advertising claims.

Coca-Cola says its label is fully compliant with federal Food and Drug Administration regulations.

What’s the biggest thing that’s wrong here?

The FDA regulations that allow Coca-Cola to routinely sell an ordinary product with a massively deceptive label.

Whose interests is the FDA defending?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How many patriots didn't have guns?

Here’s a Fractured Fact in American history:

Quite a few of the colonists didn’t have guns.

Try to imagine a Revolutionary War scene, or a “Last of the Mohicans” scenario, that doesn’t include every able-bodied male walking around with a flintlock musket or pistol.

Surely, soldiers in organized units were generally pretty well armed—although in 1776 Gen. Washington complained to the Committee of Safety in Pennsylvania that militiamen were reporting for duty without muskets.

Historian Thomas Verenna says colonial American probate records suggest there were roughly only about 5.4 guns for every 10 people in 1774—gun ownership varied among the colonies, in Pennsylvania the number was closer to 3 guns for 10 people.

Guns were expensive, and colonial manufacturing capabilities were limited.

Today, a distinct minority of households have firearms. The Pew Research Center said last year that only 37% of households reported having a gun. In 1973, the percentage was 49%.

The percentage is dropping. I think that’s a good thing.

p.s. I searched online to find an illustration of a “Revolutionary soldier” or a “colonial patriot” without a gun, but I couldn’t find one

Monday, May 5, 2014

The art of Ezra Pound

“I stood still and was a tree amid the wood . . .”
American expatriate poet

This exquisite fragment stopped me from passing over one of Pound’s early works, it’s an arresting image that can focus your imagination in several directions….

I choose to react to this insight:

I am one, I can be among many, I can transform myself, I can be one….

From “The Tree” in Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, Michael King, ed., New Directions Publishing, 1982.

Spotted on this blog: A Year Of Being Here

Sunday, May 4, 2014

American middle class isn’t No. 1….

Steadily worsening income inequality and wealth inequality in the United States has made the American middle class poorer—it’s no longer the most affluent middle class in the world.

For example, the after-tax incomes of the Canadian middle class have surpassed that of their American counterparts.

Lower income families in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands are better off than those in America.

The details were compiled by the New York Times, based on income data from LIS, a group that maintains the Luxembourg Income Study Database.

Median per capita income in the U. S. has stayed about the same for the last 14 years (after adjustment for inflation), that is, no real growth.

Here’s how the Times explains three specific elements of the withering of American middle class affluence:
“First, educational attainment in the United States has risen far more slowly than in much of the industrialized world over the last three decades, making it harder for the U.S. economy to maintain its share of highly skilled, well-paying jobs.

“A second factor is that companies in the U.S. economy distribute a smaller share of their bounty to the middle class and poor than similar companies elsewhere.

“Finally, governments in Canada and Western Europe take more aggressive steps to raise the take-home pay of low- and middle-income households by redistributing income.”

Our government and our political leaders are not taking care of The American Dream.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Concentrated wealth isn’t natural or good

OK, you may have heard about the new runaway bestseller:
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Prof. Thomas Piketty.

If you know about it, you’ve already made up your mind about reading it….

While you’re waiting to figure out if you’re going to change your mind, here’s a must-read synopsis from Open Culture for all the folks (like me) who are determined to read it but haven’t started yet:

And here’s my observation about the modern, ongoing concentration of wealth in only a few hands, to the detriment of nearly everyone else in the world:

The so-called “free market” and the almost universally misunderstood “capitalist system” do not automatically and ultimately work out for the betterment of all, or even for the betterment of all those who “work hard to get ahead.”

Modern corporate law, counter-intuitive tax policy, modern financial structures and instruments, world-wide and poorly regulated commerce, the complicity of wealthy folks and politicians, and the indifference of way, way too many folks are powerful factors that combine in multiple, leveraged ways to place more and more wealth/power in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

The Horatio Alger character is a chimera.
Look it up. No, it's the other definition....

Oligarchy is real.
Look it up.